Friday, October 30, 2015

Maestro Classics: Peter and the Wolf

I love music~ of many different styles and eras. My playlists are *quite* eclectic. However, there is definitely something special about classical music (many studies have shown the mental benefits of listening to classical music), and that is one reason why I am so pleased to have been sent Peter and the Wolf by Maestro Classics for review purposes.

Peter and the Wolf is a classic by Sergei Prokofiev, a rather more modern Russian composer. I remember listening to Peter and the Wolf with my father, and requesting that he play the 8-track tape  numerous times (am I dating myself a bit here?). I loved the music then, and I love it now.

Peter and the Wolf is a special piece written specifically to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra, and teach them to listen to the voices of the instruments. The instruments and the melodies tell a story without words that has enchanted children for nearly 100 years.

Stephen Simon and Maestro Classics have put together a wonderful version.
The CD includes:

  • an introduction to the story
  • a narrated version of the music
  • background information on Sergei Prokofiev
  • little excerpts of Russian music played by Russian musicians on traditional Russian instruments
  • the story of Peter and the Wolf without words

You can listen to brief excerpts of each track on the CD  on the Maestro Classics website. This will give you a good feel for the amount of material covered beyond the actual classical piece.

The CD includes a 24-page educational booklet with more background facts on the composer, some fun and educational activities, and lots of cultural information on the musicians......

and the instruments......  (once you hear the excerpt, you may be hooked!)

This was a wonderful CD to listen to in the car when we had a longer trip, and it caught the interest of the whole family. Beyond the Classical Music of Prokofiev, it includes some delightful songs played on traditional Russian instruments.  My youngest was enthralled with the instruments, and enjoyed reading about them in the educational booklet.

Maestro Classics also makes available a 12 page curriculum guide for free download, if you would like to expand your listening experience into a unit study. I haven't had much opportunity to use the guide yet (only a little as you'll read below), but I have looked it over.
It includes:

  • History
  • Science
  • Geography
  • Language Arts
  • Art
  • Music, and even
  • Math

The activities and links included in the curriculum guide are varied and suitable for a variety of ages. We did play around a little bit with the concept of sound, waves, vibration, and pitch, using rubber bands as recommended in the science section.  Always a fun experiment, and easy to do with materials at hand!

I believe that rather than doing a full unit study all at once, I am more inclined to pull out a different aspect from the guide every time we listen to Peter and the Wolf. Little bits of interesting knowledge that can be associated with this one piece of music.  It would also be a great go-along to a literature study on Russia, with more ideas to expand on the cultural and geographic themes.

I will take a minute here to note that other TOS review members received Maestro Classic's brand new CD, The Nutcracker for review, and you can read my previous reviews of Mike Mulligan and Casey at the Bat,  and my first Maestro Classics review of The Tortoise and the Hare.

If you like classical music, or would like to introduce it to your children, Maestro Classics is a great option that helps to give children more information about the music and the composers while keeping them entertained.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can visit Maestro Classics on: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube
I highly recommend following them, as they publish specials on their social media outlets.

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about Peter and the Wolf or The Nutcracker. 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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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Because everyone needs a plan... (A review)

Apologia Educational Ministries  has been a  "Go-to" for homeschool families for years~ perhaps most notably for their Creation Science Curriculums. However, over the years they have expanded the resources they offer, including World View curriculum, Language Arts, Geography, History, Civics, Preschool books, Encouragment and Devotionals, and Homeschool Helps. I have been privileged to review a number of different products for Apologia over my years on the TOS Review Crew~ you can access those reviews by scrolling down to the "labels" on the right side menu, or just searching "Apologia" in the search field at the top of the blog.

This time the TOS Review Crew was asked to review the parent version of their new planners by Debra Bell.  Three different color choices were sent out randomly, I received The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - Blue Cover.

The planner is a little oversized, with a spiral bound plastic pocket cover, both front and back. The first set of pages include yearly calendars up through 2023 for long range planning.

The next page includes a space for you to personalize the planner with your personal information, and gives a hint to the style of planning Debra Bell hopes you will utilize. There are spaces in this planner to
Count Your Blessing
Encourage Independence
Record Your Progress
because as St. Augustine reported to have said (And we have seen played out time and time again) "Order brings peace"

The next 10 pages of the planner give suggestions and illustrations for using the planner, as it is intended to be fairly flexible. It is also intended as a tool for growth, not just of our children's minds, but the daily, weekly, and yearly spiritual character of ourselves, and our entire families.

The planner includes an undated one year calendar on a two page spread, for you to see a year at a glance, and fill in vacations and holidays. There are pages to detail Character and Academic Goals for each child, as well as family priorities for the coming year (A prayer list for the year???).

There follows a place to record the resources you are planning to use with each child (Mine is pitifully small, as I don't know what might be coming down the pike, so I just have the basics of Math, Reading/English/Literature, Science, and History.

After that there are undated double spread monthly planning pages (This is where I put in my review deadlines, and co-op teaching plans~ Dr. Appointments, baseball games, and any out of the ordinary dance events). These pages have a scripture quote at the bottom, and an inspirational quote at the top right, which is always pleasant to contemplate, and sometimes a needed reminder.

Next come the weekly planning pages: the "meat" of the planner. Each week has 4 pages devoted to plans and accomplishments. The first page is a space for mom (or dad) to devote some quiet time to planning~

  • An inspirational quote
  • Space to outline your Bible Reading for the week
  • "Battle Plan/Fighter Verse" for the week (What verse will you choose to encourage you this week?)
  • Place for you to record prayer requests, or priorities as you pray for your family
  • A place to record your plans for hospitality and outreach~ even something as simple as noting encouraging phone calls or emails that you want to make this week. 

The next page has a place to record the weeks memorable moments

  • family funnies
  • victories
  • progress
  • promising signs
  • small beginnings
  • finished projects

and another space to record Evidences of Grace,
Reminding us to look for and acknowledge God's:

  • Grace
  • Mercy
  • Faithfulness
  • Protection
  • Provision

each week. Creating a record of those evidences may well be another grace, as we look back on these days in the future~ Encouragement!

The second double page spread of the weekly planning pages has a 6x6 grid (with column and row headers for each), as well as a space for notes, supplies needed, and appointments, and yet another inspirational quote. One week had this gem from Abraham Lincoln "The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read." 

I have to admit that the 6x6 grid kind of threw me for a loop~ I had to figure out how I was going to use that with my 3 children and 5 day school weeks. I decided finally that it was "ok" if I didn't use the second page... I ran Monday-Friday down the "Week of" row, with one space for "Review items", and gave each of my children a column. If I need to, I can always give them double columns, if I want to use more space to record their lessons.
Families that are larger than mine are sure to appreciate the extra spaces... :)

You can visit Apologia on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pencil Sharpeners come in Purple??? (Review)

For all my friends who love to use real pencils, either graphite or colored... a good pencil sharpener is hard to find, and a good pencil sharpener in a popular shade like purple has been next to impossible to find, until now!

I don't know if you recall my review of the Red Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener almost 2 years ago. Please go check it out... I still stand behind everything I had to say ~ my pencil sharpener has been used regularly and is still going strong~ which must be a record for me and my household!

With that, I would like to introduce Classroom Friendly's brand new color option
Chosen via reader/customer poll:

Popular Purple! 

Isn't it pretty?  

How delightful to have a practical pencil sharpener in an array of colors. 

Next we're hoping to see a TEAL pencil sharpener in the line-up! :) 

I brought both pencil sharpeners to my art co-op class, as I knew we were going to be using a LOT of colored pencil~ so funny that the pencil sharpener ended up being almost more of a hit with the PreK/K crowd, over the the actual art project!
"Hey, can I sharpen my pencil?" 
"The tip on this pencil broke, can I sharpen it?" 
"My turn! I want to use the sharpener!" 

So... pretty color(s), practical, excellent engineering, a sharpener that does its job, and does it well!

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpeners are an excellent purchase for anyone who regularly uses a sharpener~ homeschoolers, classroom teachers, artists... and any home, really! If you're tired of buying batteries, or buying new pencil sharpeners, year after year (Sometimes month after month...) you should check it out~ I think you might love your Classroom Friendly Sharpener (in a nice variety of colors) just as much as I do mine! :)


Friday, October 23, 2015

Koru Naturals: creams and soaps from New Zealand (Review)

As I mentioned recently, sometimes the TOS Review Crew gets some fun stuff to review that isn't curriculum related. You may recall my review for Koru Naturals back in March. This time Crew Members all received Manuka Honey Propolis SoapSkin Clear Cream , and one of the following:
My box came with the Emu Oil and Blue Tansy Oil Cream

Because I have arthritis in my thumbs due to an old injury, I was interested to see how the Emu Oil and Blue Tansy Oil Cream would work for me. I can always tell when I'm over-doing it because the area around the joint where my thumb meets the wrist tend to get a little bit inflamed. This thankfully doesn't happen on a daily basis, but often enough that the opportunity to try something that might help seemed like a good idea. :)

As you can see on the label, the cream includes Emu Oil, Blue Tansy Oil, Aloe Vera and MSM. I had to look MSM up to see what it is...  Methysulfonylmethane is a chemical that occurs naturally in plants, animals and humans, and is used for chronic pain relief among other things.

Here are my thoughts, right off the bat~ this cream rubs in well, is smooth and not oily. I have to say that the scent strikes me as a little odd, simply because it is a mix of so many different essential oils and extracts... 21 additional essential oils and extracts to be exact. When I looked up a number of them (I didn't look them ALL up), I discovered that many of them are helpful for fighting inflammation and pain, which explains their use in this cream.

While I can't say it took all my pain away (eh... I have missing cartilage), I felt that the cream was beneficial in reducing general inflammation. I specifically didn't "massage" my hands, but gently rubbed the cream in to see how it worked, and I think there was definitely some relief.

Alright, on to the products we all received...

Out of the box~ the Munuka Honey Propolis Soap smells SO good~ very strong honey scent. It definitely leaves my hands feeling softer, although they still feel a little dry (Which is typical for my skin and non-liquid soaps). Another benefit, if you happen to have little boys who like to say they have washed their hands if the faucet has been turned on... it actually takes about the right length of time (The Happy Birthday Song, or the ABC Song sung one time through) to rinse the soap off... helps to ensure proper hand washing.
Again, I had to do some research, as Manuka Honey/Propolis was not familiar to me. Manuka Honey is produced in New Zealand by bees that visit the Manuka Tree. While all honey tends to have antibacterial properties, Manuka Honey actually has a rating scale to determine its potency. According to WebMD, to be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF. Honey at or above that level is marketed as "UMF Manuka Honey" or "Active Manuka Honey." The Manuka Honey used in this soap is rated 20...  The Propolis also has antibacterial qualities, and the benefit of this sweet-smelling antibacterial soap is that it doesn't appear to promote the "superbugs" that we've heard about. This would seem to be a great "kitchen sink" soap from the anti-bac point of view.

The final product we received was the Skin Clear Cream which is part of Koru Naturals' Manuka Skin care line. Because of the antibacterial qualities of Manuka Honey (and other ingredients, including tea tree oil*), this cream is recommended for problem facial skin. Just a note this cream has a fairly strong lemongrass scent.

This one I can definitely vouch for. I have occasional adult acne outbreaks, and was very curious to see how this would work for them. When I do have problems, they are fairly limited, and tend to run along the perimeter of my face~ my hairline (including the back of my neck, IN my hairline.. :/), just the edges of my cheeks, my chin, and well, then there is the nose. Thankfully seldom all at once! ;)

When I felt a pimple coming on, I dabbed it with a dot of Skin Clear Cream before going to bed, and then again in the morning. Repeating if necessary. Each time I used the cream, the pimple receded, and never became infected with pus. Hurrah for natural anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory products!
Products I received, the day they arrived
*Now, a note about allergies~ Each of the products above include something that may cause allergic reactions. I will mention that I do tend to take antihistamines daily, so if I did have some sensitivities, they seem to be largely taken care of.

  • If you are allergic to honey (which is different from being allergic to bee stings), you might want to stay far away from these products. 
  • If you have tea tree allergies, proceed with caution. I am typically fairly sensitive to tea tree oil (like, I often can't breathe when I come into contact with products containing teat tree oil...), and I didn't have any major problems with the skin cream. I also didn't use large quantities at once... I doubt I should use it as an all-over facial cream... 
  • The Skin Cream in particular is not recommended for pregnant women or children under 12 years of age.  
  • If you have general "scent"-sitivities, I can't promise you, but I didn't have any major problems with any of these products, and I tend to have a VERY sensitive nose and allergic (Asthmatic) reactions. Of all of the products, I would say the Emu Oil and Blue Tansy Oil Cream was the one I tended to keep furthest away from my nose. 
One more note~ the Skin Clear Cream is not a very solid cream, so use caution when removing or opening the protective plastic cover under the lid. There is a nice little tab to assist with this, but using a finger tip under the edge will help to break the liquid "seal" that seems to occur each time it's closed. 

I like the ability to use natural good to help heal and have enjoyed using these Koru Naturals products!
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can visit Koru Naturals on Facebook and Pinterest
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Friday, October 16, 2015 Movie Review: Little Boy

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew doesn't always have curriculum to review~ we've seen some games, music, and household/beauty products come along, and occasionally some movies.

This time around,  (which offers a huge inventory of Faith and Family Friendly movies) had a few movies for members of the crew to review.  I was sent the movie Little Boy.

Other titles that were reviewed by TOS Crew Members were
Do You Believe?Living Waters: Intelligent Design in the Oceans of the Earth,
Faith of Our Fathers, and When Calls the Heart, Heart of the Family

Little Boy takes place during World War II. "Little Boy" is the nickname of a young boy, Pepper Busbee, who lives somewhere on the west coast.

Quick Synopsis:
Pepper's brother London wants to enlist, but is refused because of his flat feet, and their father determines that it is his duty to go to war in his son's place. This hits Pepper particularly hard, as he is something of an outcast, due in good part to his diminutive stature. His father appears to have spent a good deal of time on imaginary adventures with Pepper (Pepper's motto came from the frequent refrain of his father "Do you believe you can do this?" when facing a danger in their game), so he is losing not only his parent, but also his playmate to the war.

One of Pepper's "heros" is a magician Ben Eagle, who comes to visit the town. Pepper is called up on the stage, and appears to move a bottle from one end of a table to the other, simply because he believed he could do it. This begins Pepper's conviction that he can bring his father home from the war.

When one of the local priests gives a sermon on faith the size of a mustard seed, Pepper goes looking for answers. The older priest in town takes this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. This introduces the secondary story line (And to me, personally, the more interesting story line) of an elderly Japanese gentleman (also an outcast) who returned to his home, after being released from one of the Japanese interment camps.

The priest finds a way to bring the two together, in the hopes that they will be able to help one another...

I won't tell you the rest of the story~ if you're intrigued you'll have to check it out for yourself. I *will* however, give you my impressions of the movie.

I watched it with a friend and my Eldest. I took seriously, and agree with, the PG13 rating. My Middlest kept Youngest occupied elsewhere while we watched (and DH watched football, but I think he would have enjoyed watching with us if the circumstances were different... ;) ).

Right off the bat we were struck with the beauty and quality of both the music and cinematography. It really felt as if you were being pulled into a Norman Rockwell painting. Well Done!  The acting went right along with that. I particularly enjoyed the Japanese character, Mr. Hashimoto.

As a general movie, I thought it was well done, and something that I could enjoy watching with appropriately aged friends and family~ no objectionable language, gratuitous violence, etc...

As a "Christian" film, I felt a bit of a "twinge" in the emphasis on an individual's faith "Do you believe you can do this?" vs placing that faith in God~ however, it opens up the opportunity to discuss real faith, vs an almost "Works-based" faith. Not a major criticism, but definitely worth keeping in mind, as you watch with your own worldview in mind. ;)

I will mention again the secondary story line that brought to light the discrimination shown towards Japanese-Americans during that time period. Not something that is mentioned quite as frequently as other acts of discrimination in our nation's history, which made it especially powerful.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie-watching experience, and would recommend this film to families with 13+ children, with the suggestion to enjoy it as a story, and then discuss it afterwards.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Progeny Press~ To Kill A Mockingbird Study Guide Review

As I mentioned in my review yesterday for Progeny Press' Sam the Minuteman, I have been blessed to review for Progeny Press a number of times. In 2012 we reviewed Pride and Prejudice and The Bronze Bow, in 2013 we reviewed The Hobbit and Treasure Island, and in 2014 we reviewed Hunger Games and The Giver. I think it is VERY safe to say that Progeny Press is among my very favorite products that we have received as part of the TOS Review Crew.  In-between reviews we have purchased the study guides for Amos Fortune Free Man, A Wrinkle in Time, and Jane Eyre, and I have my eyes on more. These are fantastic, well-rounded literature curriculum guides written from a Christian Worldview, which in my opinion is very important when delving into world literature.

I found it very opportune that we were offered the study guide for To Kill A Mockingbird for review this fall. Believe it or not, this one one of those classic books which hadn't made its way into my reading stack as a student or young adult. I finally had the chance to read it this summer, and decided that it was a must read for my senior+ .

We found this particular guide was not set up quite the same as the others that we have reviewed at the high school level, in that it did not include a "Think About the Story" group of questions for each section (However, the Dig Deeper section included comparable sorts of questions). Other than that it was fairly similar~

  • Literary Elements are discussed as they show up~ setting, characters, etc...  
  • Vocabulary for each set of chapters~ this was one of my daughter's favorite sections this time around. She ran into a number of words with which she wasn't familiar, and has been enjoying adding some of them to her personal arsenal. 
  • Dig Deeper sections~ once again the portion of the study guide that I find to be very helpful, particularly when reading literature that may or may not have been written by someone with a Christian Worldview. This is where bits and pieces of "humanity" are picked out, whether good or evil, and looked at through the lens of the Bible.  For instance, it is pointed out that Atticus Finch is a man of integrity, which is a very small point in the novel, but a very important point overall (as it carries through the story, as well as being an important trait to cultivate)

I should mention here that we received the e-book version of this study guide for review. This is an interactive pdf file that can be typed into directly (Which as I have mentioned in previous reviews is a GREAT option for my Middlest child). However, my Eldest doesn't want to be tied to a computer when doing her literature, so we have chosen to have her access the pdf file from the ipad, and write her answers directly into a notebook. Much more portable that way. :) So nice to have both of those options as well as the "write directly on the pdf file"  in the pdf-notes app option as referenced in my review of Sam the Minuteman with Youngest.

I really can't say enough good about Progeny Press study guides for literature. They are THAT good.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about other this and other High School, Middle School, Upper and Lower Elementary Titles. 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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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Progeny Press ~ It's Elementary!!! :) (Sam the Minuteman)

I have had the honor of reviewing many Progeny Press Titles before (in fact, I'll have one more coming tomorrow!), but this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to review one of their Early Elementary titles. Because my youngest is all about history and the Revolutionary War, I was pleased to be able to use the Sam the Minuteman study guide with him.

Side note: We live in New England... you would think that this would be a VERY easy title to find, but there are only THREE copies in our whole library consortium of over 30 libraries! Crazy!

Because this *is* my first time looking over the elementary titles, I was very curious to see what they looked like in comparison to the older Jr. High and High School titles.

While the elementary study I used was for a book that didn't have any chapters, many of the elements of the study guide were similar to those of the older students.

I am going to give you a rundown of what the guide includes and our thoughts or how we used each section. Note: this is a PDF download, and rather than printing up pages, we used it on my ipad, via the pdf-notes app, so that we could write directly on the pdf. We also took turns writing, as handwriting tends to tire him out...

  • Synopsis of the story 
  • Background information (this was helpful for my youngster, as it answered questions he had as he read the book... like "What *were* the Minutemen, really?" 
  • About the Author (Added to the information in the back of the book)
  • Before-You-Read Activities (Youngest enjoyed doing a timeline using our Timeline Builder from Knowledgequest~ he likes typing information in vs writing it down...) 
  • Vocabulary (Great opportunity to use and improve his dictionary skills~ took longer than it should be cause he kept getting sidetracked by other entries... ;) words and dictionaries are cool! :) )
    • There was a "mystery word" exercise  in this section that included scriptures that talked about courage... something that my youngest struggles with, so it opened up the opportunity to talk about it a little more. :) 
  • Cause and Effect (Good introduction to the concept~ don't think that we'd discussed cause and effect specifically before...) 
  • Word Pictures (Similes and Metaphors ~ this was mostly review for him as we *have* covered both multiple times.)
    Word Pictures and Author Creates Mood Worksheets
  • How the Author Creates Mood (Very simple exercise that was a good introduction to the concept of creating mood)
  • Looking at the Story (Comprehension Questions ~ Think About It questions ~ Bible Verses, Dig Deeper ~ apply it to your life ~ These are the "Meat" of the study in my opinion, and what sets Progeny Press apart from other study guides.)
  • Important Words to Remember (What it says it is~ the "key words" of the story. In this instance they were used in a crossword puzzle.. fun!
  • Thinking About the American Revolution (This is a little deeper section
    • Counting the Cost of Freedom asks the student to consider the impact of war on a family ~ in a fairly gentle manner 
    • The Declaration of Independence is introduced, which may be an activity for the older end of the recommended age group
    • The Liberty Bell included a poetry activity, after talking about Freedom, and bells as communication method.
    • Freedom and Responsibility brings it back to the Bible :) 
  • After-You-Read Activities (Suggestions to extend the learning... there were a number of them, one we chose to do was make butter~ a Colonial Activity)
  • Additional Resources: (Books to read and Books for other Crafts)
  • Answer Key (For those that might feel more comfortable having cut and dried answers to the black and white questions. As well as the "OK" to have varying answers for open-ended opinion questions... sometimes we need to see that written down. ;) 

I am happy to report that I like the "Jr." versions of the Progeny Press guides almost as much as I like the "Sr." versions. If your kids like color and bells and whistles, you can add it in a little if you have an ipad or other electronic device (like we did), letting them use colored pencils, glittery gel pens, etc, if using paper versions.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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