Friday, May 6, 2011

Kregel Publications-Andi's Fair Surprise

Andi's Fair Surprise by Susan K. Marlow and illustrated by Leslie Gammelgaard is a great addition to the  bookshelf of any novice reader. Set in 1874, the thoughts, passions and problems faced by young Andi Carter, a six-year old cowgirl in training, are classic and relevant to today's young reader. A handy mini-dictionary of "new words" is included at the beginning of the text to help young readers as they read through this 63 page beginning chapter book divided into 9 chapters. A final chapter titled, "A Peek into the Past"adds an extra educational element providing insight to the historic context of the story.

Andi's Fair Surprise is the latest edition (2011) to Marlow's Circle C Beginnings Series, written for ages 6-8. All the texts in the series showcase the antics and struggles of Andi, a horse-loving, tom-boyish, independent little girl with a big heart. Andi's adventures continue in the Circle C adventure series designed for ages 9-14. Both series are written to illustrate wholesome lessons in "family, faith and friends". All titles from the series can be purchased on the author's website,

I am always on the lookout for wholesome and engaging beginner readers and was thrilled to receive this title to review as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew. I had heard of Andi and the Circle C adventure series from fellow homeschool parents, but hadn't shared them with my horse-loving daughter, Sierra yet. Sierra, a 3rd grade, beginning reader, agreed to assist me with this review and shared the following comments regarding the series.

"I think its a great book for little kids. It's a great book to read and it wasn't that hard to read. It's kind of easy and that's what makes it fun. I want to read the older books (Circle C adventures) too"(Sierra, age 9).

The Circle C Beginner Readers sell on the Circle C website for $4.99 each, $9.98 for two, or $15.96 for the first four. The website hosts a treasure trove of information about the characters, books, supplemental study guides and lapbooks for purchase, on-line games and puzzles and a handy link to Andi's blog. Gallop on over and set for a spell. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Virtual Nerd

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing to homeschool for highschool. One of the most prevalent concerns usually focuses on the level of expertise required to teach various academic courses like Algebra or Physics. To be honest, when my children were young I often wondered how we would manage these types of courses too.

Fortunately, for my children, God blessed them with a natural math ability. I have no idea where it came from as I have always been a "words"not a "numbers" girl. Ask me to write an essay...done. Ask me to solve and graph an, well, what was that again?

If your child is more of a "words" kid like me, you might want to consider a subscription to Virtual Nerd. Virtual Nerd is an on-line tutoring website filled with easy to understand instructional videos. It is free to educators, but not home educators. Homeschool families and other individuals interested in a low cost private tutor may access the site for $49 a month or $129 for three months. In addition, a $5 one day visit may be purchased, one week access for $19 or 2 hour visit for FREE. I received a free subscription for 6 weeks as a member of the TOS Review Crew in exchange for this review.

When I first visited the site I was impressed by its organization and ease of navigation. Users may choose to access help with Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II and Physics. Unique to this site is the ability to access information based on your math text. For example, if you are using McDougal Littel's Algebra text you can search for tutoring help based on the lessons/chapters in that specific text.

According to Virtual Nerd's website the company works hard to, "build original course content consistent with current textbooks. We complete an extensive review of the top textbooks and link our original content to textbook problems and concepts. We also ensure our content is aligned with standards defined by national math and science educators."

Because my 8th grade daughter has inherited, apparently a recessive math gene I missed, we were not able to utilize Virtual Nerd to its fullest potential. As I searched the site watching topical videos to test, I was impressed at how easily I found just the right information and the level of quality of each of the video lessons. If only I had had Virtual Nerd, back in the day! Then maybe this "words" girl would love "numbers" too.

To access Virtual Nerd point your browser to:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

North Star Games: Wits and Wagers Family

"How many different Webkinz stuffed animals have there been?"

"How many feet are in a mile?"

"How many different colors of fruit loops are there?"

Don't know....then you had better get a copy of North Star Games latest party game, Wits andWagers Family! If you love trivia, if you love family friendly competition, or if you just long for a another board game that the entire family can play together and enjoy, you will want to get a copy of Wits and Wagers Family.

As a member of the Old School house Homeschool Crew, I received Wits and Wagers Family in exchange for this honest review.

Our family is larger than average with six "children" ages 21-6. Because of our size and age span, we don't often find games we can all play together and enjoy. We are pleased to announce after our test marketing experience during a recent snow day, that Wits and Wagers Family has been placed on our short list of fantastic, fun and family friendly games for everyone!
Wits and Wagers Family is easy to set up and takes less than an hour to play to completion. Not good with trivia? Never fear, because the beauty of Wits and Wagers Family lies in the fact that guessing is encouraged and anticipated. No one is expected to know the answers to the trivia questions, but everyone (ages 8 and older) is expected to play.

The game consists of a simple scoreboard, five color coded mini answer boards, Meeples (one large and one small for each color) and a generous supply of trivia question/answer cards. The scoreboard and answer boards are coated with a slick surface allowing players to use dry erase markers to record and change information easily. Mini dry erase pens are included with the game.

Meeples are small wooden people shaped place markers used in the
game; a design borrowed from a European board game, "Carsonne" by Wits and Wagers Family designer Dominic Crapuchettes. All game pieces and parts are well designed and constructed guaranteeing many years of use and family fun. North Star Games prides themselves as producing "games with personality" making the game appealing from the moment you open the box.

Wits and Wagers Family is designed to be used by 3-10 players ages 8 and older. We chose to play with 7 players placing our two youngest players on "teams". Due to the nature of the game everyone could easily participate and enjoy all aspects of play. After I read the brief instructions for the first time, we dove into the game eagerly. I served as question reader and assisted my 9 year old with some trivia answers, but for the most part watched and observed for the purposes of writing this review.

Play begins by reading a trivia question, having players/teams write their answer to the question on their answer boards and then laying the boards face down on the table. Next, the boards are turned over for all to see and Meeples are placed on the answers assumed correct in an effort to garner more points. Points are awarded based on the closest correct answer with a
total of 15 points winning the game. The questions are so unique that 3rd graders can easily compete with college Seniors, Graduate students, Mom or Dad.

Here's what the reviewers thought:
"It was fun. It was very competitive if you want it to be."- Courtney, age 21.

"The questions were very entertaining. It's a good party game."- Jonah, age 16.

"It was enjoyable to play. It's a great way to create healthy competition for a family game night. I think it's a great game to play with people of all ages." - Sammi, age 19.

"I liked how strange and funny the questions were. I especially enjoyed it because I got to guess answers I didn't know. It didn't really matter if I didn't know the right answer. I could guess and still have fun." - Micah, age 13.

"I liked the little dry erase boards you get to write the answers on." - Aidan, age 6.

"It's really fun with the dry erase boards, markers, and Meeples. It can be a really great family game because you can play as a team. If you get stuck on a question you can ask your team mate for help." - Sierra, age 9.

"It's been ages since I have played a game with all of my children at once! I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than with Wits and Wagers Family and my children. Thank
you North Star games!"- Mom of six/ reviewer.

To learn more about North Star Games visit their website at Tell the facebook world you're a fan by visiting their Facebook page or keep current with updates by accessing the company Twitter page. Wits and Wagers Family is available at Target, Borders and most specialty toy stores.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus - Must See!

This is the best Christmas shopping experience you could ever have. Enjoy!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

KB Teachers website resource

KB Teachers a division of Knowledge Bears, Inc., is a website dedicated to providing worksheets and other printable materials for parents and teachers. For $29.00 a year, or $49.00 for a two year subscription, homeschool families can have unlimited access to hundreds of resource materials located on the site. Similar in scope to other subscription based worksheet sites, KB Teachers offers a FREE 10 day unlimited trial subscription to those wondering if it is worth the investment. I received a FREE one year subscription to the site in exchange for this review.
I have test driven quite a few of these worksheet sites over the years, but for some reason KB Teachers felt a bit different to me. To begin with there is no search button to use. While some might think this problematic, KB Teachers is convinced that a well designed website does not require a search tool. According to the website, "We believe that on a well designed website you should easily find your way around and find what you need in three clicks or less. Gone are the days of searching endlessly." Is that right?! Hmmmm..... I was not so sure at first.

I spent my first visit to KB Teachers website testing the "three clicks or less" theory. Within minutes (perhaps even seconds) I had found seasonal educational games and worksheets to print out for my daughter to use with my six year old son and his friend during her weekly babysitting sessions with the boys. But were the very cute pumpkin/ghost maze/shapes game worksheets I found a true crowd pleaser?

"I think they were cool. I really liked the maze with the ghosts and haunted houses", said Aidan, age 6.

"I thought the games were really fun and interactive, yet simple for the boys to use. I liked that I could pack them easily to go because they didn't have a lot of pieces and easily fit inside a file folder", said Sammi, 19 year old babysitter extraordinaire.

KB Teachers offers a FREE weekly newsletter subscription distributed through email with every membership. The newsletter is filled with tips for using the site, highlights of educational moments for that week or month and links to other educational resources. For example, for the week of November 1st, I received a newsletter highlighting National Sandwich day, November 3rd and National Saxophone Day, November 6th plus other valuable tips and links. If I chose to take a few moments on the 3rd to celebrate sandwiches I only needed to clink on the live link in the newsletter and be directed to a printable worksheet at KB Teachers. Once on the site I could choose other links to enable further research for the topic of sandwiches. I found this feature very creative and relatively effortless to use; a great aspect for any parent.

KB Teachers definitely was a hit with the younger set as a supplementary/ educational play option, but I was a bit disappointed with the lack of depth the site provides for older students. There are geography, science, language and math worksheets, but no foreign language, history/ social studies ones like I've seen on other sites. Some of the text was difficult to read on the site perhaps due to my internet browser choice.

For the most part, however, I think KB Teachers is a great resource for anyone needing a little extra help with their homeschool lessons or simply something new to do with the kids while waiting for a sibling at dance or during lengthy visits to waiting rooms.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Write Foundation: Essay Writing

Since I do a LOT of writing many people often ask me what I use to teach writing to my children. Ironically, writing is not something I deliberately teach as a separate subject when they are young. Over the years I address grammar, vocabulary, reading, logic and other skills that will build a good writer, but deliberately I save writing instruction for the high school years.

One of the most important forms of writing for college bound students is the essay. I have never devoted an entire semester or year to learning to write an essay, but if I wanted to The Write Foundation has my back. Written by Rebecca Celsor, The Write Foundation's Essay Writing Instructions consists of 30 lessons (enough for a whole school year) divided into two books with 15 lessons each. I received Lessons 1-15 to use in my home for free in exchange for this review.

The 200+ page curriculum arrived spiral bound, black text on white paper. COMPLETE step by step instructions, scheduling recommendations and even ideas for assigning grades offer the novice writing teacher wonderful guidelines for handling instruction. Although this curriculum lacks visual appeal its content is very comprehensive. Incorporating more than basic skills, Essay Writing may tend to be too thorough for some families.

The Write Foundation Essay Writing could easily lend itself to a Co-op class or private school instruction. The Write Foundation Essay Writing curriculum is recommended for ages 14-17 and retails on the company website for $100.00 for the two volume 30 lesson set with separate student worksheets and resource CD or $65 for a one volume set. If student worksheets and resource CD's are not on your shopping list the instruction manual alone sells for $75 for lessons 1-30 or $40.00 for Lessons 1-15. This flexibility in pricing is a plus in my opinion as one size does not always fit all homeschooling families.

True to most great homeschool curriculum, The Write Foundation products were birthed out of need by a homeschool Mom looking to fill a gap. Rebecca Celsor homeschooled her own children through high school and then began to teach Creative Writing for a co-op. Frustrated by a lack of options for teaching her writing class, Celsor designed her own lesson plans which she now shares in the form of The Write Foundation curriculum. The curriculum is divided into three levels beginning with Level 1: Sentence to Paragraph Writing for ages 11-13, Level 2: Paragraph Writing for ages 12-15 and concluding with Level 3: Essay Writing for ages 14-17.

Homeschool families that embrace structured curriculum will love Essay Writing. Assignments and instructional goals are clearly written and organized for the teacher. Essay Writing Lessons 1-15 cover the topics of sentence structure, paragraph organization, essay organization, poetry, and outlines. Critical thinking MindBenders are integrated into the curriculum as well as an option for developing strong logical thinking; an often over looked element of essay writing.

From our sampling of this program I easily identified its merits, but it was more than I actually needed. Perhaps I have been blessed with competent natural writers for our home, but to spend an entire school year with essay writing at this depth would be a waste of precious time for us. However, the fact Essay Writing has been kid tested and homeschool Mom approved should be reason enough to check it out when curriculum shopping. For sample lessons of each level of the curriculum, syllabii designed for writing classes, or to purchase visit the company website at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Buckets O' Fun!

As weather begins to turn in our neck of the woods and activity becomes more centered inside the house, I usually begin to look for ways to keep energy and interest high. Lucky for me I received a Buckets O' Fun sample kit to review as a member of The Homeschool Crew in exchange for this review. My children Jonah, age 16, Aidan, age 6 and Sierra, age 9 signed up to assist me by offering their honest opinions onthis educational, family friendly product.
My intentions for cool craft projects or amazing science experiments often remain just that; intentions. Life can be hectic as the mother of six and understandably the benefits of hands-on learning often times get squeezed out by the reality of time limitations or having to find just one more item to complete the supply list. Buckets O' Fun brings great intentions to life by providing everything in one package with easy to follow directions. We received samples of Buckets O' Fun's Yuck activities.
In case you were wondering......Yuck is code for science experiments involving polymers. Yuck experiences are available in "Saucy", "Chunky", "Snowy" or "Sticky" options. Changing the polymer through hydration is as simple as adding water, but the effects are outstanding! A one pound package of dry Yuck powder complete with directions, scientific explanations, and optional expansion activities costs between $16-$20.00 depending on the polymer. A free sample of Yuck is available to interested, yet skeptical
customers at the company website.

I must admit I was curious how fascinating the Yuck could really be and was very pleasantly surprised by it's "WOW" factor. Aidan, Sierra and I created Snowy Yuck first and the squeals of delight were enough to draw their 16 year old brother into the room. Yuck is definitely appropriate for all ages as the scientific principles coupled with the hands-on experience keep everyone's interest.

When asked for his honest opinion Aidan eagerly said, "It's fun! We made snow. I liked
watching it melt when we put salt on it". Aidan highly recommends purchasing Yuck and says on a scale of 1-10, it is definitely a "10"!

Sierra's reaction to our sample of Buckets O' Fun was similar. "It's a fun science experiment", she said. "I liked seeing different things happen that I've never seen before!" she continued. Sierra also highly recommends Yuck products giving them two thumbs up for their "fun" factor.

Buckets O' Fun prides themselves on unusual fun-filled products. A visit to the company website is a one-stop shopping trip for mammoth beach balls, finger rockets, rubber chickens, ricochet balls, silly swords, belly bumpers and more. Pricing and specific product information can be found by clicking here.