Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Old Schoolhouse Expo Wants You to Win a Free Ticket!

The Old Schoolhouse is once again having its amazing Expo! As in years past, you will have the opportunity to listen to more than two dozen great speakers like Andrew Pudewa and Diana Waring right from your home. Better yet, you can enter to win a free ticket! This one link will show you how to obtain up to 25 chances at that free ticket - I want one of my readers to get that ticket :-D So hop on over and start engaging that Rafflecopter!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review of Circle Time

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Just the name of this company compels you to check it out, right? Preschoolers and Peace has got to be one of the best names ever, if only because it sounds so completely oxymoronic! Now, perhaps some of you experienced some peaceful days with your preschoolers, but mine were...not. Compared to many homeschooling and Catholic families out there, I don't have very many kids, but at one point, I did have 4 under 4 (actually 4 under 3.5). Peace is not the word for it. However, I am always willing to learn, and although I am past the "little ones underfoot" stage, it often feels like my children are still toddlers. Hence, I was quite happy to review Kendra Fletcher's Circle Time, a 33 page PDF designed to help you bring your homeschooling family together regardless of their ages or curriculum.

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Circle Time may be short, but it is packed with great ideas. First of all, don't let the name fool you. This book is not just for moms of littles. The premise of Circle Time is just as applicable to older kids. Essentially, Circle Time is the time you spend together as a homeschooling family. How and when you do it are up to you, as is what you do once you are there. In other words, Circle Time is as individual as each family.

Chances are, you are already doing some form of Circle Time now, even if you don't know it. Maybe all you do is start the day off together in prayer. That's a great start! There is so much more you can do, though, and the more you do together as a family, the easier the school day becomes. In fact, speaking from personal experience, there are days when our Circle Time, which I have always called "Group Subjects" is all we have gotten done. We do enough during that time, though, that I don't feel too bad if that is all we do. When you have the group time built in to your school day, you kind of automatically "do school", even when it is not as easy (like when one or more children are ill).

In her book, Kendra offers many ideas for how to make Circle Time work for your family. She answers readers' questions about their own situations and provides solutions to perceived problems. She gives readers a glimpse into her own family's Circle Time while at the same time assuring them that their Circle Time doesn't have to look anything like hers. Even better, at the end of the book, Kendra gives her readers lots of ideas for things that they may not have thought of that will work really well for their own Circle Times. Have you ever wanted your children to memorize things? Circle Time is the time to make that happen, and Kendra has lists of things you can have your children work on memorizing together (these lists go way beyond your typical poetry lists!). Maybe there's a subject you would love for your kids to do together, but you think they are too far apart for it to be possible. Kendra has ideas for the subjects that work well in Circle Time. Best of all? She has ideas for how to keep the littles happy during Circle Time!

How We Used Circle Time

As I indicated, it turned out that we were already doing Circle Time, even if I knew it by the name "Group Subjects." Since I started homeschooling 7 years ago, we have always begun the day together. We say our prayers, talk about the Saint of the Day (the saint whose feast day falls on that particular day), do our memory work (a classical Catholic memory program encompassing many subjects), do Bible and history, and then finish with any review products we might be doing as a group. Of course, that schedule has changed a little over time, but the core of it has remained intact.

That is not to say that we have gotten nothing out of Kendra's book! To the contrary, Kendra has forms in her book that have helped me to hone my focus for what I want our Group Subjects time to focus on in the fall. Further, as I indicated above, she has some ideas for things we can memorize that never would have occurred to me. Finally, she has some resources available to her readers that more than justify the very modest $4.99 price of the book. Let me just say that this book is a gift that will keep on giving. I can continue to get new Circle Time/Group Subjects ideas all the time! I love that if I feel that my ideas are a little stale, I have a place to turn to freshen them up!

Circle Time is a quick and easy read that feels like drinking a cup of coffee with a friend. Kendra's tone is perfect and her ideas are spot-on. Again, don't let the title make you feel that this only works for preschoolers - it doesn't. It is for all homeschoolers, and it definitely deserves a place on your virtual bookshelf! Many other Crew members got to try out a Circle Time in their homes, so click on the banner to see what they thought.


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5 Days of Homeschooling Blog Hop Coming Next Week!

Along with around 90 of my closest Crew friends, I will be participating in a Blog Hop next week. This Blog Hop includes some of the best homeschooling bloggers around, so if you are interested in reading 450 amazing articles related to all things homeschooling/housekeeping/organization, and more, be sure to come back here on Monday, August 5, to start with my blog post on homeschooling gifted kids.

Do you think you have one? Is your present method of homeschooling just not working with your gifted child? Is that attitude about to make you tear your hair out? How can you homeschool your gifted child while still tending to the schooling needs of your other children? I will be addressing these and other questions all next week, so be sure to meet me here! Then, make sure to click on the banner that will be at the bottom of that post to connect with all of the other great bloggers participating in this Blog Hop. If you have a homeschooling concern, interest, passion, or question, I can almost guarantee that it will be addressed.

Laus Deo,

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Grishkos

Sometimes I get tired of going over the same things in my head. It sounds so obnoxious, but it is hard having a daughter who has so much potential in so many areas (my friend Tess is giving me a mental slap so that I don't sound too snotty). Therese loves, loves, loves pointe. The director of her dance school asked me again (as she has been since Therese was 8) the other day why Therese is not dancing at a ballet-intensive school (as opposed to where she is where she dances ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and pointe, but the school is definitely more geared toward jazz). I really didn't know what to say. Every time I think that we have settled that issue (we're happy with what we're doing), it comes up again.

The problem is that doing anything else (that is, going ballet/pointe all in) leaves no time for anything else - and Therese can do so much more! She has tested highly gifted. She is in high school at the age of 11. She is trying out speech and debate this year (something she would not have time for in another dance program - she already dances 3 nights a week). I want her to be able to do everything she wants to do because she is bright enough to do it all! Why does she have to be such a beautiful dancer, too? Why does she have to love it so much?

Ah, well. She had to get new pointe shoes today. Her last pair is completely toast. Her feet have changed a lot in a year. She tried on at least 20 pairs before settling on a pair of Grishkos. They're certainly not the most expensive shoes, but they rank up there. Her feet have gotten so much stronger! Her pointe teacher came with us to pick out her shoes and I'm so glad she did, because the shoes she initially thought were good for Therese turned out not to be strong enough (she was bending the shank too much).

I guess all I can do is continue to pray for discernment, as I honestly have no idea what God wants for Therese right now. I want to make the best decisions for her, and I really don't know what they are.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Spanish for You Revisited - Discount Codes!

A couple of months ago, I reviewed a great Spanish program called Spanish for You! Well, the publisher of that program has just released a new package called Viajes, and she is offering readers of Review Crew blogs (that would be you!) 10% off. That makes this already affordable program even more affordable. As a reminder, you don't have to complete one level of this program before commencing another, meaning that you can jump right into this level right now! Enjoy!

To take advantage of this great offer, visit Spanish for You's website and use one of the following codes on checkout. The code you use will depend on the level you are purchasing. It is the numbers at the end of the coupon code that tell you which one to use. For example if you are purchasing the level for Grades 3-4, you would use the first code.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review of Homeschool Programming

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Computer programming is one of those things that I sometimes worry that my kids miss out on by being homeschooled. Part of me (the classical homeschooler and Luddite) says, "Bah! Computer programming! Who needs it?" Well, in today's world, everyone does. Thus, when a company like Homeschool Programming comes along and provides this service to my kids (and other people's kids, of course!), I am grateful.

Therese has had a little programming experience, and she really enjoyed it, so I was quite happy to be able to review KidCoder Visual Basic Series for the past couple of months. As the name implies, this course teaches kids in 6th-8th grade programming in Visual Basic.

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The course is actually divided up over two semesters. Our review concentrated on the first semester, Windows Programming, which teaches students how to write "graphical Windows programs using the Visual Basic programming language." There are 14 lessons in the student text covering the following topics:

  • Introduction to Computers 
  • Get Your Feet Wet - Learning About Visual Basic
  • Exploring Visual Basic Programs
  • Data Types and Variables
  • Basic Flow Control
  • Getting User Input
  • Working with Numbers
  • Working with Strings
  • Using the Debugger
  • Loops in Programs
  • Functions
  • Arrays and Structures
  • Distributing Your Programs
  • Putting it All Together

The text is 213 pages long. To see if your computer meets the specifications for using KidCoder, please see the Homeschool Programming FAQ. You will need both the KidCoder Textbook and a free download of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Express. Again, the FAQ will tell you everything you need to know about what to install and where to find it. To see an example of one of the stellar lessons (in fact, the one Therese just finished!), visit the lesson sample on the website.

Therese (12) and KidCoder

For the purpose of this review, our goal was to complete one lesson per week. Therese ended up finishing six lessons. The first lesson on computers was somewhat familiar ground for her, but it was a great way to familiarize her with the course and the terminology. It also walked her through the process of installing Visual Basic on the computer. At this point, I had to step in and help her a bit.

Lesson Two goes into using Visual Basic in a very in depth way. It assumes that the user has zero knowledge of Visual Basic, which is wonderful. The text is replete with pictures and explanations, so even though Therese has not had much in the way of computer programming (her only previous experience was with Small Basic, a kind of baby Visual Basic), she was able to begin using the program right away. This kind of immediate immersion is so important for building confidence right away when kids are working outside of their comfort zones. Big kudos to Homeschool Programming!

From there, the real fun starts. Therese started building her first project. In fact, Lesson Three began with her modifying the project she created in Lesson Two.

While nothing Therese has done in the first six lessons of Homeschool Programming has been particularly difficult, I am deliberately only having her do one lesson per week. She could do more, but I want her to take it slowly so that she has time to marinate in what she learns each week. Because she completes the lesson in a couple of hours, she ends up spending the rest of the week practicing what she has learned (usually starting the project over and seeing what she can do from memory). Here, she has taken my laptop to dance and is working on KidCoder between classes. I walked around behind her to make sure that she actually was working on school, and sure enough - she was!

Therese has really enjoyed working on Homeschool Programming's KidCoder Visual Basic. One of the best features of the program is the included solutions. Especially if you are new to programming, but really for anyone, there is nothing more frustrating than thinking you are doing everything right, but that darn program is just not running! It happened to Therese a couple of times, and it was so wonderful to be able to find out what she was doing wrong.

Therese has enjoyed this course enough that I know that when she finishes Windows Programming, she will be anxious to move on to Game Programming, for which Windows Programming is a necessary prerequisite. This second semester course is set up very much the same as the first, with the course material containing 14 lessons and the text containing the same great graphics and step-by-step instructions.  The lessons cover the following material:

  • Game design concepts
  • Drawing shapes on the screen
  • Responding to keyboard clicks and mouse movements
  • Displaying and animating images
  • Object positions, movement, and acceleration
  • Collision detection
  • Playing music and creating sound effects
  • Artificial "game" intelligence
  • Saving and loading games
  • Game physics
  • Printing screens to the printer

The programming is, as to be expected, more in-depth, but I am confident that by the end of her present course, Therese will be able to handle it, and that she will relish the challenge. I know that as I read through the text, I couldn't wait for her to learn about these things because I knew that they would satisfy my own curiosity about how a lot of computer-y things work! I guess the real test of a good program is whether you can teach it to someone else...she's been doing a great job with Windows Programming so far, so I expect nothing less from Game Programming!

The Fine Print

Homeschool Programming's KidCoder Visual Basic Series one semester courses (Windows Programming and Game Programming) are available for $70 each. You have the additional option of adding video instruction to bring the price to $85 each. You can realize some savings by buying both courses together for $120, or both courses with videos for $145. Homeschool Programming has some other great courses for middle schoolers and teens, and the Crew got a look at several of them, so be sure to click the banner below to read a bunch more reviews.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of Christi the Coupon Coach - a Molly Crew Review

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Back when I was a kid, my mom was the only mom I knew who used coupons. She was also the only mom I knew who had six kids! Of course, a lot has changed since then. Large families are much more common and couponers have become much savvier. Unfortunately, some stores have also become much savvier as well (but more on that later). Christi the Coupon Coach wants to teach more people how to coupon in order to save money on their groceries and drugstore items. In her book, Couponing Made Simple: Simple Steps to Successful Couponing, Christi walks readers through the process of learning how to coupon. This book is not about the extreme couponing you see on TV or read about in People Magazine. Instead, the strategies are those that anyone can use. In ten chapters (eight of which really focus on the art of couponing) and 132 pages, Christi sets you up with a couponing system that will likely last you a lifetime.

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As I mentioned, I am not a stranger to couponing. I grew up with them. I helped my mom cut them out, sort and store them, and then pull the ones she would need for her trip to the store. I loved watching the receipt (already long as she shopped for eight people), get far longer as the coupons came off the total. When I got married, the whole double and triple couponing phenomenon was just taking off. There were no store/coupon matching websites yet (because there was no Internet!), but I was adept at matching sales to coupons and was quite used to getting things like soap, detergent, makeup, and toilet paper for free. I didn't even realize there would eventually be a name or movement for what I was doing. I was just delighted that I could do it!

Then the stores in my area stopped tripling coupons. All of them. Then most of them stopped doubling coupons. Then I had four kids in 40 months and I stopped giving a hang about coupons. That was about the time that all of my friends were discovering couponing for the first time! Since then, I have clipped the odd coupon, but have always been discouraged to see the savings of 10% or so - a far cry from my glory days of old! When I saw the chance to read Christi's book, I was very excited.

Christi's book starts off very encouragingly by telling the reader several success stories of shopping trips that resulted in % savings that you have to see to believe: 90% savings on one shopping trip? Yep. She then walks you through the lingo of couponing. It has a language all its own, and if you intend to play this game, you are going to have to learn to talk the talk. For me, the most useful chapter is Chapter 5 - Step-by-Step Process. It is here that you will learn how to *do* this thing called couponing - most importantly, how do you store and organize all those coupons? How do you actually manage them while shopping?

One of Christi's tips is to buy multiple Sunday papers, as this is where the coupons live. Our Sunday paper, at $2.00, is not cheap. I am not going to buy more than one copy. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the coupons just don't seem to be there. I would not risk the $2.00 for a paper that may or may not have been assembled by someone competent (or honest...hmmm...maybe a couponer is helping himself on the side...). However, if you, like Christi, can get deals on the Sunday paper (or still live in a place that has multiple papers - do such places exist anymore?), then this tip seems like a good one.

Thus, I decided I would try again to coupon. I will say right off the bat, though, that I have one overriding observation about couponing (as I do about any endeavor that requires time): it takes time. Now, Christi promises that couponing doesn't take that much time, and I completely believe that once you have your system in place, it doesn't. I would think it helps if you are organized in general. I try, but I'm not. I shop primarily at Wal-Mart, HEB, and Kroger. Wal-Mart is my go-to store. I can get everything I need there. Yes, the lines are horrendous, but they have far more selection than any other store I go to. Now, at Wal-Mart, they will match other grocery stores' advertised prices. There is huge potential savings there, but I don't do it. Why? It takes too much time and organization. Not a good sign.

I tried to follow Christi's directions for creating a system of organization, but I think, because I don't have a big store of coupons yet, there just didn't seem much point (perfectionist tendencies - if you can't do it perfectly, don't bother). Then I got out the grocery ads, which really just meant Kroger, since HEB is VERY coupon unfriendly and Wal-Mart (at least in my area) rarely seems to have an ad, and tried to match coupon to store sale. Deoderant - check. Soap - check. Cereal (hmmm...even with sale and coupon, it would still be cheaper at Wal-Mart, not check. Does this happen a lot when you eat generic food?). I wanted to be overwhelmed by the potential savings, but I wasn't. Again, my store of coupons - not huge.

So I went to Kroger with my coupons (got my mom's, too, so I could take advantage of those sales!), and when I went to check out, only the first one of each kind doubled. I was miffed. Confused, even. The cashier told me, not kindly, that it was store policy only to double the first coupon. My great deal wasn't that great anymore. I went home and looked online and found that Kroger stores tend to vary greatly in their coupon policies. I became disgruntled and realized that I really don't enjoy coupons much.

My Opinion of Couponing Made Simple

If you want to get into the world of couponing, this is the book to get your foot in the door. It is easy to understand, explains everything you need to know, and speaks to you with a very encouraging tone. I truly believe that everyone can save money with coupons, and since my very unsatisfying foray back into that world, I am resolved that there are some things I am not going to buy again without matching coupons to sales. Some things are just too easy to do that with (the sales and the coupons are always there). I am very grateful to this book for reminding me of that fact. However, when store policies vary from location to location, seeking out the one that will work for you is an additional burden on your time. This brings me to the one thing that Christi doesn't address in her book: your time is worth something, too.

I work from home. I know what my hourly wage is. I have to put that price on my time. Any time I spend dealing with couponing stuff is time that I am not working. If I'm not going to be teaching my kids, cooking, cleaning the house (hah!), or doing something I enjoy, then I should be working, and, according to my hourly wage, *that* brings far more money to our family than couponing ever will. Given that I don't enjoy this process (I was not a cut and paste girl in school) and I don't relish encountering hostile cashiers or annoyed patrons, couponing the likes of which Christi has in mind doesn't make sense for me. Would I love to be one of those success stories and crow about saving $80 on my grocery bill? Of course. Or, I could just put the fingers to the keys and get some work done. It would take less time and I would actually enjoy the process. 

That's me, though. I am lucky enough to have a good work at home job (or two). My husband has a good job (praise God!). For me, putting my time in elsewhere makes more sense for our family, if one considers time as a finite resource. HOWEVER, couponing makes a ton of sense for a lot of families, and if I am willing to get over the initial organization hump, it will probably make a lot of sense for me, too. Actually, Therese (12) read Christi's book before I did, and she is really intrigued. She is very sad we don't live in Florida, which seems like a couponer's dream. Maybe I could make this a school project for Therese or something...I digress.

I have no problem recommending Christi's book. Because of it, I know how couponing has changed since I used to do it 20 years ago. I know places I can go to get coupons (digital coupons? Who knew? I am *definitely* loading those on my phone). And maybe that is the takeaway message: coupon as much or as little as want to. No one is going to be grading you, and a dollar saved *is* a dollar saved.

Fortunately, you won't spend much money to bring Christi's knowledge home. Her book is only $18.00 in print or $4.99 for the Kindle version. To see some truly amazing savings from women who know what they are doing with coupons, be sure to read all of the Molly Crew reviews by clicking the banner below.


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Monday, July 22, 2013

Review of Picaboo Yearbooks

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Every homeschooler has heard those stock questions asked of them by public school parents. What about prom? What about socialization? What about yearbooks? Well, prom is a long way off, and there are plenty of homeschool dances in Houston. Socialization? any homeschooler knows, the problems is keeping your kids home long enough to get school done! Yearbooks? Until recently, yes, if you cared about such things, they could be a problem. Without doing a bulk order, you were just about out of luck. Rejoice! That, too, though, is no longer a problem with Picaboo Yearbooks!

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As a member of the Crew, I received a 20 page softcover yearbook free, and after about a 10-minute learning curve, I had a blast making it!

To begin making your yearbook, you will create an account with Picaboo Yearbooks (please note that this is different from a Picaboo Photobook! The website is different). You then select your project and begin. You can watch tutorials, which you can go back to any time, or you can proceed by trial and error. Trial and error will, in general, work fine, but I would keep in mind one thing that I learned the hard way: create the whole book as one section. As you can see in the picture below, I have divided my yearbook into several sections. Unfortunately, it is not easy to shift pages around in sections once you have them set (and you may very well want to), so make the whole book one section. You won't regret it. Then, trial and error to your heart's content!

Once you have your section (or sections, if you're savvier than I) set, you start adding pictures and playing with layouts. If you're a digital scrapper, this part is old hat. I am not. I was sure that I was doing it wrong. Of course, it's your yearbook, so you can't do it wrong! I'll confess, I played it very safe. I did not do page backgrounds at all, even though Picaboo has thousands of them in all patterns and colors. I tried to! Every time I added one, though, I doubted my choice. I am also the personality type that when confronted with too many choices shuts down. Now, if I were just making this for myself, I might have gone on like this indefinitely. However, I had a deadline. Probably a good thing. Even without making page backgrounds, though, I love the way my yearbook came out! Before submitting it as final, I was able to look at the whole thing with a birds eye view to make sure it looked just the way I wanted it to.

At that point, I locked it and ordered it. If I had paid for this yearbook, it would have cost $8.49 (and you can add pages for only .22 each!) - a wonderful deal! When you order, you have the option of adding an electronic version of the yearbook free! Now, it is true that, as with many things that are great deals, the shipping charge (which, as a Crew member, I did not have to pay) was steep. In fact, it was $10.99. As of this writing, though, Picaboo seems to have lowered their shipping to $8.99! When I got the yearbook, though, I no longer thought the shipping was steep. My yearbook came packaged in a cardboard box that protected it completely. There was no way it could be damaged at any step of the shipping process, and that is very important to me. Whether at $10.99 or $8.99, I would not hesitate to order this yearbook again (in fact, I can't wait to make another one - with backgrounds!). Any way you slice it, with no minimum order, it only costs around $20.00!

Here are some of our fabulous yearbook pictures, starting with the cover (I love the cover!):

Picaboo Yearbooks are easy to make and, more importantly, the finished product is gorgeous. I loved being able to choose a font and a color that suited each of my children's personalities, and they loved being able to relive the year we just experienced. I have already thought of several other yearbooks we can make, and I can't wait to get started on them!
Other Crew members were far more creative than I with their yearbooks, so make sure to read all of the Crew reviews on this one. You'll be inspired to start making your own 2012-2013 yearbook today!


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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review of Ed Douglas' 25 Truths

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Who doesn't want to be happy and successful? I certainly do, therefore, I was happy to be chosen to review 25 Truths: Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us by Ed Douglas Publications (author - Ed Douglas). This 150 page book retails for $12.50 (you may see $15.50 as the price on the website, but when you go to buy it, rest assured, it will come up at $12.50 - Score!) and is recommended for ages 12 and up. If you are willing to read it aloud to your kids, though (the best way to share the book with your family, in my opinion), and do a little editing on the fly, you can easily use this little gem with all of the children in your family.

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In 3-4 pages each, Ed Douglas recaps each of 25 truths that he has come to determine will contribute to a successful life. While Mr. Douglas is Christian, and this book reads, to me, as unabashedly Christian, the beauty of this book is that these truths are universally applicable. You don't have to be a Christian to embrace them. Following these principles, though, will certainly lead you toward living a more Christ-like life, and from there? Well, a person living a Christ-like life is certainly one more open to conversion than one who is not living one. As a bonus, each chapter opens with a quotation of some kind, and many of them just happen to be Scripture. For Christians, seeing Scripture back up these truths is kind of a "Duh." For non-Christians, though, many of whom will accept the Bible at least as an historical document, seeing Scripture at the headings of some of the chapter is just one more potential opportunity for conversion. Gee - is it evident that I already know some people to whom I might be planning to gift this book?

Mr. Douglas illustrates each truth with a small story, some from his own life, and some from the headlines. Each one makes for interesting reading, and each story is followed by discussion questions that you can walk through with your children. The questions are very thought-provoking and are of varying difficulty. Depending on the age and/or maturity of your child, you can either do them orally, or your child can treat them as essay questions. There is a *lot* in this small volume for the average homeschool.

How We Used 25 Truths...And A Surprise!

25 Truths was part of our "Group Subjects" time, meaning we read and discussed it first thing in the morning when I did the subjects that all of the kids (12, 10, 8, and 8) have in common. We read two or three truths each morning and then discussed them. A couple of mornings, including the very first one, we only read one truth, because I got very sidetracked talking about how important Mr. Douglas's advice was! The very first truth he covers is: Protect Your Reputation. I couldn't emphasize enough to my children how crucial these wise words were. I had an abundance of stories to tell them about people I knew who both had and had not followed that advice and where they had ended up. I used the discussion questions at the end of the chapter as a jumping off point for discussion only when there was no real discussion prompted by the reading itself. That only happened a couple of times (which should be no real surprise to anyone who knows my kids and me!).

It was as I started writing this review, though, that I was made aware of another use for this book, one which homeschoolers would not necessarily realize. Henry saw the book next to me, picked it up, and started reading it.

This picture is not posed. I took it and then asked him if I could use it. After he read the book, he said that he wished he could buy a copy for everyone in his department. Now, Henry works for a large MNC (Multi-National Corporation) headquartered in Germany. There is a lot of pressure to bring his location's quality numbers in line with other countries' quality numbers. The key difference is that Henry won't bend the numbers to suit the boss's specifications. The numbers say what they say. He has been denied promotions and raises over the years for reasons which mystify us, other than the fact that he won't "play the game." He has speculated, though, that God keeps him at that job for a reason, and he might never know that reason. Therefore, he (Henry) was intrigued by the section of 25 Truths on the Butterfly Effect (we've all heard about it - read the book to see Ed Douglas's take on it). Further, because 25 Truths is grounded in an ethical approach to life, Henry was convinced that if only everyone at work approached the job that way, his company would not only be a more pleasant place to work, but would also probably end up, in the long run, being better off all the way around.

In Summation

25 Truths may be small, but it is mighty. From homeschools to businesses, from high school and college graduates to newlyweds, I think this book has a place on every bookshelf. Everyone in my family recommends it. To read what other Crew members thought about 25 Truths, click the banner below.


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review of Susan Marlow's Tunnel of Gold

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The Crew is no stranger to Susan Marlow and Kregel Publications, so I was very excited when I got the opportunity to review one of her new books, Tunnel of Gold (sample chapters from Tunnel of Gold are available online!). Tunnel of Gold is the second in a new series of books called Goldtown Adventures. The series centers around a twelve year-old boy, Jem Coulter, his sister, and their father, a sheriff. The family lives in California in 1864 (toward the end of the gold rush period).

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Tunnel of Gold tells the story of Jem's dilemma as he tries to do what is right during a miner's riot. The mine has run out of gold, but the miner's owner's son proposes a solution to Jem that might save the mine - and the town. Unfortunately, that solution would require compromising the scavenging rights of the Chinese miners working the diggings of an abandoned mine. How Jem and Will (the owner's son) negotiate the dilemma and the other problems that arise in the book (for example, if you try branding calves without permission and you get away with it, do you confess or be grateful that you didn't get caught? What if you end up getting caught after all?) make for a very enjoyable and exciting read.

Tunnel of Gold is recommended for 8-12 year olds and costs $7.99. The age recommendation is right-on, and the price is a fair one, especially if you consider that Susan Marlow has made available a comprehensive study guide for the book, available online. The study guide has matching questions, puzzles, comprehension questions, and more. Both the book and the study guide are unabashedly (but not obnoxiously, if that makes sense) Christian.

When I gave Michael (8) Tunnel of Gold to read, he was very happy. It took him 3-4 days to finish the book and he only had two complaints. First, he was a little dismayed that he didn't get to read the first book in the series first. I told him to get over it ;-)  Second, he disliked Jem's name. I told him to get over it. Apart from those two minor flaws (neither of which is remotely related to plot, character development, or anything else important), he really enjoyed the book! He loves reading historical fiction from this time period, so I knew it would be an easy sell. His only experience with mining comes from touring silver mines in CO, so I thought he would probably be pretty interested in learning something about gold mining in CA, and I was not wrong.

Because we have enough school reading, we treated Tunnel of Gold purely as pleasure reading because, well, it is a pleasure to read! For that reason, I did not use the study guide. However, this book would make an excellent accompaniment to a study on California at this time, or on the gold rush, or on the element Au. It would also be great to use as a study of character, as Jem negotiates several difficult decisions during the course of the book.

So far, there are two books in the Goldtown Adventures series, but Book 3 is forthcoming. Appealing equally to boys or girls, this series would make a great addition to your homeschool library. Be sure to read what other families thought of these books by clicking the banner below.


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Monday, July 15, 2013

Review of Science for High School's Chemistry

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I don't love science. I know I'm supposed to. I'm married to a science guy (thank heavens!), but I struggled a bit with it in school and resented the time it took away from the fun subjects (English! History! More History!). It is the one hitch in this super-fun homeschooling journey. The kids have to learn science. Apparently it's not optional. To that end, I am always delighted to check out a science program with which I am unfamiliar - maybe this will be the one that makes me love science! Well, it turns out that I don't think I am cut out to love science, but, thankfully, I don't have to (I'm the mom, you know - I've seen that on a t-shirt). HOWEVER, Bridget Ardoin's Science for High School teaches science pretty much the only way I know how to teach, which happens to be Therese's favorite way to learn. Hence (ding! ding! ding!) - we have a winner! Therese had already started Chemistry, so we were both really excited to take a look at High School Chemistry in Your Home.

Most science programs are, more or less, the same. You read a textbook of varying quality, answer questions at the end of the chapter, do some labs, and take some tests. If you love science, that approach is probably fine. You'll get something out of it, regardless. If, however, science is not your first love, you'll not really warm to reading that textbook no matter how much you may love to read and regardless of how much you love all of your other subjects. Bridget Ardoin solves this problem (and, please note: I'm not saying that she calls it a problem. That is purely my own assessment of science!) brilliantly. She turns the process around. Let me explain.

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Rather than providing students with a Chemistry textbook, High School Chemistry in Your Home provides students with a manual (the set also includes a parent manual that has the answers - yay!) of questions - just questions. Sound strange? It's brilliant. Instead of giving students a textbook in which they can hunt down the answers by looking for the bolded terms (I can't be the only kid who did that), Bridget Ardoin has crafted a program in which she provides students with a list of questions and concepts each week that will require research to answer. At the end of the week, they will complete a lab. So where are they supposed to find the answers? Anywhere! You can use a Chemistry textbook you already own. You can use the Internet. You can use some of the great visual encyclopedias that all homeschoolers own. You truly can find the answers wherever you choose to look. You can use the same source(s) each week, or you can use different ones. Chances are very good that after a month or so, you will have found a couple of sources you really like and will find yourself returning to those (Therese did). I'll explain how we used this program below, but its creator has great ideas for how to use science for high school on her website.

I have detailed Therese's advanced school skills elsewhere, so let me start off by saying that this is definitely a high school Chemistry course. Like all Chemistry classes, it does require some advanced math. It is not for the average 11 or 12 year-old. Having said that, this course was made for Therese. In fact, if you happen to have a gifted middle-schooler, this is probably the *only* way to do Chemistry! Precisely because there is no set text and students can find the materials that work best for them, while still learning all of the concepts that need to be mastered for a high school Chem class, there is nothing standing in the way of a younger gifted child doing Chemistry (N.B. the math requirement, though; there is no getting around that).

Therese uses a history program geared toward gifted kids that actually works in much the same way as Science for High School. It is research-based and relies on Therese to find the answers to questions and to research concepts. In essence, she ends up writing the textbook. That's why I felt this science curriculum was like the answer to a prayer. It works the exact same way! By presenting Therese with a set of concepts at the beginning of the week and letting her know that we would be discussing them (as well as completing a lab) on Fridays, and then letting her go, I was allowing her to learn in exactly the way she likes best. Like many gifted kids, she resists being handed a textbook and told to read this chapter and answer these questions. In fact, if she has a textbook-based course (as some, inevitably, are), I end up reading the chapters to her. With a course like Chemistry, that just wasn't going to happen! Of course, random Internet searches were not going to happen with my not-quite 12 year-old daughter! For one thing, our Internet filters wouldn't allow it.

We spent the first week of the course looking for the sites that would best answer her questions and found two that were superior. Then, I bought a wonderful interactive Chemistry text on the iPad. Because Science for High School's Chemistry had its own outline and order (which makes perfect sense, but does not exactly mirror the text I bought for the iPad), it wasn't in any way like Therese had to read the text and then answer the questions. Rather, she would read the questions and then seek out the answers. As with all wonderful things homeschool, more than once she ended up on a Chemistry rabbit trail and learned more than she ever would have if she had simply been following a syllabus for a conventional Chemistry class.

The labs for this course are very non-threatening and reasonable. Of course, you need some lab equipment. We had recently purchased a full set of Chemistry lab equipment, and so were all set. For those who need the lab equipment, though, Science for High School has several lab equipment and chemical options on its website.

The Chemistry set that I received included the Student Manual, the Parent Manual, and a set of tests and quizzes. This set costs $79.99. An extra Student Manual can be added for $24.99. 

In case I haven't made it clear, I love this program. We are going to finish Chemistry, and then we are going to do Biology. Crew members reviewed other Science for High School levels, so if you have any high schoolers (or ever will), be sure to read the reviews. This is such a neat way to do science!
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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review of Dig-It Games' Mayan Mysteries iPad App

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Dig-It Games' Mayan Mysteries iPad App may be education masquerading as a game, but it is so cleverly dressed that chances are great that most kids will never realize how much they are learning as they play through the scenario starring the mysterious looter, Ladrone!

Dig-It Games is not new to the world of ancient history games. Its Roman Town is an archaeology game par excellence and was a big hit in my house a couple of years ago. Mayan Mysteries does for the ancient Maya what Roman Town did for the ancient Romans - make ancient history accessible and FUN for kids.

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Mayan Mysteries is designed for kids 9 and older and enables kids to learn all about the ancient Mayan civilization. By reading about Mayan civilization, answering questions about the reading, solving puzzles, reading glyphs, and exploring the Mayan calendar, a single player moves through the game with Team Q to discover the lost city of Ich'aak.

What sets Mayan Mysteries apart from the many other games in the App Store is its amazing educational content. Dig-It Games (and, thus, this app!) is the brainchild of Suzi Wilczynski, a trained archaeologist with ten years of dig experience *and* middle school teaching experience. What better combination of talents to create this kind of app?

Therese (11 and 11/12) and Mayan Mysteries

Therese loved Roman Town two years ago, so I was sure that she would love Mayan Mysteries. She liked it, to a point, but she didn't get as much out of it as I hoped she would. That's not the fault of the app, though; I think it's because she went into it already knowing a ton about the Maya. Therese is an avid reader and has been since she was tiny. History has always been her favorite subject, and ancient history was her first love. Because of that, she knows a *lot* about the Maya. Hence, she ended up skimming the reading in the app (and there is a lot of reading) and feeling that there wasn't much point to the game. The point, really, is the learning. I wasn't kidding at the outset when I said that this is education in game's clothing. In her words, "It was really a textbook - not a game." Thus, if you feel you know the textbook, even the flashiest material is not all that engaging.

HOWEVER, if you don't know about the Maya, what a way to learn! This app is colorful, jam-packed with information, and interactive (i.e., you "dig" for artifacts). For kids who don't love to sit down with a book, this app. at $9.99, is a great alternative.

Crew members got to review the Mayan Mysteries Online game as well as the app, so be sure to read all of the Crew reviews.


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