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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guidecraft Hideaway Country Kitchen Review

By the time we had child number 4, we realized we had WAY too many toys, and serious purging occurred. And since we either already had it from another child or already had it from another child and got rid of it, my poor daughter seems to end up with way more practical gifts than her older siblings got at her age. So when I got the chance to review Guidecraft’s Hideaway Country Kitchen, I jumped at it. Knowing that such a cool thing was coming in the mail JUST FOR HER was sooooo much fun, it was like Christmas for both of us!

Guidecraft is a family owned business started in 1964.  Their mission statement is to "stay true to the tradition of smart, beautifully crafted wood products, which allow children's minds and imaginations room to truly wonder and grow. "  This commitment to quality products for children is evident in the Hideaway Country Kitchen with with features like a clock, sink, oven, stove top, dishwasher, turn-able knobs, and so much more.

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The pros: This kitchen is gorgeous. It’s made of wood, and is very sturdy once assembled. It has wainscoting and hooks for pot holders, and plastic knobs that make a child-thrilling “clicking” noise when you turn them. It’s big enough to be a fun, realistic kitchen without being so large that you find your house is redecorated in early-childhood play things. And what make this kitchen unique is that it actually folds so that it can be stored under a bed when not in use.
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I wondered if its short height would be a problem for my tall 6 year old, but she never batted an eye, and is happy to stoop a bit if it means she gets a treasure like this all for herself.


The cons: Let me start with a minor one first. You know how I said it folds up? Well, it does, but not easily. In order to make it “safe”, the kitchen has a locking bolt that ensures it doesn’t fold up accidentally. However, that bolt has to then be removed with a tool to be able to fold it. So, if you are thinking you will just fold it up and slide it out of sight every day, that’s not really so practical. If you just want the ability to stow it when extra room is needed or once your child outgrows it (until you next child grows into it or your grandchildren come along), then it will meet your needs brilliantly. The second con is the assembly. To quote my husband, “It was not fun.”

We have put together a lot of “assemble your own furniture”, but this was the most challenging by far. The pictorial directions were NOT easy to follow, and in many cases, the screw holes (pilot holes) were not drilled through enough to line up the pieces and screw one piece to another, meaning power tools were required. (See the picture above-there should be two holes under each of those icons.)  By far the hardest part was putting the knobs on. You have to come from the backside of the wood through sometimes non-existent pilot holes and go through that piece and then into a small pilot hole in the plastic knob blindly. It was a source of great frustration!

For $200, I’d like to think it would be a little easier to put together-whether that means better instructions or more complete pilot hole drilling or preferably both.

The bottom line: This is the nicest child’s kitchen I’ve ever encountered. It’s stylish and clean, and it even has interesting “lines” for children’s furniture. This is no glorified box. Much thought was given to this design. We had a wooden kitchen a few years ago that was much cheaper and infinitely less good-looking, but it’s not around today because it did not stand the test of time. This one seems like it will be around for my grandchildren to enjoy someday. We have not needed to fold it up, but I appreciate that I have the option of doing just that if I ever need to. In an old house with not much storage, it’s nice that I’m not committed to that taking up floor space all the time if I need room for something else. And while $200 is more than we usually are able to spend on a single gift for one of our children, and given that I think the assembly guide needs some attention, I still think it is probably worth the money. In fact, the delight it has given my daughter is priceless!

To check out this Hideaway Country Kitchen or any of Guidecraft’s other offerings, go HERE. To see what the other members of the Crew lucky enough to review this product had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a FREE Hideaway Country Kitchen for the purpose of giving my honest review of this product.  That was the only compensation I received.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tri-Cross Review

Tri-Cross Logo
There is not a thing I don't love about games.  In fact, for years, we had "game night" with friends...until we each ended up with so many kids that "game night" started requiring more logistical planning than any of us had the mental strength to tackle.  But our family still plays games and my kids would rather play a game than almost anything else.  And that is the reason I jumped at the chance to review Tri-Cross

Tri-Cross is a strategy and critical thinking game along the lines of checkers and chess.  It can be played by 2-4 players ages 8 and up (although of course my 6 year old had to try).  Like any strategy game, there are rules to learn and follow, and the Games for Competitors folks (that make Tri-Cross) have even created a series of video tutorials that make learning those rules painless, thereby getting you understanding and playing the game very quickly.  There are a few variations to the game that allow you to vary the difficulty of play and "change it up" a bit.  It has won multiple awards, some of which you can see above.  And for the eco-conscience OR those who like to take games on the road, there is a "Eco" version of the game featuring an organic cotton board and travel pouch as you can see in the photo below.

 
Tri-Cross Eco Board Game

The pros:  Proving that this game can be played across the ages, my 10 year old soundly trounced me in the first game we played!  The game plays quickly, which is HUGE to me.  It also requires a lot of planning and consideration, but it's not at all laborious like some strategy games are.  Like chess and checkers, it reinforces the idea that sometimes you have to sacrifice a few pieces to win in the end.  The variations available allow you flexibility to level the playing field if you have some kids who are stronger players than others.

The cons:  None with the game, just with me.  I'm going to admit a failing...I don't like to sacrifice pieces...I don't like to have my pieces removed by my competitor...and this game has really pushed me to "be okay" with watching my pieces dwindle but still stay in the game.  Because as much as I don't like to have my pieces jumped, I do like Tri-Cross, and so does my 10 year old (in particular) and so I'm learning to "get over it".   (Below is my brother-who does not share my "issues"- playing with my son.)

The Bottom Line:  Tri-Cross is fun, educational, and challenging.  It's one of those games that you can break out at family gatherings as something to bridge the generation gap, or take with you on vacation, or just play a few rounds whenever the spirit moves you.  If it had been around when my grandfather was alive, I KNOW he would have loved it.  He always valued games that brought people together and taught them to think critically while they were having fun.  Tri-Cross fever is spreading.  Who knows, as this game gains in popularity, maybe you or your children can play in a Tri-Cross tournament! 

You can buy Tri-Cross from the Games for Competitors website for $24.95 for the regular version or $19.95 for the Eco-version.  It's also available at some specialty toy stores across the country.  Check that list HERE.  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 two copies of Tri-Cross to review- one classic board version and one eco-version.  Those games were the only compensation I received for my review.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Old Schoolhouse Birthday Bash

TOS is having a Birthday Bash, and you are the one getting the presents!  Read their blog post below for more information:

YOU are invited to the The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine’s Schoolhouse Birthday Bash – as we celebrate our tenth birthday and announce exciting developments coming in 2012!


Join us for the Schoolhouse Birthday Bash blog hop September 20-30th! Enjoy interviews with our Family of Columnists – your favorite homeschool experts! You’ll hear from homeschooling veterans, artists, Classical educators, special needs experts, and many more.

Visit the Homeschooling with Heart blog everyday to see who is being interviewed and to get to know our Family of Columnists! We’ll hear from Paul & Gena Suarez, Molly Green, Karen Andreola, Adam Andrews, Amy Barr, Ruth Beechick, Rea Berg, Leigh Bortins, Sheila Campbell, Kendra Fletcher, Mike Haplin, Amelia Harper, Andy Harris, Mary Hood, Jessica Hulcy, Pat Knepley, Denise Mira, Andrew Pudewa, Malia Russell, Zan Tyler, Diana Waring, Rebekah Wilson, and our wonderful blog hosts for this event!

Thursday, September 22nd – 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m (EST): Join us for our Schoolhouse Birthday Bash Facebook Party!

Just stop by the TOS Facebook page during the event for meaningful fellowship with featured columnists, TOS staff, and homeschooling friends. We will have lively chat, homeschooling tips, freebies, and of course some fabulous giveaways!

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page!

Thursday, September 29th – 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (EST): The excitement continues at our online Meet & Greet with the TOS Family of Columnists webinar event.

Hurry and register now for an evening filled with guest speakers, freebies, and more door prizes—this event is open only to the FIRST 1,000 registrants.

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page!

We have fabulous door prizes lined-up from our generous sponsors for these events including full curriculum programs. Keep watching this week as we release information on all of the door prizes and freebies that will be offered at each event!

We will post announcements here on the Homeschooling with Heart blog so bookmark this page so you can stay tuned! You can also read our announcements at the TOS Facebook page and on Twitter @TOSMag.

We look forward to sharing fellowship and encouragement with you during our Schoolhouse Birthday Bash!
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time4Learning Revisited-again!

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Anyone who has read my blog for a while (or who checks out the sidebar on the left) will know that I have taken a look at Time4Learning twice before.  The first time was a review of the whole site HERE in 2008.  The second time was just the preschool activities HERE last year.  Since my kids had enjoyed it in the past, I offered to take another look at the full k-8th grade offerings again.

Just in case you aren't familiar with it, here's a little info from their site:
Time4Learning is a convenient, online homeschool curriculum that combines education with interactive fun. (It offers) animated lessons, interactive activities, printable worksheets and detailed reporting.

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Beyond being a curriculum option for homeschoolers, Time4Learning also makes a fun way to supplement your child's learning or review important concepts, especially since the concepts correlate to state standards.

Since I've already written extensively about Time4Learning, let me focus on my experience from the past month-kid by kid.

My eldest, who is 8th grade, used it a little bit, but it didn't enthrall him, and since we already have a full curriculum, it really was more for concept review.  Since I have 4 kids and finite access to computers, I didn't push him to use it.  He wasn't the main reason I wanted to check it out again anyway.  I do want to say that I did notice some positive changes in terms of overall tone and presentation, but I also found a vocabulary lesson on synonyms that still referred to classmates as "losers", and for my 8th grader, I'm not looking for anything that encourages him to think that speaking unkindly of others is okay.

My daughter, who is in 6th grade, also failed to be drawn in.  However, it should be noted that there is a new Time4Art component that she would have LOVED to check out.  Unfortunately, right now it is only available to people who have completed at least one month of membership, so she couldn't give it a try.  She did check out the main 6th grade stuff, but only because I made her do it.  She's not really computer oriented, and she doesn't really love to learn anyway, so this type of thing isn't the best fit for her either-but she's not really the one I wanted to try this out for either.

My 10 year old son thought Time4Learning was a hit.  But even with him liking it a lot, he only managed to actually use it twice in our month subscription because of the logistics of our school set-up.  I did alert him to my concerns from the previous review about inappropriate language, etc. (like above), but he did not find anything that he knew I would object to in his exploration of the site.  I wish our day allowed for more Time4Learning time for him, but again, he wasn't the reason I wanted to give Time4Learning another go...

Which brings us to my 6 year old.  SHE is the reason I wanted to check out Time4Learning again.  She loved the preschool level, and still regularly asks to go on Time4Learning.  And she is a reluctant reader, so I was hoping Time4Learning would encourage her along.  She definitely is the one in my family who got the most use out of Time4Learning.  She would get on there all day if I'd let her.  One of the first lessons she did was on the water cycle, and she then proceeded to explain the whole thing to her daddy that night.  It was amazing, because I was sure that was a little advanced for her "just starting 1st grade" self but she did great.  I also liked that I could change her grade level on certain activities up or down on grade, so I could adjust her reading activities back to kindergarden, which is where she really needed to be, with just the push of a button.  For her, Time4Learning was a total hit.  Her school day is not so full yet with the more intense subject her siblings have, and I could allow her access to a separate computer where she contentedly clicked and learned while I focused on some of the more "book work" type stuff the other kids needed to do.

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The pros:  Time4Learning gets bigger and better all the time, but the price has remained constant.  Each grade level includes language arts and math, and most also have history and science-all for the same price.  And currently Time4Art is free also, but only after you have used Time4Learning for one month.  Time4Learning is very parent friendly, offering lesson plans and detailed lesson overviews.  Plus, you can actually do the activity yourself and exit out a different way so that your score is not recorded.  And you can easily view your child's progress via the progress reports like you see above.  Parents can assign work for the day by looking at the number of lessons for each subject and dividing that by the number of days of schooling you want to do.  Or, you can just let your child's learning be interest driven.  The sitemap is very detailed and is a great way to see exactly what Time4Learning has to offer.

The cons:  If their amazing offerings have remained constant, so too have my two main cons.  First, while it seemed a little better, I still think there is no need for an animated lesson to reflect the worst of what tween age behavior has to offer.  Characters can get the meaning across without calling others "losers" for example.  And second, while the sheer amount of content undoubtedly makes it a great value, I still wish there was more of a family pricing plan.  The current pricing is $19.95 per month for your first student, and $14.95 a month for each student after that.  But if you household would feature several users, the cost can add up quickly as it would in my house if all four kids used it.

The bottom line:  You can view sample lessons online HERE.  Time4Learning offers a 14 day money-back guarantee.  I would honestly consider it for my youngest child, as at the younger levels I have not encountered any of the objectionable (to me) language.  And I know lots of people who use Time4Learning and love it!  While I don't see me ever using it as my full curriculum (even though it can function that way), I do think it is worth checking out.  You can learn more about Time4Learning HERE on their website.  You should also go HERE to check out what other members of the TOS Crew had to say.

Legal Disclaimer:  I received a one month free trial for up to 4 users on Time4Learning in exchange for my honest review.  That one month membership was the only compensation I received.
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Ago Today

I had a 4 day old baby.  He literally did nothing but nurse all day long, so I literally did nothing but sit on my bottom and watch TV for a lot of my day.  I had a 4 year old and a 2 year old also, and our MOMS Club had a field trip to Publix planned for that morning.  My friend Marie agreed to take my other kids to tour the grocery store, and I settled myself in for another morning of the Today show and a non-stop nurse-fest.  She will remember ALL the details perfectly...what event happened in which order in terms of when she picked up the kids, what events had already transpired, etc....but I know I watched the whole surreal thing unfold in real time.  The Today show getting reports of a plane crashing into one Tower.  Reports that it was a full sized plane, but the reporters' certainty that it was just a horribly off course private plane.  TV Cameramen arriving on the scene...a gaping hole in the building...confirmation it was a full sized plane...and then there was another plane...another full sized, real plane, full of real people colliding with the second Tower.  And a plane in the Pentagon, and another rogue plane and a crash in a field, and buildings collapsing, and a nation changing forever...right in front of my eyes. 
But in all that tragedy were the amazing stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things.  Of heros everywhere you look.  Of selfless first responders who gave their own lives to save others.  Of the worst of circumstances bringing out the best in people. 
I'm grateful beyond anything I can express for all the people who gave their lives 10 years ago, and for all the families effected by that ultimate sacrifice. 
I'm also grateful for a GOD who is sovereign-even when circumstances are beyond our understanding.  He's never caught by surprise, and He sees the whole picture where we see just a small part.  His ways are not our ways, and even when I don't get the "why", and a LOT of times I don't, I know that He is in control.
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24 hours of Crazy

People who think weekends are for relaxing don't have kids...I'm convinced of it!

Yesterday, my husband and eldest son went to Night of Joy at Disney with a local youth group that Scott has been going to on Wednesday nights (in addition to our church's group on Sunday nights).  Several of our closest homeschool friends go to this group and I'm all for this child of ours who kicks against the goads of faith having all the opportunities he can get to be bathed in the Truth.  Anyway, back to Night of Joy- it rained, and rained, and rained...the deluge (sorry, can't resist an old Living Seas reference).  Fortunately, the rain ended early enough that the night was not lost, and they had a great time-even if they did get home at 2:45 AM.  The other 3 kids and I got Thai food (complements of my secret stash of b'day money) and watched Rio.  Fun, fun!

On Thursday, a friend e-mailed about an opportunity to go see Dolphin Tale (the movie we were extras in) for FREE.  The movie isn't even out in theatres until the 23rd, so we were very excited to get this chance!  The catch?  The viewing was at 10 AM this morning about an hour from our house...and the seating was first come first served even though you have to RSVP.  Plus, my oldest two children had a theatre practice from 10-1 today, so they would have to miss out on going to see the movie.  Tough call!  But I consulted the Hubs and we decided I'd take the littles and not tell them until we were actually in the car so the bigs wouldn't know what they were missing until after the fact.  That was the safest way to play it with them since both needed to be at the practice today, and both would have wanted to go to the movie.  And for good reason-the movie was awesome!  And you can even see TJ and I in a few scenes.  I can't wait until we own the movie and can watch it in freeze-frame to be nerdy and find ourselves in all the shots, LOL.  My friend Aunt Fanny's daughter got a close-up for about a second, which was really exciting.

After the movie, the littles and I went to a frozen yogurt place called Menchies, and it was sooooo good!  While we were there, we had a little entertainment watching someone parallel park their car.  There is a LOT of parallel parking in this shopping complex, and this person should not have tried to use any of it, but especially not the spot he pulled into.  In the end, he parked facing the wrong direction, and hit, yes HIT, the car in front of him TWICE.  He must have pulled in and out of the space at least 5 times, and came SOOO close to hitting the car each time, but he actually really hit it twice!  And then he finally got parked, left his car about 4 inches from their bumper, and went off with the 2 other guys in his car to have lunch...Unbelievable!

While we were watching all that, the big kids were off to their next activities.  For Scott, that meant sailing from 1-4, and for Mimi, it meant shopping with her dad for a cell phone.  I'm actually totally opposed to the whole idea of the kids having phones, but much like her older brother, she used her own money for it and it's a Trak Phone like Scott's, so if they can't pay for more minutes, it goes inactive.  Speaking of Scott's phone, it had gone missing for a while.  A LONG while.  See, we took it away from him for some transgression, and because he tends to search the whole house to find things that are taken from him, my hiding places have to be creative.  This time I was too creative, and couldn't find it after his restriction was over.  Luckily, the Hubs came across it today, and it was still active with 4 minutes left on it.  That was a God thing right there!

By the time we were finally all back under one roof, we had one extra-our nephew Bam-Bam.  He's here for the night since his parents have an evening wedding tonight and it's about an hour and a half away.  The kids watched some really lame-o movie (that was free since the copy of Rio I got last night had a bad scratch in it that made the VCR stop playing it until we skipped that scene) and then it was off to bed for everyone but me, and here I sit at my computer at almost midnight...I think it's time to go to BED!
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Favorite Small Boy


TJ turned 10 today.  As much as I have had fleeting thoughts about it in the past few weeks, I TOTALLY spaced on how close it was until he mentioned it yesterday!  That should tell you how crazy busy we have been!  

TJ is one child who knows he is loved because I tell him all the time.  And I tell him all the time because he is soooo easy to love.  He's funny, easy going, helpful, compliant, considerate, a good friend, and a child of God.  Does it get better than that?   (Don't get me wrong-I love ALL my children, but if you know my family dynamics, you understand that some are much easier to love at all times and in all circumstances than others ;-).

When I needed to do a photo shoot a few weeks ago, my compliant child said "sure", so here are a few pics of my favorite Small Boy.

A totally TJ sort of pose 

 This is the TJ I love- always jumping off something!

 Do you know how many times he jumped for me so we could get this cool shadow just right?

 Quiet and contemplative-checking out a black lady bug on his arm.

His amazing eyes.  They are blue and green and gorgeous!

Happy birthday Small Boy!  God has wonderful things planned for you, I just know it.  I can't wait to see what He has in store, and I'm honored He chose me to be your mom!
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pig Pile Review

We are a game loving, and game playing, family.  So when one of the very first products for the TOS Crew to review this year turned out to be a game, you can bet I jumped at the opportunity to check it out!

RnR Games Pig Pile


Pig Pile, by R & R Games, is a card game for ages 7 and up.  It can be played with 3-6 players.  The cards are numbered 1-12, and the goal is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards.  But watch out!  If you can't play a card that is the same number or higher than the one on the top of the pile, you have to pick up the WHOLE pig pile!  And just when you think you're finally on the verge of winning, your "slop" cards may just do you in.  And with special cards like "Hog Wild", "Ewe-Turn", and "Hog Wash", the play is never predictable.

The pros:  This award winning game is really fun to play.  And once they know how to play, children can even play by themselves without adult help.  Some strategy is involved with choosing the best card to play, but enough is left to chance that the playing field is leveled even if you are playing with a vast range of ages.  And the pigs are very, very cute, as are the cards themselves, and the packaging is very colorful and sturdy.  And while the game says "Ages 7 and up", my 6 year old plays just fine.

The cons:  For a children's game, this has a complicated set-up and some complicated rules!  And because of all the variables, even after playing it many times, we still encounter situations where we aren't sure what the "rule" is because it is not specifically explained in the rule book.  (For example, in this game you have cards in your hand, but also 3 cards face up in front of you and 3 cards face down that make your "slop".  If you play the last card in your hand-say it's a 7, and there is NO more draw pile, the rules are unclear as to whether you can immediately play from your face up cards-if, in this case, you have say a 7 or a Hog Wild card,  or if playing the last card in your hand ended your turn.) So we just make our own rule for that situation and move on.  And really, I'm fine with that, except that if you were to play it with someone else who also owns Pig Pile, you may each have variations on how to play because of the unexplained scenarios.  And my other con would be that the cute little pigs are not used enough!  The pigs are meant to be used after you complete a "round" of play, with 3 going to the winner, 2 to 2nd place, and 1 to each player except the loser.   Unfortunately, a "round" is really a whole game.  In theory, you play one "round" for each player, up to 5 rounds.  But in reality, we find that our "rounds" take so long that even though they really like the game, no one wants to play 4 more rounds, so we hardly use the pigs at all.

The bottom line:  I wish they would rewrite the rules and make them clearer to cover all the different contingencies that the different piles of cards bring up.  And I wish the game used the little piggies more.  But it is a really fun game, and my kids do want to play it over and over.  We just make up our own rules whenever we can't get clear direction from the real rule book.

Pig Pile is available for $15.95 HERE.  But for readers of the TOS Crew blogs, R & R Games is offering a 20% discount.  Just enter the coupon code CREW20 to receive the discount now through December 31st, 2011.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this game and another one also from R & R, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free copy of Pig Pile for us to play and use for the purpose of being able to give an honest review.  That game is the only compensation I received.
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