Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review of Dive Into Your Imagination

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received Who Lives in The Sea? from Dive Into Your Imagination for the purposes of review.  This award-winning DVD teaches children interesting facts about animals in the sea.  Through songs and spectacular underwater photography, children learn about animals they know (the whale shark) and those they don't (nudibranchs!).

Although I think that my kids were a little too old to be this video's target audience, they LOVED the DVD.  I guess that's one of the DVD's best selling points, though: it has appeal for lots of different ages.  In fact, my husband, who has worked in marine biology, walked through the living room while the kids were watching and ended up sitting down to watch himself! He really liked it on two levels: as a photographer, he loved the videography (which you truly have to see to believe). As a scientist, he loved the delivery method.  This DVD, and others by Dive Into Your Imagination, is available for $19.95.

But wait...there's more! Annie Crawley, the creator of the series, has also created hefty study guides to go with each of her DVDs. There are two study guides available, one for PreK-K and one for Grades 1-3.  The study guides are packed with information and lesson ideas.  There are 6-7 activities per chapter and more than 150 extension ideas.

The guides are available as a printed version for $299 (for the whole set of them) or as individual PDFs for $69.95. As a special for the Homeschool Crew and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and followers Annie Crawley of Dive Into Your Imagination, she will gift you a set of PDFs with purchase of the DVDs. When you place your DVD order, just let her know in the notes that you are a Homeschool Parent!  This is a huge value, given the price of the PDFs!

I really liked this DVD, as did my children.  For younger children, I think of it as an excellent substitute for something like a Baby Einstein video.  The colors are vivid, the songs are catchy, and even the youngest children will get something out of this DVD.  For big kids like my husband and me, it is equally fascinating.

This DVD was a hit in our house.  For other opinions, see the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this DVD and study guide for review.  The product was free, as is my opinion of it...which is 100% mine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review of Heritage History

I need to start this review by saying that I know from my Facebook friends' comments that they love this product as much as I do, so if you only buy one history product this year, it should be this one! (Disclaimer!) As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received Heritage History's Ancient Greece curriculum free in exchange for my honest review.  Honestly, I LOVE it, and I'm going to buy more as soon as I post this review (I just saw that they have a "buy 2, get 1 free sale"!).

What is Heritage History, and why am I so excited about it? Simply put, Heritage History is a history curriculum on CD.  Now, if you really like daily lesson plans written out for you, Heritage History is not for you.  However, if you, like me, find that a majority of your school day (apart from math and, gulp, science) is devoted to reading living history books with your kids, you will love Heritage History! A little disclaimer of my own: I actually already owned all of the books included on my CD - I bought the whole Baldwin Project collection years ago.  I *still* think this curriculum is a great buy, though.

When you buy Heritage History's Ancient Greece for $24.99, you will receive:

  • 46 books
  • 50 maps
  • hundreds of pages of study aids, including maps, a 13 page guide to Ancient Greek battles, terms, a reading log, a cover page for the awesome notebook you will be creating, and more
What kinds of books do you get? The ones you are already familiar with if you love Charlotte Mason/classical homeschooling: children's versions of Plutarch, Herodotus, the Odyssey, and others.  Histories by Guerber and Macgregor.  Many more than I can list! What if you don't have the right ereader, you ask? If you have a computer, you have the right ereader.  If you have a Kindle, you have the right ereader.  iDevices, you're covered, too.  Each of the books comes in epub, mobi, pdf, and html formats.  You're covered.

So how have I used Ancient Greece? For one thing, it nicely sorted what is currently in 13 separate zipped files on my computer.  All of the Greece books are already here for me.  Also, I don't have to run them through Calibre (a file format conversion program) because mine are in mobi format, but I have since acquired an iPad.  I don't have to sort through all of the hundreds of maps I have saved in various locations: the relevant ones are all here.  Extras, like the list of battles (very nicely formatted and visually pleasing), are a huge plus.  The 95 page study guide is really the biggest asset on the disc, though.

The study guide breaks down all of the books on the disc by age level and color codes them.  Thus, you can tell which books are the most relevant for your kids at a glance.  Then, the study of Ancient Greece is broken down into historical periods, with the relevant chapters in the included books provided (remember, everything is color-coded; all of the hard work has been done for you).  Timeline dates are given and color-coded.  Summaries of all the eras are also given.  Finally, the whole study guide is just so nicely presented.  That really makes a difference in how I perceive this company: they care about the details.

I was not kidding when I said I was about to buy more CDs from this company.  It has made my coming semester so much easier.  All I have to do now is pull some notebooking pages and note on the guide when I plan to use them (if you have an iPad, do make sure you import the study guide to a writeable .pdf.  It makes planning at the library, for example, so easy!  The Heritage History curriculum can be viewed here, and CDs are available from $19.99 to $24.99.  If you prefer, you can purchase the study guide on its own for $12.99 for the pdf.  As I said, I already own the book collection, so this option would make the most sense for me, but I can't get over how awesome it is to have the books already sorted! I can't recommend these CDs highly enough, but don't take my word for it.  Head on over to the Crew blog.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review of CapJaxMathFax

Six weeks ago, (Disclaimer!) I received free, in exchange for my honest review, a downloaded copy of CapJaxMathFax.  This math facts practice program is, in some ways, pretty bare bones, but for teaching the facts and giving kids incentives to improve, it is the best I have seen.

Being the curriculum junkie and proud Crew member that I am, I have more than one (like, um, four) math facts review programs.  I am not just saying things when I say that I think I have just found my new favorite.  Why do I (and, more importantly, my kids) like CapJaxMathFax so much? There are two major reasons: first, it has just enough graphics to be interesting, and, second, I can customize it so easily for any given session and for any given kid.

If you've never seen the program before, then this screen shot may look cluttered.  In reality, though, when your child is playing, there don't seem to be any distractions coming from the screen. As you can see, you can choose for your child to work on +,-,x, or / problems.  They can focus just on one, or on all four. Further, you can choose the range from which the problems will be drawn.  Maybe you just want them to practice 1-10 facts.  Maybe you have an older child that is ready for harder facts.  You customize the program for each child. You can choose to have a practice session only, or you can choose to keep track of your child's overall progress, as noted by the bars on the left of the screen.  Finally, see that SUPER up there? You can choose the interval necessary for the SUPER to appear.  You can select from 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, etc. seconds under "Super Seconds." If your child gets the fact correct within the allotted time chosen, the SUPER will appear on the screen. I was surprised by how much that SUPER means to my kids.  They know exactly how many they have earned!

Most parents know that our nation is falling behind in its math ability, and successful math ability begins with memorized facts.  Start your kids off right by insisting that they learn their math facts, and then make this process fun with CapJaxMathFax! CapJaxMathFax is available for download for $29.95 or on CD for $5.95 (shipping) more.  Especially if you have multiple children, CapJaxMathFax is a great deal for what it does.  Just the facts, and nothing but the facts...with some incentives built in!

My family will be using CapJaxMathFax for years to come.  To see how the program has worked for other homeschooling families, see the Crew blog.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review of Judah Bible Curriculum

For the last six weeks, I have been evaluating the Judah Bible Curriculum (Disclaimer: I received the Judah Bible Curriculum free in exchange for my honest review).  I would ordinarily say that I had been using the curriculum with my children, but in this case, that's not really very accurate -- yet.

The Judah Bible Curriculum is, according to the website, "a Principle Approach curriculum for Bible Class." As I understand it, the Principle Approach is a method of learning whereby large concepts are presented, but specific lessons are left up to the teacher.  Through prayer, discernment, and research, teachers and students learn together.  The Judah Bible Curriculum reflects this idea.

A Judah Bible Curriculum purchase includes the following (content for hard copy or download is exactly the same):

You don't get lesson plans, per se, or spoon fed ideas of what exactly you should teach your students.  Rather, you receive an overview of Biblical themes, with scriptural references provided.  The themes lead you through the Bible from Creation to Redemption.

To aid the teacher, and to guide the Principle Approach, one can download blank sheets from the website.  For example, the Key Events sheet suggests an analysis of an event's causes and purposes, key individuals, etc.  At first, I didn't really know what to do with these sheets, but the company website has examples of filled-in worksheets which really helped me understand how to use them.  Further, the website and the K-12 teacher's manual are both replete with ideas on how to use this Bible study. I found these resources more helpful than the Teacher Training audios, but I am much more of a visual learner than I used to be.  I need to see it to really "hear" it.  For audio learners, though, the Teacher Training Seminar would probably be very helpful.

I have found it very hard to describe this curriculum! I still feel that there is much I don't understand about it, even after marinating in it for six weeks.  Here is what I do know, though, and why I think the curriculum is worth the price if you have discretionary curriculum income:

  • The curriculum includes no doctrinal focus.  In fact, the website specifically says that it leaves doctrinal emphasis up to the parent.  As a Catholic, this is key for me.  Catholics emphasize far less personal interpretation of Scripture.  Instead, they are guided by Tradition and the Magesterium.  Not have a Protestant doctrinal focus embedded in the program makes it user-friendly for a Catholic.
  • The blank "Key Sheets" included with purchase are very helpful for focusing a Bible study.  As a notebooking family, seeing these sheets made me realize that, yes, we can "do" this curriculum!
  • The Teacher's Manual is much more of an overview and guide than it is a book of instructions.  If you're like me, and have to tinker with every curriculum you try, then this is the manual for you. Just enough, but no more!
If you like the above three points, this curriculum would probably work well for you.  I know that opinions were very mixed on this one, so be sure to read the Crew blog!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review of Homeschool Library Builder

Prior to being assigned this review, I was not aware of Homeschool Library Builder, but now that I am, I have bookmarked this site! After all, any business whose motto is "Fill Your Bookshelves without Emptying Your Wallet" has to be a winner!

Homeschool Library Builder offers both new and used living books that correspond to popular Charlotte Mason and Classical Education curricula such as Five in a Row, Sonlight, and Ambleside Online.  You do have to be a member to take advantage of the site's great prices, but membership is free and it only takes a minute to create a profile.  Best of all (from my perspective), you can even search the site by a specific curriculum.  In other words, say you're using Tapestry of Grace (like I am).  You can click Tapestry of Grace and the site pulls up the books that they have which are used in the program.  It makes searches much more focused and labor intensive.  It also decreases your chances of stumbling on random bargains, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the time of the month!

In addition to searching by curriculum, you can also search by any of the above categories, making navigating the site a real pleasure.

To learn more about the great benefits of membership, click here.  To save an extra 25% in May, make sure you place your order before May 31, 2012.  

You really have to experience the site to believe the great prices, so head on over today.  Also, remember to check back often, as new books are always being added! I am so glad I found Homeschool Library Builder; to read other opinions, head over to the Crew blog!

Disclosure: This is strictly an informational review. I have received no compensation or products in exchange for my review of this website.  I still think it's awesome, though ;-)