Monday, September 27, 2010


I've been running lately.  Technically since last April.  However I have only been running regularly since July.  I've been using the C25K app on my iPhone.  My sister-in-love gives a good overview of the program on her blog here (by the way I introduced her to it and she finished the program before my lazy butt did) :)

This morning I went for the first run since running with my friend Dana in Virginia while on vacation.  I did week 6 day 2 of C25k, consisting of a 5 minute warm up, 10 minute run, 3 minute walk, 10 minute run and a 5 minute cooldown  walk.  So 33 minutes total workout and I ran/walked 3.1 miles!  That is just shy of a 5k.  I came home and looked for local 5k's coming up and found one this Saturday in a nearby town.  I just got done registering for it.  I'm so excited!  I can't wait to see what my time is.  Bonus is we are having beautiful weather so it should be nice and cool for the race. Here is where I will be racing.  Along a hike/bike trail with water views!  Ahh Texas in the fall.

Friday, September 24, 2010

TOS Review : Schleich

Christmas in August!  That is exactly what my kids thought when my review package of Schleich figurines showed up on our porch one afternoon.  Exactly 5 new fans of these figurines have been born.
Included in my package were
Swabian-Hall Piglet
Gnu Calf
Przewalkski's Horse 
Dartmoor Pony
Indian Elephant Calf

These animals are hand painted, containing great detail to each figurine.  The weight of the figurines is what surprised me.  I am used to light weight flimsy figures where over a short amount of time a trunk breaks off or a leg bends and snaps.  Schleich figures are solid, with a good weight to them.  Schleich figures are geared towards the 3 and up crowd, fitting nicely in a small child's hand.  The details of each animal are amazing. It gave my kids the ability to really explore the animal without being around the life sized one.
There are many things you can do with these animals.  For instance my little ones ages 6 and 7 began imaginative play with them.  I also let them choose one to play quietly with while I did a read aloud.  My older kids were fighting over the color catalog that came with them, choosing which ones to spend allowance on.  My 14 year old was particularly taken with the magical collection of fairies that they offer since she collects fairy figurines.  The prices vary for the animals and other pieces.

One thing I enjoyed was on the site specifically.  You can look up any animal they sell and it will give you its zoological name, conservation status and global home.  Also listed with the specific animal is a blurb about that particular breed along with a fun fact.  This could be a fun activity for kids to look up different animals to help them classify them or dig deeper on a specific animal.  My 12 year old spent some time checking out all the different information they offered on the various horse breeds.  Local retailers sell them, use the locator on their site to find one near you.  You can also find them at online retailers.  We purchased some at for stocking stuffers this Christmas.

Schleich figures are a great toy.  When you see one in person you can see the painting detail.  This is one company I will turn to for quality toys for all the kids in my life.

You can see what my other crewmates thought of Schleich figures here.
Disclaimer: I received these 8 figurines for free for review purposes only.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TOS Review: Salem Ridge Press

Salem Ridge Press sent me one paperback book and two E-Books to review. Salem Ridge Press is committed to wholesome moral books.  They describe themselves on their website as "Salem Ridge Press is a publishing company, established in 2005, dedicated to bringing back quality children’s books of the 1800’s and early 1900’s for a new generation of readers. We strive to republish wholesome "living books" for the whole family, and we hope that you enjoy these books as much as we have! "  Their website has a large list of historical fiction.  
Two of the books were by Emma Leslie, an 18th century author.  Salem Ridge Press has republished her historical fiction 12 book series on church history.

  From Bondage to Freedom was the first book I chose to read.  From Bondage to Freedom is a historical fiction book about the rise of Islam.  At first the book was hard to get into.  The old English wording took some time to adjust to.  After awhile though it became easier to read.  The characters in the book drew you in to their plight.  The character Aseeyah especially caught my interest as she began the book as an outcast due to her blindness but ends up being a leader of her tribe sought for her wisdom.  Asseyah becomes a Christian but all around her is the pagan religion of the Arabic tribes and a new religion being proclaimed by Mohammed.  The story line follows several characters and bounces between the three.  It also switches between Mecca and Constantinople.  This book is obviously written from a Christian perspective.  Not being a scholar of Islam or having much knowledge myself of how that religion came about I can not speak to the historical authenticity of the book.  However the author does a good job of drawing you into the cultural difficulties of the time.  The book is geared towards ages 12- adult but I think I would wait until high school to introduce this book.  From Bondage to Freedom can be purchased in soft cover for $14.95.  Hardcover is available from Salem Ridge Press.

Before the Dawn is another of Emma Leslie's books on Church History.  It is available for  $14.95 for softcover at Salem Ridge Press or in E-Book format from The Old SchoolHouse Store.  This particular book is church history surrounding the times of Wycliffe and Huss.  Again the language is of old but after reading the first book of hers I was more accustomed to it.  Some vocabulary words are defined as footnotes at the bottom of the page to aid the reader in better understanding.  This book pulled me in right away, perhaps because From Bondage to Freedom had warmed me up to the author's style of writing.

Marie's Home available for $12.95 for softcover is written by Caroline Austin.  This particular book is geared towards the 10-adult age range.  So I gave this E-book version, available at,  to my 12 year old daughter to read while waiting for her sister to finish choir.  My girls are hard to keep in books, if you know what I mean. so I printed it out (several pages per sheet) and sent her on her way.  She wrote her own review of the book.
My 12 year olds review of Marie's Home

I liked this book because there were very few dull moments, and you saw Marie grow and mature as she told her history. The only thing I did not like was that there were a few vague points where you did not really know what was happening, until Marie addressed the event afterwards (usually telling her thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc.) You did not know what had happened when a person suddenly dropped from the story line. On the other hand, it had quite a lot of historical insight. The story was set a little before and after the French Revolution, from 1789-1793. It showed all different sides of the story, the French Nobles, King Louis  XIV and Marie Antoinette, and last but not least, the peasants. As Marie and her family happened to be in the French Court as a Noble family and favorites of the King and Queen, things do not bode well for them. But an act of kindness committed by Marie upon their arrival at the French court saves them in an unusual way. The title “Marie’s Home” comes from the fact that Marie and her family move from place to place in England and France but every time they come back to the one place they call home. I would recommend this book for ages twelve and up. All in all it was a great book, and I really enjoyed it. 

I enjoyed these living books from Salem Ridge Press and will definitely add them as a resource when looking for more historical fiction for my children.  They have the entire series from Emma Leslie, plus books on World History and American History.  These books that I reviewed were for an older set but if you check out the reviews of Salem Ridge Press by my fellow crew mates that can be found here you will find reviews of some of the books published for the younger set as well.

These three titles are available at The Old Schoolhouse Store in E-book format


Disclaimer: I received a hard copy of Bondage to Freedom an E-book of Marie's Home and Before the Dawn for free for review purposes only

Friday, September 17, 2010

TOS Review: Vocabulary Cartoons

mnemonic |nəˈmänik|nouna device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something.

Mnemonics is the exact thing that Vocabulary Cartoons utilizes in the book Vocabulary Cartoons SAT Word Power.  This book is geared for 7-12th graders, although when it arrived in the mail for me to review there was fighting amongst my kids grades 2, 5, 7 and 9 as to who got to read it first!  For $12.95 this book offers over 290 vocabulary words.    Each page has one vocabulary word.  This word is the word intended to be memorized.  Beneath each word is it's phonetic pronunciation, part of speech and definition.  Also under the vocab word is it's link word, a word that links it to the cartoon.  Then you have the cartoon.  Under that you have the caption which uses both the vocab word and it's link word.  A few sample sentences using the vocabulary word follow the caption.  You can follow this link to see how it works.  Below you will find an example from the website

My kids would grab up this book in their spare time and look over the words.  They really enjoyed the format for each word.  The cartoon usually had them snickering to themselves.  Most words required  calling over a sibling to let them in on the cartoon and caption.  The funny thing is while they were laughing over the cartoon and caption they were actually absorbing the true definition of the word!  Fun, easy learning.

For the most part, I just have this book handy in our school room for them to pick up at leisure, however when I was met with a particularly snippy 7th grader I presented her with the book to work on the first 10 vocabulary words.  The requirement was for her to take the review quiz and earn a 100% in order to relieve her of other vocabulary work.  She aced the review.  Even several weeks later she can still tell me which each one means as she recalls the cartoon.  My goal is to present a few of these words each month reviewing the previous ones in the process.  I figure by the time SAT time rolls around they will have a good grasp on the vocabulary words.

I love the concept of Vocabulary Cartoons.  It works for several types of learning styles.  The vocabulary words are presented in such a fun manner that you can't help but learn the word.  This is one book we will keep handy as we approach the years leading up to the SAT. 

Vocabulary Cartoons also has books for elementary as well as a second volume for middle - high school.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Vocabulary Cartoons for review purposes only.

Friday, September 10, 2010

TOS Review: America's Math Teacher

Math is a four letter word to my freshman.  She really detests math and will make it the last subject of the day.   She struggles with math but still manages a mid to low B in Algebra I, her current course of study.  She *thinks* she stinks at math.

Along came this review for America's Math Teacher.  America's math teacher is a web subscription based product.  For $195 you get one year access to the entire library of courses from basic math to algebra. This fee would cover all students in your homeschool from 4th grade - Algebra, with plans to add more high school level courses . Each level offers short instruction videos, practice sheets and evaluations.  The website was just being launched as we started our review process and more features are being added as the author receives input and feedback.  

I let my daughter loose in the Algebra section.  We started with adding integers, something that was giving her grief at the beginning of the year.  Claire watched the videos, each of them are about 9 minutes long.  The video itself is just a male voice over with a computer white board.  As the teacher discusses the problem it is displayed on the screen.  My daughter, who has done other “video” math programs felt the male voice was nervous and dry.  After the lesson I printed out the practice sheet .  With the answer sheet I corrected her problems and reviewed the one problem she got wrong with her.  A few days later, once she had watched the other videos in the first section, I opened up the evaluation page.  She had 30 minutes to complete the exam.  She completed the test in under 4 minutes (hence the “she *thinks* she stinks at math”).  She managed an 80% on the test.  The one thing this website does not do is record the student scores, nor track their progress.     For her the quick lessons and practice sheets were a nice change up.  Each lesson was based on one concept - helping with mastery.
The best aspect of the site in my opinion are the speed drills.  One can choose addition, subtraction, or multiplication.  Below is a picture of my daughter working a speed drill.  She enjoyed this aspect of the site very much, always trying to better her speed.

Overall I believe this has the potential to be a great product.  However at the time of the review the site was just getting up and running, with new features being added frequently.  I did not have enough time to explore the features that were coming online.  America's math teacher offers free lessons to try out.

To see what my crew mates thought of  America’s Math teacher click HERE 

Disclaimer- I received a free 60- day subscription of this product as a member of the TOS crew for review purposes only.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TOS Review: Vantage Learning My Access! Home Edition


Ugh!  That is my immediate reaction when faced with assigning a writing assignment to my kids.  I don't enjoy formal writing and I sure don't enjoy grading it!  In fact when I received this review I was dreading it.  I felt my back against the essay wall.

To be honest my older girls (who were my testers) were not that thrilled either.
My Access Home Edition from Vantage Learning however changed a few of our minds.  My Access is an online writing program.  The program is $129.95 for up to 6 students per year.  They also have an option for up to 3 students for $99.95.  For this fee you get access to the online writing center.   My Access! has writing prompts offered for up to three age groups, 8-10, 11-14, 15-18.  The parent has an account and each kid has their own login and password as well.  In the parent center you set up the child's account.  Also in this area you can choose to have progress reports emailed to you each week and set point goals for your child.  There is a huge list of writing prompts available for the student to choose from, but the parent can also create a topic.  I implemented this program in our homeschool by having my girls sit down with the program for about 30 minutes twice a week.  

My 14 year old is not so keen on writing.  She went through the self-paced pre-writing exercises begrudgingly.  As she went through the pre-writing exercises though there was a writing guide she could print out and refer to.  The pre-writing used a nice interface of a journalist gathering info.  It kept her somewhat motivated to get through the initial exercises.  

My 12 year old daughter enjoyed the program.  Well I should rephrase that... she tolerated the program until her final submission of her first essay.  I walked in the door one evening after she had drafted, submitted, corrected and then resubmitted her paper and she was beaming from the top of the stairs.  I asked what was up and she proclaimed that she was "advanced proficient" in all five of the areas the program scores in.  That made her day.  Here is a screen shot of her progress

What I like most about this program was the step by step approach it took to introducing writing.  It didn't just assign a topic and leave you with a blank page.  It "held your hand" helping you build the essay.  What I loved about this program was it's grading process.  It took my daughter's essay and highlighted every grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax error.  It then allowed her to hover over the highlighted error for corrections listing what was wrong with the particular phrase or section of the paper.  

I'm hoping to incorporate My Access! Home Edition into more of our writing lessons.  I feel it has valuable resources in the writing guide as well as in the correction phase of the writing.  The cost for three students is reasonable.

See what other crew members had to say about My Access! here.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free as a member of the TOS Crew for review purposes.