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 www.northstargames.com. 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 www.thewritefoundation.org.

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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Soli Deo Gloria Resources: Young Hearts Longing for God Bible Study

"Educating children for God's glory" is the motto of Solio Deo Gloria Resources. The company offers unit studies and Bible studies for children in grades K-12. As a member of TOS Homeschool Crew, our family received a digital copy of Soli Deo Gloria's "Young Hearts Longing for God: A Pre-inductive Psalm Study" in exchange for this review.

Young Hearts Longing for God: A Pre-inductive Psalm Study written by Kim Kargbo, is designed for students who can read alone, but may not be ready for disciplined independent Bible study. According to the author, this is typically grades 3-5, but a recommendation is also given to utilize the curriculum through 8th grade. My third grade daughter, Sierra and my 8th grade daughter, Micah both made use of the study for the purposes of this review.

Inductive Bible studies utilize the power of color and shapes to identify key elements within the text. For example, the lesson studying Psalm 95 instructs the student to underline all the names for God in red, while the lesson on Psalm 36 has the student underlining attributes of God in orange, drawing a star over the sentence which tells the end result for a wicked person, etc. Using color and pictures is much more engaging than dissecting sentences in a more typical manner.

Young Hearts Longing for God has all scripture used typed on the top of each worksheet page. The author uses the New International Version of the Bible. Below the text are a series of questions, some of them simply instructions for underlining, etc., which help the reader draw meaning from the passage. The final step for each lesson is to answer a question in a journal. The author recommends keeping a spiral notebook for journaling exercises. She has designed her study to last an entire school year with the student spending one week studying each Psalm.

"Again, you may use your discretion in this regard, but a word of caution--taking longer than one week per Psalm may cause the child to become bored and lose interest, therefore not gaining all that could be gained from the study"
, says Kargbo.

I found the curriculum to be very user friendly, well organized and easy to implement. I simply printed out the digital copy, read the one page of instructions for use and we were off and running. Sierra required lots of hands on time with me in order to successfully make use of the study. Some of the concepts were difficult for her to grasp at first, but with discussion she genuinely engaged with the study and enjoyed it. Micah, grade 8, used the study completely independent of me as she does with most of her studies.

When asked for their opinions of Young Hearts Longing for God, the girls had lots of glowing comments.

"It helps you to think about what each verse means instead of just reading it. Sometimes I don't stop to think about the true meaning of a verse or I don't understand it. (when reading the Bible). This helped me focus on that", said Micah.

"I liked the journaling because it helped me think more and apply the Psalm to my life. It made all the verses more relevant", she added.

"The colored pencils helped me understand the meanings of different things", said Sierra, age 9. "It helped me understand what we were doing."

"I liked the journal too because at the end of the year I can look back and see all the things I learned", Sierra continued.

When asked for any final comments, Sierra added, "I also liked having the verses on the paper. It made it easier to have them right there".

To purchase Soli Deo Gloria's Young Hearts Longing For God: Pre-Inductive Bible Study of the Psalms or any of their other products simply visit their website at http://www.solideogloriaresources.com/ The study sells for $16.00 plus minimal shipping on the site. A sample can be viewed by clicking here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Digital Frog International Virtual Field Trips

Looking for a new approach to nature study? Hop on over to Digital Frog International at http://www.digitalfrog.com. Famous for their innovative virtual frog dissection interactive video computer program, Digital Frog now offers virtual field trips for all ages. I received the entire virtual field trip series ,"The Wetlands, The Rainforest and The Desert" as a member of the Homeschool Crew in exchange for this review. Although my first initial reaction was "a bit pricey for an educational computer program", Digital Frog's programs are not average!

Digital Frog International describes themselves at their website as: "an innovative, enthusiastic, software company, dedicated to creating high-quality educational, multimedia CD-ROMs with an ecological focus. Our corporate headquarters is a converted barn surrounded by frogs, dogs and bogs in rural Ontario, Canada."

Always in need of an assistant, I asked my Kindergarten son Aidan to assist me with this review. Aidan is a Jr. computer geek, Lego afficiando and lover of animals. He is the biggest nature enthusiast of all of my kids, so I was sure he would definitely enjoy a virtual field trip.

Aidan was very excited to click through the different options of this program while I read the excellent, in depth text aloud. The field trips are multi-layered adventures filled with clear, bright photography, easily read, yet extremely informative text, and interactive opportunities within the virtual world.

Aidan and I chose to visit, "The Wetlands" first. We selected this from our initial screen choices of Wetlands, Rainforest or Desert. Next, the program directed us to a bog in Canada and we were asked if we would like to locate the bog before our visit. Choosing "yes" the next screen challenged us to click on North America on a world map, then Canada, then the Province of Ontario, then Algonquin Park, until finally we arrived at Cloud Lake. Throughout our virtual journey short, detailed descriptions of our destinations were provided in text which I read aloud to Aidan.

Once we arrived at Cloud Lake a series of 8 different posts, or specific sites of the bog, to visit were presented. We chose to travel to in order so as not to miss anything on our visit. Clicking on a mini map took us directly to the post marking where we investigated various plant and animal life at each location. The visuals have a 360 degree effect (think Google Earth) which is very fun for a six year old. We spun around in circles and happened upon a wood duck, a wolf and a beaver at various moments. Besides the fun of spinning, a small virtual notebook located to the right of the viewing area for the bog presents "field notes"for areas encountered. The text for the field notes is very concise, informative and intelligently written. I'm not sure of the grade level of the writing, but it is definitely appropriate for high school level nature study and if read aloud with explanation, appropriate for young nature enthusiasts too.

Spinning in circles in the "great outdoors" is fun, but for educational purposes, I asked Aidan his favorite animal so we could investigate the variety of information available in the text. He chose "Wood Duck", we clicked the link within the program, and were taken to a close-up photo of the wood duck at the lake. Within this screen were options to read an "Intro" about the duck, "Habitat", "Behavior", "Life Cycle", "Food Source", "Size Ranges", "Latin Name/Classification", "Trophic Level (ie. Consumer), and "Food Source".We could have spent hours just investigating the wood duck and all its related components, but the great thing about a virtual field trip for nature study is that you don't have to do it all at once. Older students can benefit with longer visits to study the in depth nature of the text and visuals, while young ones can glean brief snippets of information and enjoy "spinning" in the great outdoors.

I asked Aidan, for his honest opinion of "The Digital Field Trip Series" and he said, "I liked seeing the beaver, the frog, the wolf and the bald eagle in the wetlands!" When asked if he had any suggestions for improvement he added, "I wish there were games to play".

Digital Frog International's "Digital Field Trip Series" can be purchased at the company website for $199.00. Individual trips (ie. Desert only) can be purchased for home use for $60.00 each. Digital Frog is used in classrooms, but is a perfect product for home education as well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LanSchool Technology

If you need a little help managing your 21st century one room schoolhouse you might consider investing in LanSchool. Priced at $99.00, for a home version, LanSchool provides "supermoms" and dads the opportunity to develop "super powers" to help keep up with technology use in the home. Set up is simple and easy to use and once loaded on the teacher's computer, LanSchool allows parent teachers the ability to monitor all screen use in the home.

LanSchool apps are available for free at the Itunes store to downloaded to IPhone, or IPad. This allows even greater flexibility and time saving measures for teachers to monitor PC and Mac computers. In addition to monitoring screens, LanSchool provides the option of pairing a teacher computer with a student, blanking student screens when appropriate, instant messaging with students and blocking unwanted internet use.

It is easy to monitor student's progress and computer usage with LanSchool, but I am not convinced it is a product necessary for most homeschool families. I appreciate it is an award winning technology product that is easy to use, but don't have the same issues in my home classroom as a classroom in a more public setting. Although a great product for technology based classrooms filled with distractions, and perhaps a necessary element for a distractible child, I couldn't find a use for LanSchool in our home. We only have two computers for school use and both are in the same public room. Most of my children's schoolwork is done with traditional pen, pencil, paper, arts supplies and "old school" books. Even though my husband is a computer consultant and I maintain this review blog we try to limit our internet time in exchange for face to face interpersonal interactions. Needless to say, LanSchool is not a product I would recommend to the average homeschool family.

To judge for yourself, consider visiting the LanSchool Technology website at http://www.lanschool.com/lanschool. LanSchool provides a "guided tour" of their product along with testimonials, pricing options and technical specifications at the company website. If you still can't decide if LanSchool is for right for your family, simply register on the site for a FREE 30-day trial.

* I received a free copy of LanSchool for use in my home as a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew. This review was written in exchange for the product use and represents my honest opinion.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Chronicles of Peleg, Book One: Foundlings

Fans of fantasy fiction are in for a treat with Foundlings, the first book in a new series, The Chronicles of Peleg, written by Matthew Christian Harding. According to Harding, "Foundlings is historical fiction that takes place in the time period of Peleg, soon after the tower of Babel dispersion". Dragons, giants and huge beasts are common throughout the storyline adding to a more fantastical experience for contemporary readers.

Harding, a homeschool Dad, offers a young earth creationist Biblical worldview which he says, "conforms to the Word of God". "Foundlings weaves together the Biblical principles of chivalry, truth, courage, duty, faith and love within the framework of Genesis, and a bold adherence to its historicity", he says.

Understanding Harding's motivation for writing the Chronicles of Peleg is equally noteworthy. The author states in his testimony that he is a former member of the occult saved through divine intervention only God could orchestrate. His credentials include an English degree from St. Olaf College and a Masters in Special Education from the University of Arizona. The greatest motivation, however, came from his love for his children and the desire to share meaningful stories with them at bedtime. "When I put the children to bed at night, they would often ask to hear stories about when I was young. Tiring of the same routine, I began to make up stories that got longer and more intricate, sometimes lasting for months", he says.

Encouraged by his wife to record these works of fantasy, Harding began to write the Chronicles of Peleg. To date he has completed, Book One: Foundlings and Book Two: Paladins. Harding says he plans many more to follow.

Foundlings is designed to appeal to children ages 10-12 and older. Younger children may enjoy the novel as a read aloud. My 13 year old daughter, however, is not a fan of fantasy fiction and did not enjoy the novel. Unfortunately, I also struggle with fantasy literature often feeling I have to work too hard to learn a new vocabulary, and follow complex plot lines. It is a personal genre preference that kept me from enjoying all Foundlings had to offer. I could not identify with the characters easily and the rich descriptions were not enough to carry my interest forward.

In an effort to give Foundlings a fair evaluation I passed the novel on to my 21 year old daughter, a self-professed fan of Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, both genius fantasy authors in their own right. Her review of Foundlings was more favorable, "It's creative, but very long and drawn out. I felt it was overly detailed. I would still recommend it however, to lovers of fantasy fiction, especially because of its Biblical content", she said.

For those who enjoy a unit study approach to literature study, Harding is intending to publish a companion book which will investigate the historical, Biblical and character building themes of the literature. Consideration is also being given to creating a lapbook and educational game in the near future.

Foundlings and Paladins can be purchased at Hardings website, www.MatthewChristianHarding.com, local bookstores, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. The 256 page novel sells for 11.95 in paperbook format. Harding offers free shipping on his website for all customers. In addition, a "money back guarantee" accompanies each purchase.

* As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received Foundlings for free in exhange for this review. My review is a reflection of my honest opinion of the book. *

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Monic Books-- Vocabulary Cartoons

A strong vocabulary is evidence of a great scholar. It is easy to squeeze in subject specific vocabulary when studying science, history or mathematics. I am, however, generally in a quandry when it comes time to schedule vocabulary study to develop scholarly writing. Words like affinity, expunge, laudable and porcine just don't seem to find their way into my kids' language arts lessons and therefore don't appear in their written work or conversations. Vocabulary Cartoons, a product of New Monic Books, Inc. might just be the solution to help my students improve their rudimentary skills with a minimal investment of their time. Vocabulary Cartoons SAT Word Power is designed to appeal to a multitude of ages and can be used in a myriad of ways.

New Monic Books sent me a copy of Vocabulary Cartoons SAT Word Power for free in exchange for this affidavit. I am happy to report unbridled accolades of my own volition. Vocabulary Cartoons SAT Word Power is propulsive in developing language skills.

New Monic describes the theoretical design of their book by defining mnemonic. According to the publisher a mnemonic "is a device that helps you remember something by associating what you are trying to remember with something you already know". Examples include acronyms like DEAR (drop everything and read)-- or rhyming phrases like "In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue".

Vocabulary Cartoons is designed on the principle of a visual mnemonic. For example, "capacious"meaning "roomy, able to hold much" is illustrated with a small boy wearing a baseball hat 10 sizes too large. The phrase "A spacious cap is capacious" is written below the illustration. Using the cartoon visual to connect with the definition encourages the brain to develop a learning connection ensuring the student will remember the word. According to the publisher, "Vocabulary Cartoon mnemonic strategies not only accelerate learning, but they also motivate, entertain and build self-esteem".

The publisher contends standardized test scores for PSAT, SAT/ or even the GRE will improve from a deeper understanding of scholarly vocabulary. The words selected in Vocabulary Cartoons are those most frequently found on the verbal sections of the SAT and GRE exams. Additionally, students enrolled in adult education classes, ESL students and individuals suffering from ADD could all benefit from this unique product because of its strong visual component.

I believe the true test of Vocabulary Cartoons is evident when utilizing it for sporadic vocabulary study. I had Micah, grade 8, use the book occasionally over the past six weeks to note if vocabulary development had occurred or if the book was simply quixotic. Micah took a short quiz included within Vocabulary Cartoons to evaluate her ability to evoke the meaning of the first ten words included. She remembered 70% of the words, but felt the words she did remember were erudite.

"It's a great study tool for vocabulary", said Micah. "I liked the illustrations that they used to help to display vocabulary words or phrases. I found it easy to picture the illustrations in my mind when I was trying to remember the meaning of the word. I think I only got 70% of them correct when I took the test because it had been two weeks since I last looked at the book. I think I will continue to use Vocabulary Cartoons, however to help me remember vocabulary words I don't often use and to look for meanings of difficult words I encounter when I am reading".

Vocabulary Cartoons can be purchased on New Monic Book's company website http://www.vocabularycartoons.com/home/ for $12.95 plus shipping and handling. With casual use and dedication your student will veer from tyro to ubiquitous vocabulary enthusiast.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Math Tutor DVD: Pre-Algebra and The Texas Instruments TI83 Calculator Tutor

This is my third year with TOS Homeschool Crew and my third year reviewing Math Tutor DVD products. I must admit that I now see Jason Gibson, creator and instructor for Math Tutor DVD, as a familiar, reliable friend to call upon when needing help with complex mathematical questions. Gibson holds advanced degrees in Electrical Engineering, Physics and recently resigned as Flight Controller for NASA's space shuttle program. Most importantly, however, he is able to translate his vast knowledge of physical science and mathematics to young less experienced students. There will be no more tears or stress when utilizing Math Tutor DVD products for middle school and upper level mathematics. The DVD's are user friendly, well designed and an extremely valuable resource to have in the home.

Our family received the 5 hour Pre-Algebra Tutor Volume 1 and the 8 hour Texas Instruments TI-83/TI84 Calculator Tutor DVD's for review. Each DVD is priced at $26.99 on the company website. With step by step instruction and all the quality aspects of a DVD like portability and easily accessed repetition of instructions, I can't imagine a more affordable educational option for anyone seeking a supplemental high quality math instruction.

Customers with a Facebook account have the opportunity to visit the Math Tutor DVD fan page and receive a $10.00 coupon off their purchase for clicking the "like" button. The company offers an affiliate program, DVD bundle pricing, and the opportunity to win a complete set of all the Math Tutor DVD products directly from the website. If that weren’t enough Math Tutor DVD offers a 100% money back guarantee for all of their products.

But are these DVD's effective? I decided to ask my 13 year old, 8th grade daughter her opinion of the TI-83/84 Caluculator Tutor DVD after viewing it. She is a current Algebra 1 student, so the graphing calculator is a tool she had no experience with, but will need to master in a few years. According to Micah,

"I found the DVD really helpful because the calculator is rather complicated tool and the DVD teaches you how to use all the different keys. It was easy to understand because he used the calculator with the different functions while he talked. I could see exactly what I needed to do. I would recommend this as a tutorial for anyone needing to learn how to use the TI-83/TI-84."

For more specific information regarding Math Tutor DVD products visit their website at www.mathtutordvd.com. To read my other reviews of Math Tutor DVD products visit the links listed below.

Numbers and Counting-part of the Young Minds Pre-school series

and Basic Word Math Problems and Algebra 2

Whether it's pre-school or upper level Calculus Math Tutor DVD has products that will help your family embrace mathematics. Math Tutor DVD's are award winning, affordable and easily accessible. Buy one and soon you will feel like Jason Gibson is your new best friend too.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

School Supplies: The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner

Get all your ducks in a row! with

The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner!

Whether we like it or not, if you live in the northern hemisphere, Summer is coming to a close. A new school year is dawning and life begins to get a bit more complicated. I often describe the transition from summer to fall as "whiplash" since it feels like life moves from zero to 60 over night. Creating schedules, lesson plans, and menus make the transition a little less painful. Choosing The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Homeschool Planner helps families like mine get ready for another fabulous year of home education for only $39.00

Hands down the BEST homeschool planner on the market this 634 page organizational tool is specially designed to meet the unique needs of the homeschool household. Presented in digital format, the planner arrives directly to your computer upon payment. Available exclusively at the Old Schoolhouse Store, The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner includes:

  • Forms for Important School Record Keeping and Household Information
  • Calendars
  • Lesson Planning Pages
  • Goal Setting Pages
  • Record Keeping Pages
  • Internet linked educational ideas, tips and helps in an article format
All forms. calendars, etc., are easily customized, then printed right from your own computer. Print as little or as often as you desire. No more looking for the calendar or list....it's always on your desktop! The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner will save you valuable time, energy and provide encouragement throughout the year as you school at home.

Don't waste another moment dreaming of a successful school year. Get everything down in writing with the help of The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner.

*This is not a review. This is an ad prepared as a part of a contest for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine to promote their wonderful planner. I am an independent contractor for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. I received this planner free of charge in order to create this ad which is just ducky! My enthusiasm for the planner is real and my opinion sincere. Have a wonderful school year! *

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Schoolhouse Planner Modules--June 2010

There is nothing like a planner to make a homeschool Mom start to dream. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine offers one of the most comprehensive planners I have seen in 15 years of home education. You can read my complete opinion of this amazing planner by clicking here.

Although the 2009-2010 planner's service has come to an end the unit study based Schoolhouse Planner modules can still bring new life to your homeschool.

I LOVE unit studies. At one time, my homeschool support group referred to our family as "the unit study family". If you are unfamiliar with the term, a unit study is a organized effort to incorporate all subject areas of learning around one central topic or theme. Unit studies to me are like a big educational party filled with activities, recipes, great books to read and arts and crafts to make. They are especially wonderful with younger aged children who don't require a lot of structured learning, but really just need to catch the "fever" of the learning process.

I received the June 2010 Module (unit study) designed to accompany the 2009-2010 Schoolhouse Planner for free in exchange for this review. This module titled "Travel the World" is designed to introduce children of all ages to the study of world geography.

My children just completed a year long study of world geography so we did not use this module for this review. I wish however, I had latched on to "Travel the World" last year at this time. All of my planning and prep work for the World Geography co-op class I taught would have been done for me. "Travel the World" is filled with well written, concise informational text, poetry, fill in the blank activities, word scramble, word search, crossword and rebus puzzles, coloring pages which include world and continent maps, manuscript and cursive copywork, a high school expansion section with literature and activity suggestions, recipes, resource list and my personal favorite, answer keys. A section titled "Lapbook Beginnings" is included with several lapbook elements to be used as starting points for families wishing to develop a geography lapbook to chronicle their time with the study.

"Travel the World" was written especially for the homeschool family. Homeschool teachers can literally download the 52 page curriculm to their computer, open it up, print a few relevant pages and teach. It is a unit study homeschool teacher's dream come true and even strict textbook families will not be able to resist its charm and ease of use. To be able to take all children within your home on a learning adventure for a mere $7.95 is a treasure.

I have seen and participated in writing a lot of unit studies over the years and this is one of the best. It can be used as a brief break from routine studies or as one of a collection of units for an outstanding school year. Because of the variety of resources available through this digital download, families may choose to spend a full week using "Travel the World" exclusively or simply sample parts for several weeks. Since no two families look or school alike the flexibility and ease of use of this module make it a perfect homeschool product.

For more great Planner modules and products visit The Old Schoolhouse Store at http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com/index.php?main_page=index

Monday, May 31, 2010

Great Latin Adventure

Classical Legacy Press, founded by Norman and Katherine Birkett, is ready to offer homeschool families a Great Latin Adventure. If you think the words Latin and Adventure should never be used side by side in a sentence keep reading. Fans of foreign language education will appreciate and understand Katherine Birkett's enthusiasm in writing The Great Latin Adventure curriculum designed for students as young as 3rd grade, but specifically written for grades 4-6.

"I have been a language lover since I was a girl", says Birkett. "Words, grammar, etymology, writing--I love them all. It's been my privilege to study Latin, French, and Russian under various teachers, and a bit of Greek on my own. A desire to share that love of language with children has shaped my Latin program", she said.

Birkett developed The Great Latin Adventure while teaching a homeschool co-op class. She searched for an appropriate curriculum that could meet the needs of teacher and student, found nothing and decided to write her own. GLA has been homeschool tested and approved.

The Great Latin Adventure is grammar focused, not conversational. It is also teacher intensive, but extremely easy to use regardless of Latin education background. The program is not computerized or self-teaching like other homeschool foreign language programs. It is Christian focused and does not include Roman history, culture or teachings on mythology.

The 232 page student manuals can be purchased three hole punched and ready for a binder for $15.00 or three hole punched in a binder for $22.00. Teacher's manuals are $30.00 or $40.00 dependent on presentation and come with a pronunciation CD. Classical Legacy Press accepts PayPal and credit card payments on their website.

The Great Latin Adventure is divided into two levels each containing 12 lessons. A table of contents of Level One can be viewed here. To view the Table of Contents for Level II simply click here. Each level of the Great Latin Adventure includes:
  • Detailed lesson plans
  • Built in exercises to drill grammar, translation and vocabulary
  • Vocabulary/ full chapter quizzes
  • LOTS of teacher's notes and tips for each chapter to build confidence
  • Answer keys that model the student sheets with answers
The Great Latin Adventure is divided into 12 chapters organized to take one school year to complete. It is encouraged to schedule lessons three times a week with independent study, like reviewing vocabulary with flashcards, expected. Students are expected to dedicate three, 30-45 min. study sessions per week to Latin to complete the program in a school year.

We received Level I of The Great Latin Adventure for free in exchange for this review. My 7th grade daughter Micah, a student of Latin for the past two years, helped me test market this curriculum. We found that although the 12 lesson curriculum is designed to cover 36 weeks of school we could easily blow through it in less than 6 weeks. Although the lessons are well designed, and very thorough in presentation, the material was not challenging enough to demand the amount of time allotted by the curriculum guidelines. Micah easily completed 4 days worth of work in a short one day session.

"I learned a lot from the program because there was a lot of information regarding grammar, and how many Latin conjugations there are. It seemed to be a little too easy for me, however. Too much time was spent on one particular subject which slowed me down a little too much. I think I would really like to take a course like this designed for an older student", said Micah.

Micah's summation is spot on. I loved this course for its ease of use, and detailed teaching instructions. The more notes and teaching aids I can get from a curriculum the happier I am. The Great Latin Adventure makes teaching Latin as easy as reading and following directions. Unfortunately, because it is written for the younger student it was not challenging enough for my soon to be eighth grader with two years of Latin study behind her.

Classical Legacy Press provides a 60-Day unconditional money-back guarantee for all of their products. Classical educators will want to take note of the company's Logic curriculum on their website too.

Lobster Network

Summer is a great time for homeschool families to get organized. Our family is usually so busy with school and activities during the typical school year that our house tends to suffer from "clutter-itis", "i'll deal with it later syndrome" and "throw it over there disorder". Stacks of things to be dealt with grow taller and taller on my desk and I begin to dream of long, summer days with nothing to do but, get organized.

This summer as I sit at the beach relaxing I know I have a new tool to help me re-capture order once I return. It's LOBSTER NETWORK found at http://www.lobsternetwork.com/. Making use of the facets of this FREE website can refresh a stressed out disorganized homeschool parent just like a day at the beach.

Lobster Network, created by Canadian homeschool parents, Isabelle and Robert Lussier, is a "one of a kind item networking" system that allows you to keep track of important items, share them with friends or borrow new things from others. If you can imagine maintaining a library of valuables while networking with other like-minded families you can imagine the possibilities of Lobster Network. LOBSTER is actually an acronym for Lend it/ Organize it/ Buy/ Borrow it, Sell it, Trade it, Exchange it, Request it. LOBSTER NETWORK is like a support group, garage sale and Facebook wrapped up in one handy website.

Creating an account on LOBSTER network is simple and FREE. Once registered you can join "communities" or create a new community for your friends to join. The most useful aspect, I think, is the ability to inventory all of your books, cds, educational games, etc. I have homeschooled for nearly 15 years and have an unbelieveable supply of educational resources. During the summer months I generally create lesson plans and begin to develop the ensuing school year. Many times I neglect items in my vast collection of resources and regret it later simply because I have lost track of it. Utilizing LOBSTER Network in the planning process will ensure I never do that again.

If time is limited and the thought of rifling through all of your "valuables" turns your heart to ice, never fear. Simply enter a few items every day and soon a wonderful list will develop ensuring you are well underway to optimum organization. I was amazed when I used LOBSTER network for the purpose of this review how quickly and efficiently the inventory process was. I also was able to quickly glance through the needs of members of my TOS Review Crew community to determine if I could fill a need.

Since I am a member of The Homeschool Review Crew for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine a special community group was created for us to use. My youngest child will enter 1st grade next year and I am finally willing to begin to part with some of my educational supplies. I listed these specific items to be searchable in the "Marketplace" for friends in my community. This allowed my friends to search my inventory and the inventory of other connected homeschool families when shopping for new homeschool supplies. Lobster Network allows users to search for products by name, category, purpose or distance.

LOBSTER network members can advertise items to other users. This advertising can include, for sale, for FREE, for lending,for trade or "I want this"in the listing. Lending and borrowing items with other homeschool families is a great way to frugally homeschool, but sometimes tracking those transactions can turn into a major waste of time. It is at best difficult to manage. LOBSTER network allows users to easily keep track of items lent, due dates, send messages to borrowers for due date reminders and request an extension on a loaned item. All communication can be managed right on the site.
When I return from my beach vacation and begin to tackle those stacks on my desk one of my first priorities will be to add to my Lobster Network. It's free. It's fast and efficient and it will help me refresh and re-organize my homeschool journey.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kregel Publishing Books-Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure by Susan K. Marlowe is an adventure story set near Fresno, California during the time of the California Gold Rush. Thirteen year old Andi Carter returns home for a fun filled summer vacation from Miss Whittaker's Academy, a finishing school for girls located in San Francisco. She is anxious to re-connect with old friends, family and her favorite horse, Taffy. Andi, a true tom-boy is conflicted with the responsibility and expectations of a growing up in a time when women were limited in their roles.

The adventure begins innocently enough as Andi, big brother Mitch and friends Jenny and Cory take off on horseback for a 2-week camping and gold prospecting trip. The group believes they are destined for hours of riding, fishing and panning for gold. Unfortunately, innocent mishaps lead to bigger trouble and Andi and friends faith, courage and survival skills are tested in ways they could never have imagined.

Themes of adventure, courage, bravery, self-less love and Godly character are present throughout this 17 chapter novel targeted to tweens. Although Andrea (Andi) Carter is a female main character, most boys will enjoy the plot line and be drawn in by the action. Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure is the 5th book written by Marlowe for her Circle C Adventure series. Each book is available on Kregel Publications website, http://www.kregel.com/ for $7.99 for a paperback copy. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for this review.

I read this little adventure story during a 12 hour car ride to the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was occassionally surprised by plot twists and turns. As I read Marlowe's account of 13 year Andil I easily remembered the conflicted emotions and responsibilities brought about by this age. My daughter, Micah just celebrated her 13th birthday and could imagine her involved in the plot. I can't wait to give Micah this book to read and enjoy.

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure will make a great summer read for any child aged 10 and older. Due to the frightening nature of some plot twists I would reccommend pre-reading the book for younger children. There is also a 24 page supplementary unit study guide available for free on the company website. The guide covers:

  • vocabulary
  • Discussion Questions
  • A Closer Look section for learning more about maps, California Gold Rush and Annie Oakley
  • A Nature Connection section to learn more about mountain lions and rattlesnakes
  • A Just for Fun section
  • Helpful weblinks for "rabbit trail" studies of the Sierra Nevadas, the California Gold Rush, etc.

Click here to view the guide.

Kregel Publications is a Christian publishing company dedicated since 1949 to meet the needs of evangelical readers. You can read more about Kregel Publications and all the books they offer at their website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cerebellum/ Standard Deviant-US History AP prep video

Cerebellum Corporation is dedicated to helping students take the stress out of studying at Light Speed! Cerebellum Corporation, creators of Standard Deviants DVD curriculum has 25 titles in their new Light Speed collection. All titles are designed to appeal to teens as an entertaining review of various high school level course work. Light Speed videos cover topics such as Fractions & Decimals, Civil Rights, SAT Prep, U.S. Government & Politics, Chemistry, Writing, and History of the U.S.

Our family received a FREE copy of Light Speed AP U.S. History Exam Prep from Cerebellum Corporation in exchange for this review. Although no one in our home was preparing this year for the AP American History test we did think the DVD had a lot to offer. Included in the DVD package was a digital student workbook on CD-Rom to reinforce concepts reviewed by watching the video.

Light Speed AP American History Exam Prep has a run time of about 90 minutes, but provides a comprehensive review of all major events in U.S. History. The amount of time spent reviewing various topics is dependent on the number of questions a student will be asked when taking the AP Test. Watching through the DVD for the purpose of this review I found it covered:

  • Test taking tips and strategies

  • An explanation of what to expect when taking the AP test like types of questions, tips on answering essay questions, and a breakdown of subject matter covered

  • An explanation of how much time is dedicated to each part of the test aiding the student with time management issues commonly faced during comprehensive timed tests.

  • Step by step instructions detailing how to write a strong and effective essay for the essay question portion of the exam

  • A "30 in 30" portion of the video which reviewed 30 major events and facts of American History in 30 mins.

I found the "30 in 30" portion to be especially well done. Although 30 minutes is a bit of an understatement (try 60-65) an amazing amount of detailed information was presented to the student in an effective manner. Seven different college-aged young adults, who according to company description are actors, are placed in varied colorful and visually interesting sets to review pivotal events in American History. The topics are presented in an enaging and entertaining lecture format. Clever graphics, sound effects and occassional humorous commentary keeps interest and appeal high throughout the "30 minutes" of Light Speed education. There is a LOT of information in this short span of time, so most students would benefit greatest from the DVD by viewing it in small portions or reviewing its entirety several times.

If any of my children need to take an AP test or review for a College entrance exam in the future I will definitely consider taking advantage of Cerebellum Corporations Light Speed DVD's. Cerebellum sells their Light Speed collection on their website, http://www.sdlearning.com/ for $14.98 each. Currently, readers of this blog may receive a 20% discount off any product purchased online by using coupon code OHS20 at checkout. That's nearly a $3.00 savings per item through December 31, 2010!

Take the stress out study and reach your 21st century student's needs at Light Speed. Cerebellum Corporation makes it easy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ideal Pre-school Curriculum

The mission of Ideal Curriculum is designed to provide a formal pre-school education at home. Complete with assessments, daily lesson plans and all the elements a classroom teacher would need I believe Ideal publishers has worked hard to cover all the bases. I received a free downloadable copy of month 1, Transportation unit of Ideal Curriculum to use with my five year old son, Aidan, in exchange for this review.

I have six children ranging in age from 20 to 5. I have spent many, many years in the presence of pre-schoolers. My oldest two children attended three years of pre-school classes at a wonderful, enriching pre-school near our home. It was a great asset for our family at the time since I was overwhelmed with other responsibilities and unable to create a formal pre-school educational environment in my home.

After those initially busy years of having only little children in our home, I never provide a formal pre-school education for my youngest four children . Their pre-school years were filled with educational toys, being read to on a daily basis and my concentrated effort to faciliate age appropriate activities on a regular basis. Simple and basic to be sure, but not a formal curriculum. My confidence that informal pre-school was enough to meet their needs only took root after my confidence in my parenting skills was built. Ideal curriculum, thorough and comprehensive, will support and build confidence in new homeschool Moms and Dads.

The following components are included in month one of Ideal curriculum:

  • Goals for the month

  • Initial assessments

  • Literacy activities complete with a sample daily/weekly schedule

  • Science/ Social Studies activities

  • Math activities

  • Calendar activities

  • Songs on MP3 files to complete activities

  • Printable resources and scripted teaching helps for activities

I administered all portions of the initial assessment with Aidan. The first assessment took a total of 8 mins. and near the end I found Aidan to be tired and distracted. I did, however, learn the precise holes in his phonics education and letter recognition skills. Since we were in assessment mode we followed with additional evaluations of his knowledge of print and other literacy skills, sight word recognition and phonemic awareness. Total assessment time was close to thirty minutes.

Ideal offers lots of suggestions to the homeschool teacher of how to incorporate the curriculum into your pre-schooler's day. It is designed for formal scheduled school time or to be used subltley throughout the day and play time. Repetition is key when learning new skills and with handy sample schedules included in the curriculum, parents can be assured they are covering all elements several times whether scheduled formally or not.
We chose the non-scheduled approach to Ideal based on my previously stated philosophy of pre-school. The songs included were very easy to incorporate throughout our day. My older children and I even began to sing some of the songs to encourage Aidan to review adding to the fun and playfulness of the curriculum.
"I like the animal freeze dance. I like to make a pose for the freeze part. I like to freeze. That is really fun. I like all the songs. They are really cool", said Aidan.
I found all the worksheets, and supplemental paperwork a bit confusing to organize. Having an instant download is great when shopping plus makes storage a breeze, but be ready to become an organized publisher. It took me nearly an hour of time to print, organize, cut, staple, three-hold punch, etc. for two weeks of the curriculum even before reading through the teacher's notes and directions. This is not a grab and go curriculum. It requires thoughtful planning and organization, but once it is in place it is full of fun, games and wonderful learning opportunities.
Ideal curriculum sells for $55.00 per monthly unit for a print version and $30.00 for the downloadable version at the company website, www.idealcurriculum.com. Currently only month 1 is available as an instant download, but months 2-9 are under development and available as a pre-order. Customers wishing to purchase an entire school year of product and take advantage of a 10% discount by purchasing the package for $526.00.
For more testimonials and information regarding Ideal curriculum check the company website, read the Ideal Curriculum blog at http://www.idealcurriculum.com/Preschool-curriculum-blog.html or read reviews from the rest of the Homeschool Crew by visiting Crew blog.