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: 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: 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: Christi the Coupon Coach

Have you ever heard those stories about people who use coupons at the store and saved hundreds of dollars and wondered how they did it? Christi the Coupon Coach explains how in her book Couponing Made Simple. I have to admit, I am one of those people who does clip coupons, but does not have the time or energy to go to extremes to do so. Fortunately, Christi’s book has lots of suggestions that you can implement as you choose.

The book itself has short chapters and is very easy to read. I took it with me and read it by the pool during my vacation. Christi includes lots of details about how she finds deals, and pictures of what she buys and how she sets things up. I found these very helpful because I am a visual person. She begins by talking about success stories and then goes into the basics of coupons. Did you know that those little coupons you collect out of the machines at the store are called blinkies? I didn’t!

The part of the book I found most helpful was the section on organization. If you have read my blog before you know that this is not an area of strength for me. I cut coupons from the paper and shove them in an envelope. I take this envelope to the store and then sort through it as I shop hoping to find something I can use. With Christi’s approach, you actually plan your shopping around the coupons, instead of hoping for a random connection.

In the book she details an extensive filing system for her coupon booklets, and also how to find internet coupons and link them to sales. Okay, so I did not apply the filing system exactly. What I did do is get myself a small file where I could organize my coupons by category, making them easy to sort through in the store. Actually, my oldest son (who frequently shops with me) had suggested I do something like this a while ago, and even said he would help, so I took him up on it. I had him read the sections of Couponing Made Simple where the author describes how she organizes and he took the reins and set up my coupon file for me. The file holder I got is small enough to fit in my purse, which makes it convenient to carry to the store.

I also appreciated the section of the book where Christi talks about using the internet to find sales and match coupons to them. Did you know that there are a lot of websites that link coupons to the sales flyers put out by local grocery stores? Christi has links to blogs where the authors sort through the flyers for well-known stores and provide links to printable coupons so you can print them and get the most for your money. You can find Christi’s link here: http://christithecouponcoach.com/Christis_favorites.html.

Now, I have not gone as far as to adopt every suggestion in the book. Like I said, time is my big challenge here, and this method of couponing does take time. However, just using a few of Christi’s suggestions saved me $60 on my last trip to Publix! When I came home and showed my hubby he told me I needed to do the rest of the stuff in the book! I plan to continue to work the rest of Christi’s suggestions into my routine over time.

Saving money is a big concern for everyone these days, and groceries are a major part of the budget. Couponing Made Simple is available on Amazon for $18.00, and I think it is definitely worth it. This book can teach you techniques that can potentially save you hundreds of dollars. If you are interested in trying to trim some money off your weekly trip to the store, check this book out.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this book, 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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: 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: 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,ย  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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TOS Review: Joyce Herzog

Searching for curriculum is a fun, but also overwhelming, part of homeschooling. There are just so many choices out there to keep track of! For this review, I got to check out a book designed to make the curriculum search easier. Joyce Herzog has many educational resources available on her website. For this review, I got to sample the Choosing & Using Curriculum set.

First, the Choosing & Using Curriculum book is 28 chapters full of information about all kinds of homeschool curriculum. The book begins with a discussion of different types of curriculum and educational styles. It then moves into subject area chapters where different approaches for teaching each subject are described, and curriculums are described and compared. Each chapter of the book lists websites for the curriculums, as well as other useful websites to support that curriculum.

I appreciated how detailed the descriptions of each curriculum was in Choosing & Using Curriculum. The author does a very good job of providing a complete picture of the curriculum so you can envision what it would be like to use it in your home There were several curriculums in the book I had not heard of and am definitely going to check out. Herzog also provides extensive lists of resources for students with disabilities.

Choosing & Using Curriculum also includes chapters that give descriptions of general skills that are expected at each grade level, as well as chapters that focus on teaching reading comprehension and literature. I particularly liked her suggestions in the Tips for Teaching History section of the book.

The Choosing & Using Curriculum set also comes with the resource e-book. This book includes extensive listings of websites that are of interest to homeschoolers. In addition to links for curriculum, there are links for online practice in different subjects, links to sites dedicated to homeschooling, links to sites that support different learning styles, and much, much more. I have only managed to get about halfway through the e-book and I have bookmarked so many interesting things!!

Choosing & Using Curriculum is a valuable resource for any home educator. The book will help guide you as you sort through the many curriculums available, and the e-book will connect you with a lot of websites that could be useful in your teaching. I have a feeling this book is going to be a valuable reference for me for a long time. The Choosing & Using Curriculum set costs only $15.00. I would highly recommend this set to anyone!

To see what other members of the crew thought about this set, and the other products we got to try from Joyce Herzog, click here:

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TOS Review: High School Prep Genius

With my oldest son being a 9th grader I know college is right around the corner. To be honest, I entered this school year with a lot of anxiety. High school is important. How could I be sure that I was giving this boy everything he needs to go on to college? I am fortunate to have some homeschoolers close to me who already have high school graduates, so I was able to turn to them for advice. But of course, I still have a million questions. So, I was very excited when I found out that for this review I was going to get to try a product from College Prep Genius.

College Prep Genius was created by homeschool parents when they started thinking about how they were going to pay for college for their children. Their website includes all sorts of information that can help parents come up with a plan. For this review, I got to check out their book High School Prep Genius designed to help parents and their highschoolers come up with a plan to prepare for college each year of high school. This book is designed for parents with high school students and also for parents of middle school students who want to get a head start.

This book is full of great suggestions and ideas you can use each year your child is in high school, so that when they graduate, you will be fully prepared. The book is designed to be read by both students and parents, as well high school students who wantย  to take an active role in preparing for college. The introduction of the book contains a lot of helpful general information, like suggestions for the numbers of credits to be earned each year and practical record-keeping information.

One suggestion I really like, and had already begun to implement, was the creation of a college notebook, a central place where you keep all of your important high school information. I had already created one of these binders at the beginning of the year.

High school Prep Genius gives suggestions about what to keep in the binder, starting with a lists of the credits your child will need for their diploma. I looked up the requirements for a Florida diploma on the Department of Education website and printed them out and added them to the front of my binder. This way, I know exactly which credits I need to make sure he earns each year. I also have papers for us to record the number of hours he spends in each subject, and the resources we use. The book also suggests keeping track of volunteer hours and summer experiences as well.

It seems so simple, but you would be amazed how much better I felt after organizing my notebook. It was as though I suddenly had an organized plan for high school, and a way to keep track of everything!

The book also has a timeline for each year of steps students and parents should take to prepare for college. The timeline has a month by month sketch of what should be done. In the freshman year, the focus is on making goals, deciding what classes to take registering for the PSAT etc. The timeline for each following year gets more specific, moving toward looking at specific colleges and preparing for the SAT.

The first section of High School Prep Genius focuses on personal preparation for high school and college. The chapters are about fostering independence, developing personal interests and hobbies, developing your faith, and taking care of your health and finances. The chapters are interactive, including sections with questions to help get students thinking about how to apply what they are reading about to themselves. There are also sections for parents with suggestions on how to help their teens grow in these areas.

The other sections of the book include a section on academic success in high school and applying for college. There are sections on organizing time, studying, and choosing classes and activities with an eye on college. Practical chapters on what to look for when choosing a college, how to fill out applications, and financing your education are very useful for parents and teens.

My son is eager to take an active role in his education, as he does have some specific goals, so we both read the book and then discussed it. Typically, we would each read a chapter a week, then we would sit down and talk about his answers to the questions posed, and how we could use this information to help us develop his high school program. I really enjoy working with my son this way. This is how I always wanted high school to be with him, but I just wasn’t sure how to articulate it. With High School Prep Genius, it has all been put on paper for me and all I have to do is read the book along with him!

I find that my son is starting to give serious consideration to scholarships he might be able to learn, and what classes and volunteer opportunities may help him earn those scholarships. He has also been focused on looking into opportunities for dual enrollment, which would help him earn some of his credits while in high school. At the very least, this book has given him the desire to start really thinking about college and take on more responsibility for getting there.

I think this book is a fantastic resource for homeschool parents with a student just about to start high school, or current high schoolers. High School Prep Genius is available for $29.95, and I think it is definitely worth it, as you can easily use the book with more than one child. To find out more information about High School Prep Genius, and the other services offered by College Prep Genius, check out their website here:

http://www.collegeprepgenius.com/about-the-author/

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this product, click here:

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TOS Review: Spanish For You!

I love the idea of teaching my kids a second language in elementary school. However, a lot of the curriculum I have tried has been, well, complicated. At this age, I am more interested in giving my kids a functional use of the language than an in-depth one. Also, it’s really important that the learning be fun, otherwise “learning Spanish” becomes just another chore. Well, for this review, we got to sample a curriculum from Spanish For You! and I think this one has met all of my desires.

My 6th grade son and I got to try the Estaciones (seasons) curriculum. The curriculum is written by Debbie Annett, who has 14 years experience teaching Spanish to students in grades Kindergarten to High School. This curriculum can be used for students in grades 3-8, which makes it effective for teaching children at multiple grade levels. Each book is centered around a theme (such as seasons), and has plenty of lessons to keep you busy.

We received a physical lesson book and multiple downloads to go along with it. The downloads included audio recordings of the lesson vocabulary, audio recordings of native Spanish speakers, lesson plans for each set of grade levels, worksheets, and flashcards. Sorting through some of the materials was difficult at first, but all of the downloads have now been reorganized by grade level, making it easier to find what you need.

Lesson plans are set up for a four day week, with a small amount of work each day. I would say our lessons took about 20-30 minutes depending on what we had to do. The lessons begin with an introduction of new vocabulary, and usually the creation of flashcards. I printed these on cardstock so they would last for a while. I have to say, I am really impressed with how well my son learned the vocabulary from this program. We started the book learning about the weather and months of the year, and my son really learned the words.

The short lessons with incremental practice help the vocabulary stick. The extra activities are fun too, and my son didn’t even complain about the worksheets! ๐Ÿ™‚ For additional practice, there are descriptions of games you can play using the new vocabulary. Some of the lessons direct you to a page on the website with even more games. I will say some of these games are more fun if you have more than two people playing them (Simon Says for example). I did rope my older son into playing some of these games with us. If you are teaching multiple children from the same Spanish For You curriculum, the games will work perfectly.

We used the lesson plans for grades 5-6. We would begin by listening to the audio recordings of the vocabulary and then move into written practice. This was not too difficult for my son, and he doesn’t like to write! The written lessons are typically short and involve practice with the vocabulary. The audio recordings are very clear and well done. I was surprised that my son was able to follow short commands given to him in Spanish after only the first unit of Spanish For You.

Our book contained five units, but the lessons are broken into multiple parts. I think, depending on your pace, with an older child you could probably do two of these books per year (that’s going at the suggested pace in the guide, if you want to do more work each day, you could probably get done faster). If you are working with younger children, you may want to take your time and only do one book per year.

Either way, I think this is an EXCELLENT curriculum to give your child an introduction to Spanish. It is something I will definitely use again, probably next school year. My son wants me to get the Fiestas book! :). Now if only Debbie would write a high school curriculum that was this simple and clear!! The cost of the Spanish For You books varies depending on which package you buy. Purchasing the entire curriculum for grades K-8 will cost you $64.95 (seriously, you get the book and all the downloads for that price!!). If you wish to purchase a package for only two grade levels at a time (say grades 5-6), then the cost is $39.95. Additional books are available, and you can even purchase a 6-week trial of one of the books for only $12.99!

The Spanish For You website has samples of the books, so you can check them out before you purchase. Those are available here:
http://www.spanish-for-you.net/purchase-curriculum.html

I would highly recommend you consider this curriculum if you are looking for an easy and fun Spanish curriculum for your family! You can also find a Spanish For You page on Facebook.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about Spanish For You, click here:

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TOS Review: Homeschool in the Woods Composers Activity Pak

Homeschool in the Woods was created by Amy Pak and offers many different learning materials for homeschoolers. Having used some of her materials in the past, I was very excited to get a chance to check out the Hands-on History Activity Pak:Composers for this review!

The composers study includes games, reading, music, and loads of activities to introduce kids to 42 composers. They can also learn about different periods of music, and create a fun lapbook to show off what they have learned. The introduction is very clear, and gives instructions for how to use the program. Of course, parents can always adjust things to make them fit their needs!

What I love about all of the Homeschool In the Woods programs is how well put together and complete they are. Like the history studies we have done before, the composers study is no different. I decided to begin by having my 6th grade son listen to some of the music. Then we studied that particular composer. We also played the games, and he really enjoyed making the composer cards.

The materials for this study need to be printed, and I have found from experience that it is best to print the lapbook materials on card stock. I do not find that this uses up too much ink. Remember, you don’t have to do every activity included in they study, you can always pick and choose which activities you want to use. I typically do not print off the pages that I read to my son, I just read them off the computer.

If you are new to lapbooking, don’t worry! Another great feature of the Homeschool in the Woods Activity Paks are that they include step by step guides for assembling the lapbook, complete with pictures. This makes the whole process so much easier. I was a little confused by this at first, but the pictures made it easy for us to put things together.

We really enjoyed this study. I think this is a great introduction to classical music and composers for elementary aged students. If you wanted to go more in depth with this study, you could easily expand on it with books from the library, and additional music samples. The Composers study costs $18.95 for the download version, and $19.95 for the CD version. This price is well worth it for everything you get. If you are looking for a great unit study on music, check this one out! For more information, visit the Homeschool in the Woods website here:

http://www.homeschoolinthewoods.com/

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: Leadership Garden Legacy

Leadership Garden Legacy was created by Debra J. Slover. After working for years with an Oregon youth leadership program, she decided to start her own company aimed at “empowering the unstoppable leader in each of us”. For this review, I got to sample two of her books. U.N.I.Q.U.E: Growing the Leader Within, aimed at older teens and adults, as well as U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids: Growing My Leadership Garden aimed at children ages 8-12.

Both books tell the story of Hugh, the sheep, and his journey from being a frightened, timid sheep to becoming a self-confident leader. I will admit, both my 6th grade son and I had a hard time with the story. It just really didn’t appeal to us. With the adult version of the book, I found myself skimming the story to get to the lessons themselves. Debra weaves the lessons in with parts of her personal story, and I found these to be very powerful. There are also exercises at the end of each chapter, that can be done in a notebook, or with the Leadership Garden Guidebook. Both the book and the guidebook cost $18.95.

I appreciate Debra’s honesty in sharing her story with her readers. This made the program more authentic and easier to relate to. I did find some of the exercises to be a little “fluffy”, but I am not really a self-help book kind of person.

I did not have a lot of success with the U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids book. Even though it is beautifully illustrated, my 6th grade son just could not get into the story. I read it out loud, I asked him to read it, but alas, he was just bored. We ended up using the questions at the end of the chapter for discussion, and just skimming the story for the parts that applied to the questions. Some of the questions did cause my son to think, but he spent a lot of time rolling his eyes at me! I will say that he is at the end of the age range for this book, and you might have more success with younger kids. The U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids book costs $18.95.

We also received downloads of MP3’s for both books, as well as the U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids Activity Guide & Journal. We did not use the MP3’s very much, but we did check out the activity guide. This is full of kid friendly activities to apply what is being learned in the book. My son enjoyed some of these, especially the cookie activity! I was also surprised at how accurate his self-assessment was. Honestly, I think he enjoyed doing the activities more than he liked reading the book. These activities did provide some opportunities for discussion, but I’m not sure they would actually translate into more than that. The PDF download for the kids activity guide costs $8.95.

For a limited time, Leadership Garden Legacy is offering the TOS community a “Spring Special Discount” of 20% off in addition to the already discounted Tool Kit Bundles. To receive the discount, enter the code: TOS-SS20D at checkout. This code expires May 31, 2013. To view the bundles and all other products from Leadership Garden, visit their website here:
http://www.leadershipgardenlegacy.com/

Overall, while I do think this program is interesting and has potential, it wasn’t a big hit for us. I don’t think that was necessarily the fault of the program itself, it’s just that my son is at that awkward in-between stage, where he isn’t quite a little kid, but isn’t quite ready for teenage stuff yet. Personally, I prefer a more Christian based leadership program for my kids, but this could easily work for someone who is not looking for something with those beliefs included. I do think I would try to find these books at my library before I purchased them, just so I could see if they were going to work before I spent the money. You can find out what other crew members thought of the Leadership Garden Legacy products by clicking here:

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TOS Review: CAP The Discovery of Deduction

Classical Academic Press makes homeschool materials for the study of different languages and logic. For this review, crew members got to sample The Discovery of Deduction which focuses on “the realm of formal, deductive logic”.

This program is designed for use with students in 8th grade and above. It is meant to be used after The Art of Argument: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies. The student text includes all of the lessons and activities your child will use. There are nine chapters in the curriculum, with topics ranging from syllogisms to propositions and relationships. The lessons include a reading section where the concept is explained with examples, and then an activity section that can include definitions and questions for discussion. Sometimes there are links for websites that contain additional information about the concept.



The Discovery of Deduction Teacher’s Edition
includes the entire student text with answer keys, sample essays, dialogues, teaching tips, and arguments. The teacher’s edition is a nice addition to the program, making it easier for you to “open and go”. The Classical Academic Press website even has a suggested schedule for using the lessons.

Using The Art of Argument was so easy with my oldest son. The lessons were well laid out and easy for him to follow on his own. I was able to assign him his reading, allow him to complete his activities, and then join him for discussion afterwards. I feel like the study of logic prepares my son for so many other things. He uses what he has learned in his reading, history and science courses, and I believe knowledge of this subject will help him when evaluating thoughts and ideas as an adult. The Discovery of Deduction is a great follow up to this program. The student edition of The Discovery of Deduction costs $26.95, while the teacher’s edition costs $29.95. I believe this would be a valuable addition to any homeschool program.

To see what TOS Crew members thought of this, and the Art of Poetry, which we also go to check out, click here:
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Beloved Books

Have you ever watched the movie A Christmas Story? It is a family favorite around here. My kids especially love to see Ralphie sitting in front of the radio listening to Little Orphan Annie. Scenes like that always make me nostalgic!! While we may not be able to go back in time, Beloved Books offers you an opportunity to experience a little bit of that time period with their Sugar Creek Gang radio dramas.

Based on the series of books by Paul Hutchens, the stories are beautifully dramatized by Paul Ramseyer. He has an amazing talent for voices, and makes each character come to life as a unique person. Volume 1 contains 6 adventure stories about Bill Collins and his friends. The stories promote Christian values, and there is always a lesson to be learned. Even though the books were originally written in 1939, my boys still found the stories exciting. I liked the fact that we could talk about the stories and the characters in light of God’s Word.

The stories contain hymns, verses, poetry and a message of salvation. They were a great source of entertainment for our whole family. At first I thought only my youngest son would be listening in (he’s 11), but after listening to part of the first story in the car, my oldest (14) wanted to hear more!! My boys would get together before bed and put a CD in the radio and listen TOGETHER!! As a mom, that was one of the coolest things about the Sugar Creek Gang.

The stories themselves are about 2 hours long, so you get a lot of listening time in each volume. The complete series of all 36 books is about 100 hours total!! We are on the 4th story of volume 1 right now (The Lost Campers) and my kids are already begging me to get volume 2!! I think these CD’s may be added to our Christmas list. ๐Ÿ™‚

Each volume of the Sugar Creek Gang costs $54.95. I think they are definitely worth it!! In this day and age, wholesome family entertainment is often hard to come by, and these CD’s will provide your family with entertainment for years to come!! Right now you get free media mail shipping with the first volume, and, you can even listen to the first story for FREE by clicking here and downloading it:

http://www.belovedbooks.com/freebie.html

And, if you use the coupon code KINGDOM-ACADEMY-20 you will receive 20% off your entire purchase!!

I cannot emphasize enough how much my family enjoyed these stories! I highly encourage you to download the free one and check it out!

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given this product for free for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.