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Review of Star Toaster

Star Toaster Review

I have to confess that I didn't know what to expect when I found out that we would be reviewing something from a company called Star Toaster, but finding out that the software is called Orphs of the Woodlands made my kids really excited to pursue the review! After all, a name like that sounds like it belongs either to a really great movie or a really awesome book. It turns out that this computer software is kind of the very best of both of those worlds!

Orphs of the Woodlands is described as "an online interactive reading adventure," and that's exactly what it is. At its heart, it's a storybook, and throughout the course of the book, the reader (cast in the role advertised below) performs "jobs" in order to collect woodland orphans. The jobs are academic tasks that don't feel a thing like academic tasks.



From your parent log in page, you can immediately get a snapshot of where your child is in Orphs of the Woodlands.





If you click on "View Skills," you can see the skills your child has worked on.




Getting even further in, you can click on a specific skill set:




This allows you to see the specific lesson your child has learned under this skill set. He might learn something on armadillos.





After learning the lesson, he will have a quiz, or "job," to see if he has mastered what he learned.






Here are just a couple of other examples of things that you learn with Star Toaster (all you have to do is look at the skills screenshot above to realize that these are just a couple of *hundreds* of examples I could show you!):











The lessons, or training, are integrated throughout the book and work seamlessly into the story. Star Toaster has done an amazing job with this product. Probably the best endorsement is Michael's:

Michael's (10) Assessment

"Orphs of the Woodlands is my favorite review program. I can't stop reading it. When I found out there was going to be another book, I was so excited! The book was action-packed and full of adventure. I learned Latin phrases, quotes, math from Prof Forp, rhymes, all about different kinds of animals, new vocabulary, and much more. I love the program because you can interact with the book. You can name the squirrel and open the letters. You learn things in Science, like if you pour cabbage juice over invisible ink, the acids in it will bring out the invisible ink. There are memory workouts. You write spy dossiers about the characters. You can click on the little voice icons and hear noises that go with the book."

Michael could have gone on forever (in fact, he's still talking!). He really does LOVE this program, and he's so thrilled that there's going to be another book to work through!
As for me, I love how much Michael loves this program. I also received subscriptions for Mary-Catherine (10) and Nicholas (11), and they will be working through it, too, but for the course of the review period, Michael would not yield the computer. I decided to let him go all the way through because he was loving it so much! I am amazed at how much Orphs of the Woodlands covers in a short period of time. The material has depth and breadth and the interface is gorgeous!

Star Toaster is offering a free trial! A subscription runs for two months (with an available one month extension) and costs $19.99 for three children. You can finish the book in two months! Honestly, that price is so unbelievable that I would not hesitate. Because you can try the first 100 pages of the book free, though, you don't have to take my word for it!

Star Toaster Review


Other Crew members with children of all ages have been reading this wonderful book, too, so click the banner below to see what they have to say about The Treasure of HighTower, the first book from Star Toaster!

Star Toaster Review
Crew Disclaimer

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Review of Memoria Press' New American Cursive

Memoria Press Review

Memoria Press just keeps getting better and better! I first fell in love with their Latin more than eight years ago, but they have continually added curriculum over the years. The first time I saw their New American Cursive: Penmanship Program Workbook 1, I didn't envision using it with my children. I prefer a more formal style of cursive. As with all things, though, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray, and I ended up with a child who is, I believe, dysgraphic. Writing is not easy for him. There is no way I am going to get beautiful swirly cursive out of him. Memoria Press' style of cursive is perfect for him, thus I was thrilled when I got the chance to review this workbook!

Even better (spoiler alert!), he loves this penmanship program.

The New American Cursive Penmanship Program is specifically designed to allow students to begin cursive at a younger age (due both to its simplified letter style, which eliminates many of the cursive strokes that other programs teach, and to its teaching format which utilizes the character of Mr. Meerkat to show students how to draw each letter). Now, Michael is 10, so he is definitely not the target audience of this program, however, he is not yet writing in cursive and has not had much success with other cursive programs that we have tried. He needed something that showed him exactly how to make the letters, since he is prone to things like reversals. Even better, Michael is able to write much more quickly and fluently when he writes in cursive.

So what does a typical day of cursive look like? Pretty much whatever you want it to :-) Seriously, although you can purchase lesson plans on Memoria Press's website, the instructions for teaching cursive even to very young children are so clear in the workbook itself that you really don't need anything else. The first thing taught are straight lines and curved lines (one page of instruction in each). Then capitals and lower case letters are taught in alphabetical order (a method that really worked for us, since Michael is older and has had a crack at cursive before). The pages are very minimalistic with everything in black and white, and the top is spiral bound.






Depending on how old your child is and how much handwriting he likes to do per day, this book could last you a widely varying amount of time. Because Michael is 10 and not a cursive novice, he completed the book in a couple of weeks. He really enjoyed working on it. I didn't have to ask him to do his handwriting - he just did it as part of his school routine (that is actually a nice endorsement of this book!). I am seriously considering getting Book 2 in this series (Books 2 and 3 are each available for $22.95).

Connect with Memoria Press at the following locations:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/memoriapress
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MemoriaPress
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/memoriapress/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+Memoriapress1/posts
Instagram: https://instagram.com/memoriapress/

Memoria Press Review
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Taciturn Tuesday :-)

We've always said that Henry was driving with Jesus (see his license plate)...thank God for that.




So we got a new car last week...

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Review of Ready to Teach

Ready to Teach Review
It is not an exaggeration to say that ever since I took Latin in high school (Salve, Magistra Optima!), I have been looking forward to teaching it to my own children. I have a very vivid memory of having the word lachrymose on the SAT and never having seen it before, BUT I knew that lacrimare in Latin was "to cry," and so figuring out the meaning of lachrymose was easy. Now, I know that Ready to Teach's excellent program Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's NOT Greek to Me!) (Student and Teacher books with CD and flash drive) is a Greek roots program, and not a Latin one, but the premise is the same: learn your roots and conquer the world (of vocabulary, that is)!

Ready to Teach Review

Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's NOT Greek to Me!), developed by Alene Harris, Ph.D. is different from any other Greek roots  (or Latin roots) program that I have seen (and I make it a point to see just about all of them). First of all, it is really, really fun. Second, the presentation is very professional and visually appealing. There is nothing remotely amateur about this program (not to denigrate some other programs - but we have all seen programs that sort of scream "homeschool!" This program definitely does not fall into that category.). 

There are several components to these Greek Morphemes Lessons. The most important part (subjectively speaking) is the PowerPoint presentation lessons.



The lessons make teaching the morphemes a no-brainer. You are walked through the process step-by-step. Not only is it easy...it's fun! 

Each of the 12 lesson follows a similar format. First, you learn a series of morphemes and their meanings using the PowerPoint presentation. During the course of the lesson, your student copies down the meaning of each morpheme in her student book. Then, she completes the work for half of the words in the lesson. For each assignment, there is a series of words. For each word, a student completes the following process: write the word, identify each Greek morpheme in the word and its meaning, using knowledge of the morphemes, write a possible definition of the word, and then look up the word in the dictionary to write the actual definition below the possible definition.

On Day 2, the student checks the worked words from the first assignment and completes the second half of the worked words.

On Day 3, the student checks the second half of the worked words and then uses 8 of the assignment words to create sentences using specific kinds of context clues to help identify the meanings of the words. Additionally, the student uses the morphemes from the current and past lessons to create two new words - this is the really fun part!

On Day 4, parents review the sentences and new words with their students and students do review exercises for the lesson. 

On Day 5, students go over the review exercises and study for the test, which follows the short review period.

The Instructor's Manual contains the following:
  • Background, Introduction, and Lesson Plan
  • Greek Morphemes Lessons
  • Transparency Masters
  • Review and Answer Keys
  • Test and Answer Keys
  • Pre-made Study Cards

The Student Book (Consumable) contains all of the lessons with space to write all of the things I enumerate above.

You also receive a CD with the PowerPoint presentations (both instructions and review lessons), but the program is to begin shipping with a flash drive (which I received) that has the same things on it, in recognition of the fact that many computers now come sans CD drives (mine included!). I love that Dr. Harris recognizes this fact and has updated her business model accordingly!

The complete package with Instructor's Manual, Student Book, and CD/flash drive is $69.95 + $12.75 s/h. If you need an additional Student Book, it is available for $9.95 +$12.75 s/h. 

There is slightly more to the program than this (for instance, students create study cards while they are learning the morphemes), but the above is essentially it. If only that recitation could begin to convey how very much meat is in this program! Your student will learn over 200 Greek roots, suffixes and prefixes! Now, sure, we all know words like telegraph and bibliophile, and I always describe myself as a misanthrope, but do you know what a symphobiac is? What about eumania? After a few weeks, your student will know these words cold. I can't imagine not acing the SAT verbal section, if that's your goal. For me, though, it's all about the love of words, and it's that love that makes me completely enamored of this program. So I love it...but what about my kids?

The Munchkins and the Morphemes

I initially wanted this review for Nicholas (11) because I have noticed that, of all my kids, his vocabulary is the most wanting. My other three kids (10, 10, and 13) are all voracious readers. Their love of reading, coupled with my propensity to sesquipedalianism, has ensured their expansive vocabularies and love of language. Nicholas...not so much - on all fronts. I thought a program like this would spark his interest in language. Dissecting words to analyze their meaning sounded like something he would like. It turns out that of all my kids, he was the one who was least taken with the program. My plan of having him be the primary consumer (i.e., the one who actually got to write in the book - you know, the fun part!) fell through in a hurry. Little did I know that Therese (who has had plenty of "roots" programs, who has actually taken the SAT and scored very well on the verbal section, and who has the biggest school work load), would be the one to insist on "doing" this program. She absolutely loves it. All of the kids watch and enjoy the PowerPoints and I verbally quiz all of them on the morphemes, but Therese is the one who formally does the curriculum (according to the schedule above). It is, unfortunately, not very challenging for her (for the reasons I state above), but she really enjoys it, and she does benefit tremendously from certain aspects of it. Even if she knows many of the morphemes, learning to write sentences with context clues inherent in them has been a great exercise for her.

Essentially, if you have any inkling toward a Greek roots/morphemes program I can't recommend this one highly enough (I just saw that Dr. Harris also has a Latin morphemes program for a similar price! I am really excited about that!). The presentation is flawless and the execution is thorough and easy to follow. Don't take my word for it, though. Click the banner below to read all of the Crew reviews!




Koru Naturals Review
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Review of Circle C Milestones

Thick as Thieves Book Review


Circle C Milestones has published two previous series of books about the horse-loving Andi Carter. Now, Susan K. Marlow is back with a new series for kids 12+ about a teenage Andi in the book Thick as Thieves. In this book, Andi is 14 years old and experiences many new things, chief among them her horse's first foaling. Taffy doesn't just have a baby, though - she has twins (something my twins were, of course, delighted to read about!)! Andi has to deal not only with this exciting and perilous feat, though, she has to deal with other new experiences in this book. The new girl at school turns out to be much less friendly than Andi's other classmates, and Andi has her first experiences with a difficult peer. The evolution of their relationship is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this book. The most exciting part of the book, though, has to be the cattle rustlers at Circle C Ranch!

Thick as Thieves has much to recommend it. Any horse loving girl will adore it, but its appeal is not limited to horse lovers alone. Its themes are universal and, surprisingly, even though the book takes place in late 19th century California, resonate today. Every child, even homeschooled ones, has to deal with problematic classmates (whether at home in the form of siblings, at co-op, at extracurriculars, or in sports leagues). All children look forward to their animals giving birth for the first time. Finally, while all of us may not live on ranches and experience cattle rustlers, all children do experience times when their families have to pull together to make it through a crisis or a tough time.




Whether or not you look at this book as an educational opportunity, it is definitely a great read. My 10 year-old twins flew through it and are looking forward to the next book in the series, due out in July. If you do choose to use this for school, there is an accompanying 40-page downloadable Study Guide which contains not only vocabulary and comprehension questions, but also further explorations of the themes in the book, including the care of horses and a closer look at some of the places that Andi would have been exposed to in her late 19th century lifetime. It's a great way to incorporate the study of history, animal science, and geography into a novel!

Andi is such a (please forgive the trite phrase) plucky heroine. She is a modern girl in that she is bold and daring and unafraid of anything, but she is also of her time in her modesty and obedience. Essentially, she is the perfect role model for girls today. I have found that I quite like her. I have read several of the Circle C books for younger children, and while they are great books (and wonderful for young kids), I think I am really going to enjoy this series a lot! Reading about Andi makes me wish that I were young again (and living over 100 years ago - so many things that just aren't going to happen...)!

You can find out more about the book and its author by checking them out on social media:


https://www.facebook.com/CircleCAdventures
http://twitter.com/SuzyScribbles


Other Crew members had the opportunity to read Thick as Thieves and had a lot to say about it, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of their reviews!

Koru Naturals Review
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Roman Roads GIVEAWAY! Win a copy of THE AENEID!



Last year I had the privilege of reviewing Roman Roads Media. Their program, Old Western Culture, has been a highlight of our homeschooling journey, and as they work on completing Year 3 (Christendom), they are giving away the first DVD in Year 2 (The Romans) - The Aeneid! The best way to learn about Old Western Culture is by visiting Roman Roads website and by reading my review linked above. In essence, though, Old Western Culture is the best classical education approach to learning that I have yet encountered in over 7 years of homeschooling. I am so excited about the opportunity to share it!

To enter the giveaway, simply do the Rafflecopter dance below! The giveaway is sponsored by Roman Roads Media, and the winner will receive a copy of The Aeneid directly from them.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review of Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office

HomeSchool Office Review
I have a love/hate relationship with any kind of planning software or program. I love all of them and I hate the fact that I can't make any of them work. Well, that just might be changing thanks to a confluence of factors. First, Therese is (officially) starting high school. Second, I have found a program that is thorough, but not overly complicated. It allows me to use it either online, or by printing out its forms and writing on them longhand. In the best of both worlds (and the way I've been using it thus far), I write on the forms longhand, and then transfer the information to the online version, thus preserving it and allowing reports and transcripts to be generated. What is this game changer? HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage.

 HomeSchool Office has many, many features, and I will readily admit that I did not use all of them. I also did not use the program for all of my children. I have already found out the hardest way that when I do too much scheduling with the younger kids, I just get discouraged. I am way too prone to rabbit trails and the like to stick to a schedule that is too firm. After more than seven years homeschooling, I have discovered that despite my greatest fears, we do get our work done. We often don't get a day's work done in a day, or even a week's work done in a week, but (probably helped by the fact that we school year-round), by the grace of God, we do end up progressing nicely year-by-year. However, with Therese formally starting high school and my very pressing needs to begin keeping more formal grades and begin to build a transcript for her, I had already come to the conclusion that I was going to have to succumb to scheduling *light* for her from now on. The flexibility allowed by HomeSchool Office is looking to be a perfect fit for us.

The first step was to put in Therese's courses in order to create a schedule. The site tells exactly how to go about that process. It's essentially self-explanatory. My only complaint is that you can't input your own subject names. Because Therese's courses are very specifically named (Old Testament, Greek History, Greek Literature, Astronomy), I would have liked to have written those specific names into the schedule. Instead, I was limited to a (granted, very generous) preset selection of courses. So Therese has "History - Other" and "Literature - Other." It's a small issue, but we would both like to see her actual courses on her schedule.

So, after her courses, with expected hours and credit hours (I scheduled for one semester) are put in,


I was able to then create her schedule. If I had created a schedule for more than one child, their calendars would appear with hers, but in a different color.


This view shows the calendar as a weekly, rather than daily view.




One of the features of HomeSchool Office that I am not planning on using is the actual lesson planning, but that is because Therese has a lesson planner that guides her already (from St. Thomas Aquinas Academy), so to reenter the lessons would be very redundant. However, I have entered one below to show you HomeSchool Office's capability. For all of my other kids (none of whom use a curriculum like Therese is now doing for the first time), this kind of lesson planning feature would definitely be an asset. Most of the lesson entering features are basically automated once you have entered all of the class information.



One of HomeSchool Office's best features is its numerous reporting/tracking features. It automatically counts/accrues classroom hours for you, which if you live in a state that requires such things could be a huge benefit (God bless the great and free state of Texas!). It also allows you to generate quarterly attendance and grade reports, and it has a great transcript building feature (one of the major reasons I am excited about it - it looks so easy!).

Overall, I am very happy with HomeSchool Office. It costs $79 per family, per year. You can start with a 30-day, fully functioning trial. Your information will remain intact and your trial will convert to a full membership at the end of your trial if you decide to continue. This is one product I can see myself keeping and using for years. As my kids continue to get older, and as each of the four uses different programs and different materials, I am struggling to keep up and to keep records. When I think about dealing with four of them in high school at once and keeping up with classes, grades, and transcripts, under $100/year seems like a small price to pay to have everything always in one place. I love that I can print out what I want (since I do like paper), but that it will always be HERE when I need it to be. 

As I indicated, I am more of a minimalist and I didn't do everything with HomeSchool Office that one can do (to be fair, this program does so much that you *can't* do everything with it in six weeks!), so if you're intrigued, be sure to click the banner below to read all of the Crew reviews!

HomeSchool Office Review
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