Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fun-Time Phonics! Review

We received Fun-Time Phonics! from The Critical Thinking Co. to review. It's a 300+ page curriculum to help children ages 4 (Pre-K) to Grade 2 learn to read. It focuses on phonics and because it's targeted to younger children, it uses colorful images on every page to help children connect pictures to letters, sounds, and words.

$39.99 book / $19.99 download
One of the great features of Fun-Time Phonics! is that classroom copying is allowed, which also applies to homeschool families. So you can use one book for multiple students. We actually didn't end up making copies, mainly due to the fact that we don't have a color printer, but we used clear dry-erase sheets to put over the page when it prompted the student to circle, color, or write on something. But most of the earlier activities simply ask you to point to the correct answer. For the most part I worked on Fun-Time Phonics! one-on-one with my kids. Bean whizzed through a quarter of the book in the first two weeks that we had it, but after that she reached the point where she was learning something new and began to pace herself to one lesson per day. Munchkin has stuck to one lesson per day, but this is the first reading curriculum we have used that he has shown positive interest in, so we are very happy with his progress! 

There are many different types of lessons that can be found in Fun-Time Phonics! The first few activities focus on Phoenemic Awareness (beginning and ending sounds, rhyming, putting sounds together, short vowel sounds), then Alphabetics (short vowel letters, consonants and co-articulation), Beginning To Read, and at the end, Words I Can Read.

In all, there are 100 activities. However, 100 activities doesn't necessarily mean that this curriculum only covers 100 days of lessons, because in order to move on to the next lesson, each student should first master the current activity they are on, because each lesson builds on the previous activities. So while some activities may only require a day to master, others might take two or more days to work through. We have always preferred child-paced learning and loved that this curriculum allowed them to set their own pace.

We really liked that the beginning sounds activities used pictures and words to match the sound. The kids primarily focused on the pictures at first, but after choosing their answer, we would go through each word and point to the first letter, make its sound and then say the word.

The vowels seem to be the hardest part for Munchkin to master. He knows all the vowels, but he has difficulty with their sounds, like short and long A. So we have spent a lot of time going over these lessons with him.

We aren't this far into the book yet, but Bean has flipped through to look at future lessons. She tries to name what the pictures are, and sometimes finds it difficult to figure out what the word is meant to be, despite the red arrows pointing at the image. Generally I try to have her figure out the image first and if she can't, I'll tell her what it is.

We took the first words list and made a set of flash cards out of them. The front of the flash card, the blank side, shows the word in big letters, while the lined back side of the card has the word written at the top. Bean practices to write these words on the lines, but only after she has mastered reading the word.

Bean prefers the lessons where she can circle or write on the answers, while Munchkin prefers to point out his answer. This curriculum has worked out for both of them and they are always eager to work on their "fun phonics." I love that it appeals to both of them, and they can work independently or with help.  

I would absolutely suggest using Fun-Time Phonics! for beginner readers, for both homeschoolers and public school students. We loved having the book form, because it was easier for the kids to use on their own, and it made it easier for me, not having to find a color printer to make copies. But for a classroom setting, I would suggest using the digital version to make your copies, since the pages in the physical copy do not come out, so it may be difficult to make perfect copies of them. But as the teacher, I'd always want a physical copy on hand to refer to and use to plan future lessons.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Eat Your Math Homework Review

We received Eat Your Math Homework from Ann McCallum Books to review. It's a super fun book with a collection of math recipes and lots of interesting math facts. Ann McCallum also has two other homework eating books, one for science and the other for U.S. History, along with a few math themed books. We look forward to checking them out! Eat Your Math Homework is intended for children in Pre-K to 2nd grade. It covers fractions, Fibonacci, geometry, Tangrams, probability, tessellations, variability, patterns in nature, and more!

We have always enjoyed taking our math lessons to the kitchen, since cooking has so many mathematical properties. Whether you're measuring flour for cookies, cutting carrots into quarters for salad, reading a temperature, or setting a timer, you're learning math. There are numbers everywhere in the kitchen. From the time on the stove, to the temperatures on the dials and thermometers, to the measurements on the measuring spoons and cups, to the stick of butter. Numbers are everywhere. 
We have a handful of recipe books for children, but they don't go into the math side of cooking. We do however have a handful of board games that feature food and math. We use those when we don't have any recipes planned, but for the most part, everyone prefers math when it involves eating their problems. My 4 and 5 year old absolutely loved reading Eat Your Math Homework. It's the first book they owned that isn't a math workbook, but is still all about math. Each section has a little math story, then it goes on into the recipe, what type of food to use, and talks about the math facts. 
For the Fraction Chips, we turned to an old favorite recipe. Cinnamon Sugar on baked tortilla chips, dipped in strawberry salsa. We used the tortillas to learn about fractions, by using a pizza cutter to slice them into fractions. We started with a package of a dozen tortillas and used each one to represent a different fraction, with a few extras to munch on while they used the rest to learn math. We created all the fractions in the book, with help from flash cards that showed the number fractions and the written word for each to match them. 

I actually remember a few times in school when a teacher brought in food for math lessons, to incorporate some hands on learning. Those kinds of lessons always stayed with me, and I love that my kids are learning so much in the kitchen about math, all from a handful of fairly simple recipes. The food used in Eat Your Math Homework are all types of food you would probably already have at home, so it was really easy to make most of the recipes, with the ingredients already on hand. You'll find recipes for snack sticks, pizza pi's, trail mix, and even Tangram cookies (Bean's favorite!). It's a really good mix of different types of food, so there's something to appeal to everyone. And if particular ingredients bother you, you can easily find substitutes.

Eat Your Math Homework is a great book, even if you don't actually use it for homework. It would make a great addition to any homeschool or school classroom, and would even be fun gift for children who either love math or cooking. We plan to pick up Eat Your Science Homework and Eat Your U.S. History Homework as part of Munchkin and Bean's Christmas presents. We usually do an equal mix of toys, clothes, and new learning supplies. Our advent calendar is always a collection of 24 new books, so these two will be among them.

Extra fun homework books: Eat Your Science Homework and Eat Your U.S. History Homework.

Children's math stories: Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale and Beanstalk: The Measure of a Giant.


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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Nutcracker Review

Maestro Classics Review

We received The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics to review. It is a classical music CD with an activity booklet. The music is conducted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the music is by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapted and conducted by Stephen Simon, and narrated by Jim Weiss.

Maestro Classics Review
CD $16.98 MP3 $9.98

The Nutcracker CD has 21 tracks. It covers the whole story, from the Christmas Party to the Land of Sweets and the Sugar Plum Fairy. It lasts 58 minutes and is sure to make it on the music list for a Christmas party!

The Nutcracker is a classic. It has always been one of my favorite holiday stories and the music is timeless. The Nutcracker Prince was always on our Christmas movie marathon list (it's available on Youtube). The Nutcracker story book is one of the books included in our 24 Days of Christmas book list. This year, in addition to reading the story, we'll be able to listen to the music. 
If your kids love to be creative and want to put on a play, you can let them use the booklet to follow the acts and act out the scenes of the story with the music in the background. Or you can watch The Nutcracker ballet performance. My kids opted to dig out their collection of Nutcrackers from our box of Christmas decorations, found a couple toys to replace the other characters, and tried to play out the story. 
The booklet also has other information and activities to offer, such as a history on ballet, music from the Overture to The Nutcracker, information on harps and Tchaikovsky, a word scramble activity, and a crossword puzzle. From the Maestro Classics website you can download the curriculum guide to The Nutcracker, which covers ballet, history, geography, science, language arts, art, music, and math. You can create a whole mini-unit on The Nutcracker using the curriculum guide. The website doesn't offer music sheets for The Nutcracker, but they may be able to get them if you email them. If not, there are plenty of sheet music available online. 

Maestro Classics offers the following Stories in Music:
Peter and the Wolf
The Nutcracker
The Story of Swan Lake
Carnival of the Animals
My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
The Tortoise and the Hare
Merry Pranks of Master Till
Casey at the Bat
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Soldier's Tale
Juanita la langosta EspaƱola (Juanita the Spanish Lobster)

Maestro Classics offers a 12 CD collection at a discounted price. We would love to someday own the whole collection! There is music for everyone, whether you're a fan of ballet or the stories, and if you aren't sure which you want to start off with, each one has a sample of the music on the website.

We have always really enjoyed Maestro Classics CDs. They are a wonderful way to incorporate music into our homeschool lessons. We enjoyed listening to The Nutcracker and we look forward to bringing it back out during the month of December to help us celebrate Christmas.

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The Ultimate Homeschool Planner Review

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

We received The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - Blue Cover from Apologia Educational Ministries to review. It covers 52 weeks of your homeschool year. It also features Biblical scriptures and inspiring quotes. It comes in blue, yellow, and orange. I liked the blue cover because the colors were vibrant and really popped.

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Both covers feature an inside pocket for notes, papers, and whatever you may need to store away in your planner. Following that is a calendar of the 2015-2023 years. I used a highlighter to dot the days that were especially important, like holidays, vacations, field trip days, and planned outings. I've only gone as far as 2017, but it's nice to have those calendars ahead of schedule. After that is basically the starting page, where you can list your homeschool, students, and their grades. The user's guide was really helpful to fully utilize the homeschool planner. 

We used the one year planning grid to plan out our weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly unit studies. Generally we planned month-long units with each week being directed to a specific study within the theme. Like for instance, anatomy is coming up and we plan to focus one week on the outside body, one on bones, one on muscles, and one on organs. For life cycles, we choose a mammal, bird, insect, and plant and spent one week on each of them. 

In the goal section we didn't focus as much on character development, so much as what the kids wanted to focus on and learn by the end of the year. They each made their own list and I plan to do my best to make sure we can check off each one during the year. I also wrote down a few of my own goals, as a teacher and as a mother. I hope to improve on certain traits. Organization is one of them, so I hope the planner helps with that!

The resource list was super helpful in keeping track of each child's curriculum and student materials. I was able to list the curriculum on one side and use the other side to list which materials were to be used with that curriculum. Like for math, I listed counters, rulers, coins, pattern blocks, etc. Then I set up a shelf for each subject and put these materials with them so they are always easy to locate. 
After that is the monthly planner. You'll have to add in your own month, year, and days. That means you can start whenever you want and you're not limited to a 2015-2016 year planner. At the bottom of each of these pages is a Biblical quote and a notes section. 

And from there is the weekly planner, which also has a space for notes, supplies and appointments. Small post it notes also fit in these spaces, which I usually carry around with me, and I can easily add them to the planner when I get home. The weekly planner also has a prayer section, Bible plan, battle plan, hospitality/outreach (which can also be used for Church plans or volunteer work), memorable moments, achievements, and evidences of grace. 

Near the back of the planner you'll find a section for records and grades for each student. You can mark subjects, grades throughout two semesters, and the end of year final grade. I am particularly fond of the reading lists as well. However, due to the fact that we read several books per day, we decided to limit the planner's reading list to the books that are used for their unit studies. Personal reading is usually done from our home library, and we save library lists (in the back pocket of the planner) in case we ever want to revisit a favorite book. There are also field trip and outside activities lists. We used these to note the name of the field trip, the address and phone number, tickets/pass (stored in the front pocket), and who we plan to go with. 

There are also teaching tips, which offer encouragement and go over learning styles and thinking skills, to better understand our children. I really liked the Twenty Power Tools Student Toolkit list, which we liked so much, that we made a copy of it and put it up on the wall in our homeschool corner. It lists examples like "analyze it! connect it! investigate it! transform it!" Finally, the end of the planner features a year-end review section for notes, which we haven't gotten to yet. 

I really liked The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. It had everything I was looking for in a planner, and a lot more that I didn't realize I needed, the the resource lists and monthly planner list. It made it so much easier to plan unit studies and keep track of all the books and materials we would need. And unlike some planners which only list Monday through Friday, this planner added in Saturday and Sunday on the monthly schedule, and adds in a sixth day on the weekly schedule, so you can use it for Saturday or Sunday, or both. I wish the whole week was available, but then there would be less space for the rest of the days. We have made due with combining the weekend days into one slot. 

I would highly recommend The Ultimate Homeschool Planner for Christian homeschooling families. It was a wonderful way to keep track of our lesson plans for the year and it had a lot of extra features that some planners don't have. I also liked the size of the planner. It wasn't too small and had lots of space for notes. It is roughly the size of a regular textbook or curriculum book, so it fit nicely on our homeschool shelf. 

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A Review

IEW Phonetic Zoo
We received the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] from Institute for Excellence in Writing to review. It's a self-teaching spelling program. It combines auditory and phonics lessons to fully master each word. Children can work independently or with a parent's assistance. Level A is recommended for children in grades 3-5, or as remedial work for children in grades 6-8. It can also be used by children with special needs.

IEW Phonetic Zoo
CD with Printed Materials $99.00

When purchasing any level from the Phonetic Zoo Spelling sets, you should always purchase the Starter Set with it, so you have all the additional materials you'll need for the lessons. If you already own the Starter Set, then you can simple buy the audio CDs. The Starter Set includes 5 audio CDs or an MP3 download (Level A, B, or C), Level A-C's Lesson Cards of spelling words, Personal Spelling Cards to keep track of misspellings, Zoo Cards for practice and rewards, an MP3 download of the Phonetic Zoo Teacher's Notes, and a Spelling and the Brain video. If you are unsure what level your child is at, you can have them take the placement test.

The Level A audio CD set contains five discs and each disc has 18-19 lessons. Bean and I worked on the lessons together. We only worked on one lesson per week, though sometimes it took us longer. We worked on the lesson three days a week, 15 minutes each, and mainly focused on introducing the subject matter, rather than fully mastering it. Bean is excited about spelling, but we don't pressure her to learn it all at once right now, since she is still young. This phonetic curriculum is great for laying down a strong spelling foundation that she can learn from.

On the front of the Lesson Cards you'll find pictures and the name of the animals and birds that focus on the word sound, along with three words for each level. For example, Lesson One features a caiman and a manta ray, along with the words brain, always, and pain for Level A, wailing, decay, and sailor for Level B, and ailment, portrayal, and tailored for Level C. The back of the card features the same rule, jingle, or hint from the Spelling Zoo Cards, along with a list of fifteen spelling words for each level.

The Spelling Zoo Cards are Bean's favorite part of this curriculum. She loves starting off each lesson listening to the jingle. It's not always a jingle, sometimes it's a rule or hint. But they have inspired us to come up with little songs for each lesson. As for the auditory lessons, we generally use it at the start of the lesson, and then use a dry-erase board and practice worksheets the rest of the week. I made the worksheets, and for each word, there is a traceable version and a write it yourself line. Since the spelling words are grouped into five groups of three on the Lesson Cards, we decided to focus on three words per day, hence why it generally took over a week to complete each lesson.

We look forward to continuing to use the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Lessons in the future. We plan to purchase Level B and C when we get to that point. I really think the audio CDs are worth it. It allowed Bean to work independently, which she prefers. We both really enjoyed using the Phonetic Zoo curriculum. I loved how easily it taught her spelling lessons, while she learned a better understanding of how words work. IEW is one of our favorite curriculum brands and I will always swear by their products. I highly recommend them for other homeschooling families. They continue to help ours and I know other families will find success with them.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Koru Naturals Review

Koru Naturals Review

We received four wonderful and healthy products to review from Koru Naturals: Skin Clear Cream, Manuka Honey Propolis SoapManuka Honey and Manuka Oil Facial Cleanser, and Manuka Honey, Tamarind and Manuka Oil Facial Toner. Koru Naturals is a New Zealand company specializing in traditional Maori recipes for a healthier body. All of the NZ Fusion products contain no parabens, artificial colorants or fragrances.

 Koru Naturals Review

The Skin Clear Cream is 4 ounces of unpasteurized Manuka Honey and pure Manuka Oil. The new, 20th Anniversary version, contains new ingredients, including: Kawakawa and Harakeke, Burdock Root, Thyme, and Canadian Aspen Bark. These ingredients add minerals, a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, and natural preservatives. If you struggle with acne or oily skin, this skin creme is for you. I don't often have break-outs, but when I do, I've reached for this creme first. This creme contains powerful moisturizers and promotes elasticity and helps to clear blemished skin. It's recommended to apply twice daily, which helps to restore the natural moisture barrier. But I generally use it when it's needed. 

 Koru Naturals Review

The Manuka Honey Propolis Soap is a 4.93 oz. bar of gorgeous soap. It's two-toned and has the most amazing smell. It has quickly become my favorite soap, and I'm extremely picky. One of the best qualities about this soap, besides its health benefits, is how soft the lather is. I have sensitive skin, and harsh soaps can cause me to break out in rashes, but this soap is ideal for people with sensitive skin. The combination of Manuka Honey and Propolis creates a soap that gently moisturizes, cleanses and protects the skin. 

 Koru Naturals Review

The Manuka Honey, Tamarind and Manuka Oil Facial Toner is a 4 oz. conditioner to apply to skin before using a moisturizer. It's ideal for people who struggle with acne, oily skin, or sensitive skin. It's suggested to use after cleansing, but before moisturizing. You just have to squeeze a small amount on a cotton ball and apply it to your face, but avoiding the eye area, and once it's dry you can apply a moisturizer. I usually applied it after a shower, because it feels really refreshing! 

 Koru Naturals Review

The Manuka Honey and Manuka Oil Facial Cleanser is 4 ounces of cleanser perfect for sensitive skin. It's gentle enough, even on the most sensitive skin (at least it beat my test). It's a deep cleanser and doesn't irritate skin. I did notice slight redness (no pain) when I first used any of the Botanical products, but my skin also wasn't used to cleansers or moisturizers. I no longer have that problem and now all of the products work wonderfully! The bottle suggests using your hand or a cotton pad/ball to apply to your face. I chose the easier option and just used my hand. After applying, wait a few minutes, and then rinse it off. 

We love Koru Naturals products. Some of the products can even be used by children, but always check the website, as some are not recommended for children under 12 or pregnant women. Also, always check the ingredient lists for possible allergies, as many of the products contain Manuka honey. The products are all-natural, perfect for sensitive skin, and if I'm allowed to be bias, my absolute favorite botanical products. 

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Fun Spanish Review

 Brookdale House Review

We received The Fun Spanish, an elementary Spanish curriculum, from Brookdale House to review. It was an ebook copy, though the Brookdale House does have physical copies. The Fun Spanish uses a Charlotte Mason style of teaching, keeping it fun for the kids and easy for them to follow along. The curriculum focuses on memory retention, to get the most out of it. The Fun Spanish teaches verb conjugation, prepositions, and vocabulary, along with the fundamentals of Spanish sentence structure. Ideally The Fun Spanish would be used by children in grades 2-5.

 Brookdale House Review
E-Book $14.95 Printed Book $19.95

One of the awesome things about The Fun Spanish is that it has a curriculum schedule that is easy to follow. Unfortunately, due to the fact that my children are still young, they don't do as much writing as is required for most of this curriculum. We supplemented with flash cards and a white board with all of the study materials, and they copied down the work in their Spanish workbook. Bean did much better in this department, but Munchkin mainly focused on the alphabet, numbers and some phrases.

Currently we are also using an online curriculum for Spanish, but it does not include a written portion. It mainly focused on learning phrases and the correct pronunciation. That, combined with The Fun Spanish, was a perfect combination. The writing portions appealed more to Bean, who was able to have a better understanding of Spanish using this curriculum. Instead of just jumping straight in with phrases, it goes through the different components of Spanish, to help children better understand how words are formed. Like how some are masculine and feminine. That was a hard concept to teach, but we made it through it. 

We used the curriculum several times a week. We printed off each lesson and focused on one lesson every two weeks. Sometimes it took longer than two weeks to work through, so we made adjustments where it was needed. We prioritize mastery first, instead of plowing through at a set pace. Generally our lessons would last about 40 minutes (20 on the computer, 20 on written work). On the off days, we practice using homemade spelling sheets and flash cards. 

There are 17 lessons, so you can use this curriculum over a whole year. Considering the price of this book, that is a bargain for a foreign language curriculum! Each lesson builds on the previous lessons. They steadily get harder, but I found it to be a good pace. One thing the curriculum lacks is pictures, which I know helps most kids, but the neat thing about this curriculum is that there is a drawing section at the end of each lesson, along with a sentence to copy and to base the picture off of. So it really isn't lacking anything! We liked that the book wasn't too "busy" and allowed for children to focus easily. 

I would highly recommend this curriculum to other homeschooling families looking to introduce their children to Spanish. It's wonderful as an introductory course through the basics. I would just suggest picking up a Spanish dictionary, though not required for the curriculum, but for children to use on their own. My daughter would often write on her own after lessons were over and write her on sentences, but occasionally she would need a word in Spanish that she hadn't learned yet, so we'd have to look it up. Overall we really enjoyed using this curriculum and I hope they come out with a Level 2!

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