Thursday, October 27, 2011

Say Anything Family Edition: A Review

Another board game from North Star Games has come our way!  Last week, we enjoyed and reviewed the family edition of Wits & Wagers.  This week, we played Say Anything Family Edition.  This game is similar in appearance and style of play, but instead of focusing on numbers and statistics, it's all about creative answers to some amusing questions. 

Each person gets a dry erase marker , a board and two "betting chips" (again, featuring those loveable Meeple creatures).  An open-ended question is read and everyone but that round's judge writes an original answer.  For instance, the question might be, "What Would Be the Most Difficult Thing To Sell Door-To-Door?" or "What Would Be the Grossest Thing to Kiss?" and the players answer it any way they choose.  Once all players have put their dry erase boards on the table for judging, the players who have just written the answers can place a wagering chip on who they think the judge will choose as the "favorite" answer.  You don't have to bet on your own answer.  If you have the answer that is chosen, you score a point.  You also score points for having your chips on the chosen board, even if your answer wasn't selected. 

By the way, the winning answers to the above questions in the game we played this afternoon were, "Jalepeno Cupcakes" and "Justin Beiber's Big Toe".

This was a pretty fun game and could be even more fun with teams or with a full group of players (up to 6 players or 6 teams can play).  Since my husband was busy with work this week, I ended up playing it several times with just my two boys (ages 10 and 11).  It was tough because only 2 people are actually playing at once while one of them is the judge.  When I was the judge, I felt horrible picking one boy's answer over the other.  Since persuading the judge as to why your answer should be chosen is perfectly legit, they spent oodles of time trying to charm me into picking them.  For instance, the question was "If you could be any animal, what would you be."  Knowing that my favorite animal is a cardinal, they both scribbled down cardinal as fast as possible (imagine smoke coming off of the dry erase markers!), but Solomon was quicker at slapping it down on the table.  Then Denver, knowing that he had to complete against the Almighty Cardinal, wrote "hummingbird" and told me, "Remember that time when we were in the woods and you saw a hummingbird and you got a tear in your eye because you thought it was so rare and beautiful?  Well, I just wanted you to remember that, so I wrote "hummingbird"."  Then, when I chose Denver's hummingbird answer, there was hell to pay with Solomon as the judge for the next round.  He snubbed me. 

I would compare this game a tiny bit to Apples to Apples, in the sense that the winner of a round is chosen by someone's opinion and not necessarily by a measurable truth.  I like trivia games or chess or something that has measurable results.  Say Anything makes you basically tell certain players that their answers didn't make the cut.  My boys are pretty tough, but I think they were a little hurt when their answers weren't deemed good enough to be chosen, especially since they were always so creative.
There are a lot of questions and they really are pretty thought-provoking.  I think this would make a great party game for Couples Game Night.   The box says that it is for ages 8+.  3-6 players or teams can play and game time takes 30 minutes.  Click North Star Games' website here to find a retailer near you.  My local Target store sells it for $19.99. 

**Disclaimer:  I was provided Say Anything Family Edition in exchange for a honest review, which I've provided here.

Click here to read reviews from my fellow Homeschool Crewmembers about Say Anything Family Edition!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Excellence in Literature: A Review

For the past several weeks, I've had a chance to review a wonderful product,  Excellence in Literature:  Introduction to Literature.  It comes to us from Janice Campbell at Everyday Education, the parent company that has brought the world such treasures as the Institute of Excellence in Writing, Phonetic Zoo and much more.  EIL:  Intro to Literature is the first stepping stone along a path of literature courses designed for the upper middle school/high school set.  The courses are designed for the college prep student.

Introduction to Literature is a 9-week course.  The first unit eases into literature with a collection of short stories written by various authors (deMaupassant, O. Henry, Poe, Welty and J. Thurber).  Units 2-9 focus on classic novels. The novels that are used in this course are:

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Each Unit is meant to be self-paced.  Most "traditional" school years (ours included) have roughly 36 weeks.  That means, we could spend about one month on each selection.  But it is certainly flexible enough to fit your homeschool schedule's unique needs.  For each unit, there is a "focus text" (the books listed above).  For honors students, and to receive honors grades (.5 weighed grade points), the student will need to do read the additional text and produce the assignments listed.  For instance, in Unit 7, the honors student will need to read 1984 in addition to Animal Farm by the same author.

Excellence in Literature has been written TO the student.  Right off the bat, it prepares the student for college-level workloads and college-level responsibility by making them own their work.  Oh how I wish I would have had this kind of instruction in school (or maybe I did, but I was too concerned with boys--LOL).  I actually went on to major in Literature in college and love it wholeheartedly to this day.  But in hindsight, I now realize it is not merely enough to be assigned a novel by a teacher, procrastinate, read the Cliff Notes and watch the movie the night before an assignment and slide by with a "C".  Mrs. Campbell explains to the student that reading a book isn't just about deciphering the words, but to completely understand the context, the author's purpose and its place in the world of art, music and history surrounding the circumstances of the work as well as how it fits in with the other literary movements that have gone before it.  Why was Renaissance literature different than the Medieval works such as The Canterbury Tales?  What effect did the Industrial Revolution have on literature?  You'll find out!  That is why she faithfully provides resource links to learn more about these things for each unit.

For Jane Eyre, we learn how "gothic" literature blended with a novel of society and manners to produce a new kind of heroine, one whose qualities were not wrapped up in her "beauty or charm, but intelligence and integrity".  The guide gives the student things to look for in the book, things to think about and biographical information.  When available, there are links to download the book for free (thank you!), sources to order various film versions of the novel, painted depictions of the novel, music of the Victorian period, etc.  It really creates a rich learning experience for the reader.  The use of Cliffs Notes and Sparknotes are even encouraged (to supplement, not substitute).  I know I often like to read literary commentary on a book I've read.  If it helps me, an adult, have deeper understanding of a novel, why wouldn't I want my child, the student to have this same advantage?

Click here for a printable 5-year reading list that will take you through all 5 courses!  Get a feel for what reading adventures are in store for your child!

Each unit has four weeks' worth of assignments, with the fourth week culminating into a well-written, well-edited original essay.  Sources are provided to help the student gain a solid background in writing essays (Adam Andrew's excellent Teaching the Classics DVD course).  The assignments are paced in such a way that time-management skills are learned. The reading and pre-writing are accomplished in manageable chunks of work, the student feels successful and therefore feels motivated to go on to read the next story.

The Writing Mentor (the parent or tutor) has a role as well.  And that is to provide the necessary tools to help the student be successful.  Among them are:  a chair, a reading light, reference materials including an OED dictionary and thesaurus, a writer's handbook, Post-Its, a computer and a notebook.  Give your student these things, along with Excellence in Literature and you've got yourself a recipe for a successful year in literature and writing.

If you decide to go on, the subsequent courses are Literature and Composition (English II), American Literature (English III), British Literature (English IV), and World Literature (English V).  By the way, the American and British Literature courses are co-written by the incomparable Andrew Pudewa.  That fact alone should attests to the quality of these courses.  Everything Andrew is a part of, I love.

Highly, highly recommended by this Mom, Excellence In Literature:  Introduction to Literature sells here at Everyday Education for $29 as a printed book and $27 as an e-book. 

See what my friends at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine had to say about this product here.

Disclaimer:  I was provided the e-book version to review in exchange for my honest opinion, which I've provided here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review of "Wits & Wagers Family Edition" board game

The Smith family loves board games!  Or maybe a truer statement would be The Smith Family has a mom that loves board games and makes every else feel guilty if they don't play with her and therefore have, by default, learned to really like board games. 

We played "Wits & Wagers Family", a board game by North Star Games, this week and really had a good time with it!  It is different from the original Wits & Wagers party game in that it uses a different style of wagering that less resembles real gambling.  In the Family edition, you wager your bets with Meeples, colorful little wooden game pieces that look like puffy marshmallow men.  Everyone plays with a large Meeple and two small Meeples, a corresponding colored dry erase card and a dry erase marker.  Meeples are commonly used as game pieces in Europe.  This is their North American debut!

A typical round goes like this:  Someone asks a question that can be answered with a number.  For instance, "How many pyramids have been discovered in Egypt?" or "How many pages are in the hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone?".  Then, everyone uses their wits and secretly writes down their guess on their board.  When everyone is done, the boards are organized from smallest to greatest according to the number written down.  Now, everyone starts feeling either pretty confident or pretty insecure about their guess.  This is where strategy comes into play.  If you know you have no clue about a certain category of questions, you are probably going to wager on someone else's guess rather than your own.  I felt pretty confident about "How many feet are in a mile?", but when it came to a question about "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody", I wagered on my son's board.  If you are pretty confident about your guess, but think that someone else's might be close as well, you can split your three Meeples and wager them accordingly.  After the answer is revealed, the person who guessed closest without going over (think Price is Right), has the winning guess, even if it is not right on the money.  You get points for having the winning guess, but also points for wagering correctly. You could actually do pretty well without ever getting the answer correct.

If you have the original edition, the cards will work with this edition to extend the life of your game.  But there are plenty of questions to keep you busy in this edition.  The game is for 8 years and up, for 3-10 players and the game takes only 20 minutes to finish. 

We really liked this game alot.  Our family personally doesn't have any issues with the original version.  Since my father in law plays on the Senior Poker circuit, my kids have been playing cards and playing with chips along with him since they were very young.  So they don't really think of it as "gambling", but rather a mathematical probability game.  I have yet to see them sitting around the table smoking cigars.  LOL.

More information about Wits & Wagers Family and other games by North Star can be found here.  The site will direct you to a retailer near you.  In my area, it is sold at Target for 19.99. 

**Disclaimer:  North Star provided my family with one Wits & Wagers Family edition in exchange for an honest review, which I've provided here. 

See what the rest of the folks at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew had to say about this exciting game!  Click here!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Archers at the Ready!

4-H has been a blessing and a curse this year.  A blessing because of the wide variety of projects.
Archery, riflery, public speaking, wood carving, Power Point, forestry, photography, horse, homesteading, sewing, you name it!  And dues are only $5 per year, which is unbelievable.  A curse because "wanting to do it all" is part of our family's nature.  In fact, it might be the Smith Family motto.  We Do It All!  And wanting it all leads to eventual burnout.  We're not there yet, but I can feel it coming!  So, we had to whittle it down to just a few for sanity's sake.  Archery has remained because it is so darn fun.  Public Speaking is required by me, The Mom.  Forestry is doable because it doesn't begin until January, when other things are finished.  And Wood Carving is short, so we can make that happen.  Everything else will have to wait until next year.  Our 4-H group, Homegrown, is one of the largest in the state.  Made up of homeschool kids from all over the county, we have a fantastic time.  The moms get to visit and the kids are building lasting friendships doing some good 'ol fashioned wholesome activities.  This is our first year being involved and our leader, Stacey Hosegood, is knowledgeable, fun, so sweet, and has the patience of Job.  She is so appreciated. 

Here we are today at the Polk County 4-H Archery Fun Shoot.  The kids got a chance to shoot the tic tac toe round, the money round (aiming at blown up pictures of various bills and coins and trying to get the highest dollar amount), the balloon-popping round and then a general points round.  It was a perfect fall day, honing the archery skills and hanging out with some great 4-Hers!  Love ya, Homegrown!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Educating the WholeHearted Child

I always have my head buried in a book.  This month, our book club is reading "The Help", which I finished in two days flat.  This gave me a chance to pick up "Educating the WholeHearted Child" by Clay & Sally Clarkson, published by Apologia.  Already a huge fan of Apologia's science books for Young Explorers, I knew ahead of time that this would be something of quality.

This 372 page reference book on homeschooling children with a Godly focus is something you will want to refer to over and over again through your family's home education journey.  It has so much information and resources tucked in the pages, you will surely miss a few treasures the first time around.  The book is divided into four main parts:  Home, Learning, Methods and Living. 

The "Home" section sets forth biblical examples of what a Christian home and homeschool look like, what it means to disciple and shape your children for a Godly life, and how to transfer your faith into a blueprint for a faith-based classroom.  It gives proof that Yes, you are not only an adequate teacher for your child, but the best possible teacher for your child because you are their parent.

The "Learning" portion of the book not only breaks down the various homeschooling methods in a nutshell, but provides recommendations for curriculum, publishers, quality "whole books", advice on setting up a home classroom and discovery centers, and much more.  I personally liked this section the best.  Possibly because I am a list-maker.  I was underlining, highlighting and dog-earing like crazy in the "Learning" section.  It had so much practical advice.  My favorite quote of this section is "Don't be fooled--labeling twaddle as "educational" or even as "Christian" will not make it any less twaddly."  Twaddly:  now there's a word I can't wait to use on my friends!  I found myself nodding and "amen"-ing throughout this section.  Nothing steams me more than mass-produced junk-food literature for our children.  Give me classics all day long, but please don't give me a series of books based on the latest garbage on Cartoon Network.  It drives me crazy to see the Twaddle Fest at school book fairs.   This area of the book also delves deep into learning styles.

Would you like to see the table of contents?  Click here.

"Methods" asks the questions "What to teach?  And how do I teach it?"  It covers everything under the sun that you would want to include in your lesson plan book and practical ideas on how to put plans into action.  For instance,  the authors give tips on teaching scripture memorization and then give us simple verses that even young children could tackle.  If you are looking to plan some field trips, there are a long list of recommendations.  If you are interested in incorporating nature study, this book will give you some direction.  That's really what I love about this book.  There is no wasted space.  Nearly every page's margins are packed to the gills with extra resources, bible references to the section or recommended booklists. This section praises the arts of poetry recitation, narration and read alouds.

"Living"  explores the roles of each family member and also helps the reader with home management, time management and other topics for running a smooth household.  

Would you like to see a sample chapter?  Click here.

I would highly, HIGHLY recommend this as a must-have for every homeschool family.  It is something that you will want to read over and over as you move into new seasons of homeschooling.  The theme throughout the pages stays true.  How can I remain focused on my child's heart issues and how can we work together to glorify God?  A wonderful reference from a trusted source.  And priced at $22.00 here,  Apologia Press has provided us with a gem.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of "Educating the WholeHearted Child" in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

See what the rest of my Crewmates had to say here


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

E-Mealz: A Review for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

Over the last year or so, I have been hearing buzz about "E-Mealz".  I have been curious to see what it's all about.  Could it save me, an avid couponer, even more money?  Could it get me out of my meal-planning rut that I've been stuck in for what seems like forever?  With a photo and endorsement from Dave Ramsey, (a trusted name in money management and debt relief) on their homepage, I was really interested to find out more.

First of all, what is E-Mealz?  It is a weekly meal plan service, providing you unique meals, 7 days a week, that correspond with the supermarket of your choice, based on the number of people in your family.  E-Mealz also caters to special diets, such as "portion-control", "gluten-free", "vegetarian", "low-fat" and "low-carb".  They really have thought of everything!  Because I live in the south and because I despise Wal-Mart with every fiber of my being, I chose the Family Plan for Publix Supermarkets.  If you like Aldi, Kroger, Ralph's or any other grocery store, they've got a plan for that too.  The reason some plans are store-specific is that E-Mealz goes the extra mile to plan meals around store sales.  So, if pineapples are buy one get one free at Publix this week, you might find yourself making Hawaiian Chicken on Monday and making tropical yogurt parfaits on Thursday as a side dish.

Each week, you just log in to E-Mealz, and click "This Week's Plan" or "Last Week's Plan".  Their new plans come out on whatever day corresponds with that store's new ad.  So for me, my new Publix plan was available to me on Wednesdays.

To view a full sample of a meal plan and a shopping list, click here.

The two ladies behind the company feel very strongly about getting families back to the dinner table together, strengthening relationships, and being good stewards with the money we have.  E-Mealz ensures that you will be able to cook affordable, delicious and healthy meals for your family, while shopping what's on sale and what's in season.  But don't expect to serve Lobster Thermidor.  We're saving money here, people. The meals have a lot of variety.  During the time that I reviewed this product (almost a month), I never made the same meal twice.  They ensure that you will spend $65-$85 a week on dinner meals for the entire family.  For the dinner-for-two option, expect to pay about half that. You will have to supplement this with breakfast and lunch items, but often, we had enough leftover portions from dinner that could be eaten the next day at lunch. 

Now, for those of you out there like me who use coupons, you can further increase your savings and add your coupons on top of the sale/BOGO items (which is what we couponers do anyway).  E-Mealz is just going the extra mile and telling you WHAT to make with all of those items you get for cheap or free.

What I really loved about the plans is that each meal plan comes with a corresponding shopping list.  Each thing on your list is numbered as to which meal it goes with.  So, if you're always on the go at dinnertime and know you'll be travelling on Tuesday, or running around with soccer practice on Thursday and needing to grab Chik-Fil-A drive through that night, no problem!  Just nix a few of your least-favorite meal options off that week's list and nix all the ingredients that are labeled for those nights.  For example, if you won't be eating at home two out of seven nights, cross off meal #2 and #6 if they don't appeal to you and cross off any ingredient on the shopping list with a "2" or "6" by it.  Or, by the same token, if your kids hate ziti (which happened to be one of our challenges one week), I just thought, fine!  I'll cross if the ziti, save myself some money and we'll have breakfast for dinner that night.  Problem solved.  It's a very flexible program.

The shopping list is also categorized by store sections to make for easy shopping.  It lists staples that you will need at the bottom of the list, so you don't have to buy "soy sauce" everytime you need two tablespoons of it.  Just check your pantry for these items.

I found the shopping and cooking process went very smooth with E-Mealz.  The meals were very simple (the recipes were easy enough to fit into a few sentences on the meal plan sheet).  They included a crock-pot meal with every week's plan, which I love.  Many sale ingredients were used twice in the week, but cleverly disguised.  I got absolutely no complaints from my family with E-Mealz. 

No complaints from this guy.

And what could be better than a great product or service at a great price?  E-Mealz bills you $15 every THREE months.  That's $1.25 a week for ALOT of bells and whistles. 

So, all in all, I would say that E-Mealz is a great planning tool for today's busy families.  I know that I was getting quite "sick of myself", planning the same old-same old every week.  This took the drudgery of the grocery store off my hands and into the hands of two very capable ladies at E-Mealz.  Thank you, girls!  The best of luck with your amazing business!  I'll be sure to spread the word......

Check out what the rest of the folks at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine had to say about this product here.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided a three-month subscription to E-Mealz to use with my family in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine--10 Back Issues for $19.95!

TOS Magazine is going digital in January!  They are clearing out their warehouse of back issues.  Here's your chance to stock up on some wonderful resources for homeschooling, home organization, recipes, inspirational articles, unit study info and curriculum choices!  This is the kind of magazine that you NEVER want to throw away.  Click this link and see what's in store for you!  10 issues for $19.95 or 3 issues for $9.95.  And you choose your issues!

Here's a taste of what's featured in some of the back issues.....

  • Summer 2006 Welcome, summer! The perfect time to lounge under a shade tree with a glass of cold lemonade and the latest issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine! Special needs learners, homeschool entrepreneurs, conversations with Rebecca St. James and BarlowGirl, and fun studies about trains.
  • Fall 2006 Issue High school and higher education are in the spotlight for this issue. Also included are a holiday section featuring creative ideas and fun projects, an Amanda Bennett unit study about the history of medicine in the U.S., and all the regular features you have come to rely on for inspiration.
  • Winter 2006/2007 Issue Our Classical and Support Groups Issue—Read articles by Martin Cothran, Gene Edward Veith, Andrew Kern, Sally Clarkson, and Maggie Hogan. And after reading about “The Demise of Faith, Morality and Education in Public Schools,” you’ll be ready to defend your choice of homeschooling! Included in this issue is a wonderful Revolutionary War unit study.
  • Fall 2007 Issue High school planning and college options are just two of the topics covered in this issue. You will find a unit study on firefighting, law enforcement, and paramedics, the best approach for teaching basic math, the myth of socialization, forensic science,and holiday stories and recipes between the covers of this issue.
  • Winter 2007/2008 Issue In this issue, learn how to balance home and work and how to organize your homeschool. Explore the Iditarod and Civil War with unit studies, study South Africa, perform some ultra-cool science experiments, and find free homeschool resources. All this and more helpful tips and encouragement can be found in this issue.
  • Spring 2008 Issue A tribute to fathers, mothers, and heroes, a unit on nuclear energy, biodiesel fuel, educational freedom under fire, and the 2008 Excellence in Education Awards are a few of the topics contained within this issue.
  • Summer 2008 Issue Articles include information on homeschooling special needs children, adoption, creation and intelligent design, a study on the topic of flight, helping your child learn to love reading, and an interview with Dr. Mary Hood.
  • Fall 2008 Issue The “me time” myth explored, the importance of a homeschool father, home schooling the high schooler and preparing for college, Ruth Beechick discusses the Plunder Law, the home farm, marketing tips, a maple syrup unit study, nature journaling, TOS Christmas memories, and so much more.
  • Winter 2008/2009 Issue This issue’s highlights include the classical approach to education, teaching grammar and math, homeschool convention information, another fabulous freebie directory, and an introduction to our money-saving friend, Molly Green!
  • Spring 2009 Do you ever need a little help getting organized? Homeschooling families face an extra organization challenge. Where do we store the books, hands-on materials, and miscellaneous supplies? Our spring issue is packed with ideas. There are even tips for organizing your high school student!
  • Summer 2009 Enjoy encouragement from seven different experienced homeschoolers in a single article, and find even more throughout the pages of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. Words from Zan Tyler of Apologia, The Familyman—Todd Wilson, Jane Claire Lambert of Five in A Row, renowned Ruth Beechick, Whole Heart Ministries’ own Sally Clarkson, and more. Be reminded on every page that you are not alone!
  • Fall 2009 Issue As you reach for new school supplies and curriculum in anticipation of beginning a new school year, reach for homeschooling inspiration found in the Fall 2009 Issue! Fill your back-to-school time with the best of back-to-HOMESCHOOL information. And you'll love the Biblical encouragement that will help keep you going strong in your commitment to your family and the Lord.
  • Winter 2009/2010 Issue Find several articles about homeschooling the preschooler, as well as a few on homeschool support groups, writing, and even a transparent look at other families in the midst of the journey we call homeschooling. This issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine will excite you as it provides encouragement for the everyday activities in your life as a homeschooling family. And 2009 could not come to a close without "A Tribute to Christopher J. Klicka".
  • Summer 2010 Issue Read about autism and auditory processing disorder, blocks (as in writer’s block) and backyard games, Charlotte Mason and commandments—all your ABCs tucked into one issue! Educate yourself on special needs, put your backyard to better use with games and a field guide to your wildlife, better understand the Charlotte Mason method, and gather information for teaching character to your children throughout our articles with biblical encouragement.
  • Fall 2010 Buried in schoolbooks? Juggling home and school? Already bogged down prodding, pushing, and spurring your children to learn? Depend on The Old Schoolhouse® to help you make the new school year enjoyable for everyone. Count on the best advice for homeschooling your high school student. Examine the methods of successful homeschool entrepreneurs. Remind yourself why you homeschool with Karen Kunkel's top ten reasons for homeschooling. Find your way and allow Maggie Hogan to tell you why and how to teach geography. Explore the world of literature. Stretch your finances with biblical financial advice.
  • Winter 2010/2011 Issue Are you feeling down and out? Read articles covering classical education, foreign languages, preschool, handwriting, and more. Don't miss our special section focusing on education and technology. Dig yourself out of the doldrums, clean and organize with Molly, and reenergize your home and homeschool.
  • Summer 2011 Issue Discover ways to revitalize your homeschool with the Charlotte Mason educational style. From right-brain dominance and dyslexia to developmental delays and autism, you'll gain hope and guidance. Learn nearly everything you ever wanted to know about horses . . . plus how to reduce the costs of owning a horse.
  • Fall 2011 Issue Whether you're struggling to homeschool teens; walking through affliction; juggling your roles as wife, mother, and teacher; or dealing with the challenges of homemaking; the articles in the Fall 2011 issue will give you hope. You'll even find a unit study that will help your kids make gratitude a habit.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Product Review of "Visual Latin"

I'll just cut to the chase.  I love this product!  I have been on the fence for almost two years, deliberating over which Latin program to buy for my sons.  I'm glad I waited, because Visual Latin came along this year for me to review for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.  As a mom, I have always wanted my children to learn Latin for many reasons.  One, it makes learning other languages exponentially easier.  Two, knowing Latin can help decipher unknown words on SATs--much of the English language is derived from this ancient Roman language.  And three, (I'll just come out and say it), reporting to your in-laws that your children are studying their Latin verbs just sounds like you are doing a bang-up job at homeschooling.

But, if you are looking for a stuffy old Latin program with lots of conjugation drills and pious sounding narrators on tape, find something else.  Because with Visual Latin, you get quite the opposite.  Dwane  Thomas is your child's personal Latin tutor.  He introduces the first four lessons, explaining why you should learn Latin and how to really go about learning a foreign language.  Do not skip these intro lessons.  They will help develop your child's friendship with their Latin teacher.  Dwane is like an "Everyman" character.  He talks to students in a casual, conversational style and never once acts as if he's reading cue-cards.  He'll even flub here and there and just say, "Wait, scratch that, guys.  I messed up."  As a homeschool mom, who has "messed up" numerous times while teaching a lesson, I appreciate this.  It makes me look normal.  LOL.

From the first lesson, your child will learn that exact pronunciation is not the key here.  It's understanding.  Understanding enough to READ Latin.  There are several types of pronunciation and the truth is, as Dwane will tell you, the Romans didn't leave us any audio-recordings (ha ha).  So, as long as you can learn the language well enough to read it, that's the goal.  Lesson One introduces the verb "to be" and the student will complete the lesson knowing how to use the verb as well as many vocabulary words.  I like how each time a new vocabulary word is introduced, Dwane shares information such as "silva means's where we get the word Pennsylvania".  My kids like trivia like that.

One of the mottos of Visual Latin is that "it is better to make kids laugh than make them yawn".  This is a huge selling point here.  With humor as a key ingredient in the instruction, you never want to fast forward or skip any parts of the instruction.  A curriculum in no good if your child is staring at the wall while the lesson plays on the computer.  If it never catches their attention, it will never be absorbed into their little brains.  And Dwane's offbeat sense of humor is goofy enough to keep them paying attention (no offense Dwane, we totally get you).

After each segment of a lesson plays, the words will come on the screen.  "Now complete worksheet 2B" (or whatever lesson corresponds to what they just learned).  The entire program is very straight-forward and easy to use.  With each lesson, there is a A, B and C segment.  "A" is Grammar, "B" is Sentences and "C" is Reading and Translation.  In the video portion and the written portion, Dwane adds a little more challenge, but still goes at a pace that a beginner can follow.  It really does incorporate seeing, listening, saying and writing.  Wonderful for all learning types.

You can buy Latin I (Lessons 1-30) on DVD for $80.00 here.  You can also purchase the downloads in segments of 10 lessons for $30 each.  These can be used on your computer or any portable device such as an iPod.  Pretty cool.  You can download the first 4 lessons for free on the website as well.  I really recommend viewing these free lessons and seeing for yourself how fun Latin can be with Visual Latin!

**Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of the first 10 lessons from Visual Latin in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided here.  Please also check out the opinions of some of my Homeschool Crew-mates here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And Just To Make You Feel Better About Your Day.....

When you are a Polish Crested chicken, you can't see diddly-squat because of your "hair feathers"--on a good day.  But THIS is what happens when it has been raining in Florida for 2 days straight and you just can't stand it in the henhouse any longer.  It's the price to pay for being beautiful and fancy.

So, if you're having a rough day, thank the Lord above that you are not my girl, Pierogi. I'm hoping her bonnet fluffs up by tomorrow.

Friday, October 7, 2011

TOS Product Review: Scruble Cube!

Give me a word game, and you have given me the world.  I carry crossword puzzles in my purse at all times.  My mom and sister and I go on roadtrips with our collector's edition of Scrabble.  So when I was given the chance to review Scruble Cube, I knew we were a match made in heaven.

Scruble Cube has been described by many as Rubik's Cube and Scrabble rolled into one twisting-turning game of letter mania.  Each 4x4 side has letters with point values.  The object is to make a word by lining up letters and recording your points.  You get even more points if you tag a 2, 3 or 4x letter score OR a 2 or 3x word score to the beginning or end of your word.  Then the play passes to the next player and they try to do the same. 

The unique element about Scruble Cube is that your word can start on one side of the cube and "spill over" or "stretch" to another side.  Your words have no boundaries and no limits to length!  Wild cards are also spread throughout the cube and can be used as any letter.  The game gets interesting if you can manage to attach your new word, crossword-puzzle style, to your opponent's previous word.  Guess what?  You get points for both!  Be warned:  I know some people who really get cut-throat about their word games.

Scruble Cube comes with a score pad, instructions, and a 1.5 minute sand timer.  The edgy packaging has the Scruble Cube suspended in mid-air in the box--very appealing to receive as a gift. You'll want to take a minute in the beginning to get a feel for the way the rows and colums twist around.  If you are a "word puzzle" geek, you'll have an advantage over your friends, as 3 letter words come in handy, as do words with obscure letters like "X".  You may want to keep a pocket dictionary in your Scruble Cube box in case your opponents challenge your creations.

I think this product would be a great addition to a long car trip.  It can be passed around easily in the mini-van.  I would even sit it on the dinner table and play it during dinner!  Whatever gets the family interacting and working as a team.  That's what good games do, afterall.  And don't see this as a child's game.  I can totally imagine this on an executive's desk or in the hands of anyone who likes to "hold" something while they watch TV at night.

The award-winning Scruble Cube sells for $24.95 here , a fair price and the going rate for most games today.  You have the option of purchasing inexpensive replacement labels in case your game gets a lot of love over the years.  And I predict it will! 

See what the folks at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew had to say about Scruble Cube here

Happy twisting, Word Nerds!

*Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free product in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

The Power of The Pudewa

I'm still scratching my head.  I have one child that is sort of the model student.  Likes to please, picks up concepts pretty easily and so forth.  But the other child who has horrendous handwriting, who doesn't like writing, whose spelling is atrocious, looks like this after a writing workshop with Andrew Pudewa:

We had a rare opportunity to attend an Advanced Student Writing Intensive seminar.  The theme was "Writing Stories".  For two and a half hours (that flew by), approximately 40 kids sat mesmerized by jokes, antectdotes and amazing instruction by Mr. Pudewa.  And for the last 24 hours, they have been producing interesting stories on their own, double-spaced, just like Andrew likes it.  Every room in the house is riddled with short stories like "The Girl and the Monster", "The Banana People", and "The Almost-True Tale of Robert the Bruce". 

I call it the Power of The Pudewa.  Sure, IEW (The Institute for Excellence in Writing) has a pretty amazing product.  The techniques they employ for teaching sound technical writing skills are phenomenal.  But Andrew Pudewa is The Face of IEW and it is greatly due to him that my son Denver has embraced writing. 

Mr. Pudewa understands boys and how boys learn.  In fact, he has a lecture called "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day", which you can download here.  He understands what my husband and I have known from the get-go.  Boys are not wired to sit still all day.  Boys are not wired to work in workbooks, color quietly or write long stories about unicorns and sandcastles.  Boys are wild creatures.  They crave action, adventure and yes, a little violence.  Okay a lot of violence.  If the story has flesh scattering and blood flowing, the book will be consumed with happiness by a boy. 

So, the first thing that Mr. Pudewa and IEW tell students that puts reluctant writers at ease is this:  "Don't worry that you don't know what to write about.  I'm going to tell you exactly what to write about.  And then I'm going to give you a checklist that will tell you exactly when you're done."  Because that's what alot of kids want to know.  "When am I "done"?"

Using a variety of source texts, such as paragraphs about jellyfish, inventions, and other high-interest non-fiction subjects, as well as fables and fairy tales, children learn how to outline the paragraph using keywords (no more than 3 per sentence).  Then they are able to re-tell the information in speech format, then write about it, dressing it up with colorful adjectives, strong verbs, -ly words and clauses.  The result is an original piece of work and a grammar lesson all in one!

I don't claim to be an expert on IEW yet.  I've watched the teacher DVDs for Teaching Structure and Style.  I am learning this with my kids.  I own, but haven't used, several of the products available for the middle/high school students.  I'm looking forward to employing this method for the duration of their homeschooling years.  I am confident this will give them an edge in college when it comes to annotating, employing the Socratic method, and communicating affectively with any audience.  Hand-written essays are still required for many scholarships.  A cover letter is still important in the marketplace.  The written word is here to stay!  And I don't think there is a better program out there for teaching students how to do it well. 

Solomon, IEW's Andrew Pudewa, and Denver

Warning:  The fun level of these workshops is intense.  It will take alot out of you and leave you looking like this: