Friday, May 25, 2012

Heritage History (TOS Review)

Photobucket Heritage History is an online library of over 400 books all authored and published prior to 1923.  Fulfilling their mission to make old-fashioned history books, written for the enjoyment of young people, easily available, the complete text of every book can be read directly off the website.  (Printable and e-Reader formats can also be purchased.) This large collection is very user-friendly as it is clearly sorted by genre, author, series, and civilization.  A color-coder myself, I do like the titles' organization based on the level of difficulty.  Green titles are for younger readers, brown titles are for middle school, and red titles are for high schoolers. 

I really appreciate a company that is operated by homeschoolers.  They are in the trenches and understand the unique needs of home educators.  At Heritage History, that is the case.  In fact, it was birthed out of their own homeschooling and teaching needs.  You may be interested to read about the selection process for the books and worldview.

Heritage History currently offers five libraries configured as complete curriculums.   Each can be purchased on CD for $24.99 or the entire set is available for $99.99 (a $25 savings!).  Whether you purchase one library or all of them, it is a very frugal, economic way to build a quality historical library!  Think of all the space you will save too - no need to find space for more bookshelves! (That's a biggie in my house.)  On the CD's, you will find the resources in three formats - Printable PDF files, E-Reader formats MOBI, and EPUB. What an advantage to be able to use it with ANY reader! 


 For review purposes, I was sent The Young Readers Classical Curriculum. It is appropriate for early elementary students and serves as an introduction to the entire Heritage History curriculum. The CD includes 86 books, recommendations, and a Teacher's Guide. The stories and selections cover many historical periods and cultures. A sampling of American, European, Ancient, and Biblical history - this is a wonderful introduction to history.

The Young Readers Teacher's Guide is a fabulous resource.  It includes color images and book recommendations, era overviews, a guide to "Living Books" history for instructors, binder covers, and accountability records. It is ready to put into a three-ring notebook and will help students understand the historical framework into which their stories fits.

While the Teacher's Guide is included on the CD, I was sent a print copy as well.  This option may be something to consider especially for convenience sake or if you lack access to a low-cost color printer.  It was so nice to have the materials all printed and binder ready.  It allowed me to flip back and forth at will and go to the section I desired to read with ease.  The print version is available for $20.99.  There is also the opportunity to purchase only a downloadable teacher's guide without the complete Curriculum CD for $8.99. This would be the option for families that would like to follow the Heritage Classical Curriculum study program, but prefer to purchase books individually or read the text directly from the Heritage History website.   

How did we use The Young Readers Classical Curriculum? Since we did not formally study history this year, I didn't have a specific time period to focus on or tie our reading into.  Therefore, we took a look at the long list of titles and chose the one of most interest to us.  As Kentuckians, Hannah of Kentucky, was a good place to start.  With the kids cuddled up close, I'd grab the Kindle and read aloud.  Hannah's family follows the infamous Daniel Boone to settle in Boonesborough.  The kids really enjoyed hearing and learning about the day-to-day goings on of fort life. Through Hannah's eyes, they also experienced the larger-than-life pioneer, Daniel Boone.  Without Heritage History, I seriously doubt we would have ever crossed paths with this sweet tale. 

Read what other TOS Crew Members are saying about Heritage History on the TOS Crew Blog.  You may also be interested to know that Heritage History is also a 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Crew Blue Ribbon Award Winner as the "BEST e-Product."  Go ahead and view the entire list of winners here!

Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary CD & Teacher's Guide in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

WriteShop (TOS Review)


I was thrilled to be on the review team for WriteShop.  It seems that in these early, formative years my focus has been having the kids work to master phonics and learn to read. While there is nothing wrong with these goals, WriteShop illustrated beautifully how writing coincides with such studies and definitely has a place in the early elementary curriculum lineup.  It is the perfect addition to what we are already implementing and accomplishing in our home. 

First, I spent some time getting to know the teacher's guides section.  It had valuable information including planning the schedule, materials and supplies needed, how to teach multiple children at varying levels, and the framework for teaching the lessons.  The schedule may take a little time to wrap your head around, but once you choose a plan to stick with and follow, you will get in the groove quickly.  I chose to use the 2-week option.  We completed one lesson in this timeframe by completing one of the eight sections each day Monday through Thursday while taking Fridays off.  This was very doable for us.  An average of 15-20 minutes a day isn't time-consuming at all.


Our time was spent working specifically with WriteShop Primary A.  For our family, this was a natural place to start, but if you are unsure where to begin this determining placement section will be very helpful to you.  WriteShop Primary A is designed for kindergarten and first grade or reluctant second graders. The program allows for students who are pre-writers as well as those who are in the beginning/developing stages.  The program leads students through and teaches them the writing process from pre-writing to publication in a stress-free, age-appropriate manner.

Each of the lessons in WriteShop Primary A has a specific focus and theme. 
  • Lesson 1 - Getting Started & Animals
  • Lesson 2 - Personal Writing & I Am Special
  • Lesson 3 - Thinking of Ideas to Write About & My Favorite Things
  • Lesson 4 - Selecting a Title & Friends
  • Lesson 5 - Beginning, Middle, End & Trains
  • Lesson 6 - Using a Period & Colors
  • Lesson 7 - Using Word Families & Rhymes
  • Lesson 8 - Story Web to Organize Ideas & Insects
  • Lesson 9 - Personal Narrative Story & TV/Movies
  • Lesson 10 - Chronological Order & Car/Trucks
Each Lesson is divided into 8 Activity Sets which includes Guided Writing Practice. I love that aspect.  I'm not just handing my kids an assignment to complete.  I'm sitting side-by-side with them guiding them each day.  This allows us to work together to create an example for them to follow as they write their own stories.  It is also important to note that each lesson encourages the use of a children's book.  In reading this together, the students are able to see yet another example of quality, correct writing.
Activity Set 1: Guided Writing Practice only
Activity Set 2: Pre-writing Activities and Picture Book
Activity Set 3: Brainstorming
Activity Set 4: The Writing Project
Activity Set 5: Editing and Revising
Activity Set 6: Activity Set Worksheet
Activity Set 7: Publishing the Project
Activity Set 8: Want To Do More?
WriteShop Primary A includes engaging, hands-on, fun activities and projects including:
Writing and Publishing Projects
  • Paper plate faces
  • Story clothesline
  • Paper cookie friendship book
  • Accordion story book
  • Paper plate story pocket
  • Rebus
Other Activities and Projects
  • Paper coins and purse/wallet (high-frequency vocabulary)
  • Pointers
  • Stick puppets
  • Motion songs
  • “Stand, Hop, Sit” game
  • Rhyming words placemat
  • Taking a “Bug Walk”
  • Stuffed animal “Editing Buddies”
Take a look at a Sample Lesson to get a better feel for how the program is structured.  Also, to accompany WriteShop Primary A, there is an activity set worksheet pack available for $4.95.  These worksheets fit right into the schedule and are an added help. 

Because I am now a huge fan of WriteShop, it is my plan to have my kids work through the entire series. Presently, for K-3 students, Primary A, B, and C are available as e-books or physical books from $24.95-$32.95. Students in grades 3-5 would work in WriteShop Junior D which retails for $34.95 (e-book) or $39.95. WriteShop 1 and WriteShop2 are available for students in grades 6-12.

WriteShop Series Junior D

We had such a wonderful experience with Write Shop.  Having lesson one focus on animals was perfect for my animal junkies.  It also just so happened that we have a new kitten and that coincided with the writing about our pets.  Then, to complete our first lesson the kids turned their published writing into a kite to fly through the house which equalled great fun.  In our second week, we used our calendar to write about the special things happening in our house each day of the week.  The kids' published products were paper plate face books.  Their likeness on the front and their writing inside.  What a cute idea!  I'm excited to continue WriteShop Primary A with my little ones.  However, you don't have to rely on just my opinion.  Read what other TOS Crew Members had to say about this product on the TOS Crew Blog.


Disclaimer:  I was provided a complimentary product in exchange for my open, honest review. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

CapJaxMathFax (TOS Review)

Caleb worked very hard this year in Math and was able to finish his 1st grade curriculum in April.  That was great, but now what?  Jeremiah is still working for another month to reach the same goal, and I didn't want Caleb sitting idly by.  The solution....  Enter CapJaxMathFax.



CapJaxMathFax is a drill and practice math facts computer program.  Practice in all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are available, but Caleb has been working primarily with addition.  From his work with this program, he is improving both his speed and accuracy in addition facts.  Even better, he's not balking at it a bit.  He really enjoys his time working through CapJaxMathFax.  
The computer program was designed by Jack Fretwell of Starboard Training Systems. With 30 years in education and computers, Mr. Fretwell is dedicated to developing stronger math skills and confidence in students.  His desire is for no child to be without basic math abilities.  There is also a want to alleviate frustration, self-defeat, and negative attitudes.  Thus, the tagline, "Put some HAPPY in your math!"

There are so many online math programs and software available.  What makes CapJax the one to choose.  Use the checklist below to compare CapJax to the alternatives.  Can you check yes?  CapJax can!

Does the program address the full range of computation from addition to division?
Does the program address computation with negative as well as positive values?
Will my student clearly understand the objectives of the program?
Is there positive feedback for my student to enjoy working with the program?
Is feedback immediate?
Does the program allow me to monitor my student's performance over time?
Will the program work at my student's best pace for learning?
Will my student succeed at a rate that is challenging, but not frustrating?
Does the program allow time for my student to reflect on his or her work?
Does the program use timing in a way that that minimizes pressure?
Does the program provide printed reports of my student's success?
Does the program provide graphical reports of success and progress?

Honestly, as an adult, I thought the computer graphics of this program were very dated.  There aren't many frills, cool effects, etc.  It is basic facts.  I guess... aesthetically, I wanted more.  With all of the online educational and video games my son plays, I really expected this to be a problem.  However, he wasn't phased.  He was all about beating his time.  How many seconds did it take to answer the fact and could he do it fast next time.  The thrill for him came in the competition.  He was always trying to "one-up" his own score. 

I suppose what was best for Mom.  I didn't have to go back through the teacher's manual of his 1st grade math and copy lots of drill and practice sheets.  I simply sat him on the computer, clicked a few buttons to customize exactly what I wanted him to concentrate on and he was self-sufficient. When answering a math fact, Caleb received immediate feedback. (See example)


With CapJaxMathFax, children are able to advance through the program as they gain mastery.  As they progress, they earn earn merit badges.  This is to serve as an incentive as the students are improving their math skills and building their confidence. 


$29.95 for the downloadable product

Contact Information:

Starboard Training Systems
11729 North Shore Dr.
Reston, VA 20190 USA

Phone: 703.471.6790
Fax: 703.471.6791
Open 9:00am - 5:00pm EST
Online Contact Form

Unexpectedly, I found CapJaxMathFax to be a winner for my son.  He really enjoys the program and is doing well.  I encourage you to stop by the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog and see what others are saying about CapJaxMathFax.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a complimentary product in exchange for my honest opinion.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Music Making with Instruments

My kiddos with friends from their K-1 Music Class (DRASTIC Co-op).

When music making with instruments, the instrument itself becomes an extension of the child.  They are able to pour themselves... their feelings, emotions, abilities, expressions, etc. into the music they create.  Early on, this expression may come across as noise to Mom's ears, but the experience is invaluable for little ones.  Be patient Mom!!!!  Actually, exposure to and the opportunity to play even the simplest of rhythm instruments as a child could quite possibly transfer to the desire to play a lifelong instrument.  You could have a very accomplished future instrumentalist in your midst.  

Basic Beat 25-Player Rhythm Instrument Set With Bag
Popular childhood instruments are often members of the percussion family.  These auxillary instruments are things that are struck, shaken, or scraped.  Instruments such as:  tambourines, maracas, castanets, triangle, rhythm sticks, guiro, cymbals, drums, etc.  There is a definite quality difference in these products.  You can find cheap plastic versions in toy aisles, but if possible, I'd invest in the higher quality items.  If they are played as regularly as the ones in my home by some rough-and-tumble kiddos, you are going to want something that will withstand the wear and use.  Also, the music-geek again, the timbre or sound quality is so much better.
Diatonic Set of 8 Boomwhackers
One favorite among my children and the many elementary level music classes I've taught over the years has to be BOOMWHACKERS!  These pitched, plastic tubes are played by striking them against your body.  They are so very fun, but they are ever so valuable in teaching many musical concepts such as:  high/low pitch, diatonic/chromatic scales, intervals, chord building, melodic contour, dynamics, etc. 

Finally, just my opinion, on formal instrument lessons...  wait until your child is a reader!  This has always been my rule of thumb in teaching piano lessons.  There are many differing methodologies in teaching children, and some start teaching preschoolers by rote.  I'm not saying to squash a young child's interest, but I strongly encourage you to wait until your child is an early reader to begin formal study.  This will aide them in memorizing notes rather than relying on crutches (finger numbers) to play.  Again, my opinion :-)

If you have been with me for the entire Music Making series, thanks so much!  If you missed any earlier posts, please go back and take a read.

Day 4 - Music Making with Homemade Instruments

Be sure and catch the other 65+ Bloggers participating in the TOS Homeschool Crew blog hop.  There are some wonderful, informative, creative posts you don't want to miss.


Go Science (TOS Review)

Photobucket   Photobucket

Whether you have science fanatics in your home or those with a strong aversion to all things science, I believe, they will not only enjoy but learn a lot about science from the enthusiastic Mr. Ben Roy in the Go Science DVD series.  Each of the 6 DVD's is broken into small segments that run approximately 3-5 minutes.  These bite-size snippets are perfect to show as they coincide with your particular science program of study or as a child-friendly introduction to the study of science.  If your kids are like mine, they are also content to sit and watch the entire video!

Some of the experiments can be watched and repeated on your own.  However, at times, Mr. Roy also utilizes expensive equipment, fire, and explosions.  Obviously, these experiments wouldn't be plausible to do in your home, but WOW - how exciting is an explosion for little boys to watch!  You may be hitting rewind quite often :-)

There are 6 titles in the Go Science series. 
Volume 1 Motion: Discovering the Laws of Gravity and Motion
Volume 2 Simple Machines, Sound and Weather
Volume 3 Magnetism, Engineering, Electricity, and Design
Volume 4 Chemistry, States of Matter, and Life Sciences
Volume 5 Air and Flight
Volume 6 Water, Space, and the Solar System

We were able to view Volume 5: Air & Flight which included demonstrations such as: 
  • Bernoulli Effect
  • Warmer Air
  • Can Crush
  • Flight
  • Cartesian Diver
  • Paper Strips
  • Air Cups
  • Drum Crush
  • Pour Air
  • Balloon Balance
  • Inverted Water Cup
Our other choice to view was Volume 6: Water, Space, and the Solar System which included:
  • Water Disappear
  • Boil Water in a Paper Cup
  • Properties of Water
  • Floating Balls
  • As Cold as Outer Space
  • Make a Rocket
  • Living in Space
  • Solar System
  • Centripetal Force

As a Mom, I love that originally these video segments were featured on a Christian TV show.  Mr. Roy uses science to illustrate Biblical concepts.  Then, following each and every demonstration, he reminds us that, “Every time we learn something about SCIENCE, we learn something about our CREATOR GOD!”

My only caution - while the Go Science DVD's are suggested for ages 6-14, Mr. Roy's language and approach would probably best suit the younger ages in this spectrum.  While the content is still age appropriate for a middle schooler, I could definitely see them balk at watching a DVD with such a childish-feel.  Thankfully, my kiddos, at 5, 6, and 7, were totally enthralled!  You can view a sample video below to see if this series would appeal to your children. 

The Go Science DVD's are available through Library & Educational Services for just $8.97 each, or the entire set of 6 DVD's is available to purchase for $47.95.

Library & Educational Services is a wholesale company that serves churches, schools, libraries AND home educators! They offer wholesale prices on many different products at 30-70% off!  Register for your free account and take advantage of all the great savings on the products you use and love.  You'll probably find a few other "must-haves" for your homeschool as you browse their wide selection.

Finally, you are going to want to be sure and visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog to read what other crew members are saying about Go Science


Disclaimer:  I was provided two complimentary Go Science DVD's in exchange for my honest opinion.  No monetary compensation was received. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Music Making with Homemade Instruments

Homemade instruments are a lot of fun for children.  Creating the instrument, immediately, the child feels ownership, and he becomes so very excited to perform.  He will definitely enjoy music making with something he fashioned with his own hands.

Again, search throughout your house, and I'm sure you will find many objects that can find new life as an instrument.  A plastic Easter egg filled with rice is obviously an eggshaker.  Two cups attached at the mouth or two paper plates glued together can become shakers when filled with rice or beans.  A Pringles container filled with rice, beans, pasta, etc. is now a rainstick.  A shoebox with a whole cut out of the center and rubberbands stretched across transforms into a guitar.  While these are tried and true and just a sampling of all you can do, I have a lesser known homemade instrument I'd recommend you make with your children. 

Suggested Activity:  Make a homemade bullroarer. 

A bullroarer is an ancient instrument used primarily for communicating over greatly extended distances, and some people groups believed it allowed them to communicate with their gods.  Evidence of bullroarers have been found in many geographic locations and cultures.  However, it is most well-known among the Australian Aborigines.

In the past, I have made these instruments with students with a paint stir stick and string as shown in option 1, but option 2 & 3 works as well.
Option 1:

Option 2:

Option 3:

Visit other posts in my "5 Days of Music Making" series...

Also, be sure and visit the many other bloggers participating in the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog Hop.  Simply click the button below.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Music Making with Found Sound Objects

Day 3 in our Music Making series, and I want to call your attention to an often neglected form of music making - found sound.  Instead of being used for it's original purpose, a found sound object is adapted or modified to make music.  We have seen this done routinely in musical forms such as Jug Bands and Appalachian folk music.  Recognize any of these objects?


The intended purposes were never to create music, but they have become recognizable instruments still used today. 

When you explain found sound to your children, it is so very easy for them to comprehend.  They have probably all made pencils into drumsticks - very disturbing to a homeschool Momma wanting to get the day's work done :-)  I'm sure they have blown across a bottle to hear the sound it makes.  If you have rambunctious boys like I do, they have probably simply ran into something and realized it made sound.

Today, I have one suggested activity for your family.  Go on a Found Sound Scavenger Hunt.  You may choose to do this with a digital camera taking pictures of the items you find or even video of your children playing these instrument/objects.  Older children may put it in a table format.  The items found could be listed down the left side of the grid.  Across the top include such categories as:  the material it is made of, how is sound created, what does it sound like, etc.  Then, once the scavenger hunt and/or table is complete, you can have a discussion about timbre (what makes the sound of each instrument unique).

Did you miss Day 1 or Day 2 of my "5 Days of Music Making" series?  Be sure to click the links and check them out.  Also, I highly encourage you to check out the other bloggers participating in the TOS Crew Blog Hop.  Simply click the flashing button below.  There are so many wonderful posts on such a wide variety of topics including subjects of interest for homeschoolers and general interest posts as well. 


Judah Bible Curriculum (TOS Review)

From the website...
  • A Principle Approach curriculum for Bible class.
  • Develop a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible.
  • Build strong, Godly character in your children.
  • Study the Bible together.
  • Study the hand of God in the lives of individuals and nations.
  • For homeschool, Christian school, Sunday school.
  • Teach your children living Biblical principles to guide their lives.
  • Apply God’s word personally in every area of life.
  • The Bible is the textbook.
Employing The Principle Approach, this curriculum studies the Bible divided into 5 themes while descibing the happenings in the government.
  1. Creation
  2. The Plan of Redemption Begins
  3. The Kingdom of Israel
  4. The Kingdom of God
  5. The Early Church
Through each year of study, you spend the first semester concentrating on the Old Testament and the second semester focusing on the New Testament.  In their studies, students and parents are spending time notebooking about key individuals, events, institutions, and documents for each time period.

The Judah Bible Curriculum Pack is available for puchase in digital form for $44 or on CD for $74. This includes the Judah Bible Curriculum Manual containing instructions, resources, and the K-12 Weekly Theme Guide.  A Notebook Ideas book for elementary students is also provided.  Finally, you receive 8+ hours of teacher training audio seminars.


I wholeheartedly agree with this program's intent to produce Biblically literate students who understand Truth and are able to reason from that basis.  The Bible absolutely can stand alone, and as a parent, there is nothing I desire more than for my children to personally know God, His word, and His ways.  However, I have a hard time reviewing the Judah Bible program as a curriculum.  An outline, a framework, a mindset... maybe???  Best summed up, it is pouring over your Bible intently.  Honestly,  this seems a normal part of life to me.  Possibly, it is because I've grown up being Biblically literate, attended Bible college, and this is just a way the norm for me and my family.
I think I kept searching for that "something more" in this curriculum.  That's odd enough because there were 8 lengthy audios included for parent/teacher prep.  Aside from the time that took, the program was extremely teacher intensive/laborious especially if you have little ones.  My 5, 6, and 7 year old weren't quite ready to tackle the key sheets on their own.  Therefore, I had to spend time to seek out accompanying materials (coloring sheets, activity pages, etc.) to use with the Scripture being studies.  By no means am I against the key sheets, but they were definitely not an age-appropriate option for my children.  Possibly, I can revisit Judah Bible Curriculum when my children are older, but for the time being, I feel like there are other products available that better suit their needs.  Bible lessons that are tactile, hands-on, written for early elementary children, and that like Judah Bible have the students truly studying the Bible... not just about the Bible.

As always, don't simply rely on my review.  If you would like more information on this curriculum, be sure and read what other TOS Crew Members have written.  We have various experiences, family dynamics, preferences, etc.  You will definitely get a myriad of opinions! 


Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary digital curriculum package in exchange for my honest opinion.  There is no monetary compensation involved.