Tuesday, February 28, 2012

All About Reading Level 1 - a review

Last year we were blessed to review All About Reading Pre-reading curriculum. You can find that review here.

We were pleased with the Pre-Reading level. It was a very gentle approach and worked well to teach Molly her letters and letter sounds. We have since worked with a couple of other reading programs working on blending letters to form words. It had not quite clicked for Molly yet. She knew her letter sounds but she did not quite get the concept of blending to form words. When AAR level 1 was released and I found out we could review it I was super excited.

All About Reading is designed to teach the 5 key components of reading which are:

-phonological awareness
-Phonics and Decoding

We received the All About Reading Level 1 Kit which sells for $99.95 and contains:

Level 1 Teacher's Manual
Level 1 Student Packet
"Run Bug Run" reader
"The Runt Pig" reader
"Cobweb the Cat" reader

As well as the Deluxe Reading Interactive Kit which sells for $48.95 and includes:

Letter Tiles
Magnets for the letter tiles
Basics Phonogram CD
Reading Review Box
Reading Divider Cards
Reading Tote Bag
Star Stickers

We have progressed very slowly through this curriculum. With Molly being only 4 I am in no rush for her to learn to read (although she is in quite the rush to be able to read like her brothers). I was beyond impressed with the Teacher's manual and how easy it is to follow. It is truly an "open and teach" type of curriculum. After the initial prep work of putting the magnets on the letter tiles there really is no prep work that needs to be done from day to day. Which is such a blessing in our busy homeschool.

Molly loves the activities in the student manual. She loves the cutting and pasting and the multi-sensory approach is WORKING!

She also loves making and reading words with the letter tiles. The letter tiles are color-coded.  You can see the red and blue tiles (vowels and consonants) here.  These are the only ones we currently work with.  There are many more tiles for all the phonograms.

She has even created and read a few words that we haven't gotten to yet.

The readers are so well done as well. They are nice hard back books with a compilation of stories in each one. And the best part is that they can start reading the first story in lesson 5! Now, a little disclaimer here, lesson 5 does not necessarily mean day 5. It took us a good two weeks to get through the first four lessons! That is what is great about AAR though, you can go at your own pace. Once Molly "got it" we have now flown through the next several lessons and Molly is now beginning to blend the words in her head and doing amazingly well. I have tried to video her reading and she doesn't like it, so I will not be including that, but watch for a video of her reading very soon! If you have a child who knows their letter sounds they are ready for AAR level 1. If they are young it may take a little longer to do each lesson, but there are so many activities within most of the lessons it works well to go slowly. If your child is already blending his letters together then you can definitely work more quickly through the program.

The Phonogram cards and word cards that are a part of the student packet are another tool the curriculum uses to drill the sounds as well as the words the children are learning. Molly is not particularly fond of the cards but it has definitely helped her, especially with the rule breaker words we have learned thus far. I love the box and divider cards that come with the kit. It makes keeping up with the cards as well as keeping up with which ones your child knows so much easier.

If you would like to see what other TOS Crew Members have to say about AAR take a look at the Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I received this product for free in exchange for my review. There was no other compensation given for this review. All opinions are my own, honest opinions.

Monday, February 27, 2012

BeeYoutiful - a review

We have recently made some pretty big changes in our home regarding our health. We are now making our own laundry detergent as well as dishwasher detergent. I only use natural cleaners such as baking soda and vinegar in the day to day cleaning of the house We are eating healthier, including Zach and I both eating gluten free. I have done a ton of research on our health and the toxins that we put in our bodies as well as the ones we use to "clean" our bodies. It is really quite scary all the toxins a typical person uses or eats in a day. It is truly no wonder that there seems to be more cancer and more rare diseases today than ever before. So, for our family, we are trying to reduce toxins as much as we can. It is not feasible for us to totally eat organic foods and buy all natural everything because we definitely have a budget. We are taking the philosophy of doing as much as we can and praying that God keeps us healthy and keeps the toxins in the products we can't change from harming us.

One company that I have found, and been very blessed to review a couple of products from is BeeYoutiful.

At Beeyoutiful.com, we believe that each individual is responsible for their own health. It is not a doctor's responsibility to keep you in good health. Instead they are a tremendous resource, especially for those times when urgent care is required. But, they are only one of many resources. And the tools they use, while powerful, are not the only tools available. But a tool is worthless unless one knows how to use it.

I received BeeYoutiful's milk and honey facial bar. It is a reasonably priced $10 for a 4.25oz bar. I love that it looks like a little beehive!

The ingredients in the facial bar are :Raw Goat Milk, Distilled Water, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Vitamin E Oil, Vegetable Oil, Sodium Hydroxide (lye), Raw Honey, Bee Pollen, Bee Propolis, Beeswax, Sweet Orange Essential Oil

Wow! I can actually pronounce all the ingredients unlike the old facial soap I was using!

The company states that this product will fight acne, help repair sores, sooth chapping, reduce wrinkles by improving the skin's elasticity, as well as balance uneven or oily skin. I have been using this bar for about a month and I am very happy with the way my face feels and looks. I have not had any major breakouts (which I am still prone to in my mid-thirties!) and my face feels soft and firm. I can't say I have noticed less wrinkles, but I don't have too many wrinkles anyway. It definitely makes me feel better knowing I am cleaning my face with a product with more natural ingredients. I am also very impressed with how long the bar is lasting. As I mentioned, I have been using it for about a month and I probably still have more than a months worth left before I need to purchase another one (which I will definitely be doing!!!)

Another product I was sent for review is the lip B.A.L.M.

The lip balm contains only 4 ingredients, all of which are designed to help soothe your sore and chapped lips in a natural way:

GrapeSeed Oil- high in antioxidants (procyanidolic oligomers and polyphenols) and linoleic acid which nourish, moisturize, naturally provide anti-inflammatory support, and help smooth fine lines and wrinkles! So instead of merely relieving your chapped lips, it is nourishing them and helping them look their best as well!

Shea Butter- also high in antioxidants, Shea Butter helps bring elasticity back to the skin, moisturizes, has natural sun protection, and helps bring healing to scars and wounds.

Beeswax- recommended by Mayo Clinic as an excellent choice for a lip balm, beeswax is high in germicidal antioxidants, possesses natural anti-inflammatory abilities, and has been shown to have antibacterial qualities. It gives body to the lip balm while providing moisture and cell restoration for your lips!

Essential Oils- (Either Orange or Peppermint Essential Oil)- Both provide refreshing flavors while providing their naturally inherent benefits to your lips! Orange is a refreshing, citrusy blast that helps to brighten your lips. Peppermint’s cool, tingly flavor will bring soothing refreshment to your lips on the driest of days!

I am not one who uses a lot of lip balm, but when I do, I want it to work quickly. I also want it to taste good. And, now, as we are trying to be more conscious of the toxins we use, I want it to have natural ingredients. This lip balm does all of those things!

You can purchase it at their website for only $3. It is slightly less if you buy a greater quantity.

Members of the TOS Crew reviewed several different products from BeeYoutiful. To read the reviews head on over to the Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I received these products for free in exchange for my review. There was no other compensation given for the review. All opinions here are my own, honest opinions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, February 24, 2012

A is for Adoption


A blogging friend of mine over at "Ben and Me" is doing a "Blogging through the Alphabet" meme and I am going to try and join in. I am horrible at keeping up with memes. But I am going to try. So this week is the letter "A".

"A" is for ADOPTION

Growing up I had plans of having 4 kids. I never dreamed of adoption! When my now husband and I met we discussed kids and he was fine with the plan for 4 kids. We did discuss possibly adopting a little girl from China after we had a few kids of our "own"! Boy, did God have other plans!

I am so thankful that God did have other, better plans, for our life! Our first son, Paul, was a private adoption, we weren't really even thinking about adoption. We were "taking a break" from the endless fertility treatments that kept failing. The doctors kept telling us they had no idea why we couldn't get pregnant. We now know why...God had better plans! Isn't it amazing how God works things out. We think he's just saying "no" and in actuality he's just saying "wait, I have it all under control if you will just WAIT!".

Paul, was a true miracle and we are eternally grateful to his birthparents! They made an incredibly selfless decision and chose what was best for the child, not what was easiest! We were able to be in the delivery room when Paul was born and were even the first to hold him! This was the plan God had for us!
Paul at 2 months old (we didn't have a digital camera before that!)
 And my "cool kid" now...at 10 years old...Wow how the time has flown!

A few years later we knew we wanted Paul to have a sibling. We thought we wanted a girl. Again, God had other plans! God gave us our second miracle, another son, through a wonderful agency in Kansas. We held Zachary in our arms for the first time when he was just 24 hours old! I don't want to go in to all the personal details (that's his story to tell if he chooses when he's older) but he is truly a miracle as well. We are also forever thankful to his birthparents for the decisions they made to place Zachary in our family!
A proud Pawpaw (read more about my Dad here and here)

Zach at just a few days old.  I have some better pics, but I can't seem to find them...
Zach just a couple of weeks ago at 6 1/2 years old...

Like I mentioned before we had already discussed adopting from China once we had children of our "own"....I use that term because that's the term we used then. Now I realize that Paul and Zach are our own children! The correct term is "biological children". Well, God liked the idea of a child from China....finally a plan that we agreed on from the beginning.

We started the process of adopting from China and at that time the wait was a couple of years long. The miracles in this story are way too numerous to tell, but God worked it all out! You can read more about this story at our old blog, Waiting For Molly!". Long story, short, within 10 months of completing our paperwork Molly was in our arms! She was 11 months old and incredibly healthy! We will never know who her birthparents are but we are forever in their debt for blessing us with this wonderful child.
Our first pics of Molly, she was about 4 months old in this picture

And here she is skiing like a "pro" at 4 1/2 years old

We can't believe how blessed we have been through ADOPTION! We can't believe that three sets of birthparents made such difficult decisions to find better lives for their children, and God chose us to be these three crazy kids' parents! We are continuously in awe of how God has pulled our family together! It is not what we had planned, but it was His plan all along! As for the 4 kids Steve and I had settled on, well, God seems to think three is enough, and I tend to agree!

"A" is for ADOPTION

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who Am I? And What Am I Doing Here? - a review

Everyone in the homeschooling world knows that Apologia publishes a wonderful Christ-centered Science curriculum. However, it is not as widely known that Apologia has recently published a set of 3 books with accompanying material to be used as a Bible curriculum. We were recently blessed to be able to review one of the books in this series. "Who Am I? And What am I Doing Here" is the second book in this series.

We were abundantly blessed to review not only the book but also the notebooking journal, the audio cd and the coloring book that make this a complete Bible curriculum for 6-14 year olds.

A little about each of the four items we received.

First is the actual hardback book. The book is only $39

This is a beautiful book with great stories as well as historical information, definitions, and fun facts. The lessons concentrate on self-image in a Biblical way. This is such a needed topic for that "tween" age group that we are rapidly entering in to with Paul. I can see that this curriculum is going to really benefit him as well as the two little ones when they get a bit older. Though the curriculum is written for ages 6-14 my Zach, at 6 is not ready for the concepts taught in the book. I would think he will be ready around age 8.

The book is broken in to 8 "lessons". I would call them "units" instead of lessons, since each "lesson" is designed to last about 3 weeks. The 8 lessons are:

What Are We Doing Here?
What Will You Make Today?
What's on Your Mind?
Can You Trust Your Feelings?
Will You Choose Wisely?
How Will You Run the Race?
What Kind of Fruit Are You Growing?
Who Do You Think You Are?

The lessons go so much further then just Bible stories that so many of the various Bible curricula give you. This curricula gets in to the meat of the Bible and makes your child think about their beliefs. With you, their parent, as their guide you can really get in to some great discussions about why you believe what you believe as a Christian. We have not gotten very far in to the curriculum ourselves but I can't wait to continue with Paul and share the wonderful stories with him. One of my favorite parts of the book is the "WorldView Focus". At the end of each lesson a different "religion" is looked at and compared to "Christianity". The book looks at Islam, Humanism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, New Age, and Communism. These sections are designed to help children understand why other people believe what they do. I feel this really helps a child better understand what they believe.

The second item we received that I believe is very important in making this a meatier curriculum and not just another book. That is the notebooking journal. You can purchase the journal for $24.

We have used, with some success, Apologia's notebooking journals for Science in the past. But they, in my opinion, are no where near as well-written and as important to the curriculum as they are for this particular curriculum. The journal is what brings out all the important and thought provoking ideas. There are mini-books, crosswords, comprehension questions, and so much more! It is the perfect companion to this curriculum. I would like to add that I don't think most kids would be ready for this portion of the curriculum until around age 9-10 (4th grade or so).

The notebooking journal is also where you will find the "lesson plans". Here it tells you which pages in the book and which notebooking pages should be used each day. I do like having this already done for me. However, there is a bit much, on some of the days, to complete in one sitting. Atleast it is too much for Paul. We have easily remedied that by quitting when I feel he is done. And picking back up where we left off. There's not much pre-planning that has to be done so it works well for us to "open and go" for as short or as long as needed on that particular day.

My absolute favorite item we received is the audio CD.

This is a MP3 CD so it can only be played in a computer or MP3 compatible CD player. It works great for us because we have computers throughout the house. I love being able to let Paul listen to this snuggled on the couch together. It is a bit more relaxing for me than reading it to him. And, with the rest of the read-alouds we do daily my voice really didn't need more to read. Every word of the book is on the CD.

To make the curriculum more doable for the younger kids, and to keep multiple siblings of varying ages in the same curriculum Apologia also has a coloring book to use as a companion to the book itself.

This really worked well for us. Each story in the book has atleast one coloring page to go with it. I allowed Zach and Molly to color while we listened to the story. They enjoyed being part of the learning experience. And though they don't fully understand all the deeper concepts being taught they do understand some of the simpler messages the stories bring and the coloring pictures often reinforced those concepts

Our General Thoughts

I am really impressed with this curriculum and find it very beneficial to my kids. Apologia has, once again, done a terrific job of bringing more difficult subject matter down to a level kids can fully understand. Yet, they have not "dumbed it down" like some curriculums tend to do. It is beautifully written, well organized, and very thought-provoking.

I only have two minor problems with the curriculum, and they really aren't problems, more just preferences. We are a KJV only family. Since the NIV translation is primarily used in Apologia's curricula we have to make adjustments. We simply keep a Bible with the curriculum (and since it's a Bible curriculum we would definitely do that anyway) and look up any verses it discusses. This not only gives the kids practice in looking up verses it also gives us an opportunity to discuss the differences between Bible translations and why we are a KJV only family. I just wanted to be sure and mention this for any of my readers who are also KJV only families.

The other issue has already been mentioned above and is also easily dealt with. The lessons do have to be shortened for my kiddos. It just adds a small step in keeping up with exactly where we are in the curriculum. But it is so worth it.

Even with the two minor issues mentioned, I love this curriculum. It has already opened up so many thoughts and ideas for Paul as well as given us the opportunity to discuss some of his questions. It goes so far beyond just teaching Bible stories.

Teaching our children what we believe as Christians is the most important part of my job as a homeschooling Mom. It is so nice to have a curriculum that helps open up those lines of communication. If I want my children to believe like we do then I have to start teaching them very young why we believe what we believe. I also think that it's important to teach them why others believe what they believe so they can see the differences and grow stronger in their own faith! Knowing what they believe and why as well as what others believe and why will hopefully, one day, help them in witnessing to others for Christ!

Be sure and check out what other TOS Crew Members have to say on the Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I recieved the above curriculum for free in exchange for this review. There was no other compensation given for the review. All opinions stated above are my own, honest opinions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aleks - A Review

If you have read much of my blog you already know that we have switched Math curricula atleast once/year for Paul. We just couldn't find exactly what fit for my teaching style and his learning style. What we finally figured out is that my teaching style and his learning style for Math were never going to match! The way my brain processes Math and the way he processes Math are just two totally different things. That is when we started looking at computer based Math curriculum. Aleks was on my list of programs to try. So, we were very thankful when we were given the opportunity to review ALEKS.

From their website:
Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. ALEKS courses are very complete in their topic coverage and ALEKS avoids multiple-choice questions. A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking.

When we first signed up and logged in to ALEKS Paul was very reluctant to give yet another new Math program a try. I told him to give it a week and then we could talk about it. The first thing that he had to do was an assessment. This took approximately 30 minutes and then we were taken to his "pie"

The pie shows the areas of math that need to be learned for that particular grade level (for Paul he is working on a 5th grade level for Math). It is broken down in to pie pieces and then when you click on each pie piece it shows what topics need to be mastered. You then choose the topic you want to work on and are taken to a question concerning that topic. If the student can answer the question and two more like it the topic is considered "mastered" and it is the added to his pie. If the student does not know how to complete the problem he can then click on "explain" and there will be a written explanation for them to read over. The student then has to answer three problems correctly to master that topic. Parents/Teachers can also create review worksheets that can be printed out or a quiz that can be taken online.

What We Like
-Paul really enjoyed being able to choose the topic he is learning about. He had to pick 3 each day and he varied from picking three under the same category to choosing three different categories. What I did notice is when he came to some difficult he would not go back to that piece of the pie for a few days.

- I like the assessment portion and it allowed me to see what "holes" he had in his Math instruction. Since we have switched curriculum a few times there are a few holes in his Math instruction.

-There are no textbooks to purchase and keep up with.

-Everything is completed online so he can do a lesson no matter where we are or what computer in the house is available

-I was emailed progress reports every two weeks.

What We Don't Like
-I do not like Paul choosing his topics. In my opinion Math needs to be taught in a certain order and although I know that's not necessarily the case I am still not comfortable with working on Geometry one day and Algebra the next.

-We had moved to me not having to be right there with him for Math and with Aleks although the explanations are there they are simple explanations with just one example and for new topics this just doesn't work for Paul. So, it was more teacher -intense than I want for him right now.

-There is not a lot of built in review. Each day you just choose a new topic. The teacher/parent can add in review sheets but it's not built into the program.

-It is not reusable year after year for multiple children thus the cost can definitely become a factor. It is currently $19.95/month with discounts for signing up for 6 months or a year as well as discounts for multiple family members.

So, overall this is not the program for us as a complete Math curriculum. We are, however, going to use it for a while longer to fill in those holes he has developed over the years.

I think it would be great for a summer enrichment program for homeschool or regular school kids. It can definitely be used to help a student catch up or fill-in gaps in their Math instruction. Perhaps if you are pulling your child home from public school you could use this program to see where your child is and what areas he/she may need help in.

Paul did end up really enjoying it and continued to use it after the 1week minimum I set for him. Sometimes I give him the choice to do his regular curriculum or 3 topics in Aleks and he will always choose Aleks. So, even though it is not my first pick he does enjoy it, and that says a lot!

Math curriculum is definitely not a "once size fits all" kind of thing so this may be the perfect answer to your Math dilemma. They are offering a two month free trial which is more than enough time to get a good "feel" for the program and see if it is the perfect fit for your child!

You can also take a quick video tour to see more benefits of the program.

ALEKS offers courses for grade 3 - 12

Disclosure: I received a free trial of this program for review purposes. No other compensation was given for this review. All opinions are my own, honest opinions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, February 9, 2012

January 2012

I can't seem to do weekly wrap-ups so I thought I might try monthly wrap-ups and see how that goes.

So, for January...we started back school with intentions of getting 3 full weeks in before vacation.

We worked on our new state study. We started with Connecticut. Zach and Molly loved doing the Lapbook I purchased through CurrClick. We also used a lot of the information found in "Confessions of A Homeschooler's" Road Trip USA Geography Unit.

Their favorite part was making Clam Chowder---it turned out so YUMMY!

Everyone liked it....even Paul...which is rare!

We continued our state study with Deleware and made crab cakes (they were yummy too, but no pictures...sorry.

Then, when we were about to get started on our final week of school before vacation. We had some surprise visitors! Our nephew and his wife came in to town for a few days. They stayed with us, so we were able to spend lots of time with them.

There was LOTS of wrestling going on for those few days! You can see Stephanie's arms making sure no one falls....she hasn't been around these crazy boys that long! Jake spent a lot of time at our house when he was a teenager...he's who made Paul the rough and tough kid that he is!

Jake is Paul and Zach's favorite person in the world

Molly likes Jake too..

But, she definitely prefers Stephanie (sorry Jake, girls gotta stick together)

We had a great visit with them and miss them so much!

The rest of January was spent on our ski trip, and that deserves a whole post of its own. We did spend a day in DC while we were up that way, so there was definitely some educating going on!

Now it's February and it should be a pretty regular month, or atleast I hope so. We don't have any vacations or major interruptions in school anticipated until summer. We have 12 weeks left in our curriculum so I'm hoping for a good run of school to get this year finished up? Twelve weeks doesn't sound too bad, I think we can handle that!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Math Rider - a review

Paul is still working on total mastery of multiplication and division. Zach is working on addition and subtraction facts. So, there is lots of practicing Math facts going on at our house.

Last year we were blessed with reviewing a phenomenal math facts game, Math Rider. Last year I wrote:

Practicing math facts has never been a very fun task around here. We have tried various methods and some have been more successful than others. Now that we have MathRider I don't have to worry about any math fact practice. This fun math game uses artificial intelligence to adapt to your child and help them to master all math operations for 0-12. Your child can go on a magical ride on their horse through the "Enchanted Mathlands" while solving math problems. MathRider comes as a downloadable product and is very reasonably priced at only $37. Considering I can use it for all of the kids to learn all of their math facts--addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, for one price I think that is quite a deal! And the added bonus is that they LOVE it!

You decide what set of facts the child will be working on (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) and they are given a "quest". There is a short story about something they have to go find in the "Enchanted MathLands". As the child moves through the MathLands their horse must "jump" an obstacle. In order to jump the obstacle the rider has to answer a math fact. As the child moves through the program the program customizes itself to the rider. If a rider misses a "jump" the fact is quoted very clearly for the rider to hear.

And the love of MathRider has not gone away with the review we were blessed with again this year. I really need to make this a priority in our budget soon so we can enjoy this wonderful program all the time. The actual ride is simple and the kids like that. It is just enough scenery to keep them I treated but not too much to be overwhelming. They love to see how many problems they can get correct in a row to earn bonus points. As well as seeing how quickly they can complete a ride for more bonus points.

I love the fact that I can log in and see the progress the kids have made. It's very easy to see what facts they need help on and which ones they have mastered.

I should note that there is a mystical element to the game with the student going on rides to find magical flowers and things of that nature. It is not overly "magical" and it doesn't bother me but I know it may not be appropriate for all of my readers out there. It is truly a very fun and effective game. Too many "educational games" include too much "game" and not enough "education". That is simply not true with MathRider! The primary goal is mastery of math facts, it just happens to be fun and engaging too!

Check out what other TOS Member have to say at the Homeschool Crew Blog

Disclosure: I was given a free trial of MathRider for review purposes. There was no other compensation given for this review. All opinions are my own.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Christmas 2011

I have been really bad about updating with just regular posts instead of all reviews. I am going to try and catch up. So here are a few pics of Christmas

We realized when making Christmas cards we had no pics of the entire family from the entire year. So, we made sure to get atleast one:

And the traditional one of the kids on Christmas Eve

Some awesome surprises for the kids on Christmas morning

And the biggest surprise....

Great times with family

And fun with cousins on our new trampoline.

Favorite gifts are so simple for Zach.

As always we were all so blessed and spoiled! We try to remember, and teach the kids that Jesus is what it is all about. They do seem to truly understand that. It was nice that Christmas was on Sunday this year, it helped to remind the kids about the true meaning of Christmas.

If you ask the kids they will all tell your their favorite part of Christmas was the special dinner Mommy made...steaks, salad, baked potatoes and more, all by candlelight! They thought it was the best thing ever!

We are incredibly blessed!

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