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.