Monday, December 28, 2009

Reviewing Maestro Classics, "The Tortoise and the Hare"

A little over a week ago I received a CD from Maestro Classics.  Truthfully I wasn't sure what to expect.  I LOVE classical music.  My husband says I just like any music that starts witha "C", Classical, Country, or Christian!  But I do really love classical music.  I've tried some of the more "child-like" classical CDs like Peter and the Wolf and The Carnival of the Animals to get our boys to love classical the way I do, but they don't.  They tolerate it when I force it on them.  So, I wasn't sure if the Maestro Classics CD The Tortoise and the Hare would be a hit around her.  Long story was!


I thought this would be a music CD that told the story throughout the music.  I was surprised when I put the CD in and saw six tracks of varying lengths.  I was even more surprised when we started the CD and someone was speaking.  This was not what I expected.  The music was part of the narrated story.  It enhanced the scene as it was being set, or explained the character that was also introduced in words.  It was part of the story, and seamlessly so.  And the story was definitely a living story.  It was well told and not dumbed down.  It was pleasing to hear.  Our 13 year-old and 11 year-old boys were riveted, but I'm sure that all ages from even pre-school on up to high school could find listening a joy.

A small companion book arrived with the CD.  I thought perhaps it was an illustrated book telling the story.  It was not a story book, but a book chock-full of supporting information to what we were hearing.  There were articles on the instruments and composer.  There were words to one of the songs so that we could all sing along.  And there was information about the animals involved in the story.  I handed the book to our youngest son as we began to listen to the CD.  After a few minutes he began telling us the difference between a rabbit and a hare.  That conversation continued at the supper table a few hours later.  So it really stuck with him!


This is much more than a way to fill your music slot for homeschooling.  As we listened, we learned about music, character, animals, even a little geography.  Oh!  And I could have made an entire day's unit study from this CD as well.  If you decide to purchase The Tortoise and the Hare from Maestro Classics, plan to make soft pretzels for science or home ec.; run a foot race for physical education; learn the differences between a tortoise and a turtle and a rabbit and a hare for more science; do the dot-to-dot in the companion book for math; do the word jumble and crossword puzzle in the companion book for language art as well as listening to the story and the commentary section about Aesop; read Aesop's original fable for more language arts; identify Paris, France, and the Champs Elysees for geography; and listen to the music on the CD and composer's commentary for music.  That's full day that sounds like lots of fun.


Maestro Classics has many other CDs to offer. Each CD comes with a companion booklet and sells for $16.98 plus shipping and handling.   I'm sure they are all as rich an experience as The Tortoise and the Hare.  You can see a complete list of their products here.  Their contact information can be found here.  I did not receive the original CD that was sent to the crew.  It must have gotten lost in the mail.  I contacted Maestro Classics and they sent another CD priority mail which I received in a few short days.  So, I can personally vouch for their customer service.


I hope you give Maestro Classics a try.  I was so glad to have experienced one of their products.  It was very well-done and a fun addition to our regular routine.  I hope to get a chance to purchase some of their other CDs one day.  As usual, don't take my word for it, but check out what my fellow crew-reviewers have to say here.


This product was issued to me free of charge in order that I may give you this non-biased, honest review.  I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Got It All Wrong!

"Help me to honor thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith."

-The Valley of Vision

a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions

edited by Arthur Bennett

In this season of trials I've been concerned with my feelings.  I read this in one of the Puritan prayers. and it smacked me in the face!  It's not about my feelings!

Oh Lord, keep teaching me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cross Stitch Performing Arts Center

Last year, we were introduced to a little playhouse for children and youth in the back-country of Juniata County.  It seemed a pastor's wife had a vision for a performing arts center where children could be encouraged in some of the areas that public schools were dropping, like music and drama.  All of this would be done with a Christian theme.  Last year our boys took part in the first performance of this fledgling group and it was very entertaining.  The boys really enjoyed getting to know the other cast members.  It was a mixed-bunch.  Some children were homeschooled, many in the public school, a few in a local Christian school.  We knew some families going into this venture, but got to know many new families through taking the kids to weekly rehearsals.


Although the group continued to work through the Spring and Summer, we took that time off of Cross-Stitch.  We did return this Fall as they began to organize the Christmas program.  And this past weekend (12-5-09 and 12-06-09) was the culmination of all their efforts and they put on an adaptation of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol."  It was lovely.  I was so proud of our two boys as each of them was a Scrooge (this one large part was divided amongst four boys).  Our youngest also played Charles Dickens as a narrator and our oldest was the ghost of Christmas future.


I am glad that as we get closer to Christmas all of our running to play rehearsals and performances is over, but it was a great experience and one not to be missed.  If you have a drama club near you, get your children involved.  Even if they are not the outgoing, actor-type, there is a role for them somewhere.  You get to know so many fine people.  Your children get to be directed by adults who love their craft.  And you get to watch them on stage.  It's an experience like none-other.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Christmas Time! Time for some lights!

About a month ago, we got to drive through Herhsey's "Sweet Lights."  Sweet Lights is a drive through light show offered near Hershey Park.  I wanted to give you a short pictorial tour through Sweet Lights as we saw it.  This is by no means all that could be seen, but it was truly beautiful.  If you are one of those people who love driving around at Christmastime looking at lights in the neighborhood, you would love Sweet Lights.  Enjoy!

The arm moved and the notes drifted upward as you drove past.  Also there was a radio station you could tune your car radio to to listen to Christmas carols as you drove.

As you can see the lights were very detailed and ornate.

A very happy pointsetta!

They modeled this one after our house! LOL

The boys' favorite part was afterward when my dad bought ice cream sundays at Dairy Queen! I loved the lights.  It was a great way to start the season.

Here's One for Your Video Game Addicts

Last year, a friend of the boys' told them about Gamemaker software.  He said that he made a game and they should check it out.  They downloaded the free version of the software and tried to make a game, but got nowhere except frustrated.  So I was excited when I received a three-month membership to Tektoma, Inc.'s website for tutorials using the game maker software.

Tektoma declares that their tutorials are useable by ages 7 to 17.  The boys have spent a few hours using the tutorials and I would be hard-pressed to see a seven year old complete this tutorial with no assistance.  Our youngest is 11 and our oldes is 13 years old.  They have been able to follow the tutorials and create their games without assistances.  I had to install the game maker software and the "extras" pack.  The installation was easy, but needs to be done by an adult. 


Our guys are very adept at video game and computer useage.  They didn't have a problem following the instructions in the tutorials they tried.  They said that it was a lot of information to take in and they'd like to complete each tutorial more than once so that they can really grasp the concepts learned in order to branch out and create their own games, not replicate the games taught in the tutorial.  It was very exciting for them to learn to use the gamemaker software.  They love video games and have talked for years of designing their own games.  Learning this software using Tektoma's tutorials has been a dream-builder for my two enthusiasts.  I'm really pleased with Tektoma's approach.


Subscribing to the tutorials is a little pricey for the year ($140), but you can pay $14.95 per month, which is a little more reasonable.  There are also ways to earn free time by recommending Tektoma tutorials to your friends, so don't disregard this website if you are pressed for money.  AND Tektoma has a 14-day free trial.  I love free trials!  You know what you're getting before having to pay.


If you have a gamer in your house, check out Tektoma.  My two guys have really enjoyed what they've learned.  I'm grateful that they have offered a way for our boys to learn game-programming.  And I don't have to worry about the content!


For more information:

  • Contact Tektoma by email:

  • Check out the reviews of other crew members here.

  • Check out their website and try them free for 14 days.

Another Online Math program

I received a 45-day membership for our sons to 3P Learning's Mathletics website in return for the following review.


If you read my blog with any regularity, you may know that I love math.  It's a sickness really.  My boys, even though they are great at math, don't love it.  It's because when I formally taught them in the early days, I was impatient, which caused them to hate math-time with Mommy.  Earlier in this year we were given the opportunity to review an on-line math program, which we all enjoyed.  Several weeks ago, we were given another opportunity to review a different on-line math program from 3P Learning.  The site is called Mathletics.


This is a very entertaining website.  It is very graphic intensive, so an older PC with a dial-up connection might give you problems.  They do have system requirements on their website so be sure to check those out before trying out this program.


Although I received two sign-ons, one for each of our boys, one sign-on had already been assigned to a girl in Canada.  When I contacted customer service I never received a reply.  As a result of this, only our youngest son used this program for any amount of time.  He enjoyed using it because it is very gamelike.  Our boys do play video games and computer games and we don't limit it too much as long as it doesn't get out of hand.  So our guys are really familiar with on-line gaming.  The graphics were good and there was opportunities to play games when certain lessons were complete.  Of course our 11-year-old T-Bone LOVED the games.  When setting up his sign-on he got to design a little person to represent him on-line.  He liked doing that too.  All-in-all he liked using this program, but had no problems when I told him it was time to return to what we have been using this year.


I found this to be a fun program, but the math level was a little lower than what we use typically.  In other words, when we put in his grade level, the math-work that was required of him was more review and less challenging than I like. (which is why T-bone liked it so much, I think)  I never received a response to my customer service concern, so I can't recommend them in customer service.


This webiste/program is known for having great parental controls and check-ups, but I would prefer to have those land in my email in-box.  I didn't receive any updates from Mathletics after T-Bone signed-on and began using the program.  As any busy homeschool mom, I didn't think to get on-line, log into the program and check on his progress.  I was watching and sitting in the living room as he worked on-line so I knew what he was doing.  I recorded his time for our records, but it would have been nice to get an email updateof his progress. 


It's a good program, you could solve the level problem by simply bumping your student up a level when registering.  There are opportunities to compete against other students using math-skills you develop while using this program, which can be very appealing to children.  Unfortunately there is  no free-trial so that you can get a taste of Mathletics.  But check out their website if you're interested in learning more about this program.  It is available for Kindergarten through grade 8.


Mathletics is relatively inexpensive as on-line math programs go.  The cost is $59 for a one-year subscription.  But while subscribing, if you enter "the human calculator's favorite number" (it's 9) you can get your subscription for $49.95.   You can see subscription information by hitting the "purchase" button on the mathletics website.  One drawback is that there is no discount for multiple students, so for a large family this could get pricey. 


For more information about Mathletics, check out their "about" page by going to their website and clicking on the "about mathletics" button.  And, as always, here's the link to the other crew members' reviews.

Can you Spell...Spelling?!?

A few weeks ago I received Level 1 and Level 2 of "All About Spelling" in exchange for the following review.  Even though our guys are beyond the basic spelling programs, being 11 and 13 years old, I chose to use it as a review for them.  Early in our homeschooling days, I read about Charlotte Mason from a few homeschooling speakers.  In their interpretation, our boys would be great spellers simply because we read great literature.  Well, that didn't happen.  Our boys are not what I consider great spellers.  In annual tests, they are on grade level, but to me, when every other test is at least a few grades above grade level, spelling is lacking.  So, I decided to begin at square one with the boys using All About Spelling Level 1.  BOY was I surprised at what I found!

I was pretty excited to review this product because I had read about it several years ago.  The idea is that there are very specific sounds or phonograms in the english language that are used repeatedly.  (think shun for "tion")  If you learn these phonograms and how the sounds are spelled, your spelling improves.  When I did try to instruct our boys in spelling years ago, I used the old spelling rules that I was taught.  We all quickly learned that all these rules were made to be broken!  This made our spelling careers very frustrating.  Using the methods in All About Spelling, we aren't learning or teaching rules, but sounds.  It's quite brilliant.

I received the starter kit, available for $26.95 and Levels 1 ($29.95) and2 ($39.95), of All About Spelling.  On the Sunday before I planned to begin the program with the boys I sat at the kitchen table to assemble all the materials in the Starter Kit.  There were several laminated sheets of color-coded letter squares.  I had to cut out each square to make 105 individual letter tiles.  Also included in the kit are two sheets of magnetic squares with adhesive backs.  I put one individual magnet on the back of each letter tile.  Then I had to separate the perforated flash cards which are color coded for different skills.  All of this preparation took about an hour and a half.  I spent another hour reviewing the lessons and getting prepared for the week ahead.


Because the boys are older, I bunched several lessons together into one lesson to move them through the program.  Surprisingly, we did find challenges in this program!  I thought that since this was such a beginner level, we'd breeze right through it.  But even I was challenged to write the letter based on the sounds it makes.  For instance, if I made the sounds "ssss" as in snake and "zzzz" as in zither, would you write the letter S on your sheet?  Or if I just made the sound "k", would you know it was the letter K, when later I made two sounds "sss" and "k" to indicate the letter "c"?  Learning the basic phonograms was really interesting. 


I loved the concepts used in All About Spelling.  The tiles are colorful.  The flash cards are color coded.  There are colored see-through chips to use for some activities.  The children have to move tiles and chips to do certain reviews and some new activities.  They are not just sitting and spelling, but touching and moving as well.  By using more than one sense or brain function, the spelling lessons are solidified in their minds.  It's an excellent way to learn.


All-in-all I think this is a fabulous spelling program.  It is logical and makes sense to learn.  It did take a lot of time to prepare for our initial outting, but after that, getting a lesson going took no time at all.  You organize once and you're set for the next 6 levels. (level six will be released soon)  It is not a program that is easily used for multiple students.  I have always taught my boys at the same grade level in everything except math, so I may be a huge exception in the homeschool world.  But the script and activities are set up for one on one instruction.  I have managed to tweak it so that the boys and I could all do it together.  If the material was more challenging, such as in the upper levels, then I may have to work with each boy individually.  However, for this review, we are managing to complete our spelling lessons as a group.


If you would like to see all the products that All About Spelling has to offer, check out their product page.  This is a really great spelling program.  I highly recommed it.  You could begin using level one for a first-grade child or use the early levels as review for struggling spellers like mine.  Using each level would take you through all the elementary grades.  But again, if you have a remedial speller in the highschool level, this is a great program.  Just make sure to schedule enough time to get it all prepared ahead of time.


For more information, All About Spelling's contact page can be found here.  And as always, please check out the review of my fellow crew members here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Combining Phys. Ed. and Math?

I had a girlfriend years ago that was attempting to homeschool her four young boys.  They were like little stair-steps going from age 11 to 5.  One of her sons had a lot of energy.  Now, here's a little secret about me, I don't believe that all the children diagnosed with ADHD really have ADHD.  But this little friend of mine had her oldest son tested and he was ADHD.  Since she wanted to avoid medication, she got some tips from the experts and one was to put a mini-trampoline, or an exercise bike right where they did their schooling.  When he would finish a subject, or start to get distracted, he hopped on the bike for a few minutes.  It helped him to focus.


This idea of combining book learning with exercise is really intriguing.  That's why I was really interested when I got the opportunity to review the Exploramania DVD "Gymathtics."  Exercise is not a regular occurrence in this household.  I'm embarrassed to admit it, but in the interest of full-disclosure, I have to be truthful.  I was hopeful that this DVD would be the solution to all our exercise woes.


This is an interesting product.  While you are exercising, there are math problems being presented to you.  The math is not difficult, mostly review of common facts, such as simple geometry.  But combining this kind of learning while exercising is a research-proven technique.  I was recently reading an article about a recent research project that showed how much better children who had exercised prior to a test did than those students who did not exercise.  So, I was happy to have this DVD/exercise program in my hot little hands!


The exercise was challenging.  Keep in mind that we are an "exercise-challenged" family.  The math was not complicated, but a great review.  But the commentary of the program was a little youthful for my 11 and 13 year old.  I tried to get them to focus on the exerercise, and not the commentary, but they really didn't enjoy being "talked down" to.   This DVD uses math geared to 2nd to 5th graders.  The exercise is for EVERYONE, including me!   The exercise program included a warm-up, aerobics to keep your heart rate going, and a nice cool down.  During the cool-down the commentary went off of math and onto character.  I couldn't argue with any of it, but sometimes a mom doesn't want an outside product trying to develop character in their child.  The cool-down included some yoga poses.  I love yoga, so I didn't have a problem with that. 


I'm sure I will  be able to force the boys into using Gymathtics again.  I did really like the concept.  Check out their website.  It's colorful and full of interesting products.  The Gymathtics DVD is available for $24.99.  And there is also a second DVD if your children get tired of the same routine each day.


 Contact information can be fund here.  Do check out their products, they are quite interesting.  And don't forget, there are other crew-members reviewing this same product so you can get a wide-range of reviews, here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Different Review...You Can Pick This Up for Free!

Well, this is a really fun review because you don't have to go shopping for this one.  If you like the sounds of it, you can get this CD for free.  I received a copy of "America's Heritage An Adventure in Liberty" CD from the American Heritage Education Foundation, Inc. On this CD are the PDF versions of an American History and Civics course for Elementary grades, Middle School Grades, and High School Grades.  There is also an Elementary Spanish version.


The Elementary version of this curriculum is 184  pages.  The Middle School curriculum is 182 pages long.  And the High School version is 187 pages long.   For today's reveiw, I perused the Middle School curriculum since our two guys are in that grade-range.  Although this curriculum is made for the classroom, most of it can be adapted to the homeschool setting.  There was one game that I think might be a challenge to convert from a 20-30 student classroom to a family, but other than that the activities can be worked as a family.  Some activities called for an overhead machine, which is typically not found in a home, but I think you can adapt by using your PC to enlarge something you need.  The activities in this curriculum are not public school material.  In it you learn about the true heart of our founding fathers and the foundation of this country.  I loved the comparison of the song "God Save the King" to "My Country Tis of Thee."   Here are two songs with the same melody but vastly different meanings.  After completing this activities, your children can't help but reflect on what our country based it's laws upon.  There is a lot of writing activities, so if you have boys, like mine, who are just beginning to embrace writing, you may want to give this curriculum a year.  I believe in a year, our boys will be ready for all that this curriculum has to offer.


As I've said before, this CD can be yours for free by going here.  If you would like to have this curriculum in a printed binder format, it is available to you on this page for $19.95.


If you would like to contact the American Heritage Education Foundation, Inc., they can be emailed at  Pick up your CD on the web here

Their mailing address is:

3501 West Alabama

Suite 200

Houston, TX 77027-6035

Telephone:  713-572-3657


And, as usual, if you don't want to take my word for it, read the reviews of my other crew members here

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A New Crew Review from Bright Ideas Press


Several weeks ago   Bright Ideas Press  provided me with a free copy of All American History Volume I to test and use in order to write this review.  When I received it I was a little worried.  Other than Math, I don't buy curriculum.  All American History seemd to be very curriculum-y.  I thought that I definitely would not like this.  I love creating my own unit studies.  I love reading a great book to the boys and finding cool activities to do around what we've read.  As I looked at a thick hard-back history book, a thick student activity book, and a thick teacher's manual, I immediately judged it as being curriculum and not for me.


Then we started a unit.  I actually started in the middle of the book.  Last year we had spent a lot of time on Columbus and then the early settlers.  At the end of the year I had begun a unit on the American Revolution.  Although All American History Volume I's beginning sections are pre-revoluion, I chose to begin at Unit 3 which deals with the American Revolution.  This group of books, which is really more like a great Unit Study than a curriculum, is easy to get started.  It does not take a lot of mom-prep.  I don't like to spend lots of time reading teacher's manuals and getting activities organized to prepare for a lesson.  You don't need lots of prep time to get started.  And the activities make this so much more like a unit study than a history curriculum.  There are notebooking activities and timeline activities.  In three words...I loved it.  But, what about the boys?  In three words...they loved it.


For the first lesson, I had them read the Student Text.  They don't have a lot of non-fiction reading experience.  They don't have any textbook reading experience at all.  They read it and immediately pronounced it, "Cool."  After reading, they completed the first page of questions.  But they weren't just a question and answer worksheet.  There were pictures to cut out and drawings to make.  It was right up our boys' alley!  They were hooked.


For each chapter there are "for further review" questions.  I had each boy pick a question and complete it.  Our oldest learned about an artist's depiction of the French and Indian War.  He learned about the picture, the characters in the picture, and the time period around it.  He gave a thorough and interesting talk on what he learned and even printed a copy of the painting!  Our youngest, T-bone, chose to take a virtual tour of one of the forts involved in the war of 1812.  He, too, gave a great talk about what he learned.


So, if all curriculum is like this one.  I may  become a curriculum girl!  The boys and I are really enjoying All American History Volume I.  We will definitely be finishing this book, going back to the beginning and catching up on what we've missed.  This is well-organized, thorough, and captivating.  The only criticism I have is that the books don't easily cross-reference to each other.  I don't think this would be a problem if you began at the beginning.  But since we began in the middle, trying to find the right pictures for the activity sheet we are working on is not easy.  They are not necessarily marked easily, as the author just assumes you have moved on to the next picture.  I found that to be a problem with many of the activities and it's been challenging to find the correct pages or items to coordinate to the activites.  The teacher's manual doesn't always say, "If you go to page ## in the student activity sheet."  It just talks about the next activity or the "Steps to War" activity.  It's up to you to figure out what that activity is.  If you're doing this curriculum in order, you won't have a problem.  The next activity being discussed is simply the next activity in the book that you haven't completed.  The next picture to be attached to your notebook page is the next picture that you haven't cut out yet.  But, you know me, I've just GOT to be different!


All American History Volume I is $68.00 for the Student Text, the Student Activity Book, and the Teacher's Manual.  In my opinion all three of these books are necessary to do this history lesson well.  If you want to purchase items individually, the text is $44.95 (493 pages).  The Student Activity Book, which is three-hole punched and perforated, (perfect for notebooks) is $16.95.  And the teacher's manual is $18.95.  The teacher's manual has great suggestions for activities to support each chapter, booklists for every unit, and answers to the worksheet questions in the student activity book.  This curriculum can be used by all ages.  There are adaptations suggested for younger students as well as high-schoolers.  I really think all ages will find challenging activities and reading.


If you'd like to see other items from Bright Ideas Press, check out their website here.  They have a lot to offer.  Their contact information can be found here.  Although all my fellow crew mates did not review All American History, there are lots of Bright Ideas Press reviews here.  And my review is a day late, so with that I will say goodnight until next post!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I was recently provided with a free membership to AVKOs site in exchange for this review.  If you are not familiar with the name of this non-profit organization (AVKO), then you may have heard of Sequential Spelling.  AVKO is the organization that produces the Sequential Spelling program. 


This common sense approach to spelling was revolutionary to me.  The idea is that if you introduce your student to one spelling sound, like "ice" then you continue by giving them as many words with that sound as possible, like lice, mice, advice.  It makes sense in my mind because if you can get your child to master one word, no matter how large or small, then why not bring out all the words that are similar to that mastered word.  It would make word-mastery so much more quick and efficient.  But I'm not a linguist or an English expert.


The thing I liked best about membership to the AVKO site was the free e-books provided as part of that membership.  I've downloaded them all but have yet to get through them.  You will see why when you read the list below with the total number of pages.  Many of these books are for sale elsewhere, so the membership price is a definite value for the ebook prices.  Here is the list of what I downloaded with page-length for each book:

The Patterns of English Spelling 1485 pgs

To Teach a Dyslexic 145 pgs

The Teaching of Reading:  A Continuum from Kindergarten through College 364 pgs

Teaching of Reading and Spelling Starting From Square One 316 pgs


As I was reading through some of the materials on the website and in the e-books, I found this quote and it spoke to me: 

Although there isn’t just one correct way of teaching reading and/or spelling, both teachers and students are helped by a systematic approach.  p.4 TPES

This, again,  reinforced in my mind the effectiveness of this method of teaching spelling to children.


The basic membership to AVKO's site is $25 per year.  Not only do you get the free e-books I listed above, but there are also tons of helps and articles available in the membership area.  In addition to these things, you will receive 25% off of all AVKO products purchased during the year of your membership.  And AVKO is a non-profit organization that focuses to better education for those with learning disabilities, especially dyslexia.  Read more about this organization here.  Membership information can be found here.


I enjoyed this membership.  It's always fun to get free e-books.  I'm not sure, however, if I would have joined on my own.  But if you are interested in the sequential spelling program, you may want to give an AVKO membership a try!


 As always, if you don't want to just take my word for it, check out the other reviews of my fellow crew members for this product here.

Rubber Ducky You're the One!

I love to take a long bath.  In our house we say, "I'm going to go soak in the tub!"  I take a book, and a caffeine-free diet soda and crawl in among the bubbles to soak until my skin wrinkles.  So, when I got a package from Virginia Soaps and Scents, I was tha-rilled!  I received this package of soaps and a laundry soap kit in exchange for my review here on this blog.  I've got to tell you.  Even the box smelled good!

First of all I loved the packaging.  It was simple, and country.  The soaps have a little Vss stamp/brand on them and their shape, along with this brand is very charming.  This is not a square or rectangular bar of soap.  Three sides are straight with the top showing how the soap was mounded into the mold.  My soap sampler had three soaps, and a shampoo bar in it.  The soaps I received were smaller than the normal bar you would buy on their website, but even with the smaller size, I find them to be very long lasting.  One bar has lasted me almost a month!  More on that in a bit.

In my sampler bag, I received one bar of Fresh Orange, one bar of Oatmeal, Milk and Honey, and one bar of Coconut Lemongrass.  I used the Fresh Orange bar first.  The first night I used it in the shower, my husband called out from our living room (remember from this entry, we have a small house), "I can smell it out here!"  That was definitely a good sign.  I tried using this soap without using a wash rag, since I usually use a shower gel and a bath-pouf.  I didn't find there was too much lather when used  it without a wash cloth.  So, I got out the lacy cotton wash cloth I had crocheted several months ago and used it the next time I used the soap.  WOW!  Now I had lather to spare.  It was luxurious.  One problem I did have was with the bar getting kind of mushy if I didn't have it in a well-drained soap dish.  They actually talk about this on the web site and Virginia Soaps and Scents sells a beautiful handmade soap dish for $2.50 that will solve this problem.  When you go to the website, click on Products at the top center of the page, and then soaps from the drop-down menu.  At the very bottom of the soaps page, you will find the soap dish.  I'll need to order one of those.  I am currently using the Oatmeal, Milk and Honey bar and I love it even more than the Fresh Orange.  It is really wonderful and I want it to last forever.  I have yet to try the Coconut Lemongrass, but I'm sure it will be great.  The first bar I will order (after the shampoo bar) will be the Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey bar based on what I've tried.  The regular (not gourmet or Christmas) soaps sell for $4.50 for a large 4.5 oz bar.  If you buy three bars, the price is $12.00, but buy 4 bars and you get the fifth bar free.  They now are also offering a 10-bar purchase for $35.

And now, the shampoo bar...ah the shampoo bar.  I have very dry, naturally curly hair.  I mean VERY dry hair.  I usually only wash my hair once a week, and even then, it is dry most days.  I was really scared to try this shampoo bar.  But, I gave it a shot.  What I found was that it only took a little rub on my hair to get a full lather.  I washed and rinsed twice.  My hair felt clean, but not too dry.  I did use conditioner, but I ALWAYS have to use conditioner, so that is nothing new.  I promptly wrapped up this bar and put it away so the boys and Big Dog don't find it...this is too good for yucky old boys!  I'm keeping this shampoo bar all to myself!  I loved it.  I loved the way my hair felt afterward.  I had a really good hair day after using this shampoo and that's hard to come by when your hair is dry/frizzy naturally curly.  You can buy one 5.5 oz shampoo bar for $5.50 or get two for $10.  They have three scents for the shampoo bars (mine was ginger lime) and they also have an oily-hair clarifying formula which I'll never have to buy.

There are more products than I can tell you about on this post tonight.  Please go to the Virginia Soaps and Scents website and click the Products button at the top of the screen.  Definitely look at the Gourmet Soaps.  They look fantastic!  I'm also really interested in the Pet Shampoo bar (called Pet Poo).  I have two little itchy dogs who would much appreciate a good soap to help in that area.

Finally, I received a laundry soap kit...  The kit I received retails for $4.95.  If you try the kit and like it, you can buy their cleaning bar for $3.95 and follow the recipe on their website to make your own.  In the package, the first line to the crew members said that what we were holding was NOT curriculum.  I have to tell you, I used the laundry soap kit in our little homeschool.  The boys and I followed the recipe and mixed up the batch of laundry soap and stirred it while it cooled as directed.  So it was a little like curriculum.  I was a bit skeptical because years ago I tried a homemade laundry soap that was floating around the internet homeschool community and I found it didn't really get the boys clothes clean.  Today was the true test.  The boys cleaned their room and I had 2 loads of laundry to do from their bedroom floor!  I know.  I know.  Shameful.  ANYWAY, the first thing I noticed is that the laundry soap doesn't stick to the measuring cup like store-bought liquid does.  When I took the wet laundry out of the washer, the next thing I noticed was the smell.  The clothes had a fresh-clean smell.  It's hard to describe, but it's not the perfumy smell you get from store bought detergents.  It's a really clean smell.  All-in-all, I'm impressed.  The soap works well and one batch has made a good amount considering you only have to use 1/2  a cup per load.  The bar is a good value for the money because it makes a much larger batch than what the kit contains.

Do you want to know the age range for Virginia Soaps and Scents?  Well, in my house, it's female adults-only.  But you might not be nearly as selfish as I am when it comes to bath products.  So, in your house, these products may work for all ages.  Actually, Virginia Soaps and Scents offers soaps just for children, like the kiddiwink all-in-one bar here.  And there are a lot of scents that would appeal to men, as well as a man's shaving soap.

If you would like to contact Virginia Soaps and Scents, go to this page for more information.  To read the other reviews of my fellow crew-members, check out the crew website  I give Virginia Soaps and Scents an A+++.  This was a fun product to review and I will become a regular customer.  You should too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I got my haircut!

Well, today I went with my mom and had my hair done.  I'm so tickled with it I just have to show you the pictures.  First, here are the "before" shots:

...and the back...

 My hair was so long that when it was wet, it fell in the middle of my back below my shoulder blades!  But, since it's naturally curly, it kinks right up.


So, I met my mom at her hairdresser's and she squeezed me in while mom's color was setting.  Here are the during pictures:



Yes, I was playing with my blackberry while drying! LOL


And now...wait for's the after photos.  I'll give you the back first to show you how much was cut!


And here it is...drumroll please!


I love it!  It's light and cute and swingy.  Yes, swingy.  What I don't love is my chin...but that's another entry all together.

Bible Charts and Maps

Our copy of the Amazing Bible World History Timeline arrived on a Saturday.  Our oldest, Big Mac, came running into the kitchen with a long triangular-shaped package.  We were all excited to open it up and take a look at it.  We took out the timeline and immediately put it on our kitchen table with a clear-plastic tablecloth over the top of it.


A few days after we received the timeline, my girlfriend stopped over to the house to drop off her son for a playdate.  When she saw the Bible Timeline on our kitchen table, she stopped and stooped over it saying, "What is this?  Oh how cool!"  That started me thinking that this would make a great gift for a family or friend!  It's a great tool for bible study, and what an encouragement to a growing Christian in your life.


Having The Amazing Bible Timeline on our kitchen table has been a wonderful experience.  It's great to say, "whay was going on at the same time Jesus walked the earth?"  Or "who was alive when Abraham had Isaac?  You can not only compare biblical characters to those found outside the bible, but you can see a chronological  comparison of lots of biblical characters.  I love having this timeline at the ready also because I can not only compare biblical characters but also other times in history.  As we are studying the Revolutionary War, we can look at that time period on the timeline and see other events around the world during the same time period. 


I like the timeline's circular structure.  I don't need a long wall to display this timeline.  I like that it is very colorful and, therefore,  it is also very eye-catching.  I love that the small-ish footprint fits on my table but spans such a long time-period, going from the beginning of the world, Creation, to 2000 AD.  The only criticism I can give you is that I may never get to put a pretty tablecloth on my kitchen table again!  No one wants to cover up the timeline!

The Amazing Bible World History Timeline is available for $29.97 on the company's website .  When you buy the timeline, you also get a digital version of the timeline as well as a downloadable Interactive Maps of the Holyland.   


For additional information about Amazing Bible World History Timeline from Bible Charts and Maps, you can cruise through their website  or they can be contacted by telephone:  877-966-7300 or email .  Or, if you don't want to take my word for it, check out the other reviews at the crew website here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Evaluating a Subscriber Site: ABC Teach

I'm sad.  I was able to access the subscriber information on ABC Teach for one-month for free so that I could write this review.  My month is over.  I'm sad.


I had a one-month trial with ABCTeach  a few years ago when our guys were smaller.  I remember finding lots of coloring pages and mini-books to use with our studies.  When I learned that we were going to be able to spend some time in ABCTeach this year for the Homeschool Crew I was interested to see if this site would still be useful as we entered our middle-school junior high years.  The quick answer?  It was.


I wish I didn't have to school the children, work my job, write any other reviews, or cook for this family for the past month so that I could have spent all that time on ABCTeach.  I think I could have found a multitude of lessons, supplements, and graphic organizers to use in future studies if I had all that time for review.  With the bit of time that I did have to find things on ABCTeach, I found a great pumpkin seed experiment that we're going to use the Friday before Halloween for a fun-lesson.  I found a LOT of information on Fallacies.  We've begun to be interested in the aspect of critical thinking after reading the Bluedorn's e-zine.  I got alot of great information off the ABCTeach site to continue our study.  I also found several pages that we will use to make an "All About Me" book for their homeschool prortfolios.  The reason these pages were great is that it wasn't too young for our guys.  And in future years these pages will give me a great glimpse back to who the boys were in 2009/2010.


There were lots of classrom-type printables and tools, but most of them would easily translate to a homeschool.  I don't think many homeschools would use the nametag tool, unless you have a real problem remembering your children's names.  But other than that, how cool would it be to use the crossword puzzle generator to make a crossword puzzle from words you just read in your literature reading?  And there are lots more tools like the one I just mentioned.  The mind reels when you think of the many activities you can dream up just to reinforce your child's spelling words for a week! 


And there are worksheets and activity pages on just about every subject you can imagine.  Since I am a make-it-up-myself kind of gal.  I enjoy having a plethora of activities at my disposal to go with a book we're reading or a timeperiod we're studying. 


All-in-all I think someone who is not a curriculum-for-every-subject schooler could get a lot of use out of ABCTeach.  They have items on their site for all-ages, although maybe not Senior High School.  I didn't really look for anything at that level.  I know that pre-school to Junior High are definitely covered on this site.


Check out ABCTeach .  They do have a lot of free worksheets available on their non-member area, but ultimately, I find that the things I really want are available on the membership site.  And if you don't want to take my word for it, look at reviews from other crew members here.


There are various pricing structures available.  You can check them out here.  ABCTeach has lots of options for group-pricing.  So you may want to get a group together from your support-group or co-op and join to get the best price.  If you want to join individually for $40, go tothis page

Work Boxes

One of the many things that I really like about being part of the 2009/2010Homeschool Crew is that even though I'm reviewing homeschool products, you get a glimpse into our home with each review.  If you read my reviews, you learn a little bit about me, our family, our home and our homeschool.  This review is no exception.  I received a complimentary copy of Sue Patrick's Workbox System E-book so that I could review it for you here.


I am not a manual reader.  I love curriculum that I can just jump into with not a lot of prep or reading required.  So, I really appreciated the section entitled, "How to Use This Book" at the beginning of the book.  In this section I was directed to start my reading at chapter 4, where I would get the workbox system in its entirety.


In general, this User's Guide is easy to read.  The font used is large and there are a lot of color photographs and graphics dispersed throughout the entire book.   I did not print this ebook, because it really was easy to read on my computer screen.  Usually I do print e-books because they are overwhelming to page through on the PC.  But this was not the case with the Sue Patrick's Workbox System User Guide, it was easy to read on-screen.  You didn't get lost while scrolling pages because of the large font.


Unfortunately, I did not find the Sue Patrick Workbox System to be one I could use in our home or homeschool.  This is the part where you get a glimpse into our lives a bit.  We live in a small home.  I can vacuum my entire house without having to move the plug.  We do not have a homeschool room and we do not call our day "school."  We have our lessons at the kitchen table and in our living room.  We have lots of pets, some of them odd, which we care for in the midst of lessons.  We read aloud during meal-times or in the evening.   We complete some lessons with Daddy at night, although not often.  We try to have an atmosphere that school is not a segregated time from 8 to 3 during the day, but a learning is a lifestyle.  I am not an un-schooler, that would be difficult to do and still maintain our state's requirements, plus our boys do well with a certain amount of structure.  The boys have lessons that they do during our morning and early afternoon hours.  So please don't think that we are completely unstructured, but I am also not a rigid, very structured homeschooler.  I don't buy a lot of curriculum.  I use lots of unit studies, lapbooks, and living books to teach the boys.  And, although our boys are 20 months apart and would be 1 year apart in public school, other than math, we do all the other subjects together.


All that being said, the first reason that Sue Patrick's system would not work for us is a space-issue.  As I said, we have lessons in the living room or kitchen.  Using her system as written would take up a big chunk of space in our small living room.  Also, I wouldn't want guests or extended family to have to look at the boys lessons set-up when here to visit.  It CAN be adapted to a smaller space if you work creatively outside the confines of the book.  You would just have to think about how you could make it fit your living space. 


The next reason that I did not find the Workbox System appealing was that it was too much like school.  In one part of the explanation of the system she explains that too many homeschool children talk too much.  To quote her book directly, She has many plans in place so that your children don't interrupt the day with talking and can get your attention in unobtrusive ways.  I understand what she means.  Our boys talk a lot and we might be able to get our lessons done in less time if they didn't tell me their thoughts.  As I watch my children grow so quickly, however, I don't want them to talk to me less.  I want more-more-more because I know that the time when they will be out on their own is approaching faster than I can imagine.  And I will long to hear them share with me, "every thought that enters their mind."  Also, since, quite often, it is the middle-school ages when children begin to clam-up and think that they cannot share everything with their parents, I never want to discourage the boys sharing their thoughts with me, even if they are off-topic.  It is the unplanned times when we've had our best conversations.  I would never want to discourage that.

"I find that there is way too much talking going on in homeschools."  Chapter 4, page 36, under the "independence" heading



Finally, she suggests giving your child a limited amount of times when he or she can ask for help.  I understand that the goal here is independence but I disagree that they have 3 help cards and if they use those they don't get my help any more today.  That doesn't encourage independence, it encourages pride, an "I can do it myself" attitude, and bypasses my role as their teacher.  I know that of which I speak because I'm that person who never wants to call for help.  My husband often asks, "Why don't you just call?"  Pride.  That's why.   I'm a homeschool mom because I want to be part of the boys education.  They are great at figuring out their own problems, but I never want to limit the number of times that they can ask for my help. 


Although I did not find this to be a system that would work in our little homeschool, it may be the solution you were seeking.  Please know that it is a good read with some really good ideas.  We will be incorporating "running" into our afternoons.  But you'd have to read the book to find out what I mean by that.   If you would like to know more about Sue Patrick's Work Box System, you have a few options.  To contact Sue Patrick directly, follow the instructions here although she does say that she is not able to answer all contacts.  Or read more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews here.


The e-book I received, Sue Patrick's Workbox System Users Guide is available on her website for $19.  If you would like to see all of the products that Sue Patrick offers, check out the products page of her website here.  As a matter of fact, check out her entire website.  Once you've purchased her book, you have unlimited access to her free downloads which help you implement the workbox system in your homeschool.  All you have to do is register your purchase on the website and you get access to the downloads that help you bring the workbox system into your home.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another Great Idea...Educaching!

Several weeks ago I received a complimentary e-book copy of "Educaching:  GPS Based Curriculum for Teachers" from SDG ltd.  I promptly printed out my copy and put it into a three-ring binder.  The printing was a breeze and I was able to use my favorite printing software (fineprint) which allows me to print two pages landscape on one 8.5x11 sheet of paper.  That way the e-books print on half the paper you would normally use.  I have reviewed some vendors whose printing and downloading software would not allow me to use fineprint, but Educaching gave me no problems at all.

Although the wording and instructions are geared to a classroom teacher, this concept/curriculum is easily adapted to a homeschool.  Many have said that it is condusive to being used with a homeschool co-op, but I really find that this program is great for the individual homeschool.  We have two boys, and I found it to be very useable in our homeschool.

The other thing that is great about this curriculum is that it is very adaptable to whatever you are studying.  Once you're read the book, you could develop your own educaching experiences based on whatever you are working on in your homeschool.  If you have ever made up your own unit study, you could develop an educache once you've learned how from this manual.  Using the concepts in the Educaching handbook, you can make lessons covering a multitude of subjects.  This is not a science curriculum, or a geography program.  This program works just like a unit study covering multiple subjects in one lesson.

We have geo-chached in the past, so we did not have the learning curve of needing to learn to use a GPS.  But if you do, there is an entire section in the book about using a GPS.  Learning how to use the GPS and learning how a GPS works would be a great beginning lesson for your children as an introduction to this new way to learn!

I think the Educaching manual is a great addition to any homeschool.  It gives your students an opportunity to get outside, but truthfully, you could complete a cache activity with only one point inside your house!  In every activity the child will get some exercise, learn about geography coordinates, write, and think creatively or critically.  The rest depends on the activity.  Some of the educaching activities involve history, some involve science, some involve a lot of subjects.  I was just reading over one of the activities available for download on the educaching website and it covered history, art, geography, physical education, language arts, and math!  And that was just one activity!

This program or curriculum can be used with any age.  Small children may need help working the GPS and understanding the coordinates, but this is definitely something you could do with a large age-range.

There are two Educaching products available.  The digital version of the book, which I received, is $32 + applicable sales tax.  The print version is available for $32.00 plus $6.95 shipping and handling.  The print version gives you the educaching manual packaged in a 3-ring binder with a CD of all the printables that you would want to use in your adventure.  There is a Bronze package which includes the printed manual in a binder, the CD and a "Factory Refurbished Garmin* eTrex H Model B/W GPS receiver."  This package is $129.00 plus $9.75 shipping and handling.  The Silver Package contains everything in the Bronze package plus a Otterbox all for $159.00 plus $14.95 shipping and handling.  The Gold kit comes with the manual in a binder, with the CD, four Garmin receivers, and four otterboxes and sells for $544 plus $28.75 shipping and handling.  And, finally, there is a Platinum kit that sells for $619 + $33.55 shipping and handling.  This kit includes the complete manual in a binder, the CD with printables, and six Garmin receivers.  If this is all too much information for you to absorb, check out their product page here

If you would like to contact SDG Creations Ltd., their contact information can be found here.  There are very brief opinion- reviews on their web site, but for more detail, check out the reviews of my fellow crew-members here.

I know I haven't really given you the details of the educaching system, but I don't want to give away the plans.  Check out their website.  Get yourself a copy of the book.  And begin an adventure in learning that you and your family have never taken thus far no matter how long you've been homeschooling!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Read any good books lately? I have!

I've got to tell you about one of our most recent Crew Assignments.  I was really excited about this one because all I had to do was read a book!  I love to read and have read avidly since I was a little girl.  I remember one evening I was in my room engrossed in a book when my younger brother and older sister came charging into my room telling me that the house was on fire!  It ended up being a trick.  They thought I spent too much time with my nose in a book and wanted to get me moving a bit.  I love books. 


When I received my copy of Sarah's Wish for review, I loved the look of the book.  This first book in the series is not a thick book at 123 pages, but it feels good in your hands.  A paperback book, it is well constructed.  The cover art is beautiful and the pages are thick and white. 


I always read a book's introduction, if I can get through it.  The introduction to Sarah's Wish brought you into the book.  If you can believe this, it actually made you want to turn the page and start the book right away!  I've never really had that reaction to an introduction, usually it can stand on it's own.


And then there was the story.  Sorry, I'm not going to tell you much about the story.  I really don't want to ruin any of it for you because it unfolds in a lovely way.  Suffice it to say that the book is about a young girl named Sarah.  But this is just just a book for girls.  I fully intend to read Sarah's Wish to our boys.  It is a fine piece of historical fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah's Wish.  I highly recommend it to all readers in an upper-elementary level and older.  And I would suggest that you read it to those who aren't in an upper-elementary level. 


There are three books in the Sarah series.  I am hoping to read the other two just as soon as I can send for them.  An audio version of Sarah's Wish was included with my book and I listened to three out of four of the downloads for this book.  It was fascinating.  The reader is female and she voices the characters very well, using various voices for each character.  I was on the edge of the seat for much of the audio.  You can find out more about the Sarah Books here.  As I've said, there are three books:

Sarah's Wish  retails for 10.99, but the author sells it at his website for 9.99.  You can also purchase the audio on CD for $24.99, but the author offers it on his website for $16.99.

Sarah's Promise retails for $14.99, but you can buy it from the author on his website for $13.50.  You can also get the audio for Sarah's Promise on 5 CDs for $27.99, but the author sells it on his website for $18.99.  If it is done a like the Sarah's Wish audio, it is well worth the purchase.

Sarah's Escape the newest book in the series is 304 pages, with a glossary of 19th Century terms and two drawings of Sarah.  Retail Price: $21.99 but now available on the author's website for $17.50.

The author offers free shipping and handling AND he autographs the books.  I was so surprised to find my book autographed with a brief message to me.  He sent these books to over 100 crew members, and mine had my name in it!  It was like Christmas morning.  I am a HUGE Jim Baumgardner fan after reading Sarah's Wish and reading a few of his newsletters.

Check out the Sarah books.  The author, Jim Baumgardner, has a charming e-newsletter as well. You can subscribe to it by sending an email to:   Please put "send newsletter" in the subject line of the email.  I hope you will enjoy the books AND the author as much as I have.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's true!

Well, it's true.  We WILL be surprised by who we see in heaven...

But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

He is rich in mercy, giving to all who ask.  And we don't know who is asking for His mercy while believing in Christ Jesus.  There are lots of people that we decide are "dead in trespasses" who may be crying out to their Savior in their prayer closets, unbeknownst to us.    So we are made alive with all of those who cry out to God through Christ.  We will be raised up with all of those who cry out for mercy to God through Christ.  And we will see these people in heaven.  Won't we be surprised?

So, I'm thinking that God uses "time out" in heaven.  This verse says that he will make us sit together.  I think we'll be sitting beside those we may have judged...time out.  What better way is there for Him to show His "exceeding riches of grace and kindness"?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Peter 2:13-17

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.


I had a revelation this week.  Wait, let's back up a bit.  A little over a month ago I got a job.  I'm working from home, but I need to work 20 hours a week.  When I took the position I thought this would be a piece of cake.  It has been a challenge, however, to find 20 hours in a week!  Some days have found me crying out to God about how to fit everything into a day!  One way I've been trying to fit more in is by getting up a little earlier each day and working before the boys are out of bed.  I can get about 2 hours of work in before the boys are really up and moving about. 

But our homeschool has sufferend.  I haven't really been taking the time to prepare and plan, so we fly by the seat of our pants and some days we weren't getting too much accomplished.  This week, I didn't get any planning time over the weekend, so instead of working on Monday morning I planned our lessons for the week.  So far, it's been going so well.  The old addage is true, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." 

But still, I was not getting some of the routine housework and my devotions completed every day.  Here comes the revelation.  Each morning, after breakfast, I tell the boys, "Chores and morning routine."  They each have 3 daily chores, plus they must brush their teeth, have devotions and write in their gratitude journals.  It was like a clap of thunder when it hit me...I can do my chores and read my bible when they do!  Usually I was preparing lessons materials, printing pages, or getting out books, while they were doing chores and morning routine, but since lessons are already planned, I can take the time while they're doing chores to sweep the kitchen and living room and throw in a load of laundry (my daily chores).  While the boys are reading their bible and journalling, I can read my bible and journal.  And yes, I am brushing my teeth when they do in the morning, too!  Oftentimes, the boys are done with devotions before me but they know what lessons to start when they're finished so that I can finish my devotions.

Ok, so now you've lost all respect for me.  You're saying, "Oh please...this is a revelation?!?  Come on!"  I remember being told at my baby shower, "Sleep when the baby sleeps."  It's that same principle, isn't it?  But I gotta tell you, this has revolutionized my day.  I feel great, and I had to share!

My Access...Home Edition

Vantage Learning graciously gifted me with a one-year subscription to My Access Home edition.  This is an on-line writing course for students of all ages.  One great way to learn about My Access is by viewing the demo videos on their website.  Go here to view these videos and learn more about My Access.

I managed to add my log-in information and add both of our boys accounts with ease.  The website is easy to navigate and use.


I got our oldest son started on his first assignment and when our youngest, T-bone age 11, saw this program he said, "I want to do what he's doing!"  Now, let me tell you, this is NOT a boy who loves writing.  He has not enjoyed writing at all.  He does the bare minimum and ONLY what is required.  Our oldest, is my creative guy.  He will dictate pages to me, and when he gets inspired, fill a notebook with a story that he's dreamt.


Back to our morning with My Access.  Our youngest couldn't wait to get on-line and complete the activities surrounding his first writing assignment.  Both boys really enjoyed the graphics and the activities.  We chose writing assignments from the 11-13 year old category.  I found some of the activities to be challenging.  T-bone was putting paragraphs in order and I couldn't get them right!  There were five paragraphs that had a specific order, but I couldn't see what that order was.  It took us 5 tries before we got the order the program was seeking.


After completing a bunch of these activities, the boys tried their hand at writing their assignment.  T-bone chose to write to the Mayor and explain why he would be the best choice to go on the next mission to outer space.  Big Mac wrote an essay about the need for better role models for youth.  He chose the skateboarding industry as the area from which to pull his need for role models.


You must know that I have not required a lot of writing from my boys up to this point in their education.  They did not enjoy writing, so I didn't push it.  We worked slowly.  Also, they know their keyboards, but are not fast typers.  These two things have worked against us in using My Access Home Edition.  Also, I don't give them grades very often.  I tell them regularly how great I think they are, but I don't give grade letters, or other evaluations of their writing.  If the grammar and spelling is correct, then I think it deserves a glowing evaluation.  Writing is so subjective, I never thought it was fair when my English teacher would grade my poem.   The boys wrote their first drafts and were immediately graded as "below proficient."  This was instant discouragement.  We spent the rest of that week trying to follow the revision directions, but still could not pull the boys grades up past that first analysis.  The grade was shown in a bar chart of sorts, so the bar moved a bit higher, but never got out of that first category.  The boys felt really discouraged by this.


After this first outting with My Access, we decided to try dropping down an age-level.  Big Mac completed the first writing assignment in the 8-10 age-level (he will be 13 in November). My Access offers a writing program for all school-ages.   Instead of typing it himself, I let him dictate his story to me.  He spoke.  I typed.  On our first draft, he received a glowing evaluation.  Currently I can't get into the program to tell you what it was, but it was the highest rating.  The bars did not go the whole way to the top, but he was in that top range. 


All-in-all, My Access writing program is well-developed and graphically interesting.  My family found many challenges in using this program, but it may fit your family well.  We will be writing more this year, and honing those skills.  My Access did show me that I need to keep the boys motivated to write not only fiction but non-fiction in the form of essays.  We spent a lot of time with this program, and it did keep the boys attention.  It is a great option for the homeschool mom who does not feel equipped to teach writing on her own.   

You can learn more about the products offered by Vantage Learning by going to their webiste:  My Access Home Edition home page is viewable here: 


It looks like I'm the first to post my review about this product, but in the future, check out the reviews of my other crew members here:


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Picture Books Aren't JUST for Children!

Several weeks ago I received a few e-books from Guardian Angel Publishing to review on my blog.  Now, our boys are firmly entrenched in Junior High/Middle School.  If we were in public school they would be in 7th and 6th grades.  We're WAY beyond picture books right?  Well, I'm not reading the boardbooks we all loved when they were little, but I'm finding that the right picture books can still teach the boys many things.  The five books I received from Guardian Angel Publishing are no exception.  With these, we have much to learn.


Guardian Angel Publishing offers so much material, I just cannot detail it all for you here.  Go to their web page: and scrolll down on the main page.  You will see a list of all their books in alphabetical order.  You can easily find the five books I'm going to tell you about on that list.  The website lists that their books are meant for children of all ages, 0-12, but I can tell you that you can get use out of these books even for your Junior High aged student.  Our Big Mac will be 13 in November and I find the five books I received to be useful for him right now.


Guardian Angel's books cover a wide-range of subjects.  This is also evidenced in the books I received.  I received three books that I can fit into a science study, one character-study book, and one that will help us reinforce grammar!  And you do not have to receive all your books in e-book format.  If you would like to have your books in a printed format, Guardian Angel Publishing offers that option to you.  You can get your book in e-book format for $5-12, printed for $10.95, e-book on CD for $6.95-$9.95, and some books are on DVD for $6.95-$9.95!  There is, of course, shipping and handling charges for all of the non-downloadable options.


The first book I received was The Sum of Our Parts, No Bones About It... by Bill Kirk.  This book can be downloaded for $5, but is also available for $9.95 +5.95 S&H as an e-book on CD, or $10.95+6.95 S&H as a printed book.  This is a really neat book about bones.  There is a rhyming text throughout the book, but there are also "factoids" on each page giving a ton of information.  It would take you quite a bit of time to teach all the information contained in this 30-page book.  One of the things I loved about it was that all of the correct names for the bones are listed in this book.  It would be a great tool to teach your junior high-er the anatomically correct names of the bones in the human skeletal system.  The graphics are great and very appealing to our two boys.



Book number two pictured above is Maybe We Are Flamingos by Safari Sue Thurman.  Downloadable for $5, this book is also available for $9.95 +5.95 S&H as an e-book on CD, or $10.95+6.95 S&H as a printed book AND you can get a DVD for $9.95 +$5.95 S&H.  This book teaches your students about flamingos, but there's also a great idea for an art project, and a wonderful character lesson in the end.





Next we received Hamster Holidays.  You're not going to believe this, but it's a grammar book!  This book highlights nouns and adjectives throughout the books; provides you with great definitions of these two parts of speech;  AND there are several activities for your students to complete at the end of the book.  All this runs along a fun story about hamsters who celebrate some very different holidays throughout the year.  For those students who are still challenged by the calendar and months of the year, this book can reinforce learning those as well.  This book can be downloaded for $5, but is also available for $9.95 +5.95 S&H as an e-book on CD, or $10.95+6.95 S&H as a printed book.


 Earthquake!  is another science book, but it also covers safety.  In PA we have to teach safety each year.  This book talks about being prepared in the context of an earthquake, but the preparation tips can be used for any emergency situation and are great for all students to learn.  Again, the graphics are great.  I would suggest that this book be used with older elementary students.  But being able to read and look at graphics that represent the reading on each page really reinforce what's being learned.  If you completed the different ideas and tips for safety at the end of the book, your family will be prepared for anything.  This book can be downloaded for $5, but is also available for $9.95 +5.95 S&H as an e-book on CD, or $11.95+6.95 S&H as a printed book.










 Finally I have to tell you about Stubby.  Stubby's Destiny is an endearing story about a little donkey who wants to be a stallion.  I'm not going to give away the ending.  Just read Stubby and then pray with your children about their "divine destiny."  This book can be downloaded for $5, but is also available for $9.95 +5.95 S&H as an e-book on CD, or $10.95+6.95 S&H as a printed book.  The DVD is on it's way!  It is coming soon for $9.95 +5.95 S&H.

I really think that picture books can be a great little extra to your homeschool studies, but they also can just be a special time with your children.  Contact Guardian Angel Publishing for more information.  Maybe they can direct you to a great book to start your journey.  ( or


If you would like to see what the other crew members are saying about Guardian Angel Publishing, head over here:  I am one of over 100 reviewers, so this is a great resource for you!  Check out these reviews and use them to plan your book and curriculum purchases.  And check out Guardian Angel Publishing.  I'm sure you will find something that can be used in your home.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Review: Nature Friend Magazine and Study Guide

We have always enjoyed nature walks and nature journaling.  So I was excited when I received a complimentary two-month subscription to Nature Friend magazine, so that I could review it here as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew. 

My first reaction to the August 2009 issue was, "Oh my, this is a beautiful magazine!"  And it is.  Both issues I received have so many beautiful photographs.  I was really attracted to the photos.  The layout of the magazine is really attractive to the eye, as well.  The pages are colorful.  The text is easy to read in size and spacing.  The pages are thick and the magazine is well-constructed.  It feels like a quality product in your hands. 
These magazines are chock-full of activities.  There are puzzles, such as crosswords, hidden pictures and word searches.  There is always a "You Can Draw" feature that teaches you how to draw an animal or flower.  But, for additional activities, you can also receive the Study Guide.  With a magazine subscription, you can purchase a study guide for an additional $2 per month.  Each study guide is 8-12 pages in length with additional puzzles, writing prompts, and ideas for hands-on activities.  I have to tell you my favorite part of the Study Guide is the "Motto for the Month."  This is a beautiful, frame-able picture with a verse of scripture super-imposed over it.  I love these and plan to cut them out and hang them somewhere in the house.  The study guide is an excellent addition to the magazine. 
When the boys and I sat down to work through the first magazine, I portioned it out over several days.  I read an article and the boys would do a puzzle each day.  We were told that we could make copies of the puzzles for our homeschool, so that made the magazine even more useable in our home.  The boys found some of the puzzles to be pretty difficult.  We had to look up some words for a matching activity before we could complete the activity, and the word-search was a challenge.  I also found the You Can Draw feature to be best for older students.  Our middle-school aged boys did not have the art skills for the shading and other techniques used in the You Can Draw feature.   One really cool thing did happen.  A few days after we read an article in the August edition about cicadas and how they shed their skin, we found a cicada skin attached to a tree while walking in the woods.  It was so cool to have God reinforce what we read!  The article was very timely.
One of the great things about Nature Friend is that there are so many ways you and your children can contribute to the magazine.  The editors accept original artwork and photography with a nature theme, as well as puzzles and stories submitted by readers.  It's really appealing to present your children with a magazine in which they can take part.  Once a year, Nature Friend is entirely composed of reader's submissions, but beyond that, every issue has many pages filled with reader's entries.
Although there are lots of beautiful things about Nature Friend magazine, the most beautiful thing to me is their mission to proclaim God's creativity.  This quote is taken directly from the Nature Friend magazine: 
Since the doctrine of Divine Creation is the first and foundational one of Scripture, our children must be able to stand on it securely to withstand the undermining influences from our culture.
Nature Friend has something for every child, but from my review of two of the monthly magazines, I would say that most of the articles and activities are for those in upper-elementary grades and above.  As I mentioned earlier, our boys who are grades 7 and 6 found many of the puzzles challenging.  Most of the articles are non-fiction and, therefore, I could see that it would be difficult for a young child to pay attention to the reading.
A one-year subscription to Nature Friend is $36, with the additional study-guide costing $2 per issue.  To order your subscription on-line, go here:  You can also order by phone toll free at: (877) 434-0765.
Nature Friend carries many books in their bookstore which you can access here:   Take some time to peruse this bookstore.  They really have a lot to offer.

You can read more reviews by my fellow crew here:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading and Writing and College...Oh my!

When I was contacted by EduDPS (Educational Diagnostic Perscriptive Services) I had no idea what to expect.  I received four e-books to review:

  1. Roots and Fruits, an instructional book about Greek and Latin root words.

  2. Write with the Best Volume I, a writing program based on works of great authors.

  3. Write with the Best Volume II, the continuation of Volume I.

  4. The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers.  (Called The Career Guide for the rest of this article.)


After getting the download completed properly, I printed copies of Write With the Best, Vol. 1 & 2 and put them in a binder.  I just love printing e-books.  I know that TOTALLY defeats the purpose of an e-book, but it gives me great endorphins to see my ebook in a big white binder.  These are not small books, 109 pages and 141 pages respectively.  The products from EduDPS are not fancy.  It is black type on white paper.  No graphics outside of the border on the cover page .  From a visual perspective, it is not appealing.  But I do love a big thick book, so that was appealing.

We began at the beginning of Write with the Best Volume I and my boys loved it from the very first lesson.  To say that they loved a writing curriculum is amazing because these are not boys that love to write.  Write with the Best uses works of great literature as examples.  Our boys have proved Charlotte Mason's theories about living books over and over again in the 6+ years we've been homeschooling.  They come alive and are extremely attentive with a living book.  Write with the Best uses excerpts from living books to show examples of good writing.  As I read the examples, the boys were rivetted.  The other thing that really appealed to them was the short lessons.  In Write with the Best, each lesson takes only a few minutes a day to complete, usually not more than 15 minutes.  It was hard for me to stick to one lesson a day.  I wanted to move more quickly and pack multiple lessons in a day.  I mean, we were already started, why not turn a 10-day lesson into a 3-day?  But I resisted my temptation to get it finished and stuck to the plan, and the boys really enjoyed it.  At day 10 we had a great example of writing completed and placed in a new writing portfolio for each boy.  Although we have to take a break to review another writing curriculum, we will definitely return to Write with the Best and complete the lessons this year.   It's well laid-out, with great examples, brief lessons, and takes little to no preparation on my part.

Roots and Fruits is a book that teaches Greek and Latin root words.  Compared to other curriculum in this same area, Roots and Fruits boasts the use and learning of many more roots than similar books available to the homeschool community.  This book takes more preparation on the part of the mother/teacher.  You must read the book and plan for games and activities.  It is a very straightforward approach with clear instructions.  I can see how teaching the boys the Greek and Latin root words would be a great advantage to their vocabulary understanding and spelliing, but I just have not managed to fit it into a very full language arts schedule thus far.

Finally, I want to tell you about the last book I received, The Complete Career College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers.  This is a book that every homeschool parent planning to homeschool through high school graduation should own.  It is jam-packed with information.  In it you can find four assessments to help your child determine the future for which he is best suited.  These tell learning style, personality type, gifts, and many other things that will help you determine the best type of college-setting and career for the child.  There is a list of college majors and the middle school and high school subjects that should be covered in preparation for those majors.  This book contains alot of information about highschool transcripts and course selections.  As a matter of fact, I will not ony use the forms contained in this book for our boys as they begin to progress into Junior High, but I will also use it for my husband and myself.  Even at our age, I think we can learn a lot from knowing our learning styles, and our ideal careers.  I really do think that every family should have a copy of The Complete Career College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers.

Write with the Best Vol. 1 is $19.95 for the download, $22.45 for the printed book without a binder, $24.95 printed and in a binder.

Write with the Best Vol. 2 is $24.95 for the download. $27.45 for a printed version not in a binder, and $29.95 printed in the binder.

Roots and Fruits is $14,98 for the e-book download, $17.48 for a printed version not in a binder, and $19.98 printed and in a binder.

The Career Guide e-book is 34.95.  A softcover version is 39.95.  The Career Guide is a lengthy book.  With a hefty 225 pages, you may want to consider purchasing a printed copy of this book if you do not want your printer printing 225 pages at once.

Although their products are very well done, I did not enjoy the method of receiving these books.  EduDPS does not send e-books in the .PDF format that I've received most ebooks in the past.  They use a program called File Secure Pro to download the book.  You cannot access the book without first going through file secure pro.  Also you can print the book twice and no more.  The printing is restricted.  For larger books I sometimes print to another program that prints two pages per one 81/2x11 sheet.  File Server Pro does not allow me to print to anything except my main printer.  I have still not found a way to access my books without first going to the original email and clicking on the attachment which then  launches File Server Pro and then my ebook.  I cannot simply go to "My Documents" and pull up my book as I usually would do.  EduDPS has learned that there are potential problems with the regular way of downloading PDFs, so they use a different approach for protection.  You can read the background behind why they do this here: I did find this to be very restrictive and difficult to use.  I must tell you, however, that when I did have problems with my first download the company worked quickly to resolve the problem for me.  Just be sure when you download that you are at a PC connected to a printer.  I wasn't and I couldn't transfer the file to my desktop to print.  I had to be issued another download.  I also have not printed The Career Guide as of yet because you must print the entire book at one printing and this is a 200+ page book.  Special notes about their unique file download and printing system can be viewed on their website here.

If you would like to see other reviewer's opinions, check out the rest of the crew's reviews here: 

EduDPS is a no frills company that offers a quality product.  I will be using their writing curriculum for the balance of the year and, hopefully, beginning to learn Greek and Latin root words this year as well.  I will refer to The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers for the next several years and we prepare the boys for the future to which God has called them.  You can visit their website at and see all that they have to offer.