Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review of The World's Greatest Stories

When I received this CD free for my review, I was expecting to love it.  My kids really enjoy Bible stories, and I loved the thought of them being able to listen to them in the car or on their MP3 players.  Unfortunately, this CD received the support of only one of my four children.

The World's Greatest Stories are stories read word-for-word from the Bible (either KJV or NIV) by George Sarris.  What makes them different is the dramatic way in which they are read.  There are currently six CDs available; my family listened to The Prophets.  For only $7.95 per CD, you likely won't be disappointed if you choose to buy these recordings, but they are not for everyone.

I have always been of the opinion that the Bible (with the exception of some of the "begats" and the Laws) is exciting reading in its own right.  It doesn't require dramatization.  I have never had to urge my children to listen to Bible stories, and they have never (I don't think!) found them boring.  The problem with this CD, though, is that the reading (the actor actually memorizes the stories before recording them) is so over-the-top that my children actually laughed too hard to hear it.  Stories that they knew suddenly became almost farcical.  I understood why they laughed, but I was sad that that was their reaction. Only my 7 year-old son enjoyed the CD.

The best thing to do if you're interested in the CDs is to listen to samples of them on the website.  That way, you can be sure that they are right for your family.

Hey, my opinion is just that: mine.  To hear other opinions (and a ton of people really love this product!), read the Crew blog.

Review of I See Cards - Fractazmic

I was thrilled to receive a copy of I See Cards' Fractazmic free in exchange for my review for several reasons.  First, I See Cards' Pyramath was the first Crew review I read last year (I didn't review the product).  Based on the Crew reviews, I bought Pyramath.  I have since gifted it multiple times.  When I saw a new I See Cards game, I knew it would be one my kids would love.  I was right.

I don't know what it is about fractions, but they seem to cause problems for so many kids.  Children who previously loved math find themselves hitting a wall.  Fortunately, the people of I See Cards completely understand this problem, and have come up with a marvelous solution.

Fractazmic cards (the set comes with 60) each display a fraction and an associated graphic.  The visual reinforcement really helps the concept of the fraction stay with the student.

The rules for playing this game are very straightforward, but as with other I See Cards games, there are many more ways to use the cards than just playing by the rules.

Children can play with the cards individually, using them to create multiples of one, or using them to create equivalent fractions.  These are only a couple of things my kids have done with the cards in the last month. Best of all, the quality of the cards is wonderful! They are of a heavy plastic and can withstand plenty of play!

Fractazmic is available for only $6.95, and can be purchased through I See Cards.  If you only make one math purchase this year (and if you have a child who either needs to learn fractions, or has had trouble learning them), Fractazmic should be it.

That's my read others, check out the Crew blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review of Pitsco

When my family received Pitsco's catapult and trebuchet kit free in exchange for my review, all five of my kids were really excited.  Five?! Did I have another baby? No, in this case the 5th kid is my husband.  Here was a review he could really sink his teeth into!

Pitsco has an amazing array of products in the area of STEM Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) technology. Through the building of everything from rockets to planes to race cars, teachers can expose their children to engineering in a dynamic and fun way.  For homeschoolers, the opportunities are irresistible: build a rocket with your kid and have it count as science *and* math? Yes, please!

For this review, we received the materials and instructions necessary to build a catapult and a trebuchet.  Although my children were thrilled with the project, my husband ended up doing most of the actual work.  *He* was extremely impressed with the thoroughness of the instructions and the way that complex principles of physics were explained so that children could understand them.  The kids just loved building a catapult! They were, however, able to explain to me how it worked, so some of the lesson stayed with them past the excitement of hurling small pieces of paper.

The component pieces of Pitsco's trebuchet and catapult kit are very well-made.  Everything you need to complete the project is included, with the exception of Krazy Glue.  My husband actually found that Gorilla Glue worked better for this particular project.  The instructions are very complete, and everything you need to make a lesson out of the project is included.  I cannot speak highly enough about this company.  In fact, the following pictures are from their website.  I would hate for the product to be judged on my pictures!

The only thing I would note is that the kit, while actually quite small, came packaged in a huge box.  There was a ton of extra cardboard and paper.  I don't know if, in fact, it is necessary to package these kits in so much material in order to protect them.  It did not seem so to me.

After building one project from Pitsco, I would have no hesitation in ordering more.  While the projects seem expensive on the face of them, it is very important to realize how much material they actually cover.  The instruction books are more like small textbooks, and you can easily stretch even the smallest project over several days.  The kit that we received retails for $21.95.  I'm definitely coming back to Pitsco!

If you're interested in finding out more about Pitsco, be sure to visit both their website and the Crew blog.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review of Artistic Pursuits

When we were selected to receive one of Artistic Pursuits art instruction books free in exchange for our review, I was so excited.  For combining art instruction and art history, there is no one who does what Artistic Pursuits does.  Offering art curriculum for all grades Pre-K through 12, Artistic Pursuits' books follow almost the same format, regardless of level.  Book 1 of each set (we used 4-6 grade) is an overview of drawing, including art and composition.  Book 2 is an overview of color theory and composition.  Art history is incorporated in both volumes.

Why is Artistic Pursuits superior to other art curricula? Several reasons immediately come to mind.  First, the program is written to the student.  Through a series of 64 lessons at each level, your children can learn both how to draw and how to create art.  Art instruction appeals to some parents, but is terrifying for others who still have nightmares of paper, scissors, and Elmer's Glue from time to time (too personal?).  We all want our children to have some art instruction, often for different reasons. For fans of classical education, art is very much a part of a well-rounded humanities course.  For parents who want their children to have a school experience similar to the public schools, art is not even an option: you have to have it.  Some parents think it is necessary just to have art as a part of their child's permanent record or transcript, while some states require art instruction.  Artistic Pursuits is the answer to every one of these parents' prayers.

Artistic Pursuits is different from other curricula for the following reasons, too (taken straight from the horse's mouth - or their website): 
  1. Students do not do art activities in a vacuum.  That is, there is no drawing of cubes, cylinders, etc. Students draw real things.
  2. Students don't learn just one type of technique.  They learn to create art the same way that artists do: by *doing* it.
  3. Students use larger sketch books that mimic the way artists actually sketch - using the whole arm.
  4. Students do not sit in front of the computer or TV.  They are fully engaged with the world around them, which helps them learn how to see what they want to create.
Best of all, and this is not taken from the website, but from my own experience, Artistic Pursuits actually does teach your child to draw! My own daughter is too shy to let me post her work here, but she loved seeing the improvement in her technique without even being aware that it was happening.  She got to create art using a variety of media, and she had a blast doing it.

Artistic Pursuits has a curriculum for you, regardless of your child's age.  Their instruction books retail for $42.95 and can be purchased through the website.  You can also purchase all of the art supplies that you need for any level.  Prices vary based on the needed supplies.  

At first glance, Artistic Pursuits may seem expensive, but when you factor in that you can reuse the curriculum with each of your children, the price goes down dramatically.  Best of all, though, is the fact that art-phobic moms don't have to teach it themselves! For more information, visit Artistic Pursuits online, and check out the Crew blog.