Hey, Mama! A Planner for You (TOS Review)

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This school year, I  couldn’t find a school planner that I really liked, so we ran our days using to-do lists. Each week, I would plan out the lessons, creating a list for each child. He would receive a new list each day (I wrote them once a week, but issued them once a day). It worked really well until about March. I’m not entirely sure what happened then, but the lists were no longer doing the trick for us. It was hard to keep everyone (myself included) focused on getting the whole job done. Therefore, when I learned that The Old Schoolhouse was looking for reviewers for the new Hey Mama! Print Schoolhouse Planner 2016-2017, I definitely wanted to give it a try. We’ve had great success with planners in the past, so I had high hopes for this one.

This review is a bit different from others, though. You see, the planner starts in July 2016, which means I haven’t technically had a chance to use it yet beyond writing future events (doctor’s appointments, birthdays, etc) in it. But despite that, I can tell simply from the time I’ve had to look it over that it will become an invaluable resource this fall.

The planner has all sorts of different types of pages:

  • yearly calendars (2016, 2017, and 2018)
  • encouraging letters from TOS publisher Gena Suarez
  • monthly calendars
  • weekly calendars (blank, so you can use and date them as needed)
  • monthly, semester, and yearly goals (several sheets of each so you can have one for each child)
  • attendance chart (again, several sheets)
  • books read log (several sheets)
  • curriculum planning sheets (several)
  • a place to record your local homeschooling contacts
  • several academic reference sheets (writing prompts, the 13 colonies, famous inventions, US Presidents and first ladies, and more)
  • an academic transcript worksheet
  • and more…
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Outside of the actual calendar pages, I have two “favorites” in this planner. First are the Hey Mama! letters from Gena Suarez. There’s one on the back of the front cover, plus several distributed all throughout the planning pages. These are very encouraging little notes from a fellow homeschooling mom, and the way she writes is just so personable. I love how each starts with the phrase “Hey Mama!” It’s a warm way of greeting that reminds you that you’re a “mama,” not always a “mother.” I don’t know about you, but I really love being “mama” or “mommy” rather than the stiff, formal, disciplinarian all the time. And the homey greeting is just the tip of these letters. Each one is so encouraging; reading the words from Gena is such a blessing as she pushes us to bless our children, discipline them in love, build their character, and most importantly to teach them to be God-loving, God-fearing adults. She reminds us that we are loved by our creator and that He’s always there for us. I love these letters and look forward to rereading them as the months and weeks they were written for begin to approach.

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My second favorite pages are the informational pages about old-fashioned things. Sprinkled throughout the calendar pages (monthly and weekly) are beautiful sepia-tone photographs and information about things of old – butter churns, dibbers, pitchforks, and more. These little tidbits are so interesting to read, and they really help to remind me that it’s okay to slow down and take things as they come. Even though we live in a fast-paced world, we don’t have to live a fast-paced life.

I’m really looking forward to spending some good time with my planner this summer as I look forward to the 2016-17 school year. I’ll be glad to have some plan in place by the time we dive into school again in September. And if things end up going haywire (which would not surprise me in the least, once we get going), I’ll be glad to have this written record of what we did accomplish, even if it’s written down after the fact instead of in advance.

So, how can you get one of these planners for yourself? Well, there are two ways. First, you can order a copy of the Hey Mama! Printed planner for $29 (in the US; more for international) right from The Old Schoolhouse website. Use the promo code CREWCODE and you can get the planner for just $19 with free shipping through July 15, 2016. If you’re an international reader, the same code will get you a $10 (US) discount off of the international price.

The other option is joining SchoolhouseTeachers.com (if you’re not already a member). Through that site, you have access to the digital version of the planner included in your membership, and you can print it right from the comfort of your own home (or copy shop, as the case may be). Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com is $12.95 a month (but only $1 for the first month), or $139 for a full year (over one month free), or $250 for two years (over 4 months free). If you purchase the two-year plan by June 30, 2016, you’ll receive a tote bag full of TOS goodies (including a print copy of the planner I reviewed today!) as their gift to you. (The tote bag is very nice; I received one with my planner.)

There are over 100 other reviews of this planner on the Crew blog this week, so make sure to click over there to find out more.

Blessings,

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Creation-based Elementary Science (Science Shepherd Review)

Science is one of those subjects that a lot of homeschool parents dread. It’s also one that children adore. So how do you marry the two desires? The best way I’ve found is to find a good program that will help you along the way. Introductory Science from Science Shepherd is one such program. Munchkin and I have been working through this program for the past few weeks, and I’m pleased to be able to bring you this review today.

KIMG0411Science Shepherd Introductory Science combines two methods of teaching: video lessons and a workbook. This is one of my favorite ways of “doing” science with the boys, so this was a perfect fit for us. The video lessons are very short (under five minutes), and each is followed up by a page or two in the workbook. The whole lesson takes less than ten minutes. Don’t let that small amount of time fool you, though. The lessons are full of good information, and the workbook is a perfect complement to the videos.

Even though we’re near the end of the school year, we started at the beginning of the program. It opens with the story of Creation and the videos, which are hosted by Science Shepherd creator and homeschool dad Dr. Scott Hardin, explain why that qualifies as science – and why it’s an important aspect to know and study before getting into the more “sciency” science.

science shepherdWorking as the program is designed (one video and the corresponding workbook pages each day), moving through Creation takes two weeks. It’s very tempting to move a lot quicker than that, especially if your child is well-versed in the Creation story. Even if you do a whole week’s worth in a day, it’s not a huge time commitment (30-60 minutes). We did this for the first two weeks’ lessons, and then slowed down to the suggested pace.Week three talks all about Science Skills and Tools, and week four moves you more into the “real” science, starting with meteorology.

In addition to Dr. Hardin’s instructional videos, there are demonstration videos as well. For example, in the Science Skills and Tools week, students are taught about the scientific method. During the explanation of a hypothesis (educated guess, in case you’re a bit rusty), a pair of students makes the hypothesis that a hammer is harder than an egg. Over the course of the 2 1/2 minute video, Dr. Hardin explains what a hypothesis is, and then it cuts away to the students. They talk about why they think a hammer is harder than an egg, make notes and observations about both, and then hit the egg with the hammer. Of course the egg breaks, thus proving their hypothesis true.

KIMG0412In Introductory Science, there are two levels offered – A and B. The videos are the same for both, but the workbook is slightly more difficult in Level B. Level A is suggested for ages 6-8 and Level B for ages 9-11 (it’s not based on grade levels). We got Level B, and I’m glad we did even though Munchkin is on the lower end of that age range at 9 1/2. It was very basic and easy for him. As we progress through the course, it might get more difficult, but time will tell on that count. (We’re going to set it aside for now but definitely pick it up again in September for his science course next school year.) Workbook activities are varied. So far, we’ve come across things such as:

  • Video comprehension questions
  • Matching (an item on the left with what it goes with on the right – draw a line)
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Coloring, cutting, and sorting shapes (flowers), then answering questions based on how the student chose to color them

Besides Introductory Science, Science Shepherd also has a course in Life Science and one in Biology. From what I’ve read, these upper sciences are much harder and more rigorous than Introductory Science. I’m definitely interested in trying out Life Science with Seahawk. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were able to sample all three levels, so if you have an older student, make sure to head over to the Crew blog to learn more about those upper levels.

Access to the Introductory Science videos is $35; for that, you get a full year of elementary science curriculum (35 weeks of videos). Access is good for 12 months. If you don’t finish in the year, you can extend your access for $5 a month. Workbook level A is $12; level B is $15. These are consumable resources to be used by one student. There are answer keys available for each level for $3 each (although, we haven’t needed ours yet; the workbook is pretty simple).

Blessings,

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ESV Family Devotional Bible (review)

We were recently blessed to be able to review the ESV (English Standard Version) Family Devotional Bible thanks to Flyby Promotions. When the opportunity to review this Bible came up, I knew I wanted to give it a chance because the ESV is the Bible of choice in our family. I was very interested in combining our favorite translation with pictures and devotionals. I was not disappointed in my expectations!

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There are 130 devotions sprinkled throughout the text of the Bible, and each one gets an illustration. The devotions are located near where their stories occur, and the scripture reference for each devotion is made very clear so you can compare the devotion to the actual text easily. Devotions summarize the portion of scripture they’re taken from, offer discussion questions, and then provide a key verse (which would make a great memorization tool). If you’re looking for a specific story to study deeper, there’s a convenient index of devotions at the back of the Bible. Additionally, there are maps in the back also, which really helps to bring some of the locations to life a bit better.

This hardcover Bible is a good size –  not too big, making it cumbersome to hold, but also not so small that’s it’s ten feet thick to include the whole of the biblical text.

The text is the text - it's not abbreviated at all.

The text is the text – it’s not abbreviated at all.

Over the past couple of weeks, this Bible has become an amazing tool in our home. It’s nice to have family devotions and biblical text all in one volume. The cover is a bit busy for my taste (it has thumbnails of each devotion illustration all butt-up against one another), but that’s not something that would make me not recommend this Bible. If you’re looking for a way to include devotions more readily in your home (or homeschool), then this is well worth the investment. Crossway has done an amazing thing with this Bible!

One of the devotional spreads.

One of the devotional spreads.

In addition to providing me a copy of the ESV Family Devotional Bible to facilitate my review, Flyby Promotions is offering to give one away to one of my readers. This will be a huge blessing to whoever wins, let me tell you. All you have to do to have a chance to win is leave me a comment on this post related to what I’ve written about. The winner will be chosen randomly from all the entries on Friday, May 20th and notified via email. (Your email address is required for leaving a comment, so you don’t have to worry about posting it publicly. Only I will see it, and I won’t be adding you to any newsletter lists or anything.)

Blessings,

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Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

This giveaway is now closed. As chosen by random.org, the winner is Heather Kelly. Heather, I’ve emailed you. When I hear back, I’ll have the vendor send your Bible.

The Pursuit of Drawing (ARTistic Pursuits Review)

I’ve heard good things about ARTistic Pursuits Inc. over the years, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to review for them – until now. In the past, the supply lists have been a big turnoff for me, but as my children are getting older and their interests are developing, we actually have some of the supplies on hand for a curriculum like this now. When the list of options for this year’s Schoolhouse Review Crew run came out, I was pleased to see that one of the options was Middle School Book One. Since I have a middle schooler who is an art enthusiast, I looked into this curriculum. I was ecstatic to learn that the supply list for this book included all things that Seahawk had received for Christmas – primarily, high quality drawing pencils in a variety of lead hardness, erasers, waterproof ink, a nib pen (holder and nibs), and paper. So, for the first time in three years, I requested to be on this review.

Assignment: draw water

Assignment: draw water

ARTistic Pursuits is a company passionate about creating artists, especially in the homeschool setting. They have a variety of textbooks ranging from preschool to graduation, which are specially designed to help children learn to harness the powers of observation while they explore art history, art appreciation, and art technique.

Middle School Book One is a soft cover, comb-bound text book of nearly 100 pages. The first few pages are notes for the parent, and starting on page 6, the lessons begin. There are sixteen units which cover a wide variety of teaching the student to draw better. These units include things such as

  • Using the space of your paper well
  • How to best use your pencils to create interesting lines
  • Creating interesting textures within your art
  • How symmetry or asymmetry can be good
  • Perspective
  • Proportion
  • And many more

ARTistic Pursuits 1When we first received the book, I had big ideas of everyone working on it together. We even did the first lesson all together (even Small Fry, who’s just 3) the same day the book arrived. It became clear in the lessons that followed, however, that just because your kids like to draw, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for formal lessons. This was the case with everyone but Seahawk. And that’s okay. He’s the only one technically in the age range for this curriculum, anyway. So after that first week, I let him do this subject on his own. Each lesson consists of a short passage to read followed by an art assignment. Since the review period lined up with the beginning of a beautiful spring here in the Pacific Northwest, he would often take his book, drawing pad, and pencil set outside to work. There was not one time when he brought me his work to look over that didn’t leave me impressed.

What did Seahawk think of ARTistic Pursuits? In his own words:

I found this to be the “funnest” class, that’s for sure. Before I used this book, I thought I knew everything there was to know about drawing. I just couldn’t master it. The book taught me different ways of using pencil lines to emphasize things and different ways to use combinations of shapes to make things look right. The book was challenging, but in a good way.

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Assignment: practice texture by drawing a bear

My thoughts as a mom? This is a high quality book full of great tips for learning to become master of your supplies. I like how there are stories and lessons from a variety of world areas, which are used to teach different drawing techniques. I like how it teaches independence as well as art. Once the student knows the basics of how the lessons are set up, it’s easy for them to work on their own (especially good for non-artistic parents, or those whose art skill set lies elsewhere, like me). And I really like how they state right on the book that’s it’s designed to be non-consumable. This means that a single purchase (this book is $47.95) will cover all of your children, even if they’re all different ages. You can use it over and over again. Talk about value!

What’s not to like about ARTistic Pursuits? I can’t think of a single thing! I’ve read dozens of positive reviews for this company over the years, and now I know why. The materials are top notch.

Blessings,

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As with all Schoolhouse Crew Reviews, there are loads of other reviewers talking about ARTistic Pursuits this week. You can visit the Crew blog to find what they all thought about the variety of books ARTistic Pursuits offered for review this time (which include books for all grade levels, preschool through high school, and a pair of sculpture books).

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None Like Him (Book Review)

I recently received the book None Like Him by Jen Wilkin to review. I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction, but the concept of this book really caught my attention. The subtitle alone says so much: 10 ways God is different from us (and why that’s a good thing). It was this subtitle that made me want to read this book. Obviously I know God is different from people (otherwise he wouldn’t be God), but it’s still a good reminder sometimes to read things like this.

When the book arrived, I eagerly opened the packaging. My very first impression of the book was a good one. The cover is beautiful, with its calm green color and pink flowers weaving in and out of the title. And the content is even better than the cover.

Ms. Wilkin opens with an introductory statement about what it means to become a God fearing woman; this is something I think we can all aspire to. From there, she dives right into the meat of the book: the ten ways God is different from people. More specifically, ten ways people are not like God and why we shouldn’t try to be. The ways she explores in the book are:

  • Infinite
  • Incomprehensible
  • Self-existent
  • Self-sufficient
  • Eternal
  • Immutable
  • Omnipresent
  • Omniscient
  • Omnipotent
  • Sovereign

That’s quite the list! And each and every item on it is wonderfully extracted and explained by the author, fully describing what the trait means, how it applies to our Creator, and why it doesn’t apply to us. One of my favorite explanations comes from the very first chapter. After quoting Isaiah 40:12-13 (scripture quotations are prevalent throughout the book, which I love; what better way to make a point than to quote from the Bible?!), the author states simply

… Who has measured everything? God has. Who has measured God? No one has.

How beautifully basic is that? I think that one quote is a great summation of the rest of the book. Ms. Wilkin does a phenomenal job of taking the qualities of God (listed above) and making them easy to understand. It’s a wonderful thing.

I definitely recommend this book, which you can purchase from Amazon ($11.69 in paperback; $8.57 on Kindle).

Blessings,

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance to FTC regulations.

Mess Free Painting (Kwik Stix Review and Giveaway)

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Do your kids love to paint? Do you hate the mess? The Pencil Grip, Inc. has created a solution to this discrepancy: the Kwik Stix 12 pk.

Kwik Stix (priced at $11.99 for the 12 pack) are very similar to glue sticks in their feel, except instead of being filled with solid glue, they’re filled with solid tempera paint. Simply uncap, smear the paint on the paper, and re-cap after use. The paint inside even looks like a glue stick the first time you open it (in shape, not color). The best part is that the paint is dry within 90 seconds, so even if your child is impatient, there’s little chance of a mess (still not NO chance, as we learned with Small Fry, though!). When you do end up with a mess, however, the paint cleans up super easily; a wet rag handled the job with no problem – no additional cleaner required (not even soap). I’m not sure it would have washed up so easily off of an unfinished table, but since ours has quite the shiny coating (I’m not entirely sure what that’s called…), it wasn’t a problem.

The older three boys and I all tried the Kwik Stix, and we used them on paper and wood. Small Fry painted pretty much any chance he could get; the rest of us used them for specific projects. Munchkin expressed his artistic skills to make a two-part painting for my dad for his birthday. He chose to paint a sunset onto a pair of wooden boards he had, and it turned out very nicely.

KIMG0307 A few months ago, I bought wooden letters representing each boy’s initial to hang over their bed. The previous three were painted with regular liquid paint; since we had the Kwik Stix now, I used those for painting Dragonfly’s initial. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I was very pleased with the coverage I got using them. Just like traditional paint, it did take a few coats, but that’s a lot less of a burden when the dry time is under two minutes versus well over an hour.

In addition to the Kwik Stix, The Pencil Grip, Inc. sent us one of their Pencil Grips to try out. These little guys are something I remember from my own schooldays, so it was kind of neat to see one again. Pencil Grips are designed to slide right onto your pen or pencil and help to correct an improper grip. It will work for both right- and left-handed people. Pencil Grips come in a variety of styles (depending on what your improper grip requires for correcting) and a in a plethora of colors. A single grip is available for $1.79.

In short, we really loved using Kwik Stix. They were a fabulous way to get more art into our days without making a huge mess or using up loads of precious “real estate” waiting for paintings to dry (although to be fair, that’s never been much of an issue in my house since the boys usually prefer pencil drawings over painting).

The Pencil Grip, Inc. provided me with a set of Kwik Stix to facilitate this review, and now they’ve graciously offered to provide one for me to give away to one of you! And who doesn’t love to win stuff? 😉 All you have to do to enter is leave me a comment appropriate to this post, and then next Tuesday (May 10th), I’ll use random.org to pick a winner. The winner will be notified by email, and the package will be sent to you directly from The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Blessings,

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Other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are writing about Kwik Stix this week, too, and some of them are also hosting giveaways. Make sure to read those posts for more information about the paint sticks and more chances to win your own set!

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A Vegan Alternative to Emu Oil (Devonian Review)

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Emu oil seems to be “all the rage” among essential oils users these days. But what do you do if you have a religious or moral objection to the use of it? Devonian has spent over two years developing a solution for this problem, and they’ve come up with a great one: GREEMU. “What exactly is GREEMU?” you ask. It’s a combination of plant oils and butters that work together to simulate emu oil in both consistency and in what it does. As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we were blessed with the opportunity to review this new product, and the timing on that was pretty good since Munchkin had been struggling with overly dry, rash-like conditions on his hands and wrists.

Emu vs Greemu

Click to enlarge for a better view of the two oils

Because we reviewed Grade A Emu Oil from Koru Naturals (who distributes GREEMU) last year, I was in a good position to compare it to GREEMU oil this year. As you can see from the picture (hopefully), the consistency is very similar, as is the color. The oils feel almost the same on your skin, too. They rub in similarly and both absorb quickly and well.

Not being big essential oils users, we used GREEMU primarily as a skin moisturizer. As I mentioned before, Munchkin had a pretty serious dryness rash going on, which he’d been using emu oil on. As soon as the GREEMU arrived in the mail, I had him switch so we could try it out. It worked just as well as the emu oil, and within just a few days, his chapped hands had healed! It was wonderful to see.

In addition to Munchkin using this oil to heal his hands and wrists, I used it in place of any kind of lotion. I really like this oil for that use. It rubs in easier than lotion, and (so long as you don’t use too much) it absorbs quickly so you’re not left feeling greasy or oily at all.

Small Fry was also suffering from some dry, cracked skin between his toes, so I applied GREEMU oil to his feet and massaged it in before bed each night. Other than it tickling, he really enjoyed having the oil applied. It helped him to relax at the end of the night. Because he usually wears footed pajamas to sleep, that helped the oil really do its job while he slept, and the cracks healed very well. Even though he’s mostly cured now, we still use the oil as a preventative measure. It’s better to keep the skin healthy than to have to work to heal it.

The final way we used the oil was on poor baby Dragonfly. His skin is super chapped in the diaper area, so I used the GREEMU on the skin that was affected (without going into the actual area that’s covered by the diaper). I didn’t want to take any risks by applying the oil in such a sensitive area, so I kept the oil to his tummy, back, and legs. Within an hour of the first application, his skin was already showing signs of healing. What a relief to my mama heart! I’ll definitely be applying GREEMU to his belly with each diaper change for the foreseeable future to further aid in his healing and hopefully prevent further chafing.

In addition to its moisturizing and healing properties, I’ve read that GREEMU oil is a wonderful carrier oil if you use a lot of other essential oils, but I can’t personally attest to that.

Even though we’re not vegetarians and have no religious objections to using Emu Oil, I’m still happy to have a “greener” alternative that uses plant oils and butters instead of animal fat. As I mentioned before, it works just as well, so having a sustainable alternative to this great moisturizer is a good thing. GREEMU comes in a 4-ounce bottle for $10.80; the same size bottle of emu oil is over $18, so in addition to being more environmentally sustainable, it’s easier on your pocketbook, too. If you purchase GREEMU through Koru Naturals by May 31st, 2016, there’s a 20% discount being offered. See their website for the coupon code.

Blessings,

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Other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are talking about GREEMU on their blogs this week, too. Head over to the Crew blog to find links to all of those reviews for additional thoughts and information.

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Studying a Master Storyteller (YWAM Review)

We were recently blessed with a series of literature units, and we worked our way through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. When I learned of an upcoming review from YWAM Publishing – and that one of the books being offered was Christian Heroes – C.S. Lewis – I knew this would be a perfect followup, so I eagerly requested the book.  So for the past several weeks, the boys and I have been reading this biography as our read-aloud book. (In addition to the book, we received a Digital Unit Study to go along with it.)

About YWAM and YWAM Publishing

Youth with a Mission was founded in 1960 and has three major goals, all wrapped up in the base idea of sharing Jesus with the world. First, evangelism. Sharing Christ is the main thing we as Christians are commanded by God to do, and this is the first stated goal of YWAM. They have over 17,000 volunteers and staff all over the world proclaiming the good news of the Gospel to people in multiple countries. They pass out Bibles, and they follow up with their converts, making sure they (the converts) are able to find fellowship with other believers. Where none exists, they help the new Christians develop one. Second, training. The theory of multiplication rather than addition is a real thing, and YWAM understands that new Christians need to be trained in order to then reach even more people with the Gospel. Finally, Mercy Ministry. This is the arm of the company that takes emergency and physical aid to places where it’s needed most.

YWAM Publishing creates books that help meet the goals of the bigger organization (evangelism, training, and mercy ministries). The books showcase these qualities in their content, and by purchasing from YWAM, you’re helping to fund missions work all over the world. They have 150 of their own titles and are authorized distributors of over 2,000 additional titles.

About C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller

This biography, penned by Janet and Geoff Benge, tells the story of The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity author C.S. Lewis starting with an exchange with his nanny when he was six years old and going all the way through his death in 1963. We learn in the very first sentence that he preferred to be called Jack, and this is how he’s referred to throughout the entire book. The biography is told from the third person omniscient point of view, meaning that we don’t see things only from “Jack’s” perspective. Events are described from one looking at his life as an outsider rather than a participant. This gave the biography a very rich background upon which to weave the story of C.S. Lewis, who had a very fascinating life.

One of our favorite chapters (and by “favorite,” I mean it was fascinating to us, not that the content was something that should be “favorited”) was the one that described Lewis’s time in WWI. He spent a month (after basic training) leading a group in England before he was shipped off to France. The chapter ends with him being hit by friendly fire and everything going black for him. Despite the fact that we were in the habit of reading only one chapter at a time, we felt the need to keep going after that one to find out what happened next!

The Digital Unit Study made the book an even richer experience. There was so much great information and ideas to help move this book from a basic read-aloud to a full-blown unit study, which I love. Unit studies are my boys’ favorite way to learn, but one of the most difficult to put together, so having a plethora of ideas all laid out for me was amazing. In fact, we’re still working through a lot of the ideas (and some of the book!). There are tons of hands-on activities to go along with the reading of the biography, plus more basic things like comprehension questions for each chapter. For now, we’re just doing the questions, but I have every intention of having the boys do some of the other activities when we finish the book (probably next week). These include, but are not limited to:

  • Writing a newspaper article, poem, or song based on a specific event in the biography.
  • Creating arts and crafts based on the book (a family crest, a comic strip of events, mobiles, dioramas, etc).
  • Using a tape recorder and having one child act as interviewer and the other as Lewis. Record a conversation.
  • Writing a report using one of the many essay questions provided in the study guide.

There is so much available information and ideas in the study guide that turning each of these biographies (there are several; C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller is just one) into a full-blown unity study would be fairly easy and provide a very rich history curriculum for students.

Final Thoughts

There’s really nothing we didn’t like about our experience with this book. The biography was well written, the study guide was an amazing addition, and we would happily use more of these. YWAM is a winner!

Blessings,

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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing lots of biographies from YWAM this week. Make sure to click over to the Crew blog to read more reviews!

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Closing Math Gaps with Mini Lessons (A+ Math Review)

Does your student have learning gaps in math? Are there things you’d like them to practice further in order to master? Then I have the perfect solution for you today: Math Mini-Courses from A+ Interactive Math. For the past several weeks, Seahawk and Munchkin have been working through some of these mini courses, and let me tell you… they’re pretty great.

We’re no strangers to A+ Interactive Math. I think they’re a great company because they offer a full range of math solutions from a full curriculum with books and workbooks (or entirely online, your choice) to supplemental maths like the Mini-Courses I’m reviewing today or their Adaptive Placement Test with Individualized Lesson Plans designed to close learning gaps, which I reviewed about a year ago. Surely there’s something in their course list that will fit the needs of every family.

Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}So, what is a Math Mini-Course, anyway? It’s a series of lessons (the two I’m reviewing had 20 lessons each, but the number varies depending on which Mini-Course you select) all surrounding a single subject. Each one takes about 10 minutes to complete, and in those ten minutes your student gets a video lesson (nothing to teach on your part!) and an interactive worksheet to make sure they understood what the video taught. It’s incredibly user-friendly; all you have to do is log in and click the appropriate lesson. The video starts automatically, and the interactive worksheet is super easy to find at the end of the lesson.

For this review, Seahawk studied decimals because he’d covered them in his math textbook earlier this year, and I thought it would be a good thing to make sure he fully understood them before the year ends. Munchkin studied time because he tends to get the big hand and little hand mixed up on the clock. He loves analog clocks and watches (he chose a pocket watch for his personal souvenir from our British Columbia, Canada trip last year), and I figured he’d love them all the more if he could read them quickly. Plus, I want him to appreciate traditional clocks rather than resorting to digital. Each of these courses gives you a full year of access (though your student shouldn’t need anywhere near that long to complete the class) for $12.99. (This is the price for the two I’m familiar with. Like with the number of lessons, the price varies depending on which course you select. They range from $9.99 to $19.99.)

Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}
Don’t let the “mini” in the name fool you. These courses are very comprehensive. The Decimals class that Seahawk starts easy, with a basic introduction of what decimal numbers are and why we have them. By the end of the 20 lessons, students will have learned how to multiply and divide with decimals, convert decimals to fractions and back again, and play a game with money. The Time unit covers a wide variety of time-related topics, including things beyond the clock the we (I, anyway) don’t always think about when I’m considering teaching the children “how to tell time.” These are things such as days, weeks, months, years, and seasons. I tend to get bogged down with the actual clock, so it’s nice to have other (and dare I say, more competent? lol) teachers who remember the big picture.

Something to remember with these units is that they should be treated as supplemental to an existing math curriculum. In our case, this is a basic textbook. Because the Mini-Courses are each based on one narrow topic, they can’t stand alone as a full curriculum. They should be viewed as what they are, which is a tool to help your student close a learning gap in a particular area. For this purpose, they’re amazing. My boys have done a great job at retaining the information they’ve learned from this program over the past few weeks, and that’s a win for me.

Since we used this product as a supplement, we didn’t do it every day. I had the boys work through their textbook lesson each day, and then they would alternate the two supplemental programs we were/are using. One would happen on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; the other on Tuesday and Thursday. Since we’ve finished up one of those supplements, they’ll bump up their use of A+ Mini-Courses for a few weeks more until they’ve finished them.

As much as the kids and I liked this program (and we did like it, especially the kids – they often tried to get me to let them do this instead of the textbook rather than in addition to it), no program is perfect, and this one is no exception. However, the “problems” are barely anything, and have more to do with the execution of the actual website than the material taught. The main problem we had with it is that each day we had to remind the program that we’d already completed the previous lesson before it would allow us to start the new one. That’s not so hard to do, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to do that. Having it know that the student made it all the way through the video and completed the questions would be nice. Short of that, having the “update my progress” button at the end of the lesson be more prominent and user-friendly for kids would be a reasonable substitution. Again, not a deal breaker, just something that would make a great product even better.

There are loads of different Math Mini-Courses from A+ Interactive Math being reviewed on the Crew blog this week, so if your students need help with something other than Time or Decimals, make sure to check out the A+ site for more info or the Crew blog for 79 other reviews of this product.

Blessings,

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Learning Multiplication through Stories (Times Tales Review)

There are about as many tricks for learning the times tables as there are students learning them. The one thing they all agree upon is the notion that children simply must learn them. There’s really no way around it.

We’ve tried a plethora of different methods for teaching the boys (Seahawk and Munchkin) the times tables. While they’ve done okay at learning them (they can almost always figure out the answer, but they definitely don’t have them memorized), nothing has really made them stick. Until now. Thanks to The Trigger Memory Co. and their Times Tales videos, my kids are finally – finally – remembering the multiplication tables.

I received these videos as downloadable files (currently on sale for $19.95; regular price $21.95), and printable worksheets were included. My laptop doesn’t have a whole lot of memory, and it’s not really conducive for us to use Will’s computer for school stuff, so I had to come up with a way that would work for us to use a downloadable product. Here’s what I ended up doing: First, I downloaded the videos and worksheets to Will’s computer. Then I uploaded them to my Dropbox account. (I did not share them with anyone but myself. This method was simply a workaround for a low-memory computer that couldn’t handle the downloaded videos.) This allowed us to stream the videos, which was perfect for us. The download files are quite large (two 30-minute videos, after all), so if you don’t have access to good (read: huge – preferably unlimited – bandwidth/upload/download speeds . . . I’m not entirely sure what the right terminology here is) internet, then the downloads probably aren’t the best choice for you. Never fear, though; Times Tales is also available in DVD format for $24.95. The downloads and DVDs are identical in content.

The way it works is simple. There are two videos (one for the “lower tables” of 6-9 and one for the “upper tables” of 6-9). Each number (starting with 3) is assigned a character, and there are stories created using the characters that tell a multiplication problem. For example, the character for the number 4 is a chair, and 7 is a bubble-letter 7 with a face whose name is “Mrs. Week” (because a week has seven days). The story for this problem is

Mrs. Week sits on a chair to go fishing. She catches 2 boots and 8 trout.

times tales collageBecause Mrs. Week represents the number 7 and the chair represents 4, the problem is 7×4. The 2 boots are the tens column of the answer, and the 8 trout are the ones. Therefore, 7×4=28. Students are instructed that the order of the stories is important (because 7 times 4 does not equal 82). Each story is accompanied by simple animation to help bring them to life.

Each video is approximately half an hour, so it’s not a hardship to spend the time watching. The idea is that you watch the first video, work through the stories and worksheets and games to encourage memorization, and then one week later – just one week – move on to the second video. By the end of two weeks, students know all of the upper times tables.

In addition to the videos, there are printable worksheets to go along with the curriculum. Included in the worksheets are a crossword puzzle (for story recollection), several pages of flashcards, a practice test (using the characters), a final test (using the “regular” numbers), and cut-out-and-fold dice for a practice game. The dice game was one of the highlights of this product for us. We all had fun rolling the dice and telling the stories to each other.

My favorite part of this program? It actually works! The kids learned the stories (quickly), and were able to translate them into multiplication problems. And they’re remembering the problems/stories/answers. What a blessing this has been! And guess what? Small Fry (3 years old) has memorized the stories, too. He doesn’t quite understand what they mean, but he knows them. I’m pretty sure this means that when he’s old enough to learn the times tables himself, it will be a breeze – not the hardship it’s been for the older two.

Times Tales has been a welcome addition to our homeschool. If you have students just learning (or struggling) with their multiplication tables, this is definitely a product you should try. They even have a 20-minute video on their YouTube channel that shows you their method using just the 9s. If you’re at all skeptical, check that out first. When your child masters the 9s in just a few minutes, you’ll be a convert too!

Blessings,

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This review is brought to you by the Schoolhouse Review Crew. There are loads of other families reviewing Times Tales this week, so don’t just take my word for how great this product is – read other reviews, too.

 

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