Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short

We are just a few days from the end of our school year. We always tend to end near the beginning of June, usually because we have family visiting for Ben's birthday. This year, we won't have guests, but we'll end the year anyway. We got a new camera for our anniversary/ my birthday, so I decided to take some end of year pictures of the kids and compare them to those we took in September:

Here's Levi:

And Luke:


And this is after Ben said, "Luke, let's do an album cover pose."

Love it!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Crew Review: Dive into Your Imagination DVD

Over the past few weeks we've had the chance to review our last product for the 2011-2012 Crew Review year:  Dive into Diversity, a DVD unit study about the ocean habitat.

This DVD is one of three DVDs produced specifically for children and the educational  market. The others are:  What Makes a Fish a Fish?  and What Lives in the Sea?  All three are $19.95 each.

The DVDs (meant for ages preK and up) are beautiful filmed by Annie Crawley, who is an underwater cinematographer, educator, and motivational speaker. You can definitely sense Annie's passion about the ocean, teaching and following your dreams as you read her bio at the website.

The DVD I reviewed had the following chapters:

Crusty Crustaceans  • Night Diving • Coral Reef Living • Be A Submarine Pilot • Swim in a Kelp Forest • Sea Animals with Backbones •  Diversity • Invertebrates of the Sea • The Ocean Song see the clip):

Our DVD Experience: The kids loved most of the DVD.  At the beginning (and sporatically throughout), they thought the DVD was a little too pre-schooly for them.  What made them think this?  In the beginning part of the DVD, scenes of toddlers and pre-schoolers were shown learning to swim.  Once the kids got past that part, all three were watching and listening to the amazing footage of that mysterious place under the surface of the water.

A note:  Speaking about the diversity of life in the ocean, Annie mentions briefly that clownfish can change from male to female (she mentions the wrasses fish that changes from girl to boy).  This is called sequential hermaphroditism (something I looked up on Wikipedia just now).  It is a response that God has given to the animals in a situation where the female has been killed or leaves the structured society within which clownfish live; in order to continue to populate their region one of the males becomes female (see the Wikipedia page about clownfish, specifically the reproduction section).  Now, Annie does not use the term "sequential hermaphroditism" nor does she mention that this is in response to physical changes in the clownfish community. This is pretty complex stuff for early elementary aged students. But I mention this in case you want to preview the chapter "Diversity" or are hesitant to introduce this topic within your family.

Also made available to us for this review were two sets of teaching guides for the DVD:  one was for preK-K and the other for grades 1-3. I did not download the preK-K level (Levi is more a grade 1 student now), but the grade 1-3 guide is over 300 (!!) pages of materials.  For each chapter on the DVD, the educator's guide has:

  1. Character education and imagination play for your students.
  2. A set of student questions correlating to the lessons designed to prompt discussion and enhance learning during video and multi-media viewing.
  3. Ideas and support materials you can use to build learning centers in your classroom which combine science with other core subjects.
  4. A glossary of scientific terms, eco-tips and websites for educator content support.
  5. Suggested book lists and extension activities that can be used to bring an ocean of imagination flooding into your class. [taken from the guide, p.9]
Additional instructions were:
"This book is designed for educators to use in planning ocean based activities for students combining science, literacy, math, geography, and character education.... Though each unit provides several learning station activities, we suggest choosing 2-3 of them for use at any one time. Our goal is to provide you with many tools and options in order for you to customize a program appropriate for your class." [also found on p. 9]
We used several of the ideas in the guide to springboard discussion after watching the movie.  I printed off a worksheet to target vocabulary and had Luke and Levi work together to unscramble to words. I think there is a LOT of material in the guides that can be used to create a whole unit study of learning.

A note about the guides: The guides are available (click for store at anniecrawley.com) as a printed version for $299 (for the whole set of them) or as individual PDFs for $69.95. As a special for the Homeschool Crew and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and followers, Annie Crawley of Dive Into Your Imagination will gift you a set of PDFs with purchase of the DVDs. When you place your DVD order, just let her know in the notes that you are a Homeschool Parent! {Super really important:  do not order the guides at the anniecrawley website.  Just make a note in the "comments" or "notes" section of your DVD order that you are a homeschool parent and want a copy of the guides.}

To read what other reviewers thought of the DVDs, head over to the crew:


Disclaimer: In exchange for a copy of the product reviewed above, I was asked to give my honest opinion.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions are my own. Pricing and information about the DVDs and guides are accurate as of this post date.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

TOS Review Crew Fav List for 2011-12

In the next week I'll be posting my final review for this 2011-12 school year.  This was my second year on The Crew, and it was infinitely more manageable than the first year because I knew what I was doing a little bit more than my inaugural year.

One of the fun things at the end of the year that The Crew gets to do is vote on our favorites.  You can read the whole post at TOS Review Crew website.

I've also posted links to each of these products that I reviewed so you can see what I thought.

Favorite Reading Instruction Product:  Reading Eggs / My review
Favorite Writing Product:  Write Shop
Favorite Language Arts Product: Progeny Press / My review of PP's Across Five Aprils
Favorite Social Studies Product: TruthQuest History
Favorite Science Product: Amazing Science / My review
Favorite Math Product: Math Mammoth
Favorite Online Math Product: Math Rider / My review
Favorite Foreign Language Product: Visual Latin / My review
Favorite Fine Arts Product: Artistic Pursuits
Favorite Christian Education Product:  Apologia: Who Am I?
Favorite Preschool Product: Before Five in a Row
Favorite Elementary Product: All About Reading
Favorite Middle School Product:  Write with WORLD / My review
Favorite High School Product: Excellence in Literature / My review
Favorite College or College-Prep Product:  Excellence in Literature
Best Online Resource:  Reading Eggs
Best e-Product: Heritage History
Best Homeschool Resource: Apologia: Educating the Wholehearted Child
Best Book, Novel, or Magazine: Apologia: How to Have a HEART for Your Kids / My review
Best Children’s Book: Amazing Animals by Design / My review
Best Game or Toy: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything / My review
Best Hands-On Resource: Pitsco Education
Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: eMeals / My review
Best Customer Service: K5 Learning / My review
Most Adaptable Resource: Creek Edge Press / My review
Most Family-Oriented Resource: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything
Kids’ Choice (favorite of CHILDREN ages 0-12):  Reading Eggs
Teens’ Choice (favorite per the TEENAGERS): Pitsco Education
All Around Crew Favorite: Visual Latin

I had some favorites that did not make the cut.  Levi and Luke both loved Reading Eggs, and it certainly deserves a win, but I have to credit Ooka Island as really jumpstarting Levi's reading this school year. Shortly after our trial subscription ran out, we were able to use Reading Eggs, and Levi continued to blast through that program's reading skills. He is now reading Magic Tree House books (still could use some help decoding longer words, but I'm not complaining right now!).

My favorite science product was Classical Astronomy Finally, star charts that make sense to me!  I love the idea of learning useful astronomy and doing more than learning about "just" the planets.  This product was great, too, because we involved the whole family and dragged Daddy out to look at the starts (that makes is sound like Dave is totally uninvolved in our home schooling -- which is not the case).  We are planning a camping vacation this summer, and I plan to purchase a monthly guide so we can watch the heavens as we camp!

My Levi's favorite fine arts product was Kinder Bach (since we did not review Artistic Pursuits this year). It was a program that he grew to love and even request as time when on!
Each winning vendor has received this wonderful award to display with pride:
Congratulations to our winning vendors! We hope you will sail with us again! Many Crew Members are blogging about these awards as well. Click here to see the Crew Blog Posts.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crew Review: CapJaxMathFax

For the past few crazy weeks, my younger boys have been trying out CapJaxMathFax to help them with their subtraction (Levi) and beginning multiplication (Luke).  Both boys use Math U See for their primary program, and I do like to add in some additional math fact help too give them a bit of a boost with what they are currently learning or to help keep fresh all that they previously learned.

CapJaxMathFax is available for $29.95 as a download.  For an additional $5.95, you can purchase the program on a disk.  You can download an evaluation/ trial program, which apparently has additional notes to help you understand the fullness of the program (I have not tried the evaluation copy).

As I do with all the math fact programs we've tried, I quickly downloaded the software and added it to the boys' schedules. This start up screen (which can be disabled once you've started using the program) explains that there are two modes -- a practice mode and a rating mode (click on the picture to read the descriptions):

After clicking "close" in the yellow box, you will get to the main screen, where you can select the types of problems for your kids to work on:

I really do love all the options that are here.  It can be totally customized to your child's needs.  Math U See teaches math facts 0-10, but there are some programs that teach 0-12 facts, so I love that you can set this program to include those or not.

Right now, Levi is working on learning subtraction with the 2s facts.  I can set the practice level to work on just -2s on the "LEVEL" selector or I can have him practice them with -1s.  I also like being able to set the number of math problems to include in each practice.  For Levi, I usually try to have him work through 15 to 20 at a time.

One thing to note:  you do have to re-enter the facts you want your child to practice daily.  My kids have gotten fairly good at asking what I want them to do.  

I think that the "SUPER SECONDS" setting is very handy.  The idea behind it is this:  if it takes longer than 3 seconds to answer a math problem, then your child is probably counting it out and hasn't memorized/learned it yet.  Levi is only getting about 3 or so SUPER scores, so we are parked at -2 for a little while more.  I like that the kids and I can review their answers when they are done and count how many SUPERS they got.

Another thing I really like about this program is that it presents math facts both vertically and horizontally within the same set of facts.  And, with ,multiplication, CapJax uses the dot between two numbers (sort of like the "*" in 6*1=) as well as the "x."  I like that different notations are used from the beginning.

I think CapJax has some good "bones" to it in terms of flexibility.

We didn't really use the RATING mode, except to just see what it did.   The RATING part of the program is supposed to be the part of the program that helps your child reach mastery of their facts. At the RATINGS level, your child completes math facts to earn points and badges.  It even compiles a nifty graph which is informative and motivating.  You can see a great, informative PDF to learn about the distinctives of CapJax.

Why didn't we use the RATING part?  Well, I have to say that this particular math fact program was not a favorite of my kids.  While I appreciate a "back to basics," no fluff program, my kids just thought it was too boring.  There is no animation at all in this program (which is not a bad thing...).  It is a pretty straightforward math program.  Now, it does not matter too much to me if my kids think something in school is boring -- I operate our school under the "Life is sometimes boring so we need to learn to be grateful and make the best of it" philosophy.  However, we've been struggling with doing our school work consistently over the past few weeks, so I've learned to pick my battles.

Now, please, go visit some other reviewers to who had kids who loved CapJax.  For me as a mom, I see lots more pluses to this program than my kids' did.


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Princess, a Few Goblins, a Miner & a Proud Mom

This past week was altogether hectic/ chaotic/ living-life-in-the-fast-lane crazy and wonderful.  Our area's home school theatre production of The Princess and The Goblin (a wonderful allegorical story that all Christians should read!) premiered, matinee-d {not a word, I know}, and closed to ovations.  Three performances in two days.  Phew!

Ben, his brothers, and I have been attending this group's performances for 5 or so years.  When he was very young, I told him that he would be in a play someday.  "No way, Mom!"

Then he saw a sword fight on stage, and he was hooked!

Ben auditioned for a small part (he hoped to earn a part that had no speaking part!) and was cast as an extra -- the usual role for first time thespians.  But when scripts were received and parts were counted, he ended up with a 7-line role as "Miner #2."  In the end, he was glad to have a speaking part.

{That's my miner on the left}

Being part of the cast was such a great experience at so many levels for Ben.  Luke and Levi look forward to following in their brothers' steps.  And the best thing...

...Ben wants to audition for a bigger part.

Glory to you, God!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Crew Review: Judah Bible Curriculum

Every once in a while I run across a curriculum that I can sense has great depth and purpose, but I just cannot get my little, scattered, multi-tasking brain around it.  This happened with my history curriculum the first time I tried it (which I ditched after 9 weeks yet came back to 3 years later), and our spelling curriculum (which I gritted my teeth and made myself not give up, because there were no good alternatives). They both  required a great deal of investment in teacher-training, but the end result would be abundant blessings.

I think Judah Bible Curriculum is like that: a rich investment with wonderful dividends.  However, the dividends do not come easy.

The Premise of Judah Bible. The first thing about Judah Bible Curriculum is that it follows the Principle Approach to Christian education.  Never heard of that?  Well, I have heard it, but never understood what it meant. Briefly, the website describes Principle Approach as "a philosophy of education whose content and methods are designed to build character in teacher and student capable of sustaining liberty."

That sounds great!

Another thing I find exciting about this curriculum is that it is mean to be not just a subject in your homeschool, but the core of your homeschool: 
The Judah Bible Curriculum is an entry level Principle Approach Bible Curriculum designed to help you, the teacher, take Bible Class off the back burner and make it the centerpiece of your Christian school or home school. (From the manual)
Click on this image to learn more about the Principle Approach, character development, individual liberty and self government:

In order to understand this product, I think it is very important to understand the foundations and philosophies.  This, I believe, is especially true with The Judah Bible.  You can read this great article which explains how the Judah Bible program is different from other "Bible" courses or subjects or classes.  Here are some points to consider:

  • The BIBLE is the textbook. The student studies and learns the Bible.
  • The student learns God's purpose in history, studying the hand of God in the lives of men and nations through the Bible.
  • The student develops his reasoning ability, helping him to apply Biblical principles personally.
  • The curriculum helps you shift from rote learning to Biblical reasoning.
  • The student learns the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the personal responsibility of the individual.
  • The student learns the relationship between individual character and national liberty.
I really love all that The Judah Bible aims to provide to a Christian student.  This is exactly the type of curriculum that I want to provide for my children!

The Goal: I love this and decided to include this with my review:
"With the Judah Bible curriculum, your children will be studying the Bible, not just studying about the Bible. They will learn to utilize reference materials and outside resources in their study. They will learn to reason from the Bible basis and apply Biblical principle to every area of life.

It is our desire that Bible class will become the favorite part of your school day, and that the lights will turn on in your students' minds and hearts as they learn about our great God and His ways through the scriptures."
I really want this for our family!
The Product: I received their complete downloadable Bible program, which included online access to my downloads:

    1) Judah Bible Curriculum K-12 Manual, e-book format to download;
    2) Elementary Notebook Ideas booklet to view online or download;
    3) Eight-lecture Teacher Training Seminar. listen online or download. 

As a download, the complete package costs $44.00.  A hard copy of the program is $74.00 

A downloadable purchase allows you access to additional information on the Judah website.  There is even a step-by-step guide to help you learn to implement the program.

There are 6 "years" of study in the Judah program.  If you were to start your first grader in the first year program, you would be able to study each of the 6 years twice -- once in first through sixth and again in seventh through twelfth grades.  (The manual suggests ways you can implement the curriculum in a shortened year

Each year is divided into five themes (three Old Testament themes taught in the fall and two New Testament Themes taught in the Spring):

1. Creation
2. The Plan of Redemption Begins
3. Kingdom of Isreal
4. Kingdom of God
5. Early Church

Each year, you study these 5 themes, picking out different "keys." The instructors guide makes suggestions about these keys, how to notebook about them (using charts called Key Sheets), and scripture memorization.  An early elementary guide for creating a notebook about these keys is provided in the both the downloadable and hard copy sets.  As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of the curriculum is to make the Bible the center of your homeschool -- therefore helps are given to encourage writing as a way to synthesize ideas, use careful logic and reasoning, and provide a method of assessment in learning. 

Our Experience:  As I alluded to in the beginning of this review, the Judah Bible Curriculum is a gold mine.  I have had no good mentoring on Bible study in my life, and I think that using this curriculum would really help me to understand God's word for myself and not through someone else's perspective.  I want that for me and for my kids.  

I sat down a number of times to read through the 100-page manual.  I listened to the first few mp3s.  For me (in the busy-busy-busy phase of spring that we are in), it was very hard to focus and concentrate on the mp3s without any sort of written notes or outline of the talk.  As a matter of fact, it seemed to me that these mp3s were recordings of in-person trainings by the author (you could hear pages turning or some sort of background noise), so it wasn't totally high-fidelity audios.  I hate to admit how distracted I've become when listening to audio only on my laptop.  I do so wish there were lecture notes and/ or a video of some sort instead of just audios.  It would help us visual learners!

I also felt like I needed to walk-through the Judah program for myself and teach myself how to use it before starting with my kids.  Not having the time to really do that, made me feel very insecure with my kids.  I do not like that feeling at all!
I hate to admit it, but I need a bit more hand-holding than I am finding in the teacher's guide. 

I really think that using the Judah program over the summer for teacher training would be a fabulous idea. This is not an open-and-go program.  As a matter of fact, I almost think of the manual as a tool to train yourself on how to study the Bible.  After the teacher learns it, then you can use it to teach your children.  I'm perfectly fine learning along side my kids (something we do daily), and I love the idea of training my children (and myself) to be self-educated students of the Word.  But since this is not just open-and-go and requires some additional lesson planning, I think you need to be totally motivated to work through this.

To read what others thought of Judah Bible Curriculum, please visit the Review Crew's blog by clicking below:

Disclaimer: In exchange for a free copy of the product mentioned above, I have provided my honest opinions and thoughts of how it worked for my family and me. These opinions and thoughts are my own.  No compensation was received. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Crew Review: Homeschool Library Builder


Occasionally, as a member of the TOS Crew, I get the opportunity to pass along a special deal:
Homeschool Library Builder is having a May sale!  25% off! 
(you will want to click  to view!)

From their website:
Homeschool Library Builder is co-owned by two veteran homeschool families dedicated to Christ-centered education. Our desire is to help homeschool families affordably collect books for their literary-based educational needs. We stock both new and used books found in popular literature-based homeschool curricula, as well as select titles to supplement your unit studies. Whether you're looking for educational or leisure, inspirational or reference, self-help, activity, or classic reading, we are committed to providing wholesome materials that will enrich the entire family. 

You can become a member (for free) and receive the benefits listed.  Frequent purchases mean you are building up more points for free books.  Here's more on the membership:
As an HSLB member, you have the opportunity to earn Book Points when you tell your friends about us!
For every first-time purchaser who 1) becomes a member, and 2) enters your name as a referral, we will automatically add 45 Book Points to your account (equal to $3 on a future purchase).
Also, when you link HSLB to your blog or website, you will earn 75 book points in your HSLB account (equal to $5 on a future purchase)!  All you have to do is send us the URL for your blog or website.  Once we verify the link, the points are credited to your account!

Want to know more about Book Points?   Click here

As a Tapestry of Grace user, it is easy to search for books that would complement my curriculum.  They have sorted books by other popular curriculum such as:

One caution: If you use one of these named curriculum, but want to search out other shops for checking prices, I would suggest you have your reading lists handy.  Not every book suggested for Tapestry was actually a recommended resource.  Certainly the topics were similar, but the resources were not exact.

These veterans seem to understand that we search for books in LOTS of different way.  Books are organized by continent, subject (like science), and award winners.  And who doesn't like a $1 bargin bin?

They even sell used books, which are rated by condition.

One caution: If you use one of these curriculum vendors, but want to search out other shops for checking prices, I would suggest you have your reading lists handy.  Not every book suggested for Tapestry was actually a recommended resource.  Certainly the topics were similar, but the resources were not exact.
As an aside, if you are a homeschooling family running a business, HSLB is willing to help get your name out there for free!  You will want to read their guidelines, however.

You can sign up for their newsletter, which includes sale information, seasonal activities, and book highlights.  

Visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew to see what others say!

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I was asked to review this website, their sale, and the free membership, but I did not receive any compensation or physical product.    All opinions are my own.