Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review of AIMS' Earth Book

Science is not my strongest subject and, I'm sorry to admit, that I don't enjoy it any more as an adult than I did as a kid -- with one exception.  I love Earth Science! Anything that has to do with geology, natural disasters, plate tectonics, etc. is fascinating to me.  I think it is probably because of my love of history that I love Earth Science so much: it is largely a study of the history of the Earth.

Imagine my delight, then, when we were provided a copy of AIMS Education Foundation's Earth Book: Hydropshere, Geosphere, Atmosphere, and Their Interactions.  This hefty book consists of 446 pages of hands-on, activity-heavy Earth Science.  The book is organized into the sections indicated in the subtitle, meaning that first students study water, then the layers of the Earth, then the atmosphere, and finally the way in which all of these elements work together.  In addition to the brief readings, there are 48 activities to reinforce what students are learning.  One of the nicest features of this book is the inclusion of a CD containing all of these activities - think of it as student pages.  Thus, when students need to do an experiment or activity, your book is safe from being cut, mutilated, written in, or having its spine bent (a huge plus for someone as OCD as I!).  You simply print out the relevant pages.

AIMS Education Foundation really does the best job summarizing the course when it writes:

This is the ultimate in middle-school supplements for hands-on Earth Science material! Content-rich investigations dig into the hydrosphere, geosphere, atmosphere, and their interactions with one another. Everything from fault lines to weather fronts is explored.

As indicated, Earth Book is recommended for grades 6-9.  At this level, students can pretty much treat this as a self-directed course.  I did use Earth Book with my younger children, though, and at 6 and 8, they got a lot out of the activities and lessons.  In fact, my 8th grader ended up basically teaching the lessons to my younger kids -- another huge point in this book's favor! Also, for parents who have reason to worry about state standards, rest assured that this book is correlated to those standards!

The best thing about Earth Book (apart from its fascinating subject matter and great activities) is its accessibility to its targeted age bracket.  While the book is in black and white, it is filled with drawings and has a nice big typeface.  Nothing about it says "science book," which is a huge bonus for parents whose children fear the subject.

Earth Book is available from AIMS Education Foundation, and retails for $49.95.  You have the option of receiving a hard copy of the book or a downloadable pdf.  The price is the same, so it comes down to personal preference.  If you're not sure if Earth Book is for you, be sure to check out the generous 30 page sample here. The sample is enough to let you know whether or not Earth Book is right for your child.  If not, AIMS has many, many other math and science activity books from which to choose.  You're sure to find something right for your children.

My family loved Earth Book; in fact, we are definitely going to keep using it this year.  To find out what others thought, visit the Crew blog!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review of A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

For the past month, my children have been learning all about composers with A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers, co-written by the amazing Maggie Hogan from Bright Ideas Press.  Although this is definitely a curriculum I would pay for, I received my copy free in exchange for my review, thanks to my participation in Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team.

Like many homeschool moms, I feel strongly that composer study should be part of our curriculum.  Sadly, also like many homeschool moms, I have been stymied as to how best to implement it.  I need a structured curriculum (otherwise I'll be spending a semester on each composer...must. learn. everything!), but I don't want to have to pay for resources I don't need or won't use.  In one of those "God-things", I had just found this exact curriculum when I got the opportunity to review it! Thankfully, it is everything I had hoped it would be.

While Timberdoodle has many wonderful resources for homeschooling music, this program has to be its finest offering.  Not only is the program divided into 32 weeks for easy scheduling, each lesson is also planned and scheduled for three days.  You have no planning or scheduling work to do with this curriculum! Broken into six musical periods (Ancient to Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary), students study composers representative of each period.  The authors of this program explain their criteria for the inclusion and exclusion of various composers, but the way the curriculum is structured, your family can study any composer you wish.  The written lesson (directed toward the student) is about 1,200 words long and is completed on the first day of the week.  Student notebooking pages are included in your purchase, as are a timeline and components needed to make a folderbook (which, as with everything in this program, is not required to derive the full benefit; it is a nice option, though!), along with selection suggestions for relevant music.  In fact, while there are no actual musical selections provided with the program, there are plenty of suggestions to make sure that your student will learn all about the composers studied.

In sum, when you purchase this curriculum for $31.50 at Timberdoodle, you receive a 298 page download which contains lesson plans for a full year's worth of composer study.  Each composer is placed in his own time and musical era, as well as shown in relation to other composers and musical eras.  The lesson is written directly to your student, and tons of extras are included: timeline information, maps, games, coloring pages, and composer cards.  While the age recommendation is 9-13, all homeschooling moms know that programs can be "tweaked" for older or younger kids.  If your child is older, this program is probably more of an outline than a complete curriculum.  For younger children, much of the writing elements could be eliminated.  There are great musical selections by time period, meaning you can simply supplement your history studies with relevant music.

I no longer have to look for a great composer study program.  While there are some products that I only use during the review period, this one is definitely not one of them.  I can't wait to keep using this with my kids all year!

This is not Timberdoodle's only awesome curriculum, as most homeschooling moms already know.  To keep up with all of Timberdoodle's products, join them on Facebook!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review of Time 4 Learning

For the past three weeks, my children have been using Time 4 Learning, to which I received a free month's subscription in exchange for my review.  Time 4 Learning is a complete, PreK-8 online curriculum.  Complete with lesson plans, completion certificates, time tracking (for attendance), and reward games, Time 4 Learning is a delight to explore.  When your child logs in every day and selects a subject (parents have a separate log in), he is presented with a list of activities like this:
While you, the parent, have the option to set lesson plans for your children, you can elect to let your child choose his own path, based on interest.  In this regard, Time 4 Learning is completely personalizable.  If you want to set your child's schedule for him, Time 4 Learning provides a worksheet that allows you easily to determine how many lessons your child needs to complete each day in each subject.

While the exact number of activities varies from grade to grade, Time 4 Learning has numerous activities in each subject in each grade level.  The Scope & Sequence below demonstrates that your child is not likely to run out of things to study before finishing the school year!

 While the content of each lesson varies from grade to grade, there is some consistency in how the lessons are presented.  Characters remain cartoony through 8th grade, which I thought would bother my older daughter, but it didn't.  She appreciated the thoroughness of the content she was presented, even though it was given in a very gentle manner.  My younger kids didn't even seem to realize that they were doing school at all!

One of the top features of Time 4 Learning is its parent resources.  When you log in to your parent account, you can immediately access each of your children's accounts:

 You can also see at a glance your child's progress in any subject area:

My kids loved doing Time 4 Learning.  I'll admit that I didn't let them work on it as much as they might have liked because I was afraid that it would kill them when the review period came to an end! At $19.95 per month for the first child, and $14.95 per month for each additional child, Time 4 Learning is simply outside of our budget.  If a child's interest is any indication of a program's worth, though, Time 4 Learning is a winner!

While Time 4 Learning has many different applications, such as as a supplement to a public school education, T4L maintains that it can also be used as a complete homeschool curriculum.  Personally, I prefer a Charlotte Mason education, so my family would not use Time 4 Learning in this way.  For parents who want all of the work done for them, though, and want to be able to measure their child's progress in very concrete ways, then Time 4 Learning may well be a viable curriculum.

Time 4 Learning offers many demos on its site, as well as a comprehensive FAQ.  For more information, or to enroll, navigate on over to their website.   If you have questions that remain unanswered, don't hesitate to call them at 954-771-0914.  I can attest to their excellent, and prompt, customer service.

While we won't be subscribing to Time 4 Learning for financial reasons, my kids absolutely loved it.  To find out what others thought, visit the Crew blog.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review of Civilize This!

For the past month, my children have avidly been playing Wise Alec's Civilize This! travel game and expansion pack, thanks to a free copy in exchange for my review.  Composed of four decks of cards, comprised of 300 questions, and one color die, Civilize This! tests your child's knowledge of ancient, medieval, and modern cultures.  Although Civilize This! is an expansion pack for the Wise Alec Trivia Game, I can truly say that we have thoroughly enjoyed the cards in spite of not owning the original game.

Chosen as one of Dr. Toy's 100 best children's products, Civilize This! is recommended for ages 8 and up.  As all homeschoolers know, though, that age is somewhat changeable, depending on your child.  While my ten year-old seems to know most of the answers to the questions on the cards, there are some questions that my six year-olds can answer, too.  The questions are perfect either for review purposes or for trivia.  Because of the cute graphics, and the fun-competitive spirit of the game, my kids don't actually seem to realize that they are learning as they play.  Or,  more correctly, they do realize it; they just don't care! The most important thing to them is playing the game.
Without the original Wise Alec game, for which Civilize This! can act as an expansion pack, the decks of cards themselves are a great travel game.  Envisioned for 2-4 players, Civilize This! can be adapted for more players if you are willing to use your imagination a bit.  Also, because there are two levels of questions on the cards, parents can reasonably play with younger children.

The best thing about Civilize This! is that it can be used in multiple ways.  While it is a fun game in its own right, with set rules, it can also be used as a quiz game for school review, as a means for older children to work with younger children, or as simply something to read (my daughter's favorite use of the game!).  Civilize This! is created by Griddley Games, and it can be purchased from many stores (found on the website) for $14.99.

If your family is looking for a way either to enliven your history studies or to add a fun, new, educational game to family game night, you won't go wrong with Civilize This!  For more opinions on this great game, check out the Crew blog!