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St. Francis de Sales Has the Right Idea


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Review of SmartKidz Media

SmartKidz Media Review


One of the absolute best things about being able to review products is finding things that I would never have otherwise heard about. Hopefully, that's one of the benefits to your reading my blog, too. SmartKidz Media is one of those companies that I don't think I would have found on my own. Thanks to their awesome free trial, had I found it, I would have been able to subscribe to their SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers, but I'm so happy that I don't have to speculate about whether or not that fortuitous meeting would ever have occurred. The Crew and SmartKidz Media brought the opportunity right to my (to our!) door.


SmartKidz Media is digital media for homeschoolers. They have an unbelievably diverse selection of resources with something to suit everyone's taste. The media can be played on just about any device you have in your home (with a couple of exceptions). You can stream on your computer (PC or Mac), your Internet-capable TV (or hook up your computer to your TV with an HDMI cable), your Roku, your phone, or your tablet (including your iDevices - with the exception that the eBooks don't work on iDevices because of Flash issues).  If you have high-speed Internet, you can use SmartKidz Media!


Why would you want to? How about




SmartKidz Media has eBooks, jigsaw puzzles, Study Guides (I *love* these), and all kinds of videos. Check out all of these categories:






Within each category, there are subcategories. For example, in World of Discovery, you have Animals and Wildlife, Ancient Cultures, Mysteries from Ancient Times, Mysteries of Nature, WWII - A Complete History, Science, Cooking, Travel, Fine Arts, Classical Music, and more! Additionally, more content is constantly being added. This category is definitely SmartKidz Media's star. The videos vary in length, but most of the ones we watched were about 25 minutes long. The quality is excellent and the content is so good! We didn't watch/do things in every category, but the things we did watch or look at were all stellar!

What We Did and Loved

As soon as we started our free trial for SmartKidz media (which we did before we even got the review, because it looked just that awesome!), Michael (10) immediately jumped into Nature's Soap Operas. We laughed hysterically all the way through these videos. They are irreverent (our style of humor for sure). Michael was a little shocked that the video used the word "butt," but that was not remotely a problem for us. A seal says "damn." Again, not a problem for us, but I can see where it might be for some people.

When they had exhausted the animal videos, the kids moved on to Ancient Mysteries. They *loved* these. They continually ran to me to tell me all of the things they were learning. For my own part, I have dived headfirst into the Quick Find Study Guides. These are solid gold. I love them. I actually use the Language Arts ones in my own work (creating teacher worksheets for public school teachers). Sometimes I run out of ideas, but looking at these reminds me of rules that I haven't created work for recently. Also, a couple of times I have had a question when editing, and even though I was sure I was right (obviously!), knowing exactly where to go to find all of the answers in one place was really neat (rather than randomly Googling, which I would never let my kids do).

Clearly, there is so much more here that we have not delved into yet, but we're getting there! Some of the material is too young for my kids, but I know that Therese is excited about the Pilates videos, and both girls are going to love the food videos. Personally, I can't wait to get into the WWII videos next year when we get there in school again. Truly, there is something for everyone on this site. Just go browse around for yourself. 

Michael's (10) Assessment

I can't believe it's school. My favorites are the Ancient Mysteries. I learned tons of new stuff, especially about Easter Island and how they basically destroyed their own island. It's one of my favorite school subjects (Laura: Mary-Catherine interjects that she wouldn't count it as a school subject - she'd count it as dessert).

Mary-Catherine's (10) Assessment

I thought it was great. I loved it a lot. At the beginning of the videos, there are always nice facts. If younger kids are going to be watching the animal videos, there should be disclaimers because I can easily picture younger kids crying over them. I got tears in my eyes. (N.B. Mary-Catherine is talking about a specific video where a baby lion is killed and the mother is visibly sad. I didn't watch this with the kids, and this is the first I am hearing about it.) The underwater videos are awesome. 

Summation

This is a really neat resource - one of those extras. At first it doesn't seem like you could really be learning when you're having so much fun -- but you are! The great thing about the Crew is that if you're interested in a part of SmartKidz Media that I didn't talk about, be sure to click the banner below, because I promise that someone else undoubtedly did...so go read more reviews!

Crew Disclaimer
SmartKidz Media Review

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Silent Sunday - How many names can I come up with for a meme-y post?



Sometimes I feel like this is my whole life...from my kids, to dealing with customer service people, to, well, everything. 

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Review of CTC Math

CTCMath Review
Last year when I reviewed CTC Math, I loved it so much that I immediately bought an 18-month subscription to add to my existing 12-month subscription that I had been given in exchange for my honest review. Fast forward to this year when CTC Math again showed up on the Crew's Upcoming Vendor's list. I was so happy to get a second opportunity to tell you how much we are STILL enjoying this wonderful math program! Their 12 Month Family Plan is an amazing deal for what you get in exchange! What I tell people about CTC Math is that they love large families, because the price is the same whether you have two children, or ten, and $118.80 for an entire year of math for all of your children is pretty much an unbeatable deal.


So, what is CTC Math? Well, you can read last year's review here, but I'll certainly begin at the beginning! 

First, one of CTC Math's best features is the ability to do it on any device:


iPad, Kindle Fire, computer...all will work with CTC Math! I love that, because all of my kids can do math at the same time.  

When you first log on as a student, this is what you see:


You have access to all levels of math, regardless of which level you begin at. In theory, then, Mary-Catherine could work on Trig! Given her trouble with division, I wouldn't recommend it, though. Because Mary-Catherine is at the end of 4th grade (in math), she decided to work through CTC Math by doing the diagnostic tests at the beginning of each section - another of my favorite features. 


If you take the diagnostic test for each section and pass it at a certain level, you can feel confident that you know the material in that section. Mary-Catherine knows just about all of 4th grade...except for long division. These tests are a great way to target weak spots! In the past, however, we have used CTC Math as a full math curriculum, and it works perfectly in that capacity as well. 

In 5-7 minute videos (and many are less than even five minutes), Pat Murray, father of 10 children (five girls and five boys!), teaches a concept and follows it with interactive questions and answers. Although it is recommended that you use CTC as a supplement in the upper grades, I have found that it can stand as a curriculum there, too, at least for gifted kids who get math quickly and want a no-frills approach to math - one that explains the concept and gets in and out.

CTC also provides great summary reports. Here is a quick overview of a few of Mary-Catherine's diagnostic tests:



An an example of a detailed report:


In terms of what a lesson looks like, here's an example (imagine Mr. Murray's soothing Australian accent talking this problem through):


After the lesson is taught, there are questions, like this one:


Finally, you can view or print the lesson summary:


A couple of details: you can actually customize the look of the program, hence MC's beautiful purple background! Also, there are reward certificates and such to be had at various levels, but my kids are not at all into such things, and, thus, I didn't utilize them at all. Definitely check out the other reviews linked below to see how they work, though.

My other three kids dabbled with CTC Math this time around, but it was Mary-Catherine who used it consistently every single day. She really loves it. If you need any kind of endorsement from my end, I have a subscription to CTC Math through 2017! I actually don't see myself ever letting it go as long as I am homeschooling. Even as a supplement, it is just that good. It is hard to panic about math with Mr. Murray talking you through it. I know that Therese (13) has found it very helpful when she hits a wall in Algebra (which she HAS to finish in the next month!). Nicky (12), unbeknownst to me, started Geometry on CTC (which is where he will be as soon as he finishes Algebra in the next couple of months), and gleefully informed me, "I can do this - this is easy!" Mr. Murray really does make you feel that you can do it. What more can you ask for in a math teacher?

We love CTC Math at our house. To see what other Crew members think, click the banner below.

CTCmath Review


Crew Disclaimer

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Review of Dynamic Literacy

JazzEdge  Review
Dynamic Literacy is a company with which I was wholly unfamiliar prior to this review, but I am so happy that I have become acquainted with them now! WorldBuild: Elements, Level 1 Set (Includes WordBuild the Game), $99.99, is one of the most rigorous, but most enjoyable "root family" programs that I have ever used. From the first moment I saw the sample, I was hooked!
There are three components to this program. The Student Activity Book is a 156 page book covering 25 Latin and Greek root families. The roots are taught through activities that resemble pencil puzzle word games, like Magic Squares (there are four activities for each root). If you look at the sample, you'll see what I mean (and I mean it in the best way possible). Some kids learn roots through rote memorization, and it works really well for them. I am one of them. Others...not so much. Nicholas (12) is one of the latter variety. He does, however, love pencil puzzles. That's why I loved this product on sight. When I got it home, I loved it even more. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
JazzEdge  Review
The Teacher's Edition (which is essential to this program) is a 336 page guide that not only tells you how to teach each root, but answer keys, units that review each root, weekly root "check-ups," and a mini-dictionary. 
WordBuild the Game teaches word building using the formula prefix + root + suffix, allowing students to use over 200 roots and 18,000+ words. It allows for up to 99 players, so while only one student can use the Student Activity Book, the whole family can play WordBuild the Game!

Nicholas (12) and Dynamic Literacy

I will confess that at first Nicky was not as enthusiastic about this program as I would have liked. The reason? It's kind of hard! Let me explain. Of my four kids, Nicky is my one non-voracious reader. Compared to other people's kids, Nicky still reads a lot, but compared to my other three kids (and myself, I suppose), who sometimes read multiple novels a day, Nicky doesn't read that much. The reasons are several: he has ADHD, he is ridiculously picky, he doesn't have access to a Kindle Fire (which allows the others to read far into the night - judge me later, this is about Dynamic Literacy), and he would sometimes just prefer to stare off into space than to read. And I'm okay with that (no, I really am). The problem is, though, that I have noticed that his vocabulary is not up to par (and I am *not* okay with that. I am all about the sesquipedalian lifestyle. Well, that and a serious cheek highlight.). The vocabulary comes from reading. The number of words to be gained from this program will go a long way toward remedying his deficiency. As anyone knows, learn one word, and you learn one word. Learn a root, and you learn *dozens* of words.

As I started to say, though, this program does not fool around. It is expected that you have some familiarity with roots already. I would have expected Nicky to have this familiarity. He has done root work before. With Nicky, though, because of his his issues (OCD, ADHD, Tourette's), I have to expect that he will forget that he has learned something until he suddenly remembers it. What is so wonderful about the program, though, is that it provides something of a "roots boot camp" for students who aren't quite up to snuff on their roots. That's the "Affix Adder" that you see in the second picture below. It was exceptionally helpful for Nicky at the beginning of this program. The left picture shows the second root "exercise" that Nicky did - a Magic Square. It was absolutely the format of the exercise that got Nicky hooked on the program. He loves magic squares in his Dell puzzle books, so seeing one in this book made him want to do this exercise. It was the ideal starting point.




Although I did show Nicky the computer game, he prefers the workbooks. Maybe because of his OCD, he is definitely a workbook homeschooler (with the exception of Math). He likes to see the end in sight - to know that he has *this page* to do and then he can move on to the next subject. The game is sort of a misnomer, as it really is a word building tool. To the strains of classical music, the "player" moves parts of words around (morphics) to form actual words. If you manage to create a real word, the word meaning is shown and a chime is heard. It is a really neat concept, but is not something that is up Nicky's alley. I know it is something that Mary-Catherine (10) is going to LOVE, though. I will probably introduce her to it in the fall.


If your child needs a roots program, is in junior high or above, and loves pencil puzzle-style learning, Dynamic Literacy is *definitely* worth a look! Be sure to click the banner below to see how other Crew members used WordBuildOnline and the younger version of the roots program, as well as the same level we reviewed.


Dynamic Literacy Review


Crew Disclaimer

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Heads-Up on an Awesome Hairbrush!



It looks so unassuming, right? The background on this brush is that about six months ago, I bought a brush on clearance from Sephora. Best.brush.ever. It was billed as anti-static, and it was. It was also about the only brush that didn't make Therese look like she had stuck her finger in a light socket if she actually *brushed* her hair (curly girl problems). So what's the problem? Brushes disappear in my house. Should have bought ten of the things. In any case, a few weeks ago, Loxa Beauty had 40% off their whole site (plus Ebates!). This brush had great reviews, plus it looks like my Sephora brush. I bought two of this shape, one of the paddle, and one of the Shine Brush version (which, I am thrilled to report, is almost exactly like an Avon brush that Henry had in 1993 when I met him which was my favorite brush ever until it fell apart). 

These brushes are awesome. The Wet Brush is not quite as good as the Sephora brush for Therese, but it is perfect for me (and a close second for her). This brush goes right through thick, wet hair and detangles without tearing. We love it. Come in cute colors, too. The paddle brush is awesome for MC's and my super long hair. 

Oh, and if you're in the market for a new hair dryer, can I tempt you with this set? I'm not a Loxa Beauty affiliate, but this set is a crazy price. I bought mine in the 40% off sale, but it is worth the $199 price. The dryer is UNREAL, and everything else you get with it is a huge bonus. Can you ever have enough flat irons (if you have more than one girl in the house)? 

Use Ebates - usually 6% at Loxa Beauty. If you're not a member of Ebates, I sure wouldn't mind if you signed up through me, but we can still be friends if you don't. Sign up with Ebates
You seriously do get cash back when you shop online. For me, it's mostly Macy's, Ulta, and Sephora, but this Loxa Beauty purchase netted me around $13.00 back in my Paypal account. Not too shabby given that I'm going to shop anyway!




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Review of IEW's Deluxe Combo Level B

IEW Review


Oh my gosh. There are no other words. Can I just say that sometimes what doesn't work for one kid is just.so.amazing for another kid (or three)? I have reviewed Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) before, but had the sad task of reporting that this homeschooling superstar did not work for Therese. I concluded that she was basically just beyond the highest level available (even though, age-wise, she was only in 7th grade). What rubbed her the wrong way about Mr. Pudewa's teaching style (his patience, his humor, his super easygoing style) is what my younger three kids LOVE about him! Isn't it funny how different kids are? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

I had the great good (unbelievable, even) fortune to receive for review the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level B, including Fix-It! Grammar Books 3&4. I also received A Word Write Now and Portable Walls. I know. Let's all take a moment and say a prayer for IEW's success, because, people -- sending this package out for review? *That* is generosity. My children have been blessed beyond measure by this program, and I am grateful.



The Deluxe Combo Student/Teacher Writing Package includes quite a lot, so let's break it down:

  • Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, including the Premium Content Subscription (TWSS) - this is the brand new 2nd edition of Andrew Pudewa's wildly successful seminar for parents of K-12 students that is designed to help parents teach their children to write. If you want to know how to turn your children into successful writers, or if you want to learn how to write yourself, this course is a Godsend. You can view a sample of the intro on the link I provided. The Premium Content allows you to stream the seminar, plus it allows access to monthly webinars, August through May! It's the training course that keeps on training!
  • Seminar and Practicum Workbook (which is included in the above package, but you can get a better idea of what it is at this link)
  • Student Writing Intensive Level B (recommended for 6-8 grade), which includes four instructional DVDs, a three-ring binder, and a student packet
  • Student Notebook with Handouts and Lesson Plans (included in the above package, but you can get a better idea of what is in it with this link. You can also order extra sets for extra students with this link. PDF copies are only $10.)
  • Fix-It! Grammar Books 3 and 4 with Downloadable Student e-books (link is to Book 3)
  • A Word Write Now (A Thematic Thesaurus for Stylized Writing)
  • Portable Walls (a portable version of the kind of writing posters you would love to hang in your school room!) 


With such a large set, of course, you may face the "problem" (oh, to have such problems!) of where to start. The best place to start is on a two-fold track: as a parent, you do yourself a big favor by beginning to watch the TWSS seminar immediately. The more you understand about the IEW approach to teaching writing, the more capable you will be to assist your children in learning. At the same time, pop in the first of the Student Writing Intensive DVDs, and let Mr. Pudewa begin to work his magic. He literally does all of the work for you. The directions in the handouts tell you how to organize the student binder, and Mr. Pudewa tells the student what to use, and when. As for the Fix-It! Grammar books, which I just love, you can use them concomitantly with the Student Writing Intensive. The exercises in these books take only minutes per day, but both the effort and the result are cumulative. Take a look at the sample to see what I mean! The thesaurus and the portable walls, of course, are resources that you will find yourself using on a daily basis. Your kids will probably find them very useful as well!

My Kid(s) and IEW

As I indicated, there is a lot to this program. That's a huge bonus, in my opinion, because writing is the most important subject in school. Why do I say that? Because if you can write well, you can write your own ticket, as my father used to say (he probably still says that). If you can write well, you can write your way into a good college, into a scholarship, into a good job, into anything. I have certainly found that to be true in my own life. Writing well has opened every door I  have ever knocked on - literally. It also gains you the respect of people. Think about the last time you saw someone make a foolish grammar or usage error - how did it impact your opinion of them? Conversely, think about that person you had only ever met in passing, but then received a cogent, well-thought out, nicely structured email from. Didn't your opinion of them go up? Is it just me? In any case, writing is hugely important in my house. Our writing journey begins by reading classic, quality literature. It's amazing how much that can teach a child about good writing. After that, well...I have been able to teach Therese quite well! Nicholas (12 in three weeks!) is my challenge. He actually does write surprisingly well. He loves (he would not agree with that term at all!) grammar - the structure of it appeals to his OCD brain. I am always impressed when I read something of his and see that he has set off an appositive with commas. As far as the structure of formal writing, though, we haven't gotten there yet, and that has concerned me. When we got the opportunity to review IEW again, though, I had the feeling that what didn't work for Therese would be perfect for Nicky. I was right.

The first time I popped in the DVD, Nicholas liked Mr. Pudewa. I'll confess that my kids were all very curious to see him "in person" because they knew that I had had a personal interaction with him at an NCFCA (Christian homeschool speech and debate) tournament. The Pudewa kids compete in our region (Therese has debated them!), and Mr. Pudewa volunteers his time (as do we all). Anyway, because I had a brief meeting with him regarding debate stuff, the kids are fascinated at the intersection of their curriculum world with their debate world. For them, the name "Pudewa" belongs to debate - isn't that funny? Anyway, I was very happy about that, otherwise Nicky would not have been so eager to show up to writing! After the first minute, though, Mr. Pudewa's way with kids took over. In fact, my 10 year-old twins immediately came in to watch and asked if they could do the writing class, too. Because they are 5th/6th grade, and because Level B is the level IEW recommends for mixed age learners, I was hardly going to deny them! They were disappointed that they would not be getting any handouts, but my kids are used to one child getting the good part of the review, with others getting the fringe benefits (i.e., watching the videos). As I indicated above, though, you can get extra copies of the student pages for extra students taking the course. If the twins' interest persists, I will definitely be taking that route. For now, they are just watching the course and copying down what Mr. Pudewa writes on the board. I *love* the fact that when I have them formally do this program, whether this year or next, it will only cost me $20 (for two copies of student pages by .pdf download). The initial investment for IEW may seem kind of steep, but if you have multiple children, it is amazingly inexpensive!

So much digression. Sorry. One of the best things about IEW is its schedule. If you follow the schedule, the program will take you 30 weeks to complete. Perfect for us. You can go slower, and probably should if you have younger children working on it. You can also go faster if, for instance, your child is either older than the recommended age, or is just a serious go-getter. If you follow the schedule, then you will spend the first day watching about a 45 minute segment of the first DVD. It is recommended that you watch with your child, and I think that's a great idea. For one thing, it dovetails well with TWSS, and for another, it's hard to assess your child's work if you don't know what he was supposed to be doing in the first place (oh, Mr. Pudewa is teaching me in increments not to be so harsh/critical/corrective with Nicholas' writing - it's a lesson I need!).

The first two weeks of SWI (Student Writing Intensive) are spent learning to create a keyword outline. It's a skill that all three of my younger children have been using ever since they learned it. They have applied that skill to every aspect of their school work. They are fascinated by it. Honestly, if that's all they learned, I would say this was a successful review product. I have been trying to teach Nicky how to outline for a while and have failed, so kudos to IEW!

Because of the thoroughness of the keyword outline lesson, when it came time to translate that outline back into a paragraph, Nicky's paragraphs was awesome! Better yet, it bore little resemblance to the original paragraph from which the keyword outline had been created. Together we polished his rough draft, and in week four, he wrote his final copy. He was proud of his work, and I was so happy with the process.

As with so many things homeschool, though, it's seeing the impact of the lesson on something else that is the proof, right? In one of those "it all comes around again" moments, the other day Nicholas was writing his Informative speech for next year's NCFCA season. It is on Minecraft. He was reading something about Minecraft and pointed out that he would write a keyword outline of the material and then write up his notes from his keyword outline in order to make sure that he wasn't unintentionally plagiarizing. So, Andrew Pudewa, who Nicky knows from NCFCA, taught Nicky how to make a keyword outline, through his Institute for Excellence in Writing, so that Nicky could write his Informative speech for NCFCA. Let's just enjoy that. At least I will.

The Icing on the Cake - or the other materials

Nicholas has always liked grammar that is of the "you edit it" variety, so Fix-It Grammar! is right up his alley. Knowing that he can get grammar done in five minutes each day by correcting the mistakes in the paragraph, and seeing the story develop daily, is such a neat concept for him. As a side note, Therese really liked Fix-It! Grammar when she did it last year, too.

The Word Write Now thesaurus is so neat. The main use this has gotten thus far is as a "reading for pleasure" book. Mary-Catherine (10) has read the whole thing cover-to-cover. I know that all of the kids will find it a very useful reference book in the years to come, though. I love that it is organized thematically. The organization makes so much sense for a child.

As to the Portable Walls, this is a concept long overdue! I have wanted to hang posters in our schoolroom, but considering we converted our dining room in to a schoolroom, it's not going to happen. Being able to temporarily place posters just for writing/grammar class is genius. Click on the link I provide above to see just how much useful information is provided on the Portable Walls. For $7.00, it's hard to justify *not* getting them. You'll use them for reference everyday. Because I create worksheets for public school teachers, I find that I am using them all the time! These are the hidden gems of this package!

Only Complaint
My only complaint about this program is very minor. I don't understand the need to use words like "-ly dress-up" instead of "adverb." Can we not just call a spade a spade? Again, that is so minor. As a grammar word nerd, though, these parts of speech have names, and they are good names, so they should be called by their names.

I am so happy that I got another chance to review IEW. I felt awful last time concluding that, while it was an excellent program, it didn't work for us. Now I am so excited to say that, once again, Therese is just anomalous! I have such confidence that in less than a year, Nicholas will be churning out amazing papers. Better yet, he has that confidence, too. My kids *ask* to do writing. The twins want to see what corny joke Mr. Pudewa will make, and Nicholas wants to buckle down on his next assignment. What more could you ask than that?

84 other Crew members got to review other IEW materials, so be sure to click the banner below to read all about their experiences!

IEW Review

Crew Disclaimer

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