Sunday, October 26, 2008

One2Believe Nativity Set

Normally, I'm resistant to early displays of Christmas, which are
usually more a display of commercialism than the true meaning of
Christmas. What's with the 8ft snowmen that start donning the shelves
of retail stores in July? However, I had a welcome taste of Christmas
in October upon the arrival of my next review item, a nativity set
from One2Believe.

Gone are the days of the no-touch nativities. Made of durable PVC
plastic, this adorable nativity set is made to be loved and enjoyed by
children over the years. In addition to a sturdy stable, figures
included are: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, a manger, three wise men, two
angels, two shepherds, two sheep, a camel, a donkey, a palm tree and a
bale of hay.

I showed this set to both adults and kids and found the results to be
quite entertaining. "It's too Anglo-Saxon," was the first adult
comment received. "Poor Mary!" exclaimed the women when they saw the
proportion of Baby Jesus to Mary. Proportions were further discussed
when it was noted that the donkey was awfully small to be lugging a
very pregnant young woman to Bethlehem. No wonder adults don't play
with toys – they are too busy being analytical rather than engaging
their imagination. The only issue the adults noted that would actually
affect playability was the fact that Joseph was a little wobbly on his
feet. Wouldn't you be if your wife just gave birth to the Messiah?!
Perhaps this set is more realistic than these adults thought. Next,
let's bring the intended recipients of this toy, the children.

Now, my kids are ages 9 and 11, both at least half way to adulthood.
As a result, they had some of the same adult comments. However, the
analysis was quickly ditched for giggles over the smiling camel and
the donkey whose eyes were popping out. I think the donkey is just as
amazed as Joseph. And then it happened - my half-adults started
playing. They played nearly 20 minutes until it was time to rush out
the door for church. The next day we had seven young guests, ages
8-13, in our home. I had set out the nativity to see what attention
it would get. When the kids spotted this comical nativity set, it was
soon put into action.

Obviously the adults don't know anything. This
set is a child-pleaser! I can only imagine how it would light up the
faces of even younger children.

One2Believe has made a nativity that will last years and years. It
can be displayed for little hands to use during free play or used in a
more structured setting as a visual aid for teaching the Christmas
story. It would be a wonderful choice for a gift for the little
people in your life as well as a donation to any church nursery or
Sunday school room. You can make your purchase at One2Believe
for $24.99. Be sure to check out their other Biblical sets and
characters. Let the adults keep their fragile display sets and give
this welcoming set to kids of all ages to keep the true meaning of
Christmas alive.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Review of Homeschool Library Builder (website)

I have yet to meet a homeschooler that is not a bibliophile. This often leads to a condition known as MBTS (More Books Than Shelves), yet we are still in search of... more reading treasures. With so much book buying, every bit of savings counts. Everyone knows about the large online suppliers, but there is new guy in town that may fulfill part of your book addiction, er… needs.
Homeschool Library Builder is a new site that stocks quality new, used, and out-of-print living books common to homeschoolers’ shelves. The site is run by two homeschooling moms who understand your needs and budgets. Their love of children's literature has led to a desire to help others have an affordable at-home library. You’ll find 25+ categories for browsing their collection of titles listed at various prices. A really nice feature is the ability to search for titles used in some of the popular literature-based curricula, i.e.Ambleside, Beautiful Feet, Five in a Row, Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace and Veritas Press. These categories are further broken down in the various levels. As a Sonlight user, I really appreciated this time-saving feature. Each title listing includes the reading level, type (i.e. hardcover, softcover, ex-library), condition (good – new), cost, and quantity available.
Aside from helping homeschool families by providing affordable books, HSLB provides other ways to assist not only homeschoolers, but those in need as well. If you have a home-grown homeschooling product, you can advertise for FREE at their HSLB Marketplace. What a great way to help homespun businesses spread the word about new products. Additionally, HSLB is currently extending a helping hand by donating proceeds from the purchase of books under the Operation Hurricane category to aid recent hurricane victims. Wow!
Furthermore, they have a free membership program that allows you to earn points for purchases and referrals. Each dollar spent earns one Book Point and each referral earns you 15 Book Points. For every 15 Book Points, $1 will be placed in your account to be used towards…more books! Shipping is also reasonable ($4.50 for a $25 order) and utilizes the cost-savings media mail
The inventory changes often as the owners do the scrounging for you to find both popular and out-of-print quality titles. If you can’t find a particular title, you may put in a request and they will try to obtain it for you. This is sure to be a site to bookmark and check back often, especially before you purchase from one of the impersonal big guys.

A bin sale is currently in progress with categories in the $5, $3, $2 and $1 range. I suggest all bargain hunters head on over to Homeschool Library Builder. With all the money you’ll save, you’ll be able to purchase some new shelves to store your literary treasures. Or maybe instead of shelves you can buy…more books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When Opportunity Knocks, Dissect and Eat It

My husband has creatively found a way to justify his football watching by making a party of it for the family. Over the last several weeks, we’ve had a casual gathering of homeschool families who are invited to just stop in during the game.

We received a phone call from some expected participants that their arrival would be delayed because they had just witnessed a deer being hit by a car and were awaiting approval to claim the deer for meat. Some may be a bit queasy at the thought of collecting road kill, but venison is actually quite tasty and in abundance in this area. Seeing a deer in the road or in your yard munching your hostas is not uncommon, even in more populated areas. Hunting is a necessity in the area to keep the deer population in control. Claiming a just-struck deer for meat isn't all that uncommon.

Some of the men parted from the football game to help get the deer to a processor and returned shortly thereafter with a lovely prize…the heart.

Where else would you hear, “Children, come to the kitchen to dissect a still warm heart!” on a Sunday afternoon than in a homeschooling home? The kids, ages 8-13, gathered in our kitchen to have the functions of the heart explained to them.

There was a variety of reactions...

from the disgusted,

to the amazed,

but it was educational nonetheless.

Now, homeschoolers are some of the most resourceful people I know. Whether we were forced into homeschooling by a bad school situation or knew that would be the path we’d take early on, we tend to be a group that looks at each situation from a multitude of angles. Everything is a learning opportunity, which we ourselves are responsible for seizing. We don’t take football Sundays off, either.

Next Sunday the children will learn more about our food supply, while they eat venison chili.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress All-in-one Curriculm

A fellow Crew member is offering an October giveaway of the Pilgrim's Progess All-in-one Curriculum. For your shot to win, click the graphic below:


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Review of

Have you ever needed a bit more information on a relatively simple topic to round out your lesson and decided to do a quick Google? After putting just a few words of phrases into the search box, presto...immediately 2,563,567 of the closest matches are returned. Hmm, perhaps you need to narrow down your search. A quick add of a few more words in the search box narrows it down to a lean 976,938. Even if your search does yield more defined results, browsing through the content takes time. If your children are doing the browsing, appropriate content is even more concerning.

Elaine Taylor, a teacher for over 40 years and the author of, understood the need to spend less time looking for resources and more time teaching. HelpMe2Teach is an accumulation of over 7 years of Internet searches with over 2200 links on various topics of interest to teachers and homeschooling parents. The directory of websites is categorized nicely in a Table of Contents, viewable only to the subscriber. At the time of this review, the main categories included:

  • Academic Benchmarks and Standards
  • Animals
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Character
  • Christian Stories and Bible Studies
  • Computers
  • Cooking for Kids
  • For Teachers/Parents Only
  • Foreign Languages
  • Health and Safety
  • Holidays
  • Jewish Curriculum
  • Kites
  • Language Arts
  • Lapbooking
  • Magazines/Students/Student News
  • Mathematics
  • Media
  • Multi-Subject Sites
  • Music and Dance
  • Olympics
  • Preparing for College
  • Primarily Primary
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Special Pay Sites
  • Specialty Topics

Most topics were further broken down into subtopics to assist in the search. Each website listed has a brief description of the content. An easily viewable coding system is used in each description to rank approximate grade level of the content. Levels are categorized as Primary, Elementary, Secondary, and Teacher. Subscription lengths and rates vary, as follows:

1 year @ $29.95
3 months @ $15.95
1 month @ $9.95
3 days @ $4.95

Note: Until December 1st, there is a buy-one-get-one-free special for 1-year memberships. You’ll get two years for $29.95. Coupon code: TOS


My initial impression after my first visit was that the site was fairly easy to navigate and well-categorized. Using the Table of Contents was straight-forward and the links were categorized in an appropriate manner. I thought the coding system used for the level of content was very helpful. I did not discover any dead links, but inquired about site maintenance. I was informed that regular checks are made for dead links and new information resulting from ongoing searches routinely added. The look of the site was clean, free of unnecessary graphics and advertising.

On my second visit, I was in search of specific information. I typed "Mayans", my son's current history topic, in the search box and came up with nothing. "Aztecs"and "Incans" My daughter is currently interested in the Holocaust. Again, nothing. I followed with "writing transcripts" and the results were general writing instruction sites, even though I did put the phrase in quotations to help narrow the search. A few days later, my daughter (11) was in need of a website that referenced different macroscopic pond life. She was able to easily navigate HelpMe2Teach on her own to conduct her search. While many sites were returned with a search of "pond life", none actually had the words "pond life" in the basic description. Instead, the search function listed all sites listed under the category of Life Science. My last test to the search box was a topic that another reviewer was disappointed to not find on the site, but that I had actually found just browsing the categories, Dr. Seuss. While the site was indeed among the categorized sites, searching for the words "Dr. Seuss" did not yield results.

While possible that some of the topics searched did not have links to find, this was not always the case. All in all, I found the search function to be very unreliable and frustrating. It was much easier to find information by using the Table of Contents. My suggestion would be to avoid the search box and search from the listed categories.


The list of categories was certainly not exhaustive, but it is to be understood that this is a work in process. It has already been an evolving site within a very short amount of time in response to reviewer feedback. Browsing through the links listed, I noticed that some of the links were from the same website. I would have much preferred to have a different website for each listing, since once I find a particular site I tend to browse within to discover all that it has to offer. Others, however, may prefer having a direct link to exact information.

Many of the categories and sites seemed to be the result of researching for classroom teaching and topics. There is a rather large list for Holidays, a common classroom topic. The topic of Kites had its own category, with 13 sites underneath it. Therefore, my impression was that the original target for the site was classroom teachers, which is not surprising given the author's background. Being a rather eclectic homeschooler, I use a lot of interactive sites (e.g. free educational audio and video downloads, computer-spoken language translations, customized spelling games) rather than those with worksheets or lesson plans. While I was still able to find some great websites that fit my criteria, the information currently contained on this site would appeal more to those who trend towards traditional schooling, unit studies, worksheets, subject-related crafts and display projects.

I did want to mention that several of the reviewers were disappointed that the site was absent of Christian content. Bible study and character training are important subjects in many homeschools. After the first few reviews mentioned the lack of content in this area, the categories of Bible stories and Character Development were soon added. While it is important to realize that perspective will largely determine value and usefulness of resources, I admire the willingness to be flexible and listen to what people desire. It is my understanding that suggested links are also welcome. Additionally, subscribers who purchase an annual subscription may request a topic not already covered and the website author will conduct a search for you. This is a fabulous value-added service.

Level of Value

Probably the greatest strengths of HelpMe2Teach are its safety, customer service and potential. Knowing that all of sites had been preapproved for content, I felt safe allowing my kids to browse the site. Furthermore, the response to email inquiries and suggested changes by reviewers was impressive. I even had to revise my initial draft of this review because some of the things I had commented on had already been changed prior to my review completion. The author is very open to suggestions to create a useful tool for the homeschooling community. In the days of impersonal and unresponsive customer service, this is absolutely wonderful! While this site has not met its full potential, it might be something to keep an eye on as it develops.

For the seasoned homeschooler and Internet user with an exploding Favorites list, HelpMe2Teach will probably be underwhelming. Those just starting out, inexperienced with Internet searches, or more traditional school oriented may find it valuable. In this case, I would recommend first starting out with either the trial or 1-month subscription. You will be able to better determine if the site fits your personal needs and likely be able to find a number of new and useful resources for the long-term that justify the cost. To subscribe, please visit For more reviews and opinions on this product, please visit The TOS Homeschool Crew Blog

Update! Want to try before you buy? HelpMe2Teach is offering a free month to check out their site. Visit the TOS Freebie page for information.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Homeschooling ABCs

Homeschooling ABCs is a product that I'm am currently reviewing, but I thought you'd like a preview from the one of the co-authors for the class. Being a support group coordinator and running into many new homeschoolers joining our group, I'm excited to check out this class. I would love to be able to recommend a resource like this to new homeschoolers. I'll be posting my opinion in the future.

5 Essential Ingredients to Homeschooling Success

By Terri Johnson – co-author of HomeschoolingABCs
Click here for more information!
– an online class starting this month for brand new homeschoolers

We’ve all seen it… or, at least, heard about it… the homeschooled child who wins the geography bee, or the one who graduates at the age of 15, or the one who excels in musical accomplishments…

Now, obviously, a student does not have tobe homeschooled in order to accomplish one of the feats above, nor does every homeschooled child excel in such notable ways. However, every homeschooling parent desires for success in teaching their children at home and launching them into the world to become all that God has intended for them to be.

The flip side to this statement is that no one wants to fail when it comes to teaching their children at home. So,what are the five necessary ingredients to homeschooling success?

The first one is the desire to foster a closer relationship with each of your children and your kids with one another. If you don’t want to spend more time together and deepen these relationships(or, at least, want to want to spend more time together), then homeschooling may not be the best choice for you. However, I am sure that you have heard it said before that at the end of the day, no one is going to say, “I wish that I had spent more time at work… or by myself… or with my canary…” No, the universal regret that aging and dying people declare is their sadness over not spending enough time with their loved ones. Teaching your children at home is an amazing opportunity to spend more time with your dearest loved ones and have no regrets.

The second ingredient to homeschooling success is a teachable spirit on the part of the parent. This is essential because, like it or not, you will learn so much more teaching your own children than you ever did in school the first time around. So, you might as well like to learn.

On that same note, the third essential ingredient to successful homeschooling is creating a home environment that is conducive to learning. This may show itself differently in each of our homes, but the result is the same – a place where kids can learn and enjoy it.

A home that is conducive to learning may have quiet and cozy reading nooks, bookshelves crammed with great books, a listening corner complete with headphones and a beanbag chair, uncluttered smooth surfaces for writing, stacks of coloring/activity books and colored pencils, a place to gather together and talk about the day’s events. You get the idea… Create centers in your home that make learning fun and accessible.

The fourth ingredient for a successful homeschool is 2 hours of your time to devote to your children’s studies. Truly, when the one-on-one teaching method is employed in your home, you do not need all day in order to get things done. In fact, a child in K-2 grades might be finished with her schoolwork in as few as 45 minutes (of course, that probably does not include the time that you spend reading together because who can get enough of that!).

At the other end of the spectrum, you might not need that much time with your middle schooler or high schooler either, because they become such independent learners by this age. The kids that will need the majority of that time that you have designated for school – those full 2 hours – would be your students in 3-6 grades as math and grammar assignments might get a little more involved.

The final ingredient for homeschooling success is a library card. That’s right! With access to a huge roomful of books, a world of learning opportunities is at your doorstep. Let’s say that your child is interested in insects or flowers, electricity or magnetism, transportation or inventions… check out as many books as he can devour on the subject and then some more. Watch your child light up with the delight of learning.

With these 5 essential ingredients incorporated into your homeschool, you will experience successful learning in the lives of your children, because this is the measure of success – children that love to learn!

Enjoy those learning moments…

Terri Johnson

Co-author of Homeschooling ABCs –an online class starting this month for brand new homeschoolers. Don't let self-doubt, or lack of experience, rob you of the best first year possible! Sign up for class at: Sign up!

Friday, October 10, 2008

More Reviews Coming Up!

I am very excited about some of the products that I will be able to review for you all very soon.

Within a few days, I will be posting about www., a subscription website that helps homeschoolers find websites and information. I have been seeing advertisements from this company over the last several months and wondered what it was all about. Now I know...and you will too!

Several other products are on their way. Once I've had a chance to use them for a couple of months, I will share all my thoughts with you. I am really excited to try some of these products out. Some I have never heard of before and others I was already contemplating added to our school day. Some of the next products in line are: Peterson Handwriting, All About Spelling and the Homeschooling ABCs course by KnowledgeQuest. If you are looking for information on any of these products, check back and I'll share my perspective.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Fall Special

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is a wonderful read for Christian homeschoolers. They always make sure you get a big bang for your buck, too! Detailed below is their latest promotion:
I wanted to tell you all about The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Fall
Special. You can get two years of the magazine, 6 fabulous physical
gifts (no downloads!) worth over $120, plus the current issue of The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine that is full of ideas for the new school
year, so you start receiving your magazine in a flash!

It really is one of their best deals ever and you don't want to miss
out. In fact, they've got a really cute Homeschooling with Heart tote
bag (valued at $13.95) for the first 1000 to subscribe. About half of
them are gone, but you should still be able to get one if you hurry!
(They will remove the info from the subscription page when the bags
are all gone.) The total value is over $212, but you receive it all
for only $39 - 50% off of cover price! Plus subscribers get their
online monthly Teacher's Toolbox which focuses on a different topic
each month, giving you words of encouragement, hands-on teaching
ideas, book recommendations, field trip ideas, and a bonus download item.

Here is a link to check it out further:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cute Photography Tricks

My daughter had a fun idea during a recent visit to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. All you need is a steep hill and a little bit of patience. Make sure your camera settings are on landscape. Otherwise, you won't have everyone in focus.

This picture was taken in a bit of a hurry and I honestly didn't think it was going to turn out. I was pleasantly surprised when I uploaded it to my computer when we arrived home.

You could have a lot of fun creating different variations. I wish we had another party to take the pic so my daughter could have been in it too. It would have made a cute Christmas card photo.

More Boys, Please!

My son is feeling a bit outnumbered lately. Many of our closest friends have only girls in the family. Loud girls. Singing girls. Giggly girls. He's not taking well to his lone boy status. This picture was taken during a carpooling trip to camp...after about 6 rounds of the camp theme song.

His misery is balanced with plenty of boy friends, complete with sword fights, cowboy movies and fort building.
We keep telling him that in a few years he'll appreciate girls more. For now, I consider it character training. Who needs a special curriculum when you have a sister?!