Thursday, August 29, 2013

Woolzies Dryer Balls (Review)

As I become more interested in avoiding additives and things that can cause allergic reactions, I like to look for natural alternatives. Fabric Softener is one of those things that I have been purchasing less and less, as there are more and more unpronounceable ingredients listed on the box.

I've used tennis balls in the past to help "fluff" my down comforters and pillows, and I've had friends who have used a variety of "Dryer balls," so I was very intrigued by the opportunity to review Woolzies, the 100% all natural New Zealand Wool dryer balls, sold by Soft By Nature, Inc.

I received a package in the mail with this box of 6 XL wool balls. The package comes with full directions, and information on the dryer balls.

It is suggested to use all 6 balls in each load, so that is what we did. Using all 6 balls should reduce the drying time of each load of laundry by 25%, which is a great energy saver. My only "con" is that sometimes the balls "hide" in the laundry, and don't make their way back to the dryer until things are folded (fitted sheets are major culprits... ;))

What we have found~

  • In comparison to other dryer balls/tennis balls, Woolzies are MUCH quieter. This is a huge benefit in my mind, as the regular "thunk! thunk!" of tennis balls (Or tennis shoes, way back...) can be very irritating. With Woolzies, it is an issue no more~ 
  • I am pleased with the the "Softening" effect~ the fabrics aren't as stiff as normal (minus fabric softener)
  • The Woolzies didn't entirely eliminate static cling, but it was better than without. 

I haven't tried it yet, but plan to add some essential oils to one or two balls to scent my laundry~ I will enjoy the option to have my own, genuine, scents for my laundry.

From the manufacturer~  Product Description:
Woolzies are 100% pure new zealand wool dryer balls that do everything that conventional fabric softeners do plus they reduce drying time by 25%. They are money back guaranteed to last for at least 1,000 loads!
Woolzies have no chemicals at all and are also hypoallergenic so are safe even for people with wool sensitivities.

You can visit Woolzies on Facebook and Twitter. If you are looking for a natural alternative to fabric softener sheets, Woolzies might be what you are looking for! :) 


I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Alone, Yet Not Alone (Book Review/Movie Preview, and Book Giveaway! Ends 9/12)

Most of our family loves reading, and Historical novels are one of our favorite genres. I jumped at the opportunity to read and review the juvenile title Alone Yet Not Alone by Tracy Leininger Craven. Tracy was inspired to write the story after hearing her grandmother relate the account that she discovered while doing genealogical research.

Alone Yet Not Alone tells the story of the pioneer Leininger family, who had settled in the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania. Their lives were rudely disrupted by the Penn's Creek Massacre, which marked the beginning of the French and Indian War. 

The main story follows the life of daughter, Barbara, and to a lesser degree her sister Regina who were captured by the Indians. Barbara wrote in 1759: 'If one could not believe that there is a God, who helps and saves from death, one had better let running away alone...The extreme probability that the Indians would pursue and recapture us, was two to one compared with the dim hope that, perhaps, we would get through...even if we did escape the Indians, how would we ever succeed in passing through the wilderness, unacquainted with a single path or trail...'

The Leininger family have a deep faith in God, and their belief that while they may seem to be alone, they are never really alone, is the foundation that carries the girls through the trying times as they realize that their families were massacred, watch fatal Indian "punishment" being carried out against a fellow captive, and endure slavery, with the threat of death if they try to escape. 

Reading the story actually felt a little like reading a movie script, and while rather simplistic at times, I would consider it appropriate for the tween ages it was intended for.  Even as an adult reader, I appreciated learning some details about this particular time in history that I was not overly familiar with, and realizing that it is based on the true story of a real family caught in the crossfire of the French and Indian War made it a bit of a compelling read. Thus it is no surprise that there is a film based on the book. 

Alone Yet Not Alone (the movie) had a limited showing in September, 2013, and opens in theaters across the country June 13, 2014. While the book is recommended for grades 4-6(I'd recommend 10+), the movie is rated for ages 12+ I assume due to the violent themes during the Massacre and events following. You can watch the trailer for the film below: 

I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of the book as a giveaway to my readers. Please be sure that the Rafflecopter widget has had time to load. :)
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Alone Yet Not Alone (the book)
Written by: Tracy Leininger Craven
Publisher: Zonderkidz 
Paperback: 148 pages 

Check to see if Alone Yet Not Alone is coming to a theater near you by clicking here.
If you don't see a convenient location, you can try to bring Alone Yet Not Alone to your City by clicking here
Awarded 5 Doves from the Dove Foundation!
Starring: Kelly Greyson, Natalie Racoosin, Clay Walker, Jenn Gotzon, Joanie Stewart, Ozzie Torres, Tony Wade

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Doorposts: Because You Are Strong Devotional

I've been pleased with many materials from Doorposts, so I was happy to be chosen to review the Because You are Strong Devotional. It is intended specifically for young boys/men, from the ages of 10+. It focuses on the Biblical view of strength, and how to use that strength wisely. If you have a young lady in the house it is also appropriate for them (Because, after all, ALL Scripture is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness..."), just not directed toward them.  There is a similar study, Beauty In the Heart, that is geared specifically for young ladies, which other crew members reviewed. 

Because You are Strong is a Bible Study that incorporates a number of styles of study, so that your student can learn to use the tools that are available. Digging deeper in the Word is accomplished through: 
  • learning how to use a concordance
  • studying the original Greek or Hebrew words
  • understanding the marginal notes in a study Bible
  • performing a character study
  • learning how to study the Bible topically. 
  • learning how to study an entire book of the Bible, a chapter, or even a study on a single verse. 
  • in keeping up with technology, computer and mobile device Bible study tools are introduced.
The guide includes 10 studies, with various styles of study used for each one. Each study is divided into daily segments (According to the publisher these sections should take 5-20 minutes each day). 

The Ten studies include:
  1. Strength for the Race: Meditating on Hebrews 11-12
  2. Strength with no Limits A Topical Study on the Omnipotence of God
  3. Strength and Wisdom: A Topical Study in Proverbs
  4. Strength and Temptation: A Character Study of Samson
  5. Strength to be Valiant: A Word Study on "Valor"
  6. Strength in Our Weakness: A Verse Study on 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  7. Strength in the Battle: A Chapter Study of 1 Samuel 17
  8. Strength Serving Others: A Study of Jesus' Actions in the Gospel of Mark
  9. Strength and Gray Heads: A Verse Study of Proverbs 20:29
  10. Strength in the Faith: A Book Study of 1 John
One of the things I appreciated about this Doorposts study was one of the things that was also a little frustrating. 
  • I loved the fact that it used the electronic versions of Strong's Concordance, in part because I lent my copy out a number of years ago, and never got it back, and in part because it is a rather hefty book to cart around the house. ;) 
  • It was frustrating. It seemed that were spelling differences between "American" and "KJV," and it took us forever to discover that that was the problem. For instance, in the word study on valor, if we were looking in the physical concordance, we probably would have caught the spelling variation, and been able to move on swiftly. However, although we all at various times, followed the directions in the study side-bar, and tried searching "valor" in the online concordance, we kept ending up with  No results were found for 'valor' under the Bibles category.I finally realized that we were searching "VALOR" (which is the spelling of the study title, and used throughout the study) rather than "VALOUR".... (Sigh...) 
  • Once we got past that rather lengthy "hump" in the study, we found the online resources to be quite useful.
Middlest (13  year old boy) liked how the study broke things down into sections, and he enjoyed using the online concordance. He particularly enjoyed seeing how many times a specific word was used in the Bible. He thought it was neat that he could search one word, and find a whole list of where the words were found. Middlest was also quite pleased that the study used KJV, as so many things are NIV or NLT, and he has a fondness for the KJV, just like his mother. ;) 

Eldest (16 year old girl) was not that excited about this study. She was frustrated by the electronic tools (unfortunately her view was colored by the initial experience with them), and the topics didn't really grab her attention. Admittedly, this devotional is written to boys, not girls, so that could also play a part. I think that if I had had my physical concordance around, this would have worked much better for her. 

Personally, I thought that "Because You are Strong" is well developed and thought out. It might take a little extra time than the 5-20 minutes, simply because there are new "tools" being used, and there can be a bit of a learning curve there. Doorposts really goes in depth into the original languages in this study, which makes me think that the 10 yo age might be a little optimistic, in order to really get a lot out of it. However, like so many other curriculums, your children will glean what they are ready for, and at least be introduced to the topic, so that when it comes around again, down the road, they will be ready for it. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.


Friday, August 23, 2013

A look back at "First Day of School" in pictures

BACK TO SCHOOL ~ Pictures from 2002-2012, and a GREAT T-SHIRT SALE! 
Not actually 1st day of school, but my favorite picture of the 2 oldest
right around when we started our homeschooling journey.
I just love everything about this photo. :) 

I know some of you have started back to school already, and some are going to be starting back soon. We won't start back in earnest until at least the 2nd week of September, especially since my kids have been doing "Review School" (various Old Schoolhouse Review Crew Curriculum) this summer.

2003 ~this WAS the first day "back-to-school"~
Eldest was officially "Reportable" as a 1st grader. 
However, I wanted to share some of our "back-to-school" photos through the years, 
just because it is fun! 
2005 ~ Youngest(At the time) was "K" age!
(Don't know what happened in 2004... gone missing... :/) 
I also want to get the word out about a great "back-to-school" sale that I have taken advantage of MANY times, as you will see in the photos to follow.

2006 was the first year I heard about Great Products  and their $5.99 "back-to-school"
t-shirt sale. What a great way to "advertise" that my kids weren't skipping school when we were out and about, but actually IN school!

I decided to purchase tote bags to coordinate with their shirts. I put some new school supplies in the bags, and something of a tradition was born...

Although Eldest didn't wear her shirt that day (She had already chosen her 1st day of school outfit with care... and didn't know about the surprise), it did make an appearance at our first Homeschool Field Day!

This has now become something of a tradition whenever I have the cash available (and my bad, sometimes when I don't!), to pick up new t-shirts for the kids for the first day of school. I figure that it it's a lot cheaper than most "back-to-school" clothes shopping, and it has always been fun to surprise them with a fun new design.

In 2007 I purchased a matching purple shirt for myself (Not pictured...).

2008 brought our first "When you're homeschooled you never know WHERE you'll end up" shirts...
We didn't get all new homeschool shirts (Because we happened on a cool stripy cotton sale with appropriate sizes for all), but littlest wore his all cotton "homeschool wanna be" at our fall field day.
The bane of mom's 1st day of school~ the sun is too bright! No one can handle it except the youngest. :) 
A little bit of information for you all regarding the Great Products t-shirts:
Most of the designs are on a poly-cotton blend, with the exception of the "cream" color option, the tye-dye shirts, and and the new Ladies v-neck shirts. 
If you prefer 100% cotton to a cotton/poly blend, you will be happy to know that you CAN order shirts in 100% cotton. However, it does cost a bit more ($2.00) and you have to either email or phone the order in. It is totally worth it to me to take the extra steps! 

2010 brought one of our favorite sets of shirts, and some fun bags for the kids~ 

Mom - Coffee - Tye DyeI love these shirts, and so do the kids~ they get worn with great regularity! I don't have a picture of MY shirt, but it is a matching Tye-Dye color, with this graphic on it... way too much fun!

2011 was one of those years where the cash flow wasn't optimal, but there were still great homeschool shirts being worn~ (Littlest is in the hand-me-down purple shirt that his brother wore in 2007...)

2012 brought the new "Homeschooler by Day, NINJA by Night" shirts and bags. Unfortunately, everyone was feeling crummy and not terribly photogenic on the first day of school, so I didn't get a photo of THEM, but I do have a photo of the bags, and a later "park day" where Middlest wore his Ninja shirt. BTW, we still need to take a family photo, because we have the "homeschool mom by day, and homeschool dad by day" shirts as well.

Just for the fun of it, here's that "first"  first school year photo again... my haven't they grown?

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this little time capsule of our first days. And now, for the first time ever, I'll be able to do more than share about the sale (As I have done in years past... simply because we love the shirts and bags so much). It runs from August 15th to September 15th. All regular T-shirts are $5.99, and the tote-bags are $4.99.

Keep your eyes open for a giveaway for a free t-shirt here on my site, and in the mean-time, you might want to browse around the Great Products website, visit the Great Products Facebook page, and even follow the Great Products Twitter page.


Disclosure~ I have received nothing from Great Products for this post other than "Exposure" for my blog. I have purchased products from Great Products since 2006, and plan to continue to do so. Great Products simply offers "Great Products" and with the $5.99 ($7.99 for 100% cotton) T-shirt sale, they are available at a very reasonable price. This is especially helpful for those who are on tight budget. Enjoy! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reading Kingdom (one more time! :D)

I have had the opportunity to review Reading Kingdom with my youngest 3 separate times now. Review #1 was when he was 3.5 years old (Just a little under the recommended starting age), Review # 2 was last summer when he was five, and now he is six, and an official first grader, and we have been given the opportunity to review it one more time.

I will repeat some of the more salient points from my previous reviews here, in case you don't have time to go read them. :)

First, it is important to know that The Reading Kingdom is based on work and research by Dr. Marion Blank, the director of the Light on Literacy program at Columbia University in New York. She is considered by her peers as one of the leading experts in literacy. You may want to read this 6 page pdf file that discusses how The Reading Kingdom differs from other reading programs on the market. In a brief nutshell, it focuses on:
  • Sequencing
  • Motor Skills
  • Sounds
  • Meaning
  • Comprehension
  • Grammar

The Reading Kingdom is NOT a phonics based program and indeed Dr. Blank does not appear in the least to espouse learning to read via phonics at all. If that is your inclination this is probably not a program for you. HOWEVER, you aren't learning to read, your child is, and what works for one may not work for another. I should certainly mention that my two oldest children learned to read with phonics instruction and they have not had too much trouble~ in fact they are very good spellers. However, they would not be able to recite back to you many of the phonics "rules". They are just "intuitive spellers"~ I would say that I am a firm believer in phonics instruction given MY experience, but I grant that others' experiences may be very different from mine. 

For a little more insight into the levels of The Reading Kingdom, I recommend reading this 9 page graphic overview of how The Reading Kingdom is organized.

This video gives a very good overview of The Reading Program ~ with many of the points that I included in my first two reviews, so it is definitely worth taking the 4 minutes-ish to watch if you are in the market for a reading program.

Repeating this information from my 2nd review, as it still pretty much applies, Youngest is just one year older:

So, here's how it's working for us so far~ (playing a game of "That's bad!" "That's Good!" this time around...not wanting to emphasize the bad, but the good definitely follows in each instance )
The Bad: I don't often "Force" my children (Particularly those under the age of 6) to do any seriously structured school work. However, in this case, because it was a review item, and because I *did* want him to apply himself a bit, I did require him to do Reading Kingdom  (perhaps with less regularity than I would an older child, during the school year vs a new 5 year old during the summer...). This led to a few tears once or twice, and "I don't want to do Reading Kingdom today" on a regular basis. 
The Good: I thought it was interesting that almost invariably AFTER he completed a lesson he would turn to me with either a casual "That wasn't so bad, Mom" or excitement when he reached a particular goal~ so it wasn't as bad as he thought.... over and over and over! (Silly boy!)

The Bad: He hasn't reached the "I want to do more" stage with this program, and I'm not sure he ever will. There aren't many bells and whistles (not always necessary), and the timing issues could still be worked on some more, which might help with the outside distractions.
The Good: Nevertheless, it is a steady little program that really doesn't take that much time, but encourages progress.

The Bad(?): I do want to take a second and reiterate that this is NOT a phonics based program, so if that doesn't jive with your teaching philosophy, then Reading Kingdom may not be a great fit. 
The Good: On the other hand, if phonics just isn't working with your child, and you don't trust "whole language" then Reading Kingdom may be right up your child's alley!

In spite of my son's love/hate relationship with Reading Kingdom, when this screen showed up he was extremely excited! He completed a passport! Yeah! 

In my update, this time around, I have to mention that my son has completed level 1, and is well on his way to finishing level 2.

He still doesn't *ask* to do Reading Kingdom, but when he is engaged in the program, he *does* want me to take screenshots on a regular basis.

I like this activity, because it randomizes which letters are missing~ they really *do* have to be able to identify how to spell the target words they are given.

Youngest likes some of the pictures, and was particularly enamored with these birds, which explains this set...

This screenshot shows some of the more advanced pages he is completing, along with a couple of my notes added in:

The screen on the left was originally all yellow blanks, and green spaces. He is typing by dictation. Even when Youngest is not able to remember how to spell a specific word, the keyboard shows up to give him a hint.

The screen on the left was a little easier ~ because almost all of the words are shown on the bottom, but when he clicks on the correct word, it disappears in its little white box, so that he has to remember what letters are missing.

As you can tell by these pages, although *he* is not enamored with the Reading Kingdom, I can generally manage to get 10-15 minutes of work out of him at a time (one lesson~ within a Charlotte Mason recommended time-frame!) and he has clearly made progress~ the skills have become more difficult, and he is able to read the words in the activities (However, some of his decoding abilities *do* stem from phonics work that we have done~ just figure I need to mention that here).

I still feel that The Reading Kingdom is a solid little program that would be great as a stand-alone reading program for some children, and a great supplement for others.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company/ Product: Reading Kingdom
  • Ages:  4-10 
  • Price: 30 day free trial. 30 day subscriptions for $19.99/month or $199/year. Additional children in a family get 50% off ($9.99/month) Subscription can be cancelled at any time. 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Notgrass Company ("America The Beautiful" History)

I have heard friends rave about the Notgrass company for years, so I was excited to be chosen to review their America the Beautiful Curriculum Package as well as either the America the Beautiful Student Workbook or the  America the Beautiful Lesson Review (we received both), for grades 5-8, and get a close up look at what it entails. 

What's included:

This is the very first time as a homeschooling educator that I have, in point of fact, used a physical history TEXT BOOK! The curriculum package actually comes with TWO textbooks and four support books! 

  • The blue book you see pictured in the middle with the Rocky Mountains and the grizzly bear is textbook 1. 
  • The textbook with the Nubble Lighthouse on the front is book 2. 
  • The book to the left "We the People" contains copies of  original source documents: newspaper articles, stories, poems, advertisements, etc... which all enhance an understanding of the time being discussed. 
  • The Timeline and the Maps books are consumables to be used during the lessons. 
  • The answer key is there if you need it (it includes answers to the vocabulary work in the main text, the timeline, and also answers to the lessons in the Student Workbook and the Lesson Review book).
An aside: Personally, I find it delightful that both textbooks have photos on their covers that are near and dear to me, having grown up in Montana(Rocky mountains), and now living in New England~ America, from East to West! (Yes, I do recognize that lighthouse... we visit it yearly at the least!) :) 

Each textbook is a hefty 400-500+ pages and is intended to last a semester. The books are divided into 15 units each, with 5 lessons in each unit, for a total of 75 lessons/book. The Introduction includes recommendations on how to use the America The Beautiful curriculum, with specific suggestions for each grade 5-8.

How We Used "America The Beautiful"

Because I have a mix of ages, and it was summertime, even with only one child in the target range I decided that we would use this curriculum as a read-aloud time for all three children, especially as I have been a little light on a chronological study of American History.

The information was interesting for all.

  • While I'm not totally sure how much Youngest got out of the text, he enjoyed sitting still and listening to "The Sign Of the Beaver" which is the literature selection for the portion of history we went through.
  • Because some of Eldest's history has been more "unit related" it was fun to watch her piece a few things together as we read. She also made the nifty collage you see to the right of some of the pages in the workbooks and "We the People."
  • Middlest, of course, had the majority of work to do (the others really just listened) for this review. He did the mapwork (which is well laid out~ the text book directs the student to the correct map, and the map has specific directions for each lesson. This is important to note, as some maps are to be used throughout the curriculum, for more than one lesson), and the Lesson Review.

    We didn't use the Student Workbook (I'm saving that for when Littlest is old enough to use it in a few years, as it was a little below Middlest's interest level~ but it sure looked like fun! A variety of neat activities!), or the Timeline (Once again, saving for Littlest~ it seemed to be more on the younger end of the recommended age range). 

Some Of the Extras

While I was reading, I allowed both of my boys to build "minecraft" structures on their i-devices. Here are some of Middlest's structures (He forgot which world he built the others in, but this gives you an idea of how you can integrate some of that fun technology with your history studies. :) 
Based on Viking church established by Leif 
Eriksson's mother. (Interior view)
based on the French Settlement Fort Caroline

based on the later fort, Castillo San Marcos
One of the "Family Activities" (included at the end of each unit) entailed making Navajo Flatbread~ We happened to have some Flat Stanley's from Australia visiting, so here are some pictures from that day~ 

Further Thoughts 

I was particularly pleased with the way the history is presented, with an emphasis on God and His creation. Each chapter links our history with Scripture, whether it has to do with God's provision, or creation, or moral code. 

The only negative point I have to make has to do with the text. Although all of the pictures are captioned, the text refers to them directly (Generally using the same wording as the captioning), which made it rather awkward to read aloud. There were frequent references to "See the illustration at left."  and "Look at the picture of ___ on page ___ and the illustration on the right(or left)." As a read-aloud history text I felt that interrupted the flow of the narrative. As a read-alone text it didn't bother me as much. Because both read-aloud and personal reading are recommended, I felt it was worth mentioning~ even if it just prepares you to skip those sentences, as I have made my habit lately. 

When I asked Middlest his thoughts on "America the Beautiful" he said that he has been enjoying it. He likes the variety of reading material ("America the Beautiful" Text, "We the People" original source text, and the Literature selection), the map work, and he doesn't even mind filling out the Lesson Review pages. He particularly enjoyed learning about the Pueblo Indians, and Mesa Verde. I think because we live in New England, other regional Native American people groups have received less time, so this was a good overview! 

The variety of activities throughout the week, beyond those mentioned above include 
Thinking Biblically,  Creative Writing, and Vocabulary assignments. The work isn't onerous, and of course, each family can choose to do as much as works for their particular student and/or family. 

We are looking forward to continuing our read-aloud "Together Time" history throughout this next school year! 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Notgrass Company 
  • Product: America the Beautiful Curriculum Package  (Be sure to check out this page, as there are a number of sample pages that can be downloaded)
  • Ages: 5th-8th grade
  • Price: Curriculum Package $99.95
    Student workbook $11.95 (grades 5/6)
    Student Lesson Review $9.95 (grades 7/8)
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.




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