Monday, February 28, 2011

Goal Planning Monday - February 28

Here's another meme I'm starting to participate in, hoping it will motivate to me to not only set goals, but to also keep them!  I'm going to set 5 goals every week and pray that I can meet them all!

Goals for this week:

1 - Order new mattresses (thanks to all that overtime I recently worked).  I can't wait to not sleep on the 25-year-old mattress set that we're using now!

2 - Cull clothes from the girls' closet and find someone who can use them.

3  - Get the girls back on some semblance of a school schedule.  I purchased two small assignment books where I can write daily assignments for the days when I'm at work, and I'd like to start using those and keeping them accountable.  Actually, I'd like to put HomeschoolTracker to good use, but evidently I'm not organized enough to do that.

4 - Get the basic info done for the blog post for my next review product from the TOS crew.

5 - Get a haircut!

We'll see how I do this week! 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

This is a new meme that I plan to participate in every week.  I think it will keep me accountable to blog about what happened in our lives during the prior week, plus keep me thinking about how our homeschool is progressing.  This is probably a bad week to start with, because nothing really excited happened - but it's a start!   

In my life this week...I've been playing catch-up.  In addition to being a homeschooling mom, I also work part-time outside the home.  In return for the ability to have reduced hours, I agreed that when necessary, I can work extra.  For the last five weeks, work extra I did (a lot extra).  The money I earned is now safely tucked away in our savings account, ear-marked for things we need to do around the house.  So this week has been spending extra time with the girls and playing catch-up on household chores (think Mt. Laundry).  Oh, and today was Puddin's birthday, so I got to spend some extra time with her!

In our homeschool this week...
I was excited to get back to attending our Classical Conversations Co-Op with the girls.  I'm continually amazed at how much they're learning, and it's exciting for me to be there to watch part of it.  While I was working horrendous hours my husband (who works from home) went with the girls to co-op.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Nowhere special this week.  Or rather, no where out of the ordinary.  Every week the girls have ballet, soccer practice, co-op, science class at a local natural science museum and preserve, and science class taught by a homeschool dad.  Every week we go lots of places, but nothing unusual this week.

My favorite thing this week was...
In co-op during review time, when given a choice of what subject to review, Puddin chose Latin.  Love that!  And being back to my part-time schedule in time for Puddin's birthday was a blessing.

What's working/not working for us...
We obviously haven't done a lot of schoolwork during the past few weeks.  Thank goodness for that flexible homeschooling schedule, and for the fact that we don't ever really stop learning.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
Even though we haven't done much schoolwork lately, the girls still learn because of their absolute love of reading.  It comforts me to think that they probably still learned more in the last 3-4 weeks than public schooled kids!

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...
A quote from Charlotte Mason borrowed from a friend's Facebook status today: "The question is not how much does the youth know when he has finished his education, but how much does he care?  And about how many orders of things does he care?  ...and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?"


Friday, February 25, 2011

MathRider - Mastery of Mathematics in a Land of Adventuree (TOS Review)

Sometimes learning is hard work, especially when it's something as seemingly unrewarding as remember math facts.  The beauty of the magnitude of homeschooling curricula available today is that there is usually something that will make a tedious task more interesting.

That's what MathRider has helped accomplish for us.  MathRider provides an enticing way for kids to practice their math facts.

A caveat - if your family avoids magical elements, be sure to read my "Watch out for" list about the content before you decide to purchase.

Product Details

MathRider is available as an instant download here for $37.  FAQ can be found here.  Up to ten players are allowed on one license.   You can contact the company here (note it is an Australian company).

Mathrider runs on window, Mac and Linux platforms - full system requirements can be found here

MathRider was born because the creator's own children had trouble memorizing basic math facts.  MathRider provides practice with math facts in all four operations, with numbers through 12.  Each operation has four "quests" - easy, medium, advanced and master - and it is highly recommended that each quest be completed in order.  Each quest involves the rider in a storyline with a need to ride through the Mathlands for great and noble causes.

Each quest takes place in the forbidden land of Mathlands.

The rider (your student) starts in the Land of Ray riding on a horse named Shadow.  Your student chooses a basic operation to practice, then a level of quest.  As the ride begins hurdles appear with math questions - your student types in the answer, hits enter, and Shadow jumps the hurdles. 

If your student misses a question, the hurdle slats disintegrate and Shadow comes to a halt until the correct answer (shown above the hurdle) is typed in - once the correct answer is typed in, Shadow rides through (not over) the hurdle but no points are given.  At the end of each section of the quest, a bar graph appears, allowing you to hover over each bar to see the problem, the average time it took your student to solve it, and the previous average time for solving.

Each quest begins with a story, and has a certain number of points needed to complete which your student earns for correct answers and for speed.  When your student finishes the quest, he or she is told the ending of the story.

Artificial intelligence keeps track of how your student is doing:

 Statistics are available for each of the four operations by clicking the operation symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the screen shown above.  You are given the student's challenges (beige square on the right), and shown their problem spots (non-green blocks on the left).  This screen is even helpful for the students, as when you click on a number you are given a visual for solving the problem (note that each box is the answer to that operation using the numbers along the x axis and the y axis).  

More details on game play are available here, and you can also watch the following short YouTube video:

What I like

I like that this game makes practicing math facts fun, and that the students are rewarded for increasing their speed and accuracy.

I like that the program stores answers (or non-answers) and customizes the problems given according to what the student knows or doesn't know, or needs more practice in. 

I like that there is a practice mode where you can set up a certain number for practice.  For instance, 7 times tables have always been hard for us, so I can easily set up a practice run for 7 times tables using 1-12, and the results of the practice run don't count against the quest and aren't used in the student's statistics.

I like that my girls asked to use this program (which resulted in them willingly practicing their math facts).  Here's a pic of Punkin one Saturday when she accompanied me to work - the one thing she wanted to take with her for entertainment was our computer that has MathRider installed on it so she could "play":
Watch out for

This game is a fantasy game, and includes some things that many homeschoolers avoid like magic, elves, mystical lands, unicorns, etc.  My girls are fairly well grounded and know that these things are make-believe, and once in a blue moon I allow something like this into my home even though I much prefer not to.  I'll admit that if I had known about the contents, I might not have been interested - but I'm glad I had already committed to review the game, as the girls paid no attention to those elements and concentrated on the math facts practice.  So buyer beware, if you completely avoid things like this in your home.  
I wish…

They could make the quests without the magical elements. 

I wish the problems used numbers larger than 12.

The quests are the same across the operations (i.e., the quest for easy addition is the same basic story as the quest for easy subtraction).   I wish the quests were all different, because I think that would motivate the students to go back and repeat each level of each operation more than once.

I wish there was a mixed operation quest with the same four levels - easy, medium, advanced and master - so that  students could be more practice.  If not a level with a mixture of all four operations, then perhaps an addition/subtract quest and a multiplication/division quest.

Be sure to

Take note of the 30-day guarantee.  If you don't notice a different in your child's abilities in basic math facts, or if you are dissatisfied for any reason, contact the company within 30 days of purchase for a full refund. 

Final thoughts

I really wish the quests didn't include magic elements, so that I could wholeheartedly recommend this game.  I'm undecided about what to do when our free trial is over, as the girls are really disappointed that they might not be able to finish their quests.  I've seen a big improvement in their speed, so perhaps I can find a way to reinforce the "magic isn't real" conversation and let them continue with the game.  I guess it's a matter of prayer.    But if for your family magical elements isnt' an issue, this is an incredible tool to teach your kids the basic math facts! 

Thoughts of my crew mates 

To see other reviews of this product, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a trial of the product described in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reluctant Reader Solution by KidScoop (TOS Review)

 Certain things are like music to my ears, especially when learning is involved:

    “Mommy, these are fun!”

This was the reaction from my 8-yo when presented with both the monthly newspaper and the activity sheets from the Reluctant Reader Solution by KidsScoop.

First, a disclaimer - I don't have reluctant readers, and I don't have struggling readers.  I have kids who love to read everything they can get their hands on, on a variety of topics.  I'll admit I wasn't sure how this product would be received by my girls, since it's billed as something to increase interest in reading.  I needn't have worried - the girls loved it.

Product Details 

The Reluctant Reader Solution consists of two parts - 365 worksheets and a monthly online newspaper.  A subscription for one year costs $97, and will provide you with a year's access to the online newspaper and downloadable .pdfs on 60 topics and consisting of 365 worksheets.


365 worksheets - that's one for every day of the year (assuming your kids will accept your rationing of them like that!).  The black and white worksheets cover a range of topics: backpacks, germs, green kids, various holidays, hockey, tadpoles, and even such topics as teasing and budgeting - and many more - in groups of 5-7 pages per topic. A chronological schedule and a theme-based schedule are provided, or you can branch out on your own (which is what we did) and pick and choose what to do when.  The worksheets are provided as downloadable .pdfs.  Youc an see a sample here.

Online newsletter

This is a monthly 20-page colorful newspaper just for kids that they can view online. One problem with that, though - there are many activities that require a pencil! My solution was just to print them out, but color ink is expensive so that might not be an option for everyone.  You can also download the newspapers.

The online newsletter also has an option for audio so the newsletter can be read to your children.   The "voice" for the audio is computer-based so sounds a bit robotic, but we didn't find it bothersome.  Of course, the point if this system is to encourage the kids to read, so if I had a reluctant reader I would not make use of that feature.

What I like 

We used the worksheets as a "jumping off place" for further exploration of some of the topics. 

The worksheets contain "blurbs" of information, usually along with an activity of some sort to reinforce the info - word finds, mazes, spot the difference, newspaper research and (my favorite) creative writing activities. 

They're perfect for "waiting" times.  I've started printing several worksheets and keeping them in a folder in our minivan for those times when we have to wait - they're a great way for the girls to stay occupied in a productive way.

With your subscription, you also get access to past issues of the newspaper. 

I wish… 

I wish they'd do packages of more worksheets.  What I'd really love is if there were packages for: geography, science, character building, history, grammar, etc.

Watch out for 

If your kids are like mine, the 365 worksheets might not last 365 days - there's no way my girls can only do one worksheet at a time!

Be sure to 

Some of my crew members mentioned that the KidScoop newsletter is often printed in local newspapers, but I've never seen it in mine.  If you're lucky enough to receive it in your newspaper, please be sure to use it! 

Be sure to check these out if you use the workbox system - these are perfect for you! 

Be sure to explore their website - there's lots of freebies and activity suggestions! 

Pay attention to the unconditional money-back guarantee, which they give because they believe in their product.

Final thoughts 

My girls enjoyed these very much.  They were a great break for us from our normal schoolwork.  I think if I did have a reluctant reader, this might spark more interest in reading simply because of their appeal to my girls.

Thoughts of my crew mates 

To see other reviews of this product, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product described in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Curiosity Files - Red Tides (TOS Review)

As we started our homeschool journey I had several basic goals in mind.   Not that my girls would know their 9 times tables, or be able to tell me what the periodic table meant, or have beautiful handwriting - but rather that they would love to read, love to learn, and be curious about life and God's creation.  So far, so good, but I still love it when I find a product that feeds those three goals - and The Curiosity Files by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine fits that bill perfectly.

Product Info

The Curiosity Files are full-color unit studies on out-of-the-ordinary topics and are geared for kids ages 8-13.  The exploration of each study is led by Professor Ana Lyze (get it - analyze?) and her team of spies.   

 Currently there are 9 different studies on a variety of unusual topics:

Each study contains:

  • Bible study and memory verses
  • Math, history, and geography investigations 
  • Literature and suggested book list
  • Writing, spelling, and vocabulary activities
  • Beautiful copywork pages (manuscript and cursive)
  • Science observations, projects, and experiments
  • Discussion questions
  • Art, crafts, drawing, and coloring pages
  • Lapbook and notebook pages
  • Internet resources and video links
  • Complete answer key  
A downloadable bundle of all nine studies is available for $46; individually, each study is $6.95., so the bundle is a great deal (a 35% discount!).  If you prefer a CD, one containing all 9 studies is also available for $49.

Product Details...

We received the Red Tides Curiosity File to review.  Once downloaded, I discovered that it contained 85 pages chock full of information, and a six-page answer key.  As soon as I showed it to the girls their eyes brightened.  They had hoped for this study, since we all love the beach so much.  Even the cover is appealing!  I splurged and printed two copies in color, one for each girl - they were thrilled to have their own copy.  It didn't take them long to climb into bed and start reading.  

Immediately they were immersed into the world of red tides, learning what organisms cause them, what the scientific name is, how they affect marine life, where red tides can happen, how to recognize a red tide, and all other things red tide.  Written in a textbook, this information would probably be dry and boring - but The Curiosity Files makes it fun, and the girls were entirely enthralled.  After they read through the fact-filled introduction, we explored some of the resource links provided.  Once were done with the links, the girls wanted to go do some of the activities independently, and I didn't see them for a while - a very good sign. 

Red Tides contains lots of activities to keep the kids interested - things like figuring out how much algal toxin it takes to make you sick (using the metric system), writing an essay on red tides, playing a game using adjectives, spelling activities, word searches, copywork pages (both manuscript and cursive, using verses which refer to seas and oceans), creating your own food chain, and many others.

You can see a sample of Red Tides here

What I Like

We love studying unusual topics, and are constantly going off on "rabbit-trails", so this series is great for us.  Next on the girls' wish list?  The Dung Beetle Curiosity File.  And, luckily, more titles in The Curiosity Files are planned, because I predict we'll do them all.

I loved that the study talks about balance, how God made everything in perfect balance, and how there are consequences in nature when things get out of balance, even just a little bit.  I took that subject and we rabbit-trailed off onto a larger "heart" conversation -  a great teaching moment.

I like the breadth of activities provided - algae scavenger hunt, timeline questions, algae in history, and the quizzes that show what the kids have learned.  Also, many of the activities are provided in two levels - elementary and junior high. 

And, of course, I like that the girls like it - these studies are another way for me to continue encouraging their love of science.
I wish

I wish there had been things like this when I was studying science, instead of a boring old textbook.

Watch Out For

If your kids use these studies, they'll be spouting off little-known facts about all kinds of odd topics. 

Be Sure to

Watch for more titles in the series to be released.

Consider purchasing the bundle of 9 studies - it's a 35% discount! 

Final Thoughts

We've never done too many unit studies, but we'll do these because we love all things science!

Thoughts of my Crew Mates 

To see other reviews of this product, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:

Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product described in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roman Town by Dig-It! Games (TOS Review)

In the proliferation of computer games, many are billed as fun and educational - the combination of those two elements sells a lot of products.  Often you find that it's either so educational that the kids find it boring; other times there's too much fun and not enough education.  

But once in a while you stumble upon a gem - Roman Town by Dig-It! Games is one of those gems.

Product Details...the Basics...

Roman Town, by Dig-It! Games, is an interactive game where your child gets to be the archaeologist!   The game was developed by Suzi Wilczynski, a professional archaeologist, and is targeted for 5th through 8th graders - but older kids (including me!) will like it too.  My third and fifth graders LOVED it.  

The game has been awarded Dr. Toy's Best Vacation Products Award and the National Parenting Center's 2010 Seal of Approval.  By playing, kids learn about Roman culture, society and history in a way that a lot of kids learn best - little bits of information at a time.

Roman Town is available on CD and, as of 2011, retails for $39.95.  But from now until February 21, 2011, TOS Crew Readers can use a special code to get 20% off of the 2010 retail price of $24.95, which will make the price less than $20! Use the code TOS2011 to get this incredible discount.  Up to 5 users can be stored in the game.

A downloadable (.pdf format) educator's manual is available for $19.95.  A classroom setting version (with multiple licenses) is available by contacting the vendor (click here for contact info).  Click here to see all the options for purchase.

A Mac version is in the works, but for now the game only works on PCs.  System requirements are:
     • Windows Vista/XP/2000
     • CPU 800 Mhz; RAM 412MB; Hard Drive 350MB

Product Details...the Fun Part...
Your child's job will be excavating a town close to the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, near Mount Vesuvius.

There are six areas to excavate in Roman Town.   

You're assigned a certain number of "diggers", and a variety of tools to choose for each digger.  

 As each digger "finds" something, you click and then excavate the area.  Once the artifact is uncovered, facts are given about it. 

Once you've found all the artifacts in an area, you're taken to the lab where there  are several activities to do for further learning, plus activities to test how much you remember (a report to fill in, true/false, word match and word find) on what you've found in that area.  Once you're done, it's on to the next area!

Here's a brief video about the game that will give you more information and a feel for what the game is like:

What I like...

...that it truly is educational and fun. 

...that the girls love it so much they ask to "play".  

...the graphics are wonderful! 

...that they throw a little Latin in.

I wish…

The girls did fine reading the information, but could have used some help with pronunciation on certain words.  If no audio is possible, then perhaps on the trickier words a phonetic pronunciation could be added in parenthesis to help.

I wish there was a volume two - six areas are just not enough!  Puddin did four areas in one day.  The vendor advises, though, that if you re-play the game, you find more artifacts.  

I'd love to see this game adapted for different time periods, perhaps colonial times, and maybe even a "futuristic" version that covers modern history - what a great reinforcement for learning history! 

I wish that the "L.E.A.R.N." activities (for the various artifacts, rooms, etc.) weren't optional (you can click "return to digging" without looking at them).  My girls soak up every bit of knowledge, but I know that some kids will want to just play the game.

Watch out for...

It's addictive.  Even I found myself caught up in the game, with no idea of how much time had passed. 

Be sure to...

Take advantage of that coupon before February 21!

Check out the online arcade here  - there are fun games and activities!

Check out the FAQ section here.

If your child is like mine, they will want to know more about archaeology after playing this game (I have been asked by the girls to find a real dig that accepts children - if anyone knows of any, please let me know!) - click here for more resources on archaeology.

Click here for tips on how to use this game in a homeschooling setting, and here for how to use it in a classroom setting.

Final thoughts...

The girls love this game.  I love that it's got that perfect mix of education and fun.  It's a winner in my book!

Thoughts of my crew mates...

To see other reviews of this product, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product described in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.