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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Introducing Whole Foods Cooking

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My hubby recently had a conversation with a chef of his acquaintance. It went something like this:

Hubby: “I’m kind of an aspiring foodie. But, you know we’ve got a 10, 6, 4 and 1-year-old…”

Chef: “Mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets, right?”

Yep. Except Mary is probably the singularly most picky eater I have have ever met in my life. Not even chicken nuggets meet with her approval. And only certain types of mac-n-cheese. Getting her to eat something other than carbs is a constant struggle. But teaching my children healthy eating habits is definitely a priority.

The Gregg’s hear your pleas…Introducing Whole Foods Cooking for Health and Hospitality is a slim, 135-page comb-bound volume designed to not only teach you about the proper way to eat…but how to ease your family into a healthier diet. Baby steps, folks. They know where you’re at…they were there once, too.

This is not really a cookbook, in fact there are only about 2 dozen recipes included (several are available for free on Sue Gregg’s website). This really is an introduction to cooking with whole foods. You are given a brief overview of the important nutrients to be had from whole foods, optimal ways of preparing various foods, the importance of soaking whole grains, beans and legumes, the importance of fats (and what types are good), and how to avoid refined sugars. Attention is paid to the importance of presentation (half of eating is what you see, smell, feel). There are also cost comparisons between whole foods and a typical American diet, a section on menus for weight loss, and a short Bible study included. A cd-rom at the back of the book provides step-by-step Powerpoint instructions for the recipes.

I read this book from cover to cover when I first received it. And dove into the recipes, though I did have to do some tweaking to use what was readily available. I really do want to pursue this way of cooking and eating…and this book inspired me to do it. But, I don’t feel this book really gives me what I need to embark on this journey. Perhaps it doesn’t intend to.

Just about every page has footnotes, many referring to other books by the Greggs or to other books from the 2-page bibliography. After awhile, it felt like I was reading an ad for their other books. The information on nutrition, while informative, really only scratches the surface. The helps for modifying favorite recipes to improve their nutrition offer little in logistical guidance. While it makes sense that I can improve nutrition by using soaked whole grains instead of white flour, how do I go about it? How much grain for a cup of flour? Do I need to modify my liquid? My leavening? If I want to substitute honey for white sugar, do I need to change my liquids? Do I use the same amount of honey as sugar? You won’t find answers to these questions here.

I found the cost comparisons unrealistic, but then I suppose we don’t really have a typical American diet in our household. We do eat some processed foods (the ubiquitous mac-n-cheese, for example), but really try to avoid those. It will cost me more to buy whole grains than refined flour. Honey is more expensive than white sugar. Butter is more expensive than margarine. And organic is always more than non-organic. But I don’t really think cost is the point, maybe this section is a little misguided. Good food should be an investment in your health. Those who are spending huge amounts of money on processed foods will be turned off by the amount of preparation and planning these recipes require (soaking your grains for up to 24 hours does require some advanced planning, folks).

Navigating the book is a bit difficult, as there is no index or main table of contents (each section has its own table of contents---it’s almost as though it were a collection of short booklets bound together).

The book’s strength is in its ability to motivate. What I appreciate most is the emphasis on making small changes slowly over time rather than looking at it as an all or nothing deal. It makes it feel do-able. And that alone makes it worth having on my bookshelf.

An Introduction to Whole Foods Cooking for Health and Hospitality by Rich & Sue Gregg is available for $17.95.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a complementary copy of An Introduction to Whole Foods Cooking for Health and Hospitality for review purposes. I received no compensation. This review reflects my personal opinions and experiences.

You can read reviews of other books by the Greggs:

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Lesson Planet

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As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received free access to Lesson Planet for review purposes. I received no compensation. This review reflects my personal experiences and honest opinion.

How would you like a search engine that would bring up nothing but relevant lesson plans for your key words, complete with short summaries and recommended grade levels? Or to click a tab and retrieve some equally relevant worksheets on the same topic? Lesson Planet might be just what you are looking for. With over 150,000 teacher reviewed lesson plans and 75,000 worksheets, there’s something here for just about any topic you can think of.

Other features:

  • subject “guides” with helpful articles
  • browse by subject or theme
  • search by key words, grade level or rating (worksheets can also be searched by type)
  • a monthly calendar filled with historical trivia hyperlinked to relevant lesson plans
  • state and national standards for easy reference
  • you can save searches and search results
  • lesson maker
  • newsletter maker
  • online storage

Type in key words, select a grade level, hit search, and you have a whole list of possibilities at your fingertips:lessonplanet screenshot1The actual lesson plans and worksheets themselves are hosted by sundry sites (not owned by Lesson Planet) belonging to teachers and others who have developed them. Quality of the lessons and worksheets varies widely, since they are coming from a number of different sources, so Lesson Planet has also added a rating system, allowing users to rate and even write reviews for the lesson plans.

All of the lessons I checked out had their tidy list of objectives, state standards, time required, etc. They are designed for classroom use, but many could be used as is or modified easily for home education. I found a few broken links, but very few, and there are links provided for reporting broken links.

So, would I buy a subscription? Probably not. I do a lot of research on the internet looking for neat ideas to fill out our lessons. I’m all for a service that might make that easier, however I found it difficult to find what I was looking for with Lesson Planet…unless I knew exactly what I was looking for.

The browse option is unwieldy. If I wanted, for example, to browse for a lesson on integers, the search turns up over 100 pages of results! I can narrow it down some by choosing a subcategory, but, and this surprised me, it doesn’t give me the option of narrowing it down by grade level. Or ordering the results in any way.

The search function is much more manageable (the advanced search function even allows you choose the “technology” used, the “teaching method,” even the duration of the lesson), though it does require that you know what you are looking for to get it down to a manageable number of results. In other words, it’s useful if you have a particular need to fill, but if you’re just browsing for ideas, you’re liable to get bogged down.

They do have a free trial available, so it’s worth a look.

For more reviews from the TOS Homeschool Crew, be sure to visit:

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Super Star Games

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Homeschooling Mama Deborah Lott has put together a series of games to supplement your studies and maybe brighten things on a rainy day. They are available at Currclick for $3.50 each (bundles also available):

  • Silly Snail Parts of Speech Game
  • Planets, Moon, and Stars
  • Colony Quest
  • Road to Revolution: An American History Game
  • Explorers of the World
  • The Inventors Game
  • Covering the Continents
  • Exploring Egypt
  • Climb the Vine: All About Plants
  • The Insect Game
  • All About Animals

Skill level varies from game to game, though most are K-5 or 3-8 and many can be adapted up or down.

Some games could be used as “file folder” games, but all require printing on cardstock and a few require quite a lot of printing. Game play is varied (this is not a case of playing the same game over and over again with just a new name and different questions), I like that!

A few of the games require some “full-color” printing (“Planets, Moon, and Stars” has some pretty color-intensive planet cards to print out, as does “All About Animals”), and many of the cards and boards are in color. On the one hand, that can be a blessing (black and white gets quite dull after a while), but it can also be quite expensive (my b&w laser printer is considerably less expensive to operate than my color inkjet). While you can print in grayscale, it would be nice to have 2 sets of each game, one in color and one in black and white (with the option of printing on color cardstock).

We found a few factual errors in “Covering the Continents” (Antarctica is not the only continent in both the western and eastern hemispheres), and a couple of questionable facts in the same game (I was not able to verify, for instance, that Mexico City is the largest city in the world). It was easy enough to remove those cards, however, it did lead me to question whether there were any mistakes in the other games that I simply wasn’t savvy enough to catch. It would be nice to have references given for the information used so I can be assured of its accuracy.

Overall, a fun collection that we’ll enjoy using to supplement our studies.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received complementary copies of all the games mentioned in this review. I received no compensation. This review reflects my honest opinion and personal experiences.

Review: Super Star Speech

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Deborah Lott, homeschooling Mama and licensed Speech Language Pathologist, has designed a simple, easy to implement Speech Therapy program that you can use to help your child…even if you don’t have a Masters in Education/Speech Pathology (she does!).

Super Star Speech: Speech Therapy Made Simple! (SSS) begins with a pictorial assessment test (perfect for pre-readers). You’ll test whether your child is forming consonant sounds correctly at the beginning, middle and end of words. An easy to follow chart is provided showing you the average ages at which particular consonant sounds are mastered, so you have an objective gauge for deciding whether your child’s speech is normal for their developmental level or in need of help. Forms are provided for designing your lesson plans based on your child’s individual needs. For each consonant sound, you’ll find a list of words (with the consonant in the beginning, middle and end), plus plenty of helps and activities for helping your child to master the sound. It is suggested that you finish each session with one of the games included.

Need even more help with certain difficult sounds? Or does you child only need help with, say /s/? Other, targeted books are also available:

  • Super Star R and L: Speech Therapy Made Simple
  • Super Star S, Z, and Sh: Speech Therapy Made Simple
  • Super Star Ch, J, and Th: Speech Therapy Made

I am trying SSS with 4-year-old Peter. Having been blessed with 2 kiddos who were speaking nearly perfectly by age 4, hubby and I struggle to understand what he is saying. Peter had a lot of fun completing the assessment.. It was like a game, trying to guess what the picture represented (with some of the hand-drawn pictures, it can be a bit difficult to know what the picture represents, for example, the “boy” could be a “man,” or a “guy”…or even a “master villain,” if you ask Peter). Fortunately, the word intended is printed under the picture, so the parent does not have to guess. We enjoyed this, and it was definitely not “test-like.”

The results were a little surprising, we found that Peter’s sounds were, for the most part, on target for his age, with only a few exceptions. He has difficulty with voiced consonants at the ends of words (“cob” sounds like “cop”).. The activities are simple and game-like, very easy to implement, and many of them you can do anywhere (we like to do things on the playground, or while going for a walk). And Deborah is quick to respond with suggestions by email if you contact her with questions or concerns.

Super Star Speech is a welcome addition to our homeschool.

Super Star Speech: Speech Therapy Made Simple is available:

  • Ring-bound for $22.95
  • Spiral-bound for $18.95
  • e-book for $12.95

The targeted books are available:

  • Spiral-bound for $18.95 each
  • e-book for $12.95

Or get the complete set:

  • Ring-bound for $49.95
  • Spiral-bound for $38.95
  • e-books for $27

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received complementary copies of the complete Super Star Speech set in e-book form for review purposes. I received no compensation. My review reflects my honest opinion guided by personal experience. I am not a speech therapist and this is not an expert opinion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Simple Homeschool's New Site

Have you checked it out yet...it's ambition is to become the homeschooler's FB/bulletin board with forums, polls, personal profiles, groups, walls...it's definitely worth a look. And while you're there, check out their new interactive online units, they're pretty cool.

Disclosure: The Simple Homeschool has a promotion going on right now where you can earn some free curriculum by helping jumpstart their community. This post fulfills #7 of that requirement for me:-) I received no monetary compensation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Alphabet Beats

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We’ve had quite a flood of preschool products lately, and Peter is enjoying helping Mama check them out. First up is Alphabet Beats from The TV Teacher, a program designed to combine visual and audio learning to teach proper letter formation.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of the Upper Case Alphabet Beats DVD for review purposes. I received no other compensation.

At age 4, Peter is in the beginning stages of writing. He understands that letters make up words, and he likes to practice randomly “drawing” letters he remembers or has seen and make up the words that they say. I chose the Upper Case DVD (there’s a lower case DVD available, too) to help him learn the proper way to form the letters.

The DVD menu of Alphabet Beats allows you to choose your letter:

ABlowercasedvdmenu Each letter chapter is very short, less than 5 minutes. The idea is that after watching a segment, you’ll adjourn to a table and practice making the letter on paper.

Ms. Marnie, the TV Teacher, introduces each letter by tracing it with her finger and saying a chant (for instance, “long line down, one hop around, slide down, the letter R”) as a reminder of the correct way to form the letter. The rest of the segment consists of Ms. Marnie writing the letter on paper (while saying the chant) and on a chalkboard (while saying the chant), talking about a colorful objects (a red rectangle, a rhino, and a rocket), drawing (a rainbow), talking about abstract concepts (remember), and singing songs (Row, row, row your boat). It's a varied mix of stills, video, and activity.

Ms. Marnie has, what you might call, a “bubbly personality.” All smiles, exaggerated speech and hand movements, intended to keep a young child’s attention. And it works. Peter loves watching this video. Letter after letter. And he’s been writing more and more letters. The other day he filled pages and pages with (seemingly) random letters. Most were well formed. And pretty straight on an unlined page. As long as Peter remains enthusiastic, we’ll continue with this. The Alphabet Beats letter style is essentially “ball and stick,” so we will eventually have to transition to our chosen handwriting style (Italic), but I don’t think that will be a problem.

Alphabet Beats Upper Case DVD is available for $35.

The Lower Case DVD is available for $35, too. Or buy both for $64.99.

There are also spiral-bound workbooks available for $4.49-4.99 each.

You can view a free demo of the Alphabet Beats Lower Case DVD here.

For review of this and the Lower Case DVD, head over to:

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Follow

Friday Follow

It's time for Friday Follow. Join the fun, you just might discover a few gems. And gain a few followers.

THE Ultimate Blog Party!

Ultimate Blog Party 2010

OK, I'm a little late getting in on the party. Been in a bit of a funk lately...what better way to get out of it than to put on my party hat and check out some inspirational blog writers. Today's the last day, so if you want in, don't delay!

And be sure to check out the truly awesome prizes that have been donated for this shindig. I'd be honored to receive any of them. Some of my faves:

But the real fun is in visiting the over 2000 blogs that are participating! Maybe I'll find some new bloggy friends.

If you are visiting for the first time, let me introduce myself. I'm a Catholic homeschooling mama to 4 beautiful devils...er, angels, ages 10 on down to 12 months. I started blogging 2 years ago to share our daily happenings with our (at the time) far-flung family. Now that family is less than an hour down the road, my focus has changed. I try to share the joys (and challenges) of raising and educating my rambunctious brood in the hopes of encouraging other harried mamas (and papas) on their God-given journey.

The best way to find out what we've been doing lately is to click the "Our Family" tab up front. I also write reviews on oodles of family friendly products, including toys, games, books and homeschool curriculum (see the "Reviews" tab). Brew a cup of tea, pull up a chair, and stay while.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Post-Portfolio Blues?

Ever have one of those days when you wonder what you are doing? And why?

Or one of those weeks?

One of those lives?

I've got the post-portfolio blues (I'm hummin' Hank Williams, Jr.'s "Honky-Tonk Blues").

We had our portfolio reviews on Monday. We've done easily a full year's worth of work. I was a amazed. Really.

But the year isn't over. And real learning isn't bookended by portfolio reviews.

So, why is my interior slug raising its slimy head? And peering at me with those beady eyes? And thinking maybe I should just let them read books, play outside, and play computer games while I finally wash the kitchen floor? And get out from under the laundry?

And focusing on next year? And totally perplexed as to what I am doing right now? Or should be doing right now?

I had plans. Yes. All written out, with little notes and references to resources.

But the questions abound in my little noggin. The doubts. The Am I Doing It Right? Doubts (blues).

Did I take the wrong path a few miles back?

How will I know if I did?

And wouldn't it be so much easier to put the little darlings in school?

You could call it burnout, I suppose. Or maybe schoolhouse fever? But somehow the very act of putting together those killer portfolios left me teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Our state doesn't expect me to prove that the children actually learned anything. I couldn't prove it if they wanted me to. I just have to show that they received "regular and thorough instruction." And that's the sticking point. I know that my children have been regularly and thoroughly instructed, often in creative and fun-filled ways. But how can I ever know that they actually learned anything? Do you see the paradox?

It's a little like buying shoes for a little one. You can see it's a good fit by squishing down the toe and squeezing across the instep and lifting the heel up and down. You can see it doesn't slip. That there's room to grow. But is it comfortable? Is it going to give your tender-footed daughter a blister after she wears it to church?

It looks good from the outside, but what if they are hobbled in some way by my efforts?

I see it when I see their empty gazes over something they did earlier in the year. I fear it when we study something (just as a little review, mind you) at the end of the year that we studied in depth at the beginning of the year and...it's as if they've never heard of it before in their lives.

I can see that it's time for my yearly personal evaluation of where we're at. And where we're going. But in spite of my many prayers, I'm not sure I can answer those questions. I'm not sure there is an answer, except to continue that leap of faith. Into the abyss.

Leave me a comment so I know I'm not talking to myself...and that someone out there hears me banging my head against the wall.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Math Galaxy: Lower Prices!

If you read my recent review of Math Galaxy, it might interest you to know that they have lowered their prices. I've changed the original review to reflect the current prices.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Time 4 Learning Pre-K

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A little over a year ago, the kiddos got to try out Time 4 Learning, a web-based subscription program that covers reading, language arts, math and science. The big blue mouse hasn’t changed very much since my original review, but they have added a brand new Preschool section.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received one free month of access to Time 4 Learning’s preschool program. I received no compensation.

This review will concentrate on the Preschool program. For further details of the site in general, including the basic interface and assigning levels to your children, please read my original Time 4 Learning review.

The Preschool program is divided into Pre-K 1 and Pre-K2. While you do assign a particular level to your child, they always have access to the level above and below (if there is one) to where they are at. Time 4 Learning recognizes that we all have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, and this flexibility is a nice touch.

Your child will be greeted by the blue mouse on entering the program and then a menu:

time4learningscreenshot2 These are just some of the Pre-K 2 topics. Each topic has about 4-5 activities:

time4learningscreenshot1 Activities do not require reading, and if your child can’t read the activity names, that’s ok. Once an activity is selected, a window pops up with a “yes” (green ball that nods) and “no” (red ball that shakes from side-to-side), with the audio announcing the name of the activity and asking if this is what he wants to do. With time, he’ll learn to recognize what each of the icons means.

After spending a minimum amount of time doing “Lessons,” your child can check out the “Playground” (see the see-saw icon on the left), where he can play simple games. A timer counts down his time there, and once it runs out, he is done with the playground for the day. (Minimum lesson time and maximum playground time can be set by the parent anywhere from 0 minutes to 59 minutes).

The simple, animated lessons include matching, listening to a storybook, watching a short video, painting, identifying patterns, and all the other activities you’d expect to find in a preschool.

The interface is simple to use. There will be “reports” you can access on your child’s progress, but they are not yet available in the Preschool program. One drawback here is that, while you will have a separate “Parent” account, its functionality is very limited. You can use it to change your child’s level, pay for your subscription or temporary suspend your account (if your going on vacation), but you can’t use it to check his progress. You’ll have to go into his account to access progress reports…that can be a bit of a headache if you have several children using the program.

One other niggling thing…the volume is very inconsistent. I found that I had to adjust it often while Peter was using the program. The blue mouse at the intro is very loud, the activities are much quieter, and the volume varied from activity to activity. Quite distracting when other children are trying to do their work or a baby is trying to sleep.

Overall, possibly worthwhile if you need some independent activities for a busy preschooler, or for a short-term solution (new baby in the house, illness, or some other transition).

Time 4 Learning is available as a subscription for $19.95/month for the first child, and $14.95/month for each additional child. Prices are subject to change, so be sure to check the Time 4 Learning website for current pricing.

For other reviews of this program, please visit:

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Tuesday’s Toolbox: Assessment Testing?

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Some states require testing. Others do not. We are blessed to live in a state where we are not required to test, but have access to free testing if we choose to use it. I have not gone that route yet, but might at some time in the future.

The key, here, is to use testing as a tool…and to not allow the tool to rule the school (I know, that was pretty bad, wasn’t it?). We’ve all heard the accusations that public schools “teach to the test.” I certainly don’t want that to happen at home, but I also know the similar dangers (first hand) of worrying over documenting our learning in the kid’s portfolios. The drive can easily become to fill the portfolio to prove they’re learning something. Human nature is weak, after all.

Test results can have real impact on how we view things. If your child does really well, then you’ll give yourself a pat on the back. But what if he doesn’t? Will you be hit with feelings of inadequacy and guilt?

The answer is in our perspective. There has not been a test devised that can truly test knowledge. Period. Then why test?

  • To accustom your child to taking tests, knowing that any college bound student will be required to take entrance exams of some type. And even an non-college bound student may need to get their GED.
  • To get an idea of areas that:
    • Your child is struggling in (you’ll probably already know this since you are teaching him).
    • You’ve not covered and probably should---let’s face it, with the wide world of knowledge, nobody can think of everything.
    • Your child has mastered.
  • To reassure concerned relatives that, yes, in fact, your child is learning something.
  • To reassure yourself that, yes, in fact, your child is learning something.

But never lose sight of a test’s limitations. It can be a starting point for evaluation, but in the end the proof will be in how they live their lives and you can see that every day. It’s in the way they talk excitedly about about something they read last week. Or make an unexpected connection. Tests are just another way of quantifying your child’s bank of knowledge---they are not the final authority on the matter.

Do you use assessment tests? I’d love to hear your perspective!

If you have a post you’d like to share, some common tool you like to use for uncommon learning, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Top Ten Ways to Raise Super Learners

BlogCruiseButtonThis week’s question on the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog Cruise: How do you instill a love of learning in your child?

I’m definitely not an expert on this topic, but here are some things I’ve learned, some the hard way.

  1. Listen to your children. Find out what their dreams are. Find out what they want to learn more about. Help them form goals. And help them make a plan to realize those goals.
  2. Make it their idea. Human beings are stubborn and hate to be made to do anything (you can’t make them, even if you try). Try giving your children choices. It might be as simple as deciding to do math or handwriting next. Or allowing them to organize their day.
  3. Create an environment full of learning possibilities. In an ideal world, I would have science kits and books scattered all over the house, open and inviting my children in. (Ok, I do have books and other objects scattered all over my house…trouble is they aren’t inviting, just obstacles to get past without falling.)
    • Create a reading nook with lots of interesting books ( a window seat, or a comfy chair).
    • Have a designated area for science experiments, with books and materials for projects---it can be a real pain to be right in the middle of a project and have to pack it up because the family needs the dinner table back.
  4. Use your wall space. Fill it with interesting art, timelines, and diagrams. We’ve been living with the human body on our kitchen wall all year, and I know the kiddos remember the organs much better than they would have if we read it in a book and then put the book away.
  5. Don’t equate learning with filling a portfolio or answering test questions. Facts and dates will be forgotten, that doesn’t mean an impression hasn’t been made, a lesson learned. Learning is not about filling a filing cabinet with facts…it is about giving your children a broad range of experience and knowledge.
  6. Remember that everything is a learning experience…but you don’t have to actually tell the children that! It is OK to go to national monuments without pounding home the history… or enjoy the flowers in the garden without dissecting them.
  7. Discuss things with your children. Don’t tell them everything. Talk it over with them. Ask them thought provoking questions and really listen to the answers. You’ll be surprised by their wise (and often humorous) insights.
  8. Make every day an opportunity for discoveries. Don’t try to connect all the dots for them. The human mind is an amazing creation (it should be, it has an amazing Creator), and can make its own connections. Even babies can discover gravity.
  9. Admit it when you don’t know the answers. And help your children to find them.
  10. Enjoy each other and have fun!

Review: What Am I? A Reader from AAS

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You may recall my review a while back of the Beehive Reader from All About Spelling? Marie Rippel and Renee LaTulippe have created a brand new reader to go with level 2: What Am I? This book is a stand-alone product that can also be used on its own.

You will love the darling illustrations. This hardcover 160 page book is just the right size for your budding reader to tuck under her arm and take with her wherever she goes.


SamplePages3 Mary simply adored the Beehive Reader, so we were very excited to receive What Am I? and continue our journey into reading.

Most of the stories in this book (there are a few short poems, too) are sweet little tales about animals. They’re cute, a little funny and don’t draw undue attention to the fact that the book focuses on words with particular letter combinations to match up with the AAS lessons. There are a few false notes, or cases where a word was clearly used for it’s letter pattern when another word would have been more appropriate.

And then there are a couple of complete stories that seemed almost as though they were written by someone else. Here’s an excerpt from “An Elf in the Alps:”

We slept in this rustic cabin that

kept us hot and dry

as the winds of the Alps swept by.

The fun we had,

my timid elf and I!

Throughout this story (and a couple of others ) the language is more formal, less conversational, and is being forced into a mold. Here’s another example, from “Broken Robot:”

And I cannot omit the grand event of seven o’clock…

Silent and swift, Rob will drift up behind me, emit a shrill cry, and fling figs at me.

The thing about writing is that it has to sound right too, especially when your target reader is probably reading it out loud. Mary lost interest in the book when she encountered one of these. It just didn’t sound right. But I think she’ll be interested in some of the later stories, especially the one about a pony.

What Am I? will be available from All About Spelling after April 15th. The price is $19.95.

I received a complimentary copy of What Am I? from All About Spelling for review purposes. I received no compensation.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: The Terrestria Chronicles

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The Sword, the Ring, & the Parchment (Book 1 of the Terrestria Chronicles) by Ed Dunlop

Josiah Everyman cannot believe his good fortune. King Emmanuel, Lord of all Terrestria, has saved him from the evil clutches of the cruel blacksmith, Argamor, and brought him to the peaceful Castle of Faith. No more Village of Despair. No more sleepless nights in the Dungeon of Condemnation. Or so he thinks. Josiah soon finds out how easily the powers of darkness might steal his faith.

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The Quest for Seven Castles (Book 2 of the Terrestria Chronicles) by Ed Dunlop

A year after his liberation from from the evil Argamor, Josiah is sent on a quest to acquire seven jewels for his shield of faith. His journey will take him to the far corners of Terrestria and force him to face the darkest parts of his own being.

The Terrestria Chronicles is a series of 7 allegorical books written for ages 10 and up. You’ll encounter characters like Heartless, Evilheart and Lawofsin (Argamor’s henchmen), Father Almsdeeds (the clueless cleric who carries around the worthless jeweled keys of Religion, Penance, and Sincerity), Sir Wisdom, Lord Dubious, Sir Faithful, and many others. You’ll leave the dungeon of Condemnation, ride in the Coach of Grace, feast in the Castle of Faith, traverse the Desert of Doubt and fall from the Path of Righteousness. But let us not forget the chain of iniquity. Or the weight of guilt. The ball and chain that Josiah drags with him through the first few chapters of book 1 loom large in Josiah’s thoughts. They’ll loom large in yours, as well.

The straight, heavy-handed allegory of these books was a turn-off. Maybe we are too ironic around here, but I can imagine my kiddos giggling and making knock-knock jokes if I started reading to them about “Lawofsin.” Really. The names of the characters and places was a major distraction. The writing itself is fine, not fine literature by any means, but not bad as far as adventure stories written for kids go. But these are not adventure stories.

The Chronicles series is basically a catechism told in the form of fiction. These books tell you what to believe (you can see the faith statement from Dunlop Ministries here). There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, if that is what you happen to believe, but the doctrine being preached here is not in line in Catholic teaching. I will not be reading these to my children.

The Terrestria Chronicles are available in paperback for $7.99 each, or get the complete 7 books series for $39.99. There’s also a study guide available for $5.99.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received books 1 & 2 of the Terrestria Chronicles for review purposes. I received not compensation. This review reflects my honest opinion.

To read more reviews of these and other books by Ed Dunlop, go to:

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday’s Toolbox

Tuesday's Toolbox button

This week’s tool is…audio-books! There are probably very few homeschoolers out there who have never listened to an audiobook while in the car. All car trips, long or otherwise, are an opportunity for learning and a good audio-book can quickly quiet the rabble. But we tend to listen to our audio-books while eating lunch or doing handwriting or drawing…or even while tidying up. There’s no reason why you can’t feed the mind and the stomach at the same time. Or offer some diversion to make chores more enticing.

Of course, the local library has tons of great books on cd that are free for the borrowing, but if you’ve got an mp3 player, you’ll want to check out LibriVox, a free website where you can download free books from the public domain…and the great thing is that they were all recorded by volunteers, like you and me. How about turning a unique volunteer opportunity into a lesson in public speaking? It takes no special talent, just the ability to read aloud and the desire to make great books available to others. Find out more about volunteering for LibriVox here.

Tuesday's Toolbox is no longer a meme, but I'd still love it if you would share your common tools for uncommon learning in the comments.



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Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: Hand of Fate by Lis Wiehl


A smoke bomb releases a poisonous gas, panicking the city of Portland, Oregon...is it terrorists? Sarin gas? But when the smoke clears, exactly one victim has been claimed, famous (and controversial) radio talk master, Jim Fate. Three friends, who just happen to be women (an FBI agent, a federal prosecutor, and a TV news reporter), band together to discover the identity of his killer. The ending will surprise you. It's just plain unbelievable. Truly.

This is the second book in the Triple Threat series by New York Times best-selling author Lis Wiehl (with April Henry). The opening chapter grabs you by the throat...I truly wanted to find out who had killed Jim Fate and why. But my interest slowly waned. Maybe it was the treatise on illegal immigration? Or the one on domestic violence? It's ok to make a point, I just don't like it when an author uses her characters as mouthpieces.

Plus, so much happens in this book within its short 300+ pages that it can't help but shake the ground of credibility. Of course, for a story well told, you can suspend your disbelief. Let's just say I'm still shaking my head over that ending.

Disclaimer: BookSneeze sent me a free copy of this book for review purposes. I received no compensation and this review reflects my honest opinion.

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