Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hip Hip Horray, Ben! x 3

Ben's troop had a Court of Honor last night. He earned his first THREE merit badges! He really felt proud of himself. He expressed a lot of fear and hesitation about tackling merit badges -- they seemed a HUGE jump for him compared to the Webelos badge requirements. He earned Citizenship in the Nation, Wilderness Survival, and Climbing. I think Ben would be hard pressed to pick his favorite, as he did such cool things for each: visited Gettysburg and DC for the Citizenship badge (he loves history), build a natural shelter to sleep in for Wilderness Survival (in the pouring rain, no less!), and spend a couple nights at a local climbing gym. He's looking forward to earning Snow Sports this winter, Family Life, and would really like to earn coin collecting as well (just need to line up a counselor for that one).

Monday, December 20, 2010

(Almost Perfect) Christmas Vacation - Day 1

1. Woke up early. Watched oldest leave for paper route. Started coffeemaker. Sipped down a mug of coffee. Went back to bed. Cuddled with several adorable sons.

2. Drank another cup of hot coffee.  It must be vacation, 'cuz it wasn't even 9:30 a.m. and I'd had two cups of hot (read:  not re-heated) coffee.  This never happens when school is in session.  I could get used to this....

3.  Made delicious pretzel chocolates with all the kids' help:

Very easy.  very yummy.
4.  On my third cup of coffee.  Still hot.  delish.

5.  Took lunch to eat with Daddy at his office.

6.  Home for Christmas movie.  Mommy may have taken a nap somewhere between the ghost of Christmas past and ghost of Christmas present. 

7.  Ate a wonderful dinner.  Broke out (not literally) Waterford crystal just 'cuz we never use it, and this seemed like as good a day as any.

I'm not sure what we could have done to make it more perfect!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Good Morning, God

Apologia Educational Ministries send an adorable book for review:  Good Morning, God.    Written by Davis Carman and illustrated by Alice Ratterree, it is a simple, pleasantly repetitive reminder to children (ages 1-8 years) that God loves them all through the day, and that each day -- each part of the day -- is an opportunity to learn about and worship God. 

The forward of the book states:

Ideally this book will help your child fall in love with our heavenly Father by thinking about Him from sunrise to sunset.  The hope is that this book will introduce children to the simple and wonderful ways we can worship God daily and inspire them to enjoy the Lord with heir entire being all hrough the day.
The storyline takes place during a Sunday to Sunday week of a young child, probably preschool age.  Each day starts with "Good morning, God" and ends with a short, one-sentence prayer.

For older children, there is a daily Question and Activity devotional at the back of the book, meant to supplement the readings.  It is designed to help children consider how to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27).  There are Bible verses to look up, so if you have a non-reader, you'll want to help.

I thought this was a lovely book with repetitive prose that delights young children and thoughtful questions to discuss with your children.  update:  I neglected to mention that the there are black-and-white illustrations for each day....and now Apologia has these available as a coloring book for $4.  You can view it on their website here.

If you are having trouble finding the book on the Apologia website, the ISBN number for the book is 978-1-935495-25-3.  I was able to see it on, but as of this review date, it was not in stock.

For more reviews on this resource, click over to the Review Crew Blog here.

Thanks to Apologia for the opportunity to review this book. In exchange for a complementary copy of the resource, I was asked to give my honest opinion about the book.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review Crew: The Master Ruler

What a great tool the Master Ruler is.  Patented by Master innovations, LLC, this teaching ruler is great tool for teaching the fractional components of both standard and metric measuring systems.

The Company:  Master innovatons has created a number of unique tools to help classroom teachers teach math concepts of measurement, telling time, factions and angle measurement.  The products generally involve clear plastic overlays which break down compounds into their components -- and than can be put back together!

The Products:  I received both a metric and stadard Master Ruler, the Master Ruler Workbook, and a Marvels of Measurement poster (Love the poster.  I'll be making room for it on our school room walls over Christmas break):

The rulers themselves are made from clear plastic sheets.  They are bound together with colorful rings.  Each sheet of clear plastic measures out a specific measurement.  One layer for inches, one each for 1/2 inch, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16:

On the metric ruler, there is one layer each for decameter, centimeter, and millimeter.

You can see video demonstrations of the products (for the rulers as well as clock, fraction, and angle tools) in use here.

My Impressions:  I really liked the ruler sets, and it reminded me of my sometimes failed attempts to teach the fractional inch measurements to my oldest son.  "No, Ben," I'd often hear myself say. "Not those lines.....these little ones.  Yep....Uh, no the next one over.  Yeah, that one...."    I can honestly say that these tools will make me a much better teacher of measurement for my next two sons.

After watching the measurement video, I was really impressed by the ability to use the rulers when I introduce fractions again.  I really appreciate when a product can be used more than just in one topical unit.  More bang for my homeschooling buck!

You can read more reviews at The Review Crew blog.

Thank you to Master Innovations for the opportunity to review their product.  I was sent the products mentioned above in exchange for my honest impressions of the product.  No other compensation was received.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review Crew update: Math DVDs

In September I had the opportunity to review two math DVDs -- a pre-algebra from Math Tutor DVD and another for the TI-84 calculator. You can review the review I did of the pre-algebra DVD here.

Unfortunately, at that time in the school year and our family life, I didn't have a chance to watch the TI-84 DVD.  I did watch it in early October, but (sheepishly looking down at the ground) I forgot to write up my impressions of that product.

My impressions:  We're not at a place in our home education where we are using graphing calculators, but if I was, this DVD would be fantastic!   I am the type of person who reads instruction books that come with our products, but occasionally I run across an instruction pamplet with which I get bogged down with the details.   Computer and calculator manuals might fall into this category.  The DVD actually has a computer-generated calculator keyboard on half the screen, and the data screen on the other.  You can actually see what keys are being touched!  Of course, watching a DVD means you can replay and review steps that you might've missed!

Crew Review: Collectorz Book Collector Pro

I love the idea of a keeping my homeschool library cataloged on my laptop. For the past few years,  I have used a computer lesson planning software program  which required me to log the resources we were using. This was somewhat helpful, but there were some things I didn't like about it that prevented me from loading everything into the database.

 I was pleased to be offered the chance to review Collectorz  book library software (they have software for music, comic, game and DVDs as well).

And then I was overwhelmed.  However, the more I spent time with the software, the more I liked it and could really see the benefit of it's features.

The product. There is so much you can do with this software! Click here to view features. Real libro-philes will love that you can enter literary elements into your book entries -- character, plot elements.  A generic field is also available to enter your own notes.

Here's a screenshot for adding books.  You can enter ISBN numbers, or chose to enter by title/author.  After entering these fields, you click the "Search All" button, and it will populate your fields with online data about your books (a lot of the data comes from  Then click "add selected" and the books are added to your collection:

Here's a screenshot of editing a book you've entered. You can customize the field titles:

Collectorz has two versions to consider.  Their Pro version ($49.95) and Standard ($29.95).  They also sell three types of bar code scanners.  There are package deals as well.  The Pro edition give you the ability to make cool pie charts and track books you've loaned out. You can click here  for a comparison chart of the two versions.

My Experience.  For my purposes, I want to be able to group our books not only by subject, but also learning level -- grammar, logic/ dialectic and rhetoric, and also by curriculum (Tapestry of Graces, Sonlight, My Father's World).  Collectorz makes it easy to create new labels, search by those labels, and even change or delete unnecessary categories.

I loved that you can keep track of books on your wish list, as well as books you've loaned out!  In the past, I've loaned out curriculum to friends and forgotten where I put the handwritten list that she and I made to keep us accountable.  Yea!  No paper list needed here!

One of the features I really want us to download our list of homeschool resources to my iphone.  There are many times I'm looking at used books (or library book sales) and wondering if I need a certain book for our history curriculum.  While Collectorz does have an iphone interface, the app is an additional fee ($10 at that).  Also, at this time, Collectorz does not interface with iphone's ability to be used as a bar code scanner.  This is unfortunate, as I really don't want to have to purchase an additional piece of equipment.  Happily, there are many Collectorz users who want the same features I do, so perhaps in the future!

You can visit TOS's Review Crew for more information from other reviewers.

FCC note:  I was given a trial version of Collectorz Pro for this review in exchange for my honest opinion about this product.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Month of Gratitude: Nov. 2nd

I'm grateful to live in a country where I can cast a secret ballot. I'm grateful to live in a country anyone can run for political office.  I'm grateful to live in a country where I have a choice when I vote.

In 1985 when I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to visit the then Soviet Union.  It was a life-changing trip and I learned much that has stuck with me to this day.  One thing I'll always be grateful for is freedom, and for those who have defended my freedom -- now and in the past -- with the ultimate sacrifice.

Thanks to Life in the Craft Lane for the free button!  

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Month of Gratitude

I can't believe it is already November, and time to make the Operation Christmas Child boxes, think about holiday shopping and turkey dinners and all the rest that is part of the end of the year. Thanks to my long-time online friend Tess, I'm reminded of all that I'm grateful for and will write about it all this month.

Tonight, I'm grateful for modern medicine and online "been there done that" mommies who are willing to share their experiences.  We've had a busy week and it is so comforting and helpful when others slide up next to you and offer to listen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: Yuck (no, really)

Got an interesting packet in the mail a few weeks ago: Yuck. 

Yuck is an acrylic polymer (that is apparently biodegradable) that just needs water to achieve it's  Which is what you want with Yuck.

I must tell you that I get grossed out by slimey and mushy things. But God has a sense of humor and gave me boys that like slimey and mushy. So, I'm learning to deal.

My oldest, Ben, decided that Sticky Yuck had his name all over it, so that is what we started with. It was sticky. And yucky. And almost made me sick when I touched it.

But I live to tell.

The packets were sent with a science/ observation sheet to encourage science-y type discovery with the material. I thought it was a helpful sheet to encourage more than just tactile engagement with the product. I wish the sheet was downloadable -- we've lost ours and it would be nice to have!

The sample came with a two page suggestion sheet for games you can use with Yuck.  These look really fun for the youth group at church, and I cannot wait to share the Yuck samples with the middle school and high school leaders.  Can you see a group of 14-year-olds on a slip-n-slide filled with a yucky, saucy substance?  Better them, than me.  *smile*

You can order Yuck in one pound packages starting at $20.  It makes a. lot. of. Yuck.

Buckets-O-Fun carries lots of other interesting group dynamic sorts of products to encourage movements, laughing and  general fun:  finger rockets, rubber animals, 8-foot tall beachballs, and this:

I could not ignore these:   

100-inch waist underwear.  This has Youth Group Laughs written all over it.

Head on over to Buckets-O-Fun and imagine all the possibilities!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Read, Write & Type

The program.  Read, Write and Type (RWT) is a researched based system used  to improve reading abilities in their students.   You can click here to read highlights of this program and here for a step-by-step tour.  During our preview for this review, Luke moved into (but did not complete) Step 4, so we really didn't get into much directed typing instruction. 

The product is online.  They do have CDs, but these are not compatible with Windows 7 and Macs. Purchasing the product gives you a 5-year license for 1 user.  If you have more than one child you'd like to use the program, you can purchase additional licenses for them.  A one year license is $35 for 1 child, $55 for two.  Click here for their pricing.

Our Experience.  Luke is an average reader, so I was hoping this program would provide a fun way for him to strengthen his reading skills and help engage him as an  new reader.

The program certainly did provide lots of opportunity for him to strengthen his reading skills;  there were some phonological awareness skills he needed some work on, and the program would not move him past this skill until he had performed at the pre-set criterion of 80%.   He got a little frustrated with the repetition of having to complete the same task over and over (like most of us Luke is not one to enjoy having to work on an area he perceives to be a weakness).

Unfortunately, the particular skill he was working on did not have much direct instruction or modeling, so he would begin to make guesses at the answer instead of figuring out the correct answer. The lack of direct instruction is not a criticism of RWT, rather it is a characteristic of many computer-based educational products.  The programs do not (yet) have the intuitiveness to slow down step-ward progress to create remedial instructional paths customized to the user.

Although the progress chart can give me percentages for each of phonics, reading and spelling, I was unable to know exactly what was giving my son trouble unless I sat there with him to watch what he was working on.  I may be weird, but I like to know error patterns that my kids are making, because I think you can learn much about what a student knows by looking at what a student gets wrong (this comes from years of training and professional experience as a speech-language pathologist).   "Phonics skills" can mean a multitude of things to different people.

During one time when I was watching my Luke, the program was asking him to type the sound that he heard at the end of the word "lock."  Luke kept typing "ck" instead of "k" -- and getting it wrong.

Now, I fully understand that what Luke was asked to type is different from what he answered -- and technically he was wrong. However, we're a phonogram  learning** family, so I'm actually quite happy that he typed "ck" -- it is two letter phonogram that makes the "k" sound.  With the ultimate goal to read and spell accurately, I think Luke's answer demonstrated appropriate skills more so than just typing a "k."  I noticed inconsistent use of long vs. short vowel sounds when typing on the keyboard -- they use the long "ay" sound  when typing the key "A" but the short "i" sound when I typed the "I" key.

My Thoughts.   You might be wondering if I recommend this product.    I should say that I'm sure RWT is an effective program for supplementing your reading program and beginning to familiarize your child with the typing process.   If you are using a phonogram-based program like Orton-Gillingham programs (Spell to Write and Read and All About Spelling are two that I"m familiar with), you may want to sit with your child through the phonological awareness portion to make sure they are specifically typing the sounds of the phonograms and not the spellings of the phonograms.

You can view other reviews here.

**I've got this linked to a web page that explains what a phonogram is. I'm not advocating the particular program that is associated with this website.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: Vocabulary Cartoons by New Monic

I first became aware of the Vocabulary Cartoons resources this spring at my local homeschool convention (Don't cha just *love* the Rainbow Resources booth?). I was looking for something new for vocabulary. While last year's workbook program was fine for Ben, I was looking for something that we *all* could do together.

And, who doesn't like a good cartoon?

The basics.  For this review, I received a copy of New Monic's elementary edition.  This book retails for $12.95, and online retailers often sell it at a discount.  You can view New Monic's website and all their vocabulary building resources (as well as some teaching tips) here.  The publish a number of books for different grade levels.

Rather than me explain how mnemonics work, I quote from the company's website:
Vocabulary Cartoons works on the principle of mnemonics. A mnemonic is a device that helps you remember something by associating what you are trying to remember with something you already know. A mnemonic device could be in many different forms like; rhymes, songs, pictures to name a few. For example, "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two" is a classic mnemonic rhyme which helps you remember when Columbus discovered America.

Following the mnemonic principle of association, Vocabulary Cartoons link together an auditory (rhyming) word association and a visual association in the form of a humorous cartoon. These powerful mnemonics help students retain the meanings of words longer and with less effort than trying to memorize definitions straight out of a dictionary.

Here's a sample of an entry in the book:

Each entry also includes several sample sentences using the target word.  A review is offered after every to words which allows you to match the word to its definition as well as a fill-in-the-blank sentence completion exercise.

Our experience.  As I mentioned, I was looking for something that was not  a vocabulary workbook for this year.  My second grader is not a strong reader (yet), and I knew that a workbook had the potential to really frustrate him.  Vocabulary Cartoons is a perfect alternative and really just what we need.  I started using this with my 2nd grader a few weeks ago.  He loves the cartoons!   We went through several of the words, laughed at the pictures, talked about the words and how they might be used in The Real World (one word, guerrilla, began a short history discussion). A few days, later I asked my son about the words, and he still remembered their meaning.  Wow!

As I mentioned above, the website offers many, many teaching suggestions to engage students in the new meanings and uses of the words.  I hadn't turned to their website until I went to write this review, but some of them  could easily be adapted for homeschool use.  In my family, my plan is to go over several words a week and make them target words that we have to somehow incorporate into our family conversations.  I am not above offering a candy reward for those who successfully complete their mission.  Just sayin'.

Vocabulary Cartoons is a fun way to incorporate exposure to advanced vocabulary in a novel way.  Homeschoolers are such a creative lot, and I'm sure there are a million ways that this book can be used.  I'm looking forward to reading some of the other reviews from Crew members so I can glean some other ideas for using New Monics resouces in my homeschool.  Click here and read some with me!

FCC statement: I received a free copy of this resource in exchange for my honest opinions about this resources. No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Salem Ridge Press

A month or so ago, I received several down-loadable books from Salem Ridge Press, -- Down the Snow Stairs and Young Robin Hood -- as well as a softcover bound book Soldier Fritz.

Quick review:  Love. 'em.

*smile*  OK, OK,  I know that won't cut it.....

The Company. Review Salem Ridge's website and you get a real sense of mission in the founder, Daniel Mills, a homeschool graduate:

The underlying philosophy of Salem Ridge Press is found in the Bible: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8)."  Daniel firmly believes that what we read matters and what we take into our minds is a major factor in forming our ideas and character.  His goal is to be a blessing to others by providing reading material that fits the qualifications outlined in the Bible.
(Note: not every book is Christian in nature, according to the website.)

The majority of books are published in both hard and softcover.  My copy of Soldier Fritz was softcover at $10.95.  Others with this type of binding ranged up to $14.95, and hard covers seem to be about $10 more than their softcover counterpart.

The book selections range from historical fiction for your church history, American and world history courses.  They also have allegory and adventure stories, and a selection of books for young readers (ages 6-10) and a selection of junior church history books for ages (starting at age 8 years).  And, (phew!  there's a lot of options) the sell sets at a discounted price.

You can order the books from a variety of locations listed here.  Note that e-books of all the titles are available from The Old Schoolhouse store for prices ranging from $7.95 to $12.95.

My thoughts.  I really enjoy reading literature written from different periods -- the style of late 19th century writing really stretches comprehension skills (in a good way!).  I also appreciate the vocabulary that is present in writing from this era.  Salem Press really makes the writing style accessible to 21st century students by putting short footnotes to define some vocabulary words (palfrey), and also placing pertinent scripture footnotes when scripture is quoted in the text.

We are a Tapestry of Grace family, and are familiar with historical fiction books, as they are sometimes used to enrich and deepen our study of a specific era.  We will be studying the Reformation this year, so reading Soldier Fritz was fortuitous.  What I appreciated about this particular book was the care in discussing the spiritual condition of young Soldier Fritz.  I think this book will be fabulous as an example of the growth and maturity that the Christian experiences in his/her life, and I really look forward to using it as a read aloud with my sons.  I also look forward purusing Salem Ridge's other books to find additional gems to enrich our lives.

You can view additional reviews here.

FCC: I received a free copy of one of SRP's books and two e-books to for this review.  No other compensation was received.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Pyramath Cards

I love the idea of math games to help reinforce my boys' recall of math facts.  We are Singapore Math users, and I love to use their suggested dice games and card games to reinforce math facts -- way more fun than a worksheet!

Pyramath Speed Game layout
Pyramath cards are one of four sets of cards that are meant to engage children in learning important math skills through play. Others include Fractazmic (fractions), Prime Bomb (prime numbers), and I See cards, which are simple object cards with numerical values that can be used for basic math, language development and foreign language learning.

The colorful face of each card shows the name of the digit written in several languages.  In addition to English in the upper left side, Spanish, French, Roman numerals, Arabic and Chinese translations and symbols are given.  This is a nice addition for introducing foreign languages or using them in a multi-lingual environment (such as ESL teachers).

Pyramath cards are certainly an affordable tool -- $6.95 for a deck of 54 laminated cards numbered 0-9. You can use these card to play a number of solitare and multi-player games: War and a game called Speed are two easy ones that can be adapted for your child's learning needs.  Rather than me trying to explain how game play goes, I'll refer you to Pyramath's wiki page for detailed rules and video demos:

You can play the games using only one math operation (say you need to practice addition with your 1st grader) or using any combination of the four basic arithmetic operations.  When my 6th grader and I played,  I noticed his tendency to use addition/ subtraction skills more readily than multiplication an division;  being the "mean mommy" that I am, the next game I changed the rules and we could only use multiplication and division (insert evil laugh here).

There is one quirky bit of information that will help you determine if this is a good product for your child, especially younger ones.  When  the answer to your math problem is a two-digit number, the value of the card (for example, a 8), can be used to signify any two digit number with 8 in the one's place: 8, 18, 28, etc.  OK, here's an example.   Ben and I play a game of War.  I play a 3 and he plays a 6. The first person to play a 9 card to represent the sum (because 3+6=9), or a 3 for the difference (6-3=3), or a 2 (6/3=2).  Alternately, he or I could play an 8 to represent the product of 3 x 6 -- 18.  In a different game, the 8 could represent the product of 6 x 8 -- 48    I took a few games for Ben to get the hang of this, but then the universe returned to normal -- and he beat me at several games.  
I really like that I can just pick up the deck, shuffle and begin working on math facts with my kids, without having to sort through a traditional playing deck to pull face cards or draw a number on a joker card because I need just one. more. number.  Pyramath is easy to pick up and throw in my purse for a quick math drill review... just about anywhere. 

For purchase help,  You can check out a  free, online version of Pyramath Speed or their Fractazmic Speed game here (and try to win a free deck).  
You can read additional reviews about this product, and many others at the Crew Blog.
Disclaimer the FCC requires:  I received a free deck of cards from the publisher in exchange for my opinion about this product.     I receive no compensation for this review.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11

Where were you on that day?
.....Laying on the couch at my MILs, near Boston, where we were living a the time. My oldest was 2 and got up each morning insanely I was napping and he was watching PBS Kids. My SIL called to tell me to turn on the TV.

....Tried to not cry in front of my baby. I knew the world had changed at that very moment. It was impossible not to cry.

..."Mommy," he says, "Why did that building fall down?"

....All that death. All that horror. All those innocent 2 year olds who wouldn't see their mommies, daddies, uncles, grandpas, aunts again....... I just hugged and hugged my son and cried.

.....My MIL lives over Logan Airport's flight pattern. It was SOOOOO quiet at her house without the planes flying over that the quiet was LOUD....

We will not forget... 

all those who went to work on a beautiful September morning, expecting nothing more than a usual day at the office,   
those who answered the dispacher's call and raced to help,  yet perished,
the men and women reached down into their souls and took up the banner to defend our country in the military, but did not return,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: America's Math Teacher

Sample worksheet for Fractions
I'm really thankful that I've had a chance now to review multiple math programs.  Often times I'll hear other homeschool moms say they are afraid to teach math.  This is not the case with me. I like math.  I like to teach it.  What I am often afraid of is using the wrong program for my child.  Having the opportunity to try so many different types of programs has given me more clues into my children's learning styles and preferences.

America's Math Teacher is an honest-to-goodness online math program covering math concepts appropriate for 4th grade through algebra.  The instructor, Rick Fischer, is a math teacher who has the credentials many parents want in a math teacher:  a math major in college!  According to the website, half of his 6th grade students skip 7th grade math and move right to 8th grade algebra.

The Basics. The website link is here.  They've posted samples of online lessons (which can be viewed with 24/7 access) and corresponding worksheets for each lesson.  Here's a sample of an algebra lesson teaching multiplication of integers.  There is a set or corresponding worksheets (and answers) for each topic except for Algebra.

You could really make this your mail math curriculum for those late grammar/ early middle school years.  Each worksheet has a math fact drill in a unique concentric circle format;  you can also use it free online.

 Purchase price is $195.00 for a 12 month subscription.  There does not appear to be any month-to-month purchase options at this time.

My impressions. The first lesson I watched taught division of fractions. Now, a lot of my friends and I prefer to use programs for math that teach the "why" behinds algorithms and techniques for solving math problems.  We can all remember following our teacher's model but not really understanding why we were doing what we were doing.  Think of division with fractions -- do you know why we "invert and multiply?"  Well, I did not until this spring! So, I was curious to know if Mr. Fischer's program was a "why"-based program.  It is not.  At least for fraction division.  He does a thorough job of teaching and explaining what a reciprocal is and how to do a variety of problems, but he doesn't explain why we do what we do with fractions.  I'm not saying this is a negative of the program, but I do want you to be aware of this.

I like that the lessons are short (11 minutes is the longest I've noticed) and the instructor encourages the students to grab their paper and pencil and work alongside him as he completes the problem.

I think that the worksheets do an admirable job of including all the basics that your middler student is going to need:  fact review, a couple questions about previously learned material, practice with new concepts and word problems.  With all that in each lesson, I'd have to characterize this program as a spiral learning approach versus mastery-based program.

I'm not sure if it is a website mistake, but the Algebra Learning Center page does note that the student should complete "the written exercises after each and every lesson," but I could not find them in the Resource Center.

My son enjoyed doing the lessons online -- he likes just about anyone else besides me as a math instructor!  I think he especially liked the calm demeanor of the instructor.

My only hurdle to signing up on the spot for a year's worth of lessons is the price.  $195 is a big chunk of change for us to lay out for one subject -- especially something that has an expiration date.  Since I have only one student in the skill range this program is targeted for, it is a bit pricey.  If you had more students in the 4th through 8th grade range, however, it could be a fantastic deal to get a high quality, national math standards driven curriculum. However, the credentials of the instructor make me want to think about it more.

If you'd like to read more reviews about America's Math Tutor you can visit The Review Crew here.

FCC disclaimer: I was given a 60-day trial membership in exchange for reviewing this product or my honest feedback.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Math Tutor DVDs

I was really pleased to receive Math Tutor's PreAlgebra DVD set 1 and  the Texas Instruments TI-84 Calculator Tutor for review.  Because sometimes, you just need a fresh face to explain something new.

At least in this house.

Now, I'll admit off the bat that I haven't had a chance to look much at the Calculator DVD.  We've had family issues in addition to start-of-the-school-year issues, so I've had to prioritize what I watch for my review time.  But, I have watched several of the Math Tutor's issues and have liked what I've seen.

The Basics.  The instructor for the Math Tutor DVD's certainly has the backing of impressive credentials -- this tells me he knows his stuff!

The DVDs I reviewed cost $26.99 each, but pricing is really varied depending on what you want.  Sets of DVDs are sold as well.  You can view the extensive collection of DVDs here.    I just noticed that physics is also sold as well!

The Math Tutor also has a membership area that includes forums, additional worksheets (for some of the courses), as well as access to all their videos.  Cost is $19.99 per month.

My Impressions. From watching his DVDs -- even in very basic topics -- he employs a step-by-step process that really breaks information down into manageable chunks.  Mr. Gibson makes few -- if any -- assumptions about a student's prior knowledge of the topic and starts at square one.  I appreciate this in a product that I might consider using to supplement my teachings or our math curriculum's explanations.  I think this allows the DVDs to complement nearly any math program.

I can definitely see that having these DVDs would be a big help around here.  Sometimes, my oldest son and I butt heads about math.  I like our math program (and my son isn't one who likes a lot of change) and do not want to switch, so having these DVDs as a resource could be a huge help for our family.

I will work hard to make time to review the Calculator DVD later this month or next.

If you'd like read more reviews about this product, head on over to The Crew Blog!

FCC:  I received two DVDs to preview in exchange for my honest opinion about these products.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Time 4 Learning

I approached this Time4Learning (T4L) trial with curiosity and a tad of skepticism.  Computer-based homeschooling is so opposite of what we do around here (not that I'm opposed to the computer -- seeing as I'm using one right now).  My children have used math fact drill programs online and my 11 yo participated in four science webinars last winter.  But to have all his major content classes online?  That is so different from what we do.

My curiosity was piqued because I have a dear friend who used T4L last year for their main curriculum.  Faced with an infant and major construction on her home, she used T4L for her two school-aged children.  She had mixed success with it (one child loved it, one did not), so I was interested to have my own try with it.

The Basics.  From their website, T4L's main emphasis is on language arts and math;  science and social studies are "thrown in" as freebies. You can sign up your child at a specific grade level (they recommend first signing them up at their traditional/ expected level), but you'll then get access to a grade level above and below, so that you can make adjustments.

They seem to have a lot of up-front help for those families considering T4L:
T4L costs $19.95 per month of use for the first child, and $14.95 for the second (and subsequent).  That averages out to about $180 for the first student or 9 months of school and $135 for the second student's tuition. Monthly tuition payment is automatically debited against your credit card of choice. You can view billing FAQ here.

The Program.  My curiosity was greatest for my 6th grader.  I was pleasantly surprised that the math  material for 6th grade dovetailed nicely with our progress in Singapore Math (we're using 5A this fall).  Topics included estimating, fractions, decimals and percents, graphing, among others.  It is similar to Singapore in that it is mastery based. (link takes you to a forum discussion about it).  I was also pleased with what I saw of the Language Arts programs.  They have two components:  Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions.  I appreciate that many language arts skills are taught within the context of contemporary children's literature.  For example after reading Growing Up in Coal Country, my son was asked to write a letter of complaint, compare and contrast information, and learn about prepositional phrases.

Arithmetic practice for my 2nd grader seems a bit light, but topics also mimicked our Singapore Math 2A/B curriculum for this year.  I would definitely need to print out additional worksheets for my son. Both boys really enjoyed the science and social studies lessons -- and I suspect the nutty, multi-media presentations were a huge part of the reason why.  Multi-media quizes and activities sure are way more fun than paper-and-pencil tasks. 

The K-level material that I worked through with my youngest was just plain fun for him.  Much was review for him (along the lines of a basic skills workbook you could purchase at Walmart), but I'm hopeful that it increases in content as the K year goes by.  Although we didn't use the Language Arts program (I'm trying to focus on phonograms with him versus letter names), by the end of the program, children are given the opportunity to read short vowel CVC words in story format.

How it worked for us.  In order to check my children's progress everyday, I had to sign into each of their accounts and look in their "backpack" icon.  There, I could see which activities they'd attempted and completed for they day and see their percent accuracy on quizzes and tests.  I really, really wish I could log into only one account (the parent account) and view all my kids' progress in one spot -- it would make the program so much more efficient for families with more than one chid that is using the program.

You can print out reports of your child's lessons and learning activities on a weekly or monthly basis, This would form a "lessons completed" log of the child's progress.  The logs report the child's quiz and test grade (in percent).  The program sets a 70% or better criteria for advancement-- anything less than that and the assignment is not considered complete, requiring a re-do by the student. Unfortunately, the 70% criteria cannot be changed at all.

I was not pleased that I couldn't view my child's responses on their quizzes or tests -- only percents are reported.  I'm one who gleans information on my child's errors, so I'm not able to analyze error patterns and assess progress.

On one math quiz (about rays, lines and planes), my son got nearly all the answers wrong.  Aaack! After talking with him and re-starting the quiz, he realized that he'd typed in all the answers in lower case vs. upper case letters.  It's too bad more specific directions weren't given to the child to prevent something like this.

My friend warned me to watch the wording of some questions, as she found questions that were worded so poorly she couldn't figure out what they were asking.  Now, I didn't notice this problem, but perhaps that's because we weren't methodically working through every lesson in all four subjects.  Or, better yet, perhaps they've made some corrections.

One of the things I (wrongly) expected about a computer based curriculum is that I could be more "hands-off" than with the resources we currently use.  Now that I've had a chance to use this (albeit only for a short time), I can see that I would still want to monitor my children's progress.  Add in potential internet connection issues or pages not responding (an issue we didn't deal with during our time using the program), and I would certainly want to stay in the area while my kids' worked.

I can certainly see us using T4L as a supplemental item for certain subjects (especially math for my oldest or science for my middle son, who just. can't. get. enough.).  I wish there was a way to purchase just specific subjects.   After our trial month, I'm much less skeptical of the computer-based educational alternatives and can certainly appreciate their use for a variety of homeschool situations.

If you'd like to read more T4L reviews, click here

FCC note: I was given a month's free membership to Time4Learning in exchange for a my honest opinions and thoughts about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: TOS's Travel Kits: A Simple Way to Bless Others

Even for trips as short as heading to my in-laws (about 90 minutes away -- depending on the cooperation of traffic and construction crews), I've always been one to pack lots of different activities for the kids (and me).  Having suffered from some car-sickness as a child, I often needed something besides a book to read in the back seat of the family Buick. Back then, a deck of cards and a reliable AM radio theatre broadcast were sure bets to cure car fatigue.

So it was with curiosity that I downloaded and read through "Travel Kits: A Simple Way to Bless Others" right before we left on our trip. Had I packed the "right stuff"?

This The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) publication was written by Donna Rees.  You can pick it up at TOS's store for $12.45 as an ebook download.  The Travel Kits ebook is one of 153 ebooks that TOS has published for use in all areas of a homeschooling (and non-homeschooling) mom's job descriptions:  oganization, gift giving, encouragement, curricula, and support.

First, a hint: don't print it out. The document is laced with many photos and colors, and it is 93 (!) pages long.  Save your ink and read it on your screen.  If there are sections of text you want to print out, use your snipping tool (found in Start -> Programs -> Accessories folder on Windows 7) to cut and paste it into a Word or Open Office document.

The ebook is a lot more than a list of potential items to include in your kit.  She provides inspiration for all phases of the occupy-the-kids process.  Have you considered wrapping the gifts?  In what creative container will you pack the activities? Will you doll them out as you backup past your mailbox, or at creative intervals during the trip? What about food/ snacks/ treats? Will you include the Leapster/ Gameboy/ DS?  What will the 3-year-old do while big sis is having her "screen time"?  After you read through this book, I'm sure your creative juices will be flowing, and you'll be able to use this as a jumping off point to customize a travel kit for the kids in your life.

My big revelation after reading the ebook:  make travel kits for others (slap forehead with hand).  I cannot believe I never thought of giving some travel activities to some friends as they prepare to hit the road!  And, since I'm not always up to speed with girls (seeing as I have none), it was helpful that Donna broke down ideas for boys and girls separately. She even includes several sections to help you think of ways to bless mom or dad. (Wouldn't it be fun to include brochures of possible stops along the way or even a Sudoku book for them to share?)

I really appreciated all the ideas Donna graciously shared in the ebook.  It is definitely a handy reference for our family as we begin a season of life which will include more road trips to further destinations, and as I try to look out to others' interests ahead of my own.

If you'd like to hear what others say about the Travel Kits, head on over to TOS Homeschool Crew website to read more reviews!

P.S -- Here's a great book that we've added to our tavel kits over the past few years:  Kids Across, Parents Down.  I love to include activities that will encourage talking/ teamwork/ togetherness for our whole family.  I think Donna would approve.  Enjoy!

P.P.S -- Our Travel Kit was in the adorable collapsible striped bag between Luke and Levi in the top picture.  I included ColorWonders, books to read, stickers, Leapster/ Didj games, decks of cards, a magnetic travel bingo game, colored pencils and drawing paper, and our entire collection of Adventures in Odyssey on CD.  AiO was by far the biggest hit for us all!

Disclaimer the FCC requires:  I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher.  I wrote exactly what I thought of it.  No one told me to review it positively, negatively or otherwise.  I receive no compensation for this review.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

God Spotting - Another way He speaks...

My latest God spotting involves the recent death of our washing machine.  It lasted almost 9 years and is the first appliance I've 'killed.'  We've just never lived in one place long enough to keep appliances for any real length of time.  Unfortunately, the washing machine died on Tuesday night last week -- not even half way through our week at Cub Scout Day Camp.  We all had to wear the same shirt everyday (a security measure to know who belonged on the property and who did not).  I decided to wash the shirts every other day, and when it died on Tuesday, I just decided we'd stink for the rest of the week!  The camp days were very long, so there was not time to shop for a machine.

Fast forward to Monday and I've finally got time to run into Home Depot, Lowes, Sears and shop online for a machine.  I decided to get a front loader (water rates are going up here), but I was not happy about the prices I was seeing -- and there are no big sales on washing machines in the middle of the summer!

I re-starting my Beth Moore Bible Study yesterday.  While watching the video lesson,  Beth had related a story about how God had communicated to her whether or not to buy a piece of property.  I decided to pray and ask God to really show me what to get and to provide an affordable machine.

Guess what I got in yesterday's mail?  A $25 coupon to Lowes!  On my second trip there in as many days, I discovered a washing machine in their clearance section -- and it has good reviews and is totally in our modest price range.  Yipee!  I'm so thankful and excited!  Yes, God used a coupon to speak to our needs. God is good all the time, and all the time...


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Positive Changes

Our vacation at the end of June made me realize something -- I'm missing the best days with my family.  I realize I've developed some habits that aren't the healthiest for our family nor for me, such as letting Dave take the boys on the weekend and do whatever they want.  Meanwhile, I stay home to catch up with dishes, lesson plans, emails, bill paying, etc.  They come home tired, hungry and dirty, and I meet their needs and hear a few comments hear about their day before sending them off to sleep. 

Well, that's just no fun for me.  I don't want to waste my family days with home management duties.  I want some F.U.N.

So this weekend I decided to change all that:

Aren't they all cute?  How could I trade them for --ahem-- online banking?

Dave being manly and sitting under the waterfall.  What a guy.

13 years.....

Conquered his fear of the cold and got wet!

Life is sweet.  I'm thankful to God for the wake-up call.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Walk with me!

So I don't know if I mentioned it here, but I was offered a spot on The Old Schoolhouse's Review Crew for 2010. What does this mean? Throughout the year I'll be sent curriculum that I'll use on my three wonderful guinea pigs (and Ben thought he was the only one....) and then I'll write online reviews here at my blog. It should prove to a

dd a new dimension to our homeschooling year. I'm excited about the opportunity to add something new and exciting to our schooling.

One of the members of the Review Crew had a great idea for a Blog Walk to the new crew member's blogs. I just learned (thank you, Lexi!) that my blog as in this week's walk! No wonder I've had so many comments here! Thanks, ladies! You are bringing back life to very lonely blog; last year seemed crazy and it fell to the bottom of the To Do pile!

I really love the colors of my blog -- and I LOVE my dandelions. However, I'm experimenting with a new blog over at wordpress, because I just cannot get this blog to do some of the things I want it to do. We'll see, though, what happens as the summer progresses.

Here's the other blogs on the walk this week:

2. Alexis Green's Pink & Orange Coffee
3. Alina Neuberger's Live, Laugh, Learn!
4. Amanda Bowen's Mrs. Mandy's Musings
5. Amber Hockman's The Fantastic Five
6. amberschoessow's Refined Metals Academy
7. Amy Henn's Just A Moment in Time
8. Angela Greenwell's Providence Farm
9. Angela Richter's My Journey
10. Angie Wright's Petra School

I'm off for a stroll now!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: Expedition Australia

I was thrilled last week to get an email from The Old Schoolhouse offering me an opportunity to review an e-book for the Homeschool Crew. I eagerly downloaded my Download N Go Expedition Australia by Amanda Bennett. For $7.95, this unit study packs in a geography based week of learning for grades K-4.

The study is a 103-paged internet-linked guide. Each day’s lesson has four objectives which are clearly spelled out on an introductory page. After turning to "Day 1" activities, you will find an internet-linked guide, complete will fill-in-the-blank questions to answer, pictures to draw, maps to complete, and temperatures to chart. This sounds like a LOT on a page, but the pages are not cluttered or choppy. Instead, the pages’ content flows nicely, building on itself. I didn’t find the graphics at all overwhelming or distracting.

Each day’s study includes: a unique geographic feature, a word-of-the-day (I could go for a lollie right about now), an animal-of-the-day, and vocabulary/spelling words. Your child can use several internet links to locate a main city in Australia and write down its current time and temperature (a great reminder to talk about the opposite seasons between northern and southern hemispheres). This activity helped my son and I marvel at the size of the world God created.

The study includes other activities to engage your children: map skills, history, and astronomy to name a few. You can even cover music appreciation by learning and listening to the Australian national anthem. A special surprise at the end of each day was a beautiful photo of Australia with a selection of poetry about the country. What a nice touch!

If you are like me, you probably cannot help but want to include children’s books in your study. Thankfully, the guide has suggested 5-6 books that correspond to the daily topics. I wish Dingoes at Dinnertime had been included as an option, but I was pleasantly surprised that my small town library had several of the picture and non-fiction books.

My 1st grader and I took the curriculum on a trial run this afternoon. With laptop in hand, we read through the Day 1 activities: What is a continent? What are the seven continents? Locate Australia on your map. I loved the embedded the internet links; it made looking up information so convenient.

After completing one of the four daily learning objectives, a hyperlink takes you the end of the e-book, where print outs and directions for the mini-books are located. [Oh, did I mention that at the end of the study you will have created an Australian lapbook? Do you know what a lapbook is, but have never completed one? Never fear, Mrs. Bennett has done a great job of providing links to help you learn about this unique learning tool.] After printing out your mini-book, a link brings you right back to where you left off in the study guide (a very handy feature for those of us who may get easily lost in electronic pages of text).

Depending on the workload and writing abilities of your student, you could choose to print out the daily study pages or not. I would definitely require an older student to complete the fill-in pages, which would be especially helpful for completing the lapbook. I chose not to for this initial test run, but I will definitely print out the pages and mini-books for my sons to complete the next time through. Varying the amount and and type of writing (copywork vs. dictation vs. summarizing) would be one way to customize the study to the different learning stages you have in your family.

Although my son and I have only had a chance to work through part of the study, I can see us completing the rest of the study at a different time. These would make nice, gentle introductions to different countries that our history and geography program does not cover extensively. I would need to beef it up with extra read and online research for my 5th grader, but overall I think it is definitely something to consider for the early elementary set.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Teachable Moments

The boys and I were at the Statehouse today to advocate for a pro-homeschooling piece of legislation that was to be voted on today. We went for the pre-meeting rally with about 200 other homeschoolers asking for the return of our liberty. [Side note: we didn't get what we wanted, but November "House cleaning" is coming]

Two weeks ago, this wouldn't have even registered on my boys' radar, but since we were reading and learning about ancient Greek architecture -- we've learned about dull Doric columns, interesting Ionic, and crazy Corinthian.

While leaving out of the Statehouse's west entrance, we noticed some columns-- actually lots of columns on the three buildings within our site -- and each type of column was represented. Since this is Ben's second time through Greek architecture, I wasn't surprised that he was able to pick up on the styles so quickly, but I was tickled pink to see Luke so excited to spy each of the styles!

If your education lacked a study of the styles of Greek columns -- as mine did --, here's an e asy reference:

Look at the tops -- or capitals -- of the columns. On the far left is dull Doric -- no special decoration. In the middle is interesting Ionic -- see the two curls on each side of the column? Sometimes there are little rosettes instead of curly cues. Then on the right is crazy Corinthian -- these were not really found on the Greek peninsula nor in the islands around Greece. The craziness is composed of carved leaves -- usually acanthus leaves. The Romans really liked these -- and embellished them even more on their building facades.

Lukie was so excited to see these styles, he even used his own camera to take pictures of them. Ahhh. I love homeschooling.

Now the fun begins -- as we vacation this summer, we can play I Spy and hunt out columns on all the beautiful buildings we'll see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Second Annual Mommy+1 Series

This is the second year that Levi and I have enjoyed a six-week set of "Mommy and Levi" days. Dave takes the big boys to homeschool ski lessons each Thursday for six weeks, and Levi and I try to do something just for him. It isn't often when you are the baby of the family to have uninterrupted Mommy time.

Each phase of childhood brings its joys, wonders and challenges, and the 5th year of life is no exception. Levi is an observant little guy, always asking Big Questions. He usually has his own Big Answer, which melds reality and cartoons in a way only a 4 year old can. Sometimes, I just love to hear him go on-an-on with his Big Answers....on the days when I remember to slow down and soak in 4-year-old-ness. Other days, I'm playing my Mommy+3 roll, and I often dismiss his craziness.

But one day a week for six weeks in the depths of a New England winter, I have a chance to just be with a 4 year old. And in these moment it is nice to forget about dinner, the laundry, and the checkbook in need of balancing. I am enjoying living with Levi, not just being there.

This is how I've been living these past three Mommy and Levi days:

1. I didn't talk Levi out of painting his porcelain cat yellow and purple. It actually turned out quite nice.

2. We screamed and giggled as we sledded down the icy hill last week. Then, at the bottom of the hill, we sat with our friends and watched the cars and trucks go buy. There are a lot of white, gray and dark blue cars; few reds, yellows and oranges. Do you know how long 4-year-olds can sit and watch cars go by on the road?

3. Today -- the best evah -- we held hands and skipped for 3 blocks, past the state capital. In the sunshine.

I wish I could've bottled up today's brisk air, sunshine and the pleasure of watching my son skip down the road with me. These are the last days I'll ever have a 4 year old, and I am trying to soak them up.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Resolutions

I'm not a huge fan of new year's resolutions. But, what the heck:

1. Run a mile a day.

2. Finish reading the Bible (this was my plan from last year -- the Bible in a year. I'm somewhere at the end of July in my chronological Bible)

3. Be a little better at me. I miss reading books for me. I am usually reading something related to our studies, which is OK, but there is a whole wide world of books out there that I'd like to read -- from pop fiction to classics. Last year, there were several reading challenges going on at some of the homeschool forums I frequent. I just glanced over this one at Medieval Bookworm (a link from Susan Wise Bauer's blog) at it looks like fun. I'm going to go for Peasant level (3 books) to add into my mix of other things I'd like to read:

  • (3) Twilight series (I'm probably the last person in the world who hasn't read these)
  • (1) A book from Glenn Beck's reading list (politics)
  • (1) A book from Oprah's book list
  • (1) Re-read Pride and Prejudice (love Jane Austen! It's been probably 8-9 years since I read it last)
  • (1) Get The Well-Educated Mind and read a book off that list.
  • (3) Three medieval-related books
Of course, this will require me to be more purposeful with my time in the evenings. Especially since I also want to exercise more (see #1 above).