Wednesday, December 29, 2010

IEW Phonetic Zoo – Crew Review


We recently received a wonderful spelling program from IEW to try out in our home called the Phonetic Zoo. Now what is really interesting about this program is that it is not your standard grade-level spelling workbook approach. This program is designed for students in 3rd grade and up and consists of three levels. Each level has 47 lessons that are taught by blending sound and sight methods in a way that is fun and easy for your child to remember.

Phonetic Zoo uses the average child’s love of the animal kingdom to make lessons fun and also uses animals as “learning pegs” upon which they can mentally “hang” each new spelling rule they encounter. A complete level set contains:

  • Teacher’s Notes e-book (found on the DVD)
  • Spelling and the Brain DVD/DVD-ROM
  • Set of large flashcards
  • Set of small “Zoo” cards
  • One set of Audio CDs (Levels A, B or C)

With each new lesson taught, you introduce the new rule to your child using the teaching notes and the large flashcard that corresponds to that lesson. You then give your student the corresponding small zoo card to help them remember the rule of the lesson and it also has written on it a jingle or rhyme about the rule. IEW recommends that to use the program to the best of it’s potential, you have your student go through the lessons on cd using a pair of headphones, paper and pen (not pencil). The student then listens to the first track for the lesson they are studying and takes a test to see what words they can spell. They then listen to the second track for that lesson to make corrections and to reinforce the correct spellings of the words. The student repeats the same lesson everyday until they have gotten every word correct for 2 consecutive days. This ensures mastery and long-term retention of the material. The program also has periodic “personal spelling lessons” and each level has a final exam.

What I like about this program is that it is very teacher friendly and requires very little preparation ahead of time. The student moves through the bulk of the lessons independently. I also like that the student must really grasp that material before moving on to the next lesson.

I used this program with my son, Drew, who is 10, for a month and I actually saw quite a bit of improvement beyond what I have seen thus far using our current spelling program (or any of the others we have used in the past). However, after the initial newness of the program wore off, Drew became very sullen and begged to not have to continue doing the lessons. I think his unhappiness with the lessons came from his complete hate-hate relationship with anything that requires him to write things out repeatedly. The program requires that each word is written out twice daily during the testing and correction times. He thought it was very unfair of me to ask him to rewrite a word if he had already spelled it correctly in the first place!

I would highly recommend this program for an older child that struggles with retaining spelling rules. I loved the program and wish my son had liked it more, we probably would have continued using it!

Each level of the Phonetic Zoo can be purchased directly from IEW for $99 each and contains everything you need to use this program with several children. The fact that everything is reusable makes the program a great value! If you desired for each of your students to be able to keep their zoo cards, then you could easily purchase an additional set for a 2nd child for only $7.


DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Master Ruler (Crew Review)


We recently had to opportunity to review a few products from Master Innovations, thanks to the TOS Homeschool crew. Master Innovations is a company that specializes in making unique and easy-to-use tools to help children learn how to measure the world around them and understand tricky math concepts like time, fractions, mixed numbers, and much more.

We received two Master Rulers (one standard and one metric) and a workbook to try out. When I first learned about the review my first thought was, “Oh Goody, a ruler.” But after I visited the website and watched this video I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to get our products in the mail:

As you can see, the Master Ruler does more than just measure length. With the Master Ruler your students have a visual, tactile tool to use to help learn about fractions and their relationships. I tried out the products with two of my children. For my 8th grader, we used the ruler with the portions of the workbook covering fractions. With my 5th grader, we used the measuring portions of the workbook.

My 8th grader has long struggled with fractions and she found after getting the hang of HOW to use the ruler to help her, understanding fractions was much easier. All she had to do was use the ruler to find the mark that coincided with each fraction she was given and compare them. We both found this to be much easier even than using fraction “pie manipulatives” because it was quicker and there were no little pieces to keep track of.

For my 5th grader, this was his first time measuring anything more detailed than 1/4 inches. The different layers of the rulers for each unit of measurement made it easy to figure out how to measure things to even 1/16 of an inch! I am looking forward to using these rulers in the future with my 2nd grader also.

Along with the Master Ruler, Master Innovations has several other products available including the Master Clock, Master Fractions, and Master Angles. I have yet to try any of these other resources, but after reading the reviews of my fellow Crew members, I have added them to my homeschool “wish list”.

The Master Ruler (U.S.  or Metric) can be purchased for $9.95 each directly from Master Innovations. I think this is a very reasonable price, considering how many uses it has and how sturdy it is. The Student Workbook  is available for $15.95 also, or you can purchase The Master Ruler Starter Set which includes metric, U.S. and a teachers ruler plus the workbook  for $41.25. Make sure to check out the other products that are available, too!



DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bright Ideas Press-Illuminations Y2 (Crew Review)


When I was a student, History was not one of my favorite subjects. But since I began homeschooling my own children, it has quickly become one of my favorite things to learn all over again. Part of that new found love is a result from all of the awesome History programs out there, and Illuminations totally fits the bill!

Never heard of Illuminations? Well I am sure you have heard of the Mystery of History yes? Well, Illuminations is a brand new all-inclusive curriculum from Bright Ideas Press, the publishers of MOH. Illuminations is an all-inclusive, chronological study of history that is Biblically based and centered. It covers Bible, Literature, Language Arts, Geography, History, Science, Life Skills and Humanities all in one very thorough guide that will take you and your kids on an exciting trek through the history of mankind. It is available in 2 levels covering grades 3-8 and High School. There are also suggestions for gently covering the same material if you have younger kids that want to join in the study. For our review, we chose to cover Year 2, 3rd-8th grade.


For this review, we were unable to give it as thorough a tryout as I would have preferred to because we were unable to purchase any of the additional materials that are recommended throughout the program. Luckily, we do have experience with MOH and loved going through the book a few years ago. SO this review is based purely on my opinions from giving the materials a very thorough study. I hope I can do it justice. Please bear with me as there is a LOT to this program and I want to cover a little bit of all of the elements that come together to make this program so unique and fun.


As I mentioned before, Illuminations uses the correlating book of Mystery of History in each year plan. Bible and Geography is incorporated into the study as well. Each weekly plan grid includes everything you might want to do for a thorough and fun study of history including daily history reading, notebooking, bible reading, mapwork, timelines and more.


The way Illuminations incorporates the Literature element of the program is probably my favorite aspect of the curriculum. Literature readings are recommended (and scheduled for you) that coincide with what you are reading in MOH and Bible. But the best part is the awesome study guides that are included. There is a study guide for every book your child will read in the program, allowing you to make sure your child is getting the most rom every selection.

Language Arts

I you choose to follow the Language Arts plans, you will have to make some additional purchases. However if you decide not to, you can still make use of the copywork in the program. You do have a choice of several curriculums to use with Illuminations that are already scheduled in the plans for you. These are Grammar Punk, English From the Roots Up, The Natural Speller, Write Shop, and Foundations to Writing.


Year 2 of Illuminations covers earth and space science using the popular program: Christian Kids Explore Earth & Space. Every single day of lessons and activities is scheduled for you and you will never have to wonder what to cover next. Science plans include reading, discussion, vocabulary, memory work, and hands-on projects.

There is so much more to this program than I can share with you in one blog post, but if what I have shared here with you sounds interesting, I encourage you to check the program out for yourself! It can be purchased as a digital download direct from Bright Ideas Press for only $82.50 for a semester and $165 for an entire year. There are some great sample files available for you to view also and you can find them here.

Make sure you check out the Crew blog post here where you can read reviews on different levels/years of Illuminations, and other great homeschool products by Bright Ideas Press!


DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

3 Days Down–46 More to Go…

Monday morning my husband left on a bus from the MEPS center to the airport to begin his training as an US Army soldier… We were there to him get sworn in and see him off. It was a really tough day. That night he arrived safely at the reception battalion and that was the last I heard from him til the following evening.

Bedtime was rough. All the kids cried and were pretty much a mess. It’s hard to tell your kids they have to be strong when all you wanna do is melt into a puddle of tears yourself. But I did good, I calmed them down and comforted them and got them off to sleep. I was emotionally and physically drained from the last few days’ activities and went right to bed myself. That was the end of day one.

Tuesday was a better day. I was feeling much more rested and concentrated on getting myself back into the swing of things by cleaning up a bit around the house and hanging out with the kids. I got a 10 minute phone call from my soldier hubby when the drill sergeant came in and hollered for them all to be lined up by their bunks for roll call. After another 10-15 minutes, I got another call. It was so good to hear his voice and hear what his day had consisted of. He was pretty choked up and missing us all badly. I made a very conscious effort to stay upbeat and positive and encouraged him that we were fine and that things would get easier. That night, Joey ended up in bed with me. I wouldn’t have minded but that I really needed some down time to myself. That was the end of day two.

Today I spent a lot of time online windows shopping for a new family car. Ours is on it’s last leg and we are going to be in a much better financial position to purchase a new one. This is what we are leaning towards purchasing:


It’s a 2009 Dodge Journey R/T. It has 3 rows of seats and accommodates 7 people. This model has all the extras like leather interior, sunroof, and DVD entertainment system, and it fits into our budget. I will probably not end up with this exact car, but this is the model we are looking for.

My pretty decent day was almost ruined by a major mishap – I dropped my phone (which I carry with me everywhere in case he calls) in the toilet. Yup. I immediately fished it out, took it apart, and dried it the best I could. Shortly thereafter, hubby called. About 3 minutes into our conversation it shut off without warning. I couldn’t get it to turn back on!!!! I was flipping out thinking this would be the last phone call I would be getting from him until I could afford a new phone (which wasn’t going to be anytime soon). So I again took it apart and took the hair dryer to it. I managed to get it dry enough to power back on and hubby called me back. The audio was funny sounding, so I used the speakerphone. We ended up getting to talk for almost an hour!! I was on cloud nine. He sounded sooo much better and said that he had had a much better day today. He got to talk to the kids (except Jazz who is spending time at her mom’s) and they enjoyed hearing his voice. Soon after I put the kids into bed (without incident) and now I am laying in bed with a heating pad, getting ready to sleep. So ends day three.

All-in-all I think we are all handling things quite well. It’s not difficult for me to stay busy and distracted during the day, with four kids to take care of and teach and a houseful of cleaning to be done. But in the evening, it’s a different story, being able to speak to him each night he is in reception has been a blessing to say the least. I am really dreading the end of the week when he moves into barracks and will be lucky to make a short Sunday call home.

I have connected with an awesome group of new Army wives on facebook who are going through all of this right alongside me. It’s so nice to be able to chat with ladies who know exactly what I am going through. just about any time of the day, there’s someone on there to be a listening ear, or to just make me laugh. The Army really is one big family, and I am so proud and thankful to be a part of it.

In 46 more days, hubby will get leave and will get to come home for Christmas for a few weeks. The timing of his training is really awesome, since this break will split his BCT just about in half. I can’t imagine how I would cope If I had to go through a full 12 weeks without seeing him!!

I want to thank each and every person who has offered prayers for our family through this challenging transition. Please, continue to pray! Especially for my husband. I hope to be journaling our journey as much as I can over the next 4 to 5 months and beyond. It is my hope that it will be an encouragement to others who travel down this road as well!



Friday, October 22, 2010

Can Babies REALLY Learn to Read? (Crew Review)

 image There are a lot of programs out there that claim that you can teach babies as young as six months old to read. This is something I admit I have been very skeptical about as I have seen the advertisements here and there in the recent past. Which is exactly why I was so excited to review a really neat product from Brill Kids called Little Reader. I was enthusiastic to see how the program worked and to see how my toddler would react to the lessons.


Little Reader is a computer based program that’s designed to teach your baby (or young child) to read using a multi-sensory, interactive methodology. The software breaks each short lesson down into 3 parts: Word Flash, Multisensory, and Picture Flash. The lessons are designed to be used twice daily and are very short. Each lesson groups the word list into categories, and your child will encounter the same words over and over again, allowing them plenty of exposure to new words. The lessons are fun, age-appropriate, and engaging. There are a plethora of options available allowing you to customize the lessons by choosing at what speed the screens changes, what pictures accompany the words on the screen, and you can even program your very own voice into the lessons! I only played with a few of these options during our review period, but there are plenty of ways for you to make the program work for you and your child.

We received the download version of this program which did not come with any of the optional additional materials (such as readers and flashcards). I used the software with my 2 year old son and within the first few sessions, he was hooked and even threw a fit wanting to continue doing more of the lessons after we were finished with that days activities. I don’t feel at this point that we have been using the product long enough to actually gauge whether or not he is learning to read with it, but there were several positive things I have noticed about using Little Reader with him. First of all, he was thrilled to have something of his very own to “do” on the computer (just like the big kids). Secondly, he really enjoyed the words and pictures and videos that played on the screen as we went through the lessons, and loved repeating the words that were shown to him. I never had to coerce him into doing the lessons at all. Every day I would ask him if he was ready to do his “baby reading” and he would immediately jump up and down and say, “Yes! Baby reading!”. Third, though I sat with him through every lesson, it was very much an option for me to set the lesson up and walk away if I needed to. That was definitely a very nice perk, especially when we have several times throughout our school days when he wants mommy to entertain him, but I have to help one of the older kids with schoolwork.

One of my favorite features of the software was that it gave me the option to print off picture flashcards for any lesson I wished. I did this for a few of the first lessons and again, Joey thoroughly enjoyed “playing” with the flashcards. Using the flashcards there are lots of fun ways for you and your child to interact with the words they are encountering in the daily lessons. This was definitely a plus in my opinion.

So can this program teach your child to read at an early age? I can’t really give you a yes or no answer to this question, HOWEVER, IF it is possible for a baby, a toddler, or even a preschooler to learn to read, I can see how this program would be an excellent tool to help you reach that goal. The developers of this software have really done their research and utilized it to give you a very thorough and fun way to expose your young child to the world of words. I do think that use of the Little Reader software (along with reading to your child often and as early as possible) is a great way to introduce your child to written language and can easily see how it would give your child a head start in that area. I have now taught 2 children to read (and am still teaching one struggling reader) and can see what a benefit Little Reader could be to every parent.

If you want to learn more about Little Reader, or any other Brill Kids early learning programs, you can visit their website here. The Little Reader program is available in several formats (including the download version) and pricing starts at $149. A free trial is also available here. If you are at all curious to learn more about the Little Reader program, the website is chock FULL of informative videos, screenshots, and information for you to browse through.


image DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Read, Write, & Type is Full of Fun!


Read, Write, & Type is educational software that teaches reading, phonics, spelling and keyboarding all within one program. Recommended for children ages 6-9, the program teaches children to hear the individual sounds within a word and associate each of those sounds with a key on the keyboard. The program is multisensory and engages the child no matter what their learning style. The program tracks and assesses the child’s progress and suggests additional activities along the way. Children are given immediate feedback to incorrect answers which enable them to correct any missed problems along the way. You can even customize the program to work with your child’s learning level!


The program takes as little as 15 minutes a day and has 40 engaging lessons to keep your child interested. Read, Write, & Type is research-based and was designed by the same developers that made the popular Reader Rabbit software. Your child will even have the opportunity to write their own stories with the built in word-processing program. Though this may not sound like a very exciting feature, both of my boys really enjoyed writing and printing their own short stories with the program.

We have been using this software for several weeks now and both of my boys, one a struggling reader and the other a fluent reader, really enjoy using the program. I have been saving it for the end of our school days, as an incentive to complete the rest of their work in a timely manner.

The best way I can give you an idea of how well we liked the Read, Write, & Type program is to let my kids share with you what they do (and don’t) like about it. Drew is my fluent reader. He is 10 years old. This is what he had to say:

“It’s pretty cool. I think all kids 10 and under should definitely learn to type by using this program. What I like the best is the Messaging Tower. The Messaging Tower is where you write stories and send them to other people and people send you their stories back. The only thing I don’t like is that the lessons are too short for older kids. I think it would be better if they were around 30 minutes. I think Lefty and Rightway are pretty cool. They are the “hands” that teach you how to type. I liked this program better than some of the other ones I have done.”

Isaiah is my struggling reader and he just turned 9 last month. Here is what he has to say about Read, Write, & Type:

My favorite part of the program is when you have to fight Vexor. Vexor is a big radioactive virus that tries to steal the letters for himself. You beat him by playing and winning games. The characters in the program are pretty funny. I think it helped me to be a better reader. I think parts of it are too easy.”

Read, Write, & Type is available as an online program for $35. This license entitles you to one user log-in and is good for 5 years. The cost for additional log-ins for more children is another $20 for the second user and $15 for each user after that. There is also a cd-rom version of the program available for $79 and it includes additional materials to use with the software. You can get more information about the program by visiting the Talking Fingers website. An online demo of Read, Write, & Type is also available here.

We have thoroughly enjoyed using the software in our home and we would heartily recommend it to any family which has children that are learning to read or type!


image DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LanSchool – The Ultimate Homeschool Tool!


Of all the reviews I have written for the crew so far, this has definitely been my absolute favorite! LanSchool is so much more than just a classroom management program, there are so many awesome things you can do with this software:

  • see the screens of ALL your student’s computers and track their activity
  • take over control of student computers with the “remote control” feature
  • administer tests and quizzes from the comfort of your own pc or laptop
  • share your screen with your students
  • chat with your students and send them messages
  • lock down the students computer by restricting their controls, audio, internet, or even log the student out of the system or power the computer down
  • track student keystrokes
  • receive alerts when the student types something from the “banned words” list
  • and much, MUCH more!

Ok, so how exactly does this software work? LanSchool uses your home network to tie all the computers using that network together. You can choose one computer as the teacher computer and set the others up as student computers. The software is super easy to install and has you up and running in just a few minutes.

When I first received this program for review, I didn’t tell my kids I had installed it on the laptop they use. As soon as the first one logged in to get online, I took over the controls (all while they were unaware of what was going on) and they thought something was going really wrong with the laptop. Hehe, I know, I’m such a mean momma :) We all got a good laugh out of it and it was a fun way to introduce the program to them and show them everything it could do.

Since installing the program and learning to use it, I have used it just about every day. My youngest uses the computer to do several learning programs online, so LanSchool makes it super easy for me to log him into his next assignment from my own laptop while I am sitting on the couch helping another child. It makes for a lot less up and down for me, which is a big plus when you are homeschooling 3 kids and chasing around a 2 year old! The one feature I keep forgetting about is the quizzing feature, but I do plan on utilizing that as soon as possible.

The one thing I was hesitant about regarding this software was the bandwith it would use up on our wireless home network while running. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find out that I really don’t notice a difference at all in how quickly the computers connect to the internet and download files. All this with having the lowest speed cable internet our isp offers.

I just can’t think of anything I don’t like about this software. I never even knew anything like this was available at a decent price to home users and I am so glad I’m “in-the-know” about it now. Now that I have shared with you how much I LOVE this program, let me share some necessary details with you!

A subscription to Lanschool for home use costs $99. This price includes a perpetual license, and 3 years of updates and support.  There is also an option for homes that need up to 10 computers.  It costs $299 and includes the same features as the base priced program. You can learn a lot more about the software by visiting their website here. They also offer a guided tour of the software from this link. And if you are really interested and want to take it a step further, you can get a free trial of the program here.

image DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

25 Days and Counting…


I hate how time can seem to drag on at some points and race by faster than you can blink at others. Today marks a little over 3 weeks left before my dear hubby leaves. For those of you who missed it, he enlisted into the Army several months ago and was given delayed enlistment status. So on October 31st, we will drop him off at his hotel so he can then be processed through MEPS and transported to basic training in Ft. Sill. And so will begin our journey and transformation as a new Army family… and his transformation from civilian to soldier.

This is a decision that was very tough and well thought-out. We truly feel as if this is God’s will for our family. When we made this decision, I agreed that I would support and enable my husband to follow this dream, wherever it may take us. That being said, I’m having kind of a hard time right now.

On one hand I am really excited and hopeful about this complete shift in lifestyle. So much about our life as a family is going to improve. We will have great healthcare, drastically better income, opportunities to travel and live in parts of the world we have never seen, job security, money for college (for ourselves and our children), and a retirement plan. Right now we have none of these things. I am excited (and anxious) to see what things are in store for us. The other side of that coin is this – my husband is leaving us. Yes, to get the training he needs to succeed in his new profession as a soldier, but nonetheless he will be gone. He will no longer walk through the door every afternoon after work, hug the kids, give me a kiss, and ask about our day. When the kids have a bad day, I won’t be able to confide in him and ask him what to do about it. I won’t even be able to pick up the phone and call him or text him with a quick question. I won’t lay in bed at night and hear his steady breathing as he sleeps beside me, or cuddle closer to feel his warmth. This, and much more, is the hard, cold reality that is smacking me in my face.

I am not handling it well, and he is not even gone yet. I long to spend every moment of every hour that he is home with him, talking, cuddling on the couch, laughing… but the reality of everyday life is that I have 4 children at home with me every day. Four precious blessings that make messes for me to clean up, have lessons I need to teach them, and have needs to be met. I have a 3 bedroom townhouse full of carpets to vacuum, dishes to wash and put away, piles of laundry to fold, and messes to be straightened. I have meals to prepare, grocery lists to be made, coupons to be clipped, and schoolwork to be planned and graded.

Now more than ever I feel the need for more energy and a few more hours in my day. The reality? That’s not going to happen. I have to make due with the time and resources God has given me, and make the very best of it all. I am having a really hard time balancing it all. Not to mention we have a pretty decent list of things that must absolutely be done before he leaves. Most days I feel like I’m treading water and never getting closer to that island I can see in the distance, and it’s slipping further and further away.

I’m lost. I don’t know what to do or how to start doing it. I don’t know what changes I can make. I just know I must find a way to treasure these next 3 weeks with my husband, because life will soon change forever, and we can never go back. I am in prayer, because that’s the only thing I know to do. I pray for the time to go by slower, for the guidance to balance my desires and responsibilities, for the wisdom to not fall apart in the face of everything bearing down on me.

I can’t even really imagine what things are going to be like while he is away. I can’t make that leap because it is so far removed from any reality that I have ever existed in. I can only focus on right here, right now. I know I am not the first wife and mother to go through this. There have been many before me and I am sure there will be many after. Yet I feel so alone.

So if you don’t see many posts in the next few weeks, now you will understand why. Though I am quite sure I will be pouring my heart out on these pages often during his absence. If you have the time, or the desire, please pray for my family over the next few weeks. You may never know how much it is needed and appreciated.



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Monic Vocab Cartoons (Crew Review)

image Today I am bringing you a review of a product that is very unique compared to anything else I have come across for learning vocabulary. New Monic’s Vocabulary Cartoons promise that your child will “learn a word a minute and never forget it”, all while enjoying the process!

The Elementary version of this book (the one I was sent to review) is geared for 3rd through 6th grades and contains mnemonic cartoons to help your child retain the meanings of over 200 oft-used words (complete word list found here). The cartoons are fun and easy to remember, and will easily serve the purpose of painting a permanent picture in your child’s head of each word’s meaning. Take a look at this sample cartoon, and you will see what I mean…

imageYou can view more samples here

This book puts these words in a very easy to learn format that would be especially helpful for the visual learner. Each page shows the word, part of speech, definition, pronunciation, a clue word (that sounds similar to the new word), a fun picture, a sentence, and 3 examples using the word. There are also review pages sprinkled throughout the book (one every 10 words) with matching and fill-in-the-blank questions (the answer key can be found in the back of the book).

The book can be purchased directly from the publisher here for $12.95. They also offer vocabulary building titles geared for high-schoolers preparing to take the SAT.

I chose to let my 10yo son try this product out. He rather enjoyed the fun way the new words were presented, and seemed to retain them better then he typically does using our usual methods of learning new vocabulary. For the two weeks we used the book, it was the very first task he chose to complete every day, which had definitely never happened before with a vocabulary study. We did not make use of the review pages included in the book, but instead we did oral quizzing to see how many words he could remember. Sometimes I covered up everything on a page except the cartoon, other times I would give him the clue word and the meaning, and he would tell me the correct vocabulary word. He did well with this method and only had a few words that really gave him trouble. We plan on continuing to use the book throughout the school year, during weeks where we don’t have enough time for our usual vocabulary studies as a fun break from the ordinary.

Overall, we enjoyed trying out this fun and different book. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants their elementary aged child to expand their vocabulary. I can also see how it would be a beneficial book to help prepare your children for standardized testing (if you are required to do so). It is definitely worth the price and easy to incorporate into your days as it only takes about 10 minutes max to learn a few new words!


DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why I LOVE the Wimpy Kid…


About a month ago, we took a trip to our local Barnes & Noble, as I had a few books I had on my wishlist. Most of the time (if we have the money) I let the boys pick out an inexpensive book to take home. Drew was having trouble finding anything that was in the price range I had given him. This is the kid that has had MANY books purchased for him that he has never read past the first chapter. They were either a bit too challenging for him to read by himself, or the story just didn’t grip him enough to continue reading them.

So, as I typically do, I directed him to a specific area of the children’s section and began showing him books and reading the covers to him. Book after book, he responded with a hearty, “No, that doesn’t sound interesting,” or a “That book is too hard, “ reply. That’s when a book caught my eye. It was the first in the “Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney. I flipped through the pages, showing Drew how it was written like a diary and had lots of funny pictures on it’s pages. I managed to talk him into, so we purchased the book, along with a few others, and left to have dinner at a close by restaurant.

By the time we had been seated, both boys had their noses in their new books. Drew kept on giggling and rereading sections to us that amused him and showing us the pictures. By the time we got in the car to head back home, he had read over 30 pages!

The next day I woke up and came downstairs to find both boys on the couch, with the tv off, books in hand. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed seeing that. By lunch time that day, Drew had finished the entire first book! I couldn’t believe it. Not only had we found a book he could and would read, but he devoured it. In less than 24 hours, he had torn through the entire 224 page chapter book.

He has since finished the first 3 books, each of them being read within a 24-48 hour period. This is the first time EVER he has stuck through a chapter book and read it entirely on his own. I will be purchasing the 4th book for him very soon. Then we have an entire month to wait for the 5th and newest book to be released.

I am really hopeful that reading this series will open up new worlds for him, and encourage him to read more books. I have been trying to find other books that are the same reading level that I think he might enjoy. SO far I have come up with the following:

  • The Indian in the Cupboard series
  • The Phantom Tollbooth

I am really struggling with adding anything else to this list. SO I am begging you, ask your 8-12 year old boys for suggestions. I want to keep him supplied with fresh reading material so that we can further develop this newfound love for reading.

If you have a young man who you just can’t get to read, you might wanna check out this series for them. It worked for us, and I am so thankful to Jeff Kinney for writing such an engaging, entertaining series for kids to read and enjoy.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

Looking For a Little Math Help? (Crew Review)


We recently were gifted with the opportunity to review a very unique, web-based math tutoring program through the TOS Schoolhouse Crew. Before I share our opinions of the program, let me tell you a little bit about America’s Math Teacher.

The program is essentially an online video tutor. America’s Math Teacher covers Basic Math, Advanced Math, Pre-Algebra and Algebra skills.  Each individual video tutoring session is linked to practice worksheets for your student to complete.  Basic Math is for 4-5th grades and Advanced Math is for 6-7th grades.  Tests are included for each level, making it easy for you to evaluate your student’s progress. Not sure where to begin? The program also has an initial evaluation to help place your student in the correct lessons.

The courses cover:

Basic Math Skills:
This course is for 4th and 5th graders. Topics include whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percents, integers, geometry, and much more.
Advanced Math Skills:
This course is for middle grade students. Students will master the critical skills necessary for success in pre-algebra. Topics include whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percents, integers, geometry, and much more.
This course is a must for students prior to taking Algebra I. Integers, exponents, order of operations, ratios & proportions number theory, linear equations, probability & statistics are just a few of the topics that students will learn and master.
Algebra I:
This course will guide students to master the “gateway” subject, algebra. Algebra opens the doors to more advanced classes in math, science, and technology. Students will learn and master all of the essential algebra skills. The lessons are carefully explained in clear, simple terms, so that all students will understand, learn, and master each and every topic.

America’s Math Teacher operates on a mastery-based approach. Your student will spend several consecutive lessons honing a specific skill area before moving on and learning a new concept.  The lessons are set-up in the following order: review of math facts, review of previously learned topics, learning a new skill, and then practicing that skill.

America's Math Teacher was founded by Rick Fisher. He is a math instructor in San Jose, California. Rick graduated from San Jose State University in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Rick has devoted his time since to teaching fifth and sixth grade math students. Each year approximately one-half of his students bypass the seventh grade math program and move directly to an eighth grade algebra program.

The cost for this program is $195 for one year of online access for as many students as you need. There are also plenty of free materials for you to try out so you can get a feel for the program before purchasing.

Our family found it difficult to incorporate this program into our every-day routine, mainly because we already use a video-based math program daily. I found myself using it most often to help explain a concept that my kids just weren’t getting a good grasp of, and also to give them extra practice with those really important skills. America’s Math Teacher enabled me to give my students an alternative method for learning a particular skill that had previously eluded them via our regular program.

I feel this program would have been much more useful for us had we been using a more traditional, textbook-only program. The only aspect of the program that I would change would be to include courses for grades 1-3. There’s really not much else that this program is lacking. In light of the fact that the subscription cost covers more than one student in a household, I feel the pricing is right on, especially if you have more than one student in 4th grade or higher.

All-in-all I feel that America’s Math Teacher would be a great addition to any basic homeschool math curriculum!

Happy Homeschooling!



DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up – End of Term 1 2010-2011

image Weeeeeel last week was a tough week. I think we were all suffering from a bit of burnout and anxious to start our end-of-term break. We didn’t get as much done as I had planned to last week, but we accomplished those things that were really important, so that’s good enough for me!

I spent this past weekend getting started on my long-neglected to-do list. I made some major progress around the house, getting to all those detailed jobs that I just haven’t had time for since we started school. One more very good reason why I decided to shoot for a 6 on 1 off schedule this year. So far I have rented a Rug Dr. and cleaned the downstairs carpet, cleaned and reorganized all my kitchen cabinets, rearranged a few things in the living/dining/school areas, organized and purged Joey’s toys (downstairs and up), reorganized and cleaned the boys’ room, vacuumed the upstairs hall and the stairs, and thrown a  LOT of junk away.

I have one or two more days of intense housework left to do and then I’ll be done (until it gets messy again, which will be about a week). Left on my to-do list is cleaning and organizing my bedroom, putting all laundry away that had managed to pile up over the past few weeks, and cleaning the 2 bathrooms upstairs. Oh yeah, and laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. But I will work on that throughout the week. My goal is to make the biggest dent in it possible and then have everyone pitch in and get it all folded and put away in one night (we will see how that goes).

Sorry, I know I’m boring, but such is my life! Hopefully this video that I have to share will make up for it. A new Joey vid is wayyyy overdue, enjoy!



Friday, September 3, 2010

Time4Learning (Crew Review)


Time4Learning is a web-based, interactive learning program for kids in PreK through 8th grades. It’s a fun, exciting way for kids to learn the essentials in math, language arts, science, and social studies. It can be used as a supplementary program for practice and review or as a full homeschool curriculum. Students progress through the program at their own pace, achieving mastery as they move through the subject matter. Parents can easily track their child’s progress online and even print out a copy for their records. Curious about what the program covers? Check it out:

  • The Time4Learning language arts program teaches and improves phonemic awareness (reading readiness), phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension in the lower elementary level. In upper elementary and middle school, the language arts program emphasizes reading comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, punctuation, word roots, literary analysis, and critical thinking.
  • For students who have not yet learned to read, Time4Learning starts with phonemic awareness, advances to phonics and then on to solid reading comprehension skills.
  • The Time4Learning approach to math builds solid math skills at the child’s speed. The system blends conceptual explanations, learning activities and games, loads of practice for reinforcement, and ongoing assessment. As kids build proficiency in they become "good at math". Gifted math students have the ability to move forward at their own pace and advance grades by individual subjects.
  • Time4Learning includes a science and social studies program as a free bonus for grades one through seven. The programs cover life science, physical science, geology, astronomy, weather, life cycles, biology, sound, light, matter, and energy. The social studies program covers a wide range of topics including ancient history and civilizations, modern history, geography, civics instruction, and political science.

We received a 4 week trial of this program to review and when I found out I was ecstatic. I had been on the Time4Learning site several times and had considered trying it out, but never had made the leap. When I received the review, I decided to try this program out with just one on my children so I could really delve into what it had to offer. SO I created an account for Isaiah and away we went!

Time4Learning offers 4 grade levels to choose from. If the grade level is too low or too high for your child, you can change the access to at least 2 grade levels for each subject and have the flexibility for the student to work at their own level in each individual subject.

  1. Pre-K to 1st grade
  2. 2nd to 3rd grade
  3. 4th to 5th grade
  4. 6th, 7th, & 8th grade

I signed my son up for the 2nd grade levels, knowing that he would have access to the lower levels if he found any of the lessons too difficult. We mostly stuck to using the Math and Language Arts parts of the program, though he did try several of the Science modules as well.

The Math and Reading modules were a very welcome breath of fresh air from our normal way of covering these subjects. He loved the games and the interactive lessons, and did very well with the lessons. Most of all, he enjoyed the reward that came after completing the assigned lessons – playground time!

The playground is a place where your child can access child-safe games from all over the internet. You designate how long the child has to work on their lessons before they can access the playground. This is a great incentive for my kids because they absolutely LOVE playing online games!

The aspects I liked best about using Time4Learning to supplement our homeschool curriculum were:

  • easy to navigate
  • very independent
  • self-paced
  • ability to check up on progress of your child
  • thorough progress reports
  • fun and engaging!

The only thing I would change about the program would be the ability to possibly designate what lessons you want your child to do ahead of time and have only those lessons available on the student screen when they log in. Currently, you can use the search feature on the student screen to find a specific topic and navigate to that lesson. I think it would be awesome to be able to go into the parent screen and assign these ahead of time. Other than that, I had no complaints! We really enjoyed using Time4Learning.

Must know info:

  • Cost: $19.95 a month for the first child , $14.95 for each additional child, 14 day money back guarantee
  • Other programs offered: Spelling City and Time4Writing
  • Scope and Sequence can be viewed here
  • Completely online (no downloads of software required
  • Available lesson demos
  • You can browse the site and learn more here

Happy Homeschooling!



DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Monday, August 30, 2010

We LOVE Peterson Directed Handwriting (Crew Review)

Having two young boys, I have tried out lots of different penmanship workbooks and methods. But it seems like no matter what curriculums I had tried, these boys of mine were content to continue on with their messy (often times illegible) penmanship.

One solution I found for my older son, was to start teaching him simplified cursive. It helped him to pay more attention to his strokes and enabled him to write for longer periods of time (and for me to still be able to read what he had written). My younger son, who is the only lefty in the family, is a completely different story. He forms all his letters incorrectly, writes so tiny you can barely read the words, and spacing? Forget about it!

But that was before we received several PDF Ebooks from Peterson Directed Handwriting to review. PDH uses a directed instruction approach that is largely based on movement. I wish I had known about this program when my boys were first starting to learn to write. What young child doesn’t enjoy movement? Anyhow, the program uses a cycle of development, practice, and application in order to engrain proper letter formation as a habit. The end result is legible handwriting with minimal effort from your child.

The first part of every lesson is to demonstrate the movements using word cues.The student then practices the movements using air writing, using the chants to develop a pattern of movement. The child is then ready to use the finger-tracing method to practice on paper. After the child is comfortable with these steps, it’s time for them to put what they’ve learned into practice by writing the letters as they say the movements.

I have noticed a HUGE difference when my son uses the word cues as he is practicing his writing. It helps him to focus on making the proper movements at the right times and to place his letters correctly on the guidelines.

I think it is pretty obvious to you at this point that we really enjoyed using this program, and it has made a huge difference in our homeschool. I just wish we had known about it sooner! Here’s the part where I share with you all the details of the program, and where you can get it for your kids:
  • Products Received for Review: PDH Print Steps 1, 2, & 3 (in PDF format)
  • Cost of product: Each individual “Step” is sold for $19.95
  • Format: Full color – Non-consumable PDF files
  • Skills covered: The program goes through 3 stages including print, slanted print, and cursive
  • Age range: K thru Adult
Other products available from Peterson Directed Handwriting are:
  • PDF by Hand E-workbooks (these utilize a graphic tablet and the computer)
  • Print workbooks
  • Position guides, pencils grips, triangular pencils
  • and much more!
I hope that if you have a child that is struggling with legible penmanship, you will check out this great program, it certainly worked for us!
Happy Homeschooling!

DISCLAIMER: This item was provided free for review purposes through the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner above to read more reviews on this and other products by other Crew members.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekly Wrap up – Week 5

image Let me start this weekly wrap-up by saying this was a tough week. I can’t pinpoint any one reason, I think we are all just itching for our upcoming end-of-term break! It didn’t help that I got sick Friday (stomach bug) and haven’t quite gotten back to normal yet…

This week did, however, have some fun highlights that I am happy to share:

Being that both of the boys are studying plants right now, they were able to collaborate on a science lab this week.

IMG_0426 IMG_0425

Our lab involved germinating bean sprouts and planting them. The above photos were taken after the beans had been wrapped in wet paper towels and stored in a baggie for 24 hours. It’s hard to see, but on some of them, there was evidence of the shells breaking open in order to let the growing sprouts out.

IMG_0438 IMG_0436

These photos were taken yesterday before we planted our sprouts in dirt and labeled them to observe over the next week or so. You can see that each bean has a fully formed sprout growing out of it. We did a lima bean, a lentil, and a great northern so we could compare the differences. Now they are in their clear containers. We set them out in front of the patio door for a few hours each day so that they can get the sunlight they need to make food and grow!

Right now, Drew is doing Science the Well-Trained Mind way, utilizing a book called “How Nature Works” and our Usborne Internet-linked Science Encyclopedia. I will be getting a few Apologia books this coming week to try out, and one of them is the Elementary Botany book. So we are excited to try it out! Isaiah is using the “Great Science Adventures” books to do Biology this year. I had never heard of these, but they were recommended via TWTM, and once I saw that they incorporated Dinah Zike’s foldables, I was sold! This past week was his first week, and he really seems to be enjoying it so far. Next week I will show you some pictures of the minibooks he has been working on.

Jazz had a bit of a slow paced week, as I had found some things that she needed some extra help with as I was grading her work last weekend. So we took some time to do some extra practice with divisibility in Math and did some extra sentence diagramming worksheets. I tried to find some fun, different ways to review these things, but sometimes you just need to practice, practice, practice!

Joey has been really good this past week and I think he is starting to adjust better to entertaining himself while we are getting schoolwork done. Daddy was home on Wednesday and Thursday, as usual, and brought some laughter to our evenings…

IMG_0423 IMG_0428 Friday, we didn’t do school because I was miserably sick. I am still fighting off a mean stomach bug and I’m hoping by tomorrow I will be back to normal. Luckily, no one else has shown any signs of getting sick, so here’s hoping!

See you next week!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up (our first 3 weeks)


It’s Thursday evening here, and man I am SO glad tomorrow is Friday! I haven’t posted any updates yet to share how the new school year is going because I have been so busy and just plain worn out!

I am amazed at the difference one more student in our homeschool makes. The fact that she is almost a high-schooler and has never been homeschooled makes things that much more interesting (and challenging). But I’ll share more about that later.

In the hustle and bustle of getting adjusted to new curriculums and new ways of doing things, we haven’t been able to enjoy a whole lot of the “fun stuff” I always try to incorporate into our days. The few projects we have attempted failed miserably. For example, our ming bowls…

Although the kids did a very good job molding them and thoroughly enjoyed the process, the clay we used shrank up while drying. This resulted in a few cracks. Ok, I thought, no big deal. We can use fresh clay to patch them up! Then this curious little monkey came along…

IMG_0328Since we had our projects drying on the table, right at his eye level, he just couldn’t resist touching. Long story short, the cracks became complete breaks that were beyond repair :( We had planned on redoing them, but we just didn’t have the time. Which brought a thought to mind: We definitely need a high up, out of reach shelf hanging on the wall to keep things like this safe from exploring hands. The kids were pretty bummed we didn’t even get a chance to paint and glaze our creations.

One fun activity we did get to complete was trying to reproduce different forms of Chinese pictograms. The kids each chose 3 characters and painted both the early and modern forms on page.

Now I think it would be nice to share a little bit about each of the kids’ studies and how they are doing so far.

Isaiah – 8

Isaiah has gotten to the point with his reading where he is hitting a wall, actually it’s more like a plateau. So we have been doing things other than our BJU Phonics and Reading 1 program. the first new thing we are trying is ETC Online. This is working out pretty well, and I am seeing improvement with his basic phonics skills. The second part of our new approach is using Rocket Phonics. At the HOTM conference last week, Dr. Guffanti (the creator of Rocket Phonics) shared a lot of great info about Kinethetic learners, and I got to ask him some questions about reading. So after listening to him talk about incorporating games and motion into your curriculum, especially when a subject is tough for the child in question, I decided to give it a try. So we started working through the lessons and games in Rocket Phonics this past Monday. So far, we are mostly reviewing the skills he has already learned. But he is really enjoying it and is able to actually sit and “do” reading for about 30-40 minute sessions daily without losing focus or getting frustrated. I think we have a winner! Isaiah is doing a lot more things on the computer now as part of my attempt to make his learning more engaging and exciting.

Drew – 10

Speaking of reading, I’m just dying to share a little Mommy brag. Drew has always been a pretty strong reader, but has never really enjoyed the process of reading. I have purchased any number of highly recommended books for boys his age, but none of them have really produced the enthusiasm I have been working for. The other day we went to the bookstore and I allowed the boys to choose a book. Drew recently read a few superman comics, graphic novels actually, and kept bringing me these $20 books. Of course, I was not planning on buying him a $20 book, so we went over to the young reader’s section. I happened to see the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, which I have heard lots of good things about. I talked him into it and we left to go get dinner.

This child read the book through dinner, on the way home, and for an hour after we got home! He kept giggling and rereading parts to me and his brother. He went to bed soon after, and I looked where he had placed his bookmark – he had read 65pp in just a few hours!! he read more today and is now over halfway through the book. It was a beautiful sight to come downstairs after waking up this morning to see both my boys, not vegging on the couch watching cartoons, but READING!! I am LOVING it!

Besides the reading progress, we have also changed latin programs for Drew. I realized, halfway through level 2 of Latin’s Not So Tough, that it was teaching him whole-to-parts latin instead of the parts-to-whole that the WTM recommends. So, we are now doing the Big Book of Lively Latin, and though it has been a bit more challenging for him, we are both learning way more from one week of this program than we did in 2 months of doing the previous program.

Drew is also really enjoying doing Logic stage Biology ala TWTM. He has not complained once about a single Science assignment, even when he is required to read and outline (he dictates, I type or write) from the Usborne IL Science Encyclopedia. I was worried about that being too challenging of a read for him, but he is grasping the material beautifully this far!

Jasmine – 13

Overall, Jasmine is doing well. We are having some issues with breaking some of her public-school, one in a classroom of 30 students mentality. She has shown at times that if something is too hard or takes too long, she won’t finish it. She has had a few days where she has had double assignments in a subject because she neglected to finish the work on the day it was originally assigned.

She does, however, take great notes for her notebooking pages in History, although I think we are going to be working on learning some outlining skills as I think she is being a bit too thorough and missing some of the key information. My goal is for her notes/outlines to be all she needs in order to study for an evaluation at the end of a week or a chapter. So far, she hasn’t done well on tests.

She has really been enjoying doing the transparencies for her TOG atlas assignments, though I am disappointed that she isn’t enjoying doing her timeline activities more. I am hoping this will change as she continues to adjust to homeschooling. Her writing thus far has been really good, and though she needs to hone her grammatical skills, her creativity is inspiring. She does a great job of getting her thoughts down onto the paper.

We also started our formal Latin and Logic studies this week, using materials from Classical Academic Press: Latin Alive level 1 and The Art of Argument. She seems to be enjoying these and while the Latin is pretty intense, between it and Lively Latin, Mom is getting a crash course! We are still wading through the introductory material from AofA, but she seems very pumped about learning how to argue logically and identify fallacies. I am really glad we are going through this program together, cause I have a feeling she is going to be pointing out the shaky arguments of everyone in the house. I will be prepared!! LOL

So I hope that gives you a decent idea of what’s been going on the past few weeks around here. As for me, this post has taken much longer to write than I had anticipated, and it’s now very much past my bedtime! I hope you had a great week and an even better weekend…



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