Monday, November 29, 2010

TOS Review: Nanuq

Nanuq: A Baby Polar Bear's Story is the story of a young polar bear and his family.  But it's so much more!  From Smart Kids Publishing, Nanuq is one of five books currently offered in the "My Animal Family" series.  More books are planned.  The book retails for $12.99 (on sale right now for $10.39, as are the other four books in the series).  The book is very nice - solidly made with beautiful illustrations.  Additionally, it comes with a DVD, and a card with the web address and password to "My Animal Family" online kids club.

Since there's so much material to cover, I thought I'd address each one separately for you.

The Book:  The book had a story that kept my younger girls' (ages 5 and 7) attention.  The illustrations are very pretty and engaging.  It's a good story for younger kids - explains about eating and hunting, but doesn't go into details that would disturb them.
One thing I thought rather odd: Usually when I read a book out loud, I read the title, the name of the author and, if applicable, the name of the illustrator.  This book didn't have that information where you'd normally see it, either on the front cover or on the title page.  In fact, I had to look at the Copyright Page to find that information.  I was surprised to see that instead of just the names of the author and illustrator, there were Executive Producers, Art Directors, and Production Managers, among others.  This is definitely a book WITH a DVD!

The DVD:  The DVD contains award-winning BBC footage (not high resolution, for those who wonder).  The first item is a short movie (about 10 minutes long) about Nanuq that is similar to the story in the book in some ways, and very different in others.  It shares some new information the book did not, and includes footage of newborn baby polar bears (aw!) and some really cute action scenes.  To get a better idea of what the DVD short movie contains, you can also check out a free clip from the "Ella: A Baby Elephant's Story" DVD.
The DVD also contains "Fun Facts" that are both educational and come in useful if you use the website (more on that in a minute), Polar Bear Paradise (song without words on screen), and "Nanuq's Song" (Polar Bear Paradise with words on the screen so you can sing along).  The last link on the DVD, "The Creative Team" is essentially the credits.

In the Habitat (online play):  My kids always look forward to online/computer play, and the My Animal Family online kids club was no exception.  Once you log in and supply the password that comes with your book, you can customize your explorer, then PLAY.  The kids club has two parts: Paint 'n Play, and The Habitat.

The Paint 'n Play games are pretty simple, though the mazes, dot-2-dot, matching and others don't have any feedback for the child; they could play everything wrong and not know it.  It is strictly a "have fun" without any educational value.

The games in the Habitat are generally your basic educational games, with a basic beginner, intermediate and advanced level for each game.  The games played correctly earn the player points, which they can spend in the little store for items that open up new parts of the game to play.  My girls enjoyed the games, but became frustrated when they realized that they had to play A LOT of games to earn even one item from the store.  My older daughter asked after about 20 minutes if she could stop.  When I asked her why, she told me that it wasn't worth her computer time to play.  Since she has limited computer time every day, she felt like she was only playing to earn the points (she said all the games were 'too easy' for her), and it was taking too long to earn enough to do the other fun stuff.  To her, the "fun stuff " wasn't enticing enough to keep playing the games.  My younger daughter wasn't as picky, and would gladly keep playing just to play (the points were just a bonus to her).  I guess we'll see what happens when she finally earns enough points for a tool from the store; maybe the older daughter will regain interest.

The website login provided with the book gives the user 6 months of access to that particular book's Habitat. Anyone can try the website out on a 14-day free trial.  After the 6 months or free trial runs out, additional access can be purchased (all Habitats) for $22.50/6 months or $36/1 year.

The My Animal Family series is a unique approach to learning about different animals.  Though I personally wouldn't pay $13/book to do so, we did enjoy the one we were sent.  If these books were available in our library, I'd definitely be checking them out!

Want to know what other crew members thought about Nanuq?  Click here to read other reviews.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Nanuq: A Baby Polar Bear's Story (book, DVD and website access) in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, November 22, 2010

TOS Review: A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

Bright Ideas Press may be best known for the Mystery of History books (which we use and love) or the Illuminations course.  We got a chance to try out A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers, which is a full 32-week course exploring the different composers and different eras of music.

A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers is available as either a CD-Rom book for $29.95 or as a Printed Book for $34.95.

Here's what the Bright Ideas Press website has to say about the course:
Why take the time to “Crack the Code” of Classical Music?
  • Music is from the Lord. He created it, and He created us with the ability to both make and appreciate music.
  • Classical music is uniquely part of our Western civilization.
  • Research suggests that both listening to and playing classical music aids brain development.
  • Even rudimentary exposure increases one’s level of enjoyment and understanding.
This course provides a close-up look at famous composers, their music, and their times, with special attention to character traits and Christian testimony (or lack thereof). Even the musically challenged will enjoy this course! It’s perfect for grades 4-8 but is easily adaptable for younger and older students. Minimal teacher prep will return maximum enjoyment!

Here is what is included:
  • 32 Weekly Lessons
  • 26 Bios of Famous Composers
  • 6 Eras of Music Explained
  • Easy-to-Use Comparative Timeline
  • Easy-to-Use Maps
  • Composer Info-Cards & Game Directions
  • Note-taking Pages
  • Quizzes
  • Answer Keys
  • Listening Suggestions
  • Intricate Coloring Pages
  • Resource Books
What we thought:

I grew up with a very strong classical music background.  Both of my parents have a Master's Degree in music, and by the time we could read and write, all five of my siblings and myself could play an instrument.  I suppose you could say we grew up in a classical music immersion program.

Given that, the 32-week study seemed sparse to me.  While the website says "this course provides a close-up look..." I'd say that this course provides an overview.  I was surprised that much of the personal spiritual lives of the composers was neglected in the stories provided.  What was mentioned was very dry (in comparison to many of the books on composers we had growing up) - just the basic history of each composer including their spiritual beliefs.  Additionally, I was surprised that for a full course, it was up to the teacher to find the music that went with each lesson (though many suggestions and links were provided in the appendix).

Overall, this course is a good introduction to classical music for the 4th-8th grader who has had no previous musical education.  It's a good starting point for doing an in-depth study of music, and with some time and effort on the part of the teacher to research further, it could be expanded to a more comprehensive study.

Want to know what other Crew members had to say about this and other Bright Ideas Press curriculum?  Check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary CD-Rom version of A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, November 15, 2010

TOS Crew Review - Corps of Re-Discovery

When I began homeschooling my oldest son eight years ago, I went craft-crazy.  Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft, and even Sam's Club became my personal Mecca, their sales and clearance racks drawing me like a moth to a flame.  I bought kits; I bought materials; I bought paper and yarn, markers, crayons and colored pencils; I bought brads, glitter, beads and buttons.  I filled up drawers, bins, shelves and cabinets with my penny-pinching finds, eager for the afternoons that we'd sit around the table, making Christmas placemats, homemade Valentines and crafty cards for the great-grandparents.

Then I discovered the awful truth: Just because I started homeschooling my son, I did not magically become crafty overnight.  I've actually never been crafty.  In third grade, our teacher would have us do "Squiggle Stories" where she'd draw a squiggly line on a piece of paper for each of us, and we'd have to turn that squiggle into a picture, then write a story about the picture.  My story always started out "If I could draw well, then you would clearly see a...." and I'd go on to describe in amazing detail the SCRIBBLE that my squiggle had turned into. My elementary grades were all ++ (the highest you could get), except for one subject.  Art.  I always got a - in art; essentially the grade that meant "A for effort, F for execution."

All this to explain, that I LOVE the Corps of Re-Discovery Cornhusk Doll Kit that we got to try out, but given my complete lack of ability in anything crafty or artistic, there will not be any personal pictures accompanying this review.
Corps of Re-Discovery's Corn Husk Doll
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery as a scientific and military expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  The Corps of Re-Discovery is a small company run by a homeschooling family, whose mission is to provide products that inspire adventure and exploration in learning. Their project kits are designed to enrich your studies of American Indians, Frontiersmen and Pioneer Americans so you, too can "re discover" America. They want to help inspire imaginations and create memories.

Even though our project did not fare too well, we did have fun with it, and we had a great discussion about how Indian and Pioneer children would have worked on making their own Cornhusk dolls.  We've recently read through the Little House on the Prairie books, and my 5 year old, Megan, said "It's like Laura's first doll!" when she saw what we were going to (try to) make.  I went back and showed her the picture and read her the part where it explains that Laura's doll was actually just a corn cob wrapped in a piece of cloth, but that led into a conversation about what kinds of items could be made into a doll-like figure back in the 1800's when there were no Target stores to run to every time you wanted something new to play with.  Later in the week, the girls kept showing me things from the back yard they had deemed "dolls", including sticks, rocks and a leaf-wrapped bundle of grass.  Our project did inspire some great imaginative play and I think even though our cornhusk doll turned out more like "cornhusk abstract art" we created some pretty fun memories while working on it.

The Cornhusk Doll Kit is on sale right now for $4.50 (normally priced at $5.99).  The kit comes with cornhusks, twine, a small piece of fabric and the instructions to make the doll.  To make the apron and cap, you'll also need scissors, needle and thread.  This particular project requires an older child (teen) or adult to help (preferably a crafty adult!).  The instructions are pretty simple, though we ran into trouble when it came time to make the arms.  I'm not sure how much of that is simply my ineptness at crafts coupled with my inability to understand drawn diagrams, and how much is unclear instructions.  Even though we started out with a few extra pieces of cornhusks, we went through a few too many trying to get the arms right, and it was somewhat downhill from there.  I honestly think that was more me, and not really any problem with the directions though.
Girl and Boy Cornhusk Dolls
Corps of Re-Discovery offers a slew of other projects, including Pioneer, Frontier and Indian packages, with several activities in one kit.  These would be great to do simply as a fun project, or coupled with a study on early American history.  You can purchase through their website, or find many of the Corps of Re-Discovery projects at state parks and historical landmarks around the U.S., as well as in teacher supply stores and specialty shops.

Want to find out if others fared better than we did with their projects?  Check out what the TOS Homeschool Crew members have to say about their Corps of Re-Discovery experiences.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary Cornhusk Doll Kit in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.