Monday, January 30, 2012

Kinderbach~ Music at home for the younger crowd!

Long-time readers of my blog may recall that I have written reviews of KinderBach at Home before, in 2009, and in 2010. They might wonder what has changed in the past couple of years.... what else could I possibly have to say....

I could say that there are now 4 e-songbooks with simple songs to help your child feel successful at the keyboard. There are also some "piano pals" coloring books. In addition, I understand that there is an ipad app in the works (and levels 1-3 videos can stream to mobile devices now)! Pretty cool stuff!

However, one of the biggest things that has changed is that I finally have a child who is really in the target age to use this program (youngest is 4.5)!
I'll quickly back-track just a second to fill in some of my newer readers on the KinderBach basics. KinderBach at Home is an online (Or DVD) class that helps younger children become comfortable with, and even play, music. Children learn music vocabulary, note reading, rhythm, physical technique, ‘do, re mi’ singing, listening skills and music composition, as well as just plain "music-making.
Here is one of the earliest lessons we encountered, just to give you a taste~

There are currently 6 levels, with a 7th underway. Each level contains 10 "weeks" of video activity/instruction with 4 lessons /week. Each level also has an activity book which can be printed from a single downloadable pdf file, or printed as needed from the appropriate lesson page.

 What can I tell you about our experience this time around? There are a few things that can be added to my previous reviews~
  • This is a fun and engaging program for the right ages. I still stand by my 3-5 or 6 year old recommendation, although the listed ages are 2-7.
  • Youngest at 4.5 years old likes to speed up his lessons and do a whole weeks-worth in one sitting! This means that we only do it one day/week, or we get 2 weeks done/week. (Hey, we homeschool~ We're flexible that way. :) )
  • We print the pages in the activity booklets as we get to them in the lessons. When there is a little "print" icon sitting on the screen, little fingers want a person to PRINT! :D Oh, and we have a clipboard that seems to be just for KinderBach pages(I need to move him into a folder for storage purposes, I think).
  • Youngest is enjoying his "music-time" with mom, and sometimes goes off and does his own thing, spurred on by the lesson(s) of the day (Banging on pots and pans, or singing a song he just learned).
  • However, he doesn't always like to follow directions in the activities ~ Some days we start by modifying MY expectations, but by the end of the lesson, he generally shows interest in taking part in the activity(ie. crouching LOW or stretching up HIGH). Karrie Gregor is very personable.
  • I haven't actually had Youngest use the coloring pages/books (free-$3.95) (Because the activity sheets with each lesson are generally enough coloring for him), but they are a nice addition for those whose children have coloring tendencies.  
  • As far as "cons" go, one mentioned in my 2010 review remains.  There are definitely videos where the music drowns out the words being sung. This is just a little irritation to me, but it may not bother you. :) 
  • One other possible con for the online videos is that they aren't necessarily "Clear" when we enlarge the screen. However, that doesn't seem to bother my son, so I'm not really letting it bother me either.
 So, now you know much of the nitty-gritty. Here's the rest~
Media~ online subscription $7.99/month, billed in a one time annual payment of $95.88 (Save 60%) OR $19.99 monthly subscription billed monthly for a year.
          ~ DVD packages (Rates vary from $56-ish to $223-ish

If you aren't sure about it, you can always sign up to try the first two weeks of lessons for free, which will give you an even greater feel for whether this will work for your family or not (but you will miss the sale). In that case, you might want to keep your eyes on KinderBach's facebook page for future sales.
As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you determine where to best spend your homeschool budget. Please stop by the Crew Blog to read other reviews of the Kinderbach program.
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."

Monday, January 23, 2012

We Choose Virtues

We Choose Virtues recently sent the TOS Crew a package in the mail with some handy little tools for encouraging virtuous behavior. The Virtue Clue Cards (currently priced at $5.99). This is a set of business-sized cards, one for each of 12 virtues, intended for use with children ages pre-K through elementary.
  • Diligent
  • Helpful
  • Obedient
  • Perseverant
  • Gentle
  • Content
  • Attentive
  • Honest
  • Self-Controlled
  • Forgiving
  • Kind
  • Patient
Every card has a cute character on the front with a declaration of the what the virtue might look like in real life, as well as the converse. For instance, the "Attentive" card featured above says
I am Attentive
I watch and listen carefully
I am NOT forgetful, distracted 
or distracting and I don't 
ignore or interrupt
The back of the card carries the instruction: Choose to go the whole day without someone needing to remind you "Listen!" or "Don't forget!" Airplane Betty Jane knows you can do it! 

These are quick little lessons in what this set of virtues looks like in real life, with simple clues on how to incorporate each one (or see if it is recognizable) in our lives at home.
I appreciate the direct and to-the-point approach that can reduce the need for a "lecture" for my olders (Really, just directing their attention to a particular card gets the point across), and I can see that the alliterative connection between the characters and their virtues may make it easier for my youngest to learn a catchphrase that will help him work on virtuous behavior (For him, learning that first little bit "I am Attentive  ~  I watch and listen carefully" is just the right amount).

I am planning to make it through the stack, with an emphasis on one character trait/virtue per week. Diligent and Kind have been in focus, but I need to decide where to go next. That is where this little handy tool comes in~ The Family Character Assessment is a checklist tool that is offered as a free download. This is a helpful tool to pinpoint virtues that might need a little work for each member of the family. I have my own personal set that I can fill out for each family member to give me a goal for each one(Privately, not for general knowledge), but I also intend to have my eldest (at least) use this as a private growth tool. Learning to honestly assess strengths and weaknesses is a great lesson! 

We were also given access to a pdf file of the Teacher's Handbook($4.95 pdf, $15 print copy). The handbook covers "4 Steps for teaching virtues" as well as detailed instructions on incorporating the We Choose Virtues products into the school-year. Personally, I found the handbook to be much more geared to a classroom setting, and less helpful for a homeschool situation, although there were a few ideas  that I could glean. 

The final "Tool" we were provided with was The Kids of Virtueville Coloring Book ($3 download only). These are nicely illustrated pages of each "Character" and their accompanying Virtue. Pleasant little product to have to work in conjunction with the Clue Cards, particularly if you have children who love their crayons, pencils, etc. I have some children who enjoy coloring during read-aloud time, and I can see these provoking some Character discussions from our literature. ( For instance, reading Charlotte's Web, you could ask "Did any of the characters show diligence?"  "How?" "Why do you think this was easy/hard?", etc...)

We Choose Virtues also offers posters, stickers, journals, flashcards and more. You can check out their Homeschool section, and the Clearance section. Visitors to their facebook page  will find tips on parenting, leadership, and inspiring virtues. 

JANUARY/FEBRUARY-The 100 Days of Virtue Poster and Stickers will be included FREE with any Homeschool Kit purchase during these months
You can use only ONE at a time. 
  • VIRTUE15 for 15 % off the shopping cart is still available
  • SHIPFREE for free worldwide shipping
As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget. For other opinions, please visit the TOS Crew Blog, and check out the Mr. Linky list of reviews.
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."

Monday, January 9, 2012

His Silence Was More Powerful Than Words

 TOS Crew Members have reviewed Z-Guides to the movies in the past, and this year I was very pleased to get to see what all the hullabaloo was about! Of course, I really wanted to keep this appropriately educational, so I chose a movie that fit into the history time-frame about which eldest was reading.

We were introduced to the movie "A Man for All Seasons." It tells the story of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII and his integrity.

Just a cautionary side-note~ just because a movie is listed as streaming on Netflix the month before you plan to watch it, there is no guarantee that their contract won't run out on said movie the day before you have it scheduled in your lesson plans~~~ Chances are good that it will be back, but not in time for a scheduled review! Good thing that some area libraries carry a decent selection of "classic" older movies still!

So, on with the review of the product at hand, the ZGuide by ZeeZok Publishing. I'll give you a run-down loosely based on the table of contents.
  • How to use this guide~ General recommendations on what should be done prior to watching the movie, and a possible lesson plan that can be completed in 5 days. 
  • Topic Overview~ Sets the stage for the movie, and actually adds some closure with explanations of events that took place after the time-period of the movie ends.
  • Movie Synopsis~ Suggested that the student read this first~ certainly makes following the sometimes slow action in the film a little easier.
  • Activity 1~ Movie review questions~ It is recommended that the student answer these while watching the movie, and in this particular instance that was a VERY good idea. We put the DVD in the player and hit the pause button with regularity so that we could discuss the questions, which added greatly to this film. I would expect that an older High Scholar could watch this film and catch a fair amount, and jot down the answers to the questions as it flowed. For us, the questions were very useful in figuring out exactly what was going on. The synopsis was useful there as well, but having read it some days in advance (When we were supposed to start ~ with Netflix), it was no longer fresh in our minds when we were able to obtain the movie from the library days later.In retrospect, I would have read it again. ;)
  • Activity 2~ Questions to be researched in order to find out more about Henry VIII ~ although it is set up as a potentially gradable research project(As are most activities), we chose to do them as joint discussions~ again, so that Eldest could more fully understand what was going on in the time period.
  • Activity 3~ More about Thomas More (Set up the same way as Activity 1)
  • Activity 4~ More about the Tower of London (Again, the same)
  • Activity 5~ We didn't do this one, which had to do with an exercise in "Defending the Defendant" This would be perfect for someone who is involved in(or would like to be introduced to) debate. :)
  • Activity 6~ Sir Thomas More's Wise Sayings~ Could become a writing exercise, we chose to discuss them instead.
  • Activity 7~ A crossword Puzzle~ For fun (But you have to do your research to find the answers!
  • Activity 8~ Portrait drawing~ Fun to bring in some art~ :) 
  • Activity 9~ Wordview Activity~ This was one of my favorite aspects of the guide~ as we discussed character traits and flaws of some of the main figures in the movie. Again, we did it as a discussion rather than an assigned worksheet. (Catching a theme here? Isn't it nice that it's set up for those who like a little structure, but others can feel free to adapt!) 
  • Activity 10~ The Filmmaker's Art~ Again a discussion-based worksheet for us~
  • For Family Discussion~ Excellent "Thinking" questions. 
  • Additional Resources for Further Study~ We didn't use these, but they would be excellent if you were interested in learning more (Which I might be at some point).
  • Answer Key~ Sometimes it's very nice to have all the answers in front of you~ ;) 
Using the Z-Guide was a great way to incorporate media into our history study, with discussion questions that *I* didn't have to come up with! It also made the time-period come more alive.
I will say that I probably would not have chosen to watch this movie if I hadn't had to choose a Z-Guide, and had the desire to keep it more educational for my Eldest (14). In reality, I would have probably made HER happier if I'd gone with Kit Kittredge (As many fellow Crew-mates did...), and made my life a little easier because we actually OWN that movie. Another choice would have been My Side of the Mountain. However, I was trying to focus on a more "high-school" selection. 

"I think when statesmen forsake their own private conscience 
for the sake of their public duties, 
they lead their country by a short route to chaos"
Sir Thomas More

~The Nitty Gritty~ 
  • Product ~ Z-Guide to the movies  can be found at  ZeeZok Publishing ~ (you can also visit them on Facebook)
  • Ages~ Various guides to movies appropriate for Elementary through High School
  • Variation~Many historical time-periods covered, with more on the way (Check out the "timeline" on the left side of the Z-Guide to the movies  page). There are currently titles from Ancient Civilizations all the way up to the Vietnam war. *Note~ each guide is specific to a particular version of the movie, so be aware of that as you look into availability. If you are a movie-collecting buff, many of them are also for sale at ZeeZok
  • Price~ $12.99
  • Free Sample Guide ~ The Count of Monte Cristo (High School)  ~Great to "Try before you buy" Even if your kids aren't high-school, this will give you an idea of the quality of these guides.
For those of you who are interested in how the elementary guides work, may I suggest that you visit the Crew Blog and check out what other folks had to say! And as always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where to spend your homeschool dollars.

Silence can mean nothing, agreement or denial~ "The maxim of the law is 'silence gives consent.' If you must construe, my silence consented, not that I denied. The world must construe according to its wits. This court must construe according to the law" Sir Thomas More
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, January 7, 2012

Forts! Castles! Hideaways! Toydle!

Hey, friends~

Remember this post from before Christmas? About the Toydle Fort? ~ Well, I can share some more now!

Some presents are too big to go under the treeSome presents are REALLY Heavy!
First off, I was sent the BIG Toydle Fort to play build with, and I gave it to the two boys for their 2nd day of Christmas present (only because I knew we wouldn't have time to use it on Christmas Day). See that big box on the right side of the tree?? Wow, it's heavy!

What's inside?A red bag~ just what I wanted! :)

Wonder what's inside? Hey, a red bag! Just what we wanted! But what's inside the bag????

cool! PVC and wood!Most excellent building materials for kids of all ages! PVC pipes and wooden blocks (Not to mention some nifty little clamps to hold the "Sides and tops" of the fort on)! Really, what boy (Or girl, for that matter) wouldn't have a blast with these "almost-raw" building materials???

Everyone gets involvedBuilding commenced in our little "Extra Room" on the 3rd floor, which had fairly open floor space as it was used as a wrapping station for Christmas!

peek-a-booA Fun place to hide (Notice the sheets and sarongs nicely held to the structure to create a ceiling and semi-walls~ Have to rustle up some more if we want to make a more impenetrable fort). Doesn't the sun shining through the skylight look fabulous??? I love it!

Makes for a cozy spot to read to a little brother, or make up a fantastic game.

A cozy castle?
The Fort has become something of the daily "School spot" for eldest~ gives her a cozy, quiet place away from youngest to do her math and science("No photos, PLEASE, Mom!").

General setup without the "curtains"However, this weekend it was transformed again! The "walls" were rolled up (but the ceiling stayed), and the grids became separate areas for various playmobil vignettes. Youngest is hoping to actually PLAY now that everything has been set up! Here are a few photos so you can get an idea of how each square can accommodate  a different world.

Santa Rescue/Horse ranchYou have your basic forest home, Fire rescue trucks

Band concertA Ranch, a concert,
100_1772and Middlest's dream home with a skate park right outside the front door! (Not quite sure what the boat is doing... must be in drydock for repairs...???)

Santa Rescue
I love the firefighters putting on a rescue operation (with a helicopter, even!) to get a stuck Santa out of the chimney.... ;)

 The possibilities are fairly endless here. Once I convince them that it is OK to take this structure down, I'd love to create three little "Single-square" homes, complete with sides, so that they can have a quiet cozy spot to read. We're also toying with the idea of tunnel/maze, but I'm not sure that will happen until we can take this outdoors for an afternoon.

I can't think of anything we don't like about our Toydle Fort other than the desire to have MORE to build with! (Isn't that the way with almost ALL "Building" toys???) Of course, then we'd need to get more HOUSE to build IN! :D

As a reminder, here is all the information that you need to get in touch with the fine folks at Toydle, just in case there is some Christmas gift money floating around, just waiting to be spent. ;)

Toydle Forts~
Made in the USA
Open-ended, Creative fun

All Toydle Forts are constructed with
  • Hand made wooden blocks 3” sq. made with high quality, laminated poplar.
  • High Quality PVC tubes 29” long & 1/2in wide.
All Toydle Forts include an industrial strength storage bag.
All Toydle Forts include clips to help secure your sheets and blankets.

Two sizes~
The Toydle Fort~ $149 Build to 45 square feet! (pictured above)
The BIG Toydle Fort~ $229 Build to 90 square feet!
You can visit TOYDLE on Facebook, and Twitter, as well as exploring their website.

As always, I hope that you enjoyed this review (We sure did!). To see how other people/children utilized these plastic pipes and wooden blocks, please visit the TOS Crew Blog.

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."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Relax, Enjoy, Aspire, Learn (R.E.A.L. Spanish)

I recently received the downloadable version of Homeschool Spanish for review as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received a downloaded Textbook, Activity Book, Answer Book, and Audio Files recorded by native Spanish Speakers.

This is a curriculum that uses a variety of options in order to teach Spanish to your children. However, this is not a "Set them loose, and off they go" sort of curriculum, it is much more teacher driven. Here is the "Weekly plan" from the text to give you an idea of how the curriculum is set up with additional notes on how we used it in that framework (There is a handy reproducible "planning guide" included in the book which makes it easy to keep track of what you're doing and where you're "going" each week)~

Weekly pattern of use of the material is the following:
  1. Plan which vocabulary you will study and how you will present it using the Tips to the Home Educator section for each unit. Use the Audio if you need it. (Um... yep... needed it here!) Dr. Karyn Williamson-Coria, the author has provided loose guidelines on multiple ages, as far as how quickly or slowly one might choose to move, or how to integrate multiple ages into the learning. I basically used it with my 11 yo Middlest, but Eldest listened on the sidelines, so learned some vocabulary, and Littlest may pick things up, but he is not my focus at 4 years old. :)
  2. Present the new vocabulary and have you and your child become familiar with the new words and sentences in the Vocabulary section. (We accomplished this by listening to the audio while looking at the vocabularly/phrases page. Because we were reading from the computer, it was fairly easy to pause the audio and repeat if necessary.)
  3. Use the IDEA section to come up with fun and interesting activities to continue using the language throughout the day/week.  Have your child listen to the Audio to reinforce his/her listening and pronunciation skills. (Did the audio as mentioned above already~ our favorite sort of "Activity" tends to consist of using the vocabulary throughout the day as we remember, and singing songs, generally practicing in appropriate situations)
  4. Practice writing the language with the ACTIVITY BOOK. (These pages were my "homework" for Middlest. At 11 years old, he found certain aspects of the work very challenging, and various activities would definitely be appropriate for an older student)
  5. Set aside some time for CULTURE learning with the FREE CULTURE LINKS section found on our website. (We didn't have a LOT of time to spend on the culture, but there are some great links included~ you can easily check them out. There are definitely some sites that bear revisiting!)
  6. Above all... Relax, Enjoy, Aspire and Learn Spanish!!! (R.E.A.L. Learning!)
I will say that at first I found the multiple files (text/activity/answer/audio) a little disjointed, and would really prefer to have a hard copy in hand (Seems like I always feel this way when presented with a new e-version of a curriculum), but I have gotten into the flow of how to use them, so it's working nicely now. (*note to self ~ don't give up on e-books~I generally get along with them fine after an "adjustment period")

Now for a quick set of pros and cons~
  • written by a highly qualified homeschool mom 
  • many tips and techniques and ideas on how to engage a variety of personalities and ages 
  • (auditory, visual and kinesthetic, all covered)
  • interesting worksheets for the mid-older students
  • a little more teacher intensive, particularly for the younger ages (Although not my focus at this time)
  • not much material in the "Activity book" for non-readers or early readers~ again, more teacher intensive for that age, but as I mentioned~ many ideas  in the "Text" for engaging the younger student
  • occasionally background or "room sound" in some of the audios is distracting
Nitty Gritty~
The course could be taken very slowly (3 years or so) for early elementary, or used as a fairly intensive 1st year high school Spanish course. Either way you should end up with a decent conversational Spanish ability.
  • Age~  adaptable for Elementary-Middle School (With a High School Supplement coming soon)
  • Price~ $49.95 download, $89.95 hardcopy (Purchase here)
  • Includes~ Text, Activity Book, Answer Book, and Audio Files
  • Samples are available
There are also monthly drawings at the site for Spanish Language Related gifts, which is a fun addition!
For more reviews and opinions, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

As always, I hope that this review is helpful to you as you choose where to best spend your homeschool budget.
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."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Left-over Indian dishes? PIZZA!!!!

Well...... it's been a LONG time since I've joined in with Menu Planning Monday, but figured the first Monday of the year might be a good time to start! :)  Pretty basic "plans"

  • Monday~ Chicken Tikka Masala and Mutter Paneer Pizzas (They were Delish!) 
The basic concept it to make my favorite pizza crust (I'll copy the recipe here) This recipe makes enough to fill two large rectangular bar pans from Pampered chef(I suppose it would work for two round pizza stones, too, but I don't have any of those, so we eat rectangular pizza!)

  • 4 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar(I used Florida's Naturals)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 5 cups whole wheat flour OR 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 cups white wheat flour, and 1 cup cornmeal (This is our current favorite crust combo)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Mix the flour and salt in a medium sized bowl, while the yeast is "activating".
When the timer goes off, the yeast mixture should be "creamy", if it is,
Add the yeast mixture and the oil to the dried ingredients, and beat until smooth.
Split in half (I save one half in an airtight container or ziplock baggie for another night)
Let the dough "relax" for 5 minutes, so that it will be easier to roll out.

For both pizzas I just used the 1/4-1/2 cup or so of left-over tikka masala (on one) and the mutter paneer on the other. Chunked up the chicken and cheese on their respective doughs, added a few spoons of Raita (A yogurt sauce that generally comes with the Biryani that I'll be using tomorrow), and sprinkled with some of the left-over white rice.
I LOVE Left-over  Ethnic food pizza!
  • Tuesday~ might see another pizza~ Chicken Biryani style (Yup~ love using up those New Year's Eve Indian food leftovers! Oooooh... or maybe I'll turn the biryani into a crust for a quiche! That might be interesting!~ If I remember, I'll let you know what I decided to do. :D
  • Wednesday~ Looking at a creamy spinach casserole
  • Thursday~ Soup (Possibly Broccoli Apple? It is certainly a favorite around here, and I understand that the weather will be getting a little chilly, so it's not a bad idea!) 
  • Friday~ Feeling like a turkey/pumpkin chili, using leftover (Frozen) turkey from Thanksgiving~ Stylin' 22nd Anniversary dinner, hey? That's what happens when it's AWANA night! I expect we'll do something else on Saturday. :)
So there you have it, my basic plans~  Don't forget to visit Menu Planning Monday for lots of other great ideas!



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