Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Progress (?) ~ in a picture

A Commentary on Life: 

Keep your eyes on the path, and re-evaluate when necessary...

This applies to life in general, kind of a different perspective from Robert Frost's 

~ "The Road Not Taken" ~  

Don't keep going if the road you are on is leading to pain and sorrow... 

In this instance back-tracking isn't losing time, or losing face, 

but rather, a saving grace

Thanks for the inspiration for this, Debra!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nuggets of Gold for end of June~ Some music and a Novel

A few Freebie Nuggets for you to end/begin your week~

Noisetrade has an  Ellie Holcomb Collection. You may have heard some of Ellie's work on the radio over the past year, and I for one, am enjoying her music and style.

Trivia: For those who have followed Contemporary Christian Music for decades, you might be familiar with producer Brown Bannister. I first really became aware of him when he produced Twila Paris' "Cry For the Desert" album. Ellie Holcomb is Brown Bannister's daughter, and continues the musical tradition in her family.

Great Historical Novel
Free at the time of posting
Need some good semi-fluff reading for your summer vacation? Here's a good read that I enjoyed, and it's currently free! :)

I'll hopefully be back with more nuggets soon, now that we're down to one baseball team (Big Diamond Summer League), and the recital is in the books! :)


Thursday, June 25, 2015

SmartKidz Media ~ educational videos, flash animated content, and more

Sometimes it seems my youngest child may be a little bit too fond of "screen-time," and the funny thing is that it doesn't seem to matter *what* screen he's watching/ playing with, he just wants to watch. :/ However, it is also useful to have some media available to help keep him constructively occupied when I need to leave him with one of his siblings (while driving the other to practice or something like that) ~ allowing the older sib to have the quiet they need to get their work done.  A little bit of a balancing act in allowing some, but not too much! It also takes a while to sift through the typical venues to find media fitting that profile, which can be somewhat time-consuming. That being said, I was very interested to check out my latest review, the SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers by SmartKidz Media.

SmartKidz Media offers hundreds of educational videos covering a wide variety of topics~ Animals, Nature, Music, Art, Cooking, Travel/Foreign Countries, History, and more (There are even Pilates videos!)

In the screen shot above, the drop down menu you see is from the World Of Discovery tab, and shows the categories of videos available there, which some of the "covers" shown. My family was most interested in the Nature/Animal videos, and some of the travel and cooking videos, so those are the ones we checked out.

We also took a peek at the Mighty E-Book Collection Tab and the My Animal Family Tab

The Mighty E-Book Collection is a section that my almost 8 year old will be allowed to browse more or less on his own. We enjoyed the animated, narrated ebook of "Mice-tro Mozart, the Opera House Mouse" and there are a number of Aesop's fables to be found here, that I want to check out. I appreciate that this collection has some specific age guidelines.

My Animal Family Tab is a section that offers exactly what I was expecting from SmartKidz Media. Educational videos, clearly narrated and very appropriate for family viewing (The story songs weren't our cup of tea, but they might suit a younger child, or special needs learner).

Some parts/things we liked more than others~

All of the videos we watched were well done from a cinematic point of view~ Note: if you have a slower computer or a slower connection you might find that the streaming doesn't stream very well. We had some trouble with the videos on our laptops (Which are older), but were able to view them easily on an iPad 1 and an iPhone 6, so definitely a hardware issue on our end~ if we had a newer TV or newer Roku, it would have been a piece of cake, as the videos can be accessed from those readily.

The narration of the videos was a little choppy at times, as if the narrator was reading from a script, so inflections were sometimes a little odd, but that's not a major issue. In the "Travel" and cooking videos the narrator was also sometimes the translator, and it occasionally seemed as if perhaps the wrong words were chosen (For an American audience, at least~ there are some differences between British/Aussie English and American English...), which made it a little confusing~ not really a like/dislike issue, just more of a heads-up commentary.

We found that some scenes jumped from one right into another without taking a breath, as it were, which can make it difficult to process what is being seen/heard.

I would like to see age recommendations for *each* video, as well as more "chapters" within those that cover multiple topics (Animals, travel, etc...).

I say this because there are some videos that include content that may not be appropriate for all ages~ it would be nice to be able to skip those sections, and continue through the rest of the video, that is "all-age-appropriate." I appreciated that the cooking videos had "Chapters, and thought something similar could be done with most of the others.

As with all media, different families have different standards, so I would suggest pre-watching most videos if you have a younger/elementary-aged child.  Smartkidz Media offers a 14 day free trial that will let you check the video and reading/learning selections yourself!

There are other tabs that we didn't check out because they didn't fit our family at this time, but might fit yours: Baby Signs, Special Needs, Ready Set Sing, and Living Skills Songs. I glanced at the Quick Find Study Guides, and they appear to be something of an electronic index card box~ with basic helpful information at your fingertips~ Rules, Definitions, and Examples for Language Arts, Math, Social Studies Basic study guides, and Science introductions and definitions.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can visit SmartKidz Media on Facebook, and Twitter.
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

CTC Math ~ the online math tutor with a lovely Aussie accent

In April 2014 I wrote a review for the CTC Math  12 Month Family Plan. Once again we were fortunate enough to receive a membership for review, and I was curious to see if there had been any changes to the program.

In case you don't have time to check out my previous review, I'll try to give a quick synopsis here. CTC Math offers a full online curriculum for grades K-6, and supplementary work/practice for those levels above 6th grade, all the way to 12th grade. (You can access a complete lesson list )

The basic format is online whiteboard lessons narrated by a male with a very pleasant and cheerful Aussie accent. The student can stop, rewind, replay, or fast forward (not recommended) through the lessons as necessary, in order to get the concept down.

After the video lesson there are questions to be answered, with built in progress reports and reward certificates based on proficiency. The progress reports are one area that has changed since we reviewed last year. Now it isn't necessary to complete each lesson three times in order to earn a certificate, certificates can be earned with high percentages the first time around. Hurrah! That got rid of some of the busy-work that my 2nd grader didn't enjoy (or need) last year, when he was motivated to earn those certificates.

You can see in some topics he completed the questions more than once, but others he was done with the first time around. You can also see that every section doesn't have to be completed at the same time~ in the money section he completed a lesson last year when he was working on first grade materials, but this addressed a topic that we were going over independent of his CTC lessons~  handy to know that your child can move up or down as it suits them, and all the work they do shows up in the reports!

This time around I had a little more time to check out the iPad option, and there are some things that I really like about that option. Oddly enough one of them is the reports page. Above is the detailed report. Below are a couple of sections that show his awards and progress:
The first is the one from the iPad:

 And these are from the computer interface:

I really like the look of the ones from the iPad! Nice upgrade, CTC!

Some things that haven't changed that I'd like to see~

There is still not much recognition for completing the diagnostic tests (I'd like to see certificates awarded for those... at least for the K-4th grade crowd).

The need to print out worksheets for the older students: My son still finds it clunky to print the worksheets, do the work, and then enter the answers on the computer. It would be nice to have an interactive workspace for the higher maths to do the work right there, somehow. However, this may not be realistic... pencil and paper may just be necessary for Algebra and beyond.

I do recommend checking out CTC Math to see their demo video and sample lesson, as well as checking out my first review which had a few more screen shots of the actual program. Then, I would suggest signing up for their free trial to test drive before you purchase (I love programs that offer that option!).

CTC Math is set up well for many learning styles~ the audio (narration) and the visual (whiteboard). For the younger children, certainly, there are also kinesthetic activities~ interactive dragging items to do the math. I am still very impressed with CTC Math, and think it could be a good fit for a variety of learning styles. For those who have larger families, it is also one of the most homeschool-friendly companies, with a generous discount and one price for 2-10 students.

Social Media: You can find CTC Math on Facebook

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: CTC Math
  • Product: 12 Month Family Plan
  • Ages: Kindergarten to Calculus
  • Price: Special homeschool prices ~ 60% off the regular price (access by clicking through the product link above).
    • $11.97 Single student 1 month (Recurring payment)
    • $50.80 Single student for 6 months
    • $78.80 Single student for 1 year
    • $15.97 Family plan (2 or more students) 1 month (Recurring payment)
    • $78.80 Family plan (2 or more students) for 6 months
    • $118.80 Family plan (2 or more students) for 1 year
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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Golden Nuggets~ June 13~ Music and books

A few quick "Nuggets" for you for the end of this beautiful June Week~

Some summer reading for your Kindle, and some music to enjoy

Parables from Nature (Translated)  Sweet Nature stories with "Golden Rule" parables

The Candle Star (Divided Decade Collection) A Middleschool Civil War Novel (I haven't read this one, just thought it looked promising)
Pilgrim's Progress: Updated, Modern English. With Original Illustrations.   A classic!

$0.99 at the time of posting
Free at the time of posting
Free at the time of posting
NoiseTrade has a new Songs Of the Summer Sampler Album, with songs by Unspoken, Lauren Daigle, Johnny Diaz, and others~ Check it out! :)


Friday, June 12, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level C and MORE!

Fair warning to you~ this may be a slightly more lengthy review than usual, which would only be in keeping with the quantity/quality of the material being reviewed. Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) sent me the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level C (Fix-It! 1 and 2),   A Word Write Now and the Portable Walls. What a HUGE set of material!

*Note: other crew members received a variety of levels, and/or other products, including some special needs packages which include the Bible Heros Student and Teacher books, and the Primary Arts of Learning Reading and Writing Packages. Please be sure to follow the link at the end of my review if you are interested in any of these products, to see what they thought of them. I have not see the Bible Heros books, but I wrote a (non-special needs/non-remedial)  Primary Arts of Learning Review in 2012, and back in 2011 I wrote a fairly comprehensive Level B Teaching With Structure and Style/Student Writing Intensive Review, which is the only reason that this review isn't insanely long~ I'm hoping that you'll check out what I had to say back then, because much of it still holds true!

The Student Writing Intensive (SWI) Level C appears to cover much of the same basic instruction as Level B, but uses some different literary pieces, geared towards the student's age and maturity level. For instance, when we reviewed level B, one of the first stories was more of a  Jr. High novel science type of story that my daughter remembers to this day (smile). The same lesson in Level C used material about Thomas Jefferson, and another piece about the development of standard time zones.

Looking ahead, Level C also goes on to tackle various styles of essays, which is most appropriate and useful for the high school student.

The core of this material is made up of the Student DVD's and the Student Notebook with Handouts and Lesson Plans. Watch the Video Lesson, do the work on the handouts, following the lesson plans, hand it in to mom~ pretty simple to follow!

What exactly does SWI do? Rather than rewriting my thoughts, I'll quote from my first review:
The units move at a fairly steady pace and build writing skills, focusing on just a few techniques and structural elements at a time. I should mention here that if your student has an extremely creative literary bent and is ALWAYS writing, this program might feel a little stifling.  However, Andrew Pudewa has taken pity on the poor souls who never know what to write about, and has given them specific excerpts to re-write. The basic concept is that it is too hard for many children (And adults) to concentrate on learning how to write AND come up with their own content at the same time. I think that depending on your student, and possibly allowing them to choose their own topics, even prolific stream-of-consciousness writers can gain some insight on how to "dress up" and improve their writing.
It's much easier to solidify one's voice or style once one understands the structure of good writing.

My Middlest has expressed a desire to continue with this course through his next school year, as he enjoys the video classes, and the scheduled assignments. Not much higher praise than a student AND the parent/teacher wanting to continue with a specific curriculum.

After 15 years, the Teaching Writing with Structure and Style (TWSS) seminar has been updated! Please do go visit my previous review, because much of the innate program remains the same, but now there is MORE material, and the workbook has a streamlined, updated look.

Here is a chart detailing the differences between the 2000 and 2015 editions:

IEW has put together a pdf detailing more of what's new, with highlights of Workbook updates, the new Premium Subscription, and the Streaming Video Subscription, which helps to keep up with these more techno-mobile times. Great for families who school on the go!

Fix-It! Grammar has a very Charlotte Mason-ish feel to it. By this I mean that the lessons are very short~ 33 lessons meant to be completed in 15 minutes (or less) in 4 exercises per week. Who doesn't like that? When chosen for this review we requested books 1 and 2 just because my Middlest was a little rusty with some of his grammar. After a few lessons, he felt that these would be great books to zip through in the summer (moving a little more quickly than one exercise/day~ perhaps a full lesson/day), as a refresher course before the new school year. IEW suggests that the high school student could go through one book per semester if they doubled up on the exercises. Fix it Grammar makes an excellent elementary, remedial, or refresher course.

The lessons start simply, and focus on learning the notation or proper use of one or two new things each week. For example, the first week covers nouns, end punctuation marks, and the [there, their, they're] homophones. The next week covers articles, but all of the previous notations must still be used, and so on. This is one instance where one can see how the cumulative effect works.

A Word Write Now is a thematic thesaurus for the writer~ a quick reference for some of the more common topics that might come up in a student's daily writing: Character Traits, Words to Describe, Words for Movement and Senses, and an Appendix with more information. Middlest hasn't needed to use it much yet, but he knows where to turn when he is searching for a more interesting word choice.

The Portable Walls is a great tri-fold quick reference folder that lives in Middlest's IEW Binder. If one had a distractible student, it would be very useful as a "study corral" to help them keep distractions at a minimum, while having useful material nearby, but Middlest mostly has it at hand so he can pull it out if he needs a specific word, or to reference the topic of a specific unit.

If these resources intrigue you, I highly recommend visiting IEW on the world-wide web. They have a vast amount of information to share with you, and help you on your journey to helping your children become Excellent Writers!
IEW can be found on
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Apologia Educational Ministries/ Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal

Ever feel like you'd like to add some pizzaz to your field trips? How about actually keeping track of the field trips you go on, seasonal changes in a local spot, or personal expressions of creation observations? Apologia Educational Ministries has come out with a pretty snazzy product to assist you in that endeavor! Oh how we wish that the Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal existed when we took our cross-country road trip in 2006! 
Now, I will be upfront and say that I was excited about this review item, because my youngest's field trip record is rather slim. This is due *mostly* to our acquisition of a lovely retired service dog. She has put a major cramp in my homeschooling style~ because she can't be left home alone, and she also can't go to most field trip locations. ARGH! What's a homeschool mom to do? 

Well, we've had to be creative, and I'm afraid that for the purposes of this review, we were once again not able to go on a "traditional" field trip (I had plans, but between baseball and the weather... well, let's just say we're looking forward to more free time, and good weather for some of the animal friendly, or "Mom and Youngest" options out there). 

Here is where the Field Trip Journal comes in. Yes~ there are FABULOUS pages for specific, planned, LOCATION field trips (ie: Museum, Nature Preserve, National Park, Historic Site). These will, as mentioned above, get filled in a little more slowly in our journal...  But there are also a number of pages that are more open-ended, and less structured.
Fabulous field trip pages~ *not true to size, and some are not to scale
Included near the front of the journal are a couple of pages with nine to twelve field trip suggestions in ten specific categories (that's over 100 field trip ideas, folks!). I'm showing the most general suggestions, to give you a feel for it, but many of the other ideas are unique and creative (Could you find lists like this elsewhere? Probably~ but not packaged quite as nicely). 
  • Plants: Arboretum
  • Animals: Animal Shelter
  • Earth: Water's Edge
  • Space/Aviation: Local Airport
  • Human Body: Dentist's Office
  • History & Govt': City Hall
  • Municipal: Police Dept
  • Business: Bakery
  • Culture: Art Museum
  • Other: Camping 

The point here is that you can find a field trip anywhere, even in your own back yard, or up the street! What a relief! :D Apologia has also included one of their "Book Extras" codes for those who purchase the journal. This brings you to a page on Apologia's site filled with loads of field trip advice and suggestions. What a fantastic resource this is. 

My Eldest is quite taken with this Journal~ the feel of the pages (they are sturdy and smooth to the hand), the graphics "I love the lettering, Mom! They are all so different." (they speak to her scrap-booky heart), and her favorite pages ~ the open-ended, creative pages (As I See It), where she can doodle and draw... :) Here is a portion of one of the As I See It Pages~ Eldest sketched a flower she saw in Guatemala on her Missions Trip (How's that for an International Field Trip?). The photo doesn't show the whole page, but I anticipate if becoming a "Flora I've Seen" page for her.  

This will most likely become a "Family" book, with various people contributing, as we explore God's Creation all around us. It's clearly great for the artistic child, and I believe that the Middlest "Nature Boy" will benefit from the "My Special Spot" pages, while Youngest will get in a few traditional field trips, as dog, schedules and weather allow. 

I think this journal has the potential to earn an honored place in the homeschool book/travel bag of many families (Don't forget the colored pencils~ if you have a polaroid camera, that would be a plus too!). 

You can visit Apologia Educational Ministries online: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Friday, June 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday... (otherwise known as Throw and Bat Thursday?)

Well, Google photos has sent me for a loop (Some upgrade that has moved things around... YIKE!) so my post for Throwback Thursday is late...

I missed an exciting baseball game 
(sitting at Dance~ oh the joys of multiple children in multiple sports...)

but I can't believe that this was 4 years ago today 
(Well... it was supposed to be "Thursday"... technical difficulties!) 
My how he has grown! 
(But his form is still very recognizable, if refined...) 

Love to see it!


Memoria Press: The Book of the Ancient Romans Set

Memoria Press is a very familiar name for those who are interested in the Classical form of Education, and I have become a little more familiar with their products over the years that I have been on the TOS Review Crew. We have gone from "Prima Latina" and "Famous Men of Rome", to more recently, their Geography I set. This year I was sent The Book of the Ancient Romans Set.

While Prima Latina is clearly a Grammar stage, "learning by rote" curriculum, the Book of the Ancient Romans Set is definitely firmly set in the Logic stage of the Classical Curriculum.

THE TEXT (written by Dorothy Mills early in the Twentieth Century), is interesting and easy to follow for a Middle School - early High School student. My son has been enjoying learning more about Rome and the Romans through this text. Middlest felt that the many quotes from Livy, Plutarch, and others helped to give the text a greater authenticity and an ancient "voice" that he enjoyed reading. The text also includes photos and graphics to help flesh out the feel of Ancient Times.

THE STUDENT TEXT felt very familiar, given our previous experience with Memoria Press. The pages are all laid out the similarly with each Lesson including:

  • Facts to Know
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension Questions
  • Activities (That are heavy on timeline and geography, but also include written reports, charts, and more)
  • Reviews for multiple chapters
The Comprehension questions are where you see the jump to the logic stage, because the student is required to do more than fill in a blank~ they are asked to answer the "Why" of what what happened~ to understand the reasoning behind the actions of those whose history they are studying. 

THE TEACHER'S TEXT is very straightforward, and simply gives the correct answers for the vocabulary and the comprehension questions.  There are also Unit tests and Keys in the back of the book. 

My son mostly did this on his own~ With approximately one lesson per week as our goal, he read the required pages, and then used the Student Guide to learn the key facts, look over the vocabulary, and answer the Comprehension Questions. 

Once the questions were answered, he would bring me his Student Guide to look over his work, and discuss anything that seemed to be of interest to him or to me. For instance, I thought it was interesting that when Rome was being founded, everyone was welcome regardless of their position in society~ including criminals of all kinds. Curious sort of reputations on which to build a community. 

The Book of the Ancient Romans Set is a great resource for those who employ the Classical Method of Homeschooling, and could be an equally wonderful fit for children who enjoy having a workbook to fill out.

Conversely, if your children dislike workbooks, or being confined to a set number of lines to write their answers, they might not thrive with this set. I was thinking about this as I struggled to read the words that were squashed into some of the spaces given. I might suggest using a notebook to answer the comprehension questions, which would allow for greater freedom as students begin to move beyond giving the shortest answer possible. ;) 

Please consider visiting Memoria Press on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about their curriculum and community.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about this set, as well as the Latina Christiana I set and the Famous Men of Rome set. 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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