Sunday, May 29, 2011

New music makes me sad

We've been listening to several homeschool convention speakers whenever we travel in the car lately, and yesterday Megan (5) asked if we could listen to some SONGS instead.  So today I flipped over to some Beethoven, and was surprised that the whole crew listened without comment.  The last time I tried classical music in the car, the situation was mutinous.

Later this afternoon, I began humming a line from the piece we'd been listening to, and to my surprise, Aaron (11) said "is it just my imagination, or was I just thinking about that a few minutes ago?"  Onto the computer I went, clicking open my music program and starting the song in question.
"This song?" I asked him.
"Yes, that one."  So I let the piece play, and once again, classical music filled the air without any complaints from my children.

There is a danger, however, in playing any piece of classical music around me for very long.  Inevitably, it leads to me thinking about my long, lost music collection...and I grieve.

In late 2001, we moved from Louisiana to Indiana.  I lovingly packed up my 250+ tapes, that I'd hauled from New Mexico to college, back to New Mexico when I got married, through two moves in New Mexico, to Louisiana, and through two more moves in Louisiana.  Somewhere along the way, I'd begun to collect CDs, the "new" music medium, but the tapes were listened to as much as, or more, than the CDs.  I moved them to Indiana, where they waited for over a month while we looked for a house.  They were one of the first things I unpacked.
Somewhere around 2003, the last tape player in the house died.  The tapes sat unplayed for months until the day I did a massive cleaning in anticipation of the birth of our third child.  Once again, I lovingly boxed them up, and I stored them on top of the laundry room cabinets.  Not out of sight, not out of mind, but out of use, at least for the time being.
We moved to our current home in 2006.  It took us two weekends to move out of our previous house, but that was partially because a good portion of our belongings were being stored in my sister-in-law's garage, so we essentially had to move out of two separate places.  We packed, moved and unpacked what we needed that first weekend, and went back the second weekend for the rest.
I very vividly remember crawling on top of the washer and dryer to empty the laundry room cabinets and to fish the boxes of tapes off the top.  I know I put the a box.  Which one, I don't recall so vividly.  That was the last time I saw them.
At least once every six months or so, I go a little crazy in missing them, and tear through every still-packed box left in the house.  All the boxes in the basement, all the boxes in my room, all the boxes in the garage.  I untape and open every single one.  Even the ones that I know don't have my box of tapes.  It's been nearly four years, and I've almost resigned myself to the fact that the tapes are gone.  Whether they never got packed, or were mistakenly thrown out, or left at the curb or put in a pile destined for Goodwill, I'll never know.  All I know is that they're gone, and I'll never get them back.

Among the missing...
  • The recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, given to my by John Reno.  John was a surrogate father to me throughout high school, and this particular version was directed by his brother Phil.  This tape opened up the world of Broadway musicals to me.  I've tracked down four different recordings since then, but none of them are as good as that first one.
  • The complete symphonic recording of Les Miserables, including the libretto (the little music book with notes and lyrics).  Three tapes in all, and I listened to this one so many times I'm surprised the tapes would still play.  I'd never seen a live musical yet, and when I finally did see this one, it was just like I'd imagined it.
  • Following the theme of musicals, I'm also missing my tapes of Grease (both the musical and the movie soundtrack), Miss Saigon (complete London recording, with Lea Salonga), Aspects of Love (which has beautiful music and a terrible story) and many more.
  • And in the theme of movie soundtracks, I had nearly every Disney movie soundtrack, even the live action movies like Newsies.  Soundtracks from the Disney animated movies filled a large section of my collection: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The ORIGINAL Fantasia, and The Lion King.
  • My classical collection - what started this post - is what I miss the most.  Let's say I had unlimited funds and could replace all these taps.  Well, with my classical collection, I wouldn't even know where to start in reconstructing it, because I don't know classical music by name, or composer.  I only know it by tune.  
Let me explain.

I grew up as a Suzuki violin student.  For those of you who don't know about Suzuki, here's a quick summary: You learn to play by listening, just as you learn to speak your native language by hearing it.  I didn't learn to read music until I was in late elementary school, after I'd already played the violin for 6-7 years.  I wasn't proficient at reading music until late in high school.  But starting in sixth grade, I played in one of the highest-rated youth orchestras in the United States: the Albuquerque Youth Symphony (AYS).  Since I wasn't all that great at reading music, and we had to learn three full programs every year, I ended up with a LOT of classical music.  Every time we received our new program music, I'd beg my parents to go out and purchase me tapes of the music we were playing, so I could learn my part.  4-5 pieces of music per program, times 3 programs a year, times 7 years equals nearly 100 tapes.  Add to that 4 years of All-State Music Festival in high school, during which we learned another 4-5 pieces, and a year that the AYS was invited to play with the New Mexico Symphony; I probably owned 120 tapes that had been purchased so that I could learn one of the pieces on each tape.  I learned the majority of that music knowing what it sounded like.  19 times out of 20, I couldn't tell you the Title of the piece or the name of the composer who wrote it.

Another set of tapes that is forever lost to me are the live recordings of the high-school AYS and All-State orchestra performances.  Those probably aren't all that great, and I rarely listened to them.  But they were a sign of accomplishment - something I could point to and say "I played that" (something I often tell my husband when I hear a piece of music on TV or in a movie).  There's a piece of my history in there, and now it only lives in my memory.  

That is, unless I happen to unearth a box that has previously eluded me, and rip off the packing tape that seals it shut, and discover the treasure trove that I've mourned the loss of many times over.

Friday, May 27, 2011

TOS Review: Read For The Heart

I wanted to start off this post with a couple of clips from the movie You've Got Mail that have some interesting insights into books and how they influence us.

I agree wholeheartedly!  I believe the books we read and have read to us when we're children shape our identity and our worldview in a more compelling and significant way than any other books we read throughout the rest of our lives.  In fact, I'm one of the (very) few people who doesn't buy into the "at least they're reading something" idea - the excuse that is usually given when a parent admits that all their child will read is Captain Underpants or Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger (I kid you not, that is a real book!).  

One of the 20th Century's most profound truths: YOU ARE WHAT YOU READ

I love books.  If you were to set foot in my home you could probably tell pretty quickly.  I mean, sure - there are only two bookcases downstairs and one upstairs, so you might have to be a bit of a sleuth to figure it out.  So look around.  Notice the piles of books on nearly every flat surface?  The entire right side of my desk covered with books? If that isn't enough to convince you, ask me why both the "school room" (currently under construction) and my bedroom currently look as though we just moved in even though we've lived here for nearly 5 years.  At last count we had over 40 boxes - all of them full to the brim of books.

I love books so much that while other students left for college with their CD collection, their pictures or their entire wardrobe, I used up most of my packing space for the books I wanted to take.  I even broke down crying the night before I left when I realized that I wasn't going to be able to take all of my books (and back then, I actually did only have two bookcases full of them).

The right books are friends.  They teach me, and help me grow.  They open up new worlds and make my current world better. Reading these books changes me, helping me become the person I want to be. 

In the same way, reading the wrong books is like hanging out with the "wrong crowd."  On the surface, the wrong books can seem innocent, neutral, sometimes even helpful, but once you really hold these books to the correct standards, it becomes clear how damaging they can be.

That was an incredibly long intro, I know, but it's the best way to explain why I liked Sarah Clarkson's Read For the Heart from Apologia Press so much.  Read For the Heart is in some ways similar to other books about books.  On the surface, it seems to be a book that lists suggested reading materials for a variety of ages.  But Read For the Heart has heart.  Sarah Clarkson begins the book by leading you through her own experience growing up with great literature being read aloud in her home.  In many ways, her experiences and feelings about books and reading mirror my own.

I guess the most succinct way to compare the books is to say that other books about books are books about what to read, but Read For the Heart is a book about what to read aloud and what to give your children to read, and how, and most importantly, why.  Actually, the entire title, as you can see above, is: Read For the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families.   It explains how your ideas and loves and worldview and very being can be influenced for Truth and Right through the books you are exposed to as a child. Check out what Sarah has to say about why she wrote the book (italics mine):
"Experts have written many excellent books on the merits of great literature and useful guides to selecting worthy books.  I am not an expert or a critic.  My perspective comes from the other side - from a young heart, mind and soul shaped by storybooks.  Although this book is a handbook, with lists and tips galore to guide you into the world of children's literature, I also consider it to be a story and an invitation not just to a reading list, but to a reading life.
As I have considered the many wonderful reasons to read, a steady progression of scenes from my childhood has come to my mind, each one a poignant portrait of a reading life.  One by one, these scenes remind me of the reasons I read: for a wakened heart, a strong mind, and a steadfast soul."
This book quickly became a cherished friend.  I identified with Sarah's childhood experiences with books on a very personal level.  As a parent, one of my greatest desires is to pass along to my own children this reading life.  Sometimes I get lost in the logistics of it all, and lose sight of the real reasons that I read aloud or give certain books to my kids.  It's not about the hours logged, or getting through a certain number of books per week, or checking one more off the list.  It's about passing along a heritage, gifting my children with the true joy of discovering another "friend" in a story, and the certain knowledge that growth and change is taking place in our lives because of something we've read.

I feel as though I could probably write my own book about how much I like this book, and why!  This book is one that I may very well end up owning multiple copies of, just so I can lend it out to friends without fear that I won't have access to a copy when I need it.  Sarah's reading recommendations come from her very own childhood reading experiences.  She's very clear that her lists are not all-inclusive, that there's much more good literature out there than she had room in the book to list.  But the best part of this book may not lie in the lists at all (though they're GREAT!), but in the story that Sarah weaves about growing up in a family that cherished reading, that understood that the books you read and have read to you become a part of you in a very tangible way.  I dare you to read it without feeling a twang of envy for the reading life Sarah experienced in her formative years.

Don't take my word for it though.  You can check out a sample chapter of Read For the Heart as well as the Table of Contents.  You can also check out what my other crew members had to say about the book.  The best way to check it out, though, is to just get the book.  It's available from Apologia Press for $17.00 and absolutely worth every penny.  Read For the Heart is one of many homeschooling resources offered by Apologia and so far I've found that everything I've tried from Apologia has been a keeper!

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TOS Review: Considering God's Creation

I have two non-negotiable requirements to even consider using a science curriculum.  First, the curriculum cannot perpetuate the myth of evolution (To be honest, my first instinct was to use the word "lie" instead of "myth".  That's how strongly I believe in the truth of Creation.)  I don't mind a text or program that presents the argument of evolution as an unproven, unbiblical theory but I absolutely refuse to give my kids a book that presents evolution as fact or "one of many possible truths".  Second, I don't want to spend even 1/2 the amount of time preparing for the lesson as it takes to teach the lesson.  It's science for crying out loud.  You're supposed to be able to walk out the door (or even stay inside) and study the world around you.  It shouldn't take four specialized shopping trips and two hours of prep time to teach your kids about the solar system, the human body, or the plant world.
I was pleasantly surprised when we received the Considering God's Creation set from Eagle's Wings.  They specifically describe Considering God's Creation as "A creative, in-depth encounter with natural science from a Biblical perspective." and " the way we wish we'd been taught!"  The program can be adapted for grades 2-7, and can be a quick overview or an in-depth study.  Best of all, it doesn't require anything for projects that you wouldn't find in your home - mostly crayons, tape, glue, and the occasional shoebox.  Best of all, each lesson requires the use of a Bible, as the program is intended to teach children not just about the science of God's creation, but how to defend Creation to those who believe evolution.

The program itself consists of a student workbook, a teacher's manual, and an audio CD.  The audio CD contains 23 songs and poems that go along with the lessons and can be memorized.  The student workbook is essentially the "projects" that go with each lesson - pages to color, booklets to put together, diagrams to cut out and put together, cards to cut out, etc.  Below are just a few samples of the activities from the student workbook.

Check out more samples here.  Also, on the right side of this page, underneath the order information, you can check out a few of the sound clips from the audio CD.
The teacher's manual has a short introduction that explains the many versatile ways this program can be used, and how to adapt it to different grade levels, or even use as a supplement to other programs.  Then it provides the preparation info, the vocabulary, the reading portion, instructions for the activity and notebook, the Bible reading portion, a section called Evolution Stumpers (more on that in a minute) and the review for each lesson.  Also included is a section called Digging Deeper that provides multiple resources for that particular lesson topic to use with the lesson or assign to older students for a more in-depth study.

Teacher's Manual Sample Page
 Click to view larger version
The Evolution Stumpers section is particularly geared toward teaching students to defend Creation to those who believe in evolution.  Mostly they're just a series of questions.  Though some of the answers are in the lesson they've just covered, there is no answer guide for this section, and no "right" answer for every one of the questions.  It's just a jumping-off place to get students started thinking about what they believe, which is critical to defending it.  As one of my favorite teachers has said: It's not enough to give students the information they need to know about their faith.  They need to know how to think through what they believe and why, so they can answer people when they ask the hard questions.
The subjects covered in this course are:
  • Universe
  • Stars
  • Solar System
  • Earth
  • Light
  • Sound
  • Wind
  • Weather
  • Clouds
  • Rocks
  • Plants
  • Insects
  • Mammals
  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Amphibians
  • Food Chains
  • Reproduction and Genetics
  • Human
  • Animal Anatomy
  • Physiology
The best part about this course - that you get SO MUCH for SO LITTLE.  The entire set (teacher's manual, student workbook, audio CD) only costs $29.95.  A limited copywrite on the student workbook allows you to copy the workbook pages for your own family to use, but you can also purchase additional student workbooks for $13.95 each.

I love the intent of this course, and I super-love the adaptability of this course.  We usually use Apologia's science courses, and we were able to get through the Universe/Stars/Solar System/Earth portions of the Considering God's Creation program.  It dovetails perfectly with Apologia's Astronomy course.  

I planned to have a "light" summer this year.  We're not taking the summer off, but we're not going to be doing much school work.  After using this course for several weeks, I decided that we'll be using the program for our summer science study, doing about two sections a week and concentrating more on the activities and defense of creation aspects than going real in-depth.  We'll be getting to the human anatomy and physiology section just in time to start our Apologia Anatomy course and I'll dovetail those together.  

Bottom line, this is easy and enjoyable to use.  It's a fantastic product at a fantastic price, and would be an excellent addition to any homeschool.

Check out what my other crew members have to say about this product here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary set of Considering God's Creation in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, May 20, 2011

TOS Review: Word Qwerty

Last fall we tried out and reviewed Talking Fingers' Read Write and Type, a program that teaches reading, spelling and keyboarding skills.  Our experience was mixed.  I honestly did not like the program and found the animation and story line annoying.  At first my girls weren't too thrilled with it either.  In fact, in the amount of time we had to use the program before I had to write the review, I was having to make my 7-year-old use the program, just to have enough information to do the review.  I was pretty negative about the program in that review, and some of my main complaints have not changed.

But a funny thing happened: as they used it more, they really were learning some skills that other programs (computer or not) were not teaching them, and once they figured out how to use the program, they started to like it.  The day that Kaitlyn (my 7-year-old) finished the program, she was actually excited that she got all the way through, and suddenly Megan (my 5-year-old) was begging me to "play too".  Since our license was still active, and I was allowed to have one child using the program at a time, I simply shut off Kaitlyn's access to RWT, and started Megan's.  Megan also had some of the same problems, but once Kaitlyn showed her how to use the program, she flew through it and was super-excited to finish as well.  Despite what I still consider a cheesy story-line and awful music, they did learn skills by using it.

So when offered the chance to review Word Qwerty, Talking Finger's sequel to RWT, I asked the girls if they were interested in doing the next level.  They were enthusiastic, and I went ahead and signed up.

Word Qwerty takes kids through the next steps of reading and writing fluency, and picks up where the RWT system leaves off.  It's geared toward 7-9 year-olds, but my 5 year old, who is reading at about a "late 1st grade" level, was able to use it just fine.  Children do not have to use or complete RWT before using Word Qwerty.

RWT teaches how to read, write and type, but at that stage children may have difficulty spelling some words because of the different rules of "construction" in the English language.  Word Qwerty teaches how words are put together in English and uses reading and writing tools - aka, fun games - to help the child gain fluency and comprehension.  

Wordy Qwerty has a total of 20 lessons, each comprised of six parts to guide a child to reading and writing fluency through the program:


  • Patterns – for instance, sorting words by the beginning letter.
  • Karaoke – rhymes and songs teach the 20 rules of word construction.

  • 3 - RECYCLER
    4 - POP-A-WORD

  • Recycler – watching the recycler make new words by changing the first letter.
  • Pop-a-Word – helps recognize outlaw words by memorizing them.


  • Write Stories – using the spelling rules to types stories that are dictated a line at a time.
  • Read Stories – reading a good story and filling in the missing words.

  • Interested?  Check out this video that explains how the program works:

    You can also check out a free demo AND get a 20%-off coupon to use if you decide to order the program.  You have a few choices in purchasing.  You can choose to use the program online (license is good for 5 years) starting at $25 for one student.  You can also order the program on CD with several hands-on items included (program guide in a 3-ring binder and Jingle Spells on audio CD) starting at $35 for the Home Edition.  While the Home Edition is perfect for homeschoolers, it does not work with Windows 7 or  Mac 10.6. The programs are also available for schools to purchase. For information on School License, Talking Fingers, or the K-4 bundle click here.

    Our Opinion:
    So - that's a lot of information about the program and how it works.  The question you're probably most interested in, is "How did WE like it?"

    The jury is still out.  Like Talking Fingers' Read, Write and Type, I find myself having to coax the girls to use the program.  When we sat down a few days ago to have a frank discussion about what they like and what they don't, they both complained about the songs being "annoying" and "dumb".  Given that memorizing the songs that teach the spelling rules is critical to learning what the program is geared to teach, it seems like a BIG minus.  However, just because they don't like the songs, doesn't mean they haven't learned them.  Several times I've caught both of them singing the various songs as they go about their day (NOT during their time using the program).  On the same topic, both my boys have complained about the music, to the point that we had to institute a "head-phones required" rule for when the girls did Word Qwerty.

    I have noticed a huge gain in both girls' spelling AND reading skills since they started using it.  The strange thing is that if I try to ask them specific spelling questions verbally that incorporate the rules they're learning, they seem to have a poor understanding of how the rule actually works.  For instance, one rule teaches that the "ch" sound can be spelled "ch" as in much or "tch" as in match.  I used those specific words to test their understanding of the spelling rule in this conversation:
    Me: "How would you spell much?"
    Kaitlyn: "M...u...c...h"
    Me: "How would you spell match?"
    Kaitlyn: "M...a...c...h"
    Me: "What other letters, instead of "c...h", could you use to make the "ch" sound?"
    Kaitlyn: "Um....."
    Me:  (wait)
    Kaitlyn: "Um...t...c...h?"
    Me: "Yes! else could you spell match?"
    Kaitlyn:  "M...a...t...h?"

    However, if I SHOW Kaitlyn  the words much and match she can read them just fine.  Same thing with Megan.

    Overall, I think the program could use some better music, and some revamping in terms of teaching the kids to incorporate the rules verbally, as well as visually.  But it does have some benefits and may work very well for helping kids learn how the English spelling rules work, which may lead to better spelling very quickly.

    Want to know more?  Check out what my other crew members had to say about Word Qwerty here.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary 2-person license to the online version of Word Qwerty in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    TOS Review: Circle C Beginnings

    I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of most "beginning reader" or "early reader" type books.  Maybe it's because every time I look at them hoping to find some good reading material, I'm met with rack after rack of books about the latest Disney movie or pop culture TV show character.  No thank you.  I'd prefer my kids work on their reading skills AND ingest worthwhile, character-building stories at the same time. Which can be a tough order when you're talking about finding both things in a book geared toward new readers.

    Enter the Circle C Beginnings series from Kregel Publications. Now THIS, I can get happily on board with.  The stories are geared toward the early reader, yet they are wholesome, moral stories with both an element of history and the truth of Jesus Christ as God and Savior.

    We received the second book in the series, Andi's Indian Summer.  The story follows Andi, a 6 year old girl living on the Circle C Ranch in California, in the late 1800's.  Andi's friend Riley, an 8 year old boy, reads her a "dime book" story about Indians and Andi finds herself both curious and terrified.  When Andi and Riley encounter real Indians (from the historically accurate Yokut tribe), they both discover that these Indians are nothing like those in the fictional story.  The story teaches good lessons about fear, anger, making good choices and forgiveness.

    The story is just the beginning.  At the beginning of the book, there is a list of new words to help the reader understand some of the historical context that would otherwise be confusing.  After the story ends, there's a note from the author about some of the history that may not make sense to a young child living in today's world.  For instance, when Andi and Riley ride off and end up meeting the real Indians, they are very far from home.  Most children can't imagine having the freedom at age 6 or 8 to not only ride away from home on a horse, but to go so far away from home that they'd lose their way or have to wait until the following morning to return.  The book explains that children in the time period where the book is set would have much more freedom and responsibility at much younger ages than now.

    Besides the rich content of the book, there's also the website.  The entire Circle C Beginnings set is linked to the Andi and Taffy website.  The website offers free coloring pagespuzzles (that can be played on the computer or printed out to cut out and put together) and an entire set of free activities to accompany each book.  The activity set is full of word puzzles, geography studies, dot-to-dots, history studies, a "write your own story" section and much more!  You can also purchase the other books on the site, as well as the resources to Lap Book through each book.

    The books are available directly from the publisher for $4.99 each, or as a 4-pack for $15.96 (plus shipping).  You can purchase them from the Andi and Taffy website,* or through (offered in sets for $14.99 and up).  There are currently four titles: Andi's Pony Trouble, Andi's Indian Summer, Andi's Fair Suprise and Andi's Scary School Days.  There are two more titles due to be released at the beginning of August 2011 - Andi's Lonely Little Foal and Andi's Circle C Christmas.  Check out the series' You Tube video:

    This was a terrific story for my two new readers.  Kaitlyn is 7 and Megan is 5, and they're both reading at about a 1st grade level right now.  We used this book as a read-aloud with the girls and myself taking turns reading a paragraph.  We stopped after each chapter to discuss what we'd read and check that they were adequately comprehending what they'd read.  We also used several of the activities from the AndiandTaffy website.  They loved the book, and are looking forward to reading the rest of the series.  I also noticed my older son (11) both listening eagerly during our read-aloud times, AND picking up the book and reading it himself (something he rarely does with any books).  I loved the history, adventure and Biblical lessons that these books bring to "easy" reading, and I'll be adding the rest of the series to our library.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Circle C Beginnings: Andi's Indian Summer in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

    *The Amazon link is an affiliate link.  If you purchase the books through this link, I receive a small percentage of the sale.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    TOS Review: Nutrition 101

    ONE DAY ONLY:  Tomorrow, April 21, The Old Schoolhouse is hosting a webinar with Sera Johnson, one of the authors of Nutrition 101.  This webinar will take place at 4:00 p.m. EDT.

    Okay, I'll admit it: When I learned that I was chosen to be one of the reviewers for Growing Healthy Homes' Nutrition 101, I was 60% excited and 40% curious.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  I'd heard good things from several people about this health and nutrition curriculum, and I was excited to see it for myself.  But I'm also a HUGE supporter of the Real Food/Weston A. Price movement, and after over a decade of studying nutrition, I have some very firm beliefs about it.  I was super-curious to see whether Nutrition 101 would fit those beliefs.

    Growing Healthy Homes was started in 2007 "to educate and train families regarding God's plan to optimum health as outlined in the Bible."  The product I received, Nutrition 101: Choose Life!, is a three-in-one family nutrition and health program for all ages that presents the major body systems, how they function, their common health issues, the benefits of good food and the consequences of bad food.

    The book is divided into 6 units:

  • The Brain and Nervous System
  • Digestion and Elimination
  • Respiration and Olfactory
  • Muscular and Skeletal Systems
  • Cardiovascular and Immune Systems
  • Endocrine System and Emotions.

  • This book is well-researched, very in-depth and a fantastic study of the way the human body works and how the food we eat can help or hurt us.  Each unit is divided into small, easy-to-digest (pun totally intended) sections with Bible references, excellent illustrations, discussion questions and activities.  There are also art projects, science projects, and yummy, "hands-on" recipes.  As a whole, it's a fantastic tool for anyone who wants to give their children a Biblical, healthy understanding of nutrition.  Not only that, but the book is flexible enough that you could use it with pre-schoolers, or assign it for high school credit.  Truly a great resource for any homeschool!

    *I* (and I stress this, because I have to say that I'm probably the pickiest person I know when it comes to what really is nutritious and what isn't) did not agree with some of the authors' beliefs.  Specifically, I disagree with their take on nutritious fats, and how much fat is necessary.  They say a little, mostly the "good" oils like coconut and olive oil.  I say we - and especially our children - need a LOT of fat (upwards of 50% of our daily calories) and that much, if not most, of it should come from saturated fats, especially animal fats (though I agree on the coconut oil, depending on the type and source).  I was also sad to see no mention at all of soaking or sprouting grains, the health benefits of raw dairy (and conversely the health hazards of pasteurized dairy), and a heavy emphasis on the veggies.  And, I was actually annoyed at their choice to push "raw, blue agave nectar" as their sweetener of choice.  That's probably an argument better suited for a whole other post, but suffice it to say that even the "raw blue" agave is still highly processed, and the liver has to process this sweetener the same way it has to process high fructose corn syrup - it is NOT a healthy alternative to refined white sugar.  Yet the book had at least 25 recipes using it!

    However, even with those reservations, the Nutrition 101 course is so full of good info, and so-well organized and laid out, that I will continue to teach it to my children, adding in the things I listed above as we get to them.  And that's just another great thing about this course - you can add/remove/change things that you may personally feel need to be added/removed/changed without having to go out and try to find something completely different.  The overall information presented is very sound, both Biblically and nutritionally.

    You can check out more about the course by watching this video:

    You can also check out a free excerpt of the book yourself.

    The course is available on CD (e-book format) for $79.95, as a gorgeous, full-color book for $99.95, or a combo pack for $129.95.  My preference would be the combo pack.  It's nice to have the book in hands to read aloud from, flip through and have as a handy reference, but also great to have the e-book format so you can print single pages when needed.

    Want to see what the other crew members thought about Nutrition 101?  Check out their reviews here.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary e-book copy of Nutrition 101: Choose Life! in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    TOS Review: Go Go Kabongo

    I have to admit, even though I have two kids who are not yet completely fluent in reading, my first reaction to Go Go Kabongo was "Another reading game?"  (Don't worry, I kept that one to myself!).  The girls were both super-excited to get yet another online game they "have" to play, as computer time is usually very limited in our house.  I can't tell you how often I heard "Can I play my Go Go Kabongo?", but it was many times, daily.  The other thing I heard, from my older boys, was "I don't think they're doing what they're supposed to do on there; every time I see them using Go Go Kabongo, they're playing a game."

    Well, surprise, boys!  That's the way Go Go Kabongo works.  It looks like a game, but it's actually teaching essential reading skills.


    From the website: What does GO GO KABONGO! teach? Kabongo games do not teach with “right” and “wrong” answers. Instead, they guide children toward better thinking by using an exciting, engaging game design. Children use a wide variety of critical-thinking and problem-solving strategies to play and progress, including these skills that are essential for reading:

  • Attention and focus: Children must be able to focus on important clues and rule out other distracting factors in order to become efficient readers.
  • Working Memory: Children must be able to keep information in their short-term memories long enough to make sense of a word, sentence, or paragraph. For example, repeating ideas back to themselves can help kids remember and make sense of key messages.
  • Processing: Children use different “processing” techniques to derive meaning from what they see and hear.

  • Successive processing: In order to decode words effectively, children have to remember the letter sounds in order and assemble them into a whole. The same is true with words and sentences.

  • Simultaneous processing: As readers advance, they move more quickly through words and passages, “reducing” and organizing the information to make sense of it faster. For example, they begin to recognize certain words, taking each one in as a whole instead of letter by letter. Or, they repeat back the essence of a paragraph, culling out the less important ideas and focusing on the most important concepts.

  • Visualization: When children are presented with more information than they can easily remember, creating a mental picture often helps them process what is being described.
  • Planning: Fluent readers take many factors into account each time they read. They use what they know about individual letters and words, their context in the passage, and their relationship to outside experiences. As children learn to read, they evaluate and apply various strategies, developing planning skills for future learning.
  • Comprehension: All of the skills and strategies above support a child’s ability to derive meaning from what he or she reads. Good comprehension is essential to all kinds of learning, from language arts to science, social studies and more.

  • This chart explains best how each game focuses on specific skills:

    Go Go Kabongo is separated into 3 different "habitats": Twister Top, Galaxy Garden and Laughter Lake.  You can see that each habitat has three different activities and each activity focuses on different skills.  I can tell you from experience with a 5 year old and a 7 year old, that neither of them ever thought they were learning anything, but I knew.  Not just from the way that their honed skills came across in other learning that we're doing, but also from the progress reports Go Go Kabongo was sending me.  I even knew when they weren't using the program, because I'd get a "we haven't seen Kaitlyn in a while" e-mail.  

    I really appreciated the updates.  I also appreciated that it was more than just a quick "this is what Kaitlyn is doing."  Each e-mail explained what each child had done, and what skills that activity was helping them with.  It also suggested activities that I could do, outside of the computer games, to help enhance and reinforce those skills.  I could also go online and view a more detailed progress report, using my parent account.

    Go Go Kabongo is FREE for the first habitat (Laughter Lake), and right now when you sign up you can also get the second habitat (Galaxy Garden) FREE.  The final habitat (Twister Top) is a one-time fee of $4.95.  A fantastic deal for lots of skills practice.  Go Go Kabongo is geared toward kids ages 4-7.  

    I liked this addition to our homeschool.  It could be used for a short span each day, but give the girls a little skills boost to help with their reading.  The games seemed to be well-rounded (if a little childish, but hey, they're geared toward kids!) and simple enough for my youngest to understand.  They don't place arbitrary time limits on the kids, so even a child who is still getting used to the computer can play the games.  And the price is unbeatable!

    Want to see what other TOS Crew members thought about Go Go Kabongo?  Check out their reviews here.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received two complimentary memberships to all 3 habitats of Go Go Kabongo in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    TOS Review: Zeezok's ZGuide To The Movies - Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

    Although I consider myself 2nd generation homeschooler, I did briefly attend public schools during my formative years.  There was a short spurt during 1st and 2nd grade, another for part of 5th and 6th grade and a final attempt for my freshman year of high school.  It was during that last foray that I was forced to sit through the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  I say forced, not because it was a bad movie, or because I didn't want to watch it, but rather because that's how I remember the experience as described by my friends who were in that same government class.  We were given adequate warning of the days on which we'd be watching the movie, and assignments to prepare for it.  And in the intervening days between when we'd been made aware of the upcoming viewing and actually watching it, I listened to all sorts of complaints and gripes about how we were being "forced" to watch a "stupid black and white, pointless movie".  As much as I pretended to have my own opinions back in those days, I can safely say that I jumped right in with the complaining, even though I found myself actually enjoying the movie when we did watch it.

    But this isn't a commentary on how easily persuaded I was to follow the crowd when I was 14 years old.  It's a review, and an admission of how much I've learned since then.

    I have to admit, I was actually excited to watch Mr. Smith Goes To Washington again, this time with my 14 year old, and with the added benefit of Zeezok's ZGuide To The Movies to enrich both our experiences.

    Here's a little bit about the ZGuides in general, from Zeezok:
    Each ZGuide contains a topic overview, movie synopsis, and ten learning activities for an in-depth study of the film. The topic overview puts the film in historical context, giving a student with no prior knowledge of the topic important background information. The one-page movie synopsis provides a more detailed explanation of the movie’s storyline than typically found on the back cover of the video case or on movie review websites. While watching the film the first time through, students answer the movie review questions. This assignment forces the viewer to become an active learner rather than a passive observer. Nine additional activities provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities built around the movie’s themes. Certain activities require the student to use outside resources (library, internet, etc.) to learn more about the topic. Several of the guides contain related memorization selections, combined with a public performance option, to develop the student’s mental powers and public speaking abilities. Creative and critical writing assignments nurture the student’s confidence in putting their thoughts on paper. Every guide contains a “hands-on” activity for the kinesthetic learner, designed to develop the student’s artistic talents. The “Worldview Activity” goes to the heart of critical thinking by asking the student to evaluate the actors’ attitudes and actions. “The Filmmaker’s Art” activity focuses on movie-making techniques and their effect on the viewer. Parents and siblings can contribute their thoughts with the “For Family Discussion” section at the end of each guide. Many of these discussion questions relate to moral or philosophical dilemmas present in the movie.
    The goal of the is not just supplemental educational activities for specific historical topics, but to also teach the viewer to think critically.
    I'm a very strong believer in watching movies as an active learner, rather than a passive viewer!  As a Communications major in college, I learned how important it is to not just allow yourself to be mindlessly entertained (as I admit, I did when I watched Mr Smith Goes To Washington when I was in high school), but to understand the ideas and worldview that the filmmaker is trying to persuade the viewer to agree with.  We've always taught our children that TV and movies are not ever "just entertainment" - that everything they view, from a sitcom to a commercial to a full-length movie, is trying to change their worldview.  As a family, we try to watch things together so that we can discuss them afterwards, and help our children ferret out those truths.

    I loved the ZGuide's approach to this.  As I said, I used it with my 14 year old son, though my younger children (ages 11, 7 and 5) all watched the movie with us and participated in some of the discussion and activities.  Even though the level of this particular movie is above the ages of most of my children, it addresses a topic that we're currently studying (US government).  I was very excited to see that the ZGuide offered several activities that were directly in line with what we were learning about (Activity 2 was all about filibusters; Activity 4 was a quiz about the steps for a bill to become a law).  In short, the movie and the ZGuide were a fantastic supplement to our current study of government.

    Overall, I found the ZGuide to be an excellent addition to our homeschool.  I plan to purchase about 1 ZGuide a month to use with various movies so we can continue these great discussions, and hopefully teach our children an even greater understanding of how to step outside a movie and see it for what it's trying to persuade you to.  My biggest hope would be that after using the ZGuides for a while, they learn to start asking the questions themselves.  I believe that the ZGuides would also be an excellent place to start for adults as well, especially if you aren't used to asking questions of the media you view.

    Currently Zeezok offers 28 ZGuides, for movies like One Night With The King, The Ten Commandments, Driving Miss Daisy, and Flyboys.  Many, if not all, of the movies the ZGuides are available for, can be watched using the Netflix streaming program, which many people have access to.  If you do not have Netflix, many movies can be found at your local library as well.  As a last resort, Zeezok also offers the movies themselves, which can be purchased along with the ZGuide.

    ZGuides are available on either e-books or on CDs, for $12.99 each. If you're interested in what other reviewers have to say about the ZGuides they used, check out their reviews here.

    As a funny (strange, not "ha, ha") aside, I'll admit that as I was walking through the exhibitor hall at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention yesterday (Saturday, April 2nd), I came across the Zeezok booth and noticed their ZGuides.  And I thought to myself, "I wonder when that review is due?" only to come home that evening and discover that I'd somehow forgotten to put it on my calendar, and it was indeed due April 1st.  Hence, the slightly late review.  My apologies to TOS and Zeezok!

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received two complimentary ZGuide (e-book) for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    TOS Review: Big IQ Kids

    This turned out to be a much harder review to write than I anticipated.  For one thing, Big IQ Kids has a LOT to talk about and for the last several weeks I've been in a decidedly non-talkative mood.  But then I realized that if you really are interested in Big IQ Kids, you don't really want me re-hashing all the same details you can easily find on their website.  So I'm going to give you the short and sweet version of what Big IQ Kids is, and then tell you how our family used it, and whether we liked it.

    Big IQ Kids offers online practice in spelling, math, vocabulary and geography.  It is geared toward kids from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and when used daily can improve proficiency in all those areas.  Each subject can be tailored to your child's current levels - for instance, the spelling portion can be set up to use your child's current spelling words.  It is supposed to be used independently, so parents don't have to hover over their child while the program is being used.

    You can click on the picture above or right here to get a full run-down all on the programs that are offered.  Or, you could just check out this video:

    Big IQ Kids offers quite a few options through their 100% free program.  However, you do get some upgrades if you choose to subscribe to their premium program.  The premium program offers a free 7-day trial, and after that there are a variety of options.  If you chose to subscribe to the premium program for all the subjects, for instance, you'd pay $19.99/month or $99.99/year.  It's cheaper if you only want to upgrade one program - for instance, if you chose to upgrade the math to the premium program, you'd pay $9.99/month of $49.99/year.  You can check out an example of what's included with the free and premium versions here.

    Here's another video that also discusses the differences:

    They offer a "classroom" option for the "per year" subscription, which might be a valuable option if you wanted to use it for multiple homeschooled kids in one family.  They also offer a $9.98/year upgrade for the free program, which just gives the child access to all the games, and the "buddy".  Okay, so what's the "buddy?" would probably be your next question.  The buddy is a customizable avatar (but bigger) that occasionally give the child instructions.

    We had two premium memberships, so I signed up Kaitlyn (7) and Aaron (11).  I did not give them any instructions on how to use the program, but rather "let them loose" to play, explore, learn, and give me their feedback.  Occasionally they'd come to me with a problem, but otherwise they used it on their own.

    Here are the things I liked:

    • One more thing to help hone their basic skills that *I* don't have to plan for, prepare for, or research ahead of time.
    • The daily updates I receive via e-mail help me keep track of what they are learning
    • There were no complaints, even though I told them that I wanted them to spend AT LEAST 15 minutes every day using the program.
    • Program can be customized to each child's learning level for each subject
    Here are a few things I didn't like:
    • Lots of tests, very little learning.  It seemed like they were constantly taking tests, after only a few minutes spent "learning" a subject.  
    • Somewhat TOO EASILY customizable.  In order to customize each program, you log in as the child and just click "modify lesson" to change spelling words, decide how many math problems, etc.  The program does not distinguish between adult and child, so a child who watches you require 50 math problems can go back later and change it to 5 problems.
    • Out of date information.  Several of the states had information that was incorrect or out of date.  I have since read that if you e-mail them, they will very quickly rectify the information, so put one in the bonus column for fast customer service.
    • The ads.  This was my biggest beef.  If I'm going to pay money for an online learning program, I expect it to be ad-free.  Not "minimal" ads, or "occasional" ads.  I pay money, I don't see any ads.  Period.  If I'd been checking this program out before deciding whether to use it, the ads for the paid program would have been a deal-breaker for me.  There is absolutely no reason for a learning site, that you pay money for, to have ads to distract your kids.
    • Naked and semi-naked cartoon characters.  This just bothered me as a parent, as a Christian, and as a person.  One game has the kid dress a character that starts in a bra and panties.  My 14 year old was really offended by this (which is how I came to find out about it).  This would be deal-breaker number 2.  I mean, have some creativity!  There is no reason to expose young kids to naked or semi-naked cartoon characters.  It doesn't matter that they aren't real.  It's pointless and stupid, and I wouldn't pay money or even use a site that chose to do so.
    • The computer voice.  This was especially frustrating for the spelling.  My 7 year old is just starting to be able to read fluently and has barely begun spelling.  When she gets "dinged" on a word because she can't hear the subtle difference between the words FAT and THAT, yet can actually spell both well, it becomes very frustrating for her.  The computerized voice made it nearly impossible for her to do well on her spelling tests, and I had to tell her to stop doing spelling to avoid the tears.
    I hope that some of this helps you decide whether Big IQ Kids might be a good fit for your family.  You can also check out what the other crew members thought here.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received two complimentary 1-year Premium Memberships to Big IQ Kids in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.