Friday, February 26, 2010

Graphics Toolbox

In a few days, I will be writing a review about a program called Graphics Toolbox. I have been playing around with the program. I designed the new blog banner on my site using a template on Graphics Toolbox.

Want to learn more?
Graphics Toolbox

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beehive Reader 1 - A Review

Product: Beehive Reader 1

Price: $19.95

Author: Marie Rippel (with Renee LaTulippe)

Where to Purchase: AAS

Other Products Available:
All About Spelling
All About Homophones

Brief Overview:
A phonics-based Level 1 Reader written to correlate with the All About Spelling Level 1. This book, just released in 2009, has already won the MoonBeam Children's Book Award.

In-Depth Look:
When I opened the package, I was immediately in love with this book. It is a hardback, country-denim blue. Such nice quality. And when you open it up, it is so inviting. Just makes you want to sit down, curl up with a blanket and read it cover to cover. It is that charming.

The pages are a dull white, almost gray, for a non-glare effect. Making it easier on the eye. The words are underlined with light dots, helping young readers keep on track.

And the cute! Every page has a picture to go along with the story. Adorable pictures that make the stories even more inviting. Kudos to the illustrators: Donna Goeddaeus and David LaTulippe. The illustrations are black and white (again easier on the eye), adding charm without being distracting.

I gave this book to my 7 year old daughter. She immediately "befriended it". It went everywhere with her: upstairs, downstairs, to dinner, in the car, to bed. She has read the book cover-to-cover. Her favorite story is "Ten Wishes". Ten kids wish a king well and in return each receive a wish. The wishes are quite far-fetched, which makes it all the more fun.

My 7yo wished the pictures were in color. But I appreciate the simpleness of the black and white. I think it adds a classic touch.

The book is 160 pages and has 10 stories. It correlates with All About Spelling Level 1, but can be used independently.

This book is far above most readers. This feels like a "real-book" and therefore, is more likely to hold a child's interest. Reading a "real-book" is a huge confidence booster for my daughter.

I will include some sample pages at the end.

To read other crew members' reviews, click here.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Math Mammoth - A Review

Product: Math Mammoth (Multiplication 1/Clock)

Price: $5.00/ $3.50

Author: Maria Miller

Where to buy:

Other products available:
Worktexts by topics (Blue Series)
Full curriculum (Light Blue Series)
Worksheets by grade (Golden Series)
Worksheets by topics (Green Series)

Brief Overview:
Multiplication: 2nd-3rd grade, concept, word problems and memorization system.

Clock: 1st-3rd grade, read the clock, elasped time and word problems.

In-Depth Look:

Maria Miller, a homeschooling mom, is the author of all of the Math Mammoth books. She offers very affordable math books that can be instantly downloaded. Her goal is to teach in a way that your student can really understand; the book should be basically self-teaching.

Maria has been doing this since 2003. And she feels confident enough to offer you A LOT of free worksheets to try out(280 pages).

For parents, she recommends the blue or light blue series. The golden and green series are intended to be used by parents or instructors knowledgeable enough in math to explain the concepts.

Maria Miller allowed the TOS Crew members to choose the products that we thought would be the best fit for our families. I chose "Multiplication 1" and "Clock" for my daughters. They already had some knowledge in these areas. But I felt that they could use a review in some areas and more in-depth study in other areas.

Multiplication 1:

The multiplication book is 100 pages and claims to help you master the times tables. According to the front cover, skills covered are Multiplication Concept, Multiplication on a Number Line, Order of Operations, Word Problems, Guide for Effective Oral Drilling, and Structured Study of the Multiplication Tables.

The workbook is designed to be self-explanatory, even perhaps self-teaching. It follows a step-by-step process, starting at the very beginning of the concept.

Part One describes the concept of multiplication and the order of operations. Part Two is about memorizing the times tables.

Part One starts with groups of the same size, moves on to arrays, then number lines (skip counting). This section uses pictures to help the student visualize the concept of groups and multiplying. Some include the pictures, in others, the child draws them. With some number lines, they are provided. In others, the child draws the "skips". It then demonstrates that it doesn't matter in which order the factors are and that multiplying by zero is always zero. This section uses visuals also. Word problems teach key words such as "each" and "all". Order of operations reminds us to always multiply before adding or subtracting. It also reminds us how helpful it can be to draw pictures about the word problems.

These word problems are more challenging than those in some workbooks. They require more than simply plugging some numbers in. It is a multi-step process. And it requires knowing the order of operation. Here is an example.

Grandpa worked six days to make wooden toys for his grandchildren. The first three days he made 4 toys each day, and the last three days he made 5 toys each day. How many toys did he make in total?
(Days when he made 4 toys x 4 toys) + (Days when he made 5 toys x 5 toys) =

Part Two is for memorizing the times tables. Maria Miller avoids memorizing the tables in order and goes for a more logical approach. Your child will learn the 2's and then the 4's (doubles of those in the 2's). Then 10's , which are easy. Then 5's. Next your child will memorize the 3's and then the 6's (doubles of the 3's). Up next, the 11's (some of which are very easy). Then the 9's, 7's, 8's and 12's (by this point, there is only one new fact to learn). So by starting with the easier ones, the child has less facts to learn by the time he gets to the harder ones. Neat concept, huh?

Maria gives several tips to help your child memorize. She offers a 5-step process for memorizing a times table. And she gives suggestions on structured oral drilling.

Then the workbook goes into the actual tables. Each number has its own lesson. Each lesson has the same basic structure.
Fill in the table.
Random drill practices.
Fill in the blanks.
Grid of times tables learned up to that point.
Some occasional word problems and puzzle corners.

There is also built-in review. The workbook also includes some helpful resources on the internet. They include some games and some multiplication visuals. An answer key is provided at the back of the book.

What did we think of it? I like Ms. Miller's approach. She starts from the ground floor and works her way up, assuming the student has no previous knowledge of the concept. The book uses visuals to illustrate the concept. It uses word problems to give it "real-world" meaning. The concept is described in several different ways. So if your child doesn't grasp it one way, chances are they will understand one of the other ones.

I like that my daughter was able to read the instructions and do the work on her own. She had very few questions. Since she has been exposed to multiplication for some time now, she found the beginning parts to be a bit redundant. But I figured the review wouldn't hurt her; and, this part of the lessons is necessary to a beginner.

I also like the times table grid and the order that the numbers are presented in. It makes it seem less daunting to start with the easier ones such as 5's and 10's and to be able to fill in a huge chunk of the grid before getting to the harder times tables.

I think this is a solid teaching resource. By following Ms. Miller's suggestions, most children should be able to master their times tables once and for all.


The Clock workbook is 58 pages. According to the front cover, skills covered are Telling the Time to the Half-Hour, Time to the Five-Minute Intervals, Time to the Minute, Elasped Time, Calendar, and Changing Time Units.

Maria Miller (a homeschool mom) designed this worktext especially for homeschooling parents. It contains the teaching and the exercises. The lessons are divided into three grade-levels. 1st grade - Reading the clock to the half-hour. 2nd grade - Reading the clock to the five-minute intervals. 3rd grade - Reading the clock to the minute. It is left up the parent's discretion as to when to teach these topics, based on your child's readiness.

Your child will need a practice clock, whether real or pretend, that allows him to turn the clock hands. We used the one on my daughter's wall, since it has a dial on the back that makes turning the hands simple.

Helpful resources on the internet are included. These are all free and may prove beneficial to your child.

The workbook starts with whole and half hours. It introduces just the hour hand first, to keep things simple. By only needing to focus on one hand and two choices (whole or half hour), my daughter figured this section out very quickly. Several pages are devoted to this concept. Your child will look at the clock faces and write out the time: two o'clock, half-past three, etc. She will also figure out elapsed times of a half-hour and a whole hour later.

Next comes the minutes and half hours. This section describes the 5 minute intervals. She will start using the minute hand and the practice clock in this section. She will do several "times" on the clock to observe how time passes and how the minute hand moves, according to the hour. This section includes writing time shorthand (3:20, 5:50, etc), more on the passing of time, and reading the clock faces in 5-minute intervals. Your child will get lots of practice in this section.

After this comes, AM and PM. It explains where the terms came from and what they mean. Your child will do several exercises to help him remember which is which. Exercises help him decide if it would be AM or PM when he wakes up, mom watches the evening news, it is nighttime, etc.

More work will be done on the 5-minute intervals and will add in the terms "past" and "till". He will continue practicing writing out the time and using the short way (10 past 8 = 8:10, 20 till 6=5:40, etc.). Then we add in the concept of quarter hours ("a quarter past", "a quarter till").

Lots of review is built in. And the book builds precept upon precept. My daughter progressed nicely using this method. I could see her confidence improving.

In the 3rd grade level, telling time to the minute is explained. The book gets harder as it goes along. The same methods are used to explain this section, including word problems for practice and elapsed times.

The calendar is also introduced (days, day numbers, and months). Lots of word problems give the student practice in navigating his way around a calendar. Examples are...
- Mary goes to a swimming club every Thursday. List here the May dates when Mary goes swimming.
-What day is three weeks after October 25th?
-A summer camp was scheduled to start on July 15th and run for 5 days, but was delayed by one week. When did it start? What was the last day of the camp?

The last section is on converting time units - minutes vs. hours, hours vs. days, days vs. weeks, weeks vs. months, and months vs. years.

The worktext ends with a review and answer key.

What did we think of it? I like the idea of introducing the half-hour and o'clock by using just the hour hand. This simplified it for my daughter and she caught on right away. She kept running to our clock to see what time it was. And was so excited when it happened to be either an o'clock or a half-past, because she could read it.

I like using a practice clock in addition to the clock faces in the workbook. It made it hands-on for my daughter and she liked seeing the clock hands turn. When she saw that the minute hand circles around once for every hour, she was surprised. In her words, "I didn't know it did that." It was an AHA moment.

Like the old saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding". And in this pudding, my daughter is telling time.

One suggestion for the publisher. When the child is writing out the time long-hand, the answer boxes should be much bigger. There was NO WAY my daughter could fit the answer into the boxes. She was frustrated by this and had to squish the answers in wherever possible...under the box, into the next box, etc.

Other comments:
The prices are awesome. They are just as inexpensive as the little workbooks at the department store. Yet, as downloads, they are so much more useful. If I lose the worksheets, I can print them again. If my child really messes up, I can print it again. Need more practice? Print it again. Have more children? Print it again.

For proficient readers, the worktexts should be self-teaching for the most part. This is a big bonus for those parents teaching multi-grades.

The choices are numerous, providing both full curriculums and in-depth studies on individual topics. To see all the choices, look here. For placement tests, try here.

To read the reviews of other crew members, have a look here.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Presidential Penmanship - A Review

Product: Presidential Penmanship Complete Program (BJ Style - similar to Bob Jones Univ. Style) - CD

Price: $39.99

Company: Zeezok Publishing

Where to Purchase:

Other Products Available: The Presidential Penmanship Program is available in 6 handwriting styles. You can buy the complete program for $39.99. Or you can purchase the individual grade levels for $9.99 each. But you will save a bunch by purchasing the complete set.

Zeezok has many other titles in various subjects available.

Brief Overview:

Presidential Penmanship is a supplemental handwriting skills program for first grade through senior high based on writings and quotes of America's founding fathers and presidents. (From back cover)

In-Depth Look:

I do not place a big emphasis on handwriting. I do expect it to be legible. But near perfect? No. So handwriting is not something that I have included in our homeschool curriculum. Once the girls learned their letters, writing was used for just that write.

So doing copywork just for the purpose of improving handwriting wouldn't interest me much. I would consider it little more than busywork. (Just my personal opinion.) But in the past, I have read of families using copywork for other reasons also. Basically, the copywork was one way to fulfill Philippians 4:8 -
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (KJV)

Garbage in, garbage out is so true. And I, personally, don't want my daughters' heads full of garbage, or even twaddle. And so the opposite must also be true. For lack of a better term..."Good stuff in, good stuff out." That is my goal.

And I think that this program will help me expose my youngsters to the "good stuff".

"The Bible is the rock on which this Republic stands" - Andrew Jackson (1st grade)

"He who knows best knows how little he knows." - Thomas Jefferson (2nd grade)

"It is better to be alone than in bad company" - George Washington (3rd grade)

"Important principles may and must be inflexible." - Abraham Lincoln (4th grade)

"Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily but orderly and distinctly." - George Washington's "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior (5th grade)

"The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teaching of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country" - Calvin Coolidge (6th grade)

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month." - Theodore Roosevelt (Jr High)

"A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." - Gerald Ford (Sr High)

So, this is why I love this program. Twaddle-free. My daughters are reading and copying the words of America's Founding Fathers and past Presidents. They are getting a built-in history lesson, straight from the sources that were there when it happened.

About the actual copywork:

Grade 1 and 2 learning manuscript copy 36 quotes.
Grade 3 and 4 learning cursive copy 108 lessons, three times per week for 36 weeks.
Grade 5 copies passages from George Washington's "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior", with an accompanying Scripture. 53 lessons.
Grade 6 has 108 lessons. The last lesson is the Gettysburg Address.
Junior High has 108 lessons. The last lesson is the Declaration of Independence.
Senior High has 108 lessons, including Lincoln and Reagan's Inaugural Addresses.

You can see several pages of the 1st grade italic style here.
Note that the higher grades (after 3rd grade) only give the quote and a space to copy it. They don't have the tracing practice. Also the higher the grade level, the smaller the writing area is (letter height).

My kids don't mind doing this copywork. My 5th grader takes her time and tries to do her very best. I start by reading the quote out loud; then, she tries to put it in her own words. My 2nd grader is learning to stay within the lines, just like she would need to on notebook paper.

To read other reviews, click here.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Book - A Review


Product: The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling

Author: Debra Bell

Price: $20.00

Where to buy: Apologia Press - Resources for the Heart and Mind

Other Products Available:
- Curriculum such as "Around the World in 180 Days" and "Jump In"
- Resources for parents such as "Beyond Survival" and "Reaping the Harvest"
- Tools for parents such as "TranscriptPro Software" and "Transcript Boot Camp"

Brief Overview:

This updated and revised homeschool resource was named "One of the most useful and readable books on homeschooling" by Cathy Duffy in "100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum".

In-Depth Look:

Debra Bell is a former public school teacher. She homeschooled her own four children all the way through high school. She has a degree in Communication Education and English. Mrs. Bell is pursuing a PhD in education psychology. She teaches AP English online at Debra Bell's Home School Resource Center.

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling was sent to me free of charge to read and review for the TOS Crew. I will go ahead and say it right here at the beginning of my review: This is the BEST homeschooling book I have ever read. It is my new FAVORITE.

This book covers every topic imaginable. The first step is to decide that you want to homeschool. The book tells the many advantages of homeschooling. But it also tells the struggles, not sugar-coating the commitment that it will require of you. It also covers special situations , such as single parents, special-needs and working parents.

Mrs. Bell has included a 4-page family worksheet to help you decide if homeschooling is for your family. It will help you evaluate your relationship with your spouse and your children, among other things.

The next big step is choosing a curriculum. A big part of this is determing your child's learning style. Debra goes into great detail about how to determine this. And then tells you the best way to teach to this learning style. I found this to be very interesting and informative. Tons of helpful tips were included. There are 4 categories.
- Actual-Spontaneous Learner
- Actual-Routine Learner
- Conceptual-Specific Learner
- Conceptual-Global Learner

One of my favorite chapters is about using the library. It reminds us of what a wonderful and FREE resource the library is. Debra Bell goes into great detail listing dozens and dozens of books by CATEGORY. Are you looking for a book for your art lesson? Here is one of many she lists.
- Globok, Shirley. The Art of Colonial America (1970) and others. Integrate Globok's books into your history program. OP. Grade level: all.

How about a math book? Just one of many.
- Pappas, Theoni. The Joy of Mathematics (1989). Mathematics the way it ought to be learned! Many titles worth your time. Grade level: 4 - 12.

Another good chapter discusses how to set up a learning environment. Again, so much detail. Books, magazines, items for educational and imaginative play, basic skills materials, music CDs, audio recordings, art supplies, durable toys. etc.

The list just goes on and on and on. I am thrilled to have this book and the wealth of knowledge that it contains.

The resource guide at the back of the book is worth the $20 all by itself. It is 60+ pages! You will find lists of homeschooling organizations and publications, recommended suppliers and products, and academic/athletic contests and competitions.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is great for those new to homeschooling, but also a big asset to those who have been doing it for a while. I have been doing this for 5 years and am learning a lot from this book.

Here is a sample chapter. Here is the table of contents.

To read other crew members reviews, click here.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MathTutor DVDs - A Review


Young Minds Numbers and Counting DVD - $19.99

Basic Math Word Problems DVD - $26.99


Instructor: Jason Gibson
You can read his impressive resume here.

Where to purchase:

Other products available:
Basic Math
Algebra 1
Algebra 2
Algebra Word Problems
Advanced Algebra
Matrix Algebra
Advanced Calculus
Calculus 3
Physics 1
Physics 2
Physics 3
Unit Conversion

Membership: $19.95/month
Includes many special benefits including the ability to view everything the company has ever produced online.

About "Young Minds Numbers and Counting" -
This DVD was too young for my daughters. But we watched it as a family to get a feel for the product. The DVD teaches young children to count from 1 to 10. Your child will also learn animal names and sounds, fruits and vegetables, colors, and machines. It uses a variety of images with classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) playing in the background. The images (photos, video animation) are pretty, colorful and engaging. The music is relaxing and soothing. The DVD has bonus material also...Dot-to-Dot, Picture Puzzles, and Name the Animal. The bonus items are also for younger children. But I admit that I found it enjoyable. It is a pleasant little DVD that is engaging and educational. I would suggest an age range of 1 1/2 - 3 1/2 years old.

The DVD has won numerous awards, including the Dr. Toy Winner of the 10 Best Audio-Video Products.

I like this DVD. It is entertaining and educational.

About "Word Problems" DVD -
8 hours of video covering the ins and outs of Word Problems. It starts with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of whole numbers. It then moves on to adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with decimals. Disc 2 covers adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions. It ends with percents, ratios and proportions.

Host Jason Gibson takes your child step-by-step through solving math word problems. He teaches the key words to look for to determine which action to take...such as the sum for adding, the difference for subtracting, etc. He encourages drawing the problem as best you can. For example, if the question wants to know about 5 rows of 3 cars each...then draw it out. The DVD explains the importance of remembering the units of measurement that you are working with and how to cancel them out.

The DVD is 8 hours long. It starts out very basic and builds block upon block, increasing in difficulty as it goes. If your child has struggled with word problems, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. The first was too easy for my 5th grader, but I heard the instructor mention good points that were a good review and reminder for her.

Mr. Gibson is very thorough. He doesn't take for granted any previous knowledge on the part of your child. He will "take them by the hand" and lead them through each step of solving the word problems. After watching a few examples, it doesn't seem so intimidating anymore. Your child will hopefully begin to see that he really can do this; he really can solve word problems with ease.

There are no bells and whistles in this presentation. No bright colors or animation. Just a man and his marker board. And a thorough explanation of exactly how to solve a word problem.

If your child struggles with word problems, I recommend this video. It is not meant to entertain or amuse, just to teach.

To read other crew members' reviews, click here.

Disclaimer: I received 2 DVDs from free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Kinderbach - A Review


Product: KinderBach

Price: $19.99 monthly / $95.88 annually (Online sessions)(Per family, not per child)
DVD packages also available

Company: KinderBach LLC

Where to Purchase:

Brief Overview:
"KinderBach is about establishing a music foundation for young children. Students learn note reading, rhythm, singing, vocabulary and a variety of other skills which provides them the basis for further education. It’s about much more than just playing the piano! "

In-Depth Review:
Karri Gregor, the founder of KinderBach, is an author, illustrator and music educator. She has an extensive background in music, visual arts and drama. She was raised with a love of music and wanted the same foundation for her children. But when she couldn't find a piano teacher that would take a student younger than 7, she decided to begin teaching her own children.

Later, she started teaching other younger students as well. She would tape the lessons so that those who missed a class could keep up. When Karri's family moved, she lost all of her students. So they had the idea to begin teaching with videos, so that she wouldn't have to worry about losing her students again. And she could also use her interest in the arts to "spice" up the videos.

KinderBach is geared for ages 3 to 7. It uses DVDs, activity books and CDs. It is about more than playing the piano. Children will play the piano. But they will also sing, do puzzles, color, etc.

It uses multiple learning styles to engage the child, hold his interest and help make the lesson sink in. The videos are cute and colorful. They are kept short, since they are geared to very young children.

The songs are catchy. I find myself singing them as they pop in my head during the day. They are also kept short and easy to memorize for younger children.

The worksheets are user-friendly and simple. The hands-on things are great, using cutting, coloring, gluing, etc. I like the visuals to help with retention. For example, Dodi the Donkey lives between the 2 black keys. So your child will make little flashcards to set behind each group of 2 black keys on her piano/keyboard.

Karri is a pleasant hostess on the video sessions. She is likeable and fun to watch. I am confident that your child will enjoy having her has their online piano teacher.

I used this program with my 7 year old daughter (turns 8 this month). At times, she felt the pace moved too slowly. So, I agree that it is for a younger age bracket. I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone older than 7. But there were things about it that she enjoyed. My daughter liked most of the worksheets, the piano time and the songs. She can be heard going about the house singing "Dodi, Dodi, Where will you sleep..."

We set our laptop up near our keyboard, so that we could easily go back and forth between the video lessons and the song playing. If your computer and piano are not near each other, it will be a little more of a back and forth thing, if you do more than one lesson at a time. You can also consider purchasing the DVDs.

If you have younger children (maybe 3-6), I think KinderBach would be a wonderful musical addition in your home. I am very impressed with the quality of it.

On the website, you will find FREE online lessons, a sample e-book, coloring pages and a song download. That is a good place to start.

To read other reviews, click here.

Disclaimer: I received a 3-month membership to free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.