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.

Excuse My Absence....

Well, it has been a month since my last post.  How did that happen?  Oh yes, I've been having a summer!  Hope all you moms & teachers have been taking a break.  Summer flies by too fast and is all to often (at least in my house) consumed by plans for the upcoming year and not enough laziness.

Today, I want to review for you a product that we've been using this month called Zane Education.  ZE is more of an online library of educational videos and resources on all topics for all ages.  It is a way to integrate a visual aspect of learning into your curriculum. 

When you log on to Zane, you can search by topic or by age level.  It has videos for Elementary, Middle School, High School, College and Adult.  I found several topics that I randomly clicked on, but found myself watching until the end because they were thought-provoking and new to me.

What makes Zane Education different from some other video learning sites, is the large, readable subtitles under all their videos.  On one hand, if you have a struggling reader, it could help them improve their reading, similar to read-along audio stories.  On the other hand, if you have an advanced reader, they could get frustrated reading the subtitles quickly and then waiting painstakingly for the narrator to catch up.  I have one of each in my household, so there were mixed reviews on that point.

I found the diversity of topics to be quite good.  I enjoyed videos on the Bayeaux Tapestry, The Lost Generation of Post WWI writers, as well as videos my kids will use for their upcoming study on the Erie Canal, Westward Expansion, as well as the Digestive System.  I noticed that the content of the videos seemed a little "kitschy", a la 1960's public service announcements, or in some cases, the old Disney educational filmstrips.  I couldn't tell whether they were old-fashioned or if the Zane people were just being nostalgic on purpose.  I didn't have a problem with them, but I'm wondering if modern kids will find them a tad silly.

Zane's video library does contain topics about puberty and sex education, but they do not come up when searching in the Elementary level videos.  However, the science section (and even the geography section) contains videos that focus on or mention evolution.  With a roll of the eyes, our family skips these.  We currently subscribe to a similar service of cartoon videos for various topics, and I find the same secular components in this service.  In some cases, it's better not to throw the baby out with the bathwater--we just use what we like and ignore the few things that we don't agree with.

Despite some negatives, including the annoying banner that covers the progress bar at the bottom of the video screen and the three icons on the video that seem to do nothing, I found that Zane Education videos are something we could use quite often.  This is especiallly due to the fact that they have downloadable lesson plans which include helpful vocabulary, an at-hand dictionary (I randomly plugged in the words "malicious" and "propogation" to try to trip up the system, but they were there!), a World Fact Book, a thesaurus, and a rather impressive encyclopedia. 

Students can even take online quizzes after viewing the videos in a particular section, which provides some assessment for the teacher. 

Click here to check out the pricing for memberships to Zane.  They range from $8.99 to $17.99 per month, depending on whether you want full access, access to all videos in a subject, or access to all videos in a grade level.  There are many choices, so check out which membership suits your needs.

Click here to see what other Crew members thought of Zane Education.

**I was provided full access to Zane Education for one year in exchange for an honest review.  I have received no other compensation, financial or otherwise.