TOS Review: The Presidential Game

My kids and I love Family Game Night! We are always on the lookout for new board games to play together. That’s why I was excited when I was given the chance to review The Presidential Game for the TOS Crew. I thought it looked like a fun game that could also teach some valuable lessons!

The team game designed for ages 11 and up has won the National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval Award as well as The Gold Award from the Family Review Center, and I think it deserves both.

As I mentioned, The Presidential Game is played in teams with each team choosing to be Democrat or Republican. Now, I will say the directions were a bit confusing to me at first, with a lot of detail about how to keep a running tally of votes for each state, but my husband read them and got it right away, and once he explained it I had no time following along. The game suggests keeping a tally of votes on the record sheet after each turn, but we got so busy and excited about playing that we just kept track of the votes using the interactive web map.

My husband and oldest son chose to be the Republicans, so my younger son and I were the Democrats. Each team has to come up with a strategy for what they will do on each turn. You can choose to either “campaign” in three states or “fundraise” in one. If you think about it, this is very similar to how real campaigns work in politics. The campaign team decides which states and events to focus on with the idea being to concentrate on those states where the candidate is likely to earn the most amount of votes. Naturally, states with larger numbers of electoral votes (Florida), get more attention than states with fewer votes (Alaska).

After you decide what to do, you roll the dice and allocate your votes to each state. This is where the strategy comes in. You and your partner have to look at the votes you have, and compare them to the votes your opponent has. You then have to decide which states are of the most value to you. For example, in our game my husband and older son pretty much got a lock at California in the beginning. Therefore, even though the state is worth a total of 55 electoral votes, my younger son and I chose to focus on other big number states (like Florida, New York, and Texas) since we thought California was a loss. We figured that by winning the other states it would cancel out the Republican lead.

Another facet of the game is the Politics cards. When you fundraise, your team draws a card at the end of the turn. Some cards work to your benefit while others work against you. Each card represents a scenario that would typically effect voters opinions. For example “Your opponent was found wearing a blue tie to a Republican event, add 5 votes to the state of your choice.” Actually, a few of these cards fell our way and we ended up winning California with them!

Another cool thing about this game is the Interactive Electoral Vote Web Map. When you receive your game you get information about how to access the web map online. As each turn is played, you click on the map to track the votes in the states. States are marked red when they are under Republican control, blue for Democrat control, and tan for neutral. The condition of each state can change with every turn. After you decide how long your campaign is going to last (a full 30 weeks translates to about an hour of play time), you track the votes each week and declare a winner at the end (or when one side gets to 270 electoral votes).

Now, I said that family game night is fun for my kids and I, but I will admit, my husband doesn’t really relish it. He is just not a big board game player, and he entered into this game reluctantly. However, once we started playing, and he got into discussing strategy with my son, he said “I really like this game!” And that, for him, is a ringing endorsement. As we played, my husband talked to my boys about how, in politics, strategy is really important, and sometimes luck has a part to play too. We talked about the difference between the electoral vote and the popular vote, and why and how candidates choose the states they are going to focus on. All of these are great lessons for getting kids to understand how this process works.

I think The Presidential Game is a fantastic choice for both fun and learning. It is one thing to discuss the campaign and election process with your children, but playing the game makes it so real and crystal clear to them. The Presidential Game costs $35.00, which I think is a great price. I know this is a game we will play again and again! (In fact, after their loss, my husband and older son promptly challenged my younger son and I to a re-election!)

To see what other members of the crew thought about The Presidential Game, click here:

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Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time

The topic of our blog cruise this week is “sneaking school into the busy days.” You know those days, we all have them. There may be two (or three) doctors appointments scheduled. Perhaps you need to visit a sick friend, drop something off to your husband at work, and go to the grocery store and the bank. You look at your planner and say “How are we going to get anything done?”

Well, the good thing about homeschooling is the flexibility. And this is how we squeeze in some school time on those days. First, I look at my plans and ask myself what absolutely needs to be done. For example, if we have a science experiment that day, I may move that to another day of the week. Completing an experiment in the car or on the go is difficult and will only stress me out, so its better to wait until I don’t have so much to do. If there are any time consuming hands on projects going on, I will also move those. Completing a lapbook in the doctor’s office waiting room isn’t going to happen.

Next, I decide what can be easily transported and pack that in a backpack. We have some textbook/workbook subjects like math (CLE) and grammar (ACE) which can be done pretty much anywhere. So we throw those in the backpack with some pencils and bring them with us. In general, my kids can bring their math, grammar, and science books with them. They then work on those while we sit in the waiting room.

The car is a great place for reading or discussion. Sometimes we will use the drive to review spelling words, discuss history projects, listen to a book on tape, or my kids will do their individual reading. They do have Nooks which they bring with them. These can also be used for reading and other school activities. If I know we are going to have a remarkably long wait, I will bring my laptop so my son can watch his math DVD.When in the grocery store, or running other errands, I try to use that time to review math facts and other things that can be done while walking and talking.

Now look, there are some days that are so crazy that all we actually get done is reading and some math, but that’s okay. The next day, when things calm down, we just pick up where we left off. I try not to stress too much on busy days. When I first started homeschooling it would really bother me if we didn’t get everything done, and it turned me into a crazy person. Life is messy, and I have learned to go with the flow. I know we will get done with what we need to by the end of the year. And I sometimes think that God allows interruptions to my schedule for a reason.

How do you school on busy days? Leave me a comment and let me know. To see what other crew members have to say on this topic, click here:

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TOS Review: Seed Sowers

We read out loud regularly as part of our homeschool. Sometimes I choose books related to what we are studying, other times I just choose fun books to read. We aren’t big on a lot of biographies and non-fiction. However, when given the chance to read this book from Seed Sowers, I thought we would give it a try. A family book, meant for ages five and up, it looked really interesting. Now, we haven’t read a lot of missionary stories, because I just know that the story lines of some of them would be too much for my emotional kiddos, but this one was a little different.

The book, Seed Sowers, written by Gwen Tolliver, is a collection of short stories about various missionaries. Each chapter is its own unique adventure. We read one chapter at least 3-4 days per week, and it took us about three weeks to finish the book. My kids loved hearing about the missionaries and their experiences in far away places.

One thing that stood out to us in this book is that it reaffirms God’s remarkable providence in the lives of his people. While many of the missionaries experienced frightening events and some close calls on their journeys, each time God moved to protect them and allow them to do His work wherever they are. I thought the stories were the perfect length for reading, it took us about 15 minutes per day. Another thing I liked is how the stories whet your appetite enough to want to know more.

After reading these stories, my boys wanted to know more about the missionaries and their works. Each story ends with a short follow up that gives you more information about the missionaries and where they went after their story took place. We have looked up people like Rose Dobson, Dorothy Shaler, and Gloria Gray. We have also looked up information about Bible translation, and my kids really took to heart how many people there are that cannot read the Word in their native language.

While we used this book just as a read aloud, you could easily do more with it for your homeschool. If you wanted to, you could easily use this a stepping off point for a geography study. You could highlight one story a week, and after reading it, study the country and culture where that story took place. Or, with older students, you could encourage them to do some research on that particular culture, people, or even on the life of that particular missionary.

This would also be easy to work into a study of Bible history, using it to emphasize the work of Bible translators around the world. The author has worked for Wycliffe for many years, and she has a wonderful way of bringing these stories to life. After reading Seed Sowers, my kids wanted to learn more about the missionaries our own church supports, which was nice because at the time we finished reading it, our missionaries from South Africa came to our church for a visit. My boys were much more interested in listening to what they have to say, and I think that was because we read the book.

If you are looking for a book that provides a nice introduction to the work missionaries do around the world, I would highly recommend Seed Sowers. It is available for only $12.50, and it is definitely worth it!

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this book, click here:
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Tips for Homeschooling on a Budget

Let’s face it, financially times are tough for just about everyone right now. There are months at my house that we struggle just to pay bills and get groceries, let alone have any extras. And I have blogged before about how every time I manage to save money for curriculum a disaster occurs and the money disappears. This year it was my husband’s illness and some emergency car repairs that ate it up. We all know that homeschooling is a big job, and while I admire those people who can just make up their own curriculum and stuff, I am not one of them. So, what do you do when it’s time to start school and there is no money in the bank to get materials? Well, this is some of what I did.

1. Reuse what you can from last year.
If you didn’t finish up last year’s stuff (which we didn’t), go ahead and use it to start your school year. My 7th grader is currently finishing up his 6th grade math, reading, science, and grammar while my 10th grader is finishing his history, Bible, and English from last year. I am hoping this will buy me some time to get the money I need to replace these subjects.

2. Network with homeschool friends.
I belong to two homeschool groups and I was able to get some curriculum through them this year. In one group, a friend of mine knew about the financial setbacks my family had faced. She has three kids, the oldest of whom is a senior this year. She offered to let me borrow some of her curriculum for this school year. I was able to get my oldest son Apologia biology and Chalkdust Geometry this way. The other homeschool group has a library where members can check out donated curriculum. I was able to get spelling and a couple of other things for my younger son this way. Since these items are on loan, I have to make sure we do not write in them or anything, but that is not a big deal. The fact is, borrowing curriculum in this way met some needs and saved quite a bit of money.

3. Search for used curriculum.
There are many websites where used curriculum is available. Homeschool classifieds is a good one. I also like the sale and swap boards at the Homeschool Reviews Forum. The Well Trained Mind forum also has a swap board you can check out. Another good idea is to check eBay. I searched for a few things there, and I still have my eye on a couple. Buying used curriculum can mean not getting all of the pieces, or perhaps having less than perfect books, but it’s better than having nothing. Many homeschoolers take good care of their books because they want to resell them later, so most of what you get is in good shape.

4. Focus on what’s necessary.
I LOVE curriculum! Seriously, I used to go to my state conference just so I could spend all day in the curriculum hall. There is SO much cool stuff I want to use with my kids! However, when facing a slim budget, you have to focus on what you really need. We cut down to the basics this year. While I love to include extras and electives, this year I just couldn’t. So it’s pretty much reading, writing, math, science, history, english (for my oldest) and bible. My oldest son has two electives because he needs them, but I found those subjects on eBay at a discount. While I would love to squeeze in some cool science kits I found for my younger son, they were more of an “extra” than a need. If I find some money later this year, I may pick one up, but if not, I know he is getting what he needs and that is what’s important.

I wish I had an unlimited budget for homeschool. There is just so much great stuff out there! Unfortunately, I don’t. So, while our year is not going the way I envisioned it in my head when I was planning last April, it is still moving forward. In a way, simplifying has made things a lot easier for me. There are still some things I need to get, but we are buying them piecemeal as we get extra funds. My kids are still learning and happy, and I know that God will provide a way for me to get the necessities to finish out the year!

Do you have a great tip or website to use for homeschooling on a budget? Let me know in the comments.

Living Frugally

Homeschool Budgeting 101

Ham and Potato Casserole

This is a classic one-dish recipe that I like to make on busy nights. It only requires a few ingredients, many of which you may already have in your pantry.

Ingredients:
26 oz. package frozen, shredded hash browns
1 lb. cubed cooked ham
1 can cream of potato soup
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
Paprika for garnish

Directions:
1. Make sure the hash browns are fully thawed before cooking.
2. Combine the hash browns, ham, soup and pepper in a 13X9 inch baking dish.
3. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
4. Sprinkle with the cheese and paprika.
5. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

I like this recipe because it is very filling and leaves plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Give it a try and let me know what you think. To see other new recipes, click here:

TOS Review: PeopleKeys

I have always had an interest in learning styles and personality. I truly believe there is a connection between the two. I also just really enjoy the science of studying personality traits. A long time ago I took one of those DISC assessments on Facebook and I have to say, it was dead on in describing me. PeopleKeys makes all kinds of products related to behavioral and personality assessments. For this review, I got to use their Children’s Profile with my 7th grade son.

The Children’s Profile is for use with kids ages 9-13. It is a small workbook that has a short version of the DISC profile aimed at kids. Following the profile is some general information about personality styles and then specific information about each style and suggestions for how to work with a child of each type. The assessment itself is simple and only took my son about ten minutes.

It is set up in a grid, with a descriptive lead in at the beginning of each row (like “I think rules….” and “Others see me as…”). The child reads the lead and then completes the sentence by circling one of four possible answers. Each answer represents one of the personality types. My son was able to complete this by himself. He did have one or two questions where he felt like he could choose two answers, but I told him to pick the one he felt most described him. I think that any child in the appropriate age range could easily do this portion.

After the quiz, kids complete a graph that helps them determine their style. This is easy to do as well, all they have to do is circle the box that represents the correct number of answers from each column. From there, kids figure out what style they are. My son fell into the “ID” categories. (Which means Influencing and Determined)

The rest of the workbook can be read by both the child and the parents. There are pages describing each of the four styles (Determined, Influencing, Steadfast, Conscientious). One page asks kids to identify other people they may know (in real life or from books or television) that represent each style. There are tips for kids about how to interact with other personality styles, as well as tips for parents on how to communicate and interact with each style.

After reading through the information, I thought the Children’s Profile assessment was very accurate in describing my son. The practical information in the workbook provided some good information for parents, although I will say that a lot of it felt like common sense to me (like giving my “D” child time for physical activity). However, there are some suggestions that made sense, and that I hadn’t given much thought to before. My son enjoyed reading about the personality types and thinking about matching people to each one, but I’m not sure he really gave a lot of thought to the rest of the information. However, as a 7th grade boy, this didn’t surprise me.

On the whole, I thought this was a neat little activity. The Children’s Profile only costs $15.00, and I think that’s a very fair price. I could see using this to get more information about your child and how they learn, so you can use that to help customize instruction for your homeschool. However, I think the average parent already knows a lot about their child and there won’t be a lot in this assessment that will surprise you. If you do have an interest in personality styles, you will probably like this. However, if you feel pretty secure in your knowledge of your child, then you probably don’t need it.

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How does your garden grow?

Okay, when I was little, I grew up on a farm with my grandparents. They had about one acre of the property planted as a garden. Of course I helped pick beans, strawberries, and corn, but as an adult, I never really got into gardening myself. Honestly, it just seemed like more work than I wanted to do!! However, when we moved into the house we rent now, we got a really big backyard, and after visiting my mom and seeing her small garden, I decided we would give it a try. I asked my mom for advice, and she gave me some general ideas on what to plant and how to set things up, then she said “A lot of gardening is trial and error, you learn as you go.” Boy was she right!!

So we ordered our seeds and got very excited. We decided to grow herbs in pots and do a small square in the backyard for our garden. The first spring we planted tomatoes, green beens, lettuce, beans, spinach, onion, cucumbers, and cauliflower. I set up a rotation for watering with my kids, I did the feeding, and my hubby helped out picking weeds and stuff. We would check the garden everyday for signs of life and we were so excited to see our first sprouts!

Of course, as things began to grow, we did encounter a few problems. First of all, we realized we did not leave enough space for our larger vegetables. Also, we live in central Florida and the bugs and heat in the summer are brutal! The soil took a lot of work because it is so sandy. We must have turned eight bags of soil into our plot just to get started. Some of our stuff, like the herbs and lettuce did really well. Unfortunately our tomatoes and cucumbers got eaten up by bugs and birds!

Chives and cilantro!

Leaf lettuce!

In the fall, we decided to make a few changes. First, we created separate, smaller beds for our beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We also scoured the internet and pinterest for bug-repellant ideas. So far, we are still fighting the bug battle! We did discover that fall is a much easier time to garden in our part of the country. First, it’s not so incredibly hot, and there are not as much bugs to eat the plants. We had success with our beans, broccoli, lettuce, and squash. Our herbs and potted plants also did well.

Butternut squash on the vine.

Some of our harvest:

I still haven’t been able to grow spinach, which is a disappointment because I love to eat it. I think it may just be too hot down here in general. Next year I am also going to start my onions from bulbs rather than seeds. Also, I saw that the Burpee catalog has a special type of corn that grows in a pot, so I may have to give that a try. I have learned that my mom was absolutely right, as you try to grow things you learn a little about what works and what doesn’t each time. I also learned that I was right, gardening is a lot of hard work!! However, there is something so satisfying about it all, and I love using my own herbs and veggies when I cook. Hopefully our next garden will be even more successful than the last one.