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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An Amazing Thing Happened

This morning the children and I had a conference. We planned to bake a special project for our unit on lighthouses this afternoon. And lunch came. And then the afternoon came. Time to get everything together for our project. Time for the children to dig in their heels and become ornery.

OK, I admit it, I got fed up. And announced, “Fine, I’ll bake the cake myself without your help.” And stormed into the kitchen. And then turned right back around. And told that children, “No, forget it. No cake. I’m not having fun. This was supposed to be a fun project. Mama’s not having fun, so we are not going to do it.”

I picked up the crying baby and went back into the kitchen. To clean up. Less than 2 minutes later, David and Mary arrived. And announced that they would bake the cake. David would be the chef and Mary would be his assistant.

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cake 005 Mama did have to referee the “who does the next step” arguments. And pour the batter into the pans.

cake 006

And clean up the flour.

But it was very peaceful, my idea of a fun time.

And when they were done with that…

cake 008 They insisted on emptying the dishwasher (and actually put everything away!).

Mary says: “Work is fun, Mom!”

Mama got to do the fun part:

cake 047 Does it look a little bit like a lighthouse on a rocky cliff?

cake 041 I’ll post a tutorial next week.


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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is all lost?

I'm not against video games, per se. We do game around here. But a Boy Scout pin? For video games? Really? And not just a pin, but an academics pin (at least they didn't call it a sport). Next thing you know the schools'll be giving out high school credit for improving your hand-eye coordination in front of a video screen. Maybe you can rack up life skills by killing zombies or become a mathematical genius while sinking that putt.

Are we already lost in the virtual world? Does anybody know how to do anything real anymore? Anyone wanna build a campfire?

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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Raising Boys, Part 4

There are 9 years and a day between David and Emma. He seems so much more mature these days as he takes his baby sister by the hand, giving her a gentle squeeze, picks her up, or sweetly chides her for grabbing a piece of Lego. I'm seeing paternal instincts in him that I never knew could exist in boys. He's growing up and I get to be here and watch him become a...

to the boy
:
"DO NOT flip your sister!"

Oops, spoke too soon, sigh.

Raising Boys, Part 3

Mama: "Will you go tell Mary and David the pasta is ready?"
4-year-old boy: "THE PASTA IS READY!"
6-year-old girl, muffled through door: "One minute, I'm on the potty."
4-year-old boy: "Mary is inside of the toilet."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday’s Toolbox: Don’t Forget the Fun!

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A little while back I talked about raising super-learners. As a public school grad myself, it can be easy to forget that real learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. At a desk. With textbooks. My friend, Sister Tipster, has posted a wonderful article on the comfy chair at Tellin’ It. I’m going to add to that: make sure you add more than a sprinkle of fun!

Even a topic they are passionate about can become dry, dull and boring if you limit their exploration to reading, filling in the blanks and writing essays about it. It’s not necessary to write down every vocabulary word. Or put everything into a timeline. Or read every book on the subject. And even a colorful lapbook loses its appeal when it becomes a way of proving what you studied.

There’s a fine line between education and filing facts. One way to mitigate that is to remember that education is so much more than knowing facts. It involves the whole person. What better way to educate the whole person than by experiencing some of the the joyous beauties God’s creation has to offer?

Take a walk after lunch. Better yet, take a walk before and after lunch! Observe the spring flowers and see how many you can identify. Or just stop to smell them. And wait and see if your dear ones beg to know more about them. Or not. Maybe they would rather skip rocks across a creek and figure out how to get more skips. Or pretend they are seasoned mariners and build “daymarks” on shore to find their way home. And collect some creek water and take it home to view under a microscope. Or some tadpoles to raise into frogs.

You can learn about the whole world in books. But the whole world seems distant until you experience it up close.

This post has been linked to Friday's Homeschool Feature at Mandy's Treasure Cove...be sure to check it out!


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A Guide to the GirlChild, Part 1

Mama: "Where's Daddy? Go find him!"
Emma: Ear-piercing shriek. Toddle tumble. Ear-piercing shriek. Toddle. Ear-piercing shriek. Tumbles into Daddy's arms.

Echolocation?
I know my ears are ringing.

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This week's Carnival of Homeschooling...

...the superhero edition!

Thank you to Dewey's Treehouse for hosting this week!

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Yoplait Spa Pack Winner!

Number 10 was selected by www.random.org.
And the winner is: lmurley2000

Congratulations!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Raising Boys, Part 2

4-year-old: "Am I a righty or a lefty?"
10-year-old: "Which hand do you hit harder with?"
10-year-old: "All right, you're a righty!"

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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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

WFMW: Searching the Supermarket for a Decent Cup of Tea

wfmwbannerKRISTEN

I’m a self-admitted tea snob. My vanity simply won’t allow me to plunk a paper bag full of microscopic dust into my teacup and call it good. But there are times when you run out of your favorite loose leaf tea. And going to the specialty coffee/tea shop is just not practical (Emma is a bit of a terror, of the grab everything and put it in her mouth variety). And ordering it online would take too long (I need my tea). So you wait until the kiddos are in bed, make your desperate late night trip to the grocery store, and pick over the wall of tea boxes searching for a clue that one of them has real tea in it. Impossible? Well, maybe…but maybe not!

Lipton has apparently made some headway in the tea snob market, with their leaf tea in pyramid bags. Sounds good doesn’t it? The see-thru bag shows you that, yep, it really is tea. More room for the leaves to move around.

soccer 037 soccer 040 Ok, not all that much room for the leaves to move around. Hmmm, maybe I’ll cut open the bag and dump them in my deep infuser.

soccer 056 Those are some pretty small, broken up leaves, folks. And lots of caramel bits. And that’s what it tastes like, caramel. I could drink this stuff and not even know I was drinking tea. Here’s the spent leaves:

soccer 059See how compact they are? So the Lipton has been sitting at the back of my cabinet for months because I haven’t the heart to throw it out. Maybe it would be good iced?

I had pretty much given up finding real tea in the supermarket…but sometimes you are truly desperate. And this time I stumbled across a tea company I had never heard of before.

soccer 039Mint Brook Meadow. Long Leaf Tea! My hopes were high, then I opened the box and the inner foil bag and found

soccer 042 Hmmm, not too thrilling. So I cut open the bag.

soccer 043 Jackpot! Scroll back and compare these beauties to the Lipton, I’ll wait.

Compared to the Mint Brook Meadow, the Lipton is crumbs.

Here’s the spent leaves:

soccer 063

The the proof is in the taste of course. Yes, Mint Brook Meadow’s tea was definitely better than the Lipton. Not my favorite, but better tea. And also a great value: 20 bags for $3 vs. the Lipton which was 15 bags for around $4 (my memory fails me). And a killer deal compared to Mighty Leaf (though Mighty Leaf has great tea) at 15 bags for $8---I simply will not pay $8 for 15 teabags, even if they are silk. I’ll order loose leaves and wait, if it comes to that.

Disclosure: This post is unsolicited and uncompensated. The opinions expressed are my own.

While you're here, be sure to enter my giveaway for a Yoplait Greek Yogurt spa pack!.



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Monday, April 19, 2010

Review and Giveaway! Yoplait Spa Pack

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Woohoo, another BlogSpark! This time it’s the new thick and creamy, fat-free Greek Yoplait Yogurt, with 12 grams of protein per serving!

I received a free “Nourish Your Inner Goddess” prize pack from Yoplait and BlogSpark, including the items pictured below (not the girl, she’s mine) and 2 coupons, each good for one free cup of Yoplait Greek Yogurt. The opinions reflected in this post are my own. Nutritional information is from the product package.

aaayoplaitspagoddessI stopped by the store on the way home from an evening out with hubby to pick up some yogurt. Would you believe that we left it in the car?! All night?! Good thing I only bought one and still had a coupon!

The second time I made sure it went into the fridge immediately. I was curious if the fruit flavors were blended or fruit-on-the-bottom (the label doesn’t really say), so I purchased the “Blueberry.” If I had bothered to fully read the nutritional information, it wouldn’t have been a mystery:

aaayoplaitnutrition Notice the “Blueberry Puree?” You’ll also notice some other interesting ingredients, like “Milk Protein Concentrate,” “Vitamin A Acetate,” and “Vitamin D.” Much of the nutrition is value added. They’ve also added “Kosher Gelatin,” a thickener. Hmm? Methinks this is not really Greek strained yogurt.

Looks about like regular Yoplait when you open the cup:

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But how does it taste?

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About like regular Yoplait, but thicker and…grainier. Yep, it had a very subtle, grainy mouth feel. Not sure if that’s from the protein concentrate or the blueberry puree?

Overall impression: I might purchase Yoplait Greek Yogurt if I had a need to increase my protein intake without increasing my calorie intake…and it was on sale…and I had a coupon. (Price here at my local grocery store is $1.09)

But, and here’s the fun part, you might not have to take my word for it! BlogSpark and Yoplait have given me an identical prize pack to give away to one of my readers! The winner will receive this prize pack complete with 2 coupons for free Yoplait Greek Yogurt:

yoplait greek_web_(final) Mandatory: To enter, all you have to do is leave me a comment telling me which flavor you would like to try (Strawberry, Blueberry, Honey Vanilla, or Plain). You must make sure your email address is visible in your profile, or leave it in the text of your comment.

Optional: For one additional entry, you may follow me (must be publicly) using the Google Friend Connect widget in my right sidebar. Leave a comment telling me. (If you already follow me, that’s fabulous, just leave me a comment reminding me.)

Drawing closes Monday, April 26th at midnight. I will pick a winner randomly using www.random.org the next day and email the winner, who will then have 48 hours to contact me.


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Not Me Monday

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I did not put the baby in her playpen so I could unload the dishwasher, only to come back 5 minutes later and discover that she had:

  • pooped,
  • put her hand into her diaper through the leg hole,
  • and smeared it on her face. And sundry toys.

But I am never dressing her in just a onesie again. Summer should be interesting.

Not Me Monday is hosted by MckMama over at My Charming Kids. Head over there to read about what everybody else is not doing.



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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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What We Use In Our Homeschool