Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: ACT Advantage, College Readiness Testing


Ever wonder if your child is ready for high school or for the PSAT, SAT, ACT or other tests that come along for college readiness? I think as homeschool moms, we all worry about whether our kids are on track with their public-schooling peers (at least academically). Though we all know that homeschoolers generally out rank their counterparts, we often fret about OUR endeavors being enough to keep our particular students on track.

Thankfully, there are companies out there that have designed programs to test your child’s progress along the way, enabling you to get a feel for where they are excelling and where they may be lacking. The ACT Advantage tests are designed to do just that. 

They sent me a testing packet to review using their EXPLORE or their PLAN tests for my child. These tests were designed for 8th/9th graders or 10th graders respectively. They also carry a test for 11th and 12th graders called ACT. The Explore and PLAN tests that we were given run just $22.95 each.

Maybe my brain is just fuzzed over with the activities of a semester coming to a close whilst Christmas is brimming over on to our schedule, but I found most all of the literature that was given to me confusing. The booklets all look the same, except for the one word on the front, the directions in each are the same (with the two tests I received to review), and I had a hard time making out which test was best for my daughter’s grade level (9th) right off the bat. It was not in the individual test packets nor the letter that was sent with the literature. I did find it on the first page of the “College Readiness Standards” booklet that was in the literature but the title itself made it seemed like an “extra” that came with the packet. Once I found it, I felt a bit silly for the frustration and chalked it up to overlooking the obvious. 

The tests themselves are formatted after standardized tests with strict directions about those persnickety and official testing things like putting the pencil down when time is called and the correct way in which to color an answer bubble with your pencil.  Since this test was designed to show places that may be lacking, I personally only asked that my daughter mark where she was when “time” was called but to continue with her test so that I could still compare her answers to the correct ones and find any gaps she may have. Yeah, I would get fired if I did that proctoring an SAT test. 

The EXPLORE test she took is divided into English, Math, Reading and Science. She only needed extra time on her English and really did well on the tests she took. The directions for the tests themselves are easy to understand and she did not have a problem getting through the material. 

The answers were also easy to check and adding the basic score to each section was simple as well. Interpreting the results was a different story. I found their explanation of the test scores, their differentiating between the raw score vs. the scale score and their directions for deciphering the results confusing.

Have you ever talked to a doctor or perhaps someone in the military and they just casually throw out technical jargon or acronyms and abbreviations that only someone in their line of work understands? Well, that is the impression I had reading the explanation of the test scores and how they should be interpreted. I am sure it made perfect sense to the person who wrote the directions (and the test) but it was all rather mystifying and indistinct to me. The terminology was confusing and I had to keep rereading the paragraphs to follow the train of thought. At this point I am still not completely clear on where my daughter’s scale score in Reading was to be properly placed on the 9th grade Table that compared her score to the national norms. 

From the results of the test, one should go back to the booklet called “College Readiness Standards,” and look at the suggestions for practice and emphasis within each subject based on the child’s score. This is helpful, with suggestions on the types of things to integrate (such as checking verb tense, deleting irrelevant clauses and reading a variety of genres within the English Standards suggestions for my daughter’s grade). The same Readiness Standards chart is used for all levels of tests (as I understand it) and so the suggestions range from simple to much more complex for the older student. However, I have to wonder if a chart similar to this couldn’t be procured over the internet.

It may well be that I am just too right-brained for the ACT Advantage test and therein lies the problem. I am sure many of you would look at the packet and shrug because it is so obvious to you how it all works. For me, however, it was an overall confusing experience. The test itself seemed fine, which is good for the student, but the rest just left me feeling frustrated. 

You can check out ACT Advantage on line by clicking here; see for yourself what they have to offer and if it is a good fit for you and your brain! Ultimately, it isn’t about the parents, but the student, I realize that. However, if the parent can’t make heads or tails of something, that doesn’t leave the student in the best position either.  I think ACT Advantage is tapping into a good and needed niche but feel they could stand to make it much more user friendly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Maestro Classics: Classical Stories Set to Classical Music...Bravo!

Most of us homeschool parents realize that we need to be very intentional about what we teach our children. Manners, study habits and more are both taught and caught through the course of daily family life. In the same way, cultivating good taste in music will not likely happen without intentionally exposing your child to such music. It is certainly not something they will be encouraged to do to within secular society.


Enter: Maestro Classics. A simply stupendous way for students to surround themselves with symphony! We were given a copy of The Tortoise and the Hare to enjoy for this review. Thankfully, my kids do appreciate good music and also play in an orchestra. So, although the storyline was a bit on the younger side for my 6th and 9th graders, they still enjoyed listening to the story.


In the tradition of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, husband and wife team Stephen and Bonnie Simon have produced many classic stories set to the beautiful symphonic sounds of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Using different instruments to represent the characters, the stories are engagingly narrarated as the orchestra plays. Mr. Simons was music director at the Washington Chamber Symphony for 25 years and is an expert in the music of Handel. He and his wife Bonnie have raised 6 boys, which in my opinion makes them an expert on music for children! Bonnie Simons wrote the version of The Tortoise and The Hare used in the story and has a plethora of musical accolades herself.


Each CD comes with an informative booklet that explains different aspects of music and instruments as well as giving extra facts about the characters in the story. With our Tortoise and the Hare narrative, we learned the difference between turtles and tortoises as well as rabbits and hares. The contrabassoon was was the instrument that represented the tortoise in the story. We learned that it is able to play notes lower than the lowest note on the piano!


The booklet also includes some relevant word puzzles and lyrics and music to a fun song that is part of the story (ours was, "The Pretzel Vendor of Paris", composed by  conductor Stephen Simons). The CD is set up to further teach and appreciate what is happening as we listen. The story is entirely played (approximately 20 minutes in length), then there is a series of short discussions about various elements in the story and in the music, plus a robust round of the "Pretzel Vendor of Paris" song. After all of this extra input, the story is played in its entirety again, hopefully listened to with a greater appreciation of what is going on while it plays.


These CDs would be excellent gifts and certainly a great investment in your home CD collection. I'm sure that kids would want to listen to the stories many times and, in the long run, a love for classical music will, hopefully, take root!


Visit Maestro Classics by clicking here. There are many exciting titles to choose from, such as Casey at Bat, Swan Lake, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and more. You can also listen to samples of the CD's and see what your missing! Normally the CD's run $16.95 each. Right now there is a special for any three CD's for just $45.


I hope you will check out this award-winning series for yourself, and see what your family is missing. Classical music must live on with the next generation!

Multicultural Math: Way Cool!

Mathletics online math program will not only sharpen math skills but also lower blood pressure and increase lean body mass! OK...not literally! But, your kids will have so much fun participating in live, online math races that they will actually WANT to do math. This in turn could, conceivably, lower your blood pressure while increasing their brain capacity (a.k.a. body mass).

Seriously, Mathletics is definitely onto something with their web based math exercises. And, lot's of people are noticing this innovative site. They have been nominated for the prestigious BETT award in which digital products used in education are recognized. They also recently had a BBC piece aired about their safe online offerings.

My 6th grade daughter was not extremely eager to test yet another math program. However, it didn't take long to see that this wasn't just a bunch of drills; this was competition! She is a competitive child...thus a happy union was made! (Although their are loads of options that have no competition level, other than with themselves).

My daughter started off by getting to design her own cartoon version of herself. Really fun! Then, she had a choice to either practice various math concepts or compete in live competition against other children her age from around the world! Needless to say, this was her favorite. At any one time she could be competing agains kids from New York to Australia and many points in between. You can see where they are from, what school they are a part of, and their little icon person too.

One thing my daughter noticed about the other students is that many of them had some pretty crazy, animated icons that she could not do with her own cartooned self. Well, she found out she must earn credits through playing and practicing and then she can use those credits in the Face Maker store to add visually fun elements to her own character. Cool! She is past the age of being motivated by virtual trophies or instant feedback (i.e. "your doing great!") in order to play more, although the site does offer some of that which is perfect for younger kiddos. But, getting to add to your own self-starring cartoon, well that is just genius for older students.

The home page of Mathletics is enough to make me want to play. When you go to their site you see how many users are online at that moment, how many correct answers have been generated (in the billions!), as well as the names and scores of the top 100 students in the U.S. and the top 100 in the world! That is a screen full of motivation, right there! As a side note, there is NO actual communication between the other kids online. All that the users can actually see of one another is their first name and last initial as well as what school (if they listed it), and what country.

There is much, much more to this site but it would be a lot to go into for the sake of reviewing. Math games galore, math instruction and unit tests for practicing a prolific amount of concepts. The graphics are great and the site is very kid friendly while also being kid safe. The math concepts used are for K-8th grade and my 9th grader just asked if she could play the 8th grade level because it looked so intriguing.

Furthermore, the parent gets a detailed report emailed to them weekly, detailing what their child has been learning, as well as getting 24 hour support for their website. They are great fit for home schooling and there is a special brochure for homeschoolers that you can view by choosing the "About Mathletics" Tab on their home page.


Mathletics offers a bundle of math motivation for less than $2 a week. That's a bargain for every budget. This is a subcription based service and so each child is considered an individual subscription. A year membership cost $59.00, normally. However, if you know the anwer to their question that asks, "What is the Human Calculator's Favorite Number?" you can get a year for just $49.95. Good news, I can give you the answer...it's 9! (There are a lot of really cool things you can do with that number, if you haven't noticed). More good news: you have 10 days to try their product and get a full refund if you decide it isn't for you.

I would encourage you to click on this link and just check out the Mathletics site. See for yourself why it is gaining accalades and motivating students to do more math. What a painless way for kids to practice!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: Video Game Designing from Tektoma


If I were a twelve year old boy about to review the website Tektoma, I am certain it would be a really enthusiastic review about the way I learned to program my own video games. It would be replete with words like, “awesome” and “totally cool”, and it would get proof read by my mom who would tell me not to use an exclamation point at the end of every sentence.


If I were one of the engineers from my church that work at Lockheed, the review would likely be similar to the twelve year olds but with better grammar and broader adjectives. They would certainly give Tektoma “two thumbs up.”


Alas, I am neither of the above and am nary inclined to ever be thus. My choice of adjectives is much more archaic and my vein of interest runs no where near computer video gaming or learning to design my own. The truth is, I found the process close to the thrill level of ironing; something I try to avoid at all costs. This was just like, totally not, you know, for me…dude. If I had to do this sort of project all of the time, I would need a bumper sticker stuck to my office chair that reads, “I’d rather be ironing.”


All of the above clarified; obviously the right type of person/personality would find what Tektoma teaches to be a stellar niche. Their website claims that kids as young as seven can design and program their own video games, using their tutorials. (Which as you'll see, doesn't say much for me!). I would add an asterisk by that statement to say a child that knows his way around the computer and has an interest along these lines may be able to do so at age seven. Otherwise, a computer novice would need to be a bit older, in my opinion.


Some of you are likely wondering why my children didn’t get to test out this product. This time of year is full of rehearsals, performances and tests worked around regular school as well as a house full of company and Thanksgiving break. Just wasn’t feasible to tack on something as time consuming as this program is, at this point in our school year. So, by default, I am the guinea pig.


After signing up for my free trial period, I was instructed to click on a link to download some software called “Gamemaker.” In order to run this software, your computer must use Windows XP, or Vista. They are working on a Mac version that is “coming soon.” When taken away from Tektoma’s site (in which appropriate content suitable for young children is a top priority), I was taken to yoyogames.com where I was to download the software. That site obviously does not monitor their site for appropriate content because there was a large banner advertising a game with a scantily dressed Asian girl which was pretty unavoidable. Therefore, parents, I recommend that you be the ones to download the software, not your child! Once that software is downloaded, you will have no further exposure to such things on the Tektoma website.


After the software was installed, I went straight to the icon that said “create” to start doing just that. Unfortunately, I somehow missed the instruction to watch the video on how to watch the videos and started to watch the video without watching the video on how to watch the videos. Hee-hee. Sounds like I am giving you the runaround, doesn’t it? More clearly stated: you need to watch a video on the proper way to view the tutorials.


Because I missed that bit of information, I went straight to picking the game tutorial I wanted to watch. By way of lack of interest, I chose the shortest one that was an hour and five minutes long. I would be making a memory game in which an object would appear on a black background and then disappear. Each time it reappeared there would be another object added that the player would click on to show that it was the “new” object. Simple at first yet becoming more difficult as the many scattered objects begin to increase in number.


About ten minutes into the video, I found myself stressing that I am supposed to watch and remember so many steps. Shortly after that, the instructor talked about the other window that I should have had open so I can do the programming as I follow the directions. Duh. Even I should have realized the sense in that! He also mentioned the video I should have already seen. Oops! Pause button pushed, I headed over to the proper video and gave it a go. It showed how to have the Gamemaker software open on one window and then how to go back and forth between the tutorial and your own work in progress.


Returning to the tutorial, I quickly caught up to where I had been in the instructions. I will say that the information presented was straightforward, clear and easy to follow. I was surprised that I was doing as well as I was. However, I started noticing that sometimes there was a difference in some of the buttons I had on my screen and some that he was using on his (they were supposed to be exactly the same). I don’t know if, along the way, I selected something I shouldn’t have or what. It may have been a problem with the settings from my end but I had no way of knowing that for certain. I speaka no computer-o. The only thing I could guess was that there was a pop-up window at one point telling me I was using the “Lite” version of Gamemaker and for $20 more I could upgrade to the “Pro” version. However, it was stated on the Tektoma site that I had full access to everything needed in my trial version to create these games so that may not have actually been the issue.


Anyway, as I was plodding through designing my game, there were times that the instructor would click on a button titled “center” that I didn’t have, then another couple of icons titled “persistent” and “mask” were also missing. Then there came a “depth” icon that I was supposed to click on and assign a value to. Nada. So, although I could do what was being shown to some extent, I imagine the end result would have been not quite right.


You see, I must “imagine” the end result because I never actually made it to the end. Two and a half hours into my 1 hour and 5 minute tutorial, I was still only half way through the information, due to stopping and working on my own screen as I went along. (The tutorial is divided into sections so that you can click on the area you want to work on without having to scroll through the entire video to get there. I could see I was only at the half way mark!).


Frustration was beginning to set in as I noticed more missing elements on my screen. There were some other quirks happening that I don’t even know how to coherently explain. It was apparent that this just wasn’t going to be a successful endeavor and I had already put much valuable time toward the project. If I was only half way through at two and a half hours, I could not justify spending that much longer in self-inflicted torture. Especially if the differences here and there from the instructor’s screen and my own would most likely effect the end result and cause it to become a failure on all counts!


I am certain that if I were to call tech support, someone would have walked me through the process of straightening things out from my end. That would assume, first of all, that I could clearly communicate the problems I was having with my screen and I don’t know if I could have done so intelligently (since I speaka no computer-o). Secondly, that would also mean I had to start over with programming my game…which wasn’t going to happen because I had a lot of ironing to do!!!


So, I felt I had seen enough, tried enough and succeeded enough (yes, I counted it as success to do what I did to that point!) to write a semi-intelligent review. We are all wired differently and apparently I am NOT wired like a computer or video game. However, I have utmost confidence that a student that has a love for all things Bytes and Megs would be thrilled to learn how to design their own games!


The Tektoma experience will be a huge hit with the right kid or even the right adult who has a bent in the techno direction. Benefits of learning to design your own game include exercises in logic, creative problem solving, algebra and geometry. The level of game programming increases with difficulty so the child can naturally progress from the simple to the complex. They can even share their games with others and try out games that others have designed. There is an online discussion forum and a place for file sharing. The folks at Tektoma also add new tutorials each month.


If you would like to get your child videogame savvy, then Tektoma really is a great resource. If you click on this link, you can sign up for a free 14 day trial and give your kids a leg up in the realm of relevant job opportunities. For a taste of what your child (or yourself) can learn to design, there are samples of the actual games on the home page that you can play and try out. Go ahead and sign up for a free trial and see what you think. After the 14 days, you can buy a one year membership for $14.95 per month or $140 per year. There’s also a way to earn portions of free membership when you refer a friend and they join. All the info is there on the site.


As for me, I am going back to my right-brained world where I can color outside the lines and use hot glue to fix my problems, rather than a series of commands. For those of you left-brainers out there, I do thank you for making my life easier and this blog possible. Do you do windows and ironing too? (Thats "windows" not "Windows," by the way).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Character Sketches at Starbucks: Dec. 8th, 2009

As I sit here, in my beloved Starbucks (not any one in particular, I hold them all dear to my Pacific Northwest heart), I like to look around at the other coffee aficionados and make assumptions about their personality and jobs and the like. Yes, they are only mere assumptions and rather superficial at that, but people studying is kind of a natural tendency. Besides, I have a splitting headache and can’t seem to concentrate on my novel, so I am left with glancing around, through the finger pressure on my temples, and drawing inaccurate conclusions of the coffee crowd.



Today, I am tucked into a nice oversized chair near the corner. I usually prefer the one in the corner but there’s an elderly man lounging there, he just finished perusing the newspaper and has started on a library book. I saw the library stamp when he picked it up. He is a pretty tall guy, married. Likely retired. Doesn’t really look the type to hang at Starbucks, “home of the overpriced cup-o-Joe”. Most men of his age, which I have been acquainted with, like their coffee nearly free with complimentary refills. So, can’t quite peg him. Maybe he lives nearby and has a routine of walking here in the morning. He has good, sturdy shoes on and they are rather sandy and dirty, much like he would have walked rather than drove.


Across from me stands a tall, older guy that I have seen in here before. He is singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with Barbara Streisand on the stereo. The guy sitting in the third over-sized chair recognized his voice and said hi (I have seen him in here before as well). They both look like interesting, artsy-types. Maybe authors; ones that are actually published. Apparently Tall Guy is a baritone, who’s voice is not what it used to be when he was younger, so he says. I am not eavesdropping. He is standing four feet from me discussing it in his deep baritone voice. Hard to miss. He is usually in the company of an avant-garde looking African American artist that carries around a sketchbook and looks like he would be one of the cool neighborhood guys on Sesame Street. Wonder where he is today?



The fourth chair is occupied by a New Yorker. Well, she just looks like a New Yorker to me: Italian background, sophisticatedly casual, gorgeous naturally curly ebony hair. Perfect skin. I am guessing she is working on a proposal on her laptop over there. Or, maybe she is describing the tired looking blonde lady sitting across from her typing on her laptop over here. Anyway, she is a true natural beauty and I really want her hair.



It seems New Yorker has finished her proposal and is gathering her things to leave. Tall Guy has started singing “White Christmas” and is trying to sit on the coffee table right in front of me to talk to Artsy Friend. Oh, he realizes New Yorker is leaving and sits there instead. He needs a pipe.

Behind his new perch sits a young couple that are pregnant with their first. Again, that is my assumption. They aren’t young, young. Just seem to be having a nice leisurely breakfast before she pops, which looks to be any moment. This particular Starbucks is in front of the hospital district so there may be some strategy involved with their choice of location. Anyway, they look really together, he in a jaunty hat that seems a bit funky for his age (maybe 30?), she in a black sweater that has the absence of spit up or other tell-tale signs of small children. It’s their first bambino; I would bet on it.



The rest of the dining area is sprinkled with business men on computers, or in deep and important conversations. Then there’s one couple sitting so far from me I can’t see much about their style or body language to make anything out. Except they have a Mac. That sort of makes them artsy by default, doesn’t it?

That concludes my summary and wraps up the crowd, for the moment. Oh wait, here comes the dude from Sesame Street! I knew he would show up sooner or later. He’s here every time I come by. He’s headed this way to talk to Artsy Friend and Tall Guy. They all have facial hair.



This is fun. I feel like both an intruder and a journalist, typing about what I am seeing and hearing while it happens. Maybe these characters will end up in a book I write some day. Especially that baritone. I’ll make sure he has a pipe.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Review: Put "The Silent Gift" on your gift-giving list!


For a holiday read that enriches your precious free time, rather than wastes it, treat yourself to a copy of The Silent Gift by Michael Landon Jr. and Cindy Kelley. The two have combined their talents into a gripping, emotionally charged tale of a single mother’s fight to make life more bearable for her son with special needs.


Well, “single mother” is not exactly accurate. Mary Godwin, who is technically Mrs. Mary Sinclair, flees her hot-headed, abusive husband to allow for a fresh start in a big city where she and her son Jack, who is deaf and mute, can blend with the masses and enjoy each other’s love without fear of his father. Things seem to fall into place in a miraculous way, offering the two of them hope for a better life.


However, getting by in the 1930’s isn’t easy for anyone at this point in history, let alone a single mother looking for a job in which she can bring along her child. Unable to communicate with sign language or in any other way, Jack must be brought to work or put into an institution, (the latter of which is not an option for Mary). She knows he is special; she wants to give him every opportunity to be accepted by a world that is all too quick to shun the peculiar and the disadvantaged. Yet it seems the pair continually take one step ahead only to fall two steps back.


Mary is a tenacious mother that knows how to fight and to love with passion. Having come from a broken home herself, with scars both emotionally and physically, she inevitably blames God for the hardships and is determined she can do better without his help. Every time she allows herself to trust him or another person, even just a little, she is let down in a very big way. Life is difficult for Jack and Mary on all accounts.

In the midst of the pain and struggles, Mary discovers that her silent son has an extraordinary gift. This gift brings hope to others and the prospect of a better life for Jack. But with the gift comes notoriety and the looming reality that Jack’s father may find them and take advantage of Jack, tearing their world apart. When things seem as if they can’t get any worse, they inevitably do…


From the first chapter to the last, Landon and Kelley weave a rollercoaster ride of emotions and circumstances that seize your heart and pull you into the middle of tragedy and triumph, hope and despair. Beautifully descriptive and emotionally engaging, The Silent Gift from Bethany House Publishers is sure to deliver for its readers this Christmas season and any time there’s need of a good read. Definitely a book worth giving to yourself or a friend!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

3 College Credits + 1 High School Credit= Professor in a Box Accounting Course!


In the interest of multitasking (in which I have a Masters Degree), there’s nothing like taking a high school course that can also give you college credit! This is a popular concept among homeschoolers these days and I’d love to introduce you to another course that you can add to your repertoire: one that may not have crossed your radar but is yet so practical!

Let me introduce you to Financial Accounting by Michael P. Licata, Ph. D. (aka: Professor in a Box). An accounting course is a practical life application of math skills that all high schoolers can benefit from exploring. This particular course is created especially for homeschoolers by a homeschooling dad that is also a college professor.

Dr. Licata has created a very user-friendly experience with Financial Accounting that does not involve big, bulky text books. All course materials are on four CD’s comprised of 12 chapters. Each chapter has a narrated lecture, printable lecture slides, key concepts and terms, homework problems/solutions, quizzes and Microsoft Excel templates for use with all problems. There is also an Instructor’s CD that gives course syllabus, detailed lesson plans and more.

Students have the option of taking Financial Accounting by Professor in a Box in a one semester sitting, which is how it would be taught in college (finishing two lessons per week for 14 weeks), or spreading the course out over the school year (I’ll let you do the math on that one). Basic algebra is the only level of math needed to get through the material so even the math-reluctant should be ready to take this class by their senior year. When finished with the course the student will be ready to take the CLEP Financial Accounting exam and earn 3 college level credits! Hurrah!

For each chapter students watch the narrated lecture on the computer, work the homework problems, check the solutions and take the exam. Simple, straightforward and easy to digest: what’s not to like? I watched many different lessons on each of the CD’s and was impressed with the conversational style that Dr. Licata uses with the students. He has an easy-going manner and uses real-life applications making the situations seem relevant; offering small enough portions of new information so that the student is not overwhelmed. I really got a lot out of the lessons and I have absolutely no math persona…if there could be such a thing. I truly look forward to using this course next year for my soon-to-be Sophmore. She will benefit from understanding the business application that math has in the real world while also familiarizing herself with QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

A quick note on a previously mentioned pet-peeve of mine: cheesiness. If you have read any of my reviews on other DVD’s/CD’s this subject inevitably will come up. I am happy to report that this entire course can be enjoyed sans cheesiness! Even the short video on the Instructor’s CD, though obviously no-frills, doesn’t come across as a lame attempt to be funny or drama savvy. Being rather low-budget, it does come across sounding like Dr. Licata (the Professor) is talking from a box…but I thought that was only fitting since Professor in a Box is the name of his company (though that was likely coincidental).

I should mention that my Instructor’s CD had some elements that would not function for me. Some of the learning objectives and lesson plans wouldn’t open and gave me an “error” message. Unfortunately, with all of the busyness during this time of year, I haven’t had a chance to contact Professor in a Box to get things ironed out. However, it has always been my experience with mom-and-pop curriculum companies to find outstanding “what-can-we-do-to-fix-this?” attitudes. I am sure it will be resolved but felt the need to mention it in case you run into the same issue.

In order to check out Financial Accounting for yourself, please go to the Professor in a Box website by clicking here. You can invest in your child’s business future and college career by purchasing this course for $134.99 and get free USPS Priority Mail delivery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movement + Math= Gymathtics


Exploracise Gymathtics from Exploramania is a 30 minute, low-impact workout that also teaches some basic math concepts in conjunction with the exercises being performed. Many kids learn better through the use of movement and the aid of a video and all kids need to get moving and exercise more (especially in the homeschooling community, where PE is not necessarily a part of a daily routine!).


Divided into four parts, Gymathtics uses basic steps, and uncomplicated movement that little ones can easily follow and moms can keep up with as well! Using arms to make parallel lines, rays and circles-- as well as stretches that bend bodies into triangles, trapazoids and more—warm-ups help to reinforce basic geometric concepts in the “Shape Stretches Warm Up” section. Diagrams of concepts are shown on the screen along with the action. The second section is “Counting Calisthenics”, where your student can count forward and back, and skip count by odds, evens and more. There is a “follow the ball” count along display on the screen as well as other math tidbits, such as explanations of integers and place value. The third section, called “Pattern Power” performs a variety of lunges and squat style sequences in various repeating patterns. Finally, “Well Being Wind Down” helps to slow down the heart rate and stretch the muscles further.


“Ms. Carrie”, the instructor in the video, leads a group of four children from approximately age 4 to 17 through the series of exercises. I personally cannot imagine a child much older than 8 or 9 enjoying the workout too many times through. I think very small children will really think it is fun and rather clever to learn math concepts in such a way. The DVD cover says that it is for kids of “all ages” and that the math concepts “target 2nd-5th grade levels” (the latter description does seem to fit). Kids that are nearing the double digit mark will find it a bit low key and probably learn the concepts (if indeed they are new to them) rather quickly; lending the DVD to be passed over in favor of something more exciting after several perusals. Kids older than 10 years old will, like my own, find it very cheesy (my youngest is in 6th grade).


Certainly this video is produced as a labor of love and by a spark of vision to fill a need for very kinesthetic learners. I realize these sorts of projects are pricey to produce and not made by professionals; so I hesitate to disparage the efforts of a mom-and-pop type of creation. However, with the video savvy culture causing us to be used to cutting-edge effects, I think it is only fair to warn of cheesy-ness…it may not work for many kids out there and would be a waste of money for some.


If our family had not been given a copy to review, I would have been sorely disappointed in the overall campy tone. Throughout the video there is syrup-y high fives, as well as cheers from the participants that seemed forced and fake. The final phase, the cool down, is full of odd ball (though helpful) advice. For instance, while sitting cross legged and stretching one arm overhead and to the side, students are told to make a “nice wave.” Then a voice-over says things like, “use nice words and nice actions,” and “use nice ears for listening, all the time.”


However, I would like to reiterate that really young children would probably find Gymathtics to be cheery and fun (think Barney, the early episodes), and will learn some concepts that will likely make them ahead of the game with their math skills.


Furthermore, there has been much acclaim given-- neigh-- lavished upon this DVD over this past year, so maybe I don't know nuthin'! Eight awards in eight months is not something to sneeze at--so there are obviously people out there that like what the folks at Exploramania are doing. Decide for yourself by visiting their website by clicking here where you can buy Gymathtics for $24.99 and check out their other products as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Free and Fabulous! American Heritage Education Foundation

Getting free material to review has certainly been a nice perk of being part of the TOS Review Crew! But I have some great news to share in this review...the product being discussed is free for you too! "Free" can be a realitive term, depending on the item. There are times that something is worth it, only because it is free, but that is not the case here. The American Heritage Education Foundation has put together such a fabulous (and--did I mention-- "FREE"?) CD to share with all educators everywhere, that I would have told you to run and get one even if there was a charge involved.

The American Heritage Education Foundation's mission statement is, "AHEF is a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation dedicated to the understanding and teaching of America's factual and philosophical heritage to promote constructive citizenship and Freedom, Unity, Progress, and Responsibility among our students and citizens." They certainly have done a tremendous job in preserving our "factual and philosophical" heritage and maintained---not glossed over or made more politically correct---the Christian, faith-based roots that have made our country great. The amazing part is that they have partnered with Houston Public Schools in developing this software to share with educators nation wide. If the schools in Houston are using this curriculum, there is hope for our citizens and nation yet! I am truly impressed with the wonderful wealth of truth and accuracy presented for grades K-12 on this one, terrific CD!


The CD loads easily on your computer, offering a full year of study (possibly more if you did everything suggested) for Elementary, Middle School and High School levels of study and also a Spanish Elementary version, in a PDF format. You can save it to your computer or just use the CD when you want to access the material. I believe you could go through it once at each level and still not grow weary of the wealth of information it has, although each level follows a similar time span and emphasis. This is a fully developed curriculum with text, questions, projects etc. Just print out what you need.


The curriculum is written with intended classroom use so many of the projects are written with a larger group in mind. However, as most homeschoolers have figured out, you can tailor most suggestions to work within the size of your family.


Emphasizing the character traits of Freedom, Unity, Progress and Responsibility (of a nation collectively and citizens individually), the curriculum begins with a discussion on forms of government worldwide (old and new) and even delves into the first representative form of governement that is a basis for our own: the Israelites in the desert, under Moses, dividing into groups and subgroups that were represented by individuals within each group.


There is a Forward that is titled, "The Miracle of America, A Revolutionary Idea." Here is an excerpt: "In only a little more than 200 years, our ancestors transformed this country from a wilderness into a great nation. This nation demonstrates what can be accomplished by free people who create a government limited to serving the people rather than being their master.The moral and ethical basis of good conduct was derived from the faith that built America.That faith grew from the common belief that each individual is endowed with basic rights and responsibilities by our Creator. That is the foundation of our democratic republic expressed in the Declaration of Independence." The whole tone of this curriculum is unapologetically patriotic. How refreshing!


The curriculum, even at the elementary level, delves into the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the men behind it, the reasons for certain inclusions of rights and more. What is a free market and why does it make our country thrive? What is honor and responsibility as citizens? There is also ample descriptions of the Founding Fathers as well as all of the documents that are the backbone of our country. Furthermore, there is indepth explanations of our National Anthem, our Flag, our official Seal, the symbols on our money and more. Well written and straightforward, you will find this curriculum invaluable for citizenship as well as American History. I cannot say enough about how beautifully written this program is!


So! Enough talk! I know you are just dying to get your hands on your own American Heritage Education Foundation CD, right? How can you do this? By clicking this link, here. Though the CD is free (the info contained is valued at $150), if you prefer your own hard copy of the curriculum, you can also order that via the website for a price of $19.50 per grade level.


I know you will enjoy this wonderful resource. Please feel free to pass this info on and share the blessing of this free and fabulous curriculum with others!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Free Holiday Idea eBook! Click Here for 180 pages of Ideas!


Thanksgiving and Christmas Ideas abound! Download for free and make some memories!



Here's a link, in case the banner isn't cooperating:

http://thehomeschoolmagazine.com/Digital-Supplement/Thanksgiving&Christmas.html

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: My Access! Writing Help for all Ages!

My Access! online writing program recently sent me a free subscription for review (are the perks great with this job, or what?). As a writer, I am always interested in programs that may help me write better. So, besides signing up my girls, I signed myself up as a student as well.


Because My Access! is internet based, you can use it anytime you have a computer with a connection to the World Wide Web. There’s several demo videos you can watch before you get started that walk you through different aspects of the program. One nice feature is that you can use the many writing prompts given by the software or you (the parent) can assign your students specific prompts for them to work on. This can compliment other curriculum, if there are essays needed in different subjects. I guess you could say that is a weakness of the program too, it is strictly dealing with writing good essays. However, the need to proficiently write essays could not be overstated. It is also one that takes a lot of practice to perfect.


The software graphics are nice and up-to-date and I like the choice to do assignments on your own or as part of the "Daily Access Newspaper". I chose the latter and was walked through the ins and outs of the paper by a very chic editor that gave me a sample essay to read and activities involving that essay to complete. By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of other’s writing it does help to improve your own. You do not just look at the final product of a good essay but you see it progress from one that is not so great, looking at all that was added, and why, to help it become stellar. From there you get to begin working on your own with an option of “publishing” it in the "Daily Access Newspaper" for friends and family to read.

I found the navigation a bit frustrating at times. For instance, during one activity I had a question on something from the previous screen and wanted to go back to look at it. There is a “back” button and a “submit” button, but when you push the back button a warning pops up that you are still submitting your work, before you go back, and you will be scored accordingly. Having just opened this screen and then wanting to double check something I realized I missed, it was troubling that I could not go back and clarify without being graded (with a big fat “0”). Also, the artificial intelligence that My Access! uses is a bit persnickety about spelling. Any unusual name is deducted as a spelling error.


There’s really a lot to look at and learn from in the My Access! program. It is easy to click on terms that are being taught and see in-depth explanations and examples. There are many writing models and a writing Rubric that will assist the student in accessing his or her own work as well. Each essay is given instant feedback at various stages of progress, enabling the best possible final draft.



There are a plethora of icons to choose from, on most pages, and at times this was confusing for me. Not everything, from what I recall, was explained in the demo…and even if it was, it is too much to remember. There were times I would click on something and end up in an activity which wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for. When I tried to go back, I had the same box pop up telling me I was turning in incomplete work (or something to that effect). Kids are so intuitive about much of the computer programs, it wouldn’t take long for them to have it all figured out, no doubt!

The parental feature allows you to set rewards for points earned and also to track what your students have worked on. What you see, however, is the final product and not a peek of how it looked along the way. The process of correcting and revising is completely handled between your student and My Access! so, if you want to keep tabs you can do that from over your student’s shoulder. This is most certainly a blessing for some, who just don’t know how or do not like to teach writing.


My girls are in a pretty involved writing program already (too bad I didn’t get this at the beginning of the year!), but I will be putting My Access! to use during the holiday break!


Read what other’s have to say about My Access! by checking out the TOS Crew blog on this link: http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/HomeschoolCrew/721291/

You can explore all that My Access! has to offer by visiting their website by clicking here where you can also subscribe for one year, for up to three students for $99.95, or, from four to six students the price is just $129.95.

Scrub A Dub, Dub! Virginia Soaps and Scents Review



Since I am reviewing soap products, I feel I must "come clean" and admit that some things are just more enjoyable to review than others. Getting to try luxiurious, homemade soap products falls into the "more enjoyable" catagory!

When the box from Virginia Soaps and Scents arrived, it was a welcome change to see products to review that involved lather, bubbles and clean scents, rather than computer monitors and paper. Well, I realize we wouldn't get much school accomplished if it wasn't for the latter; but bathtub phonics and shower stall fractions could catch on, you never know!

We received four sample size bars as well as a sample size Laundry Soap Kit. Everything just smelled so clean and fresh! Along with the soaps there was a letter from the Spargur family that explained who they were and how they came to be in the soap making business.

When tragedy struck this homeschooling family three years ago, through the death of their youngest granddaughter, grief and exhaustion seemed to overwhelm the Spurger's school routine. But, by God's grace the family began to find comfort in the familiar as they determined to  delve into a unit study of Colonial Life in Virginia. One of the projects in the unit study was learning to make soap!

The "one time" endeavor was so enjoyable (probably theraputic) that the Spurgers didn't want to stop. Through experiments and research and hard work, Virginia Soaps and Scents was born. Talk about turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones! This family of 9 children, 5 of whom have graduated, all work to run this new entrepreneurial business. From printing labels and designing a website to making the soap and taking care of taxes, everything is done "in house."

Of course, they wouldn't have gone through such a shift in school and career if the soaps hadn't been such a hit with all who tried them! They have been especially popular with those that have sensitive skin and find themselves allergic to most soap. With an olive oil base and "no added chemicals for hardening and lathering properties" these soaps leave your skin feeling supple and not stripped. They lather up wonderfully and smell heavenly too. I would also add that they last a long, long time. We are only half way through the sample size bars we received about 2 months ago.

We actually had three small bars of soap to try and one sample Shampoo Bar (each 1.75 oz). Though all their soap is free of irritants, the Shampoo bar, in particular, is great for sensitive skin and for shaving and can actually be used head to toe. One of my daugters has very sensitive skin and so I had her use it when she showered. She has very long hair and didn't care for how it felt when she washed her hair with it. "Too squeaky clean" is how she described it. However, she did like using it for regular soap and she hasn't had any sort of skin problems with it. The Shampoo bar comes in a 5.5oz size (that's huge!) and sells for $5.50 or 2 for $10.

I have enjoyed using one of the regular bars (coconut, lemongrass scent...mmmm) for shaving. Leaves my skin feeling soft and moist! We have one bar in our mud room bathroom and it is hard to believe how long it has lasted, still a decent size after many uses. A regular size bar is four times the size (4.5 oz) of these sample bars that we received. Full sized bars sell for $4.50 per bar, or 3 bars for $12 (and if you buy 4 bars, you'll get one free!).

The Laundry Soap Kit was fun and easy to make, and the "sample" size still made a half gallon (whereas the full size makes 2 gallons).  The Spurgers recommend using a 1/2 cup per load for top loaders, and 1/4 cup for front loaders. Because water hardness varies, you may need to experiment with the amount. However, at a final cost of 4 to 7 cents per load (depending on how much you need), this is a very economical way to wash clothes! Unfortunately, for us, we did not fair so well with the laundry detergent.

Our hot water heater that runs to the washing machine is broken so I have to wash everything in cold water. Once you make the detergent from the kit, it becomes very Jell-o like in consistancy. I just can't get it to dissolve in the cold water. I have tried filling the machine part way with water, before I place any clothes inside, and stirring the detergent around but it still just floats in blobs. I have had to rewash the clothes to get soap spots out, so I have decided to discontinue using the detergent until our water heater gets fixed. Bummer! If your hot water is working, however, you can purchase the full size Laundry Soap Kit for just $4.95. Comes with everything you need (except the pot and water for heating it up!) to make 2 gallons of soap, or approximately 64-72 loads. What a deal!

I really hope you will take a look at the website of Virginia Soaps and Scents by clicking here. (Oh, I am so excited I finally figured out how to embed a link in my blog!!!). Besides their wonderful soap, you can also find lip balms, linen spray, shaving soaps and special holiday fragranced soaps that will make unique Christmas gifts!  If you can't decide, check out their Bed and Breakfast Sampler where you will receive 12 of the same size bars that I received (1.75 oz) for $18-- each with a differing scent. Try them all or split them up for gifts or stocking stuffers! There's a lot of other neat gift ideas on their website too, and it sure is more personal and useful than a gift card or a fruitcake.

Thank you, Virginia Soaps and Scents, for letting me try and review your wonderful, yummy soap! What a testimony you all are of God's faithfulness and mercy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hello... McFly!

Just wondering how my son can sleep through his alarm, while the rest of the house is laying there silently cursing the sound that has managed to wake us all from the recesses of his room? He is a mere two feet from the screaming banshee, at the most. (I bought the loudest, most annoying alarm I could find; seems he has made peace with it. We are the ones annoyed!). 



Interestingly, my husband finally hollars his name and he instantly shuts the alarm off. However, my son has no recollection of his dad doing this. He is a horrible liar and so I can see he really doesn't know what I am talking about when I mention the incident.



I think that says that Dad's voice carries a little weight in the subconscious mind of my teenage boy. This is a good thing...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: My Access! Writing Help for all Ages!

My Access! online writing program recently sent me a free subscription for review (are the perks great with this job, or what?). As a writer, I am always interested in programs that may help me write better. So, besides signing up my girls, I signed myself up as a student as well.

Because My Access! is internet based, you can use it anytime you have a computer with a connection to the World Wide Web. There’s several demo videos you can watch before you get started that walk you through different aspects of the program. One nice feature is that you can use the many writing prompts given by the software or you (the parent) can assign your students specific prompts for them to work on. This can compliment other curriculum, if there are essays needed in different subjects. I guess you could say that is a weakness of the program too, it is strictly dealing with writing good essays. However, the need to proficiently write essays could not be overstated. It is also one that takes a lot of practice to perfect.

The software graphics are nice and up-to-date and I like the choice to do assignments on your own or as part of the "Daily Access Newspaper". I chose the latter and was walked through the ins and outs of the paper by a very chic editor that gave me a sample essay to read and activities involving that essay to complete. By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of other’s writing it does help to improve your own. You do not just look at the final product of a good essay but you see it progress from one that is not so great, looking at all that was added, and why, to help it become stellar. From there you get to begin working on your own with an option of “publishing” it in the "Daily Access Newspaper" for friends and family to read.

I found the navigation a bit frustrating at times. For instance, during one activity I had a question on something from the previous screen and wanted to go back to look at it. There is a “back” button and a “submit” button, but when you push the back button a warning pops up that you are still submitting your work, before you go back, and you will be scored accordingly. Having just opened this screen and then wanting to double check something I realized I missed, it was troubling that I could not go back and clarify without being graded (with a big fat “0”). Also, the artificial intelligence that My Access! uses is a bit persnickety about spelling. Any unusual name is deducted as a spelling error.

There’s really a lot to look at and learn from in the My Access! program. It is easy to click on terms that are being taught and see in-depth explanations and examples. There are many writing models and a writing Rubric that will assist the student in accessing his or her own work as well. Each essay is given instant feedback at various stages of progress, enabling the best possible final draft.

There are a plethora of icons to choose from, on most pages, and at times this was confusing for me. Not everything, from what I recall, was explained in the demo…and even if it was, it is too much to remember. There were times I would click on something and end up in an activity which wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for. When I tried to go back, I had the same box pop up telling me I was turning in incomplete work (or something to that effect). Kids are so intuitive about much of the computer programs, it wouldn’t take long for them to have it all figured out, no doubt!

The parental feature allows you to set rewards for points earned and also to track what your students have worked on. What you see, however, is the final product and not a peek of how it looked along the way. The process of correcting and revising is completely handled between your student and My Access! so, if you want to keep tabs you can do that from over your student’s shoulder. This is most certainly a blessing for some, who just don’t know how or do not like to teach writing.

My girls are in a pretty involved writing program already (too bad I didn’t get this at the beginning of the year!), but I will be putting My Access! to use during the holiday break!
Read what other’s have to say about My Access! by checking out the TOS Crew blog on this link: http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/HomeschoolCrew/721291/

You can explore all that My Access! has to offer by visiting their website at www.myaccess.com rel="nofollow" where you can also subscribe for one year, for up to three students for $99.95, or, from four to six students the price is just $129.95.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: The Amazing Bible Timeline




Before I begin this review I would like to vent and whine and complain a moment. I already wrote this review once, on my laptop. While doing some last minute double checking on the internet, a virus demon literally seized my computer and possessed it. I suddenly had all of these warnings and fake Microsoft pages coming up, using Microsoft icons and broken English, telling me I needed to enter my credit card number to be protected…yada-yada-yada. It even changed my background picture to this huge warning with further poor grammar, telling me all my personal data is invaded with spyware. Our firewall protection won’t run and it is all froze up. I am not a happy camper! Why do people set out to infest our lives with such malicious technology? Argh! I realize that this is completely unrelated to the subject at hand, but, “it’s my [blog] and I can cry if I want to!” It isn't as if I just have loads of free time, you know!

Ok, now that I have that out of my system, let me try (AGAIN!) to do this product justice…

I was very pleased when I opened the long skinny box that came in the mail revealing The Amazing Bible Timeline. A chronological history of mankind from Adam until the present-- it is amazingly compact (37”x45”) for all the information it contains. We own a similar book with a pull out chronology, a good 12 feet in length, that for years I have wanted to mount so we could refer to it. Never could quite find a good place for a 12’x2’ poster…wallpaper boarder, perhaps? Well, The Amazing Bible Timeline fit perfectly on one of those cardboard, tri-fold project display boards. Just needed to trim the edges a bit and staple it and ~voila! ~ Easy to see but also easy to store by folding (or sliding behind our piano :) ).

My first impression was admiration for the clever design, enabling the amount of information to be easily seen and comparatively viewed. Using a circular pattern of spokes, the timeline color-codes the various lineages that went on to become various civilizations. This enormous project began in 1931 and, since 1975, has been carried on by the Agard family.

This is certainly a good tool for studying history in its total context. There have been some concerns pointed out, however, that cause me to take pause in recommending The Amazing Bible Timeline to others. A few weeks after the timeline arrived, I received an email from the Agards (addressed to all of the TOS Crew), that attends to some concerns pointed out by other reviewers. Apparently, the Agard family also offers an LDS version of the timeline for Mormons, and there was also some Mormon info on the non-LDS version that we were given.

Upon closer inspection of my timeline, I did notice the inclusion of an important date for Mormon history around the year 400 AD, using the Book of Mormon references. They also note when Joseph Smith led his followers to Utah. This begs the question: What is information from the Book of Mormon doing on a BIBLE timeline in the first place? I suppose if it was titled The Amazing History Timeline, there may be some justification for it. But the two books are certainly not one and the same. (I have since read, in another reviewer's blog, that she was told the inclusion of such dates was a "nine year old error" that would be removed...).

Furthermore, the email that went out to the Crew was intended to clear up any misunderstandings about this issue, yet it only made things more perplexing for me. The Agards placed a link within their email to answer several, varied concerns that have been raised by reviewers. In addressing the apprehension that The Amazing Bible Timeline may have an “LDS slant”, the Agard family stated the following: “We don't know how it could. The original Timeline on which ours is based does not have an LDS background. We added dates from 1931 to 2000 so unless you think there's some LDS slant to WWII or the first astronauts on the moon there isn't one.” That seems reasonable.

However, prior to that statement, the Agards also proclaimed the following thought, (which is part of the same response to the question mentioned): “1975 (the year they took over production of the timeline) was a time when Christians were committed to building greater unity or cooperation among Christian faiths, very different from today’s time of Bible bashing and rejection of any Christian whose faith does not exactly match our own. The contention among Christians today is appalling to us and we don't support it. (We were asked to provide primary references that there was such a time and attitude. Fair enough.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/178836/ecumenism).” [italics mine]

I took a look at that article and found it to be a discussion on the cooperative efforts of various mainstream, historically accepted denominations of the Christian faith. Although there are various differences in methods or within the “gray” areas of belief or application, the basics of doctrine, particularly in reference to who Jesus is, are all in agreement. There is mention of the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Reformed and Pentecostal churches. No mention of Mormons within this article. Mormons may consider themselves Christians but Christians have never considered Mormons anything but a cult. This statement is NOT “Bible bashing,” as the Agards have asserted, it is historically and doctrinally true. Mormons are sincere, good people (I grew up in a school that was probably 1/3 Mormon and was friends with many) but they are sincerely wrong and deceived. The Book of Mormon is as false as the Koran; both books, incidentally, have been given to their founding “prophet” via angelic visitations.

I stand with the apostle Paul when he states in Galatians 1:8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” We do no favors by patronizingly accepting our Mormon friends; rather we should speak the truth to them in love.

I realize that this has become much more than a review of The Amazing Bible Timeline and a bit more of a sermon. This is not a personal attack on the Agards in any way. However, their statements of clarification only served to raise a red flag for me as to their view of history. If they consider the concerns about the possible LDS slant as “rejection of any Christian whose faith does not exactly match our own,” it is now an issue that I feel compelled to respond to.

I cannot imagine the man hours, commitment and research that has gone into The Amazing Bible Timeline and I realize there are many varied sources used, and dates are double checked, triple checked and more. It is a huge body of work and I plan on keeping the copy given to me for review. With the internet at my finger tips it would not be hard to check anything I have a question about. I feel it is a great visual aid for putting history in context. However, I could not recommend this tool to you without disclosing what has been revealed about the viewpoints of those that have entrusted themselves to the project.

To read the full explanation of the various concerns, click this link:
http://bibletimeline.net/theldsquestionandussherstablequestions.html

To take a look at The Amazing Bible Timeline and to possibly purchase one for $29.97, visit their website at
http://bibletimeline.net .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abcteach: Customizing Your Homeschooling Curriculum!

Ever come across an item or idea and wonder, “why didn’t I think of that?” Well, that was exactly my thought when I was asked to review Abcteach, a website that stands at the ready when you want to do just about anything you can imagine along the lines of enhancing your homeschool curriculum.

Need to make your own spelling test (with a word scramble and word search for practice before the big day)? No problem, Abcteach can help you make your own, simply by plugging in your word list on a form. Would you like to make name cards to label each child’s school supply bin? There’s a form for that too! Need clip art? Got it! Need a multiplication table to take in the car (because the chart on the wall really isn’t conducive to travel)? Bingo, you can make one in a snap! What about a coloring page for the toddler that is listening to big brother’s history lesson? Presto! Need…?

Well, I think you get the idea! Abcteach seems to have thought of everything and then some. All in one location, with one goal in mind: making your homeschool YOUR homeschool! No need to scour websites or curriculum books or worry about making ugly stick figures to make a point, Abcteach likely has what you are wishing you had. And they keep adding more and giving you more options all the time. Just perusing their site will cause you to think about all the things you could do that maybe you weren’t even planning on…just seeing what they offer spurs on those creative juices!

I must admit that upon trying out a word scramble form, I sort of froze up when the computer-ese looking box popped up, wanting to know my words, how hard I wanted them to be scrambled, whether or not I wanted their directions printed on top of the page or if I wanted to write my own…very stale and black and white but necessary, you know? That sort of thing just kills my idea for a second because I think in the artsy, flow-y, colorful realm (with the little gnomes…). However, it only took me a second to recover and start playing with the boxes to see how it worked. Within about two minutes I had a decent word scramble page ready to be printed. Most of that time was spent just typing in the words! So, I found it to be really user friendly.

Furthermore, if you are computer illiterate like me, they have short videos that will walk you through the process of filling out the information, or cutting and pasting or whatever the necessary steps involved in customizing your own page for you children. They also have great customer service if you just can’t seem to figure things out. I had problems getting the videos to play and when I emailed their tech support it was addressed very quickly-- resolved in a short time!

So, how can you take advantage of all the goodies packed into the Abcteach website? Well, stop by for a visit, of course! Go to
www.abcteach.com and just click around and see all the great things waiting for you to enjoy! From handwriting forms to scrapbooking backgrounds and borders, from book report forms to reading comprehension pages, there is something you need, that they have! There are two ways to enjoy their site: they offer about 6,000 documents for FREE at the site above, free is always a great price! However, if you try out all 6,000 documents and realize you need much more, you can become a member and have access to over 30,000 documents. Individual membership is $40 per year or $70 for two years. If you sign up with a homeschooling group, the price can drop to a little as $25 per year, depending on the number of people. I do need to interject that this site is really a great site for anyone working with kids! If you have friends that teach in more traditional school setting, or perhaps even a teen that babysits a lot, or maybe you are in charge of the children’s Sunday school hour…there are so many ways that Abcteach can be of help in all of these situations.

How many times have you thought, “I wish I had (fill in the blank), to go along with this subject”? Well, now you can have THAT, thanks to Abcteach. Then, you’re next thought, after efficiently printing out your needed document will be, “why didn’t I think of that?”!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Historical Fiction Review: Sarah's Wish Delivers!




The best part of homeschooling, personally, has always been reading good books with my kids. They love it too! There’s something about a great story that is the highlight of our day together and also can be the downfall too…at times I just can’t stop reading and other school subjects may suffer just a bit because of it!

So, the chance to read a great story, as part of reviewing for the TOS Crew, was an eager task for us all. Sarah’s Wish, by Jim Baumgardner, is one of those wonderful stories that tend to edge out other schoolwork; it pulls you in and makes you want to keep reading to see what happens next! Sarah’s Wish is the first of three books chronicling Sarah’s life in the dangerous times of North verses South and the Underground Railroad.

Set in the mid 1800’s when the Underground Railroad was in full (but highly secretive) swing, Sarah’s Wish starts off with a bang-- a runaway wagon that leaves Sarah an orphan-- and keeps sweeping the reader quickly along. There’s a certain secret Sarah promises to keep for her mom and a couple of bad dudes that want to uncover that secret: slave catchers. At just 12 years old, Sarah is frightened yet brave as she carries on her mother’s work and eventually has to learn to trust others that are part of the network of people working to help slaves escape too.

More than anything, Sarah wishes and prays for new parents. Through the comfort of her pastor and the help of local characters like “Granny” and “Doc Baum”, Sarah is well loved, protected and taken care of. Finally, she receives word that a family, whom she has never met, wants to adopt her as their own! This is an answer to prayer but met with mixed feelings as she must leave the town that she loves and the work her mother entrusted to her as well. She journeys to meet with the family but finds that her dreams and their reality may not be as compatible as she hoped…

Author Jim Baumgardner is a wonderfully colorful character himself. Hailing from Kansas, Mr. Baumgardner is a living part of history in the Old Cowtown Museum where he tells stories to visitors each day as the “town barber”. His “Sarah” series began as a quest to make great wholesome stories for his grandkids to read. They have become a special treasure that he is sharing with the rest of us as well! I highly encourage you to visit his website
www.sarahsbooks.net where you can order all of Sarah’s books and enjoy good, clean and educational fun for the entire family—books worth passing on in your home library or proudly giving as gifts! In fact, you can have your books autographed by the author, just look for the box to write in the name you wish for him to address it to...talk about a personal touch! Sarah’s Wish is just $9.99 on the website, with free shipping. Or, get all three Sarah books for $39.95 (retail would be $47.97) and free shipping too!

One terrific feature is that each book comes with a code from the publisher that allows you to download the audio book for FREE! You can then burn it onto your own CD to listen to in the car or download it onto an MP3 player. Also, if you sign up for Mr. Baumgardner’s email list, you will get a fun and informative newsletter with interesting historical facts about life in Sarah’s time period, herbal remedies (that “Granny” recommends), words of wisdom, contests for the kids and more!

If your family loves to read as much as we do, don’t miss this opportunity to give your kids wholesome and adventurous books that teach history while they entertain. It is a great investment in worthwhile reading!
This just in!!! Mr. Baumgardner is offering a special price for those of you visiting his website thanks to a TOS Crew Blog (yes, this is one!). If you will contact him via his link, and ask for the TOS Crew special order form, he will email it to you and you can save even more! Don't you feel special?!!!

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.


He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.


He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.


The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.


Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.

Followers