Wednesday, December 31, 2008

All About Spelling

Spelling has always come easily for me, so when Ryan (8) just didn't grasp it, both of us were frustrated. We had tried several different spelling programs and while he would learn the words for his test, they wouldn't stick and he would misspell them in his writing even days later. Spelling made him feel like a failure at writing and he started to hate writing of any type.

Fast forward to last night. We finished his spelling lesson and he asked if we could do keep going and learn another rule. He then said spelling is now his favorite subject! This is coming from a kid who would offer to do any chore, even clean the bathrooms, to skip spelling for the day!

I love that his spelling has improved drastically in his everyday writing as well. The way that All About Spelling introduces the rules and emphasizes them has really made them stick! And when he does misspell a word that follows a rule that he has learned, I just remind him of the rule and he can find the error and fix it himself. Best of all, he is now much more confident in his writing and spelling.

We have only been using All About Spelling for about 5 weeks, with a break when the baby was born. We started with Level One and have worked through it quickly. I would recommend starting with this level-- even I have even learned several spelling rules I didn't know. There are 4 levels currently with 2 more coming out in 2009 which will take you all the way through high school spelling. Each level is $29.95 and is non-consumable, so you can use them with more than 1 child. Although if you have 2 children the same level, they will each need a student packet. You can see the scope and sequence and samples here.

I have found the company very good to work with. My packet was missing the audio CD and it was sent out very quickly. This is the only component of the program I didn't find useful. Instead, buy the Phonogram File Folder games, we've been using these for several different subjects.

This program is a little more time intensive for the teacher than others I've used. Instead of just a pre-test and a post-test, I end up spending about 15-30 minutes a day on spelling. But the program is so well laid out, an older sibling could easily teach it. It was also time intensive to cut everything out at the beginning, but the company has fixed that and now offers perforated cards.

Overall, I give All About Spelling an A+. The difference I've seen in my son is remarkable and my younger son (6) is asking when he gets to start.

Even if you are happy with your current spelling program, I would recommend you check out the articles on the All About Spelling website. They have some great ideas that can be used with any spelling program.

Alphabet Alley

Finding well made games for little hands can sometimes be a challenge, so I was excited to get to review 2 games by Alphabet Alley. The two games we received were Noah's Ark Two by Two Matching game and Noah's Ark Go Fish. Jeanisha who is 3 1/2 loved them both!

We played the matching game by putting all the animals face up first because we hadn't played memory with her yet. She loved the cute animal drawings and actually spent a good bit of time just arranging and rearranging the animals to board the ark.

The boys wanted to play with her and set it up basic memory style and I was surprised at how well she did. (Other than being a little possessive about "her" animals.) The cards are a very thick, sturdy cardboard that have held up well. There are 12 pairs, 11 animals and the arks. I have even let Adam (21 months) play with them, lining them up and "marching" them onto the ark. They are the perfect size for little hands, the drawings are cute, and I'm sure we will get hours of use out of it. The Two By Two matching game sells for $10.99.

The Noah's Ark Go Fish game has also been fun. The cards are durable, the animals and Noah are cute, and I like that they have numbers and words on the cards as well. Jeanisha thought it was fun to "Read" what the different animals were. This game retails for $5.99.

These games are a fun way to reinforce Bible stories during play. Alphabet Alley also carries other Bible story magnet and sticker sets.


I was excited to be able to look over the Puppetools website because I LOVE puppets. They are such a fun, non-threatening way to communicate with kids and even teenagers. The site shows you how to make a paper hinge that you can then use to make a variety of puppets. I has a lot of examples of puppets made by teachers and by students and videos showing how to make different puppets. It also includes 37 puppet templates. A yearly individual subscription is $20.

The paper hinge is handy, and the kids loved making and playing with the puppets. Ryan (8) liked the templates and having it all set out for him (he hates making mistakes), but Tyler (6) was annoyed and we ended up just making his freehand. (He wanted his dragon to have specific features that the template didn't have.)

While I strongly support and recomend the use of puppets and play in homeschool and everyday settings, I honestly didn't feel the resources offered by the site were that useful. However, if you need examples of puppets other people have made and ways to use puppets, the site might be valuable for you. It might also be useful for a homeschooled student who doesn't have the opportunity to look at the creations of his or her classmates to get new ideas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Let's Be Scientists

The December Module from The Old Schoolhouse is Let's be Scientists. My boys love science and I am always looking for more fun activities to do with them. This e-book has lots of fun science recipes for chemistry, fun human body experiments, worksheets (about 3rd grade and up), crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and copywork pages of the creation story from Genesis.

These modules are the perfect starting point for a unit study or in this case, a couple of unit studies. It includes 3 pages of other resources to flush out any of the topics your family is interested in learning more about. An older internet savvy kid could explore all of the links and topics on their own, my son, 8, only needed a little assistance but did quite well exploring the links while I made dinner. All of the pages we linked to were kid friendly and understandable and was a fun activity to do this week when we didn't "have school."

Turning Points

I had a chance this week to read a new E-book that is going to be published soon by The Old Schoolhouse called "Turning Points." Over 25 families share what led them to start homeschooling and what keeps them homeschooling. As I read about their "turning points," I was able to reflect on my goals for our homeschool and how God brought us to this point. It was reassuring to feel that I'm not alone with the struggles and frustrations that come with homeschooling and to be reminded and remember all the joys of homeschooling. Any book that lets you reflect on God's hand in your life and present situation is a blessing, having one focused on my role as a homeschool mom was a double blessing.

The only negative I saw in the book was one section where virtual public schools were put down. The first time I read it, I felt pretty frustrated because that option has worked well for us and I felt like she was saying I wasn't really a homeschooler-- a battle/arguement I have seen tear apart homeschool groups-- but I also know the freedom I have in my program isn't found in many states. The second time I read it, I was less defensive, and I could see how she was saying it just didn't work for her family. (And really, with 26 different viewpoints being shared, the fact that there was only 1 that I didn't agree with is pretty amazing.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this e-book and it has motivated me not only to reflect on my family's turning point, but to want to write it down. It has inspired me to evaluate again what is working and what is not and redefine (again) what I want our homeschool to look like/be like.

You may also want to keep an eye out for other e-books that The Old Schoolhouse is putting together that let other "regular" homeschool families share their stories. I always enjoy reading about others who are living a lifestyle similar to mine.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crayola Art Studio

Another fun product that I have been able to review is Crayola Art Studio by Core Learning. This is a very easy to use art program that has lots of features. There are 12 different brush types including crayons, paint brushes, colored pencils, markers and more. There are stamps and a wide variety of tools. The boys (6 and 8) have had lots of fun creating pictures on their own and Jeanisha (3) has been able to with help. They are really enjoying making new creations and I'm happy it is easy enough for them to use on their own.

This program is a wonderful way to add art to your day and I know my family has only just scratched the surface of what it can do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


ALEKS is an online math program that is aligned to general state standards for 3rd grade and up. We used it last year with Ryan and he enjoyed it. It is best for review once or twice a week and for making sure you haven't missed something they should have learned, like acute and obtuse triangles. :) The student has a pie graph that fills in as they pass off different topics. Ryan really liked watching his pie fill in and he liked that he didn't have to do a ton of problems on things he knew before it filled in. Where we only used it about once a week, he was asked to reconfirm that he still remembered the things from past sessions each time, which he got a little frustrated with, but would be helpful if you have a student who doesn't retains things well or if you were using this as a primary math program.

On their website, ALEKS offers a free 48 hour trial, but if you use the following link, you can get a free one month trial. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems

Do your kids have trouble remembering their times tables? Trigger Memory Systems has a wonderful TIMES Tales program that makes remembering them fun and easy. I bought this program 2 years ago when Ryan was learning his multiplication facts, but I wanted it to be fun, not just drill. It was a wonderful program then and even better now, as they've added the upper 3 and 4 multiplication facts!

"Times Tales is a creative, innovative mnemonic-based program that makes it fun and easy to memorize the upper multiplication facts. Times Tales uses cute, simple stories to provide students with a "memory peg", allowing them to quickly recall otherwise abstract facts."

For example,
9 is shown as a tree, and the page for 9X9 is below. You teach the kids the characters, tell them the stories, have them retell them to you and then move to the flashcards with the pictures, and then the flashcards with only the numbers. It is a fast and easy way to learn the "hard" upper multiplication facts. It took us about 30 minutes on two consecutive days for Ryan to learn them all. After that, I reviewed the stories occasionally, but usually just verbally quizzed him on the facts when we were waiting somewhere or driving in the car.

With Ryan, I noticed for awhile he would have to think of the story, but then the facts became automatic as he used them more. And he knows if he ever gets stuck, he just has to think of the numbers as children, snowmen, or trees and he'll have the memory trigger to recall those facts.

The program is non-consumable, so you will be able to use it with all of you children.

This is by far the easiest way to learn those tricky multiplication facts that I have ever seen. The program doesn't teach the concept of multiplication, it just helps you get the facts memorized faster. Kids will still need to be taught why you multiply, but having the facts ready for instant recall makes actually doing it much easier!

Clean and Flip the House

Do you ever get tired of going over the steps for cleaning a room again and again? My boys know what needs done and when they inspect the other person's work, they are ruthless, but when they are sent to clean alone, they always seem to "forget" something. Clean and flip charts from Trigger Memory Systems are a fun solution.

There are 3 different charts that I was given to review. First up was Zone Cleaning for Kids. This one worked great for us. It takes kids through the steps of cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, and the family/living room step by step. It is laminated and they can check off the steps as they work through the zone. I have liked that it is a list nagging them instead of me. I can just ask if they've done all the steps instead of having to ask about each part of the job.

Ryan enjoys racing me to go through the steps in his zone faster than I can go through the steps in mine. It's been a great little tool for reminding them what to do and making them accountable.

The second book was Bedroom Cleaning for kids. This one is not laminated and the first time we tried it, it was a disaster. Step one is to go around the room and move everything into a big, messy pile into the middle of the room. (You then sort and put things away.) Well, the boys did step one with gusto, pulling everything out from under the beds and under the dresser and collecting a lot of little random junk. At this point the "big, messy pile" was completely overwhelming. Plus, they had found so many forgotten and lost "treasures" that they were totally distracted. I ended up helping/doing the cleaning that time. BUT once the room was relatively clean, the chart has been great, especially for Tyler. When the "big, messy pile" is only 10 things, it is easy to sort and deliver. We don't have the laundry baskets suggested in the chart, so he uses our little shopping cart to make his deliveries to other rooms. It makes cleaning his room into a game!

The third chart was Laundry for Kids. This was the only one I didn't test with my kids because my washing machine and dryer can be temperamental and the kids already have laundry jobs. (Jeanisha collects and sorts, the boys transfer it to the dryer and then the couch, I fold it and they put it away.) But, if you were at the stage of teaching a child to do the whole process themselves, this could be useful as a step by step instruction manual-- so you aren't always the one doing the reminding.

Overall, my kids seem to like the charts and "flipping" the house clean.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Historical Fiction Anyone???

I love historical fiction. There isn't an easier way to learn about life in a different time period and get a feel for what it would have been like to live then. One of the products I was asked to review was Salem Ridge Press, a publishing company “dedicated to bringing back quality children’s books of the 1800’s and early 1900’s for a new generation of readers.” They republish historical fiction, adventure stories, allegories, and clean, wholesome literature for young readers.

From the publisher’s web page:
  • The underlying philosophy of Salem Ridge Press is found in the Bible: "Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8)." Daniel firmly believes that what we read matters and what we take into our minds is a major factor in forming our ideas and character. His goal is to be a blessing to others by providing reading material that fits the qualifications outlined in the Bible. While not every title that Salem Ridge Press publishes is explicitly Christian, all of our titles have strong moral values and encourage positive character.

I was sent 3 different books to read and review. The first was Mary Jane Her Book by Clara Ingram Judson. This was a cute story originally published in 1918 about a five-year-old girl and all of her adventures. It makes a great read-aloud for kids of all ages and transports you back in time. Mary Jane is a busy, little girl with lots of imagination and you never know what she will do next. This book is a great peek into life 100 years ago and we were able to talk about some of the differences between living now and living then.

The 2nd book I was sent was The American Twins of the Revolution by Lucy Fitch Perkins. This book is a fast-paced story based on real events during the American Revolution. Twins Sally and Roger are asked by their father, General Priestly, to help hide a shipment of gold which will be used to pay the American soldiers. The twins, their mother, and two of the family's servants have to transport the gold to George Washington without being intercepted by the British. Some of the words are a bit old fashioned, but most of these are defined at the bottom of the page, another nice feature added by the publisher.

The third book I was given to review was called Glaucia the Greek Slave by Emma Leslie. This book is set in Athens from 59-64 AD and is part of Emma Leslie's historical fiction series about church history. This was an interesting look into a time period that I'm not very familiar with. The book was well written and easy to read. I liked having unfamiliar words defined at the bottom of the page. The story follows Glaucia and her brother Loan as they are sold into slavery after the death of their father. Glaucia is sold to a wealthy Roman family who then goes to Athens. Through the course of the story, you meet Paul and other early Christians (fictional) and see some of the struggles the early church faced during this time. I am looking forward to reading some of the other books in this series.

All of the books published by Salem Ridge Press are available through and you can view a complete listing here. If you scroll down that page, you will also see a list of the historical fiction titles by time period, a great help in matching them to your current studies. Another great thing about this company is that the first chapter of the books is online for free, so you can preview before you order. I am planning on ordering more books from this Salem Ridge Press and encourage you to check them out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rime to Read Review

Rime To Read is an on-line reading program that teaches by using stories that use the same type of words (IE: cat, sat, rat-- words that look and sound alike). This program is for a beginning reader, who knows letter sounds and is starting to blend sounds together. The program comes with 20 books in the complete set. The books are online and can each be printed ONCE for a hard copy. Each reader is 10-12 pages. Online, most words are clickable, allowing the child to hear the word being read and helping them feel like a successful reader-- which is half the battle in learning to read. I think the program works well for kids who are just learning and want to read "real" stories. The fact that it is on the computer may also be a draw for some kids. It was too hard for Jeanisha (3) to navigate herself, but Tyler (6) was happy to help. The stories were too easy for him, but still good review. The stories captured their attention and interest.

Rime to Read costs $9.99 for a set of 4 vowel books or $44.99 for all 20 books. This is a ONE time fee (lifetime) and the online readers can be used for other children in the family, but each book can only be printed once. The program is supplemental, not a complete reading program, but it might be the perfect thing for instilling confidence in a new reader.

Click Here to visit their Website.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Splish: Learning to Read

I was given the chance to review another fun book. It is called "And Then Mama Said...It Takes Time to Learn to Read" by Gena Suarez.

It is a sweet story about a little homeschooled frog, Splish, who is having a hard time learning to read. His mother is so sweet and patient as she reminds him that if he keeps practicing, it will all come together in time. I have a 6 year old who is a lot like Splish and has struggled with learning to read. It was encouraging for him to read about someone else in his shoes who DID finally learn to read and was able to enjoy the wonderful world of books! My children loved the colorful fun pictures and I liked the way all of the characters showed respect and kindness, especially the momma.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Awesome US geography book

It's not often that I find a homeschool book that Stephen gets excited about!!! And to find a geography related one that he likes is even more rare. (He majored in geography and loves maps, but thinks most geography books miss the magic and fun in geography.)

Then "The Little Man in the Map" by E. Andrew Martonyi made his appearance. This book is a gem!!! I started to read it and soon had two boys learning in front of me to see the pictures, so I told them they could read it first. They looked through it together and then Ryan took it into the family room where Stephen was watching football. Stephen asked to look at it, then started reading it, and didn't give it back to Ryan until he'd finished.

Ryan (8) and Tyler (6) read through it a few times just for fun. Then at dinner, Texas was mentioned. Tyler pipes up, "I know where Texas is, it's the chair," and he turned around to the map on the wall and pointed it out. Then he added, "And this one is Oklahoma." Both boys then started pointing out different states and telling us what they were called and why they were important to "the man in the map". I hid the book for a week and then asked Tyler again about some of the states and he still remembered most of them by name. I was very impressed-- it had been so easy, no drill or practicing and he'd learned basic US geography!!

The "Man In the Map" is formed by five states down the middle of the United States - Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. (Once you "see" him, the US will never look the same!) All of the other states are given roles that connect them to the man in the map. The story is told with simple rhyming verses and bright, lively illustrations. The US map is broken into regions - Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and West that would be easy to elaborate on for older students.

The book is sold through Schoolside Press for $19.95. They have free shipping and the author will sign and inscribe your book for free as well. Get it for a Christmas present and your kids won't even realize they are learning!!!!

Time 4 Learning: Part 1

I was recently given a trial subscription to and I have been extremely impressed. Both boys have enjoyed it, but Tyler has really taken off with it. He is constantly asking if he can work on math and phonics and has done many of the science modules more than once and recites facts he's learned regularly. Some of what I've had them do is review, some of it matches what we are doing in our other work, and some of it is new. I've been impressed with it for all three types of learning.

Basically, Time4Learning ( is an online homeschool curriculum for Preschool through 8th grade that covers math, language arts, some science and some social studies using games and animation to teach and reinforce concepts. My initial reaction was that it was quite expensive for an online resource ($19.95 for the first child, $14.95 for each additional child), and since I limit my kids computer time, I wasn't sure if it would be a good value. But the timing has been nice, coming just at the end of a pregnancy and when we are adjusting to a new baby. It has been really nice to just let the boys "play" on the computer and know that they are learning and doing school. The program is set up so you can subscribe one month at a time, so in my case, I think it will make a great supplemental resource for times when life is a little crazy.

The sign up process was easy and both boys seemed to be placed at the correct level. Ryan did think some of Tyler's activities looked more fun and wanted to do Tyler's level too. The program is set up to have learning time followed by playground, or game time. Tyler's lessons were engaging enough and fun enough that he never went to the playground. He especially loved the activity where he got to shoot a spaceman at the sight words. For Ryan, his lessons were a little more work, so the playground was a fun break. (And it was fun to watch him learn to play PacMan).