Thursday, October 31, 2013

Such a Great Book It Needs a Blog Post

The House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam is so good that I am sad thinking that many of the people who read it probably miss much of the beauty of the language. This is not a review post. In fact, I checked this book out of the library. I was so stunned by the beauty of the language in the first chapter, though, that for the first time in years, I put my life on hold to finish the book.

I guess you would call this horror, but it is more of a gothic. Fans of Dan Simmons' atmospheric works like Drood, The Terror, and The Abominable would like it. That's all I'll say. If you want a book to get lost in, try this one. Sublime.

Review of Rosie's Doll Clothes

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Sewing was just one of those things that I assumed I would be able to do when I grew up (that and fixing hair well). As it turns out, you really do need someone to teach you how to sew! Fortunately for Therese (12), there is Rosie and Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns! For the past two months, Therese has been honing her nascent sewing skills with the amazing Learn How to Make Doll Clothes Video Course with 8 Free Doll Clothes Patterns.

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What This Course Is

 Purchase of the course for $47.44 (the seemingly odd price is because the course is priced in Australian dollars, so this is a currency conversion!) entitles you to 12 months of online access to over 130 instructional videos and eight free bonus patterns. Although you can still greatly benefit from this course if you have sewing experience, the course assumes that you are starting from zero, so you have nothing to fear if you have never touched a pattern before! The videos are great for kids 8 and up, but kids even younger could benefit from them if they had someone to help them with things like scissors and pinning.

The course is divided into six weeks of tutorials, beginning with the most basic topics including the tools you'll need, how to set up your sewing room, and selecting fabric. Week 2 addresses things relating to working with patterns. Rosie really does walk you through everything step-by-step. It's a huge confidence builder! The patterns are pdf files that come in two parts - instructions and the patterns themselves. Therese has been raving about the patterns. Her grandmother gave her a stash of patterns for 18 inch doll clothes awhile back, but after she has been able to use Rosie's very clear and easy patters that print on *regular paper*, I don't think she'll ever want to go back to patterns that she has to cut out on onionskin paper again.

The great thing about the videos is that it's almost like there are two sets: the standard "how-tos" and the "cool tips." So you'll learn all about how to cut pattern and fabric, but then you'll learn cool tips for the same. I love that! It's what sets Rosie apart from other lessons you can find elsewhere. Yes, you can learn to sew other places, but you don't get "the inside scoop." You also don't get the adorable patterns that look so much more complicated than they are. Finally, you don't get a money-back guarantee.

But Rosie is actually the best advertising for Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns:

I just love her accent :-)

How We Used It

Therese has a little sewing experience (a very little), but no sewing confidence, so I loved that Rosie started at the beginning! That gave Therese confidence because she knew what Rosie was talking about! Rather than doing some sewing every day (because the reality is that we don't have a sewing or craft room and it *does* take time to get supplies together and the sewing machine out), Therese tended to sit down and work once a week. She wanted to work by herself, so she watched the lessons on my laptop with her sewing machine in front of her.

I kind of assumed that she would be working at the schoolroom table, but the allure of the huge island in the kitchen turned out to be too much temptation for her!

This shot is as much as I am going to show of Therese's work, because she realized very early on that these adorable doll clothes would make perfect Christmas presents! Hence, look for this post to be updated in about 8 weeks after the recipients have opened their dolls' outfits :-)

How We Liked It

Therese has been having the *best* time with Rosie's Doll Clothes. As I said, the ease with which she can work with the patterns, coupled with the complete instructions, has put this program heads and shoulders above any other sewing option. The added benefit of the end result being *doll clothes* is the icing on the cake. Therese is not really much of a doll person (although she has the obligatory American Girl doll, courtesy of her grandmother), but she does love fabric, so the idea of being able to make clothes for her doll (and for other people's) grabbed her from the start. 

It did not surprise me that Mary-Catherine is begging to learn how to sew, too. What has surprised me is that Michael wants to learn. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, though, given that Henry is a far more accomplished sewer than I. I will definitely let both twins have a crack at learning!

For the price, this program is a no-brainer. Try it - you simply won't regret it! To see what other Crew members thought, click the banner below.


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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Extemp and Debate Part 1

I don't know how many of my readers did speech and debate in high school, but since it is the reason that I am overwhelmed and behind in all my work, I thought I would take a moment to write about it. Really, I have two observations (N.B. Therese is participating in the NCFCA, a Christian homeschool forensics league. Much of it is identical to NFL, but not all of it is): almost everything is exactly the same! Technology isn't.

I give you Prepd. If you extemped backed in the day, you won't believe this! Extemp files are virtual now. You find the article on the web, click the little trophy cup (I think it's a speaker award - at least in my world it is), assign it a folder, and it is in your club's "box." Seriously. You can clip a hundred articles an hour. When you're in the round, you are using the app which is disconnected from the Internet, you can use the timer to time your half-hour prep, you can "pull" your articles, and all proceeds as normal (long aside: in NCFCA, they use a NOTECARD in Extemp! It's hideous. They have, like, technique classes for how to fold your notecard to use it discreetly. I am teaching Therese to extemp without it. I think it looks terrible. All you have to do is Google the NFL national champ vs. the NCFCA national champ in Extemp to see the difference (well, one of many).). Prepd is awesome.

Oh, and flowpads. I assume they still use my flowpad of choice in NFL.

And some of the kids in Therese's club (EnGarde) use legal pads, but many of them (including Therese) use this little number:

Former debaters, is it just me, or does this just look, well, non-debaterish? 

Well, I was going to write more, but I am currently involved in an argument with my daughter about what exactly constitutes a flow pad. Sigh. To be continued...

Review of VocabularySpellingCity

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If you are a sentient homeschooler, you have most likely used VocabularySpellingCity (which has resources for K-12) at least once. The odds are excellent that you have used it far more often. You have probably also wondered if, given how excellent the free features of the site are, the VocabularySpellingCity Premium Membership is worth the $29.99 price tag (which covers 5 individual kid memberships with 1 parent account). Well, we have been test driving the Premium version for the past six weeks or so, and I can assure you that my kids vote a definite YES!

What Differentiates the Premium Membership?

For parents, the accountability, differentiated learning, and record keeping are huge assets, but for my kids - honestly - the ability to play Hang Mouse makes the Premium Membership awesome. A premium membership that has something for both parents and kids? Yes, please!

The premium features available to parents may not be as fun as Hang Mouse, but they definitely enhance the already very useful teaching capabilities of VocabularySpellingCity. For example, with premium access, parents can assign both lists and specific activities to individual students.

Below are just a few of the lists I have assigned to my four children (12, 10, 8, and 8). All of these lists were already in VocabularySpellingCity. I didn't have to do any of the work of entering them in!

What some parents may not be aware of is that VocabularySpellingCity also has great materials for high school! Check out these math vocabulary lists, science vocabulary lists, an entire summer program for high school, and my all-time favorite: SAT vocabulary lists! The SAT lists are amazing because not only do you learn to spell the SAT words, but the vocabulary testing feature allows you to learn the definitions, too. What a great tool for Therese as she prepares to take the SAT in January! The vocabulary testing feature is one of those that is an independent justification for buying the Premium Membership. It is simply too good not to have once you have tried it out. If you are using a separate vocabulary program in your homeschool, get ready to get rid of it!

How We Use VocabularySpellingCity

There are two primary ways that we use VocabularySpellingCity. The first is where I assign lists and activities to my kids via the assignment process available with the Premium Membership. Then, whenever I tell the kids to work on spelling, which they love doing with VocabularySpellingCity, they log in with their own individual logins and do the assignments that they see there. They know exactly which games they are supposed to play for which lists and when they are supposed to test. I can assign sentence work to Nicky (10), but focus only spelling for the twins (8). Therese, as I explained above, focuses on SAT vocabulary (although there is a great Pride and Prejudice vocabulary list that we used as well! When you use the website this way all of your child's work is is "recorded." That is, you can see what they have done.

Alternatively, your kids can work without specific assignments. That is, you can just give them a list and let them play games to learn their spelling. The only thing that is different is that their progress will not be stored for you. Although we tried this out, I infinitely prefer the assignment process. After all, that's one of the huge benefits of the Premier Membership.

Also, you can use one of the thousands of lists stored in VocabularySpellingCity already, or you can enter your own words. Thus, you can use the site as a spelling aid to accompany the program you already use, or you can allow it to *be* your spelling program. I have been quite happy to use it in the latter way. For example, we don't use BJU's spelling program, but the words are perfect for where Michael and Mary-Catherine are. Hence, I sort of adopted the spelling program!

Therese's main activity (apart from learning the SAT vocabulary) was writing a paragraph using all of the vocab words. Her effort for one week is above.

Parents with kids of all ages have been using VocabularySpellingCity, so be sure to click the banner below to read all the reviews!

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review of Bridgeway Academy's Easy Essay Class

Bridgeway Logo photo bridgewayacademylogo_zps8c2d62cc.jpgFinding a balance between exclusively teaching your own child, participating in co-op, taking online classes, taking classes at a junior college, and a myriad of other options is one of those things that all homeschoolers have to do. Most will, at least once, step out of the schoolroom to see what other options exist. For us, that happened in the last couple of months with our experience with the Homeschool Learning Labs from Bridgeway Academy.

Bridgeway Academy offers a host of accredited classes (and even textbooks) for homeschooled students. Easy Essay is one of their high school offerings. The class typically meets for 90 minutes per week over the course of a nine-week period. The class costs $275 and yields a .5 high school English credit. For the purpose of this review, we were offered an eight week class that met for 60 minutes each week.

How It Works

Watching the video is the best way to understand the process. Essentially, Therese's (12) High School Essay class met each Monday at 12:15 Central Time. About ten minutes prior to the class start time, students started logging into class through Jigsaw Meeting Software (basically a Go To Meeting type thing). At 12:15, Kimberly Kulp, the class instructor would begin class. Each class had a set topic, known to the class ahead of time by virtue of the syllabus. Mrs. Kulp would conduct the class with the assistance of a Power Point presentation, allowing for limited student interaction via their microphones. Students would be able to take notes on the whiteboard on screen, chat with the teacher or the class via the chat screen, see Mrs. Kulp, and view the Power Point.

The class required about two hours of homework per week in addition to the hour in class. The homework was due on Friday. Mrs. Kulp typically returned it via email an hour or so before class. For some reason, Therese could not email Mrs. Kulp directly. Her emails were rejected by the server. I had to email for her.

Our Experience with the Class

Our initial experience with this class was frustrating. Although we bought a brand new top of the line headset, Mrs. Kulp told Therese that she could not hear her through the microphone during the first class. That was very discouraging for Therese. Fortunately, Jigsaw's technical staff was wonderful and we figured out the problem very quickly before the next class. It was nothing more than a misunderstanding of how to use the "talk" button necessary for communicating during class. The microphone worked fine. I think that first class and the inability to talk made Therese very wary in future classes, though. It was hugely frustrating for me not to be able to really hear the classes because of the headphone requirement. I could never quite follow the class completely despite my best efforts.

The class followed a fairly standard "How to Write an Essay" format with pre-writing, brainstorming, thesis statements, etc. Therese has not had a formal essay class, but as with many voracious readers, she is a naturally good writer. I will confess to several irritations from the outset. First, there was at least one grammatical error on the syllabus. (It was either a "whose" instead of a "who's" or vice-versa. I don't have it in front of me right now.) For an English class, I can't excuse an error like that. Second, the homework assignments were so vague that it seemed that there was no way for Therese to be entirely successful with them. Sometimes she got the point of them; sometimes she didn't. Her success on the homework had no bearing on how well she understood the concept being taught, though. To me, that is not a successful homework assignment. Third, Mrs. Kulp's grading expectations were not clear at all. Let me explain.

On the paragraph assignment, I looked at Therese's returned homework and immediately saw several egregious grammar errors that were not corrected by Mrs. Kulp. I emailed her to ask why she had corrected some mistakes but not others. She let me know that she doesn't worry about correcting minor grammar errors when the focus is supposed to be on the essay skills. Again, I can't countenance that in any English class. Also, she had marked on Therese's paper that one of her sentences was a fragment when it wasn't. I diagrammed it and parsed it just to be sure, but it wasn't.

Organizationally, this class was a little bit all over the place. The classes were supposed to be recorded, but there were some technical problems with accomplishing that. Mrs. Kulp did go above and beyond the call of duty to reteach the classes to get them recorded, but it seems that other classes under review did not have these technical issues. 

Therese's Thoughts

Therese really did not enjoy this class. One thing about her is that she wants to see the point of everything that she does, and she did not see the point of many of the homework assignments. One assignment asked the students to write paragraphs incorrectly (organizationally speaking) after writing them correctly. I agree with Therese that there is no point to doing something incorrectly just to prove some kind of point. Therese felt that the Power Point presentations got in the way of what she felt could have been more personal teaching. That could be her bias as a homeschooled student who is used to less technology and more personal interaction. Also, Therese felt that the insistence that all students *must* brainstorm and pre-write prior to writing an essay was a limited viewpoint. Although her performance in her class did not bear out her true ability (her reluctance to participate in this class definitely showed in her lackadaisical work), she writes very successful essays without the need for either brainstorming or pre-writing. Therese felt that it would have been better to have taught these things as tools or options for "stuck" writers, rather than as necessary steps in the process. All in all, she thought that there was not nearly enough material to fill a 60 minute class and that she could have learned just as much from the Power Point alone without needing to be in class. In essence, there was not enough student-student interaction or teacher-student interaction to justify the class time.

My Thoughts

As a highly gifted kid, Therese learns things very quickly. She gets the point and moves on. I think the problem for her with this class is that she already knew how to write an essay. It is no secret that I have high expectations of her (read: I push her hard). I have been hitting grammar and sentence structure hard with all of my kids since before they could write. They shake their heads sadly when adults err with correct subject and object pronoun use. So when Therese knew she was taking a high school essay class, she was really excited. She had very high expectations. The class just wasn't quite what either one of us expected. It was more like what I was teaching Therese a couple of years ago. Having said that, for parents who have not done any writing instruction with their kids or who don't really know where to start with formal essay instruction, this class could be a solid starting point. It covers all of the basics. My main problems are these: the price is quite high. I would think it out of reach for many homeschool families. There are less expensive options at junior colleges. Also, there are still some rather significant technical issues that need to be worked out. Basic things like how to communicate during class need to be conveyed more precisely to students at the outset.

Despite our lack of success with this product, other Crew members have been loving Bridgeway Academy, and I am seriously thinking about purchasing Bridgeway English Book 2 Focus on Writing for Nicky (10). He loves workbooks, and this one looks perfect for where he is right now! 

Click on the banner to read all of the reviews!

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review of Barbour Publishing's Diary of a Real Payne

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All of my kids are voracious readers, so any time a book comes up for review, I jump on it! Diary of  a Real Payne Book 1: True Story from Barbour Publishing sounded like it was right up Mary-Catherine's (8) alley! Since the age recommendation is 8-12, it seemed like a can't-miss. It turns out, I was right!

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EJ (Emma Jean) Payne's diary records her daily life which is anything but boring! EJ lives in Spooner, Wisconsin, a town which sounds like somewhere I would love to live, but is the farthest thing from ideal according to her. EJ's problems are fairly typical for a girl her age (10). Primarily, she wants to get out of her small town! She's not crazy about her little brother (Mary-Catherine's little brother is younger by about 30 seconds, but, according to her, he still counts and she sympathizes!). She doesn't want to be the angel in the Christmas pageant. Pretty basic stuff for a book of this genre...of course, I can't tell you everything about EJ and the things she gets herself into! One look at the cover should let you know that EJ is more than just your average little girl! It is those hilarious situations that she gets herself into, along with the diary format the book is written in, that combine to make this a very charming and quick 192 page read.

Mary-Catherine's Thoughts

Mary-Catherine really enjoyed this book. On some levels. it was a little young for her. It is true that she is right at the target age, but she reads way above her age level. I asked her to read it while she was in the middle of Harry Potter Book 5, so she was a little reluctant to set that aside, but she did. Once she started reading Diary of a Real Payne, she finished it in a few days. She really enjoyed it. Her assessment: "I really liked the book because EJ has a good imagination. She also learns things about life even though she doesn't always get wants she wants. That's important."

My Thoughts

Diary of a Real Payne costs $5.99, although as of today, the Barbour Publishing website is showing it on sale for $4.49. It is a high quality glossy paperback written in the diary style that is popular with many kids' books. I found it a quick and charming read. Although Mary-Catherine is the only one of my kids to have read it so far, I know that Michael (her twin) will also read it and really enjoy it. It wouldn't surprise me it Therese (12) also gave it a quick read. It just has that quality where you pick it up to flip through it and then find yourself being drawn into it, even if you didn't intend to actually read the whole book. That's how I ended up reading it! It's probably a combination of the diary style and the quirky main character (who reminded me, I'll confess, of Mary-Catherine!). The pricing of the book is right on target with other books of its ilk and I have no quarrel with it. If you're not sure about whether or not you'll like the style of this book, read the sample chapter available on the website.

Book 2, Church Camp Chaos, is due out in March, 2014. We'll be looking forward to it! Many other Crew members got to meet EJ Payne, so click on the banner below to see what they thought of this enchanting little girl.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

St. Ambrose Answers the Age-Old Question...

"What is impossible to God? Not that which is difficult to His power, but that which is contrary to His nature." 3St. Ambrose of Milan

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review of God's World News' Trak Magazine

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For a long time, I have been anxious to get a look at World Magazine from God's World News, so I was intrigued to find out that I would have the opportunity to review Trak, God's World News' publication for high school students. Like all of GWN's titles, Trak presents current events from a Biblical worldview. Like its big brother, World, these stories are still hard-hitting news stories that are absolutely worthy of the title "news magazine."

Trak is published ten times per year (there is no issue in December or May), and a subscription costs $28. Each 32-page issue contains several types of stories, including features, editorials, technology, and more. Even better, a subscription to Trak will also gain you access to God's World News' Teen Website. This brand new website is just as impressive as the magazine itself, and it enhances the value of your subscription immeasurably. The following screenshots give just a small sample of what's available online on God's World News Online:

...and new content is added daily! The most amazing thing about the website, though is this:

That's right. When you subscribe to one GWN publication, like Trak, you get online access to every single other level of God's World News Publications, from the Pre-K/K God's Big World, all the way through the high school level Trak. If you have several children, this is an unbeatable deal!

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We received the August, September, and October issues of Trak. The magazines came with two pages of cardstock advertising on the front and back covers which, while they protected the magazine, made the it visually very unappealing to me. I love magazines that jump out of the mail pile at me! The colorful covers and great graphics are one of the things that make God's World News' World so wonderful! If I could change one thing about Trak, it would be to lose these ads. In any case, I tore them off before I passed the magazine on to Therese (12).

One reason I wanted to review Trak was because Therese is doing Extemp this year (extemporaneous speaking on current events). I wanted her to start easing her way into current events without having to be confronted by the horror of the nightly news. As it turns out, she loves Trak!

With each issue we've received, she has read the magazine cover-to-cover in under an hour. Then, they've disappeared to her room so that she can revisit the parts of the magazine she liked best. The big surprise has been how much she has loved the complimentary subscription to World that we have received! God's World News has been so generous with us for this review! They have provided us with a partial year's subscription to World Magazine, their adult biweekly news magazine. As I said, I have long wanted to see World in person. I read the website religiously (pun intended!). Now that I have, I will be subscribing. For one thing, World has the BEST iPad app I have seen yet for magazines (and I read a ton of magazines on my iPad). When World arrives in the mailbox, I have to fight Therese for the copy! Because World presents the news from a Christian worldview, I am not afraid to let her read it. The news is still rigorously presented. The science is hard. The political cartoons are funny. Therese is learning is so much!

 photo trak36_zps526c150f.jpg So Trak is what we were sent to review, and Therese loves it. Aimed at the high school crowd, it was initially a great read for Therese. Now that she has had her hands on World, though, I think that Trak will end up being more appreciated by Nicholas (10). He has already been reading it when he sees it lying around (he loved that cover article that you see on the picture above!), so I might just tell him that it is primarily his magazine now. The reading level is certainly not above him, and the subject matter is perfectly appropriate. I unreservedly recommend anything God's World News has to offer!

Unsure about what level may be best for your kids? Are you kids, like mine, advanced readers? No problem! There are plenty of samples available for you to try out! Check out an entire sample issue of Trak here. We didn't really use the lesson plans (Therese was too old), but GWN has them in abundance! See one on chocolate here

I obviously love Trak (and LOVE World)! See how Crew members enjoyed other levels of GWN magazines by clicking the banner below!

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

What I've Been Up To

I would love to be able to post and say that I have been consumed by homeschooling blogs lately...but that would not be entirely (or even a little) true. Once upon a time, I was obsessed with nail polish. In fact, I wore black, blue, and green nail polish back when no one else did. Back when you could only get those colors in the super cheap brands. I used to paint my nails for hours every Sunday night. I would do elaborate designs. I would paint faces on my nails. I would do football themed designs (maroon and white on one hand, orange and white on the other - that means something to Texas residents (of course, what it means is that I have no loyalty to either team!)) at Thanksgiving.

In any case, when I had kids, I stopped caring quite so much. I didn't have time! For some reason, though, I recently started caring again...and nails have come a long way! People are doing things with their nails that I was doing 25 years ago - but the polishes are so much better :-D

So check out my Nail Polish Pintrest Board to see some of the styles I've been trying. The pics aren't mine (I just can't get good pics!), but many of the styles are not hard to copy (like the Glitter French!). With many polishes costing only $1.50, changing your nails frequently is a super-easy and cheap way to express yourself and try new things. Tomorrow, I'll post a picture of all of my recent nail polish acquisitions. My camera is on the fritz today :-(

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review of Chess House Starter Chess Learning Kit

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Chess has been called the game of kings, and I have four kids that think it's pretty grand. Hence, when the opportunity to review the Starter Chess Learning Kit from Chess House came up, I jumped on it. This set is very impressive. It comes with the following:

  • 20" by 20" roll up chess board
  • plastic chess pieces with a 3 3/4" regulation size king (these are *not* flimsy plastic pieces!)
  • 49 minute DVD divided into segments explaining each chess piece and how it moves
  • a duffle bag to carry it all

The narrator of this DVD is a chess master who is incredibly easy to watch and makes chess seem both fun and approachable. As he explains chess, he demystifies the game and makes one feel that anyone can play the game. The entire set is so well made, and the fact that it is portable is what makes it such a huge hit in my family. My kids can take this chess set anywhere! We have never had a soft chess board before; it's a great innovation!

How My Kids Used Chess House's Set

I need to begin by saying that all four of my children (12, 10, 8, and 8) already knew how to play chess prior to receiving this product for review. They knew how to move each piece and were familiar with the idea of basic strategy, thinking ahead, castling, pawn promotion, etc. Essentially, everything that is covered in this DVD, they already knew. When this DVD is billed as beginner level, it really means it is beginner level. That is a great thing for a family that wants to learn chess, but doesn't really know where to start! For my kids, it was a little bit of a disappointment. They kept waiting to learn advanced strategy. They thought that at any time they would be finding out some secret that they didn't know. I myself wasn't sure they depth that the DVD went into, so I couldn't tell them for sure that they wouldn't learn anything new until the end! After looking at the website, I was able to tell them that there is a "Knight" level DVD (we reviewed "Pawn" level). They were glad to hear that.

What I can say is that they love this chess set! We have several chess sets at our house, ranging from extremely "fancy" ones that my husband and I owned and played on prior to having kids, to several that the kids have been gifted over the years (it turns out that we have more than I even realized prior to getting this review!). However, this chess set is all of our new hands-down favorite! Its flexibility and portability are unmatched. When I have to take my girls to dance for several hours, my boys can easily take along chess. When my eldest daughter has to go to debate, my younger kids can play chess. It has been such a lifesaver!

Chess House's Starter Chess Learning Kit is recommended for all ages and costs $39.95. Other Crew families with kids of all chess abilities got to try out this great set, so click on the banner to read all of the reviews.


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Friday, October 11, 2013

Review of YWAM Publishing's George Washington: True Patriot

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Prior to receiving YWAM Publishing's George Washington: True Patriot and George Washington: Unit Study Curriculum Guide to review, I had not heard of this publishing company. Now I'm glad I have! It turns out that YWAM has tons of great books, including fiction and non-fiction for both kids and adults. They also publish one of my new favorite series: Heroes of History (yes, the book we were selected to review is part of this series, but there are SO MANY OTHER great books in the series, too!). The product I was most excited to see on this new-to-me site, though is the Personal Prayer Diary and Daily Planner. What a neat product for 2014! Still, before I digress, let's talk about why this George Washington book ($6.99) and unit study ($7.49) have been such an asset to our study of American History!

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There are many times when we run the risk of thinking we have read all we need to know about the most well-known and well-loved American figures, like George Washington. You know about the Revolutionary War Hero, you know about the First President. Heck, if you've read enough, you even know that the whole cherry tree story is apocryphal! The thing is, though, that there are some people about whom you honestly can't read too much, and Washington is the consummate example of this type of individual. Janet and Geoff Benge, the authors of this book and unit study seem to understand this fact intuitively.

George Washington: True Patriot is 224 pages long and is intended for ages 10 and up. I think the age recommendation is just fine for most kids. I used this book as a read aloud, but I know that my 8 year-old twins would have done just fine with it reading it by themselves, while my 12 year-old would have found it a bit childish (her typical reading fare is on the adult level, though). My 10 year-old is absolutely the target audience for this book, though, and he is the one I will have in mind when I make my next selection from this series! We read the book in three days. It doesn't read like "school." Rather, it reads like an adventure story, which Washington's life certainly is. Because we just finished studying this time in American history, my kids weren't learning anything new - instead they were visiting an old friend. The style of the book is very conducive to that mindset, though, and it never took on the flavor of, "Not *this* again!"

The accompanying study guide has many great activities including chapter questions for each chapter (four for each of 19 chapters). We did these orally at the end of each chapter. At the outset, the study guide suggests setting up a Display Corner to set the "George Washington" mood. Because we were already in this mindset in history, we chose not to do this, but it's a great idea if you're in a co-op. The study guide offers many ways for different types of learners to take advantage of extended activities:

  • Student Explorations - these activities consist of Essay Questions, Creative Writing, Hands-On Projects, A/V Projects, and Arts and Crafts
  • Community Links - field trip ideas
  • Social Studies - map ideas divided into places, terms/vocabulary, geographical characteristics, timeline, and conceptual questions
  • Related Themes to Explore - this is the part that people may think of when they think "unit study": the part that brings in related parts of other subjects
  • Culminating Event - ideas to wrap up the unit study (there are some great ideas here, like displays and oral presentations)
The Unit Study also contains 10+ pages of additional resources and all answers.

What We Liked

I need to begin by confessing that we are not really unit study people, so I knew that we would probably not be using the entire study guide (plus, I have to be honest, this study guide is so comprehensive that it would take a very long time to use the whole thing!). We read and absolutely loved the book, and then I began to flip through the guide. Anything that was crafty, I immediately discounted. I have a couple of crafty kids, but the concept so completely sends me into a tailspin that I could not cope with the idea. The beauty of the Student Explorations, though, is that there are so many choices! And several of those choices involve writing. To that end, I was able to assign pertinent Essay Questions to Therese (12) and Creative Writing to the other three kids (8, 8, and 10). Everyone was happy. Therese likes Essay Questions, and my younger kids loved imagining that they were George Washington and writing journal entries!

The other part of the study guide I loved was the part labeled Social Studies, which I thought of as map work. We did almost all of this part. Getting to follow Washington's movements up close and personal throughout his life was so helpful, and the material in the study guide was very well organized.

Essentially, if you're studying George Washington, this book and study guide (also available on Kindle) are a great deal and are well-worth the reasonable price. Crew members also got to review another book/study guide in the series about Jim Elliot, so be sure to click on the banner below to read all the reviews!

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review of VideoText Interactive's Geometry

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From the first time I saw VideoText Interactive (which was years before I knew about the Crew), I was intrigued. Then I saw the price and I was saddened. For three years of math, the price was very fair; I just knew that I would never have that much money at one time. Then when the Crew got the opportunity to review this awesome program and I saw that it had gone online (and, hence, had gotten more affordable), I was ecstatic! Not only was I going to get to review Geometry: A Complete Course with Therese: I was going to be able to recommend it without reservations about the price if it worked out (here's a preview of the verdict: I recommend it without reservations!).

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Math. If there is one thing I don't need to write reams about to a homeschooling mom audience, it is math. For those of you that get it and love to teach it - you're awesome. For the rest of us - welcome to VideoText Interactive and my new best friend Tom Clark. Mr. Clark is the best math teacher I have ever seen. I knew when Therese started the Geometry lessons that everything would hinge on the teacher. If he was annoying, condescending, too difficult, too easy, had a funny accent, or any one of a number of other impediments, she would not want to do the class. I held my breath as Mr. Clark started to speak, and let it out gratefully when this very nice, very earnest, super-knowledgeable man began to teach. It's not that Therese is a diva - she's not. She is just very, very particular about who teaches her (in Kindergarten, the only grade she attended school (a private, Catholic school), she actually pretended she was sick when she had a substitute. She was so offended and horrified that the sub a) wanted to be called Auntie Sarah and b) was teaching them to count to 10 when they could count backwards by 2s from 100 that she felt she had no recourse but to go the secretary's office and call me to come get her. I choose to think of this as a side-effect of being too smart for her barely 5 year-old self. She was an exemplary child in all other respects).

Back to Mr. Clark: watch some Sample videos to see how perfect his teaching style is. I dare you not to get sucked in to the math lesson even if you would rather have a root canal without anesthesia than do math.

How it Works

VideoText Interactive's Geometry online allows you three years of access for $299. After completing all modules A-F (a total of 176 video lessons with module F currently still in production), your student will be able to claim transcript credits for Geometry, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus. In essence, then, for $299, you could sew up most of your child's high school math transcript. To me, that is one heck of a deal. The best part of that deal, though, is it is virtually painless.

Each Geometry lesson follows the same format. The lesson menu looks like this:

As you finish each part of the lesson, there is a clickable prompt at the bottom of the screen that takes you to the next part of the lesson. It is foolproof. There is no way accidentally to go out of order or to skip a necessary part. On the other hand, if you want to watch the lesson again, it is as easy as going to this menu on the side and clicking "Video Lesson."

As you watch the video lesson (something Mr. Clark encourages parents to do with their children so they can pause the lesson often to help their child "interact" with it), Mr. Clark strongly encourages students not to take notes so that they can focus all of their attention on the lesson. In fact, the course notes provided (as seen in the menu) are almost an exact replica of the lecture, so note taking is not necessary - but don't print them out until after the lecture! 

After completing the lesson, there are WorkText Pages (homework problems, in other words). I found that there are just the right the number of problems, neither too many nor too few. This is key in a math program: too many and a kid gets discouraged. Too few and the concepts are not solidified. And if there is anything Mr. Clark insists on, it is mastery! Mastery is the entire philosophy behind VideoText Interactive. It is why he has his Algebra students complete through Algebra II before moving on to Geometry. It is why his Geometry program is so comprehensive that it goes all the way through Pre-Cal.

Different Logins

One of the greatest features of VideoText Interactive is that there are separate logins for parent and student. When I log in, my screen looks like this. Anything in green is teacher content. I have notes, multiple iterations of each quiz and the answers (Therese has access to all of the answers for the daily homework, too).

When Therese logs in, this is what she sees:

Because I do the entirety of her lesson with her (meaning, I sit next to her and make sure that she is pausing the video often, interacting, understanding, etc.), we usually just log in with my login. I love that there are separate logins, though.

Another amazing feature of this program which serves to lower the overall cost if you have more than one child is the fact that your $299 cost enables you to have licensing for two students. A student's license lasts for three years after it is activated. That makes the program too good to pass up. Even more unbelievably, you can add another student for just $49! For large families, this program is a Godsend. 

Therese and VideoText Interactive Geometry

I've already talked about our experience throughout this review, so this section will be a little short. Thus far, Therese has really liked this program. Admittedly, it has been very challenging. First, she is 12. Geometry is typically a 9th or 10th grade class. While Therese is in 9th grade, math is a bit of a challenge. Although Mr. Clark prefers students to complete all of Algebra prior to Geometry, Therese has only completed most of Algebra, and not Algebra II. Truth to tell, had I to do it over, I probably would have requested the Algebra program to review. I wanted Geometry 1) because I didn't want Therese to move backward in math and 2) because she is taking the SAT in January and even a bit of exposure to Geometry will be a huge help to her. Now that she is doing Geometry, she will definitely stay with it. Mr. Clark is an excellent teacher and we can go as slowly as we need to. If there is something algebraic that ends up holding her back, I can pause and teach it to her. 

Nicky is doing Algebra with another program now. When he is finished, I will have him complete this program. I am actually struggling with the decision of whether to purchase VideoText Interactive Algebra now for Nicky, or later for the twins. What I do know is that I will be purchasing it. 

The Final Analysis

VideoText Interactive is not your typical math program, but when you figure out everything you are getting, it costs less than your typical math program. Yes, I just said that. At $299, it costs less than your typical math program. You are getting 3 years of access for 2 students (each!) for three high school credits. You don't need to be good at math to figure out what a great deal that is. Spend just five minutes watching Tom Clark teach and you'll have confidence that with him at the helm, your child will *get* math. VideoText Interactive Geometry is for any student who is ready for Geometry, which is typically a high school student who has completed Algebra.

Other Crew members reviewed both Geometry and Algebra from VideoText Interactive, so be sure to click the banner below to read their reviews. This product is one of my favorites of the year, and it IS my favorite math program. At $299, it is a wonderful bargain. Thank you, Mr. Clark.


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