Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cubetto Review

I received Cubetto to review for Academics' Choice Awards. Cubetto is made by Primo Toys and was originally a Kickstarter project. Cubetto is a Montessori approved, hands-on coding toy for children ages 3 to 6. It comes with a Cubetto wooden robot, a board, 16 blocks (four of each: left, right, straight, and function), a map, and a storybook.

My 5 and 6 year old LOVE Cubetto! They even had to bring it to grandma's house to teach her how to use it. They have also enjoyed teaching their younger cousins how to use it too. It's simple to use and easy to set up, even for a 3 year old. 

All you have to do is spread out the map, pour out the blocks from their fabric bag, turn on Cubetto and the board, and you're good to go! When we first began using Cubetto, I read the instructions out loud, and explained what each block did when it was placed in the board. We turned on Cubetto and I pointed out each of the little robots movements and how they mirrored the blocks on the board. After a few test runs, I opened up the storybook and showed them how you can take Cubetto on a fun trip around his map. The kids were thrilled with the storytelling aspect of it. 

Now when the kids are playing together, they will take turns, one filling the queue and the other telling a story as Cubetto moves from square to square on his map. They call him "Cubie" and take him on lots of silly adventures. Whenever he wanders off the map, the kids laugh and say he can't help exploring the unknown. 

One thing I would love to become available for Cubetto owners who weren't part of the Kickstarter or who did not order Cubetto with the Adventure Pack, is to sell the maps separately. In addition to the basic map, which is the one we have, there is also an aquatic/pirate, Ancient Egypt, space, and city map. They could line up the maps and take Cubetto on one huge, epic adventure, or they could use them on their own and use them for storytelling activities.

I love that in addition to teaching coding, Cubetto also encourages kids to be creative storytellers. And when played with more than one child, Cubetto can let kids practice patience and sharing. Children will love playing with Cubetto. It's a cute little wooden robot that rolls around on little wheels. My son, who is fascinated with electronics, and was 4 when he began playing with Cubetto, really took an interest in figuring out how Cubetto worked. We haven't used Cubetto for any homeschool STEM lessons, but he plays with it daily and that's a lesson in itself.

So how does Cubetto teach children beginner coding? It uses the blocks and interface board. There are four simple commands, which tells Cubetto where to go. There are three lines in the queue (main sequence) and a line for the function command. There can be a maximum of 12 commands in the queue and 4 commands in the function square (which is a subroutine). My son discovered on his own that he could create a loop of actions by adding a function block to the function queue, which would reset and start over again. The blue button at the top is the Go button, that tells Cubetto when to start his adventure. The blocks are color coded and shaped, so children can easily tell them apart. Green for forward, yellow is left at 90 degrees, red is right at 90 degrees, and blue is the function block.

The map is designed so each square is a single movement for Cubetto. Children can plan his adventure starting on any square on the map. They can let his destination be random or they can plan out a specific journey. If Cubetto can't make it there in one go, he'll stop at the end of his set and wait for new instructions. My daughter likes to tell stories as he moves around. I write it down for her in her journal and she draws pictures later, illustrating Cubetto's adventure.

I would highly recommend Cubetto for parents and teachers of preschoolers and kindergartners. It works well with one child, or a small group of children. Children in a classroom could take turns using Cubetto in small groups. At home, older children can help their younger siblings learn how to use Cubetto. It's a fun toy to learn coding skills at a young age. All children can benefit from STEM skills. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dragonistics Data Cards Review

We received a copy of Dragonistics Data Cards to review for Academics' Choice Awards. It is a card game made by Statistics Learning Centre of New Zealand that teachers and parents can use to teach statistics and play mathematical games. They can be used in a school setting or at home. We are homeschoolers and used it for categorical and numerical math lessons.

Dragonistics Data Cards comes with 240 cards and 56 Attribute cards, enough for a whole classroom. Students learn statistical concepts by sorting and organizing the cards. Each card has a unique dragon on it, with a name, age, gender, strength, height, type of breath, color, behavior, and number of horns. The cards are beautifully illustrated. Not all 240 cards have different dragon images, there are a couple different images for the dragons, but they all have different statistics. We added an extra group by saying the dragons who look the same come from the same family.

The cards come in a small box with a magnetic closure. The one main flaw I see with this box is that the cards are small and glossy and can very easily slide out of the box if it's held on its side or upside down. Providing small plastic card bags or a tuck box would have prevented this. Luckily we own many games and had bags to spare. Otherwise, the box is sturdy and easy for the kids to access on their own. 

We were provided with a few printed copies of their educational materials. No set of rules were included in the game box, but their teaching resources are free on the website. You can simply download and print them as they are needed.

The set of Attribute cards can be used by students to sort their cards. There are 4 of each card, and they include: All Different, Gender, Gender and Color, Color, Breath, Breath and Behavior, Behavior, Height, Age, Age (Century), Strength, Horns, Name Order, Name Length. 

You can use whichever Attribute card you want for lessons or games. We shuffled them up, chose one at random, and gave each child six Dragon cards. They had to sort the cards into appropriate piles. We did this for practice, before starting to use the cards for lessons. When we use them for lessons, I choose which Attribute and Dragon cards we use. My children occasionally work together, but more often they work separately. These cards work equally well in both cases. In a classroom setting, a group of children could play games to see who can sort their cards the fastest or make the most sets of pairs. Below are a few examples of how the cards can be grouped.

Grouped by Gender.

Grouped by type of Breath.

Grouped by Age.

Grouped by Height.

Two of the games that can be played with Dragonistics Data Cards are called Dragon Twins and Speed Sorting. The directions are in the free resources section. The rules are pretty straight forward and can be played with children as young as four.

In Dragon Twins you can play with 2 to 4 players and the object of the game is to find things that are the same. You use both the Attribute cards and the Dragon cards. Set up the Attribute cards and place them face up in front of the players. Then place the Dragon cards face down in a pile in the middle. Your aim is to collect the most Attribute cards. The first player draws two Dragon cards and finds an attribute that they have in common. When the Attribute is found, that player can pick up the matching Attribute card from the pile or from another player. If no match can be found, the player can choose the All Different Attribute card. The Dragon cards are then placed in the discard pile. The game ends when there are no Attribute cards left in the pool and the player with the most Attribute cards wins.

Speed Sorting can be played with 2 to 4 or more players. With up to 4 players, you can use the Attribute cards and 40 Dragon cards. With a larger group, you can use up to 240 Dragon cards. You'll use the Dragon cards for ordering or sorting. Choose which Attributes you want to use, shuffle and place them face-down in a pile. For sorting you can use: color, gender, behavior, or breath. And for ordering, you can use height, age, strength, name order (alphabetically), or number of horns. Shuffle the Dragon cards and each player will choose three cards, placed face-up in front of them. The object of the game is to be the first to collect 10 Dragon cards. The first player turns over the top Attribute card and reads it out loud, then the players try to sort or order their cards as quickly as possible. When the cards are checked, the player who completed their set the fastest is given a new Dragon card from the pile. If they are incorrect, they lose a Dragon card, to a minimum of three. The next player then takes their turn turning over the top Attribute card and reading it. When the pile of Attribute cards are used up, shuffle them and place them face-down and draw from the top. The winner is the first player to 10 Dragon cards. Younger players can play to a smaller number of cards.

We really enjoyed using the Dragonistics Data Cards. We mainly used them to play the games at the end of math lessons, but we also used them for fun. The cards are small enough that they store easily for take-and-go lessons at the park or on the road. My kids really like the dragon illustrations and have fun sorting the cards. The dragon theme really drew them in. As a parent and teacher, I love that the cards can be used for educational purposes while still being an enjoyable game.

I would recommend Dragonistics Data Cards to families that want to improve math skills at home and teachers who want to use them for math lessons. Even if you are using them just to play the games, children are learning math while they play. While there were only rules to use them for two games, I know we will find other ways to play and learn with them. We look forward to printing new material from the website to see what other activities we can use them with.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Baby #3

You may have noticed that Munchkin and Bean hasn't been active over the past few months. That's because I'm pregnant with baby #3 (a boy!) and I wanted to take a break from blogging to focus on home life and homeschooling. Baby O will be arriving mid-May and shortly after I'll begin blogging again, provided life allows the time for it. :)

In the meantime, our Etsy store is still open and we have some new items available, such as frosted felt cookies! I'm currently running a deal on felt boards - buy one, get one felt board set free (such as the solar system, moon phases, or weather set). I'm also creating custom cross stitch family portraits! They are unique and make great gifts to celebrate special occasions, such as weddings, graduations, family gatherings, etc.

I look forward to returning to blogging after Baby O arrives!

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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