Thursday, January 21, 2016

"The" Cookie Recipe

This is our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. It makes a big enough batch that I don't even have to double it. :)

1 cup butter
1 cup shortening or coconut oil
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
3 cups oatmeal
4 cups flake cereal (Corn Flakes, Honey Bunches of Oats)
4 cups flour (we use whole wheat)
2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups nuts, chopped (optional)
1 bag chocolate chips
2 cups coconut

Cream together butter, shortening, and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, and water. Beat well. Add in oatmeal, flake cereal, flour, soda, salt, and mix well. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, coconut. Drop by spoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Yields about 10 dozen cookies.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Prime Climb

What a wonderful game I was given to review! The first time we pulled it out of the box my math tolerating kids didn't want to play, but after watching the first game, they were begging for us to do another round with them. There was enough chance that the "math brains" didn't win automatically which is often rare in math games.

Prime Climb has a really cool board where prime numbers higher than 10 are red and all other numbers are a combination if the primes that make them up. For example, 21 is purple for 7 and green for 3; 30 is blue for 5, green for 3, and orange for 2; 60 has two orange segments. You roll the dice and then add, subtract, multiply, or divide as you try to get to 101. The red primes let you draw a prime card with special instructions. They even include 4 blank cards so you can add to the deck.
 Prime Climb BoardWith the color coded board even my younger boys who haven't learned multiplication were able to play with only a little help (and were quickly picking up concepts of multiplication.)

As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for ways to incorporate learning though games. Prime Climb is an excellent way to teach about prime numbers, factors, common multiples, and that math is fun! The kids practiced multiplication, division, addition, subtraction skills, while using logic to determine the best combination of moves. In addition to analyzing their own options, they would evaluate each other's rolls and options to see what options the other player had and if it would affect them. The multiplication chart was a great bonus and it was awesome to see their eyes light up when they "got it" and the color markings all clicked. The prime cards were great bonuses for landing on primes and they started memorizing the higher primes quickly.

 I loved how Prime Climb engaged my math loving kids and my kids who tolerate math. It was engaging and challenging enough that no one was bored, but easy enough to understand that no one was frustrated. It was the perfect balance. (It was fun for the adults as well.)  It was fun watching the kids puzzle out every different option to decide where to move and listen to them talk through their choices. I liked how they figured out the math on other people's rolls and usually helped if the other person needed it-- or gave away accidentally that they could be bumped back to start. My kids said Prime Climb is like advanced Sorry with the flexibility of Uno to add rules. The blank Prime Climb cards were great to get them brainstorming options to add. Instead of writing something on those cards, they decided to number them 1 through 4 and at the beginning of each game they write out a rule for each number.

My "math geek" son was laughing so hard during one group game that he had tears running down his face as he suggested combinations to people that would make them bump themselves back to start. He's also played it solitaire style, created several different options for the blank bonus cards, and tried most of the additional versions listed in the instructions. I love all the different options and combinations!

You can buy the game through Amazon or purchase a printable pdf version here. You can also also buy posters of the multiplication table and hundreds chart. The game board is very sturdy and well made and includes 2 ten sided dice.

Monday, November 17, 2014

VTech toy reviews

We have had good luck with VTech toys in the past, so I was excited to review some of their new toys. Listed below are the toys we tested, basic info, and my reviews.

·         Record & Learn KidiStudio™: 
VTech                   Amazon
o   Children can perform and record like a rock star with the Record & Learn KidiStudio. Kids can explore a variety of musical instruments; adjust the tempo and sing-along to the music while recording a musical masterpiece to share with family and friends.
o   The light-up keyboard lets them follow the lights and learn to play their favorite melodies.
o   Kids can sing along to 20 melodies in Rock, Hip Hop, Jazz and Techno styles with a real voice-changing microphone.
o   Ages 3-6, $39.99

My kids love music. We've had simple piano type toys in the past, but never one with all the features the Record and Learn KidiStudio has, so I was excited to be given a sample to review in exchange for my opinions. I love the microphone and the way they can change their voice. While this toy is intended for the preschool set, even my older kids enjoyed the voice changer and special “sound effects” buttons. My kids were laughing hysterically at themselves and each other with the voice changer. They had a hard time resisting the urge to change the way they were singing along with it. (My teenagers have been playing with it for over an hour without any little kids around.) They also liked the “alien” instrument. You have to be fairly close to the microphone to be picked up, so it didn't pick up background noise. My kids were already familiar with quite a few of the songs, but for the ones they weren't the lyrics were in the user guide. There were lots of songs (20) and the toy never sings the words. The sliders to change the volume, voice changer, and tempo seem a little fragile, especially the tempo slider, but the piano keys and everything else seem very well made. The volume button is fully accessible and easy to adjust by the kids, so I found myself asking them to turn it down at times (on loud, it is quite loud). This is a toy that I see my little kids using a lot as it was intended and my big kids finding reasons to play along with them and be silly.  

·         Lil' Speller Phonics Station™:
VTech                   Amazon
o   The Lil’ Speller Phonics Station lets children build and learn words with fun sounds, melodies and animations that encourage interactive learning and reinforce words.
o   Kids can discover letter names and hear their sounds by plugging in the letter blocks one by one, or learn letter order by determining which letter is missing, then plug in the correct letter block to complete the letter order.
o   The Lil’ Speller Phonics Station includes 26 letter blocks and four extra blocks to spell words like “mom” and “dad.” It also features a handle and all of the blocks can be stored inside for easy travel.
o   Ages 3-6, $24.99

 With 9 kids, we've tried a lot of toys over the years, and Vtech toys have usually held up well. I love when I find a well built, fun toy that is also educational. Perfect for a beginning reader or younger child just starting to explore the world of letters, sounds, and words up through beginning readers/spellers. I like how the Lil' Speller gives both sounds for vowels and letters “c” and “g.” For my 3 year old, who is just learning her sounds, I just give her a few tiles at a time, that match the letters she has learned so far and one or two more. She has been picking up the new ones quickly to “earn” more letters. My 5 year old is a beginning reader who already knows his sounds. He liked practicing the abc order game and trying to make words. I liked having a list of words the toy recognized to prompt him with. He also likes the spell game and how it shows the word briefly at first. The help button gives hints if he gets stuck. I did receive a sample toy from Vtech in exchange for my honest review, but this is a toy I would have been happy to buy regardless. Overall, I think this is an excellent toy that sneaks in a big dose of learning while still being fun.

·         Go! Go! Smart Wheels® Ultimate Amazement Park™:
VTech                   Amazon
o   Race through three AMAZING courses in the Go! Go! Smart Wheels Ultimate Amazement Park Playset!
o   Drive the included SmartPoint™ race car over the 8 SmartPoint locations, and listen as it responds with different music or fun sound effects.
o   The Ultimate Amazement Park is more than three feet long and can be connected to other Go! Go! Smart Wheels playsets (sold separately) to encourage creative play. It’s playtime with miles of learning fun!
o   Ages 1-5, $59.99

 If you are looking for a toy with “WOW” factor, you've found it! This track is huge and impressive! It stands mid-thigh on me, eye level for my 2 year old son. There was enough to do that all three of my boys (2,5, and 7) could play at the same time, but it does only come with one smart car (the smart car makes sounds as it goes across different parts of the track.) While that car was easily the favorite, the other cars we own also raced down just fine. Because of the way the track is set up, you don't actually race the cars-- the two starting points go different directions. This set can also be added to if you want (with the Go! Go! Smart Wheels Deluxe Track Set), but I felt there was plenty to do with just this set. I will likely add the other set for a birthday in a few months. The little car does have an off option, which I appreciated.

It did take awhile to assemble, about an hour without any kids around, so either set it up before hand or plan on time to put it together. It is much more impressive out of the box. It would make a perfect “Santa” toy on Christmas morning. The toy seems sturdy and well made with bright, attractive colors. The one downside of this toy is that it doesn't break down easily to store, so it will take up a good bit of space. At the same time, it is a toy that my boys will come back to over and over again, so I think it is worth the space it takes. I did receive a sample toy in exchange for my review, but this is one I would have loved for a Christmas morning surprise.  

·         3-in-1 Care & Learn Stroller™: 
VTech                   Amazon
o   The stroller’s smart sensor recognizes when it’s being moved and plays sing-along songs about letters, colors, places and animals.
o   Transform the stroller into a high chair to hear baby care reminders that introduce nurturing concepts and healthy habits while kids pretend to feed their doll.
o   Turn the high chair into a bassinet and the doll can fall asleep while listening to classic nursery rhymes or 20 familiar lullabies.
o   With three ways to play, this stroller is packed with role-play fun!
o   Ages 12-36 months, $44.99 each

With a new baby in the house, what is the perfect gift for a 3 year old? Her own baby and accessories! This set fit the bill perfectly and I was thrilled to be given one to review by VTech. I love that the baby doll is completely soft, like a teddy bear. There aren't any hard faces or hands to roll into during the night to wake her up. Assembly was easy, and the sound can be turned off (or made quieter) as needed. This one toy changes into a stroller, high chair, and bassinet (or as my daughter called it, a changing table/bed). I always like space saving toys, so having 3 in 1 is a plus. Changing from one form to another was easy enough for my 3 year old to do after a little practice-- you just push a button and turn.
In stroller mode, you are able to hear sounds about different pretend places, including the farm, park, and neighborhood. The stroller recognizes when you put the baby in the stroller and changes where you are going each time. As you push the “story” button you hear sounds that you would hear on your walk. In the bassinet set up, the “story” button says nursery rhymes. Unfortunately, the music button on the toy didn't work, even after trying fresh batteries. This meant she couldn't play the lullabys or songs from the stroller mode. It didn't detract from her playing with the toy, but in the bassinet mode it kept telling her to play music, which she couldn't do (except one note at a time on the piano keys.)
When you turn it off, it plays music and then says “bye-bye,” instead of stopping immediately. (It does time out and shut the sound off itself if it hasn't been played with for a few minutes and says, “bye-bye” then as well.) Second, when you turn the sound back ON after it has been off, it says, “Sound off” when you are actually turning it on and if you push the story button when it's off, it says “music off” and then keeps talking . My seven year old was annoyed by a song about the rainbow that leaves out the color green as it names all the colors in the rainbow. They remembered indigo, but left out green. :)
Overall, my kids and I like this toy. My daughter was thrilled that it was pink and purple. My two year old son wanted his turn to play as well and would push around other dolls in the stroller when my daughter wasn't playing with it. The sounds were fun, but I was also glad they are easy to turn off if needed. The plastic part of the toy seems very well built and sturdy. The fact that one of our music buttons didn't work out of the box makes me wonder how the rest of the sounds and buttons will hold up. However, even without the sounds, this toy has lots of play potential with the three different options and saves space over 3 separate toys.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Free AWESOME Reading Program

One of my kids' favorite online reading programs is offering a free 5 week trial. Go to tUse Promo Code: USH39LGE

  My younger kids have used it and loved it and they just added a new section for older kids to practice comprehension. We haven't done much with that but the beginning readers part from k to about 2nd grade is awesome. I'm amazed at how well Adam is picking up reading with not much effort on my part. Lincoln loves the playroom stuff too and is learning lots of letters and sounds. It has helped Eli practice and improve a great deal this year, and Jeanisha just thinks it is fun. It also have a spelling program that Tyler has been using that he's enjoyed. (We put the words he misses into for extra practice).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tom's wicked fresh toothpaste

I was recently sent a tube of Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh toothpaste through BzzAgent to try and review. The toothpaste is peppermint flavored which got mixed reviews from my family. I personally liked it and it reminded me of candy canes and Christmas. My husband hated it, and the kids were split. Basically they either loved it or hated it. The toothpaste retails for around $4.19 for a 5.2 oz tube. I would probably buy it with coupons, but I generally don't pay more than a quarter for a tube of toothpaste, no matter how much I like it. :) On the other hand, it is all natural and doesn't have any artificial ingredients, which is a plus. One thing I really liked about the company was that each employee can spend 5% (12 days) of their employee time volunteering. I like companies that give back to their communities.

Factor Tree

I was given a free trial of a new online math program through BzzAgent. As a homeschool mom with lots of kids, I was hoping this would be something wonderful for math like has been for reading. Unfortunately, it did not meet my expectations. The program is boring, like a bunch of worksheets that never end. Even my worksheet, busy working daughter was bored. I've tried lots of programs to motivate kids to learn, and this is one I would avoid! Unless they add something engaging and fun to motivate the kids, I'll stick with worksheets. At least then they get a sticker.

Another math site that is pretty good is, but it only starts with 3rd grade. It is also problem focused, but at least gives the kids some choice about what topics to cover!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dolphins Unit Study

Dolphins are one of my favorite animals, so I was excited to get the chance to review a Download N Go unit study/lapbook on dolphins through The Old School House. Download N Go packets are the perfect resource for times when school is stagnant and mom just needs a break from the daily routine, but you don't want the kids to stop learning. We don't use unit studies in our everyday school, so these are a nice change of pace. They are geared to ages K-4th grade, but can easily be adapted to include older or advanced kids. At the end of the week you have a fun lapbook where the kids can review what they've learned or have something special to show grandma and grandpa.

This particular lapbook introduces kids to dolphins in general, different types of dolphins, lots of facts and information about dolphins and more. It is creation based and has some creation based activities included. There are lots of link, activities, and fun things to do as you follow the week long lesson plan. The Download N Go kits are $7.95 through The Old Schoolhouse and come in many topics. You can find other topics here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Molly's April Digest

Are you looking for ways to keep the kids busy during the rainy days of spring or the heat of summer? Molly's April Digest has some fun, easy, inexpensive projects that should keep your kids entertained and learning for hours. I was happy to see that most of them were activities we have not done in the past and that I think my kids would enjoy. I also found several yummy recipes in the menu section, one is cooking right now, and another will be made this evening. There was also an interesting article about frugality and attitude. I also found a new holiday we HAVE to celebrate (No Housework Day on April 7th) and several others that will be fun. Molly's Digest is great for sparking ideas of cheaper ways to do things and giving frugal tips for homeschooling mamas!

I was given a preview copy of Molly's Digest to review from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. I was not paid for my review, but did receive the April Digest for free.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Automatic Scrubbing Bubbles Shower Cleaner

I have one little tiny box shower for 7 people and I was constantly fighting mildew and soap scum. It never really had a chance to dry out good between showers. I bought an Automatic Shower Cleaner with a coupon and hung it up. It seemed to slow the build-up and times between a good scrubbing, but doesn't completely eliminate the need to clean. When I use my last refill, I am going to try filling the bottle with a vinegar/water solution. The spray seems to get most of the shower, I'm not sure how well it would do with a larger space and a shower curtain. One thing to beware of is that you have 15 seconds to get the shower door closed before it sprays. With a shower curtain, you might get spray outside of the shower, but for box style it works great. I wish it could be hung higher. You could see a faint line above where the spray didn't get. The batteries lasted a long time.

It seems really loud when my husband would use it at 5am, but we didn't notice the noise at other times of the day. We also had problems at first with the kids wanting to peek through the door and watch it not realizing it sprays out.

I have bought one in the past and just received another through BzzAgent in exchange for my review.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Farraday Road and Swope's Ridge

I just finished two of the best suspense, murder mystery books I have read in a long time! Farraday Road and Swope's Ridge by Ace Collins. Both books combine a modern murder mystery with historic events like World War 2 and September 11th. I received these books to review awhile ago and didn't realize they were a set. I started Farraday Road while I was in the hospital waiting for Lincoln to recover from RSV. This is one of those books you can't put down, and I finished it at 2 in the morning. I loved the story in Farraday Road, but was frustrated with the ending. . . . until I realized I had a 2nd book! You will want to buy both books because I guarantee that once you finish Farraday Road, you'll want to keep going!

Swope's Ridge was just as engaging and well-written, and I ended up staying up late to finish that one as well. Another wonderful thing about these books is that they are completely clean and free of the junk often found in mystery novels!

These books as a set are fabulous and I think they would make a great movie someday, especially if you like ones like "National Treasure." Buy both and you won't be disappointed, buy one and you'll be wanting more.