Audio Drama About Real Missionaries (The Brinkman Adventures Review)

The Schoolhouse Review Crew year is winding down, and as my second-to-last review of the year, I’m pleased to talk about The Brinkman Adventures. These wonderful audio dramas are completely family friendly, and a real delight to listen to. We were blessed to review season 2 last year, and this year we have the privilege of listening to – and writing about – The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3.

The Brinkman Adventures are, like I just mentioned, audio dramas – like the old-time radio shows of the past. What makes them different is that these are dramatic retellings based on the lives of real-life missionaries. There are stories of the fictional family mixed in as well to help keep things interesting and cohesive. I received the physical CD set this year ($27.99 for the physical CDs and $17.99 for the digital downloads), which was nice because it made it easier for us to listen to in the car (that’s where our CD player is). We often put the Brinkmans on when we were going on a drive far enough to get through one full episode. Each episode is about 25-30 minutes, so we didn’t listen on every trip, but we did often. In addition to this, I used Windows Media Player to transfer the CD files to mp3 and put them on Munchkin’s player so we could listen in the house, too.

It had been a while since I’d listened to Season 2, but there are some things that are the same – the music and voice actors, for example. I was instantly filled with happiness when the music kicked in on the first episode. I felt like I was rejoining some old friends I hadn’t seen (or heard from, more like) in several months. It was really nice.

Season 3 does not pick up where season 2 leaves off, so that makes it feasible to pick up just one season at a time for your family – each series of episodes is stand-alone. The third season opens with the retelling of a story from a missionary who sacrificed everything he had to do God’s work. Not only did his father disown him – and cut off all of his financial support – but then, after years on the mission field, he knew that he wasn’t doing enough. (My apologies for not remembering the name of the missionary offhand. It’s been a while since we listened to this episode.) He prayed that God would give him an “impossible” task. And boy, did He! The missionary was tasked with smuggling bibles into a country where they were illegal. The story of his success is nothing short of miraculous, but I don’t want to give the whole thing away here.

And this exciting opening is just the beginning of The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3! We listen to stories from missionaries caught amongst terrorists, spending time in a Taliban jail, and fighting off wolves in Alaska. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for these based-on-true-stories adventures.

Our family really enjoys these stories, and I feel blessed to have gotten the opportunity to listen to the past two seasons of the show. It really helps to uplift your spirits, listening to stories from real life people doing God’s work. Adding in the bits about the Brinkman family is simply icing on the cake. Even Will and Small Fry (who didn’t listen to Season 2 with us) enjoyed these CDs. I highly recommend them for any family.

If you’re unsure as to whether you want to dive in and purchase the whole season yet, you can listen to a full episode absolutely free (it’s season 3, episode 9) right on the Brinkman Adventures website. If I can’t convince you how good this show is with my words, I know they’ll be able to with this sample episode. I hope you’ll take a listen. And when you’re done listening, you can also find the “stories behind the stories” on their website as well. This turns a casual listening experience into a full-on learning experience. It’s simply wonderful.

Blessings,

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Click the banner below for a link to 84 other reviews of this season of the Brinkman Adventures from my colleagues at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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The Zoo of the English Language (The Phonetic Zoo Review)

It’s no secret that I love the products put out by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It’s also no secret that my oldest, Seahawk (who turns 12 tomorrow and is in 6th grade) needs a lot of help with his spelling. Despite the fact that he reads a lot, he just hasn’t been able to put seeing all the words into practical terms in relation to spelling. When I learned that the newest Crew offering from IEW was going to be a spelling program, therefore, of course I was thrilled. We’ve had only good luck using IEW’s products, so I had incredibly high hopes that The Phonetic Zoo Level A [Starter Set] would finally be the program to help Seahawk gain some success in his spelling. On the other hand, though, I was a little concerned that since we’ve tried so many different programs that this one might not make the grade.

Learning to Spell with The Phonetic Zoo

So what’s the verdict? Has it worked better than other programs for my struggling speller? Keep reading to find out!

The Phonetic Zoo has three levels: A, B, and C. Despite the fact that he was technically outside of the age range for level A, I chose this level for Seahawk anyway. I made the decision after having him take the spelling placement test on the IEW website and seeing that he definitely needed to start at the beginning – his spelling was that poor.

The program is broken down into three portions: the printed materials, the audio CDs, and the downloadable components. The printed materials cover all three levels, so  you only need to purchase those once for the entire time your child or children are using the program. The audio CDs vary from level to level, so those need to be purchased new each time your child ascends to a new level. The printed materials include teacher cards and student motivation cards (more explanation on each component later). The audio CDs are just that: a set of 5 CDs that include the audio portion of the program. These are also available as MP3 downloads, which are automatically included with the CD purchase. And finally, the downloadable components include the teacher manual and an audio version of Andrew Pudewa’s talk “Spelling and the Brain.” (If you’re a more visual person, this speech is also available in its entirety on IEW’s YouTube channel.)

The teacher cards are large (8×5 or so) flashcards. The side you show to the student has pictures of the animal(s) whose name demonstrates the rule being studied and a small selection from each list (levels A, B, and C), while the other has the rule and its jingle along with the complete list for each level. These cards have a single hole punched in them so you can attach them to a large ring for easy storage. The student cards are much smaller (about business card sized, but not exactly) and have the animal on one side and the rule/jingle on the other. When a student successfully completes a lesson (details on that in a minute), they keep the card and add it to their “zoo.”

The first thing I did when I found out we would be on this review was to hop over to YouTube and listen to the Spelling and the Brain speech, even before I had my download access. This was a fascinating talk explaining how the brain works and why that’s important for learning to spell. Then there was the matter of waiting on the mail so we could dive into the program. It arrived on the first or second day of school, so that was perfect timing. We started the program the day after it arrived (I’d already received the downloadables by then, so I’d spent some time with the teacher manual and felt ready to explain it to Seahawk). One thing to keep in mind is the things you’ll need that aren’t included in the purchase: a notebook or binder with blank paper and a CD or MP3 player with headphones. (I ripped our CDs to Windows Media Player on the computer, then moved the files from there to Seahawk’s MP3 player since we don’t have a CD player except in the car.) The curriculum authors emphasize the importance of headphones rather than a regular speaker because the sound gets right into the student’s ears – and brain – better that way. Plus there are fewer options for distraction.

So, the way the program works is pretty simple, and it’s something the student can do autonomously (mostly). The first day, the teacher goes over the new rule with the child. (The rules are very much the same as those that my generation learned in school – “I before E except after C,” “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking,” and so forth.) The difference between just learning the rules and The Phonetic Zoo’s way of teaching them is that IEW puts an emphasis on making sure students understand that there are exceptions to every rule. This is important for students to comprehend in order for them to really excel. Once the rule has been explained to the student, they’re on their own. They put their headphones on or earbuds in and play the track with the list of words for that lesson. The CD explains the rule to the student again, and then the list is started. There’s a pause between each word, but students are also encouraged to pause their CD if they need more time. This isn’t supposed to be a rush job. They write down the words on their blank paper, one at a time. Then they listen to the next track, which is the correction track for the lesson. In this track, each word is named and then spelled. This is a very important piece of the puzzle for two reasons. First, it allows the students to self-correct. Second, by hearing the letters in the proper order, students can begin to make sense of the words and rules, specifically the exceptions. While they listen to the correction track, students are encouraged to write down the proper spelling of each word, even if they spelled it correctly the first time. Children work the same lesson each day until they get 100% correct for two consecutive days. Why two? Because one could be a fluke, but two in a row demonstrates true understanding.

We used this program exactly as it’s designed to be used, and how I described it in this post. Seahawk did one lesson each school day (four times per week) until he got 100% for two consecutive days – even if that meant his “correct” days were split over the weekend. Sometimes this took only 3 or 4 days, other times it took upwards of 10-12 days.

So, after all of this… what do we think of the program? We like it a lot. It’s easy to follow, and Seahawk likes the autonomy of not needing to wait until I’m available to get the work done. He can just get on his MP3 player and start working. Each day’s work only takes about 10-15 minutes, so that’s a good thing too. Will it work for him long-term? I’m still not sure. So far, he’s only made it through 3 lessons despite the fact that we’ve been working on it for six weeks. But he doesn’t get fatigued, even when doing the same lesson for days and days in a row. To the contrary, he’s very motivated because he knows that he’s building skills, and that he’ll get a new set of words as soon as he masters the current one. My only concern is that while the program emphasizes learning the rules – and exceptions – of English spelling, it does so using lists of words. I worry that he’s learning the words rather than the rules, but I haven’t tested that theory yet. If I remind him of a rule he’s already learned while he’s writing for another subject, he can usually come up with the correct spelling, even if the word giving him trouble wasn’t on the initial list. But he’s not yet at a point where he’s remembering those rules outside of spelling lessons. I hope to see that change over the course of using the curriculum.

All that said, I will say that Seahawk has now passed spelling tests six times (three lessons, two 100% scores each). This is huge, because before this program he’d passed zero. He’s feeling pretty motivated that he’s actually having some success, and I plan to capitalize on that momentum as much as possible. What this means is that we will definitely continue to use the program. It’s showing more promise than any spelling curriculum we’ve tried to date, and that’s enough for me at this point.

Blessings,

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All three levels of The Phonetic Zoo are being reviewed this weekend at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. In addition to the spelling program, some members also had the opportunity to review a series of teacher resources including the Timeline of Classics (putting classical literature in chronological order), A Word Write Now (a thematic thesaurus), and Teaching with Games (a video course that teaches teachers to create games for their students). Make sure to click the banner below for more information on all of those products!

 

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Combining Art and Geography (Brookdale House Review)

My boys love to draw. I suppose you could say it’s just a part of them, considering Will is a comic strip artist for a living. Me, on the other hand, not so much. Because I use other mediums for my art (fabric and yarn, mostly), I’m a bit at a loss for how to include art in their school day considering neither of them is particularly interested in sewing. This isn’t so bad because they spend a good portion of their free time drawing – especially Munchkin – but I still want to encourage them to use their skills to work on things besides superheroes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with superheroes, but I’d like them to expand their horizons, so to speak.)

Enter Drawing Around the World: Europe from Brookdale House. This neat geography curriculum offers students the chance to combine two subjects (art and geography) into one tidy package. The idea is that students work on one (sometimes more, particularly if they’re closely related like Norway, Sweden, and Finland) country or countries per week. They learn to draw the shape of each country as well as where it’s located within the European continent. By the end of the course, they should be able to draw and label their own map of Europe from memory. Each week, the series is the same – and it’s built around a 4-day week, which as regular readers will know is perfect for us!

On day one, the new country or countries are introduced. Students find them on a map (we have a world map hanging in the school room) and then are given printouts from the e-book on which they practice tracing the country. Then they’re given a blank map where they draw the new country from memory. In addition to the drawing on this first day, there’s a table to fill in with data about the country. These facts they learn are area, population, capital city, people/culture, major religion(s), climate, and resources. On the website for the purchase of the curriculum, they provide links to family-friendly websites to help you find all of this information, as well as specific things to pray for in regards to the people of the countries.

Days two and three are similar to day one, just without the fact table. Students practice tracing and drawing the countries (working with all of the countries studied thus far, not just the new ones).

The fourth day of the week, students are expected to name (write down) all of the countries studied to date as well as draw – on a blank sheet of paper rather than the pre-printed map provided – a map of Europe. Obviously, this isn’t done all at once. Like everything else in this curriculum, it’s done on an “add as you go” method, and they should draw only the countries studied so far.

Because I received the e-book version of this product (available for $22.95; a printed version is also available for $25.95), there was some printing involved. I looked through the curriculum and figured out a method that I thought would work for us, without requiring tons of printing all at once or regular printing each week. Here’s what I did.

I had four copies of the traceable map and four copies of the blank map printed for each child. This would get us through the week of each country studied. The boys had one version of each map for each day of the week. Instead of printing the fact table pages, I wrote the categories of facts into their geography notebooks, and they filled them out in there. The maps went into a separate folder that they pulled out each day. I taped a large sheet of blank paper (folded in half) into the front cover of their notebooks for the day four map, and they used that to draw and label their own map of Europe. This map was expanded upon each week with the new countries learned. By the time we finish the curriculum, they’ll each have a complete map of Europe that they drew themselves. While not perfectly aligned with the way the curriculum is set up, it worked for us.

The kids and I all learned a lot during the review period for this product. The fact table included in the book is a great way to turn what might otherwise be a flat, boring, too-easy geography curriculum into something more. It would be a great jumping off point to have students write a report on a specific country. This could be done on each country each week to flesh it out a bit more, or you could have students pick their favorite country when you get to the end of the book. Either way would be a benefit for students, I think. Because of all the different things included in the data collection portion of the week, it would also be pretty easy to turn this into a full on unit study. Make a chart showing the sizes and populations for math. Or explore what population density means. Use the major religions box to learn more about said religions and to pray for people of those religions who need Jesus. The people and culture box would be a great jumping off point for social studies or history – how did they get to be the way they are? Learning and comparing the climates of different countries would be an interesting science study. And so on.

So as you can see, I was very impressed with this curriculum, and we will definitely be continuing to use it even though we don’t “have to” anymore.

In addition to Drawing Around the World: Europe, Brookdale House also has Drawing Around the World: United States in which students follow the same basic outline, just for the different states in the US instead of the countries of Europe. And lest you think they’re all about geography, they also offer a huge variety of curricula in different subjects including, but not limited to, Spanish, Grammar, Writing, and History. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to review something from each of these categories, so make sure to click the banner below to find out more about those products.

Blessings,

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Reading with a Purpose (Progeny Press Review)

Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies for teaching literature to my children. We were blessed to be able to review their Little House in the Big Woods study last year, and I was thrilled when I saw that they were on the “upcoming vendors” list with the Schoolhouse Review Crew again. This year, we had the privilege of reviewing their Tuck Everlasting study guide, and I was just as pleased with this one as I was with last year’s.

The Tuck Everlasting guide is written with middle schoolers in mind, even though the book itself is a lower level. This means there were some differences between it and the Little House guide we used last year (namely that there weren’t any “fun” activities), but the general setup is the same.

The Basics

I received an electronic version of this study guide. This means that I was emailed a link from which I was able to download the guide to my computer. There are also options for a CD version of the guide (digital and CD versions are both $18.99) or you can request a printed workbook for an additional $3 over the price of the guide itself. For a total of $25.98 ($28.98 for the printed version), you can also buy a copy of the novel to go with the study guide. I just picked up a copy from the library.

The e-guide is pretty nice for several reasons. First of all, you receive your product right away. There’s no waiting for the mail. Second, if you’re doing the study with only one student, you can download the student version right to your child’s computer (if he has his own) and he can do the work right in the PDF. There’s no writing required. Alternatively, you can print the guide. This is good if you want to use it with more than one child or if you don’t want your child relying on the computer for every little thing. I fall into both of the latter categories, so I chose to use a printed version of the study guide (sort of – more on that in a minute).

The Tuck Everlasting guide is divided into five-chapter “chunks.” For each 5 chapters, there is a series of “paperwork” for your student to move through. These include activities such as vocabulary, comprehension questions, exploring what the author’s intentions might have been for specific words/phrases used, and comparing things the characters say to Biblical principles. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of what’s included. Additionally, concepts such as foreshadowing and similes/metaphors are discussed and there are activities for students to practice their understanding of those notions.

How We Used It

It’s no secret to regular readers that we don’t really print anything out for our homeschool. It’s not that I have a problem with doing so, but more that it’s just not convenient for me since we don’t currently have a printer at home and going to the print shop for every little thing is a pain. So I spent time before we were ready to dive into each of those 5-chapter chunks I mentioned before writing down all of the activities and questions in each of the boys’ Literature composition books. I did this one chunk at a time to save my sanity (and hand!).

KIMG0035Once the “workbook” was ready, I went through it and divided it into manageable sections, one per school day. For example, our schedule for the first chunk went something like this:

Day 1: The boys did the prereading activity, which was to do some basic research on Juan Ponce de León (we got a book from the library for this) and write a report on his life, paying particular attention to his obsession with the Fountain of Youth, which he thought was in present-day Florida.

Day 2: I read the prologue and first five chapters to the boys. The chapters in Tuck Everlasting are pretty short, so it was pretty easy to get through that much in a sitting. (Five chapters in Tuck Everlasting was a much shorter section than just one chapter of our August read-aloud book.)

Day 3: We worked together (with me guiding rather than helping) to get through the vocabulary section.

Day 4: We learned about setting and made an educated guess as to the time period that the book takes place. We also explored the author’s descriptive writing, discovering how she used several verbs rather than adjectives to describe a road.

Day 5 (Week 2, day 1): With my guidance, the boys answered the comprehension questions, including some that required them to think beyond the words on the page to answer (for example, “How does the man in the yellow suit react to the sound coming from the wood? What might this indicate?”).

Day 6: We learned all about foreshadowing, and the boys reread the prologue, this time pulling out specific pieces that they thought were bits of foreshadowing. We also explored what a symbol is in literature.

Days 7 and 8: We worked through the “Dig Deeper” questions. These are a series of questions for each chunk that are far beyond simple comprehension and require students to both think more carefully about the story and put the novel into the context of their own lives (for example, do you have any boundaries?) and the Scriptures (what do these passages say about obedience?).

KIMG0036Because the Tuck Everlasting study guide is written for a higher level than the Little House in the Big Woods one was (middle school versus upper elementary), it’s taking us quite a bit longer to get through. To date, we’ve read through chapter 15 and are going to get into the “Dig Deeper” portion for that chunk (chapters 11-15) early next week. The novel has a total of 25 chapters plus an epilogue, so I expect we’ll finish up the study guide around the end of this month.

My Opinion

As I stated in my opening paragraph, Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies. I love their study guides; it’s so nice to have a deep, rich experience studying novels rather than just reading them. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with “just” reading, but that for a “literature class,” it’s good to have something more extensive. I love how they incorporate Christian principles into their study guides and encourage students (and teachers!) to explore the Scriptures in relation to the novels they write the guides for.

Finally

Progeny Press has study guides for students of all ages, so make sure to head over to their site to find one that’s the right fit for your child(ren). I promise you won’t regret it!

Blessings,

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If you have students in other grade levels (from early elementary all the way up through high school) make sure to click the banner below for a selection of Schoolhouse Review Crew members and their reviews for a huge variety of Progeny Press study guides. This year’s Crew is talking about study guides for the following novels/categories: Sam the Minuteman and Miss Rumphius (early elementary); Sarah, Plain and Tall and Stone Fox (upper elementary); Tuck Everlasting and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (middle school); and To Kill a Mockingbird and Intro to Poetry (high school). You’re sure to find something interesting!

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How to Help Kids Build Reading Skills (Reading Kingdom Review)

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I’d heard of Reading Kingdom before, but had never really explored it in-depth because both of my school-age children are strong readers. I didn’t think we needed a program like this. Based on this personal assessment, I was a little surprised to see my name on the list for reviewers of their Reading Kingdom Online program, but I knew that since the Schoolhouse Review Crew is a team, everyone is expected to be a team player and at least try out the programs we’re assigned to review. With that in mind, I signed Munchkin up for the program right away and had him start last month when we started school. I was initially planning to have Seahawk work on the program, too, but then his new spelling program arrived in the mail, and I made the executive decision that he needed to work on his spelling more than his reading, so I let him skip out on Reading Kingdom – at least for the time being.

Reading Kingdom is a program created by Dr. Marion Blank, a top expert on reading and language. The program offers a series of lessons designed to teach children from ages 4-10 to read and write at a third-grade level. When I was asked by the vendor representative how things were going partway through the review period, I was honest and said I was having my son work through the program for the purposes of the review, but hadn’t noticed much because he was already a strong reader before we started. I received in response a very kind and informative message about why Reading Kingdom can be beneficial even for students who already read above their grade level. These include:

  • Writing. Students who write well read well.
  • Phonics and Comprehension. This might seem like a “no-brainer” in regards to reading, but it’s more than just phonics. Reading Kingdom has a special way of presenting a variety of phonemic awareness. This includes working on blends as well as homophones (to/too/two), homonyms (dog’s bark vs tree bark), and heteronyms (ship’s bow vs bow and arrow).
  • Diligence. For maximum benefit from the program, it is recommended that students work on it at least four days per week. This teaches them to keep pushing forward each day; having the diligence to work on the program on a regular basis is one of the fundamental requirements for success with Reading Kingdom.

The first thing we did was to have Munchkin take the assessment test. Because I’d never tried the program out at all, that was an important step. I had him do the assessment test the day before we started school so that on the “Big Day” he could dive right into the program. He was placed into Level 2 (of 5) of Reading and Writing. Because he didn’t start in a lower level, I can’t really tell you about that, but I can describe the kinds of things he did in the program each day.

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Click on any of the images to make them bigger.

First, there’s a “keyword” in each lesson. This word is typed over and over again into a variety of sentences and paragraphs. As the student progresses through the lesson, more and more words are left out of each sentence, but the keyword is always among the missing.

rk 4Eventually, the student gets to a point where the entire sentence is blank and requires typing (but don’t worry – there’s a very pleasant voice that prompts them into typing the correct words).

After this, a complete paragraph is presented. The student’s job is to find the keyword within the paragraph and click on it. There are three of these paragraphs (in the lesson Munchkin did today, anyway).

rk 6Next is a multiple choice activity. There are a series of choices, each one of which is a real word that’s missing letters. The goal is to find the one “that can become” the keyword, click on it, and then type the missing letters.

Finally, one of the paragraphs from earlier in the lesson is repeated, this time with certain words missing letters. The student chooses the correct word from a list at the bottom of the screen and then types the missing letters.

So, what did we (Munchkin and I) think of this program? He says, “There’s a lot of typing. Other than that, it’s very easy.” I think it would be a great program for families with younger or struggling readers. I really like the idea teaching young children to read at an early age. In fact, if Small Fry was a year or two older, I’d definitely use this program with him. But for use with the other boys? I’m not sure it’s the best fit for them. Will we continue to have Munchkin use it now that the review period is over? Maybe for a few more weeks, but if I don’t see a marked improvement to justify its use for an already-strong reader and writer, I’m not going to force him to continue.

Blessings,

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Reading Kingdom has a program for students on the Autism Spectrum, and some of the reviewers of this program tried that with their students. There are also plenty who reviewed the regular program, like I did. For more information on both of these, click the banner below.

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Learning Through Play (USAopoly Review)

usaopoly

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that our family (especially the kids and me) really like games. I pretty much always request the (physical) games when they come up for review through the Schoolhouse Review Crew, and this time, with USAopoly, was no exception. Usually companies send one game for review purposes, but this time they sent two: Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone and Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game. These are both super fun games, so keep reading to find more about them!

Tapple

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Tapple is a really fun word game. The board consists of a plastic base with letter “tabs” all around the edge and a timer reset button in the middle. There are several category cards (which tuck neatly into the bottom of the game to prevent loss), and the goal is to come up with a word that begins with each letter (there are only 20, not all 26 – the really hard letters like Q, Z, and X are left out) and fits the category.

 

Example category: Actors

A: Adam Arkin

J: Jon Hamm

F: Fred Savage

And so on. Players have 10 seconds in which to come up with their answer, tap the letter tab (which then stays down for the rest of the round so others know that the letter has been used), and reset the timer by pressing the button in the middle of the board. If a player can’t come up with an answer within their ten-second time allotment, they’re eliminated from the round. Last man standing wins the round (there are special rules in case you finish the board without getting down to just one player, but we never had to use them), and first player to win three rounds wins the game.

Wonky

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Wonky is completely different. It’s almost like two games in one. First, it’s a card game. Second, it’s a stacking game. It comes with nine blocks (three sizes, three colors) and a deck of cards, as well as a nice cloth storage bag (so you don’t have to keep the box if you don’t want to). To begin, place the blocks within easy reach of all players. Everyone is dealt seven cards, and the rest of the deck is set aside. The first player selects a card from his/her hand and places it in the discard pile, then follows the instructions on that card. This might be anything from “stack the large purple block” to “stack any color of medium block” to “discard this card without stacking any blocks.” The player follows the instructions on the card. If a player can’t play any of their cards, they must draw one card at a time until they get a playable one. The next player does the same thing, but they have to stack their block on top of the block placed by the previous player. Easy enough, right?

Not so fast.

The blocks aren’t quite cube. They’re . . . well, wonky! Each block has several sides that aren’t quite flat, which makes stacking them quite difficult. And very funny for the players. The goal of the game is to be the first to discard all of your cards – without knocking over the tower. (Each time anyone adds a block, the tower must stay up for a count of 3 for it to qualify as a success.) If a player knocks over the tower, they must draw additional cards, thus making it more difficult to win.

How We Played

The first several times we played, we followed the rules to a T to get a feel for the games. Before long, though, we decided that we liked Tapple better without the timer. It’s hard enough to come up with words for the categories without the loud beeping reminding you that you’re about to be eliminated! And with Wonky, Small Fry always wanted to join us, but he’s too little to understand the card portion of the game, so we ended up just stacking the blocks a lot, which is fun and challenging in and of itself because of the shape of them. It was good motor skills practice for him.

The Tapple board even made an appearance at Munchkin’s birthday dinner with the grandparents. Small Fry brought it out, and everyone was wondering about it, so we explained it and a spontaneous game erupted. Love that! We only played one round that night, but it was still really fun.

There are so many ways you could adapt these games, though – especially Tapple. As is, it’s a great vocabulary game. Tweak the rules just a smidge and it would be an amazing spelling practice game (words that end with the letter you tap, for example). Additionally, you can use any category you can think of, not just those on the cards the game comes with. For example, at the spontaneous game on Munchkin’s birthday, we did “Bible Characters.”

If you get too frustrated with Wonky’s misshapen blocks, you could use your own blocks as practice and switch back to the crazy blocks later. The possibilities are many with these games.

Our Opinion

I think it’s been pretty clear through my explanations that we really enjoyed both of these games. They’re fun and educational without kids feeling like they’re “doing school.” Other educational games are fun but still have that “learning” feel to them; not so with these two. It really does feel like you’re just playing a game. The kids often bring these games out to play in their free time, both with just the two of them and with friends. This is a pretty big deal – as much as they like games, they’re usually happy to just play with toys. But these games have made appearances over and over again. That speaks very highly of them.

Final Thoughts

Both games are available through the USAopoly website, and we’ve also seen them (Tapple, anyway) in our local Fred Meyer (Kroger to you east coasters) store. From the website, they’re $19.95 each, and I heartily recommend them, especially if your family likes games.

Blessings,

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As always, there are 99 other reviewers from the Schoolhouse Review Crew writing about these games this week. Click the banner below to find a list of all of their blogs and read their thoughts on these games.

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Worksheets for Every Subject (Super Teacher Worksheets Review)

Do your students excel with worksheets? Do you sometimes just need a worksheet for something quick for them to do while you work with another child? Do you want worksheets to help your students with math drills or other topics? Then Super Teacher Worksheets is a website that will be right up your alley. For the purposes of this review, I was given an Individual Membership to the website. An annual membership to this website (which has thousands of worksheets in a huge variety of subjects) retails for $19.95.

The site has worksheets that you can download and print for grades kindergarten through 5th, and I’ve found that it’s been a huge benefit in our school. There are way more worksheets than you’d ever need (I bet), and they cover multiple topics within each major school subject (math, reading, writing, handwriting, grammar, spelling, science, social studies, holidays, puzzles and brainteasers, teacher helpers, preschool, and a “create your own worksheet” feature). It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s really not so bad. The worksheets are all arranged by subject and then by grade level after that. For our family, I found that we ended up using mostly some of the “fun” math worksheets, but I also fully intend to utilize those from the reading and writing category. There are lots of good ones there that I’ll talk about in a minute.

I decided that, at least in the short term, I’d have the boys have a “fun math” day on Fridays. I don’t want them to lose what they’re learning in their other program, but I also want them to keep their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills sharp. Using some of the worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets seemed like a good way to accomplish this goal. The first one I had Seahawk (6th grade, but needs to practice his long division) was a Bingo game. The goal was for him to solve 8 long division problems and then color in the answers on the Bingo board, seeing if he could get a “bingo.” (He did.)

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While Seahawk was working out the division problems, Munchkin worked on a Mystery Graph worksheet. He hadn’t done anything like this before, and it was a lot of fun for him once he got the hang of it. He was given a series of number coordinates (similar to a Battleship game, but with only numbers instead of numbers and letters) to plot and connect. When he was finished, the dots made a picture (in his case, a school bus).

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Beyond these fun math activities, I want to talk a minute about the language arts worksheets I mentioned earlier. There are so many great options here, but the one that we used the most was the “Writing a paragraph – Hamburger” worksheet. This was so cool because it has a fun picture – a hamburger – and each element of the picture is designed to be a sentence (or a sentence idea) all related to the main topic, which will help the children learn to write a paragraph all on the same topic. I had the kids use this for our Tuck Everlasting study – before we started the book, I had them write a report on Juan Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth (more on that in another review in a few weeks). Using the hamburger worksheet really helped them streamline their ideas into proper paragraphs.

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These are just samples of what we’ve actually used so far. There are so many other amazing resources on this site that I’m really looking forward to using (cause and effect, literature studies, and many more). I’ve only scratched the surface in this review, but fortunately, there are loads of other homeschoolers reviewing this wonderful site this week. I hope you’ll take a minute to see what they all have to say about it (just click the banner at the end of this post). I’ll leave my review at this: I’m really glad I have a whole year to explore this site and utilize all of the amazing things it has to offer.

Blessings,

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The World’s Best Pencil Sharpener – Really! (Product Review)

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If you’ve read very many homeschooling blogs, you’ve likely heard of the “World’s Best Pencil Sharpener.” Offered by Classroom Friendly Supplies, this pencil sharpener is just as good as all the other have said! I’m super excited to have the opportunity to review it for you today.

Product Review The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Classroom Friendly Supplies was developed by a teacher who was tired of struggling with his students never having a quality sharpener available with which to sharpen their pencils. The traditional wall mounted, electric, and hand-held varieties just weren’t working. Thus the World’s Best Pencil Sharpener was born.

The pencil sharpener is available in five colors: black, pink, red, green, and blue. Individual sharpeners are available for $24.99 apiece, and there’s a quantity discount for ordering more than one of the same color (specifically in groups of 3 or 36). I chose black for our family for a couple of reasons. First, pink is out since I have only sons. Red and blue were eliminated because one is Seahawk’s favorite color and the other is Munchkin’s favorite color. I didn’t want to have any squabbles over “Mom chose your favorite because she likes you better” (I don’t think that’s very likely – it’s never happened before – but I wasn’t willing to risk it). So that left green or black. Ultimately, I thought the black would be more universally “matching” anywhere we put it than green would.

How it Works

pencil sharpener 1This pencil sharpener is ready to go to work straight out of the box; there’s no assembly required. That’s a definite selling feature in my book.

There are three main parts to the sharpener: the base, the pencil grip, and the handle. The first thing to do is pull out the pencil grip and insert your pencil, making sure it goes through the holes on both the grip and the base. There are teeth to hold it in place while you sharpen, so you don’t have to worry about holding the pencil still while you’re turning the handle. Which is the next step – turn the handle. As you do this, you can watch the pencil and the pencil grip move closer into the base. When the handle goes slack, your pencil is sharp. Gently remove it from the base and grip, and you’re ready to write.

For a better idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video provided by the company.

 

 

 

 

In addition to the sharpener itself, you can also purchase permanent mounting hardware; this piece is $14.99 for one, with quantity discounts available just like the sharpener. Also available are replacement parts for the sharpeners: blades ($14.99 each or 2 for $22.99), shavings drawers ($6.99), and clamps ($6.99). I didn’t talk much about the clamp in this review because we didn’t use it for ours. I didn’t find that it was necessary. Due to the pencil clamp that keeps your writing instrument firmly in place during the sharpening process, you have two hands available – one to hold the sharpener in place and one to turn the crank – so I didn’t see the need to clamp the sharpener itself to the table.

Do you know someone besides yourself who might want one of these, but you’re not sure which color to choose for them? Classroom Friendly Supplies even sells gift cards! Available in amounts of $24.99, $53.97, $107.94, and $503.64, they’re exactly priced for various quantities of sharpeners.

Our Thoughts

I could go on and on about this pencil sharpener, or I could just not beat around the bush. Let’s start with the simple answer: we love this product!

100_2137The longer version goes something like this… I love how the sharpener is big enough that it won’t get lost easily (ours has found its home in the schoolroom). I like how easy it is to work; all of us (except Small Fry) were able to sharpen pencils quickly and efficiently. Which brings me to my next love. I really appreciate how quickly this sharpener brings points to the pencils – without the dreaded forearm strain I always get with handheld sharpeners. And when you sharpen pencils, you’re left with shavings… This sharpener deals nicely with those as well. The pencil shavings are contained in a drawer at the bottom of the sharpener, and it’s really easy to slide it out for emptying. There’s really no downside to this product that I could find. I highly recommend that if you sharpen a lot of pencils – regardless of the reason (homeschooling or otherwise) – you invest in one of these!

Blessings,

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Disclaimer: I received a free pencil sharpener in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

Homeschool Curriculum Review: Funtastic Unit Studies

One of the best things about being a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew is that I get to learn about – and try – new homeschooling gems that I’ve never even heard of before. Such is the case with today’s review. Funtastic Unit Studies brings a new science book for children ages 4-13 called Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers ($16.95).

Funtastic Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers review at Ladybug Daydreams

This physical, softcover book is divided into 20 chapters, each one exploring a different area of science. The first ten chapters are written with ages 4-7 in mind and covers topics such as the senses, the body, animals, insects, magnets, stars and planets, and others. The second half of the book, where we spent the majority of our time, is for ages 8-13. Some of the topics overlap the chapters written for younger students (insects and plants, for instance), but there are quite a few that are completely new as well – microscopes, atoms, matter, chemistry, weather, and more.

It was asked of us, as reviewers, that we accomplish at least one of the unit studies presented in the book. When I first requested to be a part of this review, I thought I might do two of the studies during the summer months, but when I actually saw it I decided to stick with just doing one now. The book is good enough – comprehensive enough – that I plan to use the rest of the 8-13 units for our science curriculum when school starts up again in the fall. We chose to explore atoms and molecules for our summer study. (Incidentally, you can get the atoms and molecules study as a free sample – the entire lesson – on the author’s website if you want to see it before you decide to purchase the book.) I chose this one because it had the most readily available supply requirements.

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Searching the periodic table for water

The opening of this unit study explains what an atom is and what a molecule is. While the text of what to say isn’t scripted per se, it is written clearly enough that a non-science parent (such as myself) can understand what’s being explained in order to explain it to the students. Or you can just read it to them – it’s easy enough for them to understand as well. It then introduces students to the periodic table of the elements. The explanation for the difference between atoms and molecules comes immediately after giving students time to examine the periodic table. Students are asked to find water on the table – of course, it isn’t there because water is a molecule made up of two elements, or kinds of atoms (hydrogen and oxygen). This simple activity was enough for Munchkin (age 8 and the student for this review) to understand the difference.

Building marshmallow molecules

Building marshmallow molecules

The following activities build on that first one. Students are able to “build molecules” using marshmallows and toothpicks (we used spaghetti noodles because we didn’t have any toothpicks).

A glass of water and some food coloring shows how diffusion works.

The steam coming off a pot of boiling water is compared to a cup of ice to show that molecules move slower or faster depending on the temperature.

Students draw pictures of a variety of atoms by following specific directions for how many protons, electrons, and neurons are in each kind (there are some of these listed out with the correct numbers for parents/teachers to describe to the students).

And at the end of the unit study, which should take one to two weeks to complete, there’s a test.

    Marshmallow molecules. Clockwise from right: hydrogen dioxide, water, and methane.

Marshmallow molecules. Clockwise from right: hydrogen dioxide, water, and methane.

My overall opinion of this book is very positive. The units are easy to follow and understand, and most of them use supplies that you probably already have on hand, or are very easy to get. I like that each unit starts with a list of the supplies needed for that specific unit, so it’s easy to decide whether it will work for you in the short term. I also really liked that there’s such a large variety of activities for each unit. While not exactly experiments, they’re hands-on enough to keep almost any child interested in what they’re learning. So, the big question: would I recommend this book to other homeschooling families?

Yes. For all of the reasons I just stated.

Blessings,

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Product Review: SimplyFun Games

My kids love board games. So do I, for that matter. But so many of them require so much work and/or setup (counting money, sometimes even building the game board, designating a “banker,” separating pieces, and so on) that it feels like it’s barely worth it most of the time. So I questioned the wisdom of requesting a new board game to review, but now that we’ve played it, I’m so glad we got this game!

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Expanders is a game from SimplyFun, a company dedicated to producing educational games for children and adults from “3 to 103.” Their games help children of all ages develop their communication, math, science, and critical thinking skills, all while having loads of fun. They have over 90 products, many of which have won them multiple awards – and for good reason. If our experience with Expanders is any indication, all of the games from SimplyFun are sure to be winners.

expandersExpanders is a game that emphasizes simple math skills – addition to 12. Besides the adding, children work on their spatial reasoning and critical thinking through the play of this game. I’ll explain that a bit as I describe game play.

So, what’s in the box? There are six numbered strips (explanation on those to follow), two plain strips, a game board frame, a cloth bag containing four small plastic bags of colored tokens (I love that there’s a cloth bag included to keep everything organized!), and game instructions.

Game board setup for 3 players

Game board setup for 3 players

The first thing you have to do is build the board. I know, I know – I mentioned that as something I prefer not to do in games just a few paragraphs ago. But with Expanders, it’s really quick and easy. You simply open the frame and place numbered or plain strips (no more than six – the other two are left in the box for another time) inside the frame. The number of players (from 2-4) determines how many numbered strips versus blank filler strips you use. For four players, you use all six numbered strips. For three players, use five, and for two players, use only four. Simply place the strips in the frame, and you’re ready to play. The numbered strips are two-sided. One side is for easier game play, and the numbers stop at 8; the other side is for more advanced players, and those numbers go up to 12. You choose which side to use. (Play is identical regardless of which side of the board you choose to implement.)

Now that your game board is built, each player chooses a color – blue, orange, pink, or purple. The frame is comprised of these colors, so each player sits next to their chosen color and selects the bag of tokens (32 of each color) that matches their color. The tokens are see-through, which allows you to see the numbers even after you’ve placed your tokens on the board. So, now that the board is built and each player has their colored tokens, play begins.

There are three actions that players can choose from on their turn – excluding the opening three moves of the game. The first player must use exactly one token, and he can place it on any number on “his side” of the game board. This is defined as any of the numbers closest to his color in the frame. The second player must use no more than two tokens, and he can place one token on one number, like player one, or place two tokens on two identical numbers within his side of the board. The third player must use no more than three tokens, and he has the most options. He can make the same play as players one or two, or he can build an addition problem. This is done by selecting one number on his side of the board and saying it aloud. Then he finds two more numbers that are either touching the first number or made a chain starting at that number, and he says the math problem aloud. (Three is two plus one.) Starting with the fourth turn, players may make any of the three moves, with one exception: after the opening turns, any number of tokens may be played in a single turn using the “addition action.” (12 is 5+3+2+1+1 would use six tokens, for example.) The goal of the game is to be the first player to use all of his/her tokens. The main rule to keep in mind is that when building an expanded number, your numbers must all be in a chain and the first number (the sum) must be either on your row or touching one or more of the tokens (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) you’ve already played. When using one of the other playing options, the same rule for placement.

We played this game three times within just the first two days we had it. I’d say that makes it a winner! The kids love that it’s fun, and I love that they’re working on math skills while we play. It’s easy to set up and easy to put away. Play is really fun and simple, and it’s a good mental workout, especially as you try to play more than three tokens per turn (it’s easy to come up with a x+y=z math problem, but much harder to come up with a+b+c+d=e one). Spatial reasoning is practiced as you expand your tokens – children must figure out where acceptable places to make plays are. Critical thinking is learned and practiced as children are careful not to allow themselves to be boxed in by their opponents – or try to do just that to another player! (If you don’t have anywhere to place a token, you’re out of the game.)

The only thing we didn’t like about the game was the required first three turns. Once we got the hang of it, there was always an argument over who “had to” go first (the way of determining based on the instructions – whoever was the most recent person to download an app – doesn’t work for our family since the children don’t have access to smart phones or tablets). It became clear very quickly that the first player was at a severe disadvantage over the third player.

Expanders sells for $34, and if you act quickly, you can use coupon code SHREVIEW to get 15% off your first purchase (of any game in their catalog) through July 31st. It’s recommended for ages 7 and up, and I think that’s pretty accurate; students need to have a fairly strong understanding of addition to play the game successfully. Our family highly recommends this Simply Fun game!

Blessings,

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As always with Crew reviews, I’m not the only person writing about SimplyFun games this week. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew received either Expanders or Shape Whiz (a math game for older kids) to review. Click the banner below to read more reviews on both of these games!

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