Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review of The Critical Thinking Co.™



If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know what I think of The Critical Thinking Co.™. Mary-Catherine (13) is using their history this semester, and I have used countless other of their books over the past ten years of homeschooling. I can honestly say that we have never used something of theirs that we didn't all love. This time around, we got to review Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary.  




With Nicholas (15) entering his sophomore year of high school in the fall, I have begun to think about standardized tests as they relate to him. Whereas Therese (16) has always been my rock solid verbal girl, Nicholas is all about the math. In fact, I am sometimes very surprised by the vocabulary words he doesn't know. Out of my four kids, he is my least avid reader, and that is made evident by the vocabulary that he has not just naturally acquired over the years. If I'm being completely honest, I had always been a little, well, skeptical about vocabulary curriculum. Blessed with readers and possessed of more than a touch of sesquipedalianism myself, I have been of the opinion that vocabulary is something one just absorbs from books and life. One does not seek it out especially for the purpose of studying it. And then there was Nicholas (isn't there always that one kid that breaks you of all your smug pre-conceived notions?). He's so good in math that I stopped being able to help him years ago, but there are holes in his vocabulary - holes I don't want to negatively impact his PSAT score. 

Enter one of my new favorite products:


This vocabulary book is just plain fun. For grades 5-12+, it introduces new vocabulary words through cases. Think of them as two-minute mysteries (remember those?). In a couple of paragraphs, a crime scenario is presented along with a list of suspects and descriptions. On the facing page, there are 15 sentences with a vocabulary box. Students read the case and suspect descriptions, solve the crime, and then fill in the blanks with the correct vocabulary word. None of it feels like work. It just feels like fun. The vocabulary words are excellent: abrogate, onus, cogent, foist - so many of my favorites. The answer keys in the back list all of the correct answers along with a synonym for the vocabulary word presented, so students really get two for the price of one when learning words.



As for how Nicholas has liked working through this book, I got no complaints at all. In general, he likes workbooks. He can get in, get out, and be done. He has also learned so many new words. I got one text from him (hooray for products that let kids work independently!) asking what a particular word meant, but that's all. Otherwise, the book did its job in teaching him the new words through context.
As with all products from The Critical Thinking Co.™, I have been so impressed with this one. It's easy and fun, but it packs a powerful punch when it comes to teaching. The Critical Thinking Co.™ was very generous with the Crew and gave us many different products, so be sure to click the banner below to see everything else we got to review.
Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}




Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review of Home School Navigator



 Language Arts curriculum is a very individual thing. There are as many different approaches as there are kids. Fortunately, there are almost as many different programs as there are kids, too. The Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum from Home School Navigator  is a program of which I was completely unaware until it was brought to my attention through this review. Unlike any other language arts program we have used before, the indigo level (the highest level of this program offered, equivalent to a fifth grade reading level) is definitely beneath Michael's (13 - 7th grade) reading level, but I was very curious to see what the program offered in terms of reading comprehension and the like.


So what makes this program different? First, the sheer variety of activities in a given month. Each month, regardless of reading level, students are introduced to a new genre of literature, new reading strategies, and new writing styles. Along with that, every month there is grammar, writing, word study (roots, prefixes, etc.), and reading responses. Additionally, at the older levels, for students who enjoy such things, Home School Navigator introduces Interactive Notebooks, a more interesting way to handle reading responses and book reports. Kind of like mini-lap books, these notebooks let students do a little bit of cutting and gluing along with responding, breaking up the monotony of just writing. For tactile learners, this kind of activity is a huge plus.

Additionally, Home School Navigator is incredibly well organized. Once you know your level, everything is laid out for you. One thing I really appreciated is that the creators stress over and over again on their site that while it is possible to do everything in the curriculum as they have laid it out, *you* are the teacher, and you decide what and how much you will do. The curriculum and schedule are suggestions to aid you in your journey. If you want to write the answers on a white board instead of on the worksheet, go for it. I love that approach.

Logging on to your account, you will see a dashboard like this for each week's lessons:



You can select a day to see this menu. Truly, everything is laid out for you. There is a parent video and a student video on Day 1, but on succeeding days, there are fewer assignments (for one thing, no videos).


There are links to YouTube videos for many of the read alouds and you can link to the worksheets that you need for things like the word studies. The first book unit for Indigo level is Louis Sachar's Holes (a HUGE favorite in our house) in month two, and that is when the Interactive Notebook first comes into play (we hadn't gotten there yet by the time of this review, but I did look at the notebook and I know that there are some kids, like Michael's twin sister, who love that form of learning).

Our Experience
Right off the bat let me say again that Michael, as a rising 8th grader, is too old for this product. It is designed to go through 5th grade, and Michael reads at a high school level or beyond. Ray Bradbury and HG Wells are among his favorite authors. I was curious to see what it was like, though, because I am always worried that my kids aren't getting enough critical analysis. What I can say for sure is that is that I wish I had known about this company when my kids were younger. It is so interesting and the activities are so varied, with everything so well laid out, that I would have loved using it with littles. The creators of the program chose AMAZING children's literature, like the aforementioned Louis Sachar and Jon Scieszka, authors whom children *and* parents love - books I would pick myself, to teach necessary concepts. The activities, as mentioned above, are varied and interesting so there is little chance of children getting bored. Through the program, children are introduced to a variety of genres and authors, and they learn how to interact with those genres from a young age. Additionally, everything is laid out in such an organized fashion. I really like this program, even if it was not a great fit for our family of teenagers.
Fortunately, plenty of Crew families with children in the target age range used the Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum, too, so be sure to click the banner below to read all their reviews!
Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review of PandaParents

If you are looking for preschool learning opportunities, you have to check out PandaParents! One of the saddest things about all of my children being teenagers is that I won't ever again use cute programs like this one (hmmm - there's always grandchildren...someday!), but one of the happiest things about being on the Homeschool Review Crew is that I can still check them out! PandaParents' program MESSYLEARNING FOR PRESCHOOLERS AND KINDERGARTNERS is a month-to-month program, each month of which includes, for now, a pdf book, online videos, and a pdf workbook. By December, 2018, PandaParents plans to release a physical version of this program.

This program is just the kind of thing that is perfect for littles to "do school." The story books are adorable, with each focusing on a letter or a theme. My favorite was "Scotty Skunk Hears a Scary Sound," probably because I have a thing for alliteration, but another month's story focuses on mommies and babies, while still another addresses the letter M and emotions with "Muffin on the Bench." Workbooks accompany the storybooks and reinforce the learning in the stories. For example, in Scotty Skunk month, the workbook continues the emphasis on the letter "s."



The activities in the workbook are age-appropriate for 3-6 year-olds, including hands-on projects, and I know that my kids would have loved them at those ages! The books are bright and cheerful, and while reading them off the screen is not my preference, it's not like it's a deal breaker, either. And with the advent of physical books on the horizon, if it is a deal breaker for you, all you have to do is wait a few months.

Of course, MESSY is capitalized for a reason; it's an acronym. It stands for:
M - Mixed subjects and activities for integrative learning
E - Engaging activities that challenge minds
S - Simple 1-2-3 steps - read, learn, create
S - Smart designs for creative learning
Y - Yeah - a new way to promote preschool STEM and early brain growth

If all of that sounds exciting to you, be assured that the bright, colorful books and videos will be exciting to your preschooler/kindergartner, too. I promise, it doesn't look like learning. There are memory games, matching games, sorting games, writing, coloring, and tracing, and more. You won't have to go to a bunch of different sites to print off a bunch of different things, and everything will be thematically connected every single month. Again, it's something I really would have enjoyed when my four were little!

There are many ways to connect with PandaParents on social media:

Fortunately, many Crew who reviewed this program *did* have littles test driving PandaParents, so be sure to click the banner below to read their reviews of this program!
Messylearning For Preschoolers and Kindergartners {PandaParents Reviews}

Review of Kids Email

Keeping kids safe online is of the utmost importance to every parent I know. These days parents have lots of options for keeping kids safe online, but there is still that ever-present worry of "Am I doing enough?" Even with younger kids, the pressure is there. It's super handy for kids of every age to have an email address, but email can be worrisome, too. There can be unwanted ads, unwanted solicitations, and even if you have all that under control, it can still be an unwanted time suck. No worries! Kids Email has you covered with its Kids Email Safe Email for Kids subscription! 

Kids Email does everything you would want a kids' email program to do, plus a whole lot more you probably haven't even thought of yet. This program includes all of these amazing features (which can be configured in the settings):

In summation, you can choose whether or not you want your child to be able to send and receive email from his/her contact list only, whether you want your child to be able to edit the contact list, whether you want to be sent a copy of incoming and/or outgoing email and whether you want email to include images, links, attachments, and bad words or not. You can also choose whether or not your child will be allowed to add a tagline to the bottom of emails and whether another parent should be added to the notification list. Even better, you can select whether you want these settings to be applied to one child or to all children - it's one stop shopping.

Kids Email has settings on the kids' side of things, too. As a kid, don't you want to customize how your email looks? You can do that! Here are just a few of the backgrounds that Nicholas has to choose from.


Notice also that it says in the upper left hand corner "Kmail.org" - that's because, since Nicky is older, it's not very cool to have email coming from "kidsemail.org." Allowing the email to come from kmail.org is a nice touch.

Remember that I talked at the beginning about email being a potential time suck? Kids Email eliminates that problem, too. If you choose, you can set exact times that your child is allowed to be using his/her email:


Does your child need time off for bad behavior? You can even ground your child from email right from your control panel!


If you have even hesitated for a moment about trying email for your child, please don't hesitate to try Kids Email's free 30-day trial. I am betting you'll be convinced that your child can safely and successfully use email! And I'm betting that grandparents, uncles, cousins, and friends will be absolutely delighted! When my kids were younger (they are all teenagers now), I loved the safety and security that Kids Email provided!

You can subscribe to Kids Email Safe Email for Kids for $2.99 month, billed annually at $38.95, which gives you six email accounts. Alternatively, you can pay monthly at $4.95, which gives you four email accounts. If you need more information, visit their website, or click the banner below to read more reviews!
Safe Email for Kids {Kids Email Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review of Kayla Jarmon


We received three booksA Boy and His Dog,  Dying is Part of This World, and Don't Forget Me from Kayla Jarmon. My favorite of these, and the one I was most looking forward to, was definitely A Boy and His Dog, since I have two boys and their dog, but the other two books definitely have their place in your digital library, too. 


In A Boy and His Dog, Kayla Jarmon tells a story as old as time. She relates the story of one day as experienced through the eyes of, you guessed it, a boy and his dog. If you have a son who has a dog, this book will make both of you (all three of you?) smile. The boy and his dog do all of the familiar things - they go exploring, play tug-of-war, climb trees, get filthy, and end the day exhausted, only to start the whole thing over the next day. In fact, the book ends exactly the way it begins, which is my favorite part. To a boy and his dog, every day is the same magical day as the one before. The book made me extremely nostalgic for simpler days when my boys were not teenagers. Even as teens, though, they love their dog!


The next two books are part of the Discussion Book Series. In Don't Forget Me, a baby develops in utero from conception through birth while listening to and interacting with the voice of God. The baby learns the voices of his parents, reacts to their actions and emotions, and, through it all, is told by God never to forget Him. Finally, at the end, the baby is born and his parents thank God for him. While this kind of book is not my favorite, I can certainly see it being an asset to some families who like discussion starter books like this one. I have always preferred organic discussions in my family, and my children always resisted more artificial discussion-type books like this one. However, the book is charmingly illustrated, and if you're looking for a book to introduce a new baby to the family, or to emphasize that God creates life in the womb and that all aspects of conception, development, and birth are ordained by him, you will really appreciate this book.


Finally, in Dying is Part of This World, Kayla Jarmon tackles the very difficult topic of death. I don't think many people are comfortable with the idea of death, as in, "Yes! Bring it on!" Even if we are certain of God's mercy and Jesus's grace, there is always a fear of the unknown. I'll confess that I was surprised by this book. I love that the author tackled so much more than I would have thought. For example, she addresses things like God being outside of our time, meaning that, for all we know, we all enter Heaven at the same time (therefore answering that age old problem of "How could I ever be happy in Heaven without my children?"). However, the book is decidedly and firmly Protestant in its presentation of how those left behind are to address the issue of those who have gone before. Ms. Jarmon acknowledges that it is only natural to talk to those who have died, especially, for example, our parents. She says that is just evoking their memory, though, and that God forbids trying to communicate directly with the dead...but Deuteronomy 18:10-11 is forbidding necromancy. He never forbids our talking to people who have died before us. In fact, scripture urges us over and over to pray for each other. I'm not going to hijack my own review, but please read here if you're interested in why Catholics talk non-stop to the people in Heaven (what you may know, somewhat erroneously, as "praying to the saints").

In any case, I can't recommend this third book to Catholics for obvious reasons, but some Protestants may find it informative or useful depending on their denomination and beliefs. My heart belongs to A Boy and His Dog! The book is charming and lovely and will resonate strongly with anyone who mothers both a boy and his dog!

Finally, although there are not currently audio files associated with these books, stay tuned because they are coming! 

49 other Crew members read Kayla Jarmon's books. Click here to see what they thought!

Discussion Book Series and A Boy and His Dog {Kayla Jarmon Reviews}


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Obsessive Hobbying

Okay, I'm not going to lie. I have a problem. I don't know if it's related to OCD - I tend to think of it as both compulsive and obsessive behavior. When I have a hobby, no matter what it is, I *immerse* myself in it. When I cross-stitched, I needed all the fabric, all the threads (cotton, metallic, overdyed, silk, and rayon), all the beads, and all the charts (the more complicated, the better, naturally). Anyone want to make me an offer on several lifetime's worth of cross-stitch supplies? I switched to knitting when I had young children in activities because the way I cross-stitched, that hobby was anything but portable! Of course, I chose lace knitting on tiny needles with tiny yarn (I always have to do the hardest thing - it's probably the only reason I have a Ph.D.). Now I have several lifetime's worth of knitting supplies (as in, tubs and tubs worth of yarn - and remember, this is skinny, tiny yarn, so we're talking *a lot* of yarn). For anyone familiar with the term, and if you're not, you'll thank me - it's SABLE in the extreme (that's Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy).

(omitted sections where we don't talk about my amazing makeup collection which is an ever-evolving work in progress and my crossword puzzle obsession which my children are still benefiting from constantly)

Now, I still love knitting (although my eyes are degenerating rapidly and I am temporarily knitting, gulp, worsted weight scarves. I'm almost embarrassed), but my creative side has been screaming for a little while now, and I started really wanting to junk/art/alter journal. I always say I'm not creative, but I think I sell myself short (What? Stop the Presses!!!). I have trouble coloring outside the lines sometimes because of my rigid personality, but anyone who knew me a long time ago knows that there is a girl inside me who once upon a time refused to color inside the lines. She's still in there. Anyway, I have always loved pens and paper and stickers and such. Maybe I have even collected them. I have been afraid to enter the world of art journaling/junk journaling/whatever, though, because I don't want to mess up (perfectionism, you suck). What I always forget, though, is that I actually used to "do" altered art all the time back in high school. I just don't think the term had been invented yet! Back then, I didn't care if it was right or perfect or pretty. I just used to have fun with it. I didn't even know it technically had a name. It was probably because there weren't YouTube channels, IG stories, and Pinterest boards dedicated to it that I didn't care. I need to get back there. It made me happy.

Oh, and I come by my obsessive hoarding collecting nature honestly. My mom's craft rooms (yep - that was plural on purpose) are a thing of envy for anyone who does any kind of paper crafting. Any time I'm looking at something online or in a craft store, Mary-Catherine tells me, "Grammy has all of those!" (you can fill in the blank with an entire product line). Unlike me, though, my mom is the very definition of an artist. She can draw, sketch, paint, play the piano, write poetry - you name it, she does it. I have reflected on the fact that she didn't really have the kind of life where she could "do" her art. Six kids, a couple of them very difficult (no, I wasn't one of them), not a lot of free time, not a lot of extra money. In her retirement, though, she has found her outlet with paper crafting and she is making up for lost time. That makes me happy for her.

Is there a point to this post? Call it a set up for the one that is coming later this week. I'm going to post some of the great sites that I have found for collecting the kinds of things I am putting in my journals. Realize that vintage is my vibe, so if that doesn't interest you, you probably won't get much out of the links. Here's a teaser, though: 1943 Sears Christmas Wish Book.