When I received this CD free for my review, I was expecting to love it. My kids really enjoy Bible stories, and I loved the thought of them being able to listen to them in the car or on their MP3 players. Unfortunately, this CD received the support of only one of my four children.
The World's Greatest Stories are stories read word-for-word from the Bible (either KJV or NIV) by George Sarris. What makes them different is the dramatic way in which they are read. There are currently six CDs available; my family listened to The Prophets. For only $7.95 per CD, you likely won't be disappointed if you choose to buy these recordings, but they are not for everyone.
I have always been of the opinion that the Bible (with the exception of some of the "begats" and the Laws) is exciting reading in its own right. It doesn't require dramatization. I have never had to urge my children to listen to Bible stories, and they have never (I don't think!) found them boring. The problem with this CD, though, is that the reading (the actor actually memorizes the stories before recording them) is so over-the-top that my children actually laughed too hard to hear it. Stories that they knew suddenly became almost farcical. I understood why they laughed, but I was sad that that was their reaction. Only my 7 year-old son enjoyed the CD.
The best thing to do if you're interested in the CDs is to listen to samples of them on the website. That way, you can be sure that they are right for your family.
Hey, my opinion is just that: mine. To hear other opinions (and a ton of people really love this product!), read the Crew blog.
I don't know what it is about fractions, but they seem to cause problems for so many kids. Children who previously loved math find themselves hitting a wall. Fortunately, the people of I See Cards completely understand this problem, and have come up with a marvelous solution.
Fractazmic cards (the set comes with 60) each display a fraction and an associated graphic. The visual reinforcement really helps the concept of the fraction stay with the student.
Fractazmic is available for only $6.95, and can be purchased through I See Cards. If you only make one math purchase this year (and if you have a child who either needs to learn fractions, or has had trouble learning them), Fractazmic should be it.
That's my opinion...to read others, check out the Crew blog.
When my family received Pitsco's catapult and trebuchet kit free in exchange for my review, all five of my kids were really excited. Five?! Did I have another baby? No, in this case the 5th kid is my husband. Here was a review he could really sink his teeth into!
Pitsco has an amazing array of products in the area of STEM Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) technology. Through the building of everything from rockets to planes to race cars, teachers can expose their children to engineering in a dynamic and fun way. For homeschoolers, the opportunities are irresistible: build a rocket with your kid and have it count as science *and* math? Yes, please!
For this review, we received the materials and instructions necessary to build a catapult and a trebuchet. Although my children were thrilled with the project, my husband ended up doing most of the actual work. *He* was extremely impressed with the thoroughness of the instructions and the way that complex principles of physics were explained so that children could understand them. The kids just loved building a catapult! They were, however, able to explain to me how it worked, so some of the lesson stayed with them past the excitement of hurling small pieces of paper.
The component pieces of Pitsco's trebuchet and catapult kit are very well-made. Everything you need to complete the project is included, with the exception of Krazy Glue. My husband actually found that Gorilla Glue worked better for this particular project. The instructions are very complete, and everything you need to make a lesson out of the project is included. I cannot speak highly enough about this company. In fact, the following pictures are from their website. I would hate for the product to be judged on my pictures!
The only thing I would note is that the kit, while actually quite small, came packaged in a huge box. There was a ton of extra cardboard and paper. I don't know if, in fact, it is necessary to package these kits in so much material in order to protect them. It did not seem so to me.
After building one project from Pitsco, I would have no hesitation in ordering more. While the projects seem expensive on the face of them, it is very important to realize how much material they actually cover. The instruction books are more like small textbooks, and you can easily stretch even the smallest project over several days. The kit that we received retails for $21.95. I'm definitely coming back to Pitsco!
If you're interested in finding out more about Pitsco, be sure to visit both their website and the Crew blog.
- Students do not do art activities in a vacuum. That is, there is no drawing of cubes, cylinders, etc. Students draw real things.
- Students don't learn just one type of technique. They learn to create art the same way that artists do: by *doing* it.
- Students use larger sketch books that mimic the way artists actually sketch - using the whole arm.
- Students do not sit in front of the computer or TV. They are fully engaged with the world around them, which helps them learn how to see what they want to create.
Level I is comprised of 36 lessons with two CDs. Through dialog, formal vocabulary, activities, memory verses, and narrations, your child will learn basic Spanish grammar and phonics. Easy Spanish can be used by children as young as 5 with parental involvement, or can be completed independently by jr. high and high school students. Included coloring pages also allow for preschooler participation.
To get the best idea of what The Easy Spanish actually looks like, view the sample pages and explanatory video here. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about The Easy Spanish is its organizing principal. The writers of this curriculum believe that missionary work is a mandate, and that in order to be effective missionaries, one must not only know the language of the people one is visiting, but one should also know their culture. Also, because the basis of this curriculum is Christian mission work, the memory verses come from the Bible. In fact, the entire curriculum is, in essence, centered around the Bible.
The Easy Spanish was not a great fit for my family for several reasons. First, while its non-intimidating approach likely appeals to many families, the non-rigorous nature of the program is a negative for me. Second, and this reason closely ties in with the first, too much of the Spanish instruction takes place as what I would call "Spanglish." Spanish and English are intermingled freely, even in the same sentence. For example, "I would be happy to pass you the onion, que esta en frente de mi." Again, I need to emphasize that it is just this approach which will likely appeal to many homeschoolers. My personal rejection of this kind of approach stems primarily from one place: I have spent more than half my life hearing my husband's family reject Spanglish as a conversational tool. When my husband was learning English as a child, he was never allowed to mix the two languages, the premise being that one truly masters a language when he doesn't rely on another language to convey his point.
It is important for me to note, though, that what The Easy Spanish does, it does very well.
The Easy Spanish Level I will be a welcome addition to many homeschoolers' lesson plans. For $139.95, though, it is likely out of reach for many families (it would be for mine). If Easy Spanish I is something that would benefit your family, read more about it on their website and at the Crew blog.
The Reading Game works by telling six stories, each only using 30 words. By breaking these down into six sets of five, students learn the new words quickly through the frequent exposure gained by seeing them in the memory matching game. To see a quick, one minute demonstration of how this game works, watch this video: How The Reading Game Works
While all of my children are proficient readers, they still liked playing this game. A couple of them said that they would have loved learning to read this way. I'll admit that, while I found the pace a little slow (which is good! I would be worried otherwise!), I definitely think that this game would help teach a child to read. Of course, it is not the only reading instruction needed; a solid phonics-based approach is still, I think, a necessity for reading excellence. However, in terms of giving kids confidence in recognizing sight words and making them feel that they can actually sit down and read a book, this game can't be beat.
The Reading Game is recommended for kids 4+ and is for two players. The most important factor in using it, though, is not age, but reading readiness. Also, there are many ways you could use the cards and books outside the context of the game, so don't hesitate to buy it just because you only choose games the whole family (or more than two members of the family) can play. The game retails for $24.95. For more information, visit their website and, as always, check out the Crew blog.
While this timer certainly has many potential uses, the obvious one for me is homeschooling. One problem we seem to have is my kids spending too much time on one subject to the exclusion of others. Some classes (like math) take as long as they take. Others, though, like handwriting, really should have a set amount of time devoted to them and no more. Enter the Time Timer! My kids actually fight over who gets to use it on a given day. In fact, they quickly figured out that its use did not have to be confined to schooling only. By the second day, my son was racing himself on various tasks (like cleaning his room), setting the Timer for what he thought was a reasonable time, and then trying to finish before time elapsed. A timer that turns a chore into a game is a huge winner with me.
The beauty of the Time Timer is its simplicity. You manually turn the timer to the amount of time desired, and then watch the red disk disappear back into the white part of the timer, marking the movement of time. The audio signal that time has ended is quiet and unobtrusive, and it can be turned off altogether.
Time Timer is one of those products that really has to be tried to be understood, but once tried, you won't want to give it up! To see how Time Timer works, watch this neat video. To read more about Time Timer, visit their website. Finally, to purchase Time Timer, navigate to this page. There are three sizes of Time Timer available, in addition to an iPad app. The 3" timer, the one I received, is perfect for homeschool use, and retails for $30.00. We loved the Time Timer! To read other opinions, check out the Crew blog.
As of late, my daughter has been trying to dodge her regular school work in order to work on College Prep Genius! She keeps telling me, "I can't wait to take the SAT!" The funny thing? She's only ten! I was thrilled to receive this product free in exchange for my review, because I knew that my daughter would just love it. I wasn't wrong. Although she is only ten, she is in 8th grade, meaning that she has already learned much of the math covered on the SAT. Because she is a verbal genius, she also already has a great command of that section of the SAT. In fact, I have to fight to get her to stop doing analogies. How can she benefit from an SAT prep course when she is so many years away from taking the SAT? The answer to that is the reason that this program is so successful at what it does.
The SAT should not be a test that most kids start thinking of in 9th grade. Why? For one thing, high school students can take the PSAT starting in 10th grade. Taking the PSAT in 11th grade qualifies National Merit Scholars, a distinction that can result in major scholarship money. Finally, and this is the real reason that I was so eager to get this program, students can take the PSAT in 7th grade through the Duke Talent Identification Program. Being identified as a high scorer in this program opens up a world of great summer camps and other privileges. Although my daughter does 8th grade coursework, she is still only 5th grade age. That means she still has two years before taking her first PSAT, at which point she will be doing 10th grade coursework. The upshot? She has every chance of scoring very high on the PSAT when both her native intelligence and advanced coursework are taken into consideration.
Hopefully the foregoing explanation isn't read as either boring or boastful. Instead, I hope that sharing our individual circumstances helps more people realize that their students can benefit from an SAT prep course, even if the SAT is not in their immediate future.
What do you get when you purchase College Prep Genius?
Using an emcee of sorts, Sunny, and puppet-like characters, Keyboard Town PALS names each character on the home row of a keyboard, for example, Amy for the "a" key, Dora for the "d" key, Sam for the "s" key, etc.
Let me begin by saying that I know there are plenty of kids who love this program. I read the testimonials on the website, and I had high hopes for the program. After all, there are dozens of typing programs for kids; how is one to choose? After only a few minutes, though, I could tell that this program was not the best one for my children. First of all, the lessons actually move a little too slowly for them (I will readily admit that they are extremely bright). That would not have been a deal-breaker, but "Sunny" was. My kids couldn't stop laughing long enough to learn. My older kids (8 and 10), whom I consulted, found Sunny very weird and kind of frightening. Further, while I had decided, based on my advance reading, that the convention of naming the keys (Amy, Dora, etc.) would be helpful to the kids, it turned out that it was more of a distraction. As it happened, my kids ended up preferring the old fashioned way that I learned to type: aaa afa aaa afa aaa afa, etc. They were able to assimilate a lot more information without the very characters meant to help them.
This review has been one of my harder ones, simply because I know that there are plenty of kids who would really like this typing program. My kids just didn't. Please don't take my word for it; check out other opinions at the Crew blog. Keyboard Town PALS costs $39.95 for either a web-based or CD program.
Today I was at the playground with some members of my homeschool group. There is something about playgrounds that crystallizes certain truths about children. Allow me to share what I learned at the playground today.
1. Children really do grow up lightning fast. One of the milestones I most remember about my kids' maturing was when I no longer needed to follow them around on the playground. Everyone is now able to swing himself, keep himself reasonably safe on slides and such, and, in general, amuse himself. I remember thinking this day would never come. Just yesterday, it seems, I had to swing two twins at the same time, while simultaneously trying to keep a four year-old boy from injuring himself or someone else!
2. The ease with which you raise your very young children has everything to do with your firstborn. I had four children in 40 months. If I had not had Therese first, I likely would have done myself a grave injury. It blows my mind that she was only 3 1/2 when I expected her to help me with three younger kids! Okay, I didn't actually *expect* her to help, but it only seemed natural when she did. I trusted her implicitly to make sure the twins were okay if I fell asleep for an hour on the couch! In fact, so much of where I am in life today is due to Therese's birth order. If I had had any other child, or combination of children, first, I probably would not have been able to finish my Ph.D. To this day, if I find myself wishing Therese would just act her age, I realize she *is* acting her age! She is just preternaturally mature; most of the time she is acting five years older.
3. Some kids know how to treat littler kids, and some don't. Nicky once told me that when he sees a little kid, he sees a flashing yellow "caution" sign. He treats kids just like that. He slows down, veers carefully around, and keeps going. Michael, on the other hand, will help the kid onto a piece of equipment, go find their moms if they want something he can't do, and follow them around if he thinks they are too small to be on the playground by themselves. Both of my boys know how to treat little kids, but Michael has such a rapport with them that I have no trouble visualizing him as a parish priest. Kids just trust him. Both of my sons know how to treat little kids, but one of them feels very called to them.
4. I *still* sometimes feel like I don't belong on the playground! Much like I felt when I was a child, it sometimes seems like everyone already has friends, and I...don't. I know now (only took me 30 years to figure it out!) that I have to make an effort to fit in. I embody "fake it 'til you make it," and many people who don't know me all that well would be shocked to find out how shy I am. If I can give my kids anything, it will be the confidence to join a group and jump into the conversation. Life is too short to feel left out.
I was so thrilled to be asked to write a guest post on Econobusters. I love Molly's digests!
8/7/2013: This article has disappeared into the ether, but the post still gets a lot of page views, so I am reposting the article in a new blog post here: http://myhomeschoolreviews.blogspot.com/2013/08/front-loading-your-day.html
Introduction to Literature is available for $27 as an ebook, or $29 + $4.95 shipping as a print book. I can't recommend this product highly enough. For my family, it was the answer to a prayer. Having a gifted child is hard, but this program has turned out to be perfect for my ten year-old daughter. If you would like to read further opinions, be sure to check the Crew blog.
The instructor of First Form Latin delivers each lesson in a straightforward way. While some Latin instructors focus on the humor aspect of the lesson (and I love those!), Memoria Press takes a more serious approach, letting the beauty of the Latin be the star of the show.
There are several components of First Form Latin, and while not all of them are necessary, there really is an advantage to having the complete program.
At a minimum, you will want the entire base package. The Teacher Manual relieves you of so much work that it is worth the price. Further, if you use First Form Latin with another child in the future, you will only need a new Student Workbook and Quizzes and Tests book. The textbook itself is very special. It is small and easily managed so the individual lessons don't overwhelm a student. My favorite aspect of the text is just how clearly it explains things in such a small amount of space.
To anyone familiar with Wits and Wagers, Say Anything's basic appearance will not be a surprise. If your kids are anything like mine, they'll go bananas seeing another game with wipe-off boards and their own dry erase markers! The premise of the game is simple, but the way it plays out is great fun.
Recommended for 3-6 players ages 8 and up, Say Anything is easy even for younger children to learn. A player draws a card and asks one of the three questions on the card. All of the other players write an answer on their individual dry-erase boards and turns them face up. The question-asking player silently chooses his favorite answer, and then everyone else tries to guess which one he picked! If you're thinking Apples 2 Apples, the premise is similar, but the way the game plays out is different. The format of Say Anything is perfect for families (just make sure you get the family edition shown above! The regular edition is for ages 13+!).
Example questions from Say Anything Family include the following:
- What's the best way to spend a Saturday night?
- What food should never be eaten on the couch?
- What's the most important quality in a parent?
- What's the best animated movie?
The available meal-type choices include Low Carb, Low Fat, Portion Control, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, and Regular. If you choose the Regular plan, you have the further choice of preferred grocery store. Why is the store important? Because e-mealz matches the current store sales to its recipes, meaning that you will be preparing meals whose ingredients are on sale! If you happen to be one of those couponing geniuses, this can only be a great thing for you!
I am blessed not to have finicky eaters, so I can't comment on whether the e-mealz choices are finicky-friendly. I can say that the regular family plan includes very family-friendly meals like cracker-coated chicken, gumbo, and pastas. The meals are all extremely easy to make (much easier than the meals I am accustomed to making, but that's the perfectionist in me), include easy to find ingredients, and include side dish suggestions. While you can see examples of each menu on the website, this review would not be complete without a little sneak peek of my own meal plan.
The meals are all listed first (and for my OCD friends, they are listed as "Meal 1, Meal 2, etc." rather than by days of the week!), followed by the store-specific shopping list -- including prices! Speaking of money, seeing this guy on the site
My family loves e-mealz. It makes me life much easier, it adds variety to my family's dinner hour, and it might even be saving me money! If you still have questions about e-mealz, make sure to visit their FAQ. If you want to read other moms' views of e-mealz, check out the Crew blog!
Although I try very hard not to complain, people who know me well (the few! the chosen!) know that I almost always hurt. If it's not a migraine, it's my ankles. If I can sleep at all, I wake up feeling like I got hit by a truck. Anyway, you get the picture. I went to the doctor today, and after running down my list of symptoms (which was positively embarrassing!), she immediately said, "fibromyalgia." I have mixed feelings about this diagnosis. It doesn't really do anything for me. I still feel rotten. On the other hand, though, it validates my eternal exhaustion and pain issues. I need to digest.
So what does a girl diagnosed with a vague illness do? Craft! I don't scrapbook - I'm scared of hurting pictures. I do, however, have an unnatural obsession with paper, stickers, pens, etc. Hence, I journal with them. I spent a lovely afternoon with my girls and my "stuff" while my boys and dog played outside. It was a wonderful afternoon. Of course, I will be hating life tomorrow when I face down all of my work deadlines, but for today...perfection.
Henry was out of town for a couple of days and, while we were very busy, I missed him. The kids had book club, which Therese loved. For a shy child of mine, she sure does love social events. I spent all of Thursday in bed with a hellacious migraine until I had to drag myself out in order to take the kids to dance and TKD. I loved watching Therese do lyrical last night. She is a beautiful dancer.
Not enough happened. The three youngest don't spend a ton of hours doing school, but they do get everything done. I am beginning to see the disconnect between Therese's age and her ability, though. Ability-wise, she is completely capable of doing 8th grade work. In fact, with the exception of Algebra 1/2, she loves it. She is, however, just barely 10. It's a lot to ask her to do that much school work. I am torn.
The whole Therese thing above. I'm thinking about doing some sort of schedule where she only does two subjects per day. Even if it slows down her progress, it still allows her to do the right level of work.
How can I resolve my health issues to make exercise a priority? I know it's a circular argument, but how can you exercise to feel better when you are too exhausted/head-pained/joint-pained to exercise? At least I broke down and made a doctor appointment with my parents' doctor. I have seen the same one exclusively for 10 years, and while I love him, I think he's developed tunnel vision regarding my health.
Making Molly's Home Team for reviews! I love Molly (Econobusters), and I feel so privileged to have made that review team.
On the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, "Pain is never permanent."
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Latin. My love of Latin didn't start in the homeschool years. I was one of the lucky ones who took Latin in high school. It was, in fact, Tish Dilworth (AKA Magistra Optima) who taught me to love Latin. Naturally, then, when I started homeschooling, teaching my kids Latin became my top priority. Another thing most people know about me is that I am a curriculum junkie. To that end, I own most Latin programs out there. Imagine my delight, then, in finding a Latin program with which I was previously unfamiliar! Through my participation in the Homeschool Crew, I received a download of Visual Latin, a computer based Latin program, free in exchange for my review. My review in one word: Awesome.
Since those consulting reviews generally wish for a little more information, I'll provide some (but "awesome" really is the best descriptor I have). Visual Latin lessons are conducted by instructor Dwane Thomas and are comprised of three parts: grammar, sentences, and reading. Although a ton of information is packed into each lesson, the lessons are only ten minutes each, making them ideal for even the youngest of elementary school children.
The best thing about this program is definitely the instructor.
Visual Latin is different from other Latin programs in that it combines the two most common approaches: learning through grammar and learning through reading. By focusing first on a couple of grammar concepts, and then incorporating them into sentences, Mr. Thomas gives you the best of both worlds. Combing the lectures with corresponding downloadable PDFs gives your child (and you!) and well-rounded Latin lesson in less than 30 minutes.
Visual Latin lets you try a lesson, so you really get an idea of the flavor of the program. I think that one lesson will be enough to sell you! The program offers both downloadable and DVD options so you can choose what works best for your family. They also offer different purchase options. You can buy all of Latin I on DVD for $80.00 (a very competitive price if you've looked at other Latin programs). Alternatively, you can download the lessons ten at a time for $25.00 per set. Choosing the DVD option will add $5 to the cost.
If you think Visual Latin may be just what your family has been looking for, be sure to visit the website and sample the lessons! Also, check out the Crew blog for other opinions!
Scruble Cube looked fun from the outset. It arrives packaged in a way that shows its dynamic possibilities, complete with rules and a score pad.
The idea of Scruble Cube is wonderful, and I'm sure that there are kids (and adults!) who would really enjoy it. The fact that my kids didn't should not deter you from learning more about it. Scruble Cube is recommended for ages 8+ and can be played alone or with up to three friends. It retails for $24.95. To read some very different opinions of Scruble Cube, see the Crew blog!