Friday, September 25, 2009

Nutrition 101 - A Review

Product: Nutrition 101: Choose Life!
A Family Nutrition and Health Program

Company: Growing Healthy Homes, LLC

Price: CD-ROM $79.95 / Book $99.95 / Combo $129.95

Where to buy: Healthy Homes

Brief Overview:
This is a 448-page full-color book on the study of nutrition: how we eat, what we eat, how the body works and how these foods affect the body. This book intends to assist families in understanding the real relationship food has on our "fearfully and wonderfully made" bodies (Psalm 139:14).

In-Depth Look:
For years, I didn't think much about nutrition. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Then along came my daughters, the "picky eaters". For the longest time, I humored them...figuring it was a phase that they would grow out of. Well, they didn't. So I began gradually trying to make changes in our food choices. Then last year, I was blessed with the pregnancy of our 3rd daughter. This time around, I ended up with gestational diabetes. This increased my chances of getting diabetes again in the future. This was a wake-up call. So I began thinking even more about our food choices. Well after so many years of being stuck in a rut, it was very difficult for me to make any substantial changes for any significant amount of time. But I still wanted to and was still trying. Well along comes my latest product to review for the TOS Crew - Nutrition 101.

I was eager to read through the program and see what it was all about and what we could learn from it. The program isn't about dieting or about a bunch of low-fat, cardboard-tasting recipes. It is an in-depth study of biology and nutrition, of how are body works and how the foods that we eat affect our body (for better of worse).

Of course, one of my first thoughts was "Sure this is all fine and good for the authors of this book. But it will never work for my family of finicky eaters." So I was encouraged to read the testimony of another home-school mom, Sera Johnson (president of operations for Growing Healthy Homes LLC). She is a self-labeled "Former Fast Food Queen". And she had the "Princess of Picky Eaters", who only ate three kinds of food at home and chicken nuggets from two particular fast food restaurants. She realized that the Lord wanted her to help her family establish long-term healthy eating habits. Sera gives six quick tips to get you started on the right track. I decided that if she could make these drastic changes, permanently, then there is hope for our family as well.

The book is divided into 6 units (1. The Brain and Nervous System, 2. The Digestive System, 3. The Respiratory, Olfactory, Auditory and Visual System, 4. The Skeletal and Muscular Systems, 5. The Cardiovascular and Immune Systems, 6. The Endocrine System and Emotions). Each chapter includes discussion questions for the whole family, activities (for younger and older children), additional resources for deeper learning, and Power Recipes. The Activity Guide in the back has an answer key for all the activities. At the end of the book is an extensive Appendix, including: A Vitamin Chart, Milk - The Big Debate, Asthma - Taking A Deep Breath, Cancer, and Sleep.

What I Like:
This book doesn't just tell you what to eat. It tells you why. For exampe, I know that I should drink a lot of water. But Nutrition 101 doesn't just tell me to drink a lot of water. It tells me that if I don't drink enough water, several of my body functions may be affected...such as my body's ability to regulate its temperature, process waste and protect my joints. Sounds a bit more important now, right?

What I Don't Like:
A good bit of the book is above my daughters' ability to understand. Some of it was even a struggle for me to follow. But that is to be expected from a book of this magnitude - this is a HUGE book with a LOT of information. It is easy enough, though, to pick and choose what is of interest to your family and what would be of benefit to your children.

How We Use It:
I read the information on my own, ahead of time. Then I discuss the items of my choosing with my daughters, at their level. The book has many wonderful activity suggestions. And we easily find printables online to tie in with the topic and to help reinforce the concepts.


Sunday, September 20, 2009


Product: StudyPod

Company: Photobucket

Price: $19.95 (2 or more - $16.95) – Money Back Guarantee

TOS Review readers receive $5 off an order when using coupon TOSBLOG5

Where to Buy: StudyPod

Brief Overview:
StudyPod is a small, sturdy, portable book holder available in black, blue or pink. Identical BookPod is available in black, gray, or beige.


In-Depth Look:

Ever wish you had an extra pair of hands? The StudyPod is just as good as an extra set of hands, when you are trying to hold a book up in an inclined position while trying to keep the pages in place. The StudyPod was designed by a teacher for students. It helps make study more comfortable and efficient, freeing up your hands and your work space. Having the book upright helps with your posture and the angle is perfect for use while at a computer monitor. It is recommended for 3rd grade – Adult.


When not in use, the StudyPod closes up neat, small and compact (6.75" x 9" x 1.33"). It looks like a book and would easily fit in a backpack, bookcase or locker. It should easily hold up to the wear and tear of being lugged around the house and back and forth to classes.

When you are ready to use it, fold down the support bar on the back. Open the case. Flip down the ledges to sit the book on. Slide the locking bar into place. Sit the book on the ledges and put the page bars at the position desired. For more help, an instruction sheet is included and a video is available online, along with a printable pdf. It should hold most books of various heights and thicknesses, up to 2.25” thick. That is a very thick book. We used it with a book much wider and taller than the StudyPod and it held up perfectly.

Inside is a handy storage pocket to hold notes, pens/pencils, calculator, etc. So it doubles as a pencil case.


Need a little inspiration to get started with your studies? Look inside the StudyPod and you will find the cleverest little circle of famous quotes and interesting tidbits. One of my favorites is the one by Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” How is that for inspiration to get to work?

Now that school is back in session, you might need some fundraising ideas. Selling these for $20 each could make your group a profit of $10 each. That would quickly add up. Click here more information.

What I Like:

It is small, sturdy and portable. It is easy to set up and use. It makes for great hands-free reading.

What I Don't Like:

There is a small learning curve to figure out how to turn the pages "gracefully" from one page bar to the other page bar. But there is a handy video to show you two suggestions. Watch it here.

How We Use It:

I homeschool my 10 and 7 year old daughters, while caring for our newest bundle of joy, our 10 month old daughter. So there are many times that I am holding our baby while reading books to the older girls. As most babies tend to do, the little one wants to grab at the book...bending the pages, ripping the pages, losing our place. So I use the StudyPod to hold the book while I hold the baby...out of the reach of the book. Works for us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rocket Phonics - A Review


Product: Rocket Phonics

Price: $160 (or 3 payments of $53.34)

Where to buy: Rocket Phonics

Brief Overview:

Rocket Phonics is a game-based, multi-sensory, accelerated reading program that takes a child from beginning reading to 5th grade in 2 years or less (preschoolers can take longer). The program was designed by Stephen Guffanti, MD and his wife Maureen, a former teacher. It is designed for ages 4-10 and requires very little prep time for the parent/teacher. This is a non-consumable workbook, so it may be used with more than one child.

In-Depth Look:

I am using this program with my 7 year old daughter.    Up till this point, we had not used an “official” reading curriculum. Instead we had used a hodge-podge of resources and methods and, for the past few months, an online phonics/reading program. My daughter had a good understanding of most phonics rules and could read most simple words. But when she would hit words that she couldn’t figure out, she would become frustrated, not wanting to read anything that she couldn’t read perfectly, first-try. She had yet to gain the confidence to know that if she just kept trying, she would figure it out and it would be worth it.
When I explained our situation to Maureen Guffanti (president of Rocket Phonics), she felt positive that the program would be of help to my daughter. So, I was more than thrilled when we were chosen to use and review the program over the next year.

When we received the package and opened the box, I felt like a kid at Christmas. This wasn’t your ordinary reading curriculum with a teacher’s manual, student workbook and a few readers thrown in.  

Check out all that you will get:

Each Rocket Phonics kit comes with:

  • 2 big Rocket Phonics readers
    • Two sets of Play & Read symbol cards
    • Bingo chips
    • Rocket Peeker
    • Bingo sheets and Word lists for testing
    • New! Big-movement games for preschoolers and active learners -- and bonuses, below

As a special gift with your purchase you will receive three free bonuses valued at over $100 .
Free Bonus Gift #1: Free 28 bonus gifts: With your purchase, you’ll receive by email free each week for 28 weeks a bonus gift to your kit. New! Now included: Spelling Strategy multi-sensory, developed by spelling specialists, and nearly foolproof! Also, 12 Writing Lessons, perfect for kindergarten or first grade. You and your child will be thrilled with each week’s additional stories, riddles, games, beginning reading tips and more. There's extra practice for each grade level! ($69.95 value)
Free Bonus Gift #2: Two Rocket Phonics
Treasure Hunts: The rhyming clues are written both with and without Rocket Phonics’ unique helpers, so very early readers can read beyond their grade levels to figure out clues and find the treasure. Your children will love these. Prizes, such as sticky hands, kazoos, etc., are all included and ready for fun.
($16.95 value)
Free Bonus Gift #3: Rocket Phonics Word-Find Treasure Hunt and the Rocket Phonics Phrase Game: Your child will delight in finding and reading one word or phrase at a time with these games emailed to
you. ($19.95 value)

The first step in the program is teaching your child the ITA (initial teaching alphabet). Rocket Phonics created an ITA of 36 symbols made from single letters or two-letter combinations, each representing a unique sound. Rocket Phonics offers a variety of ways to teach and review the sounds, including Bingo, Go Fish and Letter Leap. My daughter knew most of these already, so we were able to progress through it quickly with just a few reviews. She enjoyed playing Go Fish by asking for sounds, instead of letters.

The next step is to begin segmentation (separating the sounds of words, such as identifying the last sound in a word) and to start blending sounds. For example, you might say “I am thinking of a word with three sounds: /m/ /o/ /m/. What is the word?” The book reminds us that rhythm and rhyme are important helps in building phonemic awareness and encourages us to use it with our children. It helps keep it silly and fun, but has huge benefits in the long run. My 10 year old wanted to get in on the “build-a-rhyme” game. In this oral game, you start with a rime like “at” and just keep adding.

I sat on a hat.
The hat is now flat.
Imagine that. A flat hat.

As your child progresses, they continue blending and are soon blending real words. The kit includes a really neat gadget called the “rocket peeker”. A child uses it to see one word at a time, so they do not get overwhelmed by seeing a page full of words at once. My 7yo appreciated this, because it helped her to focus on one thing at a time. I think she does get overwhelmed when she sees a whole page of reading words and tends to panic before she even tries. Again, the program helps to keep it fun and to hold your child’s interest by making it more than just a bunch of words. On one page, your child may read one word at a time, finding each item in a picture. On another, it might show a picture and then several phrases that your child reads to find the one that fits.

The program continues to progress to non-phonetic words using word helpers. Letters that follow the ITA are printed in blue. The ones that don’t are printed in black, with the correct sound underneath. This way, the child sees the correct spelling and yet, can still read words that don’t “follow the rules”. This sets the child up for success, instead of frustration. But, it also exposes them to the correct spelling for future use so that you don’t have to re-teach it later.

Once reading has progressed a little, the child can look forward to a treasure hunt, with clues such as “under the table”. The kit even includes prizes to award at the end of the hunt. I don’t know of any other reading program that does that. My daughter has been looking forward to it since she saw the prizes in the box.

I am very pleased with this program. I have seen my daughter’s confidence,
speed and accuracy improve in just a short time. We plan to continue using it through the remainder of the school year, at which point I am confident that my daughter’s reading level will have improved dramatically. 

Here are some informing quotes for you.
"There isn't a better phonics program around than Dr. Guffanti's Rocket Phonics. Follow these simple exercises and you will watch a miracle unfold before your eyes."-- John Taylor Gatto, Best Selling Author and New York State Teacher of the Year
"No one who did more than one (Rocket Phonics) lesson failed to improve his or her skills." Professor James Catterall, UCLA Graduate School of Education

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Subscribe to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine for only $7.95!

Subscribe to The Old Schoolhouse™ Magazine for only $7.95!

Homeschooling is a Labor of Love, and the Old Schoolhouse™ Magazine is celebrating your hard work as a parent by putting their one-year print subscriptions on sale! For a very limited time, you can subscribe or renew for $7.95! (US only). International customers can subscribe to the digital edition for only 7.95!You can buy a gift sub for friends, too! To gift a subscription:1. Go to the one-year subscription page (uS only)2. Scroll to the bottom of the page.3. Enter the name, address, email, and phone information for each recipient4. click "Add this to my cart".5. The information will display in your cart and simply proceeed to check out.There are only 2000 of these available, and they are going quickly! Your subscription begins with their Fall Issue.If you live in an international location, you can subscribe to their digital edition for only $7.95! It's the same great content as their print magazine, except it is instant and interactive! Here are the two


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hank the Cowdog - A Review


1. The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse in Paperback

2. "Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog" CD

3. Hank’s Tornado Game

Company: Maverick Books

Price: Paperback - $4.24

CD - $3.00 (On Sale)

Game - $12.99

Where to Buy:

Brief Overview:

The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog was published in 1983 by the author, John Erickson. Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. They now have 54 stories, all available in paperback, hardback, CD and audiotape. Also available are a wide assortment of clothing, games, music CDS and stuffed animals.

In-Depth Look:

I had heard of Hank the Cowdog, briefly. But I knew very little about the company and had not seen any of the products first-hand. So when I learned that I would be receiving a sample of products, I was curious to have a look at it.

We received a paperback book (The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse – Book #8), a CD (“Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog”), and a board game (Hank’s Tornado Game).

The book:

Hank #8

Hank, the cowdog, is a self-appointed Head of Ranch Security in the Texas Panhandle. His sidekick is Drover, a not-so-capable “little white mutt”. Together, they patrol and “protect” the ranch. Hank has his fair share of escapades in this adventure, from causing Sally May to break her ankle to fighting Tuerto the Killer Stud Horse. He also has some special times with his human family, from playing dress-up with Amy and Ashley to “almost” having a bonding moment with Sally May.

I read this book to my 10 and 7 year old daughters. They had never heard of Hank and knew nothing of his adventures. So, it took us a while to get a feel for who the characters were. We also weren’t use to reading from an animal’s point-of-view. At times, especially when several animals were speaking, my daughters had trouble keeping track of who was talking when. After some confusion, I began using voices to distinguish between Hank and Drover.

This particular story was a bit slow-going at the start and didn’t hold my girls’ attention for the first few chapters. Hank had a way of going on and on about the same thing at times. For instance, he spent two chapters talking about food scraps. However, as I came to understand, that is just the kind of fella Hank is. About the time that Sally May broke her ankle, I thought the storyline picked up nicely. And by the time Tuerto came onto the scene, I was enjoying the action. My favorite part was when Hank put all fears aside to protect two little girls.

I have always loved dogs, so I was amused by their conversations and thought processes. Hank thinks he is super-smart, but often uses big words incorrectly in an attempt to impress Drover. He is always the loyal best friend to his human family, thinking that they must think just as highly of him, being totally shocked that they might consider him less than perfect. The parts where he bonds with the little girls touched my heart, reminding me of my own little girls and our dog. But as I mentioned, the most touching part for me was when Hank risked his life for the sake of those girls. Being a story about Texas cowdogs, there is the occasional minced oath and name calling thrown in. Since I used it as a read-aloud, I simply skipped over any words that I didn’t feel were appropriate.

As an added bonus, the last page has an order form to join Hank the Cowdog’s Security Force. Members receive a welcome package, eight issues of The Hank Times newspaper, and more Security Force Benefits. This is a nice set for long-time Hank fans.

The game:

Tornado game

Hank’s Tornado Game was made to go along with the story, The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado - #25. As such, it includes a free 30 minute cassette tape from the award winning audio. The game is for 2 to 4 players, ages 5 and up and is advertised as “The wildest race and chase GAME ever!” Each player gets a Hank, Drover and Junior (a buzzard) in their game color. You must spin a 1 or 6 to get a dog onto his starting circle; Junior needs a 6. You then keep spinning till you get all of your characters safely home. However, if anyone lands on you, you get sent back to the beginning (much like the game Sorry). If a character lands on a tornado space, you spin and go forward for an even number or backwards for an odd number (good way to get some more math practice in). The travel case gets 2 thumbs up in my book. Everything fits nicely inside and snaps shut tight for easy portability. The characters are sturdy and adorable. We had trouble with the spinner; it wanted to land on the same two numbers repeatedly for most of the game…much to our frustration since they weren’t a 1 or 6 (the numbers needed to get out of start). But you could easily use a die instead of the spinner; just throw it into the travel case and it would be ready whenever you were.

Being sent back to start by an opponent, when you have worked so hard to get around the board can be very frustrating for some children (I know this from experience). If this is the case with your younger children, you may wish to consider not playing by that particular rule.

The instruction sheet includes a $2 coupon off a Hank Audio Coupon.

The CD:

Hank logo

“Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog” is currently on sale for $3 (Regular $12.99). It has story excerpts from 10 books plus 9 original songs. The CD is 68 minutes long. John Erickson narrates excerpts from 10 stories on the CD, giving each character a unique voice fitting to their personality. It is a good way to get a feel for the stories and may help you narrow down your choice of which full-length book or CD to buy. As in the book, there are several instances of minced oaths and name calling. If this is of concern to you, it will be harder to “skip” on CD than in a read-aloud from a book.

The included songs are taken straight from the Hank adventure books. So if you have read some of the books, and thereby some of the song lyrics, and wondered just what the tune might be…well, here you go. Nine of them are on this CD. Taken out of context, the songs might not make much sense. But after reading the story that goes with it, you will envision the action every time you hear the song.

My favorite song is “Thank You Lord for Making Gals”. This one is taken from the book that I reviewed after Hank falls in love with the two little girls, Amy and Ashley. Granted this could have something to do with the fact that I have three little girls of my own. Some of the sweet lyrics are

“So thanks again for making gals!

They’ll treat you nice and be your pals.

But I swear by the stars above

Watch out, or you’ll fall in love!”

I will mention that “We Don’t Give a Hoot” states “…so if you should find us offensive, we will beat you up…and if you don’t like what we’re singing, we’ll beat you up again”. When I first heard this song, I was taken by surprise. But this is another instance of the song needing to be in the right context. This song is sung by two nasty coyotes, Rip and Snort, and they are just being true to their character. Neither the book nor the song is condoning the behavior.

However, there was one other song on the CD that I must mention. I am mentioning it to you, because I would want someone to mention it to me before I played it to my children, so that I could make my own decision about the matter. I’m not sure which book it is from or what context it is in, other than the fact that it is sung by Wallace the Buzzard. The song is called “A Pox, A Pox on Emily Post”. Some of the lyrics are “A pox, a pox on Emily Post; I thumb my nose at Emily’s ghost” and “The Devil can roast Miss Emily Post and I will raise a cheer”.

An added advantage is that the CD cover includes the lyrics to all of the songs, so you can easily peruse all the lyrics before playing the CD.