Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review of The World's Greatest Stories

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.

Review of I See Cards - Fractazmic

I was thrilled to receive a copy of I See Cards' Fractazmic free in exchange for my review for several reasons.  First, I See Cards' Pyramath was the first Crew review I read last year (I didn't review the product).  Based on the Crew reviews, I bought Pyramath.  I have since gifted it multiple times.  When I saw a new I See Cards game, I knew it would be one my kids would love.  I was right.

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.

The rules for playing this game are very straightforward, but as with other I See Cards games, there are many more ways to use the cards than just playing by the rules.

Children can play with the cards individually, using them to create multiples of one, or using them to create equivalent fractions.  These are only a couple of things my kids have done with the cards in the last month. Best of all, the quality of the cards is wonderful! They are of a heavy plastic and can withstand plenty of play!

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 read others, check out the Crew blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review of Pitsco

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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review of Artistic Pursuits

When we were selected to receive one of Artistic Pursuits art instruction books free in exchange for our review, I was so excited.  For combining art instruction and art history, there is no one who does what Artistic Pursuits does.  Offering art curriculum for all grades Pre-K through 12, Artistic Pursuits' books follow almost the same format, regardless of level.  Book 1 of each set (we used 4-6 grade) is an overview of drawing, including art and composition.  Book 2 is an overview of color theory and composition.  Art history is incorporated in both volumes.

Why is Artistic Pursuits superior to other art curricula? Several reasons immediately come to mind.  First, the program is written to the student.  Through a series of 64 lessons at each level, your children can learn both how to draw and how to create art.  Art instruction appeals to some parents, but is terrifying for others who still have nightmares of paper, scissors, and Elmer's Glue from time to time (too personal?).  We all want our children to have some art instruction, often for different reasons. For fans of classical education, art is very much a part of a well-rounded humanities course.  For parents who want their children to have a school experience similar to the public schools, art is not even an option: you have to have it.  Some parents think it is necessary just to have art as a part of their child's permanent record or transcript, while some states require art instruction.  Artistic Pursuits is the answer to every one of these parents' prayers.

Artistic Pursuits is different from other curricula for the following reasons, too (taken straight from the horse's mouth - or their website): 
  1. Students do not do art activities in a vacuum.  That is, there is no drawing of cubes, cylinders, etc. Students draw real things.
  2. Students don't learn just one type of technique.  They learn to create art the same way that artists do: by *doing* it.
  3. Students use larger sketch books that mimic the way artists actually sketch - using the whole arm.
  4. 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.
Best of all, and this is not taken from the website, but from my own experience, Artistic Pursuits actually does teach your child to draw! My own daughter is too shy to let me post her work here, but she loved seeing the improvement in her technique without even being aware that it was happening.  She got to create art using a variety of media, and she had a blast doing it.

Artistic Pursuits has a curriculum for you, regardless of your child's age.  Their instruction books retail for $42.95 and can be purchased through the website.  You can also purchase all of the art supplies that you need for any level.  Prices vary based on the needed supplies.  

At first glance, Artistic Pursuits may seem expensive, but when you factor in that you can reuse the curriculum with each of your children, the price goes down dramatically.  Best of all, though, is the fact that art-phobic moms don't have to teach it themselves! For more information, visit Artistic Pursuits online, and check out the Crew blog.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review of El Espanol Facil - The Easy Spanish

Because my husband is a native Spanish speaker (his parents were born in Cuba), I was very excited when I got the opportunity to review The Easy Spanish from Great Commission Languages free in exchange for my review.  Although my husband is fluent, I have only high school Spanish (plus almost two decades of listening to him talk to his parents!), and my children have, as yet, no Spanish.

The Easy Spanish is tailor made for homeschool families.  No prior Spanish knowledge is required and, depending on your child's age, the curriculum can be completed entirely independently.  There are scheduling suggestions, checklists for phonograms learned, a lesson planner template, and more.  If you are the kind of homeschool mom who really appreciates all scheduling done for you, this is your Spanish curriculum.

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.
Spanish grammar can be confusing for native English speakers, particularly those who have not yet studied English grammar in depth.  The Easy Spanish takes this confusing grammar and simplifies it so that both teaching parents and independent learners can understand it.  In fact, Appendix D of The Easy Spanish I is the best explanation of Spanish sentence structure I have ever seen.  Even though my kids will not continue to use this particular curriculum, I will absolutely reference this appendix frequently.

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review of The Reading Game

The Reading Game, which I received free in exchange for my review, is a fun memory-style card game created by the author of Wordly Wise.  Through an iterative learning process, children learn progressively more challenging sets of words in game sessions that result in winners almost continuously.  The fact that there is always a new winner means that kids don't get discouraged! The fact that the game is played in a familiar format, but with the addition of beautiful storybooks, means that kids have a great time.

The first thing you will notice about The Reading Game is its quality.  If you're anything like me, you get discouraged by how quickly the boxes on your kids' games seem to disintegrate, first splitting at the corners, and then ripping up the sides.  That is not going to happen with The Reading Game.  Everything from the box to the softcover storybooks to the laminated and damage-resistant cards is of the highest quality. This is a game that will stand the test of time.  If you happen to be fortunate enough to have younger readers in your home, you will be using this game quite frequently!

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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review of Time Timer

My latest product to review for the Crew is the niftiest little timer I've ever seen.  Its premise is so simple, but its effect on my son (all of my children, really) is so profound.  Time Timer (which I received free in exchange for my review) is a countdown timer, but it is unlike all other timers I've seen.  Designed by a mom to visually teach her child what "how much time is left" looks like, the Time Timer is wonderful for kids too young to tell time, special needs kids, and just about any other kids!

The Time Timer, like other timers, can be set for a certain amount of time, from which point it counts down to zero.  Unlike many other timers, though, the Time Timer is not digital and has quite a strong visual impact.  One can tell at a glance exactly both how much time has elapsed and how much time is left.

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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review of College Prep Genius

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?

Included in your purchase price of $99 is a DVD containing 12 lessons that walk your student through each section of the SAT.  The lessons introduce students to each question type and provide them with a concrete plan for working through those questions.  Although the lessons are conversational and fun to watch, they are hardcore and informative.  This is *not* a fluff course.  It is the same material you would see if you took this class in person. You also receive the College Prep Genius textbook and workbook.  The textbook is amazing, covering over 350 test-taking strategies and tips.  Even better, it contains tips for finding college scholarship money! Finally, the workbook is chock full of sample questions and problems, providing your student with ample opportunity to practice what she has learned.  Although you get a better deal when you buy these items as a package, each of them is available individually.

The fact that my daughter comes out of her College Prep Genius lessons excited, rather than intimidated, is a tribute to how well done this program is.  The focus is on the positives: the fact that the test is doable, that there are set strategies to help you through it, and that practice will make you better.  

The SAT shouldn't be something a child dreads.  Instead, like my daughter, they should eagerly anticipate the day they can walk into the test and then walk out with an assurance of college acceptance and scholarship money.  The more exposure a child has to the test, and, in my opinion, the earlier a ready child is exposed to it, the greater her chance of success.  This program is, of course, most appropriate for the early high-school student, but, given the circumstances, it can be a huge asset to younger children as well.

We love College Prep Genius in this house.  To find out how others reacted to it, visit the Crew blog.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review of Keyboard Town PALS

For the past six weeks, my children have been using Keyboard Town PALS' Learn to Type program.  Keyboard Town PALS (Purposive Associative Learning System) is a QWERTY based typing program that teaches students touch typing by using associations and memory techniques to teach even young children how to type.  To read more about how this process works, navigate over to the PALS website.

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.

Lessons are short, and the area in which students are to type is quite large, both of which lead to a program that is very child-friendly.  The repetition required of students is much like you would expect in any typing program.  The program is recommended for ages 6-12, so it was my twins (almost 7) I chose to review the program.

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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Playground Philosophy

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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Front Loading Your Day - Guest Post on Econobusters

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:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review of Excellence in Literature

For the last month, I have been using Everyday Education's Excellence in Literature with my daughter.  Although I received this product free in exchange for my review, it is the program that I had already decided was tailor-made for Therese.  It is comprehensive and thorough, covering all levels of high school literature, including World, British and American Lit.

Excellence in Literature is a self-directed course, meaning that it is written to the student.  Level 1 is An Introduction to Literature, and it promises the following:

These goals are perfect for the English I student! Janice Campbell, the very well known author of this series, has designed this course to be completely user-friendly.  She assumes that a student knows how to read going in to the course, but not that the student *knows* how to read.  Like Mortimer Adler, her goal is for students to be able to join the Great Conversation.  In fact, she writes a 25 page introduction telling students exactly what they will get out of the course, answering common questions, and generally familiarizing them with her style.  Although my daughter was a little disappointed when I told her that her first assignment was to read the introduction, she flew through it and got really excited about the course.

An Introduction to Literature covers many literary forms, which is great for giving students a taste of all that is out there.  For example, Unit 1 covers the short story:

The author does a wonderful job choosing stories that I remember fondly from my own school days - stories that can't help but draw a child in.  Writing assignments train students to recognize literary elements in the stories.  The writing assignments are all very clearly explained, and ample time is given for completion.  Of course, parents can always extend the time given for units if they choose, but this is one program that seems perfectly paced.

Later units cover very well-known novels by Bronte, Verne, Stevenson, Orwell, and others, along with plays by Shakespeare and Shaw.  It is a wonderful introduction to the world of high school literature.  One of the best features of the program is the "Honors Track" option.  For students to earn an honors credit, the author provides an additional focus text for each unit, thereby allowing for a deeper exploration of the topic and skills under study.

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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review of Memoria Press' First Form Latin

Thanks to Memoria Press, my son is getting to experience the best in formal Latin instruction with First Form Latin.  There are many Latin programs out there.  Even before I was fortunate enough to join the Homeschool Crew and review some of them, I was familiar with almost all of them.  Latin is one of those subjects that I consider indispensible.  Not only is it the foundation of our own language, but for Roman Catholics, it is also their lingua mater (mother tongue).  It was my favorite subject in high school, and I have always known that my children would take Latin, even before I knew that they would be homeschooled!

Why is Memoria Press an excellent Latin choice for your child? It is thorough, thorough, thorough, but, especially in the case of First Form Latin, gentle as well.  Many people know of my difficulties with my 2e (twice exceptional) son.  He is 8, but he is also frighteningly gifted and has many symptoms of ADHD.  That adds up to the need for a very specific kind of curriculum.  In his case, it usually means something several grade years ahead, but still suited to the maturity of an 8 year-old.  In this way, First Form Latin is wonderful.  The lessons are not long, but they pack a ton of information into each one.  Thus, a child can get his Latin fix without getting bored.  

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.

Just look at how much you get out of this one snippet.  You review the perfect stem of a first conjugation verb.  You see the conjugation (with the stem remaining in black and the ending in blue, a great visual cue). Further, you see exactly where the stem comes from (the third principal part of the verb).  Finally, you are told what the perfect tense means in Latin (essentially, the equivalent of the past tense in English).  For a longer look at this lesson, see the Memoria Press site.

Although I received First Form Latin free in exchange for my review, I would have purchased the program, as my son has been using Memoria Press since he started doing Latin.  I will continue to buy the First Form series as we get to it.  Third Form Latin was just released.  As Memoria Press envisions it, a student will finish the "Form" series and then transition into Henle 2.  I am confident that my son will be well-prepared to make that transition when the time comes.

We are a Memoria Press household.  To see other opinions, visit the Crew blog!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review of Say Anything

Northstar Games is the king of family game night! Last year, my family had the great privilege of reviewing Wits and Wagers Family, an awesome Northstar Games product.  This year, in exchange for my review, we were so thrilled to receive Say Anything from Northstar Games.

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?
Obviously, these questions can be answered by any family member.  Thus, the only real qualification for playing the game is the ability to write an answer.  My six year-old twins played Say Anything quite happily, as did our whole family!

Say Anything family is a great game.  It comes in a very solid box (so important to families used to box corners breaking almost immediately) with sturdy, laminated-like cards and durable white boards.  Having owned and played Wits and Wagers Family for a solid year, I can promise that this game will stand the test of time.  Say Anything is available from various retailers, and sells for around $19.99.  To see what other Crew members thought of Say Anything, visit the Crew blog!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review of EMealz

Happily, there are many aids available to help busy moms plan and execute their shopping trips and weekly menus.  I have personally tried several of them! I have to say, though, that e-mealz is one of my absolute favorites.  I received a free subscription to e-mealz in exchange for my review, but I would have paid for this service anyway (and will continue to do so when my free subscription expires!).  e-mealz truly is a complete no-brainer.  Every bit of preparation and meal planning is done for you.

You choose the plan you want from the following options (there are so many!):

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

just cements what a good deal e-mealz is! For $1.25 per week (billed in $15 installments every three months), you can have the plan of your choice.  Actually, you can have as many plans as you want, provided you pay for each subscription!

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!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Posted from The Homeschool Chick...come over and link up!

In my life this week…
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.
In our homeschool this week…
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.
What’s working / not working for us…
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.
Questions/thoughts I have…
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.
My favorite thing this week was…
Making Molly's Home Team for reviews! I love Molly (Econobusters), and I feel so privileged to have made that review team.
I am inspired by…Anyone who is consistently positive in her life.  I am not she.
A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
On the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, "Pain is never permanent."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review of Visual Latin

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.

Not only does he look like the boy next door, he teaches like the boy next door.  What do I mean by that? Male teachers sometimes risk coming across as too serious or too severe.  Mr. Thomas is the antithesis of that stereotype.  Instead, his manner is lighthearted and fun, and you really get the sense that he loves both what he's doing and Latin itself.  Mr. Thomas' method of instruction proves that Latin is neither a dead language nor a stuffy one.  Lovers of Latin already know both of these things, but sometimes it takes some effort to convince the uninitiated.

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!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review of Scruble Cube

With a name like Scruble Cube, it has to be good...right? For the past month, my children have had the opportunity to play with a Scruble Cube, which we received free in exchange for my honest review.  The premise of Scruble Cube is simple: imagine the game of Scrabble and a Rubik's Cube having a baby.  You would get...
Just as in Scrabble, each letter has a value.  Just as with a Rubik's Cube, you turn the cube to create a pattern (in this case, words!).

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.
I thought my kids would love Scruble Cube.  They love all kinds of games and puzzles, especially word games and word puzzles.  For some reason, though, they haven't really taken to the Scruble Cube.  I have several ideas as to why this is so.  It is entirely possible that my kids dislike the idea of mixing their games; that is, they would prefer either a word game or puzzle game, but not both together.  Alternatively, the cube itself feels kind of delicate.  It does not turn as easily as a Rubik's Cube by any means.  Also, because the letters themselves rotate (a really cool feature), it almost feels like the game will fall apart.  I am forever cautioning my kids to be careful and not to break things (I'm beginning to feel more and more that this is actually more detrimental than helpful), so it is entirely likely that they eschewed playing with the cube more simply for fear of injuring it.

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!