Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Write With The Best!

I remember being in college and having one of my guidance counselors explain the importance of good writing skills in life. He described a student who didn't do very well on science tests, but who could write up a science lab report in such a way that the he could earn a good grade in the class despite his poor testing. This counselor also spoke of the many career paths that a person could take that would require excellent communication skills, including written communication, reports, etc. This counselor's advice has never left my mind, and thankfully, I have been gifted with good writing skills. Writing skills that saved my grade many times in college, brought in the perfect job at a time when I had a small child to raise, and helped me win the blessing of reviewing homeschool materials for TOS Homeschool Crew this year!

So you'll believe me when I tell you that writing is ver
y important to me, and I was delighted to receive a writing program to review! Especially when I explain the failure I have been at instilling the love and gift of writing in my children. My 9-year-old really does not like to write! It is like pulling a mouthful of teeth with plastic tweezers to get something decent out of that child, and I am sorry to say that it has affected what I ask of her. (shame on me!) I have gotten so tired of fighting with her about her writing, and I have yet to find the "thing" - you know, the magical thing that suddenly makes it all fall into place - that snaps her out of her hysterics and puts a smile on her face when the words "today, I want you to write about..." are spoken in our home.

Well, let's talk about Write With the Best by Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services (no, not a company that produces medication for learning problems).
"The goal of the program is to produce successful writers who know how to write effectively, who know how to proofread their work efficiently, and who know how to properly analyze great literature." - So say the authors.

And doesn't that sound lovely? What parent wouldn't want that for their children?

After only a few days, I can see not only how well this program is going to work, but also how poorly I have been going at teaching my kids to be good writers! I am elated that in the first lesson, "Writing a Descriptive Paragraph,"
my eldest child understood right away that the excerpt from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was an example of good writing because it describes everything so vividly. Yay! She may not be a great writer yet, but she apparently understands good writing.

Write With the Best is a writing curriculum for grades 3 through 12 that teaches your child to write better by using great works of literature as their guide. And really, if you want to be a good cook, you use a tried-and-true cookbook, right? If you want to learn to play guitar, you wouldn't find a novice to learn from, would you? So, using the great examples of good writing already out there, Write With the Best helps your child (and you!) understand what makes it great, and how to achieve that for your own writing. The biggest nugget of surprise comes from the fact that we can spend only 15-45 minutes per day on this curriculum and achieve our goal!

Because we are so far behind in good writing education, we may be struggling more with attitude than aptitude, so we give Write With the Best a big 2 Thumbs Up
for giving us tools to improve a very important skill...one we were not honing with the other products we have tried.
{To see what my fellow TOS Homeschool Crew Members had to say about WWTB, click here.}

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not Me Monday! (jump started)

We did NOT squint in amazement at the blinding rays of light streaming from the sky today and comment on the strangeness of the phenomenon.

I did NOT cart a van FULL of children to church by myself today only to realize that there were no classes for them and i was working in the toddler room.... hmmm.... Thanks to my dear friend, my children didn't have to sit on the floor outside the toddler room for 1-1/2 hours.

We are NOT currently back to Square 1 with our dogs since they are getting into so much mischief that we cannot trust them. Yay.

My husband and son did NOT get their hair cut in the driveway this evening with a set of horse trimmers. Awesome. 'Cause we are so NOT hillbilly around here. :-)

My darling husband did NOT just come home from a run and turn on the blasted football game - didn't they win already? How many of these can a wife be asked to endure in one day?!?!

My bed does NOT currently have 2 sleeping children in it, which makes perfect sense as i walk through the house counting 1... 2... 3... empty beds.... {sigh}

And finally, i did NOT crochet my own version of a hat this week, and it does NOT have a strange and confusing point on top. (and do NOT try to point me to some of the free patterns on the internet because they are written in a foreign language!)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Little Taste of the West!

Just before we started our 2009-2010 school lessons, we received a package in the mail from Maverick Books which contained a book, a CD, and a game. The book was Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse, which is part of a series of Hank the Cowdog books, we discovered. The CD was a collection of songs from the Hank the Cowdog series, and the game was Tornado, which is based on another of Hank the Cowdog book, The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado. Being that we have never really introduced the kids to books set in the Wild, Wild West, this was new!
Straight away, Tornado was opened, constructed, learned, and played. Several times. The game is a fun chase-around-the-board game, much like Trouble, but the really beautiful part of this game is that it is self-contained: all of the pieces fit back inside the game board, which closes up into a rectangle slightly bigger than a VHS tape. For a family with stacks of school supplies, games, and crafts crammed into one big cabinet, this is a definite PLUS!

We began reading the book, The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse, and right away, my penchant for accents took over. The twang that I associate with the West came through, and the characters jumped right out of the book! My children giggled to some of the funnier comments these colorful characters make in the story, though I sometimes had to explain the jargon or the meaning of the words so they could "get it." Hank is a ranchin' dog, and he believes himself to be the keeper of ranch security. He has a bit of help in his pal, Drover, though admittedly not much, since Drover is definitely not the brains of the operation. The interactions between these two characters was quite entertaining to me, though the kids didn't always understand why Mommy was laughing. Anyway, there's Hank's true love, Beulah from a neighboring ranch, his sworn enemy, Pete the barn cat, and a bunch of other colorful characters that round out each of the Hank the Cowdog books.

Although the book did have some unfortunate negativity (words many of us would rather not hear our kids say, like "stupid"), I felt that my children are exposed to that stuff in movies already, not to mention with friends in the neighborhood. We just use those opportunities to make sure the kids understand how hurtful those words are and talk about why we don't say them around here... we call them "teachable moments."

The kids lost interest in the book after a few chapters, but that is probably because they are a bit more worldly than I would like and are not entertained by the simpler things anymore. This was an eye-opener for sure because I would like to believe that my children can still appreciate tales of dogs who live in the West and believe they are heroes. Sadly, they are more likely to be rock stars and Jedi masters around these here parts (say it with twang, y'all!).

So, if your children are less worldly, or are just in love with cowboys and the Wild, Wild West, the Hank the Cowdog series of books might be perfect for your family. The game, Tornado, is certainly a blast for anyone! {To see what my fellow TOS Homschool Crew Members had to say about Hank the Cowdog click here.}

Friday, September 25, 2009

Are You What You Eat??

Okay, we all know that to some degree we are what we eat, right? How much does knowing that help you curb your cravings and hamper your hunger for junk? If you're like me, it helps, but not as much as it should! Maybe knowing more about why we should make different choices and making the information more meaningful would encourage us in our quest to get healthy.We received Nutrition 101: Choose Life by Growing Healthy Homes (a complete homeschool nutrition curriculum!) for me to review as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, and I must say that I was thrilled! Our family had been learning about our food, and healthful choices, for about a year, and it seemed like the more we learned, the more questions we had! I couldn't wait to start this curriculum!!

As it turns out, it was very thorough, and my smaller children couldn't quite keep up with all it had to offer, but our fourth-grader (and her parents!) absolutely loved learning about all of the fascinating parts of our bodies that we take for granted. There is so much to this complete nutrition program that we were able to gloss over it for the little ones this year, picking out main ideas from each section to learn and discuss, and give a bit more information to our older child.

We talked about the brain and how our foods affect our brain's ability to function, and we discussed those "gummie vitamins" the kids take and what they do for their brains. We learned about the digestive system and how the speed with which we consume our food affects our bodies, and we made spice cookies that actually help our digestive systems (this one amazed the kids!). Nutrition 101: Choose Life is neatly divided into units, with chapters within each unit, review questions for the end of each chapter, and recipes to use your new information right away! There are also additional resources right there for you at the end of the sections so you can dive into more information should you need to (did I mention that the more we learn, the more questions we have??).

All in all, we were able to get quite a lot of great information, some delicious recipes, and a more Godly way to look at what we put in our mouths, and by extension, our bodies. We anticipate years of pulling this curriculum out and diving into all of the details we were not quite ready to process this year. {To see what my fellow TOS Homeschool Crew Members had to say about Nutrition 101: Choose Life click here.}

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yes, You Can...

...learn to build a website using HTML! And the people of Click Drag Solutions can help with their product, Web Design for Kids. The beautiful thing is this: you need only a computer with Notepad (free with Windows OS) and Internet Explorer (also free with Windows OS), a television, and a DVD player. In our case, our DVD player is our computer, so we only needed the computer!

First of all, let me tell you that I was thrilled to get this in the mail! My husband is a computer nerd, and our living comes from his techno-geek know-how. (You can imagine how I plotted and planned the time he would spend with the kids and this HTML teacher.) So, I was surprised that he wasn't interested in pursuing it when I so gleefully handed it over to him... until I tried to teach it to our oldest child. Unfortunately, our 9-year-old doesn't have enough basic computer skills to make learning this program as easy as it could be, so we aborted her lessons in HTML - for now. As parents, we have allowed our children to use the computer in what we consider to be safe ways, and that has apparently blinded us to all the things we needed to teach her! For example, she didn't know about folders within a computer and the naming and organizing of folders. Had she had even that basic computer knowledge, this would have been much simpler for her to learn. The software actually teaches the basic stuff, too, by the way! We just haven't had enough interest in it yet. I do think that my son is wired to be fascinated with this program... just as soon as he can read past an early-first-grade level!

Having used the program some, I can attest to it being easy to use, simple enough to follow, and quite step-by-step. We were able to pause the DVD at critical junctures (which the DVD actually prompts you to do), follow the step, then play the DVD again when our step was successfully completed. Then you just repeat that process until you have learned the lesson! Calysta built a webpage in her very first lesson!! I was so proud!!

I must say that I was disappointed that my family didn't live up to my dreams of designing websites in childhood, but it wasn't because Web Design for Kids couldn't make it so; we just weren't ready. In fact, if I didn't have to review this product so early in the year, we would probably have a very different outcome!

{You can see what my fellow TOS Homeschool Crew Members had to say about Web Design for Kids by clicking here.}

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

StudyPod Cuts Kinks!

We received an interesting item in the mail last month: the STUDYPOD Book Holder. What was the most interesting right off the bat is that I recognized what it was right away and was wishing I had owned one of these things back when I had to write reports for a living - four hours of observation notes had to fit on my desk with my keyboard, monitor, and mouse so that I could organize it all into a polished, computer-generated report. Whew, would the STUDYPOD have made my life easier!!

Okay, so back to 2009. My eldest child immediately set about putting it together: folding out the arms, checking the "how-to" sheet, putting in the latch, and stuffing pencils into the pocket. (I guess that is bonus points right out of the chute!) Additionally, with the mess that always exists on my desk, the laying out of papers or books is precarious at best. There are currently speakers, monitor, mouse, mousepad, filing box, CD-ROMs, stack of papers, science book, co-op notes, and cell phone residing on my desk, so my notes for my review are perched neatly on the edge of my desk using the... {drum roll, please}... STUDYPOD!!! That's right, folks, the STUDYPOD is currently taking up less space than most of the other temporary residents on my desk, so color me tickled! I almost feel... organized!

Although we really don't have much use for the STUDYPOD in our homeschooling, I can attest to the ingenuity of this great product all by myself. If you have a middle school or high school student in your home, or you have a college student in the family, the STUDYPOD would make book reports and research reports a much less frustrating experience - it keeps the books at eye level, frees your desk up for mouse and keyboard, and it is only about the size of a textbook (smaller than college textbooks, though!), so it isn't a big thing to lug to the library or school. And that is just convenience! Let's talk about neck pain from looking down at the book or papers laying on your kitchen table, or the blessed absence of neck pain... and let's talk about back pain from crouching over your book while you write notes, or the happy lack of back pain... and let's talk about bad study habits caused by poor posture, discomfort, and time-consuming readjustments of all your materials, or the joyous opportunity to develop better study habits with the STUDYPOD.

I know, it seems like a tall order for such a simple product, but seriously, if I can love it this much without actually being a student in need of such a thing, you can imagine how great this study aid actually is! As a bonus to all of you for reading this review and determining to try a STUDYPOD for yourself, the makers of the STUDYPOD are offering you each a coupon code worth $5 off at their website; just use the code TOSBLOG5 when you place your order.

Check out what other TOS Homeschool Crew Members had to say here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fun with a Purpose!

As a TOS Homeschool Crew reviewer, I received a game. Yep, a game. I loaded said game after reading the box, the insert, and the comments about the game. Uh-huh, sure it will make math fun. I’ve seen this stuff before.... Ho, hum, math games… gee, fun.

However, my beloved offspring have demonstrated that the makers of The Quarter Mile Math actually know something about children!! We received the Deluxe Edition, which was Levels 1, 2, and 3 bundled together – that means it contains math drills for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade! Wow! You mean, I may not have to purchase an additional math practice software next year? Seriously, as a homeschooling mother, I can count on this program until my children graduate high school? Hmm…..

So, maybe the Barnum Software gurus are onto something.

We logged the kids’ names into the system, set one of them up, and off they went.

“Mom, is it my turn yet?” (Wow, is your sister actually hogging the educational software?!?)

“Mom, can I play the racing game?” (You mean the one that helps you improve your math skills?!?)

“Mom, can you put on the fractions one now? I like fractions!” (Uh, really? Since when?!?!)

That is just a sample of how well my kids liked playing games instead of doing paper drills or flash cards!

This software has a unique characteristic unlike anything I had seen before: the races are rigged so your child wins the first few times, then he races against his own best times. Talk about healthy competition! Your child gets to watch himself beat his own best score - and see his own improvements with his own childlike eyes!

My one concern was navigating the menus to get to the math practice options. The kids didn't know how to find what they were looking for because everything was listed under subjects that didn't necessarily explain what topics might be contained in the subject. For example, multiplication is listed under "Math Strategies" and "Whole Numbers." The problem with this is that Calysta was practicing multiplication under "Math Strategies" and getting frustrated because she didn't know all her multiplication facts, but we didn't realize for quite some time that she could practice just her 7s if we went to the "Whole Numbers" topic. The best advice I have for parents with this program is this: keep the "Topic List" sheet that comes with your product very handy. Keeping the kids from getting frustrated is almost as important as getting them to practice their math facts!

To see what other TOS Homeschool Crew Members had to say about this entertaining and engaging way to get your kids to practice their math, click here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Not Me Monday!

I am NOT going stir-crazy after 3 straight weeks of one-illness-after-another. Good thing, too, because as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of 3, that would be BAD.

I did NOT recently make my son use Poise Pads in his undies while sleeping at a relative's house because they were cheaper than Underjams!

My youngest child has NOT developed lactose intolerance, which is NOT at all difficult to pair with a milk protein issue and soy intolerance. Vegetarian, anyone??

My middle child, our only son and cheese LOVER, has thankfully NOT also developed lactose intolerance, which is also NOT in addition to his milk protein problems. Hmm.... common thread here?

And last, but certainly NOT least....
I am NOT currently driving around on an expired license (whoops!), which did NOT prevent me from obtaining a rental car this morning at the auto repair shop, where my van was supposed to be repaired after an automobile accident i did NOT get into more than a week ago. Oh, and the driver's license office is NOT closed on Mondays, which is a relief, because that would really amount to a really bad day!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Clarification....

Yes, i am a Christian.
Yes, i am not hesitant to profess my faith.
No, i am not perfect.
Yes, i am quite flawed and require frequent forgiveness. [thank You, Jesus!]

That being said, i really wish extremist "Christians" would stop calling themselves Christians if they are going to rant and rave in a manner not pleasing to Jesus. It makes the rest of us look bad. It turns people away from our Savior - when we should be shining His love and forgiveness.
Besides, it isn't what He would do anyway! He got angry, but He was righteous in His anger.
Jesus spoke against lies, sin, empty ritualism, false gods, and spirituality that is not connected to His Father.
What He didn't do is profess hatred toward anyone; in fact, He was found among "the least" of society - lepers, tax collectors, sinners, flawed men and broken women.
He wanted everyone to know God's love and forgiveness.
He wanted everyone to experience eternal salvation.
He did not condemn people to hell.

So, if you call yourself a Christian, be active when you disagree with things, especially if they would offend Jesus - just don't cross the line and send the world the wrong message about our Lord.

Okay, exit soapbox.