Friday, July 31, 2015

Ages of My Kids - a Clarification

It has been brought to my attention that there is some confusion regarding the age of my kids. Allow me to clarify. My twins, Michael and Mary-Catherine, are 10. They will turn 11 in December. Nicholas turned 12 on July 4. It is entirely possible that I referred to him as 12 in reviews that posted in June. I didn't do that to earn a high Pinocchio rating from the Washington Post - I did that because when I am discussing a review product, I think it is more meaningful to call Nicky 12 when he is weeks away from turning 12 than I do to call him 11. There is a world of difference between a newly 11 year-old boy and a very nearly 12 year-old boy. That brings me to the cause of confusion - this people:

For the past couple of reviews I have referred to Therese as 14. She will, in point of fact, not be 14 until 8/2. Again, though, when she is so very close, I feel it is more accurate for the review's sake to call her the age she almost is, especially when bearing in mind that these reviews will be read again and again for years in the future. (For the curious, she is rehabbing a recalcitrant hamstring in this picture. This has been the summer of doctor appointments, injury, and physical therapy. You should see my happy face right now.)

Hopefully that clears it all up!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review of UnLock Math

Unlock Math Review

Math programs are one thing I can't get enough of. All four of my kids are so different, and math is definitely not my strong suit, so any time I get a chance to look at a new math program, I jump on it. UnLock Math was completely new to me. Through UnLock Math and the Crew, I received a year's subscription to UnLock Pre-Algebra, an online video tutorial math program that is really so much more.

As this graphic demonstrates, there are six parts (well, five plus notes) to every single UnLock Math lesson. Each lesson begins with a Warm Up, or a series of 10 problems to get you into the math mood and remind you of what you already know. Then you watch the video lesson for the topic at hand. The lessons are taught by Alesia Blackwood, a math teacher from Ontario. Alesia has a talent for breaking down math problems into very doable bite sized chunks, a huge bonus for students learning algebra. Her teaching style is what makes UnLock Pre-Algebra suitable for students who are too young for other Pre-Algebra programs. After the video lesson, there are practice problems, followed by the "Stay Sharp" section. In "Stay Sharp," students answer questions from previous lessons as quickly as they can. The "Challenge Yourself" question was my son's favorite. It is one question only and it is kind of a brain teaser. Finally, if you are the kind of parent (or have the kind of kid) who likes to have written notes for math, this program allows you to have them! You can print out the notes from every lesson. Once you have completed all sections of a lesson, the next section "unlocks."

Unlock Math Review

Michael (10) has been begging to "do" Pre-Algebra. My two older children were very math advanced at a younger age (although Therese (14) has leveled out to a normal above-level math level, if that makes sense). When UnLock Math came up for review and I read that it was great for younger kids, I was so excited, and, make no mistake, Michael really likes the course and Mrs. Blackwood. In fact, he just told me, "You can quote me - it's my favorite math program yet. It just seems like you get a better math experience." What we have found, though, is that he has had to move more slowly because he either hasn't learned some things or has forgotten things he has learned. That's okay, though! One of the most amazing features of UnLock Math is its grade book. Check out the detail you get for every single problem

It really is like having your own math teacher there with you. 

Also, each lesson is designed to take about 30 minutes (again, ours were taking longer, but Michael is only 10 and was getting very frustrated because of things like Roman Numerals which, somehow, he had never had before - my fault totally), so the program can be finished in the standard nine months. I can easily see a child finishing sooner, though. Had Nicholas (12) been doing this program, he would probably have been doing four lessons a day, at least at first. UnLock Pre-Algebra is very flexible in that regard. It is great that you can get Pre-Algebra done in a year in only 1/2 hour/day, though. For a math-averse kid, that time combined with Mrs. Blackwood's teaching style could really make math so much less painful.

Speaking of Mrs. Blackwood, I have to put in a word for Mr. Blackwood. This is a completely family-run company. Both of the Blackwoods were at least partially homeschooled, and their compassion for and understanding of homeschoolers absolutely comes through in all of their communications. Mr. Blackwood was in constant communication with the Crew to make sure that everything was working okay and to seek input regarding things like pricing. It makes me so happy to be able to support a company that cares so much about homeschoolers, especially when they are putting out such a quality product. I can't even imagine the hours that this endeavor takes. Speaking of which, UnLock Math also has an Algebra course, with Algebra II in the works! 

To check out UnLock Math, please watch some sample videos. Also, be sure to read all of the reviews by clicking the banner below.

UnLock Math Review

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review of SimplyFun's Shape Whiz

Simply Fun Review

I don't know about your kids, but mine just love games. We don't have one game closet in our house - we have two. Both are absolutely bursting at the seams. Somehow, though, we always end up finishing the year with at least half a dozen new games. The newest game to be added to our collection comes to us courtesy of SimplyFun. It's called Shape Whiz. Shape Whiz is a geometry game of wits that requires you to race the people you're playing in order to find a shape that fits the clue.

Simply Fun Review

On the surface it's a simple premise, but that doesn't mean that it's not a whole lot of fun! It's also surprisingly "fair," given that the kids in the family have probably studied geometry more recently than the parents. Those definitions are likely closer to the forefront of their brains. Plus, in my experience at least, the kids' reflexes are just a bit quicker. So, although this game is for 10+, it absolutely is for kids and parents to play together - just my kind of game.

Shape Whiz comes in a super sturdy box (which is so important to me - I hate flimsy boxes that get broken right away) and consists of 80 shape cards (45 basic shapes and 35 complex shapes), 40 whiz cards, and 1 rules booklet. The two decks of cards are housed in a plastic case with cutouts for each. It is a very nice game with an expensive feel to it. Another great feature is how quickly and easily you can learn the game. The instructions are printed right on the back of the box!

My kids (14, 12, 10) figured out how to play Shape Whiz right away. They were literally playing the game within a couple of minutes of opening it for the first time. Each player gets 15 shape cards (of course, you can choose to play with fewer if you want a shorter game), of which you play three at a time. One whiz card is dealt at a time. The description on the whiz card is consulted and players see if they (or anyone else!) have a shape card to match it.

I can't speak for other kids, but mine didn't mind that this was an educational game. It was actually very educational for me to see what my younger kids *didn't* know about geometry. There were things that I would have sworn that they knew, but it turns out that they either never remembered learning it, or they didn't learn it in the first place. So finding out the holes in their math knowledge was an unexpected benefit of this game. 

SimplyFun has so many more games that you shouldn't eschew them if you don't happen to fancy geometry. I promise they will have something you love! Crew members also reviewed a game of theirs called Expanders, so be sure to read all the Crew reviews to check out that game in-depth as well.

Simply Fun Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review of Home School in the Woods

Home School in the Woods Review
When I looked in my email to see when I made my first Home School in the Woods purchase, I saw that it was all the way back in 2008. That makes it one of my first homeschooling purchases ever. I'm not surprised. Home School in the Woods has some of the most beautiful products on the market. That was true in 2008 and it is still true today. Even more impressive, they keep putting out amazing new products. Project Passport World History Study: The Middle Ages was a new product to me. I have all of Home School in the Woods' gorgeous maps, several of their Time Travelers U.S. History Studies, and an Activity-Pak, but this Project Passport may just be my favorite product ever (apart from their maps - the maps will always be my first love).
Home School in the Woods Review
The thing about every single Home School in the Woods product is that you get so very much for your money. This Project Passport is divided into 25 "Stops" and is designed to last 8-12 weeks. The stops you will take along your journey are as follows:

  • Laying the Foundation (Packing)
  • Barbarians in the South and East
  • Barbarians in the North and West
  • Family
  • Clothing and Food
  • Community
  • Crime, Punishment...and Entertainment
  • Towns and Guilds
  • Merchants, Trade, and Exploration
  • Science and Invention
  • Education
  • The Arts
  • Medicine and Disease
  • The Church - History
  • The Church - Church and Other Religious Events
  • Monastic Life
  • The Crusades - the Big Four
  • Other Crusades
  • Knights and Chivalry
  • Viking Life
  • Era of the Viking
  • The Muslim Invasions
  • Eastern Europe
  • England
  • Final Stop - Packing Up!
Within each of these stops, there are numerous activities related to the stop's theme. Throughout, there is a timeline to keep, including Home School in the Woods' incredible timeline figures to place. Included with your purchase are binder covers and spines so that you can organize all of your printables, which include all of your "Stops," a Quick Start Itinerary (super helpful, as it tells you in a snapshot what you will need/do each day),

all of your printable masters, teacher keys, and even text for each "stop." You don't just get printables with this Passport, though. You also get 7 MP3 files. These are very well done extras that add so much to the study. Everyone knows that I am a huge fan of old-time radio, podcasts, and other spoken word things, so I especially appreciated the inclusion of some aural material. "Touring" a monastery was such a neat supplement to this study, especially since I am not a super-crafty person, and so much of studies like this are devoted to the neat crafty projects (which is what Home School in the Woods excels at). I love that they diversify and really make sure there is something for everyone. There is easily enough "meat" in this study to last past the 12 week mark, especially since they also include *tons* of additional resources.

How We Used It

Prior to doing Texas History last year, we did Ancient Rome, meaning that this year, we are due to study the Middle Ages. Hence, this review could not have come at a better time! I thought that it would make a perfect introduction to the topic for the twins (10). Also, unlike my older two kids, my twins are kind of crafty and really like the type of schooling that Home School in the Woods has to offer. 

I realized two things pretty quickly: we would not be moving through this study very fast and we would not be doing everything in it. That is actually one of the best things about HITW - there are so many options that you can pick and choose what you want to do. I tend to gravitate toward the written projects. As much as I love looking at other people's cooking and art projects, I just never seem to be the mom who can get them done. If you are that kind of mom, though, you will *love* this study (be sure to read all of the other reviews to see the incredible variety of options you have)!

My biggest mistake with this program was in not printing everything right away. I figured I would just print what I needed as I went. In retrospect, it would have been so much easier just to print everything in one fell swoop, file it in a binder, and proceed from there. Instead, I ended up wasting too much time each day figuring out what to print. The quick start itinerary I picture above was a *huge* help, but I still had to figure out what to print and where to find it. It was a waste of time. That fault was all mine and none of the program's. Stop 1 is all about getting organized. As with many things curriculum, though, we wanted to jump right in. My best advice is not to.

In terms of the actual material, my kids loved it. There is a great variety covered. Some of it, like the barbarian invasions, was review, but because it has been almost a year since we covered it, it was just the right amount of review. 

The first thing Mary-Catherine grabbed was the timeline. Michael couldn't wait to get to work on the newspaper. I have vowed that next week I *will* make something with them from the Booklet of Medieval Cookry in Stop 5 - something to look forward to! Cooking from the past I can do!

As we continue to work through Project Passport, the only thing I wish I could change is to have all of the printables in a single file. It would make it so much easier for me if I could take one file to an office supply store and hand it over to them to print it, rather than having to open several different files every time I want to look at something. It is my only complaint about Home School in the Woods' projects.

This is another review where you'll want to click the banner below in order to see all that you can do with these great studies. There are so many great options!

Home School in the Woods Review
Crew Disclaimer

Frozen Shoulder

I apologize for my absence lately. For the past few months, I have been increasingly unable to use my left arm which is, unfortunately, my dominant arm. Everything from brushing my own hair to getting dressed has become pretty much impossible. Handwriting anything has been out of the question. Typing has been difficult. I have been able to keep up with my reviews and with my job, but barely. My arm hasn't just been immobile - it's also been really painful. I have been unable to sleep in any position but on my back, and that's hard for someone who sleeps either on her left side or on her stomach!

In any case, I finally got in to see the orthopedist. He diagnosed me with Frozen Shoulder - said it was fairly common in middle aged women (you gotta know how much that hurt!) - and prescribed physical therapy. Before I could start PT, though, he had to get he inflammation down. That meant a lovely shot of cortisone in my shoulder - a $200 very painful shot of cortisone. 4.5 days later, I am feeling the difference. My arm is less pained and I am getting some mobility back. It helps that I have meds for nighttime and something my FIL gave me called Dragon Pomade to rub on it. That stuff is gold. The one thing that still kills it is typing! The position I have to have my arm/shoulder in is awful. Unfortunately, all of my jobs require typing. Because I have to keep my boss happy (because his paychecks keep my family happy!), I have not been doing any other writing (including answering emails, for which I'm sorry) apart from my job. I hope to remedy that in the coming weeks as I start PT next Monday. Thanks for bearing with me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review of Homeschool Planet

Homeschool Planet Review

Homeschool Buyers Co-op was practically the first thing I discovered when I began homeschooling. I was amazed by the deals. When they first Beta tested Homeschool Planet, their amazing online planner, in 2012, I was lucky enough to get a look at it. This time around, when the Crew was offered the chance to use Homeschool Planet, I'll admit that I didn't jump at the chance. I was kind of plannered out. There is always a learning curve to an online planner. Things can be confusing. I am having medical issues right now with a couple of my kids and with myself that are making life a real pain, and I just didn't feel that I wanted to deal with learning yet another planner. Please listen when I tell you I COULDN'T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG! I am so glad that I was chosen for this review, and I look forward to continuing to see all that this planner can do, because believe me when I say that I have not even begun to scratch the surface.

What is Homeschool Planet? It is not just a homeschool planner, although it is certainly that. It is a life planner. With Homeschool Planet, you can do all of the following:

  • Track school days and class hours
  • Enter assignments
  • Schedule classes by day or by specific time during the day
  • View calendars daily, weekly, or monthly
  • Generate grade reports for each student by class 
  • Generate *very* professional looking transcripts with ease
  • Import your Google calendar in less than 30 seconds
  • Merge your entire life into one calendar by maintaining grocery lists, curriculum lists, website lists, etc. right in the planner
  • Email schedules, lists, assignments, etc. to anyone who has a profile on your Homeschool Planet planner
  • *Text* lists, etc. to those with profiles on your HP planner!
  • ...and more!

How I Used Homeschool Planet

Because Therese is the only one really doing school right now, hers is the schedule I chose to focus on. Here it is entered in Homeschool Planet. Unlike the other kids, Therese does have specific times for her subjects. She works best that way. Because she is in high school now, I love that HP has such great transcript building abilities. I need to start thinking about things like that!

You can also see Mary-Catherine's dance classes on the schedule (Therese can't dance right now - pulled hamstring). 

Here is a view of Therese's schedule with all other appointments removed. Notice that her name no longer appears under anything, as it is her personalized schedule (N.B. I do realize that this schedule has her doing Essay Writing at 9:25 p.m.! I have since corrected that, but I didn't take a new screenshot.).

Although I am not required to report days or hours in here in the great, free state of Texas (God bless her!), I am curious to track our days this year. Homeschool Planet makes this easier than anything I have ever seen in a planner (short of checking off days on a paper calendar, of course, but this is all about one-step integration, people!).

I've already marked off the days in August that we'll be on vacation (assuming I don't need shoulder surgery, and that's a big assumption right now...).

 One thing that has always been an issue for me before with planners has been rescheduling. Anytime I plan too much, I have to chuck it all, because I never get done what I think I will (rabbit trails, anyone?). That problem is a thing of the past with Homeschool Planet! Now, for Therese, I didn't write out her individual assignments because she has a syllabus in front of her at all times. When school starts for the other kids, I will, though. When that happens, rescheduling is this easy!

Further, one of the coolest things about HP is its constant updates. This morning when I logged on, I saw this:

A brand new option!

Also, customization is as easy as choosing the theme you like best. Here are just a few:

Homeschool Planet has so much to offer, and for $65/year, it really is a good deal. It takes the place of the planner you have to repurchase year after  year, and it works for the entire family. 

More than any other review, I would encourage you to read all of the other Crew reviews for this one, because everyone used the planner in such individualized ways. I have learned a lot just by reading what everyone else did. I bet you're going to love it! Best of all, you can get a 30-day free trial - no credit card required!

Homeschool Planet Review
Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review of Prasso Ministries

Teen Prasso Review
I always love a product with an awesome name, so when Prasso Ministries came up on the Crew's review list, I had to look to the vendor's site to see what the name meant. It turns out that Prasso is a Greek word meaning continually, repeatedly, and habitually practice. Now that's a word I could adopt in my own life, especially where a Bible study is concerned, so I was quite excited when we received for review The Teen Prasso Teacher's Manual and the Teen Prasso Homework Manual.

Both books are spiral bound for increased ease of studying and writing. The Teen Manual contains 12 lessons, and the Teacher Manual contains 13. Although the chapter/lesson headings have different names, they do mirror each other. The Teacher Manual has 124 pages, while the Student Journal has 185.

Teen Prasso Review

Teen Prasso Review

The Teacher Manual includes instructions for Group Discussion Leaders, as well as directions for how to use the Teen Prasso material. Each chapter includes a Teaching Outline consisting of a Key Verse, a Message Goal, and a fictional story in three parts, interspersed with Biblical analysis and application to a teen's daily life. Teaching tips are included on the first page of each lesson.

The Student Journal chapters consist of an Introduction, followed by daily reflection questions. Students are asked to read Bible chapters and/or verses and to reflect on them in light of various prompts, many of which could relate to their daily lives (the news, science, etc.). The font is a handwriting type and there are minimal black and white graphics. Because chapters consist of six "days," we considered a chapter to last two weeks.

What We Thought of Prasso

As with any Protestant Bible study, this one had its limitations for us. Because Protestants approach Christianity from the perspective of sola Scriptura, and with a very literal reading of said Scriptura at that, some aspects of this study are overly simplistic from a Catholic point-of-view. Catholics also take into consideration 2,000 years of sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Magesterium, and consider those also to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, for instance, in Chapter 5, when the study says to "deal directly with God" about whether you have truly repented of your sins, from where I sit, that sounds 100% like a direct order not even to consider the Sacrament of Confession or the counsel of a Priest. That rubs me the wrong way. It is, of course, however, a Protestant Bible study!

For what it is, I think this is a very good product. It covers a lot of major topics (God's Love, Anger, Forgiveness) pretty thoroughly, but in a really engaging and thought provoking way. I actually prefer the use of the Student Journal on its own. I found trying to use the Teacher Manual with Therese (13) awkward. It was much more effective for us for me just to give her the Student Journal and tell her to have at it and then discuss the week's work with her. For groups, though, I think the Teacher's Manual would be terrific.

Therese took a break from her usual Catholic Bible study to work on Prasso for the last six weeks, but has decided not to continue with it. She prefers a study that is more unifying in terms of our whole faith (in other words, one that doesn't just ask her to look up verses and answer questions based on what they say). A Catholic Bible study typically has a student looking up things in the Bible and in the Catechism and, often, consulting the writings of the Church Fathers as well.

From what I have seen of other Protestant studies, though, this one is certainly worthy of consideration for those in the market for an attention-getting (and keeping!) teen Bible study - especially if it is to be used in a group setting.

To connect with Prasso on social media, visit them on Facebook.

Prasso Ministries Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Few Ways I Get Things Cheaper

It's no secret that I am a bit of a hoarder collector. I actually have an obsessive personality. The way that evinces itself most is in, well, collecting. If I have one of something, I *really* want all. If one MAC lipstick is good, all of them is better. If one grammar curriculum is good, all of them is better. The worst thing is when I get into a new hobby. If one color of a particular brand of lace yarn is good...well, you get it.

Fortunately, I also love a bargain. Now, I am not one of those couponing, sale matching people. I don't have the time or patience. I do, however, know a few tricks that help me to save money.


My original obsession. It got so much worse with the advent of the Kindle. The problem is that books still cost money...but they don't always. Sites like BookBub send you daily emails with books that are deeply discounted and free. They are not always great books, but sometimes there is a real gem. It is always worth taking a look at the email. The Kindle Daily Deal is *always* worth checking out. I have blogged several times about Kindle Unlimited and Scribd. If you had to pick only one, I would definitely choose Scribd. My family gets its money's worth out of Scribd every single month, and then some. Finally, if you blog about books at all, check out NetGalley. It's a great way to get books directly from the publisher before they are published. They would love for you to write a review and post it on all of your social media (and Amazon and Goodreads), but you're not obligated to. I have gotten over 500 books from NetGalley. It's a wonderful resource. You have to be approved to join and you have to demonstrate that you are a "professional reader."


My other major obsession. I don't have any drugstore advice since it's really not rocket science (wait for sales and coupons). If your thing is mid to high-end makeup, though, the best thing I can tell you is to never pay full price and never buy something without some kind of incentive.

For example, every single company that I can think of has a Friends & Family sale at least once a year (Smashbox, Stila, Urban Decay, Too Faced, Tarte, even YSL). During these sales you'll save 20-25%. If you can hold off, don't buy during the year. Wait for the sale. Alternatively, shop Sephora during the two times per year that they have their VIB sale, In April and November, Sephora offers 10-20% off everything (depends on if you are VIB or VIB Rouge and if it is the April or November sale). The great thing about Sephora, of course, is that they carry a ton of brands and everything you buy goes toward maintaining your VIB/Rouge status for the next year. Also, you get great samples and free shipping with every order.

Sign up to be on the mailing lists of all the brands you like. With most of them, you'll get a coupon for a percentage off your first purchase (often 15%). The catch is that this coupon usually expires within 30 days, so be prepared to use it soon if you want to at all. Once you're on the mailing list, you'll never miss a sale announcement.

Know that sometimes the high end brand truly is worth the money. Sometimes it's just a matter of preference, true, but sometimes you'll spend more time, money, and frustration in the long run when using the drugstore brand. Department store color matching, testers, and stellar return policies are an example of why I love them. For one specific example, I had been using a drugstore brand cleansing oil. Because of the residue it left on my skin, I had to follow it with a cleanser. Washing my face took a long time. Then, I tried Clinique's Take Off The Day Cleansing Balm. It took off all of my makeup, was super easy to use, rinsed completely clean, and lasted for seven months (much longer than my drugstore oil).

Also, always use Ebates. It really adds up!

I know that some of you already knew all of this, but hopefully someone was able to glean a bit of advice. I know that I am always on the lookout for ways to have my makeup and wear it, too (or have my books and read them, too!).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Review of CursiveLogic

Michael (10) has dysgraphia, so writing is one of those subjects that does not come easily to him - handwriting that is. He struggles to form letters and his hand tires easily. For these reasons, I had always looked forward to his learning cursive. It is held that cursive is better for dysgraphic kids because the continuous letter strokes are less physically draining for them to form. As with all kids, though, it can be a struggle to find the right cursive program. I initially had grand ideas of Spencerian cursive for all of my kids (that gorgeous penmanship that you are likely to see in your great-grandmother's letters), but quickly realized that that was a pipe dream, especially for Michael. After trying several cursive programs and realizing that Michael was still not writing in cursive (even a year after his twin sister had made that switch), I was really excited to find that there is a new program that seems tailor made for kids like him!

CursiveLogic  sent us their beautiful CursiveLogic Workbook to try out. The first thing that Michael and I noticed about this handwriting program was that the color coding:

With CursiveLogic, letters are grouped by shape. The first shape, the oval letters, are orange. Students see them in orange and write them in orange. There are three other shapes in the program, and all of the letters in the alphabet are grouped into one of the four letter shapes.

As you can see above, CursiveLogic teaches its letters in "strings," rather than as individual letters. In this way, students learn to connect letters right away, rather than by writing whole lines of discrete letters. The bottom line is that they are really *writing* cursive much sooner than with other programs!

The neatest and most effective part of the program from my perspective is its verbal component. As students learn the manual part of the program, they learn a verbal phrase to accompany it. That combination really solidifies the process for them and aids significantly in retention.

What We Thought

Michael loved this program. Because he is older and this is not his first crack at cursive, he blew through this workbook quickly. I let him go at his own pace (I didn't, for instance, say, "You've done enough cursive today. It's time to stop."). It was so much fun, and so easy on his hands, that he didn't want to stop. You can see from the above picture that the font is very simple. Five years ago that would have put me off. I wanted a beautiful old-fashioned font for my children's cursive. Reality is reality, though. Some kids just can't write that way. In a world where cursive is increasingly not taught at all, the CursiveLogic font is a great compromise. If you have a reluctant cursive writer, this program is a terrific option.

The CursiveLogic Workbook costs $29.00 and can be adapted to suit the needs of students 7-adult. 

To read the reviews of 99 other CursiveLogic users, click the banner below.

CursiveLogic Review
Crew Disclaimer