Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Artistic Pursuits-Review

Artistic Pursuits is a non-consumable art curriculum written for homeschoolers. It is available in 10 levels: Preschool, 3 books for K-3, 2 books for grades 4-6, 2 books for junior high and 2 for senior high.  We received Grades 4-6 Book One: The Elements of Art and Composition. It is a comb-bound, soft cover textbook with 88 pages.

What I really love about this course is that it is not just a drawing course.  It is art instruction and also features the art of American artists. I also like that it didn't require a lot of expensive supplies.  I purchased what we needed at a craft store. I did end up going twice because I originally just bought drawing pencils because I didn't know what Ebony pencils were (and couldn't find anyone to help me in the store).  I looked them up online the next time and found them without a problem because I knew what I was looking for. (See below for information about ordering an art supply pack that goes along with each book.)

One other great feature is that it is non-consumable which is wonderful for a large family like ours!

Book One: The Elements of Art and Composition covers:
  • Space
  • Line and Shape
  • Texture
  • Value
  • Form
  • Form using Value
  • Local Value
  • Contrast
  • The Shapes of Natural Forms
  • Edges
  • Balance
  • Rhythm
  • Overlap
  • Depth
  • Proportion, the Face
  • Movement
The following media is introduced through this year long course:
  • Ebony pencil
  • white pencil
  • black markers with point and wide tip
  • scratch paper
  • silhouette

This book is written for the student and ideally they can work on this by themselves. (I find that for most things I like to work with my students at this age.) It is designed for 2 lessons per week. Unfortunately, this book didn't click with Ryan (my 6th grader).  We worked on some of the lessons but he really didn't enjoy it. I am hoping that over time that will change because I think it is an excellent curriculum. This is no fault of the curriculum though. He just doesn't want to learn to draw right now.

Although my daughter Emma is only in the third grade she is very interested in using this so I am going to slowly work through it with her.  I also have a very artistic senior and though she is well outside the age range of this book I think it will be of great benefit to her.  Book One: The Elements of Art and Composition is really packed with art history but more importantly, valuable instruction specifically in how to see things like an artist does.

Here is one of Ryan's drawings of our piano:

You can see sample pages by clicking on the pictures on this page. Here are a couple of pictures I took of the inside of the book in case you don't feel like clicking over.

Each level of Artistic Pursuits is available for purchase at $42.95.  They also offer links convenient art supply packs that can be purchased through Dick Blick in order to save you from going to a store to purchase individual supplies.

You can read what others on the TOS crew are saying about Artistic Pursuits on the crew blog.

disclaimer: I received a copy of Artistic Pursuits in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Monday: Amy's Minestrone from 400 Calorie Fix

Tuesday: Grilled chicken, potatoes,vegetable

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Italian Style Turkey Meatloaf (from 400 Calorie Fix)with rice and green beans

Thursday: Quiche

Friday:Spaghetti & bread

Saturday: Going to a wedding.  Kids will eat chicken nuggets/potatoes of some sort

Sunday: pancakes or sandwiches

Link up with your menu plan or see what others are planning this week at

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Reading Game-Review

The Reading Game is a memory card game and includes a series of 6 black and white storybooks that correspond with each deck.  There are 6 decks of cards and each deck builds on the previous one. The decks are divided into 6 groups of words.  The children progress through the 6 levels learning new words as they go. (So there are 6 decks with 6 levels each...I'm not sure that was clear. :)


Once all 30 words are learned in the first deck the child can read the first book.  The Skunk story book is the first book in the series and the entire story is written with only the words in the first deck.

From the website:

After completing Skunk, Game 1, the student has learned five words (can, cat is, me, not). Playing Game 2 adds an additional five words (sad, she, stay, this, with). The student is then tested by being required to read a couple of test sentences:

This cat is not a sad cat. Can she stay with me?” Similar test sentences are provided after each even numbered game thereafter. It’s important that the tutor move on only after the student has demonstrated proficiency in the words already covered. Some students will take a little longer; a few may take a lot longer; but ANYONE CAN LEARN TO READ. It’s not hard to persevere when the learning process is fun!

Jenna makes a match

Ellie (4) loves to play.
She can't read the words yet but usually she can tell when she has a match.
 It's only a matter of time before she knows these words.

Connor, Ellie and Jenna really like this game.
 I'm so happy to have this game for them to play.

What the decks look like in the box (minus the one we were playing with)

Jenna reading her first book!  

Each deck of cards in the series adds thirty more words for a reading vocabulary of 180 words by the time the complete series is finished. Of the twenty-five most commonly used English words, twenty-two are on that list; of the forty most commonly used English words –thirty. The multi-sensory teaching approach – through the card game play and the storybooks - works well for retention and student enjoyment.

The Reading Game is designed to be a supplement to your current reading curriculum and this is exactly how we are using it.  It also meets the Common Core Standards for Language Arts and Reading and Foundational Skills for both kindergarten and first grade.

On the Reading Game website you will find a free Pre/Post Assessment worksheet you can use to evaluate progress. The Test Sentences worksheet is used after play but before reading each book as a tool for seeing if the child is ready to read the book.  The test sentences are also included in the parent guide that comes with the game.

About the words used in the games:
• Dolch Word List of “service words” (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs) that cannot be learned through the use of pictures. 60% of the words in “The Reading Game” are on the Dolch Word List for pre-k and k and makes up 54% of dolch words for Pre-K, K and 1st Grade.
 • Of the first 100 most commonly used English words (source The Reading Teachers Book of Lists, Third Edition by Fry, et al) “The Reading Game” incorporates 88% of the most common twenty-five words and 63% of the first 100.

Watch this video to see how to play and to see what the cards look like.

We just really love The Reading Game and think it would be a great addition to any phonics program.  The cards are a little thinner than I'd like to see, otherwise no complaints.

The Reading Game is from the author of Wordly Wise, Ken Hodkinson. Read more about Ken Hodkinson and how The Reading Game came to be here.


The Reading Game is available for $24.95. Read what others are saying about The Reading Game on the TOS crew blog.
disclaimer: I was given a free copy of The Reading Game in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time Timer

Time Timer is a timer that shows the passage of time.  It is very easy to use and can be used for a whole variety of situations.  The first place I thought of using it was on the piano as the kids practice their lessons.  Emma is supposed to practice for 20 minutes a day.  With the Time Timer she can see how much time she has left while she is practicing.

 It's also great for timed test taking, time outs, computer time and in a pinch you could use it as a kitchen timer.  It only beeps once but it's not very loud so you'd have to keep it with you.  The uses for this timer are endless. I also think it's a great way to teach children too young to tell time about the passage of time.


This short video will show you how to set the timer and how it works:

Watch this video for the story behind the Time Timer and uses for it:

The Time Timer does not tick.  It is completely silent (except for the small beep when time is up.)  This is especially nice because it isn't distracting when you are trying to concentrate. The only thing I don't like about that is that there is no way to tell if it's actually working until a few minutes pass.  Recently, the battery became dislodged so the timer was set but wasn't working and we didn't know it.  Other than that, I can't think of any drawbacks to having a silent timer.

You do have to be careful not to move the circle too far around or the red disk "comes out" and you have to put it back in.  It's an easy fix though.  It takes one AA battery and has an on and off switch on the back.  It also has a cover that snaps into place to protect it and that becomes the bottom stand when it is in use. It can sometimes be a little hard to open.  Overall, I like this timer and think the watch version of this would be wonderful for anyone taking an SAT or exams of any kind.


You can purchase Time Timer  in a variety of sizes.  The 3" timer is $30.00, the 8" timer is $35.00 and the 12" timer is $40.00. They also have a Time Timer watch for $40.00 and software and apps too! Read what others are saying about Time Timer on the TOS crew blog.

disclaimer: I received the Time Timer in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What I've Been Knitting

A couple of years ago I started learning to knit.  I've known how to crochet for close to 13 years.  I learned when I was pregnant with Ryan and he just turned 12 this week.  Anyway, recently I learned of a new tool called the Knook made by Leisure Arts.  I bought it when I saw it in the store thinking it was something I could give my 8 year old for Christmas.  When I looked at it I thought it was a crochet hook on one side and knitting needle on the other (which really doesn't even make sense). I ended up trying it out myself.  It was too slow and if I made a mistake I didn't know how to fix it. (which was one of the major problems I have with knitting).

I had my 14 year old daughter sit down next to me with her knitting and I had my knook. We cast on the same number of stitches and had a race.  She was finished with her row before I was halfway done with mine.  I decided I should try knitting again.

Because I hadn't knit in a long time and didn't have that much experience anyway, I asked one of the girls to remind me how to knit. I automatically held the yarn in my left hand like I do when I crochet.  It was only later that I realized that most people knit holding the yarn in their right hand. That was always so awkward for me.  I have come to learn that there are names for each style of knitting depending on which hand you hold your yarn in (and other methods).  I consider myself to be a continental knitter (though I still don't hold the yarn exactly the way they do but, I don't hold my pencil correctly either.)'s what I've made in recent days.

me with my new coat and cowl scarf

closer up view of the cowl
The cowl is a knit only scarf made with a beautiful bulky yarn called Hometown USA in Phoenix Azalea. I only made this last week but I am drawing a blank as to where I got the pattern from.  I'll post it if I remember.

Prior to making the cowl scarf I attempted to make a different cowl without a pattern.  Once I sewed it up it wasn't big enough to go over my head so I turned it into a hat (which I haven't taken any pictures of.)  Ryan liked the hat and I had a skein of the yarn left so I thought I'd make him a matching scarf. I decided to make this one. BUT, I didn't have enough yarn to make a long scarf so I ended up turning it into this scarflette (or neck warmer). I really love it.  It's soft and comfy.  I didn't realize that the button wasn't all the way through when we took the picture.  (It's a toggle button)

Then I turned to dishcloth making.  I made this one:

I used this pattern for the "yellow dishcloth".  There is a mistake in it, but it's a's OK. :)

I made this one today.  I watched this video first.  I love knitting on circular needles.
 It was the first time I tried that. I love this pattern and will make many more of these.

This one is on my needles now. It's a dishcloth, knit with two strands.
Easy peasy-- all knitting.  

I'm also working on this one(blue pattern). I really like it but, I made a mistake and it's a nightmare
 trying to rip it out and fix it so I've set it aside for a bit.

my new 31 bag just for my knitting  :)
I have so many projects I want to try and I am really enjoying knitting.  I hope that over time I'll learn how to fix my mistakes and that will make it even more enjoyable.

College Prep Genius-Review


The newly revised and updated College Prep Genius: The No Brainer Way to SAT* Success is a DVD, textbook, workbook set that prepares your students for taking the SAT (and PSAT).

The textbook is a 6 part book:

PART I: Introduction to the SAT
PART II: The Critical Reading Section
PART III: The Math Section
PART IV: The Writing Section
PART V: Scholarship Search
PART VI: Journal for Test Success

The book ends with 3 appendices.  Appendix A includes a list of prefixes, B is a list of math terms and the final Appendix is a motivation test to help you "create a game plan that will help you chart your course to stay on track and reach your test score goals."

The textbook is a 325 page book FILLED with everything you need to know to prepare for the SAT.  Beginning with information about what the SAT (and PSAT) is and then going through each section of the SAT.

The DVD portion includes 4 DVDs with 12 lessons (approx. 45 minutes each):

Lesson 1: Introduction the the SAT
Lesson 2: Critical Reading-Long Passage
Lesson 3: Critical Reading-Short and Dual Passage
Lesson 4: Critical Reading-Sentence Completion
Lesson 5: Math-Multiple Choice
Lesson 6: Math-Multiple Choice Practice Problems and Answers
Lesson 7: Math-Student Response
Lesson 8: Math-Student Response Practice Problems and Answers
Lesson 9: Writing- The Essay
Lesson 10: Writing- The Essay
Lesson 11: Writing-Sentence Error
Lesson 12:Writing-Improving Sentences and Improving Paragraphs

Each DVD also includes a section of acronyms that are used to help the student remember specific strategies for each section. This is an important part of the course and students are encouraged to memorize them.

The DVD is an invaluable part of this program. As author Jean Burke teaches the course she tells you when to turn off the DVD and then when you turn it back on she goes through each problem step by step. She also debunks many of the myths associated with the SAT.  I learned a few things about that! Did you know that the SAT is really a logic test and NOT a test of knowledge.  I  had no idea about how a great score on the PSAT (and SAT) can make scholarships available to your students.  I also found out how much the test has changed since I took it in 1986. :)

In the DVD students will learn how to best approach each section of the test with strategies for each. I wish I had this course when I took the SAT.I always liked taking those tests where you have to bubble in your answers. I would love to know how I would do on the test now. (nutty, I know..LOL)

I have to say these DVDs are not "fun" to watch.  They aren't funny or overly interesting but I think the information in this course is vital to anyone preparing to take the PSAT or the SAT.  I think this course is reasonably priced and would be extremely helpful to anyone planning to take the SAT.  I do not currently have anyone preparing to take the SAT but my 9th grader will likely take the PSAT next year so I intend to have her use this course to prepare.  I would definitely recommend this program.  I would advise buying all of the components (DVD, text and workbook).  You will get the most benefit this way.

I looked into SAT prep courses in my area and didn't find ANY that were as reasonably priced.  The least expensive one was $125 at our state community college (which would involve gas money and travel time).  I like this option better.  Most of the courses cost much more.

A newsclip with author Jean Burk: (don't miss this!)

The complete program is $99.00 (25% discount over products ordered individually). To order individually, prices are as follows: College Prep Genius Second Edition Textbook $49.95, College Prep Genius Second Edition Workbook $19.95, College Prep Genius Second Edition DVD $59.95

Also available is the Vocabcafe series of books that help students learn SAT level words while reading an original story. (see reviewes on the TOS crew blog)

College Prep Genius offers a 100% money-back guarantee. (see website for details)
You can read what others are saying about College Prep Genius on the TOS crew blog.
disclaimer: I received a free copy of College Prep Genius in exchange for an honest review.

*The SAT and PSAT/NMSQT are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which does not endorse this book.

Keyboard Town Pals Review

Keyboard Town PALS is a typing program for children. It is different from other typing programs because there is no emphasis on making mistakes (they are OK and you learn from them) or on timed typing.  They actually deactivate the delete and backspace function so you can't fix mistakes (which drives me personally crazy but I think it's a good idea.) They do not want the students to dwell on mistakes.  If you make a mistake there is no annoying sound to tell you so.  That is kind of refreshing!

One other difference is that Keyboard Town PALS teaches typing one finger at a time rather than a row at a time.  When I learned to type it was ASDFJKL; (I can still hear my typing teacher repeating that over and over.)  The students learn one finger at time up and down the keyboard.  I'm not sure if this is better but I think it is effective.

A video overview of Keyboard Town PALS:

A sample video of the first lesson:

Emma (8+) finds Sunny to be annoying and felt it a little babyish BUT she did stick with it and learn to type.

Keyboard Town PALS teaches children to type in about an hour however, that is all you learn.  There is no opportunity for practice or accuracy drills. My 12 year old son thought he would try it too but he couldn't get past Sunny and the puppets.  I do think this is fun for little kids but I think the price is a little steep for what you get.  I think this would be good for young children if you don't mind the price tag.

Keyboard Town PALS can be purchased for $39.95 on the Keyboard Town PALS website.  There is a web-based version or you can purchase the CD-ROM. See the website for other bundle deals that can include stickers and coloring books. You can read what others are saying about Keyboard Town PALS on the TOS crew blog.

disclaimer: I was given a free 6 week trial of Keyboard Town Pals in exchange for an honest review.

Slim Down Sunday

Well, I'm a day late (again) but here goes:

Goal: Continue losing weight at a steady pace. 

Pounds Lost: 54.6 lbs (same as least week)

How is it going this week?  Still going along steadily.

My Plan for the Week Ahead: Just keep doing what I've been doing. I still haven't felt like exercising unless you count knitting as exercise. :)

If you would like some encouragement or to encourage others in their weight loss join us at Heartfelt Homeschooling for Slim Down Sunday.  You can link up here

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Person I Marry- Bower Books Review

The Person I Marry is a beautiful 32 page hardcover book from the Bright Future Series by Bower Books. Gary and Jan Bower are a husband and wife team that write (Gary) and illustrate (Jan) books for families.  I am impressed with the beauty of these books.  I was given a digital copy of The Person I Marry for the purpose of this review but I intend to purchase some (maybe all) of the books they have on their website. They are wholesome, godly and just plain beautiful.

From the website:

"Long before thinking of diamonds & glitter, here are some things that I need to consider."

The things that make up a person's outside are shallow, but deeper qualities like kindness, honesty, faithfulness, thoughtfulness, respect are what help build strong relationships. Written in poetry by award-winning author Gary Bower, and featuring the breathtaking oil paintings of award-winning artist Jan Bower, The Person I Marry is an adorable, yet profound, book that will penetrate hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Loved by young children, teens, engaged couples, and seasoned married people.

back cover
The oil paintings in this book are so sweet and the rhyming text is fun to listen to but packed with wisdom at the same time.  In the background of each page (behind the text) various character traits to look for in a mate are sprinkled throughout the book.  There is so much to look at on each page but in a visually appealing way.

Here is a sample:

Go to the illustration page of the Bower Books website to see more of the beautiful art.

Here is a video sample of the book:

The Person I Marry from Bower Books on Vimeo.

You can purchase The Person I Marry from Bower Books for $11.99 with free shipping on orders of $30 or more. Other books in the series include: There's a Party in Heaven, The Jingle in My Pocket and What Do Heroes Wear?  Visit Bower Books to see these and other books. They also sell posters of the art and you can even have a custom portrait made.

You can read what others are saying about The Person I Marry on the TOS crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Person I Marry in exchange for an honest review.

First Start Reading and Classical Phonics

I recently received First Start Reading:Phonics, Reading and Printing and Classical Phonics by Cheryl Lowe and Memoria Press to review. The covers of these books are so inviting. But since you can't  judge a book by its cover, here is what you'll find inside.

 First Start Reading: Phonics, Reading and Printing includes 3 students books and a teacher's manual. This covers beginning phonics in a traditional workbook style.  I really love the black line drawings and simple pages. It covers consonants, short vowels, 45 common words, and manuscript printing. Children begin reading in the first lesson as they progress through 3 student books and 25 phonetic stories, such as "Hogs and Pigs" and "Jog to the Jet." The teacher's manual guides you through the program and provides a lesson outline, helpful assessments and teaching tips.

My just turned 6 year old Jenna has been working in book A and seems to enjoy it.  It is very simple to use with virtually nothing for the teacher (me!) to prep. We like to just pick it up at a moments notice and go through a lesson.  The coloring pages make it fun. Some lessons also include a box for drawing a picture.  For instance in the lesson on A there is a box to draw a picture of a word beginning with A.

Lesson 16 in book A
Book A and B each have 25 lessons followed by word mastery review lists and assessments including dictation.  Book C has 33 lessons followed by over 30 pages of review lists and assessments.  Children begin reading real words by the third lesson.  They begin learning to listen for phonetic sounds that words begin and end with. I think this is important not only for sounding out words but also for spelling later on.

First Start Reading also teaches correct letter formation.  The lessons have letters with numbered arrows, dotted letters to trace and room for making their own letters. Each workbook also has a chart at the back of the book with correct letter formation.

From the website:

The first reading and printing lessons are critical, and although there are many adequate programs out there, we could not find one with the right combination we were looking for–a balanced, age-appropriate approach to phonics and reading and a serious focus on correct pencil grip and letter formation. In addition, many phonics programs today use the ladder approach (consonant vowel blending), which is fine, but we prefer the more traditional (vowel-consonant) approach combined with word families. And one more thing, mastery of the short vowels is the sine qua non of phonics programs, and few programs really give adequate practice in this very important skill.

Click here to see a sample from book A and here for a sample from book B. I really like the simplicity of these workbooks

On to Classical Phonics:
From the website:

Classical Phonics is a deceptively simple little book our teachers and families use constantly in both Kindergarten and first grade. It consists of phonetically-arranged word lists for students to practice their growing phonics skills. In a word list there are no context clues, so the learner must rely on his mastery of letter sounds. For instance, if your child can pronounce each word in this list correctly – pot, pat, pit, put, pet – he knows his short vowel sounds, and you can move on to long vowels! If not, he needs more practice, and Classical Phonics is the most effective tool I know of to address the repetition that young ones need when learning to read. Classical Phonics can be used as a supplement to any phonics program and covers nearly all English phonograms and sounds taught through second grade. Classical Phonics is your handy tool for phonics practice and for building confident readers.

When you get this book you will first want to turn to page 122 where you will find Suggestions for Teachers.  There is a note not to put this book into the hands of your students until you have carefully studied this section.  The section is only 4 and 1/2 pages long so it isn't too much and yet the suggestions provided (though I think intended for a classroom) are very helpful.  It gives you tips on each of the 4 parts of teaching phonics: ear training, tongue training, eye training and word training.
table of contents

Classical Phonics is divided into 10 units as you can see in the picture above (click on it to make it larger if necessary.)  It is intended for students in K-2.  You can view a sample here.  The first section has a page for each letter with pictures (black and white) and words to go with each letter.  It ends with a review of CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant). From there it moves on to more complex words such as you see listed above (long vowel sounds, silent e words, blending etc.)

word lists

sample page
I really like First Start Reading and would recommend it for anyone looking for a traditional phonetic way to teach reading and penmanship.  We will continue to use these books.  I also like Classical Phonics but haven't quite figured out how we will implement it when we are done with the workbooks.  There are no lessons and I like things all laid out for me. I think we will use it for review and spelling. If you have any questions, please ask.

You can purchase First Start Reading is available for purchase at Memoria Press for $29.95 with the teacher's manual and a set of 3 extra students books for $21.95.   Classical Phonics can be purchased for $14.95. Visit the TOS Crew Blog to see what others are saying about First Start Reading, Classical Phonics and First Form Latin also by Memoria Press.

Memoria Press is a family-run publishing company that produces simple and easy to use classical Christian education materials for home and private schools. It was founded by Cheryl Lowe in 1994 to help promote and transmit the classical heritage of the Christian West through an emphasis on the liberal arts and the great works of the Western tradition. Memoria Press is currently developing a K-12 classical curriculum at Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky, where its popular Latin, logic, and classical studies courses are developed and field-tested.

Read more about Memoria Press or go shopping.  You will find Full Curriculum packages, Latin, French, Copy Books, Rhetoric studies and much more!

disclaimer: I received a free copy of Classical Phonics and First Start Reading in exchange for an honest review.

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