Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Toast for Breakfast

TOS Review: Vocabulary Cartoons

When I found out that I would be able to review homeschool products this year with The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was excited about trying new ways of teaching old subjects. Recently, we found a way to study vocabulary that is a whole lot more fun than the workbooks we've used for the past umpteen years.

Vocabulary Cartoons by New Monic Books, Inc. teaches vocabulary words with mnemonic devices. These memory triggers use both rhyming words and visual pictures to help you remember the definition. Even better, the pictures are funny enough to stick in your memory. For instance, one of Brennan's favorite entries is the one where the new word encroach is linked to the word roach and shown with a picture of a man biting into a huge sandwich that has a roach crawling on top of it (the roaches encroached on the plate of food).

This paperback book retails for $12.95 and contains 210 word cartoons, divided into 21 lessons. At the end of each lesson is a brief review page with matching words and fill-in-the-blank sentences. The publisher suggests an age range of third through sixth grade, but I found words that I'm not sure my seventh grader could define. Some of the words covered in this level are crevice, salient, pacify, scowl, hoax, guerilla, collapse, rue, genteel, and neophyte. A complete word list is available here.

Each word is covered on a single page.  The general format has the word, dictionary pronunciation, part of speech, and definition listed at the top of the page. It also includes a "sounds like" entry which helps you remember the definition. The cartoon picture takes up the majority of the page with a caption that contains both the word and the sounds like memory device. Each entry also contains three additional sentences to show how the word would commonly be used.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll include one of the sample cartoons. More samples from The Vocabulary Cartoons book can be found here.

Another one of Brennan's favorite cartoons was the one for the word ruthless. The caption was "Toothless Captain Gums was a RUTHLESS pirate." One of the additional sentences was, "Ruthless Coach Ashton made his players run fifty laps around the field."

We will definitely continue using the Vocabulary Cartoons book. My biggest disappointment is that there is only one volume available for elementary grades. We will likely go back to our old no-frills vocabulary workbook and use the cartoon lessons a few at a time when we need a fun break. Hopefully, we will be able to save some of the fun lessons for years to come.

You can see other reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog. Some of my fellow crew members reviewed the upper grade version of this product, SAT Word Power Cartoons, a few weeks ago, and you can find their reviews here.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our budding photographer

Earlier this summer, my husband got a really cool camera card for our digital camera. It has a built in wifi connection thingy that allows new photos to be uploaded to my computer whenever the camera is within the range for our wireless network.

Sometimes during the day, I'll be sitting at the computer, and I see a window pop up to show new pictures being uploaded. Here's what our budding photographer took pictures of during rest time today:

I guess the Schleich animals really do make good models. They stood still for at least a dozen different shots this afternoon.

On other days, she's taken these pictures:

Friday, September 24, 2010

TOS Review: Schleich Animals


Somebody mentioned something the other day about Christmas shopping. For now, I'm quite content to hide my head in the sand and pretend that a major gift-giving holiday is not going to be here before I know it. Each year, I seem to get more frustrated at the countless toys that are marketed towards children. Even some of my favorite companies now seem to be manufacturing mostly character-based toys. It's hard to find any toy suitable for preschoolers that isn't plastered with either a Disney or a Nick Jr character. It's also difficult to find toys that nurture a young child's imagination -- too many toys only have one "right" way to play with them.


A few weeks ago, our family was lucky enough to receive a box of toy animals from Schleich. I was very, very impressed with the quality of these toys. Actually, I don't think my term "toys" does justice to these animals. Each animal is exquisitely detailed and life-like. I could not believe how realistic the baby pig looked, and I was amazed at the detailing on the Okapi. (Random fun fact for the day that I learned on the Schleich website: the okapi is the only mammal capable of licking its ear.)

Lauren wasn't quite sure what to think of the animals. She's at a stage where her imaginative play is fairly predictable from day-to-day, and I'm not sure she's ready to expand her repertoire at this point. She struggled to figure out how to work these new characters into the pre-established stories that she usually recreates. One day, the animals all moved into a new house with the rest of her dollhouse figures. I'm also pretty sure I heard the baby elephant going to the cath lab another day.

You can read more about the Schleich company on their website. You cannot order directly from them, but you can see if a retailer in your local area carries the animals. There are also a lot of online sources for these figures. It appears that these animals normally retail for about $3-$5 a piece. Some of the smaller ones are less than $2 each, and I saw several sets available online that might work out to be less expensive per figure.

In addition to the zoo animals that we received, Schleich also makes a wide assortment of horses. Unlike many young girls, Addison never was enamored with horses. I can only imagine how thrilled a young horse-lover would be to receive some of the gorgeous horse figurines. If anyone has a nostalgic streak, Schleich also still makes the Smurf figurines that were so popular in the eighties.

I wish I had invested in some of these animals when Addison and Brennan were littler. They are such high quality that I'm certain they would last until they have children of their own to play with them. (They've already withstood several instances of getting caught underfoot.) 

I also wish that I had used these a few years ago when we worked so hard in speech therapy trying to get Lauren to make animal sounds. How much nicer it would've been to show her a realistic cow figurine instead of just the cartoons in her picture books. I could've also introduced her to a much wider range of animals than just the most popular ones that are often in books for preschoolers.

As always, you can visit The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog to see what other homeschool families thought of this product.

Disclaimer: I received an assortment of eight animal figurines as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the product and how it worked for my homeschool family.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TOS Review: Salem Ridge Press, LLC


Salem Ridge Press is a book company that republishes stories that were originally published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They firmly believe in providing wholesome books. According to their website, they seek out "well-written books that teach godly character and high moral values" and republish only the best of the best. Based on the three books that I read, I have to agree that they have made excellent choices.

The American Twins of the Revolution by Lucy Fitch Perkins would make a delightful addition to any study of early American History. I found that the more complex sentence structure of the writing made it a bit difficult for my fourth-grade son to read on his own. I do, however, enjoy finding this sort of writing to use for read-alouds because it challenges my children to listen at a level that is more complex than what they can already read independently. The story had plenty of action and suspense to keep the audience interested, but I don't think it would frighten small (or sensitive) children.

I intend to use Mary Jane Her Visit by Clara Ingram Judson as one of the first chapter books that I read aloud to Lauren. (She's not quite ready for lengthier stories that aren't in picture book format.) It is a quaint story of a little girl who spends the summer visiting her grandparents on the farm. Each chapter is full of discoveries -- a family of mice hidden in the barn, ducklings just hatching out of eggs, a church berry gathering, and so on. It vaguely reminds me of the stories in Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- ordinary days from years gone by that are so fascinating for children living in our busy, modern world.

My husband read Emma Leslie's historical book Soldier Fritz and the Enemies He Fought to Addison and Brennan. It received mixed reviews. They all liked the historical aspect of learning about the Reformation in Germany, but Addison complained that it seemed like Fritz was trying harder to be a soldier for Luther than a soldier for Christ. It was well-written, though, even if it didn't appeal to them as much as the more modern missionary stories that they often read.

Often when a friend asks me for book recommendations, I hesitate and worry that I might suggest a book that offends them in some way. Daniel Mills, the founder of Salem Ridge Press, says that he feels very responsible for the materials that he selects and that he wants to stand behind every book with no reservations (see the "About Our Books" page on their website). Because all of these books have been carefully selected, I have no problem recommending them to anyone that wants to give their child a high quality book to read.

Not only are these books morally excellent, they are enjoyable. As we looked through the various book offerings, my kids and I found several additional ones that looked appealing. Addison wants to read Glaucia the Greek Slave: A Tale of Athens in the First Century by Emma Leslie, and I want to order Sign Above the Door by William W. Canfield for my own reading.

Most of the books available through Salem Ridge Press cost between $10.95 and $14.95 for softcover editions. A few books cost a couple of dollars more, and I noticed one or two that are only available as clothbound editions which are significantly more expensive.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about the Salem Ridge Press books that they read, you can find their reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

I received several books (both print and electronically) from Salem Ridge Press  as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TOS Review: Pyramath

Normally my kids can spot an educational game a mile away. When faced with playing an educational game or doing their regularly scheduled schoolwork, I'd say the game has barely a 50/50 chance of being picked. I was pleasantly surprised at the reception our new deck of Pyramath cards received when it arrived last month.

I was busy unpacking moving boxes when the kids opened the package. A few minutes later, they wanted to take a break and help them figure out the rules. Basically, Pyramath combines math facts with solitaire. It can either be played solo or head-to-head with an opponent. A card is played between the two cards above it if the two upper numbers can be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided to get the new number. For two-digit answers, you only pay attention to the digit in the units column.

I watched them play the first few games. At one point, Brennan leaned over to me and whispered, "She could've used that 3. It would have gone between the 5 and the 7 because 5+7=13." I think it was a good thing that we were practicing math facts during our summer vacation.

In addition to practicing basic facts, both of my children developed strategies to increase the odds of winning. For instance, they recommend working across the row of cards instead of just downward. They also realized that certain numbers (for instance 0) weren't as helpful as others.

Over the course of several weeks, Brennan somehow managed to win all of the head-to-head matches against Addison and a whole lot of the ones where he challenged me. Addison eventually decided that she'd rather play the solitaire version so that she didn't have to hear her brother gloat.

I See Cards also developed a free online version of Pyramath. I will warn you, though, that it can be quite addictive. I may eventually introduce my children to the online version, but for now I'll probably stick to the cards. I particularly like the way that I can just toss them in my tote bag so that we can be productive when we get stuck waiting somewhere.

There are a few other card games available on their website. I just placed an order for their Fractazmic cards. Brennan will be starting fractions sometime in the next few weeks, and I know we'll find the game to be an enjoyable way to reinforce his regular math lessons.

Bottom line: When both of my big kids give an educational game a "two thumbs' up" rating, you can't go wrong. I would highly recommend this game to all of my friends -- both homeschool families and not. It's an enjoyable way to fit in the practice that all kids need to stay sharp with their math skills.

If you'd like to see what my fellow crew members thought, be sure to check out The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

 I received a free deck of Pyramath cards as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No Guts, No Glory

It's been a long time since I've posted about any of my non-school and non-kid hobbies. I started knitting shortly after Lauren was born, and I almost have a few projects in progress. Last spring I decided I was up for a big challenge and ordered a Fair Isle knit vest kit.

As I read the description, I knew that learning to knit with multiple colors would be a bit of a challenge. It also said something about "requires steeking." No problem. I'm good at ignoring minor details like that. After I placed the order, I decided I should google steeking and find out what I had gotten myself into.

It's really no big deal. You just knit the vest as a tube, and then cut big holes in it to for the neck and sleeves.

Really... just take a pair of scissors and cut huge gaping holes into the knit tube that I've been carefully working on for several months.

Insert Cristi trying her hardest not to panic at the prospect of messing up all that work.

I did the first arm hole earlier this summer. Tonight I gathered up enough courage to take a pair of scissors to the other side of the vest.

No guts, no glory...

As far as I can tell, it all turned out okay. I picked up all the loose stitches, and I should be able to stitch the ribbed edging around the arm hole tomorrow during Lauren's occupational therapy.

Only one more steek left to cut, and I'll actually be able to try on the vest.  I sure hope this sucker fits...

Friday, September 10, 2010

TOS Review: America's Math Teacher

Math Essential

After seeing that Lauren had received several review items to evaluate, Addison was at least a bit interested in having something that she could try too. America's Math Teacher is a complete online math program, complete with videos, exercises to print, evaluations, and speed drills.

Brennan was perhaps at the low end of the targeted age range, but Addison was a perfect candidate to try it out. She started a Pre-Algebra program last spring and is nearly halfway through. She did quite a few of the America's Math Teacher lessons in the pre-Algebra section. Brennan is in roughly fourth or fifth grade math, but he's following a program with a non-traditional scope and sequence. He did some of the Basic Math Lessons, primarily the ones working with whole numbers and some of the word problems. It starts by covering basic math operations with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. Then it moves on to ratios, percents, integers, geometry, probability, statistics, and simple algebraic equations.

The video lessons themselves got a thumbs' up from both of my kids, even though some were longer than the ones we usually use. Most of the basic math videos were roughly 5 minutes, but a few of the pre-algebra ones were roughly 15 minutes. These are definitely no-frills videos -- all of the shots I saw were of a whiteboard.

Addison complained a bit because the videos seemed to build upon each other, and the instructor told them to do something the same way it was done in a previous lesson. We were skipping around in the lessons and she hadn't seen the video he was referring to. This could be a problem if you were using this program to supplement another curriculum and therefore not working through the lessons in sequential order.

Written worksheets
After watching the video, you can find exercise sheets to print. Each video lesson has at least one corresponding exercise sheet, and some of the lessons have multiple sheets for additional practice. All of the answers are provided separately (which was very helpful on nights when I really didn't want to practice my own algebra skills). I particularly like the way each page begins with a handful of review problems at the top and then addresses the current lesson on the bottom.

The online speed drills were very simple, but my kids didn't seem to mind the no-frills approach. Written speed drills in a similar format are included on exercise sheets. The online version allows you to try to beat your previous score for addition or multiplication. I did steer Brennan away from the subtraction version because it requires knowledge of negative numbers to finish some of the drills.

online speed drills

The written practice exercises are graded by the parent with an included answer key. At the end of each unit, there are online quizzes that are computer-graded. There is also a final exam provided for each course.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the curriculum in my mind is the word problem section. It is significantly more challenging than most that I've found in my children's other curriculums. Many of the written exercise pages have a word problem or two included. These word problems usually correspond to the skill practiced on the page. These examples helped me explain to my children how or why they would use the concept we were learning. In addition, Basic Math, Advanced Math, and Algebra have full units devoted to working word problems. These units walk the student through solving basic one-step word problems and problems that required more than one step. For instance, this problem is taken from the basic math written exercise: "A car traveled 96 miles. If it averaged 12 miles per gallon of gas and gas cost $1.29, how much did the trip cost?"

Free samples of the video lessons are available here and the written exercises here. A yearly subscription to America's Math Teacher costs $195. It includes all of the videos, written exercises, and evaluations. You are not limited to only one level or even one student. If you have more than one child that needs basic math through Algebra instruction, they can all access the materials.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool parents (and their students) think about America's Math Teacher, be sure to check out The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free trial subscription to America's Math Teacher website as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Weekend Pictures -- just the "afters"

Tim had a four-day weekend off from work, and we took advantage of all that extra time by working extra hard.

Sometime Friday afternoon, we stopped to take an "after" picture of our progress on the garage. I wish we had started out that morning by taking a "before." Some of our weekend's accomplishments weren't really photo worthy. For instance, we spent more than an hour Saturday night trying to get a new wifi thingie to work on the TV so we could rent a movie. I also made a lot of progress organizing and picking up in the master bedroom. Since that's the room that we've neglected since we moved in, it needed quite a bit of work. It's much improved, but still not really photo-worthy.

Here are the some of the "after" pictures from the weekend:
It's a tight squeeze, especially with the kids' bikes, but they both fit!

No more mustard yellow in the kids' bathroom!

Even the kitchen is clean -- no more junk piled on the counter!

The biggest "after" was finished this afternoon. It really deserves its own blog entry so stayed tuned for lots more pictures tomorrow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

TOS Review: Time 4 Learning ( Preschool)

"Mom can I play on Time 4 Learning again?"

For most of August, Lauren and I had the opportunity to try Time 4 Learning's Preschool curriculum. Time 4 Learning is an online program with learning activities for ages Pre-K through 8th grade. We only sampled the preschool materials. A subscription to Time 4 Learning costs $19.95 per month for the first child, and then $14.95 for each additional child (at the time I post this review).

At first I was a bit skeptical about this program. Lauren works fairly well with computer activities, and I was providing only minimal supervision while she explored the site. Before long, she had entered the Playground area and linked to an educational game on I was a bit confused as to why I should pay for a subscription that merely linked to one of the free websites that I already use.

I later realized that the Playground area serves as a reward and that it can only be accessed after the child completes a certain amount of the Time 4 Learning activities. Actually, after Lauren got the hang of some of the Time 4 Learning games, she rarely went back to the playground area.

The preschool program is divided into two levels, and Lauren skipped between the two. For the most part, I allowed her complete control over which activities to try, even if it meant she kept doing the same ones over and over again.

Some of the concepts covered include counting, syllables, patterning, colors, sorting, rhymes, and much more. Lauren's favorite area included a song about vibration and making music. It showed how sounds are made when something vibrates; for instance, when a rubber band is placed over an empty shoebox and then plucked.

Overall, I think this curriculum did a good job of exploring preschool and pre-kindergarten topics. By the end of our month trial, I found that I preferred to help Lauren get on the Time 4 Learning website instead of some of her favorite free websites for preschoolers. While we were unpacking boxes, she spent more time than usual online. With all of this extra time, she figured out how to watch videos on many of her favorite free websites. I soon found that she had to be supervised on the computer so that she was actually doing the educational games on these other websites and not just watching free videos. When I helped her access Time 4 Learning, I was certain that she'd be exploring appropriate educational activities and not merely watching a TV show.

We only reviewed the preschool portion of Time 4 Learning. I've also heard wonderful things about the levels geared for other students. You can see other reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free subscription as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.



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