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Monday, December 28, 2009

I Heart Faces "Hilarious Outtakes"


This week's photo contest over at I Heart Faces is "Hilarious Outtakes" and we are allowed to submit FIVE pictures. It was soooo hard to chose, but these are some good ones.



This is my daughter, who, yes, in the middle of our photo shoot decided she needed to pick her nose...NOW. And when I commented on it, she stuck both her fingers up her nose and smiled at me...She's classy, I know :-).



My Godson, from AWANA awards night. He has probably the longest tongue I have ever seen, and enjoys sticking it up his nose when you try to take his picture.


A group of my good friends got together, and something got Aunt Fanny making faces. It still make me laugh every time I see it.



It's a brave man who lets his daughter do this to him, and then lets his wife put the picture on the internet!




We were in NY this summer, and I was trying to get a nice picture of my brother and his fiancee. Unfortunately, a cheeky Junebug had a different idea. That's what hit Sheila's chin right when I snapped this shot.





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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas...a bit early

I debated about whether to do this, but this way people will get my Christmas letter on time :-). I'm still sending the hard copy and a photo, but I figured this way all the locals can read the letter too.




Merry Christmas!
Here’s our Christmas letter to share with all the world wide web-or at least those who read my blog :-). I always start with family member updates, so here goes:
My husband has, for the past few years, been working part time for a civil engineering firm called BESH, and working the other part of his time seeing private computer clients. That arrangement has been tweaked slightly, since BESH’s business has tapered off with the recession. They provide us with health insurance (that’s HUGE), but can’t afford to pay the hubs beyond that right now, so God has used this as an opportunity to grow his private computer business again. He stays quite busy and is really a Jack (and master) of all trades when it comes to computers. He has recently designed a web site for a local woman running for Congress, and also is helping a hospital integrate some local labs onto their new software. It amazes me the things he can do. He stays busy in his “free time” serving on the leadership team at our church and tackling all the projects an old house has to offer (like currently having to rewire half the house since it keeps trying to burn down on us). His website is http://www.eagcomputers.com/. Check it out!
Scott is 12 ½. Can you believe that? At 5’ 3” and growing more each day, he’s definitely not our little 4lb 5oz scrawny baby anymore! He continues to play piano, and is really quite good. I love to hear him play, although he can chose the WORST, most chaotic moments to practice. Kids! Scott also took up sailing this year, and it suits him quite well. I had a chance to go out and watch his first regatta, and it is utterly amazing to me to see what these kids can do. A friend from church is the coach for the intermediate class, and his son (who is one of Scott’s best friends) is in the class, so it’s a wonderful situation. As a family, we decided to sit this year out of scouts, but he achieved his Second Class rank before we stopped, and has earned several merit badges including riflery and, of course, sailing. He is very social-he’s never met a stranger, and he has a heart of gold…when he’s not mercilessly tormenting one of his siblings. He still has struggles academically and emotionally due to being so small at birth, but we work every day to overcome them.
Mimi is 10, and still just as petite as ever. This past year she cut off her gorgeous long curls for a second time to donate to Locks of Love, so her hair is currently shoulder length and always looks like a mop, but people still comment on how beautiful her hair is. She is ENDLESSLY creative. It can be exhausting just to listen to all her ideas, but she doesn’t let her stick-in-the-mud mother squelch her creativity, and I applaud her determination. Mimi is also hopelessly messy (must go hand in hand with creativity), so don’t try to walk in her room, but we love her anyway. This year she got her heart’s desire, and we got her a hammered dulcimer. She has a book and DVD to learn to play it, and there is a teacher locally, so we may pursue that in the coming year. Mimi is one of those girls who has a TON of friends, and she is a good friend to everyone. She’s not a gossip, and doesn’t get into the cattiness that girls this age can start doing. She has several really good close friends, and frequently the sound of young girl giggles fills our house.
TJ is 8, and he’s such a joy. He is my compliant child. He just does what you ask him to do with a happy heart. He is also a total goof ball, and his latest thing is to dance in a style very reminiscent of Schroder from the Peanuts whenever music is playing. He’s one of those physical humor kids who loves to fall down just to make people laugh. He just lost both his front teeth in time for Christmas, but he has changed the words to the song to, “Something I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” because, as he says, that’s not ALL he wants for Christmas. Very insightful for an 8 year old. TJ is also taking a break from Scouts this year, but may play soccer in January (one of the perks of living in FL-year round sports).
Sari is 4 ½. She still is the perfect completion to our family. She makes us laugh, and has a special, but unique, relationship with each of her siblings. Sari is immensely artistic too. She LOVES to color, or paint, or draw, or cut, or glue, or anything artsy and messy at the same time. Sari and my nephew Bam Bam both started Pre-K this fall (yes, we still homeschool, but my tax dollars pay for the pre-K for 3 hours a day, and it gives me a quieter work environment for the older kids for a few hours each morning). I could not love her school more. They are fabulous. She LOVES going, and it has helped her get over a rough patch of separation anxiety she was going through. It’s fun to watch Sari and Bam Bam. There’s 3 months between them, and they get along just like siblings. That they get to go to school together is just icing on the cake.
And then there’s me. Wow! Have I had a crazy year or two. I continue singing with United in Praise (http://www.unitedinpraise.com/) and serving on the midweek service worship team at church. I also help in the Children’s ministry filling different needs as they come up. I was running our Ladies’ ministry until a few months ago when I handed that over to a dear friend. What a relief! I continue to lead our “little homeschool group” which has grown to over 225 families. Not so little anymore! I tried to hand the leadership over to someone else, but no one has stepped up, so I’m still doing it. Last year and this year I have served as a member of the TOS Crew-a board of product reviewers for The Old Schoolhouse magazine (probably the largest homeschool magazine in the country). I receive about 75 homeschool products a year, have 6-8 weeks to review them, and then write a review on my blog and link it to a homepage that lists my reviews along with the other members of the Crew. We’ve had the chance to check out some great stuff, and God has used it to bless us with hundreds of dollars in curriculum we otherwise would not be able to afford. But the biggest news for me this year is that my photography, which has always been a passion and hobby, has really taken off as a business. For a year or so now I have helped the hubs out with photos for his website clients. Then earlier this year I was asked to come on board a local magazine as Staff Photographer. I am in constant amazement of what God is doing with this! I’ve also done a lot of photography for our church and its new website (http://www.ccotl.org/) and because of all this; I stepped out in faith and started Snapshots of Grace Photography. My website is still under construction, but my blog (with sample pictures) is http://www.snapshotsofgracephotography.blogspot.com/ . Since officially starting Snapshots of Grace, I have had about 3 photo shoots a week. I am humbled to use this gift God has given me to provide affordable photography to people. I still can’t believe I am getting paid to do something I love.
Our family was blessed last year with a generous monetary gift for Christmas, and we used it to get Disney passes for the first time, so we have gone to Disney a lot this year. It’s great to have that freedom with homeschooling. We took our annual trip to New York to see family this year (my cousin Daniel graduated from High School while we were there). This year we drove, and hit Washington D.C. on the way up. Eric flew home, and the kids and I meandered home and saw many friends, family, and sights along the way. We can’t wait for next summer’s trip. Back on the home front, we have become quite the Noah’s ark. We started with the bunny, and then the dog, but this year we had two stray cats adopt us…and have kittens at our house. 7 kittens later (they all have homes as does one of the mamas) we ended up keeping the other mama as an indoor cat. Plus, we have acquired 3 outdoor strays who now call our yard home. Add in three goldfish…Oh, and the indoor cat escaped 2 months ago when she was in heat, so one week before Christmas we had another kitten born. It’s like a small zoo around here, especially when we add in the four far less hairy, but equally zany kids, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I hope God has blessed you as richly as He blesses us. His grace is sufficient, and His provision is exactly enough to meet our needs (and is teaching us how many things we thought were needs are really wants). May 2010 be wonderful for us all!
Love,
One Blessed Mamma and her blessings
Plus Riley the dog, Thumper the bunny, Abby the indoor cat (and Noelle her kitten), Skitter, Bobbin, and Mittens, the outdoor kitty crew, and the three goldfish…and a partridge in a pear tree :-).
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Monday, December 21, 2009

He has a new song to sing!

What are the odds of losing both your front teeth just before Christmas? Apparently pretty good for TJ. Actually, the second tooth had a little help from Presley. Seems the dental hygienist was WRONG about that root canal not affecting the root being dissolved so the tooth could come out. Whatever they filled that root with was like a rod going into the gum, so that despite the fact that the tooth would totally wiggle to stick flat out of his mouth, there are actually still a 3/8 inch long round root holding it in place. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see how it had messed up his gum (the one where you can already see the new tooth coming in). Anyway, enough of the gory details.
TJ is funny. He's rewritten "All I want for Christmas is my two Front Teeth" to be "Something I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" since, as he puts it, he wants more than two teeth for Christmas, LOL.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Living my dream

I'm really trying not to blog too much about the photography business HERE since I have to be more transparent about my locale on the photography blog, but I just want to say I am in a constant state of, "pinch me, I must be dreaming". I love taking pictures, and especially love capturing beautiful things and people on "film". I can't believe people want to PAY me for it. I'm having a blast, and learning a TON,and I've been very busy right now for the holidays. I feel like I'm living a dream. This is entirely God's doing, and I will rest in whatever He has for Smapshots of Grace, and for me. And I'm going to enjoy every minute of it :-).
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Maestro Classics Review



You'd think wandering the vendor halls of one of the country's largest homeschool conferences year after year, you'd have encountered almost every homeschooling product out there, but I don't know how I missed this one!


Maestro Classics offers an award winning children's series called Stories in Music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and developed and produced by it's conductor Stephen Simon and his wife Bonnie Ward Simon . Currently seven stories are available: Casey at the Bat, The Story of Swan Lake, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Peter and the Wolf, Juanita the Spanish Lobster, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and The Tortoise and the Hare. Some, like Peter and the Wolf, obviously already have music written to go with them, but in others, Maestro Simon has written works to go along with the story. This was the case in the story we were sent, The Tortoise and the Hare.




The Tortoise and the Hare is an enchanting story, originally written by Aesop, and adapted for this musical version by Bonnie Ward Simon. The story is retold masterfully by Yadu, the narrator (whose voice reminds me very much of another story teller whose CD's we own), and the modern updates will entertain most children, and more than a few adults. In addition to the story, the CD also contains other original tracks such as a song from the story, "Pretzel Vendor of Paris", information about the story by Mrs. Simon, information about the music by Maestro Simon, fun activities for the kids, and a Pretzel Vendor sing-along.



The pros: This is a GREAT, high quality way to expose your children to music and storytelling, and their synergistic relationship. The notes by Maestro Simon are especially helpful (how often do you get the Maestro explaining WHY things sound like they do, or how different instruments are chosen to be featured), and the whole thing is immensely professional, but definitely child appropriate (the Maestro is the father of 6 boys so he has a bit of experience in this area!). And each CD comes with a small book full of activities and educational information too.


The cons: Although they are DEFINITELY worth it, I wish they were a tad cheaper because I'd love to own ALL of them.

The bottom line: My family is fortunate to live near a large city whose symphony conductor also has a heart for children's music appreciation, and every year we drive an hour to go hear them play a special educational concert. My kids LOVE it. And at $5 a ticket it's very affordable. But even that $5 a ticket makes $25 for my family, and these CD's are only $16.98 (or three for $45) PLUS you own them for life so you can relive the experience over and over. And our family is big on listening to stories in the car, so this is a perfect fit for us. I'd highly recommend you check out these CD's. You won't be disappointed.

To order Maestro Classics or learn more about them, go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received The Tortoise and the Hare CD for FREE so that my family could review it. This CD was the only compensation I received for my review, and my review expresses my honest opinions.


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Friday, December 18, 2009

Wasn't it just yesterday...

when I speculated that my cat was preggers...


Sometimes, I hate to be right. I just didn't know how right I was!



Warning, the rest of this blog contains some graphic kitty birthing pics. We homeschoolers are nerdy that way.



If you are going to have kittens, why not get your heart set on doing it in the girls' toy box in their closet...instead of any myriad of other, safer, quieter places.

And then, by all means, give birth TAIL FIRST...I'm sure that's the way they are supposed to be born!

Everything went fine until this point...and the head was stuck. Good thing I have a little birthing experience myself, and didn't mind assisting a bit.

Our new kitten. Yes, there's only one. That's why it took so long to know she was pregnant-there was only one kitten in there. By the time I realized it, she was obviously on the cusp of delivering. Gender is unknown and unknowable for a few weeks, and the kids are desperate to name it of course. They want a Christmas related name like Coal or Noel. We'll see. They also are lobbying hard to get to keep this one, so if anyone out there wants to lean on the hubs a bit to convince him, the kids would appreciate it!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hello world!

Okay, so I've been lame lately. REALLY, REALLY lame. I know. I'm sorry. It's not that I haven't been doing anything...it's that I've been doing a LOT. God has blessed Snapshots of Grace with 2-3 photo shoots a week right now, and doing them, editing the photos, getting them to the clients, oh, and homeschooling the kids with benign neglect, have all been taking up a lot of my time. Plus we've gone to Disney several times to see the Christmas decorations and once to celebrate my nephew's birthday. And the park day, and AWANA, and sailing, and piano, and UIP, and church stuff, and the list goes on and on, as I'm sure it does for everyone this time of year.

SO here are some rambling thoughts.

I think our indoor cat might be preggers. She got out (talk to the hubs about that) several times a few weeks back, and let's just say she's either eating well to settle in for a long winter's nap or I'll be foisting kittens on people in a few months.

Disney is the coolest place for the holidays. Just sayin'.

I agree with my friend that schooling for children in puberty should revert back to kindergarten type activities. Nothing that requires serious brain power should be asked of children whose brains aren't functioning properly due to hormones...nor of their middle aged mothers who have the same problem!

I have little stock gifts I keep for the holidays for all my children's teachers for things like AWANA, etc. Have I remembered ANY of them as each of their activities have concluded for the holidays? NO, NOT a ONE! But I won't beat myself up about it. I just won't.

I made my own applesauce and apple butter last week, and I finally got it canned yesterday. Let me just say that while it's not hard at all, it is time consuming, and you get ridiculously little final product compared to what you started with! Still it tastes TONS better than the store bought stuff.

It's hard to type with a cat walking on your keyboard. Just sayin'.

I made my first batch of soap in about a year last night. AWANA was desperate for parent helpers for store, but I needed to make soap and use the lye with no small children around, so that's what I did instead. I won't feel guilty about that either. It needed to be done. My husband's one request was that I make more soap since we are almost out, and he comes first.

On the other hand, I LOVE AWANA store right before the holidays. The kids work hard to earn AWANA bucks to spend, and their store has GOOD prizes. I love the kids' excitement at buying gifts for others. They always rush home and give me a full report on what they bought for whom. It's fun to be a kid. And kudos to my kids' AWANA-they do a GREAT job.

I forgot to send my kids with money to buy their AWANA cars for AWANA grand prix, and now my kids are afraid they won't be able to buy them before the race. Does anyone in the know know if that's true? Boy, I'll lose serious mom points if they don't get to have cars!

While I'd like to pretend otherwise, we seem to have started Christmas break already here at our little homeschool Academy. I DO want to finish the Jesse Tree though. But at this point sadly, I have so much to do that as long as the kids are quiet and not fighting, I don't even try to do school with them. Sad. Can you say, "Ding! fries are done, Ding! fries are done?" Well, someone has to work at McDonalds...it might as well be my kids. Maybe I'll get free McCafe Frappes that way.

Speaking of fast food, Chick-fil-a's Peppermint chocolate chip crunch (or whatever it's called) milkshake is THE BOMB! I love for this time of year and would carry in $2 in pennies if I had to to buy my occasional treat.

I got something in the mail yesterday and I can't stop staring at it. You'll have to go to the photography blog to find out what...(but first give me time to post there)

I have more to say, but I need to get started on my day at some point. I also have a TON of pictures to share, but that will have to wait too.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mathletics Review



Everyone who knows me knows we have, and love, a math curriculum that works for us. So it always surprises me when, through the course of reviewing products for the TOS Crew, we are introduced to alternatives for math education that we find ourselves really liking. And Mathletics is another one of those surprises.

Mathletics is a website offering memberships, and has two main components. First, it is a math curriculum for students in grades kindergarten through 8.





Second, it allows students in those grade to compete with other students worldwide in real time by solving math problems.




Mathletics starts out with each student receiving an avatar (cartoon picture of "them") that they can customize a bit to make it look more like themselves...or whatever they want. As students work through their curriculum, they earn points that are usable to "purchase" upgrades to their avatar. Since this is the "public" face of your child as they compete with others around the globe, it is fun to be able to enhance their character any way they wish. Mathletics is used by millions of students in school systems and home use worldwide. There is a parent page where you can change your child's grade level, and even assign them specific lessons to work through before they can go "play" in the competition. And parents can choose to have a weekly report e-mailed to them showing their student's progress.

The pros: Math drill can be, well, BORING. And this is FUN. Really. Working through the lessons is fun because you are earning points as you do it. And competing is fun, because who doesn't want to compete with kids all over the globe! At it's most discounted rate (more on that later) it's only $1 a week, and that's a small price to pay for an effective, student motivating product. My kids begged to use it, and I liked that you could change the grade level for each child since our curriculum does not follow the standard scope and sequence.

The cons: The biggest one to me is that you have to pay for each student individually, there is no "family" rate, as I think most of their business is with schools and groups. $1 a week isn't bad...but $1 a week times each child starts to add up...especially when you figure that works out to $200 a year for me-for a drill/review product. Although Mathletics does have a curriculum component, I don't think there is enough instruction to really have it be your only math curriculum, so basically, in my opinion, this is a curriculum supplement, not a stand alone product.

The bottom line: if you have a child who struggles with math and needs review, then this is the product for you. If you have a child who excels in math and wants the world to know, then this is the product for you too. If you have a child who is fine in math but could really take it or leave it, this might spark them to love it more. If you can afford $1 a week per child then this is something I'd seriously consider.

The regular coast of a Mathletics subscription is $99 a year. They are currently running a special price of $59 a year, and if you know the Human Calculator's favorite number (it's 9), then the price drops to $49.95. That price gives you 24 hour a day/7 days a week access to the web site for 12 months. There is also a 10 day money back guarantee, so everyone can check it out to see if it is right for them. Go HERE to check out Mathletics. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a 45 day FREE subscription to Mathletics so that my children and I could check it out. This access was the only payment I received in return for writing this review, and this review reflects my honest opinion.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tektoma Review


I have to admit, I'd never heard of Tektoma before the TOS Crew was asked to take a look at their site. Tektoma is a subscription based website that teaches kids how to program their own video games using a FREE version of GameMaker (software that you can download for free to make video games).


Tektoma takes a fairly complicated game designing program and breaks it down into a series of step by step tutorials geared toward children ages 7-17. Each step is laid out in detail for the children to be able to follow along, and there are currently tutorials to design five different kinds of games: racing, arcade, memory, platform, and fantasy. In addition, there are shortcuts available to make it easier (quicker) for children to program and play their games.


The pros: If you have a child who is interested in video games like mine is, then this is a treasure trove of information and may allow them to parlay their passion into a future occupation. The information is very detailed, but broken into small enough steps that my 12 year old could follow them. And I was AMAZED that the tutorials held his attention, as they are quite long (over an hour for most of them). I also appreciated that the initial tutorial specifically has no guns or shooting, nor does the racing game (obviously) so kids can still pursue their interest without feeding into the cultural norm of shooting and killing things for fun. I also have to give Tektoma serious bonus points for being something my eldest could do ON HIS OWN, since I break computers just by walking into the room with them, and you certainly wouldn't want me PROGRAMMING one!


The cons: (all these specs come from their site) Currently, the tutorials are for computers running Windows XP or Vista only. Macintosh versions coming in the future. You need a Broadband internet connection-this would be excruciating on dial-up. Any browser should work, but make sure it is a current version.
For GameMaker tutorials, you need a copy of GameMaker installed and the GameMaker resources folder.Instructions for downloading these files can be found on the GameMaker Tutorials page.GameMaker requires 128mb of RAM, DirectX 8 with at least 32mb of video memory, and a screen resolution of at least 800×600.

Also, the tutorials are VERY long...for some children they may be too long (between one and two hours each). And you may need to pause the tutorial at each step to go and DO in GameMaker what it is teaching you in the tutorial, which many younger student may need help with.


So what's the bottom line? This is a cool idea, and very unique in that it makes a field traditionally thought of as being for adults (or at least teen age computer nerds) and brings it down to a level that any interested child can learn. The cost ($14.95/month or $140 a year) is a little steep to maintain indefinitely unless your child really is likely to make this their occupation (or at least become a millionaire int heir teens with their first video game), but they do add new content monthly so there is always something new to learn. And you can try it free for 14 days by going HERE. And site members get access to shared files AND a moderated board where they can ask questions and have them answered.


To check out Tektoma, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.


As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a FREE 3 month membership to Tektoma to allow me to review their site. That membership is the only form of payment I have received for this review.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brief Update

I'm certain I've been very disappointing to my followers since there has not been much to follow lately. At least I updated the blog with a Christmas theme this morning :-). I have soooo much to say, but so many demands on my time and I'm trying to spend my time wisely. Speaking of that, I have to go clean out my car-I'm expecting to find a TON of stuff that has been missing for a while...and maybe a pachyderm or two (seriously, the piles of mess are that bad).

Tomorrow is my nephew's birthday and we are all going to Disney. He doesn't know, so I can't wait until tomorrow!
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Announcing...

Snapshots of Grace Photography.

Snapshots of Grace is a new business that the Lord is leading me into. I've always had a passion for photography, and now God has been opening doors for me to do it on a more "professional" level, so I am following His lead and starting my own photography business. Chances are that this is one of only a few posts you will see about it HERE on this blog since I am trying to keep the more detailed info about my family and our locale private, and I must be open on the photography blog, so I encourage you to go HERE to check out my work. I'd love it if you'd become a follower of that blog too. I'll let you know when the website (www.snapshotsofgrace.com) is up and running too.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Old Schoolhouse Black Friday Specials continue through the week-end!

There is a lot of money-saving activity in the Schoolhouse Store this weekend! You can receive up to $1300 if FREE gifts during the TOS Black Friday Sale.Plus, the one-year, print () subscriptions will be available for $7.95 during the sale which runs through Sunday. All those subscribing before December 7 will receive the Winter Issue. (Subscriptions received after that will begin with the Spring Issue.) As a bonus, you can select 10 gifts of your choice—there are 19 gifts from which to choose. There are only 1500 of these gift packs available. This is a 68% savings! The $7.95 price is gone on December 31 at midnight. On January 1, 2010, the price goes back up to $25! The 19 gifts can be viewed here: (Each subscriber picks 10 of the 19.)http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com/TOSSummer19Gifts/libanded/index.html Remember, the more you spend in the Schoolhouse Store through Sunday, the more free gifts you receive. One of the gifts is a FREE one-year membership to and a free will from Homeschool Legal Advantage. Plus, there are so many other FREE homeschooling resources. Check it out at the following link:http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com/2009BlackFridaySale/BF_Level1.htm It’s so easy to earn the FREE gifts! Select a few items from the literature sale in the Schoolhouse Store or purchase the new Download N Go lapbooking and unit studies series from Amanda Bennett and TOS.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Life on the Farm Game Review-Preschool Version


Anytime a preschool geared game arrives on your doorstep while your one preschooler is not home, and your other three very-much-NOT-preschoolers rip it open and start playing, you know you've got a hit on your hands!




The preschool edition of Life on the Farm plays very similarly to Candyland, in that players draw cards with with colored squares on them to advance along the game board.




It differs from Candyland though in that each play has a "barn" to fill up, and landing on the spaces with the animals' pictures or advancing to that space by drawing an animal's card means you collect that animal for your barn. First to fill their barn wins.

The pros: The game board itself is ingenious. It's made out of thick foam (like that foam floor mats you find in children's play areas-nice and thick), and fit together like an easy puzzle, so even putting the game together is fun. The game is easy to play, and actually quite fun. My preschooler LOVES it, but so do her older siblings. This is one game they don't mind playing with her over and over.

The cons: We didn't find any. Just good clean fun :-).

The bottom line: We have really enjoyed this over and over. It gets plenty of play time, even with a shelf FULL of other games. In fact, this one has been played more lately than all the others combined. At $20, it's not the cheapest children's game, but it is well made, and should last a lifetime. And personally, I'd rather spend $20 on a game that gets played than $5 on one that sits on the shelf.

To check out Life on the Farm, go HERE. They have an older children's version that has been getting such rave reviews by other TOS Crew members that I may just have to get that too. To read the reviews by the rest of the TOS Crew, go HERE.

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Exploramania GyMathics DVD Review


As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a copy of Exploramania's GyMathics DVD. GyMathics combines math with an exercise video to appeal to kids on a multi-sensory level and use the advantages of exercise on brain development to help the students learn math facts. The video is the brain child of Carrie Scheiner, and she and a neighbor created the exercise routines and the accompanying math tidbits that go with them. For example, while keeping your arms straight and touching your knees and then reaching those same straight arms up to the sky, the math information given is about parallel lines, intersecting lines, and perpendicular lines.
The pros: There is plenty of research to support using multiple educational approaches to help students learn things better and on a deeper level. And GyMathics definitely gets them up and moving while they are being introduced to different math concepts. And because the math is integrated with the exercise, even my 4 year old was learning concepts-and many of them well beyond what you would expect a typical 4 year old to know (prime numbers, etc.). And the video also incorporates positive life choices like choosing health snacks, so there is application beyond the math and exercise too.
The cons: The video is painfully cheesy. At least for ME to watch. My 4 year old loves it! But even my 10 year old gives a nod to the exercise as providing a good workout, but called the actual video "boring". My 12 year old did actually get off the couch and join in for the last 5 minutes though, so that says something. The music is not the best, and the quality of the video does not, in my opinion, line up with the price ($24.95).
The bottom line: At $10, I'd think this was a better deal for sure. At $25, it's a lot of money for something that my one daughter found "boring". I'm not one to let my children dictate what we do, but I also wouldn't fight the battle to MAKE her watch this. If you really would have your kids watch an exercise video, then this would be a perfect product for you. For us, watching exercise videos not something I would normally have them do, so it's not a product I would normally have sought out or purchased. I do think the company has children and learning as their focus, and they offer a very unique product for sure, it's just not the right fit for my family.
To check this DVD or Exploramania's other products out for yourself (which I ALWAYS recommend) go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AVKO Review


I'm betting many of you think you have NO idea who AVKO is...but if I say "Sequential Spelling" I'm guessing a few light bulbs will go on...at least that's how it was for me. Sequential Spelling is a totally different sort of spelling program that gathers words into rime families or "chunks" and teaches them collectively so that through association students are able to spell words they've never been exposed to before. It's a really interesting approach, but it was NOT what we were asked to review, LOL.

AVKO asked us to take a look at their website, and more specifically the "member" section of their website. Before I tell you more about that though, let me tell you a little about this amazing company. AVKO was started by Don McCabe who himself had overcome dyslexia to become a high school reading teacher. It was while teaching that he saw the value in breaking words down into their smaller base words and teaching students to spell in rime chunks (so "at" leads to "bat", "flat", "scatter", etc.). He founded AVKO (which stands for Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic, Oral-four of the five learning modalities) Educational Research Foundation with the goal of helping students of any age master reading and spelling. According to their website, AVKO's mission is to provide free and low-cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all, even despite learning challenges or dyslexia.

AVKO has many totally free resources on their website, and that makes it well worth checking out. There is literally TONS of information about spelling and reading, and the research that has been done that explains why today's students are not good spellers. But the members site really shines. For only $25 a year for basic membership, members get access to all the free stuff and much, much more. Members get five free downloadable e-books worth hundreds of dollars including The Patterns of English Spelling, which is a 10 volume set. That book will allow you to create your own spelling curriculum along the lines of Sequential Spelling, and if you use it, it more than pays for your membership. Membership also includes access to Don McCabe's most popular conference talks downloadable in MP3 format. You also get access to a member's only section that has other reading and spelling resources, the AVKO newsletter, placement tests, answer keys, and a 25% discount on all AVKO's printed materials (including Sequential Spelling). There is also a too-rich-for-my-blood $100 premium membership that includes all the benefits of basic, plus read-only access to ALL AVKO's curriculums expect Sequential Spelling and the Engaging Language Kits.

The bottom line for me is that AVKO's site is very much worth checking out, and if you have a student who struggles with spelling at all, I think the membership is well worth it, at least for one year. The downloads are substantial and exceedingly helpful. As someone who has a struggling speller, I have a renewed committment to help her overcome her challenges thanks to all the materials on AVKO's site, and since she just handed me a piece of paper with the word pottery spelled "pudry", I think I'd better start tomorrow!

To check out AVKO's resources, go HERE. TO read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received FREE access to AVKO's member site in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

I ♥ Faces contest-Autumn Beauty

This week's theme is "Autumn Beauty", but here in sunny FL, we don't get the natural beauty that the more northern parts of the country enjoy. We DO, however, get an annual Renaissance Faire, and Loony Lucy is a cast regular. I think she's beautiful, but more importantly, she is a beautiful person on the inside too :-).

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Monday, November 9, 2009

American Heritage Education Foundation Review


I first heard of American Heritage Education Foundation and their FREE American History curriculum a few years back. I even ordered the FREE CD at the time. And then it has sat on my desk ever since. To be fair, we haven't intentionally covered American History yet, so I had no reason to use it, but you'd think I would have at least looked at it!

Thank goodness the TOS Crew was asked to take a look at the AHEF curriculum!

The first thing that blew my socks off about this curriculum is that it is developed by a PUBLIC school system, but openly refers to GOD. Yes, you read that right. Now, don't get me wrong, this isn't a "point to God's providence in everything" curriculum, but it does strongly emphasize the faith of the founders and their intent that that faith's principles would be the unifying moral standards for our nation (while still giving the individual citizens the right to even accept that faith or not). In fact, the curriculum, which is provided at three levels (elementary, middle, and high school), highlights four themes throughout American History: Freedom, Unity, Progress, Responsibility. The CD, which is also available in bound format for $19.50 per level, also contains a Spanish version of the elementary level. It has all the documents and activity pages necessary to complete the lesson plans, and references the national standards the lessons address.

The pros: It's FREE. In today's day and age, that's just CRAZY, but here it is FREE for the asking. The lessons are purposeful and really lay a solid foundation of our American Heritage. Although it was designed for a public school system, it certainly is easily adaptable for homeschooling application, and it is very easy to take what works for you and leave the rest.

The cons: This is not a complete American history curriculum, but rather a supplement. IT covers people and topics into the early 1900's, but after that you are on your own. And it is not really chronological, but rather topical (studying the Mayflower Compact, etc.). While I think that makes it easy for you to add it in to any existing curriculum you are using, it may be a detractor to some. I do think that you could just use this curriculum over the course of a year even without supplementation, and your students would have an amazing framework on which to build any future learning you do.

The bottom line to me is that this is a no-brainer. Of course you should order it. IT'S FREE, for goodness sake, but more than that, the AHEF is 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. How can you go wrong with that? Plus, you control what you do with it, so you really have nothing to lose. I love that each level of the CD devotes time to WHY this public school system has chosen to acknowledge and embrace America's faithful heritage and even includes letters from the Secretary of Eduction explaining the "official" position of the government on religious education in the schools (not so applicable to homeschoolers, but interesting nonetheless).

To order your CD, go HERE. You can also download the lessons directly from their site for free if you have a high speed internet connection. To see what other members of the TOS CREW had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received a FREE CD of American Heritage Education Foundation's curriculum in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bright Ideas Press Review

If the name "Bright Ideas Press" doesn't sound familiar to you, I assure you you are familiar with their products. They are the Hogans and are the wonderful family with a passion for God, Geography, and History that has brought the hoemschooling world familiar curriculums like Mystery of History, Hands-On Geography, and the Christian Kids Explore Science books. I was fortunate enough to receive both Mystery of History Volume 1 (MOH) and Hands-On Geography for use with my kids.



When it comes to "spine" books for homeschoolers that provide a classical approach to learning about history, two main curriculums are suggested time and time again. Following a friend who had an older child than my oldest learner, I chose the one she was already using. The problem was that where her kids loved it, mine hated it. And the other thing was that while it was a nice, concise secular history, it totally neglected Biblical history. It wasn't right for us.

Enter Mystery of History. I had heard people talk about it for years. Some of my friends use it. And I knew it was the Christian alternative to the type of history program I was looking for, but I had never looked into it further for some reason. So, of course, I was excited to get to review it for the TOS Crew.

MOH Volume 1 covers Creation to the Resurrection. It is a classical, chronological approach to history that incorporates pre-tests, lessons, activities, memory cards, quizzes, reviews, geography, and timeline figures to help you teach your students about God and HisStory as it has been played out through the ages in the history of our world. MOH was written for 4th-8th graders, but is easily adaptable for the entire K-12 spectrum. It includes an extensive bibliography and supplemental book and video list if you want to dig deeper into each lesson/period of time, although the book on its own provides a nice overview and a very "do-able" history curriculum without any supplement. It also includes everything you need as a teacher, including activity pages, tests/answer keys, pronunciation guides, and outline maps. Volume 1 has 36 lessons, and it is suggested that each one take one week to cover, with four days on and one day off.

So what are the pros? Although unit studies have proven not to work well for my family, this one did. It is easy to use, the lessons are short, and after we read the information together, I can assign them each their activities based on their age level, and put things like their index cards and timeline stuff in their workboxes for them to do individually. I LOVE that the activities are easy enough that I am likely to actually DO them with my kids. I love that they are enjoying MOH. And despite the fact that I am a very laid back homeschooler, I actually like the pretests and review tests for that I can easily see what my kids already know and what they have learned as we study. And I love that we can dig deeper if we want into a certain person or event, but I can also feel at peace with just doing the book work because it does such a beautiful job of pointing to God's had in all of history. And MOH keeps getting better. They recently have added folderbooks (lapbooks) for those of us who like those types of activities, and they have supplements specific to MOH like craft activities, reproducibles, and an audio version of the book available from Bright Ideas Press too.

I can't really think of a con, unless you don't want a Christian history program, or you don't want to study history sequentially.

The bottom line to me is that MOH is great. I look forward to using it for years to come. At $49.95 for one year's worth of curriculum (and then usable again for many years to come) I think it is affordable, and a wonderful investment for any homeschool family.


I also was fortunate to receive Hands-On Geography: Easy & Fun Activities for Exploring God's World. Hands-On Geography has 12 chapters chock full of ideas for how to make teaching geography fun, meaningful, and hands-on. It also has an entire chapter of outline maps with suggestions on how to use them, and two appendixes. The first has a flash card geography game, and the second is full of Geography resources.

The pros for this book are endless. Geography is one of the most challenging subjects to get kids to care about and remember. If you need proof of that, just watch any of the late-night talk show hosts as they find some hapless American to ask geography questions to and watch the subject squirm. And yet Geography is SO important. It's where we live, and it impacts everything about our lives. I love Maggie Hogan's creative ways to draw kids in and get them involved. Whether it's making a country notebook, or organizing a passport fair, or following the travels of a particular Bible character, the ideas are all simple but fun.

I didn't find any cons to this book. If anything, it inspired me to take her ideas and then keep going with more of my own.

The bottom line is that this is a great resource book to have on your shelves and then USE with your kids. At $14.95, it is affordable, and more than pays for itself with all the creative ways it offers for getting your kids to care about and love geography.

To order any of these books, or see more of the products Bright Ideas Press has to offer, go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew have to say (many of them reviewed other products by Bright Ideas Press), go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received a copy of Mystery of History Volume 1 and Hands-On Geography free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

abcteach Review


Given our family dynamics, I've always been more of a relaxed homeschooler. And for us, "relaxed" didn't really include many worksheets. But then came my third child who thrives on worksheets, (and his little sister seems content to do them, just don't ask for perfection) and suddenly worksheets gained a little ground in my opinion.
And then there was the recent incident where my 10 year old daughter asked me (in public) how to spell OUR LAST NAME! Yeah, maybe we need to do a few more worksheets, especially taking the time to fill out the "Name" blank at the top!

Enter abcteach. abcteach is a website for teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and anyone else who works with students in elementary and middle school. To list everything the site offers would take months, and WAY more space than I have in this post, but you should know that they offer about 5000 FREE worksheets. The member site though is where the site really shines with over 35,000 pages of printable worksheets and activities. If you aren't into worksheets, abcteach may seem at first to be a product to dismiss, but let me assure you it offers way more than your typical worksheet site. abcteach has TONS of education clip art, unit studies, shape books, sudoku, learning center signs and activities, flash cards, power point presentations, and much, MUCH more.
But the best part of abcteach is abctools. abctools allows you to make customizable worksheets for, well, almost anything. Math, spelling, vocabulary, and educational games all have customizable worksheet options. But to me the most impressive is the handwriting options. They have fonts for A Beka, Handwriting Without Tears, D'Nealian, Getty-Dubay Italic, Zaner-Bloser, Loops and Other Groups, and Queensland, as well as many common standard computer fonts. They are all available in cursive or print, but also have options like dotted letters or dots and directional arrows. I have used it extensively to generate worksheets for my children to finally learn cursive. Because they are customizable, I have incorporated our other studies into what they are practicing in their handwriting. For example, we can use it to reinforce our root word studies by having them write, "A means 'not' or 'on'." Or chose a Bible memory verse for them to write. It has been great for us.

The pros for abcteach are endless. If you have students in the K-8th grade, I challenge you to NOT find a way to use abcteach. With printables covering Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts, and clip art for anything educational under the sun, it wouldn't take much for abcteach to pay for itself.

I didn't encounter any cons except the standard science concerns for Christians with a young earth view. But it is very easy to avoid by just previewing the sheet before you print it. If it doesn't line up with your beliefs, don't use it. With 35,000 things to chose form, there is sure to be plenty more to use.

The bottom line is that I think abcteach is probably an indispensable resource for most homeschoolers. The yearly membership is $40 for one year/$70 for two years. You should definitely check the site out since that's the best way to see if it would work for your homeschool, but we have used it every day and that makes it totally worth it to me!

To check out abcteach or sign up for membership, go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received a one month membership to abcteach free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Virginia Soaps and Scents Review

The TOS Crew was recently asked to review some products from Virginia Soaps and Scents. I was THRILLED, because in our house we have been using homemade soaps and other products for a few years, but I had not tried Virginia Soaps and Scents because they didn't exist when I first started buying homemade soaps (and now I make my own).
Virginia Soaps and Scents may seem like a strange company to ask a Crew of homeschooling product reviewers to look at, but actually its a perfect fit because VSS is a homeschooling success story. The company itself was born out of a unit study by a homeschooling family, the Spargurs. They decided to make a batch of homemade soap as a history lesson, and a passion was born. And being true homeschoolers, they decided that if they were to make a business out of this passion, they would learn to do it all themselves, and they have. Beyond making soap, they handle every aspect of the business, even down to the packaging.


We received three different products from them to review. The first was their regular bar soap. I found it to be quite attractive, and was happy to see that it was scented with real essential oils, not perfumes (although it appears some of their specialty bars are scented using fragrance oils.) I particularly liked the scent of the Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey bar. I thought the sample size is quite nice, and the soap is beautifully irregular on the top-as nice to look at as it is to use. If you haven't used a bar soap in a while, you will be surprised the difference it will make in how your skin feels, and if you've never used a homemade bar soap, then you've never experienced soap the way soap was intended to be-with all the glycerin in tact. Compared to other homemade soaps, the VSS soaps lathered with small but rich bubbles, and was perfectly fine for shaving with as well as washing. The bars are 4.5 oz each and are $4.50 for one, $12 for 3, $35 for 10, or buy 4, get one free.
We also received a sample size shampoo bar. Now again, we've been using shampoo bars for years in our house, but for most people it is a strange concept indeed. But "back in the day" there were no specific products for body vs. hair. One soap did it all. Today, most homemade shampoo bars are slightly different from homemade soaps. The process for making them is entirely the same, but soaps are often "superfatted", or left with some of the oils not converted to soap by the lye, therefore they are left suspended in the soap as moisturizers. Shampoo bars are typically not superfatted, and that's the basic difference. Shampoo bars take a bit of getting used to...when you first make the change you have to remember that you've spent a lifetime coating your hair with plastics (just look for anything in your hair products that says "vinyl") and you have to get your hair back to a natural state. Once you do that though, you'll never go back. Shampoo bars get your hair SO much cleaner, and because it is a more natural clean, you can go longer between washings and not have your hair look dirty or oily. And they travel with much less mess, especially on airplanes (as a bonus, you can carry them on in your luggage and not have to worry about liquid product limits). I liked the VSS Shampoo bar a lot, and the Coconut Lemongrass scent was nice. The 5.5 oz bar sells for $5.50, or two for $10.



Lastly, we received a sample of their homemade laundry detergent kit. Homemade laundry soap is really easy to make, but if you are at all apprehensive about it, this kit is the way to go. The instructions are easy to follow, and everything you need (except the water) is included. Their instructions are for making a gel-like liquid, although the same ingredients can be used without water as a powdered detergent. I'd never made the liquid kind, so I was excited to try this one. The advantage to the liquid is that you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to make your laundry smell good. I added a tiny amount of lavender to mine. I've been using homemade laundry soap for a while now, and their recipe is essentially the same as the one I use, so I didn't see a difference with their product, but I can tell you you will save a ton of money with homemade laundry soap, and like I said before, this kit is an easy way to start. The kit is $4.95 and will do 64-72 loads of laundry.

The bottom line to me is that the products we tried from VSS were all great. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who wanted to save money and be more natural in the way they clean themselves and their clothes. Homemade soaps typically sell for $1 and ounce or more, and their soaps are right in line with that. Plus, they look and smell nice too.

To order any of their products, or see some of the others they offer (lotions, etc.) go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received 3 sample bars of soap, a shampoo bar sample, and a laundry kit free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amazing Bible Timeline Review


My kids and I have started a chronological study of history based on the Bible, so receiving this Amazing Bible Timeline to review right now was perfect timing. Or at least it should have been. Unfortunately, it's kind of a double edged sword. Let me explain.

The Amazing Bible Timeline is HUGE-it's size alone justifies the "amazing" part of its name. (It's 38" x 46".) Here's a picture of it that shows its size a little better.
But that same huge size means it has to be curled up to be shipped, and because it is on heavy duty card stock with a varnished top, it took quite a bit of convincing to get mine to lay anywhere close to flat. We started with it face DOWN on the dining room table (to get it to uncurl) and then eventually flipped it upright, but had to cover it with a vinyl clear shower curtain to protect it and keep the edges from curling, and then the kids couldn't really see it, so now it's taped to our wall, and that seems to be working better. Except my dining room is now decorated in "early homeschooling".

The goal of this timeline is to present the events of the Bible in a way that you can see the whole Bible timeline at once...and see it concurrent with the other world events of that time. It covers everything from creation to the end times, with the BC stuff to the right as you view the timeline, and the AD stuff to the left. The centuries come out from the middle on spokes and are numbered along the outer edge too. Four different colors are used to show the descendants of Noah's sons, and also to show the major acting influences on the church (the reformation, the catholic church, etc.). It attempts to allow the viewer to get an idea, at a glance, of all the things that were going on around the world at the same time as any Bible event they are studying. It is an awesome task to undertake, and hard for any one resource to do well.

The pros to this product are that it really does help you see how things overlap in history. Even the early Bible genealogies are helpful. To SEE how Adam was still alive during the lifetime of Noah's grandfather, and even FATHER, was very eye-opening. And to see when Buddha or Confucius or the other major characters from other "religions" fit into the Bible timeline is all very interesting to me as a history buff. The timeline bases itself on the research of Bishop Ussher, who in the late 1500's, put together probably the most comprehensive Bible timeline ever, so it begins with a solid foundation (for Christians who subscribe to the "young earth" idea).
And it comes with a few free downloads, including a smaller version of the Amazing Bible Timeline for your computer, and an interactive map of the Holy Land.

Oh, but the cons...they are numerous too. First, there's the whole, "I can't get it to lay flat"thing, which is compounded by the fact that I did not want to have to tape it to the wall, but that proved to be the only way to make it usable. Then, there's the fact that it's not laminated, so you can't mark on it, and that tape that I used to tape it to the wall will now have to be a permanent addition because It would rip the timeline apart to remove it. Then there's the issue with it taking a bit of time to "wrap your brain around it" so you can really read it-this is not a tool a younger child could use. I'd say you are definitely looking at upper middle school and up. And the colors were confusing to me. I'd rather have seen the histories separated out clearly by continent, and then a side notation of which son of Noah they are believed to descend from. Except you couldn't do that because Africa is totally skipped over other than Egypt. Apparently nothing interesting in the history of the world happens there. But oddly enough, there's a LARGE focus on the pre-Colombian history of the America's.
It starts here.

And continues here (it's the outermost ring).

And keeps going HERE...and you might want to actually READ above, because yes, there is cited as a reference the Book of Mormon.

That explains a LOT of the emphasis on the history of the Native Americans, since the Mormons believe Jesus came to visit the Native Americans after His resurrection. That doesn't line up with God's Word, and so those references are not valid in my opinion. Now, I don't mean to take issue with anyone else's belief system, but I know personally that God's Word tells us in Jude 3 that we should earnestly contend for the faith against false doctrine, so that is what I must do here. The link to Mormon beliefs also renders all the references to end-time prophecy null, since their understanding of the prophecy of Daniel and mine are totally different. And since my kids are currently studying Daniel (they'll move to the end-times stuff in January) and they spent last year doing Revelation, that information being presented as fact when it is contrary to our understanding is just not okay.

The bottom line to me is that if you are among the 90% of the population out there who would take no issue with the incongruencies caused by the Mormon beliefs being presented as fact on the chart, than this is a good reference for you. And if you are handy with a sharpie marker and don't mind permanently disfiguring your timeline, than this is a good reference for you too. In fact, I want to be clear that I won't be ripping it off my wall anytime soon, because I do think it is a good tool, and since it's not laminated I can mark through things in sharpie marker to rid our chart from the information that runs contrary to our beliefs, so that's what I plan to do.

The Amazing Bible Timeline and the accompanying free downloads, are available HERE for $29.97 plus $6 shipping. To read what other TOS Crew members had to say, go HERE.


Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Amazing Bible Timeline free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sue Patrick's Workbox System Review

If I had to pick the ONE thing that has had the greatest impact on our homeschooling since we began, it would be THIS system. And ironically, I stumbled across it a few months before the TOS Crew was asked to review Sue Patrick's book.
As most bloggers and blog readers have probably experienced, at times you can read one person's blog and then follow a link to another blog and then another link to another blog, and then POOF! there you are gleaning wonderful knowledge from a total stranger. That was how I was introduced to Workboxes. I was reading someone's blog who posted about something and had a link that I followed, and suddenly I found someone talking about how workboxes had changed their LIFE and their homeschool. So of course, I followed that link too, and just from what I read on that blog (I can' t even remember now whose blog it was) I knew this might be just the thing I was looking for. Less than a week later, a close friend posted a question to our homeschool group looking to glean information about workboxes, and at the same time, I got a peek at the TOS Crew vendors for this year, and Sue Patrick's Workbox System was there. It was like a COLOSSAL sign from GOD. Especially when that aforementioned friend bought the e-book, implemented workboxes, and started loving it too.
So, by now you might be thinking, "what exactly is this system that has so taken the homeschool world by storm?". The complete system that Sue developed is called "Specialized and Structured Teaching Workbox System" and it is a program she developed after devoting herself to trying to best help her autistic son.Because of the success Sue had with her child, others asked her for her help, and the business grew from there. She now has the Workbox System User's Guide, which is what the Crew was asked to review. It is that Guide that my friend has purchased, and I took a sneak peek over the summer because I was so certain that Workboxes would work for us that I wanted to start our new school year out with them and not wait until the Crew's assignment in September. Did I mention this has revolutionized our homeschooling? It's just great.
The genius of workboxes is its simplicity. And that very simplicity has caused some people out there to share this system with everyone they know free of charge and without crediting Sue Patrick. That's unfortunate because there is much to be gleaned from her book that you don't get when you try to do it on the fly. And she has poured hours and hours and probably years of her life into this system, so it would, I'm sure, be nice to get credit, both financially and intellectually. Because of all the "copycat" stuff out there though, I'm going to give you a general run down and encourage you to go to her site to view the rest of her materials for greater information.
Workboxes involve taking your child(ren)'s schoolwork for each day and placing each subject/topic in a separate box (she suggests a plastic shoe container) along with all the materials they need to complete the task. You then give them a schedule for the day as to what things to do in what order, and you allow them to be responsible for completing their work. They are allowed to ask you for help of course, and there will be some subjects, especially with younger children, that require teacher assistance, but the system allows for that.
Above are my daughter's workboxes. I fill them each day, she works through them in the order I tell her, and when she is done, she's DONE with school for the day. You can see our system looks very similar to the one in the Workbox System logo above, and that's because after a ton of thinking about how to make it best work for us, it turns out that Sue's system is the cheapest (go figure!) and worked with the space allocation we have.

Here's my happy daughter with one of her Workbox assignments, and TJ with his below. (Those $3.50 display boards were the BEST investment I've ever made toward peace in our homeschool!)

The Pros for the Workbox System: (This might be a long list, because I was in desperate need of somethign to help us get all the stuff done that I wanted to get done every day!)
1) Students know exactly what is expected of them, schoolwork-wise, everyday.
2) They know, at a glance thanks to the workboxes, how much more they have to do until they are "done"
3) They know that when the workboxes are empty, the school day for them is OVER. It's a huge incentive to sit down and get to work.
4) It fosters independence in work that previous to this year NEVER seemed to happen.
5) It allows me to "schedule" the opportunity to work with each of them separately while making sure everyone in actually doing something and not just waiting on me. Our math is teacher lead, so I MUST do math with each of my kids EVERY day. With the workboxes, I stagger who is working on what so that they each get to their "math" box at a different time and I no longer have everyone needing me simultaneously.
6) I'm not really organized, but even I can get my brain around this.
7) No more, "I need a..." I put it all in each box so they have everything they need when they sit down. I even give them a pencil for each assignment (can you tell broken pencil tips are a BIG issue in this house?).
8) Workboxes allow me to get housework done WHILE they are doing school-it's novel, but I can now start a load of wash or fold a load of wash and not have my kids waiting on me to do school-they already know what to do and can do it.
9) Workboxes mean I can even LEAVE the house to get my 4 year old from "school" (she goes to a local Pre-K) and know that the older three know what to do in my absence and EXPECT that they will do it.
10) And this might be one of the biggest for me, we are finally getting to all the wonderful curriculum and resources I've owned but never gotten to. I just pull them off the shelves, dust them off (most have been sitting there just waiting for me to use them), and make them one of the kids' boxes for the day. For example, we reviewed some Critical Thinking books last year, and I LOVE them, but I seldom remember to include them. Now, I can just put the book in the box, tell them the page to work on, and that is one of those things they do as their schoolwork. Same for handwriting, science experiments, craft projects...you name it, I'm finally getting around to doing it, and that makes the system priceless because it means we are actually using the resources I've already spent money on.

The cons: Are you ready? Because there are two big ones...or at least there could be. The first is the expense. It's NOT expensive, as things go, but there is a very real cost to setting up the system. The plastic boxes are about $1 a piece, and Sue recommends 12 per student. Times four students (in my case) that's already $48. Then there are the racks the boxes go on. I got them for a good price at Target, but they were $15 each...so with my four, that's $60 more. And then there are the numbers for the boxes, the velcro dots to hold the numbers, the dots for the schedule strips, the dots for the special cards (I need help or work with mom, etc.). Oh, and the laminating of everything that you don't want to replace every week. The initial set up is NOT cheap. But in comparison to the price of saving my sanity, it's been worth every penny (and if you know me, you know we don't have any spare pennies right now). The other con is that Sue Patrick's tone can be a little harsh in her book. She is CERTAIN her system works AS IS. She has helped thousands of families with her system AS IS. And she really makes it quite clear she expects you to use it AS IS....every aspect of it without a single change. But see, that's just not how homeschoolers work. In fact, EVERY person I've encountered who LOVES workboxes has tweaked them in some way. Whether it is to use magazine holders or hanging file folders instead of shoe boxes (think 9 kids in a 1100 sq ft house) or it is to use fewer boxes per child or it is to not use centers or poster activities, everyone seems to have tweaked it because that's what works for them. I personally only have 8 boxes per child, and we don't use all of them every day. And I bought shelf liner for the wire racks the boxes sit on because my child on the autism spectrum likes to act out when he's angry, and I got tired of the boxes going flying (plastic glides a little too well on metal). I don't do centers OR posters (NO room/husband unwilling to have the dining room look even MORE like a schoolroom). And I break the cardinal rule and I DO take advantage of the fact that my kids are independently engaged in learning to actually get a little bit done around my house without feeling guilty. But even with all those variations, I can tell you this system has totally changed our homeschooling and every bit of it for the better. I'm saddened by Ms. Patrick's hard stance against making changes to her system, especially when you read her beautiful "History" on her web page, and see that she herself says:
After attending seminars, conferences, and certification programs for nearly every therapy based work for special needs children, I did not adopt any existing program or other therapies because I thought a meshing of the best of all programs, along with a Specialized Parent-Based approach was the only logical choice. I am thankful to God every day for giving me that discernment.
So it was tweaking existing programs that brought her to what worked best for HER and gave her a framework to help others. I'm thankful GOD has given ME discernment to know that I need to take the parts of the system that works for me, and for my children, and leave the rest. Here's what workboxes look like in our house:


Tj's boxes. He moved his up to the top 3 shelves because he likes them that way. Green is his color, so his numbers are backed in green. His "privacy wall" stores behind the boxes.

Mimi's boxes. I even use them as a gathering place after school is over for all their things that migrate out of their room and need to get put away, so sometimes the "first" box is stuff to go put away in their rooms-like that purple jacket that's in hers now
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Scott's are a typical mess. Because of lack of space, I store their "need help" and "work with me" cards on the top shelf between boxes one and two. I also keep a pencil sharpener there for each one of them. And currently, the last box (8) has all their lapbook pages in it-the ones they've finished and we need to put in the lapbook, and the ones still to be done.

So what's the bottom line? Did I mention this has totally overhauled our homeschooling? Really. It has been that life changing for us. But it was life changing because I took the system and made it work for us, in our house, with my kids, and living our life. I don' t feel bad about that, even if the author would prefer I use it exactly as intended. The e-book is $19, and I think it's worth every penny-but take what works for you and leave the rest. To purchase the e-book, go HERE. Free sample pages are also available for viewing on her site. And, you once you purchase the book, you receive access to free download-ables like the numbers/scheduling strip templates as well as some potential work box activities, and an area to share ideas between workbox users. Go check it out! It will change your life!
To read what other members of the TOS Crew thought, so HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Sue Patrick's Workbox System e- book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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