Friday, September 28, 2012

Box of Ideas
There is something about getting a package in the mail that makes one giddy.  You want to rip open your package and enjoy whatever surprise awaits you inside.  Such was the case when we received the Box of Ideas package in the mail to review.    I sat the box unopened on the desk in the kitchen and each member of my family asked, “what’s that?”  However, the lucky kid who would actually get to use the box asked, “is that for me?”  With my “yes” she was off to discover and explore the contents of that mysterious box.

BoxofIdeas_SaltBox.jpg I didn’t examine the box with my 11 year old initially but I let her discover it on her own.  The next two days I heard “mom, this is soooo cool!”  I saw charts and documents on my fridge that she added to on a daily basis.  I saw her examining nutrition labels before eating and working undeterred at her desk with that big white box.  Now, I had to discover for myself what all the excitement was about.

We reviewed the Salt Box.  The rectangular shaped black and white box includes 10 self contained modules that delves into the history, geography, language, science, and other topics related to salt.  Who knew there was so much to learn about salt?  Each module is neatly packaged with everything you need for that particular module.  There is a background sheet with information to read including links to further investigate the topic.  After the reading, there is a hands-on activity to reinforce the concept the student just read about.  You don’t have to do the modules in order but my dear daughter started with Module 1 – Need For Salt. 

In this module, she was able to read about the human body’s need for salt and was sent on a trip to investigate the sodium content of the foods we most commonly eat.  This led to a trip through my pantry which she listed, on a chart provided with the module, all the foods we had that were high in sodium and low in sodium.  There were also two colorful food sheets which are now on my fridge, that lists the sodium content of common foods including foods from McDonald’s, Pizza hut, Subway, and Taco Bell. 

She worked independently on the first 3 modules of the Box.  She placed all of her findings from these modules in a 3 ring binder.  It is an impressive presentation of colorful bar charts that show where so much of the Earth’s salt is produced, an article of salt mines in the news, and pictures of salt habitats.  Great stuff!  One module included a game board and a map for the student to match salt facts presented on card stock with the country the fact referred to.  The game activity left room for the student to include facts of their own but my daughter was inspired to take the concept to create her own “matching” game.  This module sparked a lot of her own creativity and reinforced our own geography lessons as we are focusing on countries and cultures this year.  I love when this happens – cross curriculum reinforcement.  

At this point, I jumped into the box (well, not literally) to discover it for myself.  My daughter wanted to do the last module which included an experiment which examined the question of which salt has the greatest affect on the freezing point of ice.  This exercise was a gentle introduction to the world of science labs which she will do next year in 7th grade.  She had to predict what she thought would happen and record her results and her experiment form.

We have thoroughly enjoyed this curriculum.  I believe it falls into the category of being a unit study.  I know there are more themed boxes in development.  Ideally, each box focuses on the age range of 9-16. Currently you can purchase Salt, World Word II, Eleven, Quilting, Pigs and Laundry – such a random list of topics.  The Box of Ideas curriculum box can be purchased at for $79 or you can purchase the PDF download for $49.  In my opinion, opening the box and discovering all of the units is part of the fun.  It is great to further delve into a topic that may be briefly covered in one’s main curriculum or to completely go down a rabbit trail and discover something new.  This is how we used this curriculum – a rabbit trail adventure. 

My 6th grader often finishes her work before everyone else.  She likes to stay on task and checks off the boxes on her weekly lesson grid.  It is motivating for her to know that she has completed everything on time or ahead of time.  Most kids would read but she isn’t an avid reader.  Having something like Box of Ideas is just what she needs when she is finished all of her school work.   It is engaging, educational, and fun.

The only one suggestion I would make to improve the curriculum is to label each module 1-10.  Sometimes it was hard to know which module we had completed and which one we wanted to discover next.  We had to open the plastic holder and look inside to see if we had in fact completed that module.  A number system would help to keep it all straight.  Otherwise each module was nicely packaged with labels listing what was inside and what was needed to complete it.  

See what my other "crew mates" thoughts of Box of Ideas here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week 3 of School & Landry Academy

To say its been busy around here is an understatement.  I've heard it said that the busy people get things done.  I think psychologically you know you have to stay on top of more things so you just get it done.  Not an idle moment here.  Using grid sheets for each student keeps everyone on track has been working really well.  Everything is planned out down to how many pages to read each day to when to ask mom for the quiz or test.  No one has to wait on mom to go to the next thing and they know to ask for help immediately if they get stumped. Of course this requires me to stay on track of grading work but that's a topic for another day. We are starting out our day together around reading the bible and this book:

Kingdom Tales By David and Karen Mains Teacher's EditionIt is part of the MFW ECC curriculum which the younger girls are doing this year.  The stories are fascinating and we can't wait to find out each day what will happen next in this adventure.  There are some great discussion questions at the end of each story which makes for great conversation among us.  The reviews at all same the same thing - enjoyable book that captures so many truths of the Christian faith.

I've been so busy with The Old School house curriculum reviews that I've hardly had a chance to write a weekly wrap up.  What prompted me to write one this week is Princess' experience at Landry Academy's 2 day lab intensive.  It was great!  I dropped her off Monday morning at 8:30 am.  My mom who lives in the city where the intensive was held picked her up and took her back the next morning.  The intensive was held about 1 hour from our home.  What an experience.  She dissected a pregnant lamb, a frog, a sheep's heart, and a cow's eye.  I know gross and so much more than what is required in a high school biology course.  I was concerned that it was too much in a short period of time and would she remember all the details as she studies the text throughout the year.  Let me tell you my concerns weren't warranted.  She took lots of pics and Landry provided a nice book of notes with lab reports for her to fill out.  I was able to look through and see her diagrams and write-ups.  She also worked within a group to perform the labs.  I could've never replicated this experience at home or at the local coop.  I can't believe I was so broken up about not getting in the coop biology class back in June.  This was so much better and all for the cost of the microscope I would've purchased to do labs at home. This was worth the money. 

If Landry comes to your city do not hesitate to sign up.  I know this sounds like a review but it is not.  I am looking at other classes they offer to see if there is anything we should sign up for.  I'm thinking we just might tackle Chemistry at home next year and do the 2 day intensive for Chemistry with Landry.  

This was such a great experience I'm hoping other Landry classes are this good.   Dissection pics to follow, look at your own risk:

Head over to weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers to see what other moms were up to this week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Family Time Fitness

Our family just joined the YMCA, 15-20 minutes away, because I am determined to not have another homeschool year where physical activity takes a back seat to everything else.  In the past we’ve done so many weeks of volleyball, soccer, track and martial arts but we don’t do anything everyday.  It is more about the inconsistency of the teacher than about having options to get active.  When not doing any of the organized sports we occasionally walk the dog around the neighborhood or we walk the trail at the nearby park.  I think the key for me is variety.  I can’t do anything over and over for a long period of time. 

At first glance, the download of Family Time Fitness was a bit overwhelming.  But once I began to read I liked what I saw.  I immediately printed out the assessment sheet but after reading the first lesson I wanted to skip the assessment to get right into the activities.

The program reminds me a lot of my own public school PE class especially during physical fitness month when the PE teachers tracked your fitness level in different activities like push ups and sit ups.  Family Time Fitness’ assessment sheet does just that – measuring the current physical fitness level of your children at the beginning of the program and provides additional opportunities to measure your child’s progress as they go through the program.  The following categories are measured:

  • Vertical Jump
  • Standing Long Jump ( Broad Jump)
  • Shuffle Pick-Up
  • 40 Yard Sprint
  • Walk / Run ¼ - 1 Mile
  • Squat

The Fitness 4 Homeschool Curriculum allows homeschool parents to teach physical education without previous knowledge of physical education and athletic development. Our program, designed by experts in fitness training, nutrition and body movement, is designed to suit every age and ability level while affordably fitting into your budget. Our program combines flexibility and fun with a comprehensive curriculum to give your children a foundation for strong bodies and minds. Best of all, you get all this for only $57 dollars for all your children!

The program is for grades K-8, ages 5-13. 

I purchased a few items needed to complete the activities like tennis balls (3 for .90 at the thrift store) and small stuffed animals to use for bean bags (cheap at the thrift store) and jump ropes and a bouncy ball from Wal-Mart.

The program is designed to give students 60 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.  Activities can be done inside and there are outside activities scheduled at the end of each lesson.  There are direct links to YouTube videos for every exercise you are asked to perform.  These videos come in handy and are easy to catch on to. 

Final thoughts:  It can be a challenge to implement this program if you have limited inside space or if the weather isn’t cooperating.  It’s fun to assess each family member’s fitness level in the 6 categories and see each member improve over time.  It is also fun to work together as a family exercising in this way.  We usually walk together or visit the gym to do group exercises.  However, it isn’t everyday you get to do the rocking horse, frog hops, or jump the river.  These are just a few of the names of the exercises in the program.  It is fun and it is a welcome break from walking the dog and doing the exercise machines at the gym.   

See what my other "crew mates" thoughts of Family Time Fitness here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Marshall Publishing

According to Marshall Hall Publishing, they produce CDs, Audios, and DVDs that will amaze, amuse, entertain, and educate.  You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel at to view clips and previews of their programs.  The DVD sells for $19.95 at the Marshall Hall Publishing website and includes a study guide.

We reviewed The History of The Oregon Trail (36 minutes) & The Pony Express DVD (16 minutes).  My 6th & 8th grader did not make it through the entire DVD.  However, they chuckled at some of the funny voice changes that periodically occur during the video.  My husband & I finished the entire video. 

Oregon Trail was the last book we read during the last school year so we were familiar with a lot of the information.  What you miss from a book is a picture of the scenery that words can not fully describe.  You see the picture in your mind but it can’t be compared to the awesome shots of beautiful mountains, prairie land, and rivers that are shown throughout the video.  I enjoyed that the most.
It is amazing to think of the sacrifice so many made to take the 2,000 mile trip across rough terrain, facing Indian threats, and enduring scarlet fever in search of better opportunities for their family.  Even more astonishing is of all the individuals who set out on the trail 90% actually made it.  There are many reminders along the trail today that give tribute to the pioneers’ great sacrifice.
We learned a great deal from the Pony Express video as I didn’t know too much about it.  The video takes you from the beginning of how the Pony Express started to the very end – the bankruptcy of its owners.  The onset of civil war and a political election took precedence over the government’s support of the private financiers’ business which ultimately bankrupts the company.  During its short life span of 19 months, the Pony Express met the growing needs of an expanding country.  I enjoyed the detail of how the operation was set up with stops every 15 miles or so to change ponies with an overnight stay at the 70 mile post.  Riders received only 2 minutes to change horses before setting off for the next stop.  What an efficient operation.  We got a kick out of seeing the newspaper ad the owners ran looking for employees that stated, “young, skinny, wiry men not over the age 18.”   Similarly, the oath employees made after hire attesting to not taking to “strong drink, remaining honest, and not quarrelling with other employees” was interesting.  Can you imagine such practices in today’s workplace?  That is a lawsuit waiting to happen in today’s environment. 

Final thoughts:  Didn’t really hold my kids’ attention.  I think today’s kids are so accustomed to sophisticated animation and graphics in film that anything less just doesn’t work.  The graphics are a bit dated in this DVD.  As an adult, we are a little more forgiving as we are more interested in content.  To really amaze, amuse, and entertain Marshall Publishing should update their approach to present this material in a kid friendly manner.  I’m not sure what that would mean technically in the world of video production but it is hard to compete in educational media with older technology.  

See what my other "crew mates" thoughts of Marshall Publishing here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Math 911

Here is what I love about reviewing different math programs:  there are multiple ways to explain a math problem and examining all the ways to solve it helps a student to get a concept you could not otherwise teach.  I always use a main math curriculum but often use supplemental materials when my kids get stuck on a concept. 

My daughter who did Algebra I last year used two different supplemental products one of which I reviewed here on my blog.  Math 911, created by long-time New York city teacher Martin Weissmann, is one more tool in my bag of Algebra tricks to help my daughter sharpen her Algebra skills.  It is the first time I used a program that is computer based with the exception of online videos. 

I had a lot of technical difficulties with downloading the program.  My husband is an IT guy and did a lot of the tech stuff to make it work.  I usually download homeschool items to my laptop but ended up downloading it to my daughter’s netbook.  For some reason the program works on her netbook but not my laptop.  I have a very low tolerance for technical difficulties, which affected my attitude toward the program but I fought through the bias to really navigate the program for use.  It is a solid supplemental program. 

Courses available include Introductory Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics.  The entire program is available for a discounted price of $49.95.  You can also download Introductory Algebra for free at the Math911 website to try out the program before you buy it.  You can also order a 2G USB drive, Algebrainaflash, to use anywhere you go.  It requires no installation and no software, just plug it in and play.  Math911 Algebra in a flash works on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.  This undoubtedly would have been the best solution for me!  Right now it is available for $9.95.   The whole program is very affordable. Software updates are available at the website and technical support is always available.  I must say Mr. Weissmann is very responsive and always willing to help with technical difficulties.  Customer service goes very far with me.  I would use this product for that reason alone. 

We spent our time working on Introductory Algebra.  This course has 8 levels with each level containing various topics beginning with Pre-algebra Review.  The student progresses through a series of problems to work on in each section of that level.  The program keeps track of the student’s progress and offers two mid-terms and finals for the student to test learning.  You will need paper and pencil to work the problems that are presented and then key in your answer to be scored.  You can click on the solution button to see how the problem is worked if you don’t understand how to solve it.

I love PDF downloads.  A few are available at the Math911 website and includes a lot of interesting information in cartoon format.  Makes for a fun math worksheet.  There is a cartoon book available called Laugh with Math which was not included in this review but I thought is was noteworthy.  It is a genius way to use math.  I'm not sure I've seen a product like this on the market.  It covers such topics as:  inequalities, absolute values, signed numbers, and combining like terms. 
Final thoughts:  I am not a huge fan of computer based math programs.  In my mind, math should be done with paper and pencil with plenty of room to show your work and circle the final answer.  Call me a traditionalist.  However, I am a fan of having multiple resources to accomplish my work.  Students can get bored so using different tools for learning is great.  At the Math911 price, I would use it to help break up the monotony of the math routine.  The program is intended for students age 12 and up.  Anyone ready for introductory Algebra can use this program.

Find out what my other crew "mates" thought about Math 911 here.
Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Planning for school at the beach

We haven't started school yet.  Yikes!  Since 7/6/12 we've been incorporating 3 new kids into our family as we are a foster family.  We did training over a year ago and was never called so we just didn't think they would call.  All of a sudden with a house full of guests over a holiday weekend we were called.  I am just so glad we were called during the summer.  I don't know how I would have ever been able to do this in the middle of a school year.

Not only have I planned for the start of school for my own 3 but also for 2 of the 3 foster kids.  Of course this means dealing with the public school system.  What fun (sarcastically speaking).  As I am writing this we are finishing up our vacation week at the beach.  I made two phone calls while here to get the bus schedules so that I know what time to meet the bus on the first day of school - Tuesday. 
Based on this bus schedule I did a rough schedule of my own school day so that there is some sense of order in my home.  This year my day will start at 5:45 am.  My girls will get up by 7 and we will do devotionals/bible together for an hour before starting our school day.  I've scheduled 3 hours of nonstop academics twice daily.  Once in the morning before lunch and once after lunch.  I'm going to give the girls a weekly grid of all they need to accomplish and it is my goal to have no work spill over into a new week.  This means weekend work if necessary to get it all done.  I am ready to get back on a school schedule.  I have my vitamins all ready to go for the nonstop chaos I see in my future.

Tomorrow is my birthday so I plan to take it easy. We started celebrating early.  While here at the beach my family got together for dinner at a seafood restaurant.  My husband surprised me with a birthday/anniversary ring - WOW.  I am not partial to extravagant gifts but at 40 I think I'll accept it with gratitude. 


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