Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Old Schoolhouse Crew Year End Awards

The last two academic years I have had the privilege of being a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew. This group has the opportunity to use and review many exciting products. Some of these are new and some are old favorites, some are winners for a family, others are not loved quite as much. 

One of the unique activities of the crew is the opportunity to vote for our favorite products at the end of a year. This is fun, but it can also be a challenge to decide which category best represents a product. The black text and listing of products is information provided to me from the Crew and represents the votes of many people on the Crew. Some of the products listed I have had the opportunity to review; others I have not. Reviews for the products I have reviewed are here on my blog.

The asterisk denotes products I reviewed and is linked (hopefully) to my review here on my blog. The highlighted product names should take you to the company website.

As the 2011-2012 Crew year comes to a close, we are once again presenting awards to our vendors. The awards are known as the TOS Homeschool Crew Blue Ribbon Awards.

The following vendors are the recipients of the award this year. Click on their name to check out the Crew reviews!

*Favorite Reading Instruction Product: Reading Eggs 
*Favorite Writing Product: Write Shop 
*Favorite Language Arts Product: Progeny Press 
Favorite Social Studies Product: TruthQuest History 
*Favorite Science Product: Amazing Science 
*Favorite Math Product: Math Mammoth 
Favorite Online Math Product: Math Rider 
*Favorite Foreign Language Product: Visual Latin 
*Favorite Fine Arts Product: Artistic Pursuits 
Favorite Christian Education Product: Apologia: Who Am I? 
Favorite Preschool Product: Before Five in a Row 
Favorite Elementary Product: All About Reading  
*Favorite Middle School Product: Write with WORLD 
Favorite High School Product: Excellence in Literature 
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Excellence in Literature 
*Best Online Resource: Reading Eggs 
*Best e-Product: Heritage History  
Best Homeschool Resource: Apologia: Educating the Wholehearted Child 
Best Book, Novel, or Magazine: Apologia: How to Have a HEART for Your Kids 
Best Children's Book: Amazing Animals by Design 
*Best Game or Toy: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything 
*Best Hands-On Resource: Pitsco Education
*Best Resource I Didn't Know I Needed: eMeals 
*Best Customer Service: K5 Learning  
*Most Adaptable Resource: Creek Edge Press 
*Most Family-Oriented Resource: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything 
*Kids' Choice (favorite of CHILDREN ages 0-12): Reading Eggs 
*Teens' Choice (favorite per the TEENAGERS): Pitsco Education 
*All Around Crew Favorite: Visual Latin  

 Each winning vendor has received this wonderful award to display with pride:
Many other Crew Members are blogging about these awards as well. Visit the Crew Blog to find a listing of links to other blog posts about these awards.

The two years I have been a member of the TOS Crew have been a learning experience for me. I have learned more about the myriad of homeschool products available, more about my children's learning abilities and needs, and meet many other homeschool parents  through their blogs and crew connections. However, due to changes for my family, I will not be continuing to review with the TOS Homeschool Crew. I will miss the opportunity I was blessed to have.

I plan to continue adding to my blog, but just not with as many product reviews.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Who Lives in the Sea? DVD and Educator guide TOS Review


 Who Lives in the Sea? DVD

 Who Lives in the Sea? blends breathtaking underwater pictures, enjoyable music,  and facts about the animals which make the ocean their home. The marine life you'll meet and learn about in this DVD includes
Photobucketblue footed booby, marine turtles, iguanas, dolphins, eight armed animals, coral reefs, nudibranches, whale sharks, and sea lions. There is also a bonus feature, Underwater Alphabet, which highlights additional water life.A personality trait or quality is associated with each marine animal and mentioned in the movie.
The Dive into your Imagination series was created by Annie Crawly, aka Ocean Annie to help children learn about and explore the wonderful world found in the ocean.  Annie grew up far from the ocean, but as an adult had the opportunity to travel to and explore the worlds' oceans, exploring them and photographing ocean life. As a result of her experience she has become passionate about teaching children about oceans. It is her hope that children will grow to love the ocean and want to help protect it, because " we protect what we love".

While the DVD's are engaging and full of information, the Educators guides created to go with them are packed full of exciting activities and experiences, with chapters that correspond to those on the DVD. Inside the guides you'll find activities in the language arts, math, science, social studies, and arts subjects. There are 6-10 pages of printable activities and several pages of teacher notes and ideas for hands on or active activities as well. There are also activities which discuss the personality or character trait in each unit. Tying in the series title, Dive into your Imagination, viewers are encouraged to use their imagination to pretend they are marine life or live under the sea. Each chapter may vary by a couple pages, but they are close to the same length. The guides are available in two levels: PreK/K and 1st -3rd grades.

In addition to the website, Dive into your Imagination, Annie also has several YouTube channels.

Who Lives in the Sea? is one of three DVD's in the Dive into Your Imagination series. The other two volumes are What Makes a Fish a Fish? and Dive into Diversity. Each of these DVD's is $19.95. Available at 

Print copies of the Educator Guide are available for $299.99. Mention you are a homeschooler in the notes on your order and Annie will give you a free pdf copy of the guide which goes with the DVD you purchase..

As a special, during May and June, Annie is offering free shipping to my blog readers for orders placed at her store.

My Thoughts

We enjoyed watching the DVD multiple times. The photography is simply stunning and the music is enjoyable.

Both my 8 and 11 year old participated in the activities found in the Educator guide. However, I knew some of them (mainly math) were quite simple for my older student, so I did not have her do them. We also did not do most of the role play or movement activities as my 8 year old son is not excited about that type of activity and my daughter is beyond them. To supplement the activities for my 11 year I had her look up definitions for the vocabulary words rather than using the included definitions list. I also required her to read additional resources and write more for the unit summaries of what she learned.

While we did not use every activity in the guide I think they are very well written and easily adaptable to the homeschool setting. (They are written for a classroom teacher). There is so much in them that the DVD and guide could easily be a unit study lasting several days for young scholars. The PreK/K guide contains many group activities and coloring pages, while the the guide for older students does have individual written activities in addition.

One thing I noted was a lot of information encouraging children to take care of the environment and how that impacts the ocean. While that kind of encouragement is important, I feel there was a lot in the guides. Some of my children tuned out as we do not live near the ocean and they didn't feel it was relevant to them. However, that does not keep me from using all the other wonderful resources in the DVD and guide.

Other members of the TOS Crew reviewed the other DVD's in the series as well this one. See what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a gratis copy of the mentioned DVD and download copies of the educator guide in order to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.Information is accurate at time of posting.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beef and Veggie Ramen

I stumbled across this recipe several years ago and decided to try it for my family. I was pleasantly surprised how much they enjoyed it. It really isn't hard, but there is some prep work to it. I do have to warn you that I really don't measure much of anything. I just kind of eyeball things as I put them in so that there is a good balance.

Beef and Veggie Ramen

3/4 - 1 lb. Ground beef
1 medium onion chopped into desired size pieces
Broccoli florets,  cut  (Instead of measuring, I usually use about a cereal bowl full)
3 medium Carrots, shredded
4 Cups water
3 packages ramen noodles
Seasoning packets from Beef flavored ramen or 2 bullion cubes
1 tsp. Dried red pepper flakes

Shredded carrots.
Cut broccoli into managable pieces. I usually cut most of the stem off each piece, so my bits are small. but cut according to your families preference.

Brown ground beef and onion in large skillet. Drain.

Add water and seasoning packets or bullion.  After water is hot add broccoli, ramen noodles, and red peppers.
Bring to a boil so both cook through.

Just before all water has cooked off, add carrots. They don't take long to cook since they are small.

After adding carrots continue to mix so it doesn't stick to the pan. Serve immediately.

Part of what I like about this recipe is its versatility. You can leave the onion out, I often forget to cut one up. I have also used cauliflower instead of broccoli.  When I used cauliflower I didn't add it with the noodles as I didn't want it to get mushy. I waited until they were fairly soft before adding the cauliflower.

I also plan to try it with a bag of frozen mixed veggies, but don't know how that will work yet.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Heritage History TOS Review

PhotobucketHeritage History Ancient Greece CD
A CD collection of 46 classic stories about Greece, mythology, and life in Ancient Greece. These books are categorized as Comprehensive History, Military History,Biography, Mythology and Hero Stories, Adapted Literature, and Historical Fiction.

The mission of Heritage History is to promote a traditional narrative history curriculum for homeschools. To achieve this they provide numerous complete, with text and illustrations, classic books covering a wide range of historical eras and locales. These books are available in e-reader formats as well as CD.

Both on the CD and the Heritage History website, book titles are color coded for approximate age and interest appropriateness. The purpose behind this it to make it easier to find books for students at different levels.

Study Guide
The CD also features a comprehensive study guide with tips and ideas to use the story resources, timelines of Greek History, maps, and reading records. These can all be printed and assembled into a companion guide for a student to use while reading these books independently.

The Heritage History store also offers CD collections of Roman, British, European, Norse, Asian, African, Christian, Moslem, Hispanic, and American books in addition to this Greek history CD. They also have a special collection deigned just for young readers. Each CD sells for $24.99.

Individual book titles may also be purchased from Heritage History.

The study guide is included on the CD's but it is also available in printed format ($ 24.99) or an individual download($12.99) for selected courses.

My Thoughts
Quite honestly, I have mixed feelings about this book collection. I was hoping for books which would supplement and flush out the stories and information in our primary history text. I had hoped to supplement my existing history curriculum with additional 'meatier' sources for my 11 year old. This was very hard to do as so much of these books are not of actual historical events, but are mainly literary resources, not studies of events. The events and incidents in the stories do not correspond to the history in our textbook. Thus I was not able to assign to assign her a specific book to read that would enrich what was already being studied.

I asked my 11 year old to read one of the books to herself following the advice in the study guide. She attempted this on several occasions. She read them, but was not overly enthusiastic. My 8 year old showed some interest in the stories when they were read aloud.

What I did do was to read from several of the books out loud to my children. This way they learned about some of the characters and events in Greek mythology. It also gave the opportunity for discussion which added to the experience. We also enjoyed several of the historical fiction titles. They were especially thrilled to hear The Spartan Twins by Lucy Perkins. We have read some of her other works and greatly enjoy them.

When using the CD on the computer it is very easy to navigate to the books and read them. They are in an e-pub format which opens and functions just like a web page.

The CD also contains a lot of user information, notes, and recommendations. In fact I found so much information it was overwhelming. I had difficulty remembering where I found specific notes when I wanted to go back to it. I would recommend printing these pages at the very beginning of organizing the course so they are handy.

The overwhelming majority of these books tend to be trade books, not particularly scholarly works, thus I probably would not use them as the basis of a history program much past junior high level. I do find this to be an excellent collection of Greek literature to complement Greek history, these are great stories which are a part of the Ancient Greek culture, but not history per se.

As to approximate level for various books the color coding maybe helpful, but I could not find information with concrete grade/ age recommendations. However, after reading through many of the texts, I have to question how many of the books were leveled.  It seems to me that Heritage History may haven taken the original target audience of many of these books and rearranged them for today's students. For example, labeling those which were intended for or used in upper elementary or middle school classes when they were written as current high school level books today. This can be misleading. Back in the time when the majority of these books were written most formal education did not continue past the 8th grade, thus these books would not have been used in high school. The upper limit on them would have been 8th grade. Thus the idea of many of the resources being appropriate for high school is not accurate.

I also found the classifications on the website to be very scattered. I don't think there is much of a pattern for placing books in a particular collection over against another collection. It was also difficult to determine what collection may contain a particular book as well.

Other members of the TOS Crew had the opportunity to use other volumes from the Heritage History collection. Read what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


 Disclaimer: I received a gratis copy of this CD to enable me to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CapJaxMathFax TOS Review

CapJaxMathFax drills math facts in all four operations. It works on facts from digits 0-9 in addition and subtraction and 0-10 in multiplication and division. It can be customized for the number of problems in a set and length of time in which to figure each fact. When a student can correctly answer a fact in 3 seconds it is considered to be mastered and becomes a 'Super' fact. When each set is completed the student sees their new score and often a quote from a famous personality.
As the student uses CapJaxMathFacts they are given a cumulative score based on number of problems answered correctly. These are then plotted on a graph so there is a visual showing their progress. Progress in each of the operations in shown on the chart, but in different colors. A bar graph is also used to show how close the student is to mastering an operation. In addition to showing separate progress for all four operations, a cumulative score is shown near the bar graph.

Facts are presented to students in both horizontal and vertical positions.  Both a dot and an 'x' are used to signify multiplication. I presume both of these are done so children realize they problem is the same no matter the layout.

There is also review of facts built into CapJaxMathFacts. At the end of a set the student is given several  problems previously mastered to answer again.

Certificates are issued and can be printed when all the facts in an operation are mastered and continue to be available in the future.

PhotobucketCapJaxMathFacts is available for $29.95. There is a free evaluation program download and if you like what you have experienced a license key will be emailed after purchase. This will unlock the full program. It is also available as a CD for $29.95 plus and additional $5.95. To learn more about the trial or purchase visit, CapJaxMathFacts.

My Thoughts

My child who loves math enjoyed CapJaxMathFacts, but my child who doesn't like math didn't really care for it. The one who enjoyed the program spent a fair amount of time with it and was able to make good progress.

Both of my children liked seeing what the new quote would be and it often triggered discussions of who someone is/was. They also liked to see their scores and ratings climb. I think this gave them encouragement and motivation to continue.

There is a time element to the program, but it can be set to suit the needs of the student. This time applies to working an individual problem, the user is not racing against the clock to complete a group of problems. I think this takes some of the stress out of the timing aspect.

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

Disclaimer: I received a free trial of this product in order to enable me to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Write Shop TOS Review

Write Shop

Writing Instruction for my children has been something I have struggled with for my children. I can teach them the steps of writing or the elements of a paragraph or composition, but the how to get there is the tough part. Write Shop has provided this crucial bridge in writing instruction.

I have had the opportunity to use and review Write Shop Level B, designed for  1st and 2nd grade, but also suitable for 3rd grade. Level B contains 10 lessons with each lesson studied for 2 weeks. The lessons can also be stretched for use over 3 weeks if the child needs more writing practice.

Write Shop Level B teaches the following writing skills: letter writing, standard spelling, acrostic poems, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, in the news, problem solving, humor, characters and settings, and using graphic organizers. We have used the first three lessons with topics of Grandparents, holidays, and space. Additional topics in the curriculum are neighborhood and community, dinosaurs, ocean animals, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, animal homes, and neighborhood helpers.

PhotobucketEach lesson focuses on a specific theme or event, such as holidays, birthdays, trips. All the topics chosen for the lessons are exciting to children and something most children are already familiar with. Thus they are aren't faced with writing about something which they don't know about, a major hurdle in the whole writing process. The major elements of writing; brainstorming, pre-writing, writing, revising and editing are practiced several times over the course of each lesson.

The lessons are designed to be done in approximately 30 minutes a day, with several different, yet related activities accomplished during this time.

In addition to performing the various steps of actual writing, students using Write Shop also are exposed to spelling and word families as they relate to the writing projects. Throughout the course students are encouraged to make a spelling notebook containing words which are related to the subjects of their writing projects. Students also review word families and make diagrams of them in preparation of poetry projects.

Write Shop requires a lot of parent/ teacher preparation and participation. This adult needs to gather various materials for the course and have them easily accessible for each lesson. It is also necessary to prepare some papers or cutout items for each days lessons. Much of the teaching in the Write Shop program is done interactively between the student and teacher. The adult is encouraged to do the physical act of writing for the student so they may focus on the thoughts involved. The teacher carries on a conversation with the student while he is engaged in the writing process to him him remember details and mechanics of writing. This conversation is also designed to help prompt the student to remember details to include in their writing.

PhotobucketThe teacher helps include a detailed schedule for one, two, or three weeks per lesson on a grid format and show which parts of the lesson are to be completed each day. There is also a grading rubric or checklist for each of the 10 lessons. This is on two pages, but clearly shows what the teacher should be looking for as they work with the child to master the various styles of writing presented.

Write Shop level B also uses an Activity Set. This is a collection of pre designed pages which are used with the lessons to introduce the topic, peak interest and give a nice form to the culminating writing activity of each lesson.

Write Shop B is $26.95 e-book format, $29.95 book. Activity pages Level B are $4.95 print, $4.50 e book. All of these products are available from the Write Shop store. Now through June 15th 2012 Write Shop is offering a discount to readers of the TOS Crew Reviews a 15% discount at checkout with the code CREW15 This includes all Write Shop Primary and Junior books and e-books.

Write Shop also has additional levels of writing programs for kindergarten thorough high school.

My Thoughts

Both my 8 year old son and I love this program. Using the Write Shop program has changed writing from a subject which is dreaded to one eagerly anticipated. My son has gone from "No, Do I have to write?, I don't want to write" to "Mom, we can't forget to do today's writing assignment." He has been interested in all three of the topics we have completed, but especially space.

The first lesson features a little ditty to help students remember the parts and order of  a letter. They learn a letter has a heading, greeting, body, and closer and associate them with parts of their head, hands to greet, body, and feet to sign their letter. My 8 year old enjoyed acting this out and my 11 year old thought it was so fun that she joined in.

One of the components of the program is making a 'Super Speller' notebook containing words the student has difficulty spelling. I think this is a great idea and one which I had started in a different format. I had set up an index card box with letter dividers and wrote words on individual cards. That way we are able to update the word collection as his vocabulary grows and interests change.

Another component involves making a flower garden featuring word family flowers. The flowers contain a word ending in the center and words made with that ending for the petals. The flowers didn't not appeal to my 8 year old son so he decided to make a vegetable garden. He thought it would be more interesting to have a variety of vegetables, rather than just one kind.

The pictures above feature lettuce and red potatoes; to the left corn and tomatoes.

I received a pdf copy of the Write Shop text and activity pages for this review. It was convenient to have the activity pages on my computer and print when I needed them, however I did not find the electronic copy of the text as convenient. Because teaching the course requires some much parent preparation and participation I found it challenging to have an electronic format. It was not easy to go back and forth on each page to see what needed to be prepared or try to follow the directions while teaching the lesson. I had to print out a number of pagers as well as the schedule before I could really get a handle on how to present the program to my son. My personal preference would be to have a hard copy of the book available for preparation and next to me while working with my child.

Other members of the TOS Crew reviewed this level and other Write Shop levels. See what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


 Disclaimer: I received a gratis pdf copy of this program to enable me to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Library and Ed Go Science DVD TOS Review


  Go Science is a 6 volume DVD collection demonstrating and explaining scientific concepts. Physics, Chemistry, and Life science concepts are the focus of the set. Running time varies per disc: the ones I reviewed were 45 and 60 minutes.

As a TOS Crew member we reviewed DVD's 3 and 4. Disc 3 features experiments relating to Magnetism, Electricity, Engineering, and Design. Disc 4 features Chemistry, States of Matter, and Life Science experiments.

The host, Ben Roy, demonstrates numerous scientific principles in front of a live audience of children of all ages. Many of the experiments he demonstrates require materials often not found in a home, so its likely viewers have not seen many of them or tried them for themselves. Not only does he interact with the audience, some of his questions are addressed to his viewers.

There is a definite religious influence in these episodes. God and Creation are mentioned at the closing of each segment as well as some references are also made throughout the episodes.

Each DVD is available from Library and Educational Services for$8.97.

Photobucket Photobucket

Library and Educational Services is a small family wholesale distributor offering a variety of books and educational materials at discounted prices to homeschools, schools, churches, libraries, missionaries, and licensed day cares.  They are located in Michigan.

My Thoughts

Both of my children enjoy science and can't get enough. So they were very excited to watch these experiment demonstrations. The explanations of what is being done, results, and the science behind it is very through.

Both my 8 and 11 enjoyed watching the demonstrations. They both enjoyed the demonstrations because they were able to see experiments they wouldn't normally be able to do. They also saw a new perspective to some demonstrations they had seen or done previously.

While each DVD has limited topics, the experiments and demonstrations featured are varied and demonstrate numerous principles.

However, I was very disappointed in one of the demonstrations with chemical changes in Volume 4. Mr. Roy asked what Bible story tells about a chemical change and his student helper answered with "Jesus turning water into wine". He replied, "Jesus turned water into sparkling grape juice". This is an error as the Biblical text clearly states "turned water into wine".

We also experienced some frustration with the audio quality on both discs. The volume varied from demonstration to demonstration and many had quite loud feedback.

Other TOS Crew members had the opportunity to view these and other Go Science DVD's. See what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


 Disclaimer: I received gratis copies of the above mentioned DVDs for the purpose of writing this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner. All opinions expressed here are solely mine or my family's.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Elementary Economics

One of the unpredictable things about children is what will catch their interest and when. Sometimes it is the least expected topic which is most interesting to them. Then what is even more amazing is when both of them agree on one single topic. My most resent experience in this regard was when both my 8 and 11 year olds decided they wanted to learn about economics.

Since they were both extremely interested I didn't want to pass up the opportunity, but I was left scratching my head about how and what to share with them. I figured this would be in addition to my current plans and  we wouldn't spend more than a couple weeks on it. So my first stop was the library website. I was able to find a couple books that looked to be on their level so maybe I would be able to pull something together. I also did some research online, but didn't find a whole lot to start with.

After studying the books from the library, I decided I would be able to use two of them. I also found one of my resource books had several hands on ideas for teaching economic principles. After further thought I decided to have them put together a lapbook to record what they learned. I started looking for lapbook sets, but couldn't find one on their level which addressed economics, not money. I purchased one, but it turned out to be too in depth. So now, I was making my own lapbook. This was getting to be a bigger project all the time. Some of the templates were fro sets I purchased, but I also made my own.

In the end the economics study consisted of activities learning about scarcity and value, wants and needs, and making value assessments. The lapbook contains mini books examining:

  • What an Economic System is and the major types
  • Wants and Needs
  • What makes up the Economy
  • The Government's Role in the Economy
  • Goods and Services
  • What Economics is
  • Scarcity
  • Taxes
  • The Stock Market
  • Which Government Agencies Influence the Economy

 This is what the finished lapbook looks like. We have to glue the two books together yet, but it was easier to take pictures first.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mega Prize Package Giveaway from Homeschool Freebie of Day

I don't usually post about giveaways or contests here, but this time I am making an exception.  I discovered a great site a couple years ago, Homeschool Freebie of the Day. Each week day they have a link to a great web site or a pdf book to download. Many of the books are older classics which can not be found other places but are a great resource and often just plain fun. The book resources have so much to offer and are a great supplement to any homeschooling plan. But, the resources offered are useable by anyone,not just homeschoolers. Since I found Homeschool Freebie of the day they have offered comic books, handicraft books, stories from history, nature studies, and many, many links to fascinating websites. If you just visit their site for the web links they share you will have a treasure trove of information at your fingertips.

This week they have a great giveaway going on. They are taking entries for a HUGE package of resources. Some of the products included are two foreign language curriculum, American History titles, a Fairy Tale collection, a collection of dog stories and so much more. While many of the resources included in the package are designed for homescholing families, many of them would be interesting to those families who don't homeschool too.

Using this link with take you to the form to register for your chance to win this amazing set of resources.


By using this link, you will also give me several more entries, so if you are interested I would be grateful if you used this link.