TOS Review: God’s World News

I am always looking for ways to encourage reading at my house. My younger son (in 7th grade) is not a huge reader, not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to. I have found in the past that magazine subscriptions are one way to get him to sneak in little snippets of reading here and there. So, when we got a chance to check out a magazine from God’s World News I decided to give it a try. The company offers several different magazines for children of all ages. We got to check out a few issues from Top Story, their middle school level magazine.

Each 32 page issue features a number of different articles, editorials, and other content aimed at kids interest levels while also teaching a Biblical worldview. As part of the subscription, we even received a world map that we could use to track where the stories in each issue took place. I thought this was a nice feature, great for teaching geography, but also, reading the articles and visually connecting them to a place on the map seemed to make those faraway places seem more real to my son. There is even an online version of the map for each issue that coordinates with the wall map they send you!

Now, when we signed up for this review, I wasn’t sure how interested my son was going to be in the content of Top Story. He is easily bored and is most focused on legos, comics, and superheroes. However, when I handed him our first issue and asked him to take a look, I was pleasantly surprised. The August issue had articles about immigration, airplanes, and one on the Arizona wildfire tragedy that was of particular interest to my son since my husband is a firefighter. Each issue also has several News Shorts that contain short articles on hot topics in the news. I appreciated the biblical tie-ins in the articles, such as the one about flying and how God meant for man to take risks and try new things while exploring His creation.

The September issue had a feature on Robots which my son really enjoyed. There were also articles on mining and a biography of Alexis de Tocqueville. In October the focus was on movement and there were articles on the various patterns of movement for people through the ages. I felt each issue was a really good mix of current events, biographies, and feature articles. The magazines are colorful, and the included quizzes and activities make this a nice addition for our homeschool. I sometimes used the quizzes for a reading grade for my son, and we did some additional research on some of the topics.

A subscription to a God’s World News magazine also gives you access to exclusive online content. With your customer number you can log in on the website and receive answer keys to the quizzes in each edition, download a digital copy of the edition, and lessons related to articles in the magazine. The October issue had a lesson explaining the Ames Room illusion (which was related to geometry), with a Biblical connection and a quiz. It also had a lesson giving more detailed information about cutting-edge cancer treatments with a written assignment to go along with it.

The issues also include biographies of various people, and on the website there is additional information and quizzes. Subscribers receive emails from God’s World News each week with details about what additional content is available on the site.

I also got a sample of World magazine, the God’s World News magazine for adults. It was chock-full of thoughtful articles on a wide range of topics that were good for discussion between me and my husband. Some of the articles were appropriate for my high school son as well. I would recommend previewing each issue as some of the topics are somewhat “heavy”. One issue I received talked about the biblical view of the death penalty. It was a great article that really got me thinking, but it’s not something I would necessarily feel is appropriate for my kids at this time.

God’s World News offers magazines for kids from Pre-K to high school. A yearly (10 issue) subscription is only $28.00, which I think is a good price for the magazines and the online content that you get. Top Story contained a lot of interesting articles with a biblical focus that encouraged my son to read and think about how to apply God’s principles to the topics he was reading about. I would definitely recommend a subscription to anyone. The factual content of the magazine can be worked into your schooling in many ways, or you could read it just for fun.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about their subscription to God’s World News, click here:
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TOS Review: VideoText Interactive

Oh upper level math, you will be the death of me….Well, not really, but sometimes it feels that way. I managed to scrape my way through algebra in high school, but honestly, geometry felt like trying to learn Chinese. I swear my friend and I passed because we were in a class full of trouble makers at the time and we kept our mouths shut and the teacher was grateful. So, this year, I was trying to figure out what to do with my 10th grade son for geometry. Thankfully, I was offered a chance to review VideoText Interactive, which provided the answer to my question.

With Geometry:A Complete Course I was given online access to the course for a three year time period. The geometry course includes six modules with a total of 176 lessons. Once the course has been completed, students can claim credits for geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. It is recommended that students complete the Geometry course after finishing VideoText Algebra. Depending on where your child is in their math sequence, this could be used for grades 9 and up.

In general, lessons follow the same format. In some cases, there will be a quiz on the previous material before students can start the next lesson. In that case, the parent administers the quiz and then reviews it with the students. There are two versions of each quiz, so if my son did not perform well on the first quiz, he and I would review it together, and I would have him take quiz two before moving on. From there, students watch the video lesson. As the video plays, the objective for the lesson is displayed to the right of the screen, reminding students of the focus of the lesson.

The lessons themselves were not long, and my son found them easy to watch. I usually watched the videos with him, mainly because if he had a question I needed to know what to do as well. Occasionally if I was busy, he could watch a video on his own, and then I could rewind and review it if he needed help, but I found it best to just watch them together. We also found it helpful to print out the course notes page prior to the lesson. This is a page that includes important information that your student can refer to when working on the problems. My son liked to use this page to take notes.

After watching the lesson, students complete the worktext page, which is basically practice problems. You can choose to print these out if you want, but in the interest of saving ink, my son completed the work in a notebook. The worktext is simply a textbook PDF and some of the assignments were lengthy, so I usually had my son complete the odd or even problems. One of the things I really LOVE about VideoText is the complete solutions manual. You get all the answers to every problem, which makes it easy to figure out mistakes. I found this VERY helpful.

Now, as the parent, you receive a separate login from your kids. As the parent, you have access to complete PDF’s of all of the course notes, solutions manuals, tests, and answer keys. You also have full access to all of the same lessons your child does. I found this convenient because if there was something I wanted to print out I could find it easily. The only drawback I really found to this program is the fact that there is no automatic grading. You have to record your own grades. It would be great if there were a scoring option, but other than that, I think this is a really solid program.

My son didn’t “hate” it (and he loathes math, so that says a lot). It was easy to accomplish in the sense that the program is well set up and easy to use. You just log in and complete each days lesson in order, so it takes very little prep on the part of the parent. The instruction is very clear and precise, and the length of the videos make them easy to watch.

The cost, however, could be prohibitive for many families. At $299, VideoText Interactive is not cheap. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that I got this as a review, it would definitely NOT have been in our budget for this year. However, that cost does include pricing for two students for three years worth of material, so when you think about it that way, it really isn’t bad. At any rate, I would say that it is worth a look.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this Geometry course, as well as the VideoText Algebra course, click here:

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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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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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TOS Review: Time4Learning

Online learning has so many advantages. Lessons are prepared for you, grading is done for you, and all your child has to do is log-in. For this review, I was very excited to get a chance to try out the Time4Learning website with my 7th grade son. We got a six month subscription for the seventh grade and have been using this for his main math, science, and vocabulary curriculum for this school year.

For my son the program is really easy to use. Once I registered him, he simply logged on each morning and got to work. When he logs in, he clicks on the lessons tab and this pulls up all the subjects available. In science, he studied electricity and magnetism. The lessons usually consisted of a short reading passage with a series of multiple choice questions at the end. I thought the information was a good basis for a science program, but for a 7th grader I felt the need to beef it up with some books from the library and some additional experiments. Currently, science on Time4Learning only goes up to 6th grade, so 7th and 8th grade students will be working on the 6th grade lessons in this subject.

I really liked the vocabulary section of the Language Arts program. It had sections on synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, idioms, and Latin and Greek roots. Vocabulary building is something we have been working on, and this is one of the best programs I have found so far. My son enjoyed the animated lessons, which I thought were very focused and well done. I watched the lessons as he did them and I thought the instruction was spot on for a 7th grader. Typically he would do the lesson one day and take the quiz the next day. I also liked that the quizzes were automatically graded and I could look at his score on my on log-in (but more about that later).

The math on Time4Learning was also GREAT! We stared with the first section, number systems, and studied exponents. We were moving along fine until we got to fractions with exponents. At that point I realized we needed to review fractions. Time4Learning makes this easy because you have access to the grade above and below your child’s level. We switched to 6th grade math and completed the section on fractions before going back to his regular grade level. I think this is one of the BEST features of the website. It makes it so easy to customize your child’s learning in each subject. If your child is ahead in math, move them up a grade. If they are struggling in Language Arts, move them down one level. This flexibility makes the teaching so easy! Math was similar to vocabulary in that my son would complete a lesson one day and take the quiz the next.

When he finished up his work my son enjoyed playing on the Playground section of the website which features all kinds of games and links to fun websites for learning and playing.

Another thing I love about Time4Learning is the parent resources. Parents have access to detailed lesson plans for each subject the child studies. You can use these lesson plans to plan additional activities if you want, or search the lesson plans for a specific topic you want your child to study. Parents can also access and print a list of spelling words, a reading list, and a list of items needed for science lessons.

In the Student Records section, parents can schedule their child’s activities, adjust the grade level and timer settings, and view a record of their child’s work. I found this very helpful. After we got comfortable with how the program was run, my son would often hop on the computer if he got up early while I was making breakfast, and get started. When he did this I simply logged in on my parent account and looked at what he did that morning. Quiz grades were also provided. I noticed a couple of lessons in vocabulary where my son did not do so well, so I had him go back and do them again.

On the whole, we are loving Time4Learning. This easy to use program is a great way to simplify your homeschool if you are having a busy season. It is also an excellent addition if you just want to do a few subjects on the computer. I will say that this program is best suited to kids who enjoy learning on the computer. I have tried computer-based programs with my older son and they were all a complete failure. He enjoys computers, but he just does not like doing school on them. Fortunately, my younger son absolutely loves “computer school” so this program worked great for him.

Time4Learning has a program for grades PreK-8th as well as a high school program. The subscription for grades PreK-8th costs $19.95 per month. I think this is reasonable for what is offered. You could use this as your main curriculum or as a supplement. The Time4Learning website has demos available if you want to check it out.

To see what other crew members had to say about Time4Learning, click here:
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TOS Review: Notgrass Company: Draw To Learn

I have used several curriculum products from the Notgrass Company in the past and I have always been pleased with their stuff. Therefore, I was very excited to find out we were going to get to try a book from their Draw to Learn series. Aimed at kids in grades Kindergarten through 8th, these books take kids through books of the Bible and lets them illustrate the passages as they go!

Each one of the Draw To Learn books has over 150 lessons. They can be used with any Bible translation you choose. On each page, the child reads the assigned passage, and then illustrates the lesson following the directions on the page. Kids may be asked to draw a specific part of the passage, or to draw something that represents the message of the passage as a whole. With kids on the younger end of the spectrum, you could read the passage out loud and then have them complete the drawing, but for older kids, this is definitely something they can do on their own.

The book I used with my 7th grade son is Draw To Learn Proverbs. I was really excited to get this one because it’s the one I really wanted. I just feel like there is so much for boys at this age to learn from Proverbs, you know? Anyway, I sat down with my son, showed him the book, and explained what he would be doing. And that was pretty much it!! He took off with this Bible study and really did it on his own. He enjoys drawing, and he just started youth group and has been getting into reading God’s Word, so I did not have to prompt him to do this at all, even in the summer!

Since it is summer, we only did one lesson each day. I think that is a fine pace, and you can easily complete this book in one school year. However, with older kids, you could probably do two lessons a day if you wanted to. Basically, after my son would get done with his illustration, he would bring the book to me and we would talk about the passage, his picture, and how the two were related. I think that having him draw his own picture for each passage he read really helped him think about and internalize what the message of the passage was. This is his picture from Proverbs 9:1 about the house of wisdom being built with seven pillars.

After reading this we talked about examples of good pillars to build your house (and life) on versus bad pillars to build on. This is a really important discussion for where he is in life right now…getting ready to start middle school. He will face so many big choices in the coming year, and I want him to be wise when making decisions.

These Draw To Learn books are wonderful. If you are looking for a simple, but effective and fun, Bible curriculum to use with your kids, this is it! The books themselves only cost $14.95, which is so reasonable. I think you could easily use this with multiple kids at different ages by just buying each of them their own book. Read the passage together as a family, then have your kids each create their own illustration. If you want to know more about Draw To Learn, check out the Notgrass website where you can look at samples.

To see what other members of the Crew had to say about this and the other products we got to check out, click here:
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TOS Review: Bible Study Guide For All Ages

I love finding new ways to engage my kids in learning about the bible. For this review, I got try some products from Bible Study Guide For All Ages. I have looked at this curriculum several times over the course of our homeschooling, and I am really glad to have finally gotten to check it out.

The first product we tried were the Advanced Level Student Pages. Both my son and I liked these a lot. The target age for this part of the curriculum is 5th and 6th grade students. My son is going into the 7th grade, but they were still appropriate for him. Our student pages were for the first 26 lessons of the curriculum and included lessons on the book of Genesis as well as the book of Daniel.

Each page is tied to a specific passage of the Bible and is divided into sections. The first section, “Remember it?” consists of a few questions that recall parts of the story. Some of the questions are fill in the blank, some are true and false or multiple choice. The Memory Workout portion ties into the Bible Book Summary Cards, which I will talk about in a minute. This portion also encourages kids to learn songs, retell Bible stories using pictures, and memorize books of the Bible. In the “Guess What” section you learn an interesting historical fact related to the Bible story. The Map section was one of my favorite portions of the lesson. The map is printed right on the page, and clear directions are given for labeling. We used our Bible Map and History book to fill it, and it was neat for my son to get an idea of the physical places these events occurred.

Some lessons include time line sections. Again, the time line is printed right on the student page, making it really convenient. Students fill in the events right on the page. Get Active allows you and your kids to do an activity that reinforces the lesson. For example, in one activity students are blindfolded and told to find their way around the room without touching anything. Then they are allowed to find their way around the room following cues given by the parent. The point is to illustrate that faith should be placed in those that are trustworthy.

The Discover section was probably my son’s favorite part of the lesson. It includes an illustrated representation of the lesson and has students do activities like labeling, answering questions, and solving word puzzles. This was a lot of fun for him, but he was still actively working with the Bible story and I think it really helped him remember the story.

Advanced Level Student Pages are sold in packs of about 26 lessons each and cost $5.95 each. I think this is very reasonable, and the nice thing is, you can coordinate these with the other student pages, and use this curriculum with all of your elementary age kids!

The second product we got to try were the Bible Books Summary Cards. These are great just on their own, but they are also used for the Memory portion of the student pages. The 8X10 full color cards are visually appealing. On the front, they feature illustrations that depict key stories from that book. On the back of the card there is a summary of the book as well as questions about the book.

These cards are a great way to teach your kids about the Bible. You could hang them in the room for a visual display, or use them as flashcards. You can also purchase these as 11X14 posters that come in black and white and can be colored by your kids. The full set of 66 cards costs $24.95, and these can definitely be used for years to come. I am considering laminating them so they will last even longer.

We really enjoyed these products from Bible Study Guide For All Ages. I would strongly encourage you to visit their website and look at what they have to offer. To see what other members of the crew had to say about these and the other products we got to check out, click here:

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TOS Review: 25 Truths

Learning real life lessons is a very important part of growing up. I remember the little bits of advice my grandparents would give me when I was a girl, and many of them have rung true as I have gotten older. I try to make it a point to share the same principles with my kids here and there, and I have discovered a resource that makes this easier. For this review, we got to check out a book by Ed Douglas Publications. It is filled with easy to talk about life lessons that you can fit into your homeschool day. This book is intended for children in grades 6-12.

The book is called 25 Truths and it is written by Ed Douglas himself. Douglas is a former bank president, an avid tennis player and coach, and a Christian family man. The book is based on a list of tips Douglas would share with his high school tennis players in an effort to teach them about life as well as coaching the team. Over time, the tips evolved and he put them into this book.

Each chapter in the book is focused on one truth. They are focused on a wide range of topics including “tell the truth”, “never surrender”, “play to win”, and “you’ve gotta believe”. Each chapter begins with the truth itself, and few quotes related to it. Some of the quotes come from Bible verses and some do not. The chapters themselves are short, about 1-3 pages, and can be easily read aloud in a few minutes. At the end of the chapter are a short summary of the point and questions designed to encourage discussion about the topic. I found the questions to be very thoughtful, encouraging you to think about how each truth applies to your life. For example, in the chapter about being quick to apologize, Douglas asks you to think about a time when you did not apologize and you should have, and what the consequences of that were. He also asks you to think about a time you did not receive an apology and how that made you feel.

I read this book out loud to my rising 7th and 10th grade sons over lunch. We would cover one truth a day about 3 days a week. After reading it to them, we would talk about the general meaning of the truth first, and then I would give them some time to think about it. Later in the afternoon we would revisit the topic and go over the other questions. I found that my sons had some very thorough and thoughtful answers for most of the truths. When discussing taking things one step at a time, my oldest talked about how when he was trying to save over $300 for a camp he wanted to attend with our church youth group, the amount seemed overwhelming (he was 14 at the time). However, he decided to break that number into a monthly goal instead, and decided how many cars he needed to wash each month to get there. The result was he easily saved enough to pay for camp and some extra for spending money. My 12 year old son applied the “make every day your best day” truth to his favorite show, Phineas and Ferb 🙂 To him, they model trying to simply have the most fun they can each day, and they do not let setbacks get in the way!

I found myself thinking a lot about the truths Douglas writes about as well. The truth about seeing the glass as half full, and having a positive outlook on life spoke to me in particular in my life right now. My discussions with my kids also gave me a lot of food for thought.

This book is designed for kids grades 6 and up, but I think it could be used with those that are possibly even younger as long as you are reading it with them. An older child could also read it on their own, but I feel there is a lot to be gained by reading this as a family and talking about it together. It’s a great way to share your stories with your children, and for them to share their thoughts and feelings with each other and with you. 25 Truths costs $15.50 and I think it is definitely worth it. If you did three truths a week, you could finish in a couple of months. Of course, you could easily move faster or slower if you want to, and you could expand these truths into more thorough lessons if you wanted to add some picture books where the main character learns a similar lesson or search for biblical references. Douglas is a Christian, he does talk about God and faith in 25 Truths, but I did not feel the book was preachy, just honest. These truths are applicable to everyone, and this book could be used in any homeschool.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about 25 Truths, click here:
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TOS Review: Science for High School

High school science…ugh…along with math it is the bane of my existence. Science and math are two of the reasons that caused me to question whether or not I COULD homeschool high school. However, my husband and I are committed to schooling our children at home until they graduate, so I am always on the lookout for materials to use for these subjects. Needless to say, I was very excited when I found out I would have a chance to review materials from Science for High School.

This curriculum was created by Bridget Ardoin, a fellow homeschooling mom with a degree in microbiology. After teaching high school, tutoring, and working with other parents, she decided to write her own curriculum just for homeschoolers! We got to check out the High School Biology at Home curriculum. I tried it with my oldest son, who is a rising sophomore.

This curriculum is very unique in that it is designed to be used with any textbook, research book, or even the internet. This makes it very flexible. When you order the curriculum, you receive both a parent and student manual. The parent manual includes instructions for how to use the curriculum, as well as a list of needed materials, answers to questions and quizzes, and instructions for labs. The parent manual is spiral bound, and well laid out.

The student manual needs to be placed in a binder. The course is divided into two semesters, and each week presents a list of questions on a topic related to biology. All pertinent topics are covered from basic cells, to the body systems, to plants and genetics. The idea is that each week, your child will use his own resources to research and answer the questions. If you have biology textbooks available, you can use that for the research, or you can check out books from the library or use the internet. Basically, I would assign the questions on a Monday, and we would discuss the answers together on Friday. My son would look at the number of questions he had to complete and determine the number of questions he would do each day.

I liked the fact that this curriculum really put my son in charge of his own learning. The fact that HE had to determine how much to do each day made him responsible for his own work. This is similar to what I think he will experience in college and in the work force. The first few weeks, he made the mistake of not “getting started” until Wednesday, which led to problems because he found he had a lot to do in a short time!! After that, we discussed how it is going to be important that he learn how to set daily goals for his subjects, because when he moves on to life beyond our home, no one is going to be around to tell him how to spend his time each day, and if he does not learn how to be responsible with his time now, he is going to be in trouble later.

My son enjoyed this type of learning because it was easy to see what he had to accomplish, and he could just “get it done”. I will admit that at first, his answers were very basic. However, when he found he wasn’t doing as well as he liked on the weekly quizzes (which are also included) he began to put more time into his work. I feel like he did not only learn a lot about biology from this curriculum, but also learned a lot about research.

The lab portion of the curriculum involves dissection and examining prepared slides. This is probably the hardest part of any homeschool high school curriculum. Finding the materials and getting them all together can be a chore. Science for High School does offer a dissecting kit and slides that you can order which will give you everything you need to complete the program, and I am seriously considering getting it (if I can find a way to put the money together). Lab kits are expensive, I know that, but unless you have another option (like a co-op or something) they are necessary. For parents that are science fans, putting together your own labs may be easy, but for those like me, who are not, a pre-made kit is very helpful!!

Personally, I loved using the Science for High School materials with my son. I think this is an incredible program that will definitely prepare your kids for science at the college level and, more importantly, for research they will use for every subject! The High School Biology program costs $79.99 for the manuals that I received. I think this is an excellent price. If you have looked at high school science programs you have seen they can be pricey. This basic package will give you all you need to help your child research the topics and do the labs. If you want to and can afford it, you can add the lab materials as well. I recommend this if you are looking for a biology program for your high school student. You can check out sample pages on the website.

To see what other members of the crew thought of this and the other programs we got to check out from Science for High School, click here:

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TOS Review: Classical Conversations

Okay, first of all, I want to say that I am an eclectic homeschooler who uses bits and pieces of many methods to make things work. When I first started homeschooling I read everything I could get my hands on, including books about the classical approach. While the overall method was not something I wanted to use completely, I did find parts of it appealing. A friend of mine from my homeschool group also belongs to a Classical Conversations group in our area. She had invited me to join, but after looking into it, I just felt it was a little too rigid for our taste. When a chance came up to review a product from Classical Conversations, I almost passed it up. Now, however I am glad I didn’t.

Handwriting is one of the more touchy subjects for my almost 7th grade son. I have to admit, his handwriting is still pretty juvenile. We have been working on printing for years, and have not even started cursive yet! It is a painful process to practice this skill in my home. The funny thing is, as much as my kid hates to “write” things, he loves to draw!! It’s so weird how holding a pencil to write a paragraph can be so brutal, but drawing a picture is not. So, when we got a chance to check out PreScripts Cursive Sentences and Art Lessons, I took it!

PreScripts is the third book in the handwriting program at Classical Conversations that begins with cursive letters and drawing, and moves up to passages and illuminations. I think it is a really cool idea to tie art lessons in with writing. Both require the use of fine motor skills and hand eye coordination, but for kids who look at handwriting as a major chore, the art lessons can be a welcome relief. This particular book is designed for ages 7-12. My son is age 12, but he struggles with handwriting, so this program was a challenge for him.

The book begins with a short review of how to form each cursive letter. If your child is totally unfamiliar with cursive (as mine is) you may need to spend a little extra time on this. The focus of the writing lessons is Medieval to Modern World history, so your child will be copying lessons related to these topics. These portions of the lessons aren’t terribly long, about 3-4 lines each, which was good for my son. We did not fight about getting the writing part done, which was a relief for me. Basically, he would first trace the words, then write them himself on the lines underneath.

The drawing lessons come after the writing portions and begin with simple elements like using a grid to draw, and progressing to more difficult skills like technical drawing. The lessons themselves were very well explained, and my son took off with this portion of the program. Like I said, he likes drawing, and I think practicing these techniques is good practice for handwriting as well. Of course, completing the drawing lessons after the writing was a nice reward for him as well. It includes 24 lessons and additional reviews, which is easily enough to fill one school year if you practice a few days each week.

The PreScripts book costs only $12.99, which is a very reasonable price. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for a handwriting program.

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TOS Review: Institute for Excecellence in Writing

As a former English teacher, I love writing! My youngest son, not so much. In my old school, we used the Institute for Excellence in Writing for our classes, and I loved it. It was a program I missed when we started homeschooling. Therefore, I was very excited to get a chance to review the program as part of the crew!  We got to check out both the teacher and student program.

The Teaching Writing Structure and Style set is for parents. Basically, this section of the program is a seminar for parents about how to teach writing. Led by Andrew Pudewa, the founder of IEW and a fellow homeschooler, his unique brand of humor makes the videos easy to watch. The nine DVD’s include lessons about each portion of the program. You also get a binder with handouts for each section. I had watched the first few DVDs when I was teaching, but watching the whole set was so much more in depth than I imagined. IEW is a very detailed program, which can seem intimidating at first, but having the DVDs really makes it much easier than you would think.

There is an outline and suggested schedule for watching the DVDs included with the program. This was helpful because it allowed me to decide good stopping points for each section. Each session is about 1 to 2 hours, so you do need to allocate some time for this portion of the program, but if you do, you will find it is well worth it. Once you have an understanding of how IEW works, you can easily use it with all of your students. Practice exercises are available in the handouts, and three student workshops are also included, so you can see how the program actually works with kids. Of course, this is a lot of information to take in at once, so if you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed, consider watching one DVD at a time and implementing the program in stages until you get comfortable.

The second part of the program that we got to use is the Student Writing Intensive program. We used level B, for grades 6-8, but they also have programs for lower elementary and high school students. Student Writing Intensive is another series of DVDs, but these are aimed mainly at the students. They get to watch Mr. Pudewa teach a class using the techniques from the teacher program. If you do not feel comfortable in fully implementing the program, you may want to watch these with your child and do the activities together. The Overview DVD is for parents, although if you have watched the DVDs from the teacher program, it may not be necessary. This course also comes with a binder with handouts.

The included syllabus outlines how to use the program, including instructions on when to stop the DVD and work. Each DVD contains about 2 1/2 hours of material, so you will definitely want to break it up. The suggested schedule plans the program out over a course of 30 weeks, completing about one lesson each week. Of course, you can adjust the pace to suit yourself and your child. In my classes with advanced writers, we easily progressed through this program at the suggested pace. At home, with my son who is a reluctant writer, I find I am having to slow the pace down a bit to keep him from being overwhelmed. Make no mistake, at this level IEW is an intense and thorough program, but the level of writing skills it will produce in your child is amazing.

I have found that as kids get familiar, and comfortable with, the program, things do get easier. I really think the major obstacle is you getting comfortable. If you are not used to a lot of structure, this method may seem very uncomfortable at first. However, if you stick with it, especially at the upper levels, I believe you will be very pleased with what your kids learn. For my son, I have seen a big improvement in parts of his writing since we started. First, the note-taking method he has learned is really really effective for ALL subjects, and he does use it for science and history. Second, his expressive writing has grown a lot. I’m talking his word choice and sentence structure specifically. I think that as we continue to progress through the Student Intensive seminars, he will only get better.

Teaching Writing and the Student Intensive programs are not cheap. The teacher portion costs $169.00 while the student portion is $109.00. Do I recommend this if you have the money?? Yes! If you can afford it and you want a top notch writing program, get this one. However, for most of us (me included) spending that much money on just the writing portion of your schooling just isn’t realistic. Are there other options? Sure. What about using this program as part of a co-op or homeschool group? I can vouch for the fact that this program from IEW works really well in a group setting. If you split the cost up between a group of parents, it won’t be so bad, and once you know how to use the program, you can do it again and again.

To see what other members of the Crew had to say about IEW, click here:
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TOS Review: Moving Beyond the Page

“It was a dark and stormy night”. That’s the beginning to one of my favorite books of all time. I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was in the 5th grade, and I have read it many times ever since. I used it in my classroom, and in my homeschool. So I was really excited to find out that I was going to get to review this unit for Moving Beyond the Page. It was so much fun! These units are designed for ages 9-11, but even though my son is 12 they suited him perfectly.

I was looking forward to sharing the story of Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace with my 6th grade son. So when we got our stuff, we logged in and started. The literature unit is internet based. When you log in, you gain access to PDF’s with worksheets, questions, and activity pages. The How to Use Moving Beyond the Page section includes a helpful video and explains how the concepts in each unit are connected. For the Wrinkle in Time unit, we used a Space unit study that coordinated with the story very well.

I really like the way the student activities and worksheets are set up. There is a good mix of literature concepts, vocabulary, and even grammar. When you login, there is a menu at the top for all of the PDF files, making it easy for you to download and print whatever you need. My son is an independent reader, so I had him go through the lessons himself. Usually, I would preview each lesson with the parent overview option set to on. This gives you the answers to the questions and some teaching suggestions.

My son was able to read the lessons easily. They begin with an intro and some ideas to think about that apply to each chapter. He was then assigned to read the chapter, and answer some questions. You can print the questions out if you want. This was followed by some activities. In some cases, I printed out a worksheet for him to do. These were good graphic organizers that focused on story elements, characterization, vocabulary, etc. The directions for all of the activities are very clear, and I really appreciated the vocabulary work. My son struggles in this area, and the practice of breaking words down into their individual parts is an important skill for him to learn.

The lessons include a weekly spelling worksheet, and a suggestion for how to do spelling activities. The units are designed to be completed in around three weeks. I will be honest, we went a little slower. While my son is reading independently, he still does not enjoy reading, so I tend to break things down into smaller chunks for him. The unit ends with a fun final project. In this case, it was using what my son had learned to create his own science fiction story.

The Space science unit can be used completely on its own, but it makes a great tie in for A Wrinkle in Time. For the science unit, we got a hard copy. It is set up in the same way as the online literature unit. It includes a list of necessary materials, and came with the book Leap Into Space. I have to say, the bright, colorful book was great. It didn’t have too much text on one page, and is loaded with information and experiments.

Since he was already familiar with the setup for the units, it was easy for my son to dive into these lessons. The Getting Started section is written directly to the student, and gives them some basic information about what they are going to be studying. There is a reading assignment followed by questions and activities. Many of the activities were easy to complete, with stuff you already have lying around the house. We made an ellipse with some cardboard, thumbtacks, a ruler, and some string. The activities are broken into days, and some have multiple options for ways to complete the projects. These activities were a lot of fun for my hands on boy!The final project was a “space tour” that included taking a quiz, and writing a tour guide script for each planet. We had a lot of fun with this, and my son even used his legos and other toys to set up his own “tour site”.

I think either of these units would be a great addition to your homeschool, but if you really want your child to get into it, do them concurrently. If you have a child that doesn’t enjoy reading so much, but loves science, studying the Space unit with A Wrinkle in Time may help them get hooked on the story. You could also read the book aloud to your child, and just have them complete the activities on their own if you wanted to. A hard copy of the Wrinkle in Time unit costs $23.98 and includes the guide and a copy of the novel. The online version costs $19.92 and gives you online access to the guide and you still receive a copy of the book. Both the online and hard copy versions include parent overviews with notes and answers.

The Space unit costs $29.98 for the hard copy, which includes the guide and the Leap into Space book, and $25.92 for the online package. If you enjoy unit studies, I would highly suggest you check these out. They are well worth the cost!

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this and the other products from Moving Beyond the Page that we got to check out, click here:
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TOS Review: Christianity Cove

Christianity Cove provides all kinds of Sunday School materials for kids. They offer games, crafts, activities, and lessons. For this review, I got to check out two of their products with my 6th grade son.

Daily Dilemmas: 26 Sticky Situations for Kids is a daily devotional that uses real life situations to get kids to apply biblical thinking. Designed for children ages 6-12, the devotions are short lessons that focus on the difficult situations kids might face every day. Some of the topics include gossip, bullying, shyness, cheating, and fear. Each devotion begins with a description of the scenario, followed by related scriptures and choices of a possible response. Kids read each devotion on their own and come up with their solution, which is then discussed with the parent.

A special reflections section provides ideas for parents on how to approach each possible solution. Each lesson is designed to take less than 10 minutes to complete. My son is 12, which is the upper end of the age range for this product, and I wasn’t sure at first if he thought it would be too “silly”. However, I think the topics were well suited to his age. In fact, I’m not sure children ages 6-7 would necessarily be able to relate to some of the topics just yet. The devotions work with any translation of the Bible, and my son would usually grab whichever one was closest to him to begin.

I had my son read and complete the devotion on his own, and then we would discuss the situation and his answer. If you have a younger child, or more than one child, you could easily read the devotion out loud and discuss the possible answers as a group. I like how customizable these devotions are, because it doesn’t take much to work them into your schooling. The topics were very pertinent for the challenges kids face in dealing with other children, and I felt they gave us a nice starting point for conversation. The downloadable e-book costs $29, which I think is reasonable. With 26 devotions, you get enough material for one month if you use it daily, but you could certainly space it out more if you wanted to.

The Divine Dozen: 12 Parables of Jesus Every Child Should Know is the second product we got to sample from Christianity Cove. While there is no specific age range listed for this product, I would say it has about the same range as the Daily Dilemmas. I used this product with my 6th grade son as well, although with less success.

The lessons themselves are great. They are well thought out and designed and the structure and activities provide a clear illustration of each parable for kids. Many children will likely recognize the familiar stories of the Good Samaritan, the faithful servant, and the lost sheep. Each lesson lists the materials needed to teach the lesson and the directions for the activities are detailed and easy to follow.

The main problem we had with this is that I felt it would be a lot more fun with more than one child. The lessons are designed for Sunday School, and if you are working with several children, they will be very easy for you to adapt. However, my oldest is in high school and he did not participate in the activities, and with just my son and I, a lot of them just didn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I think the product is sound, and the lessons can be used for a homeschool, I just think it will be easier if you were to do this with a small group of kids. The bonus is, I could see using this with kids of multiple elementary ages, allowing each child to participate as much as they are able, so if you are teaching a few children in grades K-6, this Divine Dozen will likely work for you. The download of the Divine Dozen costs $24.

Other members of the Crew got to check out a lot of other products from Christianity Cove. To see what they had to say about Daily Dilemmas, The Divine Dozen, and the other cool stuff we got to try, click here:

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TOS Review: Math Mammoth

I was pretty happy with our math program this year, but there are always some areas that need some extra practice. That’s why I was happy to find out I was going to get to review some products from Math Mammoth. I have used Math Mammoth’s complete curriculum in the past, and I really liked it. For this review, we got to try some titles from their supplemental Blue Series.

Each Blue Series worktext focuses on a specific topic. We got to use the Geometry 1, Geometry 2, and Fractions & Decimals 3 worktexts.

The Geometry 1 worktext is intended for grades 4-5, but I used it with my 6th grade son who needed some help with angles and shapes. The worktext provided him the opportunity to practice drawing and measuring angles, triangles and other shapes, as well as extra practice in measuring area, volume, and perimeter. I appreciated the really clear drawings and directions Maria Miller includes in this book. Geometry was probably one of my least favorite parts of math, and I was having a very hard time explaining the concepts to my son. After working through this book with him, we both understood the topics a little more! Lesson length varied, but there is always plenty of practice. Some days we broke the lessons in half, and others, we completed a full lesson. The Geometry 1 worktext is available for download for $7.00, and as a hard copy for $12.70. I like using the PDF download because you can easily choose and print the lessons you want.

Geometry 2 gets deeper into the geometry concepts of measuring circumference, quadrilaterals, ratios and proportions, and using a compass. It is intended for use with grades 6-7. Again, the explanations are very clear and detailed and we found them easy to follow. The section on congruent and similar figures was particularly well-explained for my son. We did break some of these lessons into smaller chunks, as the questions required a little more work. We will continue to use this book over the summer, and I think my son will have a very solid understanding of geometry by the time we start school again next year. The PDF download for Geometry 2 costs $5.80 and the hard copy is available for $10.40.

Fractions and Decimals 3 is for use with 6th grade students. This worktext covers all major operations using decimals up to six digits. It was very good extra practice for my son in this area. Even though he understood how to do the problems, he often “lost” his decimal along the way and ended up with the wrong answer. After the additional practice using Fractions and Decimals 3, he learned how important it is to keep track of where the decimal belongs! The worktext also includes instructions for using mental math to compute decimal problems.

Fractions have given us a bit of a headache as we have gotten into using bigger numbers and mixed numbers etc. The fraction practice in this book gave my son new ways to solve fraction problems, particularly with multiplication and division, where he was struggling. He also got a lot of practice simplifying fractions, which was another concept he was struggling with. Fractions and Decimals 3 also addresses the metric system and scientific notation. This worktext is available as a PDF download for $7.00, and as a hard copy for $12.70

All three of these Blue Series books include links to useful websites that provide additional practice and information. I think they would make a great supplement to any math curriculum. Blue Series books come in a wide range of topics, from addition and subtraction to place value, integers, and measurement. If you have a child that just needs some more help on one particular topic, I would highly recommend you check out the Blue Series books. They are very affordable and do a great job of giving your child a new way to look at a topic.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about the Blue Series and all of the other Math Mammoth products we got to try, click here:

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TOS Review: Simplified Pantry

I love to cook, but I am forever looking for a way to make it easier. That’s why I was so excited when I got a chance to review these products from Simplified Pantry. The whole point of their products is to make life easier for busy moms! (and that definitely sounds like most of the moms I know :)) . These eBooks are written by Mystie Winckler, a mom who started searching for a simpler way to cook after her oldest developed food allergies. That led to the first product I am going to tell you about today, Simplified Dinners.

This eBook contains so many amazing recipes, just cooked off of basic pantry staples. It is seriously one of the easiest ways to cook I have ever seen. The book begins with a simplified shopping list full of things that are just standard in your pantry. It makes shopping so easy! Instead of looking for “rice pilaf” or “wild rice”, I just bought the rice and the spices and made it myself. In fact, one of the first things I made was the lime-cilantro rice,  and it has quickly become a family favorite. I have to admit, I’m one of those cooks who never thought I could just make anything from scratch. Simplified dinners showed me how!

The eBook is organized into sections by type of food you are cooking. So, from the roast section, there are several methods for how to cook a roast. Then lists of ingredients for different types of roast. You choose which recipe you want to use, and then apply it to the method you have chosen. So, I chose to make a pot roast using the crock pot directions. This is what I made, and it was delicious.

The cooking methods are the heart of the eBook. They are standard methods for cooking depending on what type of dish you want to make, and you just rotate out the ingredients. Honestly, after making the stir fry a few times (both with pork and beef) I can now make it without looking at the recipe. The first time I went shopping, I went through my pantry and checked off what I had that was on the master list. From there, I highlighted the items I wanted to buy. I need to tell your this was one of the least expensive shopping trips I have had in a while! Not buying pre-packaged foods isn’t only healthier, it’s less expensive.

This is the stir fry I made, and it has become one of my go to recipes. It is quick, easy, and tasty.

The stir fry comes with a number of different sauces, our favorite is the balsamic! The Simplified Pantry eBook is $12.99 and worth eveyr penny.

The author has also written a second version of the book Simplified Pantry Gluten and Dairy Free. This eBook follows a similar format to the Simplified Pantry but with meals for those who need to eat a gluten and dairy free diet. In our family, that is not an issue, but if it were, this eBook would provide the same options that the other one does. It is also available for $12.99.

The third product we got to sample was the Paperless Home Organization eBook. This book is designed to make it easier for you to keep track of all that stuff that piles up on the desk and around the house. The book shows you tools to set up a digital binder where you can track all of your paperwork using tools you already have at home or that are available for free online. If you feel like you’re buried under a ton of papers with nowhere to put any of them, check this eBook out. It only costs $3.99, so you really can’t beat the price!

I loved using these products from Simplified Pantry and I would highly recommend them to anyone. To see what other members of the crew had to say about these products, click here:
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