Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Because Someday They Will Have Hollow Legs...

I clicked on this blog link to Heavenly Homemakers when someone from The Well Trained Mind boards was asking for help to drastically cut her food budget.  I'm putting this as a post because -- let's be real -- I have three boys that will be eatin' me out of house and home in the next few years.  Since they are all three years apart, I'm thinking that the crux years are going to be when Levi is about 11, Luke is 14 and Ben is 17.  Forget about college funds -- I'm going to need a food fund!

You can bet that I'll be experimenting now while time is on my side!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review Crew: Speekee

"Vamos a bailar!"

For the past month or so, we've had access to online video Spanish lessons from Speekee, a UK company that has aims to provide immersion-style Spanish instruction via online video lessons as well as PAL-compatible DVDs (this is primarily a European encoding system, so check your DVD player first before investing in the DVD sets).  Online subscriptions are $7.50 per month (the first two weeks are free).

The product.  Speekee is geared for ages 2-10 according to the website.  In all, there are ten thematic units/ lessons/ episodes which introduce children to basic, simple vocabulary as well as simple sentences.  Themes are:

  • The park

  • The cafe

  • The house

  • The zoo

  • The classroom

  • The market

  • The station (travel)

  • The beach

  • The garden

  • The party

  • There is plenty of review and reinforcement provided by Speekee, a purple ... um.... animal, of some sort;
    Jim, a friendly adult; two sock puppets, Dino and Lupi; and a cast of Spanish speaking youngsters.  The characters often sing, dance, and move around a lot to engage the children visually as well as encourage comprehension skills.

    Each lesson is approximately 20 minutes long.  You can choose to have Spanish and English subtitles display at the bottom of the screen, or you can turn them off -- it is easily controlled at the upper right corner of the video screen.

    After each lesson, there are .pdf printables for you and your child to complete, which reinforce the lesson vocabulary, sentences, and give the child practice writing in Spanish.  Additional tips are provided on this page which give parents other suggestions for extending lessons into daily life.

    Note:  this is Spain Spanish, not Latin American Spanish.  I've been told that the biggest difference at this level is a slightly difference in pronunciation.

    Our experience.  I have had dreams of waking up one morning and resurrecting my high school Spanish skills to provide a day of immersion language instruction to my kids.  With a smile and a warm plate of food, I'd ask my sons, "Quieres huevos? (Do you want eggs?)"  They would look at the plate, see what was there, nod their head and repeat after me, "Si, quieros huevos, por favor. Gracias. (Yes, I want eggs, please.  Thank you."  Alas, this has yet to happen.

    Instead, I excitedly sat down with all three boys to watch Speekee. My children aren't to keen about talking to a TV/ computer screen (never have been -- even when Dora and Diego were waiting for them!), so getting them to dialog in another language with a puppet was just not going to happen.  They were even hesitant to repeat after me! But, they listened, bobbed their heads to the music and tried to mouth the words.  There is hope for them yet. :)

    Now, my children's experience with Speekee should not be considered normal.  If Speekee interests you, please please, please head over to the TOS Review Crew to read reviews from other homeschools where kids actively engaged with Speekee and really learned something!   I think Speekee is a great product with lots of possibilities. It can be a great jumping off point with your early elementary aged child (I think it's best for the preK to 3rd or 4th grade set who still have that love of sock puppets).  If you are interested in teaching your younger students Spanish with a fun video, lots of songs, and ample parent support materials and ideas, please consider Speekee!

    FCC:  Thank you to Speekee for providing a free two month subscription to their online video product in exchange for my honest opinion about their product.

    God Spotting: Doing More Than I'm Capable!

    It must be God.

    For some reason this year, I'm feeling the personal need to take back part of my life.

    See, I'm kinda one of those persons that throws herself 100% to 125% "in" to a project (or two) to the extent that I don't necessarily take care of my own needs.

    Now, please do not misunderstand me:
    • Homeschooling is not just school-at-home, but a lifestyle, and I'm cool with that. That means that we try to incorporate learning and inquisitiveness in our whole day.  However, I will humbly admit at at some points in our journey, I get a little obsessive about this job of home educating our children.  And it takes over my life.   We  *might* have gone through a phase when I just researched homeschooling, and ate food.  of some sort.  that was quick to make.  and not necessarily healthy.  because if I lost my train of thought, our kids might not end up knowing quadratic equations.  someday.
    • I'm not trying to get out of homeschooling -- I'm just trying to remember ME.
    So, to that purpose, I've taken up two goals so far this year (I refuse to call them resolutions, because we all know what happens to new year resolutions):

    I'm on week 3 of the NHS (that UK) Couch to 5K plan. *Love* the podcast.  I should be on week 4, but I am not, and I refuse to give up because I'm a little "behind".  I'm just going to keep on going, and see what happens. 

    I'm reading the Bible in 90 days, baby.  It's fast, but it's good.  I'm not knocking the read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, but I needed something shorter term.  And since I've not ever made it through the year-long plans, I thought this might be doable.  So far, I've read 20% of the Bible (I'm in 1 Samuel this morning), and I'll finish the Old Testament by March 12 and the complete Bible by April 2.  I am experiencing God's nudges to complete my reading daily, and it's been a learning experience that I really should never give the excuse that I have no time to read the Bible.  I'm reading 12-16 chapters per day.  Sometimes at two in the morning (thank you, peri-menopausal insomnia), but I figure at least I'm using my time wisely.

    I did not realize until just right now that God's impressed upon me to work on my physical health and spiritual health, and I'm able to accomplish both at the same time.  And we're eating (mostly) healthy meals.  And I'm still educating our children.  And, the house isn't "bis-gusting" as Levi used to say (bis-gusting is way worse than disgusting, in case you needed to know). I can see that I've used my housekeeping and homeschooling responsibilities as excuses in the past to not read the Bible or take care of my health.  God's proving to me that there are no acceptable excuses!

    Don't you love when God inspires you to do more than you thought you could do?  How has God worked in your life so far this year?

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Review Crew: Maestro Classics

    We had our second snow storm in less than a week, and spent the morning listening to this CD.  Wow, what a treat.

    Maestro Classics is an award winning producer of children's classic music CDs.  They have created 8 CDs to capture a child's imagination and interest in classical music. Each CD (called a digipak) is $16.98. A large case version (with a larger activity book) is available for the same price.

    Other titles include:  
    1. The Tortoise and The Hare; 
    2. The Story of Swan Lake, 
    3. Juanita the Spanish Lobster in English
    4. Juanita the Spanish Lobster in Spanish;
    5. Casey at Bat;
    6. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel; 
    7. The Sorcerer's Apprentice; and  
    8. Peter and the Wolf.
     The composition that I reviewed, Peter and the Wolf, is not unfamiliar to me (or my children, but they probably don't recall listening to our borrowed copy from the library).  We've listened to a fairly popular version in the past, but what I appreciated about this new edition was both the quality of the recording, the activity book that accompanied the CD, and the multiple music recordings on the CD.  It is a pleasure to add this to our music collection.

    The product. Encased in a tri-fold cardboard CD case, a CD-sized 23 page activity book helps expand a child's interaction with and beyond the highlighted piece.  Since the composer, Sergei Prokofiev, is Russian, the Simons have included information about the Cyrillic script and Russian folk instruments.  There are codes to crack, puzzles to solve, and characters to match with their primary instrument (for example, the duck is represented by the oboe in this piece; the hunters' gunfire is accented by kettle drums).   Oh, the answers to the puzzles on on their website ! 

    The CD itself is more than just the composer's symphony.  In fact, this piece of music is recorded twice on the CD -- once while being narrated by a fantastic storyteller, Yadu, and once without narration.  I love that both are included on the CD.  The narrated version helps to highlight the themes and story so that children can start to hear and feel emotion and motion within a piece. When comfortable, the child can listen again to the piece without the narrator's cues, experiencing the emotions on his own.

    Also on the CD are a narrated introduction to Mr. Prokofiev, the musical themes of each character, and extended listening which include pieces of Russian folk music.

    My impressions:  I love, love, love this product. I will do my best to acquire the entire set of these CDs.  I think that the product will appeal to a wide range of ages.  My 5- and 8-year-old enjoyed matching the musical instrument to the pictured character.  My older boys will appreciate the crossword puzzles. Next time we listen, we'll do a different activity from the booklet.  There is plenty of music history and enrichment in the booklet and on the CD to add in subsequent listenings.

    Doing a geography study?  Add these in to match the region you are studying.  This particular product would be fantastic for a study of Russia --or the 20th century, as Prokofiev moved back to Russia when it was controlled by Stalin.

    Read what other reviewers are saying here.

    FCC statement: I received a free copy of this product for an honest review of this product. No other compensation was obtained.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Half a Year Down... Winners and Losers So Far

    We are somewhere near the 18th week of our school year -- already.  It has gone so fast, and I had much higher hopes of blogging about our year.  Well, the past is the past, so I'll review where we are, and work on doing better this winter.

    ~History/ Geography/ Literature~
    We had a great fall.  Our Tapestry of Grace studies have lead us through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Age of Discovery and we're currently in the Reformation.  It has been a blast to visit the Armory Museum, have a medieval feast (no forks allowed), visit the fine arts museum again to study northern and southern Renaissance art (yeah, I didn't know there was a difference either), and we will be preparing for our next unit celebration.  The two families we study history with are such a blessing to my life! Now, TOG is not pick-up-and-go, but it has (generally) been worth the work to schedule and prepare reading assignments.  Tapestry of Grace = Winner

    ~Language Arts~
    I've also come across a curriculum that I've axed for the rest of the year:  Growing With Grammar.  We've used GWG 4, 5 and now 6.  However, I've not seen the retention and generalization of skills outside of his workbook exercises.  The last straw was after we were looking at a sentence and -- just for fun -- I asked, "which is the adjective?"  He just couldn't answer the question.  As we await the arrival of our new grammar program -- Analytical Grammar (AG) -- we're doing paragraph editing.  We will complete the 10 week AG cycle for this year, do some retention/ review this summer and pick up cycles 2 and 3 in 7th and 8th grade. I've wanted to use this program for a few years, and we're finally going to give it a try. Growing with Grammar = Loser

    Rod and Staff English is working well for Luke.  It is giving him basic language arts and the opportunity to read his own textbook. I appreciate the Biblical worldview and the short-and-sweet lessons.  We've made progress this year from me having to sit with Luke every. minute. of. the. day. to me being able to teach him the lesson, go over the exercises and then allow him to work through the exercises.  He seems to be retaining well! Rod and Staff = Winner

    Spell to Write and Read has been going fabulously recently.  While I know there are parts that I'm forgetting to do with Luke and Ben, I know that they are getting better basics and making progress with spelling.  We've been taking monthly diagnostic tests as recommended -- except in January, so I'm really looking forward to seeing progress at the February test.  Spell to Write and Read = Winner

    I've backed off on SWR for Levi -- although he still has to practice cursive and the basic phonograms.  He's been using a product that I'm reviewing at the end of February called I See Sam that is helping him learn to read!
    Ben and I have re-found our math groove.  Math is the one subject that he and I butt heads about.  He has good understanding of math concepts, but has really struggled for the last few years with careless mistakes (3x4=7 sorts of things) and arithmetic errors.  We're working through 5B's textbook and Life of Fred  (LoF) pre-algebra.  Ben's favorite is LoF, so I integrate that several times a week. Life of Fred = Winner

    Both Luke and Levi are using Math U See.  This is a great program for both of them, and I'm happy to have bitten the bullet and use it with both of them.  I like the video which we watch together. Then, we do a couple problems before I set them loose with the assignment pages.  Like LoF, this program is more about 'getting' it vs. an abundance of math problems.  However, since we work on one concept at a time, it is pretty easy to generate additional practice problems.  Math U See = Winner

    My review of Math Facts Now indicated that I loved the product -- and it has been incorporated into our daily routine.  Both Ben and Luke have pre-made exercises that they must complete.  Ben has to use it 4 times a week, one day each on each of the four math operations.  Luke is working on all the addition and subtraction math facts for 1s through 10s. Math Facts Now = Winner

    Luke's curriculum is working just fine.  We're using Sonlight 2 Science, which I appreciate for it's variety of topics (keeps both of us from getting bored).  I've decided that he can chose the topic within the program that we work on -- so we're reading from an old version of the Usborne Book of Knowledge.  I sure wish it was the updated Internet Linked version for sale on the website, but honestly, it doesn't seem to bother Luke whatsoever. Sonlight Science 2 = Winner on variety of topics; Loser on up-to-date resources

    Ben spent the fall finishing up one of the TOPS science books on magnetism (from Sonlight Science 5).  We planned to only take a few months to complete this, but it took all fall until our Christmas break.  Sadly, science experiments fell to the side when cross country meets and practice were part of our routine.  Last week, at Ben's request, we've moved on to creationism/ evolution using the resources from Sonlight 6.  I decided not to purchase the instructor's guide, but to sit with him and work through the material.  This is part of my revamping of dialect material, which I want to post separately.  But so far (two weeks) I'm happy with our decision.  Sonlight 6 resources = Winner

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    I used to hang out 'round here....

    Ever have life accelerate at super sonic speed? That is what I feel has happened with this whole school year! It's already January.  At different points during the fall I'd think, "man, I need to blog about that..."  then forget what I wanted to say.

    So I'm going to take a stab at writing about our fall:

    Cross Country.  Did I mention Ben ran on our middle school's cross country team?  I'm blessed that in our state, homeschoolers can participate in curricular, co-curricular, and sports teams (clubs, too).  That is a freedom is not always seen in each of the 50 states.  He had a great time and will participate in track in the spring.

    Scouts:  In this post, I mentioned that Ben earned his first three merit badges.  He is currently working on snow sports (read: downhill skiing).  He not to disappointed to be working on that :)  Homeschool ski lessons started today.  Luke has been working with Dad to power through his Wolf requirements.  Our Blue and Gold banquet is Feb. 4, so he'll be awarded rank advancement then.  Ben's 2011 goal is to achieve Star rank.  He's almost got Second class taken care of (or so he tells me).

    Church: Much has changed with our Sunday morning program at church -- all for the better.  Each child (and adult) has a Sunday school class to attend with dedicated teachers.  Dad is in the adult class, and I'm teaching the high school girls.  When they come.  Which isn't often.  It's a pretty huge difference talking with high school girls after a week spent with burps, farts, and incessant noise from My Three Sons, but I figure God knew I need to stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone.  And, I am.
    A good shot with the axe!
    Dave and I sawing wood together

    Homeschool:  I'm going to put this in another post.

    Life in General: Sometimes, Dave and I can get in a "rut" of hanging around the house and puttering.  Well, we made strides this fall to stop puttering and get doing.  Here's pictures from our afternoon watching the local university's woodman team demonstration

    Karate: Luke participated in his first karate tournament.  It made for a long weekend, as all the Karate tournaments for his type of karate are held in Connecticut.  We woke up to leave at 4 *a.m.*  It was so amazing to see the black belts as they practiced and competed before the colored belts had their turn in the afternoon.  He competed in all three events:  forms, breaking, and sparring.  He came home with a second place trophy in sparring!
    Growing up: Birthdays #5 and #8 were celebrated this fall.  No more babies in our household!

    Home improvement:  Dave's one hour project to rid our front steps of rotten wood and replace it with Trek Decking took 3 months.  But, it is beautiful, and he was able to fix (unknown) water damage below the front door system.  Because, it isn't a home improvement project without an unknown, underlying problem.  We laugh now and say that the house might fall down in a tornado or storm or .. whatever....but the front steps are bombproof. and beautiful.

    Of course, a project like this now requires that we fix the blacktop front walk, because it now looks....icky and is off-center.  But, before we take care of that, we'll need to re-grade the front yard (too steep), place a retaining wall.....yeah, it'll be a while and a lot of $$$.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Crew Review: Easy Classical

    As part of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was asked to download the digital edition of Easy Classical's Early Modern History Schedule for review.

    The Product: Created by Sandra Williams, Easy Classical uses the framework outlined by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise in their book The Well Trained Mind as the basis for their history schedule.  This schedule is appropriate for the elementary years, roughly grades K-6.

    The schedule I am reviewing is available as either a hard copy in a 3-ring binder for $35.95 or a digital download for $29.95.

    The schedule I previewed includes these sections:
    • Table of Contents:  Here, you can see that Susan Wise Bauer's book, Story of the World: The Middle Ages (SOTW2) and Story of the World: Early Modern Times (SOTW3), are used to create a history program that covers the Age of Exploration, the colonization of North America, life in the colonies, the American War for Independence, and other events up through Slavery and the Missouri Compromise. Those who are familiary with these resources will note that Easy Classical has used Bauer's books to create a year-long early American history program rather than a sweeping tour of world history between the 1400s through 1850.
    • An icon key is decoded for you.  I really like the convenience of the 4 graphics as reminders to complete writing, narration, geography and history song assigments.
    • Next follows some introductory remarks from the writer about how to read the assignment charts as well has how to use them to their maximum benefit.  There really is an assumption in using this guide that you will also use Easy Classical's writing ($29.95 print/ $19.95 digital), geography ($49.95/$39.95) and copywork (only grades 4-6 is available at this time for $15.95 print/ $9.95 digital) guide in addition to their history guide;  therefore, much of this information help to explain how these guides coordinate with one another.
    • A complete reading list is provided for all the history, writing, geography, literature and free-reading books you'll want to compile for your students.
    • Materials shopping list -- very convenient to have a year-long list of essentials.
    After these materials, we get to the meat of the program: the schedule! You can see samples of pages here. Each week's reading assignments, copywork assignments, writing and narration projects are assigned to a Monday through Friday grid.  They even use History Pockets to provide a Friday hands-on activity and occasionally, there are step-by-step drawing activities instead..

    Each week also has comprehension questions, which can be used a variety of ways:  for written work, a weekly quiz, or orally with a younger student.  Answers are found at the bottom of the week's schedule.  There are not teacher's notes to help you interpret history.  You'll be learning alongside your students as you read together.

    My impressions:  We've been using The Well Trained Mind and Story of the World in our homeschool since the beginning of our journey, and I've looked at a lot of homeschool curriculum that attempt to make the Well Tained Mind's take on classical home education easier to implement.  I appreciate the hard work that went into taking Ms. Bauer's work and turning it into something that can be more easily managed on a day-to-day basis. 

    Since I haven't actually used this product (and was not asked to use it in our homeschool for review purposes), I can only comment on my observatons of the download after looking it over.  Ms. Williams has clearly stated that this is a guide.  You, the teacher, need to add, subtract and modify any curriculum you use to make it fit your family. 

    Therefore, if I were using this in my home school, I would likely tinker with the schedule of the main history reading assignments.  Monday's reading schedule is heavy, especially if I were using this with a primarily younger crowd.  With my early elementary students, I like to spread our readings through the week.

    Easy Classical's version will certainly meet the needs of those family' who'd like to add more to their weekly history reading than just SOTW and a library book or two.  Plenty of different kids of reading material (for read-aloud or silent reading, fiction or non-fiction) are given for each topic -- you'll want to check if your library has the resources before purchasing all the suggested one.

    It may also meet the need of those families who just need more reminders to stay consistent with copywork, narration and mapwork.  With everything scheduled out so nicely, and graphics to remind you, it is....well......easy.

    It will meet the need of those family who'd like to focus and concentrate on US History exclusively for a year.  In my own homeschool journey, I really desired to make my son's 3rd grade curriculum focus just on the United States (at his request: "Mom, I just want to learn about my own country!"), yet I did not have the energy or time to carve out the US chapters from SOTW.  Instead, we went with another curriculum provider that provided a literature-rich US history program -- but we sure missed our SOTW cuddle time!  And, because we were doing something different, we began to fall off the narration/ copywork bandwagon that year.  Using something like Easy Classical would've been a perfect fit for us way-back-when!

    However, if you want to take full advantage of the "easy" part of this curriculum (scheduled narrations, writing assignments, geography, etc), you will need to pay for the additional components.  That puts a package price of $135-ish  for a print version, $95-ish  for a digital download version (I tend to go this way, not just because it is less expensive, but because I can print extra copies easier.  However, this often prevents re-selling the guides, so you'll need to make a wise decision here.) Don't forget you'll still need to acquire your reading materials (purchase or borrow).

    Easy Classical has also assembled a complete curriculum with all other major subjects as well.  You can learn about that here.

    If you'd like to read what others say about Easy Classical, visit TOS's Review Crew here.

    FCC note: Thanks to Easy Classical for the opportunity to review their material.  I was given a free digital copy in exchange for my opinions about the program.  No other compensation was awarded.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Review Crew: Math Facts Now!

    Math Facts Now! is a great little product that gets the job done.  We've used a number of math fact drill tools in the past -- online drills, paper drills, iphone apps, other software programs, hand held electronic devices, and the old standby -- flashcards.  Nothing has really worked exactly like I wanted.  But now, I've got....

    .... and I think it is a total keeper.

    This program is completely customizable:

    • You choose which function (the four basic operations) and which specific numbers to drill (1s through 12s).
    • You choose how many problems to be given in a specific session (minimum is 5).
    • You choose how much time your child is to be given to complete a problem.
    • You choose how many times the child is to repeat problems that he/she made mistakes on or took too long on.
    • Math Facts NOW! remembers which problems your child is having difficulty with, and automatically presents them back to the child with greater frequency!
    • You choose to enter a reward for the completion of a lesson with no errors.
    • You choose to print a list of your child's weak areas.
    • You can add individual profiles for all your kids!
    You can download a free trial at their website here.  When you purchase this product, you can purchase as a download or as a CD. Either way, the product is affordable at $15.95 (there is a shipping charge for the CD). 

    Our experience.  Granted, no one in my family likes math drill.  However, when asked to do their math drill daily, there was little whining and complaining.  That, in itself is a huge blessing! 

    When I think about *why* there was no whining, I believe it was because I could set the time requirement in which each problem was answered.  I could make it longer for Luke and shorter for Ben.  They didn't *have* to feel stressed out when doing their math facts, and as Luke (and Levi eventually) get older, I can tighten up the time so it can be a challenge and not a frustration.

    What I really liked about the program is that I could create drills to focus on specific fact sets my kids were having trouble with.  Luke needed practice with adding and subtracting 8s and 9s;  Ben needs an occasional review of all the facts.  I could also create (and save!) drills that work on the same facts, but with different time limits and error thresholds.  For example, I could create an addition drill for Luke that allows 15 seconds for an answer and another set for Ben that allows only 5 seconds per answer.  You can give each drill an individual name, for example, "Luke addition - 20 sec."

    I was really impressed by the printable reports (which don't have to be printed, but can be viewed on the screen, then closed) which helped me to see where my boys needed a bit more review.  After reviewing this information, I can create a more specific drill to work on problem areas.

    I only had one problem using the program, which I wanted to mention for those who are not drilling 11s and 12s facts.  When I created a drill for my 8 year old to practice addition and subtraction of facts for 1 through 10, the fact generator still gave me some problems with 11s and 12s.  This is because the set of problems for +7 (for example) includes the addends 1 through 12.  I'm not sure if this can be fixed in another update of the program, but the creators of the program have been wonderful in answering questions of other TOS reviewers.  They quickly adjusted the program's minimum number of problems from 50 down to 5.  Of course, I cannot guarantee their future ability to alter the program, but I so appreciated their responsiveness to us!  That kind of response makes lifetime customers! (Oh, if only some of the big corporations were as responsive, huh?  Ah, but I digress....)

    You can view other reviews about this product here: TOS Crew.

    I hope you'll consider Math Fact Now! for your family's supplemental math needs.  And, may you never have to purchase another math fact drill program again.

    Thanks to Math Fact Now! for the complementary copy of their downloadable program.  In exchange, I agreed to review the program and write my honest opinion about it.  No other compensation was provided.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Review Crew: Positive Acion for Christ Bible Study

    This is my first year with TOS Review Crew.  It's been an good experience, and I've certainly seen God's hand as we've been able to use a number of curricula materials that I would not have known about or not even considered.  God continues to amaze me. Just when I think that he cannot possible care about every. little. detail., He shows up to prove me wrong.

    Thank GOD for that.

    Now, I'm opening this TOS review for Positive Action for Christ's grade 6 Bible study so personally because, honestly and truly, we needed this study.  Ben's only completed a few of the lessons, but those few lessons make me excited to see what else is in store for us.

    The company.  Positive Action for Christ started as a proTeen club in 1969 and later grew into a publishing house for the club's materials. From that humble start Positive Action has developed a school Bible curriculum for grades through 12.  They also have an extensive inventory of Sunday school/ church mall group materials.  You can read their detailed history, mission statement, and doctrinal believes at their website here.

    The product. The grade 6 study I was asked to review "us[es] the theme of athletic competition and drawing from studies of various Bible characters and an overview of the Book of Revelation, [so] students will learn how the principles of God's Word can help them gain victory in the race of life."  Included in my package was a student workbook, and a 3-ring binder teach guide. The guide includes information about the scope and goals for the entire elementary curriculum, teaching strategies (mostly designed for classroom use).

    The teacher's guide.  This is *very* meaty.  The guide includes charts outlining lesson topics, developmental activities, targeted Biblical truths and character traits for each of the 35 weekly lessons.  Suggestions are given for incorporating the materials into either 3-, 4-, or 5-day schedules.  Also included in the teacher's guide are guides to help with the suggested scripture memorization.  Passages of scripture have been chosen rather than isolated verses (which helps keep it all in context, people!) and they include an option so that families with multiple children are memorizing the same passages (*very* helpful for homeschoolers!).  As I hinted to earlier in this paragraph, one or two character traits are discussed in each lesson (though this information is not included in the student book).  You can download a copy of the elementary scope and sequence to see which character traits are discussed here (look to the right side of the webpage). 

    Vocabulary and Life Principles are included for discussion as well, although these life principles are only in the 5th and 6th grade versions.

    Christian music history is also a part of the curriculum. Using several additional resources, the students will learn a monthly hymn and several choruses.  Please note that these resources are not included with the Positive Action for Christ materials, although the words to the verses are included in the back of the guide.

    Finally (I said it was meaty), there are outlines for each of the 35 lessons.  Topics headers for each lesson include:
    • Target truths (ie. The Bible is the inspired Word of God)
    • Teaching strategy
    • Character Trait activities
    • Quiz Answers
    • Lesson quiz (on it's own sheet of paper so it can easily be photocopied)
    • reprints (in black and white) of the student book with answers written in.
    The Student Book is a colorful, illustrated workbook. Miniature pencils show where students are to write answers.  There is narrative text to help flesh out ideas and connect ideas. Life Principles are boldy boxed to aid students in grasping the main idea (example from lesson 2:  Right character produces right actions).  Finally, the life application section, entitled Winning Your Race, helps students to reflect on the material and apply it to their daily lives and situations.

    The Teacher's guide is available for $34.95 and the student workbook is $13.95. Samples are available here.

    My impressions and how it worked in our homeschool: 
    • Despite the suggested weekly lesson plans, I struggled with figuring out how to divide the work between the days we alloted to complete the workbook.  There are no "divisions" in the text, so you'll need to go through each lesson and make your own determination of how to divide up the work. 
    • We had some great conversations together!
    • The life application part was hard for my son to complete ahead of our discussion.  Instead, we talked about it together, then I sent him to write up what we discussed afterward.  My hope is that as they year progresses, he'll begin to develop the skills he needs to complete this part with more independence.
    • Some of the character trait activities are really great!  I encourage you to slow down a bit and fit in appropriate activities.  For example, my son interviewed a Christian man (a pastor friend) about leadership, then he spent a few days writing and rewriting his piece.  Having my son interview someone was well as go through the writing process was a worthwhile detour from daily progress through the lessons.
    Overall, I'm impressed with the Bible study and think that as we complete this over the rest of our school year, we'll accomplish our goal of consistent Bible study and rich discussions about applying the Lord's word to our lives.

    For more reviews, you can visit the TOS Crew Blog.

    Thanks to Positive Action for Christ who provided a complementary copy of their 6th grade study for my opinions about their product.