Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Balance Math

I remember when algebra was just a high school class. I also remember helping my best friend pass algebra by talking her through the homework problems on the phone each night. These days algebra is for all students -- Kindergarten through High School.

Yesterday, Lauren was watching her math video and was asked, "4 plus what equals 8?" Solving for the unknown in that question is the most basic of algebra skills.

Today I looked at Brennan's math assignment and found algebra for a fifth grader, disguised as a lesson on decimals. 8x + .09 = 1.69

It seems like students of all ages need to develop algebra skills, especially when it comes to thinking critically about the relationships between known and unknown values in a problem.

PhotobucketMeanwhile, I was hoping to find a fun way to keep Addison's algebra skills sharp during her break between Algebra I and Algebra II. Critical Thinking Company recently introduced a new book that I hoped would fill the gap -- Balance Math Teaches Algebra!.

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! focuses heavily on solving multiple equations simultaneously. Many of the pages look like one below where the student looks at multiple balanced scales to solve for an unknown value. Other pages involve looking at scales (balanced or unbalanced) and then figuring out which written equation means the same thing as the scale illustrates.

Nearly all of the problems can be solved with basic algebra skills such as the associative or commutative properties. They can also be solved with just a bit of basic logic/thinking skills. Addison considers the problems in this book as thinking challenges rather than math problems. She also thinks the overall concepts are a bit easy for her after finishing an Algebra I course.

Brennan was able to review one of the earlier books in the series -- Balance Math & More!, Level 2. Unlike Balance Math Teaches Algebra, many of the problems in this workbook do not involve balance scales.

For Tic-Tac-Math problems, all of the rows, columns, and diagonals must add up to the same sum. The goal is to fill in all of the blank spaces in the tic-tac-toe board.  Other pages are Inside-Out Math, a problem where the student finds the missing values when given the answers to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. A sample of each type of page is shown below. Some of the pages in this level include fractions, but the majority of the problems involve whole number operations.

Again, this book is more of a thinking skills book than a math skills book. Brennan sometimes objects to the lengthy calculations and was happy when I allowed him to use a calculator on the page that required him to add/subtract five-digit numbers.

I've been impressed with every product that I've ever used from the Critical Thinking Company, and these two Balance Math books are no exception. One thing I particularly love about Critical Thinking Company is their generous copyright allowances. "The individual who initially purchased this product is licensed to reproduce the activity pages for use within one home or one classroom." I'm always thankful when I have quality materials that I can pass along from one child to the next. (Right now, my two books are torn apart and put into page protectors for reuse.)

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! currently costs $14.99, and Balance Math & More!, Level 2 costs $9.99. Both are available from The Critical Thinking Company. They are appropriate for students that have mastered basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. A student that has only been introduced to addition and subtraction would find Balance Math & More!, Level 1 more appropriate. As an adult, I found some of the problems in each book to be a bit challenging. Perhaps that's the beauty of products that require thinking and logic skills -- you never outgrow them.

If you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about products from Critical Thinking Company, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here. Crew members review products covering several different subject areas and grades, including Crypto Mind Benders, Inference Jones (reading comprehension), and Mathematical Reasoning.

Disclaimer: I received two Balance Math workbooks as a member of the 2011 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, April 23, 2012

Goal Planning Monday

For the past two weeks I didn't write a post for Goal Planning Monday. I justified my decision by looking at my crazy schedule and telling myself that just keeping up with the basics would be good enough. I should've at least written down that basic goal. Instead I let something slide here and then another something slide there. Before I knew it my basics had become my forgottens. I realize late last week that my messier than usual kitchen, my lack of evening preparations, and the little messes that crept up were adding stress to an already busy week.

I made a conscious decision to go back to the basics. I caught up on my Bible reading. I did all the dishes. I cleaned off the peninsula in the kitchen. I made sure that most of the kids' schoolwork was prepared the night before.

My days started to seem a bit more reasonable. I still have a demanding six-year-old that's stayed out past her bedtime a few too many times lately, and I still have schedules to juggle. My stress level is back down to a more tolerable level and will be even better when I can get a few good nights' sleep.

1. Back to the basics: Bible reading, clean kitchen, school preparations, and a reasonable bedtime.

2. Finish the laundry tomorrow. Completely finish the laundry. It doesn't count if the last load of whatever sits in the dryer for a few extra days. It also doesn't count if I still have laundry baskets or random small stacks of clothes in my bedroom.

3. Conquer my desk... again.

4. Read. I'm not sure which book off of my long list, but I want to read something.

5. Run. I didn't get out today so it looks like I may only manage two times this week. Three would be awesome.

Recently the Goal Planning Monday meme has moved to a new home. If you'd like to join in the planning fun, you can find us at Real Life Unscripted.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: God's Great Covenant


I've blogged before about how our days are sometimes a bit crazy and how there never seems to be enough time to teach each of my students individually. That's true some of the time, but there are thankfully periods of time when our lives slow down and I can spend more time one-on-one with a child working through a particular subject.

PhotobucketI'm thrilled with the way that the God's Great Covenant Bible curriculum from Classical Academic Press fits so well into our crazy lives. It's flexible enough that I can allow Brennan (5th grade) to work independently, but the awesome teacher's manual allows me to step in at times to study a section or two with him more deeply.

According to the publisher, "God's Great Covenant, New Testament 1 teaches the gospel using stories, worksheets, memory verses, quizzes, and a little boy named Simon, who shares about the world Jesus lived in."

When Brennan and I started using the materials, I read the lesson portion aloud to him and he completed the review worksheet on a different day. I later tried to have Brennan read the materials himself. What I found that worked best for him, though, was using the audio files. Brennan listened to the audio for the lesson independently and then completed the worksheet. I really like the review worksheets in the God's Great Covenant. They require a working knowledge of the lesson materials and ask the student to think about the message in the scriptures.


For me, the real beauty of these materials lies in the Teacher's Edition. It contains so much more than just the answers to the student review worksheets. Many of the pages have notes covering every bit of space left on the page. Some of the teacher notes add historical information, some include cross-references to other relevant scriptures, and some point out areas for further discussion. If you'd like to see several sample pages from the Teacher's Edition, you can find a link here on the Classical Academic Press website.

I love that I can assign a specific lesson for Brennan to complete independently and then discuss some of the points from the teacher's edition with him. For instance, Chapter 2 deals with the three angelic messages that foretold the birth of Christ. I learned in the teacher notes that Zechariah (or the Greek form Zacharias) means "Yahweh remembered." I also learned more than I previously knew about the way priests were chosen by lot to place burning incense in the Holy Place (a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity). Further in the lesson, the teacher materials contrasted Zechariah's initial response of unbelief with Mary's faithful response to the angel Gabriel.

Would Brennan learn from the materials without those discussions? Yes. Would we both learn more when we are able to add in the teacher's information? Absolutely!

These materials work for my family -- both for the regular crazy weeks and for the weeks when we can slow down to really study something. It works for the weeks when Brennan simply completes a lesson independently and for the weeks when I can discuss a few interesting points from the teacher's edition with him. Not only do I look forward to using the rest of this book with Brennan, I also look forward to using other books in the series with his younger sister.

Classical Academic Press offers three books in their God's Great Covenant series -- two for the Old Testament and one for the New Testament. The New Testament materials are recommended for fourth grade and up, and I think they'd work well for fourth through sixth graders. I received materials that included the student book ($26.95), teacher's edition ($29.95), and downloadable audio files ($9.95). The New Testament 1 Bundle is offered as a package of all three products for $56.95.

If you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about God's Great Covenant Bible Study materials, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.

Disclaimer: I received God's Great Covenant New Testament 1 Bundle package as a member of the 2011 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.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Donate Life

Right now there are 1800 pediatric patients waiting for a transplant.

Three years ago Lauren was one of them.


After nearly seven months in the hospital, we received the word that a donor heart had been found for Lauren. I don't know the story of the child and the family involved, but my heart breaks for what they went through. I thank that family for deciding to donate their child's heart so that our child could live.

Thank you for family photos.

Thank you for candlelight services at Christmastime.

Thank you for vacations.

Thank you for dirty faces at camp.

Thank you for the chance to perform and to share God's story.

Thank you for all-by-for-me hairstyles and smiles with wrinkled noses.

Thank you for learning to read.

Thank you for field trips with friends.

Thank you for afternoons at the playground.

Thank you for monkey bars...

and doing flips.

Thank you for giving my daughter life.

If you've already decided to be an organ donor, thank you! If not, would you please consider it? You can find more information by going to or by clicking on the banner at the top of this post.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Christian Kids Explore Biology


Some families love anything and everything that has to do with science. Their children eat up science curriculum and beg for more science information and activities. Other families, like mine, try to make sure that science isn't completely forgotten in the midst of a stack of other materials and a calendar packed with activities.

I reviewed Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space last year and found that it worked perfectly for a family that doesn't necessarily want daily science lessons. (You can read my review of that book here.) For the past few weeks, Brennan and I have been using Christian Kids Explore Biology, and once again I'm thrilled with the way it's filling a science need for our family.

Christian Kids Explore Biology contains 35 lessons, divided among eight units. Those units include: Biology Basics, Plants in God's World, Birds of the Earth, Mammals in the Wild, The Human Factor, Reptiles All Around, Insects High and Low, and Water Creatures.

Each lesson is divided into Teaching Time and Hands-On Time. The Teaching Time section is roughly 2-3 pages long. Sometimes I read the section to Brennan, but other times he works through it on his own. These short sections have a heavy focus on science vocabulary. For me, that's perfect for an elementary science curriculum. I'm not particularly concerned about Brennan remembering lots of science facts. I'm happy knowing that he's familiar with the words and concepts he'll use in his upper level science classes.

After discussing the lesson on one day of the week, we work on the the Hands-on materials a different day. Sometimes it suggests a project such as building a 3D cell model, but it might also be unit wrap-up questions or research suggestions.

For our family, the twice weekly science lessons are sufficient. The Christian Kids Explore Science series includes plenty of extra materials for families that want to add more science in their days. The last 100 pages of the biology book is full of extra resources: memory lists for each unit, scripture memory suggestions with reminder cards, suggestions and clip art to create an ABC animal kingdom book over the course of the year, additional coloring pages, extra activity suggestions, and a full answer key. It also has an impressive 30 page list of books, movies, and field trips that would be appropriate additions to the curriculum. I think there's plenty of materials to use four or five days per week for an entire school year.

Christian Kids Explore Biology is available from Bright Ideas Press for $34.95. The companion activity CD is currently on sale for $7.95 (reduced from $12.95). The CD is not necessary, but it makes it easy to print the reproducible pages from the book instead of having to make photocopies. It has all of the activity sheets, review-its, wrap-ups, coloring pages, and experiment records.

The Christian Kids Explore Science series also includes books covering Earth and Space, Chemistry, and Physics. The biology and earth science books are intended for third through sixth graders; the physics and chemistry materials are for slightly older elementary students (fourth through eighth graders).

If you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about the Christian Kids Explore Science series, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Christian Kids Explore Biology and a download version of the companion CD as a member of the 2011-12 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.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review -- What on Earth?


According to their website, "AIMS is a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping teachers give students a solid conceptual understanding of math and science." For the past thirty years, teachers have worked together to bring hands-on activities to students so that they can gain a greater understanding of basic math and science concepts. All AIMS materials follow the Chinese proverb, "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

I haven't done many formal science studies with Lauren so I was interested in seeing what sort of materials AIMS offered for lower elementary students. For the past several weeks, we've enjoyed lessons and activities from What on Earth?.

PhotobucketThis book covers topics that are perfect for Kindergarten and First Graders that are curious about the world around them. These six sections include: Resources, Rocks and Soil, Water, Changes, Day/Night, and Seasons. As a whole, the thirty lessons in this book would make a great semester of science for an early elementary aged student.

Since I usually use materials that were specifically designed for homeschoolers, I noticed that these lessons were written for a more traditional school setting. Some of the activities lend themselves to a larger group setting, such as "have students work in groups of four." In every case that I saw, however, it was fairly easy to adapt the lessons plans to teach only one student in a homeschool setting.

Each lesson includes background information for the teacher, a step-by-step procedure to use during teaching time, questions to discuss with your student, and extra resources. The extra resources often include picture books that would be an excellent way to provide more information about a specific topic. In some cases, I think Lauren would have preferred if I had skipped the story or background information read in the teaching procedure and used an appealing picture book instead.

Overall, I was impressed with the wide variety of activities chosen for this book. Some of the lessons included short booklets to be printed and shared. Another lesson included making a model house of note cards and then using a blow dryer to simulate hurricane force winds. I obviously can't share all of the ideas, but I will say that most of the ideas are ones that I haven't seen before.

What on Earth? is available for $21.95 for either a pdf copy or a paperback book with companion CD. I loved having the companion CD so that I could print activity pages for Lauren instead of having to make photocopies. AIMS Education Foundation offers many other activity books for teachers, most of them in roughly the same price range. I'd recommend looking for one either to use as a unit study, as a complete science curriculum, or even just to supplement science materials that are lacking in hands-on activities.

If you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about activity books from AIMS Education Foundation, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here. Earlier this year, the review crew used a different set of activity books, and you can find those reviews here.

Disclaimer: I received What on Earth? as a member of the 2011 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, April 10, 2012

Review: Truth Quest History

Sometimes when I review a homeschool product, I learn more about myself than I do about the product. I learn what works for my family, and I learn to appreciate the wide variety of homeschool materials available to choose from.

PhotobucketTruthQuest History approaches history from a Biblical point of view. "History, therefore, is not first about what people do. It is first about what God does and says, and secondly about what people believe and do in response. The exploration of history, then, should reveal God and His truth, not glorify the achievements of mankind." I've heard about studying ancient history from a Christian point of view, but I've never before seen a curriculum that looks at modern events in light of God's plans. I'd highly recommend reading more about their approach on their homepage: What is TruthQuest History?.

The most distinctive part of the TruthQuest History materials is the Introductory comments for each unit. These comments framed the historical time period in light of God's truth. Perhaps the best way to show what this material is like is to simply give an example from the discussion about World War II.
"Yes, this guide is about American history, but we have been linked with Europe. Why? To answer, you must remember again that history is not first about what people do, it's about what they believe to be true, especially the Big 2 Beliefs -- who is God, and who, then is mankind. Since most Americans came from Europe, so did their beliefs. And the 'human progress' beliefs, the 'evolution' beliefs that we've talked about (they're linked), had been popular in Europe first. Watch now, then: is it true that bad beliefs make bad trouble? Though this is reason enough to look at Europe for a bit, we must anyway, because Europe's troubles got so big that America jumped in. Into what? World War II!" (TruthQuest History, American History for Young Students III, page 135)
I like the way that TruthQuest History uses real books. Each chapter has at least a dozen book recommendations to choose from -- some nonfiction selections, some biographies, some historical fiction, and even lots of good picture books. Some of these selections are a "spine" that will be referred to again and again, and other books fill a specific smaller need. My children tend to remember what they've learned in history when it comes to life through stories.

PhotobucketWe received American History for Young Students III:1865 - 2000+, which is intended for grades 1-6. I have a Kindergartener, a fifth grader, and an eighth grader. I had high hopes that I'd be able to do some of our history studies together by using this guide.

The biggest thing I learned using these materials is that I just can't deal with an all-you-can-eat buffet approach to history. There are many more suggested resources than a parent would ever need, and the author does not intend for you to cover them all. In the introductory materials, she calls it "a smorgasbord" and encourages parents to "enjoy all the delicious options." Instead of seeing all the delicious options, though, I became quickly overwhelmed with the thought of all of them.

I also discovered that I really struggle to handle a curriculum that doesn't line out daily or weekly assignments. These materials are divided into 36 different topics. That's an easy problem for a former math major to solve -- spend approximately 5 days per topic and finish in a standard school year. Then I looked a bit more closely at the topics. Reconstruction would be fairly easy to cover in a week, even if reading the 200+ page novel I picked is a bit much for us to read-aloud.  Others would require me to either camp out in that time period for a long time or make some serious cuts. For instance, when talking about technology in the early 1900s, which of the 25 big inventions or events do I want to cover? Which are worthy of devoting enough time to read an entire novel about? A few units later, I need to decide which artists, musicians, and authors are most important to teach my children about. How many weeks do I want to devote to World War II? Which of the many read-aloud and reader choices would be best to study?

Perhaps the bottom line is that I'm not willing to devote the time that I would need to spend to translate all of these wonderful ideas into a workable schedule for my family. At the point where I am right now, I need a history schedule that is completely lined out for my kids. Realistically, that's my best hope for being able to juggle three kids on very different levels and with very different needs.

That's just the way this product worked in my house. My good friend Debra at Footprints in the Butter had a completely different experience with her TruthQuest materials. She has embraced the freedom that TruthQuest History materials offers and is now teaching history to all of her kids at the same time. (Her five kids span roughly the same age range as my three kids. ) I'd highly recommend that you read her review here. You can also click on the Homeschool Crew banner below to see the reviews by other crew members.

TruthQuest History offers eight guides for 5th-12th grades which begin with Creation/ancient history and cover European and American history to just after the year 2000. They also offer three American History guides for younger students, approximately 1st-6th grades. Each guide is available either as a printed book or as a PDF file. The PDFs range in price from $19.95 to $29.95, with the printed copies being only a few dollars more expensive. The How to Choose page on their website lists all the products and includes links to each book's table of contents, sample pages, and more.

Disclaimer: I received a pdf TruthQuest History guide as a member of the 2011 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.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Amazing Animals by Design


Sometimes I feel like a mere blog review cannot do a product justice. I wish I could sit down with a cup of coffee and show you what I've been reading to Lauren lately.

Amazing Animals by Design by Debra Haagen is such a lovely book with a fabulous message to share. I have the digital version loaded onto my nook, and I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be as a physical book.

Lauren loved reading the book and learning all about zoo animals. Not just any zoo animal book would get such a whole hearted stamp of approval from me, though. This book does more than talk about elephants and zebras and giraffes. It teaches a child about how God designed each animal to have a specific purpose. The giraffe eats the leaves out of the trees, the caracal jumps up to twelve feet in the air to catch birds, and the Barbary sheep never have to take a single drink of water.

The children in the story also learn that God has a special design and purpose for their lives too. "Most importantly, He gave you a few things the animals do not have. He gave you a mind to reason and a heart to love others and Him. He created you to think, to make decisions, and to be creative. He made you in His own image." What a special lesson to share with my children!

Amazing Animals by Design can be purchased here for only $7.99 as a digital download or $8.99 for a paperback copy. I'd recommend this 24 page book to parents and teachers of preschoolers and younger elementary aged students.

If you'd like to learn more about this wonderful book or about the author (a military wife and a homeschool mom), be sure to visit her website. As always, you can visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to hear how much the other members of the review crew loved their copies of Amazing Animals by Design.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of Amazing Animals by Design as a member of the 2011 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.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review and Giveaway: A Perfect Pet for Peyton

Sometimes I receive a new review item and find out that it's just a perfect book for me. One of my more recent packages contained both a book for me (review coming next week) and a book for the kids.

From the publisher:
This wonderfully imaginative children’s hardcover book by bestselling authors Gary Chapman and Rick Osborne, featuring four-color illustrations (with hidden details!) by Wilson Williams, Jr., will help children learn the importance of love. Based on Gary’s highly successful The 5 Love Languages®, A Perfect Pet for Peyton tells an entertaining and playful story of five children who each, with the help of Mr. Chapman and the unique pets at his special emporium, discover their own personal love language. Children and parents alike will experience firsthand the power of the love languages as they cuddle up and spend precious time together reading this book over and over again.

What we thought:
Lauren, age 6, and I enjoyed the book when I read it to her. For children with short attention spans, it might be a bit on the long side. I think it took us about 20 minutes from beginning to end. I think the concept of different love languages was a bit too difficult for her to grasp, even on the second reading of the book. I do think that repeated exposure to the concept will help her understand that people show love in different ways and that people feel loved by different things.

I also had Brennan, age 11, read the book on his own. Initially, he wasn't all that impressed by the cartoon characters or the fact that I assigned a "picture book" when he's a fifth grader. I think it did a great job of explaining the concept of love languages in a way that he could explain, and he didn't complain that the book was too babyish. Afterwards, he told me which love language he speaks most. That's valuable information for me as a parent, especially since I'm reading the full book The 5 Love Languages of Children right now.

More useful information:
You can find more information about the 5 Love Languages products for all ages on their website or on facebook. There is also a free interactive app with in-book experience coming soon to the Apple App store.

Giveaway: In addition to the copy I was able to share with my own children, I will be able to share a copy with one lucky reader. Please follow the easy rafflecopter directions below to enter.

 “Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Goal Planning Monday -- April 3rd

Goals written on Tuesday are better than goals never written down, right?

How I did on last week's goals:
1. Counters, schoolwork, a clean desk, a reasonable inbox, Bible reading, and bedtime. A bit more consistently, even if it wasn't perfect.

2. Run three times. Twice.

3. Sew in all the ends for the pink baby blanket and take a picture to share. More than three-forths of the way done, and I have a lot of the squares started for the purple blanket.

4. Finish cleaning up all the school materials and straighten the sunroom. Ummm...

5. Finish cleaning all the weeds out of the front flowerbeds and plant some new flowers by the mailbox. DONE, and it looks great.

6. Meal planning. Again. I feel like this keeps coming around, but I do like doing it two weeks at a time better than every weekend. DONE (including the grocery shopping).

This week's goals:
We have a crazy-busy week with two morning appointments (usually a no-no for me) and an overnight trip this weekend. I'm going to move to survival mode and only focus on what has to be done.

1. Counters, schoolwork, Bible reading, bedtime. (I even shortened the must-do's.)

2. Pack for our trip. This includes safe food and medical supplies for the family -- not an easy task.

3. Post the two reviews that I need to finish this week.

If you'd like to join me setting a few goals this week, please feel free to link up at Mama Manuscripts weekly meme here.


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