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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beloved Books: Sugar Creek Gang Audio Review

Our family loves audio books.  Every night, 4 children in 3 different rooms fall asleep to some audio story playing on their CD players.  And that doesn't even cover the ones we listen to on longer car rides.  So when the chance came up to review the Sugar Creek Gang audios, I jumped at it.

The first Sugar Creek Gang book was published in 1939.  Written by Paul Hutchens, the stories revolve around the adventures of a group of boys growing up in the early 1900s who live their faith, and have plenty of opportunity to see God at work in their lives and adventures.  They are told from the point of view of Bill, one of the members of the Sugar Creek Gang.

Paul Ramseyer narrates the series, which contains 36 audio books for a total of over 100 hours of listening.  The stories "engage the imagination and draw a child's heart into a living relationship with God."  They are dramatic readings of the original books.
There are 6 volumes, each containing 6 stories.  Volume 1, which we received to review, contains "The Swamp Robber", "The Killer Bear", "The Winter Rescue", "The Lost Campers", "Chicago Adventure", and "The Secret Hideout".  Each story stands alone, but they recommend listening to them in order as the spiritual truths build upon each other, and some later stories reference events from earlier ones. 

The pros:  Paul Ramseyer does a great job bringing these stories to life.  He uses different voices for each character, but reads with such enthusiasm that he enlivens even the descriptive text where there is no dialogue.  The stories present "real" boys in real life who learn life truths from their friendship with each other and the people they encounter.  Spiritual concepts such as praying are woven in naturally to the stories, which carry strong, positive Biblical messages.  The boys experience life by being out in it--fishing, working in the yard for their parents, etc.--instead of being inside and attached to technology as modern children tend to be, and I think that is a wonderful reminder to young people to "unplug" and go explore the world around them!

The cons:  While I think they are totally worth it, and the cost per hour of listening time really is minimal (less than $5 an hour), I do wish the volumes were not so costly, so that I could afford to gift them to others as well.  And because they were written in a different time where such things were more acceptable, there is some offhanded commenting about one of the boys in the gang being "fat" or being "difficult to sink because he floats like a barrel". 

The bottom line:  I have always heard good things about the Sugar Creek Gang stories, and now I know why.  I wholeheartedly recommend them.  My children have enjoyed passing the stories from room to room as each one finishes the next disk, but they are also great to listen to as a family so that you can discuss the Biblical truths, or even the events of the story, as they come up.  They definitely will keep your whole family entertained.  And Beloved Books, which sells the Sugar Creek Gang audios, also carries audios of some of our other favorite books such as Little Britches and the All of a Kind Family.  And a new one--Carry On, Mr. Bowditch read by Jim Weiss.  We love Jim Weiss, and we loved reading Mr. Bowditch last year, so that HAS to be a good audio book!

The Sugar Creek Gang CDs can be purchased for $54.95 per volume or at a discounted rate of $279.70 for all 6 volumes.  Or, you can try the first story, "The Swamp Robber" for a special price of $4.95 on CD or FREE as a download.  Crew members are receiving their own special discount code worth 20% off your order, so if you use SUGARCREEKGANG-20 you can save even more!  To see what other member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought, go to the Review Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Review Crew, I received the first volume of CDs for free in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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Monday, October 29, 2012

Samson's Classroom Review


Samson's Classroom is an online site that helps your children become better readers.  It focuses on 3 areas: Sight Words, Reading, and Spelling.  It is geared toward children in grades K-5th.

Sight Words with Samson (he's the dog in the track suit) teachers 224 of the most common sight words from the Dolch list.  Words are initially said and spelled for the student and they go through a 5 step process to learn how to spell the words and be able to visually distinguish them and find the correct word to place it in a sentence, as you can see below.

Reading with Samson focuses mostly on comprehension.  It teaches them how to analyse what they have read, answer questions from it, and draw conclusions.  Questions are asked about the passages they read, and if they get the answers wrong, the area of text where the answer can be found within the passage is automatically highlighted to help them be able to find the correct answer.  Correctly answered questions score them more time in the "arcade" to play games.

Spelling with Samson covers over 5000 words.  Lists can be customized so your students are working on the words you choose.  You can also submit words should you find that the words you want are not in their database.  Students play games to reinforce their learning.  Below, you can see that if you get an incorrect answer, there is a consequence.  In this case, Samson plunges into the cold water and turns into a Samson Popsicle. 

Because my 5th grader is a very strong reader, he did not use the program, but Sari, my 2nd grader did. She is a late bloomer, and reads below grader level.  For her at her current reading level, the Sight Words with Samson was really the area we focused on :-). 

The pros:  Samson's Classroom is very easy to use.  The student just logs in, and then chooses which area (reading, spelling, or sight words) they want to work on. In games and activities where words are read aloud by the program, it is done by a real human voice, and not a synthetic "speaker".   The activities have just enough animation to make them interesting, but they are not flashy at all.  Learning is reviewed and reinforced over and over again so that it is retained.  Free resources and printables are available to go with the sight word activities.  Sari liked Samson's Classroom, and we will continue to use it as I have seen an improvement in her sight word reading ability. 

The cons:  While I think the program is fine as it is, my daughter is used to ones with a little more "flash" and animation, and she didn't initially embrace the less visually cluttered approach of Samson's Classroom, but she has adjusted and now likes it.  The only other con might be that adding words to the spelling area can take weeks because they have to be recorded by their reader first.  I think that makes for great quality control, but it also means if you encounter a word on THIS week's list that isn't in their database, you just will have to not have it be part of your children's Samson's Classroom list.  They are currently working on a way to streamline that process.

The bottom line:  I think Samson's Classroom provides solid learning.  The site is interesting enough to draw kids in without be over the top and distracting.  I love that there are printables and worksheets to go with the sight words area, and I think that greatly enhances the learning of those words.  But the best way for you to decide if Samson's Classroom is right for you is to give it a try.  You can watch a short video about the whole program here, and while you are there, you can scroll down and click on "Demo" to give it a try yourself without even having to create an account!

Samson's Classroom can be used at home or in the classroom.  For a single home license, it is $30 a year.  For a license that covers 4 students, it is $50.  Classroom, grade level, and entire school accounts can be purchased as well. 

To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, check out the Review Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Crew, I received a family membership for one year for free in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Destination Disney-Moving Forward Quote

My friend Heidi over at Heidi's Head hosts a weekly Disney meme called Destination Disney.  Her current theme is taking Disney quotes and telling what they mean to you.  This week's quote is above.

In my decade of working at Disney, I definitely saw Walt's philosophy at work all over the company.  Sometimes, it led to a lot of feelings of inconsistency that were less than welcome to Cast Members who like things to stay the same, but often the changes led to better ways of doing things.  Now, as a guest, I can appreciate that they are always pushing the envelope.  On our most recent trip to MK on Friday, we got to visit a sneak peak of the new Fantasyland, including the newest Little Mermaid ride.  The auto-animatronics are amazing.  Her hair is SOOOO cool.  It literally ripples like it's floating in the water.  That what comes of Disney moving forward and opening new doors.

In my own life, I feel like each new door I open bring me further down the path God has for my life.  I don't always love the process.  Sometimes new doors have to be opened because old ones get slammed in your face, and that is painful.  But God has always been faithful to be there holding my hand to lead me down His new path for me.  Whether it's leaving the workforce to become a full time mom, starting a new business venture, or just changing curriculum choices, if God is in it, there is always a peace even in the trepidation.  Personally, I feel poised right now, even as I type this, on the brink of trying new doors just to see where they lead.  That feeling, as Pocahontas puts it, of strange clouds on the horizon.  Wondering what God has in store for me now.  And as a family, we are going through the same thing.  Poised to make new decisions.  Big decisions.  And not knowing what the right answer is, but trusting the One who knows everything and sees the beginning and the end to lead us as we move forward and down new paths.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Always Icecream/Clever Dragons sale

We are big Always Icecream (for girls)/Clever Dragons (for boys) fans around here.  My daughter has learned more geography from AI than I can begin to describe.  And she's learned tons of math concepts she, previous to AI, had not been able to wrap her head around.  Plus Always Ice Cream gives her plenty of opportunity to express her creative side.

Well, right now Always Icecream and Clever Dragons are offering a special for fall:
$79 for a lifetime membership and $159 for a family lifetime membership. 

They are also having a T-Shirt contest.  They took the 5 most popular shirts designed by members of AI, and put them on their Pinterest board for everyone to vote on.  The winning design will earn 1000 scoops (in game currency) for the girl who designed it.  Here's where to go to vote:
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Happy 13th Birthday Mimi

Happy Birthday to my first born daughter.  Life has not been easy for you this past year.   You've learned a lot about, well, a lot of things I'd hoped you'd never have to learn, and all through no fault of your own.  Through it all, you've stayed strong and kept your eyes focused on Him.  You are beautiful inside and out.  Welcome to your teen age years.  I look forward to seeing how God will bless you and how He will work in you and through you.  I love you SO much.


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Monday, October 15, 2012

Another Look at KinderBach Review


We are huge KinderBach fans around here.  In fact, Dodi the Donkey has superhero status with my youngest.  So of course, when the chance came up to review KinderBach again, I just had to beg to be included, because it just keeps getting better!

KinderBach began as, and fundamentally still is, online or DVD piano instruction for children ages 3-7.  But now, they've branched out even further and offer an app for the iPhone or iPad that contains the first three levels of lessons and some additional music related games and activities to reinforce the learning.  Some Crew members had the chance to review the app, but I reviewed the online version, so that's what this review will focus on. 

KinderBach's online and DVD lessons are broken down into 6 levels each containing 10 weeks of lessons.  Each week is further broken down into 4 short sessions--about 5 minutes each.  Your child can move through the lessons at their own pace.  Characters such as Dodi the Donkey are used to help children learn the note names and reading.  Skills such as rhythm, singing, and composition are also taught.  Many lessons have activities that reinforce the concepts, and they can be downloaded so that your child can participate right along with each lesson. 
As you can see from the screen shots below, the lessons are easy to navigate--just push the button for the one you want.  If there is a corresponding activity, and you have not pre-printed it, you can print it then by clicking on the printer icon.  The objective for the lesson is printed right below the box that the video plays in, so it's easy to see what each lesson focuses on. 


The pros:  KinderBach is a great way to introduce young children to music.  Unlike programs that use stickers or colors for notes, Karri Gregor, the creator of KinderBach, uses stories to help the children know which note is which.  My youngest learned that Dodi's house is the 2 black keys years ago, but she still points them out every time she walks by our piano.  And the same for the train station (the three black keys).  She adores KinderBach and will frequently plow through a whole week of lessons in one sitting.  As I mom of an older piano student as well, I appreciate that KinderBach teaches good technique early and that particularly at its upper levels, KinderBach provides a wonderful introduction to musical theory that is presented in a way that any child can understand.  In fact, Karri is currently working on Level 7.  She's also coming out with eBook versions of all the stories for the Piano Pals.  Supplemental songbooks and coloring books are available for purchase too. 

The cons:  The only thing I'd change is that the online lessons don't automatically "remember" where you last were.  You need to know what lesson and what session you last did, and which one you want to view next.  That's not a big deal with younger children whose parents would be profoundly involved, but for my 7 year old, she sometimes forgot which one she watched last, and I didn't always know either.  It's no big deal, and you could certainly just write it down yourself, but it would be a nice improvement if it somehow tracked what you watched last so it knew where you should start for your next lesson.

The bottom line:  KinderBach is $19.99 a month or $95.88 for a year.  That might seem steep until you consider that I just wrote my son's piano teacher a check for $75 for ONE month--and she is one of the less expensive instructors in our area.  Real life piano lessons run $15-20 per half hour, and that makes KinderBach a steal, especially for young students who might need extra time to master some of the concepts.  I'd whole-hearted encourage you to check KinderBach for your young child.  In fact, you can even try it out for free for 2 weeks just to see what you think.  And Karri from KinderBach just e-mailed for a special deal just for YOU, my reader :-). You can use the code TOS_crew2012 to get 30% off on her lessons for homeschool or classroom either online or on DVD.  That code is good until 12/31/2012.   AND, on Friday, Oct. 19th, the app will be on sale for more than half off, so be sure to scoop it up for $12.99 while you have the chance.

To order KinderBach or to sign up for a free preview, go to KinderBach's website (there are some free coloring pages there as well).  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say about the online version or the new app, go to the Review Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Crew, I received a 6 month membership to KinderBach's online lessons for the purpose of being able to give my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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Sunday, October 7, 2012

BeeYoutiful Skin Review

BeeYoutiful, a company that sells natural products for "healthy living for the real world," has launched a new company called BeeYoutiful Skin, which focuses on "real make-up for real women".


Their make-up line is entirely mineral based make-up, and also features natural skin care products like moisturizer, toner, and lip balm.   Members of the Crew were asked to review their foundation, eye shadow, and two of their make-up brushes.

BeeYoutiful Skin offers 24 different foundation colors.  They offer color charts to help you choose the right color, or samples can be ordered for $1 each.  Each sample allows for several applications.  To choose our foundation color, Crew members were allowed to choose 3 samples to try first.  That worked quite well, and of of my 3 was definitely "the one".  The foundation is sold in a 20g size, and retails for $25.

As for eye colors, there are 48 different choices!  And not only can they be used as eye shadow, they can be used as eye liner, or even as lip color.  They retail for $10 each.  Blush and bronzing powder are also available, although we did not review those.  All colors are completely mineral based.  There are no fillers used at all.  Because of that, each individual color has a unique weight, so the products are sold by volume.
 Because mineral make-up has a different application process than "normal" make-up, the brushes are very important.  BeeYoutiful sent us their foundation brush (above-$11) and their combo brush (below- $6.50). 


The pros:  I'm a huge fan of natural products, and have been using raw mineral make-up for a few years now.  Because I've seen the heart and soul behind BeeYoutiful, I knew that this make-up would be very good, and I was not disappointed.  I have a daughter turning 13 in just a few weeks, and while she won't be wearing make-up with any sort of regularity, I also knew that when the time came, I wanted her to wear the right make-up.  Good make-up.  Healthy for your skin make-up.  And that's exactly what BeeYoutiful offers, so I decided that rather than choose colors for myself, I'd pick things for my daughter.  The foundation matches her skin perfectly, and she is really pleased with the lightweight, but thorough coverage.  The eye shadow we chose, Sandstone Cream, is beautiful on her and very natural.  But the best part was the sample they allowed us to chose for lip color.  It's an eye shadow color called Silver Peach, and it was just gorgeous on her.  Absolutely perfect.  I never would have dreamed of using a powder for a lip color, but mixed with a bit of lip balm, it worked quite well.  The technique for that and for all the make-up application is fully explained through a series of "how-to" videos available on the BeeYoutiful Skin site.  The brushes are marvelous.  The combo brush really handled everything from being dampened to applying lip balm and cleaned up without any effort.  And the foundation brush is so full, it is definitely the best brush I've every had. 

The cons:  Other than the fact that mineral make-up applies a bit differently than you may be used to, so you will want to watch the videos, I have no cons. 

The bottom line:  I could not be more thrilled with our selections for my daughter, and my happiness with those products has made me certain that I will be switching to BeeYoutiful Skin mineral make-up myself.  The brushes also are fantastic, and the prices for them are quite reasonable.  I'd definitely recommend BeeYoutiful Skin products to anyone looking at giving mineral make-up a try or currently using mineral make-up. 

To order any of the mineral make-up, skin care products, or brushes, go to BeeYoutiful Skin's website.  To see what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members had to say about BeeYoutiful Skin or about some of BeeYoutiful's other products, go to the Crew blog.

Below, you can see some pictures of my daughter step by step:
Fresh face, no make-up

Foundation only-what a difference!!!

Foundation and eye shadow

I took a bit of the eye color and used it as light blush

Lip color completes it.  This color was just right for her.

The finished product.  The results are very natural and beautiful.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the Crew, I received 4 samples baggies of colors, and larger samples of eye shadow and foundation.  I also received the foundation brush and combo brush, as well as a DVD with application instructions.  These products were given to me for the purpose of giving my honest review, and all opinions expressed are my own. 
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This is Your Kingdom Come Now Album Review

This is Your Kingdom Come Now is a brand new album (just released today!) from Vineyard Worship and Casey Corum and friends.  It was recorded live at Sugar Land Vineyard church.  The album combines modern rock, R&B, and gospel for a unique, and largely mellow sound.   The album contain 14 songs designed to be used in congregational worship. 

One Blessed Mamma says:   Although the vocal qualities and obviously the lyrics were quite different, several times the instrumentals called to mind a U2-esque feel.  In general, while not my usual genre, I liked the l sound.  The first two tracks in particular really ministered to me.  But, as much as it pains me to say it, I have a few cons as well.  I feel like the album is a little too repetitive for my taste.  While repetition is a great thing in corporate worship--it makes it easy for large groups of people to quickly learn new songs and participate in the worship-- it loses its magic when it's jsut one person listening in the car.  My teen daughter remarked that the songs were LONG (5-6 minutes each) and repetitive.  And I think another con is that all the songs on the album have the same "sound" so there is not much auditory diversity.  I found a few songs were all I could listen to in one sitting, even though I liked the music. 

This is Your Kingdom Come Now can be purchased directly from Vineyard Worship's site.  It is $11.99 for the CD  or $9.99 for a download of the album.  Also on the site are free tutorials for playing 3 of the songs on the album.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
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