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Archive for October, 2010

TOS Crew Review — Yuck!

October 29th, 2010

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With a house full of kids we’ve had our share of yucky stuff — bodily fluids, sippy cups forgotten, old food, etc. But, for the first time I can recall, now we actually have some enjoyable yuck in our house.


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Kids often enjoy a mess and Buckets-o -Fun has created some products called Yuck! to cater to that enjoyment. They can mix, examine, stir, and poke to their hearts’ content. This can fill an afternoon or free time for a month.

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Product: Yuck!
Details : A polymer (yeah, go look it up, that’s the first school assignment related to this product) that takes on various consistencies depending on the starting form. Can be used for fun or educational purposes, or whatever your creative mind desires.
Price : $16-$20 per pound, or less when purchased in bulk.
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What we loved . . .

  • Hands on. Obviously, this is not a teacher-do,  student-watch activity. Everyone got their hands on and in this one.
  • Flexible. Literally, but that’s not what I mean. This can fill dead space in your day (ha, ha, I know, I don’t have any of that either). It can be done in a short amount of time and discarded, or you can do the activities and then keep the various forms of Yuck on your counter to reexamine in the days and weeks ahead. We’ve had a bucket of chunky and snowy yuck sitting on our window sill for a few weeks now. Every now and then we pull it down, stir it around and mess around with. Add water, drain water, break it up, etc. It is just fascinating stuff.
  • Amazing. We enjoyed the variety of consistencies to examine and compare. They were each fun and interesting in their own way. Of course the sticky Yuck we had to color green because it looked too much like boogers and my kids couldn’t resist. The sparkles in the snowy yuck was enchanting. The chunky Yuck made us want to eat ice. And, the saucy Yuck has a way of sliding off the spoon that is mesmerizing.
  • Versatile. Now, this won’t keep you busy for a year’s science or anything like that, but it was a fun break from the norm as we came up with ways to explore its properties and learn more about it. We hydrated it with hot water vs. cold water (the hot worked more quickly), we left it to hydrate for a day and then added more, we over hydrated and dehydrated, we tried to break it up, and we just had plain old fun learning about a substance so different from anything else.
  • Big plans. We didn’t try this, but I could just envision a kiddie pool filled with this stuff. They send a paper with ideas for sliding into it, hiding toys in it, and other fun and crazy stuff. This product has high-octane birthday party written all over it.

Some considerations . . .

  • Messy! If you child does no enjoy messes (or if you don’t . . .) this product might not be will received in your home. It is sticky and saucy and everything else it is named. It takes a long time to wash off with soap and water. Vinegar seems to speed the process, but my kids can’t stand the smell and would rather spend five minutes at the sink of running water.
  • Must be disposed of properly. You do need to be careful with Yuck. Because it absorbs water like nobody’s business, it is harmful if swallowed (by pets or people). You also do not want to send it down your drain unless you miss your plumber. So, just be careful and follow the instructions.
  • Limited educational uses. While we did have lots of fun with it and it was a nice break in the day, the educational value was limited. We did learn about polymers and conduct a few experiments, but overall it was more fun than learning.

You can get a free sample of the different kinds of Yuck to see for yourself (one per organization or individual — check out the Yuck! page).

This would be great for a summer snow day or a winter boredom buster activity. It is fun and unique and provides a great activity that a variety of ages could enjoy.

Each family will have a different experience with a product, so I would encourage you to check out some other TOS Crew reviews on this product, over at the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Buckets-o-Fun as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — PG Key

October 28th, 2010

A couple years ago I worked through lapbooks on Hawaii with the kids and rediscovered the need to remain ever vigilant when surfing the web. Do you know how many people get tattoos in inappropriate places of Hawaiian flowers? Apparently not a great Google search item with a bunch of kids looking on.

In the end, I searched on my own and gave them a couple sites they could then look through for graphics. PG Key could have helped me with that.

The PG Key plugs easily into your computer and with a quick registration and a few personalizations, you are ready to go. You can keep an eye on your kids’ web browsing habits even when you can’t keep a physical eye on them.

Product: PG Key
Details : A plug in for your computer that helps you place restrictions on computer usage, view a history of sites visited, and help create a safer environment for your family’s internet time.
Price : $49.95

What we loved . . .

  • Time restrictions. Using the PG Key you can limit your child’s daily computer time without needing to set a timer. The PG Key will automatically lock them out when their time has expired. If this happens in the middle of something, you (the administrator) can get in and alter the amount of time they receive.
  • Easy to install. It takes almost no time at all to get this program up and running on your computer. You can spend more time setting your preferences, but as soon as you plug it in, basic safeguards are immediately in place.  Thousands of unwanted websites are instantly blocked.
  • Easy to use. Not just easy to get started, but easy to modify your restrictions. The controls are very easy to navigate.
  • Safe Search option. As a part of the program you can use a Google based safe search. This allows students to surf the web in a safer format that a regular Google account. This can still click over to the regular Google, but you could require them to conduct their searches from this site created to be safer.
  • One time cost. No monthly fees. With this product you buy it once and can use it without additional cost
  • Review what your child views. Whenever you want to check in on the internet use on the computer you can simply log in and view it all in a video format of screen shots taken every 5 seconds during computer use. It then saves up to 60 hours of this format. After that it begins deleting the oldest material first so you have the most current 60 hours of screen time available for viewing.
  • Easy to disable and uninstall. As long as you know your parental password it is easy to disable to key and even uninstall it if you decide not to use it any longer. This is helpful if a child pulls out the key and it gets misplaced or damaged. You can disable the program for situations like this.
  • Its own defense. If it is removed from the computer, the child cannot work on the computer any more until it is returned to the USB port. This ensures that students don’t just remove the key when they head into questionable areas.

Some considerations . . .

  • Not for the Mac. At this time this product is not available for Macintosh computers, but that is said to be in the works.
  • Seems to be some ghost glitches. When I first installed the key it crashed all my internet browsers that I tried to use it through. I called tech and they tried to help, but I needed to figure some things out on my end first and ended up uninstalling the key to make the process easier. That took care of the problems (since the program was no longer installed), and when we reinstalled it we went through their online installation process and the problems did not recur. When it caused those problems I was very concerned about recommending this product, but it did seem to resolve when I uninstalled and tried a second time. It seems that installing it through the key itself caused significant problems on our computer. The online installation seems to reduce some of these issues.
  • Your password is powerful. A child could easily disable the Key if they knew your password, so it is important (as always) to keep your password private.
  • Doesn’t block, just notifies. While you can block specific websites, you cannot block specific content. However, it does notify you when they search for content that you specify. This would work for kids that just need to know you are watching to keep them accountable for staying away from certain topics. However, for those that accidentally stumble on something, it will only let you know in hindsight, it will not keep them from viewing it.
  • Not a replacement for parental involvement. This is not to be used as a substitute parent or internet babysitter. If they are so inclined, kids will find a way to work around it or within it to get to what they want to. We need to remain ever vigilant to the threats and temptations that abound in this virtual world that enters our home through the computers.
  • Takes time for updates to take effect. If you want to change anything about the program it will take some time to see the change. If you add a restricted word, change the time limits, block a website, etc. you should allow at least a few minutes with the internet open for the change to take effect.
  • We already have a website content filter installed. Because our computers are already on a network that has a filter, I could not test the boundaries of this product, even if I wanted to. My kids are already working in a fairly safe internet environment that keeps them from even clicking on most inappropriate websites.
  • No online support section. For a product of this type I would like an online forum or FAQ section for support questions. You can call tech (but they are only open 8 hours a day), and can email even during off hours, but it would be easier to have a section to browse for answers and solutions to some common issues.

While the PG Key has some great features and addresses some serious issues, I felt that the glitches I faced and the inability to actually block certain words and phrases caused this item to fall short of my expectations from a product of this nature. If you need a product to monitor time spent or so you can casually keep tabs on a trustworthy child this may be a great help. Even much older children might benefit from this extra accountability to their internet usage.

At this time they are offering a free trial for one month of the PG Key. Check out their website soon as this is a limited time offer. You can see for yourself if this product will meet the internet protection needs in your family.

Each family will have a different experience with a product, so I would encourage you to check out some other TOS Crew reviews on this product, over at the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This gadget was provided to me free of charge through PG Key as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Ozzie Reading Program

October 18th, 2010

The Kane County Cougars are again offering a reading program to encourage students to read. Contact the Cougars directly about joining this great program:

For more information about the program please mail, fax or e-mail your request to the address, fax number or e-mail address below.

Kane County Cougars § 34W002 Cherry Lane § Geneva, IL 60134

Phone: 630.232.8811 § FAX 630.232.8815

E-mail: ozziereadingclub@kanecountycougars.com

TOS Crew Review — Map Skills

October 15th, 2010

I’m going to Tucson.

I’m going to jump up to Canada.

Look at me, I’m in Alaska!

Everyone watch out, I’m heading to Florida.

When I got everyone settled back in Illinois, or at least off the map, we opened the “books” and enjoyed another hands on geography lesson.

Product: Map Skills Unit Study from Soli Deo Gloria Resources
Details : A 2-3 week introduction to map skills unit study designed for K-3 graders.
Price : $14

What we loved . . .

  • Full of ideas. Although built around a geography workbook that is an optional purchase, this ebook comes chock full of ideas to keep your kiddos hopping around the world.
  • Multi-disciplinary. While it starts with geography it also dabbles in science, art, Bible, Language Arts, .
  • Multi-age. The focus age is K-3, but all my kids enjoyed working on this together. The young ones learned the most, but the older ones lead the discussion and took it places it would not have otherwise.
  • Compatible workbooks for further study. If you want to spend more time or have more written work, she recommends workbooks that can hit the kids more at level as well.
  • Active learning. The activities had the kids running and talking and working with their hands. They all had a great time and the little ones learned quite a bit in the process.
  • Flexible. Not every activity will float your boat, but there is plenty there to keep you busy for a few weeks, or longer if you space it out into shorter lessons.

Some considerations . . .

  • Light on the Language Arts. One of the challenges with unit studies is they can’t hit every subject to the depth or level of every child. I found this one a bit light on the Language Arts and did not use it in place of our regular curriculum in that subject. It was a great geography study, but it was not very strong in other subjects.
  • Best suited with an additional purchase. To get the most out of this you would likely want to purchase the additional workbooks. That would help in gearing it toward a wider age range and in covering the topic in greater detail. It still has engaging projects and thought provoking worksheets in and of itself.

Map skills is an area that my kids naturally learn through real life experience, but this ebook pointed out some areas that my younger kids have not had a chance to interact with yet. It provided us some fun ways to learn these areas without just reading a book or doing worksheets. They learned and definitely enjoyed the process.

Each family will have a different experience with a product, so I would definitely encourage you to check out some other TOS Crew reviews on this product, over at the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This ebook was provided to me free of charge through Soli Deo Gloria Resources as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Talking Fingers

October 11th, 2010

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“Mom, how do you spell ‘truck’? Oh wait! I know because my typing program taught me!” I didn’t know if I should believe my five year old. His reading has been taking off, but to remember the ‘ck’ at the end of a short , short-vowel word? I was skeptical.

But, sure enough, he sounded it out and spelled it correctly, from the sometimes tricky ‘tr’ at the beginning to the two letter ‘k’ sound at the end. As he said, we owe that little milestone to Talking Fingers. Talking Fingers has quickly flown to celebrity status in our house. We received a one year license for three, so my 9 year old, 6 year old, and 5 year have been giving it a test drive.

Each of them benefited in a different way from the program. My 9 year old brushed up on her phonics and worked on her typing letter by letter making sure she typed them correctly. The 6 year old plowed through the material the same way she devours books right now, but didn’t spend too much time on the correct fingering. The five year old is steadily working through it and reinforcing the phonics that he is currently mastering.

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The program begins with a catchy tune and then the typing hands take it away as they teach sounds and the corresponding key strokes on the computer keyboard through a game format. As each sound is introduced the hands show the proper way to type it, tells you the sound, and then leads you into various activities to learn the sound, practice typing it properly, identifying it in words, and hopefully rid the city of the “virus” that stole the letter sounds.

Product: Talking Fingers
Details : A program designed for K-3 graders that teaches spelling, reading, and phonics along with introductory typing.
Price : $35 for online version for one year for one student ($55 for 2, $70 for 3, etc.) They also have a CD version for $79.

What we loved . . .

  • Hands on and visual. All three of my kids really enjoyed this program. My six year old workbookaholic, my fourth grade anti-writing child, and my five year old that loves anything that is his. The program gives lots of opportunity to see and hear sounds and words and the typing offers a great way for kids who might despise picking up a pencil but need that kinesthetic reinforcement in their phonics studies.
  • Entertaining. Although my fourth grader found it a little babyish (it is designed for K-3), she was quickly won over by a program that keeps the user engaged and gives a very hands on approach to learning and reviewing phonics rules.
  • Multi-age. Each child will  glean different lessons from the program, but those just learning to read and those that need a refresher can enjoy these lessons.
  • Corresponding print material. On their website you can find little readers to print out and use in conjunction with the sounds they work with in Talking Fingers. Just check out the downloads.
  • Printable Certificates. I find them a little silly, but my kids love to print off the certificates after each letter that they complete. Proof that they really did learn something while “playing.”
  • Reports. The teacher/parent can log in and see what level of mastery the student is achieving. These are pretty basic reports and don’t show many specifics about what the child needs to work on. But, it does give you an idea of how well they are doing overall on the program.

Some considerations . . .

  • Lengthy introduction. You can try it for free to see what I mean, but the kids do need to spend some time watching a video at the beginning to understand what they will be doing in the program and to introduce them to some of the characters. None of my kids complained about have to watch this little “cartoon” before getting to work.
  • Lets kids pass without passing. You can choose what the passing percentage is for each child, but it will still allow them to move on if they are doing well overall. So, my son’s spelling was below the passing expectation in the first couple levels, but he kept moving on. However, amazingly, his scores kept getting better with each level. I would not usually like a program done that way, but it still worked, at least for him.

Talking Fingers has been a hit with all three of my kids that tried it. While the ones who are reading independently worked through the levels fairly quickly it was a good review for them (and a good intro to proper typing), and my son who is just learning the sounds really benefited from this unique interaction with the phonemes he is learning.

Check it out for yourself with a demo version available online. If you do decide to order, you can find a form on that page to give you 20% off as well!

Each family will have a different experience with a product, so I would definitely encourage you to check out some other TOS Crew reviews on this product, over at the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This online program was provided to me free of charge through Talking Fingers as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

CYT performances coming soon

October 8th, 2010

Starting with The Sound of Music at Timothy Christian in Elmhurst, CYT (Christian Youth Theater) kicks off another great season of performances around the Chicago area starring young people of a variety of ages.

You can see the whole year at a glance, or check out the shows in your area. I have attended a number of their shows over the years and have always had a great experience. My kids have honestly enjoyed every single one of them.

Ticket prices start at just $5 each for school day performances (for groups over 75 people). If seats are available you can often buy walk in tickets to a school day performance for $10.

This year you can also enjoy productions of Narnia, The Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, Robin Hood, Godspell, Annie, Cinderella and many more.

And, if your child is more the participant than the spectators, he might enjoy the classes they have available to give him a taste of the stage.

Apples and Pumpkins

October 8th, 2010

Picking Apples And Pumpkins - Fun Fall Books for Kids

Fall has officially gotten underway and if you have not already visited an orchard or pumpkin patch this year, you still have time.

Be sure to check websites or make a phone call before heading out. They can give you more details on each one for directions, current crop availability, tips for enjoying your time, and even setting up a group field trip to their location. Many of them offer various learning opportunities as well as samples of their products for reasonable rates.

Fall is one of the best times to enjoy living in this area, so don’t miss these opportunities. Before we know it we will be buried in snow. . . Make some memories to keep you warm. :)

Here are some favorites in the Chicago area:

  • The Children’s Farm – 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park, IL 60464.
    Phone: 708-361-3650. Fax: 708-361-2811.
  • Honey Hill Orchard – 11747 Waterman Road, Waterman, IL 60556.
    Phone: 815-264-3337.
  • Jonamac Orchard, Inc.19412 Shabbona Road, Malta, IL 60150.
    Phone: 815-825-2158.
  • Sycamore Pumpkin Patch – 15326 Quiqley Road, Sycamore, IL.
    Phone: 815-895-3276.
  • UP Berries – 30683 Lanan Road, Kingston, IL 60145
  • Olive Berry Acres Minimizes chemical and pesticide use
    2575 West Mine Road Mazon, IL 60444.
    Phone: 815-474-6511.
  • Country Corner – 5333 U. S. highway 150, Alpha, IL 61413.
    Phone: 3096292359. Fax: 3096292359.
  • Anderson Farm – 251 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, IL 60538.
    Phone: 630-896-8835. Fax: 630-554-0098.
  • Greenfield Farms – 0S951 Green Road, Elburn, IL 60119.
  • ***Kuipers Family Farm – 1n318 Watson Road, Maple Park, IL 60151.
    Phone: 815-827-5200.
  • Pine Apple Acres – 41W651 Powers Road, Huntley, IL.
    Phone: 847-669-3251.
  • Plank Road Apple Orchard – 50w737 Plank Rd, Sycamore, IL 60178.
    Phone: 815-899-4020.
  • Didier Farms – 16678 West Aptakisic Road, Prairie View, IL 60069.
    Phone: 847-634-3291. Alternate Phone: 847-634-3295.
  • Heinz Orchard – 1050 Crest Road (corner of Crest & Atkinson), Green Oaks, IL 60048. Phone: 847-770-3449.
  • Krueger’s vegetable’s – 28572 West Route 120, Lakemoor, IL 60051.
    Phone: 815-385-4981. Email us at: Kruegersfarm@aol.com.
  • All Seasons Orchard – 14510 Illinois Route 176, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: 815-338-5637. Fax: 815-338-6479.
  • Cody’s Farm -19502 River Road, Marengo, IL 60152.
    Phone: (815) 482-4125.
  • ***Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch – 42 W 813 Reinking Road, Hampshire, IL.
    Phone: 847-464-5952. (Last year we enjoyed this farm — they even had a couple giraffes that you could feed. AMAZING!) Also at 40 W Higgins Rd. in South Barrington
  • Grace Farm Studios – 2719 Franklinville Road, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: 815-790-8895.
  • Homestead Orchard – 11802 Charles Road, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: 815-338-7443.
  • Knoll’s Apple Orchard and Vegetable Farm – 15211 Saint Patrick Road, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: 815-337-2334.
  • Lang’s Orchard – 17411 Secor Road, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: (815) 568-7547.
  • Meadowmoor Orchard – 1517 N Rte 47, Woodstock, IL 60033.
    Phone: 847-219-7597.
  • More Than Delicious Orchard – 9905 W. Thompson Road, Woodstock, IL 60098.
    Phone: 815-338-2309.
  • Prairie Sky Orchard – 4914 N Union Road, Union, IL 60180.
    Phone: 815-923-4834.
  • ***Royal Oak Farm Orchard – 15908 Hebron Road, Harvard, IL 60033.
    Phone: 815-648-4141.
  • Stade’s Farm and Market3709 West Miller Road, Mchenry, IL 60051.
    Phone: 815-675-6396.
  • Woodstock Country Orchard - 17015 Garden Valley Road,  Woodstock, IL 60098. Phone: (815) 923-4359.
  • ***Sonny Acres – 29W310 North Ave West Chicago, IL
    Phone: 630-231-9515 (discounted wrist bands on Wednesdays from starting at 2:00)

(Check this link for more as they become available)

***Ones we have personally enjoyed a great deal in recent years.

Free days at Brookfield!

October 7th, 2010

Looking for a way to take full advantage of this beautiful weather we are having this fall?

Brookfield Zoo would be the perfect place. And, from October through December admission is free on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

You will still need to pay the $9 parking fee and all internal attractions that require extra fees will still do so. However, you can enjoy a great day at the zoo for a very reasonable price.

Starting in November and continuing through March the Family Play Zoo and the Children’s Zoo will be free as well.

Check out all the specifics on prices on the zoo website general information.

Very likely you can find something in the zoo’s many exhibits to tie into a current unit of study, or to enjoy a day of fun, real-life learning outside the books. Grab another family and make a day of it.

Free Life Science curriculum

October 1st, 2010

You can get a free life science curriculum from the lab of Mr. Q. Download this free course designed for 6-9 year olds and intended to be used for a whole school year (36 weeks).

One of the challenges in choosing curriculum is knowing if it will work for YOUR family. It may work for your neighbor or your support group leader, may have even worked with your first child, but the only way you know if it will work for you with a particular child and age is to try it.

Here is a great opportunity to try something out, not just for a day or a month, but for a whole year. A free downloadable course, and if you like it — then there’s more where that came from!

Thanks to Kristen for alerting me to the post about this on Money Saving Mom!

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