Sunday, December 18, 2011

Crew Review: Vintage Remedies

I thought this would be a good review for me to participate in to help me expand my horizons.  I'm not a very "green" person, but I'm made the transition to some natural cleaners mostly because they seem to do as good a job, but for less money.  I'm frugal sometimes.
Vintage Remedies for Kids ($25.00) has three sections:  food and drink; health and wellness; and healthy lifestyles (this includes recycling, pollution and littering, keeping clean):

"Vintage Remedies for Kids helps parents teach  healthy and natural living to boys and girls ages 2-6. This new workbook is packed with projects covering every aspect of natural living including wellness, nutrition, immunity, natural body care, and the conservative use of valuable natural resources - in terms they will understand and remember!

This curriculum helps you teach little ones how to choose healthy foods, how to prepare some fun and delicious snacks, how to establish prevention based habits, and how they can participate in your family's natural lifestyle..."

Each chapter of the book (there are 18)  has a parent section to read, which includes information about the topic, a summary of some research that has been done (although no foot or endnotes are given to read the primary sources. I do wish books that say "Research has shown..." would include information to look up the studies.) and some helpful information for making more natural choices.  The next section is called "Read to Me." and it contains pertinent information for early elementary students.  There is a handy "Additional Comments" section for  slightly older students that want to be included in the discussion.

There are some questions to discuss with your students and then the fun starts!  Each section has a hands-on, mommy-and-me project to make.  Many of them are edible:

  • hot cocoa mix
  • almond butter crunchies
  • green smoothies
  • planting a tree
  • visiting a farm
  • bread started (a great way to talk about "bugs" and bacteria that is yummy)

    There are usually a couple activity projects to choose from.  I appreciate that many of the recipes suggest organic ingredients, but do not require them.  Most organic ingredients don't fall into our food budget.

    How It Worked for Us.  We're on Christmas break right now, so I was especially excited to set aside the time to make several of these projects.

    I don't know if the authors planned on it, but the variety of activities that are suggested really span the seasons.  This means that  you could easily plan on using this throughout the school year and have seasonally relevant, hands-on learning.  This would make a great resources for a health and nutrition class for your kids!

    Recently we read about "real" and "processed" foods.  The fun activity?  Making hot cocoa mix.  The recipe was simple, we had the opportunity to discuss measurements, and we got to drink our work:

    {side note:  Levi's Perry The Platypus shirt is freaking me out in this picture.  He's staring me down.}

    I felt that the information in the "Read to Me" section was helpful and detailed...but not too much to bore an early elementary student.  We did not work through the first section sequentially, and this just required a slight bit of adjustment in the explanations.  Not a big deal at all.

    I really like the Parent section as it gave me a lot of interesting detail that came up in conversation with Levi while we were making the hot chocolate.  I like being able to answer his questions without having stop and google the answer.
    If you have a child who is in middle school, Vintage Remedies has resources for older students: Vintage Remedies for Girls and Vintage Remedies for Boys.  Both of these other products were reviewed by Crew members....head on over to see about these!

    FCC statement:  In exchange for a honest of this resource and a written review, I was given a free copy of this book. 

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    A Message for My Boys

    A friend who lives in my computer, Debra at Footprints in the Butter, posted a link on her facebook page to the blog post below.

    A Girl You Should Date by Rosemarie Urquico 

    I love it.

    I'm posting it here so that I'll have record of it someday when my boys are ready to date. 

    Please be sure to click through to the site and read this post.  Even if you just have girls.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Crew Review: The World's Greatest Stories


    I absolutely love, love, love this product.   It isn't helping my children to read better, or do math more accurately.  We're not mastering a new skill. 

    I just love products that help me to get the Word of God into my children's heart.

    Performed by actor George Sarris, The World's Greatest Stories present the actual Biblical text dramatized in an engaging manner for not only children, but adults as well.  Have you ever read a story from the Bible and wondered about the desperation in the woman Elijah encounters as he goes to prepare her last load of bread with the little flour and oil she has left?  How might the people who have encountered God feel?  Using only a bit of background music to set the scene and mood, George Sarris presents the many voices of characters in a captivating re-telling of the Bible that is mesmerizing my children when we listen at lunch.  It has opened up discussions for us to talk about God and his love for us.

    Priced at $7.95, each CD (cassettes are available as well) has approximately 1 hour of dramatization.  We have been blessed to listen to The Prophets CD this past month (click HERE for an audio clip from the NIV).  The other CDs available are:
    • The Prophets (which is the one we have)
    • The Life of Christ
    • Beginnings
    • Joshua and Esther
    • Joseph and His Brothers
    • Defeating Giants (this is not just the story of David and Goliath)
    • The True Story of Easter ($9.95) (This is a DVD product.  The Biblical text is presented in 'The Life of Christ' CD as well.  Shot in St. Batholomew's Church in NYC, Mr. Sarris uses a scarf as his only prop to retell the Easter story in the NIV translation.)
    Each of the stories on our CD has a short introduction where Mr. Sarris sets the stage for the story in the context of the Bible as well as in God's plan for humanity.

    I can tell Mr. Sarris has a passion for proclaiming God's Good News in this way. The price of the CDs is so reasonable and the dramatic quality is wonderful.

    This is a great multi-age/ stage product.  It isn't "babyish" at all for my 12-year-old, yet it is not inaccessible for my 6-year-old.  And, um, I love listening, too.  We even have fun adding in our own dramatic miming to Mrs. Sarris' words!

    To read what others had to say about The World's Greatest Stories, please visit The Review Crew.

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Getting in the Mood!

    Our Victorian Christmas Party/ High Tea was today, officially ending our schooling for the 2011 year.  I'll have to post more about how this fall went, the highs and lows, but right now, I'm ready to celebrate Christmas!

    I'm working on scrapbooking 2009 (but shortly we need to be doing this year's Christmas celebrations so I don't forget all those wonderful memories of 12-9-6: the boys ages), and made this page to get me all festive feeling:
    Lukie looks like a total rocker with that long hair.
    I think another gingerbread house eating making party is in our future next week.

    Crew Review: Fractazmic! Game

    Don't tell my kids:  mental math is not my strong suit.

    So one of the benefits of homeschooling my kids is that I get to re-learn a bunch of stuff that I never learned while in school.  Mental math is one of those skills.

    Fractazmic ($6.95), published by I See Cards, is another math game to help make learning math fun.  Yes, "math" and "fun" can be in the same sentence!

    The goal of the several versions of Fractazmic is simple:  make a whole "1" by using factions.  There are three set of cards in each deck (you play a game with all the cards). The blue set is based on 12ths, the red suit is based on 16ths, and the green suit is based on 10ths.  Here's an example of a card:

    Each card has a visual clue to help assist in making equivalent fractions.  Can you see the little grasshopper and ants?  They are showing 7/16ths on the ruler.  A card with 1/4th is going to have a grasshopper to show that it is equivalent to 4/16th on the ruler. 

    The green set (10ths) uses a 1 liter water bottle to show equivalent fractions, such as 2/5ths.

    The blue set uses an egg carton to show the equivalence between 1/3rd, 1/4th in the 12ths deck.

    I've had a few weeks to play a games recommended at the Fractazmic website Wiki: Trap and Rummy. The rules are clear and easy to remember.  We've also make up variations of these to meet our time constraints.

    As you can imagine, I really like playing this game (I still rarely win).  But, I've been really surprised that Ben has willingly played with me -- no grumbling.  We sometimes write down a little cheat sheet of a few of the conversions that stump us, but I can already tell that he's getting faster at making some mental calculations.  I suspect that as we play more, we'll get even better and will not have to count out the eggs, ounces, and bugs on the cards!

    You can purchase a deck of cards at the website.   You can also play an online version of Fractazmic with a chance to win a deck of cards. (Warning:  I find the website hugely confusing.  This is a great add-on to your math program, so hang in there when you get to the website.  It is worth it.)

    To see what others thought, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.

    FCC statement:  In exchange for my honest opinion about this product, I was given a free copy of the product for my use. 

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    A New Addiction

    Digital Scrapbooking.

    I was blessed to win a complete copy of MyMemories Suite 2.0 digital scrapbooking software at the end of October.  Oh. My. How easy it is to catch up on all my pictures!

    I've never used any other software for scrapbooking (no Photoshop, no Creative Memories), so I really have no comparison of anything else that is out there. 

    At this point in life, paper scrapbooking involves lugging out two Creative Memories cases.  When I put the one bag on my right shoulder and hunch over just right, I can actually carry both cases at the same time.  Saying a quick prayer for safety, I can get both down the stairs to the dining room.  20 minutes to pull out all my necessary supplies, an hour to figure out where I left off last time, and then about an hour a page.  If I'm doing this while Dave is getting the kids to bed, I've maybe done 2 pages before I have to clean it all up and put it all away.

    OR: Start software and open the software (Memory Manager from Creative Memories) where I keep my photos organized. This takes a minute or less.  There have been a few evenings that I've finished 2 or 3 (gasp: FOUR) pages in just a few hours......and there is no clean up!

    I've been pleasantly surprised at the variety of  kits and embellishments that are at the MMS 3.0 site.  I scored a couple free coupons worth $5-$10 for designer packages.  The MyMemories Suite facebook page offers frequent freebies for members.  A few designers I've "liked" on facebook have also had awesome freebies.  In all, I've invested $40ish into digital scrapbooking and it all fits in my laptop!  No cases to lug anymore!

    Here's a few pages I've made. I'm working on 2009.  Sadly, I lost a huge number of photos (I kept meaning to back them up) in a computer meltdown, so I don't have a lot for that year, so I'm nearing th end of the year already. [2010 and 2011 weren't much better:  my camera stopped working for the better part of a year, until one day my oldest picked it up and *ta-da* it started working again!]

    Stay tuned to after Christmas.  I think I have a copy of the software to give away!

    FCC statement:  Although I won this software for free, this an unsolicited review on my part.  All opinions are mine.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Gratitude Challenge: Wrap Up

    Don't mistake an absent two weeks of posting of things I'm grateful for with apathy.  It just got busy around here!

    I'm so grateful for every person, thing, belief, and circumstance in my life.  The hard times make me thankful and teach me more about myself and my God, and the good times make me thankful and teach me more about myself and my God.

    Our Thnksgiving was great.  The 5K that my husband and his running club put on Thanksgiving morning was great. God blessed us with a beautiful, crisp morning.  600 people showed up to support the homeless shelter.  No one was injured during the race.  People smiled and had fun.  My boys ran well and fast.  Ben made a personal best at 24:01!  That kid will be fast once he decides to actually train for a run!

    After the race, we came home for a couple hours to clean up and pack.  We left for a 1:30-3:30 shift at a local church that puts on a Thanksgiving dinner.  We served as the wait staff for two tables.  Initially, my boys were not excited to do this at all. As a matter of fact, two of the three cried when I told them were were volunteering this Thanksgiving and not eating with Grandma.  Wow, I didn't expect tears.  So I made  a few quick mental adjustments and we decided we could have our cake and eat it too!

    Although we did not have many guests to serve at our tables, the boys were very considerate and careful while we worked.  We pitched in and did some extra clearing and cleaning up.  Luke even said, "I like doing this!"  Levi emerged from his shy shell and politely served drinks to guests. 

    After serving, we hopped in the car and drove down to Grandma's house.  We helped her eat leftovers.  And the kids played with their cousins, ate cookies and watched a movie.  We spent the night there, and they played on Friday with cousins and raked leaves for grandma. 

    I'm so grateful for a well-rounded Thanksgiving.  Family.  Grace.  Memories. 

    God is good.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    The Reading Game


    Despite all the great computer-based phonics and reading programs we've been truly blessed to review so far this year, I bet if you ask Levi which is the most fun learn-to-read product, he'd vote for The Reading Game. ($24.95)

    It's a simple premise:  play a memory game with common sight-word over and over again until your child can read the words.  Use a few "test sentences" to make sure said child (let's call this child "Levi" to make it easier) can read the words within the context of a sentence.  If he can, then pull out a nicely illustrated  rhymed story so he can read it to you.  After reading a book, Levi has learned 30 words! After all six sets of cards, Levi will know 180 words.

    This new game was created by Kenneth Hodkinson, who is familiar to many homeschoolers in my area because of his Wordly Wise vocabulary program.  You can read how he developed the game and some field testing that was done here.

    I tend to steer towards phonic, Orton-Gillingham-ish approaches to teaching reading (the rules and patterns make sense to me).  So, using The Reading Game, which presents words without instruction in phonics, is different for me.

    But different isn't bad.  As a matter of fact, I've been able to use many of the words to reinforce some of the phonograms we've learned!

    We used some of their Pre/ post-game worksheets to track progress before Levi began working with the 3rd set of cards (green).  Before playing the game, Levi knew 18 of the words easily.  After a day and a half of playing the game, he knew 28 of them easily, but with a little (very little) help from me, he could get all 30. What a great way this has been to reinforce and learn more words!

    Most of the words Levi has learned will be frequently used in English.  According to the website:
    PhotobucketOf the twenty-five most commonly used English words, twenty-three are on that list; of the most commonly used fifty words, forty-two.
    Obviously, this isn't the only tool you'll need to teach your child to read, but if you have a child who isn't too keen to sit with you and look at a phonics instruction book and doesn't love workbooks or writing, this would be a great introduction to reading tool for you to consider. This would've been great for Luke when he was 5 and wanted nothing to do with the traditional phonics books that lived in our house.
    I know that the memories Levi and I build because we are playing this game are going to stay with him, and hopefully he'll always associate reading with fun!

    Head over to The Old Schoolhouse Crew to see what others think of this game.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Crew Review: Read Naturally Live

    If you've been reading my posts about homeschooling my boys, you might recall that Luke struggles a bit to read.  While he might be testing at a generally appropriate grade level, and listening to him read makes me think that he gets the gist of the passage, reading is not easy for him.  And, while his comprehension is fine now, I know that as he begins to rely more on reading for learning (as opposed to me reading aloud to him), his comprehension will break down and he'll get lost.

    So I practically begged to be able to review Read Naturally Live, an online program that purports to help students improve their reading fluency and comprehension.

    The Product:  Here's a video explanation of what it does:

    And here's some quotes from the website (which is huge and is full of information and research about their approach!):

    ...Our industry-leading programs develop and support the five essential components of reading, identified by the National Reading Panel: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. ...

    Read Naturally's structured intervention programs combine teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring — three strategies that research has shown are effective in improving students' reading proficiency. Using audio support and graphs of their progress, students work with high-interest material at their skill level.
    With teacher modeling, a proficient reader models good, correct reading for a less able reader. In Read Naturally, students read along while listening to a recording of a fluent reader. This helps students learn new words and encourages proper pronunciation, expression, and phrasing.
    Repeated reading is another strategy that research has shown improves fluency. In Read Naturally, students practice reading a story until they can read it at a predetermined goal rate. Mastering a story helps students build fluency and confidence.
    Daily monitoring of student progress has also been shown to improve student achievement. Students become more involved in the learning process, and teachers remain aware of each student's progress. In Read Naturally, students monitor their progress by graphing the number of words read correctly before practicing and then again after practicing. The graph shows the students' progress, motivating them to continue to read and improve.
    Each Read Live seat includes:
    • ·         Access to 13 Sequenced and 6 Phonics curriculum levels for each enrolled student (Read Naturally Live).
    • ·         Access to oral reading fluency benchmark assessment passages and reporting for up to 30 students (Benchmark Assessor Live).
    • ·         Online teacher training videos.
    • ·         The ability to reassign purchased seats if a student completes or leaves the program.
    • ·         Technical support...
    Read Live is $149.00 for a 12-month subscription.  You can find a free 60-day trial here.

    Our Experience: Luke is currently working on the Phonics Series reading material.  These stories are reinforcing simple phonics rules (short/ long vowels, digraphs, blends).  How are they reinforced?  When Luke first picks his story (there are 12 to chose from), three key words are shown on the screen, with an explanation of the phonic pattern (short i, for example).  There are additional words that are shown as well.  He's asked to repeat these words that the speaker (not a computer-y voice,  but a pleasant, patient female) says.  He'll see these words later in the lesson when he's asked to read lists of words for speed and accuracy.
    • OK, so Luke picks a story.  His most recent one was about a Rosy Spoonbill, a bird.  All the stories are non-fiction, and there is a wide variety of content:  science, social studies, and biographical information.  He's enjoyed each story so far! 
    • After go over the Key Words (which I explained above), Luke is asked to type in a Prediction of the story's content, based on a simple photo, the Key Words, and the title.  This is hard for Luke, because he's not a confident speller, but I don't care in this situation.  Near the end of this lesson, I'll determine if his answer is correct of not, so maybe someday I'll decide to count spelling.  Or not.
    • Next is Wordtastic, a vocabulary game where Luke is given four choices from which to pick a synonym or antonym.  I'm glad that the definition of synonym and antonym is on each page, and I just discovered that the program will read each word to the student if they are having trouble decoding it!  I cannot wait to show that feature to Luke tomorrow!
    • Wordtastic is a great little game, but it is really just purposeful busywork [please don't get me wrong, I love this game.  It is good for Luke!].  Luke plays this while he waits for me to come listen to him read the passage he selected for a "Cold Timing." This is his first time reading, and the purpose is to baseline is reading speed in words per minute.  [This is part of the "monitoring progress" the graphic above.]
    • After this, the Read Along session.  Here, a pleasant female voice reads the passage at a comfortable rate and the student is supposed to read aloud as well.  The sentence that is being read is highlighted in blue to help your student follow along. 
    • Next comes Practice.  Luke clicks the "start time" button, and begins reading the passage aloud.  When 1 minute is up, he clicks on the last word he read.  His goal is to read fluently at the words/minute goal that I set for him (right now he's working on 90 wpm).
    • When he's met his goal, Luke has read the story a minimum of 5 times!  He's now asked 5 Quiz Questions.  These quiz questions are factually and inferential.  I love this part.  I feel like I'm killing two birds with one stone: making sure he is reading for the sake of practice, but also getting some practice with thinking about his reading.  When I have him read aloud to me in other situations, I sometimes get so narrowly focused on the mistakes that he's making that I forget to consider "is he getting the message of the story?"
    • Next Luke has to practice the Word Lists.  This is unique to the lower level, Phonics Series.  Here, Luke has to read approximately 28 words that are in groups of 3-4 from the same word family. This section is probably the most helpful for Luke, as he struggles with reading accurately.  He does a "great" job of guessing at words, and this task has caused him to slow down and pay attention to the whole word.  Here's a sample:

    •  When he's done practicing this list (read in columns and then in rows), He's ready for the Pass Activities.  This is when I listen to him read (counting his errors), grade his Prediction answer, and listen to him read his word lists.  The program has specific criteria which the child must meet, but many of the parameters are customizeable.
    I need to be honest and say that Luke does not like this at all.  Have I noticed any generalization yet?   Well, no, but I plan to continue to use this through our complementary subscription period.  I know he's learning something about reading, because his fluency has gotten better and he has certainly gotten the "hang" of reading the words lists much more than at the beginning.  I suspect with more practice, I'll see his reading in subject work improve as well.

    To see what others thought of Read Life (and their paper product, One-Minute Reader), please visit the Review Crew!

    FCC:  Thanks to Read Naturally for a complementary subscription to this product in exchange for my honest opinion about our experience with this product.