Friday, November 20, 2009

Gymathtics - A review

Product: Gymathtics

Price: $24.99 (currently free shipping)

Company: Exploramania

Where to Buy:

Brief Overview:
Exploramania is a 30-minute DVD to work out your brain and your body. The exercises are for all ages. The math facts are targeted to the 2nd-5th grade level.

In-Depth Look:
Carrie Scheiner's story is an interesting one. The path that lead to the creation of the DVD is a good read. One of the major factors was an incident where her son couldn't go out for recess because it was raining, so his class watched a cartoon instead. It is amazing how a random event in your life can lead to the "next big idea". Keep yours eyes open, because you never know when you might be inspired with a great idea.

Carrie has a passion for helping children and for math. She has combined the two into this DVD, helping children keep their bodies healthy, while reviewing basic math facts.

The DVD is 30-minutes long. The cast includes Miss Carrie, Kelsey, Jonathan, Aaron and Felicia. Aaron and Felicia are Miss Carrie's children. The quality is professional, with the beginning filmed in a colorful circular room and the ending on a deck overlooking a relaxing beach.

Part 1 is "Shape Stretches - Warm Up". As the name implies, this part involves stretching and warming up. Miss Carrie explains a math term, such as circle or polygon. Then the group will do an exercise symbolizing the shape. For example, the arms are made into circle shapes and the legs are bent to make a rectangle shape. While the child does the exercises, the shapes will appear on the screen, along with their names...while a voice-over discusses them. This applies all 3 ways of learning.
Kinesthetic - doing the shapes in exercise form
Auditory - hearing Miss Carrie and then the voice-over
Visual - watching the shapes appear on the screen

Part 2 is "Counting Calisthenics". This part gives you an aerobic workout and gets your heart rate up. Some of the counting includes odd number, even number, skip counting and prime numbers. The group does various activites such as punches and high stepping, while counting off the numbers. The numbers appear on the screen with a bouncing ball, while you count along. Again, most of these include all 3 forms of learning.
Kinesthetic - exercising while you count off
Auditory - hearing the group count
Visual - watching the bouncing ball go over the numbers

Part 3 is "Pattern Power". It covers growing and repeating pattern exercises and focuses on strengthening muscles. In some exercises, you do a repeating pattern. Doing the same set of exercises (or pattern), several times. In the other routines, you do a growing pattern. So, each time you do the set, it increases by a certain amount. Again it uses Kinesthetic, Auditory and Visual.

Part 4 is the "Well-Being Wind Down". This section helps you cool back down and slow your heart rate. It doesn't cover math facts. Instead, it focuses on healthy lifestyle choices: eating in moderation, getting enough sleep, being kind, helping others, etc. It includes the BIG DREAM Stretch, reaching for your dreams. You will also learn the Nice Wave, with an acronym for being kind.

Some of my favorite moves were the "wavy line" and the "superman". Some of the more difficult moves for this 30-something mom were the push-ups and the jumping jacks. I guess I didn't do the warm-ups well enough, because the jumping jacks caused me some pain. My 7-year old had some trouble keeping up with the pace during the Pattern Power section. But my 10 year old managed fine with the whole routine.

I think that most ages would get a nice workout from this 30-minute routine. Not as much as spending an hour or so outside. But it could definitely come in handy on bitter cold or rainy days. It will get the kids up and moving, without tearing the house apart.

I also think that it is a nice math review for the elementary age. It uses all 3 learning styles to review shapes, prime numbers, odd/even, patterns, etc. The drills are for 2nd-5th grade; I agree that it would be pointless with most children older than that. But I do think younger children would benefit from a good deal of it. They would get practice with what they might already know, like their shapes. And they would be introduced to new terms that they might come across later, such as congruent vs. similar.

With that said, what did my daughters think of it? Honestly, they didn't enjoy it. They felt the DVD was asking them to do the exercises simply for the sake of getting the math lesson in. It didn't feel like "real exercises" to them. They would rather do "real exercises" when it is exercise time and do math lessons when it is math time. My girls weren't too keen on combining the two. They also weren't receptive to "feel good" messages at the end. Based on my 10 year old's comments, I don't think it was the messages themselves, but instead it was the way that we were being talked to. The goal, I am guessing, was to be a relaxing voice. But to my kiddos, it sounded like she was "acting".

With that said, I feel I should mention that a lot of the other crew members' children did enjoy the video. So why not read some of their reviews and then decide for yourself? You know your children best.

Disclaimer: I received this DVD free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Monday, November 16, 2009

AVKO - A Review

Product: AVKO membership

Price: $25/year - basic membership; $100/year - deluxe membership

Owner: AVKO Education Research Foundation

Where to Buy:

Brief Description:
AVKO is a non-profit organization devoted to helping teachers, parents and researchers since 1974. AVKO represents the Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic and Oral learning styles. They develop books and materials that use this multi-sensory approach. The online membership is an essential part of this program.

In-Depth Look:
I received a one-year online membership to AVKO. You may choose from a basic or a deluxe membership.

Benefits of AVKO Basic Membership

Benefits of AVKO Deluxe Membership

Institutional Membership is open to individuals as well as tutoring centers, schools, learning centers, homeschool resource centers, etc.

  • Access to all of the benefits of AVKO's Basic Membership (see above)
  • 25% discount off all materials ordered
  • Read-only access to ALL AVKO curriculum materials (except for Sequential Spelling and Engaging Language Kits)
  • Access to AVKO's newest e-books:
    • Word Family Supplements 1-7 for Sequential Spelling
    • Spelling Remediation Test Kit

I do not own the popular Sequential Spelling program and wasn't at all familiar with AVKO. So, the whole thing was completely new to me. I spent time browsing the site, trying to familiarize myself with what it is all about and what it has to offer. I think a membership would most benefit someone that uses AVKO's programs, such as Sequential Spelling. But I also found many things that could be useful to the rest of us, especially those teaching students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia.

One benefit is the ability to download several e-books for free. One is "To Teach a Dyslexic". I enjoyed Don McCabe's writing style and candor. He shares a very personal look at where he came from and how he got where he is. It is a great inspiration to those traveling the same road.

Another benefit is access to the member section. It includes dozens of readings to practice reading for comprehension (puns, humor, family, pets, history, etc.). As a side note, some of the sheets were things that I have read before through email forwards. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy them; I'm just saying that these were items I have access to for free through my emails. I would also like to mention that some of the humor items are a bit crude, not things that I would read to my 10 and 7 yo girls.

As a member you will have access to some supplemental curriculum. Some of them are a sequential spelling word search (which would be awesome for someone using the curriculum). Also they have some advanced vocabulary flashcards (definitely advanced words!) and a vocabulary illustration worksheet (I think this is really neat).

You will receive the AVKO newsletter. It is very short and to the point. But it comes out on a regular basis and keeps you up-to-date on the company's latest news, announcements and special deals.

Workshop recordings are available as quick downloads. It is like a free homeschool convention in your living room.
"You Don't Need a Master's Degree to Teach Your Kids -- Just a Degree of Caring" offers a great deal of encouragement to those of us without teaching degrees that have taken on the rewarding task of teaching our own children. It gave me a lift that I needed.

Users of the curriculum will appreciate the free assessment and placement tests. Those using the Engaging Language Kits will like the online answer keys.

Members receive discounts on printed products. So if you are in the market for any of their curriculum, such as Sequential Spelling, this could be a big money saver for your family.

$25 for membership is a lot cheaper than individually paying for the different items, such as e-books and workshop recordings. Not to mention, the discounts on printed products. Some of the things that I looked at didn't fit our learning style, such as e-books with hundreds of pages of spelling words. But I did find several things I enjoyed, such as the items that I have mentioned above. So it all depends on your learning style, what you are looking for and what you need.

If you aren't ready to commit, try out their freebies page. You can access TONS of stuff and also get a better feel for the website and what it has to offer.

Don McCabe is an impressive man that has done an amazing amount of work towards helping others by sharing what has helped him and what he has learned along the way. I hope you will take some time to check it all out.

Click here to read other crew members' reviews.

Disclaimer: I received this membership free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Friday, November 6, 2009

America's Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty - A Review


Product: America's Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty

Company: American Heritage Education Foundation

Price: Free online and in CD format. $19.50/level for printed binders

Where to buy: AHEF

Brief Overview:

I think AHEF's mission statements says it best:
AHEF is a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation (501.c.3) dedicated to the understanding and teaching of America's factual and philosophical heritage to promote constructive citizenship and Freedom, Unity, Progress, and Responsibility among our students and citizens.

As does Thomas Jefferson:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

In-Depth Look:

AHEF offers a K-12 teacher lesson plan resource, for

"Understanding of our nation’s factual and philosophical heritage to promote Freedom, Unity, Progress and Responsibility among our students and our citizens".

It is in conjunction with The Houston Independent School District and the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation. You can receive as a download or CD for free. Or you can request a printed binder for $19.50 per level. I received the CD for review.

The CD is broken up by grade levels: Elementary School, Elementary School (Spanish), Middle School and High School. I briefly looked over the Middle and High School levels, but spent most of my focus on the Elementary Level, since that is the age of my children.

It contains some important and interesting quotes.

Our Founding Fathers also emphasized that a democratic republic cannot survive without a high degree of literacy and knowledge. – Dr. Richard Gonzalez , co-founder AHEF

Everything that government gives to the people must first be taken from the people.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. - Thomas Jefferson

Each level is set up in the same basic format and include some of the same lessons, but in varying degrees of difficulty. Some of the lessons for the elementary level are the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, Thanksgiving, the U.S. Flag, and the Statue of Liberty. Some for the middle school

are Lives, Fortunes, & Sacred Honor, The Bill of Rights, The Gettysburg Address, and The Pledge of Allegiance. And for high school,

The Mayflower Compact, Federalist 47, The First Amendment, and our National Documents Each lesson focuses on at least one theme: Freedom, Unity, Progress or Responsibility. Dates are also listed in the Table of Contents.

A unit’s intro has the purpose, objective, theme, core knowledge for elementary grade levels (NCSS for middle and high school), time and materials required, preparation required and the focus. Activities vary and include lots of extras: charts, pictures, songs, games, puzzles, bookmarks, finger puppets. At the end of a unit is an idea for closure, such as a small group discussion or a short essay on the theme.

AHEF makes mention of some important American holidays, including

Loyalty Day – April 30th

American Heritage Month – November

Religious Freedom Day – January 16th

At the end is an interesting resource, called Religious Expression in the Public Schools.

The resource on Religious Expression in the Public Schools contains lots and lots of information on the guidelines that both staff and students should follow regarding such acts. It is very detailed and insightful. Although I think it is a crying-shame that such regulation exists in the first place.

Since it is nearing Thanksgiving, I printed out the activities on that. It includes a History of Thanksgiving and a crossword puzzle. I also printed out the lesson on the Statue of Liberty since we recently discussed that. It included Lady Liberty's real meaning and a puppet. It is a nice supplement to what we have already studied.

In my opinion, this material covers a much-needed gap in most curriculums. It is very important that we know where we come from. It is important to know the history of our nation. We must not forget what God has done for us. We must not forget the sacrifice that great men made before us. We must know what it means to be an American. I think these lesson plans are a great start in the right direction. Of couse, it is only a supplement. Parents and teachers must do what they can to continue what this has started (as I know many already are), to pass on the Christian heritage of our nation.

It is free. So why not give it a try? If it is not a good fit for your family, you aren't out anything. If you gain even a bit of something from it, it will have been worth it.

Want to read more reviews? Click here.

Disclaimer: I received this CD free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Sunday, November 1, 2009 - A Review

Product: ABCteach Membership

Price: $40/year ($70/2years)

Company: Photobucket

Where to buy: Membership

Brief Overview: is an online teaching resource for a wide-range of printables. Over 5000 for free. Over 35,000 for members. New materials are added weekly. It is geared for K-8th grade.

In-Depth Look:

I received a free one-month subscription to so that I could review the site and write a review. There are thousands available for free to anyone. But if you should decide to join as a member, you will have access to over 35,000. I must admit, I wasn't that excited about exploring the site. I felt as if I already had access to dozens of free sites with printables, and already belonged to one paid site for the same sort of thing. But then my crew mates started raving about all of the the things that they were finding. So I figured I better go see what all the fuss was about.

Once on the site, you have several options. You can search by grade level, subject, theme, or worksheet type. It has some items already grouped into theme units, making for a great start to a unit study. Also available are teacher resources to print out such as certificates, badges, and bookmarks. They even have ready made powerpoints, which I think is pretty nifty. With lots and lots of clip art, abcteach might be a teacher's new best friend (especially in a classroom setting, where they regularly decorate by seasons, holidays and other themes). You can even print out some sayings from Poor Richard's Almanack. That was one of my favorite finds.

Looking for something a bit more personalized? Check out the abctools. These are custom worksheet generators. There are word searches, crossword puzzles and spelling lists...just to name a few. You pick the words; abcteach tools generates the puzzles; your child gets a personalized worksheet. How cool is that?

My family has been reading through the Little House on the Prairie books. So I searched the site for things to supplement that. I was so excited to find a booklet for each book in the series, with a few comprehension questions for each chapter and some vocabulary words in the back.

We recently read "Lilly and Miss Liberty", a book about an immigrant watching the arrival of the French ship carrying the Statue of Liberty. So I searched the website for that and found some pages to print out to expand on what we had read.

My family reviewed Nutrition 101 for the crew. So I went to the site again and what did I find? A great little unit study on nutrition. Just perfect for going along with Nutrition 101. My daughters really enjoyed it, asking to do more.

So, yes, there are lots of sites with printables. And many of the sites are free. I have been to lots of them. As far as the free stuff on, I think it is comparable to all the other sites. But when it comes to the member site, I think it surpasses all of the others that I have seen. I was very impressed with the wide range of available sheets. It was so neat every time that I would go searching for something to supplement what we were studying in our lessons and then actually find the perfect unit study within a matter of minutes.

What I Like:

I like the ability to customize the puzzles with words of your choosing. I like the ease of use with the unit studies. I thought the quotes from Poor Richard's Almanack were print-worthy.

What I Don't Like:
I think the $40 price tag is a bit steep. The site I have belonged to for years is only $20. But you can sometimes find a group deal special for $20, through sites such as Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. So you might want to be on the lookout for that.

To read other crew members' reviews, click here.

Disclaimer: I received this online membership free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.