Friday, December 18, 2009

Maestro Classics - A Review

Product: The Tortoise and the Hare - Stories in Music
M.C. Tortoise and Hare

Price: $16.98/set, $45/3 sets

Company: Maestro Classics

Where to buy: Maestro Classics (1-888-540-2811)

Other titles available:
Casey at the Bat
Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel
Juanita the Spanish Lobster
The Story of Swan Lake
Peter and the Wolf
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Others available soon:
The Soldier's Tale
My Name is Handel

Brief Overview:
Each set includes an enchanting story set to great music, superb recordings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, educational tracks describing the creation of the music, composer's lives, musical composition and an innovative activity booklet. (From the company's literature)

In-Depth Look:

Maestro Classics has taken classic stories and set them to music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seven titles are available. Two more are coming soon. The target age range is 5 years and up. The series has been awarded over 35 national awards.

Each set includes a classic set to music, educational tracks, and an activity booklet.

I reviewed The Tortoise and the Hare. Conducted and composed by Stephen Simon. Narrated by Yadu. Story adapted by Bonnie Ward Simon. The story expands on the original lesson of "slow and steady" in Aesop's Fable. Hearing unique voices help to bring the story to life. The philharmonic adds such a lovely touch: up and down, fast and slow, changing with the moods and emotions. I loved the musical addition. And several studies have shown the added benefits of listening to classical music, especially at a young age. The brochure mentions a few benefits of setting the story to music.

1) Expand listening horizons.
2) Develop listening skills and accumulate musical memories.
3) Encourage adults and children to listen to music together.

The booklet has lots of extra information. One page shows the pictures and names of the instruments in the orchestra. Another section explains the notes, fractions, and time signatures. Another section tells a little about a turtle vs. tortoise and a rabbit vs. hare. Some activities are a dot-to-dot, song from CD, word jumble, and acrossword puzzle. A short bio is included for the conductor, composer, executive producer, and narrator.

Total running time of this CD is approximately 53 minutes. There are 7 tracks.

1) The Tortoise and the Hare 20:43
(Plays the story)
2) About the Story 2:49
(Talks of the original tale)
3) Pretzel Vendor of Paris Song 2:06
(A cute song)
4) About the Music 4:49
(Tidbits about the symphony)
5) Now That You Know a Little More 20:43
(Plays the story again)
6) Want to Have Some Fun? Prepare to Perform :35
(Prepare for sing-along)
7) Pretzel Vendor of Paris Sing-Along 2:06
(Sing-Along of the cute song)

I liked the cd, the story and the music. The moral of the story was an additional bonus. The extra "tidbits" on the cd were interesting. I found it enjoyable to listen to this CD. My children didn't enjoy it as much; I think they would have enjoyed one geared towards an older age group more. But I think younger children would enjoy it very much.

My only complaint: When mentioning the time frame for Aesop, the narrator refers to BCE instead of BC. This is one of my pet peeves. In case you haven't heard, there is a move to switch from BC (Before Christ) and AD (in the year of our Lord) to BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). In the Year of our Lord has worked just fine for 2000 years. An attempt to change it now is upsetting to me. Granted, I realize the producers of the CD didn't come up with the new term, but they did make a decision to use it.

To see what other crew members thought, 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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mathletics - A Review

Product: Mathletics

Company: 3P Learning

Price: $49.95/year (Just answer the human calculator's favorite number. It is 9.)
10 day unconditional guarantee

Where to purchase:

Brief Overview: Give your student access to math curriculum activities and enjoyable fun math activities 24 hours a day. The activities are grouped by grade level and provide immediate feedback. Students can also compete live against other students.

In-Depth Look: is $59/ year. If you enter the human calculator's favorite number (9), the fee is $49.95. It comes with an unconditional guarantee. This provides access to the site 24 hours a day.

Your student enrolls by grade level, so the curriculum and mathletic challenges are geared towards the appropriate skill level.

Your child designs their own avatar to identify them. My children always enjoy designing their own character. Using credits, they can open up new features for the avatar. Credits are earned for doing various activities, such weekly participation certificates or setting new high scores.

In the practice section, you can choose from several categories and finish off with a test. In 2nd grade, some examples under "modeling numbers" are "count backward patterns" and "compare numbers to 100". Each practice section ends with a test. The questions are pretty straight forward, nothing fancy. Each set is in groups of 10. If you get a question wrong, it shows you the correct answer. At the end of the 10 questions, you can click on help for any of the questions. And some cute little characters will walk you through the problem. I thought this was really cute. If you complete the section more than once, you can begin to compare your performances with graphs and such, which is neat. If you set a high score, you earn credits. At the end of each section, there is a 24 question test. Nothing too fancy, but nice and colorful. You get a test score, help on problems at the end and credits for high scores.

The site has a problem solving section. In 2nd grade, some examples under "money" are "honeys money" and "skip jump". The problems are so cute and colorful and encouraging. It actually makes doing word problems fun. It is very interactive and makes it so much easier to "see" what the question is all about.

There are some cute games in the "game" section. They are cute and simple, but allow for good review. In 2nd grade, I found a "bead the necklace game", following patterns, and a "tally the score" game, where you add up similar items and tally the results.

I found a link up top to Jenny Eather's Rainforest Math. I spent a few minutes looking around. The activities are sorted by grade level. The activites are colorful, with onscreen "manipulatives". Some of the 2nd grade activities are counting blocks and number lines.

If you click on "concept search", you will find an amazing tool called "Animated Maths Dictionary". You click on a concept; the dictionary gives you a definition and an example. Click on "Concepts" and you will find an even cooler tool. First, pick the grade level that you want, which will limit to relevant topics. Then click the topic. You will get definitions and animated graphics illustrating the concept. It is fun to randomly click on items, just to see the graphics.

The most popular section is probably "Play Live". You compete with other students in your grade level. Usually 2 or 3 other children. It is completely safe as there is no interaction or communication with the other kids. You simply compete for the best time, answering questions as quickly as possible. My daughters enjoyed watching to see what countries they would be up against. They played against other students in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more. If you get 3 strikes, you are out of the race. You can pick level 1 - 5 and can also choose to play against the computer.

The parent will receive their own login information to a dedicated parent center. You will find a task manager, where you can select up to 4 activities that your student must complete before they can move onto other areas. This is good as a way to review, to push your students to try harder tasks, or to lock out the games to be used as a reward upon completion. You can view weekly progress reports, print certificates of completion, check-up on your child's progress.
You can print instant workbooks, from Level A to M. You can also print the parent's guide to go along with it. The workbooks can be printed in individual chapters or as the whole book. The books have graphics and are in black and white.

In summary, this site has a little bit of everything. Practice, tests, games, problem solving, competition, concept dictionaries, printable workbooks. The kids' section is colorful, animated, interactive and provides immediate feedback and lots of help. A reward system helps keep kids motivated, with earning credits and printing certificates.

At approximately $4/month, I think this site is well-worth the value.

Check out what other crew members had to say here.

Disclaimer: I received an online membership to 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, December 6, 2009

Tektoma - A Review

Product: Game Tutorials for Kids

Price: $14.95/month. $140/year.
Free 14 day trial.

Company: Tektoma

Where to buy:

A brief overview:
From their site: "Tektoma was founded in 2009 by Tom Marx and Matilda O'Connor, to provide 24 hour a day, 365 days per year access to engaging video tutorials that teach children game programming. " It allows children the opportunity to learn game programming at their own speed.

In-Depth Look:
Tektoma is geared towards children approximately 6 to 16 years of age. The site offers 5 full game tutorials (3 beginner, 1 intermediate and 1 advanced level). The time requirement varies from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours.
1. How to make a racing game.
2. How to make an arcade game.
3. How to make a memory game.
4. How to make a platform game.
5. How to make a fantasy adventure game.

The site also has 6 shorter tutorials, varying in length from 5 to 63 minutes. 3 are beginner, 1 intermediate and 1 advanced.
1. Using tiles to build a racetrack.
2. Using tiles to improve the look of a platform game.
3. How to create and use custom icons.
4. How to create a stand alone version of a game.
5. How to make your game play in full screen mode.
6. Adding an inventory system to your game.

All of the tutorials use a software called GameMaker and the GameMaker Resource Pack. These are available as free downloads from YoYo Games. GameMaker allows you to make games using a drag-and-drop action. It doesn't require you to know any code. If you begin using it regularly, you may wish to upgrade to the ProEdition for $25.

After downloading the GameMaker and Resource Pack, your child will be ready to view the tutorial on "How to use the Tutorials". It is supposed to be about 4 minutes, but mine locks up everytime I try to watch it. After that, your child chooses the game that she wants to create. Your child should probably start with a "beginner" level, because the higher levels assume that you have already been working with GameMaker and are familiar with it, so the tutorials are not as detailed.

First open up the GameMaker. Make sure you are in "advanced mode". Then open up the tutorial. Pausing the video as needed, you follow the step-by-step instructions. The advantages to a video tutorial are that you can pause and rewind as needed. I did have some trouble with the tutorials, such as a brief instance in the car racing video...when 2 people are talking at once on the tutorial.

If you are interested in using GameMaker software, then Tektoma is a good place to start. It starts you at the very beginning, assuming you know nothing about the program. It "holds your hand" and walks you through a few games in great detail. The speaker not only talks you through it, but he also shows screen shots where you can actually see everything that he clicks and types. By the time you finish all the tutorials, you should have a very good sense of how the GameMaker software works and have enough knowledge to make some basic games of your own.

It might be a good place to start, for someone interested in game programming. As it helps you get a feel for the thought process involved in game programming. But this is not actual coding. You won't be using a programming language. So there other options out there, for someone that wants to jump right into using an actual programming language. But keep in mind, that GameMaker is intended for youth. Not for someone trying to make a career out of it.

I tried some of the game examples on their site. I didn't find the games to be interesting or user-friendly. Playing them might give you a feel for whether or not your child might be interested.

My husband, a computer programmer, sat down with my 11 year old daughter, who wants to learn programming, and tried some of the sample games and looked into the tutorials. They found several bugs/problems in the sample games. My daughter quickly lost interest in the tutorial. Later, I sat down to try the car racing tutorial. It moved slowly and I quickly lost interest as well.

But I would like to mention that several of the other crew members' children absolutely loved the tutorials. They have finished them and are now working on their own customized games. So check out their reviews as well and then decide.

An additional benefit is a member discussion forum.

The owners also operate another company:

Bits, Bytes & Bots Computer Adventures runs summer camps, birthday parties, after school classes and workshops in robotics, game creation, movie making, 3D and animation. Licenses available worldwide. Currently located in Albany, NY, Austin, TX, Boulder, CO, Denver, CO, Memphis, TN, Portland, OR, and Westchester, NY.

Disclaimer: I received an online membership to Tektoma 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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All About Spelling Level 1 and 2 - A Review

Products: All About Spelling Level 1 and 2

Company: All About Learning Press, Inc.

Price: Prices vary per product. See List.

Where to purchase: All About Spelling

Brief Overview: "All About Spelling" is a multi-sensory program for spelling success. It includes step-by-step lesson plans, teaching tools for interactive learning, and a built-in daily review. It is customizable for most every student.

In-Depth Look: I received Level 1 and Level 2 of "All About Spelling".

Level 1: Level 1 includes a set of AAS letter tiles, a phonogram CD-Rom, and a material packet. You will need to provide an index card box and lined notebook paper. Optional items are stickers or colored pencils for the Progress Chart, letter tile magnets and a magnet board.

The program focuses on all 3 learning styles. Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Students tend to retain more when the lesson uses all 3 styles.

Visual - watching the color-coded letter tiles, seeing the words written down, looking at review flashcards

Auditory - reviewing flashcards orally, segmenting words aloud, saying sounds of phonograms

Kinesthetic - writing down dictated phonograms, phrases, & sentences, building new words with tiles, and practicing spelling on various surfaces with pointer finger

Through hands-on work and continual review, your child will learn 32 phonograms, how to hear individual sounds, how to represent sounds using phonograms, and solid spelling rules.

There are 4 types of flashdcards. They will be kept in a "Spelling Review Box", also known as a file box.
Phonograms - Yellow cards offer visual and verbal review. 32 phonogram cards are included.
Sounds - Red cards offer aural and tactile review. 32 sound cards are included.
Keys - Blue cards reinforce new concepts. 16 key cards are included.
Words - Green cards offer aural, verbal, and tactile review.

The goal of the review box is permanently ingrained learning. This is by beginning each day's lesson with a review of the previous material.

Each lesson is spelled out clearly. The program tells you exactly what order to go in and even what to say to your child. There is very little pre-planning and very little setup required. It is extremely user-friendly for a homeschool parent to use.

The basic premise for each lesson is the same, broken down into 6 steps.
1. Read the lesson before you teach it.
2. Gather the materials listed in the "you will need section".
3. A time of review.
4. Teach new concepts. All you need to do is follow the script. Very simple.
5. Dictation.
6. File flashcards in either the Review or the Mastered dividers in the Spelling Review Box.

In addition, the lessons have "Don't forget" reminders and lots of tips. As I said, it is definitely set up to help you succeed as a teacher, so that your student can succeed as a speller. One of the best tips is to bring a great attitude and to praise your child when he does well. I love this quote that they included.
"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa

Level 1 starts at the very beginning for pre-readers. Your child will learn the first 26 phonograms in the 1st lesson. It then continues to segmenting words, such as the first sound and the last sound of the word. Not the letter, but the sound. Your child will learn consonant vs. vowel and long vowel vs. short vowel. digraphs such as "sh" and "ch". Lessons will cover syllables, blends, c vs. k, doubling some letters (f, l, and s) at the end of a word, compound words, and plurals. Students will learn to recognize if a syllable is open or closed.

The back of the book includes a Certificate of Achievement and a Scope and Sequence.

Level 2 -You will need the Level 2 material packet, the AAS letter tiles, phonogram CD-Rom, Index card box, yellow colored pencil and lined notebook paper. From Level 1, you will need the phonogram cards 1- 32 and the sound cards 1 - 32. Optional items are stickers or colored pencils for the Progress Chart, Letter tile magnets, and magnet board.

Same as Level 1, Level 2 uses all three of the learning styles to help reinforce concepts for long-term retention. The same four types of flashcards are used again.
Phonogram - 32 phonogram cards from Level 1, 11 new ones from Level 2
Sounds - 32 from Level 1, 11 new ones from Level 2
Key - 9 key cards are included in Level 2
Words - Each contains a word to spell in Level 2

Each lesson is set up the same as in Level One, with six easy steps, reading scripts for the parent and built-in daily review.

Eleven new phonograms are taught in Level 2. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the sounds, so that you can teach your child. Listening to the CD is a great way to do this. Also familiarize yourself with the best way to set up the letter tiles, either on a magnet board or a table, leaving working space for your child to spell the words.

After learning how to spell with closed syllables in Level 1, you now study four more kinds of syllables (Open, Vowel-Consonant-E, Vowel Team, R-controlled and C+le). Learning to recognize syllable types will be a tremendous help to your child in the more advanced levels.

A cute idea is the "jail" for rule-breaker words. There is a jail card in the material packet. When your child learns a new word that doesn't follow the rules, he gets to put in "jail". This helps to make the word stick for him. Neat idea!

Lesson 1 is a quick review of Level One. From there, you will cover blends, syllable types and divisions, silent E, C vs. K, plurals, and vowel teams. You will study the sound of "er", "ar" and "or". It covers the soft sounds of C and G.

The end includes a Certificate of Achievement and a Scope and Sequence.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the ease of use of this program. All the important stuff is included. The rest of the required materials are easy to find. The lessons are very detailed and thorough and even scripted.

I appreciate the variety of ways that it uses to help the concept stick. Using letter tiles, tokens, flashcards, etc. Offering creative ways to help retention, such as writing the letters with your finger on a piece of carpet or writing a word with your finger in pudding. These are the kinds of things that help keep the lessons from getting monotonous and help use different learning styles to help your child remember.

I also appreciate that the program includes dictation. I think this is an important skill to master. To be able to hear the spoken word and put it to paper.

To read other crew members reviews, click here. (The link is not yet active. So I will update this post once it is.)

Disclaimer: I received All About Spelling Levels One and Two 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 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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Virginia Soaps and Scents - A Review


Products: Handmade All-Natural Soap Bars
Handmade All-Natural Shampoo Bar
Kit to make your own Laundry Detergent

Prices: Soap - $4.50 / 4.5 oz bar (3/$12, 10/$35, Buy 4/Get 1 free)
Shampoo Bar - $5.50 / 5.5 oz bar (2/$10)
Laundry Kit - $4.95 (6/$25)

Owners: Roy & Richelle Spargur

Where to Buy: Virginia Soaps and Scents

Brief Overview:
The Spargurs are a homeschool family with 9 children, residing in Virginia. A history lesson in soap-making turned into a family business and passion. The bars are hand cut, so no two are alike. They are made of natural oils - no chemicals. So not only do they look and smell nice, they are also good for you...real soap, unlike the chemicals and detergents in mass produced "soaps".

In-Depth Look:
I was excited to receive my box of samples from Virginia Soaps and Scents. When we opened it, everything smelled so nice and looked so pretty. I received three sample sizes of the soap bars, a sample of the shampoo bar and a laundry detergent kit.

First, the soap bars. These bars are so pretty and imprinted with a nice little logo of "VSS". They look fancy, like something that you would find at a hotel or bed & breakfast. The company does actually sell the smaller bed&breakfast size bars as well. I received a Fresh Orange, a Coconut Lemongrass and a Oatmeal, Milk, & Honey bar. The Oatmeal was my favorite. The Orange was runner-up. I liked the fact that the bars were all natural, that I didn't have to worry about what we were putting on our skin. I felt as if I was doing something "good" for my family. I liked the fragrances, mild and fresh and clean smelling. They don't lather as well as the bars that I am accustomed to. As soon as my hands hit the water, the soap washes right off. So I simply made a greater effort to wet my hands and then lather up well BEFORE putting my hands back under the water. The results of bathing and hand washing were at least as good as my regular bars. I suffer from extremely dry hands in the winter. So, I found the Oatmeal, Milk & Honey bar to be a nice moisturizer for them. This benefit, in addition to the pleasant scent, made this one my favorite.

Next, the shampoo bar. I had never used a shampoo bar before. I had never even heard of one until very recently. I was eager to try it out of curiosity. Well, again, I felt like it was a good thing. That I was only putting "good" stuff into my hair and on my scalp. I have very thick hair, so I washed in sections...lathering up layers at a time. The bar lathers very nicely. I had no trouble getting a nice lather on my head, by rubbing the bar directly into my hair. The first day I liked it a lot. I felt my hair was much more manageable. After a few days of use, my hair began to feel "heavy" and felt "different" when I would run my fingers through it. So I decided that, with my hair type, it would be best to only use on occassion to strip my hair of all of the impurities. I have read that there is an adjustment period to get used to this deep-clean feeling. And that many have had success by using a vinegar rinse after shampooing. But I would rather use my regular shampoo on a daily basis, using the shampoo bar once a week for a deep cleaning. I also tried this as a shaving bar. I LOVED it! It glided on nice and smooth and protected my legs as I shaved. The razor glided easily. I was disappointed when the bar ran out.

Last, the laundry detergent kit. I was actually very excited to try this out. It is mild, with no harsh chemicals. Plus, it is easy and inexpensive to make. But despite suggestions that it is perfectly safe to use in HE machines, my husband and I are hesitant to try our warranty clearly states that it is voided if we use anything other than HE detergent. So, alas, I haven't made it or tried it yet. But I want to. Maybe I can bring it with me when we visit relatives and try it out in their machines when I wash our laundry loads. :)

Virginia Soaps and Scents
offers quite an impressive list of products:
Gourmet Soaps
Christmas Soaps
All-in-One Bars
Shampoo Bars
Shaving Bars
Laundry Soap
Linen Spray
Lip Balm
Pet Shampoo

What I Like:
I love that this is a fellow homeschooling family. I love the idea of helping out another homeschooling family with my purchases. I like that the ingredients are all natural, no harsh chemicals or "unknowns". The products are pretty and smell nice.

What I Don't Like:
I didn't like the shampoo bar for daily use. I didn't like the strange feeling my hair had. But I would use it as a weekly cleaner and LOVED it as a shaving bar. I think it could get a bit expensive to buy bath products online, especially with shipping. But the company does offer discounts for buying in bulk, which would help.

To read more reviews of this product, click here.

Disclaimer: I received this product 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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Amazing Bible World History Timeline - A Review


Product: The Amazing Bible World History Timeline

Price: $29.97 (2 for $49.97) (Additional copies - $24.97)

Bonus: Free Download of an Interactive Map of the Holy Land ($14.97 value)
Free Download of a Digital Amazing Bible Timeline ($14.97 value)

Guarantee: 60-day money back guarantee (including shipping)

Owners: Bill and Margaret Agard (Bible Charts and Maps, LLC)

Where to Buy:

Brief Overview:
This is a huge timeline (approx 3' x 4'), using a compact circular design, that allows 6000 years to be viewed at once. Beginning with the creation of Adam, it includes events up to the year 2000. Events include both Biblical and world history, allowing for a convenient comparison of events happening in the same time frame.

In-Depth Look:
I have never owned a timeline. I have often thought of purchasing one and of even making our own. But I have never taken the plunge. So, when I received this timeline to review, it seemed like a good opportunity to see if timelines were a good fit for our family.

The timeline arrived in a huge cardboard box, in perfect condition. The timeline isn't laminated, because the owners wouldn't be able to roll it up for shipping. But it is varnished, and appears to be tough. We have decided to keep ours stored in the original shipping box. We don't have a convenient place to hang it up or display it. So the box seems like a safe place to keep it in good shape when we aren't using it.

My first impression was how big it was. Approx. 3' x 4'. We rolled it out on the floor and used various objects to hold the edges down. My daughter crawled around on it to get a better look at assorted entries and the timeline was no worse for the wear.

It is still taking me some time to get use to the circular design. I am more use to a linear timeline. Starting left and flowing right as time progresses. But with this design, you find the time frame desired on the outer rim of the "wheel" and then follow the "spoke" inward to see the events of different peoples and countries along that time.

Think of it like a clock. At 12 o'clock, you have creation with the first man, Adam. At 6 o'clock, you have the birth of Christ. Everything to the right (12 - 6 o'clock) is B.C. (4000 B.C. to the birth of Christ). Everything to the left (6 - 12 o'clock) is A.D. (the birth of Christ to 2000 A.D. ). So the timeline is divided evenly between B.C. and A.D.

The timeline is color-coded, based on the descendants of Noah's sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) . This is helpful for putting things into perspective as peoples "scattered over the earth". Another nifty feature is the index. Look up a person or event on the index and it will give you the year to search for.

It is interesting to look up one person or event and see at a glance what was happening in other parts of the world at the same time. My daughters and I looked for familiar Biblical names and then read what else was going on during the world. We saw that Noah's father died soon before the flood. We read over the "happenings" during the time of Queen Esther. We compared the time of Cleopatra and Marc Antony with Biblical events during the same years.

So what did my kiddos think? My 7 year old was too young to fully grasp the concept. My 10 year old liked the idea of it, but was disappointed that most of the people she was interested in weren't included. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by it myself. I think this would be most beneficial for teens to adults. (maybe 13+).

About the Free Download of the Holy Land Interactive Map - This map shows the Holy Land base map, within a 700 mile radius of Jerusalem. You click on the time frame that you would like to see and it overlays it on the base map. These include the time of Abraham, time of Moses, 1020 BC, 605 BC, 4 BC and modern day. Each time frame is color coded, so you can place all of them on the base map at the same time, if you would like. Or one at a time for a more convenient, in-depth look.

About the Free Download of the Digital Timeline - This can be of great help. It breaks the timeline down into 3 frames, allowing you to zoom in on particular sections. I think this is very helpful for several reasons. The print on the hardcopy timeline is tiny. You might not want to pull the timeline out, when you can quickly pull up the digital one. And you are allowed to make 20 copies of a blown-up section to share in a class setting.

What I Like:
You can view 6000 years on one timeline. It includes Biblical figures and events, not just secular. It is based on a young earth time frame. No evolution or millions of years mentioned. Events are separated by country/peoples. The index is very helpful.

What I Don't Like:
I prefer a straight-line timeline, finding this circular approach a bit difficult to adjust to (but acknowledge that including all this information on a straight-line would make for a VERY long line). Many of the events included aren't ones that I would likely go looking for; whereas many of the items I would like to see aren't on there. But again, no timeline includes everything.

Note: For more information on whys and hows of this project, check out these 2 informative sites. I STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT YOU READ THESE FAQ PAGES, to help you make an informed decision.

To read more reviews of this product, click here.

Disclaimer: I received this product 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.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Educaching - A Review


Product: EduCaching GPS based curriculum for grades 4-8

Company: SDG Creations

Price: $32

Where to buy:

Brief Overview:

Combine the fun of a GPS treasure hunt with the learning experience of several included lessons plans to get your student up and outside, and excited about learning.

In-Depth Look:

Jason Hubbard, a 5th grade educator, was fascinated when he discovered geocaching. In case you are not familiar with geocaching, here is a brief explanation from their site:

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.

Mr. Hubbard
quickly realized that the hunts could center around learning. He developed this manual so that he and other teachers could do just that. The manual includes information, ideas, lessons and tools to equip a teacher to get their students out of the classroom while still learning . You can see a detailed view of how the lessons align with the national standards. And you can check out some sample lessons here.

The manual is just over 100 pages. You can order a printed version or as an instant download to save on shipping. I received the instant download, but printed it for my own convenience.

The sections are as follows:

Section 1: Teachers Training - This section explains the gps (global positioning system), geocaching, and the educaching materials.

Section 2: Lesson Plans - This section explains the set-up of the lesson plans and includes three different difficulty levels. It also shows how each lesson complies with the National Standards List.

Section 3: Field Sheets - This section includes a worksheet for each lesson, a map for the teacher and a map for the student.

Section 4: Acquiring GPS - This section covers ways to fund buying a GPS. It is mainly geared for school teachers and includes topics such as fundraisers and grant writing.

Section 5: Beyond the Basics - A nice way to sum it all up; this section includes some extra ideas of ways to have fun. Some of them are starting an educachinig club and gps drawing.

We picked one of the beginner lessons: "What Should We Bring to our Picnic". The plan was to hide picnic baskets of various types of foods/drinks. Later, the students could identify possible combinations using lists, arrays and tree diagrams. I decided to instead cut out pictures of foods/drinks and enclose them in sandwich bags.

We quickly realized that this wasn't something we could accomplish in our backyard. So we headed off to our church parking lot and grounds. So lesson #1 - pick a large area to hide the educaches. Once there, we soon realized that it was quite overcast and that we weren't able to get as great of a satellite reception as we had hoped. So lesson #2 - pick a sunny clear day for your educaching. (Note: We were using a GPS app on our I-phone. But you can buy a high-sensitivity GPS for around $100 that will work much better on a cloudy day.)

It took us a good bit of time to figure out the accuracy and range of the GPS, the layout and area of the grounds, and to make a plan of the best way to hide the items. Thankfully, the church has a playground. So our girls didn't mind the wait very much. So lesson #3 - Schedule in a good chunk of time for prep work.

Once we had a plan, we began hiding the baggies. 3 for each girl (2 containing the food pictures. And 1 containing a special prize as their reward for a job well done.) We wrote down the locations on a piece of paper to later hand to our 10 and 7 year olds. During this time, the girls played on the playground so they wouldn't see where we were hiding the caches.

Next we gathered up the girls and handed the GPS over to them. With a brief tutorial from their Daddy, my 10 year old had the basic idea of what was expected. We showed them which way to walk if they wanted the longitude to go up and down. And which way to go for the latitude to change. And sure enough, they walked around and figured it out and found all the caches.

My daughters loved it, especially the 10 year old. It took a good deal of planning and prep. But I think it was a great way to spend an afternoon. Why? Because....
1. They gained familiarity with how to use a GPS.
2. They learned a little about how the satellite reception works and how the weather affects it.
3. They practiced following directions.
4. It was a great teamwork effort.
5. It gave them a sense of adventure - Treasure Hunting.
6. It gave them a sense of accomplishment - doing a "grown-up thing" on their own.
7. It was an outdoors, fresh air and sunshine kind of activity.

What I Like:
It is very affordable.
It is very user-friendly with detailed explanations.
It is fun and educational and gets the classroom "outside".
It inspires all sorts of ideas in addition to the ones listed. The possibilites are endless.

What I Don't Like:
It does require a good deal of time up-front before the kids can start hunting. It also requires a rather large area and clear weather. And of course, if you don't already have a GPS, it will require an upfront investment (about $100 for the high sensitivity models that will work much better on a cloudy day, than our I-phone app did)...unless you are lucky enough to borrow one.

Disclaimer: I received this product 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, October 11, 2009

Guardian Angel Publishing Bookstore - A Review

Product: Various e-books

Company: Guardian Angel Publishing

Price: PDF e-book - $5
CD of e-book - $9.95 (+s/h)
Printed book - $10.95 (+s/h)
DVD Book Video - $10.95 (+s/h) - Selected Titles
Apple's I-Tunes I-Kidz play - $2.99 - Selected Titles

Where to Buy: GAP

I received 5 e-books from Guardian Angel Publishing to review as part of the TOS crew.

From their website: " GAP eBook downloads, eBooks on CDs, full color Print books 8.5x8.5 inches, and book video DVDs are based on the fundamental concept of using art, music and special activities to captivate the preschool and primary child's attention in order to instill a Christian and healthy attitude of learning, sharing and caring. " I am an automatic fan of any publishing company devoted to sharing Christian values through children's literature. And books that also teach a lesson along the way, either a moral or an educational one, are an added bonus. I am a firm believer that children learn and retain more through a well-written story than they will from a textbook.

I am not a big fan of e-books. I have come around to reading them for informational purposes. But not for entertainment (i.e. - storybooks). So I wouldn't have chosen to receive the books in e-book format. I also wouldn't want to print them out, as it just wouldn't have the same feel to me. This format must appeal to some costumers, though, since it is available in this format. Possibly in a classroom setting. I would, however, love to have quite a few of the GAP's books in the printed format. At best guess, they have around 100 titles available. The books are geared for ages 0-12 and are available in several categories.

Guardian Angel has some free e-books on their website. I recommend them to help you get a feel for their products. Most of the books for sale also have a sample page and some have a SneakPeek book trailer (which is really neat).

Several of the authors and illustrators have won awards for the books. You can check it out in more detail on this page.


by Susan J. Berger. Illustrated by Eugene Ruble

This was an informational book about what causes earthquakes, the probability and magnitude of one, the damage and dangers, ways to prepare, and much more. The book contains charts, maps and interesting factoids (such as "The biggest number of earthquakes happen in the Ring of Fire"). It helps children feel empowered by including ways for them to prepare (they can keep a flashlight by their bed) and ways for them to deal with the fear in an actual situation (they can take deep breaths and count when the adrenalin is kicking in). This book has a great craft idea, some experiments and a emergency kit packing list. But the author is sensitive to the suggested age range of 6-9 years old and keeps it light with some humor thrown in. For example, the author suggests that you replenish the supplies in your emergency kit every 6 months...and while you are it, have a party because you just lived through 6 months without an emergency.

The book has lots of information, ideas, facts, and things to do. It would make a wonderful unit study on Earthquakes. I found this book very informative and helpful. A lot of the tips would be useful in any number of emergencies and natural disasters. I printed out the emergency packing list for our family's use.


Maybe We are Flamingos by Safari Sue Thurman. Illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier

This is a cute little story about how we sometimes don't feel like we fit in. Our reasons may vary: we feel like we are too short, too tall, too chubby, too thin. We wish our eyes were brown or we wish they were blue. We wish our hair was brown or we wish it was blonde. Or in the case of Flora and Fernando, they wonder why they aren't pink like all of the other flamingos. They fear that since they are different than everyone else, they might be asked to leave the flock. Once their mom explains the color difference, young readers will get a short science lesson in a flamingo's diet and how that affects their coloring. The baby flamingos then begin drawing hilarious and adorable pictures of how they might look if they ate other foods, such as tacos and pineapple.

This book is recommended for ages 3-9. It was my 10 year old's favorite of the five books.


Gifts from God written by Cynthia Reeg. PhotoArt by MarySue Roberts

The author believes that God surrounds us each day with wondrous gifts...simple, joyous, loving gifts. This book is her list of just some of these simple gifts.

Each page has an adorable and beautiful photograph of a child in a nature setting. One side has a Bible verse and the other side mentions a gift from God. It is a simple little book that should be enjoyable to the younger age group...maybe 3-5 year olds. The verses would be good choices for the older age group to memorize. The photographs will be enjoyed by all ages.


Hamster Holidays - Noun and Adjective Adventures
written by Cynthia Reeg. Artist - Kit Grady

Hamster Holidays is a cute way to introduce nouns and adjectives to the younger age group (maybe 5-7 years old). All nouns in the story are printed in blue. All adjectives are printed in red. What a clever idea. The child is painlessly introduced to the concept by simply observing the colors in the cute little story.

Each page introduces a "holiday" in the hamster's "world". It then describes in silly rhyme-form how some of the hamsters celebrate. For example, on February 15th, the hamsters enjoy Stick Horse Day. Spotty Lotty celebrates by riding an orange horse with blue spots all around. There is a predictability to each page. such as Spotty Lotty always having some sort of spots all around, no matter what the celebration may be. Younger children love this type of repitition.

For anyone that is not a big fan of Halloween, I want to point out that October 28th is "Monster Madness Day".

In the back of the book, you will find a study guide, a noun match-up worksheet, an adjective crossword puzzle, a story puzzle, and ideas for more practice.

The suggested age is 5-12. This was my 7 year old's favorite book. But it was too young for my 10 year old.


The Sum of our Parts: No Bones About It

Written by Bill Kirk. Illustrations by Gene Ruble

I will say up front that this book was my favorite. I can truly see my children learning the names and locations of the bones using this book.

Starting from our toes and working up to our head, each page has a poem for a particular bone. The poems are short and simple, and several are humorous. You will find a drawing of the bone, as well as a drawing of how it relates to the body...for example, a picture of the kneecap and then a picture of the kneecap on the leg. The bones are animated, with cute little eyes and smiles. The skull is a "little less than cute". But let's face it, there is nothing pretty about a skull...even with a smile.

Each page has a factoid. Lots of interesting tidbits are included and could easily lead to a unit study on the skeleton or even the whole body, as exercise and diet are mentioned.

The back of the book has a worksheet for the student to write in the bone names.

The suggested age range is 8-13. I think my 7 year old could learn the bone names from the poems. But the factoids are more in depth and technical and, as such, are more for the upper age range.

Want more reviews. Check here.

Disclaimer: I received this product 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, October 9, 2009

Sarah's Wish - A book review


Product: Sarah's Wish - a novel

Author: Jim Baumgardner

Price: $9.99 (Free s/h)

Where to buy:

Brief Overview:
The first in a three-book series, written by Jim Baumgardner, Sarah's Wish is a Christian historical fiction novel. It is set in 1858 in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

In-Depth Look:

Jim Baumgardner's novel, Sarah's Wish, is a historical fiction novel. It is set in Ohio during the late 1800s. Reading this book is a history lesson all in itself. Young readers will experience slavery, the Underground Railroad, travel on riverboats, apothecaries, and the Orphan Train. They will expand their vocabulary with "dated slang" such as cut shines, hatchel, mudsills and slantindicular. Children will be exposed to different classes of people from the sophisticated plantation owner to the back-woods granny to the slave longing to be free. When asked why he decided to write about history in fiction instead of non-fiction, the auther stated "telling the facts within the framework of historical fiction brings it to life." I agree whole-heartedly. My daughters and even I learn and retain so much more from reading a "living book" than we ever have from a textbook.

In addition to the history lesson, the novel is a Christian work. Young readers will learn about faith in God, waiting on God's timing, the value of honesty, and a man's right to be free. Sarah and several other characters in the story have a strong relationship with God that strengthens them during difficult times and leads them during confusing times.

Besides the benefits mentioned above; it is in fact, a good story. It has strong characters, a good plot, moral lessons, and unexpected twists and turns. After a tragic event at the start of the book, Sarah must find her way during the challenges that lie ahead. I won't disclose the tragedy but it is the reason for Sarah's wish. And the rest of the novel leads her on her journey to make this wish a reality.

If you enjoy this book, you will have two more books in the series waiting on you. A fourth book is planned. If you prefer to listen to the novel, the book includes instructions to download an audio version.

As an added bonus, the author will autograph your book. I just love autographed copies. So I greatly appreciated this extra "touch".

The author also has a free newsletter that he sends via e-mail. It has interesting facts about Sarah's books, but also about American history. You will find the link to sign up on this page.

Note: I feel I should mention that my daughters had a hard time getting through the first two chapters. The chapters were "less than cheery" and introduced several characters during a short amount of time. But by chapters 3 and 4, we were very much "into the story" and eager to see what would happen next. So if you find this to be the case with your youngsters, encourage them to wait it out a bit. It WILL be worth it.

Want to read more reviews? Click here.

Disclaimer: I received this book 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.