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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peterson Directed Handwriting Review

When my oldest son was younger, he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder. The therapist recommended Handwriting Without Tears, and we used that loosely for learning to print. But printing was some time ago, and while I picked up their cursive books, I never got around to them.
That's the great thing about being part of the TOS Crew. It is making me get around to several things I planned on doing but never actually DID. Cursive writing is one of those things, and as a result, I had children who were 11, 9, and 7 years old and could write nothing more than their first names in cursive.
So I was very excited to see that a handwriting curriculum, Peterson Directed Handwriting, was scheduled for us to review, and I chose their cursive program for my children to try out.
I want to be honest about my initial impressions. I had never stopped to consider that each handwriting curriculum not only has a different way of teaching handwriting, but a different finished product-meaning differences in the appearance of the resulting cursive. Peterson's handwriting reminds me very much of my mother's writing, and is a polar opposite from my own. While they maintain that their method and the resulting cursive looks the way it does based on legibility studies, I personally found some of the letters to be, well, oddly formed. And I don't think my own handwriting, while drastically different from Peterson's, is at all illegible. So I found myself in a quandry. Do I teach a handwriting method when I don't particularly like the look of the resulting handwriting? To me, the answer was YES, because I made a committment as a reviewer and I take that seriously...and I'm glad I did, because I have revised my opinion somewhat.
One of the main reasons I decided to go ahead with it is that I was drawn to the fact that their products are non-consumable, and they recommend and encourage a multi-sensory approach to learning to write. In that, it is very similar to HWT. With Peterson's though, students learn a rhythmic sequence of words and muscle movements that breaks almost all the lower case cursive letters into four basic motions. Students learn the words to say and practice "writing" by saying the words and tracing their fingers over letters in their workbooks. They are also encouraged to try other methods of practice like air writing all to gain muscle memory for how to make each stroke. The lessons are short, and my children all enjoyed doing it. We followed Peterson's schedule mostly, and it seemed like the children were able to write real cursive letters in short time, although the curriculum is meant to build fluency over time for a lifetime of good penmanship habits. The lessons are easy to follow and guide your student(s) through, and I think breaking the letters down into 4 common strokes is brilliant, and one of the best features of the program. Another "pro" would be that the people at Peterson Directed Handwriting are exceedingly helpful. They are passionate about good, legible, fluent handwriting and helping your child achieve it. They are available to answer questions and were wonderful to deal with.

On the con side would be the fact that some of the letters are formed strangely. While they maintain it is for greater legibility, I actually find they made it harder for me to read when I saw the first samples of text.

Letters like "d", "a" and "g" have odd entrance strokes (above), and "c" is formed without a curve. Lowercase "p" is made with a beginning stroke that extends all the way up to the top line instead of just going half way up like most people write it.
Above you can see a sample of what the workbook looks like, and what the cursive looks like. You can see the odd looking "c" also. It's the first letter under the "odd top letters". When joined to other letters it looks less odd (see the word "ice"), but it is different for sure.
I decided to teach it the way they present it, but not correct it if they made them "wrong" by Peterson standards but correct based on the standard way of writing. I figure my handwriting has changed with time, and theirs will too, so they can make adjustments if they later decide they want a more standard look. As I said before, my mother writes in a style very close to Peterson's (maybe that's what her school district used since Peterson's has been around since 1908) and it has served her just fine. And I learned long ago to take what works for me/us, and leave the rest, so we adopted that approach with this handwriting curriculum too.
The bottom line on this one is that it comes down to personal choice. I like the multi-sensory approach and focus on word/muscle rhythm to guide handwriting. I like the short lessons, and my kids have had good results. BUT, ultimately, I don't care for how the actual writing looks. Maybe it's because my own writing is big and bubbly, but Peterson focuses on perfecting the slant of the letters a lot, and the some of letters are odd. The curriculum is reasonable in price with a basic homeschooling set costing just over $15. And since it's not consumable, you can use it over and over. This is one you really need to investigate yourself by visiting their website HERE to see if you like the handwriting results. If you do, I wholeheartedly recommend this program. You won't be disappointed as it is easy but thorough. But if you don't care for the end result, then you probably want to find a programs whose handwriting you prefer.
Other TOS Crew members reviewed other levels (the cursive is grade 3), or may have a different opinion about the cursive program, so please check their reviews out HERE.
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Painting day #2

Unfortunately, you can't really see the color well because this side of my house is always shaded AND it was about 5:00 when I took this. But the side and a half that was prepped yesterday is painted now.

Here's the darker accent color.

TJ took this, so it's a little slanted, but you can kind of see the darker accent around the door and at the vent in the roof peak. I started painting the vent, but that roof is STEEP, and I had on well worn Crocs, so I climbed back down after just a few strokes. My husband was VERY relieved!
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Painting day # 1

So what got painted today? Absolutely NOTHING. Well, I shouldn't say that. In the last hour or so of work one and a half sides of the house got primed. Kiwi's husband is helping us out. We are thrilled to have extra hands, and they are thrilled to have extra money, so it's a win-win situation. One and a half sides of the house got seriously pressure washed, scraped, loose paint peeled off, and cracks filled. (You have NO idea- I'll post pictures tomorrow of the sheets of paint we peeled off.) My husband even did some stucco work. We had several unplanned trips to the store to get forgotten items. (Like trim paint-good thing Kiwi's husband was here to be the voice of reason about painting the trim first so it doesn't drip on the darker house paint. Gravity works, you know!) I'm hoping tomorrow some painting will take place, but it is going to take a while to get the whole house done. Here are some more picture for your entertainment.
It just kept peeling, and peeling, and peeling....

This bright turquoise is the REAL color the house used to be. Nice huh? You can see a bit of the pink in this picture too.
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New Blog look

Did you notice? Well, I'm sure you notice last week when I changed my background, but I did that to enable me to go to a three column format. With three columns, I was able to create a list of my reviews with links to all of them. I also changed my profile statement just a bit. Tee-Hee, I feel accomplished (okay, but I confess my husband had to take the blog from two columns to three-I couldn't figure it out, but I did the rest).
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Math Mammoth Review

I've been a homeschooling mom for several years now. I go to our state's convention every year. I spend hours in the vendor hall checking out products. I thought I had seen every product there was, but the TOS Crew is showing me how many wonderful things there are out there that I had never checked out before. Math Mammoth is one of those things.
Sure, I'd heard the name Math Mammoth before, and probably seen their ads in TOS (I'm an advertisers nightmare-I never really notice ads), but I knew nothing about them and had dismissed them because we are very happy with our math curriculum. Apparently I have missed a lot by dismissing it so quickly.
Math Mammoth offers four different series of books. It may seem a bit confusing but it's not really, just take the time to assess what you really want. The information from their website really sums it up best, but I will try condense it a bit here:
The BLUE series: Each book is organized by TOPIC, and includes both the textbook explanations and lots of varied problems. These are especially good for remedial or supplemental work, and can work as part of a complete curriculum as well. Blue Series books currently cover topics for grades 1-5, but since the typical US curriculum is very similar in 5th and 6th grades, several of the books are usable even for 6th grade topics.
The LIGHT BLUE Series: Math Mammoth Lightblue books constitute a complete elementary mathematics curriculum for grades 1, 2, 3, and 4. Part A is available for 5th grade. Each complete grade level consists of two worktexts (A and B), their answer keys, tests, and an additional worksheet maker. These books are organized by GRADE.
The GOLDEN and GREEN Series: Golden Series books are collections of worksheets for grades 3-8(9), consisting of two parts (A and B) for each grade. They contain one topic per sheet, but with very variable problems. The GOLDEN series is organized by GRADE. The GREEN series is the same but organized by TOPIC.
To help you decide what works best for you, Math Mammoth's creator offers a one week tutorial with daily e-mails and 280 free worksheets and sample pages for you to check out.
Because we have a math curriculum, we opted to check out two of the BLUE series books. Since Right Start has a heavy Geometry focus, I chose Early Geometry and Money. Early Geometry covers all sorts of topics from shapes to right angles over 3 different grade levels, and offers plenty of explanation and practice. In addition, the book provides a list of internet sites where additional geometry activities are available! The book is over 60 pages, is in color, and is downloadable so you can print what you need when you need it and never worry about forgetting that you have a workbook SOMEWHERE on your bookshelves if you could only find it (not that that ever happens to me, LOL). It is downloadable for only $2.50. Can you believe that?
Money focuses on counting coins, counting and making change, dollar amounts, mental math, and solving money problems. I got it because I figure practice with money problems is something my kids can never get enough of. Again, the topics cover multiple grade levels. Like the book above, the worksheets are part of a downloadable book and are in color. A full list of internet sites with money activities is included. Money is about 50 pages and is $3.00.
I didn't find any negatives with the books we tried. Other TOS Crew members tried the entire curriculum, so I encourage you to check out their reviews if you are interested in knowing more about that.
The bottom line for me is that I think we will continue to use Math Mammoth workbooks for years to come. I love that I can chose topical practice based on what we are studying or what my kids need extra work on. I really love that for one really LOW price I get a non-consumable resource that I can use for all my kids. I have a bookshelf full of tons of untouched resource books, but these worksheets we actually use which makes them priceless!
To check out Math Mammoth, go HERE. TO read reviews by other TOS Crew members, go HERE.
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Hair care

So my sister bought my daughter a brush (although if I ended up paying for it, did she really buy it???? hmmm.....). It has wooden bristles, and it's what my sister uses on her beautiful hair (not coveting, not coveting). Anyway, since that moment, I think Em has brushed her hair a BILLION times. Literally. I know I was the biggest complainer about her never brushing her hair, but we've gone from one extreme to the other. And the problem with ringlet curly hair is that when you brush it you separate the curls and it just looks wavy...I think I preferred the rat's nest. Oh well.

And, on a personal front, I colored my hair for the first time in 4 years. My sweet former neighbor had done blond highlights for me when she went to cosmetology school, and then touched them up for me about 6 month ago, but they were growing out, and I was ready to not be half blond/half brown anymore. So what color is it? You'll have to wait and see! The box said "Medium Golden Brown" but anything that has golden in the title brings out the red in my hair, so I'll give you a clue that Presley and I could be sisters :-). I like it a lot. Surprisingly, only 2 people said anything at church yesterday. I don't know if they really didn't notice (I can't imagine that) or if they were trying to be polite and not mention the elephant in the room (I'm sure some older folks consider it inappropriate to discuss such matters). I'm hoping it was one of those two things though and not that it really looks terrible but no one will tell me.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

A splash of color

My husband is taking a few days off from work over the holidays and we are putting some of our re-fi money to use with a much needed task-painting the house. You know you need to paint when touching the house leaves you covered in chalky white. Also, paint was starting to peel in some places. The house is over 100 years old and the stucco is so thick that the cable and phone companies can't drill through it, so I'm not worried that the paint failure is eminently going to cause us ruin, but the house was looking a few days from condemnation, so it was time for a face lift.

We knew our house had a colorful past, but who knew it was THIS colorful?

Hmmm, which do you like better, the pink or the turquoise? There's a gold under it all, but I didn't get a picture.

Here's what we settled on for the NEW color. It's a grayish green.
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Alphabet Alley Review

Alphabet Alley is a family owned company seeking to meet the need for faith based toys for young children. They carry a line of card games (like Go Fish), memory matching games, wooden toys, and magnets. All feature original faith-based art work. The toys are high quality and independently certified to be safe for children (no lead paint here!).
This is one review I regret not getting done before Christmas because their products are SUPER and they would have made great presents! They would be a great way to use Christmas gift money though, or make wonderful baby shower or birthday presents. I will fully admit that when I heard they were sending me a Go Fish game and a matching game, I inwardly groaned. If we have one Go Fish game, we have ten, and most of them have bent or torn cards and I find them scattered all over the house, but never actually played with. And with my preschooler being the 4th child, we have at least one other matching game too. I thought I needed more of those games like I needed a hole in my head. Boy, was I wrong!
These games have so many pluses, I don't know where to start. First, the instructions all make wacky Chinese to English translations to figure out! Second, the illustrations are simple and cute-similar to Precious Moments. Third, the quality is second to none. Really. I took pictures to show you!

Here is one of our many Go Fish games. Note this is a "name brand", not some dollar store cheapo toy. But see how the card is bent? And notice how the picture side of the card is kind-of shiny, but the back is dull? That's because only the picture side has a thin plastic cover, so if you spill something on these cards and the back gets wet, they are ruined. They are also not-too-hard to tear. We know from personal experience.

Here is the Alphabet Alley version. The cards are fully laminated front and back. I wish you could feel the difference in the quality through the vastness of cyberspace because pictures don't do it justice. I don't think even the most determined child could tear these!

Here is our classic matching game. The cards are thin, the pictures okay, and the backs are ho-hum (There is a circus tent card and a flipped-over card sitting on the box-it's a bit hard to see.).

Here is the alphabet Alley version. The pictures are cute, again they are fully laminated, and all the backs feature the same rainbow design.

Here are the memory cards side by side for comparison.

They are printed on heavy, heavy card stock. See how it takes 3 of my classic memory cards to equal one of the Alphabet Alley ones?

If you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, I can honestly say there are no cons for me on this one. The Go Fish game is available for $5.99, which is more expensive than some cheapo off brands I found, and much cheaper than many name brand ones I found, so I'd say it's middle of the road in terms of price. The matching game is $10.99, which is right in line with most other ones I found.

So what's the bottom line? If you can pay the same price for quality, faith based children's toys that you pay for cheaply made secular ones, who wouldn't opt for the better, God glorifying option? This is a no-brainer to me. Go checkout Alphabet Alley's product either on their website or on,, or, just to name a few of the many online retailers who carry their products. And then buy them for every young child you know. You won't be disappointed!
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Random thoughts

If an item is an Advent calendar for 2008, wouldn't you think it would be on clearance with the rest of the Christmas stuff? Who exactly buys 2008 Littlest Pet Shop Advent Calendars for full price AFTER Christmas? Apparently the people who shop at Walmart, Target, and, just to name a few...

Do not go anywhere near the Prime Outlets mall on the day after Christmas...ask me how I know.

Always ALWAYS check you receipt...twice...ask me how I know THAT.

5 children left to their own devices for an entire day while I'm shopping and daddy/uncle is outside working can make even the messiest house go from bad to worse. Don't ask how I know that.

Children being bribed with doughnuts to be quiet in the car will only do such until the doughnuts run out :-).

Blogs tend to get very quiet during holidays, LOL. More to come tomorrow.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas y'all!

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior and our Lord, we are reminded of the multitude of blessings we have in our lives, none of which we deserve. We count you, our friends and family at the top of that list.
Merry Christmas from our family to yours.
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All About Spelling Review

People who know me know that we began as unschoolers and are gradually working our way toward more structure. Gradually :-). On most days last year, I covered reading, Bible, and math with the 3 older kids, piano with Scott, and MFW Exploring Countries and Cultures, and that was it. This year though, we've traded MFW for the products we are reviewing for TOS, and wow have some holes in our learning been exposed! Especially in Spelling, which is why I am excited to tell you about this product.
All About Spelling is a great curriculum. I used Reading Made Easy for my kids as a reading curriculum, and it has worked great for us so far, but it is definitely NOT a complete phonics program. I saw how not-complete it was our first day with All About Spelling as we reviewed what sounds different letters make. While Reading Made Easy taught words such as "water" and "want" as sight words, All About Spelling actually addresses the fact that "a" says 3 sounds: a like in cat, a like in cake, and ah like in want. When students know all the sounds a letter can make, it is easier for them to spell correctly. That was one of those "DUH" moments for me-it had never occurred to me that my daughter was misspelling things because she tried to do it phonetically, but her phonics knowledge was incomplete. Just mastering the full list of correct sounds for each letter was a great starting point for my children, and reinforces All About Spelling's suggestion that all students start in Level One no matter their age as each level builds upon the previous one. Levels are not organized by grade level but by concept, and by starting in Level One, older students can progress quickly through early lessons gaining confidence and picking up any skills (like spelling rules) they may not have learned before so they are well equipped for later lessons.
I can't say enough good things about All About Spelling. The lessons are short, and they lay out everything you are to say and the responses to look for from your child, so it is very user friendly with a minimum of prep work. The books are NOT consumable, so you can use them over and over. Beyond the books, there is a materials packet for each level, letter tiles you use through the whole program, peel and stick magnets for the tiles, and a phonogram audio CD. The materials packet is necessary for each student you are teaching at the same time, as are letter tiles. TRUST ME! I seriously overestimated my ability to keep straight in my head who had mastered what and ended up ordering a set of materials and tiles for each child.
Why do you need materials for each child? To me, the best part of this program is its multi-sensory approach. The students hear you give the instruction, and then they use their letter tiles to make it happen, providing a visual and kinesthetic learning experience too. Each student will progress at a different pace and their materials will be arranged differently on their work space to reflect that. That's why the magnets are a good idea too. If you have a large magnetic white board (2' x 3'), you can have the tiles set up all the time so you don't have to set it up each day. Those white boards are available inexpensively and just in case you worry about having a place for it (or them, if you have more than one student), I want to share with you that we slide ours under the couch when we are done everyday. Since the tiles are magnetic, they don't slide around and they are totally out of the way until the next day.
The only drawback to All About Spelling is soon to be remedied, but I will mention it for now. The materials and letter tiles are all printed on full sized sheets and you have to cut out all the individual manipulatives yourself. This was a serious amount of work, but they did that to keep the cost down. After several suggestions from TOS Crew members, they have decided to go to micro-perforated cards which will require much less time to separate. I am not sure if they have made the switch yet.
The bottom line for me is that this is a great spelling program. Their goal is to release another book in 2009 and for the program to cover spelling through the high school level. It is really a complete system and is a wonderful value too. I'd totally recommend All About Spelling, and I imagine we will be using it for years to come.
All About Spelling is available HERE. The books for Levels One and Two are $29.95 each. Materials packets (you'll want one per student if you are teaching them at the same time-otherwise you can use the same one over again for later students) are $12.95 each for those two levels. The letter tiles are $9.95 and the optional magnets are $5.95. You use those for the whole program. For Levels Three and Four, the books are $39.95 each and the materials are $17.95 each.
To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

She loves it!

Sari's big complaint has been that she doesn't like the hair on her neck. She has consistently asked for months for me to cut her hair for that very reason. I don't know why today I entertained the notion. Maybe it was because she wanted it cut so bad she promised to stop sucking her thumb...yep, you read that right (although she's having a hard time following through with it)! I told her to ask her aunt what she thought, and then we called her daddy and asked him. He gave his blessing saying that hair grows back, so we decided to try it. She was giddy the whole time and can't get enough of looking at her new hair.
This is the pile of hair we cut off:
Here she is singing "see You high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory" into her "microphone", also known as the handle of the vacuum.
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh yes I did...

I say that because I know you are going to read this and think, "Oh no she didn't"...

Earlier today my sister same over for me to cut my nephew's hair. I didn't get a "before" picture, but here's him after in a picture TJ took:
He's such a cutie-patootie.

Here's his mom (my sister) in a picture taken by TJ.

And here's MY mom (TJ took this too-he was camera happy today)

So why was my mom there? Well, it all started like this...

And then it was THIS (about 3 inches gone):

BUT it was still on her neck (what she didn't like), so it became THIS:
Oh yes we did :-).
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Puppetools Review

Puppetools is a website devoted to encouraging the use of puppets in education. Their mission, as stated on their website, " is to open the door to sweeping change in education by advancing the principle of play in teaching and learning. The world still looks to America for inventive social, economic, and technological solutions. Once, America's gift to itself --and to the world--was a bold new experiment in political freedom. America's next gift--again for itself and for the world-- can and must be a bold new leap in education."

The visionary behind Puppetools is Jeffrey Peyton, the "Play Professor." He has a passion for puppets, children, and play in education that is both rare and inspiring. He genuinely seeks to advance the use of puppets as a way of unlocking the creativity of children and adults and making education fun. And his enthusiasm is obviously contagious based on the many, many submissions from both teachers and students of their puppet creations based on his ideas.
The bulk of the site is only open to members, and memberships run $99 a year for a group of up to 30 people/students. There is also a $20 trial subscription for individuals good for 60 days.
For this price, you get:
* 1 year to train and master Puppetools - the "Language of Play"
* Access to Puppetools' online Educator Work Area
* Access to Puppetools' exclusive practitioner video library
* Access to extensive research on play and education
* Access to hundreds of puppet images, concepts, and patterns
* Access to readings from the 200 page Puppetools Manual
* Access to their global community forums - learn with teachers around the world
* Put Puppetools to work in just days--for many it's just overnight
* Learn fast, flexible puppet design and construction--in just minutes
* Discover how a single paper hinge creates a limitless resource
* Engage playful, energized conversation for lessons and activities /all grades
* Use puppet know-how and techniques without acting, scripts, or theater
* Effectively harness Play and spark motivation, participation, and receptivity
* Discover the deep impact of play on students and teachers

So what's the bottom line? This is a tough one for me. Mr. Peyton makes puppets look so fun, and for classroom teachers or VBS/youth puppet outreaches, the information would be great. But I think most homeschoolers already recognize the flaws in America's education system- that's why we do what we do. And while some certainly recreate school at home, I think most homeschoolers tend to embrace play as a mode of communicating academic ideas far more than their "building school" counterparts. I'm not saying there's not always room for improvement, or that puppets wouldn't be fun, but personally, I don't see myself making them. Now, would I have my kids make them? Maybe. But my kids aren't really puppet kids. We've owned some, but they never see the light of day, and inevitably they have gone the way of yard sales or Goodwill. They are enamored with one puppet, Puff from Scott Humston's magic show. And they enjoy Scott's other puppets just fine, but it's never inspired them to come home and make one. They also will play with the puppets at the library, but I suspect that this is largely because they also have a puppet theatre AND at the library there aren't a whole lot of other things to "play" with. They might feel very differently about puppets they make themselves, but they make them at least once a month at Bible study or Sunday School and they've never seen play time after walking in the door. Based on that knowledge, I can say I personally wouldn't buy a subscription to Puppetools, especially not the $99 one, as other than ongoing support, I think you can glean what you need in 60 days for sure.
But, as always, I encourage you to take your own look HERE or at least check out what my fellow TOS Crew reviewers said HERE.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Crayola Art Studio/Core Learning review

We have LOTS of computer software. LOTS. I mean, my husband is a computer guy, so that's our thing. But this if probably the BEST software we've ever gotten.
Crayola Art Studio is one cool program. I could lose myself for hours and still not check out everything it does. And my oldest daughter did lose herself for hours playing with it. She's my non-techie child. Beyond Webkins she had no use for the computer...
Until now.
Now, she begs to play with "the art program". Even my littlest daughter begged for her chance to create something.
So what makes Crayola Art Studio so special? In this product, Core Learning has somehow managed to perfectly replicate 12 different art mediums and the effects they create on paper all on the computer screen. Crayons really look like crayon, markers like marker, watercolors blend and bleed like watercolors. It's amazing how realistic it looks. Some of the other mediums available are colored pencil, pastel, tempera paint, acrylic paint, and chalk, just to name a few. And everything is adjustable from the items them draw and paint with to the colors to the bit sizes as a few examples. There are also "stamps" available to augment your child's drawing, as well as pre drawn shapes like squares and stars, but even those are adjustable. A short video tutorial walks your child through everything and gets them ready to start creating. They can print everything they create (or as much as you can afford in ink cartridges for your printer.) This program is "awesome" to quote my daughter.
I don't think there are any negatives to this product other than the fact that at $24.95 it may be a little expensive for some people. But it is WAY cheaper (and cleaner) than the real products would be. Well, maybe another negative would be how much your kids will pester you to let them play with Crayola Art Studio :-).

Core Learning also sent us some demos for their other software. Taken from their website, here is what they have to say about their company, "Core Learning's mission is to provide effective learning solutions for the development of fundamental knowledge and skills. Its primary focus of skill development is in areas that both support higher order thinking but also provide important life skills. Products address key elementary and middle school curriculum areas in math, English language arts, health, art, and technology. Core Learning also publishes software to help develop critical thinking skills and maintain mental processing capabilities in young and mature adults."
Core Learning offers software for Math and Language arts which are very thorough, but a bit text-bookish. They also offered us a demo of their Health series. This is animated and offers a look at the human body from the inside out-a bit like Magic Schoolbus for the slightly older set. One character throughout the series wears a midriff shirt with her belly showing (yes, she's animated, but still I prefer more modest attire) and the animated characters have the look of teenaged Rugrats, so it's not my cup of tea, but the information was good and the short clips are interactive with quizzes interspersed in the presentation.
Most appealing to me is their Corefx software which takes the Crayola Art Studio to the next level and adds animation and photo editing. Technology Pathfinder for Teachers, 2005, said, "Powerful, yet easy to use, this all-purpose creativity program is better than Photoshop and KidPix combined. " We have KidPix and I can definitely vouch for Crayola Art Studio being better than that, so I'm sure Corefx is too. This may be one piece of software that is a must own in our household, and it's not often I'm asking for software :-).
The bottom line for me is that Crayola Art Studio is a MUST own for any homeschooler with children who like to put crayon/paint/markers to paper. Core Learning offers many other exciting programs too. All of them can be found HERE on their website, and many, like the Crayola one, offer free trials. Definitely check it out! And if you do, let them know on the demo request form that you learned about it here...I don't get anything, but it lets them know that the TOS Crew works.
To read other reviews on the same products by other TOS Crew members, go HERE.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ALEKS review

You know how sometimes you are vaguely familiar with something because you've seen it advertised a lot, but you don't really know about it?
That's how ALEKS was for me. As a company who advertises with The Old Schoolhouse magazine, I had seen their ads and gotten e-mail offers of a free month's trial, but always passed it by after a casual glance because we love our math curriculum. But the TOS Crew was asked to review ALEKS for our blog readers and homeschool groups, so there was no passing it by this time. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
ALEKS, according to their website,
is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. ALEKS courses are very complete in their topic coverage and ALEKS avoids multiple choice questions. A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking. ALEKS also provides the advantages of one-on-one instruction, 24/7, from virtually any web-based computer for a fraction of the cost of a human tutor.

I want to fully admit right now, I was NOT excited to review this because we LOVE our math (Right Start), but it does not follow the traditional scope and sequence. Couple that with the fact that my children are behind in math because of my oldest son's Processing issues, and you get a Mamma who was concerned that this traditionally structured, but computer based, approach would not work for us. I was not sure my kids would even be able to answer any of the questions in the 3rd grade level (the lowest level ALEKS offers).
It turned out that I was partially correct. On her assessment, my daughter (who would legally be in 3rd grade this year) got 15 out of 111 correct. Her older brother (5th grade) got 22 out of 111. Both took the 3rd grade assessment. My daughter found the assessment "boring", but then it's not like an assessment is exciting and she's not my computer obsessed child anyway. My son found the assessment tedious, and I think because there was so much he did not know how to do that he did not really try to do the ones he could do. To have the chance to give it a fair evaluation, I enrolled myself in high school geometry-a course I have not been exposed to since, well, 9th grade. Needless to say there was quite a bit I had forgotten how to do, and I scored an embarrassing 61 of 211!
But here's where the surprise comes in. I really enjoyed ALEKS. After the initial assessment, you see a pie graph that breaks out the areas you need to work on (see the example below from the ALEKS website).

The dark areas within the pie tell what you got right and the lighter areas show how much you have to work on. As you roll slowly over each section with the mouse, the individual topics of study available to you come up, and from there you pick one to work on. When you click on a topic to work on, an example comes up, and you can chose to practice solving the problem OR click "explain" to see an explanation of how to solve the problem. How well you do answering the first question determines how many questions like that you have to do (the more mistakes you make the more practice it gives you). Explanations are always available for each problem. Once you have learned a concept, you can chose to practice it more OR go back to the main menu to pick something else to work on. I want to mention that unlike most math drills or software, this is NOT multiple choice. You must actually be able to enter the correct answer. Guessing won't get you anywhere but more practice.
My son LOVES ALEKS. He actually said today that he would prefer to do this instead of our current curriculum, which he truly loves too. He's very computer oriented, and he liked sitting at the computer to get his math done. He has learned things that we have not gone over before, and learned them quickly. Each time you log in you review, so he gets a chance to see if the mastery was real or not.
I really enjoyed it too both as a student and a parent of a student. I'd love to complete the geometry course just because I am a nerd :-). As the parent, I think a big selling point is the reports you are able to get from ALEKS. When you enroll a student, you are given a master log-in where you can go to check their progress. The reports are detailed, telling how long they spent learning, what they still have to cover, and how long it will likely take them to complete the course based on their current speed, just to name a few things. I think it's the most comprehensive report for a computer learning program I've ever seen. And impressively, they offer courses for 3rd grade all the way through high school, including AP review, college prep classes, and business math classes. They also have chemistry. And 3-11 grade are all bilingual. WOW!
One "con" I found is that you can actually fake out the system, at least for the short haul. My son does not know all his times tables, but he was able to skip count, making it appear that he was multiplying when he really wasn't. And the computer "bought" it because it wasn't sitting there next to him watching him do it. I am sure eventually the work would go beyond his ability to fool the computer and he would get stuck since a basic knowledge of times tables is assumed. Another "con" would be that ALEKS would really work best with visual learners who can read a text book and learn. This is because the explanations for the concepts are all presented on the computer screen and must be read by and then understood by the student-especially if they are working independently. They can frequently ask the computer to explain it another way, but I was summoned several times with, "MOM, how do I..." as they struggled to understand the explanations. For me, using this to review material I learned 2 decades ago, the explanations were PERFECT. I could look at them, see what to do, and then do it without difficulty, so learning styles would be key here if you were looking to use this as your actual curriculum and not just for review.
The bottom line is that all in all I was incredibly impressed with ALEKS. The artificial intelligence is really cool and makes the learning a much more personal experience than any textbook could be. I am not sure this would work for everyone though because it is very dependent on the learner being able to read and understand the instruction, so if your child understands better when they hear instruction or experience it, this would not be a good fit. ALEKS is $19.95 a month with discounts for multiple children and for paying for 6 or 12 months at a time. At that price, it is WAY cheaper than any tutor, and I think drill, review, and remedial instruction are probably the strongest uses for this program. ALEKS has been kind enough to offer a FREE one month trial for all my review readers. Go HERE to sign up. The one month free trial is a no-lose situation, and I bet you may just decide to continue on!
To see what other TOS Crew members have said, go HERE.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems Review

Trigger Memory Systems is a partnership of three homeschooling moms with thirteen children between them. They began their product line with Times Tales which was wildly popular not only with their own children, but also with several school districts, charter schools, and now, via the internet, with homeschoolers everywhere. They also created a series of "Clean n' Flip" charts designed to help simplify cleaning for children. The TOS Crew was asked to review both of these products, and since Times Tales was their first product, I'll start there!

Times Tales is a book that uses short mnemonic stories to help children memorize their upper times tables. Each number is assigned a "character" and the characters are combined in simple stories to help the children learn their multiplication without even knowing that's what they are doing. For example, in the one shown above on the Times Tales cover, "The First Grade Class (that's 6, since most first graders are 6 years old) went to the Treehouse (that's 9, as you can see in the drawing) to feed 5 pounds of bananas to 4 monkeys (54). Children learn the stories and then are introduced to how the stories relate to multiplication.
The book is plastic wire bound so it can be flipped through like a flip chart, which lets you lay it flat and easily work with your student(s). It comes with detailed instructions on how to use it, and bonus flash cards to use to quiz your students after they master the story and understand it as a math fact. The characters are consistant-so 6 is always "the First Grade Class" which helps students remember, and the numbers are bold outlined within the characters to visually reinforce each fact. Using stories and illustrations moves the understanding of these math facts to a different part of the brain entirely, helping even some of the most challenged learners "get it".
We had not covered multiplication AT ALL when we started this, and at first, my older kids thought the whole Times Tales thing was "boring", but once I explained the concept of multiplication and showed my oldest how these stories meant that he now KNEW some of this, his whole face LIT UP, and he was soooo excited.
If there is a drawback, it would be that this does not feature the complete times tables, just the upper level ones that are harder to learn. So I would NOT use them with a child unless you have already taught the lower levels , or they will have quite a spotty knowledge base to work with. My kids found it boring until they realized the value of how easy the stories made it to learn the facts- but they did not understand that value innately because we had never done multiplication before.
At $29.95, it would be worth it if you child struggles to remember their times tables since that is knowledge they will need for the rest of their lives. You can order Times Tales HERE.

Trigger Memory System's Clean n' Flip books are the ones I was most excited to review since I had looked at them at the homeschool conference over the past few years and contemplated buying them. They are an easy way of breaking down large chores into smaller tasks that even young children can handle thanks to the illustrations that help even non-readers follow along. Currently, there are books for Zone Cleaning (which covers the Kitchen, Bathroom, and Living Room and comes with a dry erase marker), Laundry, and Bedroom. Like the Times Tales, they are plastic wire bound at the top so they easily flip from task to task.
I love this idea. It's very similar to the "FLY Lady" in terms of zones and breaking things into little steps for success. If I am honest, the reason I did not buy them before is I kept thinking, "I could just make my own." And I could. But I'm here to tell you that in the few years I've been looking at them, I never HAVE made my own...and my house shows it. I saw a sign at a craft festival years ago that said, "Yes, you could make this...but WILL you?" That's the crux of my problem. I have the best of intentions, but lack follow through. If that's your problem too, I'd advise you to check out these Clean n' Flip charts . (You can find them HERE.)
My kids enjoyed the easy step by step process, and I enjoyed having something to guide our cleaning training. I only have two "cons". First would be that the Laundry and Bedroom books are not laminated and dry erase friendly, but because the Zone Cleaning one is, your children might try to write in them and ruin them (it happened to some of the other reviewers). Second is the fact that with the three rooms combined in the one Zone Cleaning book, it is almost impossible to use the same book and have multiple children clean those areas simultaneously (like one cleaning the bathroom while another is cleaning the living room). For this reason, I may have mine re-bound into 3 separate books.
I think the bottom line for me is that Trigger Memory System has some great products, and if you have children who struggle with either math times tables OR cleaning OR both, I would definitely recommend that you check them out. The Times Tales book is $29.95, Zone Cleaning is $17.95, Bedroom is $7.95, and Laundry is $7.95 BUT sets of multiple books are also available for discounted prices, so if more than one book appeals to you, I would definitely look into that on their website.
To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

The Little Man in the Map Book Review

The Little Man in the Map With Clues to Remember All 50 States is a book published by Schoolside Press. Written by E. Andrew Martonyi and illustrated by Ed Olson, the book seeks to use rhyming text and delightful illustrations to help students remember the names and locations of all 50 states in our nation. It has won both a Moonbeam Children's Book Award and an Independent Publisher Book Award and it was a finalist for Fort Worth Magazine's Book of the Year and Next Generation's Indie Book Award.
It's a proven fact that mnemonic devices, songs, and rhymes can help children organize and memorize information that might otherwise be difficult to learn. How many of you readers know the planets because of my very educated mother and her pizza pies? Or the order of operations for math because of my dear Aunt Sally? And to this day I can name all 50 states because of the song "Fifty Nifty United States" that I learned in elementary school. Remembering their locations however...well that might be a little trickier.
And that's where Mim comes in. Who is Mim? Why, he's the Little Man in the Map! In all my years, I had never noticed that Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana together make the shape of a man. Minnesota is his hat, Iowa his face, Missouri his shirt, Arkansas his pants, and Louisiana his boot. Go on, go look at a map. Really, it's there! And he even has a name. MinIow MisArkLou, or Mim for short.
After the students in the book discover Mim, he springs to life and helps them learn the other states with the help of rhymes and illustrations that fit the shape of each state as clues. It's really very clever.
My kids and I really enjoyed the rhyming text of this book and especially liked the illustrations. The book is beautifully published. Very professional. And a teacher's guide will soon be available. Free coloring pages are available from HERE to supplement the book. And a coordinating map is available for purchase.
The one downside is that I'm not really sure all the illustrations/text clues actually help you draw an association between the text/image and the state it represents. For example, I'm not sure "an elf complete with turned up nose and chimney patterned hat" really tells me anything that make me associate that description with the state of Idaho. And my children have yet to have a break-though moment where they remember even half the states. BUT, they do know more than they ever did. And some of the clues are quite good, like Mim, or UCAN for the four corners states, or MAGS for Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The bottom line is that this book is beautifully done inside and out. At $19.95 it would be a serious commitment out of my homeschooling budget, and like I said, I'm not sure ALL these clues will help children really remember where all the states are, although some certainly do, and if you repeat it enough you will probably have success. You guys know I'm thrifty (it sounds so much better than CHEAP, LOL). While I am thrilled to own this now, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have bought it for $20 had I jut come across it in a store or on the web.
Schoolside Press is currently offering free shipping for the holidays, so if you are interested in the book, now is the time to get it. To read what other TOS Crew members said about this book, go HERE.
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"Time4Learning is a new approach that takes advantage of today's technology. It's a convenient, online home education program that combines learning with fun educational teaching games."
That's what their home page says, and that was largely our experience with this site. Time4Learning presents itself as a complete online curriculum for Language Arts and Math for Pre-K through 8th grade. They also offer Science and Social Studies as a free bonus. Parents can set the amount of time their child works on the learning activities. Through the parent's login, you can also view a summary of each lesson and choose lessons to assign to your child if you want them to cover specific topics or a specific amount of coursework in a day. Parents can also change a child's level in any subject if the work is too easy or too hard.
When your child log-in, they see a control pad that directs them from activity to activity in sequential order (unless you "assign" lessons and then they can just enter the lesson number to go directly to that topic). They work through the lesson at their own pace. Most lessons are animated with cartoon like characters, but some higher level lessons involve just reading and answering questions. Students can go back and re-do older lessons at any time. Parents can click on the backpack on the student's control pad to view what their child has done and what their scores were on graded activities. Once the child's lesson time is over, they are allowed to go the the "playground", an area of games and fun children's websites (like PBS Kids). Their time there is also something you assign so you are in total control of how much free time they have.
So what are the pros of using Time4Learning in a homeschool environment? If you have multiple children, they each can have their own account and, provided you have more than one internet accessing computer in the house, all your kids can be logged on at the same time from different computers. That means they all get their work done, as assigned by you (if you chose) at the same time, but with minimal parent oversight. If you have smaller children in the house or learners that need one on one attention, having you other children actively engaged but not requiring your assistance can be a bonus. Time4Learning's materials indicate that most activities meet the educational requirements of all 50 states, so if you are a homeschooler who likes to make sure you child is on-level with what public schooled children his or her age are doing, Time4Learning could be a good tool for that. Or if you are giving homeschooling a try but aren't sure if it's a lifetime commitment or you recently pulled your child out of school and need a temporary curriculum until you find what works for you, Time4Learning would work wonderfully.
But I need to stop right here and confess my mistakes to you so that if you have the same issues, you don't repeat them. While unit studies are where my heart is, they just don't seem to be the right approach with the children God gave me. Working one on one with them really is what it takes. SO, I was desperately seeking SOMETHING educational to occupy at least one other child in the house while I worked with one of the kids. I was totally excited to try Time4Learning because I thought, this just might be the answer to my prayers. I was so excited, I made a mistake. I let my kids just "go for it." I set up their accounts, showed them how to use it, helped them log in, and let them work to their heart's content while I worked one on one with someone else. They love it...TJ in particular. And I loved it. They took turns working happily and I got to work with less interruptions with one of their siblings. I quickly changed their lesson times from the default 15 minutes to 30 to 45, and they were happy to keep working.
But I never stopped to consider WHAT they were learning. I mean, I'm NOT one of those organized moms. I didn't go in and assign work or even a certain amount of things to cover. I just let them chose. I didn't view this as our curriculum, just supplemental material-like an on-line fun version of a workbook. SO consequentially, I never stopped to evaluate WHAT they were being taught. Oh sure, the sound was up, and I could have heard, but I wasn't paying attention...I was working with someone else. Now let me preface that there's nothing BAD. No bad language or anything. It's just....well...public school-y. The humor, the animated skits; some of it just appeals to a more base level than I want my children exposed to. I found that out first hand when I played with the 8th grade level. A lesson on language art idioms contained the following sentiment to explain"pull the plug",

"Hey, uh, listen babe, I'm going to have to pull the plug on our date plans tonight."

YIKES! Not a behavior I desire for my children to emulate. Whether referring to a girl as "babe" or the idea of dating in 8th grade...I just know that's not what I want my children thinking is appropriate. There HAS to be a better way to explain that idiom. And Christians, especially young earth ones, should know that the science material is all in line with public school scopes and sequences, meaning evolution and billions of year are what is presented. (You can request to not have your child have access to the Science portion of the program.) There is a parent forum, and Time4Learning has responded to the concerns of some of the reviewers in terms of non-Christian content by creating a special forum for Christians to be able to "flag" questionable material, but it still will require great diligence on the part of the parent to check that board often and to report things you may come across. I had come to think of Time4Learning as my "knight in shining armor", and unfortunately, for me that inappropriate content is like a bunch of tarnish making the armor not-so-shiny anymore.
The bottom line on this one is difficult for me. My kids have really enjoyed Time4Learning. And I stand behind all the positives I stated above in terms of using it in a homeschool setting. If you don't have a problem with public school-ish attitude and behavior being reflected in what your child is learning, than Time4Learning could work great for you. If you don't believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, or your children are well trained in apologetics and can read lessons where the "truth" conflicts with the Truth, then even the science portion would be fine. And I think at the younger levels you probably get far less of that type of influence anyway, and it was my 7 year old who enjoyed it the most. To me, the content is a huge stumbling block-more so the attitude/language stuff than the Science, because the Science I could just have removed from their control pad, but the attitude is pervasive through the other subjects. And ever-mindful of the homeschooling family's limited resources, I think Time4Learning is a little steep. It is $19.95 a month for one child. Each additional child is $14.95. Meaning for me, with just 3 of the kids doing it, it would run $50 a month. That's $600 a year for something that is not a full curriculum. Which is too much, in my opinion. I contacted them about a "family rate" and they suggested that there are ways to lower your payment by paying in advance or by referring others, but it's still a lot of money. For $20 a month per FAMILY, it would be a much better deal.
Time4Learning offers a free 2 week trial, and I'd highly encourage you to really try it out during that time. I'd love to have been able to really recommend it, but that's just not the case because of my personal feelings about some of the content. The best I can say is proceed with caution and KNOW what your kids are learning.
To read what other TOS Crew members think, go HERE.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

One of my all time favorite toys

You know how you get a bee in your bonnet about something? Well this time it was what I wanted to get for my nephews for Christmas. TJ was playing with his Kid K'nex and built this:

And I thought, That's it! That's what I'll get them. Kid K'nex.

Yeah, except that NO STORE in our area carries them anymore.
And so I checked, my new favorite Christmas shopping on-line local, and they had them alright. At crazy-expensive prices. STUPID expensive prices.

When did Kid K'nex become THE toy to buy for Christmas 2008?
Even Knex themselves only had two kits still in stock on their website.


Anyway, I found some on ebay, and the prices were great, but then the shipping kills you, and frequenty you can only get ONE and I needed two.

So I found them at last for a reasonable price on-line. I opted to get them bigger sets and combine their birthday and Christmas presents since both have had a birthday in the past few weeks. The kits have arrived already, and that's two birthday and two Christmas gifts I can cross off.

And who doesn't love a toy that lets your kids build stuff like this...
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SO much to blog...

too tired to do it by the time I get leisure time at the computer, LOL. Sorry! I'm going to try to make up for that a bit tonight.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Salem Ridge Press

Salem Ridge Press is a book publisher that, according to their letter of introduction, is "dedicated to bringing back the very best children's books of the 1800's and early 1900's for a new generation of readers." They desire "to build a reputation as a trusted source for the kind of books parents can feel good about giving to their children, that children will really want to read, and that can be enjoyed together by the entire family." Based on the three books they sent me as representative of the types of literature they strive to carry, I can say they have achieved their objectives very well.

The first book was Glaucia the Greek Slave from the Emma Leslie Church History Series. How interesting! It was a fictional account of the time when Paul was imprisoned in Rome and how the gospel was spread. Featuring both a boy and a girl as main characters and values such as doing what is right no matter what the cost, it was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more from this series. Currently 6 other titles in the series are available from Salem Ridge Press, but they are hoping to offer approximately 25 titles in the series in the future.

American Twins of the Revolution is one of their historical fiction titles. Based on a true story, it too featured a boy and a girl whose bravery in the Revolutionary war may indeed have changed history. What a wonderful way to learn about the times and customs and vernacular. Reading the details in a story hardly feels like learning, but the text is rich in information about that period in history. Although some might find it hard to read, I especially loved the dialect of one of the main slaves of the house. It's written as it would have been spoken and really gives you a sense of that colorful jargon.

Mary Jane - Her Book was charming. It's a title for younger readers and is reminiscent of Betsy and Tacy in its wholesome family and friend adventures.

Salem Ridge Press was founded by a homeschooling graduate, Daniel Mills, with a passion for republishing old books that have strong moral values and encourage positive character. He "strongly believes that what we read matters and what we take into our minds is a major factor in forming our ideas and character". As someone who took in WAY too many not-God-glorifying stories as a child and teen, I wholehearted concur, and that's another reason these books by Salem Ridge Press appeal to me so much.

If there are any drawbacks, it may be little things such as some of the vernacular being hard to read if you aren't used to it. Or the fact that some of the stories, by their very nature as historical fiction, depict less than pleasant topics like slavery and war. Also, unfamiliar words are defined on the bottom of the page, and I did find a place in Glaucia where "the Archipelago" from the text "the numerous islands of the Archipelago" was defined as "the Aegean Sea." The actual definition is "a group or chain of islands OR an area of sea with many islands." So in this case, they defined the specific place the story referred to, but may leave a reader unfamiliar with the word thinking it means just THAT sea and not a group of islands or area of sea with many islands. But maybe I'm being too picky, LOL. It certainly wouldn't stop me from recommending Salem Ridge Press or even this book specifically. In fact, I liked that book most of all.

The one other thing I did want to mention is that some of the books that Salem Ridge Press publishes are edited slightly for content. They have a firm standard that there should be no kissing or embracing in the books they publish as they want to encourage young people to "maintain the highest standards of purity in their relationships." They will also edit out derogatory comments that they feel are offensive or unnecessary. Sometimes illustrations are edited to "keep things modest and appropriate." I don't find this particularly troubling. In fact, I appreciate the fact that I can let one of my children read these books and not have to worry about potentially inappropriate subject matter.

Based on the books I had the chance to review, I would totally recommend Salem Ridge Press and their offerings as a wonderful way to add to your homeschool library. The books are priced between $12.95-$14.95 each, but are well worth it for the rich living history they will add to your homeschool program. They are available for order through any bookstore, and are carried in store by Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as online at . I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
To read other reviews about this company written by other Crew members, go HERE.
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Spears Art Studio, Inc. level K-8

Teach you children art from a Biblical World View is what the CD cover promises, but I have to be first thought was how good can a CD based art program really be? I mean, I'm not really artsy. Not in a talented artist sort of way. And I'm not computer compatible, as any frequent reader of my blog knows. God knew what he was doing when He had me marry a computer genius. So what was the likelihood that this program was going to work for us?

I have to say, this is one case where first impressions were DEAD wrong. I LOVE Spears Art Studio, Inc. To make it work, all you have to do is put it in your CD drive. Even I can do that :-). Then, the directory comes up, and you just click on what you want. Diane Spears has put together an amazingly comprehensive curriculum on one little CD. Print what you need, and save the money and the trees by reading the rest on your computer screen. She begins her directory with frequently asked questions, and also has separate icons for an introduction to the art curriculum, an article on way art is good for your brain, the curriculum's scope and sequence, and then art activities for each month of the homeschool year, September through May, as well as an appendix.
Somehow, Diane manages to cover everything in a very professional, legitimate way without it seeming too stilted or overwhelming for those with little experience teaching art. But those with art backgrounds would not feel "talked down" to either. While the curriculum is broken out into months on the directory, it is further sub-divided into weeks when you click on it, with each week having a theme, related Bible verses and Christian World View concepts, art objectives, art activities broken out by grade level, and comparable "famous" works of art that make use of the techniques the students are studying. I was truly overwhelmed with how comprehensive it is! And unlike many art curriculums that teach their art concepts with no tie-in to the what day it is on the calendar, Spears Art purposefully embraces holidays and uses them as a springboard for the children's projects such as making your own Christmas wrapping paper by making motifs out of cookie cutters and shaped sponges dipped in paint. Another example is using Valentine's Day to teach ideas like symmetry, asymmetry, and low relief.
So what do I love most about this program? Several things. First, I love its focus on God as THE creator. We worship an artistic God-just look at the sunset. Each step of the way, Diane ties the lessons in to worship and to having a Biblical World View. I also love that while it is a complete and comprehensive curriculum, it is also easy to pick and chose things to do without doing every activity. That is how this program has worked best for us, and the kids have produced some really cool things. I like that templates, sample finished projects, and thorough materials lists are provided, so everything you need is either right there or clearly laid out for you. And I actually like that I have a whole curriculum on one little CD. It takes up so little space, and I just print what I need. Also, when my kids get older, there is a High School level available.
Are there drawbacks? Sure, there always are :-). First, if you don't homeschool by the traditional school year, you might really have to invest some time to make this monthly format work for you-especially since some of the projects are tied to holidays in that month. (I do want to point out thought that October focuses on HARVEST-there are no Halloween activities.) Second, you must have computer access to us this (although it appears you can get a print version too). Third, if you are a "fly by the seat of your pants" sort of homeschooler, and you don't have some good art books or internet access, you may need to plan in advance to get books with copies of the famous artwork in them that tie in to each week's theme...or just skip that part :-).
The bottom line on this one might surprise some of my friends who know how thrifty I am. THIS is a curriculum I would buy. The disk sells for $39.95 (click HERE to purchase it from Spears Art), and I think it's totally worth it. My children have taken "real" art lessons with a local artist and produced some amazing things, but I'm very impressed with the ease of these projects and the simplicity with which I was able to teach them. Also, those "real" art lessons were $15 a week/$60 a month, making $40 for a year a REAL bargain :-).

Below are some sample lessons from the younger elementary grades:

One of October's projects. The kids cut out each "slice" of the pumpkin, filled it with the suggested shape, and then glued them to a pumpkin outline. I think it turned out great.

This is from a lesson about the color wheel and trees. The tree is drawn with yellow first, then red, then blue. The background is filled in afterward. This one was done by one of the kids with colored pencils.

I gave it a try with big (and really nice) crayons that we have. I think the crayons turned out better. The kids thought so too, so they tried it again in crayon.

To read more reviews about Spears Art by other Crew members, go HERE.
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