Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Another Year

Yesterday my daughter turned 11. It seems like just yesterday I was just cuddling her as a baby.

I usually give the kids the day off from school for their birthdays or we take a field trip. They really wanted a day off so that is what we did. The weather was so nice that they spent a lot of time outside playing with their water guns and drenching each other.Usually it is still chilly enough she has to choose an indoor activity.

Each year I try to make a decorated cake which somehow reflects their interests or is one they pick out from my cake decorating books. Daughter has been taking piano lessons for several years and really enjoys it. Several years ago I had made her a piano cake and didn't want to duplicate it this year, but she was thinking something music. In one of my books she found a loaf cake with candles shaped like music notes and wanted that one. However, we weren't able to find the candles so I designed a cake myself. Here is the result.

I used a pan which is shaped like a book and then simply frosted the cake and decorated it with the musical score of Happy Birthday.She liked it, so that makes me happy.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Action Alert TOS Review


Action Alert
action alert.com

PhotobucketAction Alert is an award winning program which provides a kid safe environment for computers and online activity. Action Alert assists parents in controlling youngsters computer usage by several means: site blocking, content monitoring, logs user names and passwords, logs both sides of conversations in email and chat sessions, records 60 hours of PC usage, allows the parent to set times when the computer can be used, sends notification of activity via email or text to parent, and allows for remote shutdown of the computer, even from a phone.

Action Alert is available in two versions: one is free and provides protection for young computer users. A second version provides protection for several users as well as monitoring social network usage and is fully customizable. This version costs $29.99. Both are downloads.

My Thoughts

Unfortunately Action Alert was not a product I really liked. First of all I had problems downloading it. My antivirus program viewed it as malware and thus did not want to allow me to put it on my computer. My husband temporarily deactivated the antivirus program and installed ActionAlert. The computer would not boot normally after that. We tried it on Windows XP with an entry-level PC from 2005 that the children use. I do not know if this might be a problem because I could not find any information regarding OS and hardware compatibility on the Action Alerts website.

We were able to get the Action Alert search engine to work only once. I was very disappointed with what I saw there. Two of the three highlighted stories I would not want my children viewing: one was discussing how two entertainment personalities are not sure if they are done having children and the other was promoting something a child did even though it was against a parents wishes.

Action Alert also did not stop or block some sites where questionable material is easily seen.

I did receive an email showing what sites were accessed, but there was a delay of several days.

Because Action Alert slowed this old, lower-end PC to the point where it was barely usable, as well as the fact that some questionable material still got through the filtered search, we decided to remove Action Alert from the computer. One must boot the computer in safe mode, run the uninstaller, then use regedit to manually scrub the registry of some leftover keys. The program installs in a nonstandard way in order to prevent average users from removing it.

After removing the program and restarting the computer, the machine booted normally and functioned normally, with CPU usage at a usual 6% instead of being pinned at 100%.

Read what other Crew Members had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a free download of this program to use and to allow me to write this review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own and I have not been compensated in any other manner.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Across Five Aprils Study Guide by Progeny Press TOS Review


As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I recently had the opportunity to review a literature guide from Progeny Press. They produce over 100 literature study guides for all levels from Kindergarten through High School. Progeny Press says about their guides:

"Progeny Press study guides concentrate on critical thinking, comprehension, literary analysis, and Christian application. Our goal is to teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!"

PhotobucketI received a download copy of the study guide for the novel Across Five Aprils. Across Five Aprils is classified as American literature and takes place during the Civil War.

The study guide opens with a synopsis of the book,a brief biography of the author, and a description of the political/ social climate leading up to the Civil War. The beginning portion of the guide also features several literature based prereading activities to familiarize the student with causes of the Civil War as well map work showing the major battles and Union and Confederate states.

The study guide takes readers through two chapters of the novel at a time and focuses on several literary concepts. Vocabulary is addressed several ways. First students are required to define several words, determine word meaning from its context and then double check their guesses in a dictionary. Vocabulary words and definitions are presented to be matched. Another vocabulary activity is a multiple choice format. Another vocabulary exercise has the student use a thesaurus in studying definitions.

Next are several questions which ask the student to recall events from the book and analyze them. Several literary devices such as similes, synonyms, foreshadowing, hyperboles, juxtaposition,metaphor, personification, and idioms are reviewed and their uses in the text are studied. Some questions ask the student to examine the characters and actions in simple recall and application type questions. 

Students also study the characters' personalities, reactions to events, and events in general in light of Scripture passages. The student is directed to read one or more Scripture references and apply them to events or reactions discussed in the story.

There are also activities and questions which relate more to the historical context of the novel than the story itself. Topics covered here include studying various generals, battles, The Gettysburg address, and Lincoln's positions and assassination.

Each section concludes with one or two questions for group or class discussion and one or more writing activities.

Concluding the study guide is a brief study regarding plot and additional research and writing projects and suggestions. These activities feature more in depth study on people and battles of the Civil War. Students are directed to learn more about specific people as well as generic groups of people such as soldiers who fought for either the North or South.It is also suggested that students research some of the battlefields as well as visit, if possible. Researching the impact of the Civil War on the community where the student lives is also suggested.

At the end of the study guide is a list of other books by the same author and additional Civil War related resources and websites.  Brief biographies and qualifications of the study guide authors are included at the beginning of the product.

The suggested length of time for finishing a study guide is 8-10 weeks. The first week being used to read the book and then working on one section a week. 

Progeny Press also offers study guides covering the genres of British literature, Christian literature, World Literature, History, Poetry, and Shakespeare. Study guides are available in printed format, CD in pdf. format, or  pdf. format via email download. Novels/ books are also available for purchase from Progeny Press.

Prices for Across Five Aprils study guide are:
Booklet $18.99
CD $16.99
CD & Booklet $23.99
Email attachment $16.99

My Thoughts

My daughter enjoyed the interactive format of the study guide I received. This allowed her to write her answers directly into the document on the computer, rather than printing out papers that she would have to fill out. This interactive format takes some of the writing pressure off of her and makes the assignment less of a chore.She is quite capable of handling the material and analyzing the questions, but seemed to be overwhelmed with the amount of work presented.

In addition to questions regarding the plot and literary elements of the story there are a number of activities designed to help the student learn more about and understand the historical setting of the story. I appreciate having all of these and feel they are well chosen and designed.  However, since this is her first in depth literature study I don't want her to lose focus on the story therefore, I do not plan to have her do all the history related activities at this time. We will probably do more of those when we study the Civil War in our history studies.

I also like the scope of the study guide. By studying literary devices, their uses are made clearer to the reader than maybe found while just studying random examples. Seeing them in action may also help young writers use them in their own written work more easily and effectively. I am reading the novel myself and feel this guide is very complete and well done in what it covers from the novel. Most of the  points and elements I would have tagged as important as addressed in the study guide.

My only disappointment with the guide is a point or two regarding Biblical choice and application. A couple verses chosen and applied to story events do not necessarily mesh with my Lutheran beliefs.

Other members of the TOS Crew had the opportunity to review this same guide as well as guides for other novels. See what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a download copy of the above reviewed guide for the purposes of writing this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Art of Argument by Classical Academic Press TOS Review


The longer I homeschool my children the more value I see in the approach and subjects of a Classical Education. I see so many benefits for life and so as I am trying to prepare them in the best way possible I continue to try to implement a more classical methodology. One of the companies who produces many resources for this method of education is Classical Academic Press and thus I find myself exploring their product line quite frequently. As I use several other products from Classical Academic Press and find them to be of high value I was very excited to have the opportunity to review their beginning Logic course, The Art of Argument.

Art of Argument is designed to be a first semester course for students in 7th grade and above. Art of Argument introduces students to informal fallacies, the basics and beginning of logic study.In this course students study What Logic is, and 28 fallacies falling into the categories of Relevance, Presumption, and Clarity. Each fallacy is studied in its own chapter with several additional chapters at the beginning of the course discussing what logic is and the purposes and reasons for studying it. Students are also introduced to Socrates and his contributions to the world of thought. Each lesson is approximately 5 pages long. Each lesson uses a brief real life example or one which could be real life to discuss the fallacy and make it relevant to the student. After this discussion one or more ads are used to illustrate the fallacy discussed to show how students may encounter it in life. The chapter concludes with 3 -5 questions for the student to answer.


The teachers edition provides the full text of the student book as well as answers for the student questions. This book also provides tests for the end of each Unit and a Final Exam. Answers are given for each of the tests as well. 

I also received a sample of the DVD which accompanies the course. This DVD contained 6 of the fallacies studied in the book.  On the DVDs each of fallacies is presented and discussed in a small group setting with two adult facilitators and several students.

There is a separate course designed to follow Art of Argument which helps students learn to build their own solid arguments.

Student Book   $21.95
Teacher Book  $24.95
DVD Set          $54.95
Bundle Set of All Items  $88.95

In addition to Logic,  Classical Academic Press also offers Latin, Greek, and Spanish courses for all ages. They also have several Bible study courses and a poetry course and resources for parents/teachers defining and designing a  Classical education program.

Classical Academic Press also offers a free online enrichment program which offers fun practice for many of their subjects. Unfortunately, (in my opinion) Headventureland only contains activities for the language courses they offer. The only item available under the Logic section is computer wallpaper.

My Thoughts

I have used other books published by Classical Academic Press and believe my children have and continue to learn a lot from them. Art of Argument really is the same. I believe it is a very well done introduction to Logic and Fallacies. However, I did find it to be quite challenging for my 10 year old, which is in line with the recommended 7th grade level.. She was willing to work through it together and did comment that it was interesting, but it was a lot of work and required a lot of thinking.

My daughter enjoyed the conversations with Socrates throughout the lessons, as he tried to teach points of logic and as well as understand practices and colloquial expressions of our times. The conversations in the text among other students also makes the text fun and engaging.

We both thought the fake ads in the book added a  lot to the substance. They are instrumental in making the fallacies concrete for the learner. Additionally, the text is lively and uses real life examples to teach the fallacies. While there is space for the student to write out their answers to questions, we just verbally discussed them.

I greatly appreciate having the full student text in the Teachers book. Having everything before me makes it so much easier to discuss the topic because I know exactly what they are looking at as well. While the teachers manual does contain tests to copy and answers for both the text and test questions there are no additional teacher helps in the book.

I have mixed thoughts about the DVD's from the sample we saw. While the sessions brought up some interesting points we did not think about in our discussions, they did seem to drag a little. I did not time each session, but they seemed long. We watched the sessions as a conclusion to each of the fallacies we studied, so it is possible they may not have seemed as drawn out if we had used them as an introduction rather than a summary. You can watch a sample video class on the information pages for purchasing Art of Argument.

Art of Argument is a well done course, however, it is somewhat too challenging for my oldest at this time, especially in addition to her other work. I believe she will get even more out of the course when working through it again. At this point we plan to set it aside for several months and then continue again in the fall. 

Read what other Crew members had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of the materials discussed here for the purposes of review and writing this piece. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Creek Edge Press TOS Review


I recently had the privilege of using and reviewing the Earth and Space Task Card set from Creek Edge Press. The highlight of the set is a group of  35 4 by 6 inch index cards featuring topics of Earth and Space. Also in the set is a spiral bound letter size book detailing the approach taken by the course and suggestions and tips for setting up the course and learning environment to assist the student in learning the most they can from the course. Another feature of this book is a listing of possible resource titles. This is very important, as the student needs book resources to use the Task Cards. Recommended resources are also available at Creek Edge Press.


The cards are written and designed by a homeschooling Mom to be used in and complement Classical, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason inspired educational approaches. She desired to blend and bring to life these educational approaches for her own family. Thus the Task Cards use the Montessori approach of having many materials available for the student to use and experience, follow a Classical scope and sequence, and incorporate the nurturing/ living book philosophy of  Charlotte Mason.This is not to say those who favor other approaches would not be able to use the Task Cards, but they most closely follow these approaches. If you are not familiar with these educational approaches, Creek Edge Press' website features several helpful articles. Because of this approach the cards are appropriate for all elementary levels, but with different resources and levels of parent/ teacher involvement and assistance.

The Earth and Space Task Cards facilitate learning about earth science, weather, space, the planets, and constellations. Among the specific topics included are rain, storms, sun, day/night, rivers, caves, seasons, seasons, and space exploration.

Activities include research from Encyclopedia articles, reading non fiction resources, and then sharing knowledge in some manner. These may include making posters, charts, or diagrams, writing a story, sharing information in a booklet, or drawing and labeling diagrams. Several cards suggest watching a video or program. Generally supplies needed for these activities are easily found at home.

Creek Edge Press also offers Task Card sets focusing on Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern World History, and Geography and Culture. Science sets are available for Life, Earth and Space, Physics and Digital science, Chemistry and Great Scientists. Additionally, Music and Composers, Art and Artists, and Grammar reinforcement sets are also available.Prices range from $18-$32 per set.The history and science cards are also available as complete sets.

My Thoughts

When I received this set I shared them with both of my children and let them choose the topic they wanted to research first. My 10 year old daughter studied clouds, coral reefs, and icebergs. My 7 year old son choose the water cycle and wind. While they could have requested books from the library for their topic I did it simply because I had some general books already on hold and I wanted to get it done that evening so the library process would begin. If I was using the task cards for my whole science program I would purchase several of the compendium type resources suggested by Creek Edge Press as well as ones I found through my library. The cards would be too challenging too use if I had to rely on getting main resources from the library.

As the first task on the cards is Encyclopedia research I insisted that the majority of this was completed before they moved on to other activities. Thankfully our library has a set of encyclopedias from which individual volumes can be checked out. While reading the articles wasn't difficult, this step took both of my children a while when it came to writing the summaries.

When this was accomplished they did additional reading from the science encyclopedias and other non-fiction books while working on the projects on alternate days. The number of additional sources they read depending on what I could get from the library.

I love these cards and curriculum for so many reasons.
  • They are extremely flexible. Both my 7 and 10 year olds were able to use them easily. Some of the topics don't call for as much work as others and thus work well for younger children. 
  •  There is a huge variety of topics in the Earth and Space category. While some of them need to be done in order, I found a number could be plucked out of their numerical order and done when the children were interested.
  • The activities and steps on the cards clearly show what needs to be done and can easily be checked off. My son had a great sense of accomplishment when he finished all the activities on the water cycle card.
  • There is a great mix of activities. While all the cards begin with encyclopedia research the activities are varied and help the learner apply to real life what they read.
  • They engage learners in various ways. Not only is "book learning"  guided, students can also learn to compare resources, and are provided guidance with hands on projects.
  • The task cards are a great step towards helping the learner become more independent and responsible for their learning. My 10 year old daughter was fairly independent in her research and projects. However, I did need to coach her regarding summary writing as this is a skill we have really only been working on this year.I like how they have to work, they can't just coast through the assignments on the cards.
  • They are compact and don't take much storage room. Many sets of task cards would fit in one card file. The accompanying book does not take much room on the shelf.
  • I found I didn't have to do any tweaking to make the Task Cards useable for us. This is most likely because they are written by a homeschooling Mom. 
  • I know my children have learned something from all their work. As we have had several days of intense wind my son has talked about isobars and how close or far apart they are from each other.My daughter has also made spur of the moments about clouds.

Water Cycle Poster

Cotton Ball cloud chart

The biggest disappointment for my children was that there were few experiments or similar activities suggested. While this is not a major emphasis in the targeted educational approaches at this level, my children missed it. I have been looking through other resources to find experiments which would coordinate with the task cards they have completed so hopefully we can add that ourselves.

While not spelling out exactly what sources must be read, or exactly how a project must be completed, the Task Cards are very complete in the subjects addressed and the depth each is studied. When all research and activities on each card are fully completed, the student will have gained and applied a vast store of knowledge on the subject they have studied via the Task Cards.I feel I need to mention that the child will need to put some work into learning with these Task Cards. It is not an approach which just has the child read something and fill in the blanks.

As I mentioned earlier there are many different sets of Task Cards and TOS Crew members had the opportunity to review the set which they felt would work best for their family. To learn what sets other people used and their thoughts, visit the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary set of cards described above for the purpose of reviewing them and to enable me to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other way and all opinions expressed are solely my own.