Homeschool Posts

Monday, January 31, 2011

Times Alive by City Creek Press, a review

times alive

For some kiddos, memorizing the times tables is more than a chore…it’s pure torture.  No matter how many tips and tricks you give them for making those facts stick in their brain, it just isn’t happening, even after you’ve worn out the flashcards. 

Enter the mnemonic intense Times Alive, from City Creek Press.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free download of Times Alive software for review purposes.  I received no compensation.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

If you learned about conjunctions while singing “Conjunction Junction” (am I showing my age?), your kiddos might enjoy singing with Times Alive, a collection of silly ditties about the multiplication facts, complete with bold, colorful cartoons.  The program also provides timed assessments (assessments can also be printed and given as a worksheet).  You can view a sample of Times Alive here.

Times Alive is designed to help cement the facts (through the use of mnemonics) for children who already understand the concept of multiplication.  Mnemonics are memory aids that help keep the facts on the tip of your brain.  They can be verbal or visual or both.  They work by making a strong, unforgettable impression, so the more crazy, silly, funny, outrageous they are, the better.  And these are pretty silly.

What did we think?

I’m using Times Alive with David, my math-phobic 5th-grader.  David claims that “this is dumb and the songs are annoying” (he’s way too mature for this, right?), but…the first go he watched the first 3rd of the 18 lessons…how’s that for keeping his attention?  The younger kiddos rather like watching along, but hate it when David turns the sound off (the text is printed on the screen, so he reads it). 

But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.   Has he been doing better with those multiplication facts (and the multiplication facts really are a sticking point for him)?  Do the silly stories (if not the songs) make the facts stick?

Honestly, I have seen no improvement in his ability to recall the times tables.   He has been passing all the assessments, but his speed of recall was still very slow while actually doing his regular math.  If he were to watch the videos over and over again, perhaps he would get it.  Or maybe not.  But he doesn’t want to listen to those songs again.

I suspect that the problem is lack of active participation.  There’s no way for him to actually interact with the videos themselves, except to sing along (and he won’t do that), so in just passively watching his mind is not fully engaged. 

Besides the short assessments, the only active parts of the program are the “guessing games” and few other little activities.  The guessing games do require typing in the whole multiplication fact, which is a good way to reinforce it.  But the majority of each lesson just requires him to sit there and watch.  I know my son, he needs more active engagement.  He’s a hands-on kinda guy.

I do think Times Alive is a fun, entertaining program with the potential to work well for younger, visual learners, say 2nd to 4th grade.  I think even my younger kiddos who are just getting a very basic understanding of multiplying might benefit from it…we’ll give it a try when they are ready. 

Note:  I was able to install and run Times Alive on my Windows 7 PC with no worries.  Available for PC or MAC (see system requirements here).

Give Times Alive a try here.

Times Alive is available for $48.95 on cd-rom or download for $44.95.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TenMarks, a review

tenmarksOur 10-year-old is not a lover of math. In fact, he hates math. I used to think that this stemmed from his early school experience of doing workbook pages without really understanding what he was doing (and perhaps some of it really was). So, the past couple of years we’ve spent trying to beef up his conceptual understanding through manipulatives and “real world” math.

But he’ll be in 6th grade soon, time to pick up the pace and get him up to speed. Except I think he’s allergic to hard work. Math comes hard to him. And he doesn’t think it’s much fun. Frankly, the daily math battles were wearing me out, but I desperately want to get him “caught up.” He’s ready and capable.

And then I was asked to review TenMarks. And I was thrilled at the opportunity.

TenMarks is a subscription-based online math program for grades 3 and up. For a brief overview of how the program works check out this video:

Basically, your child will complete short worksheets (10 problem each) covering the concepts for his grade. Each worksheet concentrates on one main concept, whether it be multiplication, long division, finding area, etc. There are videos available for learning as well as hints provided it your child gets stuck on a concept. Timed assessment tests are assigned as your child completes each section. The parent has the option of setting rewards for accomplishing chosen goals, and there are a few little games that can be unlocked by completing a set number of worksheets.

Your parent account will show you what worksheets your child has completed, whether he watched any of the videos or used any hints, his concept strength and more.

TenMarks can be used as a supplement to the math program you are already using or as a complete curriculum.

What did we think?

David likes that the worksheets only have 10 problems each, though he found out quickly that even a 10 problem worksheet can be hard. He initially loved the program (and unlocking the games), but soon changed his tune as the work became harder for him.

I have mixed feelings for TenMarks. While I like the ability to go at your own pace (David completed about half a year’s worth of work in less than 2 months), the ability for me to look at exactly what problems he missed, the email notifications when new worksheets are assigned, the ability to reorder the lessons, and having the grading all done for me, I do have some problems with the program.

The videos were often not very helpful. David found it frustrating when he had a specific question or something that he didn’t understand and he had to sit through a longish video that either didn’t directly address that question, or talked about it in a round-a-bout way. Or just didn’t make sense to him. We gave up on the videos. It was easier for me to teach him instead. At that point, TenMarks became more of a “smart” worksheet generator rather than a complete math program. I can see this being a real issue if I wanted to use it as a complete curriculum for more advanced work. Suppose I wasn’t able to teach the concept without textbook support?

All the problems are multiple choice. I don’t generally like multiple choice questions (for any subject) for 2 reasons:

  • They can guess at the answer.
  • If they goof it up, all you know is that they got it wrong. You don’t know why.

You can counteract some of that by requiring that your student show their work on paper (the program does suggest the use of paper and pencil). But the guessing aspect is a little harder to get around. Especially when they get a second chance.

They get to do 1 “do-over” for each problem they get wrong without it affecting the number correct.

I can see the reason for this. I do want my kiddos to learn to see their own mistakes. And sometimes a child will make a careless error. This gives them the opportunity to fix it. It also gives them the incentive to want to fix it.

But suppose they have narrowed down answer to the question to 2 of the 4 choices. They guess one and get it wrong. Aha, now I know what the answer is!

Plus, the program does not show me, the teacher, that they got it wrong the first time, only what their “final” score is on the worksheet. I’d like to know if he changed his answer so I can see if it was a careless error or trouble understanding the concept. I personally think that careless errors should cause point deduction. How else will they learn to be careful with their work?

Overall, using this program over the past several weeks has been a really good thing for David. He’s been able to play catch up on a number of topics he was missing (or had forgotten) and to strengthen his understanding of other topics. And I would definitely recommend it for that purpose or for extra practice.

And the past several weeks he actually hasn't complained about doing math (oh, ok, maybe a few times). It hasn't been the torture it has been in the past. And that's why, in a way, I love TenMarks.

I told you I had mixed feelings about it.

I think with some changes, this could be a truly complete curriculum. As it is now, I would recommend it as a supplement.

TenMarks is available for $10/month per student.

  • Pay ahead and save: $49/6 months, $89/year
  • Discounts available for families with 3 or more students using the program.
  • Money back guarantee.
  • Try it for free.

For more reviews of this product by other homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: I received a free 6-month subscription to TenMarks for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's snowing and I'm dreaming of SPRING...

And sending the kids out to play!

I think this swing set might just fit in my postage-stamp-sized backyard:
Though my ds points out that it only holds 3 kiddos at a time:-)
Good for teaching patience and sharing, I think.

Disclosure: This post was written in exchange for a review opportunity with CSNStores. (Review coming soon of something from CSNStores!)

Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids, a review

illustrated bible for kidsEver wonder…

  • how heavy a talent is? (pg. 117)
  • about the Hebrews’ growing season? (pg. 172)
  • about all the names used for our Savior in the Bible? (pg. 125)
  • what Jerusalem looked like when it was called the City of David? (pg. 31)
  • about the different birds mentioned in the Bible? (pg. 21)

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids (available from Lifeway Christian Stores) is a great reference to help you answer those questions (and many more) while doing your Bible study with the kiddos. And it’s colorful maps and illustrations will help bring Biblical history alive.

We loved the great value (less than $15 for a hardback, 8.5” x 11” 224 page book), the colorful pictures, the many maps to help the kiddos visualize time and place, and the charts (ok, we’re a little geeky, but we do love maps and charts). Definitely a worthwhile investment for our homeschool. Although not tabbed like a regular dictionary, page edges are color-coded by letter to help you find your place. You can download a full-color sample of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary here.

We did find some errata (examples: a missing map enlargement on pg. 108, the sparrow picture is the mirror image of the dove picture on pg. 21, a typo in the map legend on pg. 3) and some things not in keeping with our Catholic faith tradition (one example: the picture depicting the Lord’s Supper on pg. 110 shows the hands of a person holding a teeny cup of grape juice or wine and a cracker).

Some of the word definitions are a little more general than I’d like (Gofer wood is described simply as the material Noah built the ark out of pg. 71), and a couple are circular (prophesy to define prophet and vice versa pp. 151-152), but given the target age for this resource (5-10), I wasn’t expecting anything too in-depth. And this leaves plenty of openings for discussion and further investigation.

Certainly appropriate to use with the younger kiddos, and I can even see a middler-schooler using this dictionary independently.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids

Hardcover, 224 pages

ISBN-10: 0805495312

ISBN-13: 9780805495317

list price: $14.99

Available from local and online booksellers, or directly from Lifeway Christian Stores.

You can read other reviews of this product on the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homechool Crew, I received a free copy of this product for review purposes. I received no compensation. The opinions expressed in this review are my own, and are not for sale.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taming the Wild Child

I love you, Emma,

in spite of your covert operations

that turn my bathroom into a waterpark,

fill my humidifier with o-shaped cereal

and my air purifier with Miraculous Medals.

Mary Birthday 015

Preschoolers, you gotta love em, but sometimes you can’t love all the trouble they get into.  Emma can climb the baby gate, open the bathroom door, and clean the potty with your toothbrush within 5 minutes. 

Sometimes she’s content sitting in her highchair (strapped in!) with some playdough and cookie cutters, and other times she’s scaling me like a climbing wall while I’m trying to teach about new world explorers.  

She is the most daring, fearless child I’ve ever had…except when she’s feeling clingy and demands to be carried around all day…and she is driving me nuts! 

Teaching with a baby seems easy compared to teaching with a troublesome toddler.  Add to that the challenges of teaching to 3 different levels (all my children need special attention in some area or another), and it truly is remarkable that we accomplish anything in our homeschool day.  Or that there are clean dishes to eat off of or clean clothes to wear.  Getting the food off the floor is a plus.

It seems I keep coming to y’all these days looking for advice, but this is one area where I’m all ears.  This child has a very different personality from her older brothers and sister.  She’s the wild child.  But also very caring.  Emma is always quick with sweet kisses and a pat on the back when someone needs some loving.  But just as quick to kick them in the rear when they get out of line. 


She’ll make a wonderful mama some day. 

Do you have a disruptive tot in your homeschool?  What tips and tricks do you have for including the renegade in the fun without letting her (or him) run the whole show?

Easy Recipe: Corn Bread-Topped Sausage Pie


Original recipe came from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, but this is a good example of using what you have on hand.  I doubled most of the ingredients to have enough for leftovers (the original ingredients are in the parentheses).

Feeds 6-8 adults (we’ll have enough for dinner tomorrow).

For the sausage pie:

  • 1-1/2 lbs. country link sausage cooked and cut up (original recipe called for 1 lb bulk sausage which you would brown with the onions)
  • 1/2 a large onion, thinly sliced (original called for a small bell pepper and a medium onion, chopped)
  • 1-2 cups carrots julienned (original called for a can of whole kernel corn, no other veg.)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (not in the original)
  • 2 15 oz. cans chopped tomatoes with onions (original called for 1 can tomato sauce)
  • (original called for a jar of sliced mushrooms)

Cornbread topping (this is doubled from the original) :

  • 1-1/2 cup whole grain cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 T sugar
  • 4 T melted butter (original called for vegetable oil)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar (original called for half as much Monterey Jack Cheese with jalapeno peppers)


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a large skillet (larger than I used), cook onions and carrots over medium heat until they start to get tender.  Add the cut up sausage, garbanzos, and tomatoes.  Cook until heated through.
  3. While the sausage is heating, combine all the ingredients for the cornbread topping in a large bowl, leaving the cheese til last. 029
  4. Spoon sausage mixture into a 13x9 pan (you may want to leave out some of the liquid).
  5. Spoon over the cornbread batter, spreading it evenly.
  6. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden and the edges are bubbly.



035Enjoy!  I got raves on this from everybody, even Mary ate all of hers, and she normally hates cooked veg and beans.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do you use Netflix in your homeschool?

We are considering taking the plunge and getting a monthly subscription to Netflix, but only if it will offer good educational possibilities. We're not a TV watching family, so free TV isn't the attraction for us, it's having easy access to truly educational programming that might not otherwise be easily accessible.

With that in mind, I'm looking for input from those in the know. Netflix currently has a 1-month free trial offer going on, but I don't want to even get started unless I really believe it's in my family's best interest. I know from experience how TV can be a time and attention sucker.

So, do you have Netflix streaming? Do you use it for educational purposes? What sort of programming do you watch on it for your homeschool?

Do you get the DVDs, too? If so, do you think the extra expense is worth it from an educational perspective?

Any other thoughts? I'm all ears.

Fashionably Cute Note Pads from Expressionery

I might not be the trendiest dresser (blame that on trying to dress 4 kiddos on a single income)...

But at least my notes will be stylish:-) Expressionery has just released a new line from fashion artist Izak Zenou, including memo pads, folded notes, invitations, tag bags, and more...starting at $24, the folded notes would make a stylin' gift for that fashion-forward loved one without breaking the bank. And if you order before Feb. 1st, you can get 30% off of their Izak products, including these cute personalized note pads they sent me. Use code IZAKBLOG to get your discount.

While you're at it, visit the Expressionery FB page and enter their special Izak "It" Girl sweepstakes for a chance to win an Izak prize pack valued at $109! Sweepstakes ends January 25, 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Time to Light a Fire

Here we are, just a few weeks into 2011 and I’m totally rethinking everything I planned for our homeschool this year.

I do this every January. No matter how much I research and plan, something doesn’t quite work out right.

But this year it wasn’t just the curriculum that needed an overhaul…but us.

I knew it when my dear hubby threatened to send our 10-year-old to public school last week. The 10-year-old with a 13-year-old mouth. The wise-cracking, eye-rolling, smarty pants that makes every conversation a painful lesson in just how the English language can be turned around on you. And he’s teaching his siblings.

This is my payback for being a sarcastic smarty-pants myself. (Sorry, Mom!)

He’s also lazy. Yes, I said it. I know you’re not supposed to say negative things about your children because it might permanently harm their self-esteem…but the child is lazy.

Again, I can probably blame my own laziness for that. The kid definitely has my genes.

But the conclusion I’ve come to is this: this child is not highly motivated and unless I put a fire under his butt, he will not succeed. He needs someone to lovingly hold his feet to the coals. Seriously. Because, left to his own devices, he will do the absolute minimum he needs to do to get by. And he is capable of so much more. And his attitude is beginning to rub off on his 7-year-old sister.

For the past four years I’ve read a lot of homeschooling books, magazines, articles, blogs, etc., etc. You know those articles that extol the virtues of being able to learn on your own schedule and not having to fit into a preconceived plan for this or that based on your child’s age or state standards. We don’t need to sit the little tykes at little wooden desks in a classroom full of 30 kids the same age with a chalkboard, a posted schedule, bells ringing every 30 minutes, assessments every month, etc., etc. We can do delight directed learning. We can even do unschooling. Our children are natural learners. They are motivated. They will learn all they really need to know. Let them lead the way. They have to learn how to organize their own learning to be life-long learners anyway. No time like the present. Give them the reins and they will show you what they can do, right?

Not every child.

Some children will choose not to learn. Or they’ll learn the absolute minimum.

Think about it. Man didn’t develop an alphabet and learn to write until he found that he needed to. Our whole human history is a testament to both breath-taking technological advances and merely getting by. Does the average person write a book, invent something or even find a new way to fold their clothes?

While most children have a natural curiosity and willingness to learn about the world in which they live, there are some things you won’t leave to chance. I can’t imagine Christian parents leaving their child’s learning the Faith to chance, can you? Our creator gave us our lives and our faith, but also our minds. He gave us the ability to embrace his creation and to inhale deeply the knowledge to be found there. But our fallen nature makes our ability to accept this imperfect. We need a push in the right direction. As my 5-year-old would say, sometimes we even need a “butt-kicking machine.”

We need external motivation. At least I do. And my children do.

I don’t disagree that some children are highly motivated and can thrive in an unschooling environment, choosing their own course of study, eventually learning all they need to know.

But they aren’t all like that. Some of them are simply not motivated to learn useful skills. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be all you can be if you want to sit and play Lego all day.

There is no earthly way my 10-year-old is going to voluntarily learn the times tables, for instance. I gotta get out my butt-kicking machine (I need to use it on myself, too). And yeah, I’m going to stick it to him with rote memorization. For some things it absolutely does work. We’ve tried to do it the easy way. We’ve tried to just practice here, there and everywhere, but the fact is that no matter how many cool worksheets or activities you come up with, there isn’t enough time in a life to learn the math facts that way, not if you aren’t truly motivated.

There is no way any of my children are going to be counting on their fingers when they get out into the world on their own. No way. We can talk up the convenience of calculators and smart phones, but there is true value in being able to do figures in your head. It improves the quality of your life. It improves your ability to reason. And these are skills that I have probably used every single day of my adult life. And I certainly used them with every job I ever had. I certainly use them while teaching, cooking, shopping for food…I won’t leave my kids handicapped in this area simply because it is easier than dealing with the eternal grumbling, crying, moaning and groaning. I won’t sit by and watch them fail.

Not all work is fun, folks. Sometimes the problem is not the work itself or even how you are doing it, but how you approach it with your heart.

I personally don’t like washing dishes. But it has to be done every day, multiple times a day. I can choose to approach it with a song in my heart…or I can be all resentful about it. My kiddos haven’t figured out yet that it goes much easier with a positive attitude. They think if they moan and groan enough, they’ll get out of it.

And that’s my fault, I’ve let them get out of it too often, because it was hard work to do otherwise. And I’m lazy. And weak willed. I need to be motivated and I’m finding that motivation.

This past week has been a pretty good week for us. I’ve been getting up earlier. We’ve been starting school around 9 am each day and finishing before 2 pm. We’ve even revamped the workboxes idea and we’ve been getting so much done! In fact, I’m going to add more to their workboxes next week. I’ve seen the light. A couple of months ago I thought the problem was that I was pushing too hard. Turns out I wasn’t pushing hard enough. I’m finding the strength through prayer to deal with the grumbling. Making myself into a morning person is a real struggle, though. Staying organized, is a pain…but very much worth it. The simple fact that I’m prepared, completely prepared, every morning, with their assignments ready in hand has greatly cut down on the battle-of-wills. Juggling 3 different levels of learning, plus a toddler who’s trying to tear the whole house down, definitely a challenge. But, through the Grace of God, I can do this. And so can you.

What tips do you have for keeping your kiddos motivated?

Hablo Espanol with Speekee, a review


Emma might not say “Hello,” but she can say “Hola!”

All it took was a muppy puppet singing some catchy tunes in Spanish with the kiddos each day.

Speekee is an online subscription service that will teach children ages 2-10 some basic Spanish while interacting with 10 immersion-based videos. The videos star Speekee (a purple puppet) and children of various ages, all speaking Spanish. No English is spoken, though captioning is provided that includes the Spanish transcript as well as an English translation.


Each video follows a predictable story arc, beginning with “Hola,” and the opening song, “Hablo Espanol” (I speak Spanish), visiting a new place (like el café o la estacion), meeting up with the sock puppets Dino and Lupi and so on, on up to the closing song, “Adios.” Each episode runs approximately 16-18 minutes.


There are worksheets to accompany each lesson with most activities involving simple skills like coloring, drawing, and copying some Spanish words. I found that a few of these sheets were appropriate for my 5-year-old’s skills, but most of them were better for my older children.

The songs are cute, though I warn you…you might find yourself singing them in the shower. Or worse, when you are trying to fall asleep.

Dialog is easy to follow with plenty of repetition. The kids are real kids speaking real Spanish (not your textbook stuff with bad accents or anything). In fact, I noticed that the words used are in many cases different from what I learned in high school Spanish. The forms used tend to be less formal and probably more like what you might hear in real life.

Castilian Spanish (from Spain) is spoken in the videos, not Latin American Spanish (as if there is one Latin American Spanish). What does this mean? The pronunciation will be a little different from what you might here in, say, Mexico, but Spanish pronunciation varies among Spanish speaking countries anyway.

We’ve been using Speekee for the past month, and they all (ages 21 months on up to 10 years) looove it.


Ok, my kids never sit quietly for anything for 15 minutes.

Except Speekee.

And, you can now view it on your TV through your Wii. (Only problem is that the subtitles don’t work through the Wii.)

Mary Birthday 002

And yes, they have learned some Spanish.

As Emma would say: “Mira:”

Mary practices her Spanish by imitating Dino and Lupi.

Definitely not ready for a real conversation, but some of the groundwork has been laid. We’ve been through all the episodes at least once and a few twice.

A recurring question for us has been…is Speekee a boy or a girl? I actually don’t know.

In episode 4 (El zoo), Speekee says of himself/herself “Soy pequeno” (I am small.) I would expect a girl to refer to herself as being “pequena” (or at least, the subtitles say it’s “pequeno,” it sounded a little like the audio could have been “pequena”). So Speekee’s a boy, right?

But then in episode 7 (La estacion), Speekee is referred to in the subtitles as “she” several times. Hmmm.

There are some other instances where the subtitles are inaccurate (misspellings, missing apostrophes for contractions, etc.), so it could just be a mistake. Could go either way. It’s a little mystery, I guess.

Overall, it’s a fun, painless way to soak in some Spanish. Even hubby didn’t mind watching/singing along. And we’re not a TV viewing family, so watching educational programming is an oddity for us. On the plus side…no commercials. And a month or two of watching the videos is probably enough to learn what they offer. After a couple more weeks, I think we’ll be ready to move onto something else, so a subscription for a couple of months would be quite reasonable.

And (guilty confession here) it helps me get my laundry done (shhh!).

But, after using Speekee for weeks, I found out just a couple of days ago that there's a super resource available that I didn't even know about...and it will help me turn those videos into a real Spanish curriculum. Speekee has a resource site designed for teachers called Scheme of Work. It outlines the expectations for each lesson, lists all the vocabulary used (including pronunciation keys), and provides additional resources for extension activities. Many of the links there (including audio pronunciation files) are only available if you have a Scheme of Work license, but just having the vocab lists is a tremendous help to me as a teacher...and is going to make Speekee a much more valuable resource for my homeschool over the next couple of weeks. Be sure to check it'll also give you a scope and sequence of the material covered in the Speekee videos.

Speekee is available as an online subscription for $7.50 (US) or £4.95 per month.

But, you get the first 2-weeks free if you sign up!

Also available on DVD for £95.00 (note, DVDs are PAL formatting, not playable on many US players).

You can Like Speekee on Facebook.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free trial subscription to Speekee for review purposes. I received no compensation. The opinions reflected in this review are my own.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Party






Review: Peter and the Wolf from Maestro Classics


Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s orchestral masterpiece for kiddos has been a perpetual fave to children the world over for the past 70+ years. I remember hearing it for the first time in music class 20-some-odd, ahem, years ago and feeling the hairs rising on my neck as the wolf approached with his signature theme…the perfect way to introduce young children children to classical music and the orchestra. I’ll never forget what french horns sound like.

Maestro Classics has taken Peter and the Wolf a few steps further. This cd not only contains the classic tale, retold by narrator Yadu and accompanied by the London Philharmonic , but some extras, including:

  • a short bio on the composer presented by Bonnie Ward Simon
  • an explanation of the piece by the composer, Stephen Simon
  • the complete piece also as an instrumental

A complete study on the piece all on an audio cd. Brilliant. How’s that for a no-work-for-mom addition to your music appreciation program?

What did we think?

We love to listen to books on cd over lunch (an easy, pain-free way to add great literature to your homeschool by the way, while saving mom’s voice), so listening to Peter during our day was easy-peasy. I added music to our schedule without really trying (music is one of those subjects we tend to neglect), yes!

The entire cd runs about 60-minutes, with the first telling of the story running about 29 minutes (just about perfect to help break up the monotonous drive to Grandma’s house). The quality of the tracks is quite good, with the musical quality you would expect to hear from a world famous orchestra, and clear narration. I think I might be adding some more of these to our collection.


Also available from Maestro Classics:

  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Casey at the Bat
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster (also available in Spanish)

They are also adding free lesson plans to their website to help you make full use of these wonderful cds and don’t miss the free samples.

So how much?

Buy any one title from Maestro Classics for $16.98, or buy 3 for $45 right now (promo code: MAESTRO45)!

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of this product for review purposes. I received no compensation. The opinions reflected here are my own. I was not in any way obligated to write a positive review.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An EASY Way to a CLASSICAL Curriculum


Last summer I drove myself mad cobbling together the resources for our early American history study this year.

I won’t recount the hours spent looking for and previewing books, pre-reading resources, making lists of materials, writing out notes to myself here, there and everywhere…

not to mention the ongoing week-to-week labor of pulling out my resources to create a weekly schedule...and visiting the library looking for little extras to add to the experience.

I just found out that for a measly $30 all of that work could have been done for me. Talk about a Duh! moment.

Easy Classical provides course schedules patterned after the recommendations in A Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. If you’ve ever tried to implement an classical course of study in your homeschool, and have been totally overwhelmed by the process, this might be just the company you’ve been looking for.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free digital copy of the Early Modern History Schedule from Easy Classical for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation. This post reflects my personal opinions.

Easy Classical truly makes it easy to implement a classical curriculum by providing you a list of recommended books and resources and a well organized, easy-to-read schedule. The history schedules follow the 4-year rotation recommended in A Well-Trained Mind and are designed for grades k-6. Also available are Main schedules by grade, which incorporate language arts, Latin, Bible, Math, science, and more.

Full use of the Early Modern Schedule (covers age of discovery on up to 1815) would require purchasing Geography with History: Early Modern Times and Writing with History: Early Modern Times. Also recommended: Early Modern History Copybook, though you could substitute your own copywork. Like most classical curricula, the emphasis is on a lot of great books. This particular schedule uses no fewer than 9 main history resources (Story of the World Vol. 2&3, 4 volumes of Joy Hakim’s History of US, a couple of books by H.A. Guerber---available for free-download on the web---and Veritas Press history cards), plus oodles of supplementary resources, including several volumes of History Pockets by Evan-Moor, and a whole bunches of literature and free reading selections. You can see a complete listing of the resources recommended in the Early Modern History Schedule here. Books, of course, can be purchased locally, or even borrowed from your local library system. I like how the resource page allows you to check WorldCat to see if any libraries nearby have a book. Pretty neat. I’d like this page even better if it provided free resources for some of these books. The Guerber books, as I already mentioned, are available for download through, and no doubt others can be located for free. When you see the list, you’ll know why you might want some freebies. Winking smile

What did I think?

I have not actually implemented this program in my homeschool as we are already studying this time period using completely different resources, but I’ll seriously consider purchasing the Modern History Schedule for next year, and here’s why.

The weekly schedule is clearly laid out for me and uses graphic icons to draw my attention to particular activities. It allows me to see at a glance what I’m suppose to accomplish this week. There’s a post-it note graphic at the bottom of each week to remind me of the materials I need to gather up and have on hand for the next week. Discussion questions allow me to check comprehension or even to test retention at the end of the week. Best of all is that everything is already planned out. I suspect that the reading schedule might need to be tweaked from time-to-time (I’ve never had a schedule that didn’t), but having a guide to help me juggle all these different resources would be a load off my mind.

The age spread is good for our family (we have a 5th grader, 1st grader and a kindergartener). Some of these resources will be beyond the younger children, but perfect for the older child. Some will be boring for the older get to pick and choose what you use, which gives me the opportunity to have everybody on the same page...but doing work at their own level.

The Geography, Writing and Copywork books tie these aspects into the history being studied, and that’s a definite plus, but the copywork is a bit limited. At this writing, there are no samples provided of the copywork pages, though the 4-6 grade version claims to be Getty-Dubay Italic. I have no idea what style is used for the other books.

Finally, being able to purchase this product in either print or digital versions is a definite plus: the freedom to doodle all over my schedule and print myself a new copy, yes! Or to save a bit of printer ink and receive it in print. I’d love the option of receiving it in print with the files on a cd-rom.

A couple caveats (you know me, there’s always a caveat or two): I recommend that you preview any resources you plan to use ahead of time. And check the main resources out before purchasing a schedule. Yes, I know, that’s a lot of work. But so worth it. Not only does it give you more familiarity with the material before presenting it to your children, it also allows you to anticipate any questions and to tie in your studies with other parts of life. More importantly, it prepares you in case there is any questionable material in any of the resources. The telling of history can be highly subjective. I actually did preview a couple of the books from Joy Hakim’s History of US series with an eye to using them this year. I elected not to use them simply because the author has a very editorial style that was off-putting to me. The conclusions she drew were not always supported by the facts she presented. Since so much of the Early Modern Schedule comes from these books, it could have been a deal-breaker for me if I were looking to purchase this product. I think the benefits of the schedule out-weigh this and I’d be willing to simply pre-read those selections so I could point out any inconsistencies to my children.

So, how much is it?

Each Easy Classical History Schedule covers 36-weeks for grades K-6 and is available for:

  • $35.95 in a 1” 3-ring binder
  • $29.95 downloadable pdf

The Early Modern Schedule is also available as a money-saving bundle (other eras are coming), which includes the Early Modern History Schedule, Writing with History: Early Modern Times, Geography with History: Early Modern Times, and the Early Modern History Copybook:

  • $135.95 print version
  • $95.95 digital version

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Look Who’s 7!

Mary Birthday 017

Smile A little sick, but still a year older! Smile

Mary Birthday 022

Mary Birthday 020

Mary saw this Our Lady of Perpetual Help rosary box at a Catholic gift shop and fell in love with it.

More pictures next week after the postponed party.

A (thankfully) Unordinary Day

…or “Why I’m thankful we have hardwood floors and a leather sofa.”

Lately it seems I’ve got a full bed. Right around 3 am the whole house seems to migrate to our room. And around 3 am yesterday, Peter had a full bed, too. A bed full of Mama, that is. Seems he was having a hard time getting back to sleep and staying that way. And our bed was already full of girls. Ever share a twin bed with a 52 lb. 5-year-old who’s coming down with a cold?

The morning started off with a bang. Actually a gush. Mary had a monster nosebleed. There were drops all the way down the hall to the bathroom. I love our hardwood floors. So much more sanitary than carpet.

Around lunchtime Peter was feeling rather sleepy and sicky, so he lay down on the sofa. After announcing he felt like was going to die, he puked. And then puked some more. And then got into the bathroom and puked some more.

When we bought our leather sofa years ago (and David was about 4), friends told me I was nuts. I have never regretted this purchase. Ever. Yes, I do regret letting my then 6-year-old boy running around the house swinging a wooden ruler like it was a sword. It seems the metal edge on those things will cut leather. (And a bit of duct tape on the inside of the cushion will close up the gaps nicely, though it comes loose over time). But every time one of my kiddos gets a tummy bug and pukes their guts out on the sofa…and all I have to do is wipe the thing down…I thank God for giving us to wisdom to have wipe-able furniture.

Back to our story. Peter was instantly feeling better and his fever broke. Yeah!

So, a couple of hours later we sang Happy Birthday to Mary and let Peter have a little birthday cake. I think it came back up the instant it hit his stomach. The good news is he was wearing one of his Dad’s shirts so it was easy to get over his head… and the vomit didn’t hit the cake. And we had already postponed the birthday party until next week;-)

And he felt a little better. So when dinnertime came around, we offered him a bite of soup and some bread. This time he made it all the way upstairs and almost to his room…before spewing bile all over the hallway. Poor baby!

He slept with Daddy. But don’t worry about Peter. He woke up at 5 this morning, saying: “I’ll DIE if you don’t give me some food RIGHT NOW!” He’s back to normal. Pretty much. Amazing how resilient they are.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Easy Caramel Chocolate Chip Dreams

Are the kiddos tearing the house (and each other) apart?

Maybe it’s time for a little break. A sweet break.

Sometimes you want something a little different, but you don’t want to dirty every dish in the house. It doesn’t hurt when you remember you picked up a Betty Crocker Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookie mix back when the were on sale for a buck a piece. And you’ve got a whole bag of mini marshmallows. Did you know that when marshmallows melt into a cookie, you can’t tell them from caramel?

Easy Caramel Chocolate Chip (Walnut) Dreams

These will have a crispy candy-like quality.

You will need:

1 batch of chocolate chip cookie dough with walnuts (skip the nuts if you like)---make homemade or use a mix like I did.

NOTE: Use real butter. Leave out the egg. See note at the bottom.

mini marshmallows


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take a good-sized scoop of dough on a teaspoon (the kind you stir tea with).


2. Press down the center with your fingers to make a dent.


3. Add 2 mini marshmallows.


4. Shape the dough around the marshmallows and roll the ball between your hands to make it round.


5. Space them pretty far apart as these will spread a bit.


6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or so. They will be starting to brown on the edges and not glossy.


You see how the “caramel” leaks out some?


7. Let them cool completely on the cookie sheet…they will fall apart while warm. They come off easy.

The ultimate test? Hubby asked me: “Do you know how many you made?” That’s code for “how many can I sneak when you aren’t lookin’?”

A note about the egg (or lack thereof): Of course, wouldn’t you know I’d discover we were out of eggs? But I’d already started and wasn’t willing to turn back…worked out great. You can use the egg in your dough, but they may come out different.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Smile


The Kids Caught Daddy’s New Bug…


…and would you believe it’s stamp collecting?!


Hubby wanted a hobby.  Turned out he just had to rediscover something that brought him joy when he was a kid.


And now our kids are sharing his joy.


Treasures from Grandma’s Attic


How’s that for a blast from the past:  fully dressed Barbies!


Most of these outfits were crocheted by my Mom for my dollies back in the days when they still made slips and undies for Barbie.

Even the machine manufactured clothes were more modest (unless you count the ones with shot elastic).

Mary is just thrilled. 

Thank you, Mom!

Review: Math Facts Now!


My kiddos are allergic to timed drills.  The amount of fussing and whining they can go through all over a 2 minute test…I think the avoidance is worse than the actual task.   And somehow flash cards just don’t seem to stick…maybe because they won’t stick to doing them.  How about a no frills, no nonsense computer program that will quiz them on their math facts and time them, but without the nerve-wracking tick tick of time running out?  Math Facts Now! might be just the solution for your homeschool.

mathfactsnow screenshot2

  Told you it was no frills.

Math Facts Now! is like flashcards to use on your computer…the good thing is the baby can’t get hold of them and eat them, scatter them to the four winds, or (gulp) throw them in the trash on top of the coffee grounds. 

The design of the program is simple and intuitive.  Once you’ve added your child, they can log-in by choosing their name from a drop-down menu.  You design each lesson using one of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division).

mathfactsnow screenshot6

And then choose the group or groups of facts to be covered.


mathfactsnow screenshot7


You choose the number of problems (minimum of 5), the amount of time allowed for each problem (up to 60 seconds) and how many times they need to correctly type in a problem they get wrong (minimum of 2) …that’s right, they have to practice the right answer!

mathfactsnow screenshot3Psst…David hates this part.  But, it really does make it stick in his mind.   And when he gets a problem wrong, Math Facts Now! will give him that fact over and over again (it’s sneaky that way) with a little warning.

mathfactsnow screenshot4

You can also type in a reward they earn by completing a lesson (I typically offer a piece of gum).

All lessons are saved so they can be used over and over.

mathfactsnow screenshot1


You can print a detailed results page showing you exactly which problems were missed and how many times. 

mathfactsnow screenshot8


What did we think?

This is the only math drill program we have ever used that David didn’t complain about…too much.  The simple design is easy to use.  Answers are easy to input, so you’re not fumbling and wasting time.  He likes it when I enter a reward for his hard work.

I like that I can see at a glance which facts he might be having difficulty with.  I like the clean, plain design and the lack of distractions.  I like that I can set a time limit for each problem, but that it can be big enough that there’s no real pressure and yet the program reports to me the average time he took with a problem so I can see if he is developing automaticity.  I like that it’s software installed to my computer, and not a subscription with a monthly fee.

Does Math Facts Now! work to master those facts?  Only time will tell, but half the battle has already been won…you can’t master the facts unless you practice them and David is practicing them without complaining.  The price is quite reasonable, too.

There is one feature I would like to see that is not in this program.  An option to create a lesson for particular facts, rather than groups of facts, would be great.  Suppose your kiddo has learned, say, the 2’s up to 2x6 or up to 2x10…if you select the 2’s in this program, they’ll get the 2’s up to 2x12.  Or supposed you were working on squares (2x2, 3x3, 4x4,…)…you can’t set up a lesson for that in this program. 

Overall, I would recommend it, it’s a well thought-out program…and proof that a math program doesn’t have to be fancy to be useful. 

Sound like something you might like?  You can download a free trial of Math Facts Now! here.   

Math Facts Now! sells for $15.95.

System requirements:

Math Facts NOW! Version 2.0 runs on Windows 2000, ME, XP, Vista and Windows 7 and requires 7 Mb of free hard drive space.

Math Facts NOW! is not currently available the for Macintosh nor Linux operating systems.


Disclosure:  As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product for review purposes.  I received no compensation.  The opinions reflected here are my own.