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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