Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skeeter and the Mystery of the Lost Mosquito Treasure by Max Lucado

I love Max Lucado and how he presents gospel principles using fun, memorable stories. In this hour long movie, two mosquito brothers are sent on a treasure hunt by their dad. Along the way, they learn that no one is perfect and that it's okay to be different and that it is important to work together. This led to some great conversations with my boys (6 and 8) who have different interests and talents and sometimes have problems with sibling rivalry. My younger kids (2 and 4) also enjoyed the DVD and wanted to watch it over and over. (You can buy it through Amazon.com for $12.55 right now).

The cute, animated characters and fun, lively music were hits with the kids and I loved the message it shared. I loved how the brothers had to work together and learn that God gave them their specific talents for a reason. Skeeter portrays an important message in a way kids will remember. This DVD will be well used at our house!

I am a part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Blogger program and I'm happy to be able to share about this wonderful DVD. You can get more information here: http://brb.thomasnelson.com/

Relationships Book by NavPress

My relationships with my family and friends are my most precious possessions, but it's easy to let the most important things in life slip to the back burner in the midst of the busyness of life. It takes a conscious effort to get things balanced again. "Bringing Jesus into My World Relationships" by Ralph Ennis and others does just that. More than just a book, it's a Bible study, journal, and small group discussion guide.

Published by NavPress this book was enjoyable to read and caused me to reflect on my relationships with my children, my husband, and my friends. This isn't a book to be rushed through, but rather one to read slowly and savor. I enjoyed reading one short section with my morning devotional and thinking about it throughout the day.

"Bring Jesus into My World Relationships" uses the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) and I prefer the King James Version, so I often pulled out my Bible and read both versions of the listed scriptures-- which led to some additional great insights.

The book can be purchased for only $8.79 from the NavPress website and contains 10 chapters of well selected scriptures and thought-provoking questions. If you want to improve your relationships, the real way, through Jesus Christ and His plan, this book is a good starting point.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Action Figures for All Ages

We recently received a set of animal figures from Schleich to review and I am SO impressed. These are collectible-quality, hand-painted figures!!! Schleich figurines have been around since the 1950's and have stood the test of time. We received the Swabian-Hall Pig, the Swabian-Hall piglet, the Indian Elephant, the lying down lion cub, the Two-Humped Camel, and the Percheron Foal. One thing I loved was that the animals are correctly scaled-- no more pigs the size of elephants!!! The piglet was our smallest figure 5x3x3 cm, and the African Elephant was our biggest 16 x 5 x 11 cms. The detail on these figures is AMAZING; the foal has little tiny horseshoes and you can even tell the gender of your animals.

My kids fell in love with them instantly and they've been played with every day since. They have taken up residence on top of the piano and they are cute enough that I don't mind having them in our more formal living room.

My two-year-old has been hovering around as I type this, pointing to the pictures and saying, "That mine, that mine." They are his favorite toys.

Along with our animals we received a little catalog showing the different animals Schleich makes and it is starting to become dog-earred as the kids try to choose their favorites and droll over the different animals. Schleich also make knights, elves, dinosaurs, Smurfs, historical figures and others. You can browse their selection online and order online or buy them at local Target stores, Amazon.com, or specialty toy retailers. Prices range from $2.49 to $6.49.

These animals are keepers and I'm sure we will be adding to our collection shortly as the kids have each already made their wishlists of animals they want to collect. These animals are collector quality, but kid friendly, perfect for all ages!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Critical Thinking Company Math

I have long been a fan of The Critical Thinking Company. We've used their Mind Benders Series, Building Thinking Skills, Language Smarts, and Science. I was excited to be able to review Mathematical Reasoning Level B for 1st grade. Each grade level workbook is $32.99 and is a full color consumable workbook. The one I received contained 264 pages.

I was quite impressed with the number of skills covered and the varied activities and how the topics were connected to the NCTM standards in a chart at the front of the book. My son liked that the topics changed from day to day and he didn't get bored doing the same type of problem everyday, but each skill was repeated soon enough that he didn't forget what he had learned. He was also eager to do several pages every day and most pages were self-explanatory enough that I didn't have to stay right next to him the entire time.

Mathematical Reasoning included all of the skills I expected to be covered in a 1st grade level math book and a list of the skills in each level can be found on the company website. There are also several sample pages. My sons favorite pages were "mystery pictures." First was a page of regular math problems followed by a "dot-to-dot" type activity where instead of going from 1-20, you connected the dots in order of your answers. Not only were these great motivation (he would often keep going to get to the next one), they were somewhat self-correcting. If the answer he got wasn't in the puzzle, he knew he needed to try again.

I was pleased with the amount of word problems and use of visual manipulatives to help make concepts concrete. I felt like it was a very complete math program, easy to use, and kid friendly. The only negative I found is that it is consumable, but so are most math resources for this level. Also, the authors recommend using online virtual manipulatives, but you may want to add a physical set of manipulatives as well.

Overall, this is a product that lives up to my expectations for a product from The Critical Thinking Company.

You can read reviews of other levels at the Crew website.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Great Easter gifts

Easter was always a fun holiday growing up and hunting for Easter baskets is a tradition I wanted to continue with my kids. At the same time, I wanted to keep the focus of the day on the real meaning of the holiday. In December, I posted about Alphabet Alley a company that sells Bible based toys and games. I was sent a magnetic playset to review, but as a result of the new U.S. laws, they are not selling the magnetic playset until they can determine if they meet the new standards set by the U.S. government. The company pays strict attention to quality and I would recommend that you visit their website and see what fun gifts you can find for Easter.

You can read my previous review or visit their site here.

New Testament Activity Pak

Have you caught the lapbooking bug yet? Lapbooking is a fun project based way of learning material. You create several "mini-books" that are then glued together into a file folder creating a "lapbook" that your kids will want to look at over and over, painlessly reviewing the material.

I was given a copy of the New Testament Lap Book Activity Pak from Homeschool in the Woods to review. This is one of the most complete lapbooks kits I have seen. The suggested ages are grades 3-8, so some of the activities were a little advanced for my younger kids, and we ended up doing a "family" lapbook. This particular lapbook contains 15 activities, and each one can be used as the basis for a Family Home Evening Lesson or Sunday activity. The instructions are extremely well written, with pictures, to help you create the mini-books. Mini-books are also pretty easy to adapt to fit the needs of your family-- we simplified the Beatitudes book with a brad fastener and made it a "fan" book. My only negative about this lapbook is that it doesn't use the King James Version of the Bible, which is our preference.

One of our favorite activities was making the Armor of God Posters using individual pictures of the kids for the faces. The boys LOVE war and battle stuff right now, and the poster was a fun way to let them build a "paper doll" version of themselves with the Armor of God.

All of the pictures are clear and contain a great deal of detail. Homeschool in the Woods also offer History Through the Ages Timeline Figures that we have used. These are also high quality pictures that will enhance your study of history.

You can read additional reviews here.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Here's a chance to save up to 80% on products from some of the companies I've reviewed this year! It's the March Madness sale in the Schoolhouse Store! They have unit studies and copy work to help round out this school year or for fun summer activities. Almost 200 items are on sale from vendors such as Auralog, Trigger Memory, Draw and Write Through History, American Schoolhouse Readers, and MANY more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Noah's Ark

The kids and I were all very excited when I found out that I was going to get to review another product made by One2Believe. The kids loved the nativity set we reviewed before Christmas that they still ask to play with it even with Christmas long passed. (That review is here.)

I love the idea of giving the kids Bible and scripture oriented toys to play with and reinforce those stories. Unfortunately, we had a few problems with our Noah's ark. Ours came with a missing lion and an extra monkey. I emailed the company and they said they would send a replacement lion, but it never came. The ark does open to hold the animals, but it is too hard for my kids to open and close it on their own.

One thing my kids DID really like about the ark was that it really floats. They are making plans to float it down the little ditch behind our house this summer. Adam (2) really liked all the animals and even started taking an ostrich and a camel to bed with him. He carried the elephants around all the time too. The older boys liked the ostriches and monkeys, but were a little turned off by the elephants--ours were purple and they couldn't see past that.

Another concern as Noah's staff, which comes out and could pose a choking hazard. I just removed it. My kids did spend a good amount of time playing with the set. They pulled out all the other animals they could find and created quite the animal parade to the ark. I liked that One2Believe had some less common animals, like ostriches and camels, included in the set.

Overall, this is a fun toy for in the bathtub where the floating aspect makes it a winner, but it's not the easiest for the kids to use on their own.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Spelling came easy for me, but I remember my mom drilling my younger brother on his spelling words every night over and over. I'm sure would have LOVED a spelling program that would do it for her. That is basically just what SpellQuizzer is! It is a simple spelling software that lets you (or your child) enter in the list of words to be studied, along with a sentence or phrase using that word (either typed or verbally through a computer microphone). The child then practices their list over and over. If they misspell a word the correct spelling pops up in green and the spelling they typed in red. After going through all the words, it re-quizzes them on words they missed.

I used this program primarily with Tyler (age 6). His lists included mostly phonetically standard words or "challenge" words that he commonly uses in writing, like "love" and "said." When I recorded the sentences, I tried to make them fun because I knew if they were silly he would think it was a game. He thought the personalized sentences were hilarious! Many of my sentences requested an action. dog: Can you bark like a dog? mom: Stand up and say, "My mom is the best."

Later, I let Ryan (age 8) enter in a list and sentences. The software was easy enough that Ryan could do that without problems. I didn't give him a set list, but told him any 3 letter words that were easy to sound out would be fine. He had fun making the list for his brother and then made one for himself using words he misspelled in his writing.

My 3 year old also wanted a turn, so we recorded letters for her. b:buh, boy and she would have to type the letter. She thought it was fun and it was good practice for hearing the sounds.

In addition to practicing spelling words, there are side benefits to this program as well. It is helping my younger kids become familiar with the keyboard, keeps the 3 year old quiet while I'm putting the little ones down for a nap, and it can be used for lots of things besides spelling. It can basically be used to practice any quiz information as long as the child can spell the answer.

It is not a flashy program, there is nothing to distract from the task at hand. It's easy to use and my kids thought it was fun. I would recommend it for kids who struggle with spelling and need the drilling. You can try this spelling software free for 30 days, or buy it for $29.95.

You can also get it free two different ways: (I suggest option 1 if you have a blog).

1. Use the contact form on the website and tell the owner Dan Hite that you would like to write about the software on your blog, like I did. Anyone who has an established blog can get a free license by posting about SpellQuizzer. There are no conditions on whether or not the post is positive or negative.

2. Through a service called TrialPay where you sign up for goods or services from qualifying companies and get a free license for SpellQuizzer for doing so. Some of the offers cost nothing (signing up for a Discover Card, agreeing to a free trial for a service like FreeCreditReport.com, etc.). You can check it out at http://www.spellquizzer.com/PurchaseByTrialPay.htm.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Artistic Pursuits

These are one of the best art books I've used! I love how they have everything collected that I need. I have used the K-3 level books 1 and 2. Artistic Pursuits also carries books for Preschool, Upper Elementary, Junior High,and High School. I am NOT talented with art. I know the names of some famous artists and recognize a few famous works of art, but I sometimes struggle with the amount of prior knowledge art curriculum expects the teacher to have. With Artistic Pursuits, I am able to learn right along with the kids. The lessons follow a See, Learn, Do format. Book 1 (K-3) covers what artists see, what artists do, and early art (such as cave art, greek pottery, stained glass).

Book 2 introduces students to the stories of artists and their art. First we read and talk about an artist, we see an example of their work, and then the student does a project connected to what they learned. My kids have really enjoyed the projects and tried the techniques they learned again later on their own. You can find samples on the website.

The only negative I have for this program is that it recommends REAL art supplies, which can be expensive. There are links to discount art suppliers on the website, and for some projects we used the lower quality items we already had on hand. The teacher notes help you know exactly what to have on hand with which lesson and keep prep time to a minimum. I like that it includes art history and hands on projects. It is not too time consuming or in-depth for young students.

If you want to read reviews of other levels, please check out what other members of the TOS Crew have to say.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Math Mammoth

Update: Free Sample of the Blue Series Clock Worktext this week only: HERE

Have you ever wished you could find a good math curriculum that focused just on clocks or geometry or money? Have you ever wished you could just erase the whole page and have the child try again when you had THOUGHT they understood what you were asking them to do? Math Mammoth does exactly that! And for a very good price too!

Math Mammoth worktexts (blue and light blue) and workbooks (green and orange) are downloadable math programs. You then print the worksheets (and text style explanations) you want from your computer. They are packaged a variety of ways, so you only have to pay for what you need. They are also non-consumable in that you can print them off again for another child or for extra practice.

The Blue series are topical worktexts for grades 1-5 that range in price from $2 to $5. Each book covers one topic for one grade. These would be perfect if you have a student needing practice with time or money. They are a great supplement for other math programs or a stand alone introduction to a topic.

The light blue series books are a complete yearly curriculum for grades 1-5. They come in 2 parts A & B for each grade and cost about $14 per part. This is the program we tried. We used 2A with Tyler. One thing I really liked was that this program does not "spiral" but is organized by topics. While some topics have to be presented in order because they build on each other, others like time and money don't and can be presented anytime.

When Tyler is presented with new material there are times that it doesn't seem to stick and both he and I get frustrated. I've found that if I move onto a new topic and give the first time to "simmer" in his mind, it often clicks easily when I come back to it a couple weeks later. Many math programs won't allow this because future lessons have review problems covering exactly what they child was struggling with. Another thing I really liked was the list of internet resources at the beginning of each topic. It directed me to free resources and suitable games and activities online. The sites were all kid friendly and safe. Tyler loved bouncing a ball along a number line to land on and squish flies. Even Jeanisha who is 3 caught onto the concept of a number line with this game and enjoyed it.

The Math Mammoth books come in 2 additional formats, green and golden, which are geared for grade 3-Algebra 1. These are simply a collection of worksheets, arranged either topically (green) or grade level (golden). These would be perfect for tutoring or for extra practice.

The only cons I could see with Math Mammoth were the printing costs and the possibility of lost pages (it's easier for my kids to lose one worksheet than a whole book). One other possible challenge is figuring out which series is best for your child because the books can be "packaged" several different ways, but the author, Maria Miller is very approachable and willing to help!

I recommend going to the website and requesting the 280 free worksheets at the bottom of the page. These will give you a good idea of what the curriculum entails!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Five in a Row

I love the idea of basing learning around good literature, which is exactly what Five in a Row by Jane Claire Lambert does. The basic idea behind the Five in a Row books it that you read the same selected book every day for five days in a row and do an accompanying activity or two each day. There are 4 volumes of Five in a Row for ages 4-8. I have used volumes 1 and 3.

Through Five in a Row we've been introduced to some really sweet and fun stories that we would have missed otherwise. My kids love hearing the same story several times and these books often become favorites. The teacher manual has a variety of activities for each story. For example after reading Henry the Castaway, we talked about birds and Scottish Terriers, river currents, and explorers. We made flags and looks at the water in the paintings.

Five in the Row also introduces kids to some pretty advanced Language arts concepts, allusion, onomatopoeia, analogy, simile, and so on. I've been impressed with what my boys have been able to remember and how they are able to incorporate some of these into their writing.

One downside of the Five in a Row book is that some of the books are hard to find, we were able to get quite a few through interlibrary loan, but there were a some that are out-of-print. I would suggest looking over the booklist before selecting a volume. You can use any of the first 3 volumes in any order (volume 4 is geared to older kids as are Beyond Five in a Row.) You can also use the stories in any order, we generally just did whichever book came first through interlibrary loan.

Five in the Row is a fun literature based curriculum. I would use it more as a supplement than a full curriculum, but it is easy to use and enjoyed by the kids. Each teacher volume is $25-$35 depending on the binding type you choose.