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TOS Crew Review — Read for the Heart

May 27th, 2011

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Reading is an integral part of learning, and more so it is an irremovable part of our family life. Because of this, I am constantly on the lookout for good books. You know the ones. The ones that have withstood the test of time. The ones that both boys and girls can’t wait to hear more of. The ones during which you would never fall asleep. The ones that spark meaningful conversation even after you have closed the cover for the last time.

Sarah Clarkson wrote Read for the Heart to do more than just recommend some good books. She wrote it to help cast a vision for giving reading a place of prominence in your home. By the time you get to the book list you can’t help but be fingering your library card debating which book to put on hold or check out first. I know reading is important, but this book helped reignite my desire to pass my love of reading on to my kids.

Product: Read for the Heart

Details: A 384 page book with encouragement to make family reading and individual reading time a priority. Over 300 of the pages are lists of books that include summaries and background information to help you choose the best reads for your family and your kids.

Price: $17

What I loved . . .

  • Inspiring. I can find oodles of book lists all over the internet. While I appreciate getting a good book recommendation now and then, I really appreciated Sarah’s casting of a vision for reading. I love to read, and yet it is one of the first things I drop from my schedule when time gets tight. She reminded me with a passion how important time spent reading is in our home and school.
  • Personally and statistically supported. Creating beautiful word pictures, the author shares what crafted this love for reading in her heart. And, she shares statistics, quotes, and other encouragement as to the importance of reading. We owe it to the development of our kids’ minds to read early and read often, and this book can be a great catalyst to encourage you in the endeavor and give you the tools (great books!) to enjoy doing so.
  • Lists and more lists. Not just an alphabetical listing of books (although the index does provide that), this book breaks down the lists by popular genres (historical literature, fairy tales, picture books, etc.) Beyond that, each entry includes the author, other books by the author, illustrator, copyright date, and a brief summary of the book. A few quick lists also reference Caldecott winners, Newberry winners, and books especially for boys, girls, and families reading together.
  • Reading tips. Aside from rich motivation and abundant lists, she also gives some tips to making reading time special. From locations to treats she will stir your own imagination in this area.
  • A must have book. This book offers an incredible resource when doing your book shopping. I am always looking at books at a used book sale and trying to figure out by reading a sentence here and there if I or my kids will like the particular book. I will definitely bring this guide along with me now to see what it has to say when purchasing unfamiliar books. Obviously it won’t have all the good books listed either, but it does have many, and many that I am not familiar with as well. I look forward to bringing Sarah with me to all the book sales now and ask her advice before  I buy. :)

Some considerations . . .

  • One person’s opinion. You might feel differently. Her glowing opinion will not guarantee that you will like it. For example, she loved Across Five Aprils (which I have also heard many other people rave about), and I had to force myself to trudge through this book with my kids a few years ago. I was not impressed. But, we are all entitled to our own opinions and will love what others didn’t and vice versa.  You will still need to determine what books are a good fit for your family’s interests, values, attention span, academic subject, and personalities.

This book stirred up an incredible amount of enthusiasm within me. I cannot wait to finalize plans for the coming school year and include some of the great books recommended in this resource. I would strongly recommend this book to any homeschooling mom needing encouragement and ideas for making reading come to life in your home. You can check out the table of contents as well as a sample chapter if you would like to see a bit of the book for yourself and accept Sarah Clarkson’s invitation to more than just a “reading list, but to a reading life.”

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 Apologia 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.



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TOS Crew Review — Eagle’s Wings

May 25th, 2011

Eagle's Wings

Science often strikes fear into the hearts of homeschool moms. It is the topic that many feel unable to teach when they first begin, but with the right tools we can all succeed and enjoy our science experience. Many homeschool moms actually say that science is their favorite subject to teach after a few years under their belts. Eagle’s Wings’ Considering God’s Creation can be a great tool for the new mom that needs some help figuring out how to bring science easily in their home, or for the veteran mom that loves teaching science and is looking for a quality, affordable product.

The book has 36 lessons which covers topics such as: Creation, The Universe, Weather, Kingdoms, Anatomy, and more. The authors present the lessons from a solid Biblical worldview in this easy to use and easily adaptable science book.

Product: Considering God’s Creation

Details: A science curriculum covering natural science and adaptable for second to seventh Grade.  272-pages plus Teacher’s Manual with audio CD. The authors, Sue Mortimer and Betty Smith, are sisters that grew up as homeschooled missionary kids in Mexico. They initially wrote this curriculum to use in homeschooling their own kids.

Price: $29.95

What we loved . . .

  • Science for almost the whole family. Made to easily work with 2-7 graders, but my K and 1 are easily following along with it all. They suggest even having an older child teach this to the younger ones as their own science. We didn’t try that, but I am considering seeing how it goes. You always learn so much more when you dig in to material to actually teach it. This might be perfect for my 7th grader to actually teach to the younger ones and all their science would be taken care of for me. I really like the sound of that.
  • Created by homeschoolers for homeschoolers. There is a lot to be said for curriculum written by someone who has been there and knows what homeschoolers need in a curriculum. We want easy to use, all in one, multi-age, accurate info, hands on supplements, and I especially want Biblical grounding. These homeschool veterans had all that in mind when creating this science course. It’s not the flashiest, most beautiful book on your shelf, but it has everything you need to teach your kids science well.
  • Lots of learning styles. They use music, experiments, discussion, crafts, projects, observations, listening, and reading to get their lessons across. My kids enjoyed the simple activities, the catchy tunes, and the suggested studies. This program was definitely a good fit for us. I look forward to finishing it in the year ahead.
  • Can be reused. We didn’t tap into these, but at the end of each lesson they offer “Digging Deeper” resources for use on your second run through the material a couple years later.
  • Biblically grounded. If you have read me for any length of time you know this is of utmost importance to me. Each lesson is tied in to Scripture. You could easily use that portion as your Bible lesson for the day as well.
  • Student book may be copied for your kids. You only need to purchase the one set that comes with the student book which you are free to copy for your own children. This is wonderful for kids that love to redo favorite crafts and it is helpful on the budget since you don’t need a workbook for everyone.
  • Focus on Creationism — This kind of goes with the Biblical grounding, but it bears repeating because they repeat it so often. They often present “evolution stumpers” that focus on truths that validate Creationism and weaknesses in the evolutionary theory. This is a huge part of why I want my kids to learn science at home, so I really appreciate their intentional emphasis on this area of teaching and learning.

Some considerations . . .

  • Lessons aren’t broken down by days. Although the lessons are scripted, it is up to you how much you do in a given day. Each of the 36 lessons are meant to fill a week of science classes so the curriculum takes a full school year to complete. But you have the flexibility to determine how much you do in a day, how many days each week you cover science, and how deeply involved to get with each lesson.
  • Black and white. The student book has lots of graphics that it uses for the different notebook activities, but they are all black and white. If you have a kid that loves color they can of course color their own, but be aware that the cover is the only page in color in these books.

Eagle’s Wings has created exactly what I like to find in a curriculum. It offers you a quality product at a reasonable price and creates an easy to use curriculum at the same time. This might not be a good fit for every family, but it has really clicked with us. The activities are easy to pull together and I’m not tempted to skip them because I know they won’t take a lot of time or clean up and the kids will enjoy them. This is exactly what I needed in a science curriculum.

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 Eagle’s Wings 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.



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TOS Crew Review — Pearson Education

May 23rd, 2011

  • Grade 1
  • Product: Pearson Education enVision MATH 2011

    Details: A full year math program for first grade in a consumable workbook. Each day the student removes a page from this book that measures about 11″ x 17″ and then folds their lesson in half like a booklet. They complete the booklet and can then stick it on their refrigerator or some other location for display. Contains 20 topics each with 4 to 13 lessons, a problem solving lesson, a test, reteaching material, a game, and “home-school” connection sheets.

    Price: $34.47 for the student book

    What we loved . . .

    • Made to display. Each lesson is made to be torn out of the book, folded in half, and put on display. When my son saw that he didn’t hesitate to get to work. As soon as we opened the package and he saw it was for him, he ripped out a page, worked hard at it, and put it right on our fridge. I love that motivation.
    • Fun to use. My son loved using the book. He liked the activities, the fun pictures, the ripping and folding. It is a very kid friendly product.
    • Internet connections. Although this is a paper product, it mentions web based games as well that reinforce the learning done on the page. I had to Google it to find them because the student book did not have the actual web address, but we did find it and were able to play the games that fit the activities online as well as  in hand.
    • Gentle math. If your child is just easing into math at this age this is a fairly gentle introduction. No speed drills, no sheets of adding and subtracting. Games, activities, application of math principles, mostly fun, hands-on learning.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Not a reasonably priced teacher book available. Since this is not really initially designed with the homeschooler in mind, the teacher’s guide is included in a $525 resource pack. Obviously not something you would purchase to help you teach one or two kids for a year. And, without it there were spots in the book that we had to make up as we went along. I don’t think we missed out on too much, but it would have been more beneficial if we had some instruction through certain segments. Even where to jump on the web was not included although I could figure it out with the help of Google.
    • Awkward shape. This book is ginormous. It would not fit on a bookshelf or in a backpack and barely fits in his arms when he carries it around. I assume it is made to fit in a school desk, but it is not a convenient size for at home use.
    • Doesn’t have much built in review. The book covers 20 topics, but doesn’t revisit them as you go. I prefer math programs that review at least every couple weeks to make sure that young minds don’t lose what they have already learned.

    While I did find this a cute book and one my son really enjoyed pulling out the pages and working through, I did not feel it was a good fit for homeschoolers the way it is right now. However, if you have a kids that loves workbooks and is always asking for more pencil and paper work like the big kids do, this would be a helpful book to have on hand. You can tear a page out, keep your child busy for a while, and then show off their work on your wall or fridge.

    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 Pearson Education 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — Wordy Querty

    May 20th, 2011

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    Spelling – You either got it or you don’t.

    As a fairly good speller, I still cringe over mistakes that I find in my own writing, and I’m sure others find ones that I have missed. Spelling is an area in which we never finish learning, and one that you can never start learning too young. My young readers have their basic phonics rules down, so this was the natural next step.

    Wordy Querty will help your child learn and apply these 20 spelling rules:

    1. Silent E
    2. Sounds of C
    3. Sounds of G
    4. J or DGE
    5. W or WH
    6. C or K
    7. CK or K
    8. CKS or X
    9. CH or TCH
    10. LL, SS, FF, ZZ
    11. OI or OY
    12. VE Words
    13. Open Syllables
    14. Double Consonants
    15. Doubling rule
    16. ER, IR, OR, UR, EAR
    17. I Before E
    18. Plurals: Add ES
    19. Plurals: Y to IES
    20. Plurals: F to VES

    Product: Wordy Querty

    Details: We used the online version, but it is available on CD as well. This is a program to help build on basic phonics and begin to help children build their typing skills and their spelling skills. It works through a series of 20 spelling rules and kids follow six steps to learn the rules and when to apply them. They work on the patterns of the spelling rule, sing along with their hosts as they learn the rule put to music, toss out incorrectly spelled words, click on correctly spelled words to complete sentences, and write and read stories. Each of these steps helps to teach and solidify correct spelling habits. Designed for kids 7-9 years old.

    Price: $35 for the CD

    What we loved . . .

    • Teaches spelling without boredom. The games are fun, the songs are cute, the graphics are great, the teaching is clear. Kids naturally want to keep playing this program. The learning happens almost without them realizing. My son begged and begged to play this game. He would race through other school work, chores, and other responsibilities so he could get back on the computer and play more Wordy Querty. He cheered as it loaded. This is an incredibly fun way to learn.
    • Independent. Kids can fairly easily work this program on their own. It walks them through everything they need to do and teaches them the rules.
    • Great for beginning readers. Although the age is 7-9 my 5 year old could easily start this program as well. As long as your child has a solid start to reading they will likely benefit from this program. They might need to move a little more slowly if their reading is still developing, but the program worked well for my young readers as well.
    • Lots of repetition in different formats. The words will come at the student time and again in different angles, games, lists, and stories so the kids can really cement the new rule and words that they are learning.
    • Can go back and redo tough lessons. They automatically have to go back one time, but after that they can continue to return voluntarily (or under parent’s orders . . .) to better the score. The program simply saves the new test score in place of the old one.
    • Parent login gives information on student progress. The chart shows how well the kids are doing at the various levels. This helps you see at a glance which lesson the student is struggling with and succeeding in.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Kids can learn to play the system. My son realized that if he got words wrong the program didn’t care it just kept passing him along (after one do-over). So, after the games were over and he was on the test for each level he just pressed enter or space and flew through the list without really typing any of the words. I didn’t realize that this was possible, I was just thrilled that he got through all 20 levels in 2 days. What a bright little guy I have! Uh, yeah. Well, when I was reviewing his scores I saw that he was getting 0% on each of the levels after the first 4. So, now he is back redoing it the right way with me keeping a closer tab on his progress.
    • Learning through trial and error. It seems to work, but it pulls a lot of words and as the kids are learning it they are really just guessing what is right and what is wrong. They click on random words or columns and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. They do begin to see the patterns and begin to get more right, but I think most of the rules will need more than a once through the lesson to really grasp and most kids want to just fly through it and have fun.
    • Difficulty of spelling words doesn’t necessarily progress throughout levels. Because they are going according to a list of spelling rules some of the words in later lists are very easy while some in earlier lists were rather challenging.

    Wordy Querty builds beautifully on what Talking Fingers started. My 5 and 7 year olds absolutely love both programs and beg to play them. They have learned so much in the process in the midst of the play. These are great programs to help kids get a secure footing in typing, reading, and now spelling 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 Wordy Querty 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — Mad Dog Math

    May 18th, 2011

    With school age kids ranging from Kindergarten to eighth grade, my younger kids seem to have a greater drive to learn early because they want to do what everyone else is doing. Recently my younger two took an interest in learning about multiplication. Not typically part of the scope and sequence for Kindergarten and first grade, we decided to give it a try anyway.

    At the same time we received Mad Dog Math to review and this was a great opportunity for them to learn their basic math facts on their own. We did a quick little lesson on what multiplication means and how to figure out the answer and then sent them off. They started with reviewing some of their addition and subtraction, and then could switch to level 3 and work on some of their new found understanding of “times.” Now they feel like big kids. :)

    See a little more of what this program is all about in this video they put together (this is a little long — just under 10  minutes):

    Product: Mad Dog Math

    Details: A downloadable program that helps kids in K-5 practice their basic facts in a systematic, easy to use format. They get a set of problems to answer in a period of time and gradually progress to more difficult problems.

    Price: $19.95 for a one year license, $29.99 for 2 years, $39.99 for perpetual license

    What we loved . . .

    • Basic presentation. Not a flashy, “read a 100 page manual” program. Download, read a paragraph of instructions, and start drilling. My kindergartener was on it within two minutes of getting it on and he flew through the first through levels as he got used to the program.
    • Covers all the basic operations. This one program will cover addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in one computer based program so you won’t have to keep flash cards around that mostly got used by your toddler to decorate the school room floor anyway.
    • Different levels to start at. Each child can start at their appropriate level. Level one starts at the very basic, “0 + 3.” It then very gradually progresses through each of the groupings first through addition and then subtraction. Once they can add everything up to 18 they will complete that level and earn their sticker. They can redo them to improve their times trying to complete the facts in less than 30 seconds with only a couple errors.
    • Good length. The speed drills vary in length and are appropriate for the levels they are at. As they progress they get a bit longer, but they are all able to be completed in 2 minutes by most kids. I could finish most in 15 seconds, so that allows a good bit of time for kids to find the correct number on the keyboard an move on.
    • Varied presentation. Most of the problems ask for a solution (the sum, difference, product, or quotient), but some leave out one of the other numbers that kids need to figure out instead. I like that they vary this to help kids stretch their thinking, solidify their skills, and keep it fresh.
    • Can be untimed. Some kids really struggle with the anxiety of a timed test. Mad Dog offers timings of 2 minutes, 1 minute, or 30 seconds. They also give you the choice of not being timed. This can be a great help to some kids struggling with success in this area.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Simple program. While this is a plus for ease of use, it also means that it does not have some extra features that I like to look for in a program. It doesn’t track specifics of how your child is doing. It lets them continue when they have made mistakes (I like to be able to set the mastery level and change it as I see necessary). It does what it is meant to do, but not with
    • Kids need to advance themselves to the next level. Once a child has mastered one level it tells them what they need to do next, but they need to change the selection in order to move to that next step in the program. It will let you stay at the level you were working on, but you don’t earn anything new until you select the next level.
    • Watch the bark. When I first started the program up I must have had my speakers on too loud. The program does not have any talking or background music, but it does have a loud bark now and then when you click on something or move to a new section. It about knocked me out of my seat. So, keep your speakers at a reasonable level when you are trying it out. ;)
    • Unique groupings. It seems most math programs I use learn all the “+ 1″ at once. Mad Dog instead does everything that adds up to 0-3 first. So it is working with a smaller sample set each time. This worked well for the gradual progress, but it was different than what we were used to.
    • Rewards are a long time coming. While kids can earn rewards, they take a while to get there, especially at the lowest level. At level one I felt like I had been on it a while and the “encouragement” that showed up on the bottom after one quiz said something like, “Great job, just 35 to go to earn your sticker!” Wow, that was not encouraging.
    • Explanation focuses on vocabulary. In the instructions there is a little button to click for the program to explain the math terms. I expected it to tell you what “addition” means, but instead it tells you the technical terms for each number in an addition problem (and for the other operations as well). This is interesting, but not really helpful if a student didn’t know what “multiply” even means.

    Mad Dog math is basically a computer based flashcard program. It is easy to use and most kids would much rather drill their math facts on the computer as opposed to with real cards. It obviously costs a lot more than a deck of flashcards, but if it will get kids to learn their basic facts without an argument, that is money well spent. And, you don’t have to worry about your kids not learning “7 + 8″ because you lost that card and never realized it.

    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 Mad Dog Math 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — IEW

    May 13th, 2011

    Another day of middle school writing assignments. Another day of frustration, long hours at the desk, and very little accomplished. And, unfortunately this was not a new struggle. We had battled over writing on and off since he first held a pencil.

    Sound familiar? My oldest child has really struggled with putting pen to paper. He is the math and science guy. He can pull apart an engine, put it back together and tell you how it works. But ask him to write down more than a paragraph, especially one that involves creative thought and you will think you just asked a snail to fly you to the moon.

    Enter IEW. It gives concrete, practical tools for writing and writing well. My husband was home one day when they were watching their lesson for the day and he said, “I wish someone had told me how to write a story like that. That’s easy!” That sums it up pretty well. Andrew Pudewa takes what is nearly impossible for so many students, what is a source of major frustration and energy drain to teachers and students alike, and makes it easy.

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    Product: Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Teaching writing/student writing intensive combo pack level C

    Details: A combo pack that brings information for both parent and student. The two components can be purchased separately as well and include the 10 hour teaching writing workshop (Andrew Pudewa in front of an audience of parents) for the teacher and the student program (Mr. Pudewa teaching a writing workshop for high school students) designed for use over 15 to 30 weeks depending on how much time you put into it each week.

    Price: $239 for the whole combo pack

    Because there are two distinct components to this combo pack I will separate my review of these items. I don’t want the value of either of these parts to get lost in a lengthy list of pros and cons. To start with, I want to share my thoughts on the level C teaching writing intensive for students.

    What we loved . . .

    • Great for the non-writer and the non-writing teacher or non writing-teacher. I love to write. It’s part of the reason that I got into blogging. Taking fingers to the keyboard is a natural outlet for who I am. Unfortunately, most of my children do not take after me in this way and they really needed a teacher that understood and didn’t just keep telling them to write something — or else. They really enjoyed watching the videos, my daughter even said she had a new favorite teacher (I tried not to be hurt by that, as she assured me she was just expressing how much she enjoyed the videos. Um, okay). We really needed a fresh face to lighten the mood surrounding writing.
    • Good for older students, but still a little flexibility in the age. IEW encourages you to pick a level based on your student’s age, not on their writing ability. Older kids, even beginning writers, can progress more quickly and handle reading passages with more difficult wording. The exercises in each level are designed with a certain age grouping in mind. Level C is geared specifically toward high schoolers. I did use this for my son (entering high school) and my daughter (entering 7th grade). They were both able to work at the level required. It was a challenge for them, but a good one. They both have strong reading and vocabulary skills, just not great writing skills. I have really seen them grow through the specific methods they now have in their tool belt for writing assignments.
    • Witty teacher. Andrew Pudewa has a dynamic teaching style. I found myself watching along just because it was an enjoyable lecture. He interacts naturally with the kids in the video’s classroom, and teaches with professionalism, a sense of humor, and a thorough understanding of his subject and writing method.
    • A full year curriculum. They say you can use this for 30 weeks or go up to twice as fast and finish in 15 weeks. I can easily see this taking a good chunk of next year to finish as well as we have just used it about half of this school year. There are plenty of supplementary exercises if you want to go slower and activities that you can easily skip if your child is picking up the steps more quickly. I know IEW is often taught in co-ops around here, but I really like the flexibility of doing this at home where they can work at their own pace and go more quickly through some weekly lessons and take their time to fully master others.
    • Gives kids concrete steps. Without stifling their individuality, IEW gives the student specific steps to take to complete a writing assignment. These steps will look different depending on the type of writing, but with this teaching they can write and follow the rules and know they will come out with a great product. My son likes things concrete, specific, clear expectations, obvious write and wrong in an assignment. IEW makes writing a more concrete subject for students like him, and he thrives under it. My daughter likes the freedom of writing, but never knew how to get started. IEW has helped her to get that boost to get the assignment started and then her writing ability takes over from there. IEW has helped them both in their own unique ways and helped them both to become better writers.
    • You can do it! Even if you are not a writing teacher you can easily use this curriculum at home. You buy the level, you can make copies of the notebook pages for each of your kids, and let the video do the teaching once a week, roughly, and you follow up the rest of the week. They break it down into very manageable size lessons that fit easily into our full homeschooling days. I was very pleased with the schedule that they set up for us to follow. Of course we did tweak it here and there, but it gave us a mostly useable starting point.
    • Covers all areas of writing. We still have some of the curriculum yet to finish, and when we are done my kids will be very comfortable with writing in many forms — lecture note taking, summarizing, research papers, essays, creative writing, and taking notes from references. They need to be able to do way more than write a story or narrate a lesson back to me. Writing will be one of the first impressions that they give to people throughout life and I definitely want them to be comfortable with it so they can present themselves well.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Video doesn’t have clear breaks. I don’ t know why this bothers me so much, it is really a little thing. But, I just wish that the videos stopped or had a break when a lesson was done. When I first watched I had not paid enough attention to the timing and kept watching for almost three hours because I thought the end should be coming soon. Well, it had come and gone and come and gone and come and gone. After learning my lesson I would write down on a little sticky note what time the DVD player should say when we were done for the day. My kids did enjoy the reading lesson, but they don’t want to do more school than necessary on any given day, so they made sure it stopped where it was supposed to after that.
    • Still requires writing. To learn to write, they will need to write. My son definitely did less groaning with IEW than with other programs or assignments we had tried.  However, he it is not a magic pill that made him love writing. It did, however, enable him to do it. Now I can give him a writing assignment or tell him to write a summary of what we learned and he doesn’t first spend a half hour staring at a blank sheet of paper. Now he has the assignment done and turned in by then. That is a step in the right direction.

    And, then about the teaching conference on DVD:

    What we loved . . .

    • Comprehensive workshop for teacher/parent. Even though I am comfortable writing and teaching writing, IEW has a little bit of a different approach to writing and in order to best teach the approach to my kids and supervise their learning of it, I needed a little extra instruction as well.These videos helped me have a more thorough understanding of the what and why behind their methodology. This really helped build my enthusiasm for the program and I think that then rubbed off on my kids as they started into their own video series. I could tell them without hesitation that they would enjoy Mr. Pudewa’s teaching style and I was right on.
    • Can be watched a little at a time. I rarely have 10 spare hours at one time, probably not even in one month could I muster that kind of extra time. So, these videos can be watched a little at a time as your kids progress through the material themselves. If you have a chunk of time over the summer to watch them in a couple sittings that works as well, or you can choose to watch it in segments that apply to the lesson the kids are learning as well.
    • Suggested schedule. If you do want to use this all at once as a workshop (invite other moms over, too, and they can even order their own notebook to go along with it!), they give you a suggested schedule and some tips on making the most of it. I did watch some of this with a friend that was also getting started in it and it was a great motivator to walk the path with another real live person while we enjoyed the DVD presentation as well.
    • Anticipates questions and prepares you well. Obviously, no one knows that program like the creator. Sitting under the teaching of the person who put it all together was priceless. He knows why it includes certain components. He knows how to best utilize the resources included in each pack. He knows how to schedule the material into your homeschooling experience. He answered my questions and more and helped me feel confident and comfortable about teaching my kids at home using IEW.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Video doesn’t have clear breaks. Again, this is the same as the kids’ videos, so I won’t repeat myself, but I found it distracting to have to watch the counter rather than being free to focus on the speaker as a session got close to an end.
    • Need to focus. It is really best to watch this without distraction. This was not a DVD that I could put on in the background while I cooked dinner or played a board game on the floor with the kids. I had to be sitting, facing the TV, notebook in hand, listening and taking notes to really absorb it. The material is practical and specific and you won’t want to miss it. Be sure to set aside a time when you can really listen and make the most of this great resource.

    After having tried this program and having it so willingly received by my kids I am excited to check out more of their products. They have writing courses geared toward specific time periods in history (they run just $29 for the student book), and continuation courses for those ready to build on what they have learned in these courses (these can take up to two years to complete). I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of Mr. Pudewa in our living room.

    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 IEW 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — Go Trybe

    May 11th, 2011

    I have my favorites for math, English, history, and science. But, when it comes to PE, every year is different. We like to try different things, but most importantly we like to be active and continue to improve our health each day. I want my kids to be healthy and have fun in the process. GoTrybe has a similar goal and we enjoyed using their tools this past month.

    Product: Go Trybe online membership

    Details: An online fitness membership for kids to use on their own or with their class to encourage them to get active and take a more hands-on interest in their own physical fitness.

    Price: $19.95 for an annual membership (regularly $39.95)

    What we loved . . .

    • Quick to figure out. Login is easy, they even have a free trial to check it out before you buy. As soon as you are in you can click around, create your avatar, plan a workout, or listen to the daily messages.
    • Not just exercise. While GoTrybe’s main focus is exercise, they offer incentives to improve your health in many other areas as well. Each day the member can earn points for viewing quick videos or reading quick tidbits about nutrition, motivation, and wellness. These generally offer tips and advice on how to stick with your exercise plans, how to pack the most nutrition in your meals, and how to set and stick with goals to improve your health. They use the points to dress their avatar and buy various items.
    • Lots of variety and choose your own. I really enjoyed the way they made the workouts available. They are not just premade videos that you pick from and follow along with only a few to choose from. You create your own workout by pulling from a pool of exercise videos most about 3-5 minutes in length. Each workout must have a warm up, three cardio sets, a strength one, and then a flexibility video. There are lots to choose from and my kids made many videos that we used on different days. No two were alike.
    • Kids exercise along, too. Each video is led by an adult, but kids play an important part in the group as well. You can even be in a video if you get in touch with them and are willing to drive to their studios in Tennessee. ;)
    • Geared to a variety of ages. You choose your age group when signing in and the videos that you have will vary based on your age at sign in. They have targeted them, and we enjoyed the older group although it was definitely challenging for my little ones that were following along with us. They all still got a great bit of exercise.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Modesty. My only real beef with GoTrybe is their choice of clothing and body stance for the older girl avatar, in particular. This is often a problem for me when I consider products that focus on physical fitness. Presumably they want to give you a visual that is physically fit, but it often ends up somewhere between questionable and inappropriate in the modesty department. I would have preferred a more neutral stance and more feminine clothing, but obviously they can’t please everyone, so in this area I fell into the part of everyone that they didn’t please.
    • Workouts seemed to lack a cool down. We really enjoyed the workouts that we put together and each of my kids took a turn putting one on for us. However, we found that they needed a little more transition from the heart pumping cardio to the muscle building strength clips. We would just pause and walk around the room a few times while our heart rate relaxed a bit.
    • Nutrition information might not mesh with your slant. Each day the kids have an opportunity to hear a quick little nutrition tip and take a one question quiz on their comprehension. This was an easy way to earn points and my kids learned something in the process. However, there are a variety of approaches to healthy eating in our society today (whole foods, vegan, Nourishing Traditions, etc.) and again they cannot please everybody. For the most part they did a good job of remaining general (eat lots of fresh, whole foods), but if this is an area that you feel strongly about in your home you might want to use these as discussion starters rather than lessons for your kids to swallow.
    • Offers forum and chat features. Social media will always open the door to inappropriate conversation. Just be careful who your kids friend, or have them avoid that part of the program all together. They will not miss out on anything if they don’t get all the shoutouts like, “Make an avatar” ” r u a boy or girl?” etc. Really meaningful stuff right there. ;)

    GoTrybe set out to create a motivational site for kids to get fit, to realize the importance of diet and exercise in our society that continues to struggle with obesity and weight related medical issues. I think they did a good job of making this kid-friendly and interactive. This web based program gets you out of your chair and improving your health from the first day you log in. Definitely worth the less than $20 to enable your kids to plan your PE for you.

    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 Go Trybe 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — MonkiSee videos

    May 9th, 2011

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    Babies are sponges. It amazes me how quickly their vocabulary mushrooms. My little guy, soon to celebrate his first birthday, has started saying a few words, but he signs even more. His comprehension of what we say is even further ahead than that. Amazing to watch this precious little baby begin to communicate.

    MonkiSee creators recognized this learning potential and created videos and books to capitalize on it. Through their videos, books, and flashcards kids less than two years old can begin reading on their own. My own guinea pig is just learning to talk, so we have a little time before he speaks these words let alone reads them, but I can see the potential in this product.
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    Product: Baby’s First Words DVD and Know Your Monkey book

    Details: A 30 minute DVD that highlights words common to a baby’s environment in a fun, repetitive manner to help them learn to recognize them in print. The book reinforces the words and give them a print medium to enjoy as well.

    Price: $19.95 for DVD and $11.95 (on sale now for $9.95) for the book

    What we loved . . .

    • Perfect for its target audience. My son was instantly mesmorized by the cute monkeys and characters on screen. He clapped and squealed as they brought their message to our living room.
    • Focused learning. The videos definitely focus on the specific words and present them in a variety of formats to help the children learn and connect with each one. It doesn’t get dull as it moves along and keeps the child learning.
    • Not too fast paced. Of course one of the issues with the medium of video is that it often moves at a quicker pace than real life and is a bad influence on attention spans. These videos seemed to find a reasonable pace to keep things from getting dull, but also to prevent them from moving at an overstimulating pace, an important consideration when targeting the under three crowd.
    • Good quality. The videos are cute and well made. The product itself is of good quality and we did really enjoy the graphics. My older kids also enjoyed watching along with my little guy and interacting with him through the video.

    Some considerations . . .

    • The age of limited screen time. Although my pediatrician doesn’t concern himself with educational screen time, I am still acutely aware of how much time my kids spend in front of a TV or computer monitor. Under the age of three I don’t tend to encourage it at all. That said, I can see the benefit to this type of video to help them learn words in a fun setting. And, it is easy to repeat it even when the adult gets bored of the repetition. The DVD can easily be played multiple times.
    • Books are sturdy, but still paper. I suppose my son is kind of on the young end of their target audience, but he does not yet understand that pages are not to be ripped out of books. So, all that to say, our book has a little character now.
    • Might be a little long for some attention spans. My son loved the video, for about 10-15 minutes. After that he was ready to move on. I left it playing in the room he was in, but he didn’t pay too much attention to it after the halfway point most days other than stopping to dance when he heard music. ;)
    • Some of the vocabulary might not be applicable. In trying to teach words common to babies they may teach words that your child doesn’t really know, or that you use different terms for. My son doesn’t use a pacifier or a bottle, so those are not concepts he has much connection with, but most of the words were standard.
    • The expectation. The program is designed to be used 5 days each week for a month or so. This is a lot of time for our household, and we were not able to use it that often, so I don’t know that we would see the desired results even if my son were a bit older.

    MonkiSee has made some adorable video and book products. Eli loved the bits he did watch and kept coming back to the book even after he dismantled it. I could see using this in a few more months for 15 minutes at a time rather than the prescribed 30. He may or may not learn to “read” with this method, but I can see it being helpful for him to begin to make the connection between printed letters and objects in his world.

    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 MonkiSee Videos 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — Kregel books

    May 6th, 2011

    My older three children read because they have to, but fortunately, the next couple actually enjoy reading. When our package from Kregel publishing arrived, Brooke was thrilled to find a book especially for her inside. Andi’s Indian Summer tells the story of a girl on a ranch in the late 1800s. Horses and indians, frogs and chores, brothers and friends all come together to make this a wonderful story for any early reader.

    And, when I went to ask my 1st grader how she was enjoying the book, my fourth grader piped in to tell me more details and how she enjoyed the story as well. That is a real testimony to the quality of this book because I never asked her to read it.

    Circle,C,Kregel,Susan,Marlow

    Product: Circle C Beginnings book

    Details: An early reader (roughly second grade level) book geared toward kids aged 6-9.  An engaging story about a girl and her horse and facing her fears. 76 pages.

    Price: $4.99

    What we loved . . .

    • Exciting story. The story is face paced and well written without feeling overly simplified it keeps the vocabulary appropriate for early readers while creating an interesting story with characters that they can relate to. The main character, a young girl, shares some of her frustration with being thought of as too little while also expressing the normal fears of a typical child.
    • Christian based. Susan Marlow does a wonderful job of weaving her faith naturally into the story line. Not a forced gospel message, or an artificial footnote. Andi and an Indian discuss their faith and missionaries in a very natural interaction. Not a significant part of the story line, but a reassurance that this is written from a Christian worldview.
    • Ideal for early readers ready for their first chapter books. My daughter is nearing the end of first grade and enjoyed reading this book on her own. It is kind of long, but she nibbled away at it chapter by chapter enjoying each morsel. My fourth grader easily read through it as well.
    • Additional resources. The Andi and Taffy website has some fun printouts and other resources to go along with the books. You can even purchase lapbooks if you would like to turn this into a unit study as well.
    • Cheerful drawings. The drawings are well done and cute, but I really appreciated that the kids looked cheerful in most of them. They usually didn’t focus on the sad or scary things mentioned, rather the drawings highlighted the happy smiles that came after reassurances and victories.
    • Vocabulary list. At the beginning of the book is a brief vocab list for readers to understand some of the places, names, and words that they might not be familiar with. I appreciate when authors do this because it shows that they are interested in educating not just entertaining. Marlow definitely does both.

    Some considerations . . .

    • Will leave you wanting more. If you get just one book, you will want more. Your child will almost certainly enjoy this and the activity pages that go along with it. May as well get the whole set to start with. ;) This is the second book in a four book series (soon to be six books, I believe).
    • Might be a challenge for some early readers. My current early readers love a challenge and meaty reads, but this book would not have suited my older couple early on. They liked short stories with lots of pictures, even if the words were more difficult. This has less than a dozen pictures throughout the book, so your more visual child may struggle staying intrigued through the pages of text. You could definitely take turns reading, or break it up with the activity pages as well.

    We simply adored this book. It is so rare to find a well written kids’ book that is both interesting and has the values that I look for in a book. I love having a book that I can hand my children to read without hesitation and know that they will love it 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 Kregel Publications 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.



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    TOS Crew Review — See the Light

    April 22nd, 2011

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    I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I can sometimes appreciate fine art when walking through a gallery, but I cannot begin to draw much more than a stick figure. So, our art instruction for our kids must come from elsewhere. I can handle the macaroni frames of early elementary years, but after that they lose me.

    Fortunately, I don’t have to do this on my own.

    Product: See the Light Art instruction DVDs

    Details: A 9 volume DVD set with a total of 36 lessons taught by Master Artist Pat Knepley. Each lesson takes about 15 minutes and are designed to be watched once a week with follow up activities engaging the student until the following lesson.

    Price: $99.99

    What we loved . . .

    • Great for beginners of all ages. As I mentioned, I am not an artist, but I enjoy doodling and attempting to make nicer looking stick figures. Well, this DVD series brought us well beyond that. Even just in the first four lessons, which include a lot of introductory material, we all learned some new techniques and perspectives that improved our sketches. We watched this as a group from my kindergartner through my eighth grader and myself as well. Her teaching style seemed  a little “young” for my eighth grader, but the content of the teaching itself was suitable for his level. It seemed perfect for my fourth and sixth graders especially.
    • Biblical integration. Pat Knepley did a beautiful job of bringing Scripture and scriptural concepts naturally into the lessons. Her passion for art meshes easily with her faith and she shares both in this video series.
    • Perfect for once a week use. The 15 minutes of instruction in each lesson teaches a new concept and then gives the students ways that they can practice mastering the technique until the next week’s lesson. My kids really developed a greater enthusiasm for drawing while watching these videos and  have spent quite a bit of time outside of what I required of them practicing what she has taught.
    • Not a lot of supplies needed. She sticks to the essentials early on. All we needed was pencil and paper. We did also pull out a couple apples and a shoe, and there were other supplies that she discussed, but most lessons all you need is a pencil and paper. I can do that. :)

    Some considerations . . .

    • Full year is costly. For all 36 lessons it would set you back around a hundred dollars. That is a lot of money. However, I did really like this resource and it is probably worth that to actually have an artist in your home teaching for 15 minutes each week. You can’t ask her questions, but you can see her work and watch and re-watch the episodes as often as necessary.  And, when you compare the price to a local art class or co-op class you really can’t beat the price.
    • Sometimes I felt like she went a little too fast. While most of the time I felt her pace was right on, or even a little slow, when she was adding the finishing touches to her pictures I felt like I looked down to compare it to mine and hers went from a rough contour line drawing to gallery worthy material and I’m not quite sure how she did it with so little effort. I watched it again of course, but realized that good art requires an eye for it as well.  We need a lot more practice to get close to her level, and we need to realize that she has spent a lot of time and has a natural ability that allows her to see what she needs to create a great finished product. Some of that is learned, but I don’t know that all of it can be. So, maybe it was a matter of a skill gap not necessarily the speed of her teaching.
    • Short lessons. With only 15 minutes to cover the daily lesson, she doesn’t cover much in any one lesson. This is good because you can really take your time practicing one technique or habit at a time, but some kids might get bored having such a small task to work on for a whole week. I would almost like her to show each technique a couple times in each lesson using a different subject each time, but there is enough there to build from for the most part.
    • Uses mostly her own art samples. It was encouraging to see her great work as examples and know that we were learning from someone that knew what they were talking about, but we also like to incorporate art appreciation into our art lessons. If we continue with this I would need to continue to seek that out on my own.

    See the Light has put together a great program that is really well suited for the beginning artist. If you have struggled to find an easy way to bring a great art program into your home, I would encourage you to check out these DVDs and maybe even take time to give their free samples a try.

    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 See the Light 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.



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