Saturday, November 28, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
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.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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.
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.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
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.
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.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
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.
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.
Monday, November 2, 2009
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.
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.