Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Upcoming Review Items

It has been a crazy year being on the TOS Crew. With review products coming in at a steady stream, it's been a little bit like Christmas. I've discovered so many companies I never knew existed and found a few gems in the process. Another side benefit is it has greatly reduced my spending to feed my curricula habit. Usually around February or so, with the winter blues setting in, I ended up purchasing a few things that I just nnneeeeeddd. I had plenty new things to try all year and didn't need to have a mid-winter fix by emptying out my wallet.

Over the next two months, I have five remaining items for review.

  • TruthQuest
  • Apologia
  • Tapestry of Grace
  • Memoria Press
  • Friendly Chemistry
Look for my reviews soon on a couple of these. TruthQuest should be posted by the end of this week. These items will close out the 2008-09 TOS Crew.

I'm happy to announce that I'm returning for the 2009-2010 Crew. I'm privileged to be one of the 25 current members to be asked return next year as First Mates. With the First Mates serving as mentors to the new Crew and 75 vendors on board, it is sure to be another busy year. This year has been a rewarding voyage and I'm looking forward to continuing the journey.

Application are currently being accepted for the new Crew. There will be details in the spring issue of TOS and I'll also post the details here soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Giveaway!!! WriteShop Primary (Book A) and Activity Worksheets

This giveaway includes the full digital version of both Primary Book A and the Activity Set Worksheet Pack - a $28.75 value! If you haven't already, read my recent review on this product.

WriteShop describes Primary Book A as:

"WriteShop Primary Book A is recommended for students in kindergarten or first grade. The program accommodates pre-writers as well as beginning and developing writers. It teaches the skills of the writing process at the very simplest level through engaging activities, crafts, and picture books and creates an environment that promotes a joy of learning.
Please note: The winner may not resell or transfer this product to a third party. This giveaway is by permission from WriteShop as a special opportunity to bless another homeschooler that has children in the target age range (we have older kids). The winner will need Adobe Reader 8.0 or higher to view the document.

How to enter (leave a comment for each one you do for an entry):

1. Leave a comment with your email address.
2. Blog about this giveaway, leaving a link to the post.
3. Publicly follow my blog. (If you already follow, just note that.)
4. Subscribe to my blog via rss feed. (If you already do, just note that.)

You can earn up to four entries! Make sure you leave a comment for each item.

This giveaway will end on April 13th at 6 pm EST. Winner will be selected by random drawing.


Each post has been assigned a number based on order of entry.

And the winner, as determined by www.random.org, is....


Thank you, everyone, for entering!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: WriteShop Primary (Book A)

When my daughter was a young and early writer, I wasn't exactly sure the best way to guide her. There didn't seem to be many early writing programs available for the younger ages other than workbooks, most concentrating on parts of speech. Instead, in those early years, I taught her to write by writing together and guiding the process, in a step-by-step manner. Each day she would write a few sentences, needing less and less of my help as she progressed. It was one of those lucky moments when I actually intuitively selected the right thing to do, rather than my more common trial and error. While I didn't follow a writing curriculum, at the heart of the latest writing curriculum for review is a similar method called Guiding Writing Practice.

Early in the year I reviewed WriteShop's StoryBuilder cards (here), a fun way to get the writing creativity flowing. This time I was sent WriteShop's Primary, Book A, the first in a series of three, authored by Nancy Sanders. Book A is for grades K-2 and available in both print and digital. I received the digital version. Also included in my review package was the Activity Set Worksheet Pack for Book A.

Primary Book A, 186 pages long, is an intro to early writing skills through flexible and incremental teaching. Throughout the lessons, the parent guides and models the writing process for the student. In fact, the early lessons start with the parent writing and the child helping, slowly contributing more as the lessons continue. A foundation through modeling is established in an encouraging, easy-to-implement manner through predictable Guiding Writing Practice activities.

Before even starting, parents are given several schedule options, with lessons lasting 1-3 weeks, depending on the needs of the student. Suggestions for teaching different levels, creating a writing center and how to teach the lessons are also included within the first 20 pages of the book.

There are a total of 10 lessons, each focused on a new writing skill. Sure to appeal to younger kids, each lesson also has a theme, e.g. animals, trains or friendships. Picture books and fun craft projects are incorporated into each lesson. To get an idea for what sort of activities and projects are incorporated into the lesson, you can view a list here. The lesson starts with a clear objective and materials list for the parent, followed by 8 activity sets, each incorporating about 5-10 minutes of Guided Writing Practice.

Activity Set 1: Guided Writing Practice only
Activity Set 2: Pre-writing Activities and Picture Book
Activity Set 3: Brainstorming
Activity Set 4: The Writing Project
Activity Set 5: Editing and Revising
Activity Set 6: Activity Set Worksheet
Activity Set 7: Publishing the Project
Activity Set 8: Want To Do More?

Depending on the schedule selected, the number of weekly activities will vary. Be sure to check out a sample lesson for Book A and the scope and sequence for the complete series.

The Activity Set Worksheets are considered to be integral rather than supplemental, but are sold as a separate item. Included are two worksheets per lesson and two evaluation forms that track progress over five lessons. The worksheets are simple and support the material covered in each lesson. Below is a sample worksheet from Book A.

The Activity Worksheets, use of picture books and craft-like projects are definitely suited for the younger child. Book A would be best used with K-young 2nd students. Most 3rd graders will find the lessons too childish. Second and third graders can begin with Book B or C of the series, expected to be released in the next 3-6 months.

Being in 4th and 6th grade, both of my kids are too old for Primary Book A and were unable to give it a trial run. From the teacher perspective, the lessons are easy to understand and seem easy to implement. Any prep work required is noted in a text box preceding the activity. For the Guided Writing Practice, prompts and scripted examples are provided. I especially like the flexibility of the lessons, which accommodates both the pre-writer and the accelerated student. This is always a big plus for me when looking at resources for our homeschool. With the parent guiding, the student participates as they are able. Some activities have Smaller Steps and Flying Higher sections to adjust the activity for younger or accelerated learners. The download process was easy, though I prefer printed materials. As far as the layout and readability, this didn't make for a complicated digital product for those of you who prefer to go the digital route. You will need Adobe Reader 8.0 or higher in order to read the document.

If you are in the market for something a bit more formal to guide writing instruction for your younger student, WriteShop's Primary series may be worth checking out. WriteShop PrimaryBook A is a gentle introduction to writing that is easy to teach and fun for the student. It doesn't get much better than that!

WriteShop's Primary Book A is available in print for $26.95 or as an ebook for $24.25. The Activity Worksheet set is $4.95 for the print edition and $4.50 as an ebook. WriteShop has writing resources through high school and well as a blog that contains a wealth of writing teaching ideas and information.

Read more review on this product and others by visiting the Official Blog of the TOS Crew.


Because my children are older, I have received permission from WriteShop to bless another family's homeschool with this product. Click here for the details of a blog giveaway for the digital version of Primary Book A and the Activity Set Worksheet Pack.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Ultimate Blog Party?!

Hello - my name is Heidi. Welcome to my blog and thank you for visiting!

When I heard about The Ultimate Blog Party hosted by 5 Minutes for Mom, I'll admit I was completely clueless! I am definitely a blogging newbie! For those unaware (like me!), the Ultimate Blog Party runs from March 2-27 and is virtual party for online friends and potential friends. You don't even need to be a blogger to participate.

Ultimate Blog Party 2009

Oh, the things I've learned this year! Last year I hardly knew what I blog was and why one would want to have one. Then, six months ago I ventured out into the blogging world. I started my blog for a place to share homeschooling product reviews when I became a part of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Now I'm partying with the best of them. If you are a homeschooler or thinking of homeschooling, be sure to visit regularly as I'll be posting many more product reviews throughout this year and next.

In between reviews, I also post about my kids, homeschooling, and whatever else comes to mind. Lots of chatter, lots of clatter and occasionally things that really do matter.

Be sure to leave a comment! If you homeschool, is there a particular homeschooling product you'd like to see reviewed? Do you have any tips for new bloggers? Share your thoughts!
Come join the party! There are even PRIZES! My top three prize picks would be:

  • $100 gift card to HomeGoods, Provided by: HG Openhouse
Take a look at the prize list! My other favorites would be 21, 22, 26, 23, 113, 118, 56, 88. Since my kids are 9 and 12, anything not having to do with babies would be on my list!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: Schleich Action Figures

"I want the cat!”
“NO! I want the cat. It's so cute!”
“I called it first!”
“Did not!”
“OK, you can have the cat, but I get the horse and the elephant.”
“Come on! I like the elephant toooooooo.”
“But you have the crocodile!”
“I let you have the donkey. Give. me. the. elephant!”

No, this conversation was not an exchange between preschoolers nor some bizarre exotic animal trade between adults. This conversation was just a snippet of the negotiations that took place between my regressed 9 and 12-year-old when the Schleich box arrived at my house. Thankfully they worked out the division of toy animals without tears. Barely.

What was so special about these toy animals that brought out the gimmes of kids this age? If you don't know, obviously you have not seen the gorgeous figurines by Schleich. I was about ready to snatch the and run with the elephant myself.

Schleich has been around for over 75 years and has been manufacturing quality figurines since the 1950s. I was sent a collection of animals from both the Farm Life and Wild Life animal series. I'm not a stranger to this company; my son has admired figurines from their knight line carried by our local specialty toy shop for a couple of years. My daughter oohed and awed over the fairy figurines in the catalog sent with our package, once the animal negotiations were completed. In addition to figurines, they also have some wonderful playsets and accessories, such as a castle, barn, and stable. All in all, there are over 500 figurines and accessories from the following categories:

  • Farm Life
  • Wild Life
  • Forest Animals
  • Trees & Plants
  • Human Figures
  • Pets
  • Dinosaurs
  • Dog

  • Sea Animals

  • Prehistoric Animals

  • Replica Saurus

  • World of Knights

  • World of Elves

  • World of American Frontier

  • Smurfs

  • Schleich doesn't produce just your average plastic play thing. Schleich action figures are of very high quality and very detailed, living up to their philosophy of responsibility to parents and children.

    "The design of our products is as realistic and naturalistic as possible. This enables children to experience the large variety of nature - from domestic animals on a farm to wild animals in the jungle.

    When deciding on licensing products such as comic figurines we pay careful attention to their character and the message they carry. Educational aspects play a more important part than possible sales potential."
    Each item is hand-painted and has a nice feel in the hand. Even my kids noticed the fine craftsmanship. These figurines neither look cheap nor feel cheap.

    Schleich action figures will hold up to some enthusiastic playing, yet are impressive enough to inspire the start of a collection. The detail of the figurines brings up the level of educational value of these toys. They would be excellent to add interest to a unit study of a particular animal, as a 3d version to hold and study. The American Frontier series could be used as an extension of history studies by allowing children to act out what they've learned or as part of a diorama or display for friends and family. My daughter used some of the figurines as a model for drawing. Since Schleich takes such care to make figures as realistic as possible, they worked as a great study for a budding artist.

    Of course, not everything has to be pure educational value. These toys are perfect for good 'ole fashion play. Whether you child has a menagerie of pets to tend or is called to battle a dragon as a knight, these figurines will likely strike up some imaginative play in no time. With Resurrection Sunday coming up, I may considered purchasing a few to put in baskets. Another cat might be a good choice in an effort to keep the peace!

    The figures I received range in cost from $2.49 - 6.49. They can be purchased in a variety specialty toy stores or direct from Schleich online. Visit the Schleich site to view the various figurines available, search for a supplier near you, set up a wish list or have fun in the playground with games featuring the figurines.

    What did others from the TOS Crew have to say about Schleich? Click here to find out!

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Review: Generations of Virtue

    The journey from girlhood to womanhood can be one of anticipation and anxiety – for both mother and daughter. Mothers need to carefully discern what information to share and the best time to share it. For daughters, the physical and emotional changes experienced can bring about feelings of uncertainty. However, entering a new stage of life should also be cause for celebration.

    The Beautifully Made! series was specifically created to help guide girls and their mothers during the transition from young girl to young lady. After looking for appropriate resources for girls going through adolescence and coming up empty-handed, Julie Hiramine, Founder and Executive Director of Generations of Virtue, set out to meet the need through this compilation of thoughts and advice on the subject. For those not familiar with this ministry, Generations of Virtue is a non-profit organization dedicated to “purity of heart, purity of mind, purity of body” in a culture that embraces otherwise. It is their desire to provide parents with the resources they need to raise the standard of values for future generations.

    Beautifully Made!, which retails for $18.99, consists of three books, two for daughters and one for mothers. Each book is a quick read, from approximately 45-60 single-sided pages, meant to inform and encourage. The first in the series, Approaching Womanhood, is written directly to girls ages 8-12. Explanation of what changes to expect and when, how to adapt, the biology behind the changes, and their effects will put girls at ease about their changing bodies. Celebrating Womanhood is for the next stage, intended to be read by young ladies when they first start their period. The focus of this title is the significance of God's design of women as well as practical advice, such as supply choices and dealing with PMS. The last book, Wisdom from a Woman, is a mother's guide on how to approach the topic with daughters, the best time and how, leading predictors of a changing body and most importantly, how to make this a special time - a rite of passage rather than an event to dread.

    Having a daughter who started asking questions extremely early, I am not new to the quest of finding appropriate resources. I can assure you, it is no easy mission. Many books contain not only too much information, but also take a non-Biblical stance in some areas. A Biblically-based resource for this topic is refreshing. Scripture is throughout and sound advice contributed from mothers and young women. Only information that is most pressing and timely is covered, saving the rest to be introduced later at the discretion of the parent. Mothers are encouraged to communicate with their daughters and daughters with their mothers throughout the books.

    While these materials come from a Biblical perspective, I do urge any parent to read the books before handing them to your daughter. They are meant as a tool for discussion, not a replacement of a loving, guiding parent. In Celebrating Womanhood, one section in particular, The Symbolism of Blood, especially falls within the preview category. Within this section is an analogy, presented in the context of positively and Biblically viewing womanhood, which I personally found to be a bit too creative of an interpretation. Reading in advance is the best way to be prepared to discuss the content or advise your daughter to skip sections that you feel may not be helpful to her.

    In the mother's guide, Wisdom from a Woman, mothers are encouraged with the following:
    "There have been days as a mother that I have wondered if I am an expert about anything, especially all the changes my daughters are going through. Then God speaks and confirms that He is the One who has given me these precious children as gifts and equipped me to be their guide for this season."
    With Beautifully Made!, mothers will be better able to serve as the God-appointed guide and assist their daughters through the journey to womanhood.

    Generations of Virtue is more than a Christian company; they are a full-fledged ministry battling the negative influences of our culture. They carry a variety of products - books, purity rings, movies and more - for boys, girls and parents. For a limited time, you can get free shipping on your online order using the coupon code 1xship2009. Visit their website to view their full product line and the Generations of Virtue blog for ongoing encouragement and updates on the ministry.

    Visit the Official TOS Crew blog to read more reviews on this product and others from Generation of Virtue.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Review: Home School in the Woods - New Testament Activity Pak

    You may have heard about lapbooking, but not quite sure exactly what it means. Lapbooking is a hands-on activity that results in a creative portfolio of subject matter studied and learned, typically of a single topic. Students create mini-books, paper crafts, pop-up displays, time lines, pictures and more to arrange on a file folder or poster board, which can easily be filed away as a record or for future review. Think scrapbooking with an injection of homeschooling. Much like scrapbooking, those that are not familiar with the process may be intimidated by the impressive results, especially those that claim to be craft-challenged. I would definitely fall within that category and have never mustered up the courage to try a lapbook. That was, until, Home School in the Woods sent me their New Testament Activity Pak.
    Home School in the Woods is a company that is "committed to the educating, training, loving, nurturing, and raising up of our sons and daughters in the knowledge of Jesus Christ to be heirs of His kingdom and ambassadors of His calling..." through their history products. I was sent the digital version of the New Testament Activity-Pak for grades 3-8, one of the three available Activity-Pak topics available.

    The download for this product comes in 10 files, a total of 92 pages of detailed instructions and images. There are seventeen projects included.

    1. The Lineage from David to Jesus
    2. Triptych of the Birth of Jesus Christ
    3. Miracles of Jesus
    4. The Beatitudes Pie Book
    5. Fruit of the Spirit
    6. The Parables of Jesus
    7. The Last Supper
    8. The Crucifixion
    9. The Ascension
    10. Pentecost
    11. The Resurrection
    12. Prophesies Fulfilled
    13. The Twelve Disciples
    14. Paul’s Missionary Journeys
    15. Postcards from Paul
    16. “The New Testament News”
    17. The Armor of God

    The first fifteen are for the lapbook and the last two are stand-alone projects. You can see pictures of these last two projects at the bottom of the photo above.

    One of the first things I noticed was the wonderful illustrations. I soon found out that Amy Pak, owner of Home School in the Woods, is the artist of these detailed pictures. The second thing I noticed was that the instructions were clear, including a photo gallery file to give users and idea of what the end project should look like. In addition to the download, card stock (white and colored), paper (white and colored), a file folder, color pencils, glue sticks, double-sided tape, scissors, single-hole punch, paper fasteners, clear tape, velcro, an exacto knife and a functional printer are needed to complete the lapbook.

    Some of the projects are quite simple and others a little more involved, so this really would be a great for a variety of ages to work together. I would suggest sticking with colored pencils since markers will smear and the end result looks better than crayons. For the hands-on learner who likes crafty projects, a lapbook would be a great end to a unit study. The components could also be made throughout the study and concluded with the assembly. Neither of my children are fond of cut, color and assemble type projects, so I did this project solo. I'll admit, I was rather curious if I could pull it off. This would be a true test of the product's usability.

    News Alert: Craft-challenged Mom Tackles Lapbook

    I can't say my results look as good as the example, but I do think they are respectable for a non-crafty mom's first attempt at a lapbook. I used a pocket folder instead of a file folder, since that is what I had on hand. The pocket folder worked, but I think a file folder would have been better. If I were to do it again, I would have color-coordinated the cardstock, folder and paper and not have gone so lightly with the colored pencil. The pie-shaped book (top right picture, upper right-hand corner) looked complicated at first, but I was able to follow the step-by-step directions with no problems. My only complaint would be all the printing that needed to be done, but that obviously can't be avoided. Older kids would have easily done this entire project on their own. Younger children may need some help with the cutting and assembly.

    If you think you'd like to give lapbooking a try with your children, this Activity-Pak would be a great start! Those that are familiar with lapbooking are sure to be pleased with the quality as well. It is available as a download for $18.95 or on CD for $19.95 plus shipping. Be sure to check out the History Through the Ages timeline products and the Time Traveler's history-based activity studies also available at Home School in the Woods.

    Visit the TOS Crew Official Blog to read more reviews on this product.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    A Review of Bonnie Terry Learning

    For over 35 years, Bonnie Terry has worked in special education and currently is director of a private learning center. She is recognized as a top expert in her field. You can read more about her impressive credentials here. Terry's expertise from her many years of working with children who were struggling academically is now available, printed and bound for parents and teachers to use with their own students. I was sent two products for review - Making Spelling Sense and Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills.

    Making Spelling Sense
    Grades 1-3, struggling older students
    120 pages plus appendix

    Making Spelling Sense focuses on spelling the 500 most used words with spelling patterns. Once the basic spelling patterns are mastered, students should be able to spell thousands more words beyond the 500 taught in the book. Terry removes the mystique of spelling by pointing out that consonants and vowels combine in only 8 different ways to make words. The book consists of the following parts:

    Part I: The eight spelling patterns in 50 spelling lessons for the 500 most used words in the English language.

    Part II: Suffixes, Open and Closed Syllables, Prefixes

    Part III: Additional Word Lists

    Part IV: The Appendix, Practice Test Sheets

    A DVD is provided that explains to the teacher how to teach the patterns and use the book. Each lesson is covered in the same 2-page format. Ten words that follow the pattern are introduced by having the student write the word and identify the pattern. On the second page are two puzzles that use the words on the previous page. Any spelling rules or tips that may be needed are noted at the bottom of the first page. Terry has incorporated a helpful pretest and test procedure where the students first write each sound, next write the word, and then the spelling pattern before testing for the lesson. Making Spelling Sense utilizes visual, auditory and tactile modes of learning.

    For my struggling speller, I used those lessons in Making Spelling Sense that aligned with our current program as a supplement. My son appreciated the puzzles the most! I found that everything was well laid-out and easy to follow. I particularly liked the pretest method described earlier. As far as the approach, my son seems to do better with a focus on spelling rules rather than patterns. However, Making Spelling Sense referenced many of the same rules and was compatible for re-enforcement. Pattern recognition is also a component of my son's current spelling program and can be effective for many students. I asked Terry about using this as a supplemental program, rather than a stand alone, and she had the following to say:

    "I always believe in making things as relevant as possible. The books can easily fit into any other program you are working such as Orton-Gillingham. They are a great supplement/addition to the program. I like teaching patterns because there are only 8 of them to retain vs a whole bunch of rules."
    I also inquired about Making Spelling Sense II, the next step of her spelling program.

    "Yes, a stronger speller can jump into book II without going through the first one. The lessons are all based on the patterns too. The second book gets into more difficult words and after completing it, there is a list of 113 sets or pairs of common homonyms that can be used for further spelling lists and a list the most 500 most frequently misspelled words that you can do with the same pretest sheets and pick out activities from earlier lessons to do with them."
    If your student is having trouble with the spelling rules, focusing on the eight spelling patterns may be what they need to get them over the hurdle.

    Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills
    Grades 1 and up
    58 pages, single-sided

    This book includes quick and easy exercises used to improve writing and study skills. Thirteen different forms are included with detailed instructional sample pages. Each form helps the student to organize information simply and visually. Once information is categorized, students are better able to write about or study the material. Various study aids and references are also included. The sections are as follows:

    Part I Getting Started, supplies needed and planning calendars

    Part II The Nitty Gritty, various forms and examples

    Part III Study and Writing Tips, general study and note taking tips

    Part IV Easy References, spelling, grammar and writing tools

    The exercises are easy and non-threatening to the student, yet teach the important organizational skills many students are lacking. For example, one form is called the Hamburger Paragraph. The top of the bun represents the topic sentence, or main idea. The ingredients equals the details of your main idea. Lastly, the bottom of the bun is a conclusion or restatement of the topic. Students can put their thoughts in each category, before writing a paragraph. Giving a starting point with organized ideas, it is then easier to focus on how to express the information in complete written form. Some of the forms in this book can be used as early first grade and others through high school.

    Both of my very different kids lack in the area of organizational skills. This is such an essential precursor to learning. Terry has included many simple forms all in once place for easy reference for a variety of ages. These forms can be used with any subject. For example, my son was doing a science lesson and I had asked him to repeat to me what he had just learned in the lesson (how flight works). He knew the information, but was having trouble organizing his thoughts for a complete verbalized answer. I made a copy of the Cause and Effect form, which consists of two rows of five boxes with a line connecting each box row. The Cause is on the left and the Effect on the right. Together we decide on each factor of flight and what effect it had. In the end, our form looked like this:

    The Cause box doesn't necessarily have to be filled in with the information from the previous Effect box. This is just how we did it. Seeing the step-by-step cause and effect visual on the form helped my son to better explain the process.

    For my daughter, I see a lot of potential with the forms that help create an outline for research papers. She is an excellent writer, but often times has trouble organizing her thoughts before writing. For fiction, a write-where-your-imagination-leads-you approach is sometimes effective. With a research paper, it is usually not. The outline form will help her organize thoughts and topic components in a way that is not overwhelming prior to writing .

    I especially liked the Study & Writing Tips section for quick reference while doing writing assignments. This section included references such as writing a bibliography, essay writing tips and general writing tips.

    For the typical homeschooler, I felt both of these titles were on the pricier side. However, for those with struggling students, this may be a small price to pay to get your child on the right track, not to mention much cheaper than tutoring. A tutor or teacher, with many students, may get more bang for their dollar. Both books come with a limited reproduction permission for reproduce up to 50 copies per year to use with the purchaser's own students.

    If your student struggles in the area of spelling or study skills, these products may help them get on a better path to learning. All Bonnie Terry Learning products come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked. Visit the website to read more about these products and others offered, including learning games. For free teaching and homework tips, stop in at Bonnie Terry's blog.

    Be sure to visit the Official TOS Crew Blog to read more reviews on these products and others offered by Bonnie Terry Learning.

    Monday, March 9, 2009

    A Review of Tales of Glory Noah's Ark Set by One2Believe

    One of my all-time favorite Bible stories is that of Noah's Ark. When I was younger, the thought of pairs of animals – lions, elephants, bears and giraffes with long necks hanging out windows- all floating on a boat during a world-wide flood was just plain fun. Now, as an adult strongly in the Young Earth and Creationist camp, I find the details of a world-wide flood absolutely fascinating. What a better way to share this Bible story and the details surrounding it with young children than through toys?

    One2Believe has a variety of Bible-teaching toys to use with children at home or church. In October, I reviewed a nativity set by this company. Up for review this time is a Noah's Ark set. Included in this set are pairs of elephants, sheep, donkeys, camels, ostriches, lions, and monkeys with an ark large enough to contain them all. Noah, of course, is included to tend to all the animals.
    When the box arrived, my 9-year-old was begging to pry it open. I encouraged him to complete his schoolwork, but alas, he had become fixated. During his next break, he happily took me up on my offer to bust out the ark. My 12-year-old daughter joined in to create the animal parade up the ramp and on to the deck. Giggles surfaced once they realized the return of the smiling camel and bug-eyed donkey from the nativity set. Both of my kids are outside of the target age for this product, but they enjoyed it as a playful diversion from their school work that day.

    I next took the ark to our class day with our local homeschool support group. My first tester was a little 4-year-old boy appropriately named Noah, who was to happy to play while he waited for his older siblings in class. After I showed him how to open the ark, which is a bit tricky, he quickly became engaged in playing with the animals. The ramp to the ark was a bit difficult for his little hands, but it just gave the animals more adventure getting to the deck! The 3" pieces seemed to be the optimum size, just large enough to fit in small hands easily. After Noah's turn, a group of girls in the 5-8 age range asked if they could take the ark to play in the other room. It disappeared for a couple hours before being returned with a thank you for the opportunity to play with it. Overall, the play set seemed to have earned kid-approval.

    This certainly is a comical set with animated animals, some of which aren't your typical passengers in other ark sets I've seen. While I originally felt that the plastic ark was a bit too flimsy, I realized that the fact that the ark can float adds considerable play value. A heavier construction may result in a sinking ship; a capsized ark would be no fun in the tub. For younger kids who are prone to mouthing smaller items, you may want to set Noah's removable staff aside. Speaking of Noah, he's the only on the ark that is missing a mate and is the sole human on this voyage. One mom suggested that Mrs. Noah was below deck taking care of the animals. Knowing how things work at my house, that sounds reasonable to me! Perhaps she was successful in enlisting the help of her sons and wives too.

    Overall, this set is an excellent way to introduce the stories of the Bible through play. It will storm the raging waters of the bathtub, serve as a teaching tool at Sunday School or home and engage the imagination to better understand the truths of the Bible.

    Visit One2Believe to purchase the Noah's Ark set, which retails for $29.99, and other products from the Tales of Glory line of Biblically- based toys.

    Did this toy float or sink with the other TOS Crew members? Read more reviews at the Official TOS Crew Blog.

    Sometimes Life Just Isn't Fair!

    This chipmunk hung outside our doorwall tormenting my cat for so long, I started to suspect that he knew what he was doing!

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    A Review of SpellQuizzer

    I used to think that good readers would naturally be good spellers. For some kids, that's true. Other kids, however, may accurately read a word hundreds of times yet still not be able to spell it. This has been the case with my son, who had up to seven grade levels between spelling and reading abilities at one point. For him, just seeing and reading a word isn't enough.

    In addition to detailed phonics and spelling rules instruction, my son requires repeated practice before finally mastering a word. He can spell some quite complicated phonetic words but be completely stumped by seemingly less difficult words, making his spelling lists rather unique. While I encourage each of my children towards independent work, giving daily oral spelling quizzes requires my undivided attention.

    SpellQuizzer is a downloadable spelling software that give students independent spelling practice. Dan Hite, SpellQuizzer creator, originally designed the program to assist his own kids in learning their weekly spelling lists. SpellQuizzer allows parents to enter and save custom spelling word lists for their students. Once entered, students can then use the program independently for spelling practice.

    It sounds like a pretty standard spelling program. However, there is one unique feature that differentiates SpellQuizzer from other spelling practice programs. With SpellQuizzer, words are entered with a microphone, allowing the parent to record both the word and a sentence in their own voice. You can't get much more custom than that!

    If users do not have a microphone and computer speakers, a reminder phrase can be entered instead of a recording to prompt the student what word they are to enter. For example, for the word “book”, the phrase “something that has pages that we can read” would prompt the student what word to enter. The phrase feature can also be used in conjunction with a recording. I highly advise users invest in a microphone, easily found for around $10, to use with this program rather than rely on just the phrase feature. Without the recording feature, the value of the program decreases considerably.

    The program is very simple for kids to use. To quiz, students click on the "Quiz me on a list" button, select the appropriate list and individually type in each word as given.

    If the word is correct, the student moves on to the next word. If it is incorrect, the program shows how the student spelled the word next to the correct spelling before moving on. At the end of the quiz, students are given a score along with an option to re-quiz on those words that were incorrect. To see SpellQuizzer in action, you can view a demo of how the spelling practice works.

    Entered lists can be modified any time, adding or deleting words. One feature I liked was the ability to select words from saved lists to create a completely new list, perfect for quizzing on previously mastered words. Users can also share and download lists from the SpellQuizzer site with other users. I was particularly interested in Dolch (sight) words, which are difficult for my son to learn, only to discover these are already available for download at the SpellQuizzer site, saving me even more time.

    My son had first try at using SpellQuizzer. As a mentioned earlier, he needs a lot of repetition of each word before mastering. The time-saving potential of using SpellQuizzer was very appealing to me. Once the word and sentence were recorded, only taking a few seconds, I could add it to any practice list at any time. I was sure to add silly and custom sentences to make practice more fun. Since my son is a Lego fanatic, many of my sentences incorporated this love.
    The spelling curriculum that I currently use with my son on a daily basis incorporates review of both missed words and previously mastered words. New words are quizzed with each lesson. With SpellQuizzer, I add any daily words missed to a running list. The following day, before spelling work starts, I have my son review words missed in previous lessons on SpellQuizzer.

    Since we've started using SpellQuizzer, my son has been mastering his missed words at a much faster rate. I am very happy with his progress! After each quiz, I ask him to tell me how many words he missed on the first quiz and how many on the re-quiz. The improvement each time is very encouraging to him and I've noticed he's now paying closer attention to the correct spelling when he misses words so he's better able to get the word correct on the re-quiz. Since writing is laborious for him, he's happy to type his words and I'm happy for the added typing practice.

    My daughter is natural speller and I no longer do much spelling work with her. For her, we used SpellQuizzer with a completely different application. I discovered the recording time allotment was actually quite lengthy and the answer entry was not just limited to one word. Instead of spelling words, SpellQuizzer was used as a Latin practice and science quiz tool. In both cases, my daughter input the information on her own, which in itself was a learning opportunity. For Latin study, she mostly used it as a quiz for verb forms. For science, vocabulary word definitions were recorded and the term entered as the answer. Since spelling counts on her science exams, this application is very useful. SpellQuizzer gave my daughter a break from the standard flashcard study method and she was very excited to have a new independent study tool.

    While we enjoyed the program as is, this is a fairly new program that is still being improved. One feature I'd really like to see is a tracking feature. Unless I supervise the quiz, which negates the time-saving appeal, I need to rely on my son to communicate what words he was regularly missing to maintain a list of words needing the most practice. Relying on this communication wasn't regularly successful as he'd often forget. Instead, I'd either keep a careful eye on his writing work for other subjects or give an in-person quiz to check on progress. By doing so, I could keep the list edited to the most troublesome words. I asked owner Dan Hite if he had any plans to add this feature and received the following response:

    I've had a few people request a reporting feature for the software. I'm considering adding something along those lines to version 2.0 which I hope to get out by the end of the year."

    While there are no guarantees this feature will be added, it is encouraging that the software designer is considering adding it as a future improvement.

    Also, because this is a downloadable product, rather than stored on a CD-Rom, I inquired about losing the program with a crashed computer. Hite explained the following:

    "Users can always re-download and reinstall the software. If they lose their registration key they can just request the key again from the software's Registration screen. Key delivery is automated so the process of retrieving a lost key is simple."

    It is helpful to know that SpellQuizzer has the customer service in place should something happen to the computer on which it is installed.

    Overall, my family has really enjoyed using SpellQuizzer as a study tool and will continue to use it in various applications. The software sells for a one-time fee of $29.95, which also includes any future updates and a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you would like to try before you buy, a 30-day full trial is offered at the SpellQuizzer website.

    For more reviews on this product, visit the TOS Crew Official Blog.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Giveaway!!! ARTistic Pursuits K-3 Book One Sampler

    This giveaway is for a sampler only of the ARTistic Pursuits Grades K-3 Book One. This will be a great way to try out the product before you buy. The sample includes five full lessons out of the 32 lessons in the full curriculum. You can read more about the K-3 books offered by ARTistic Pursuits here.

    To read more about ARTistic Pursuits, including a review of the Junior High Book One program, click here.

    To enter, leave a comment with your name and email address.

    For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway and leave a comment that you did so, including your blog address.

    For a third entry, publicly follow my blog (see sidebar to sign up) and leave a comment that you are following.

    This giveaway is open to US residents only. Winner will be selected by random drawing on March 19th at 6 pm EST and notified via email.

    Update: Congrats, Natalie. You are the winner!

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    A Review of ARTistic Pursuits

    My daughter loves to draw. Often times she's sketching out an illustration for a story she authored or just keeping her hands busy while listening to a book on tape. Recently she's taken an interest in improving her drawing independently. We own a variety of step-by-step drawing books, but they have an emphasis on following directions rather than art understanding or application. Drawing technique books have been rejected for looking too technical and outside art classes, while enjoyed, have been too group and project-oriented. Nothing seemed to fit an independent and creative art student in need of some direction. So, it was quite timely when I had the opportunity to review an art curriculum that was not only comprehensive, but directed at the student.

    ARTistic Pursuits, authored by Brenda Ellis, is an art curriculum created for homeschoolers by homeschoolers. For review, I received the Junior High Book One, The Elements of Art and Composition. Designed to be a full year of instruction, there are 16 units which can easily be divided into weekly two lessons, one hour each. Through pencil, ink and wire projects, students learn various art techniques in addition to exploring world history and examining art work by the masters. The curriculum is directed at the student, involving them in the creative process.

    Each unit has four unique lessons: Building a Visual Vocabulary, Art Appreciation and History, Techniques, and Application. Each lesson introduces either an element of art or a principle of design, giving students the exposure and practice to automatically incorporate it into their thinking and drawing. Through these projects, students will learn to apply the secrets of the great artists:

    1. Learn to observe the world around you – to really see it.
    2. Learn what to look for.
    3. Learn to focus on one element of art at a time, while drawing, and block out the others

    An element of art or composition is singled out in each lesson. Concepts are arranged so that they build on each other with opportunity for earlier concepts to be applied in later projects. Click here to view a full lesson and also see a list of contents for both the Junior High One and Junior High Two books.

    Inspiring student work is shown throughout the book. Encouragement to create a personal work, rather than copy step-by-step instructions, gives students a sense of accomplishment. The emphasis in ARTistic Pursuits is to develop skills through the student's own observation and creativity. You can read about the instructional philosophy of the author here.

    There is a lot to be appreciated about ARTistic Pursuits. It is extremely user-friendly. The layout and organization of the lessons is nicely done. A list of supplies is included on the first page, divided by semester. I had most of the needed supplies already, but all of the supplies can also be purchased as a kit directly from ARTistic Pursuits. From a practicality of use standpoint, the comb binding allows the book to lie flat when doing the lesson. I also appreciate that the book is non-consumable.

    In terms of content and instruction, I like that art history and art appreciation are integrated into the lessons. Pictures of master works are included right in the lesson, in color. The introduction of single elements in each lesson makes this program approachable to beginners yet not overly simplistic for more talented students. However, my favorite feature is that students can work through the book entirely on their own, taking full ownership of their art instruction.

    Being able to work independently was also a favorite feature of my daughter, age 12, and she enjoyed going through the lessons at her own pace. She also positively commented the following,

    “It allows you to use your own creativity, but gives you examples to guide you. It also gives background information on the art, like history, for example.”

    Below is A Horse under a Willow by Utagawa Kunisada and my daughter's "rough sketch", used as an exercise in observation of line. Students works from the work of other artists to better understand what they did, not to make an exact copy or complete and precise work. After a quick study or sketch, students can then apply the same techniques on another project.

    My daughter is looking forward to continuing with ARTistic Pursuits, making it a thumbs up from both of us.

    If you are looking for a user-friendly and comprehensive art curriculum, ARTistic Pursuits is definitely a program to consider. Books leveled for preschool, K-3, 4-6, junior high and senior high are priced at $42.95. You'll find order information, articles on art, sample pages, FAQ and more at the ARTistic Pursuits website.

    **For those of you with younger kids, click here for an opportunity to win a 5-lesson sampler of the ARTistic Pursuits Grades K-3 Book One.

    Visit the TOS Crew's Official Blog to read more review on this product.