Monday, October 29, 2012

Review of Beloved Books' Sugar Creek Gang CDs

"Mommy! These are my favorite CDs ever!" (Michael, 7).  No, this cry is not the ecstatic outburst of a child unfamiliar with the exciting world of audiobooks.  In fact, my kids have listened to audiobooks almost daily since they were born.  Even more than audiobooks, my kids are aficionados of old time radio shows - that long lost art of the "theater of the mind" that was so popular in our grandparents' day.  As a collector, I have over 100K shows and have been sharing my love with my children for many years.

Why does any of this matter? Because for my son to proclaim that The Sugar Creek Gang, Volume 1 CDs from Beloved Books are his favorite CDs ever is for him to make a very informed judgment.  The boy knows his audio.

The Sugar Creek Gang CDs are a wonderful hybrid of old time radio and audiobook.  Originally, these stories were written in the late 1930s-early 1940s by Paul Hutchens.  Several years ago, they were dramatized for radio.  This decision was a match made in heaven for my children! Stories written during the golden age of radio, but then dramatized in the age of the audiobook! Genius!

The books are read straight from the text so the simplicity and strength of the original stories shines through. The stories themselves are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler's dream, interspersed as they are with scripture, nature study lessons, and poetry.  These interjections are so seamless, though, that they absolutely belong to the story.  There is nothing forced to their inclusion - they are part of the original stories! These stories are living books masquerading as adventure stories!

When my children (all four of them) love a product this much, it is almost impossible to say anything else about it.  My 7 year-old didn't want to go to sleep until he got to the end of a story (each story is two hours, and this set of CD contains six stories).  Then he wanted to start another one.  My other 7 year-old (his twin sister) didn't want to wait for her turn for the CD player at bedtime once he started raving about wonderful the stories were, so she camped out with him.  Once I started listening (because, of course, I had to go into the room to try to solve the problem!), I didn't want to leave either! The Beloved Books website talks about how wonderful these stories are for Christian families, and they are, but even more than that: they are wonderful for anyone.  In fact, they are a wonderful gift for a non-Christian family, because the stories draw you in and Jesus can work subtly behind the scenes!

This CD set includes the following stories:

The Swamp Robber
The Killer Bear
The Winter Rescue
The Lost Campers
Chicago Adventure
The Secret Hideout

The Secret Hideout is my favorite, but you'll have to listen to them all to pick yours!

The Sugar Creek Gang CD set, Volume 1, contains 12 CDs consisting of six stories.  It is available for $54.95.  HOWEVER! With the coupon code reViewpoint-20 you can save 20% on your entire order from Beloved Books.  This great deal makes The Sugar Creek Gang CDs only $43.96.  That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but your kids will listen to these CDs over and over and over and...get the idea? Best of all, when they fall in love with them, you can buy the other five volumes of the Sugar Creek Gang CDs!

Obviously, these CDs were a huge hit with my family.  To see how other Crew families liked them, visit the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received these CDs free in exchange for my review.  All opinions are mine and I received no other compensation.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of Samson's Classroom

Samson's Classroom is an online reading program for grades K-5.  It is designed to create better readers.
There are three components to Samson's Classroom.

Reading with Sampson is the component of Sampson's Classroom that my three youngest children (7, 7, and 9) used most.  They love it, and I am so glad to have something like it in our school.  Reading comprehension is one of those things that, as a Charlotte Mason/Classical homeschooler, I just assume my children are "getting" through narrations, etc.  I think, to a large extent, that I am right.  Standardized tests are a sad fact of life, though, and it is very reassuring to have a program that specifically tests aspects of reading comprehension like main idea, order of events, etc.  Samson's Classroom does so with fun reading passages that vary just perfectly in difficulty and topic.  Hints are available to help your child if he is struggling with a question, and rewards are accrued which allow him to take hammer swings at the fair (in the picture on the right).  Honestly, my kids are not very reward driven, though, and they just liked the novelty of reading and answering questions.  If you're a homeschooled kid, then sometimes activities like that are few and far between!

Sight Words with Samson is for beginning readers, of which I have none.  It helps early readers master the 224 most commonly used words in the early language through fun games.

Finally, Spelling with Sampson includes over 7,000 words with even more being added. You can use pre-made lists, or enter your own.  Your children then learn the words in an iterative process while having so much fun that they won't even realize that they're learning! There are games, including Karate Chop (in which you tell Samson the Dog which part of the word to "chop" to correctly complete the spelling of the word), a favorite of my boys.  The neatest feature, though, is the learning aspect.  You can have every word in the list pronounced, read in a sentence, and spelled.  The reader's voice is pleasant, well-modulated, and easily understood.  He is the perfect spelling teacher.  Spelling with Samson takes all of the spelling onus off of the parent.  Creating your own lists is easy (but using theirs is even easier!).

Samson's Classroom also includes lesson plans and (free!) worksheets, but the real value is in the subscription.  Unlike many online learning programs that get really expensive when you start adding kids, Samson's Classroom starts out reasonable and stays reasonable.  All the features for one user costs $30.00 per year, but a family subscription, good for four users, is only $50.00 per year.  I know that the homeschool dollars are few and far between, but this subscription is really one to consider, especially if you have both beginning and more advanced readers.  Samson's Classroom covers everything so very well!  

My kids really like Samson's Classroom, and they will continue to use it and learn from it for the next year.  To see how other Crew members used it, especially if you are interested in the amazing new Sight Words program, please do read the Crew blog!

Disclaimer: I received a year's premium subscription to Samson's Classroom free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Prayer of St. Augustine

Last week, my friend's husband died in a car accident in Vail, CO.  I have known my friend since Kindergarten.  In one of those funny ways that life has of twisting and turning, we remained friendly through high school.  She was in band and so sweet and kind and pretty (all things I definitely did not feel I was - well I was assuredly not in band.  Or sweet.), but our paths did not really cross socially.  However, the fact that she was Catholic and that we had been friends in elementary school always made me feel a connection with her.   There was a small group of such girls I felt that connection with, and the friendships persist to this day.  Ironically, all are Catholic.

In any case, my friend, TABO, and I reconnected again when I saw her at church after I had had my first baby.  That's when I found out that she had married someone else from our high school and taught elementary school.  She was as sweet as ever.

Fast forward another few years and we became friends on FB (God bless FB - it has its place in the world). It was through FB that she got in contact with me to ask me about homeschooling, and it was through homeschooling that we became the friends we are today.  Well, it was actually probably more through our faith, but that faith finds its fulfillment in homeschooling.

So my friend has lost her husband.  She has three young children. Mary-Catherine has been bereft for TABO's oldest, who is her age.  She can't comprehend what she is going through.  Meanwhile, TABO is conducting herself with grace and serenity far, far beyond what anyone could expect of someone going through what she is going through.  She is an inspiration.

So what does St. Augustine have to do with any of this? His prayer is the one I have been saying for TABO since I first found out that her husband had been hurt:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake,
or watch, or weep tonight,
and give your angels and saints
charge over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,
rest your weary ones,
bless your dying ones,
soothe your suffering ones,
pity your afflicted ones
shield your joyous ones.

And all for your love's sake.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of A, TABO's husband.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review of Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers

I've been able to review some really neat things through my position on the Review Crew, but Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers have to be some of the coolest.  Simple but effective, these reading rulers have so many applications that probably not even Crossbow Education itself thought of all of them when they created them!

The rulers are made of a sturdy plastic and come in the colors seen in these two pictures.  Although they were designed for people who suffer from visual stress (socoptic sensitivity), they can actually be used by anyone who knows how to read and has a particular reason for wanting to narrow the amount of text in focus on a page.
I have such a person in my house! Michael is 7 and, like many boys, he loves Redwall books.  While he is completely capable of reading the books and understanding them, there is a *lot* of text on the page and the writing is very small.  When I saw these rulers, I thought they would be good for him to help him focus only on a small part of the page at a time so that he would not be overwhelmed by the entire page.  As it happens, the rulers are a little too big and bulky to be used for this purpose (which is actually a point in their favor, I think.  They are very sturdy - a plus in a homeschool house).  

Although I wasn't able to put the rulers to use in the way I had planned (to make reading small print easier for my son), I soon realized that the proper place for them is in the schoolroom (which is probably where I should have used them in the first place).  Because the rulers allow a child to focus on only a small part of the page, they are ideal for use in looking up words in a dictionary, a favorite part of Language Arts for my 7 year-old daughter.  Finding the guide words at the top of a the dictionary page is the easy part for a young child, but scanning the entire page for a specific word can get tricky, especially when there are lots of similar words.  The Eye Level Reading Ruler allows a child to digest only a small group of words at a time, rather than being tempted to try to take in the entire page.  This feature really helps to build confidence when looking up words in the dictionary.  

The other surprise use I found for the Reading Rulers was for my 11 year-old daughter.  Like my other kids, my 11 year-old reads way above grade level.  In fact, her Theology textbook is high school level.  While she understands the material, she sometimes get discouraged by the sheer volume of words on the page.  It is amazing how she has responded to using the Reading Ruler.  It is kind of like the adage by which many of us live - take it one day at a time, and if you can't take it one day at a time, then take it one hour at a time.  Well, sometimes with school work you can't take it one page at a time.  It's still too much. The Reading Ruler lets you take it one paragraph at a time.  So if you have older children who read way above grade level, consider this product for them as well.  It helps break up the reading into more manageable chunks, while bringing a little fun and novelty into it as well.

I am blessed not to have a child with visual stress, so I can't evaluate the extent to which these rulers solve that problem (of course, I am convinced that they do, just by reading the fabulous information on the rulers on the Crossbow website!). For gifted kids, though, I think they are great.  They allow kids who can comprehend a lot more than their maturity level often allows to slow down the intake process a little.  Any product that does that is a huge winner in my book!

Crossbow offers a couple of different kinds of rulers.  Those that I received come in a 10-pack for $16.95. I know that these rulers will help my advanced kids read more things that they want to (even if their brains may fight it at first!).  To see how other Crew members used the rulers (and there was a lot of diversity this time!), read the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received these reading rulers free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eye Candy...

...lace knitting style!

I kind of remember a time when I used to knit every day.  Now, if I'm lucky, I look at shawls on Ravelry a couple of times a week.  These are my current favorites:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Binders Full of Women

I was finally able to get out of bed long enough to read the news (last week had to have been one of the most hideous migraine weeks on record. I honestly feel like I'm emerging from some kind of fog. I'm truly terrified that I am going to get another headache any minute. It's been 2.5 days since I had one that put me to bed, so I definitely should be expecting one. /lament). So this "binders of women" comment about which I had seen and heard stray snippets and jokes could finally be placed in context. And I get it! There were binders! Of women! And it is so incredibly offensive! It is so completely understandable why the Left has its undies in a complete twist about this misogynistic, hateful remark.

...except it's really not. At all. He wanted to find qualified women to serve in MA government, so his advisers brought him binders of resumes. Of women. Am I the only person who is left completely stunned at the reaction here? Oh, I know the conservative pundits are all with me (or, more humbly, I'm with them), but where are the normal women standing up and saying

Please shut up and fight for something real! Stop wanting to turn our bodies into on-demand chop shops.  Stop trying to shove hormones down all of our (and our daughters') throats so that you can screw us with impunity (literally and physically).  Stop ever-so-smugly stealing our dignity under the guise of bestowing upon us a freedom that is not even yours to bestow.

Where are the real feminists? Do they truly have nothing better to do than yap about an innocuous comment? I am so insanely curious as to whether some of the liberal women I know are truly, in their heart of hearts, convinced that that is an actual issue instead of what it obviously is - a distraction from the fact that this president is failing so miserably that even his loyal media goosesteppers can't do much to help him right now.

I'm afraid that, unlike these oh-so-clever-and-clearly-a-lot-less-busy-than-I ladies who had a fun day of playing "dress up in a binder costume and protest," I'll have to evince my righteous anger at misogynistic politicians in other ways.  Like voting against them.  Of course, I define misogyny slightly differently.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review of National Tax Training School

Through my participation in the Review Crew, I had the opportunity to review National Tax Training School's Federal Individual Income Tax Course.  I have to say at the outset that this was the most generous, but the most intimidating, review product I have ever received.  Why generous? National Tax Training School retails for, depending on how you choose to pay for it (upfront, or with one of two installment plans), $795-$840.  Receiving that product free is amazing.  Why intimidating? I'm a words girl, not a numbers girl.  When I see numbers, I freeze.  I actually requested this review assuming that my husband would enjoy it.  He loves numbers, he always does our taxes, and he is always lamenting that he doesn't know more about the ins and outs of taxes, given that he owns a small business (and I'm a freelance writer, so an independent contractor).  He can't ever get over the idea that he is leaving some money on the table.  It's a fine line, wanting to give the federal government its due, but not wanting to give it any more than that!

However, as we all know, man plans and God laughs! My husband started working so many extra hours! He is supposed to work flex time, but he ended up working on his days off and weekends, too.  After experiencing panic attacks galore, I tentatively opened up the first of two huge boxes from National Tax Training School.

When you enroll in National Tax Training School, you receive so much material, including all of the following (follow the link for National Tax's very helpful descriptions; those provided here are my personal comments):

  1. Complete Text Material - contained within a binder, this is a staggering amount of material.  Now, a lot of it is sample tax forms, but there is so much information here! There are 20 complete units.
  2. Self-Check Practice Problems - After every chapter, there is a self-check section to review what you have learned.  If you can answer the questions in this section, which are more detailed and more numerous than those in the next section, you will do fine on the exam!
  3. Examination Problems - the exam is open book.  The point is not to trip you up or make sure that you read the material closely or took copious notes.  Rather, the exams act as a concise summary of all that you have learned in the chapter.  They are the perfect takeaway.  
  4. Instruction and Grading Service - The above exams are what you send away to be graded.  Self-addressed (but *not* stamped) envelopes are included for each exam.  After you answer each question, you mail away the exam.  The exams are returned *very* quickly with your grade.  You always have a good idea of where you stand in terms of your understanding.
  5. Practical Case Studies - this section begins the second part of the course.  It is probably the most interesting, as it presents "real-life" type tax example cases.  I guess reading through these was what I enjoyed most, because it put people behind the numbers.
  6. Student Guidance Service
  7. Building and Operating a Successful Tax Practice book
  8. Reference Book
  9. Graduation Certificate
  10. Post-Graduation Services

The Federal Tax Income Course from National Tax Training School is not some kind of tax prep program nor, for the cost, is it probably ideal for the person who just wants to prepare her own taxes at home (although it will *certainly* make you proficient at that!).  Rather, the program is intended to enable you to become a tax professional.  With the inclusion of the book "Building and Operating a Successful Tax Practice", you really do have everything you need to learn how to become a tax preparer.  The course will teach you what you need to know about taxes.  The graduation certificate and accreditation of the program will give you the credibility you need for people to trust you with their taxes.

So why would this program be reviewed on a homeschool mom's blog? What homeschool mom is not always on the lookout for a way to work from home? National Tax Training School provides a truly excellent way for the homeschool mom to bring in a substantial supplementary income for her family.  For the cost of the course (which can be paid in installments of as little as $159.95), the promise of future job stability is huge.  People will always need to have their taxes done, and National Tax Training School will always be there to support you once you have completed their course.

I truly do believe that this course represents a wonderful opportunity for homeschool parents! The material is comprehensible (I can't say easy to understand because some people just have a block when it comes to numbers! I have a Ph.D. and I freeze when I see numbers.) and the support is phenomenal.  If you put your mind to it, you can make it through this course and become a tax preparer.  If you like numbers and would like to work part time from home, this course was made for you!

There is so much to this course that you will definitely want to visit the FAQ page.  The course has also just added an online component for those who prefer online learning.  I know that there is a lot to assimilate regarding this particular review product.  This truly is one that you have to visit the National Tax Training School Website to explore.  But with 20 lessons, each taking about 8 hours to complete, you could be ready to launch your own tax business within 4-6 months.  If either a home-based business or tax preparation is something you have thought of, you must explore this product.


Disclaimer: I received National Tax Training School's Federal Income Tax Course free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation, apart from a whole new appreciation for people who deal with numbers for a living!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review of Dayspring Christian Academy's Pilgrim's Story

Dayspring Christian Academy is a Christian school founded on the Principle approach to education. The Principle approach is explained in detail on Dayspring Christian's website, but it essentially takes as its philosophy that the Bible is a central educational resource, and that history should be taught as a series of causes and effects from God's perspective, rather than from man's.  Most importantly, the history of America is seen as inseparable from the history of Christianity.

Dayspring Christian Academy is a real school, located in PA, and has been featured on the Glenn Beck Program.  That makes its online curriculum, The Pilgrim Story, different from other history curricula we have reviewed.  For one thing, the curriculum concludes with a virtual field trip of Plymouth, MA, in which the teacher, Mary Stauffer, who has taught at Dayspring Christian Academy since 1994, takes her actual 3rd graders to Plymouth.  She has led over 20 such field trips.

Essentially,The Pilgrim Story is a self-paced course for 3rd-6th grades. Once you register online, you will have access to the course within 48 hours.  You then have the course available to you for six months from the date of registration.  You can work through it completely at your own pace, repeating what you find necessary or, as we did, skipping around at will.

This course is full of great information.  Because we studied the Pilgrims in-depth one year ago, we did not do the course systematically, apart from the first two (out of five) units.  After that, we just kind of looked around the course.  The course covers the following topics:

  • King Henry
  • Geneva Bible
  • Life in Scrooby
  • Liberty of Conscience
  • Leaving England
  • The Second Escape
  • Leiden
  • Preparing to Go
  • Leaving Leiden
  • Conditions on the Mayflower
  • Building Christian Character
  • The Mayflower Compact
  • Exploration
  • The First Winter
  • Spring, 1621
  • The Wampanoag People
  • The Rest of the Story

One of the best features of this program is how very thorough it is.  It goes all the way back to King Henry VIII's break with Rome in order to explain the Pilgrims' entire "backstory." Thus, even though the course is, essentially, American history, it situates itself in world history quite well.  It makes it easy to jump into it from any point.

The course is very easy to navigate once you figure it out, and figuring it out is easy, as that is the very first lesson! End of unit tests are provided, and are quite good at assessing the assimilation of information.  It is entirely possible for a student to do the course on his own with no parental oversight.

I really liked this course.  I was curious to see what a Principle Approach course looked like as I have never seen one before.  I can't honestly say that it differs all that much from how I usually teach my own children, especially with regard to this particular topic.  Our country was founded on Christian principles, and our very first founding document was as well.  One cannot understand America without understanding the Pilgrims (and their passion, dedication, and work ethic).  As a Catholic, I find it fascinating to contemplate the extent to which the Pilgrims' brand-new (comparatively) religion and dedication fueled everything they did - and it was so fundamental to what our country became.  This course captures all of that very well.  Also, as a Catholic, I was fully prepared to be offended by something, anything, in this course...but I wasn't! Naturally, things like the Reformation and all related topics are presented from a Protestant perspective, but no Catholics were harmed in the presentation of this material!

To find out more about The Pilgrim Story, watch the video below or visit Dayspring's elearning website. You can purchase this self-paced course for $99.

My kids and I really liked this course, and we will continue to work our way through it, although not as formally as we would if we had not just "done" the Pilgrims.  There is a lot of great information in it, and I have kids just the right ages! At 7, 7, 9, and 11, they fit the 3-6 grade profile perfectly. Unlike some courses, I find this grade range dead on.

Like all self-paced courses, this one can be used in many different ways.  To see how other Crew members used it, read the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received online access to Dayspring Christian Academy's Pilgrim's Story free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review of KinderBach App

KinderBach is the first name in online piano learning for young children.  KinderBach offers a wide variety of different programs, but all center around teaching small(er) children how to read music and play the piano.  Of greatest interest to homeschooling parents is the KinderBach "at home" program designed to be used in the home (as opposed to in the school) by parents and their 3-7 year-old children.  This was the KinderBach  program with which I was most familiar...until now.  This year, KinderBach has introduced...

The KinderBach app!! Did I say that loudly enough? Is my excitement evident? My dad bought me an iPad a year ago, and I have not put it down yet.  I firmly believe that they are the wave of the educational future, and I foresee more of them in my house.  There are just too many amazing things you can do on them...and KinderBach exemplifies the iPad educational advantage perfectly.
My two oldest kids take piano lessons, and my two younger kids want to, so I was so excited to be able to download this app.  The app has a very familiar KinderBach feel.  If you're familiar with the program, it will be a seamless transition.

The app is structured into three levels, each of which contains ten lessons.  Each lesson contains multiple videos and an introduction.  The entire program (so, the entire app) is, according to KinderBach, about a year's curriculum.  That would depend, of course, on how much time you spend on it each day! There are also six games (one of which is shown above).  The games are fun and can be played anytime.  If you have ever played with a piano keyboard on your iPad, you can imagine how fun these games are for kids!

The lessons are laid out as seen above, and are very easy to navigate.  You feel as though you are on the computer, and not on the iPad at all.  This app is absolutely the equivalent of full-fledged computer software (which is important to realize when considering the price).  

One of the neatest things about the KinderBach app is how cute and visually appealing it is.  It is a hard core piano program, but it feels like a game to little kids.  They have no idea how much they are learning.  They will learn the keys on the piano, they will learn how to read music, and they will not have a clue that they are learning something that many other children consider hard!

I pretty much gave my twins (7) free rein with this app.  They sat down together and worked through Level 1 within a couple of weeks.  They were not interested in the printables, and I did not make them do them.  Because we were fortunate enough to review the KinderBach online program last year, most of Level 1 was a review.  Also, because they are at the upper end of the suggested age for the program, I think they found it  a little juvenile for them this year.  Perhaps if they hadn't already gone thorough part of KinderBach once, they would have felt differently.  I have to say, though, that they *loved* being able to play the piano on the iPad.  It absolutely made the lessons far more fun for them than they would have been on the piano.  If ever there was a program that was made to be an app, it's KinderBach.

I would say that the KinderBach app is not the best fit for my family, but only for two reasons: we have already reviewed KinderBach, and my twins are on the upper end of the 3-7 recommended age limit.  I know that my almost 3 year-old niece would absolutely love it! 

The KinderBach app is available in the app store and costs $26.99.  As I said previously, you are essentially paying for software, so keeping that in mind, the price is very reasonable.  Please don't judge this app against a $1.99 piano keyboard app! They are not remotely the same! This app is music theory and piano lessons - a steal for $26.99.

But wait again!! KinderBach is very generously offering discounts to TOS readers! Until 12/31/12, take 30% off any order with the coupon code TOS_crew2012   Even more amazing, though, the KinderBach app will be on sale Friday, October 19, 2012, for $12.99.  That is a full 50% off! There is no code needed; just head to the app store! Don't miss out on this offer.  It really is an amazing deal, especially if you have preschoolers!

To see what other Crew families did with the KinderBach app, visit the Crew blog!
Disclaimer: I received the KinderBach app free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kids Sail Free on Disney Cruise Lines! But Wait...There's More!

For a few hours today, this was my dream.  A woman in our homeschool group sent out an email telling everyone that kids could sail free on Disney cruises leaving from Galveston for about six weeks in January-March. I did some quick math with the numbers on the Disney website and realized that we could have a very nice vacation for about $1500.  A cruise.  In the Caribbean.  For six nights.  I couldn't get over it.  The woman who sent the email even commented that it was wonderful for large families.  She said she was a travel agent.  Then I made the mistake of reading the (not-so-fine) print.  It clearly said the deal applied to children traveling with two full-fare adults all in the same stateroom.  The problem, of course, is that there is a maximum of 5 people to a stateroom.  Cue my very sad face.  I called the Disney travel agent to confirm that my suspicions were correct.  Yep. Kids sail free! But only if you have three of them.  More than three and you're screwed.  You can take two staterooms and have two children travel free, $1500 vacation.  No Disney cruise for the Delgados.

I'm not actually feeling sorry for myself.  I only lived with this little dream for about an hour. I only talked to Henry about it.  Still, it really makes me mad.  Another de facto tax on large families...and mine's not even large! Only four kids! I am a little bit irritated at the travel agent/homeschool mom who emailed all of us and told us what a great deal it was for large families because...well, it's not.  And what if some mom with 8 kids got really excited about actually getting to do something like that? Sigh.  It brings up the whole hotel room person limit dilemma.  That's another rant altogether.  I wouldn't trade my family for the world, but I would love to cruise Disney with kids sailing free...

Review of ZooWhiz

ZooWhiz is one of those educational websites that your kids are probably going to either really like -- or really not like.  My kids really liked it! I was initially really excited to see ZooWhiz because my 7 year-old loves animals of all kinds, so the idea that a child could earn coins by completing educational games, and then buy animals with those coins in order to build a zoo - well that was right up Michael's alley!

The graphics on ZooWhiz are very cute, and they are a cut above other sites in the same genre.  More importantly, though, the range of educational games is great.  I normally think of sites like ZooWhiz as being very appropriate for my middle-elementary kids.  I don't usually think that they will have much to offer my gifted 11 year-old. In the case of ZooWhiz I was wrong. So, while I initially wanted to review ZooWhiz because of Michael, I really loved it because of Therese, so it is Therese I want to focus on in this review.

ZooWhiz says that it is for children ages 5-15+, but I was very skeptical of that.  How many programs with cute graphics like these really serve the needs of teens? I was so pleasantly surprised, though! ZooWhiz offers all of the traditional areas of study you would expect: math facts, reading comprehension, etc.  For older kids, though, it goes so much further! Best of all, it touches things that I, as a homeschool mom, don't often "teach" as such, but that I know will show up on a standardized test somewhere, someday.  For example, Therese did poetry analysis, anagramming, code breaking, logical interpretation, and more.  The poetry analysis was something I particularly appreciated.  It is something we do informally all the time, but never in a really "academic" way.  She loved doing ZooWhiz.  I definitely don't have to trick Therese by making her think she's not doing school, but she still didn't consider ZooWhiz school.  She used it to help me review it at first, but then she used it because she was having a lot of fun with it.

Students get instant feedback with ZooWhiz.  A cute little monkey shows up in the middle of the screen when they get a problem correct.  When they get a section correct (and sections are only a couple of problems in some cases), they are given a color of smiley that reflects how well they have mastered the material.  It is easy for you, the parent, to see at a glance how they have done.

Because you set the age limits of the material your child is doing, it is easy for you to see if you have set the limit correctly.  If you find that it is too easy or too hard, it is simple to change it.  Your child can't change the age level - only you can.

ZooWhiz basic comes with a lot of features.  Kids can add lots of great animals to their zoos and play fun games.  You can still set the age limits for their games.  With premium, though, you get a lot more.  Since we started using ZooWhiz less than two months ago, the premium content has continued to get better, and the price has continued to go down.  Right now you can purchase a year of premium for only $14.95!


 I think any kid who likes to learn on the computer would really like ZooWhiz.  The program comes from Australia, so it is possible that some kids may have trouble with the Australian accents, but mine didn't have any.  There are also some very minor colloquial differences, but I found them charming more than troubling.  For example, we have a tempest in a teapot.  Australians apparently have a storm in a teacup! Also, although you collect animals in ZooWhiz, you don't really do much with them.  Michael would have loved to have had more interaction with his animals.  Still, none of these things is remotely enough to make me recommend against purchasing the premium subscription.  There is a ton of content here.  It's getting better all the time.  Premium is really, really reasonable!

My kids really like ZooWhiz, but all kids are different, so read all of the Crew reviews!


Disclaimer: I received a year's premium subscription to ZooWhiz free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review of Beeyoutiful Makeup

I was so excited when I was chosen to review Beeyoutiful Skin's mineral makeup.  I have always wanted to try that mineral makeup that is advertised on TV, but I've been skeptical.  Trying something all-natural with no fillers from a small company already beloved by homeschoolers sounded even better!

The pictured package is very similar to the one that I got to review.  The only difference, in fact, is in addition to the smaller container of (in my case) mineral lip color on top, I also received a sample size of a mineral eye shadow.  I did get the gorgeous brush, foundation, and cute bag, though! I also got an instructional DVD telling me how to apply the makeup, which was good, since I had never worn mineral powder like this before (don't worry - the same instructions are available on the site!).

First of all, these are clearly high quality products.  The powders are fine and just saturated with color.  The foundation I chose from among three samples was a perfect match for my mostly fair, but getting older skin.  To get a thorough idea of what Beeyoutiful makeup is all about, watch the video linked to to the Beeyoutiful homepage.  This company cares deeply about the quality of its ingredients and the integrity of its product, and that shows in every aspect of its customer service, from its adorable website to its great packaging.  Given that their price is very competitive (to be discussed momentarily!), this is definitely a company worthy of support.

Having received my package in the mail, I first stroked the above brush lovingly while watching the directions on application.  Confident that I understood what to do (and very anxious to try the Laveshmint moisturizer, which was not part of my package, but which has gotten rave reviews from other Crew members and is on my "must buy" list), I headed off with great anticipation!

Carefully following all of the directions, I applied the Beeyoutiful foundation.  I used the technique for heavy coverage, as I have pretty bad rosacea (I never, ever leave the house without makeup, and I am so sensitive as to how red I am that I wouldn't even do a before and after shot for this review, even though I wanted to show what I am about to say).  I want to emphasize my next words: although this foundation could not combat my rosacea, I have only ever found one in my life that could (and, surprisingly, it's a drugstore brand).  I wanted this foundation to work.  I believe in this company and I really liked this product.  I used the foundation daily for a week, making subtle changes in the way I applied it to make sure that I was giving it every chance to cover my red bumps.  I applied it directly with my fingertips and with the brush. I used more and I used less.  I used toner as a base and I used moisturizer.  It simply didn't have what it took to cover my red.  However, on the parts of my face that don't have rosacea, it looked wonderful! Unfortunately, there are not enough such parts of my face for me to make the investment in this product.

However! Beeyoutiful also has other mineral makeup! I also got to try a sample of a light blue and cinnamon colored eye shadow, which I used as an eyeliner and lipstick, respectively.  This eyeliner lasted all day, and only came off when I washed my face.  Also, the small amount that I got lasted for weeks.  Finally, the brush that I applied it with, like the foundation brush, was top quality.  The cinnamon rose mineral powder, which I used as eye shadow and lipstick(!) was a wonderful neutral color that was completely non-irritating to my very sensitive skin.  These are definitely products that I would buy!

Although Beeyoutiful mineral foundation did not work for my skin, I remain excited about it as a product, and I truly think that it would be great for just about any skin type, with the exception of those like mine (hard core, stubborn rosacea).  The mineral eye shadow comes in more than 30 colors and lasts and lasts.  I loved it and I'm looking forward to trying more colors.  The foundation can be purchased at Beeyoutiful's website for $25.00.  The eye shadow is available for $10.  The containers may look small, but give the product a chance! I, too, was doubtful, but these products really do last and last.

Crew members received all kinds of great Beeyoutiful products, so you'll definitely want to check out the Crew blog for the other reviews!

Disclaimer: I received Beeyoutiful makeup free in exchange for my honest review (darn rosacea!).  I received no other compensation.