Thursday, December 31, 2009

Practical Jokes for Moms

It wasn't my idea, but I quickly agreed to play along...

With the break for the holidays, I've been setting up quite a few play dates for my kids. This week my son had someone new over, spurred by a mutual interest in Legos. The morning the boys were to get together, the mom asked me if I'd play along with a little joke she was pulling on her son.

She told him they were participating in a half-day math seminar that afternoon. She made him pack up his math book and they were on their way to our house, practicing flash cards on the way. When he arrived, I had the following waiting for him by our kitchen table.

He just sort of paused at the board when he saw it. I can only imagine what was going through his head. The plan was to eat lunch first, then go on to the "seminar". After lunch, our guest whispered to his mom if it would be ok to play for a little while. Her response was, "Now A, do you know why we are here?" He sort of hung his head and said, "I know..."

When she announced he was over to play...and only play...his face looked like it was Christmas morning! He was such a good sport, and very happy to not do math that afternoon.

Then I had a thought. I had no clue the meaning of the formulas I used for the board. Having graduated with an engineering degree, I'm sure I did at one time. I'll need a refresher before my oldest hits calculus in high school. Maybe I'm the one that should be spending the afternoon doing math. I guess the joke was on me!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Strange and Unique Gifts

There are at least a couple each year. You know, the gift that gets numerous comments at the family gathering and is usually followed by, "Where on earth did you find that?" Then there are the gifts that provoke no comment, yet fill your head with thoughts about why the giver thought it might be appropriate for you.

Most gifts our family received this Christmas were right from wish lists or fairly standard. However, two stuck out this year. The first isn't a strange item on its own, but I thought it rather strange as a generic Christmas gift given without explanation to someone who has been happily married for 15 years.

Now, I'm sure Dr. Laura has lots of wonderful advice and I have nothing against her. However, I have to wonder if the giver thinks I'm in a rocky marriage! It may be a great book, but it just makes you wonder if it is perhaps some cryptic message or judgment? Just wondering...but not asking. At least it wasn't a weight loss book.

The second item falls within the unique category...giant marshmallows! What fun!

My son and daughter happily received these, with cocoa and jumbo mugs, from a grandparent. They are pictured with a standard sized coffee mug and mini marshmallows. I had to ask the gifter where they got these mammoth globs of squishy sugar. Unfortunately, it was clear on the other side of the country. However, through my friend named Google, I discovered they can be purchased here. I bet these would be a hit with all ages at winter parties.

What strange and unique Christmas gifts did you receive this year?

Plays, Legos, and Holidays

The last few weeks have been very hectic. I had planned a nice relaxed schedule the beginning of this year, but things never go as planned. Thankfully, our time-sinking activities have all come to a close within 2 weeks of each other. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself yet. I'm sure I'll fill my schedule soon enough though.


My kids went to the FLL (First Lego League) State Championship on Dec 14th. Being a rookie team, their participation was a complete shocker. They did great and earned a 2nd place in "Creative Presentation". That really pleased my daughter, who wrote the skit for the play. I don't have a pic of the trophy, but do have a pic from mid-presentation where strawberries come to life and tell dreaming scientists the solution to their problem. My son is on the far left. Notice the interesting hair-do of the only girl on the team? That is because she had a play performance the same day and we had to leave mid-competition for her role of Amy in Little Women. It seemed that the schedule was going to work out fine, as the competition powers-that-be accommodated our request for a morning schedule. However, we later discovered that the team was called back to present again for finals. That was problematic because she had most of the lines. Another team member played dual roles and all worked out fine.

While being involved in Little Women was a wonderful experience, it was the biggest time sink of all, especially the last two weeks. Rehearsals built their way up to six hours long and the last week involved seven performances. I felt it was "all about the hair" because my main job was to make stick-straight, waist-long hair into ringlets. The hairspray brand Got 2 B Glued was my best friend that week. Overall, the experience was awesome for my daughter and she was very sad when it was all over. She loved working with the all adult professional actors and actresses and they treated her just like one of them. Below are pics of the sisters in a play acting scene with Laurie and the scene where Amy (my dd) shares how she got in trouble over pickled limes. The performances are shadow interpreted with ASL, which is very interesting to watch. One of the interpreters is standing behind dd in the pickled limes scene.

Christmas is always a wonderful time of the year. It was more hectic than usual this year, but we had a very relaxing Christmas day as a family. I hope yours was just as memorable!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review: Tektoma

Most times, we homeschoolers like to learn right along with our kids. Usually, it is one of the perks of homeschooling. There have been areas, however, where I've felt I either just didn't have room in my brain to learn or knew my kids would be better off getting a jump start with someone else to show them the ropes. Usually this involves something techy. Not that I don't like learning techy things, but my learning curve is rather flat in this area.

Do you have a gamer in your life? Are they interested in programming their own games? Is learning game design low on your list for brain stretching activities or just something of zero interest for you?

Tektoma, created by Tom Marx and Matilda O'Connor as an extension to their offline summer camps, is designed for wanna-be game programmers ages 7-17.

Tektoma offers members:
  • Engaging video tutorials for ages 7-17
  • Tutorials of varying skill levels and topics
  • Learn at your own pace in the comfort of your home
  • Natural progression helps develop technical skills
  • Customize your learning experience
  • Low monthly membership fee gives access to all our resources
  • New curriculums available monthly
The video tutorials of this subscription website make use of the free Game Maker software. Six video tutorials, ranging in length from 1 - 2 1/2 hours, take students step-by-step through creation of a video game. There are also currently six shorter tutorials that teach individual components. To assist with learning, a forum is available to post questions about the tutorials and make requests for new tutorials. You can see a list and description of all the tutorials here. In addition to learning to create games, members are able to both download and share games created with Game Maker.

My son was initially excited about the 3-month subscription I was given for this review. He already enjoys playing video games and the thought of creating them on his own was certainly intriguing. While he started out with vigor, the tutorials were really too long to keep his interest. I think the combination of the attention required and the little details that go into creating a game, made the tutorials not a great fit for my son. His attention span is perfect for playing fast-paced games, but not so great for the detail and time required to create them.

Next, I had my almost-teen give a tutorial a try. She is a bit more techy and has put hours in creating websites. She isn't a big gamer though. She does like them enough to happily try out the site. She got quite a bit farther into the tutorial than my son before she lost interest. She had fun while trying it, but wasn't really motivated to work at it more.

One issue both of my kids had was they made a mistake somewhere during the tutorial and the game didn't work at the next step. Both of them did this in different areas and it was a stopping point for each. They could have easily gone back to watch the tutorial to find their mistake, but the novelty had worn off at that point. My son decided he'd rather play games or Legos and my daughter wandered off as well, likely to work on a website or less techy adventure in drawing or reading. When given the option for help in trouble shooting to complete the tutorial or to try a different one a week or so later, both declined.

My son had the initial interest, but not the attention span. My daughter had the attention span, but marginal interest. The next to try was one with marginal attention and zero interest, and might I add, zero skill- yours truly!

The tutorials are very easy to follow. Each step is explained and shown on screen. You do need to have Game Maker and the tutorial running at the same time. This means you either need to run one from a laptop while you work on another computer, or size the windows and switch back and forth. The latter was doable, but did require a lot of pausing of the tutorial to switch screens to perform the task. This made the time required to complete the already lengthy tutorial longer.

The tutorials are divided up in segments. It would be easy to watch just a few portions, save your game, and come back to it at a later time. This won't satisfy those that need instant gratification of a completed game, but would be a good solution for those with enough interest in the details, but who need shorter tutorial segments.

Tektoma was created in 2009 and is still developing. I liked that request for tutorials can be made on the Discussion Forum. While there doesn't appear to be much recent activity on the forums, previous discussions seemed to have reasonable responses for both help in programming and requests. The online support and interaction is a helpful feature for those that desire to take things a step further.

For our family, this wasn't a great fit. If you have a child interested or just starting out in gaming, Tektoma may be a perfect solution to getting them started with little effort on your part. It is not for the marginally interested nor the marginally attentive, however. The tutorials are easy to follow for those with both the attention and interest. The first 40-minutes of the racing game tutorial is available for preview. This would be an excellent way to determine a fit for your student. The resulting games are not the sophisticated games of today, but the focus isn't on the end result so much as it is the process. Those looking to work with Game Maker software and wanting some hand holding may get quite a bit out of a Tektoma subscription.

Tektoma is available for a $14.95/month or $140/year. This is a very inexpensive option to in-person tech courses, based on our personal participation in similar camps. There is also a 14-day free trial.* Visit the Tektoma website to learn more about the service or to obtain a subscription.

*To take advantage of the free trial, you must become a member and cancel within 14 days.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics' The Tortoise and the Hare

What do you get when you combine great story telling with the London Philharmonic Orchestra? Maestro Classics.

Maestro Classics produces CDs that are a wonderful story-telling experience and music education rolled into one. Classical music need not be unobtainable nor boring to young audiences. Maestro Classics strives to bring the magic of music to all ages.

Mission Statement
Maestro Classics™ is the ambassador of great music for both children and adults, helping them experience the art form in new and exciting ways. Through wondrous new recordings, innovative educational and performance materials, and uplifting live performances, Maestro Classics™ guides audiences as they expand their listening horizons and discover the magic that can only be called music.

Each story is told in the tradition of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf for a perfect blend of story and music. The merging talents of Yadu, narrator, and Stephen Simon, conductor and composer, make for an enjoyable delivery of each story adaptation by Bonnie Ward Simon. More about the CD series and the reasoning behind the structure can be read at

Titles available are:
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Peter and the Wolf
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice
  • Casey at the Bat
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster
  • Juanita la longosta espanola
The title I received for review was The Tortoise and the Hare.

I'll be honest; I wasn't expecting much from this product. My children have always enjoyed listening to stories on tape. Over the years, we have become pretty loyal to two different series and I wasn't sure how this one would compare. I was also a bit suspicious that the music element would seem a bit forced.

If packaging accounts for anything, it gives an impression of quality. The colorful three-fold cardboard sleeve contains an introduction from the Simons, a 23-page guide, and CD. The guide has general music information such as instruments of the orchestra, notes and fractions, and time signatures. Also included is story specific information. For example, in the guide for The Tortoise and the Hare, there is a one-page spread explaining the differences between a turtle and tortoise and a rabbit and a hare, music to a song in the story and related puzzles.

There are 7 tracks on the CD. The first is the story itself, lasting 20.43 minutes. While I've heard the story of The Tortoise and the Hare many times, this version was quite enjoyable. I've never heard of the narrator, Yadu, but he did a fabulous job. This is not a dumbed down version; the vocabulary is rich and despite my original concerns, the music component is not forced.

The following three tracks, approximately 10 minutes long, tell a bit about the story, feature a song from the story, and explain the included music. The latter was my favorite portion. Conductor Stephen Simon shares how and why he selected various instruments, rhythm, and music to portray the characters and various events. He highlights a component that might otherwise be taken for granted with an unexplained listening.

I particularly liked that the music discussion took place after the story track, so listeners could simply enjoy the story performance without an initial dissection of parts. After learning more about the story and music included, the listener is directed to listen to the story once again on the next track. The listener, with more information on both the story and music, is then better equipped to understand the purpose of the story, to recognize the interaction of the music and story, and hear the individual instruments. The following few minutes to the CD highlight the "Pretzel Vendor of Paris" song and encourage the listener to participate in a sing-along.

I was pretty impressed with this product. My only issue wasn't about the product, but that my kids were a bit too old for it. I think they actually enjoyed it, but associate The Tortoise and the Hare as being for much younger children. It was a bit of a stumbling block for my tweens. However, this is an excellent CD for younger children, especially if they are involved in music lessons of any kind. It would be a great starting point to get them to notice music around them in general, whether its use in a favorite movie or what type of story it tells on its own. I would love to see this same concept applied to stories more appealing to older kids. I noticed that my oldest perked up during the portion explaining the music choices as I'm sure it wasn't something she considered during the first listen.

Individual titles run for $16.98 or you can take advantage of the current 3 for $45 special. Listening samples of Peter and the Wolf and The Story of Swan Lake are available at the Maestro Classic website,

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Mathletics by 3P Learning

In an effort to keep math learning fun and interesting, I've tried out various computer-based math products for my two children. There certainly isn't a shortage of such products and I've reviewed several in the past. Mathletics is different than others I've experienced. First of all, I had never heard of it before being on the TOS Crew. Secondly, it is the first math product that both of my children have requested with batting eyes to continue, even the older child who has declared math evil.

What is it?

Mathletics is a subscription based math program for grades K-8. It has several components to it, including a full curriculum, live challenges, and games. Also included in the subscription price is Rainforest Maths, an interactive program for grades K-6.

How do students use it?

Students have several options once they log in. They can play games, work some lessons, or do live drills with other students.

The curriculum's lessons are based on the child's registered grade and are presented as practice and problem solving. For the practice portion, topics are broken down into 10 questions. If the student gets all 10 right, they earn a gold bar. The problem solving section is a little more interactive. For example, a student may be given blocks to manipulate on the screen to assist in getting the correct answer. Games are also available to solidify the concepts taught in the lessons. If the lessons are too easy or too hard, parents can adjust the grade level of the student.

Students can also complete lessons using a separate area called Rainforest Maths, which has 30 (K) to 200 (6th) activities per level. Each grade has activities in four areas: Number, Measurement, Algebra and Space (geometry).

Aside from the doing interactive lessons and games, students have the opportunity for live 60-second competitions with other users around the world. Speed and accuracy are the objective as students race to be the first across the finish line. Three incorrect answers get competitors disqualified from the race. The drills are on basic math facts and a great way to improve automaticity.

Another fun element is the ability to earn points and spending coins for various activities. The home page also has a listing of top performers based on points earned for public recognition. The coins can be used to purchase various accessories (hats, sunglasses, backgrounds) for the student's custom-designed avatar. Certificates can also be earned when reaching certain point levels.

What is available for parents?

Parents get their own login and password for access to the Parent Centre. In this area, instant workbooks are available for download. The workbook levels are K through Year 12, but not all levels and workbooks are available yet. The higher levels seem to be more complete at this time, with some of them having 20+ workbooks available in both student and parent versions.

Parents can also look up the progress of their students in the Parent Centre, viewing past weekly reports and certificates earned. The weekly reports, which can also be emailed, include the amount of time spent at the site, points earned, activities performed, and scores achieved.

What are our thoughts?

I have to say that I was quite surprised at the reaction of my kids. They both have tried a variety of online math programs, some successful and others not. None have had the appeal of this one.

My daughter, almost 13, gave me an eyeroll when I told her I had a new math program for her to try. She sat down to try it with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude. However, when I tried to get her to sign off to move on to another task for the day, she kept telling me "hold on". Excuse me? Is my math disliking daughter telling me to "hold on" because she wants to continue doing math drill? That alone is enough for this program to impress me. My daughter's assessment of this program is that it is "strangely addicting". The live competition was a complete draw and I found her signing on to compete with other kids around the world during her own free time.

My son had a similar reaction. He can be rather slow at math facts, but it was completely motivating racing live against other kids. He discovered that he was really whipping the others in multiplication facts, but had to work harder with other facts. I liked that answers had to be accurate to avoid disqualifying, since my son tends to be a guesser. Racing against students in other parts of the world made it more exciting and I'd often get reports of what countries the competitors of the day were from.

My son seemed to like the lesson portion better than my daughter, but both were willing to complete them without many grumbles. Because the live competition was such a big draw, I would have my kids do a lesson or two prior to being able to race against other users. Never would I have thought that I could have used math drill as a reward for completing lessons! My son was motivated to keep doing a lesson to earn a gold bar (100%). This was great to get in the repetition needed for mastery without complaints.

I really liked the information available in the Parent Centre. It is broken down into two components: Mathletics and Full Curriculum. Parents are given the number of correct answers and an accuracy percentage for Mathletics, as well as the level (1-5) the student worked in. For the Full Curriculum, activities completed, date, and score are given. I could see when and how many times an activity was performed, starting scores, and when a 100% was earned.

I wasn't able to utilize the instant workbooks during the review period, but was pleased with the looks of them and the amount available.


Both of my kids asked if their subscription could continue after our review period. Folks - that just doesn't happen in our household. While I have found products that have been effective with both of my very different math learners, never have they both actually requested such a program. The main appeal was the Mathletics competition portion, but the variety of the lessons and games kept the rest from being too drab. The added elements of earning points and getting coins to buy items for the avatar kept motivation high.

My oldest is doing algebra, but there was still benefit of her going through the lessons. The live competitions are great for increasing the speed of her computational skills. The instant workbooks have more difficult material, up through Year 12. The material is an appropriate level for my 5th grader, with a mixture of review and new material. I don't know that I would use this as a full curriculum, but it certainly is a great value as a supplemental product. There is such variety on this site - with interactive lessons, games, and workbook downloads. I also like that there are no extra downloads and only access to the internet is needed. The only downside I see is that each student needs to have their own account, which could be costly for large families.

A 1-year subscription runs $59 per student and comes with a 10-day money back guarantee. For a limited time, if you enter in the Human Calculator's favorite number (9), you can get a reduced rate of $49.95. Visit the Mathletics site,, for more information or to subscribe.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Fun with Phun

A couple of months ago I ran across a free download for a software called Phun. Phun is described as a 2-D physics sandbox. You can see what sort of things can be done using the program on the video below.

I'm always up for trying out free software and we've found some great ones out there. This one is a keeper and enjoyed by both of my kids. I love the creativity it inspires! You can download your own copy at Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Wonderful Little House Night

Last night was the big opening night for Little House on the Prairie, the Musical at Detroit's Fox Theater. My family was in attendance as "Little House Ambassadors". I just love going to the gorgeous Fox Theater. We don't get to go very often and seeing a show downtown is always a treat.

Little House on the Prairie, the Musical starts out in the beginning, with the Ingalls family staking their claim to land in the West and continues on through the marriage of Laura and Almanzo. Kara Lindsey, who plays Laura as child through adult, beautifully captures the wild child of Laura. Her voice inflections and mannerisms surely convince the audience that she is just a youngster, with her stage voice and actions maturing with the character. Alessa Neeck and Carly Rose Sonenclar, cast as Mary and Carrie respectively, do an equally fine job of portraying their characters. Pa is played by Steve Blanchard, who has appeared on Law and Order, a variety of soap operas, and numerous stage productions on and off Broadway. As a special treat for those that grew up watching the Little House TV series, Ma is played by Melissa Gilbert.

Wicked fans will enjoy seeing Kate Loprest, who played Wicked's Glinda, return to the Fox stage, this time as Nellie. Loprest as Nellie adds quite a bit of humor to the show. I didn't miss the irony that Loprest had previous played a witch, a characterization I've always put on the mean Nellie. Both characters are "good (and manipulative) witches" that are transparent in their folly. Kevin Massey plays Almanzo, who courts Nellie for a time after Laura's rejection, before winning over Laura, which brought about applause from the audience. Massey probably brings more appeal to the boys in the audience as a young male lead who tames horses and tends to the land - while in pursuit of the girl.

My whole family enjoyed the show, especially my theater-loving daughter. This wasn't a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat show for my 10-year-old wiggly son, but I did get a "It was good," out of him when the show was over. If you have a young boy in your house, you'll know that isn't too bad. For those who have fond memories of the Little House book and TV series, this will be a fun trip down memory lane while sharing the experience with your young Little House fans. It isn't often that a production comes around suitable for the whole family without having adults succumb to big yellow birds or the need to cover eyes and ears of little ones.

For those of you who must have every single detail to be true to the original 9-book series, don't expect the whole series to be portrayed exactly in a 2-hour production. I had no trouble with the the theatrical version, though I'll have to admit that I don't remember every detail of every book or episode. However, there was a family of three behind us that left at intermission in a huff grumbling that the play wasn't "accurate". I have to admit I felt sorry for their little girl, who was about 7 or 8, as I can't imagine that she wasn't enjoying the show immensely! I honestly can't imagine why anyone would have such expectations, but thought I'd mention in case there are any of your who are that, um...uptight...about accuracy. I can't give you details of discrepancies, nor was I looking for them. I simply enjoyed the show.

While the show was enjoyable, one of the highlights was getting to meet some of the cast after the show. My normally outgoing, theater-aspiring daughter suddenly turned shy when presented with the opportunity to chat with professional actors and actresses. She finally mustered up the courage to ask Neeck and Lindsay about their paths to the big stage. These two young ladies were sweet and honest - a joy to talk to. Blanchard gave her excellent advice as well, and encouraged her to strive toward her goals and not get discouraged if others get her down, as there will always be someone ready to do so. Melissa Gilbert made a brief appearance. Gilbert's visit was unexpected, but was arranged for a little girl donning roses, who was anticipating her and looking a bit crushed. We really didn't talk to her, but our family did get a huge chuckle over an overzealous mother who was gushing on with, "I've read all of your books..." as if she were THE Laura Ingalls Wilder. Gilbert looked particularly tired after the performance, but was polite. Her dog, Josephine, was a bit grumpy though! I only know the dog's name because it was scolded a few times! We did get an autograph for our program and an attempt at a picture with a cell phone. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed in the theater and it was too dark for a cell picture to turn out. There are no photo memories other than the one outside the theater, but it was a great experience nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FREE Gifted Homeschooling Teleconference

I'm passing this along to anyone who might be interested. I have no affiliation with the host, but it looked like a useful conference...and the price is certainly right!

Thinking about Homeschooling? Questions?
Get answers from Corin Barsily Goodwin Executive Director, Gifted
Homeschoolers Forum
Host: My Gifted Girl
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Free Conference Call Dec 5th 7p-8pm EST/ 4p-5pm PST - Plan accordingly for
your time zone!

Join us as My Gifted Girl hosts Corin Barsily Goodwin Executive Director, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum

The is a FREE call through Free Conference (calling/minute charges for your
phone/mobile phone will apply). Please post pre call questions on the Fan Page for discussion!

Many of us wonder if homeschooling is a better option for our families and our child. Is it on your mind a lot and you just need a boost to get the process going? Do you want to understand why so many parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children are homeschooling? Are you already homeschooling and want even more support for your efforts?

The environment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has left many of our gifted students nationwide neglected. More parents are considering homeschooling as school districts zero in on our lower performers with programs that are detrimental to our gifted youth.

This is a FREE Event with 145 lines available. DIRECTIONS FOR REGISTRATION:
Please RSVP on Facebook
and let others
know you're calling!
Go to and make sure you are registered on our site.
Click on "CONTACT US" from home page to Submit Form and INCLUDE the following Info for call registration:
!. Your User name for My Gifted Girl
2. Homeschool

The first 145 will be contacted via email by noon (EST) on Dec 5th with the
access code.
This is obviously first come first serve.
Invite a friend over and share a line!
Sponsored by
My Gifted

Corin Barsily Goodwin, Executive Director

Corin Barsily Goodwin homeschools her two 2e children while commuting between the Silicon Valley in CA and rural southern Oregon. She co-chaired the Legislative Committee for the HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) and served as their Gifted/Special Needs Advisor. Before having children, Ms. Goodwin worked in government relations and in the public and private sectors as a policy and economic analyst. She also spent several years in library and archival positions. She does educational consulting and writing, and has been presenting workshops on gifted and homeschool related issues for a number of years and in many venues. She serves on the SENG Editorial Board, and is hard at work on a variety of writing projects with co-author Mika Gustavson.

The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF) supports gifted homeschoolers in the United States and around the world through education, advocacy, community and support. See http://www.giftedhomeschoolers.og is a community of support for:
• Gifted and talented girls and women
• Parents and family
• Educators
• Mentors
• Support services and educational institutions.
We are here to nourish, guide, inspire, and support one another. Gifted
girls must learn pride and confidence in their talents and gifts.

Monday, November 30, 2009

And the Winner ...

for the 4 Little House on the Prairie, the Musical tickets is..



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giveaway! 4 Tickets to Little House on the Prairie, the Musical!! ($100+ value)

A few days ago I shared about a new musical coming to the Fox Theater next week, Little House on the Prairie, the Musical.

I know the Little House series is popular among homeschoolers, just for pleasure reading or to use with curricula such as The Prairie Primer. For a fun field trip, the Detroit Public Library's Burton Historical Collection includes Laura Ingalls Wilder's manuscripts for The Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years. No matter how you incorporate it, Little House is such a great, wholesome series to use in your homeschool.

Homeschooling or not, most of us will remember watching the Little House on the Prairie TV series, which aired 1974 - 1982 and starred Mellisa Gilbert as Laura. I remember what a bully I thought Nellie when I watched the show as a little girl! It will be great fun to see Mellisa Gilbert play Ma in the musical!

For more information on the show:

http://www.littlehousethemusical. com

The Fox Theater Box Office or Ticketmaster 800-745-3000

I am very excited to get to attend the musical as a "Little House Ambassador". I wanted to share the fun and asked the Little House Musical folks if they would be interested in offering tickets as a giveaway for the homeschooling community and beyond. They happily agreed and are offering the following for one lucky winner:

4 tickets for opening night, Tuesday, Dec 1 @ 7:30 p.m. at the Fox Theater in Detroit, MI

The winner will be selected and contacted by the sponsors on Monday, Nov 30, 2009, who will be gathering the entries from this blog post. I will be notified of the winner so that I can announce it here as well. Tickets will need to be picked up at the box office 15 minutes before the show.

Because of the time sensitive nature of the tickets, the winner will be required to respond to claim their tickets by Monday, Nov 30th at 3 p.m., otherwise another winner will be selected. If you enter, please be sure to check your email and this blog regularly on Monday!

Now, how to enter:

Leave a comment on this post with one or more of the following:
  • your favorite Little House on the Prairie title
  • your favorite Little House on the Prairie character
  • your favorite scene from a Little House on the Prairie TV episode
Additional entries can be earned by:
  • Tweeting about this giveaway
  • following my blog publicly
  • posting about this giveaway on your blog (please include link)
Be sure to leave another comment for any of the additional entries!

That gives you a total of four opportunities to enter! You have until Monday, November 30 at 10 a.m. to enter. The winner will be selected randomly and notified by email, so make sure you have your email address clearly noted in your comment!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Little House on the Prairie, the Musical

Do you remember Melissa Gilbert who played Laura Ingalls in the television series? She is starring as "Ma" in this stage show coming to Fox Theater in Detroit, December 1 – 5. Very fun!

Our family has been selected to go to the musical on opening night as "Little House Ambassadors" and I will be happy to share our experience the following day! I'm hoping it will be a great show and we are very excited! As part of my involvement, I also get to share with friends a code for discounted tickets. If you'd like to enjoy this wholesome musical with your family, be sure to use the discount price code FAITH when purchasing your tickets.

For more information or to order your tickets go to:

http://www.littlehousethemusical. com

The Fox Theater Box Office or Ticketmaster or 800-745-3000

Detroit is the third stop of this musical tour. If you aren't in the area, check out the schedule for a show near you.

First NFL Football Game

We aren't a huge sports family. I think my husband went to one football game in college at our Big Ten university. I bought season tickets one year, at least. However, over the last couple of years my husband has watched quite a bit of football. I'm not sure what initially sparked the interest, but it has been a fun past time for father and son to hang out.

Yesterday, my husband took my son to see his first NFL football game! Better yet, the Lions actually won! How often does that happen? I think he would have been thrilled to go whether there was victory or not, but he looks pretty happy as is, doesn't he?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Life on the Farm

Q: why did the cow run frantically across the road?
A: So she wouldn't get creamed

Q: How do you tell a cow is exceptional?
A: It's out standing in its field

Q: What are a cows favorite subjects in school?
A: Moosic, psycowolgy, cowculus

You shouldn't tell jokes about cows. Nobody likes a cattle-tale

I'm not sure what it is about cows that makes them so udderly funny! Perhaps it is because they are such simple creatures whose main job is to graze, moo, and provide for our tables. At the mention of cows and farms, we often think of a time in American history when family farms dotted the rural Midwest. However, have you ever wondered what it would be like to run a family farm in the present day? Now you can, with Life on the Farm.

Keith Gohl, a midwest 3rd-generation dairy farmer in Minnesota, came up with the idea of Life on the Farm after a fun evening of trying to explain the ups and downs of farm life to his city cousins. Players get to step away from their fast-driven city life and experience the adventures of milking cows, fixing tractors and tilling the land.

Each player starts with $10,ooo and no cows. As players move along the cow path, they acquire cattle and experience events that happen on any real-life farm. Players may have to pay neighbors to help them gather escaped cows because a hunter cuts the fence, at $10 per cow. A cow may be hit by a car, removing one from the herd. Not all the squares result in loses. Heifers mature, adding cows to your herd and there is opportunity to purchase more cows each time you land on Cattle Auction. When player makes a round the board, they collect "Milk Money" for each cow.

There are both Expense and Income Card spaces, adding more fun and surprises to the game. Income cards involve events that bring cash to the farm, such as collecting an inheritance from a late uncle, selling bushels of corn, or receiving a cow from another play for past help. Expense Cards have money going out the barn door and involve paying taxes, vet bills, and filling fuel barrels.

The first to retire with 60 cows and the original starting money wins the game. Winning sounds easy, until your herd starts growing. Just like real farm life, the larger the herd the quicker you earn - and lose - money.

Life on the Farm was a hit with my whole family. Throughout the whole game we were all counting our cash and cows. Who knew one could be so competitive over cows? Those with larger herds would be feeling pretty good about the farm when the "Milk Money"was collected, only to grumble when a vet bill arrived through an Expense Card.

Don't be fooled by Income Cards as they don't always mean profit. While most Income Cards will pad your farm pockets, one card results in a loss because your are forced to slaughter your cows for less than you paid for them. When I asked Ev Johnson, one of the creators of Life on the Farm, the reasoning behind the card, she replied:
As in real life, when a farmer is forced to slaughter a cow, and receives income as a result, that farmer has to report the amount received as income. Doesn’t make too much sense does it? But that is the way it works and so that is the way it is played in our game.
While I like that the game really does reflect true life on the farm, I have to say that this card brought out the mad cow competitiveness as being unfair. It was a certain male adult family member that declared the card be changed to collect more for a slaughter than a purchase. I proposed a government subsidy be added to the card to offset the loss! What was really neat about the discussion is that our kids learned a little about business and real life. My oldest even asked for more "business type" games.

I love that this game was easy to play, enjoyed by every family member, and taught a bit about a life style that is unfamiliar to this suburbia family.

Probably the only downfall to the game is it can be rather long. A short version suggested only 30 cows and $5000 to win. My family probably played for 1 1/2 hours and no one had reached 60 cows, so we move to the short version. The winning criteria is completely "tweakable" without changing the rest of the game. Name your winning cow herd and dollar amount for the time you have to play.

Life on the Farm is a prime choice as a Moo-y Christmas gift. Both city folk and country bumpkins are sure to find it moo-velous and udder-ly fabulous. Life on the Farm can be purchased for $25 at the WeRFun website. It is lalso available at Kmart, where a current sale promotion on toys runs through Nov 25!

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Gymathtics by Exploramania

I've read numerous times the benefits of getting kids moving while learning. To increase retention, experts recommend activities such as tossing a ball back and forth while learning spelling words or performing jumping jacks while reciting multiplication tables. I've found the science behind this theory to be valid. My daughter used to reduce the time required to memorize AWANA verses by jumping rope with the words. A mini-trampoline in our school room has also been utilized to set physical rhythm to items for memorization with successful results. An added bonus is that my kids are getting a bit of exercise in the process.
This movement and learning correlation has been embraced by Gymathtics, an exercise DVD by Exploramania. In this 30-minute DVD, Carrie Scheiner, Exploramania founder, leads four young people of various ages (age 6 - college, meet the cast) through exercises integrated with math instruction . You can read about Ms. Scheiner's inspiration for Gymathtics here.

Four exercise segments appear on the DVD: Shape Stretches Warm Up, Counting Calisthenics, Pattern Power, and Well-Being Wind Down. The following video shows a clip from each section.

The math concepts taught are approximately a 2nd - 5th grade level. Basic geometry is taught in Shape Stretches, counting (odd, even, place value) numbers in Counting Calisthenics, and patterns (using sequence of exercises) in Pattern Power. The last segment, Well-Being Wind Down, does not include any math concepts. Instead, this segment focuses on relaxation and lifestyle sayings in combination with the stretches.

While I like the concept, this DVD didn't go over well in our household. The age of my kids, 10 and almost 13, was most likely a contributing factor. Not only are my kids beyond the math concepts, they felt the DVD was a little too cheesy to make it tolerable. I tend to agree with the hokey assessment and I found the numerous high fives between cast members a bit irritating. Of course, I've never been one for a Richard Simmons approach to exercise. We have numerous exercise DVDs geared toward kids collecting dust in our household, an indication that the anti-Richard Simmons movement is genetic.

I think younger kids, perhaps in the age 5-8 range, may have a better appreciation for Gymathtics. The exercises are easy enough for younger ones, but still provide a good workout for various ages. I liked that there are several ages in the DVD with varying abilities. This will avoid discouragement among viewers. If exercise DVDs are your thing, Gymathtics would be a productive method of getting the wiggles out while learning. Save time by doing PE and math review at the same time!

For the math concepts, I liked the Shape Stretches the best as I felt it most successfully merged the physical body with the math element. I would have liked to see the math carried through to the last segment, Well-Being Wind Down. Instead of math instruction, comments like “Eat healthy foods in moderate portions,” and “Respect and appreciate people and the planet,” are said throughout. While some respond well to this sort of encouragement, it just adds to the hokey factor for me. It also struck me as a rather abrupt shift away from the math in the rest of the DVD.

With the cold weather approaching, this DVD may be the perfect tool to keep your kids appropriately active indoors and a welcome change to seat work. The award-winning Gymathics can be purchased for $24.99 at the Exploramania website. You may also be interested in the second of the series which targets 4th-7th grade, Gymathetics 2.0, due to be released soon.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: AVKO Membership

A few years ago, I was trying find resources to help my son, a struggling speller. My search led me to pick up the phone and chat with Don McCabe, founder of AVKO.

AVKO is a non-profit organization dedicated to literacy. You can read more about AVKO philosophy at the website. Also from the website:
AVKO is a non-profit, 501(C)3 membership organization that focuses on the development and production of materials and especially techniques to teach reading and spelling, handwriting (manuscript and cursive), and keyboarding. AVKO is dedicated to the teaching everyone how to read and spell, regardless of their mild to moderate learning disabilities, dyslexia, poverty, or opportunity.
You may be familiar with Sequential Spelling, a spelling program that teach spelling using the patterns of the English language. While Sequential Spelling can be used with any learner, dyslexic students in particular benefit from the breaking down of words. In addition to Sequential Spelling, AVKO provides a variety of support products and information for teaching spelling.

To my surprise, Mr. McCabe didn't spend our phone conversation convincing me his program was my answer. Instead, he simply discussed with me my questions concerning dyslexia. The AVKO headquarters is located less than an hour from my home and Mr. McCabe even offered me free tutoring for my son. He was quick to stress that I could teach my son and he would teach me how to do so if I was unsure. I was impressed at how much time Mr. McCabe spent with me, at a time when I was having trouble getting answers elsewhere. In gratitude, I decided to support the non-profit AVKO and become a member.

At the time, an AVKO annual membership provided a print copy of To Teach a Dyslexic, three e-books, and 25% off any purchases for the duration of the membership. I read the book and purchased a few products, but didn't renew as I felt I gleaned what I was going to glean that first year. When I received a 1-year AVKO membership for review as a member of the TOS Crew, I was curious to see changes in membership benefits have taken place over the last couple of years.

An annual membership ($25) to AVKO gives 25% off all AVKO printed materials for the year, as well as access to a new membership section on the website. While membership does not include access to the Sequential Spelling program, you can develop a spelling program on your own with the information available in the membership area.

Visit the website for a list of the Benefits of Basic AVKO Membership, including titles available for download in the Members Only area of the website.

There are several items that were not part of the membership when I was a member years ago. One of the items I was absolutely thrilled with was The Patterns of the English Spelling, Volume 1-10. This was an item I would have loved to have years ago, but the $360 price tag for all 10 volumes in a printed version was well outside of my budget. I'm thrilled to see this 1631-page PDF document included FREE with membership. Mr. McCabe spent an immense amount of time (over 30 years!) creating this categorization of every word imaginable into word patterns or rimes. If your child is needing work with a particular pattern, you will have no trouble finding words for practice and example. You can see a sample of this PDF file here.

I also enjoyed some of the audio recordings from some of Don's workshops, also new resource with membership. There are six total, a $15 value. Also of interest is AVKO's pairing with Spelling City. With the resources available to members, members will be able to create individualized spelling lists for a completely customized spelling curriculum.

In addition to the main titles, there is also a section of humor, puns, and stories for fun and to use during lessons (dictation, for example). A word of caution – do not blindly print items without viewing and hand them to your children. Some of them contain humor that might not be appropriate for some families.

Is this a membership for you? If you already use or are considering AVKO's Sequential Spelling program, the supporting information in the member's section will certainly be useful. In addition, the savings on future purchases will help offset the cost of the membership. Parents of struggling spellers will find tools to use with their current program or to develop your own program. While there is a lot of interesting information on this site, if you have natural spellers that rarely need to reference Mr. Webster, then you may not find a membership all that beneficial.

To learn more about AVKO, the products available, and the benefits of membership, visit the AVKO website.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Off to the State Championship!

I didn't fathom that it could possibly happen, but our rookie FLL (First Lego League) team is off to the State Championship on Dec 12th after placing in Regionals today!

A team was literally thrown together when a local university offered grant money to sponsor a team. The kids got off to a slow start and had many hurdles to jump before things starting really got going. Most of them didn't know each other and there was a variety of personalities in the mix. The families were spread all over our very large county, making meeting regularly enough a bit of a logistical problem. A good half of the kids had never even used the Lego Mindstorm program needed for competition and two families dropped before it was all said and done.

Honestly, we were all in this for the learning experience for the kids. We figured they could go under low pressure this year and gain a better understanding of what it was all about for next year. It wasn't until midway through the regional competition today that we realized they had a good possibility of making it to State. It is amazing what kids can pull off with a bit of determination.

Now we are off to the State Championships! Way to go team!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: The American Heritage Education Foundation

While homeschooling can be done inexpensively, most homeschoolers I know are working hard to stay within a homeschooling budget. There are so many great sounding products that compete for those scarce green bills. With a plethora of reviews introducing new products appearing regularly on this blog, I sometimes feel like I'm contributing to the overspending of budgets. However, this review is a bit different from previous reviews. The product is completely FREE!

The American Heritage Education Foundation, provider of America's Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty, states the following mission statement on the website:

AHEF is a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation 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.
AHEF accomplishes this patriotic mission by writing, producing, and distributing FREE K-12 lesson plans to teachers, students, and families in all 50 states and through additional initiatives, programs, and partnerships.
AHEF sent me a copy of their CD version of this no-cost K-12 resource for review. Included on the CD are three levels of materials, elementary (also in Spanish), middle school, and high school, with approximately 185 pages each. Each level includes 15 lessons based on four key themes. These themes, Freedom, Unity, Progress and Responsibility, are described as "A Formula for America" by the founders of AHEF. Each lesson clearly states the purpose, objective, theme, NSCC standards, time, materials and preparation required. For the elementary level, coordinating passages from the Core Knowledge series are noted. Additional articles and reading material are included as well as printouts. Following each level is a teacher resource titled Religious Expression in Public Schools, covering a topic where misinformation is common.

While the lessons are intended for a classroom or group environment, many of them can be modified for use with individual students. Many of the worksheets could easily be used with whatever civics or history curriculum you currently use. For example, text scrambles of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution in sign language, or president card printouts can be used independently of the lessons. The multiple levels on on CD are perfect to coordinate lessons among all of your students. While the lessons for each level don't completely align, there are several topics, e.g. the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, that appear in each level.

While I likely won't use the lessons fully as presented, many of the accompanying activities will fit in nicely as a supplement when studying American history or civics. As a resource that is FREE to all, this is certainly a supplemental resource that fits in to all budgets. America's Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty is available as a direct download or can be ordered on CD. You may also request a print copy in a binder for $19.50 per level. Visit the American Heritage Education Foundation website to find out more about this non-product foundation and to find more about the lesson plans.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: All American History (Bright Ideas Press)

If you've followed my past postings, you've may have picked up that I have trouble getting history into our studies. I know, I know...I wonder if I'm a "real" homeschooler too. Most homeschoolers love history, don't they? I sometimes wish I shared that love of history I see among the homeschooling community;I just didn't have a good example of how to enjoy studying history. All I remember about my high school history studies was the sheer joy my teacher took at boring us to tears. Really. She was not a nice woman. The end result is I dabble, but never manage any systematic history studies. Having my kids read and listen to a ton of historical fiction has been fairly successful. However, I must admit that I've been feeling the pressure with an upcoming high schooler. It seems like our history studies need to have a little more oomph and direction for high school credit.

Ironically, I've been blessed with a several history programs to review since my time with the Crew. Wow. That high school history teacher really did me a disservice. History isn't all that bad! I've been very pleased with the latest history curriculum that has come my way - All American History Volume 2 by Bright Ideas Press.

All American History Vol 2, for grades 6-12, covers the Civil War to the 21st century.
The author, Celeste Rakes, developed the All American History curriculum as a result of teaching history in a homeschool co-op classroom and having difficulty finding a curriculum that met her criteria. With a history degree and experience teacher her own children and others, she had definite ideas of what she desired in a curriculum. Rather than a boring fact-regurgitating curriculum, she desired an engaging curriculum that told the story of real people through the ages. The end result is a curriculum that provides structure with a chronological and thematic presentation of material while including reading opportunities, writing projects and artistic/hands-on work to enhance the textbook. The set comes with a Student Reader, a Student Activity Book, and a Teacher's Guide & Answer Key.

Student Reader ($44.95)

The text, or Student Reader, is broken down into four units with eight lessons each. Each lesson is about 12-14 pages long. The reader is texbook style, but does have plenty of black-and-white pictures of people, places, and events discussed in the chapter as well as maps for further understanding. Each chapter concludes with a bullet-point “Impact” section that summarizes the main points of the chapter. The suggested pace is to complete one chapter a week.

The Units Covered in the Volume are:
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • The Gilded Age
  • Two World Wars and A Great Depression
  • The Cold War and Beyond
For a complete Table of Contents, click here.

Student Activity Book ($16.95)

The Student Activity Book contains notebooking pages, map work, review quizzes, and suggestions for further study. There is also a final review for each unit. In the back of the book, students will find images and maps to be cut and pasted on to the notebook pages. The author suggests that students fill in the information on the notebook pages while reading or being read the text. The development of note taking skills will progress with this method. The Further Study section offers topics and question to explore. For example, one suggestion is:
Define the political terms referendum and recall. Why do you think the Progressives favored enacting these measures?
The chapter review quizzes are in a traditional style with a collection of true and false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice questions. While it is sold separately, the Student Activity Book is considered not optional. I agree that one should not go without the Student Activity Book; it is an integral part of the curriculum.

Click here for sample pages.

Teacher Guide & Answer Key ($18.95)

The Teacher Guide & Answer Key starts out with a clear explanation on how to get the most out of the curriculum. Suggestions for adapting for younger or older children, a co-op, classrooms, or a family studying together are included in this section. Section Two includes teaching resources for each chapter. Project possibilities, timeline dates, review games, and suggested family activities are all included. Section Three has supplemental book lists for each unit divided by ages K-4, Middle (5-8) and Secondary (9 and up). Section Four contains the answer key to the “For Further Study” questions, including younger student adaptations. The last section, Section Five, is the answer key to the Student Activity pages. I often elect not to purchase teacher guides, but this one contains valuable information and I would recommend not skipping out on it.

Click here for sample pages.

In Our Home

I originally started this curriculum with my 5th grade son. I found it to be just a bit much for him, especially considering that we are not accustomed to including history in our main studies on a regular basis. Our biggest obstacle was the notebook writing portion and remembering of details for the notebook pages. At first, I didn't realize the notebook pages were to be done while reading the text and we were doing them after the fact. Switching to completion while reading helped some. My son enjoyed finding the appropriate image and flag for each page. With the suggestions in the teacher guide, I believe adapting Vol 2 would have been obtainable. However, I soon realized that Volume 2 was just about perfect for my 7th grade daughter's needs.

Overall, I found this to be a well-thought out and thorough history curriculum that caters to a variety of learning styles. The activity pages are not overwhelming for the target grade levels, yet really solidify the learning and keep the student engaged during the reading. With two very different learners in my home, I appreciate that the author provides many suggestions to make this curriculum adaptable. This is actually a curriculum that I can use with both of my kids. I like the structure the textbook provides in combination with the supplemental reading suggestions, games, and activities. It gives me the systematic approach I've been seeking, yet takes the bore out of a pure textbook approach.

One of the dangers of being on the Crew is that I often end up making more purchases as the result of liking the products I review. Such is the case with All American History Vol 2. In the end, I ended up purchasing All American History Vol 1, covering Exploration - 1840, for grades 5-8. Volume 1 has the same format as Volume 2, but the chapters are slightly shorter. The level of Volume 1 worked better for my son, yet is still appropriate for my 7th grader. We'll follow up with Volume 2 next year.

All American History Volume 2 can be purchased as a set for $68 (a savings of 16%) or the Student Reader, Student Activity Book and Teacher Guide can be purchased individually from Bright Ideas Press. You may also enjoy the All American History Yahoogroup for users to share ideas.

Bright Ideas Press also publishes many other products, including the popular Mystery of History and the new Illuminations. Check out the website and also visit the TOS Crew official blog to read more reviews on All American History and other Bright Ideas Press products.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Review: abcteach

Doing a unit study? Wouldn't a word search or custom handwriting sheet based on your study be great? Or perhaps your child needs a little extra practice on a concept before moving on in the textbook? Is an extra page of triple-digit multiplication in order?

Have you ever gone on an internet search with a particular worksheet in mind? If you have, you may come across the abcteach website, with over 5000 free printables and worksheets available. However, the free printables are just a small sampling of what is available through an abcteach subscription.

What is the benefit of subscribing to abcteach? For starters, members have access to over 35,000 printables and worksheets, with new material being added each week. Categories range from basic subjects to theme units to seasonal worksheets, covering levels pre-K- 8th.

Also included are an extensive clip art gallery, with over 6,500 options, and abctools. If you are interested in custom worksheet, abctools is your answer. You can try this worksheet generator out on the website with sample documents. For a video tour and a complete list of membership benefits, click here.

I was given a 1-month subscription to abcteach in order to do this review. I found all they have to offer is a little bit overwhelming! There are worksheets from basic multiplication problems, book units, games, parent resources, graphic organizers and everything in between. At the time of my membership, my daughter was taking a persuasion writing class and had just covered common fallacies in class. I was surprised to find a complete collection of worksheets on logical fallacies to reinforce what she learned in class.

I particularly liked the abctools for custom worksheets. It seems that every time I search the internet for a specific worksheet, I come away empty. With the abctools, you can quickly create worksheets on any topic specific to your needs.

Now, I have to admit that I'm not much of a worksheet gal when looking for supplemental material.
If I were, abctools would definitely catch my attention. I tend to look for online video clips, DVDs or games instead, but there are occasions that I have a specific worksheet in mind and I just can't find it. An abcteach subscription would be perfect for such an occasion. I can see large families with several children in the pre-K-8 range benefiting from such a subscription as well as co-op teachers. We homeschooling moms are busy enough that we don't need to be spending our time searching for worksheets on the internet!

You can purchase an abcteach subscription for $40 per year* for individual users. There are also discounts available for group purchases, starting at 10 or more. Gift memberships are also available. Visit the abcteach website to find out more about the offerings or to buy a subscription.

*Note: Through Nov. 30th, Homeschool Buyers Co-op is offering abcteach at a 50% discount!

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: My Access! (Vantage Learning)

Many incorrectly assume that good readers will equate to good writers. I haven't met a writer that also doesn't love to read, and it is natural to point out the correlation. As a result, homeschoolers make sure their students have a solid reading foundation and then follow up with quality literature. This approach is often a successful method to model proper sentence structure, vocabulary usage, and organization in a way that naturally engages the child.

However, it is not always true that all those who love to read, or have been exposed to quality literature, are natural and gifted writers. Many kids need specific instruction, guidance, and lots of practice. Furthermore, writing isn't just a self-contained subject area to study; it impacts all other subjects.

Vantage Learning, the developer of My Access!, a subscription based writing program, understands the importance of students learning to write, then writing to learn. From the website:
While writing is a unique skill unto itself, it is also closely linked to all areas of learning. Often referred to as "writing across the curriculum", as you combine writing instruction with other areas of study, you'll better understand how well students grasp information and where they need more instruction.

How is My Access! different from other writing programs?
  • completely web-based
  • can be used with any curriculum
  • self-paced
  • utilizes artificial intelligence technology for instant feedback
  • individualized
  • multiple tools, e.g. graphic organizers, are available
For a detailed list of everything that is included with a subscription, go here.

How does it work?

My Access has 90 pre-loaded writing lessons for three different ages: 8-10, 11-14, and 15-18. Specific writing topics can be assigned to each student through the parent account. A student can be assigned topics of varying levels. A parent can also create a topic of her own for the student.

When the student logs in, they may select from the topics assigned. Once a topic is selected, they may choose to "start course" or "begin draft". Each course matches the level and writing style of the assignment. For example, a topic in the age 15-18 category reads as follows:

Psychologists have argued for centuries regarding the influences of nature (genetic influences) and nurture (environmental influences) on the human personality. There is evidence to support both views, but the question is ultimately, which of the two, nature or nurture, plays the greatest role in shaping our personality? Write a multi-paragraph essay in which you state and defend your position. Be sure to include specific details and examples to support your argument.
The courses are short and are presented with graphics and reading (no sound). The course assigned for the above topic covers the basic elements of persuasive writing, discusses organization, and reviews terms (hook, thesis statement). Material is reinforced with matching exercises. The course closes with tools for evaluating work and leads the student to start brainstorming with a graphic organizer.

The area where students write their draft has a box to type text and includes access to several writing tools (outline, a word bank, original course). Once a draft is submitted, the essay is ranked as "below proficient", "proficient" or "advanced proficient" in the following areas:
  • focus
  • organization
  • content and development
  • language use
  • mechanics and conventions
The My Editor tab will show potential errors and suggestions for improving the first score. Students can continue to edit and submit their essay for a better score.

Each task, whether it is a lesson or submitting a draft, earns the student points. Parents are able to set up a point goal and reward as a means for motivation. From the parent account, submitted essays and progress can be viewed. Finished essays can even be put in a published format and emailed to friends and family.

How did it work in our home?

With both a reluctant writer and a talented writer, we are likely a good test-run family for this product. I first started with my 10-year-old reluctant writer. I selected several simple topics from which he could choose. The first issue arose when he tired of the course and wanted to take a break. There was no option to save his progress through the lesson. He unhappily finished the rest of the lesson, in an effort to earn points and not have to reload the lesson from the beginning.

The next day, I had him start his draft. Because he needs solid direction on his writing, the suggestions weren't all that helpful to him. His writing skills simply are not where they need to be to use this program. Instead of using the writing prompts, I created my own writing topic and submitted an already completed writing assignment. We had worked together on this particular assignment, using our current writing program. While short, the paragraph was grammatically correct, used varied vocabulary, and an appropriate length for my son. The resulting score from My Access! was very low, likely because of the short length. My son simply isn't ready for this program.

I was excited to try it with my12-year-old gifted, independent, and verbose writer. Short pieces were not going to be an issue for her. While My Access! is a bit more useful to her, it does have its limitations. She found the lessons not very challenging, though I used writing prompts from both the 11-14 and the 15-18 age categories. She didn't care for the presentation and didn't find the matching exercises useful. Some of this may be because she already has a very solid foundation on the concepts being taught.

As for the editing tools, she expressed that she wished the text box for the draft composition was a larger area. She found some of the suggestions created with the My Editor tab to be helpful, but did note that they weren't always relevant and "not concise enough". Also, she felt the terminology in some of the suggestions may have been too advanced for many students. The examples included were helpful though. She didn't like that the program sometimes flagged things that weren't really errors, e.g. calling a non-recognized word a spelling error. These "errors" result in a lower overall score of the essay, which she found frustrating. Other times, the score was higher than it should have been. She even commented that a first draft of a "choppy" and "poorly written" essay she submitted received too high of a score based on her own self-evaluation.

My daughter is very strong in grammar and mechanics. Her concerns with the program were mostly because the program didn't give her the type of feedback that she's seeking - that of content. However, there were several features that she did like, including the graphic organizers. While there were issues with many of the suggestions, she did find some to be helpful for mechanics issues she overlooked. Because of this, she thought My Access! may be useful as a self-editing tool for papers already composed. "I might use this to look over a paper before turning it in as a way to check for unnoticed errors."

Suggested Improvements

I tried out the program with an article I had written and came to mostly the same conclusions. As a self-editing tool, it was a quick way to flag potential errors. Users will need to be able to have enough background to interpret the suggestions and discern whether or not they apply. One improvement both of us would like to see is the ability to add words to the spell check. I found the point earning system to be useless because it was driven by number of submissions rather than improved work. Most children would figure how to accumulate points by submitting unchanged work or doing the same activities over and over. The point system needs to be either modified or discarded.


For our family, this program is more of a writing tool than an instructional program. That may be a result of having two children on extreme ends of writing ability. We'll continue using it as a self-editing tool for papers written with other programs. The instructional value may be higher for families with students that are average writers and/or weak in the area of grammar and mechanics.

Each 12-month subscription to MY Access! Home Edition includes one parent account and your choice of three ($99.95) or six ($129.95) student accounts. Vantage Learning has a variety of other products. You can visit the Vantage Online Store to learn more.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.