Saturday, September 22, 2012

Architecture Alphabet, Outing #1

We decided to do a little architecture study of our hometown and while we were at it, snap some A-Z photos.  Some letters, like O, are easy.  Others, like B, R and Q, not so much.  We are splitting this project into several outings because it's still so hot outside, even though it's "fall" (in Florida, the air quotes are necessary).  So, here's what we captured today, mostly at Florida Southern College, some in downtown Lakeland.  We can't decide what we like best for "X", so for now we have two of those.  And couldn't resist the exclamation point in the hedges!  I know what you're could you not have the iconic Lakeland swan in any of your photos?!  Don't worry, that's a trip for next week.  She will become an S, a Z or a question mark, depending upon her posture that day. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

So, Anyway....Back to Me

As many of you know, I have been reviewing educational products and services for the Old Schoolhouse Magazine for the last year and a half.  This month, I made the decision to amicably resign from this position.  I found myself drowning a bit in obligation, as much as I loved most of the products. 

I'm finally getting back to what I love most--teaching my kids, tending to my husband and home, quilting, baking and planning field trips like crazy. Not to mention keeping 5 hens happy, facilitating a book club for 12 ladies, and shuffling children to things like archery, riflery practice and other things that scare the crap out of me.

So, more everyday posts about chickens, quilts, the Louisiana purchase, ukeleles, classic films and baking disasters.  It's good to be back!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Math 911: Review

The Introductory Algebra course may be downloaded for free at Math 911.  Topics are categorized  by chapter, section and levels. Within each level, you will find problems that identify the concepts that your students must be familiar with in order to be successful in algebra including word problems and graphs.

I noticed  that the program was pretty "no frills"  in appearance. It is a far cry from other math programs that we use that are more "fun" to look at and to operate.  Because there isn't really any teaching or lessons to speak of, it would be difficult for us to use this as a full program. If a student got a problem wrong, the only way to figure out why they got it wrong would be to study the solution.  The website does have free downloadable PDFs for algebra that teach the concepts, but these teaching helps are not provided for the upper level courses.

However, some students may not need the slick appearance if they are self-motivated and the content itself is quite good.
The content of the program is as follows:
 Step By Step Introductory & Intermediate Algebra Tutorials:
Intro Algebra
Intermediate Algebra
College Algebra

There are also free PDF lessons consisting of:
Intro To Whole Numbers
Addition & Subtraction
Multiplication Factors
Division of Wholes
Intro To The Integers
Multiply Divide Integers
Combine Like Terms

Math 911 Premier Version can be purchased as a USB flash drive, it is regularly $49.95, now $9.95, using code homeschool. There is also a free version so you can try it out first. I think that the price of $49.95 is fair for what you get with the program, which is essentially five high school level math courses.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free download of this program in exchange for an honest review. 

See what the other crew members thought of Math 911  here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Notable Novelists, card game by Calico Kids

Notable Novelists is a card game published by Calico Kids.  It is a "go-fish" style game that includes 18 different novelists of the 20th century.  The object is to collect "literary sets", meaning one Author Card (their picture), one Library  Card (their famous works) and one Bio Card (author's information).  What I love most about this game, besides the incredible price ($10.95) are the beautiful illustrations of the authors.  Ernest Hemingway is seated at his office in a khaki safari-style shirt with a taxidermied animal head mounted on the wall.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is looking quite dandy at his desk with a picture of his wife Zelda in a frame against Jazz-age wallpaper and decor.  The reverse side of the deck of cards is a lovely marbled-paper design--classic and elegant.

This game would be a nice thing to have in a high-school classroom for a group activitity, something librarians would have for children who check out their books early and need something to occupy 10 minutes, or anyone looking for the perfect gift for a literary enthusiasts.  This game could be played by adults or children, depending on their exposure to the literary works mentioned--my best guess would be upper-middle school and beyond. 

You can purchase Notable Novelists and other games by Calico Kids at the above link.

See what others on the Homeschool Crew had to say about "Notable Novelists" here.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest review.

Costumes With Character

This month I'm reviewing "Costumes With Character" by Amy Puetz  Amy is a homeschool graduate, lover of history and creator of this wonderful book of ideas for fashioning costumes to coincide with American History studies.  Her idea is, by starting with one basic dress, you can make basic changes in the embellishments and change your Puritan outfit to a Pilgrim, your Pioneer dress to a Civil War ensemble, just by making simple changes to the collar or by removing the apron. 

This collection of looks if accompanied by historical information that could supplement your history curriculum.  If I had daughters, I know we would be making all of these outfits, probably wearing them in public every chance we got!

 I like that a color photograph of each style being modeled is available for you.  Instructions for making your own patterns is at the start of the book.  The patterns, as they are written, are designed for an "average" 16 year old girl, but modifications are shown for all ages that should make this relatively simple for someone with basic sewing skills.  The book is infused with historical and literary quotes and more tips on modifying the looks to suit a different time period.  There are patterns for sunbonnets and capes to top it all off! 

Costumes with Character is available as a soft-cover book for $37.00 or as a digital download for $21.95.  A seperate e-book of printed patterns that can be printed right to legal-sized paper is available for $15.00.  Some larger pattern pieces must be fit together once they are printed, but not many.

I think this is very unique product that needs to be on the market.  There are patterns currently available at fabric stores if you enjoy historical sewing.  However, Amy's book brings it all together in one place and shows how to save money and time by changing the look of a simple frock pattern to suit your style.  My only wish is that there could be something for boys in the book.  For the rare family that is comprised only of females, this book would be a great value.  But for most families who have sons that would want to be included in the historical reenactments or whatever the occasion may be, they would have to seek out another product or pattern line for their boys.  I personally have only boys, so I'm not sure I would buy this product at all, besides the fact that I secretly hope to be cast as an extra in a Jane Austen movie one day.....I think adding a few simple elastic-waisted pants paterns (that could be long or knee-length) and maybe a simple collarless shirt that could be modified for boys, plus a vest or two, would greatly enhance this product's appeal for families needing a bit of both.

Amy does, however, have many other history books and products available at her website (link is at the top of the page). 

Please see what the rest of the Homeschool Crew thought of "Costumes with Character" and Amy's other history products at

**Disclaimer:  I was provided an e-book version of this product in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vocab Videos: A Review

Vocab Videos in an online learning tool that uses videos to illustrate over 500 SAT level vocabulary words.  It is compiled of several ongoing series, broken apart into segments.  Each segment contains 20 vocabulary words that are illustrated in about 20 seconds.  The program utilizes auditory and visual aspects of learning as the narrator says the word and the meaning, the actors participate in a scene that illustrates the word, and then the narrator recaps how the definition relates to what the student just saw in the video.  It is all very fast-paced and modern--not drudgery at all.  I wish Vocab Videos would have existed when I was in high school, studying sheets of paper with defintions on them.  Ugh. 

The videos are humorous, sometimes hilarious, and really help solidify these sometimes-tricky words into your brain for good. Some of the series are TV show parodies of shows like Lost, The Office, Gossip Girl, etc.  If your student doesn't watch these shows, the satire might go over their heads, but nevertheless, they will still learn the meaning of the vocabulary words.

Click here to see samples of some of the Vocab Videos.

In addition to the videos, there is an opportunity to print activity sheets for the words, take online quizzes, and even make your own set of digital flashcards using your own definitions and even your own images!  I liked this part of the program, as it does exactly what I used to do last year by hand with our history curriculum.  I used to hunt down images for each word and then print them out for my kids to use as flashcards.  This will save me so much ink!  The flashcard feature also brings more value to the product, as you can use it with your younger kids as a tie-in with their curriculum, and use it as it was designed (with the pre-loaded SAT vocab videos) with your high schoolers.

And I say that because it really is designed for older students, not just because the words are upper-level, but the subject matter (dating and so forth) is more mature.  Also, in one of the Lost parodies that I watched, the words "pissed", "what the hell", "sucks" "Oh my God" and "are we lovers?" were uttered, and not just once. Granted, the character has amnesia and is frustrated when his attempts to survive are a miserable failure, AND the company is trying to appeal to today's teenagers by setting itself apart from other boring drill-style programs, so I see where they are coming from.  But conservative families need to be aware of this before purchasing.

Teachers and educators are able to add students to their "class" and monitor each student's indivdual progress as they take the online quizzes.  There is also a glossary that lists all 500 words alphabetically for ease of use or reference.

I think this is a program that I would use with my kids when they are a little older.  I have enjoyed watching the videos and brushing up on some of those forgotten words myself.  I aced a few of the quizzes, but got an 18/20 on another.  I still have some stuff to learn :)  But just for the sheer sake of the language and situations, I wouldn't make it a part of my 5th and 7th graders' daily assignments. 

Student Memberships to Vocab Videos are $24.99 for  6 months and $39.99 for 12 months.  This gives access to all 500 videos, online quizzes, worksheets, downloadable crossword puzzles and the online flashcard maker.

Teacher Memberships include all of these features, as well as the classroom management functions to monitor student progress. These are the costs per year:

1 Month Educator Trial is FREE
Small Educator Account (up to 20 students) is $74.00
Medium Educator Account (up to 40 students) is $134.99
and a Large Educator Account (up to 100 students) is $254.99.
If you have more than 100 students, you will need to contact the company for pricing. 

And now, there is a Vocab Videos Workbook that you can purchase for $11.99 to use as a supplement with your online subscription.  Click here to order the workbook.

Check out other reviews of Vocab Videos by clicking right here.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided access to Vocab Videos in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Math Made Easy

Phew!  Two math products to review in just a few weeks!  However, this one is a little different because instead of delving into fractions and pre-algebra concepts, it focuses on something a little more basic:  mastering multiplication facts.  Don't be fooled.  Just because my sons are entering 5th and 7th grade this school year doesn't mean they don't still use their fingers or go through an entire song in their head before telling me what 9x8 is.  And that means that they never memorized them.  Boy, are we in trouble.

Even though "Multiplication Teaching and Learning Made Easy" is geared for grades 1-6 and even though most of the exercises looked a bit juvenile for their liking, I've still made them sit down and go through the program.  I don't make them color every worksheet (and there are alot of coloring sheets with clowns and kitties and bunnies that made my sons look at me like "Whaa?").  But there is still some quality material here that I think is worth some merit. 

For instance, I love the way the author teaches the simple things first.  The Zeroes.  The Ones.  The Tens.  The Elevens.  And then she shows you that if you look at a multiplication fact chart (1x1 through 12x12) and cross off all the 0,1,10 and 11 facts and then cross out all the duplicate problems (keep 2x4, nix 4x2, etc.), that you only have 36 problems remaining to memorize!  Split that up into 6 weeks and you only have to memorize 6 facts per week!  That is more than doable! 

There is a pre-test to give on day one, a post-test to give on day 36 and plenty of resources packed in the back.  There are perforated flashcards, a "Chutes & Ladders"-style math game, a spinner-type study tool, and a game where you build a Native American Indian's headdress by adding feathers that match the math facts. 

I'll admit, at my first glance of the cover (rainbows and balloons), the copyright date (1989) and the interior pages (remnants of a coloring book from my childhood--and I'm kinda old), I was turned off by this product.  However, I like the way the author has broken it all down into manageable lessons.  And judging from my sons' current method of multiplying, the teaching tool NEEDS to be simple like this to work. 

The only other negative that I would point out is the price.  I'm not quite sure the collection of worksheets is worthy of a $24.95 price tag.  The copies of the pages don't seem as clean and crisp as other products on the market, it has a comb binding, and honestly, there are many pages that in my opinion, would not be utilized with children in the older range of the age bracket (especially boys) just for sheer lack of interest.  So I'm not sure the value warrants the price.  There are some parents who may feel this is completely reasonable and have no problem with the cost.

So my final word on Math Made Easy is that it could use an updated look to appeal to today's children and it might consider a $19.95 price point.  But the heart of this program is quite good.

Click here to order the product or to learn more about their other products for Addition.

**Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

From The Old Schoolhouse

If you've been a fan of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (and who hasn't?), you will love what they have in store for you now. is a special feature that has so much content, it almost defies categorization.  Think about a site where you can get lesson plans and tutorials from experts you've heard of (WriteShop, KnowledgeQuest, Hands of a Child, and more), with 24/7 access and new content added monthly, weekly, and daily.  And what if these lessons were for students of all ages, including children with special needs?

What about the addition of high-quality, full-length daily/monthly planners for primary, elementary, middle, high school and special needs?  They've got them for you to download and print right from home!  This feature alone is worth using  If you've shopped for planners recently, you know how expensive they have gotten!  Plus, these are packed with spiritual encouragement, organizational tools, recipes, etc.  A great, great feature.

Did I mention e-books?  They have a FREE one for you to download each month. 

Getting excited?  You will find text lessons or video lessons on the topics listed below.  How you choose to use them (one lesson per day one lesson per week) is up to you! 

Career Exploration
College Choice Guidance
Figures in History
High School Math
Home Ec
Special Needs

There are so many articles that are added daily:  Daily Math, Daily Grammar, Daily Writing, Ditch-the-Desk (Hands on projects for K-5), Everyday Easels (art studies with hands-on ideas), Everyday Explorers (US and Canadian), Pre-K Activities, Everyday Shakespeare, This Day in History

You also get access to digital copies of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, including back issues!

You have access to Schoolhouse Expo, including mp3 downloads from speakers homeschoolers want to hear from (this feature is "coming soon").

In addition to the aforementioned free e-book of the month, each month you are a member, you receive access to an additional dozen or so MORE free e-books and downloads.  See the titles you will receive here

Looking for copywork?  Don't buy them elsewhere--there are several themed copybooks here for you to choose from! 

Looking for encouragement?  The "Library" section has stories from moms who have been there, as well as tips on keeping your home in order.

Stumped on what to assign your kids to read? has themed reading lists for all ages in all genres for all types of readers! 

If you're dying to see samples of the items I've mentioned, click here for sample lessons and videos.

The cost of is just $1 for the first month, $5.95 for each additional month.  For the price of a Chik-Fil-A meal, you can fill nearly all of your homeschooling needs with this one subscription.  I am truly, truly pleased with this site and can't wait to see what more they add in the future.  My sons are enjoying the film-making class and I definately plan on using all the Explorer lessons this year with our study of the Westward Expansion.  Our planners are printed and bound (thank you, Staples).  I could go on and can see the infinite possibilities of

See what the other folks at the Homeschool Review Crew thought of this product here

**Disclaimer:  I was provided free access to in exchange for an honest review of its contents.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Cinematically Speaking)

We're just a few weeks away from the first day of school.  We've had a great summer--probably the first one in years that hasn't been stuffed to the gills with places to be and people to see.  The guys have gone on a few "Man-Cations" (spearfishing and camping) and that has left me home to tend the chickens and pets and do what I love best---catch up on "my" movies.  I say "my movies" because no one in this household is laying claim to them (at least the majority of them). 

 I really loved Birdsong.  It's based on the book, by the same author that did "Charlotte Gray".  Eddie Redmayne is normally not my idea of a leading man, but give it some time.  You'll be swooning for his Stephen's devotion to Isabelle.  Heartbreakingly lovely in every way.  I thought about it constantly when it was over, and that's the sign of some major soul-impact.

  Oooooh....I normally don't watch the Masterpiece Mystery selections.  This one was recommended by a friend and I'm so glad I gave it a go.  Most all of the twists were unexpected for me.  I went to Barnes and Noble to buy the book.  I could only find it in mass-market paperback.  Yeah, right.  Maybe Amazon has it for real.


This is a quirky story about a struggling family, a crisis at the National Gallery of Art, and a possible romance between a stuffy museum guy and a free spirited teacher who rides bicycles everywhere.  Takes place in Wales with lots of kooky characters.

A group of Jews, thrown together in Auschwitz, decide to hold a mock trial against God, who seemingly is the only one responsible for their misery.  I couldn't get into this one at all.  It all felt very contrived and I'm thinking, "Ummm...what about the Nazis?  Try blaming them."


Not horrible, but definately not my favorite Dickens adaption.  I hate when the villians are TOO villianous, and that's what happens in this one.  They may as well have put a handlebar mustache on Quilp and had him tie up Nell to railroad tracks.  There was way to much skulking around, laughing diabolically, and well, I just thought, "Nobody is THAT mean."

Okay.  This one more than made up for The Old Curiosity Shop.  Talk about swooning--Pip Pip Hooray.  I wasn't too keen on the casting for Stella, but she grew on me.  This one is pure joy.  I want to own it.

My bookclub and I went to see Moonrise Kingdom at the old Tampa Theatre.  I giggled through the entire film.  The cast is amazing.  The set design is a dream. Frances McDormand is the queen of independent films.  My Ed Norton did a great job in the lead.  But the kids really stole the show.  If you liked "Little Miss Sunshine", you'll love Moonrise Kingdom.

For the third or fourth time.  Never gets old, kid.

We saw this one restored on 35mm as part of the Summer Classic Movie Series.  At first, I was like "Classic?".  Then I realized it's been 22 years since it came out.  How in the heck?

Coco Before Chanel is a little French movie that oozes style, elegance and independence of spirit.  I loved Audrey Tatou in "Amelie" and here she is all grown up.  The costumes are phenomenal and won an Oscar.  You will love learning about Gabrielle "Coco" before she became an icon.

I don't have perspective because I have not quite gotten to watching "Inspector Morse" on PBS as I've been meaning to.  However, Endeavour (Morse's first name) is a prequel to the series.  Set in Oxford, this one was a mystery of the murder of a high school girl and it kept me interested until the last second.

Wept buckets.  So much going on here.  So many story lines, but mainly it revolves around the lives of Jamaican citizens, some of which come over to fight in the name of England in WWII and afterward are shunned by society because they are "black".  There's romance everywhere, lots of twists.  Very endearing to say the least.

I told a friend as I was in the middle of this, "this is like the Talented Mr. Ripley  meets Mommie Dearest".  Set in a gorgeous landscape with a castle-like mansion they like to call home, it's a love-triangle of sorts, a struggle for power, family ties so tight they strangle.  Check out "Brideshead Revisited".

I don't hear much about "My Boy Jack", but it was one of my favorites from the BBC.  The true story of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) and how he deals with his only child going off to war.  Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe and Kim Catrall are surprising casting choices, but they pull it off to a "T".

Another favorite.  The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton is narrated by a dead woman.  She goes back in time and explains how she, a young 20-something woman of very little domestic knowledge, went on to publish one of the most successful cookbooks ever (still in print today).  It's also a story of what happens when your husband works too late at the office (check it out to see what I mean).

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is another Dickens adaption.  It's a whirlwind of courtships, jealousies, and a whole lotta opium goin' on.  Like it alot.

Oh, The Artist.  What can I say that's not already been said in the news and on the Oscar stage already?  If you doubt that a silent film can pack much punch in this century, think again.  Wow.  And wow.

This kid annoyed the heck out of me.

Oh, my word.  A G-rated movie has survived the cutting room floor!  If you like stories of underdogs, basketball and nuns, this one is a winner for Family Movie Night!

A wonderful, wonderful story.  My 12 year old son watched it and then started it over and watched it again.  It deals with the Holocaust in an interesting way--from a child's perspective.  And they do a very gentle job of handling the subject matter without softening the impact.  Two thumbs way on up there.

And we had to follow up our Holocaust Movie Marathon with Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise.  This got obliterated in the reviews.  However, I didn't quite care about the lack of German accent on Cruise's part.  It was an interesting story, well acted, and it taught me something I didn't know.  It was suspenseful, my kids really liked it, and so for that, I have to give it at least 3 and a half popcorn kernels.

My next long-term commitment is "Lark Rise to Candleford", which was recommended by my local librarian.  It's four discs long, so stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Math Essentials

Mastering Essential Math Skills is a line of products that gets right down to business.  They review skills, give you adequate, but not laborious practice on these skills, give you space to work out your problems and a special place to put your answers.  At the end, you have an opportunity to apply your knowledge to a life-application problem.

This month, I used Fractions with my 12 year old son.  We used another math curriculum this year, but didn't quite finish.  I had to return the curriculum to a friend (it was borrowed) and I wondered how I'd fill in the gaps with the fractions skills.  This was a good tool to help him practice identifying fractions in an illustration, writing them in their simplest form, identifying equivalent fractions, mixed numbers, improper practions and so forth.  We haven't had a chance to work through the entire book yet, but it goes all the way to reciprocals and dividing fractions. 

Mastering Essential Math Skills offers quality workbooks for Grades 4/5, Middle/High School, Decimals and Percents, Fractions, Geometry, Pre-Algebra, Problem Solving, and Whole Numbers/Integers.  These workbooks vary from $11.95 to $15.95 each and include all the solutions, a glossary and helpful  math charts in the back.

I also reviewed one of the selections from their Book/DVD sets.  Mine was "Mastering Essential Math Skills:  Pre-Algebra Concepts".  The make-up of the workbook is the same as the rest of the books.  The DVD, however, has a live professor (the creator of the company, "America's Math Teacher, Richard W. Fisher").  He has a pleasant voice and explains things in plain language.  There were a few issues with the video lessons for me.  First, the initial lesson had 4 minutes and 1 second of nothing but whiteboard on the screen as the professor explained the basics of the program.  That's a little much "nothingness" for most students.  Maybe some graphics could be added here, or maybe it could be a video of him explaining the housekeeping issues.  Also, his written instructions seem to be a tiny bit out of sync with his lecture.  There was a 3 or 4 second gap between what he was saying and what appeared on the screen.  This might be a bit confusing to some who are struggling to learn the concept. 

Other topics included in the book/DVD series are No-Nonsense Algebra, Math Skills for Grades 4/5, Middle/High School, and Pre-Algebra Concepts.  There are also some options for buying just the DVDs for multiple sets or buying three sets together.  The prices for these sets are $33.95 and go up to $89.95 for combo-packs. 

Go to to order your copies of this company's product, winners of the Intel Innovations in Teaching Award. 

Go here to see what other Crew members thought of Math Essentials.

**I was provided with a copy of the Fractions workbook and a copy of the Pre-Algebra Concepts DVD/workbook set.  No other compensation, financial or otherwise, was provided to me for my honest review.