Monday, November 26, 2012

Pages of History, Secrets of the Ancients

I recently received a PDF copy of Veritas Press's Pages of History, Volume One: Secrets of the Ancients.  This is a brand new book by Bruce Etter and Lexi Detweiler, and is the first of two volumes.  It's a 448 page hardcover book, and it's priced at $19.95.

Pages of History covers 96 major historical events from Creation through the Reformation.  It is written from a strong Christian worldview.  It fits well with a classical approach to education, but I wouldn't shy away from the book if you're not a classical educator.

The book opens with James and his friend Lance, who are on a field trip to a library.  We quickly find out that James is a Christian and Lance is not, and that there has been an event known as "The Cleansing".  "The Cleansing" wiped out God from all documents, books, records...everything.  There is no written record of God anywhere, but James's parents were part of the resistance to "The Cleansing" and have taught James about God and who He is.

While in the library, James and Lance stumble upon a secret room.  This room contains Bibles, books by C.S. Lewis, Augustine, etc--basically all of the Christian literature ever written.  They also find a notebook in a safe, and in the notebook, the words "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free".  Once they read these words, the ground began to shake, two books fall on their heads, and they pass out. They wake up in the Garden of Eden, and so begins their adventure.

This is a fabulous story, and perfect for logic/middle grade students to read for themselves.  By taking historical events and presenting them through the adventures of James and Lance, the events come alive and will stick with your child.  I'm going to have Jacob (5th grade) start reading this book immediately to supplement his history (he's currently using Veritas Press's Self-Paced Old Testament/Ancient Egypt course).

Veritas Press has hit a home run with Pages of History, and I look forward to the next volume in the series.

Disclaimer: I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Um...Weeks 8, 9, 10, & 11

Don't laugh.  How did I miss 4 weeks?  How is it that it's time to buy the turkey?  And most importantly, WHY IS MY FAVORITE RADIO STATION PLAYING CHRISTMAS SONGS??!?

So, it's been busy around here.  Not necessarily busy how I'd planned, but busy nonetheless.

Grandma & Grandpa Larson and Aunt Sherry came for a 6 day visit.  There was lots of football, basketball, baseball, and slacklining going on the the backyard with the boys and Aunt Sherry.  Ben (Sherry's son/the boys' cousin) and his wife Belu came for the weekend.  It was great to see them (and meet Belu!).  There were several games of Scattergories, and one 5 hours game of Monopoly (which Nicholas Trump most likely won).  And the boys loved staying up late, eating junk food, and watching the entire Lord of the Rings triology over 5 nights.

Then there was the election.  It was educational, but I don't want to talk about it.

Ezekiel got his cast off on the 9th and was released to do anything within reason.  "Within whose reason?," I asked.  "If it hurts he shouldn't do it," the doctor said. "Judo?"  Cleared.  "Gymnastics?"  Yep.  "Back Handsprings?"  Not a problem.  Then the doctor showed me the x-ray and there wasn't a blemish anywhere.

The last big thing that happened was Nick turned 7 yesterday.  He had friends over to play and eat cookies, and then we had a family celebration last night:  presents, pizza, cake, VeggieTales, and Mythbusters.  Among other things, he received a Fortamagjig Fun Fort and I think he's going to have a lot of fun with it.  It's a large piece of nylon with various velcro loops and fasteners on it, so you can hook it to almost anything to build a fort.

Grandma & Grandpa Burns will be here next week for Thanksgiving, so no school will get done.

On the official school front:

  • Luke can now work linear equations with two variables with confidence.
  • Jacob, Micah, and Nicholas finished The Pilgrim Story online class.  They really enjoyed it.
  • Nicholas has been reading the books I give him in one sitting, instead of over a few days (as I planned it).  They're books like Balto, so not long chapter books, but it's fun to watch him enjoy books and ask for the next one when he's finished.
  • Nicholas declared "the x math" (mulitplication) the "funnest math" (thanks, Miquon!).
  • Luke & Ezekiel are reading Chosen by God, and they're enjoying it.
  • Luke, Ezekiel, Jacob, and Micah have finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and will start Prince Caspian after our break next week.
  • All are progressing, though slower than I'd like thanks to life interruptions, with spelling & English grammar.  Luke, Ezekiel, and Jacob are moving along with Latin, and Luke & Ezekiel are continuing to make progress in Greek.
  • Writing and lit discussions aren't getting as much attention as I'd planned.  I need to figure this part out.

I'm still having trouble finding a balance to schooling 5.  I'm leaning toward pulling Luke & Ezekiel out of their enrichment program at Christmas so we have that day at home for academics.  Objectively, as their teacher, it's the right thing to do.  But then the Mom part kicks in and I doubt the decision (they enjoy it and have a couple of friends there).

I can't believe Christmas is just around the corner!  I'm going to take the advice of my wise friends and plan in time for cookie baking and other fun holiday traditions.  We'll do as much school as we can through December, but I'm ready to shelve some subjects some days so we can make memories some days.  Time is passing too quickly; I don't want the boys to remember the holidays as the time of the year that Mom was crazier than normal--I want to enjoy them and have some fun.  We'll see how I do...

Friday, November 09, 2012

Vocal Coach Singer

Vocal Coach  offered two of their products for the Crew to review:  Vocal Coach Singer and Teaching Kids to Sing.  I will be reviewing Vocal Coach Singer;  I received the downloadable mp3s, which are priced at $99.99.


Confession:  I can't carry a tune in a bucket.  I like to sing, though, so that presents a problem for those around me.  I've been told that I could probably sing well if I had a bit of training, but the time or money isn't in the budget.  

The Vocal Coach Singer includes the following mp3s:
  • Getting Started
  • Complete Breathing
  • Complete Warm-Up
  • Complete Tone
  • Complete Expanding Your Range
  • Complete Diction
  • Complete Performance
  • Daily Workout High Voice 1 & 2
  • Daily Workout Medium/Low Voice 1 & 2
along with these printable PDFs:
  • Instructional Guidebook
  • Lead Sheets (each exercise with track number)
  • Singer's Journal
  • Song Evaluation 

The Instructional Guidebook provides a general introduction to the course, and it should be read first.  The next thing is listening to the Getting Started mp3.  This gives a brief introduction to each of the remaining mp3s.

The Complete Breathing, Complete Warm-Up, and Complete Tone mp3s are the foundation of the program.  They explain the how and why behind breathing and posture, warming up the voice, and tone, and then move along to present exercises for each of the topics.

The Complete Expanding Your Range mp3 explains range and helps you to determine your current range, and then provides exercises to help you increase your range.  The Complete Diction mp3 explains what diction is (pronunciation, enunciation, and articulation).  Good diction is important for a singer because it helps with tone and pitch. The Complete Performance mp3 guides you through choosing songs that suit you, picking the right key, as well as other important details, like gestures and facial expressions. 

The Daily Workout mp3s guide you through working out your voice.  The singing exercises vary in difficulty, and the first time through the vocal coach, Chris Beatty, sings it with you.  The following times, he'll give you verbal instructions on how to sing the exercise.    

I learned a lot about using my voice as an instrument.  I never realized that posture and breathing were so important to singing well.  The tone exercises help eliminate issues that might make your voice sound unpleasant (twangy, nasally, etc.), and it also explains vibrato and how it should sound and be used.

I've got to admit, I felt a bit silly during a lot of the exercises.  Practicing these in the privacy of my own home was a definite plus.  I still don't have a fabulous voice, but I could tell a difference when I followed their instructions and practice.  I think with even more practice I can sing to my heart's content without being embarrassed.  If you'd like to learn to sing, or if you can sing and you'd like to improve your voice, check out Vocal Coach Singer.


For more reviews of The Vocal Coach products, go here.

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Primary Arts of Language

Institute for Excellence in Writing is a well known company in the homeschool community.  In addition to writing programs, they produce spelling and poetry resources as well.  The Schoolhouse Review Crew was given the opportunity to review their reading and writing program for early elementary students, Primary Arts of Language.


I was sent the Primary Arts of Language Complete Reading Package ($69) and the Primary Arts of Language Complete Writing Package ($89).  These are for grades K-2, and are intended to be simultaneously, though you could use them individually.  I used these with Nicholas, who is 6 (nearly 7) and in first grade.


The Primary Arts of Language Complete Reading Package contains:
  • Reading Teacher's Manual
  • Reading DVD-Rom
  • Phonetic Games
  • Phonetic Farm Folder

The Teacher's Manual contains all 80 lessons for the program.  Lessons are laid out clearly in list form (view a sample).  They are not scripted, but instead give you bullet lists for each section of the program.

The DVD-ROM contains the Student eBook to print out, a video by author Jill Pike that explains exactly how to use the program, as well as helpful mp3s by Adam Andrews and Andrew Pudewa.

The Phonetic Games book (view a sample) includes all of the games used in the program.  These are file folder games that are used throughout the program as a fun way of reinforcing the phonetic rules.

The Phonetic Farm Folder provides a fun and colorful way for the student to keep track of all the phonetic rules.
Nicholas' favorite part of PAL Reading


The Primary Arts of Language Complete Writing Program contains:
  • Writing Teacher's Manual
  • Writing DVD-Rom
  • All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit
  • All About Spelling Level 1 Teacher's Manual
  • All About Spelling Level 1 Student Materials Kit

The Writing Teacher's Manual (view a sample) contains the lessons to the writing portion of PAL.  It is broken down into 3 parts:  Printing and Story Summaries (31 lessons), Copy Work and Style (40 lessons), and Composition with Style (16 lessons).  

The Writing DVD-Rom contains a video by author Jill Pike explaining how to use the program, Student e-Book (view a sample) to print out, and mp3s by Adam Andrews and Andrew Pudewa.

All About Spelling (view a sample) is a popular spelling program that teaches spelling though teaching the phonograms.  It is a multi-sensory program, using phonogram magnets that allow your child to manipulate the phonograms as they learn to spell.


As you can see, there is a lot of parts to the program.  A single lesson using both PAL Reading and PAL Writing has you and your student:
  • Read and discuss a poem
  • Mark up and discuss words in the poem
  • Teach and review phonograms
  • Write an entry in a journal
  • Read practice sentences
  • Complete a writing lesson
  • Play a game or two
  • Add to the Phonetic Farm
  • Complete Student worksheets

It is suggested that you break up the lessons throughout the day.  

Even though Nicholas was just starting to read when we began this review, I started at the beginning since I had not taught him the phonograms.  He enjoyed the poetry in the lessons, the worksheets, and the Phonetic Farm.  Because the phonograms are presented through poetry, he didn't feel like he was moving backwards in his reading instruction.  

I'm a huge fan on the writing portion.  I've been trying to get Micah (8) and Nicholas to form their letters properly for a long time.  In this program, each letter is given a story to help the student remember how to form the letters.  Both Micah & Nicholas now form the letters we've covered properly.  Beyond the handwriting portion, the story summarizing introduces (without being intimidating) young students to plot, character, setting, action, and conclusion.  Once a student can summarize these things orally, they can move along to writing a retelling of a story or event following the same model.  Students are taught proper capitalization and punctuation, as well as how to write key word outlines.  

All About Spelling isn't introduced until Part II of the writing program, and we didn't make it that far during the review period.  However, I have confidence that it will work very well for Nicholas.  The lessons are scripted and clear, which will make it easy to teach, and I think Nicholas will enjoy the colorful tiles and hands on aspect of the program.

I was a bit intimidated by all the parts of the PAL program, but it turned out I didn't need to be.  After a couple of lessons we easily fell into a routine, and Nicholas enjoyed the varied activities.  PAL has been a hit in our homeschool, and I look forward to continuing the program.


For more reviews of IEW's Primary Arts of Language, go here.

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

Friday, November 02, 2012

Activity Bags

Over the years, I have heard of activity bags being used to help keep preschoolers entertained while Mom is schooling older siblings.  I'm out of the preschool stage, but was intrigued when I found out that Activity Bags has eBooks available for older children as well.  I was pleased to have the opportunity to review 4 eBooks from Activity Bags:

What are activity bags?  The idea is that you take some time and assemble ziplock bags with needed supplies and instructions, so that your child can just pull out a bag and do the activity with little to no direction from you.  You can even arrange a swap with friends.  To complete a swap, each Mom is assigned an activity or two to assemble.  If there are 10 people in your swap group, the Mom would assemble 10 bags of each assigned activity.  Then you get together and trade bags, so every Mom in the swap gets a complete set of activities.  This is an efficient way to get multiple activities assembled.


Each Science Experiments in a Bag eBook contains 25 activities.  There are detailed instructions for how to assemble the bags, and while you might need to purchase some supplies for the experiments, there is nothing that couldn't be found at a local big box or grocery store.  For each experiment there is an experiment log (for the student to record their findings) and answer sheet (contains the answers and explains the why behind what occurred during the experiment). 

EBook 1 focuses on Biology, Nature, and General Science.  Some activities include:
  • Balloon Skewer:  inserting a wooden skewer into a balloon without popping it
  • Chirp, Chirp: determine temperature using a cricket's chirp
  • Geotropism:  germinate seeds and learn what is needed for healthy plant growth

EBook 2 focuses on Chemistry, Human Body, and General Science.  Some activities include:
  • Calling Long Distance:  learn about sound waves by making homemade phones
  • Crayon Creations:  learn how heat changes a solid into a liquid, and then how the liquid changes back into a solid when it cools
  • Rocket Reaction:  learn how unbalanced forces produce motion

EBook 3 focuses only on Chemistry.  Some activities include:
  • Microbes:  learn how salting foods can prevent microbes from spoiling food
  • Salt Crystals:  grow salt crystals
  • Shake, Shake, Shake:  make your own butter

According to the website, the Science Activities in a Bag eBooks are for children in kindergarten through 8th grade, however in the eBook itself it states they are for children in preschool through early elementary age.  While my 7th & 8th grade sons would have fun with some of the activities, I think they are best suited for elementary aged students.  Science in the elementary grades is something that tends to get bumped in our homeschool.  I find that my boys are naturally drawn to science so it's something that they'll easily do in their free time, especially if there are experiments involved.  I had my 5th, 3rd, and 1st grade sons complete some of the activities, and they were well suited for their ages.  I like that I can assemble the bags and then let them choose a science activity when we have some extra time.  The experiment logs are great, especially for my 5th grader, though they required too much writing for my 3rd and 1st graders (we talked about the experiments instead of writing down answers). I look forward to getting several more bags made up for my boys.  All 3 of these eBooks are priced at $15, and are well worth the money.


Travel Activities in a Binder is a bit different.  Instead of placing the activities in ziplock bags, the activities are printed out and put in sheet protectors in a binder.  You'll also need a pencil pouch for the binder to hold supplies like dry erase markers, eraser, blindfold, and dice.

This is a wonderful solution for long car trips or traffic jams.  Activities include familiar activities like hangman, tic tac toe, and mazes, but in addition there are other fun activities like drawing what you see in the clouds, doing an ABC search (looking for something that begins with each letter of the alphabet and writing it down), and blindfold drawing (one person describes what they see out of the window while another blindfolded person attempts to draw it).

We take 1 or 2 really long car trips every year.  In the past, I've made individual activity books for the boys to help pass the many hours.  I've never thought about keeping a binder of dry erase activities in the car for shorter trips, though.  I think it's a brilliant idea, and I know all my boys will enjoy having something to do when they're stuck in the van around town or stuck in a waiting room without anything to do.  This eBook is also worth the $15.


For more Activity Bag reviews (including reviews of Math Games, Reading Games, and Preschool Activities) , go here.


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