Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Knew I Could Be So Cool?

I'm earning a lot of bonus points with youngest lately.  First, it was my utterly impressive and unexpected cartwheel, next it is an awesome garage sale find.

I used to garage sale a lot years ago. My kids were clothed in garage sale finds, fed food fixed with garage sale appliances, and sat their tushes on garage sale chairs.  What can I say? I'm thrifty.  I really don't garage sale that much anymore.  I can't find clothes to fit them or to their liking, I have all the appliances I need and then some, and our house is filled.  On occasion though, I will take a detour when I see a garage sale sign.  I usually don't buy much, but still like to check them out on occasion.

Today on the way home from a class, I spotted a sign.  It was a huge sign and had *balloons*. I'm a sucker for balloons.  One child groaned as I drove by the turn to our house.  My younger still tolerates garage sales, so merely inquired.  When we arrived, my son walked to the table of kid stuff (my groaning child stayed in the car) and walked away.  I took a peek at the same table and spotted *it*, my tool to become the. coolest. mom. ever.  I couldn't believe that my son didn't spot it.  He usually has unexplained super powers to sniff these things out.

Anyhow, *I* spotted *it* and that is what matters. *It* is a completely unused Lego Mindstorm robotics kit.  It is an older one, but we already have the new one and this one has different parts (even better!). What, dear son, you don't have your money with you?  Why, your awesome mom just happens to have $20, the super low asking price (these sell on eBay for $80 plus shipping), that you can borrow.
You see that face? That face has "I have a super cool mom" written all over it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Wildthorn

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
I don’t believe in banning books because then the question becomes not which books to ban, but who gets to decide. However, I do believe that some books should carry warning labels or movie-like ratings (e.g., “R” or “Graphic Content”) so that readers can better decide for themselves which books to read or discard. Wildthorn by Jane England (Houghton-Mifflin Books for Children, 2010; $12.48) is one of these books.
Wildthorn is an historical fiction young adult novel, set in England in 1840, about a young woman who is put into an insane asylum by her family.  She is completely sane, and this is simply a plot to get her inheritance and prevent her from disgracing the family. (She wants to become a doctor, which is a shameful profession for noble women at that time.)  The author was inspired by true stories of women who were incarcerated in asylums in the nineteenth century. This part of the book is well-written and full of interesting plot twists. The escape from the asylum is a bit too easy, but for the most part, the book is realistic and compelling.

Here's where it gets dicey.  The book cover says, "Treachery locks her away.  Love is the key." What the cover or book jacket doesn’t tell you or hint at anywhere is that the "love" is a lesbian affair with her female nurse.  I've had lesbian friends, so I'm not completely aghast at homosexuality among adults (Is it sinful? Yes, but we're all sinners, right?).  What bothers me about this book is that it is written for teens and it describes in detail several trysts with women. I considered including an excerpt to demonstrate my point, but decided I didn’t want unsuspecting eyes to read it. Instead, to give you a sense of the affairs, I’ll just say that scenes include disrobing, beds, touching, and kissing. You get the idea.

If the book jacket hinted or clearly stated that this "love" was with another woman, then a parent or teen could opt out of reading this novel. Moreover, the reader doesn’t discover the protagonist’s sexual tendencies until half-way through the book, which means a teen might read to the end, just to see how it turns out (I did).  Why do authors feel the need to put sexual ideas into teens’ heads that they never had before?

What irritates me most about this book is the feeling of being ambushed by the author. I felt that by not hinting at the nature of the protagonist’s love affair somewhere on the book jacket, the author had broken a bond of trust between author and reader. Overall, I would give the book three stars (out of five), with a strong warning. While the book is well-written, the broken trust left me cold.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 11 and 14, with a keen interest in historical fiction for young adults.

Review: Aletheia Writing Magazine

Aletheia Logo - Oval border

My daughter has loved to write since she was a very little girl.  Even before she could write, she was crafting stories and sharing them verbally.  While some interests come and go, writing has been a true passion.  I am always looking for ways that serve as an outlet for that passion, and for opportunities to learn and share.  Reading the works of others of a similar outlook and position is certainly inspiring and having a written piece published for others to read is the ultimate encouragement and validation. Read on if you have a teen writer needing inspiration and encouragement.

Aletheia Writing Magazine is a quarterly publication comprised of literary and artistic works of Christian teens ages 13-19.  I received both a print copy of Altetheia Writing Magazine and a digital copy of a previous issue for review.

Aletheia Spring 2011 Magazine CoverAletheia Writing Magazine takes teen writers, and their need to have a place for expression, seriously. You won't find watered-down and cutesy works or features. Among the pages of stories, poems, and artwork, each issue also offers a variety of features, included a Writer's Challenge, the Featured Contributor, a book review, Glory to God for the Beauty of Nature, Ancient Ink, interviews, and more.

Regardless of the style of the story or poem, the magazine does have one particular requirement for publication, and that is that all pieces must contribute a final message of hope.  The website's explanation is as follows:

This is what differentiates Christians from the rest of the world- they have hope. They have hope that Jesus is truly who He says He is, and that He has conquered sin and death and all of the darkness of this world and opened up the gates of Paradise for humanity. So, even admist the struggle, the hope needs to shine through.

What we're not looking for: sentimentalism, apologetics, legalism, preachiness, plainness, recreations of biblical stories or events, themes that focus on drugs/alcohol, stories or poems that end in hopeless situations.
While some of the published works are more obviously Christian pieces, others are more general expressions of a teen's thoughts on life. While I found quite a bit of variety in the pieces, I did find that all followed the above criteria.

My daughter is currently a subscriber to another literary (secular) magazine that targets teens, and Aletheia reminded us both quite a bit of it in terms of the target audience and the variety of pieces.  However, there are a few distinctions worth noting.  First of all, my daughter has mentioned in the past that some of the pieces in the other magazine have been outside of her liking as far as content, even venturing into the area of strange and bizarre. The stories in Aletheia Writing were refreshing in that in addition to Christian works, they had much more positive themes in general. Secondly, she felt that the quality and tone of the writings in Aletheia Writing Magazine were deeper and of a different quality and focus.  Aletheia's target seems to be older teens and has a more serious tone than other literary magazines for kids that we've seen in the past.  For us, this is a very positive difference and I intend to add Aletheia to our subscription list as a result.

Overall, I think Aletheia is an excellent resource for any teen interested in writing, illustrating, and artistic pursuits. You can check out a  sample issue for yourself to see if you agree.

Aletheia Writing Magazine is approximately 40 pages each issue and is published four times a year.  Subscriptions are available for $26/year in the United States and $29/year in Canada. You can subscribe though the website, as well as get writing tips, read reviews, submit pieces, and more.

Want to see what others think about this product? Visit the official TOS Crew blog to read more reviews on Aletheia Writing Magazine.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. 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.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Tri-Cross (Games for Competitors)

Tri-Cross Logo

What do you get when you combine the strategy of chess and the simplicity of checkers? Tri-Cross from Games for Competitors.

I was supplied with two editions of Tri-Cross for review.  Both play the same and differ only in matters of storage and portability.  The Tri-Cross Standard Edition, which includes a folded playing board and 20 playing pieces, is the typical style of a boxed board game.


The Tri-Cross Eco-Friendly Travel Edition has the same 20 playing pieces, but the playing board is cloth and folds into a smaller square.  Everything fits conveniently in a drawstring cloth bag. This version is made of organic-cotton and non-toxic inks.  The size of the board and bags were also reduced, making it both eco and travel friendly.

Tri-Cross Eco Board Game

Tri-Cross is intended for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up.  There are also several versions of play, from beginning to advanced.  Players need to strategically move their pieces, which have different playing power, around the board challenging and jumping the pieces of others.  In order to win, the player need to accomplish just one of two goals: jump all the pieces of the opposing player(s) or occupy the center square with any piece for four turns in a row.  Below is a video explaining the most basic game (called the Face-Up Version).
If it seems simple to learn and play, it is because it is exactly that.  We found the Face-Up Version of play to not be overly challenging.  There is strategy involved, but it comes down to who can best place and play two critical pieces, the "tri-cross" and the "six".  Since the "six" is the most powerful pieces on the board, but can be also be jumped by the "tri-cross", the otherwise weakest piece on the board, players need to pay special attention to both of these pieces and the board center.  This version was a very quick game, though we only played with two people.  I imagine it would have gotten more lively with additional players, introducing more critical pieces to watch for and challenge.

The Face-Up Version is intended more as a way to introduce how the game works and develop some basic strategy.  Things get a bit more challenging with the Standard Version of play, where the pieces are initially placed face-down.  Players not only have to remember the power of the face-down pieces until a challenge (when they are turned face-up for the remainder of the game), but they don't have knowledge of the power of their opponent's pieces before a challenge.  There are three variations of the Standard Version, Guts, Reverse Guts, and Team Play, which differ on the beginning knowledge of the power of the pieces played on the board.  You can see a video explaining the Standard Version of play and its variations here.

Tri-Cross develops many skills that we all desire in our children (and ourselves!), including logical thinking, cause and effect, predicting, interpreting outcomes, abstract thinking, memory and visualization.  One of the more difficult things for my son, who tends to make quick decisions, was to anticipate the following moves. I saw his strategy improve as he learned from his mistakes. While Tri-Cross can be a simple game, as the strategy of the players increases and different variations are applied, it becomes more challenging.

I really appreciated the simplicity of learning how to play Tri-Cross. I dislike games that have numerous and complicated rules, requiring just as long to learn the game as it takes to play.  Yet, the simple to learn doesn't mean simple strategy. We only played the game one-on-one, but once we started playing pieces face-down, I quickly realized how I needed to make better use of my brain ("Let's this piece my "6" or this one? Oh - why is he moving that piece there?  I wonder if he's going to challenge that piece over there.  Uh oh...that is only a '3'.  Perhaps I need to move it. ") Like chess, the game requires more strategy than luck, and I would suggest that players be more evenly paired in strategy skills. My son initially got frustrated that I was further along in the strategy, but as soon as I started to give him some pointers and guide his cause and effect thinking, he was able to win.

Overall, we enjoyed this game.  It is simple, yet challenging, and it doesn't take forever to play. I can see why Tri-Cross has been referred to as the "new chess".

Both editions, in addition to a wood version, are available at the Games for Competitors website. While you are at the website, check out the About Us page that shares how the Tri-Cross was reintroduced after 20 years from its original debut (a great family story!). The Standard Edition sells for $24.95, and the Eco-Edition for $19.95.

Want to see what others think about this product? Visit the official TOS Crew blog to read more reviews on Tri-Cross.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. 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, September 23, 2011

Review and Giveaway: The Shunning (DVD)

I saw the trailer for The Shunning a while back as part of the previews for another family movie. It looked rather interesting and I made a mental note to keep an eye out for the movie.  When I recently receive an opportunity to review it, I was thrilled.

The Shunning is based on the novel of the same name, which has sold more than 1 million copies and is authored by Beverly Lewis, a New York Times Bestselling author.

Before she succumbs to cancer, the dying wish of Laura Mayfield-Bennett is to be reunited with the daughter she never knew. Unfortunately, that daughter, Katie Lapp, is a member of the Amish order. Katie is about to be married, but uneasy about the path ahead.  Now she discovers the secret her parents have kept from her: she's adopted. 
The film is based on the celebrated first novel of the best-selling "The Heritage of Lancaster County" book series from author Beverly Lewis. Stars Danielle Panabaker &; Sherry Stringfield.

You can read more about this Hallmark Channel Original Movie at the official website for the movie.  On this site you can also watch the original trailer that drew my attention as well as read about the cast, some of whom you may recognize (e.g. Sherry Springfield of ER).

I really enjoyed the movie and it would make a great selection for the family to watch together.  I watched it one evening on my laptop with headphones, because my husband was listening to something on his iPod and I didn't want to disturb him.  At the point when the main character, Katie, was shunned by her Amish community, my husband, who hadn't watched any of the movie until that point, became interested and started grilling me with questions to catch up to the previous half of the movie.  Then, he continued to watch it with no sound until the ending.  So, I guess you can say that it is interesting enough to hold the interest of someone coming in half-way, even with no sound! Since it was a late night viewing, I didn't have my kids watch with me, but I think my daughter in particular would really enjoy it. I haven't read the book, though it did want to make me seek the title out and give it read.

I will say that I did not like the ending, which is open-ended.  It left me with too many questions about what exactly happened to the main character. I was still thinking about it the next day, which I suppose is the main point of having such an ending; the author wants you to ponder on it.

Closed: Congrats to comment #3, Dianna D.
I have one copy of The Shunning to giveaway to one lucky U.S. reader. See below for how you can enter.  Please make sure to leave a way for me to contact you, should you be the winner.

Mandatory entry:

  • Leave a comment telling me your favorite family-friendly movie.
For additional entries (leave a comment for each):
  • Like The Shunning Movie on Facebook.
  • Follow this blog through Google Friend Connect
  • Subscribe to this blog (rss or email)
  • Like Chatter, Clatter, and Things That Matter on Facebook (this is a brand new page and needs a little love!)
  • Follow Chatter and Clatter on Twitter
  • Post about this giveaway on your own blog, Facebook, Twitter, or others (please specify in your comment).  This will count for two entries for each! Make sure you leave two comments.
The giveaway will end on October 7th at 6 p.m. EST and will be chosen by a random number generator. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Earth Book (AIMS Education Foundation)

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand.
-Chinese Proverb

The above Chinese proverb is on the very first page of the Earth Book from AIMS Education Foundation that I recently received for review.

AIMS, which stands for Activities Integrating Mathematics and Science, is a non-profit organization. It has been publishing hands-on instructional materials that build conceptual understanding in mathematics and science since its beginning in 1981 with a grant from the National Science Foundation.  


The Earth Book, which is full of hands-on activities about our dynamic planet, is targeted toward grades 6-9.  It is broken down into four sections:
  • Hydrosphere – the water on the Earth
  • Geosphere – the solid portion of the Earth
  • Atmosphere – the gaseous layer that surrounds the Earth
  • Interactions – the unequal heating of land and water and the resulting affects
There are almost 60 topics in all, with several activities each. Each topic has an overview for the instructor that covers the following: topic, key question, learning goal, guiding documents (state standards and benchmarks), math and science topics, integrated processes, materials, background information, key vocabulary, management, procedure, connecting learning, and extensions.  It is obvious that a goal of AIMS is to make sure that the instructor thoroughly understands the purpose and goals of the activities. 
Following the instructor section are several handouts for the students.  The student pages always include one with Key Questions and Learning Goals, which covers the purpose of the activity, and another with Connecting Learning, which gives thought-provoking questions about the activity.  Depending on the activity, graphs, diagrams,  and other visuals are offered as support material.  Many of the activities include “rubber band books”.  Rubber band books are created by folding pages with important information on the topic and securing with a rubber band as binding.  The books serve as a review for the students as well as a way for the students to share with others what they’ve learned. All of the handouts and student materials are available as PDF files on the included CD.

A 30-page sample of this title is available that explains the approach of the materials and provides the topic titled "Accounting for Water".  Be sure to check it out to see how nicely these topics are covered. 
 Many of the activities are best done as a group and were designed for a classroom. However, most of the activities can be modified for a single student, which is the situation in my family.  One of the topics my son selected was weathering, which included 8 activities to explore how processes can change the surface of the earth.

Most of the materials needed were easily found around the house, though this isn't always the case with all of the experiments and you may need to run to the local hardware or craft store.  We selected those activities for which we already had supplied. The set up was very simple, though, a definite plus when doing experiments and hands-on projects.
What will happen to chalk when left overnight in vinegar? What about a marble?

If you put some soft clay in the freezer, what will it do to it?  How is this like the earth?
Overall, I've found Earth Book to be full of excellent hands-on activities, with detailed supporting materials for the teacher.  Aside from the materials, everything is provided, from charts and templates, to worksheets.  It is very easy to use and the goal of the experiment - what is to be learned - is very clear.  I really like the thought-provoking questions in the Connecting Learning section. 
The set-up for some topics might be a little much for one student.  For example, one set of activities required stations to be set up for a series of quick activities.  This would be perfect for the classroom or a group, but with just one student at this level, I'd actually prefer one more involved activity over a series of simple ones. That said, those leading science clubs or co-op classes will likely love this book. This title would also appeal to families with several students in the same age/grade range.  The content is presented in such a way that it would work with many grades, making multi-age grouping very feasible (and preferable, likely).  A note, this title states it is for grades 6-9.  I felt the upper range was a stretch and that the content and activities were within the middle school range, but not reaching into high school.

While I was exploring the book, I kept thinking how classroom teachers would love this!  Coincidentally, while I was penning this review, a fellow homeschooler who had previously been a traditional classroom teacher saw me browsing the title and exclaimed, "I love AIMS!  Everything is laid out for you.  Oh wow...this is a newer title.  I love this!  I *want* this book!"  I kept a close eye on it for the rest of the time (wink).

You really can't go wrong with a nearly 500-page book full of hands-on activities.  My son enjoyed the ones we did, and there are plenty more waiting for us for future exploration.  Maybe next time we'll invite some friends over to get the added benefit of group discussion, learning, and exploration!

The Earth Book can be purchased through the AIMS Education Foundation website for $49.95. While you are there, be sure to explore all the other resources that are offered.  You may find some of these other products reviewed by other members of the TOS Crew at the official TOS Crew Blog.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. 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, September 20, 2011

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Black Radishes

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.

imageI’d never even heard of black radishes before. Usually, I don’t care for the sharp taste of radishes. I look upon them as little more than pretty garnishes, cut into roses at the edge of plates of Japanese food. But, recently I’ve become curious about black radishes, which play a key role in the World War II historical young adult fiction novel by the same name, Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer (Delacorte Press, 2010). This is Meyer’s debut novel, and if it is representative of her work, I’m eager to read more.
The novel is based on her father’s experiences growing up as a French Jew during WWII. While protagonist Gustave Becker faces similar circumstances as Meyer’s father, the novel is not a memoire. The book opens in Paris, France in March 1940. Eleven-year-old Gustave Becker and his friends Jean-Paul and Marcel are on a scavenger hunt for the Jewish Boy Scouts. This typical childhood activity is interrupted by a French woman spitting on him, shouting, “Dirty Jews!” As Gustave runs home, he spies the words, “France for the French! Jews out of France!” scrawled on the street.
And so begins Gustave’s journey across France to escape the Nazi German occupation. Gustave and his family escape to Saint-Georges–Sur-Cher, a village which eventually becomes the demarcation line between occupied and unoccupied France. The book includes maps of France and Europe to help the reader picture the action.

The coming-of-age novel has an appropriate amount of danger and implied danger, but little violence, which makes it ideal for upper elementary and early middle school studies of WWII and the Holocaust. Oftentimes, realistic novels on WWII contain too much horror for youthful readers. This novel is the exception.

That is not to say that the novel is watered down or somehow “simple.” It isn’t. The book has a fairly complex plot and subplots, including anecdotes about the black market and the French Resistance. Moreover, the book isn’t overly predictable and is meticulously researched. Meyer weaves historical facts into the story with relative skill, such as the description of the chocolate manufacturer Menier family castle that straddles the demarcation line. What I like most about the book is the attention to small details which make the reader feel as though he is there, like the yellow postcards families are permitted to send across the demarcation line where they can circle “We are well/ill.”

In his dealings with Nazi soldiers, Gustave discovers they love to eat black radishes, salted, with their beer. This discovery helps him distract the soldiers as his father crosses the demarcation line with precious cargo.
Overall, I give this book five stars. And, while I’m not going to rush out and buy heirloom black radish seeds for next year’s garden, this book has sparked my curiosity enough that if I stumble upon black radishes in my travels in Europe or elsewhere, I would definitely try a slice.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 11 and 14, with a keen interest in historical fiction for young adults.

New Blog Feature: Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks


I'm happy to announce a new feature on Chatter, Clatter, and Things That Matter featuring guest blogger, K.E. Weeks.

K.E. Weeks is a very good friend of mine that loves to read young adult fiction. She was drawn to such titles originally because they typically have less objectionable material in them, but often have very interesting plots crafted by talented writers.

As a result, I've been the recipient of many great suggestions for titles for my tween and teen, as well as some titles I've been advised to avoid. Just because a book is in the young adult section of the library does not mean it is always safe to hand over to your teen.

What book lover doesn't desire to share her findings with others? My friend would love to share her findings with other parents, and will be regularly posting her thoughts on titles she's discovered in the young adult section of the library. Her goal is to help guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. And who might find a few excellent titles for yourself, too!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do you Groupon?

Heard of Groupon?  Essentially, it works on the power of buying in numbers.  An offer is made, and if so many get in on it, it becomes a live deal.  You pay a certain discounted amount upfront, then get a coupon to claim.

I had seen info about Groupon a while and pretty much ignored it...until they offered a Groupon for Amazon.  I don't remember the exact amount, something like pay $10 and get $20 worth of product.  The amount of savings didn't matter much, since I buy from Amazon all. the. time. and it was a deal no matter the amount. I joined, got my Amazon coupon, and have been getting Groupon offers since.  I've cashed in on a few, and have been mighty tempted with others.  The nice thing is the Groupon offers are often for local areas, too.  There have been quite a few for stores in little downtown area of my small town over the past year.

There is no fee to sign up. If you would like to check out Groupon, please click on the following link:

Full disclosure! Yes, I could benefit.  If you get in on a Groupon before September 28, I get a little bonus for a future Groupon on my own.  It is a definite win-win, as I suspect you'll be thrilled with the offers that come through.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Impressive Cartwheel

My son came home from jump rope team practice last night a little bummed that he was one of the few that couldn't perform a cartwheel.  One of the tricks team members need to learn for double dutch is to cartwheel into the rope jumping area.  Of course, you need to be able to do cartwheel in the first place.  I didn't anticipate not being able to perform a cartwheel was going to hold back my son in any interests at this point, but here we are, needing to teach him to do a cartwheel at 12.

I asked him to try one out for me to see what was going wrong.  He was trying to bring his legs over at the same time, so I gave him some verbal tips on how to correct that.  He still couldn't figure out.  Since one of the best ways to teach someone is to show them, I said, "Here.  Watch," and performed a cartwheel for him to see.
Image: digitalart /

After my performance, my son exclaimed, "WOW! I didn't know you could do a cartwheel!" Huh! Who knew that a cartwheel would impress my 12-year-old son?  I guess he thought his old mom didn't have any spunk left in her. If only I had known this sooner! I'm quickly running out of ways to impress him. 

I just hope he doesn't come home from practice next week saying he needs to learn how to do a back flip. I'm not entirely sure I can pull that one off anymore without some serious injury!

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Day of School Jitters…for Mom!

Just this weekend, some friends and I were reminiscing and discussing how incredibly fast our homeschooling journey has been.  I had started our journey with these friends when our kids were all toddler and preschool age.  At this point, we have all tweens and teens amongst us.

It was a timely conversation, given that my daughter started college today. No, she hasn’t graduated from our homeschool yet, but is an early dual-enrolled student. In fact, she’s starting her first year of high school and her first year of college!  We found a (hopefully) ideal situation with a small private university that is just a couple miles from our family business.  She rode in with Dad for her 3-hour 9 a.m. class, will do some school work on campus for a couple of hours, and then be picked up by Dad to help in the office for a bit before heading home with him after a long day.

This morning as they were heading out, it felt a bit like her first day of preschool. I was nervous that day, too!
Almost exactly 11 years ago on the first day of preschool.
She was branching out into new territory and new experiences. I remember giving her plenty of advice that first day heading into the world of 3 and 4-year-olds:
  • Pay attention to your teacher.
  • Play nice with the other students.
  • Be sure to act like a big girl!
  • Watch out for boys that might hit.
My advice really wasn’t all that different this morning.  The class might be dull, so try to stay awake. Get along with your classmates and remember...this is a college class. I did have one slight variation on the last one:
  • Watch out for boys that might hit *on* you.
What can I say?  I want her to blend, but am also a bit worried that she'll blend too much! I really wanted to write something like, "too young for you" across her forehead with a Sharpie marker, but she wasn't going for it. "My dad owns guns" and "I aspire to be a nun" were equally dismissed. Fine.  A lecture will have to suffice.

There was another stark contrast. I remember we teased her the first day of preschool by pulling her into the parking lot, stopping the car, and saying, “Well, you have a great day!” pretending that we had no intentions of walking her up to the building and her classroom.  Today we were teasing her that her dad was going to hold her hand and walk her to her classroom (smiles).  Yep, she was just as mortified as her first day of preschool when she thought we wouldn't walk her in.  Oh, and the fact that I had to text her after her class because she didn’t think to call her nervous mother to let her know how it went…well, a definite sign that the dependence of the preschool years is long gone.  Sigh.
First day of college with breakfast on the run (and a side of 'tude!).
As you can see, she wasn’t thrilled with my insistence of documenting her first day of college.  In fact, I think her response was something along the lines of, “There. You have your memory.  Can you stop now?”  Aww… I’m not sure if the sweet preschooler smile or the eyerolling teenager pose is more endearing. You just want to hug them and tousle their hair either way!

Growing up sure is hard…on the parents, that is!  Have a great “first” day of school, honey!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Civilize This! (Griddly Games)


Needing to inject your studies of cultures with a little fun?  Griddly Games' recently released Civilize This! presents "cultural trivia with an adventurous twist."

Civilize This! covers topics and civilizations from three categories: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.  The card game with one die can be used as a stand alone game, or as an expansion pack of the Wise Alec Family Trivia Game.  The play rules are very similar either way.

PhotobucketEach person rolls a die on his or her turn.  Rather than numbers, the die has six different colors.  Red indicates the player draws a card from the Ancient category, green is Medieval, and yellow is Modern.  There is a purple side that prompts a draw from the Wise Alec card pile (explained below).  The blue side of the die allows the player to pick which category and the orange side means his or her opponent can select.  The bonus with the latter is that if the player answers correctly, double points are earned!

Each card has two levels of questions on a similar topic, earning 3 or 7 points, with the higher being the more difficult.  The player can select which level question, or game rules can be structured such that players of certain ages get a certain level question.  A winner is determined either by a predetermined point goal or time limit. There are no real hard and fast rules with this game and it is completely open to customization (you tweakers will be pleased!).

I played several rounds of this game with my son one afternoon while we were stuck upstairs for the day while some work was being done on our house downstairs. The age on the box says ages 8 and up.  Don't let that deceive you...this 40-something had a hard time answering a lot of the questions.  I made it a point to select only the 7-point questions so as to not have an adult advantage, but I think I should have stuck to the 3-point ones!  A deal was made with my son that if he attempted the 7-point question and got it wrong, he could then take a stab at the 3-point question (my sneaky way of getting double the learning in). We played until the first person reached 50 points.

My son didn't feel at a disadvantage playing with his "wiser and older" mother, because I apparently really stink at trivia. So, what did my son learn, other than his mom will never appear on Jeopardy?
  • In New Zealand, Haka was a ritual traditionally performed before which kind of events? Answer: war (Modern, 7 pts)
  • What tool did the Ancient Egyptians use to measure the water level of the Nile? Answer: the Nilometer ~ of course! (Ancient, 7 pts)
  • During which century did the Aztecs settle Mexico? Answer: 13th (Medieval, 7 pts)
  • In Thailand, if the bus is full and a child and an adult get on, who will be offered the seat first? Answer: the child (Modern, 3 pts)
  • Where did the Ancient Hindo game of "Snakes and Ladders" come from? Answer: India (Ancient, 3 pts)
  • When Aztec people made small purchases, they used these beans as money.  What were they? Answer: cacoa beans (Medieval, 3 pts)
Of course, all this learning is occasionally broken up by a request to do your favorite dance move (Wise Alec, 2 pts) or a disappointing point deduction for using your left hand to eat in India (Wise Alec, -2pts), giving the game some unexpected twists and turns.

We ended up playing several rounds.  With about 50 cards in each category, and two questions on each, we didn't even put a dent into the questions. By the time we get through all the questions, I suspect we'll be ready for a refresher course on ones we've already covered!

Civilize This! was a lot more fun than I expected it to be, given it exposed my ignorance on various cultures.  I like the flexibility it offers with the suggestions of optional ways to play and it is very portable to take on the go.  This would be the perfect game to play when the kids needed a little break to mix things up in their studies, but you don't want their brain to go to mush for the day.  Just adjust the time or point limit to fit the amount of time you have to play. The focus is on learning, but the Wise Alec cards throw a bit of extra fun into the game. When isn't humming a Mexican Mariachi tune fun? (and worth 3 pts to boot!)


Civilize This! is available at a variety of online retailers, and perhaps in a store near you!  You can find where to buy this fun and educational game at the Griddly Games website. While you are there, be sure to check out some of the other game offerings.

Want to see what others think about this product? Visit the official TOS Crew blog to read more reviews on Civilize This! and a similar game, Nature Nuts.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. 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, September 1, 2011

But I Don't Want to Be Like Betty!

This is crazy; my email somehow got on the distribution list for AARP!  Granted, I'm not necessarily young, but at 41, I'm hardly ready for AARP. Yet, I keep on getting emails with pleads to join AAPR so I can "live life to the fullest".  Today's email suggested I could be "Be Like Betty"....Betty White, that is.
While I remember watching The Golden Girls in the 80s, I can't exactly remember aspiring to "be like Betty" as a tween.  And guess what? I don't want to be her in my middle-aged years either.  No offense to Betty White.  I'm sure she's a nice person and all.  A very, nice 89-year-old person. 

But there are at lot of other people I'd like to be like.  The fellow homeschooler that seems to have more hours in her day than the rest of does she do it?  Or the person in the church band that has a beautiful voice, very unlike my own voice that inspires others to cover their ears.  Oh, and the disciplined jogger with the trim body that passes by my house every day. I wish I'd be that motivated. That very patient mom...yeah, I'd like to be like her, too. 

I'm certainly not old enough to "Be Like Betty", so I have no idea how I even got into the sights of AARP. However, the good thing is, I don't need to pay $16/month and get a free travel bag to try to "be like" anyone.  Aside from the beautiful voice, I pretty much have control at striving toward certain qualities "to be" like those I admire, and making those qualities of my own. At 41, I have many more years to practice on improving myself. Sorry, Betty and AARP.