Times Alive (by City Creek Press)

I have to admit, I am prone to panic attacks over getting my youngest son to learn his multiplication and division facts. We’ve done flashcards, multiplication charts etc., and NONE of it seemed to work. We did have some success when my son was using an online learning program, and so I think that computer-based learning works best for him in this area. That’s why I was so happy to find out that I was going to get to sample the Times Alive software for my latest review.

This program uses songs, cartoons, and other fun activities to help students learn their multiplication facts, and tests show that after using it, children recall 95% of their times tables! Here is a link to a video that explains more about the program:


I used this program with my 4th grade son, and he really enjoyed it. Times Alive is set up in lessons that cover the multiplication facts for the numbers 0-9. When students log on, they see a menu that lists each lesson and the facts covered. The lessons are divided into 3-5 sections each and students watch videos, paint, listen to songs etc. based on the fact they are learning (i.e. 3×4). The lessons themselves are short, and my son would typically complete one section per day. The program includes 17 lessons, and a post test, so it took us about 4 weeks to work through it.

Review tests are included periodically, so students can practice the facts they have already learned while also learning  new ones. Parents can pull up a “student progress report” to see how their kids are doing.  This report shows which lessons have been completed, which are in progress, and allows you to  monitor how well students are mastering the facts based on their test results. Tests are timed, and the progress report shows how many questions the child got correct, what their overall score was (i.e. 95%) and how long it took them to finish. The time information was important to me, because it allowed me to see how quickly my son was going. As he learns his multiplication facts, he should get to the point where he answers them automatically, and this should be reflected in his time getting quicker.

Times Alive was a fun, effective program for learning multiplication facts. While it does only cover multiplication, City Creek press also has products that cover addition facts, as well as kits with other materials you can use with your child to practice multiplication and addition. You can check out the website here:


The Times Alive software CD-Rom will cost $48.95, and the City Creek website has special offers to go along with it, such as getting the software for half price when you buy a multiplication kit. I think the cost is reasonable if you have a child who learns well on a computer. For my son, this really helped to cement his knowledge of mulitiplication, and that was a HUGE help for me! 🙂


Working with books

I spent some time talking to some of the moms at my homeschool group this week about reading. I taught reading for many years, and it is something I love. One of the things that came up was what to do after your child has finished reading a book. Of course, many books come with guides full of great ideas, but we were discussing what to do when you don’t have a guide. I have A LOT of projects and things I used in my classroom and now use with my own kids that I shared during our discussion, and the other moms were excited about them, so I thought I’d share a few here.

Generally, I try to choose projects that allow kids to express what they have learned without having to write a multi-page report, because for a lot of kids, that just doesn’t work. The projects I choose tend to appeal to an area of interest to the child. So here I go:

1. For a child that likes to write creatively:

Have them create a “diary” for one of the characters in the book. They are to actually “be” that character and write diary entries describing the events that happened from that person’s point of view. What I look for here is, does the child have a grasp of the emotions the character was feeling? Are they able to explain the motivation behind the character’s actions? If a child has really “gotten” a book, they will pick up on those unwritten feelings behind what the character is saying/doing. Depending on the age of the child, you can ask for one diary entry or more. You can also specify how many paragraphs to write etc. Of course, this project involves writing/editing skills as well. I usually ask for the diary to have a decorated cover, and for the entries to be organized in some sort of logical flow.

2. For a child that likes to draw:

Have them create a “photo album” based on the book. You can specify a certain number of pictures if you want, or have the child decide how many they need to draw based on what they consider important in the book. Here I am looking to see if the child is able to pick out those important, pivotal moments in the story. Drawings could be hand drawn, and put into an actual photo album, or organized in some other way. I usually ask for each picture to include a caption explaining what “scene” from the book it is a picture of.

3. For musically inclined children:

I give them the option to create a “soundtrack” for the book. They are to pick a certain number of songs (for my 7th grader it would be around 10 depending on the book) that they think “go” with scenes from the book (kind of like a movie soundtrack). For this project, the child would make a list of songs, and explain orally or in writing, which scene the song goes with, and why they think that’s the best choice. Again, the child really has to think about what happened in the book in order to choose songs that “fit” correctly.

These are just a few ideas that I have gathered through the years. I am currently digging up my lists from the file cabinet and will post more in the coming weeks. I also have some ideas for books, especially ones that appeal to boys. I hope this gives you some new ways to work with books in your homeschool!

Catching up.

I finally got a break this weekend, and have gotten to upload some photos I’ve wanted to get on here for a while. Most of them are history/science related. For science, our main program is Exploration Education (http://www.explorationeducation.com/) which is a computer-based physical science program with LOADS of really cool experiments. It is multi-age, and I’m using it for both of my 4th and 7th grade boys. So far, we’ve learned about force and motion and built an electric racecar, and a steamboat. Right now, we are studying electricity and building a model house that will have light powered by our electrical circuit.

During the month of December, we took a break to try out an ASK kit I had gotten on Polymers. (A link to the ASK website is on the sidebar of this page under links). The kit comes with directions and all the materials you need to complete 8 different experiments! I loved this because I literally didn’t have to do anything but add water. The holidays are a very busy time in our house, and using this for science cut down on a lot of prep time for me, which was good. To round out our study, we checked out library books on polymers, and I even found a really cool website for kids with tons of info/activities on them! (check it out here: http://www.pslc.ws/mactest/kidsmac/)

We completed a study of the Middle Ages last year, and my youngest son LOVED it. He loved the King Arthur stories, the learning about how people became knights, etc. We live near a Medieval Times dinner theater and we were able to take the boys there on a “field trip” and they both loved it.  My younger son was so inspired, he created his own knight costume and accessories, out of construction paper!! This year, we’ve begun studying American History, mainly using the Homeschool in the Woods Time Travelers CD’s. We’ve finished New World Explorers and Colonial Times so far, and are getting ready to start The Revolutionary Way CD. These have been a great “spine” for our history studies, allowing us to branch off with library books, videos, websites etc. to explore more deeply when we want to. One of our projects focused on colonial artisans, and we made punch-tin candle holders. This was a REALLY fun activity, and the end result was pretty cool.

Finally, we’ve taken some great field trips with our local homeschool group. This is our first year as part of a group, and I have to say, it’s been a wonderful experience. My kids have made a lot of friends, and are able to take classes and join clubs, which they really enjoy (lego club and yearbook are our favorites so far). The pictures I have here are from our field trip to Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop. Kilwins has a long history in the handmade chocolates department, and their shop is FULL of goodies. During our field trip, the boys got to hear about the history of the shop, learn about how the chocolate is made, and then make their own chocolate dipped pretzel!

We are looking forward to some upcoming field trips to the ice-skating rink and to go rock climbing! All-in-all, we’ve had a great year so far. I AM looking forward to our winter break at the end of February, but I’m also already thinking about and looking forward to next year! (isn’t that crazy….how can I be thinking about curriculum again…LOL!)

Ten Marks Math

Ten Marks is the fourth online math program I’ve had the ability to use as a member of the TOS Crew. Ten Marks is similar to Math Essentials in that it offers both videos and worksheets for kids to do, the difference is the worksheets are done online.  The curriculum is guided by state standards and covers grades 3 and up!

Ten Marks offers a lot of individualization for each child. The parent assigns a child to a grade level, and the child is then given an assessment to determine where they are at. From there, they are assigned work based on what they need to know. This is similar to ALEKS Math, where kids work on their “pie” based on what skills they need to develop. Each week, the child is assigned worksheets (the standard number of worksheets if 4, but parents can adjust the number of worksheets for their kids through their master account). Parents are sent an email each week telling them how many worksheets have been assigned, and when they are due. Tests are assigned periodically as well. Here is a video from the website that explains a little more about how Ten Marks works:


Students log in and complete the 10-question worksheets (I had my kids do this over a 2-3 day period). As they complete worksheets successfully, they are given access to games they can play. My boys enjoyed the games! As a student goes through a worksheet, they are given the opportunity to ask for “hints” which are displayed on a sidebar, or watch a video about the concept. Videos consist of a whiteboard, with a narrator demonstrating and talking through how to solve a problem.

If a child performs poorly on a worksheet (which looks to be a performance of about 60% or less), they are given a “do-over” worksheet. Students are also given a chance to go back and correct problems they missed, again with the help of hints or a video. When a parent logs in to Ten Marks, they can see a report that tells them when a child logged in, what they were doing, how they did, and if they needed to watch any videos or have any hints to complete their work. This is helpful for letting parents know what areas their kids may need more help in!

While watching the videos, we did come across a few errors in some of the calculations. However, the Ten Marks staff is VERY responsive in clarifying and/or fixing things as they need to. There is a feedback tab you can click on to let them know when you see something that may need to be fixed, and they look into it very quickly. Overall, my 4th and 7th grade boys enjoyed Ten Marks. I found it easy to monitor and set-up as a parent, and the pricing is less than some of the other online math programs I have sampled.  The cost (per student) is $10.00/month, $49.00/6 months, or $89.00/year. If you’d like to check it out, click here:


Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids

Lifeway Christian Stores sent members of the TOS Crew a free copy of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids. I was one of the reviewers lucky enough to receive one! It is a beautiful, hard cover book aimed at children ages 5-10, but I used it for both of my boys, whom are ages 9 and 12.  This is a picture of the cover:

For starters, my boys thought the gladiator on the cover looked cool, and they really wanted to flip through the book and see what was inside! The pages of the book are full-color as well, and the book is organized alphabetically with the letters of the alphabet in a border on the side of the page to make it easy to find a specific entry. In addition to definitions of words and descriptions of important people, the book contains a LOT of visuals, which was great for my visual learning kids!

There are maps in the book that I found very interesting (like “Prophets of the 8th century”, which showed where the prophets of that time lived, as well as places they went to).  During our morning Bible time, it was great to be able to pull out this book and show the boys where the things we are reading about took place. Yes, we do have a globe and a world map at home, but in this book the maps are more specific to what we are actually reading about in the Bible passage, which made it easier for my boys to connect with.

The book also contains a lot of “extras” I hadn’t thought about. For example, there’s a great chart called “Table of Weights & Measures in the Bible” that takes the common biblical measurements we read about, and converts them to US equivalents! (I didn’t know a shekel was 2/5 of an ounce! 🙂 ) Some of the other charts and visuals we liked were “Tools of the Bible” that showed pictures of the common tools from that time, and the “Names of God” chart, which we are actually using for our memorization now! For an inside peek at the book, you can click here:


I could go on and on about all of the great things in this book, but that would take a really long time! Let me just say, that we LOVE using this and I would absolutely recommend it. The book sells for $14.99 at Lifeway Christian Stores, and it is definitely worth that. You can check it out by clicking on this link:


Lifeway also offers a LOT of other books and products that would be useful for Bible study with your children, and from perusing their website, I feel their prices are very reasonable. I am so happy we received this book for this review, we will be using it for a long time to come!


Since starting back to homeschooling this New Year I have noticed a few things. One: I am a LOT more comfortable with what I am doing now. With last year being my first year, and not even a full one at that, I had a lot of questions/doubts/concerns etc. Even with all my years experience as a classroom teacher, I still felt overwhelmed by bearing the sole responsibility of educating my own two children. As we have gone through this year, I am noticing that I am feeling a lot more confident now.

  For starters, as I’ve mentioned before, I stumbled across a few websites I found really encouraging. At the Heart of Wisdom website (http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/) , Robin Sampson discusses how we need to trust God to guide us in our homeschool, just like we trust him to guide us in everything else. After reading and thinking about that, it was like I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. My husband and I truly believe that homeschooling is something God has called us to do. And He tells us that that which He has called us to He will equip us for. If I believe that homeschooling is God’s will for me, than I have to believe that He will give me what I need to do it, and do it well!

  I have begun to spend even more time in prayer about our homeschool path. I’ve written before about the changes I decided to make for this year, and I have to say, the results have been wonderful. I am a lot less stressed, and I feel like my children are happier and learning more. I also stumbled across the Titus 2 website, which has been a fantastic resource for me. While I am not exactly a “Managers of Our Schools” sort of mom, the info on scheduling for the home, and the topics on the mom’s and dad’s corners have offered a lot of ideas and encouragement to me. I also ordered the “Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit” book and study guide, which I have been reading in the mornings after my Bible time, and I am finding it quite inspirational and challenging. You can check out the website here:


One of the main goals I have developed from reading this book is to be more consistent with implementing discipline, and also more careful about watching my own heart attitude with my children. In our Bible time during homeschool, I have focused on working with my kids to memorize scripture that we can apply to our homeschool each day (i.e. “Do all things without murmurings or disputings” Philippians 2:14), and I did purchase the Doorposts If-Then chart, which has been a huge help in structuring discipline for my kids.

I am looking forward to our next break (we are taking a week in February off, just because, as a teacher I used to notice that kids could use a break at that time), where I will again re-assess how we are doing, and begin sketching some plans for next year. For now, I am enjoying our homeschool journey, and I feel much better now that I have turned the reins over to God!

Virtual Nerd

For my latest review with the TOS crew, I was given the opportunity to try out Virtual Nerd’s website. This is a site offering video tutorials in higher math and science. My 7th grade son tried out the Pre Algebra videos. We have sampled a few different online math programs so far, and the videos for this one are the ones he liked the best.

First, the people that appear in the videos are upbeat and dynamic and very easy to listen to, which is important to my son, who gets bored quite easily. The videos also feature what they call a “dynamic whiteboard”. As the instructor works the problem on the board, there are two sidebars that appear on the right side of the screen. The first is the “diagram”, which typically gives a definition of what you are watching, as well as a copy of the problem being worked out by the instructor. If you move your mouse over this section of the screen, you will get a definition for each section of the problem (i.e. if the screen says a(b+c)=ab+ac, and your mouse is over the letters, you will get a definition of what a variable is).

The second sidebar is a step by step example and explanation of the problem. You can also move your mouse over a specific step and get more information just on that step! These are some of the most thorough and clear explanations of math that I have seen so far, and for my struggling math student, they made concepts very clear and easy to understand!

Virtual Nerd currently offers math tutorials covering Pre-Algebra to Algebra 2, with plans to include Geometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus later this year. In science, Conceptual Physics is currently available, with plans to release Physics w/trig and Chemistry soon. The site does not include worksheets or assignments, but this was better for me, as I already have a math program (CLE Math 7) and just needed some clear explanations my son could access when he needed additional support. According to the fact sheet we received with the review, there are plans to include practice problems later, as well as a textbook search function.

For someone like me, who has always been more of a reader than a mathematician, this site is great! Higher math is not my thing, and I know that as my son gets older, I will need to turn to some type of math program that will be able to teach my son what I cannot. I like the fact that you can search for videos on topics of your choice, because that means you could use Virtual Nerd with virtually 🙂 any math program you are currently using. I am not sure if their plans to include a textbook search function will include homeschool textbook publishers, but if it did, it would make it even more wonderful!

The only drawback I see to this program is the price. At $49.00 a month, it is expensive. They do offer free access for educators, but that does not currently include homeschool parents, and there are no homeschool discounts. There are other pricing plans ($5.00 for one day, $19.00 for a week, and $129.00 for 3 months) but even these are expensive. Buying a DVD math program from one of the major homeschool publishers is around $399.00 per year, which is about the same thing that Virtual Nerd would cost you, but Virtual Nerd does not include textbooks. Personally, I would love to continue using this website for the remainder of the year, but I just can’t afford it. In a time when every penny counts, this may be one of those things you just can’t do. However, if you can afford it, I would highly recommend Virtual Nerd. The quality of the instruction, and the extras that come with their dynamic whiteboard are very impressive.

You can check out their website here: