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Monday, November 22, 2010

Bright Ideas Press Illuminations Review

I've been a fan of Maggie Hogan and the folks at Bright Ideas Press for a long time. I was first introduced to her at FPEA as she is a well respected and very popular speaker. She has a passion for history, geography, and science, and her motto is, "What we perform, we remember". Bright Ideas Press publishes the immensely popular Mystery of History (LOVE it!) and the Christian Kids Explore Science Series, just to name a few.

But now they have ventured in to the realm of one curriculum to tie all those things together. Illuminations is "Your Complete, Chronological, Customizable Guide to a Christian Education". Its subject outlines encompass history, geography, literature, grammar, spelling, copywork, Bible, writing, and spelling. Each week is laid out for you in an easy to customize, grid-like format. And every subject that I mentioned above is laid out on that grid. Meaning your lesson plans for every subject but math...and maybe some art and music are totally planned out for you. Illuminations offers two levels 3rd-8th grade (with Early Learner supplements) and High School, and currently offers 3 years of study covering time periods up to the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Growth of Nations. For the 3rd-8th grade programs, which is what we received, each level includes Family Study Guides to enhance the suggested read aloud literature. They also have some free reading resources, and an adaptation of Natural Speller that complements Mystery of History and provides a complete spelling program included with Illuminations. Oh, and because the Hogans are big on making learning fun, also included are suggested Netflix movies, Drive Thru History DVD schedules, and schedules for the Mystery of History craft pack and timeline figures.

The pros: The interface for Illuminations is amazingly easy to use. You just click on the icon on your desktop, and the screen below comes up:

The quick start button really is just that. This is by far the easiest program to "dive into" that I've ever seen. The quick start gives you most of the info you need to begin using Illuminations successfully. After you understand the program, you can either browse by subject or by date to get your lesson plans. The "by date" button gives you this grid below.
The red circle shows how easy it is to customize your schedule. Just click on the frame and the original plans disappear and you are free to type your new ones. Illuminations is planned for a 4 day week, which I love because that makes it easier for ME to make it fit my family since we inevitably have one day each week that doesn't work out like I planned. I love the literature that they have suggested to go along with what you are studying. So many great books I'd never read or heard of before. And the fact that they have the family study guide to go along with each one makes them even more meaningful. Below are some of the sample pages from Illuminations including one of the family study guides.

The cons: While the program is easy to customize, I think it probably offers the most bang for the buck if you actually use all the curriculums it encompasses. Personally, while I have Mystery of History and HITW timeline figures, I don't have the geography ( thought I did, but I actually have Hands-on Geography, not The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide), or the grammar, or the writing, or English from the Roots Up, or the science, so much of what was planned out, I really couldn't use. I'm happy with our spelling program, so while I can add in the one that comes with Illuminations, I would not replace my own. We do a weekly Bible study, and that dictates our Bible each week, so that's out too. And the very first read aloud book I could not get at all-no library in our county system nor any family out of 250 in my homeschool group had the book for me to borrow, which was really a bummer since it looked great.

The bottom line: Illuminations is by far the easiest curriculum of its type to use, and I've used two others like it. I think if you could make use of the WHOLE thing, or even a large part of it, it would be worth it, but $165 for a downloaded version of one year's curriculum can be a bit much if you aren't able to glean more from it than a schedule for MOH and some good books to go with it. I have to say I like it well enough though that I would consider investing in the other parts of the curriculum to make it work for me. I love this type of curriculum, and I think using it with my younger three would really make my life easier. I just wish I had more of the resources it makes use of already in my possession. I plan to keep using it, even in its limited capacity, for the rest of the year and may try to augment by buying the grammar they make use of as a first step toward really making full use of it. I want to be sure I say that I really, really do like Illuminations, I just want my readers to know that for you to get the most out of it, you should probably use the bulk of the curriculums it offers plans for.

To check out Illuminations, including some great videos by Tyler Hogan, Maggie's son, about how it works, please go HERE. You can also buy Illuminations from that site as either a download or a CD. I should mention that you can buy a half year of the 3rd through 8th grade levels for $82.50 and that the high school ones are less expensive at $95 for a year or $47.50 for a half year.

To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Illuminations OR several other Bright Ideas Press products that they received to review, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free download of Illuminations Year One 3rd-8th grade for the purpose of reviewing it. That download was the only compensation I received for my review.
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The Sunday Evening Post...on Monday morning.

Warning, some of these might be a little snarky ;-).

It is amazing to me that an average of 6 people a day have amazing amounts of money that there is absolutely NO way they can access without my help...and if I help by simply giving them my checking account number, they will grant me a TON of money just for being helpful ;-)'s sad to me that anyone falls under these traps, and equally disturbing that there seems to be no way to stop them. They must lure in someone, because I get soooo many each day.

I think it's funny that Vistaprint, who makes good things to be sure, is always sending me these, "We have a special sale JUST FOR YOU" if they aren't sending that e-mail to their entire address book...

Speaking of "funny", keeps sending me an e-mail telling me THEY have a 1988 year book from my high school. Really? So do I. Is there some sort of prize for owning one?

Okay, enough snarky commentary.

To round out our crazy week, UIP had concerts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which kept me a)hopping and b) totally neglecting my family when it came to dinner. Must. Try. HARDER.

Mimi spent the week-end with a friend again-a different one this weekend than last, and she has an invite to go back to RM's next week-end too. I love that I have a sweet daughter and her companionship is sought out...but I miss her when she's not here.

This week's school agenda? Cram in a unit study on Thanksgiving. Thankfully, there have been a ton of free resources online, but I've killed a small tree by printing stuff out for the next few days.

I got to go yesterday to Disney with the kids to meet up with two other members of the TOS Crew. It was good fun, but I couldn't stay very long since I had to get back for the concert that evening.

Speaking of Disney, I rode one of the only rides I'd never done before...Mission:Space. Sari wanted to ride, and my "deal" is that I will ride each ride with them their first time, but after that, they may be on their own-or with a sibling. (I was fortunate enough with the other kids that they rode it for their first time with some of the same friends from the TOS Crew that we were meeting up with again yesterday.) Well, she decided she wanted to ride...with me.
I don't' like simulator rides...they mess with my head and I feel wonky the rest of the day. I also am not fond of small enclosed spaces that someone else closes me into (although I'm fine on elevators-go figure). So here we are in line for Mission:Space- a simulator ride that involves being shut up into a very small (four person) simulator pod for the duration of the ride. Oh, and they warn you about every 5 feet that if you have problems with simulators, or small enclosed spaces, this is not the ride for you. And when you get into the pod, there are barf bags right in front of you...and a final warning that you might want to bail NOW. (And that's all on the "wimpy" green, less intense side of the ride.) Add to that a pull down over your head harness and a console that tilts forward toward you to really round out the "there's no escaping now" feeling, and I about had a panic attack. Seriously. I've NEVER come that close to feeling totally freaked out. I just kept reminding myself that all the little kids on the ride, including the girl next to me who had done it before wouldn't be there if it was awful. And I figured I'd pull a "Paul and Silas" and sing and pray my way through if it was really bad. But the air started blowing in my face (thank GOD for that air) and I closed my eyes (that helps my head not to be so messed up for the rest of the day), and the capsule started rocking like a rocking chair...and it wasn't bad at all. Sari's response when the ride was over..."Can we do it again?". Me, "Absolutely...with your brother ;-)".

My 5 year old came into the kitchen yesterday to tell me that the clothes she had dressed herself in made her feel "hooch-y". I'm glad she's embracing modesty, but really her clothes were fine...I think it was an excuse to try on several outfits. Her legs are getting longer though, and that does tend to boost the hooch factor of even formerly modest clothes by making it look like the shorts are too short.

I'm adjusting my "couch to 5K" thing. First of all, I never started to do it so that I could actually run a 5 K someday...nope, not even remotely a consideration. I started tit o get my BUTT up and doing something. What I realized after 2 weeks of doing "week 3" which involves running two 90 second runs and two 3 minute runs, I realized that while I was able to do it, I was not doing it well. My form was suffering and I was not running "correctly". Rather than press on and develop bad habits, I went back a week, and am really concentrating on form-correct footfall, etc. It was actually quite a work out. I think I'll camp out in week 2 until I'm running well there, and then worry about moving on.

Sari is uber sniffley today. It make her talk funny...or maybe I should say funnier than usual.

I have a review coming later today too, so keep your eyes peeled, LOL.

Must. Go. School. the. children...
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

How big is YOUR God?

I sing with a multi-denominational praise choir called United in Praise. We represent at least 30 different churches and probably every Christian denomination known to man. I love there folks. They are like family to me. And I love the fact that though there are a ton of things that COULD divide us, the fact is that in heaven all those denominational differences will be gone, and we will all be praising God together, so in UIP, we just start on this side of heaven.
Because we rehearse every week, and because I already have 4 kids with busy schedules like AWANA, and our own church's mid week service, it is not always easy to be involved with the choir. Everything is one more thing. And it's seldom about deciding between the good and the bad as much as it is about deciding between the good and the excellent. But every time I try to walk away, God affirms for me that UIP is the excellent.
This has been a busy weekend for us, with 3 concerts on 3 consecutive evenings. Last night, we had a concert at a new church, or at least new to us, although the building was new to the church too. It was a predominately black 7th day Adventist church. The choir really loves singing in churches like that, because we sing mostly Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir music (or the same genre) and those churches tend to really respond. Last night was no exception. It's SOOOO amazing to be part of God's work on Earth. To really, truly feel His presence in a place. (Yes, I know He's always with us, and that He is there whenever two or more are gathered in His name...but I mean something a little different than that, and you just have to experience it to understand). The church we sang at wasn't big. There were maybe 100 people there. And one of their members got ill and was taken away by ambulance before we started singing, so they had every reason to be distracted...but they weren't. Their response was wonderful.
The choir takes up a love offering. We don't keep a penny of it. God has always provided for UIP's needs separately, and we try to give back by appealing to people who enjoy the concert to join us in our support of whatever charities we are supporting that season. This season it is two different small, private shelters for women and children. The money they will get will help them immensely in providing for the needs of battered women and pregnant single moms. The church we were at last night...they gave (in individual donations) $1000. So how big is YOUR God, because mine is huge-amazing and humbling every time. And to be allowed to be part of His plan is fulfilling beyond words.

Lord, thank You for these 3 nights of concerts. It's so easy to think I'm too busy...too tired...too...whatever... to do Your work, but that just isn't true if it really is Your work I'm doing. Help me to always discern between the good and the excellent, and thank You for letting me be even a small part of Your plan. Thank You for my brothers and sisters in Christ in UIP who daily help me see Your hand in their lives and in mine. Amen.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extras, Extras, read all about it

This is National Blog Post Month...or something like that. Actually, everyone's calling it NaBlaPoMo...or something like that too. The idea is that you are supposed to post everyday. Obviously, I am failing miserably. I never set out to try to do fact I found out about it about a week into the month, but still, it seems lately I can't even be bothered to post about my own life, let alone read about other people's lives. Sad, but true right now. Here's the biggest thing that's happened to us in the past few days though.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, the oldest 3 kids and I went to be extras on a movie. Scott and Mimi worked on the same movie about a month ago too. It's (currently) called Dolphin Tale and it is about a Dolphin named Winter who lost her tail when it got tangled in a line attached to a crab trap. She lost her whole tail and 2 vertebrae. But she learned to adapt. And now, she even has a prosthetic tail that has inspired countless prosthetic wearing humans, especially children, worldwide. As with all movies, the story line has been ummmm, enhanced a bit, but the movie has a positive, feel-good message. And it's in 3-D.

The movie stars Morgan Freeman (the only one the kids recognized, as he plays God in the Evan Almighty movies), Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick Jr. We got to see all of them, as well as several other main characters while we were there. It's funny. I don't really get star struck but that's what most people want to know about. I worked on TV (as a reporter and and off camera doing tech work) in high school, and spent 10 years at Disney working at the Studios and in other areas that involved high profile people, so I am fairly aware of how this stuff goes. And besides, they are all just people. People who make a crazy stupid amount of money for what they do, but just people. Except that one of the stars in the film seemed to think they were better than everyone else. It makes me sad when people are like that. It indicates to me that they aren't Christian, because all this stuff...fame,'s just temporal. It will all be gone someday, and in the end, we are all the same, except that the non-believers will meet a different fate ultimately. I'd rather have temporal lack and eternal salvation than temporal fame and fortune and eternal damnation. Of course, some people are lucky enough to have the best of both worlds, but that's the path God has for them. But back to the star thing...the reality is, being near them in the film increases you chance of being seen in the film, and so that is the only attraction to me, and really that was more for my kids to see some payoff after hours and hours of know, a story to tell their friends and maybe their kids and grandkids someday. But the star we were near was the very self-important one, so at least the kid got a negative lesson in how NOT to behave.

What was really funny was the self-important EXTRA we encountered. He had a larger role than most extras, but really, he was just an extra. But to listen to him talk he was SOOOO important. He was young, and it was funny. All puffed up. "They called me for this" "I'm actually taking a pay cut to work on this" It gave Aunt Fanny and I something to ummm, discuss, during the long periods of waiting as we were shooting one scene. And some people were soooo pissy. It was a great study in human character. We did encounter many very nice people too. And we hooked back up with some folks who did the shoot with Scott weeks ago. The days were long-call time was 6:30 AM, and we worked 12 hour days for the most part. We stayed at a hotel on the beach, but we left before sun-up and got back after the sun set, so you really couldn't even tell. But they were offering a special rate for the cast and crew of the movie, so it was a good deal, and it was SOOO much better than driving back and forth 2 1/2 hours each way would have been. I'd show you pictures, but there aren't any since they aren't allowed on the set. I thought for sure there'd be some renegade ones out there on the internet, but I can't find any, so you'll have to wait until September 2011 to see the real deal.

I owe Marie, Kiwi, and Presley a HUGE debt of gratitude for taking Sari in for a day each. She was too young to go on the shoot, and the hubs had to work, so they were each kind enough to host her for a day. She had a great time at y'alls houses, and I heard all about it each evening on the phone! to bed for now.

Father, thank You for opportunities like this to step out of our day-to-day routine and do something a little different. Thank You also for the chance to earn a little extra money right around the holidays. And I thank You for the reminder that no matter who we are...or better still...who we THINK we are, we are all Your children, and You desire for us to act winsomely always. I pray You remind me of that truth often. In Jesus's name I pray. Amen.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Corps of Re-Discovery Review

I have been going to the FPEA homeschool conference for years. It's one of the top 3 in the country, and it is HUGE. The vendor hall alone is several foot ball fields long. You can't even imagine it. And year after year, there is one vendor that would most certainly win the "most favorite" award from all the kids.
That vendor?

From moccasin kits to corn husk doll kits and everything historical in between, the Corps of Re-Discovery kits give your children a chance to recreate and there by re-live history. And for the purpose of this review, our family got to try our hand at sewing a leather coin pouch which is available from their website for $4.99.

The pros: The kit was easy to use and my 11 year old daughter was able to sew it in a short period of time without much help from me (other than tying it off at the beginning). I'd show you a finished picture, but she immediately took off with it, and I think she's taken it with her to her friend's house for the week-end!

The cons: Well, my daughter said I had to tell you it smells like a farm-meaning it's made of leather so it smells like leather. That didn't stop her from using it though. I was a little disappointed that the "thread" with the kit was plastic lacing, since to me Corps of Re-Discovery things have always seemed to strive for authenticity. But that plastic lacing made it easy for my daughter to sew without a needle or any help from me, and the end product looks the same, so maybe a little compromise that makes it child friendly is worth it.

The bottom line: I've always been a big fan of the Corps of Re-Discovery. I've oogled their kits for years, and bought a few along the way. The company is run by a homeschooling family who has a passion for American History and for helping others "re-discover" it too. I would highly recommend that you check them out HERE so that you can see all the kits they have to offer. Some of the kit pricing shows up as $0.00, which confused me a bit. But the vendor themelves commented below to let everyone know that the $0.00 price will change to the correct price based on the options you chose for those kits.

To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about the different kits they received, go HERE.
Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the Coin Pouch kit for free in exchange for my honest review. That product is the only compensation I received.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One more thing...

The Hubs came home tonight and said, "Did you know they have a new treatment for arrhythmia? They just go in through the vein in your leg, travel up to your heart, and zap all the little things that aren't firing correctly. It's really amazing. It has a high success rate, and so-and-so had it done."
Me, "They go in through my LEG, up to my HEART, and ZAP things...I'll just keep taking the $6 month little blue pills from the Target pharmacy thankyouverymuch..."
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Okay, so maybe it's not even...

The Sunday evening post. Maybe more like the Wednesday night post this week.

Here are my random thoughts for the week...

We were given a free trampoline several months ago. The kids have literally used it every day. BUT, because we live in FL, and it's a bazillion degrees here 9 months of the year, the ties that hold the enclosure net in place have disintegrated. And the padding that covers the springs has fallen basically, our trampoline now resembles the ones WE all grew up with... a big bouncy surface with absolutely NOTHING to keep you from falling into the springs OR onto the ground. So last week, Mimi managed to slip through the springs and bruise her leg pretty badly...I'm pretty sure I did the same thing more than once as a child. But her leg is all sorts of ugly colors now. And it was her inner thigh too! And then today, Sari tried to climb on while TJ and a friend were jumping (breaking rule number ONE-only one person on the trampoline at a time...yeah, how many of us broke that rule as a kid too?), and she managed to get caught pretty badly in the springs too. She has major scratches on her wrist, up and down her arm, and multi-inch long ones across her torso. I made her put on a long sleeve shirt tonight before AWANA so she wouldn't look like we beat her. The Hubs is now ready to take the chop saw to the trampoline. I, on the other hand, just want to petition his parents and sister to get the kids a new one (complete with enclosure and spring cover pad) for Christmas. They LOVE it so much, and they use it everyday for exercise, I'd hate to see it go, but it's also not worth a life or a limb.

Mimi got to go to Ballet tonight with her friend. She lives for this "bring a friend day" every year. Unfortunately, she was hit in the eye by a flying projectile (launched by an exuberant boy playing outside) about an hour before she was supposed to go, and for about 45 minutes she was convinced she would not be able to go, but she rallied and had a great time.

I've been doing fairly well on the "couch to 5K" thing. It seems to me that they might be a little optimistic about how much a couch potato can actually accomplish, but I have found that doing 2 weeks worth of every "week" on the program is working for me. My friend K, who is my mentor (although she doesn't know it) inspires me to keep at it. She has already completed this and moved on to the bridge to 10K, and then bailed on that in favor of a different program, which I love because it's like having someone beta test things for me. Anyway, I was telling her that I might just hang out on week 2 for, say, ever because week 3 goes from the 5 90-second runs in week 2, to two 90 second runs and TWO 3-minute runs. Three minutes...are you NUTS???? Me to K, "I think I'll stay on week 2 for another week or so." K to me, "So you've already done it for 2 weeks? Me, "Yep, but I'm still dying at the end of 90 seconds." Her, "Move on". Me, "". Her, "Really, I bet you can do it." Me, "". So I did it. I moved on. I'm tarting to have a love/hate relationship with my mentor. She was right. I did it. And I did it again tonight. So, I've now run 4 3-minute intervals. And lived to tell about it. Who knew? That is amazing proof right there that there is a GOD, and He is Omnipotent. Only He could make me run for 3 minutes and not die. Speaking of, I LOVE this time, not because I love running (I don't) but because I have some great worship music on my phone, and I just run and worship, and it's an amazing experience every time.

I've done a couple of photo shoots for friends lately, and one for a couple at church who just had twins. I got to do her maternity pics, but they never called for the newborn pics and now the babies are several weeks old :-(. I'm bummed because I really wanted some twin pics in my portfolio.

My shoulder is messed up bad, which, given that it is my right shoulder, is not good for a photographer. I have had problems with it since I was pregnant with Scott, but I think our ridiculous dog exacerbated the problem and now I am in pain daily. It migrates up my neck too...I'm not at all meaning to whine, I'm just randomly sharing because it's in stating these things that I am able to see God work in my life when I look back months/years from now.

Mimi has now completed Read, Write, and Type. Boy, my kids LOVE that program. They are hoping beyond hope that we get to review the next level of it in the spring.

I have yet to have a single day where we have gotten everything done for homeschooling that I want to do in a day. Sari has gotten the short end of the stick this week for sure. Tomorrow is going to be her day. I have to admit though, I'm ready for a break. Dealing with Scott is draining me. I'm soooo over it all. By about 1 or 2 I am brain fried and in need of a nap...or a mocha vodka xanax latte to go...The public schools are out tomorrow...I'm SO tempted to celebrate the national holiday too.


The older 3 kids and I are going to be gone 3 days next week to work on that movie again that we did a few weeks ago. So if we will lose 3 days next week, I hate to take another one this week.

The kids and I finished our Precept classes for the fall this week. I finished Isaiah, and they finished a study on Joseph. They each colored frames of a Joseph "Veggie Tales" comic book, and it looks really, really good. Mimi was one point away from winning the class prize- a coat of many colors. A little boy won it, and I'm glad because TJ was SURE that boy would win because he worked so hard. I'm thrilled that he won, and that Mimi got so close.

Okay, that's enough for tonight...I have ton more to say, but I can never think of it when I sit down at the end of the day, so I'll sign off...

Abba Father, I am so thankful that You are. You are holy, righteous, Creator, Redeemer, the God of Truth. I have been blessed by my study of Isaiah to be reminded of Your faithfulness and Your absolute control. You created the hands that "create" everything else we hold dear...perhaps too dear in some cases. Forgive me for anything and everything I place before You...anything that I give value to that is not worthy. Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness to me and to my family. We've been blessed beyond measure, and certainly beyond anything we deserve. Help us to remember that always, and to "pay it forward" by extending grace to others too. Amen.
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The Write Foundation Review

Because of the children God has given me, my homeschooling journey has not, at times, resembled much of what I thought it would be. Through circumstances beyond my control, we began as unschoolers, and have slowly progressed toward a more "traditional" approach with each passing year. With that transition comes the introduction of more and more subjects beyond just "the 3 R's", and this year, I had really felt the conviction to work more on writing with my kids.
And God is so good, He met that need for me in the form of the TOS Crew reviews!

Enter The Write Foundation, a company whose website starts with the follow questions:

Have a struggling writer?

Does your student just need to learn how to

Long for teacher-friendly lesson plans you can quickly prepare
and teach?

Desire a writing curriculum your children will enjoy while
learning creatively?

Ummmm, YES! To all of it! I have a 13 year old who needs to know how to write, who is less than motivated, and so needs to enjoy the process. Oh, and add to that the fact that I tend to write well, but have no idea how to translate that ability into teaching someone else the process, and you get one excited TOS Crew reviewer.

The Write Foundation was developed by a homeschool mom who had experience teaching in the traditional school setting, at a homeschool co-op, and with her own children. She developed this curriculum while teaching in a co-op, but it is adaptable for use in an individual homeschool as well. The curriculum seeks to teach the foundations of writing incrementally, but in a way students will enjoy. It has 3 levels.

Sentence to Paragraph-for ages 11-13, this focus on how to write basic sentences, add interest with descriptive words, organize writing ideas, edit writing, creative poetry, and writing one and two paragraphs. This is the level we received.

Paragraph Writing-for ages 12-15, this focuses on writing papers of varying paragraph lengths from one to 5 paragraphs. Brainstorming, organizing, outlining, rough drafts, and editing are stressed. Poetry is also covered.

Essay Writing-for ages 14-17, this focuses on the process of writing, rewriting and editing essays. Students start with 5 paragraph essays and work on to longer ones, eventually learning to write a research paper. As with the other levels, poetry is also covered.

Each level can be completed in one or two years, depending on how quickly you go through the material. And each level can be divided in half for purchasing only part of it at a time.

The pros: The writing process is broken down step by step, and even my, "I won't write more than a one word answer" child wrote sentences as soon as he learned he could type them instead of actually physically write it. Because of The Write Foundation, he has used a thesaurus, and done it happily, I might add. I like that The Write Foundation incorporates Mind Benders by The Critical Thinking Company to help students learn to organize thoughts. I like that the emphasis on poetry isn't on "stuffy" poetry, but rather acrostics, or alphabet poetry, or making word pictures-ways to get kids thinking about and using descriptive words. I like the way the parts of speech such as adjectives and adverbs are emphasized for their roll in making basic sentences much more exciting to read. And I like that the lesson length is short, so it is not too overwhelming. Oh, and I LOVE that it is Christian.

The cons: I always hate to dislike a product, or even part of a product, that I know some well-meaning homeschooler has poured their heart and soul into, but I'm afraid for The Write Foundation, that pouring out of heart and soul might be part of the problem. It took quite a bit of time to "get into the author's brain" and really understand HOW the program was supposed to function. While it's adaptable to an individual homeschool, many of the instructions still assume a classroom setting. For example, one of the first lessons has you set up your notebook for the class. My son and I did his, complete with all the "tabs" she suggested. But in reality, we didn't need half those tabs, and it seemed like not much further instruction was ever given as to what was meant to go behind each one. I think if you have a student who is taking this class somewhere else, the tabs are probably helpful, but in a homeschool setting where I, the teacher, know everything he is doing, we really didn't need all of them. And the same follows for some of the other instructions. Even the basic layout of how much time it should take and how the material should be covered was more geared toward a co-op than an individual family. But we did eventually find our grove, and that is really what matters. I also have to point out that the instructions aren't necessarily grammatically correct either. Again, it's very much like the author is trying to explain her process to you the way she would speak, not necessarily as if her instructions should be the epitome of correctness in grammatical construction themselves. I can get past a few missing commas, etc., but I also think it's fair to say any language art curriculum that want you to trust them to teach your children should probably hold even the instructions to a very high standard. But then, I tend to be a bit of a grammar nazi myself. My last con is the price. Maybe I just need to get over myself and my thought that homeschooling doesn't have to be expensive, but each of these levels, if you get the complete sets (which of course is what is recommended) is $100. Each. That makes $300 for the whole thing. That's just a lot of money to me. I know there are other writing programs out there that are costly too, but I'm just saying, I did not expect the price on this one to be nearly that high.

The bottom line: First, to be fair, all new curriculum have some sort of learning curve, and I don't know that this one is unreasonable, but it definitely took some time to figure out just what the author intended or was asking for in some cases. I do think the lessons are short, and interesting, and effective-at least the ones we've done. And I think the age range is right on. I just wish it was a little more reasonable in price. I'm not sure if I will continue on with it once we are done with this book. The results would have to be pretty spectacular to warrant that kind of spending. So I guess you could say the jury is still out on this one.

To check out more about The Write Foundation, including sample pages from each level, more detailed descriptions of what each level covers, and ordering information, go HERE. To read about the experiences of other members of the TOS Crew with all three levels of The Write Foundation, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the first 15 lessons of Sentence to Paragraph Writing and a downloadable version of the Resource CD for FREE in exchange for my honest review. That product is the only compensation I received.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Collectorz Review

If there is one common problem among the homeschoolers I know, it's that they own a LOT of books. And they are always acquiring more. But if most of them are anything like me, the problem is knowing WHAT you actually own when you actually need it. For example, I recently planned a whole activity around the book "Going on a Bear Hunt" for my 5 year old, only to not be able to find it ANYWHERE on our shelves. It was never a favorite, and I guess I got rid of it, but didn't remember that when I was planning this whole activity for her during "B" week. The other problem is buying the same book over and over because you buy it before you anticipate needing it and then forget you have it. I for one own 3 copies of "Number the Stars"...
Enter Collectorz...

Collectorz is a company that makes software to catalog your collections of, well, almost anything. They currently have software for music, movies, books, comics, games, and MP3s. We were fortunate enough to receive the Book Collector Pro to try out.
Book Collector lets you enter your entire book collection either by hand entering each ISBN or by scanning them using any number of widely available scanners. (You can also manually enter author/title instead of ISBN.) Once the number is input, all you do is select your book from the search results and then you click "Add to" and the book is added to your collection. It's that simple. You can also use a free app called "Red Laser" on your iPhone to scan your books and then import the books as a txt file. I did this for over 110 books, and it worked really well. Once you select your book, all the basic information about the book is downloaded to your database. Information such as cover artwork, story synopsis, title, publisher, publication date, etc. is all put into your database automatically. Then you can also add other information like:
•Personal information
◦Purchase data
◦Value data
◦User Defined Fields

•Characters & Credits
◦Book characters
◦Foreword Author
◦Cover Artist
◦Illustrator, and a lot more...
•Chapter and Story lists
◦Use the Contents tab page to list the chapters or stories
◦For each story, you can list Author, Title, Plot, etc..

•Website Links, e-books, audio-books and extra images
◦Add links to websites
◦Add links to e-book files
◦Add links to audio book files
◦Add extra images, e.g. author photos, interior art, etc..

The Pros: Book Collector is everything I ever wanted. For years I have been wanting a way to catalog the books I own and be able to easily make use of my own collection as we study different subjects- that is, after all, WHY I have the books in the first place. And for $10 more I can add an app to my iPhone that lets me view my collection on it-allowing me to have my book list with me all the time in case I come across a great book (like "Number the Stars") and then can't remember if I already have it or not.

The Cons: It is time consuming to enter your collection if you have a lot of books like I do. But any system that truly catalogs your books would take a good amount of time to enter them. I'm actually surprised at how quickly this works and impressed with the depth of information that comes up automatically once my books are entered. And while you can try it out for free (for up to 100 books, but that did not even cover the bottom shelf of ONE of my bookshelves), the Pro version, at $49.95, may be a bit beyond many homeschooler's price range for non-curriculum items, no matter how handy they are.

The bottom line: Boy, it sure is nice to be able to catalog my book collection, and with such a nice looking and easy to use program. But if I was having to justify purchasing it, I probably would settle for the standard version at $29.95. It has a few less bells and whistles, but it does the same basic cataloging. To see the full difference between the two, go HERE to read more about each. 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 Book Collector Pro for free in exchance for my honest review. That sfotware is the only compensation I received.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010


Nothing like posting in reverse!

I know Halloween is one of those touchy subjects for Christians, but we have always gone trick-or-treating with our friends, and I can't imagine it any other way. I do wish we could avoid all the people dressed as the grim reaper/slashers/"Scream" guys and the equally disturbing hooker/street walker/pole dancer types. But other than that, you can't beat an evening hayride with 20 of your best friends and people handing you candy just for asking ;-).
O and S as "twins"

M the "mad ballerina", Mimi the gypsy, and A the pioneer girl.


W, as Charlie Brown

E as Harry Potter (I LOVE this picture of him ;-)

The whole motley crew

The boys

The girls

Because most costumes for 13 year old boys who are 5'7" are not even REMOTELY appropriate, Scott went as a hobo.

Sari as a Chinese girl-we had this from a a church friend who went to China and brought this back for his daughter...ironically, another church friend brought her another lighter pink dress like this just a few months ago. She loves them both.

Mimi with her $10 Goodwill gypsy costume

Mimi the next day in her new favorite skirt and top :-)- I love practical costumes.

TJ's costume from Goodwill. It cost $2.54. I love Goodwill!!!
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The rest of our Disney Day

Siamang mamma and baby (attached to her chest with a vice like grip ;-).

We went to Animal Kingdom after we left Fort Wilderness. There was a cold front coming through, so it was a little rainy, but not in an unpleasant sort of way. In fact, it was beautiful. It was warm, but not hot (maybe 78ish), overcast, but not gloomy, a nice breeze, and just a sprinkling that seemed to bring out EVERY animal on the Safari. Sadly, I had the lousy Easy Share with me, because the pictures would have been amazing, except that camera is incapable of taking a picture if you are not at a complete standstill for a good minute, and the pictures it does take aren't good quality (although my husband swears it's 8 MP). Add to that a corrupt, brand new memory card, so about 25 pictures only actually were half captured, and you get a very frustrated photographer!

Mimi took this one!

The rhino was SOOO close, I could have touched it-for real. That's why this is such a bad picture-he was too close to frame.

She had her eye on some antelope...and she never blinked. Good thing for the antelope that "you can't get there from here".

A mamma white rhino and her baby.

A CUTE baby giraffe.

Disney's newest thing...doors on the trams. Animal Kingdom is the first location, and all their trams now have them. Hollywood Studios is next. Sari, TJ, and Mimi were SOOOO hoping that the doors would mean an end to the "children must sit in the middle" rule, but no such luck.

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Field Trip!

We joined a Disney Homeschooling group a month or so ago, and today we took a field trip with them to Fort Wilderness's Tri-Circle D farm to observe the farrier at work. But what we got was so much more. I guess because it was a rainy day they were uncertain as to whether the farrier would be working in a place that the group could watch and not get soaked (actually, the weather held out beautifully), so they arranged a much more detailed horse barn tour than I think we would have gotten otherwise. What in the past had been a 45 minute presentation took an hour and a half, and the kids got to see...
Cinderella's ponies (the misters in the barn went off right when I took this, so there are water droplets everywhere...oh, and please forgive the HORRIBLE picture quality. With the rain, I took the little Easy Share, and not my "real camera".)

and the huge Percherons (one of each up close even),

and touch the tack and food and see the vet area and lots of cool stuff.

Oh, and we did get to see the farrier too. Here are some pictures from that.

On the left is an old worn horseshoe, and on the right a new one. That was a great example for the kids of WHY the horses have to have new shoes.

The farrier fits a new shoe to a Percheron.

Sari gets to hold a new Percheron shoe...these weigh about 5 lbs. each.

The farrier shapes a shoe.

Oh, and I love this...even the horses have nametags. Below is Dutch, a beautiful dapple gray Percheron.

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