Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Besties: Crew Review 2011-12

And thus ends my first year on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.  What an honor and privileged to have been chosen for this (almost) past school year......and for the coming school year.  Yes, I'll be back for the next cruise on the TOS Crew 2011-12!

I've learned and re-learned a few things about myself during this past year, but that will probably be another post.  In the meantime, I thought I'd look over what we reviewed this year and pick out my favorites. 

In no particular order:

1. Go go Kabongo. I really believe that reading cannot occur until there is readiness at multiple levels within a child.  Kabongo attempts to boost some of the cognitive skills necessary for learning.  Levi had a blast with this program.  He's gotten a "6" in almost every game (there are 12 currently), and doesn't play it that often now, so the minimal investment of $4.95 would definitely be worth it.
2. Read, Write and Type.  This was one of those products that just didn't click with Luke at the beginning of the year, but was perfect for Levi at the end of the year.  Just proves that each of these products has merit for any type of learner.

3. Wordy Qwerty has been a good addition to Luke's spring curriculum.  He was able to concentrate on a few spelling rules that were hanging him up in our Spell to Write and Read curriculum (especially: "C says 'sss' before e, i, and y").  He has been able to be successful with spelling and reading, and I can see that his reading as improved since we started this program. 

4. Yesterday's Classics. Such a blessings to have these digital additions to our library. We will use these books for years and years to come.

5.Postive Action for Christ.  This curriculum has been a blessing for Ben and I.  I love the time we spend learning and I pray that God is using this study in Ben's life.  The questions geared for applying God's word to real life have been spot on for an 11 year old boy.

6.Mad Dog Math.  We reviewed quite a few math programs this year, and this one is probably the best one for the whole year.  It is short and sweet, and no one is getting stalled in their daily work with this one. Praise God we have another month or so to use this program, then I'll likely purchase a perpetual license.  This is the bomb of math drill programs for us this year.

7. WonderMaps.  Loooooove them.  The are beautiful and I know we'll have years of good use with them.

8. Math Tutor DVDs.  I love having these resources in the house, for just-in-case moments. Clear presentation of the entire range of math topics.

9. Circle C Beginnings.  Looking for Christian-based early readers can be hard, but this set is interesting for both boys and girls.  With free add-ons (like the activity book downloads) you've got reading, comprehension and other skills covered.

10. Pearson's Reading Street.  I didn't think I'd care for this resource, and I was totally wrong.  What a great anthology of literature to work through. 

Interesting that many of these product arrived for review in the second half of the year.....that might reflect my own growth in reviewing materials and finding my "voice."

Whether a product made this list or not, trying so many different types of materials blessed me as a teacher, because it helped me to learn more about my children's strengths and weakness (as well as my own) and their individual learning styles.  Glory to you, Father!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crew Review: Pearson's Reading Street

I was happy to volunteer to review and try out Pearson/ Scott Foresman's Reading Street (2008 edition) grade 2 readers. We've never used a textbook/ basal reader before. I'm always on the lookout for good reading material for my on-grade-level reader Luke (2nd grade) to inspire him to want to try reading for fun (he'd rather play outside or dress-up like a Revolutionary War soldier).

First, I wanted to verify what I thought a basal reader was.  I've heard the educational-ese phrase used for decades (and guessed at it's meaning) and assumed what the term meant, but never really knew what the purpose, goal, need for one was. Gotta love, Wikipedia for quick answers: 
Basal readers are textbooks used to teach reading and associated skills to schoolchildren. Commonly called "reading books" or "readers" they are usually published as anthologies that combine previously published short stories, excerpts of longer narratives, and original works. A standard basal series comes with individual identical books for students, a Teacher's Edition of the book, and a collection of workbooks, assessments, and activities. A sequence of readers of increasing difficulty are called graded readers.[1]
Yep.  A basal reader is pretty much what I thought it was, and Reading Street fits the definition to a T.  From the Pearson website, the Easy Street series of readers are:
High-interest, authentic literature [which] provides opportunities for cross-textual reading in the content areas. Practice with higher-order thinking skills and writing tasks prepares students for state tests.
The product.  The 2nd grade readers are a set of two books, labeled 2.1 and 2.2.  For the set I reviewed, the price is $ 81.97.   They are $40.97 individually (view prices here).  This does not include the teacher books or any student workbooks.  The teacher books are really priced out of reach for any home educator I know -- over $400 for the set of 6 books!

Back to the books I have in hand. Each book is divided into 3 themed units with 5 stores in each unit:

             Book 2.1
Unit 1: Exploration 
Unit 2: Working Together 
Unit 3: Creative Ideas 

             Book 2.2
Unit 4: Our Changing World
Unit 5: Responsibility
Unit 6: Traditions

Within these units, each book is "linked" to a science or social studies topic.

So, in all, that's 30 stories for a school year.  In a public school setting, that would be one story per week for 30 weeks. 

How we used it. I think the best way for me to explain what reading one of the selections from the first book looks like is to explain what we did:
  • Each book starts with a visually appealing double page spread entitled "Oral Vocabulary" with drawings or pictures of kids doing something related to the unit's topic.  We haven' done much with this.  I'm sure the teacher's guide has some good suggestions for teacher to elicit conversations using specific vocabulary.  
  • Next is a 2-page spread called "High-Frequency Words."  Luke and I read through the words on the first page, then the words are put into a short, half-page piece of prose.  At the bottom of this page is an explanation of the literary genre this book fits into. I liked being able to talk about this with Luke.  This was more than just "is this fiction or non-fiction?"  Rather, we discussed things like animal fantasy, fairy tales, realistic fiction, and expository nonfiction.  Did the "expository nonfiction" catch your eye, too?  Thankfully, the editors of the book have made everything very 2nd-grade accessible, such as:
"Expository nonfiction gives information about a topic.  In the next selection, you will read about...."
  •  Finally we read the story!  Each story is full of the original illustrations that were published in the self-contained book.  I like that the print is large.  For Luke, he's just getting to the point where a single, full-page of text is not too intimidating, and the 2.1 book gradually introduces a 2-page spread with text on nearly one full page.  
  • After we read the story, there are questions to answer.  Under each question is a hint to the student (or me) of what type of question is being asked:  main idea, retelling, sequencing, predicting, etc.  I like that there are factual and inferential (critical thinking) type questions.
There's also this part called "Test Practice"  which directs the child to "look back and write" about the story.  I suppose we could do this on paper, but since standardized testing isn't our goal, we just talk through the appropriate responses.
Also on this two-page spread, titled Reader Response, along the bottom are selected pictures which can be used to retell the story.  A "Meet the Author" biography of each writer is provided with snapshots of other books the author has written. 
  • Next is another shorter piece of writing.  I've seen excerpts from books as well as poetry.  These pieces relate to the science/ social studies link for each main story.  For example, a story about two friends making a robot for the science fair was followed by an excerpt from a book by Clive Gifford called "Robots."  I usually read this to look -- kinda like a present to Luke after reading a much longer piece to me. 
  • The final part of each selection is "Write Now" which encourages a writing and grammar assignment related to the book.  The grammar focus will be on one topic -- verbs, nouns, verb tenses.  A definition is given and an example is provided.  The writing practice focuses on a trait:  word choice, constructing sentences or paragraphs within the context of a type of writing:  list making, writing an advertisement, making a poster.  
I hope you can sense that there is ALOT of information here!  In practice, it really isn't that overwhelming to student or teacher.  In about an hour's time, we manage to cover the basics of the pre-story, story and post-story material.  Certainly, we *could* make the story last a whole week if we wanted to, and I'm sure Luke would get more out of it if we did.  And, if we were doing more written work, I'd want to spread it out more. Obviously for a public school setting, all this information is meant to help students with standardized testing and meeting state level of Common Core standards.

At the 2.2 (second half of second grade) level book, the flow of activities for each story is generally the same.
  • Each story beginngs with a "Comprehension" section which targets a learning Skill and Strategy.  Here's a list of what is covered:
    • Skills:  compare/contrast,  fact/opinion, realism/ fantasy, plot/theme, main idea
    • Strategy: ask questions, prior knowledge graphic organizers, story structure.
The strategy is meant to help you acquire the skill.  For example, the children are encouraged to actively ask questions as they read to determine the author's purpose.
  • A two-page "Words to Know" section replaces the high-frequency words from the 2.1 book. A vocabulary strategy is given as well to help kids with word-building skills -- suffixes, compound words, word endings.  I'm not really seeing a connection between the strategy and the "Words to Know" however I like that topics that are being addressed in the strategy section.
The second page uses the Words to Know in a short reading passage.
  • The post-story activities are basically the same.
My Thoughts.

  1. I consider this a great anthology of currently published children's litearture.. These are real stories by real children's authors, not a group of editors at a publishing house trying to cobble stories together with dry, drab vocabulary and story lines. The variety of non-fiction and ficiton books is wonderful and the illustrations represent a huge diversity of styles and techniques.  It is a visually interesting book.
  2. I love the factual and inferential questions that are at the end of each story.  
  3. I love the sequenced pictures that a student can use to retell the story.  This is great for checking comprehension, sequencing, memory.  You could take dictation of this from your student (an excellent pre-writing task).
  4. I think introducing a second grader to short writing assignments when models are provided is very helpful to those who might have not-very-prolific-writers like I do. It is great exposure to different types of writing styles and genres.   In one book (2.2) the student assigned to write a news report about a storm they might have experienced.  Margin notes remind kids to answer Wh-questions, and to focus on the main topic.  A "Writer's Checklist" is provided to hep the child with focus, oganization, support, and conventions (basic punctuation).
  5. A mom who loves unit studies could probably design social studies/ science activities around the literature selections in these books. You'd have a literature rich year of study!
  1. The "visually interesting" thing could be a problem with distractible students (I have one).  Left to my son's own devices, we might have a 3 minute intermission when a new page is turned (and you know how 3 minutes can feel like 30 minutes, right?).  I need a gentle cattle prod sometimes.
  2. My biggest con may not be yours:  price.  For $80 I'm getting two great hard covered books that were written to conform to the most modern of educational standards.  Understandably, the research, time, and expertise behind these books doesn't come cheap.  However, I cannot even begin to touch a complete set of teacher's books, so I know that I'm not able to access all that research and teacher helps that would help me to meet these standards.
  3. Along this line, Pearson has a web portal called Pearsonsuccessnet.com which is only accessible with the purchase of....teacher guides.  Each of the six units have an activity related to online communication and reading.  I could certainly sit with Luke and discuss email, web-searches, etc.  but I suspect there's some good stuff at the portal. Some reviewers have found some supplementary material on this website. It appears to belong a teacher who uses this reader text.
In all, the opportunity to review this set has made me open to the idea of finding additional anthology-type texts for my younger elementary-aged, but at a more budge-friendly price point.
    What do others think? Click over to TOS Crew Review to read about others' experience with Reading Street.

    Thank you Pearson publishing for the opportunity to review Reading Street 2.   For my honest review, I was given a complementary copy of the books.  My thoughts are my own -- good, bad, and otherwise.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Crew Review: Wordy Qwerty

    Wordy Qwerty is the second product from Talking Fingers that we've had the pleasure to review this school year.  Talking Fingers produces researched-based instructional materials to faciliate learning in school and home environments. You can read about the company, their philosophy, and company history at their website.

    A brief introduction about Wordy Qwerty from the website:

    Wordy Qwerty"The long-awaited sequel to the Read, Write & Type Learning System, Wordy Qwerty – Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, takes 7-9 year olds through the next steps of reading and writing fluency, and picks up where our award-winning software, the Read, Write & Type Learning System leaves off.
    After successfully completing Read, Write & Type!, most 6-7 year olds are able to write any word they can say. But they may not spell them all correctly, because they need to know a bit more about spelling conventions and about how words are constructed in English. This is where Wordy Qwerty comes in. In 20 consecutive lessons, woven together with fun-to-play games and delightful songs that will stay in their heads..."

    You can view the online Wordy Qwerty's price structure; one user license is $25.00 with discounted license fees for more than one user.  All online products have licenses good for 5 years. CD versions are $35.00. However, the CDs are not compatible with Windows 7 and Mac 10.6 operating systems.

    How it Works.  The premise is that Midi, a keyboard, needs to make musical instruments and needs spheres to play music.  Guess who collects spheres?  Yes, your child.  To collect spheres, you child will complete 20 lessons emphasizing a different spelling rule in each lesson:

    1. Silent E
    2. Sounds of C
    3. Sounds of G
    4. J or DGE
    5. W or WH
    6. C or K
    7. CK or K
    8. CKS or X
    9. CH or TCH
    10. LL, SS, FF, ZZ
    11. OI or OY
    12. VE Words
    1. Open Syllables
    2. Double Consonants
    3. Doubling rule
    4. ER, IR, OR, UR, EAR
    5. I Before E
    6. Plurals: Add ES
    7. Plurals: Y to IES
    8. Plurals: F to VES

    So, when you first start the program, you'll be working on #1, Silent E rule.  Your child will progress through each of six steps before having a spelling test on the words which demonstrate the rule.  The steps are:
    1. Patterns (sorting words based on the spelling rule)
    2. Karaoke (a song which emphasizes the spelling rule)
    3. Recycler (working with homophones like "meet" vs. "meat" that are not necessarily related to the spelling rule)
    4. Pop-a-Word (with sight-word emphasis on common words like "their")
    5. Write Stories (typing a sentence to dictation)
    6. Read Stories (choosing a key word that makes contextual sense in a story)
    If you click over to the product tour, the developers have explained each of these 6 steps clearly.

    The final step is a spelling test.  This is actually the only part of the program that is graded for accuracy.   If you child does not meet the pass criteria (it is set for 70%, but you can adjust it), he is asked to try again.  The first time your child doesn't pass, he is automatically sent back to take the test again.  After that, though, the characters just suggest that they try again. [Now, I totally understand not wanting to frustrate a child because he's being forced to repeat something s/he is not good at.  But, then, really, what is the point of setting the passing level?  I did contact a company representative about this feature, and she explained how it works, but it still doesn't make much sense.]

    After each set of 5 spelliing rules, your child gets a mini-reward of seeing how the music machine is coming along.  It is pretty cool.  However, after you've completed all the lessons (not necessarily that you've met your passing score) you get to see the WHOLE machine and hear the hole piece.  All my boys (and I) were spellbound.  It was very, very cool.

    Our Experience. I wouldn't consider this an entire spelling program, but rather a supplement to enhance your spelling program.  My ds has had a lot of trouble with the "C says /s/ before e, i and y" rule, and I can tell that he is understanding the rule more in his reading aloud to me.  Instead of just reading the C as a hard /k/ sound, he is pausing, thinking, and then correctly pronouncing the C as either /s/ or /k/ -- depending on the vowel.  Yipee!

    Another part of the program that I believe has helped my son is the Pop-a-word game. It has helped with his sight-word reading (I'm not a fan of sight-words, but at some point, you gotta do what is best for your child and Lukie needs some sight-words to help him along). This activity has really helped him speed up his reading, and what is cool is that he is realizing it.  "Hey, mom," he said to me yesterday, "I got eleven balloons [rewards] today!"  The last I watched him, he was averaging only 3 or 4.

    I've been very pleased with how Wordy Qwerty has helped my son make progress.  He's still working on bringing a couple of his scores up to the 80% criteria, so he's not done with it yet.  But I've seen some marked improvement in his reading, which for right now, means this program has been worth its weight in gold.

    Please visit the TOS Crew Review to see others' experience with Wordy Qwerty.

    Thank you SO much to Talking Fingers for a one-year subscription to Wordy Qwerty online.  In exchange, I agreed to share our experience with the program.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Crew Review: Mad Dog Math

    I think I'm in love with Mad Dog Math.

    This is a  math fact software program that has made math fact practice almost painless in my house.

    The concept is fairly simple: complete a set of problems within a 2 minute period.  If you miss zero, 1 or 2, you go on to the next problem set; if not try again.  When you master the 2 minute drills, you move on to 1 minute drills.  Then, 30 second drills. The child is trying to be successful enough to be in the 2 Minute Club, 1 Minute Club and 30 Second Club by answering math questions accurately and quickly.

    The program was developed originally as a worksheet system by educator Julie Kotoff. You can read her story here.  She's now branched out into software to accomplish the same goal -- painless, enjoyable math fact practice (the worksheet system is still available).  It certainly is working here!

    Here's a screenshot of what the program looks like when you sign in:

    Level 1 practice is addition and subtraction;  Level 2 is the same operations, but with missing addends and subtrahends.  Level 3 is multiplication and division.  Once you are a Top Dog, you can move to the "Challenge" level.  It has two types of problem sets:  mixed operations called Mutt Math:

    and multiple operations  (Kennel Trouble) where the child adds or multiplies two numbers first, then either adds, multiplies or subtracts a third number.  It's easier to see than explain (3 is the constant in the sample below):

    I really love the concept of the challenge problems!  I have wished for math drill that would really bump it up a notch and get my kids changing gears in their math computations, requiring them to own math facts.  I think these two types of challenge problems are great upper elementary/ middle school drills to keep kids sharp!

    You'll  want to visit the download page to check system requirements before ordering the software here.  There are different downloads depending on if you have 32-bit or 64-bit Windows operating systems.

    The Software is available with several licensing options:

    1 year license: $19.99
    2 year license: $29.99
    Perpetual license: $39.99

    We'll be doing math drill for the next 7-8 years, so the perpetual license is the way for us to go.

    Our Experience.  Mad Dog Math (MDM) has been one of the most gentle math fact programs we've used all year long.

    "Ben, go do Mad Dog Math," I say.  "I already did," Ben replies [the bold is because his answer blows my mind!].


    Yes, it has been that easy to do math drill for the past month or so.  No complaining, whining, or grumbling.

    Here's a screen shot when you make a mistake.  The wrong items are highlighted.  As I mentioned earlier, if you get more than 2 wrong, you get a reminder to re-do the fact page:

    My recommendation.  If you are wanting to incorporate a quick system of math fact practice into your home education, this has really been a fantastic product for us.  My only *wish* is that there was a pull-down menu so that your child doesn't have to re-type their login name each time s/he signs in.  It would make it easier for me to check their progress, too!  My kids like is so much because it doesn't take a lot of time, and they are being successful initially.  I know that as they get into the 1-minute and 30-second problem sets, they will be much more challenged, but with the gentle scaffolding, I think their confidence with math facts is building!

    Visit the Crew Review to see what others have to say about this product.

    Thanks to Mad Dog Math for a trial copy of this software in exchange for my honest opinions on this product and how it worked in our homeschool!  No other compensation was received.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Crew Review: WonderMaps

    I *heart* geography.  I was one of those kids/ teens who could stare at an atlas for hours.  Do you know what happens when a kid like me grows up? I'm an adult that can stare at an atlas for hours.  

    Can you imagine my reaction when the opportunity to review a new, digital map product presented itself?  (Think happy-dancing' around the kitchen!) I was SO beyond excited -- have I mentioned I love maps?

    Bright Idea Press' new product is called WonderMaps.The concept is truly wonderful.  Here's their video tutorial.  I think it will answer most of your questions about this new product:

    A couple of additional points to supplement the tutorial:
    1. Your license allows you to load the software on two computers in the same family, plus have a backup copy.
    2. Two workshop mp3s are available for download through the Teacher's Guide link:  Loving Geography and Pacing a Punch with Timelines and Maps. A surprise extra!
    3. Map sets from Mystery of History and All American History are available through the program. There are outline maps for MOH that are for the geography component of the resource. Answer keys are provided.  the AAH I maps are pre-marked with battlefields, routes and places of historical interest.  These are not blank maps for students to fill in. AAH II maps appear to be base maps that students can then mark routes and sites. (Note, I'm not a user of either of these resources, so I'm not familiar with their map work).
    4. Your purchase will allow you to register your product at the BIP's Member's Site.  Updates, when available, will be posted on that site.
    Isn't the idea of WonderMaps just so simple? You can print a map for your grammar students with labels and print the same map without labels for your logic or rhetoric students.  You can zoom in on a portion of a map and print just that part.

    The product is available for $49.95 (as a CD or download)**.  It contains:
    • 60+ maps of the world (continents, regions, and countries)
    • 60+ maps of the USA (regional and state)
    • 125 historical maps, including 38 maps for ancient history; 28 middle ages maps; 25 renaissance maps; and 35 maps for the time period from 1720s through present time (the last map is of the European Union).  You can view the maps through the yellowish "Historical Maps" button on the home screen or by theme (such as "Native Americans") by clicking through the purple "Thematic Maps" button on the home screen. [see screen shot on the right]
    Here is a sample of the maps available on the software:

    Our Experience.  WonderMaps arrived just in time for our history group's study about the French and Indian War. Here's the map that was available for me to use (this is a partial screenshot):

    I chose to use the modern border layer so the children could visualize where the famous battles took place.  I had planned to print the map without fort names so the children could label them.  However, I could not use the map, because Fort Duquesne and Fort Necessity were both misplaced on the map.  Both forts are in Pennsylvania (Duquesne is now Pittsburg):

    I cannot even begin to tell you how disappointed I was.  I know that the mistake was a simple misplacement.  I know that this is a version 1.0 product, and that there are always bound to be mistakes -- no one is perfect.  I know I could have removed the state boundaries, therefore not highlighting the fact that the two forts are too far to the west.  

    I wanted to use the Revolutionary War battles map two weeks later.  However, there were several mis-labeled locations on this map as well (granted, the mislabelings are in a geographically small area of Boston, so it is hard to label events so that students' can see the individual bullet locations).

    I've spent a lot of time wanting to use WonderMaps.  I love the layers, I love the topographical overlays (which can be printed in black and white or color), and I love the graticules and labels.
    Look at those beautiful mountain ranges!

    I think WonderMaps is ideal:
    1. for a large family who needs to print versions of the same map for differing grade levels.
    2. for people who LOVE detailed mapwork
    3. for families who use historical mapwork in their programs.
    4. for families who do a lot of geographical studies (I'm thinking of programs like Galloping the Globe or continental unit studies).
    5. for families who will be homeschooling for the long hall.  Access to updated maps via BIP's member site is a great feature.
    6. for any family who is using a classical education (not just using MOH or AAH).  The maps are beautiful, professional grade maps.

    I really do love WonderMaps, and I know that they will be of great use to my family as the kids grow and are using reference atlases to locate events and places and then transfer that information to a paper map (which will begin to occur next year for my rising 7th grader).  I am disappointed in some of the errors I've found on the historical maps;   I know BIP has a great reputation in the homeschool community, and I look forward to map updates as they are made available. Update:  I received an email from the company this morning.  They will likely have an updated version (called 1.01) at the end of this summer to correct these errors in the historical maps.  Yea!

    Please consider reading what others said about WonderMaps at the Review Crew. A lot of people didn't have nearly the trouble I did!

    You can learn more who Bright Ideas Press is by visiting About BIP, their Store, and Technical FAQs here.

    **Psst.  TOS subscribers should look for a coupon code in their recent magazines!

    Thank you to Bright Ideas Press for a free copy of WonderMaps in exchange for my honest opinion about their product. No other compensation was given.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    A Day to Scrapbook: Mother's Day 2011

    Today goes down as one of the best family days ever. I woke up to the clanking and clattering of pots and pans, eggs cracking, markers being pulled out of their drawer.  No complaints at all.

    Eggs, bacon, a cuppa hot joe, and strawberries.  Delish.

    Next Presents/ Cards.  The boys got me my most favorite type of card -- 3 handmade ones:

     From Luke.  I cried.
    From Levi.  I cried.  He's had this made for about a week.  Brothers helped him spell.  Levi says to me first thing this morning:  "Your card is your present and your present is your card.  It's weird."
    From Ben.  I was so excited to see he had used those little "window" thingies to show that the balloons are round (an art technique we learned this year).  He put 11 balloons on the card "one for each year you've been a mom."  This is actually my 12th Mother's Day, but I didn't want to ruin it for him. 

    We dressed, washed, brushed and made it to Sunday School and church.  I came home with two strands of beautiful clay bead necklaces.  The hand-made beads were also individually crafted and colored.  Lots of blue (my favorite color) beads.

    Next, home to get the dog, change and then to lunch for Mexican food with guacamole.  Yum!

     An 80% nice picture of all of us.  It's about as good as it gets.

    Finally, an afternoon at the beach.  It was chilly, but not too bad if you stayed dry.  Daisy LOVED the beach, drank the sea water (blech!) and danced in the waves.  I believe it is impossible to not smile when walking a water-loving dog next to the beach.  Sadly, the beaches in our state are only open to dogs out of season.
    Luke ended up getting in the water up to his shoulders. Crazy boy. Average temperatures this time of year are 48.

     The guy who made this whole day -- and phase of life -- possible.

    After a couple hours at the beach, dinner plans were formulated:  Ice cream!

     This is a small in New England. I won't eat for 3 days now.

    Now, I'm sitting on my couch, all jammied up, making lesson plans for the week.  The day couldn't have been more perfect.

    Thank you God for my life.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Crew Review: Circle C Beginnings books from Kregel Publishers

    I'm getting down to the end of my stack of reviews for this year's The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew!  It's been a great cruise! 

    I was very interested to review this book, because I still have a hard time finding appropriate, reading material for my son(s).  I prefer to find books that have purpose, teach something, and are uplifiting.  Oh, and fun, too.  I think the Circle C Beginnngs books fit my needs perfectly. When I saw this book, I was sure that -- despite the pink cover -- Luke would enjoy reading it aloud to me.  And I was right!

    The Circle C Beginnings books are meant to be used with early elementary readers who are gaining confidence with chapter books.  Andi is a 6-year-old in these books, surrounded by her brothers, friend Riley (an 8-year-old boy), and her mother.  They live on a ranch in the 1874s in California.  You can find a wonderful introduction to author Susan K. Marlow at the Beginnings book's sister site, Circle C Adventures (which tell the story of Andi when she's grown up a bit more and are books for older readers).

    The Beginnings books can be purchased in sets at their website:
    Books 1-4:  $15.96 + shipping ($3)
    Books 1-2:  $9.98 + shipping ($2)
    Books 3-4: $9.98 + shipping ($2)

    Individually, each book seels for $4.99 (shipping is $2).  They can also be purchased from Amazon.com, Kregel Publishing, and CBD.com. You can also order (with or without the book), a lapbook kit for ages K-4th grade. View the topics for the lapbooks here.

    You'll find some really great free, add-on resources for the Beginnings books at the website:  coloring pages, Java enabled online puzzles, and a wonderful 20-page activity book.

    In Andi's Pony Trouble, Andi thinks she is old enough to have her own horse:
    Andi wants a horse of her own more than anything in the world, but her mother says she's too young. Stuck with riding Coco, the hand-me-down pony, Andi sets out to show her family that she's ready for a horse of her own.
    Andi's desire for a horse leads to many adventures in which she learns that her eagerness to follow her own desires -- and not the wisdom of her elders -- can lead to problems.

    Our Experience.  After the initial "Eeew, this is a girl book" comment from my 8-year-old, we easily settled into reading this story -- and LOVED it!  Regardless of gender, Andi's struggle to submit to authority is a common issue for children.

    I really appreciated the vocabulary glossary at the beginning of the book, as well as the historical note at the end.  We're suburban folk, so words like "corral" and "britches" don't always work their way into conversation.  Additionally, I appreciated the  use of idiomoatic phrases being used in the book.  Mrs. Marlow wove contextual definitions of these phrases  into the book, so young readers could expand their comprehension skills.

    After finishing the book (we read 1 chapter a day for 2 weeks), Luke and I spent some time working through several activities in the free activity book.  While some activities were purely there for fun (copies of the illustrations for coloring and a simple maze), I loved that there were activities to extend learning and reinforce comprehension skills:
    • matching vocabulary to definitions
    • matching idioms to their meaning
    • sequencing events in the story
    • simple geography (locating California on a map)
    • learning about how horses are measured
    • cooking Andi's snack-- sugar cookies
    I'm planning on purchasing the remaining books to add to our collection of early chapter books. We've been so blessed this year to try many unique and helpful products, of which the Circle C Beginnings books are among the top.

    You can visit the Crew Blog to read what other reviewers thought.

    Thanks to Kregel Publishing for sending a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion about this resources.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Yes, I need this.....31 Days to Clean

    A few months ago, I decided that I needed to remove dysfunctional things from our school room (my desk) and replace it with functional pieces. Like many home improvement jobs we start here, the school room is *still* a mess..... and I have little motivation to fixit right now. Which is a problem.

    Yes, I think I need a heart recharge about cleaning....

    Go take a look at:
    31 Days to Clean at Like a Warm Cup of Coffee

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Crew Review: Yesterday's Classics E-book Library

    If someone handed you a library of quality children's literature (that is interesting for an adult to read as well), would you be happy? What about if it didn't involve having to buy another bookshelf or build an addition to the house?

    Wlll then, let's talk about Yesterday's Classics e-book library.

    The company.   Yesterday's Classics has built a business out of republished 18th and 19th century classics:
    ... These books, first published in the golden age of children's literature from 1880 and 1920 and long out of print, are reprinted in modern easy-to-read type for today's readers. The illustrations from the original volumes have been included except in those few cases where the quality of the original images was too low to make their reproduction feasible. Color illustrations in the original volumes are rendered in black and white in these editions. 
    The company has been selling softcover books for a number of years, and recently has added e-pub and Kindle compatible versions to their line.  These electronic books are sold individually (for $2-$5 each) or as an entire library!

    Yesterday's Classics maintain their own online storefront, but their books are sold at several online retailers, including Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.  However, their ebook collection is being sold at their website only.

    The product. Purchasing this set of books will save you BUCKETS of money.  Purchased individually the 225-volume set costs (gulp) $2,495.75 for the printed volumes.  In e-book format, the set is regularly priced at $149.95.  That's huge savings.  During the month of May, they are having an e-book special which you can view at this site:

    Included in the set of Yesterday's Classics titles are enough books to use for many, many years of home education and enjoyment. The books are divided into 22 categories, among them:
    • Fairy Tales (12 titles)
    • Ancient Rome (18 titles)
    • World History (9 titles)
    • Shakespeare (2 titles)
    • American History (18 titles)
    • Science (7 titles)
    • Legends (14 titles)
    • ...and lots more!

    I've used a number of YC's titles in my homeschooling career for science (nature studies), literature studies and history. As a Tapestry of Grace (TOG) family, we've used the following titles just this past year:

    My son and I both really LOVED the Beowulf retelling, and Our Island Story is one of my son's favorite history books (it tells the history of Great Britain in story format).  I've found the nature series, "Among the ___ People" by Clara Dillingham Pierson to be sweet stories about animals in their natural habitats.
    This year alone, I've spent about $74 on YC books for five paperback books. After scanning the titles, I realize I could have used a half dozen other YC titles as alternates for my grammar-level students' history and literature readings.  Puchasing all their titles for $150 (or on sale at $99!) is a good deal for a TOG user.

    Yesterday's Classics titles are also commonly used with Ambleside Online, Living Books Curriculum, Heart of Dakota, and Pageant of History.  You can view which titles at the website.

    If you've never used a re-published book from the 18th and 19th century, it is worth viewing a sample at the website.  There are several distinctives about this genre of literature:

    • The writing style is reflective of a different era.  Think about reading something like Little Women or Pride and Prejudice.
    •  The sentence structure and vocabulary -- while accessible to children -- is more advanced than contemporary children's literature.
    • Many of the titles look to impart clear moral values in line with Judeo-Christian beliefs, even while learning about animals that live in and around a pond.

    It should be noted that the texts may use terms that are not political correct or widely used anymore (Muhammadans is used instead of Muslims, for example). I prefer to discuss the racism and prejudice in the context of history and God's creation.

    Our experience. In terms of acquiring a library of e-books, loading them and using them, I am very pleased with this set.  Prior to receiving this collection, I had practically no experience with e-readers.  I do use an iphone, but I've never had to import files into the ibook app that I use.

    So it was with a bit of hesitation that I downloaded the 13 zip files that make up a purchase of this library. Included in the download were many helps and guides: from how to pick an e-reader to lists of the books by title, category and author.  It was actually fairly easy to add them to my itunes library and sync it with my phone!  Amazingly enough, I have all 225 books loaded on my phone, and still have plenty of room left for accidental pictures of my car floor and videos of the boys looking up one another's noses.

    Having the books that we use as spines to our history curriculum has come in very handy!  No more freaking out by teacher or student  when student says, "Uh, Mom, I left This Country of Ours at home,"as we drive off on a field trip

    I love that the YC's versions of these books have been published with tables of content.  Believe it or not, some public domain books do not have this feature. Thankfully, the library comes without Digital Rights Management (DRM), so you can load the books on your phone, tablet, laptop, etc. -- as many devices as you have.

    Kindle format warning:  You can only use the Kindle format on an actually Kindle or Kindle for PC.  Kindle apps for iphone and ipad are not able to add these files.  Instead, order the e-pub files, which you'll be able to load to ibooks or other e-pub apps. (YC will send you a file with your purchase that explains different apps you can use to view your books.)

    If the content of antique books for children appeals to you, I highly recommend checking out one of the samples available at Yesterday's Classics. A free download called The Dutch Twins is available so you can try out  an e-book (scroll down the page about one-fourth of the way until you see the big buttons).

    Accidentally order the wrong format?  Yesterday's Classics will easily help you get the correct format you need for your applications and devices. Their customer service is wonderful, and the product comes with a 100% money back guarantee --
    ...But don't just take my word for it.  Click over to TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say.

    FCC statement:  In exchange for my honest opinion (the good, the bad, and the ugly), I as given a free download of the Yesterday's Classic epub library. No other compensation was given.