Thursday, June 25, 2015

Circle C Adventures Review

Tales from the Circle C Ranch is a short-story collection about Andrea Carter. This book will transition readers from the Circle C Beginnings books to the Circle C Adventures books. There are six books in each series. Beginnings takes place while Andi is younger and is suitable for readers who are 6-9 years old, while the Adventures takes place when Andi is a teenager and the books are suitable for readers 9-14 years old. Andi's story doesn't end there though, because there are two new books in Milestones, suitable for readers 12+. There will hopefully be more to come in this new series!

Susan K. Marlow is a Christian fiction author who was inspired to write this book to answer questions from her fans. She is also a fellow homeschooler, which is why her books can be paired with lapbooks and study guidesAndrea Carter's Tales from the Circle C Ranch Learning Lapbook comes with the study guide, mini-booklets, lapbooks, and more. There is so much information about Andi's life, history, culture and more. So whether you're reading the books for pleasure or for school work (did I mention they are perfect for an Old West unit study?), anyone can use the lapbook to learn more.

Tales of the Circle C Ranch Bookk Review

Andrea Carter was born and raised on the Circle C Ranch, which is located in California, during the 1870's and 1880's. She's an active, independent kid who loves horses and going on adventures. She loves her family, friends and the horses she cares for.

Children who read the stories about Andi Carter will learn more than just her story, they will learn about the time period she lived in, like how people lived, what they did for work, their beliefs and way of life. It's a really cool way to learn about history, despite being a work of fiction. The location is real, the work they do is real and many people led that kind of life, and the sources are well researched.

And if you happen to have a son who wants to learn about this time period, but may not enjoy reading from a girls perspective (or vice versa, perhaps a girl wants to read from a boys perspective), there is another series called Goldtown Adventures for readers 8-12. It's about a 12 year old boy during the 1860's, after the Gold Rush, living with his sister and Pa. Like the Andrea Carter books, there are free study guides and lapbooks available for purchase.

Tales of the Circle C Ranch Bookk Review

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and my children also enjoy reading books about history. It's a great way to introduce them to the subject and then incorporate lessons and learning activities. We often take a hands-on approach and make recipes, visit museums, dress up in themed clothes and act out scenes, read lots of books from the library and set up small worlds using Safari Ltd toobs. We also research the topics that interest them, look at historical maps and pictures, and create craft projects that are inspired by objects that were used in the past.

We love reading about Andi's life and the many adventures she goes on. And we absolutely plan to use the Circle C Adventures and lapbooks on future unit studies about the Old West when the kids are a bit older.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

SmartKidz Media Review

SmartKidz Media is an online streaming program for children. The SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers is perfect for families, even those who do not homeschool, as all the videos are kid-friendly and very educational. Curious children will love watching videos about their favorite animals! There are so many educational videos to choose from, not to mention countless activities, games, puzzles, study guides, and more!

The categories include: World of Discovery, Music and Fine Arts, Mighty Ebook Collection, Baby Signs Program, My Animal Family, Quick Find Study Guides, Learning Special Needs, Living Skills Program, Ready Set Sing, and the Fun Zone. And the topics include: animal kingdom, history, science, social studies, world cultures, the fine arts, sports, and health. The study guides also cover language studies and math. So basically, there are A LOT of materials. 

My preschooler and kindergartner loved using SmartKidz Media to watch videos about all of their favorite animals. Usually we watch one or two videos in the morning while the kids eat breakfast. The videos are often short, which is why we might watch more than one. 

They watched the videos together, but used the program by themselves for topics that they enjoyed, but their sibling didn't. For instance, Munchkin loves classical and jazz music, and likes listening to it while he plays. And while he did that, she would be in another room listening to ebooks while she played. There are so many ebooks to choose from! Bean is satisfied with listening, while Bean would prefer to sit and watch them. 

You can watch the videos on any device, anytime, anywhere, so long as you have an internet connection. We use it on our phone, tablet/iPad, laptop and our tv (works on tv's linked to the internet). Members will have unlimited access to the entire media library. Parents can feel at ease letting their children watch the videos, because they are carefully chosen and are perfectly appropriate for children of all ages. 

So whether you have a preschooler or a middle schooler, there are videos and instructional activities to promote learning and reading! We loved exploring the SmartKidz Media site. We mostly used the wildlife videos, music and ebooks. And my children were easily able to navigate the site on their own, since the categories are color coded and each video or lesson has a picture image to select. 

The SmartKidz library is huge, but if I could choose a few subjects to add, it would be videos about vehicles (like how they are made and what they are used for), engineering or STEM, jobs, crafts (how-to videos, DIY projects for kids, nature crafts, etc.) and homemaking. I know many kids in our neighborhood who would love watching videos geared towards kid on how to crochet, cross stitch, sew and other hand crafts. There are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube, but they are usually aimed at adults and the instructions aren't always clear. And I think most kids would enjoy homemaking lessons, which is sadly not a class in most schools these days, but is usually taught in homeschools.

SmartKidz Media Review

SmartKidz Media offers a 14-day free trial, and after that it's only $10 a month or $99 for a year!

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Games!

We got some new games from Miniature Market recently, which, if you're in interested, is a wonderful online store that has awesome (usually extremely discounted) prices on games and gaming accessories. We got 8 games for just over $100! And their daily deals are really dangerous! (In a good way!) Legendary Villains was purchased from our local game store. 

We got Steam Park, BattleLore, Sky Traders, Ventura, Bootleggers, Octo, Galapa Go!, and Bugs And Co. The last three are kids games that we picked up for Munchkin's birthday in August. 

BattleLore and Ventura are two-player games for Albz and I to enjoy when are regular gaming group is unavailable. BattleLore is a strategy war game, with each player controlling their own army. There are multiple expansions that either buff up your army or lets you play a completely different one. Albz really enjoyed it and the kids loved playing with all the miniatures. We can't wait to introduce them to bigger, more complex games! Ventura is a historical war game that uses hexagon tiles to determine location based abilities, with cards and player pieces representing military leaders and armies. 

One of our favorite parts of new games, besides playing them for the first time, is opening them up and punching out all the pieces and organizing everything. It sounds crazy that we enjoy it, but it's always something we are eager to do. It's like that "new game feeling" where you get to look through everything and enjoy it in its pristine state. Albz also likes to sneak a peek at all the cards and read through everything. I prefer to be surprised. :)

Seriously, who doesn't love punching out pieces?

One thing that makes me sad is that Legendary Villains did not come with a plastic insert, like the original game did. In fact, the Dark City expansion also lacked a plastic insert. It totally makes sense that the little expansions don't have one, but the big boxes should definitely have them. It makes organizing the cards so much easier. Instead it just has a cardboard divider and some foam blocks. I will definitely be looking into either making a DIY card tray or invest in one from The Broken Token, either the Villains one or the Legendary base set one, or both. 

On the plus side though, the Villains game came with a lovely roll out play mat, which we love!

Steam Park is a cute little game that will be perfect to bring along on camping trips and family outings. It's a game about building an amusement park for robot visitors. There are lots of cool rides and special tents. And I love that keeping your park clean contributes to victory points! 

The visiting robots are drawn out of a bag, so you never know who you'll get.

I love the designs for the green and purple visitors! Purple octopus tea party rides and apple orchards!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

CTC Math Review

CTCMath Review

We received the 12 Month Family Plan from CTC Math to review. The Family Plan can be used by up to 10 students, so it's really wonderful for homeschooling families with multiple children. And it's extremely convenient for parents, because it tracks each individual student's progress and sends weekly reports to their email.

CTC Math offers unlimited access to multiple levels of math:

1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade
6th Grade
Basic Math and Pre-Algebra
Elementary Measurement
Elementary Geometry
Algebra 1
Algebra II

Students will have their own accounts, which will let them access any level of math that they are using. CTC Math will also keep track of what lesson they are at and they can work through the lesson as many times as they want before moving on. Students are encouraged to work at their own pace for maximum understanding. 

Last year we used CTC Math for Kindergarten math. This year we used it to start on 1st grade math with Bean, and Munchkin continued using the Kindergarten level of math. We used to share a laptop and work through the lessons together, but they now have their own iPad's (hand-me-downs) to use for their online lessons. So we primary used those, which meant they both got to work on math at the same time, but on different levels. It's definitely easier to use tablets for online lessons, because the kids can use the screen, instead of a mouse and keyboard, to click or type their answers.

We love using CTC Math as our primary math curriculum, with homemade hands-on lessons afterwards to practice. We use dice and card games, math manipulatives, life lessons (like counting how many lemons we need to make lemonade or adding the price of two tomatoes at the store), and worksheets. We use CTC Math Monday-Friday during our math block, and for about 20 minutes. We work on one topic per week, or switch to the new topic if the lesson is mastered.

Students using CTC Math can work at their own pace and teacher's do not need to worry about leading the lessons. Which is perfect, if said teacher isn't confident enough to teach math. Because let's face it, math is my least favorite subject and the only subject I'm not comfortable fully teaching my kids. The earlier levels are fine, but I know I'll eventually struggle with algebra and calculus. Which is why CTC Math is perfect for our family. The lessons are set up with an introductory video at the start of the lesson, which explains the concepts and how to solve the problems. After the students watch the video, they can start on their lessons, which usually consists of ten problems. And each time you start the lesson, it has different problems, so you don't have to worry about re-doing the same set of problems each time. Students can work on the lesson until they feel comfortable moving on.

I know that CTC Math provides worksheets for some of the higher levels of math, but I really wish they had worksheets available for the lower levels. I understand that they wouldn't be able to create worksheets for all of the lessons, for instance objects in motion. But they could create worksheets to benefit children who have a hard time using online programs. And I know that means parents or teachers could simply use a different program, but CTC Math is amazing and I have seen a lot of progress with my kids using their program. But if, for instance, there was a family of 5 sharing a single computer, it would definitely make a difference if the students waiting to watch their math lesson video had worksheets to practice and work on.

For students who struggle with math, CTC Math can become the perfect tutor. There are plenty of questions and the lesson videos are thorough. And because the lessons are videos, students can rewing and rewatch the lesson video as many times as they need. There are 1,367 math lessons and over 57,000 interactive questions throughout the whole curriculum, so that will absolutely keep kids busy!

CTC Math is available in two membership plans. The first is for a single student and can be paid for monthly ($29.97), 6 months ($127.00), or for 12 months ($197). The second plan is the family plan, which is for 2 or more students. You can purchase the plan monthly ($39.97), 6 months ($197), or for 12 months ($297).

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dynamic Literacy Review

JazzEdge  Review

Dynamic Literacy is an educational publisher that creates curriculum to make learning vocabulary easy. They don't believe in remembering lists of vocabulary words to drill into your head. It simply doesn't work for most students. With WordBuild, students who have mastered phonics can take the next step of their literacy experience and learn the meaning behind the words. By knowing the meaning, students will better understand the words and be able to make connections.

WordBuild: Foundations, Level 1 is ideal for students in grades 3-5 (remedial 5-9) and comes with a Teacher's Guide, and two Student Activity Books (one is for Basics). They also have a similar curriculum available for older students in grades 5-10 (remedial 7-12), called WordBuild: Elements. And if you use technology, you may be interested in their WordBuild online program, which has interactive learning activities and games.

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Price: $82.99
Instead of simply memorizing a word, students will learn the meanings of key components of words - roots, prefixes and suffixes. And because children will learn to understand these parts of the words, they will never forget their meanings. Many word roots come from Latin and Greek origins, and students can learn the meaning of over 16,000 words using Dynamic Literacy curriculums. 
Students will use WordBuild for approximately 15 minutes a day. The curriculum contains weekly units consisting of engaging activities and lessons focusing on prefixes and suffixes to last an entire year. Students who do not learn well with standardized vocabulary word lists will prefer this curriculum, as it uses puzzles and games to teach words. And if you have multiple children using this curriculum, they can still learn the same root meanings, even if they have different reading levels. 
The Teacher's Guide will introduce you to these lessons, by walking you through the whole lesson and provide questions to ask the students, discussion topics, and answer keys to the activities. 

Students will focus on compound words first (with fun paper dice games!), then move on to prefixes and suffixes. They will use prefix or suffix squares, affix adders, magic squares, word searches, and comprehension boosters throughout the week to learn each individual prefix or suffix. At the end of each lesson there is a list of all the words that use that prefix or suffix.

We used the word lists on our word tree, using the prefix or suffix at the base of the tree, and adding the words that go with them to the tree as leaves. It's a custom piece that we made out of a large brown cardboard box and the leaves are made out of laminated green construction paper.

I mainly used this curriculum to learn about how to introduce prefixes and suffixes to children and incorporate these lessons into our homeschool. I like that the lessons are consistent and each type of lesson happens on the same day each week. I like that each particular prefix or suffix is studied in one-week, before moving on to the next. The transitions are gradual, but students can still work at their own pace. Students can create flash cards if they need to practice more beyond the lessons.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing Review

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) creates the best literacy curriculum sets available, at least in my opinion.  Now we have the wonderful opportunity to review IEW's Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package and Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete Package. These curriculums are huge and packed with amazing activities, games and lessons! The Primary Arts of Language sets are ideal for children in grades K-2 and are specifically designed with special needs children in mind, but are still perfectly suitable for regular learners. Young children who struggle with reading or spelling will benefit from both of these curriculum sets.

We were thrilled with our IEW curriculum last year (Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree) and we were even more impressed with the complete reading and spelling packages. These are seriously in-depth curriculums that cover basically everything you can think of, as far as literacy lessons go.

One of the biggest bonuses to these curriculums is that they are fun. The games are fun to play and make it easier to work with children of different ages.

IEW Review
The Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package comes with a Teacher's Manual, Reading DVD-ROM, Phonetic Games workbook and Phonetic Farm sticker book. The student reading book is available as a download to print at home, but if you prefer, you can purchase the physical book with your set. Students will learn about poetry and whole words with this curriculum, play lots of learning games and track their progress using the phonetic farm sticker book. Each sticker represents a phonetic sound that they have learned, so when they complete the whole unit, their sticker book will be full.

The Phonetic Games book has a checklist to help you keep track of your student's progress. There are 35 games that are consumable, so only one student can use them. You'll also find the story and game pieces at the back of the book, which are printed on thick cardstock paper. We organized them in two craft storage containers. 

Kira is progressing faster with reading than she is with writing, so we are a bit further into this curriculum than we are in the writing curriculum. But we practice often with both programs, so we consistently move forward. And because all of the lessons are fun and never feel like a chore, she is always eager to sit down and learn and it never feels like "work." 

IEW Review
The Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete Package comes with an All About Spelling Teacher's Manual and student packet (see the list below), along with a Writing Teacher's Manual and DVD-ROM. You'll need to download and print the student book (from the DVD-ROM), unless you order the physical version from IEW (it's 274 pages), which may be more convenient for your family. You can purchase these sets separately, but the whole package is a better deal, not just because it saves money, but because there's so much more to offer with the combined materials. 

Included in the All About Spelling student packet:
- Phonogram Chart
- Tokens
- Phonogram Cards
- Sound Cards
- Key Cards
- Word Cards
- Progress Chart
- Certificate of Achievement 

While this is a complete curriculum, it doesn't come with materials like notebooks or pencils, so you'll want to have a couple available for your student. A composition notebook will be used as a daily journal (I recommend using a primary journal, as it has a drawing space on the top half of the page and writing space on the bottom half). You'll also need notebook paper, a card box for the student materials (feel free to re-use an old box, mine was a mug box), and a magnetic whiteboard to use with the letter tiles (if you do not attach the magnets, then you can use them on any flat surface). I also suggest having a notebook for the teacher to use. I use a five subject notebook (reading, writing, math, science and misc - music, social studies/history/geography, etc.) for each child and I use it for notes and to keep track of their progress and write in suggestions for future lessons. 

You have to separate and attach the letter tiles to the magnets before you can use them on a magnet board. If you don't own a magnet board, you can use just the tiles on any flat surface. 

The helpful guide shows you how you're supposed to set up your magnet board. Ours is too small to fit all the tiles and still have room to practice using them, so we usually set them up around the outside of the board. 

Bean likes to practice making words while I set up the lesson for the day. I'll help her sound out words and she'll find the appropriate letter tiles.

Munchkin doesn't always sit for the full length of our lessons (usually 20-40 minutes per day), but when he joins in, he plays with the letter tiles. I will find select tiles that make a word he is familiar with and scatter them. Then he puts them in what he thinks is the correct order.

The main bulk of the student materials packet are pages of cards that you'll need to fold and tear apart at the lines. Yes, it took at least an hour, but it was absolutely worth it. The cards are amazing and have become one of the most used materials in our homeschool. We are able to practice phonograms, letter sounds, learn about spelling rules (like what a vowel or plural is) and practice reading words.

When I finished taking the cards apart, I searched the house until I found a sturdy box that was the perfect size to fit all the cards. It's a gift box that once had a mug in it, but now it has new life as the "word box."

There are dividers that come with the basic interactive kit, so you can easily organize your cards. The three dividers are for review, future lessons, and mastered cards.

The phonogram cards have a letter or two on the front (student side) and the sounds and key words on the back (teacher side).

The key cards are used to learn spelling rules, like what a consonant is and how to count syllables.

There are 170 word cards. We use them at the pace directed in the book, and we review them often.

As you work through the cards, they will move around a lot inside the box. I only use them with Bean, so it's easy to keep track of her progress. But it would be much harder with multiple children. So if you plan on using this curriculum with two or more children, then I suggest purchasing additional student packets and basic interactive kits.

The progress charts and certificates also come in the student packet. We keep them in plastic sleeves in our literacy binder and mark off our progress with a dry erase marker. 

Not pictured is the student writing book. We print off the pages that we need at the beginning of the week and set them up in our daily work folders. I am considering purchasing the physical book, because I feel like it will make it a million times easier for Bean to keep all her materials in one place (not to mention save on ink costs).  I personally would have preferred the student book to come with this set, but I understand why they made it available as a printable download.

Many of the lessons use multi-sensory teaching methods, which makes it easier to teach a group of children with different learning styles. We already use blended styles, focusing on visual and kinesthetic methods, and supplementing with auditory methods. Hands-on lessons seem to work for both of them, and I usually read about the subject while they play or work on the activity. Or as Bean is writing a letter or word, she will either sound it out or read it out loud. Using all three learning styles will mean that they learn more than if they were just focusing on one style. 

The Writing lessons are divided into three parts. The first part is an introductory course and consists of 31 lessons. The second part has 40 lessons and the third part has 16 lessons. The lessons are completely customizable and can easily be modified to fit your child's needs. Children who excel at literacy studies may pace themselves at one lesson per day, while beginner or struggling students may complete one lesson per week. We always make sure to fully complete and understand a lesson before moving on to the next. Working at a student's pace makes it easier for them and they won't fall behind or feel overwhelmed. 

Each student will have their own daily journal. They will learn to write the date and add a couple sentences about their day. We use a primary journal, so Bean also draws a picture about what she wrote about. Since she's still new to spelling, I sit beside her and help her sound out and spell words. If she doesn't feel like writing, but still wants to tell a story, I'll do the writing for her. When we first started with writing journals, I did all the writing, but now she is more comfortable and wants to do it for herself. Sometimes she'll tell me the story first and I'll write it down on a piece of paper and then she will copy it into her journal. 

Teacher's can learn to teach confidently with the manuals as their guide. I read through all of the materials before even beginning the lessons. I wanted to understand how the lessons would be taught and took notes about things I might do differently. I always try the books methods first and if they don't work, I modify them to what words better for my kids. It's usually minor things, and it never effects the overall lesson. 

Both of my children have small writing desks that are separate from our lessons, but usually come in handy. It has a draw and two containers that store colored pencils, pencils, erasers, pencil grips (which come in handy, since Bean has really dainty hands), letter stamps and ink pad, paper and a ruler. She does most of her solo writing at her desk and I believe the independent time is wonderful for her experience.  

If you use technology in your homeschool, there are two free apps you can download that are phenomenal. They are designed by All About Learning Press and are called Letter Sounds A to Z and Phonogram Sounds (available on Android and Apple devices). You can use them with this curriculum and they are even great to use with toddlers and preschoolers to introduce letters and letter sounds. We have the apps on my Android phone and on both of the children's iPad's. We use the tablets during lessons and we use the phone app while we are in the car. We have created a few on-the-go games, like "can you spot something with the "ee" sound?" or "can you find something with the "ar" sound?" They use the app to hear and repeat the sound and then they announce when they find something with that sound, like a tree or car.

The Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package is available for $69.00 and the Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete Package is available for $89.00. Both of these sets are packed with amazing materials that you can use for several years. You can use the teacher's manuals for more than one student, but you'll need separate student materials for each child.

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