Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Schleich Toys

My oldest daughter will be 20 years old in September. I’m not sure how all the years have darted past us, but when I survey my house I am reminded of the many, many toys that have come, gone and remain. My four year old, the youngest of the bunch, enjoys his life in toy heaven; a true benefit of twenty years of toy collecting. He is a connoisseur of things mechanical, colorful, anything which could possibly be perceived as a toy. His favorite hand held toys, by far are manufactured by Schleich.

Schleich, a German based company distributing toys world wide to over fifty countries has been designing toys for little ones since 1935. Founded by Freidich Schleich the company remains a leading manufacturer of animal figurines designed to encourage imaginative play. Their company philosophy focuses on providing what is best for their littlest customers.

“As a manufacturer of toys we carry a special responsibility towards parents and children. It is our aim to constantly live up to the image of a developer and supplier of top quality products with an educational aspect.” (Schleich website)

Schleich’s commitment to quality is reassuring, but their kid appeal most likely lies in the attention to detail of each of their figures. Knights on horseback, animals, elves, even Smurfs and other comic characters appear to come to life before your eyes begging for stories to be invented and adventures to begin.

I received a black and brown rabbit, standing piglet, Hanoverian Mare in dressage (horse), a chimpanzee, an okapi, and a young lion to review. All of these animals are a part of Schleich’s newly expanded animal collection available on-line at the Schleich website, Target, Toys R Us and other fine independent toy stores. I found all the animals to be superior quality, made of extremely durable and heavy plastic and perfectly sized for little hands. Schleich figures are sturdy enough to hold up to years of play and still allow favorite figures to reinvent themselves as collectibles for later years. They are wonderful toys, which according to the website are “hand painted and modeled from nature”.

We have some friends in France; a direct result of a wonderful foreign exchange experience. Their children have played with Schleich toys over the years and remain a favorite for their family. Last year I sent their 12 year old son two pieces from Schleich's Native American and Cowboy sets. I knew the gifts would not only hold great kid appeal adding to his collection of Schliech figures, but help him visualize pieces of our country's history. I am happy to report he loved them! I believe Schleich’s appeal is world wide due to their long standing commitment to quality, detail and educational appeal.

If you believe education is child’s play you will definitely want to visit Scheich’s on-line catalog of products for more information. Their on-line playground allows customers to play with dinosaurs, a world of knights, a world of elves, and the company's line of wild life figures. In addition, the easy to navigate site has full color photographs of each of their products allowing parents and kids to window shop for hours before purchasing. With over 500 items ranging in price from about $2.00 and up you won't be able to leave empty handed. Aidan, the toy connosieur, highly recomends them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Generations of Virtue

As little children become young adults parents bear witness to incredible changes which sometimes bring anxiety and confusion to the forefront of relationships. Physical changes of development, purity issues and guiding a young adult through their developing spiritual lives can seem like an overwhelming job at times even for the most experienced parent. Thankfully, parents have a powerful ally in Generations of Virtue, "a non-profit, volunteer-driven ministry that equips parents to empower their kids for purity in our world today".

The five year old ministry offers books, apparel, purity rings, movies, music and purity jewelry designed to help parents and teens combat the messages of impurity so prevalent in our contemporary society. Generations of Virtue offers their products through a website and travels across the U.S. to homeschool conferences. In addition, Generations of Virtue took a team to Southeast Asia last year ministering to the people of Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. According to the Generations of Virtue website,
“We work with parents, teens, churches, and homeschooling groups to equip today's generation for one of the most critical battles our culture faces--the battle for purity of heart, mind and body.”

I received four books to review from Generations of Virtue. Teknon and The Champion Warriors, written by Brent Sapp is written for boys aged 11-16; available for $13.99. A separate three book set, Beautifully Made, edited by founder of the ministry Julie Hiramine is written for girls aged 8-12 to share with their Moms. The Beautifully Made series is offered on the Generations of Virtue website for $18.99.

Teknon and The Champion Warriors is a science fiction novel with many character lessons woven throughout the story. Fifteen year old Teknon takes an adventure filled quest with his father and four mentors as they attempt to rid their planet, Basileia of the evil Magos and his empire. Throughout their journey Teknon is faced with moral dilemmas including purity, respect for others, courage, pride, learning to not judge by outward appearances, and other valuable character building lessons.

The novel is designed as a springboard for discussion between fathers and sons. Sapp has written a unique handbook to accompany the reading of the novel to encourage mentoring through 16 interactive sessions. Sapp allows the character of Kratos, Teknon’s father to summarize the importance of purity training as he explains to Teknon the reason for their journey.

“We have a challenge far greater than anything you or I have ever faced. I brought you here because it’s time I taught you how to become a Champion Warrior. Basileia’s future is at stake, and we, along with your mentors and a growing number of people on our home planet, are its only hope. The rigorous physical training you’ve undertaken is only the beginning. I will begin to teach you what I have learned, and you can join me as we face Magos.” (page 31, Teknon and The Champion Warrior)

I found Teknon a bit difficult to read due to all the creative science fiction aspects. Sapp includes a glossary and explanations of the Champion Warrior code, but my personal enjoyment is always found in the plot line of books and not in defining vocabulary and working to understand characters, etc. I do not enjoy science fiction genre and let’s face it I’m a girl. Teknon is definitely written for a male audience. I think the author did an excellent job of integrating life lessons throughout the novel keeping the reader’s interest as they learn these important truths.

My hope is to have my husband read Teknon next with my 14 year old son. I think the idea of celebrating and mentoring sons to manhood is an important topic that is all too often over looked by the church, society and families. I applaud Mr.Sapp’s efforts in encouraging men and their sons through action and adventure; the language of men.

Beautifully Made came to our house as a three booklet set wrapped in a pink ribbon. This small attention to detail reminded me of the need to treat the discussion of physical and emotional changes of female adolescence as a special topic to be viewed as a gift. The first two books in the series are written for mothers and daughters to share and the third is written especially for mothers to aid them in guiding their daughters during this potentially tumultuous time.

My 11 year old daughter and I read through the Beautifully Made series, Approaching Womanhood (Book One) and Celebrating Womanhood (Book two). We found them to be well written, thoughtful and informative. Hiramine discusses the changes to be expected before the onset of menstruation and the anticipated feelings, necessary products and hormonal changes once a monthly cycle begins in Book One. I found the information regarding the specific hormone changes of a monthly cycle especially helpful and a great reminder that as women our bodies endure a tremendous amount of change every 28 days or so.

All three of the books contain about 40 pages of text allowing mothers and daughters to read through each in under an hour. Throughout each book, Hiramine encourages young women with positive messages regarding body types, changes and womanhood. Her thoughts include celebrating the onset of menstruation with your daughter by taking her to lunch, buying her flowers, setting up an appointment at a spa for the two of you, etc.
Hiramine works scripture and Biblical connections into her explanations of the biology and emotions of womanhood. Although I didn’t find all scripture to be relevant to the various issues discussed I did find it refreshing to be able to share with my daughter surrounded in a Christian focus. In addition, Hiramine includes some short prayers designed to guide young girls in incorporating physical issues into their spiritual life; a delightful approach in my opinion.

I have negotiated the waters of puberty with two of my children and am in the midst of the journey with two more. I am reminded on occasion of the importance of guiding and protecting their purity as they mature and learn to live without me. I am thankful for the ministry of Generations of Virtue which provides many resources to help my husband and I stay the course.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alphabet Alley

I’ve always wanted my children to have a faith that was as alive and real on a week day as on Sundays. It have found it difficult over the years, especially when they are little, to incorporate Biblical teaching other than night time prayers into their daily lives. So many things call for their attention; computer games, television shows, videos, outside activities, flashy toys that shine and sing. Most of these kid-friendly products support contemporary culture in a wholesome way, but not very often in a God centered way. Weeks sometimes turn into months and I realize that I have done very little deliberate teaching to aid my little ones in developing a living breathing faith.

Alphabet Alley, “smart fun for little souls”, is a Christian company designed to help parents of little ones create play oriented experiences that aid in spiritual training. Their toys, designed for ages 6 months to 7 years, are nearly all Biblically based providing a natural springboard for Bible teaching as you play along. With Easter just around the corner and the perennial Easter basket begging to be filled, Alphabet Alley offers a wonderful alternative for parents seeking meaningful play time.

Alphabet Alley was founded in 2004, by Marilyn Fontana, her mother Linda Bloss and Marilyn’s Aunt Mimi. The family owned and operated company is dedicated to providing consumers with “fun and educational faith-based toys for early childhood”. You can purchase the toys on their website, http://www.alphabetalley.com/, The Old Schoolhouse Store, and many other retailers listed on the Alphabet Alley website.

All toys are reasonably priced and designed to provide hours of fun with a multitude of uses. Selections include Noah’s ABC Stacking Blocks for $21.99, a wooden ABC Bible Memory game in a wooden storage box for $16.99 and Bible based wooden puzzles with little peg lifters for small hands for $9.99. Bible references and a short synopsis of stories are printed on the back board of the puzzles to aid parents in facilitating discussion and story telling while playing.

A Noah’s Ark Go Fish game offered by the company is priced at $5.99 and consists of 40 matching card pairs with 10 different designs. The 4 x 6 cards have a heavy smooth finish and are perfectly sized for little hands. Each card is colored with a number in the top left corner, a clip art image in the center and printed word describing the clip art centered at the bottom. The cards can be used to play traditional “go fish” or as flashcards for number and reading practice. Noah's Ark Go Fish would make a terrific component for any Easter basket.

Alphabet Alley's Two By Two Matching Game comes in a sturdy cardboard box for storage and consists of 24 colorful playing tiles which create 12 matching pairs. The tiles are 2” square and ¼” thick making them the sturdiest and best designed matching game that has come through our house to date. After nearly 10+ rounds of play our game still looks brand new; a true test of its sturdiness. My four year old son loves not only finding the matches during game play, but also lining up his winning pairs in perfect squares as the game progresses. The Two By Two Matching Game retails for $10.99

After 19 years of childhood, and still counting, our house is just about saturated with every type of toy imaginable. Items have come and gone many times due to quality issues and durability. I love that Alphabet Alley products are classically designed and sturdy enough to stand up to years of play.

While playing the matching game four year old Aidan explained to me why he loved it. “You’ve got to see something, then you just flip it over, then you look and if you find something that matches you win!”

I noted his enthusiasm during the game as he turned over an ark tile and a zebra tile for one of his turns. Looking at the tiles and holding them in his hands his thoughts turned to something in his memory. He said, “Mommy! This is like the story when the animals climbed on the big boat and they sailed away!” “Yes”, I said as I prayed a simple prayer of gratitude for a Biblically based game that could help my little boy draw closer to God.

*Good News Stickers, only $2.99 at Alphabet Alley!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Auralog-Tell Me More Italian

I have a passion for foreign language education. I think it all began as a child when I first discovered that people spoke more than English. I was three years old, traveling with my family to the Worlds’ Fair in Quebec,Canada. According to the story relayed by my Mom, we stayed at the home of a local family; an alternative offered by the local community to accommodate the many tourists the Fair brought with it. I clearly remember, however, eating dinner at the family's home and listening to children speaking in French with their parents. The parents would speak, children would answer and it fascinated me. If that wasn’t enough the family dog barked and the family spoke a command to the dog who immediately obeyed. In wonder I said to my Mom, “Wow! Even the dog speaks French!” I was amazed by the vast language education of this Canadian family.

To this day I desire to be bi-lingual and try to encourage my children to be the same. There is no greater feeling than when you are able to communicate with someone from another culture in their native language building a bridge of friendship which earlier couldn’t exist because of language differences.

Over the years we have purchased a number of foreign language study curricula in search of the perfect one. I have watched the sophistication of these programs improve with the integration of artificial intelligence and voice recognition software, CD Roms and CD quality sound recordings. I have never before seen anything quite as comprehensive as Auralog Tell Me More Foreign Language Software for the Homeschool. It is definitely one of the best.

Tell Me More Italian contains 5 levels of immersion based education. An average student will complete 850 hours of instruction before they complete the program. Since a high school Carnegie unit equals anywhere from 150-180 instructional hours that equates to nearly 5 years of high school foreign language study for $249.99. Personally, I think this is a tremendous value especially since Auralog allows families to create accounts within the software for more than one student.

The five levels contain over 4,000 exercises and 37 different types of activities which develop oral and written language skills, grammar, vocabulary, and culture studies. A Day planner type option is available to the homeschool teacher providing tracking information regarding student progress, comprehension and mastery of various skills plus a time table allowing the teacher and student to understand the time commitment the program anticipates necessary for completion of the program. I thought this feature an excellent asset for high school level students who like to work independently, but still need monitoring and occasional prodding.

Tell Me More Italian comes as a DVD accompanied with a headset for use with the computer. There is no lengthy manual to read or heavy instructions for installation. I was able to load and register my program with very little effort. Unfortunately, frustration set in for me when I first began using the program as I couldn’t determine what to do first for instruction in the language. I determined I was able to choose a method for my instruction, “Free to Roam”, “Guided” or “Dynamic Mode”. I chose Dynamic Mode which I learned is designed with artificial intelligence for someone with a bit of experience with the language. All beginning students should choose “Guided Mode” which is much more of a hand holding experience.

My first day with Auralog, Tell Me More Italian left me feeling like I needed them to "tell me more", but in English! I was frustrated by the scrambled words activity, verb conjugation exercise and fill in the blank vocabulary exercise and began to doubt the quality of this amazing computer program. I contacted the company with my concerns and had the privilege of speaking to Sean Lynch, Language Solutions Consultant, Homeschool Division of Auralog for nearly an hour and a half the next day. His representation of Auralog’s customer service was unparallel.

Mr. Lynch explained to me that part of my frustration was a natural result of the immersion method of education. He told me instruction actually comes at the end of the learning experience with immersion learning rather than the forefront present with most conventional didactic approaches to language education.

Immersion language education is comparable to the experience a baby has with people speaking all around him and not understanding the language. Slowly the child begins to recognize, for example, the word dog refers to the furry animal that walks, barks and chases his tail. It will not be until later in the child’s education that he actually learns that dog is a noun, how to spell it, etc. We learn our first language through immersion and Auralog believes it is also the most effective way to learn our second and third languages.

Armed with a greater understanding of the program I worked for nearly ½ hour the next day in the program. I was able to activate my Day Planner, find the translation tool “red spot” on the screen, and locate a unique correction tool which highlighted mistakes and encouraged study and mastery. I found the glossary portion of the program by clicking on a small icon which enabled me to look up words while working on a crossword puzzle. My favorite activity of the day included a hangman type game where the student guesses letters to spell a word in Italian. If I missed the letter instead of a graphic of a man slowly hanging from a thread appearing I was entertained by a knight becoming more and more threatened by a dragon. The cartoon was humorous in nature and unfortunately I caused the knight to receive a fire-laden experience from the dragon.

As I have worked through Tell Me More Italian I have noticed slight progress with my Italian. I am finding myself pointing out different words to my kids throughout the day as they come to mind. I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the program since learning about its aspects and am pleased to know if I do forget a complete users manual exists in a PDF file as a part of the program.

Auralog Tell Me More currently offers Spanish, French, Italian, German, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and English for kids programs in their homeschool edition software. Auralog Tell Me More programs have won the 2009 Homeschool.com Seal of Approval, the Mom’s Choice Award honoring excellence, the Homeschool Parent 2009 Stamp of Approval and numerous other awards listed on their website. For those still skeptical, Auralog offers a 90 day money back guarantee on all of their language programs.

I am thrilled that I am able to continue to use this fantastic resource in my quest to become bi-lingual.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Homeschool In the Woods: New Testament Lapbook

Whenever I wax philosophical about homeschooling my daydreams take on a very definite form. I picture my children and me enjoying great literature, discussing literature and history over tea and biscuits, and creating beautiful projects that mirror our great insight. We discover, explore, and wonder while birds sing and butterflies dance around our heads. It is very Charlotte Mason-esque (is that a word?) and although never reality, fun to dream.

Homeschool in the Woods, a company dedicated to bringing history to life for children, offers beautifully designed time-line figures, unit study kits, and lapbook activity packs that easily support my daydream. Homeschool In The Woods is owned and created by Amy Pak, artist and homeschool Mom of four who says she fell in love with the topic of history while homeschooling her children.

“As we studied history through living books, drama, writing, etc., I fell in love with the topic of history, as it had become a new and exciting venture to be explored--far different than the boring textbooks I remembered in high school!”, says Pak on her website.

While teaching her children she discovered she couldn’t find images for timelines that she appreciated. “I had been a graphic designer/illustrator both in an agency and as a free-lancer for several years, and my choice of art was rather picky. I vowed that, Lord willing, someday I would create figures that were classic and realistic in illustration. With young ones and a lot on my plate, the time was not to be then."

In 1998, Pak created a website to offer families resources for unit study education, but in 2002, she began researching and illustrating her hearts desire, figures for the timeline project. With the creation of the timeline figures, the Lord provided a time and purpose for completing them and Homeschool in the Woods was born.

When I first viewed Homeschool in the Woods products I couldn’t resist their charm. I purchased every packet of figures available at the time and began using them in our homeschool immediately. As a long time unit study family, Pak’s products were a delightful, fresh new resource for us designed by a company that understood my non-text book mind set. In addition, Pak’s attention to detail and comprehensive instructions and ideas offered me the expertise I needed to create beautiful projects with my children with a minimal effort and time commitment. What more could a busy homeschool Mom ask for in a product?!

Homeschool in the Woods timeline figures are extremely detailed and come accompanied with a brief description of the event or character. They are designed only in black and white which encourages children to personalize them in color. Pak sells beautifully designed timeline books for those wishing to place figures in a notebook format. She includes dated timelines in her packets of figures so that families may also create a time-line wall. This visual reminder of history cements dates, people and events in the mind in ways no amount of quizzing or memorization can. I have found it to be a powerful teaching tool and terrific discussion starter, not to mention quirky way to decorate the living room on occasion.

As a TOS Crew member I received Homeschool in the Woods New Testament Lapbook activity pack for review. It is one of three of the company’s “Hands On History Activity Packs” available for purchase as a downloadable product for $18.95 or a CD for $19.95 plus shipping. With either purchase selection customers will want to make friends with their computer, have cardstock and copy paper ready and a full supply of ink to print off as many copies as needed to complete lapbooks and projects for each student. It is designed for grades 3-8 to use independently, but my 1st grader started the project and with a little direction is completing a lapbook too.

For those unfamiliar, lapbooks are a special project made from common office supplies centered on a common theme or topic. Little mini-books/activities are created by the student as they study different aspects of the topic at hand and are eventually displayed in a finished product; the lapbook. The best way to explain, lapbooks is to see them. The screen shots below are from the New Testament Activity Pack.

The New Testament Activity Pack contains 15 mini-book projects for a finished lapbook designed to take the student through the history of the New Testament. In addition to the lapbook, The New Testament Activity Pack contains directions to create “The New Testament News” and an “Armor of God” poster personalized with your child’s photo. Beginning with the Birth of Christ and ending with Paul’s Missionary journeys the projects provide a delight-filled comprehensive educational experience for students. The New Testament Activity Pack is designed to be used as a stand alone unit study experience or supplement to Bible study. All projects are complete; including detailed directions, examples of the finished projects, and Bible verse references for deeper study. The homeschool teacher need only supply basic school supplies and encouragement.

My daughter Micah, age 11, and daughter Sierra age 7 and a half both used the New Testament Activity Pack for my review. I printed off two copies of each of the necessary pages, noting when asked to print some on cardstock and others with regular weight copy paper. After about a half an hour of printing, all the copies were made and I placed them in two different colored file folders for storage. The colored file folders will later serve as the covers of their lapbooks. Since Micah will complete the lapbook project on her own I made a copy of all directions and samples of the mini books for her reference; three hole punched and placed the paperwork in a 1” three ring binder. My total prep time was probably one hour.

Over the past few weeks, we have made several of the mini-books. Micah easily completes one in about 15-20 mins. of time, but Sierra and I take closer to a half hour due to my 40 something brain that seems to suffer from short-term memory loss and cannot remember directions any longer than 10 seconds. Both Micah and I agree the mini-books are beautifully designed; artfully crafted and help even the artistically challenged in the home create a colorful, keepsake treasure filled with well researched information and illustrations.

“I think the activity pack is a lot of fun and it is really easy which makes it even more fun. I like doing crafts like this because you have all the supplies already in the house. I can’t wait until I do the next project and the next one after that, because they are always so pretty when I finish them. It will be nice to look at my finished lapbook at the end of the school year,” said Micah.

To view all that Homeschool in the Woods has to offer visit their website at http://www.homeschoolinthewoods.com/ . Refreshing, informative and meaningful, their projects, timelines, unit studies and new activity packs just may help your homeschool daydreams translate into real school time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One 2 Believe--- Noah's Ark

We've been getting a lot of rain lately. I know its almost Spring, but I am beginning to think I might need to start drawing up plans for an ark. I'm glad I received One2Believe's Noah's Ark last month as I will need a model to work with.

Biblical History and Biblical truth are truly child’s play for One2Believe, a Christian toy company offering contemporary designed toys with the goal of providing “fun ways of teaching children about the greatest people who ever lived.” Biblical characters come to life in the form of action heroes, dolls and sets. Founder and CEO Dave Socha created One2Believe from a desire to provide support for parents “in their battle for their children's hearts and minds.” In addition to helping parents, the company supports Samaritan’s Purse, Hero Antigua, Focus on the Family, Family Life and other Southern California ministries.

Much to my children's joy we received One2Believe's Noah's Ark to review just over a month ago. The ark measures about 12" x 6" and from a Mom's perspective did not impress me with its quality or detail. I thought the plastic a bit thin and the ark should open up in the center providing an entrance for the animals. No worries, however, for my kids who LOVED the ark from the minute it left the box. Since the set is designed for children I would trust their review over mine.

Although only a small representation of creation, the animals we did receive are heavy, sturdy and well designed for little hands. The elephant, for example measures nearly 3"x 3" in size, while the tiny donkeys are approximately 2" long by 1/4" wide. Contained in the set are Noah with his staff, two ostrich, two camels, a sheep and ram, two monkeys, two donkeys and two elephants. All the animals stand on their own (what fun is a toy after all if it can't stand on its own) are color coordinated to their mate, wear goofy cartoon like grins and beg you to pick them up. Being a wife and mother I was instantly concerned when I could not find Noah's wife and family in the box, but apparently I think too much. Mrs. Noah is not included in this set.

I asked Sierra, age 7 and Aidan age 4, for their personal recomendation regarding Noah's Ark. They both agreed that the animal factor won them over.

"I liked the animals the most. I would want this because it has animals in it, "stated Sierra.

"I liked playing with it. I liked it the most because of the animals. I played with it lots of times", answered Aidan. When asked what his favorite aspect of the set was he replied, "I like to set up the animals on the ark".

Noah's Ark retails for $29.99 at the One2Believe website. It is listed on the site as being appropriate for ages 3 and up due to small parts. Noah's Ark is one of the 13 different Tales of Glory play sets offerd by One2Believe. Tales of Glory sets are available to teach both Old and New Testament Biblical accounts and each come with play figures and a small Bible storybook that includes a short synopsis of the story and Bible reference of the scripture. According to the company website, "With Tales of Glory PVC Figurine Sets children can bring the greatest stories of the Bible to life. "

One2Believe offers five main categories of toys to date. These include the Messenger of Faith dolls/action figures, Tales of Glory figurine sets, Spirit Warriors action figures, P31 (Proverbs 31) 18” dolls, and a “Jesus Loves Me” stuffed bear.

The Messenger of Faith figures priced at $19.99 all include a doll who speaks scripture and a small storybook for the child to read. They are appropriate for children aged 3 and older. Jesus, Mary (mother of Christ), Esther, David, Moses, Noah, Peter and Paul come to life for children through these dolls. A 24” x 24” playmat is available for $5.99 to accompany the dolls on their adventures as they live out the well known Biblical accounts of their lives and ministries.

Two different Spirit Warrior action figures are currently available priced at $24.99 each. Samson and Goliath, large, man-sized dolls towering at 13”come with removable clothing and weapons, a colorful mini storybook and are appropriate for ages 3 and up.

The delightful Proverbs 31 dolls are designed to be an alternative to other 18” dolls currently available in the secular market. Girls may choose from Leah, Elisabeth or Abigail. The dolls arrive with a Bible lesson based on Proverbs 31, a cookie recipe and cookie cutters, an activity list and a contemporary clothing outfit. They are priced at $39.99 each and although listed as appropriate for ages 3 and up I would recommend them for ages 6 and up.

The Jesus Loves Me Bear sings and dances to the traditional song, “Jesus Loves Me”. Priced at $15.00 he is a cuddly friend for all ages.

When the time comes to shop for a gift for your child you will want to consider all that One2Believe has to offer parents. Their vision and quality toys will help the Bible come alive in your house through the eyes of a child.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


“I thought it was a really helpful study tool. I liked how it would go back and test you on the words you didn’t know; the words you originally got incorrect.”

That’s what Sammi, age 17, had to say about SpellQuizzer, a Windows based spelling software program created by Dan Hite of TedCo software. Sammi became my test market victim, because she is the poster child for students needing assistance with spelling.

When Sammi and her older sister were in grade school they practiced spelling on a daily basis. No amount of workbook pages, flashcards, etc., ever proved to make spelling an easy subject for Sam. In fact, as she began studying French, her second language of choice, we discovered she struggled with spelling in that language too. We joked about it saying at least she was consistently a poor speller in all languages.

Sammi has now moved on to post-secondary classes at a local university and I no longer spend time trying to help her with spelling on a regular basis. Unfortunately, college level French classes require precise spelling in order to successfully pass portions of the course and Sammi’s quest to become a good speller has now taken on even greater value. She is planning to major in French and hopes to someday become a French teacher.

She had her first official college mid-term in French last week and I thought it would be a great opportunity to put the value of SpellQuizzer to the test. I prepared a list of French vocabulary words to use with the SpellQuizzer program to serve as a study tool for her test. I was anxious to see if SpellQuizzer could help Miss “Spelling Challenged” conquer her mid-term.

SpellQuizzer allows families the opportunity to create individualized word lists through the use of the computer keyboard and if possible, a headset microphone. Simply type the word into the program after clicking on the correct “create a list” prompt. After typing choose to record or type a sentence using the word. This sentence will be given to the student during the quizzing process. If utilizing the record option, simply click on the appropriate record button and SpellQuizzer allows nearly 20 seconds for recording your sentence through the use of a headset microphone. I thought the voice prompt worked especially well for foreign language study because training the ear is such a large part of working towards fluency. The whole process of adding the words and recording my sentences took about 15-20 minutes time and left me saying things like, “Cool!”, “Very Fun!”; words I would never have used before to describe Spelling or vocabulary drill work.

The SpellQuizzer program is easily downloaded to your home computer from the website, http://spellquizzer.com/ The cost is $29.95 and may be used by a family for multiple children. Easily understood demonstration videos are available on the website. I used these to learn how to create spelling lists, use the spelling lists, import files and export files.

The importing and exporting of files makes SpellQuizzer an even better value. Customers can potentially not purchase a formal spelling curriculum and simply use SpellQuizzer’s graded word lists on their site. Some of the word lists are organized around a theme. I saw, for example, a St. Patrick’s Day word list and noted how much fun it would be to study holiday spelling words one week instead of a typical grouping of words based on grade level.

As a homeschool Mom I am always interested in products which will make my life a bit easier and help educate my kids in the process. SpellQuizzer is like a friend living inside the family computer ready and willing to quiz kids on their spelling words. With a touch of creativity families can use SpellQuizzer as a learning tool for vocabulary development too. Being able to personalize the word lists with your own sound recordings really adds to the fun and versatility of the program. A few minutes of preparation and SpellQuizzer will take over for the teacher making sure students are ready for their next spelling test.

Sammi had her mid-term last week, but still hasn’t gotten her results. I asked her if she felt using SpellQuizzer had helped her and she said it definitely did. “I liked it a lot better than flashcards or other study methods, because it kept repeating words I didn’t know. It was a lot easier not to get distracted while studying too. It was like having a partner there with you to study”.

A free 30 day trial of SpellQuizzer is available at the SpellQuizzer website. I highly recomend creating your own test market situation to evaluate this handy program. Kids will love using SpellQuizzer and homeschool teachers will love having an extra bit of help with spelling and vocabulary review.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Artistic Pursuits-The Way They See It

I really love the idea of completing big, messy art projects with my children. However, there is nothing I let slide off the radar at my house more than completing big, messy art projects with my children. Artistic Pursuits may very well be the stimulus I need to launch into regular art projects and lessons especially with my little ones. Offering art curriculum for ages pre-school - high school, Artistic Pursuits promises to "meet the specific needs of homeschoolers at home".

Our family received Artistic Pursuits latest release The Way They See It: A book for Every Parent about the Art Chidren Make. The art course is written to the teacher of children aged 3-5 and offers insight and encouragement for guiding young children through a variety of artistic processes. From the first page of, The Way They See It, parents recieve great insight into the artistic development of young children. According to author Brenda Ellis, "Children become quite focused mentally by the process of creating. For the child, it's about the process not the results. This is old news in children's art education, but not many art teachers or parents grasp the importance of allowing children to experiment and enjoy the process of working with materials. I hope you begin to ponder the idea now."

Included with each "Grown Up Talk" lesson is a simple art activity for young children. Divided into 18 different projects plus a section titled "First Skills", focused on teaching children to properly handle art supplies like scissors, crayons, etc., this 73 page spiral bound text is filled with color, creative font type, simple easy direction and instruction, and adorable sample artwork from pre-school students. In addition Ellis offers practical sound advice in regards to art supplies including some great recipes for home-made products.

My four year old son Aidan and I dove into The Way They See It on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Aidan loves creating art in any form and as I read through the philosophy of Artistic Pursuits, pre-school curriculum I knew we had a great match. We completed the first art activity together which included studying a full color print of a famous work of art included on the project page. I read the script below the print and we discussed the work of art by identifying colors and objects in the art work. Following our brief discussion it was Aidan’s turn to create a colorful picture with crayons on paper. A simple reminder to me, his teacher, was included to check his grip on his crayons as he drew and correct any issues he might display. Below is a photo of Aidan’s enthusiastic rendering. He titled it “Aidan Space Artist” and eagerly narrated a very detailed story of his work. I was thrilled by Aidan’s passion for this very simple project and noted how confident I felt in having a successful artistic learning experience for my son.

Choosing a different medium on another day, Aidan and his 7 year old sister Sierra completed activity 3, “A Mark-Making Project” with fingerpaint. We had some old fingerpaint in our closet, but a basic recipe was included for fingerpaint in case our cupboards were bare. Aidan spent only a few minutes “making marks” completing his artwork in record time. Sierra, always the consumate artist, spent nearly 45 mins. adding and subtracting paint, swirling it to many hues and thoroughly enjoying her artistic experience. Comparing my student's experiences helped me realize the beauty of the flexibility of the Artistic Pursuits projects. Whether you have a speedy artist or a child who wishes to create art for hours on end the projects are easily adapted to satisfy each personality.

Artistic Pursuits curriculum texts are offered for preschool, K-3, 4-6, Jr. High and Senior High levels for $42.95 each. All volumes can be purchased at the Artistic Pursuits website, http://www.artisticpursuits.com/ along with art supply kits for each of the volumes and direct links to other art supply on-line stores. Sample pages from each of the volumes can be viewed at the website along with helpful articles regarding home education art instruction. A list of convention stops for this year is posted for those wishing to see Artistic Pursuits, up close and personal.

With beautifully designed affordable texts, encouraging and simple information to help me become a better teacher and easy to implement projects, Artistic Pursuits has earned a spot in our homeschool journey. My budding artists are excited there will be many more days filled with color, design and learning to see the world through the eyes of an artist.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Five in A Row--Volume 3

I adore summer time. I love the ease of life, warm temperatures, and relaxed attitude everyone seems to share. When I was young I spent most of my summer days absorbed in a good book. To this day, in my mind, summer always equates with long, lazy days filled with endless reading adventures and imagination.

As I first considered home education I had romantic ideas of what it would look like. I imagined it allowing my family to keep the spirit of summer year round. I wanted my children’s childhood memories to be of long, lazy days filled with endless reading adventures and imagination.

I first laid eyes on Five in Row, 9 years ago and knew I had found a kindred spirit in author Jane Claire Lambert. According to Lambert, Five in a Row studies were “created to nurture, teach and inspire young learners. Each story is chosen to delight your children and continue to build the special intimacy that comes from learning together and sharing good books. Snuggle close and enjoy a great story as you keep on making memories for a lifetime”. Sigh…. Can you not feel the summer breezes?

Five in a Row is a perfect way to introduce quality children’s literature to young students. The premise of the curriculum is simple, but very rewarding. Parents and children choose a classic children’s story to read five days in a row. After reading the story aloud, time is spent exploring different academic areas through various activities that link back to the literature read. The joy of Five in a Row stems from its flexibility and ease of use.

Five in a Row offers curriculum for children aged 2-12 and older. Each volume of the curriculum retails for about $24.95, making it an extremely affordable resource. Before Five in a Row contains 23 mini-units for children aged 2-4. Five in Row, designed for students aged 5-8, is available in three volumes. Beyond Five in a Row, making use of chapter books, is written for children aged 8-12 and Above and Beyond Five in a Row offers the same high quality literature based learning experience for students 12 and older. In addition, Five in a Row Digital offers a multitude of products designed to accompany the three volume Five in a Row studies for 5-8 year olds. Samples, full product descriptions, a FIAR message board as well as helpful articles regarding home education are all available on the Five in A Row website, at http://www.fiveinarow.com/

My first grade daughter Sierra and I happily tested Volume 3, the newest edition to the Five in a Row curriculum for 5-8 year olds. After reading through the brief yet informative 12 page introduction/teacher’s notes, Sierra and I chose to start with the third title listed in the curriculum The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. I intended to spend five full days with this book, but due to Sierra's enthusiastic interest in the subject matter we completed all of the activities in just three days spending between 45 mins.- one hour each day.

Day 1 we read the picture book and completed two social studies activities by discussing the realities of living on an island in isolation and learning a brief history of Assateague and Chincoteague islands off the coast of Virginia and their connection to wild horses. In addition, Sierra spent time coloring a small circle disk, provided as part of the 114+ page text of the curriculum, and placed it on a large map of the United States we had in our home. This activity introduced U.S. Geography to Sierra and allowed her to identify a location for this delightful work of historical fiction.

Day 2 began with another read of the book followed up with a language arts activity; discussion of similes and identifying those present in the text of the book. We finished day 2 with a discussion of triangular element of design looking at one of the books illustrations to identify it. Next, Sierra was asked to draw a picture making use of this design concept. She eagerly drew horses running on a beach with a hill behind them and a little tree at the top of the hill. I noted she really understood the design concept and worked very hard to copy it in her artwork.

Day 3 of our adventure began with a final reading of the story. Following the story, we completed a math activity; counting by 10’s since there had been 10 horses on the island. Next we dove into some science activities. We read the curriculum’s description of the terms flora and fauna and identified the various species of each in the books illustrations. I chose to have Sierra copy the words Flora and Fauna onto index cards and then illustrate them to help her remember their meaning. In addition, we spent time discussing the concepts of "weathering" and "erosion". I was amazed that Sierra, when asked a very specific question in regards to the story and the concept of erosion, remembered the exact words spoken by the father in the story. His words explained why the island was now separated from the main land which was evidence of the realities of eroison. Sierra's recollection demonstrated an important aspect of reading a story five days in a row, or in our case three. Repitition breeds familiarity with a story and words allowing children to truly absorb information and learn from the lessons it teaches.

When asked her opinion of Five in a Row Sierra said, “I liked it. I like how we can learn about the stories and put the story on the map. I liked the activities a lot. I liked the activity where I drew a picture of the island.” (Art: Line of Design, pg. 28)

As I was jotting down her thoughts Sierra suddenly came to life and began saying, “I can’t believe we are really near Virginia where the wild horses live! It’s all I can think about! I hope we can go there some day.”

I loved that! My seven year old daughter remembered her Day 1 geography lesson even though it simply consisted of a brief discussion and placing her story disk on a map. During our discussion we naturally found our state and noted how far away it was from the wild horses of Chincoteague. Her expression of interest over what she learned occurred a week after the initial lesson. Gentle instruction surrounded by a delightful children’s story spoke to Sierra and helped create in her a sense of wonder and excitement over what she learned. That is Five in a Row!