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.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thank God for the Extroverts

No, really. Introverts like me would shrivel up and die without extroverts. Extroverts force us out of our shells. We are very comfortable sitting on the outside watching life pass by. We live in our own heads. Here's a secret I don't think I've told anyone: I have conversations with a fictional therapist in my head. I'm in tune enough with myself and, through my reading, siblings, and children, I've been exposed to enough therapy second and third-hand that I'm pretty sure I know what's up with myself. I still have to hash things out, though. So I talk to a fictional Dr. X. in my head. He answers back. His rates are exactly what I can afford. But I digress. Introverts are too comfortable in their own heads sometimes. Unhealthily comfortable. When I start laughing at my own jokes that I forgot to say out loud, we might have a small problem (just a small one, though).

In the past few years I have met three women that have dragged me kicking and screaming out of that comfort zone, and they've done so within the first few minutes of my meeting them. That's more than just extroverted talent - that's a kindred spirit thing. It's funny - I still, in my advanced old age, don't really relate to a lot of women (although the older I get, the more that changes). The second I met Henry at 18, though, I lost interest (thankfully for my relationship) in hanging out with other guys. Guys had always been my safe place. They weren't catty, didn't gossip, and were very upfront about how they felt - so different from girls (and, I'm sorry to say, many adult women). You always knew where you stood. Because I don't hang out with adult men, I have no idea what they're like, but I suspect they're pretty upfront, too. Most men don't seem to have the patience to play games like women do. Again, I digress (focus, fool! - ha! Some insight into my inner dialogue!). Where was I? Oh, yes. Women.

The first one made me, I think, her pet introvert, which was fine with me. I love her. She is bubbly, beautiful, confident, and probably has more friends than I can even conceptualize. I admire that kind of person but I get exhausted just thinking about living that life (is it nap time yet?). She is so kind and compassionate and so upfront about her curiosity about what it means to be conservative (personality-wise, not politically), Catholic me. She has never made me feel odd because of our differences; she has made me feel treasured. That, my Internet friends, is a rare, rare gift.

The second one, it is no surprise, felt like I had known her my whole life. She is what would happen if my older sister and I had another sister (well, we do have another sister, but keep with me) who was a perfect hybrid of the two of us (which our younger sister is not). Extroverted like my older sister, snarkily brilliant like me, and the perfect person to talk endlessly to, I feel like an extrovert myself with her. She's the kind of person I feel like texting when something happens because I know she'll see it the exact same way that I do. As life tends to do, events kind of evolved in a way that set our lives on different tracks, but she will always stand out to me as the person with whom I have felt an instant connection.

Finally, my most recent extrovert acquisition (because I collect extroverts, don't you know! Heck, I hoard makeup, yarn, and lately craft supplies - why not add extroverts to the list? Why not, Laura? Because it's creepy, that's why not.) is someone that Henry had been telling me for weeks that I would love. Henry and I have sort of a deal. He handles most shooting stuff because I do debate stuff. Both require lots of time and lots of driving. Extrovert 3 is a shooting mom. Henry told me, "She's our kind of people. She gets our humor." Suffice it to say, not a lot of people get our humor, especially women. Men usually get me. When they hear my cracks, they laugh. Many women, if they get me at all, don't think I'm funny and (sniff) I think even feel sorry for me. Well, Henry assured me that this one was like us. He built her up quite a bit. Even my kids were telling me, "She really wants to meet you!" I told them, "She's going to be disappointed..." In any case, I met her and was instantly delighted. I have the feeling that everyone who meets her probably feels that way. She is one of those people who makes you feel like you are the only one she is interested in talking to. Again, that's a gift. A lot of introverts are good at that because, duh - you *are* the only one they are interested in talking to! (I'm kidding. Kind of.) But extroverts are interested in lots of people. And things. And people (disclaimer - I am the proud mother of the most extroverted teenage girl ever. If you know her, you know I speak the truth.). So for an extrovert to exude that kind of warmth and focus just toward me - well, I felt special. Plus she exhibited so much compassion toward my daughter and another girl on two separate occasions at her home that day - let's just say I'm sold.

So, like I said, thank God for the extroverts. Most introverts do, I suspect, crave friendships. But they are so much work. You have to find friends. You have to maintain friendships. You have to be pried out of the house. When you're out, you usually enjoy yourself (although you enjoy coming home more!). So, if you're the extroverted friend of an introvert, don't give up on her! Text her (don't ever call - she won't answer...but you knew that already!) and keep in touch.

What prompted this post? Well, I was thinking about the above ladies, but I also had a dream about my  best friend last night. The best advice I can give any young lady bored enough to be reading this is *don't* make the mistake of thinking you can be best friends with a guy. It may work when you are younger. It may even work when you are older - for awhile. It may work for decades. At some point, for some reason, though, it will more than likely cease to work. Then you'll have a best friend that you only talk to in your head, which is probably befitting two very introverted people. It's a kind of lonely way to maintain a decades-long friendship, though.

P.S. Is it wine-thirty yet?

What happens when two introverts take a picture with an extrovert in the family...

Review of A+ Interactive Math by A+ TutorSoft Inc.

Oh my goodness. If you have read my blog for awhile, you already know that we have used A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc.)  many times in previous years. In fact, we have reviewed this company three times before! After our very first time reviewing the company, I actually bought a bunch of their products, so I obviously love what they do. While there have been some changes over the years, the primary way the program works has remained the same, so (SPOILERS!), it's safe to say that I still love this math program. Michael (who is using Pre-Algebra this time around - hard to believe that the first time he used A+ TutorSoft products he was in 3rd grade!) was just glad to see that when you get a problem wrong, the neat voice still says, "I'm sorry! That is incorrect!" It's all about consistency...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The great thing about reviewing for this company is that while the core operation of their interactive math programs remains the same, the way they offer those programs is ever-evolving, meaning that they can serve more and more families. This time around, we got to review their Family Math Package. Good for up to 10 students (hello, large family friendly!), this package allows students from 1st grade through Algebra to move from grade level to grade level and from lesson to lesson (or topic to topic within a grade level) as much as they want during the space of the year long subscription. There is so much flexibility with this program! Have you ever experienced buying a math program and then realizing that what that program considers 6th grade is not what your previous program considered 6th grade? Many companies are very friendly with returns and exchanges, but not all are, and it really stinks to be stuck with the wrong grade level. Or what if, like one of my children, you have a child who is okay at math at grade level except for one topic? How wonderful it is to have the option to to do on-level math for almost everything, but go up or down a level for that one thing at which you are an outlier!


There is much to learn about how the Family Math Package works, so let's dive in. I'll be talking about Pre-Algebra, which A+ TutorSoft gauges at a 7th/8th grade level. Also, although I only have one student (13) using the program at the moment, as I mentioned you can have up to 10. All you have to do is assign each one to a level of of the program. Each gets his/her own login. When they log in, they will be taken to their correct level. That doesn't mean you can't switch them around - it just means that they will be taken to where they need to be upon launching their math.

This is what you see when you launch Pre-Algebra:


The topics are in collapsed form on the left - it is easy to see exactly what will be covered in the program. The lessons play out as you see in the picture. They are narrated by a pleasant sounding, almost computerized, but not quite, woman as the text evolves on the screen.


If you expand the topics, as I have done above, you can see what is covered within one. It's kind of like exploring the chapter of a math book. (If you want to see all of the topics expanded at once, you can do so here). After each one of these subtopics, there is an Interactive Q&A (that's that right facing arrow on the bottom of the screen). Consider it a short review of what was covered. What Michael loves (and has since he was 8) about this Q&A is that when he gets a question wrong, he gets to hear, "I'm sorry! That is incorrect!" What I love about it is that when he gets a question wrong, the correct solution is presented in a step-by-step format.


There is an app on my phone that I use for the kids to walk them through math problem solutions that I can't help them with (because, as everyone knows, I'm all about words, not numbers). I love the fact that I don't have to break out that app with this program. A+ TutorSoft understands that kids need to understand how to do the problem they got wrong - knowing they got it wrong is only about 10% of the battle. 


If the interactive Q&A doesn't provide enough practice, there are also online worksheets for every single subtopic. The online worksheet is not just a repeat of the Q&A questions your child has already done. It truly is more practice. 








If you want to see if  A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc.)  is right for you, you should absolutely check out their huge page of free stuff! You should also read the Crew blog to see how 75 other Crew members used both the Family Math Package and the Adaptive Math Curriculum Online





Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review of HelpTeaching.com

We have used HelpTeaching.com in the past, so I was quite happy to receive a subscription to Help Teaching Pro again. The terrific thing about this website is that it doesn't matter if you had a subscription to it two years ago, it both is and isn't the website you remember. It is the same website in that it still has the test generator that lets you make your own tests according to your own materials (in fact, it will even have your previous tests still stored if you've been a member before!), it still has untold numbers of pre-made worksheets, short but informative lessons that you can assign to individual students, an early education section, and so much more. It's not the same website because there is new material being added constantly! Also, the kids you likely used it with previously have aged, hence, the material in the next grade level(s) is all new to them! Of course, if you're one of the lucky ones who has not yet used HelpTeaching.com at all, you're in for a huge treat. This website is not just another worksheet warehouse. There is so much more here, and you can explore a whole lot of it for free. My guess is you'll want the Pro version after seeing everything the site has to offer.
When you log on to HelpTeaching.com, you'll see five major sections: 

Tests and Worksheets is the place to find worksheets by grade level or subject area. From Pre-K through 12 and from Physical Education to Science to Graphic Organizers to Life Skills, along with all the core subjects you would expect, this section has everything you need to print any worksheet you can think of for your students. If you need Common Core aligned materials, you will find those here. 


The next tab, Online Lessons, is one of the things that sets this site apart. If you're like me, you value curriculum that your child can do on their own, which is why I loved the root lesson Michael did. The older mine get, the more important this factor is in my deciding what curriculum to use. Further, since all of my kids are middle or high school, I love that the middle and high school elements on this site are geared to be independent. Using embedded videos from both HelpTeaching.com and from other sources, which you can see on this page, middle and high schoolers can do everything at their own pace. 

Nicholas (14) will be taking the PSAT for the first time next year as a sophomore. His vocabulary is not as strong as my other kids'. I'm not sure why, but it probably has something to do with his coming to a love of reading a little later than the rest of them. That's okay, though! HelpTeaching.com has a Top 100 SAT words self-paced lesson for him to work through. Since Nicholas doesn't really do any work with me anymore, it's essential that I find things that he can do on his own, and this lesson fits the bill perfectly. 


With accompanying worksheets that list all of the words, there is a visual and a written component. Nicholas remembers best when he writes things down, so he wrote down the words as the slides on the video played. Now he has a notebook of Top 100 SAT words as a starting point for studying.

There are so many other kinds of lessons, too! One thing I love about this site is that it can easily fill holes that I find my kids have, or that I *fear* my kids have. Within a few minutes, my fears can be alleviated. Every so often I will suddenly think something like, "Literary analysis! My kids don't know anything about literary analysis!" I had that moment last week. I went to HelpTeaching.com and found a 7th grade lesson on literary analysis (see "Analyzing a Literary Text" with the lock beside it?):


I signed into my account to access the lesson and handed it off to Michael. First, there was a short discussion on analyzing a literary text, the first part of which you can see here:


Then, you move through five practice questions:


Michael got all of them right.

The third tab, Test Maker, is another great feature that sets this site apart. You can make multiple choice tests and quizzes and you can have your students take printable or online versions. You can create your own questions, or you can find questions that are already in the test library. You can write your own instructions or have the program generate instructions. Really, the possibilities are endless. I am not much of a written "tester" in my homeschool, but if you are, you will absolutely love what this feature has to offer. 


The next tab, Worksheet Generator, does exactly what it says. This is where Mary-Catherine got to "enjoy" Help Teaching Pro. Enjoy is in quotes because Mary-Catherine doesn't really enjoy being drilled in math, but she does appreciate the edge it gives her in her regular math program. You can get exactly the kind of math worksheets or games/puzzles you want on this page. Drill some math, then play some Bingo!

The Online Testing and My Content tabs let you manage your students, your tests, and your content. You'll get to know these tabs as you work with the program.

What We Thought

There is a lot to love about Help Teaching Pro. HelpTeaching.com offers much of its site for free, so you'll lose nothing by going to check out what they have to offer. If you like what you see, you might well decide it's worth the cost to upgrade to the Pro version, especially if you have multiple kids who will be using the site. Often with sites like this one, there is a lot of content for the younger grades, but the pickin's are thin at the higher levels. That's absolutely not true with HelpTeaching.com. They have great content at the upper levels. Don't take my word for it, though.
Because there are so many different ways to use HelpTeaching.com, do be sure to read the Crew Blog to see how 49 other Crew members made use of the myriad resources available!