TOS Crew Review — Tiny Planets

My kids have definitely enjoyed their share of online “worlds” in recent years, and they were excited to try out another one.


Tiny Planets has  a Sesame Street feel to it while giving kids a safe place to play and explore. The site has a vast amount of information including lesson plans, science information, as well as games. Kids enjoy playing around on it and parents can find information and helpful teaching tips.

ProductTiny Planets

Details: A website with activities and fun for kids. Membership is free, but you can purchase keys to unlock various features on the site. Various sections of the site offer learning opportunities, fun games, videos, picture stories, science information, and a galaxy filled with adventure for each “cadet” to explore in their space ship.

Price: Free, but additional purchases of keys will add to the enjoyment of this site

What we loved . . .

  • Entertainment. Yes, it was fun. My kids all enjoyed a little mental break as they roamed the universe. Flying their space ships around allowed them to play games, build their own planet, and “shoot” things. My 5 year old enjoyed the shots which look like fireworks and don’t cause any damage. Not something I want him sitting around doing all day, but it was not the focus of the game either.
  • Free. No cost to sign up your kids, and they can find lots of fun activities.
  • Educational content. There is information on various planets, space discovery, and other educational information. There is a lot of information throughout the site that is targeted at different ages. Some is definitely for preschoolers (fun activities with mirrors) while other sections would be geared toward middle school (like when they discuss the different gases in the atmosphere on various planets).
  • Safe. They have taken some important steps to make a safe place for kids to play on the internet. There are no ad pop ups to worry about. Kids can only chat with pre-chosen phrases. And, even the cadet names are assigned by the program (although you can flip through them if you don’t like the first one) so you don’t need to worry about those sometimes questionable names that other kids come up with on internet worlds.

Some considerations . . .

  • Can cost money. If you enjoy this and want your child to get the full experience you will have the option of purchasing keys. These range in price from $1.95 for 10 up to $49.95 for 600 (and various denominations in between). These can be used for unlocking videos, books, space ship parts, planet decorations, etc.
  • The educational value could easily be skipped.  When my kids got on the site all they wanted to do was fly around and play games or build their planets. They didn’t spend time reading the books, printing the worksheets, reading the articles on the planets, or even watch the videos. They just wanted to play games. So, while the content is there, it is in a separate place where kids might not necessarily go looking for it unless steered there by an adult.
  • Based on aliens. Although it is a make believe world, I would have preferred an astronaut as the guide rather than aliens. They are cute and cuddly, but are definitely not my first pick for my children’s teachers.
  • Names are a little funny. I’m glad that my kids didn’t have to pick their own names (which usually ends up as some weird variation of their original name with lots of letters and numbers after it to find a user name that hasn’t already been used). But the names were still long and not always easy to remember (Electro Dragon, Buzzy Whale, Rowdy Butterfly, etc.)

Tiny Planets has some fun to offer kids of a variety of ages. While I wouldn’t use this as part of our school day activities, it was a fun, safe place for them to spend some of their free time. Cadet accounts are free, so you might enjoy checking it out as well.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Tiny Planets 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 — North Star Games

“Why are they called ‘Meeples’?”

“Because they don’t want to call them ‘bets.'”

So began one of our first conversations about the new Wits and Wagers Family board game from North Star Games. Apparently the Meeples come from another game about 10 years ago and have been used as game pieces elsewhere also, and it makes for a cute playing piece that helps you stake your claim and earn points in this one. But, lets start from the beginning . . .


Product: Wits and Wagers Family game

Details: A board game for 3-10 (with teams) people that involves guessing the numerical answer to a question. Each player writes down his best guess and then they are placed in order smallest to largest. Each player then guesses which answer he thinks is best by placing his meeples on the numbers. Points are awarded for each correct (or closest) guess whether written or by placing meeples on it.
Price: Retails for $19.99.

What we loved . . .

  • Fun for everyone. Even my 5 year old could play this fairly well because it just involves guessing. Some rounds he did better than others, but every round he had fun. All the kids enjoyed this game.
  • Something unique. I like board games that are new. While this is a new twist on their original Wits and Wagers, it was a very new idea to us. Definitely not the same old, same old. And, with 300 questions you could play for a long time before repeating the same questions.
  • Easy to learn. The box says two minutes, and that’s just about right. This was a quick study!
  • Perfect length. Some games are too long, others too short. This one was just right. About 15-25 minutes depending on how good the guess went. My 13 year old rocked it one round and it ended in 10 minutes. So, if you play against a major trivia buff it could go quickly. No problem, just play for the best 2 out of 3. 😉
  • Might have other uses. Once you have the markers, Meeples, and mini white erase boards you can use these for all kinds of things. Review for upcoming tests (everyone writes down their answer and then all guess which is right), quiz dates from your time line, maybe even use it to brush up on basic math facts. Feel free to think outside the box.

Some considerations . . .

  • Some questions were really easy. Many of them you would have no idea (How many times does the average person blink in a day?) And, others someone might know exactly (how many feet are in a mile?) Most of the questions fall somewhere in the middle, but all it takes is a couple easy ones and a game can be over quite quickly.
  • Accommodating the little ones. My five and six year olds had no trouble playing along with the rest of us, but we did at times give them some advantages. They could have an extra Meeple (or two), or we would give them some verbal prompts in writing their guess after everyone else was done. It was very easy to level the playing field a bit.
  • The answer could be overlooked. Kind of funny how they laid out the answer side of the card. The answer is actually in a lighter gray ink on the side of the card and more explanation about the answer is in bold across the middle of the card. It took us a few questions to realize that the answer was there, we just hadn’t seen it! That made the game a little easier . . .

North Star Games has definitely put together a winner in this game. We really enjoyed it as a family game and a larger group game. I think this one will be coming with us to our family Christmas gatherings as well. It’s a keeper.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through North Star Games 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.

Up for a drive?

It’s not next door, but I have heard this conference is worth the drive. We do have lots of great conferences coming up right here in Chicago a little later in the year, but if you love to have the company of thousands of homeschoolers at a massive conference, grab some friends and head to Cincinnati!

Free Art Classes

This is a special class just this weekend taught by a well loved homeschool art teacher . . . Karine Bauch (feel free to check out her personal website as well):

Creative Clay Ornaments – for ages 6-9
Watercolor Cardinal Painting – ages 10-12

Click on the Batavia Public Library calander link below to learn more and find out how to register:

The classes are this Saturday:

10:00-11:30 Students can create holiday ornaments using colorful clay that can be brought home and baked for hardening. Artist Karine Bauch provides design ideas while encouraging individuality and creativity. Registration required. To register please call the Youth Services department at (630) 879-1393.

12:30-2:00 Students can learn watercolor techniques as they are guided by artist Karine Bauch in the drawing and watercolor painting of a scarlet cardinal in a winter scene. Registration required. To register please call the Youth Services department at (630) 879-1393.

Give the library a call if you are available and interested.

Book sale!

Need some fresh reads on your school book shelves?

Local Scholastic sales might have what you need.


Dates & Times

Scholastic Book Fairs Warehouse Chicago
300 Madsen Drive, Suite 101
Bloomingdale, IL 60108
(630) 671-0601
Thu., 12/09/2010 – Tue., 12/21/2010
Weekdays 11AM – 7PM
Saturdays 8AM – 4PM
Sunday 12/12 Noon – 4
Closed Sunday 12/19

Check out the link for more locations — Naperville, Orland Park, Rockford, etc.

Love these sales! Lots of great deals worth checking out.

Polar adventure day

Looks like a fun event in downtown Chicago this weekend. The Polar Adventure Days take place on three different Saturdays during the winter months.

Here is the info from their site:

The Chicago Park District presents the sixth annual Polar Adventure Days from 12 – 4 p.m. on three Saturdays, Dec. 11, Jan. 22 and Feb. 26, at Northerly Island, 1400 S. Lynn White Dr., on the Museum Campus. The program is admission free. Click here to watch a video about Polar Adventure Days.

Polar Adventure Days offer families the opportunity to explore Northerly Island and come face-to-face with live animals, engage in winter activities, watch ice sculpture carvings, and create nature-inspired crafts. Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather as events take place both outdoors and inside the visitor center.

The following features and activities will be available at Polar Adventure Days:

•The first 500 visitors receive a complimentary Polar Adventure Day mug filled with hot chocolate while supplies last. Limit one per person.

•Nadeau’s Ice Sculpture transforms blocks of ice into magical creations.

• Various live animals will be on site to discover, such as birds of prey.

•Siberian huskies will be present and adventurers will talk about their Iditarod dog sled race experiences.

•Live entertainment from the Old Town School of Folk Music.

•Arts and craft tables for making nature-inspired creations.

•Free snowshoe rental for exploration of the island if there is enough snow.

Please call to confirm scheduled activities for Polar Adventure Days as activities are subject to change. For more information, call 312-742-PLAY (7529).

Directions by car to Northerly Island:

Take Lake Shore Drive north or south to the 18th Street/Museum Campus exit. Follow Museum Campus Drive toward Adler Planetarium. Turn right on Lynn White Drive. Go past the Charter One Pavilion (on left) and the Burnham Harbor Yacht Club (on right). The visitor center and free parking are on the left.

Northerly Island is also accessible by public transportation:

Take the #146 bus, exit at Lynn White Drive and walk south to the visitor center.

Contact Phone: 312.742.7529

We definitely have snow, and with this cold weather maybe you are in the mood for some winter activities.

The e-Iditarod is coming

Walter McKenzie has put together an online forum for following the Iditarod. From the website:

As classes prepare to follow the Iditarod Sled Dog Race this year, why not consider joining the eIditarod (electronic Iditarod) project? We would love to have you join us!

Participating classes will

  • study the trail and musher biographies
  • create a wall-sized map of the trail
  • select a musher to follow in this year’s race
  • track the selected musher’s progress as the race occurs
  • follow the musher reaching each stop on the trail using Twitter and Blogger
  • complete the problem solving tasks you find at each checkpoint’s
  • arrive in Nome vicariously with your selected musher
  • receive an official 2010 eIditarod class certificate for completion of the trail!

If you are interested you can check out his website: (click on the electronic iditarod button)

Or email him:

The Iditarod is a fascinating race and we have enjoyed following along the past few years.

TOS Crew Review — Master Fractions

Master Fractions has transparent overlays, makes using fractions easy to see.

Children unknowingly work with fractions from a very young age. They divide their matchbox cars with a friend. They share an apple with a sibling. They are told to “eat half of your sandwich” before being excused. And yet, so many of them struggle to make connections to those real life situations once the math book is in front of them.

Master Innovations has come up with a variety of visual tools to help keep their learning concrete. It all started with a ruler, and now they help with fractions, telling time, and angles as well. Here is a quick video on their fractions manipulative:

Basically, this handy little tool allows kids to see equivalencies in fractions with the flip of a page.  Anything that gives kids a new perception to a problem that has them stumped is of high value, and these innovative “books” can do just that.

Master Fractions has transparent overlays, makes using fractions easy to see.

Product: Master Fractions from Master Innovations

Details: Master Fractions books come in a set of three. One illustrates halves (then broken into 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16), thirds (divided further into 1/6, 1/12) and fifths (broken down into 1/10 and 1/20). They also sell a corresponding workbook that helps your child best understand what they are seeing in the various fraction tools. And, they offer a measuring poster that covers a variety of measures with everyday objects to help kids get a better handle on what various measures are worth and how to estimate them using everyday objects (fingers, buttons, etc.)
Price: Set of three books is $17.95, workbook is another $15.95 (reproducible) and the poster is $10.

What we loved . . .

  • Hands on. This tool is a great visual for kids that need to see it to comprehend it. The workbook offers additional activities and images for making fractions make sense.
  • Durable. The little fraction books are made of sturdy plastic sheets that can be flipped, reflipped, drawn on, wiped clean, and still look great for the next time around.
  • Colorful. Visual kids need something that grabs them. These handy math teachers are full of color in the midst of their practical application.
  • Good for a variety of ages. One problem I often run into with tools that are helpful to reteach topics to older students is that they might seem babyish. Not so with these Master Fractions. The images are good without being overly cartoony and they are appealing to the first grader first learning fractions just as much as they are for the older student trying to master them again.
  • Incorporates real life. The problems in the workbook do a great job of bringing fractions home with the word problems and with the suggested activities.

Some considerations . . .

  • Not self-explanatory. When I first opened the box I thought it was a cool little gadget, but couldn’t quite see the application. The workbook helps some, but you do need to spend some time reading the teaching tips and looking it over to see how the tools really help solve problems.
  • Limited shapes. The workbook covers more shapes, but the tools only show circles, squares, and rectangles. That is good enough to help the student get going, but some students might still struggle transferring the knowledge to triangles and other polygons.

Master Innovations has definitely hit on a unique product with their Master Fractions. While it is isolated to one topic (fractions) it is one that many students struggle with and the products can be used and reused many times making them a good longer term purchase.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Master Innovations 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.