Monday, March 19, 2012

PhysicsQuest 2011 – Spectra Heats Up!

This past November a fellow homeschooler alerted me to the annual PhysicsQuest.  What’s PhysicsQuest, you ask?  From the PhysicsCentral website:

PhysicsQuest is a story-based activity that exposes middle school students to the fun and relevance of science. APS provides a free PhysicsQuest kit to registered 6-9th grade physical science classes, home school groups, science clubs, and after-school programs. The kit includes a user's manual and materials for four physics experiments.

We love (love!) science, so I quickly requested a free kit for the girls.  The kits ship in the spring, so I temporarily put all thoughts of it aside.

Four months pass.

This week I received a shipping notification from Educational Innovations, informing me that my PhysicsQuest order was on its way.  Yippee!

The box arrived a few days later.  As soon as I told the girls it was science-related, we had to investigate.  We were thrilled to see the contents!

The Spectra Heats Up! booklet contains the story and the four experiments.  You can view a PDF of the booklet HERE.  (Note that I don’t care for the story line, so I won’t allow the girls to read it on their own – we’ll read it together and discuss the scenes/characters.)

And yes, those are drinking birds and Hershey kisses you see included in the contents!  The drinking birds will be used to study evaporation, the chocolate candy to study heat conduction.  Two other experiments will focus on rust (using the steel wool) and the effect of heat rising (using the candles and the muffin tin to make a  pinwheel).

Find out more about PhysicsQuest HERE.  Sponsored by PhysicsCentral, the website  contains a wealth of information on physics, including podcasts and vodcasts (videos) – be sure to check out the fish orchestra vodcast.  There’s  lots to explore at this site but, of course, it is secular,  so be prepared to discuss what you read.  All in al, there are numerous links to follow and explore.

Despite my dislike of the story line of the booklet, this kit appears as if it will be great  fun, and will provide four unique learning experiences for the girls with fun materials.  All 2011 kits have been spoken for, but watch for the 2012 kit to be launched this year, most likely in November. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Progeny Press – Across Five Aprils (TOS Review)

Months ago, we visited a Civil War museum with our co-op.  I watched with awe as Hannah’s hand flew up to answer a question posed by the museum curator.  Subsequent questions caused  her hand to raise more cautiously to give others a chance to answer.  As no other hands appeared, she would give a lengthy and eloquent answer – answers to questions on topics we had not studied in depth.  Suddenly it dawned on me – my science-obsessed daughter also had developed a keen interest in the Civil War simply from  reading the history books on our shelves.  I made a mental note to add additional Civil War information to our studies.

When we were given the chance to review a literature study guide from Progeny Press, I took that opportunity to choose a guide focused on the Civil War – Across Five Aprils.  

Progeny Press publishes study guides for literature for grades kindergarten through high school.  Their catalog features over 100 study guides, which will help your student focus on critical thinking, comprehension, literary analysis, and Christian application.  You can search the study guides by genre HERE, or search by grade level HERE.


I requested and received the Across Five Aprils Study Guide in the PDF format, which included the study guide (interactive, so the students can fill in the answers on the computer), the answer key, and a “ReadMe” file which contains information and instructions for working with the interactive guide (for both Windows and Max users).  The study guide is available in several different forms at varying prices:

Printed, paperbound booklet - $18.99
CD (with interactive PDF) - $16.99
CD plus booklet - $23.99
interactive PDF by e-mail - $16.99
CD (with non-interactive PDF) - $12.75

See your various purchase  options HERE and HERE.

The study guide for Across Five Aprils is 64-pages and targeted to grades 5 through 9,  and is set in the U.S. in the 1860’s during the Civil War.   We had previously read through the book, but read it again for this study.  The study guide added so much more! 

So how does it work?

The guide begins with introductory topics:  a brief biography of the author of the study guide and info on the members of the peer review panel; the table of contents (which I thought was odd placement as it referred to the prior two sections); a note  to the instructor, a synopsis of the story, and information about the book’s author; and background information on the Civil War and suggested activities to do to enhance your experience in reading the book (both before reading and while reading).

Following (beginning on page 14 of the study guide) were six lessons, each covering two chapters of the book.  Each lesson is set up in a similar fashion:  vocabulary, comprehension exercises, what I like to call “thinking” questions (about themes, events, characters, the use of language and literary elements, etc.), a “dig deeper” section, and writing suggestions.

Next was an overview section which discussed, among other things, conflict, plot,  climax and resolution, all things we have studied in our writing course this year.  Next was a section for essay and writing suggestions. 

The study guide concludes with a list of suggested additional resources (books, 2 websites, and a PBS movie).

To get the most out of the study guide, your student should have access to a Bible, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and sometimes a concordance.  According to Progeny Press, the student should complete one section of the study guide per week.

You can read the authors’ suggestions on how to use the guide HERE.


Love that the girls can simply type in their answers on the computer on the PDF version.

I love when I’m given a list of additional resources.  Invariably there are other “rabbit trails” on a topic that we want to chase, and guidance on potential resources is always appreciated!

I like that each study guide is reviewed by a peer review panel.

I love that the girls can do this somewhat independently, although I’d prefer to always do it with them  - you’re never too old to think and learn!  My girls’ enthusiasm for learning more about the Civil War has rubbed off on me.

Sprinkled throughout the guide are things that I’d characterize as a review of grammar/writing/literary elements – discussions/definitions of idioms, synonyms, personification, metaphor, etc.  I think reading about these things and seeing how they’re used adds a lot to the learning experience, helping the student use them in their own writing.

I love the different ways the guide introduces vocabulary: writing definitions, multiple choice, matching, etc.   Learning vocabulary is more interested when the method varies.


I wish there were lists of suggestions for younger/older “tag-along”children – a way to lower the level  a bit for younger students yet keep them learning, and a way to heighten the requirements a bit for older kids.  I don’t think this particular study would need any increased requirements for older kids since we found some of the assignments to be way more than we were ready for, but I think a younger student could benefit from a couple “lower” level suggestions.  That’s something that can be done by the parent fairly easy, but our family stays extremely busy so I always appreciate all the help/guidance I can get!


Be aware that if you want to print the completed PDF and your children have been “wordy” on their answers, the complete answer may not print.  If the inserted text exceeds the length of the text box given, the text will wrap and they’ll be able to fill in their complete answer, but when you print it there will be a plus sign at the bottom right of the text box indicating there is text that did not print.  I don’t believe this is a fault or error on the part of Progeny Press – it’s simply the nature of an interactive PDF.

Any internet sites referenced in the Additional Resources section of the guide should be double-checked before allowing your children to visit them.  While the sites referenced were checked at publication, the guide clearly states that Progeny Press can’t continually check all websites referenced (common sense, of course).  Your child’s use of the internet should be supervised while using this guide, or you could pre-check all the websites.  I did not see any websites in this guide that caused me concern, but I double-checked them anyway.

While Progeny Press suggests one lesson per week, I found that was a bit too accelerated for my liking.   I wanted more time for the girls to really discuss and think about the story.  The one lesson per week is just a suggestion – do what works best for your family.

I found many of the writing suggestions in the Essay/Writing suggestions section to be slightly too difficult for my 4th and 6th grade girls (the oldest struggles a bit with writing, and the youngest is a grade below the suggested grades for this guide), so we discussed them instead.  That worked much better for us, and still accomplished the purpose of getting them to think about the story.

There are some references to “class”,  as these study guides can also be used in a classroom  setting.  As a homeschooler, I simply modify the suggested activity (if necessary) to fit our family.


Check out information on the study guide for Across Five Aprils, and take a peek at the study guide and answer key HERE.

When ordering the e-mailed PDF, it’s likely that it will be delivered as a zip file.  If you’ve never unzipped a file, there’s a small learning curve, but it’s not hard at all.

Read the book before starting the study guide.  We already had a copy in our collection, but it is also available from Progeny Press HERE for $6.99.  Special bulk pricing is available for the book, in case you’re leading a book club.

View the current catalog HERE.

Read about the mission, history and statement of faith of Progeny Press HERE.

Read their online store rules and policies.

In addition to online sales, the study guides are also available at retailers.  Find out were you can buy study guides HERE.

View various ways of saving money on the guides HERE – they offer irregular prints, unbound copies, etc.  Progeny Press also offers at 15% discount to active military personnel – love that they support our troops!


Contact Us

Find them on Facebook.

Visit Rebecca’s BLOG.


We enjoyed this study guide, and intend to purchase more.  If you’re looking for a literary study guide, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the Progeny Press guides!


To see other reviews of this AND other Progeny Press study guides, click HERE and look for the linky tools list at the bottom of the post. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


**Disclaimer: As part of the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product referenced in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Creek Edge Press – Chemistry/Great Scientists Task Cards (TOS Review)

As a homeschooling mom who also works part-time outside the home, I appreciate homeschooling curricula/helps which my girls can do somewhat independently.  Independent tasks in our home accomplish two things:  they allow the girls to have partial control of what they study, and it give me peace of mind knowing that they are still learning when I’m working.


The Creek Edge Press task cards were created by Amy Kate Hilsman for use with her daughter for first grade life science.  Since that first set of task cards, Hilsman has expanded the offerings, and cards are now available for various topics in history/geography, science, math, music and art.  The cards combine elements from different approaches of homeschooling - Montessori, Classical, and Charlotte Mason – and are being  used in homeschools, Montessori schools and charter schools both domestically and internationally. 

The science task card sets are $18 per set, or you can purchase all four sets for $65.  The history/geography task card sets range from $18-$20, but you can purchase all 6 sets for $90.  The music set and the art set are each $32.

The TOS crew was given their choice of cards and, since our co-op has been studying the elements and the periodic table, and because my girls have always been curious about scientists, I requested the Chemistry and Great Scientists task cards.  The set includes a small handbook (13 pages), which contains tips for the tasks, preparing an environment, book lists and tips, and a card-by-card list of topics.

The  Chemistry and Great Scientists set include 30 task cards.  Most of the chemistry task cards begin with encyclopedia research, provide further reading, and defining the topic (separated, I suppose, so that the child can check off each task as it’s completed),then progresses with a sort of “narration” assignment (i.e., “write a summary…”), and concludes with a lab/lab report assignment. 

Some other chemistry cards expound on the prior topic.  For example, task card #11 is on transition metals, and follows the pattern in the prior paragraph.  Task card #12  (and four other cards) uses the following pattern:

The Great Scientists cards follow the basic format of most of the chemistry cards, but add time line work and writing a summary about the life and work of each scientist.


Replacement cards are available to all owners of complete Task Card Sets at a rate of $.50 per card – helpful for those of us who often lose things!

I love that the girls can use these fairly independently. 

I love a good book list.  :)

Love the focus on the periodic table.  That will be a great complement to our current co-op science focus.


I wish a summary card could be included that lists all the tasks, similar to the list in the booklet – much more convenient to have available for those unexpected stops at the library.

I wish there was a way to include at least a small graphic on the cards related to the topic.  Nothing fancy, just a black/white graphic of an atom,  or a beaker, or a corner of the periodic table.  Some kids don’t respond well to just black/white text - I have one that likes plain, and one that likes as much decoration as possible.  :)  I understand, though, that sometimes simple is best.

I wish there was a suggested list of labs for busy moms (like me!).  Perhaps one suggested lab/experiment per card from the relevant core book from the book list.  I’ll admit that sometimes if I have to figure it out, it never gets done.


The cards are meant to encourage investigation and discovery-based learning.  The author recommends making all necessary materials for all cards available in one spot,  but that’s not possible for us.  No big deal – my girls are old enough to know where all the correct books are located, and old enough to ask for any necessary materials.  If your children are younger, though, you may want to dole out the cards one at a time and gather all supplies for that card.

You will need access to certain books to make the most of these cards.  The course guide includes a list of core books, science dictionaries, further reference books, and supplemental books.  Since we are science-obsessed, we already had many of the books listed.  If you’re not science-obsessed, you may need to invest in a couple good reference books (but you can usually pick them up at Half Price Books if there’s one near you).

Initially I thought the girls could just pick whatever card they wanted to do,  but it actually seems fairly important to do them  in order.  Digging a little deeper on the website, I found this from the author:

Science task card sets follow a progression from the most concrete and familiar life science through the more abstract concepts involved in the study of Chemistry. The science cards within each set are arranged in a purposeful manner that allows students to build on the learning and efforts made on previous cards.  

That makes complete sense – just differs from my initial impression of the cards.  Not a bad thing, mind you, just important to understand.

The author grants permission to copy pages of the booklet for use in your own household, but the cards are not to be copied.


Take advantage of the MidWinter Sale – for orders of $36 or more, use code MidWinter for free domestic shipping.  I’m not sure how long this sale lasts.

View the scope and sequence and the recommended books/enrichment materials list for the Chemistry/Great Scientists cards.

View the scope and sequence and recommended books/enrichment materials lists for the other task cards offered by Creek Edge Press HERE.

View the FAQ.

Read Amy’s story, including how the cards were first developed.

Read articles about the task-card approach, including a list of recommended reading.

View the photo gallery,  which includes projects made from the task cards.

Shop for other products by Creek Edge Press.


Inquiries should be sent to:


We actually enjoyed these more than I thought we would.  I think the girls’ favorite parts were the tasks about the periodic table (but we haven’t made it very far with those yet) and the cards on the scientists (we love biographies in this house).


To see other reviews of this product click HERE and look for the linky tools list at the bottom of the post. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


**Disclaimer: As part of the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product referenced in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It’s natural to learn science!!


This week’s TOS blog cruise focuses on favorite science resources.  As I perused shelf after shelf of books and resources we have in our home to satisfy our science-obsessed girls, I struggled to pick our favorite or “just the right one” to describe.

Suddenly it occurred to me – our favorite science resource isn’t a book or a kit or a website or a museum or any other “thing.”  Our favorite science resource is nature itself – God’s creation. 

Want to learn about botany?  No better place than your own back yard, or a local nature preserve, or an empty, grassy field.

Want to learn about zoology?  Sit on your front porch and watch a squirrel pack away acorns for the winter or a bird prepare a nest. Visit the zoo, or a wildlife preserve. 

Astronomy?  Check out the moon and stars on a clear night.

Physics?  Go to the park and play on the see-saw.

Marine biology?  Explore a creek.

The majority of scientific fields can be explored (at least preliminarily) by studying  nature.

My goal is to interest my girls in something that we see in nature, then learn more about it using the other tools at our disposal – not vice versa.  See things in nature first then studying them ignites their curiosity and makes it more interesting.

Sure we have other favorite tools that we use to study science – our microscope, our telescope, our voluminous collection of science-based books, our museum  memberships, PBS broadcasts, the internet – but our favorite is nature itself. 


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Interesting conversation

As I am confined to bed nursing a sprained ankle, I grant permission to the girls to play on the Wii. Here is the conversation which ensued:

Hannah: Sarah, Sarah, Mommy said we could play on the Wii!

Sarah: I don't want to.

Hannah: Why not?

Sarah: I'd rather do division.

Huh? This from my child who doesn't like math. I think the ALEKS program is working. Either that or the pain meds have taken effect.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bountiful Baskets Bounties

Recently I’ve begun ordering baskets from Bountiful Baskets, and have been delighted with the results!

What is Bountiful Baskets?  It’s a nationwide food co-op which includes fresh vegetables, fruit, bread, and other food items weekly (or every two weeks, depending on your location).

Bountiful Baskets is growing by leaps and bounds, with more volunteer-led locations springing up each week.

So, what do you get in the basket?  Basket content changes every week, so there’s always something new to try.  Usually you receive six types of vegetables and six types of fruit.  Here’s this week’s bounty:


1 cantaloupe
1 pineapple
2 mangoes
8 bananas
5 kiwi fruits
8 apples
brussels sprouts
2 English cucumbers
5 hot peppers
3 bell peppers
3-lb. bag of butter gold potatoes
1living butter lettuce (in the
   plastic box under the broccoli)

All of the above was $15, plus a handling fee of $1.50.  That,  my friends, is a bargain – have you shopped the produce aisles lately?  I have never had a problem  with the quality of anything I’ve received.  A benefit is that my girls are trying things I would not normally purchase (kiwi, mangoes, fresh pineapple, etc.).

Weekly add-ons are also offered – anything from bread, to organic tomatoes, to granola, to specialty packs.  I added the Asian pack this week:

asian pack

Bok Choy
Napa cabbage
2 yellow onions
1 head garlic
8 water chestnuts
1 bunch scallions
1 celery
Thai basil
Snow peas
Fresh ginger

Price for the Asian pack was $8.50.  Yet another amazing bargain. 


Want more info?

Locate pick-up sites and learn how to start participating in Bountiful Baskets.

Read the FAQ, the co-op’s policies, or get product storage information.

Check them out on FACEBOOK.

Try Bountiful Baskets – and enjoy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Eggs (and Reading Eggspress) (TOS Review)

Do you have a child who is learning to read?  Or one who is struggling to learn to read?  Or an older child who needs comprehension help?  Check out the fun, interactive online reading program called Reading Eggs!


Reading Eggs is a web-based program for children from 3-13 to help them learn to read (through Reading Eggs, for ages 3-7) and increase reading comprehension (through Reading Eggspress, for ages 7-13).


The Reading Eggs portion of the program is its own little online, animated, interactive world (“Reading Eggs World”).  With 120 lessons (in which kids are allowed to progress at their own speed), kids explore the alphabet, phonics, sight words, and beginning reading through songs, games, animations.   Kids design their own avatar (even given choices on accessories!) and have their own house to decorate using rewards earned by playing the games.  

There are twelve maps,  with ten lessons in each map, and the 120 lessons are broken down into three levels:

Level 1 Starting Out for absolute beginners, lesson 1-40.
Level 2 Beginning to Read for emerging readers, lessons 41-80.
Level 3 Building confidence for early readers, lessons 81-120.

You can get more details on the levels HERE.

The child first does an assessment, with questions similar to the following:

Based on the assessment results, the child is placed at a particular “map” (i.e., the area of lessons where the program determines the child should begin).  Then the fun begins! 

Activities are varied, fun, and visually appealing – what child wouldn’t want to put the sentence in the correct order for this cute little ant?

The activities allow children to earn “golden eggs”, which can be traded in to buy accessories, pets, decorations, etc.  After each 10 lessons, the child is given a quiz.  Lessons can be repeated as often as the children like!

There are also book packs that go along with Reading Eggs and reinforce the lessons.  

The Reading Eggspress portion of the program is designed to increase reading comprehension for kids ages 7-13.  Again using wonderful animation, children explore the world of a spinning island with a both educational and fun activities.  The wide variety of activities keeps kids interested and coming back for more, all the while earning rewards and increasing their skills.

Again, it starts with an assessment,  but this one focuses on comprehension.

Then the child is taken to a really cool spinning “island” – and more fun begins.




My girls are passed the early reader stage, but they have thoroughly enjoyed this program, even though the Reading Eggs portion is below grade level for them – the games are THAT fun! 

I appreciate the stats that the program provides for parents.  Reading age,  comprehension age, reading level, number of phonics skills known, number of sight words known,  etc. – all very helpful information. There are also progress notes showing recent events (i.e., what the student has accomplished in the program).

My girls’ thoughts:  “It’s fun fun fun – can we keep a subscription?”

Oh!  Speaking of subscriptions…you can  subscribe monthly ($9.95/month), for 6 months ($49.95) or for twelve months ($75).  With the six- and twelve-month subscription, additional children are 50% off.  More info on pricing can be found HERE.


Take advantage of the free activity sheets for each lesson in Reading Eggs.

View the FAQ.

Read about Reading Eggs HERE.

Reading about the spelling options HERE.

Sign up for the FREE TRIAL!

Try sample lessons.


For any technical or general queries, please email the Reading Eggs Team using this form.   Alternatively if the matter is urgent please contact the friendly Reading Eggs Customer Care Team Toll Free on:

  • Teachers: 1-877-394-6695
  • Parents: 1-877-661-4898


I’ll admit to being a bit surprised that the girls loved both portions of Reading Eggs so much.  Honestly?  I thought the lower levels would be boring for them, but I was wrong!  They enjoyed all the activities so much, and the comprehension part was very helpful, so we’ll likely get a subscription.


To see other reviews of this product click HERE and look for the linky tools list at the bottom of the post. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


**Disclaimer: As part of the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a trial subscription to the products referenced in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.