Monday, November 11, 2013

Stories of the Pilgrims Audio Book (Review & Giveaway)

Jim Hodges Audio Books is the place to turn when looking for recorded historical literature.  You will find classics for ages 5 through adult.  Also, this vendor is well-known as having the largest collection of unabridged recordings of the G.A. Henty historical novels available. 

As a member of the Bow of Bronze Launch Team, I was able to review the recording of the Stories of the Pilgrims  from Yesterday's Classics with my family.  This title actually has sat on our bookshelf for years as it is used in a number of popular history curriculum.  However, I can say cracking the book was much more enjoyable for my kiddos when listening to the Jim Hodges recording.  His telling of the stories truly made them come alive.

With the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, you may want to add this 4 hours and 10 minutes of listening pleasure to your celebration.  The stories are broken into 43 chapters.  The average chapter is 4-6 minutes in length.  Perfect for shorter attention spans!  In fact only 3 of the chapters exceed the 10 minute mark.  This makes these stories the perfect break between homeschool subjects.  A treat to listen to while eating lunch, waiting a turn to do something, etc.  Needless to say, it wasn't hard for us to find time to squeeze this product into our busy days. 

Your family will get a very clear picture and overview of the pilgrims Mayflower journey, daily life, and New World adventures.  Even better, since the main characters are the Brewster children your own kiddos will be completely engulfed and engaged.  It definitely strikes a cord and makes the pilgrims more realistic and less holiday fluff when the kids are hearing the stories from the children's perspective. 

The Stories of the Pilgrims Study Guide is also available. This 31 page PDF file allows you to print copies for all your family members to study together.  It contains 11 assignments and an answer key.  Within the assignments, you will find vocabulary study, comprehension questions, map activities, Bible study, recipes, crafts and more. There is even a link to a virtual tour of the Mayflower.

You can actually download the first chapter for free.  Warning - you'll be hooked!  So, I want to make sure you know about the November Sale!!!  You can purchase Stories of the Pilgrims for $15 until the end of November and the Study Guide is $5.  Only $20 to add both to your library.  What a great addition to your Thanksgiving Unit Studies and a supplement to history curriculum!!!!


If the sale isn't fabulous enough, you don't want to miss the Ultimate Audio Book Homeschool Giveaway from Jim Hodges Audio Books.  An amazing value worth over $700!!!  Hours upon hours of listening enjoyment for the whole family.  Enter today!

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Friday, November 8, 2013 (Review) is internationally known as an online math program covering Pre-K through Algebra II/Geometry curriculum.  In fact, Pre-Calculus will be added soon.  It is all inclusive so your child is able to work systematically through the content without gaps.  However, you should know that is no longer just a math program.  An Online Language Arts Membership (2nd-4th) is now available. 

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Our family had the opportunity to review the Online Math Membership (PreK-12).  In working with, I decided to use the program purely as a review.  In the Math section, I had all three of my kids begin a grade level below, so Rachel worked through the Kindergarten questions and Jeremiah and Caleb the 2nd grade.  My idea was to give them early success with the program and identify any gaps or weaknesses. 

IXL Screen Samples

Our use of did exactly as I hoped.  The kids performed well from the beginning, were able to revisit and refine subjects we had studied previously.  The program offers immediate positive reinforcement by identifying the answer is correct.  I have a couple kiddos who truly thrive upon and need this constant boost in confidence.  They would get excited when they would answer a whole series of questions correctly. 


A visit to the rewards board was always a treat for my kids.  They really seemed oblivious to the wording on the right explaining what the number of questions answered, what concepts were practiced, and what had been mastered, instead they were all about clicking the squares to reveal what reward they earned.  Then, as siblings do, they had to compare, "I got a seahorse, did you?"  "I got a teddy bear."  Also, don't fear that your child will be left out of the rewards if he or she is struggling to master a concept.  Awards are also earned based on the amount of time the child has practiced.  Everyone is a winner with a little effort.
IXL Awards and Games

I definitely want to note some fabulous components within the framework of the program.  First, the inclusion of a speaker icon in the Pre-K through 1st grade sections is incredibly helpful.  This allowed my emerging reader, Rachel, to work more autonomously.  She is still slow using the numeric keypad and needed to ask some clarifying questions about the tasks at times, but overall, worked with independence. 

Mom and Dad are kept in the loop.  Email updates contain progress reports.  At a glance, I could easily identify the kids strengths and weaknesses.  I knew what skills were mastered and knew where to really hone in and work  through trouble spots. 

The log-in process is simple and kid-friendly.  Each child was represented by their own icon, so no one accidentally worked in another's program.  If you have siblings, you know how important their personal space can be.  Plus, as a parent, I knew I was receiving reports on each child's individual work opposed to a collective family effort. 

IXL Family Reports

 Membership Costs:
  • Math only - $9.95 per month
  • Language Arts only - $9.95 per month
  • Both - $15.95 per month
  • Either Math or Language Arts - $79.00 per year
  • Both - $129.00 per year
  • Each additional child - $2 per month or $20 per year
I encourage you to read the experience of other homeschooling families with the iXL program.  You'll see that some families used only Math, others Language Arts, and some both.  As always, you can count on the crew members to share their honest opinions.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

My Beloved and My Friend (Review)

He said with this ring I promise, and with I do she said forever
But right now if they're being honest they don't know if they'll stay together
Let's fast forward to the future after struggling on their own
They finally figured out they needed Jesus in the middle
Now I'm watching God rebuild their home

I know you're feeling like it’s falling apart and it can't go on anymore
But God is a God who knows how to heal so just give it up to the Lord
And He will restore

The words above are song lyrics from Christian artist, Chris August's song, Restore.  The kids can be heard singing every word whenever the song comes on the radio.  It has a catchy tune and is beautifully written, so I understand why they sing along.  However, as a parent, it is my prayer that in their future marriages that they are never in a position where they are singing lyrics from the first verse: 

Nobody's growing old together, we've made it easy just to quit
Love has become a negative percentage, why do we bother to commit

While ultimately who they grow up and marry is their choice, I'm setting the stage now.  I'm training them and even better modeling for them.  Therefore, it is ever important for me to take stock in, gage, and invest in my marriage.  Within the roles of minister and wife, Jon and I have attended conferences and seminars, have a library of DVD's and books, and are always on the lookout for resources that we can share with couples in our church.  Still it is important to remember, that these materials are equally imperative to us as those we teach.

Therefore, I was so excited to get my hands on Hal & Melanie Young's latest book, My Beloved and My Friend: How to be Married to Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses.  I first became acquainted with the authors at a homeschool convention a few years back.  They presented a seminar with "ballistic" and "boy" in the description, and I was hooked.  Following the conference, I read their book, Raising Real Men, and truly became convicted and altered some of my opinions and actions in raising my sons.  I was certain that Hal and Melanie wouldn't disappoint when addressing such an important topic as marriage. 

From the authors: 

When Hal was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, it was a huge comfort to us to realize that whatever happened, we’d just written down what their Daddy thought it meant to be a man (Raising Real Men) and our boys would have that. As we talked about that, we asked, “Well, what else would we want to leave behind for our children?” and we realized we’d want our children to know how to have a terrific, Christ-centered, best friend kind of marriage just like we had – so we began to write My Beloved and My Friend.

As we’ve traveled the country speaking in the last few years, we’ve seen how so many of us are being stressed by the economy, and worn out by the business of life so that we forget to focus on our marriages. For other, their marriages are already struggling or broken, even Christian, homeschool families. They needed to know how to…
Have a more peaceful marriage, by learning to fight so you both win
Get along with your families, because leaving and cleaving is important
Be not just one flesh, but one wallet
Survive and thrive in trials, even when they’re over
Be married to your best friend without changing spouses
And lots more!

As I read the book, I heard Hal and Melanie's voices, their sincerity, even the quirky way they complete each other's sentences...  listen to one of their presentations and you'll know what I mean :)  They are REAL, authentic, and genuine.  They don't mince words, but they don't come from a position of judgment.  Instead, they offer encouragement, hope, even healing.  They speak Biblical truth.

Just a taste of the wisdom within from some quotes I liked...

God created us as eternal souls, personalities which go on forever.  In the early days of the world, a couple might live together as husband and wife for centuries.  They didn't die of boredom.   (p. 28)
Be a safe haven where they can talk through their concerns without fear of judgment.  Let them know you are on their side - always.  That's extremely powerful and your mate will never forget it when you are there for them, a safe harbor, when they feel attacked or let down by the world.  (p. 46)
 Faithfulness gives peace and security, loyalty gives joy. (p. 89)
If you live in the garden where God planted you, you find there is a lot more inside that hedge than you ever expected looking in at the gate.  It's all good.  (p.139) 
If a lady believes her husband is on his way to becoming a great man, he will be.  If she has confidence in him, he'll have confidence in himself.  If she respects him, he'll have self-respect.  If she believes in him, he will do everything in his power to live up to her expectations.  (p. 93)
We are generally busy, easily distracted, often tired, and frankly lazy.  Yet without making the effort, we risk hearts which grow cold and distant toward the One who died in our place and now claims our love and obedience.  That in turn will make our love toward our mate and family more fragile as well.  (p. 204)  
I'm truly blessed to be married to my best friend.  The past year has reiterated just how close our bond is, how deeply we share even the most mundane in life, how we delight in one another, and enjoy times both good and bad.  It saddens me when I see others who aren't enjoying the same relationship with their spouse.  Aside from praying for them and serving as an example, providing Biblical resources and wise council is priority.  I'm thankful that there are such materials available. 

The book will retail for $15 and releases in time for Valentine's Day.  However, you can Pre-Order for only $12 and have it in time to drop in a loved one's Christmas stocking or read for yourself over the holiday. In the meantime, I encourage you to connect with this wonderful couple. Read their blog.  Connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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I have self-proclaimed this month...
In college before a big recital, I'd forgo the fizz for months with no problem.  So periodically, I like to go off the cola just to prove I can still do it.  Although, it may be more difficult this time around.  The past few months I've been consuming a ridiculously large amount of pop.  If it is in the house, it is all I drink.  Therefore, it must go!!! 

I decided to have my last HURRAH tonight, and I plastered a good portion of a two-liter of Dr. Pepper.  The repercussions...  baby Eden was a spaz for 3 hours and didn't get to sleep until 10:30 p.m.  Also, it is 2:09 a.m., and I'm blogging and making to-do-lists in my head.

Hmmm... it could be a rough morning (remember no caffeine bubbles to kick-start my day) and a LONG day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bridgeway Academy - Magic Treehouse - The Middle Ages (Review)

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Bridgeway Academy affords homeschooling families the opportunity to interact with a certified instructor and classmates from around the world in a virtual classroom setting.  One way this is accomplished is through Learning Labs - Online Homeschool Co-ops.  The learning labs are conducted in a 9-week term and retail for $145.  The class offerings are cross-curricular and include a number of elective choices for elementary through high school students. 

We were able to review an elementary learning lab designed for students in grades 1-5.  Our selection was Magic Tree House Social Studies - The Middle Ages.  The second book from the popular Magic Tree House series, Knight at Dawn was the catalyst and foundation for the more in depth study of this time period.  Already a fan of Jack and Annie's adventures, re-reading this title was an easy sell to Caleb.  He gladly completed that homework assignment!

The syllabus for the course covered the following topics:
  • Overview of the Middle Ages
  • Life on a Medieval Manor
  • Lifestyle of the Wealthy and Nobility
  • Life in a Medieval City
  • Religion's Impact in Medieval Europe
  • Knights and the Crusades
  • Castles
  • The End of the Middle Ages
  • Art and Music
During the weekly 45 minute to an hour class sessions, kings, queens, knights, squires, and townspeople came alive!  Caleb learned about the entire social system and life during the Middle Ages in Medieval Europe.  He learned the geography and lay of the land - be it farms or village fair.  Also, discussed was the local cuisine, important music, art, and literature contributions, the climate surrounding war, and the structure of castles.  All of the information presented was age appropriate and tailored to the make-up and abilities of the student body.  Caleb was both informed and entertained. 

The classes were presented through the Jigsaw Meeting platform.  An open house was held prior to the beginning of the term to allow parents and students to familiarize themselves with the format.  Likewise, an invitation for each class session comes via email.  Again, you are able to test your computer prior to the lesson.  High speed Internet, a webcam, and microphone are used.  Updated Java and Flash are needed as well. 

Once in Jigsaw, the screen is divided into quadrants.  One area is the teacher via webcam, there is a space for presentations, another serves as a whiteboard for notes, and there are links to videos, PowerPoints, and assignments.  Icons are available for the students to raise their hands, communicate with others, and provide feedback to the teacher. 
The course's certified instructor was Kathi Thomas.  Honestly, I know I have been neglectful in sharing with Ms. Thomas just how appreciative I am of her preparedness, efforts, and attention to detail.  Her weekly email including a recap of what was covered in class and a preview of what would take place in upcoming classes, homework PDFs, powerpoint presentations, and videos links were key to Caleb having a pleasant experience.

Due to life circumstances (an out of state move and unforeseen computer issues), Caleb was unable to participate as fully as I would have liked.  I hate that he missed out on interaction between students and with his instructor.  However, because of the class recordings and resources made available, he doesn't really feel cheated at all.  He has learned so very much about the Middle Ages, knights, and castles.  (You can always tell when he's excited by new information for it is reflected in his play.  Yes, I heard he and Jeremiah playing as Medieval knights on several occasions :-)  Yay!)

Since we are a bit behind, he has yet to complete his culminating activity - a castle project.  However, with all the moving boxes in our garage, he has a lot of materials to work with.  He's even willingly unpacking more boxes, so he can add ones of certain shapes/sizes to his castle creation.  I can't wait to see the finished project!!!

I recommend you click below to read other's experiences with Bridgeway Academy.  Schoolhouse Review Crew members reviewed several learning labs/classes.  Some had the opportunity to use physical products as well. 


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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story (Review)

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Barbour Publishing has been in existence since the early 1980's.  The company's Christian books share the message of Christ.  It is able to proudly say it has shipped over 100 million books to date and releases over 150 titles per year.  Our family had the opportunity to review one such book, Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story.
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As a Mom, I try to seek out and choose books with which my children can relate.  In the case of this review item, Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story, it was I who could truly relate.  Having grown up in small towns, the setting of little Spooner, Wisconsin sounded all too familiar.  I recall dreaming often of growing up to finally find "bigger" and "better."  I wanted "more" and craved the experiences that my hometown could never offer.  For this reason, I identified with the main character, 10 year old Emma Jean Payne. 

Within the 192 page paperback, EJ dreams up some wild and crazy adventures including: being a queen, professional racecar driver, astronaut, circus performer, and a salon owner.  She also references book characters (think Anne of Green Gables - yay!) frequently.  This wild imagination often leaves her misunderstood and in a bit of trouble.  Well, that paired with her dealings with her brother... referred to as The Space Invader.  Ha!  I grew up with one of those :-)

By the book's end, EJ comes to the realization that you can "bloom where you are planted"... even in small, boring Spooner.  She's encouraged not to constantly live in her dreams for she will miss out on opportunities to love, serve, and care for those in need around her.  These are absolutely ideas I want my children to embrace. 

I love that EJ's parents, her father a minister and mother a teacher, play an active role in the book.  We also see other caring adults invest in and guide her.  They speak truth and encourage her.  Biblical ideas and themes are key factors in the development of the story, but it never feels contrived.  Instead, there is a very natural retelling of the story of Esther, the Christmas story, nativity scene, etc.

Since this book is recommended for ages 8-12, I chose to use it as a family read-aloud.  My 7 year old daughter and 8 year old boys all enjoyed the story.  They were attentive, engaged, and quite entertained by EJ and her antics.  We were all even known to get a case of the silly giggles on a few pages.  In addition, the kids were touched by the spiritual life lessons EJ learned and embraced the real life application.  Based on their reactions, I'd say it is safe to say they will desire to read this series in its entirety.  The second book in the series, Church Camp Chaos,  releases in March 2014.  Our family will be on the lookout!

In my opinion, for $5.99, this book is definitely one to add to your home library.  Even better... Barbour Publishing's books are all currently 25% off sale, so you can snag it at a discounted price.  WooHoo! 

Curious what other homeschooling families have to say about Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story?  Be sure and click the button below.  Then, you will be able to read the reviews of other Schoolhouse Review Crew members. 


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Friday, October 11, 2013

YWAM - Heroes of History - George Washington: True Patriot (Review)

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Earlier this spring, while attending the Teach Them Diligently conference, I was introduced to YWAM Publishing.  I was aware of YWAM's involvement in missions worldwide, but unfamiliar with the publishing arm of this organization.  It exists to provide evangelistic, educational and discipleship materials. 

Needless to say, I was WOW-ed and spent a lot of time perusing the resources  in their booth.  In fact, I left with a 10 book set from the Christian Heroes Then & Now series.  Our family has enjoyed reading missionary stories together before bed ever since. 

When I learned that I had the opportunity to review a YWAM title as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was quick to volunteer.  Having already read the title offered from the Christian Heroes Then & Now series, the only choice was Heroes of History George Washington: True Patriot.  Additionally, I was able to review the corresponding George Washington Unit Study Curriculum Guide. As expected, the title from the Heroes of History series did not disappoint. 

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Because the target audience for this title is 10 years and older, my family used this book as a read-aloud.  The content was not over the heads of my 6, 7, and 8 year olds.  However, there were some vocabulary words that needed further explanation... rich text is never a bad thing in my book! 

As expected, we found it to be engaging, interesting, and even humorous in spots.  The living book format always appeals to us.  Even more so, I'm a fan whenever character and faith are highlighted as they were in the story of George Washington's life. 

In 224 pages, 19 chapters, authors Janet & Geoff Benge, recount the life of George Washington beginning to end. The reader is first introduced to Washington as a young boy with his brothers during his formative years Virginia.  The kids learned he was a surveyor and all that the job entailed.  His military involvement in the French, Indian, and Revolutionary Wars was chronicled.  Then, the reader follows his marriage and children, his political career, his presidency, and his life after leading our country.  The final chapter shares Washington's last days and death.  No doubt, the book was comprehensive. 

Both physical and digital copies of the book are available for $6.99.

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Treasures I had only recently been made aware of (through the offerings from the Schoolhouse Library) are the corresponding unit studies that are available for the YWAM titles.  My family does not have any of these to go along with our Christian Heroes Now & Then selections, but after seeing all they entail I'm likely to be purchasing them.  For only $7.49, the 64 page George Washington Unit Study Curriculum Guide is a steal.  View sample pages
The Unit Study guide makes the book more accessible for all ages because it offers activities for children PreK through high school.  The activities are cross-curricular and appeal to the varied multiple intelligences and learning styles.  They include:  key quotes, chapter questions, essay questions, writing prompts, vocabulary, mapping exercises, crafts, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, timelines, geography skills, field trip ideas, and even a culminating event. 
You definitely have the freedom to pick and choose the components that are most beneficial for your family and circumstances.  Due to the fact that we were in the process of an out of state move during the review period, time constraints and the fact that materials were packed in boxes prevented us from doing some of the field trip and hands-on, craft suggestions.  However, I did select a couple quotes for the kids to memorize, and we did use the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  This helped me as a parent to gage the children's understanding and allowed them to ask clarifying questions all the while generating additional conversation and new questions to be answered.  Some Google searches followed many of these discussions to provide even more answers. 
One thing to make note of regarding the Q&A - answers are included in the appendix.  Since we completed the book as a read aloud, they weren't necessary for us.  However, if you were considering this book as an independent study for an older child.  You could definitely utilize the provided answers in order to check for comprehension. 
Another feature I appreciated... the EXTENSIVE suggested resource list.  Pages of great selections I may otherwise never have known about.  We had a few books on our shelves that I was able to set aside.  Then, I grabbed a great Amazon deal on a video suggestion.  It's nice to have these lists handy when surfing the web!

I recommend you become familiar with YWAM Publishing and all they have to offer.  We've been nothing but impressed by their products.  Don't just take my word for it.  Be sure to click below to read the review of other homeschooling families. 


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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fundanoodle (Review)

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Carolina Pad has introduced a new line of writing tablets and learning kits especially for early education students.  Young learners will love Fundanoodle!  The activities included are perfect for beginning students because the tasks are short, to-the-point, and fun.  Kids associate the pages more with play and are often oblivious to the fact that they are obtaining reading readiness and math skills.  All the while, the children are fine-tuning their motor skills, developing hand-eye coordination, and are problem-solving. 

Fundanoodle offers products for grades preschool through 2nd grade.  As a Schoolhouse Review Crew Member, I had the opportunity to review I Can Do Math Level 3 and Max &Alphie's Adventures Level 3.  My first grader, Rachel, worked through these activity books. 

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I Can Do Math Level 3 ($5.99) for ages 5/6 - K/1st
Skills Included: 
*numerical order
*skip counting
*basic addition & subtraction



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Max & Alphie's Adventures Level 3 ($5.99) Ages 5/6 - K/1st

Skills Included:
*basic handwriting
*letter & number recognition
*reading readiness activities

The Fundanoodle products are intended to be relaxed and enjoyable, and Rachel was definitely at ease working through the writing tablets.  Some activities were quite easy and simply review of prior knowledge such as: letter recognition, shapes, etc.  However, other activities had her thinking out of the box and trying new things.  She had a little trouble when given a half-drawn picture and was asked to complete the other side across a line of symmetry.  She got the concept, but the spacing and inclusion of all aspects of the drawing proved to be a bit tricky for her. 

The tablets are well-designed.  The spiral comb and cardboard covers are sturdy and can withstand the typical handling of a young child.  The pages are easy to turn, and by being a flip-top, it is comfortable for both left and right-handed children.

Max the Monkey and Alphie the Adventurer love letters and numbers.  These cute little characters are spotted throughout the pages.  There are also motivational stickers included in the tablets to be added to the completed pages as a symbol of a job well done.  Rachel was proud to have her activity books filled with stickers. 

If you have young ones, I'd recommend these activity books.  They are affordable and are a nice break from typical workbook pages and rigid curriculum.  They are perfect for school readiness and as supplemental or review material.  Don't just take my word for it.  Click below and be sure to read the reviews of other homeschool families who had the opportunity to use various Fundanoodle products.


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Monday, September 16, 2013

PeopleKeys - DISC Personality Style Assessment (Review)

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PeopleKeys is a worldwide leader in behavioral analysis.  The company offers a variety of tools that assist in answering the question, "Who are you?"  As a homeschooling parent, you are also most likely interested in having that question answered for each of your children.  You desire to understand their unique personalities, their motivators, and their struggles.  With such information in hand, you can better tailor your teaching to fit their individual needs. 

While several crew members reviewed items directly related to their children, I used a product that was outside the age range of the kiddos in my home.  So... it was Momma's turn to try something out!  Designed for students ages 13-Adult, I used the StudentKeys Online Personality Style Report (retails for $12). 
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Who are you? 
Discover who you are, what motivates you, how you communicate and what your strengths and limitations are.

The online assessment only entailed 15 questions.  For each question, four answers were provided. I then had to order the responses from most likely to least likely.  At the conclusion of the assessment, a report was generated for my immediate perusal and study. In addition, the report was also sent to my personal email address.

Because the product is online, there is no wait for product shipping or turn-around time for report generation.  Therefore, strategies and a plan can be put in place almost instantaneously.  In a fast-paced, need-to-know world, this is a huge draw for many people!  Unfortunately, based on the report, I received, I have to say the quick response time paled into comparison with the disappointment in the quality of the results. 

On the cover page of the report is my name and my personality style listed as REFORMER.  That's great!  I expected to scroll to the next page and immediately learn what a "reformer" is.  WRONG!  Actually, I didn't find that word mentioned again in the report. 

Pages 1-3 answered what are personality styles and why understanding them is important.  On page 4, under the title Your Personality Style, I read:  Angela's style is identified by the name "Communicator".  The remainder of this page proved to be the most helpful of the whole report.  It included paragraphs describing the personality of a communicator.  It touched on emotions, value to a team, and greatest fears.  It also identified things such as:  motivating goals, areas of influence, and areas for improvement. 

Pages 5-15 of the report are generic pages explaining the DISC Personality System.  Aside from a small sentence in the sidebar which said, "You are a primary "I" personality style." there was no other personalized information in the report.  While it did give a good overview of the DISC system, it was expected that the individual would decipher which information was pertinent to his/her own personality style.

In good conscience, I can't recommend this product.  Possibly, if you were utilizing the entire system offered, the results would be different because the DISC solution carries throughout.  However, as an individual piece, I did not find the personality styles aspect to be a strong product compared with the other tools available on the market.  In the past, I've taken much more detailed and thorough personality style assessments and have walked away with a better understanding of how I operate day to day and under stress as well as know my strengths and weaknesses.  The small time investment and quick return of the StudentKeys Online Personality Style Report are appealing, but the quality of the report is greatly lacking. 

Of course, experiences differ, so I encourage you to click below and read what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members are saying.  You will also be able to read reviews of the other products PeopleKeys has to offer.  



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Friday, September 6, 2013

A Child's Geography Vol. 3 (Review, Giveaway, & MEGA-GIVEAWAY!)

Maps, timelines, biographies, apps, history and geography texts - Knowledge Quest is a one stop shop!  This wonderful company is well-known for quality materials.  Most recently, my family was blessed to review A Child's Geography Volume III:  Explore the Classical World.

Author:  Terri Johnson
Price of Physical Product:  $34.95
Price of e-book:  $24.95
Age Range: Grades 1-6
Within the book's 224 pages, your family will embark on an amazing journey through The Classical World.  There are 15 chapters loaded with interesting text and stunning photographs.  Readers explore 12 countries all located around the Mediterranean Sea: Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Servia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, San Marino, the Vatican, and Malta. 
If this is unfamiliar territory, fear not.  You will not have to play tour guide or expert historian for your children.  Author, Terri Johnson, writes in a wonderful, conversational voice and speaks directly to the elementary student.  This truly is a LIVING book!  Literally, it is as if she is holding your children's hands and leading them through the country.  She is kind enough to make note of the terrain, introduce the local people, share important history, make cultural connections, and show the traveler a good time. 
While the reading is entertaining, there are measures to ensure that children are learning and retaining the new information.  New terminology is boldfaced and have pronunciations.  Full definitions can be found in the extensive glossary.  Throughout the text, there are suggestions for narration.  This allows Mom & Dad to check for understanding.  There are also opportunities to respond to questions and prompts in a field guide/journal.   
Additionally, there are extra activities are located on the CD-ROM in the back of your book or separate files if using the e-book format.  These goodies include: chapter timelines, suggestions for map labeling, hands-on activities, crafts, and recipes, recommended reading lists, and a prayer guide. 
Being that we had not started our formal school year at the beginning of our review period, I opted for us to use this resource in a very relaxed manner.  We read the text together and discussed our reading.  We've been doing a lot of traveling as of late, so the ease of the e-book format proved to be a tremendous help to us.  After working through the first few chapters, we each have our favorite features:
  • Jeremiah - pictures of the houses and buildings
  • Caleb - the frequent mentions and pictures of native wildlife
  • Rachel - even though we didn't tackle any recipes on our own, my little "foodie" loves learning about the various cuisine
  • Mom - the prayer guide
Honestly, I've been dubbed "geographically challenged" and history was never my favorite subject in school.  However, even I found this study interesting.  I appreciated that the material was presented from a Christian worldview, and the inclusion of the optional prayer guide was by far my favorite thing.  After reading the chapters together in the book, I could then reference the prayer guide and share with the children specific ways we could pray for the now familiar people and places. 
Our family has enjoyed our journey through the Classical World together as we turned finger swiped each digital page.  I anticipate more great times of exploration as we complete this curriculum.  As the busy summer comes to a close and we look to get settled after another move, I look forward to digging deeper into the remaining chapters and many "extras" included with this book. 
Are you now considering some geography study/world travel for your homeschool family?  As always, before purchasing, I encourage you to try the product with your family to ensure it will fit your homeschool style and needs.  Knowledge Quest commendably allows you to download chapters 1-3 completely free.  This is a wonderful sampling, and you will get a good feel for the layout and tone of the entire book.  
Knowledge Quest is generously offering a free digital edition of A Child's Geography Volume III:  Explore the Classical World to one of my readers!  Yippee!!!  Enter below and you can enjoy this wonderful resource with your family.

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As if the A Child's Geography Volume III:  Explore the Classical World giveaway wasn't fabulous enough, Knowledge Quest is hosting a MEGA-Homeschool Giveaway valued at $650+.  You don't want to miss out on the opportunity to win.  Enter below!

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Homeschool Spanish Academy (Review)

 photo shield120x160_zps644d7b08.pngHomeschool Spanish Academy is a one-on-one program.  With siblings around, even in homeschool, this type of instruction is a luxury.  You definitely can't beat that student/teacher ratio!!! 

With the aide of a high speed internet connection, web cam, and Skype, the student and native-Spanish speaking teacher are able to connect.  During the review period, Caleb participated in the Early Language Program designed for students as young as 5 through 12 years of age.  The recommended starting age just happens to be 7, so Caleb fit the bill perfectly for this review. 

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I was a bit nervous about this review product, because we have never utilized such a program in our homeschool.  Prior to Caleb's first class session, a technician called to ensure that our operating system, Internet speed, and technology were all set up properly.  I appreciated this service because once completed I had no fear that Caleb's sessions would run smoothly on the techie side of things.  Other services that impressed me were the reminders sent 24 hours prior to the scheduled lessons, and the ease in scheduling classes. 

Classes can be scheduled to be taken either once or twice a week.  Based on our busy summer schedule, we opted to have classes once a week.  It was easy for me to schedule Caleb's classes online.  On one occasion, I ended up needing to cancel a scheduled class.  Again, the process was very simple.

The Middle School, High School and Adult class sessions last 50 minutes.  On the contrary the Early Language Program classes are only 25 minutes in duration.  In my opinion, the shorter class period is wise.  It is definitely more age and developmentally appropriate.  If the class was any longer, Caleb would lose focus.  He also couldn't input and retain any more information than the 25 minutes allows.  The shorter class period is definitely optimal for the younger age group.  It makes language learning meaningful and manageable.

To begin each lesson, Caleb's instructor would message via Skype to see if we were ready to begin.  When I would reply and give her the go ahead, she would video call.  Caleb worked primarily with Luisa who was actually located in Antigua, Guatemala.  (Seriously - how cool is that!)  Caleb was pretty impressed that he was speaking with someone in Guatemala because Papaw and Daddy have both been there on mission trips.  He made sure to wear his latest souvenir Guatemala t-shirt during one of his class sessions.

Not only is Luisa a native Spanish speaker, but she is an experienced teacher.  From the very first class, she always spent the first few minutes chatting with him to make him feel comfortable.  She asked questions about his favorite things, what he had been doing, etc.  She would ask him questions from prior weeks and review.  When presenting new material, she would actually turn her video feed off and she would use illustrated visuals on the screen.  This is a great combination that works well for audio and visual learners. 

The Homeschool Spanish Academy teachers move at the pace of the individual learner.  For example, Caleb seemed to move quickly through the first couple lessons learning the Spanish vowels and alphabet.  Spelling his name and the names of others was something he grasped quickly.  A little funny... Luisa asked him to spell his Mom's name in Spanish... he rattled off the Spanish letters for M-O-M.  Possibly confused, she asked him to spell it in English.  Again, M-O-M.  Ha!  It took some explanation on her part and awhile for him to grasp that she wanted him to spell my first name.  It was cute!  I'm glad I'll always be M-O-M to my little guy.

Caleb struggled some and needed more time when he began working on formal greetings and conversation.  The good morning, good afternoon, and good evening phrases really seemed to throw him for some reason.  To reinforce the Spanish learned during his classes, review homework was emailed to be studied between class sessions.  This sheet made it much easier for me to assist Caleb and practice with him - especially the trickier phrases that caused him the most trouble.

My only complaint regarding the Homeschool Spanish Academy class sessions was the sound.  Because the teachers are operating out of a call center, there was a lot of background noise at times.  Other teachers (probably sitting in the neighboring cubicle) could be heard conducting classes.  Most of the time, the conversations were faint, but other times they were rather loud and distracting.  For an easily distracted 7 year old boy, this did prove to be a challenge on occasion.  I sat in the floor beside Caleb, so often, I'd be repeating the teacher in a whisper to help him out. 

With the onset of the new school year, scheduling Caleb's remaining classes became difficult.  It seems that Homeschool Spanish Academy is booming!  When questioned about the scheduling issues, HSA responded with two encouraging tidbits.  1) More teachers are being hired. Yay!  2)  Trying other instructors is actual highly encouraged (up to 3 instructors).  

I was very interested to learn that HSA recommends using various teachers because the students can benefit from experiencing varied teaching styles and different accents.  This is all possible because of the very detailed notes that the teachers keep regarding each session.  These notes are always reviewed prior to the student's next class whether it is by the regular teacher or another.  If for some reason there are questions regarding the notes or the student, the instructors operate from the same call center and can quickly share information with one another.

Because Homeschool Spanish Academy offers programs for early learners, middle and high school students and adults, the prices vary.  For the  Early Learner course that Caleb used, it costs $59.99 for half a semester (7 weeks/1 time a week).  See other pricing options below.
One-On-One Pricing

If considering Homeschool Spanish Academy, I encourage you to consider a free trial session for your child.  Also, be sure and read the reviews of other Schoolhouse Review Crew members by clicking the button below.  You'll find information about all of the Spanish programs HSA offers. 


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Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading Kingdom (TOS Review)

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According to the Department of Education, 2 out of 3 children fail to become proficient readers.  What???  How is this the status quo?  I'm sure reasons such as this contribute to why many of us choose to homeschool.  We want a different outcome for our children and are always on the lookout for resources, tools, and programs that will aide us in this endeavor.  Let me introduce you to one.

Dr. Marion Blank, a reading expert known worldwide, has created an online program designed to teach 4-10 year olds how to read and write to a third grade level.  Unlike other programs, Reading Kingdom incorporates elements of both phonics and whole language while teaching additional skills needed to achieve reading and writing success. Rather than requiring kids to learn numerous complicated rules, it utilizes the six skills method for reading which teaches the rules implicitly.  Sequencing, motor skills, phonemic awareness, meaning, grammar, and reading comprehension are all areas of focus within the program.  Using this unique model, the online program can support any and all reading/writing curriculum available.  For this reason, it is being used successfully in homeschools, preschool - 3rd grade classrooms, ESL programs, and special education classes. 

I was generously given accounts for all three of my children.  Each one has used the program.  From just our short review period, I can see the benefits and am looking forward to continuing to use this program in our homeschool. 

When beginning the Reading Kingdom program, parents are given the direction to allow the kids to complete this program on their own.  With the exception of answering basic operating questions (mouse/keyboard), the parents are to take a backseat.  Hard for a helicopter Momma not to be more hands on, rephrase, or give additional directions, but by design, this program is meant for the child to complete on his own at his pace. 

To begin, the kids took a placement survey.  The first part evaluates reading readiness by testing the student's ability to sequence.  Then, typing skills are evaluated.  

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The best reader of my three had the worst typing skills.  To his frustration, he had to spend some time improving upon his hunting and pecking tactics before getting into the reading aspect of the program.  During this time he was quoted, "Mom, is Reading Kingdom suppose to be fun?"  He was wanting more of a video game atmosphere.  However, he moved quickly through the typing portion, and soon landed at the appropriate reading level (much farther along than the other two).  Then, he wasn't quite as disturbed about using the program.  The bonus... he now has knowledge of and familiarity with the order of letters on the keyboard, the space bar, punctuation marks, CAPS LOCK, and the shift function. 

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Time is not wasted continually reviewing prior knowledge but constantly offers new challenges.  Reading Kingdom will customize to match each child's ability.  Therefore, the student can work autonomously and the program will continue to adjust throughout to align with the child's skill level.  The program is designed to minimize error.  If and when error occurs, specific techniques are offered to overcome the problem. 
For my daughter, who is fearful of making mistakes, the continual positive reinforcement was very motivating.  The applause and kudos heard from the computer were encouraging to her.  She sat in front of the screen with a huge grin on her face. 

On average, the lessons take 15-30 minutes to complete.  If the child needs to pause or stop the program, there are buttons located at the top of the screen.  Upon returning, the kid student will return to where he left off.  The pause feature was especially helpful for my fidgety kiddo who inevitably had to go to the bathroom in the middle of each lesson.  So fear not... even a case of the wiggles won't interfere :)

The program is intended to be used 4-5 times per week.  At this pace, the entire program can be finished in a 12-15 month time span.  That is pretty impressive since the program goes through a third grade level!  Of course, an important reminder for us all:  There is never a rush and children should be allowed to progress naturally at their own pace!!!

On the Reading Kingdom website there is a tab I don't want you to miss!  Be sure and view all the available Resources.  In this section, you will find videos, tutorials, and answers to your questions.  Holiday-themed worksheets, interactive games to practice comprehension, sight-word study, activities, and recommended books are all included.  There are even weekly learning tips available.  This section could easily be missed, but it offers so much!

PhotobucketA risk-free Reading Kingdom account can be created and used free of charge for 30 days.  As always, I suggest you start with FREE before investing any money.  You want to make sure the program is a good fit for you child.  Afterwards, a subscription can be purchased for $19.99/mo or $199.99/yr for your first reader.  Additional readers are $9.99/mo or $99.99/yr.  You can also purchase books, kits, and other supporting resources in the Reading Kingdom Store

Having reviewed this program before, I only had one child working through it.  This time I used it with all three.  Even with their various learning styles and abilities, I saw that this program was beneficial to each of them.  We will continue to use this program in our homeschool.  Why don't you click the button below and see what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members are saying about Reading Kingdom?


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