Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NYC, we’ll see you this summer!


Each spring thousands of ballerinas  across the country audition for summer intensives – training programs of varying lengths which are, indeed, intensive.

This is Sarah’s first audition season.  Her ballet instructors recommended three intensives for Sarah to audition for.  I added another – the summer intensive sponsored by The Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, run by the legendary Gelsey Kirkland.  When I discovered that Ms. Kirkland, who is one of America’s great ballerinas, would be leading the auditions, I knew Sarah would benefit from having a class with her.

Sarah was happy as the audition began.  Parents weren’t allowed to watch, but we could hear what was happening.  Ms. Kirkland was authoritative, yet compassionate and caring – perfect for Sarah.   While we approached this particular audition as simply a learning experience, a mom’s heart always has hope for their child to suceed.  I didn’t expect the outcome we received - I was thrilled to learn that she was accepted for Ms. Kirkland’s program at the audition!

Excitement is running high in our house.  Sarah reminds me of Tigger – she is so excited she can hardly stop wiggling. 

For me, the task ahead is daunting – planning a trip to NYC for Sarah and I with as little financial trauma as possible.   It will be a sacrifice for our family.  But it may well be a life-changing experience for Sarah, so it will be a sacrifice worth making.

NYC, see you in June!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our iPad addiction…and our most loved apps


Our family loves technology.  Fitting,  since my husband is an IT software engineer.   Surprisingly, I have only within the last year or so received a smart phone.  In August, I added an iPad 2 to my collection.  One of the first things I did once it was fully charged was begin searching for apps that would be educational for the girls.  Wow – there is a plethora of apps to choose from, and more are added every day.  

Sure we have apps loaded which simply provide fun – but true to form in a homeschooling family, our favorites are the apps that expand our knowledge.  Most favored are the science apps.

Here are some of our favorite educational apps that are frequently used on our iPad:


Star Walk –  Load this app, point your iPad at the sky (day or night!), and the stars,  constellations and satellites will be identified!  The screen also shows the “shapes” of the constellations.  One of our favorite nighttime astronomy activities is to simply stand in our back yard and watch the screen while turning slowly around – we get a great view of the night sky, with explanations, even though we live in a fairly large city with lots of lights. 

Other astronomy apps that we love:


Astronomy Picture of the Day


Geo Walk – our favorite geography app, this is like a 3D reference book.  A virtual globe spins and photos pop up of general facts (you can also choose a different view, but we prefer the globe).  With filters of places, animals, plants, people and events, you can customize the photos you’re shown.  Several other viewing options plus a quiz feature make this one of our favorites to learn about the world!

Stack the States – Teaches state capitals, shapes, geographic locations, state nicknames, bordering states, and more.  If you answer a question correctly you’re awarded that state’s shape (an animated shape) to “stack” on the screen.  Build a stack of states that reaches the checkered line to win each level.  Love the visual that this game provides – there’s nothing like trying to stack the shape of Alaska on top of the shape of Rhode Island to get a visual of the size difference. 

Stack the Countries – works the same as Stack the States but with, obviously, countries.  Learn capitals, landmarks, major cities, continents, border countries, languages, flags and country shapes.

Other geography apps that we love:

National Geographic GeoBee Challenge

Puzzleography – World Geography

Puzzleography – USA Geography

Map Trek Ancient World


This Day in History – self explanatory, but one of the coolest things is that clickable links are provided for the items listed for that bring up more information.

Virtual History Roma – a virtual, panoramic tour of Ancient Rome.  Incredible views and information.  This is the first application to use ‘bubble view’ technology, which was conceived in Italy and patented in the USA. This technology uses the iPad’s sensors (accelerometer and compass) – move the iPad and the scene moves.  We loved using this for our Italy trip last fall.

National Archives—Today’s Document – Highlights 365 (including popular and lesser known items) of the most fascinating documents and photos in American History stored in the National Archives.

Smithsonian Channel – includes Smithsonian’s original series, documentaries and fun facts.

Other history apps that we love:

Library of Congress Virtual Tour

Presidents vs. Aliens

Medieval Life


The Chemical Touch – a virtual periodic table.

Simple Physics - design complex structures for everything from tree houses to ferris wheels and then simulates your design with a sophisticated physics engine.

Peterson Birds of North America – an online version of the printed field guide.

Molecules - view three-dimensional renderings (in ball-and-stick or space-filling visualization mode) of molecules and manipulate them using your fingers - rotate, zoom in or out, or pan the molecule.

Science 360 – Video and pictures from NSF_funded institutions.  There’s great stuff here,  but note that since it’s NSF info, there is evolutionary content. 

Other science apps that we love:

Crazy Machines

Real Science 4 Kids – Chemistry

The Elements

Science Glossary  


Slice It!

SAT Question of the Day




Brain Pop! - Watch a different animated movie every day, then test your new knowledge with an interactive quiz – free!  My girls loved this free app so much that I purchased the monthly subscription!  

I know there are probably great apps on my iPad that I’m neglecting to mention, but this list gives you a sample of our favorite type of apps.  I’m always looking for more great educational apps – please comment and share your favorites!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Citrus Fest

Recently Hannah began to hear commercials by Central Market for their Citrus Fest, and asked if we could visit the store during the promotion.  I love Central Market, but rarely shop there as I have found it to be a pocketbook’s peril.  Invariably, I become ensnared by their overabundance of choices in the produce department, and the meat department, and the specialty foods department,and the bakery, and…well, you get the idea.  But give me a specific reason that I need to frequent that store and I’m there.  Citrus Fest fit that bill.

Today was the day.  Sarah, Hannah and I began our citrus adventure before we even entered the store – brightly colored mounds of citrus fruit beckoned to us just outside the doors.  Once we investigated each one, we ventured inside and found ourselves faced with a citrus bar – containers of samples free for the snacking. 

Avoiding the grapefruit, I tried many of the other offered fruits.  Hannah loves most citrus fruits but also bravely tasted the grapefruit and decided that, like me, it was too sour for her tastes.  I have never succeeded in my effort to get Sarah to eat citrus fruits, so my goal was to find one that was sweet which might appeal to her.   Finding most of the samples a tad tart, the last sample container held Satsuma mandarins – seedless, sweet citrus perfection.   Encouraging Sarah to be brave and taste one, I held my breath and was rewarded by her smile – success!  A plastic produce bag was soon filled with Satsuma mandarins.

There were strange new fruits to discover – kumquats and buddha’s hand citron.

Further in to the store were more goodies to taste.  We sampled and came home with freshly-squeezed apple/orange juice, strawberry Magic Pop cakes (watching these being made was  quite fun!), and fresh guacamole made with specialty limes (the name escapes me at the moment,and it’s not included in the ingredient label).

Also finding the way into our basket were:

Several more types of citrus fruit,  including another small bag of Satsuma mandarins.

A lemon pound cake

Citrus-flavored marshmallows (three flavors:  blood orange, key lime, meyer lemon).

The key lime was our favorite.

Queen Bee  also offers vanilla-bean flavored marshmallows (somehow I resisted), along with strawberry/chocolate, toasted coconut, and several other flavors.  I sure wish their website was working, but the link at least provides their contact info.

Lastly, one non-citrus item we sampled was divine – Vanilla Cheesecake Fondue by KC Classic Gourmet Foods.  Click on the Fondue button if you dare.


The sample was served with a graham cracker-like cookie.  Note that Sarah is licking the fondue off the cookie, and Hannah is licking the cup.   Final verdict from both?  YUM.

Topping off our Central Market adventure was the discovery of a gelato bar.  The girls have not eaten gelato since our trip to Italy, during which we developed a gelato addiction. 

What a lovely way to close our “field trip” to Central Market!

Not surprisingly, the first conversation after our return home included their question, “When can we go back?”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Z-Guide to the Movies – Johnny Tremain (TOS Review)



Once again, the TOS review is privileged to review a Z-Guide to the Movies from Zeezok Publishing.   Last year we were excited  to review the Z-Guide to Kit Kittredge – you can  see that review HERE.  This year we chose the Z-Guide to Johnny Tremain, which fit well with our focus on American History this year.



From the Zeezok website:

If your student enjoys watching movies, we just made it easy for you to incorporate them into your curriculum. We have dozens of guides— each of them falling within a specific time in history. All of the guides contain ten educational activities that build upon the movie. The guides are movie specific. We tell you exactly which movie we used, and almost all are available thru Netflix. Most you can probably get through your local library. So you don’t even need to buy the movie to use our guides!

The Z-Guides are unit studies built around movies, which are provided as a CD containing a .pdf of the complete study guide or as a downloadable e-book (each selling for $12.99).  Each guide is written for a specific version of the movie The Z-Guide to Johnny Tremain is based on the 1957 Walt Disney Pictures version of the movie. 


We found a copy of the movie at our library, but often the movies are available on Netflix.

The guides include a topic overview, a movie synopsis, ten learning activities (together with an answer key in the back!) for in-depth study of the topics covered in the movie, and (my favorite last year,  and still my favorite this year) a "For Family Discussion" question list.   The guide is designed for use over five days.  On the first day, it’s best to read the review questions then watch the movie in its entirety and answer the review questions.   There are two suggested activities per day:

Day 1:

Activity 1: Movie Review Questions
Activity 2: More about the Boston Tea Party

Day 2:

Activity 3:  Crossword Puzzle
Activity 4: American Revolution Coloring Pages

Day 3:

Activity 5: More about the Battles of Lexington and Concord
Activity 6: More about Colonial Apprenticeships

Day 4:

Activity 7:  Mr. James Otis’s Pamphlet
Activity 8: Literary Devices:  Patrick Henry Speech

Day 5:

Activity 9: Worldview
Activity 10: Memorization Section – Declaration  of Independence



Affordability – at $12.99, it’s a great investment which adds significant educational value to a movie. 

This guide is a great addition to a study of the time period around the American Revolution.

The variety of activities keeps the study interesting.

Love the activity requiring memorization of the Declaration of Independence! 

The research activity questions can’t be answered by the movie itself, so it’s a great opportunity for students to learn research skills.


As with last year’s review of the Kit Kittredge guide, I believe a list of accompanying websites would be extremely helpful, and I wish the guides would include suggestions for younger students.


The study allows you to pick/choose the activities to do.  Be aware, though, that some of the activities are lengthy (there are 25 questions in Activity 1!), so two activities a day might be too much, depending (of course) on your children.  We took two weeks to do this study, because I wanted the girls to get the most out of each activity and not be rushed.

Note the following license info from their website:  "This file is licensed to the original purchaser and is not to be resold. Permission is not granted for classroom, district-wide, school-wide, system-wide, or co-op use."

Note the movie is not included with the guide.  Zeezok Publishing also offers the movies (and appears to have very competitive prices), or you can purchase/borrow them elsewhere.   Each Z-Guide indicates on the front which version of the movie is best used with the guide.


Read more about the general organization and contents of Z-Guides HERE.

Check out the rest of the products offered by Zeezok Publishing.

Read about Zeezok Publishing HERE.

Read the FAQ HERE.


Contact the company via e-mail HERE or by telephone at (800) 749-1681.


As with last year’s review, we really enjoyed this Z-Guide, and I plan to purchase more.


My crew mates reviewed this and other Z-Guides.  To see those reviews, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2011-2012 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.