Monday, October 29, 2012

Math and Reading Games in a Bag

Have you heard of Activity Bags? I was introduced to them several years ago when I purchased Preschool Activities in a Bag.  For this review, I received Math Games in a Bag and Reading Games in a Bag.  All of the Activity Bag books come as e-books in a pdf format. The bags are a wonderful way to add some educational fun to your homeschool.


The activity bag e-book gives you all of the information you need to create multiple games.  A unique feature of these books is that they are designed so you can do a swap with others and not have to make every game yourself.  Only one person needs to purchase the book and download the free Coordinator Handbook (some of the books come with the handbook).  Each game comes with a chart like the one pictured below that tells you how many of each of the supplies you will need for 1, 10, 15 or 20 of each game.  In this way, it is easy to organize a swap for different sized groups.


You gather the supplies you need, print off your masters and put everything in a ziplock bag so your games are ready to go.  We keep our games in a hanging file folder box that I already had set up with school things.  This keeps everything handy and organized.

Each game in the pdf has a chart (above) and labels to print for your bags similar to this:


There are several of these labels to a page so if you are doing a swap you can print less pages.  The label has a description of and directions for the game, the area of learning that is covered, a supply list and a safety warning for young children.  You can print these labels and attach them to your ziploc bag with clear mailing tape.

For ease of shopping and planning for your bags you will find a complete list of games and supplies needed as well. It also tells you where to find it in the e-book, the area of learning that is covered and short description. (Very handy for printing out as you plan your shopping list or if you want a master list of the games.)  Here is a clip of what that looks like:


It is suggested that you place a piece of cardstock in each bag to make it more sturdy.  I suggest using cereal box cardboard (or something similar) which is not only free, but also more sturdy.  Many of the games use sheet protectors over the masters that you print on cardstock.  I laminated some of ours because it is neater and also makes it easy to use wet erase markers.  I can just run the master right under a faucet to clean it off.  (or use dry erase markers as well.)

Math Games in a Bag

The e-book includes instructions for math games with families with elementary school-aged children.  These math games use materials found inside your home and also make learning experiences out of everyday routines, such as ordering from a restaurant menu or putting gas in your car to check the kind of mileage you are getting.  The math games are designed for you to have fun with your child while reinforcing mathematical skills.  Most games are designed for 2 or more players.  -from website
There are 33 math games included in this e-book:


I  printed out several games and we've been playing them during the week in addition to our regular math curriculum.  My 9 year old has been struggling with regrouping.  One of the games is a dice game for 2 players that involves adding and subtracting 2 digit numbers.  She is getting so much practice and because it is a game and not a lesson she is not complaining about it (and actually even asks to play.)  I can't ask for more than that in a game.

This game can be made more or less difficult by using 2 or 3 dice.  
Another favorite is an addition or subtraction bingo that is good for younger children. (but the older ones enjoy that a lot too.)

This learning to tell time game using dice is great fun and gives players practice writing time and doing simple addition.  (You could also use this by putting a time on the clock and having your child tell you what time it says.)

I haven't laminated this and it isn't in a sheet protector for the sake of the picture (glare)

The games cover a wide range of skills including adding, subtracting (simple and more complex), multiplication, shapes, matching, inequalities, fact families, telling time and more.

One of the fact family addition cards.
(Multiplication facts are also included.)

Reading Games in a Bag

This e-book includes 20 reading game instructions for new and beginning readers.  Most use materials that are found in your home.  The Reading games are designed to be fun for both you and your children as you help them gain the skills they need to become better readers.   -from website



This funny game has students choosing parts of sentences to make crazy sentences.  Helps teach beginning, middle and end as well as gives children reading practice.


This is a phonics "board" game.  Roll the dice and move ahead if you know the sound.


Who doesn't love a maze?  Kids of all ages in my house have had fun with these mazes.  There are 6 mazes to choose from.  I put 2 in sheet protectors back to back.  These are difficult enough for older children too.  (These may be a bit too hard for little ones but they still like to draw on these...good fine motor skill practice at any rate.)


These are just a small sample of the fun you can have learning with Activity Bags.

The only drawback to the Activity Bags that we have come across is just the amount of ink it takes to print the games.  I'm going to continue to slowly add games to our collection.  I think one or two new games each week will add variety to our homeschool (and won't overwhelm me as far as printing and assembling goes.)

Many of the games need dry erase markers.  I don't put these in the bags.  I have a bag of dry erase markers that we use for school that I can pull out for the kids when we are using games (so I don't need so many for each bag) and that gives less access to my younger kids who might pull a bag out and draw on the carpet. (Do not ask me how I know this. ;) )

Activity Bags would be a great addition to any homeschool (or for any kid for that matter.)  These would be especially good for Friday Fun School days and especially for those that use workboxes.

Purchase Math Games in a Bag or Reading Games in a Bag for $15.  Fill out this survey to receive a free sampler of Activity Bags. For further information visit the FAQ page.

Other titles by Activity Bags include:

Preschool Activities in a Bag 1 and 2 (Book 3 Coming Soon!)
Science Experiments in a Bag 1, 2 and 3
Travel Activities in a Bag
Daily Activity Journal 1 and 2

See what others are saying about Activity Bags on The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. The other activity bag sets are also being reviewed.  I highly recommend checking out the Activity Bags and the other reviews.


disclaimer: I received Math Games in a bag and Reading Games in a bag in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Teacher Geek- Hydraulic Arm

About a year ago I received the Advanced Hydraulic Arm by Teacher Geek to try out and review. We ended up being asked not to post reviews at that time and I've had this sitting in my drafts for all of this time.  I really think some of you may like this so  I wanted to share this.

 I have mentioned in the past that I am not mechanically minded so I don't usually put things together but I decided I was going to give this one a try.  My almost 16 year old, Rachel, and I took on the task.  She is good at puzzles so I thought she'd be the best one to work on this with me.  I have to say it was NOT easy.  It took us 5-6 hours to get it put together.  My husband did end up helping us at the end.  I am not 100% sure I could have done it without his help.

Be sure to keep the packaging.
The password to the online answer key is found on the sticker!

Starting to build the hydraulic arm.

Rachel putting some pieces together.
We made a few mistakes and put pieces on backwards and had to re-do them.  The directions were step-by-step with black and white pictures but I sometimes had trouble figuring out what to do. I found myself wishing the directions were in color.

There are several downloads to go with this including Fluid Power Lab which is an 18 page colorful printable worksheet style pdf file. The answer key is available online using the code printed on the packaging your kit pieces come in so don't throw it out. :)

Fluid Power Lab cover. Note the colored tubing.
You can add food coloring to the different tubes to make it easier to tell which tube is which
but I was afraid of colored water being spilled (with so many little ones here)
so we chose to just use plain water.

Look at everything that is covered inside!

FINALLY finished

It works! Ryan lifts a Duplo block.

Ryan using it to lift a wooden block.
 (I didn't think he'd be able to pick it up , but he did.)

My conclusion is that even though this really took a long time to put together (it might not take others as long as it took us) it was really worth it. There is so much to be learned from putting it together and then using it (along with the Fluid Power Lab). The price is very affordable too!

Note that the hydraulic arm is not a toy and is intended to be constructed and used with adult supervision .

The Advanced Hydraulic Arm is available from Teacher Geek for just $24.39.  (You will also need to purchase a Reamer ($5.95), Easy Cutter ($18.95 or use something similar that you have at home but this tool was GREAT! I recently used this to cut popsicle sticks for a was perfect.), slip joint pliers and a #2 Phillips screwdriver. They also have an optional slider block that makes it easier to insert the dowels (they were really hard to insert).  I think this would have made it a lot easier to put together so you might consider adding that as well.

I received this free in exchange for an honest review.

Stick With It Saturday

It's Stick with it Saturday again and though I'm sticking to my Weight Watchers eating plan I haven't been exercising at all.  My back/shoulder is still bothering me and I've been having some pain in my lower back down into my leg. (sciatica I think)  I'm so discouraged about it.  Wondering if I should just run anyway.  I've been aiming for 10,000 steps on my pedometer and not even reaching that every day.  I had a dream that I was running....I was fast and not a bit out of breath.  sigh

Goal for the week: stay on track with my eating, try to get 10,000 steps and maybe try a run....

Link up your own diet/exercise post over at Sam's Noggin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…

This has been a busy week where I couldn't be home as much as I wanted.  I mentioned this last week too.  I long for the days when I can just stay home for days on end.  It is rare that I can stay home for a full day anymore.

In our homeschool this week…

This has not been a great week.  Too many outside appointments and some things just not really working.  I changed Ryan's science from Apologia's General Science to Christian Kids Explore Chemistry.  We did the first 2 units in CKEC last year so we are going to finish that book and then move on to Christian Kids Explore Physics.

Emma and I worked on building model Pilgrim houses with popsicle sticks and grass.  It was a fun (albeit time consuming) project. This project was part of her Pilgrim Story curriculum.

Emma is building Pilgrim houses today.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

3 kids went to the dentist this week.  NO cavities!  YAY!  Katie (15) had her wisdom teeth out on Wednesday.  Not much fun in this category for sure.

My favorite thing this week was…

Christmas cantata favorite thing all year.  Choirs from several churches gather to sing a cantata with an orchestra.  I just love it.

I’m reading…

Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread  - This book was free for the Kindle a few weeks ago.  I downloaded it but didn't give another thought to it until someone on facebook mentioned they were reading it.  I love this is so interesting.  I hope to be baking some nutritious sourdough breads in the near future.

Link up your own Homeschool Mother's Journal post.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Samson's Classroom

Samson's Classroom is an online resource for teaching sight words, spelling and reading comprehension to children in grades K-5. We've been using this for the last month and the kids are really enjoying it.


There are 3 sections to Samson's classroom:

The first area is SIGHT WORDS where children are taught 224 of the most commonly used English words.  The sight words are divided up into lists that are taught in 5 steps. 

First, the words are introduced by showing the word being spelled one letter at a time while the voice says the word and each letter as it is shown.  It will repeat the same word and spelling over and over until the child presses the arrow to go to the next word.  


Next, they are given a set of letters to choose from to spell the word.  


In Step 3, they have to click on the correct word when they hear it. 


In Step 4, the child must spell the word using the entire keyboard (rather than just a few letters like in Step 2)


Finally, in Step 5 players go on a treasure hunt for the correctly spelled word.


Students can easily see their progress and navigate through the lists:



In the spelling section students (or parents) have the choice of creating their own lists or using the many lists already included in the program.  We are using both.  Below is a screenshot clip of Emma's spelling lists.  The 4 icons at the top are the choices the player has. They click on a circle (green ones are already completed) to begin a task.


The first one is a learning activity.  The list pops up (and can be printed) and the child can click on the word to hear it read, hear it in a sentence and hear it being spelled.  The other 3 icons are all games. In the one pictured below, students must choose the missing part of the word. If they get it correct Samson karate chops the board.  In the second game, students make Samson run across the screen gathering letters.  There is a spider that chases Samson and ties him up in "silk" if the player is not fast enough.  I cannot for the life of me figure out how to play this game.  It took Emma a few weeks, but now she can play it.  I guess it's the way gamers move characters.  I wouldn't know.  LOL  Third, is the walrus game.  The player must spell the word correctly to get Samson to jump across blocks of ice.  If you wait too long or misspell a word a giant walrus jumps up and starts to bite the ice and eventually Samson falls in. (This one I like. :) )


The games are fun and they're a great way to reinforce spelling.

It is very easy to add spelling lists.  You can choose to activate lists so that your
 student can only see the ones you want them to see.  You can leave other lists deactivated until later.

Finally there is the READING section which gives students practice at reading comprehension.  This would be great for kids getting ready for standardized tests. 

Students read a passage and choose the correct answer.  If they choose incorrectly
the text will turn red so the student can find the proper answer.

In Reading, students earn Hammer points so they can try their hand
at swinging the hammer.  Emma loves this.

Samson's Classroom is not just an online game sight though.  They also have a large Resource section that includes worksheets, games to be printed, flashcards, lesson plans and award certificates.  I'm really impressed with the number of worksheets and activities that can be printed to go along with the spelling lists.

a few sample worksheets- we used these yesterday because I had to be out
for several hours today

a sample of an award certificate that can be printed

One last thing to mention is that parents can see their child's progress easily in their account.  You can view all of the children at once, by level.  Then, by clicking on their name you can see detailed charts of what they have completed, what they need to work on and what hasn't been attempted yet.


Emma (9) has been using this as her main spelling program.  I took the words from our current spelling program and entered them into the program and she is set for the year.  It didn't take long to enter the words at all.  More words can be added at any time.  Occasionally, a word is not in Samson's Classroom's database.  You can request a word be added by the click of a button.  We have found this too be too difficult for my very beginning readers. Connor, who is 11 and has Down syndrome likes to play on this, but hasn't really progressed with it.  He can't enter the letters fast enough so he is stuck at the same level.  (He doesn't seem to mind though.)  However, this has been really great for my first and 4th graders.  We are really enjoying this and plan to continue with it for the rest of the year.

Here is a video you can watch that will show you Samson in action.

Click to try a demo.

Purchase Samson's Classroom for 1 student for $30 a year or pay $50 for up to 4 students.  This is an amazing value for an internet subscription program.

See what others are saying about Samson's Classroom on The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


disclaimer: I received  4 one year subscriptions to Samson's Classroom  in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sugar Creek Gang audios

Several weeks ago we received a set of Sugar Creek Gang CDs from Beloved Books.  These audio books on CD have been a huge hit around here.  Each story runs about 2 hours (on 2 CDs)  These Christian adventure stories written by Paul Hutchens (beginning in 1939) and narrated by Paul Ramseyer.  There are 36-books available in the audio series. (6 volumes of 6 stories each)

My 18 year old daughter loved reading these books growing up, so I figured that the other kids would likely enjoy listening to these stories.  I was correct!

These stories are appropriate for the entire family and are definitively Christian. The gospel is plain and the stories teach character and morals while entertaining. We went on a recent trip and spent 4 hours in the car, during which time, the kids were all silent listening to the stories. Since we started listening to them, the kids (aged 7-almost 13) want to hear them every night when they go to bed. We usually have CD's playing in two different bedrooms.


This volume of CDs we received contains the following stories:

  • The Swamp Robber
  • The Killer Bear
  • The Winter Rescue
  • The Lost Campers
  • Chicago Adventure
  • The Secret Hideout
Stories are told from the viewpoint of Bill Collins, a grown man looking back to his adventures as a youth with his friends in the Sugar Creek Gang.  The "gang" is a group of neighborhood friends with interesting names like Circus and Poetry.  They have all kinds of adventures and have opportunities to put their faith in action.

Purchase any of the 6 volumes of the Sugar Creek Gang on CD for $54.95 (shipping is free on Volume 1) or save $50 and get them all for $279.70.  Give it a try by purchasing a The Swamp Robber 2 CD set (one full story) for $4.95 (includes shipping).

I also have a coupon code to offer for 20% off any order!  Use code FRUITOFHANDS-20.

Visit Beloved Books for other wholesome CDs including KJV Scripture Memory Songs, Biblical History SongsLittle Britches and their latest addition, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.  They have other CD, mp3 and cassettes as well.  I don't know about you, but I am starting to think about Christmas and the kids have already asked, "Are there more of these stories?"  These will be going on the Christmas wish list.


See what others are saying about Sugar Creek Gang on The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


disclaimer: I received the Sugar Creek Gang Volume I CDs in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Read Aloud Challenge

Debra at Footprints in the Butter is issuing a Read Aloud Challenge blog link up.  I'm hoping to link up each week. Maybe we'll get more reading done that way.

In her post she said,

"I think reading aloud is critically important. Andrew Pudewa, of Institute for Excellence in Writing, does a talk called Nurturing Competent Communicators that I think every adult who loves a child ought to hear at least once. He makes a strong case for reading aloud being the most effective way to get 'reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns' into our kids' brains."
I have also recently listened to that same talk (well worth it!) and want to make it a regular practice to read aloud.  Sometimes I do better than at other times.  Last year, we used Illuminations curriculum and always had a read aloud going on with it.  This year we don't have that scheduled into our day so I have just been picking books to read.  The younger children are using Beautiful Feet's Early American History which is literature based, but we took a break from that recently for Emma to do Pilgrim Story for a review.  

Right now we are reading:

Hero Tales by Dave & Neta Jackson (We read one chapter each morning during our morning devotions.)

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (I do have this on my Kindle but I also took it out of the library and I'm reading from the library copy.)


I am using a wonderful book, Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson to help choose read alouds.  I highly recommend it.


Our history read aloud this week was:

I also read some favorite picture books to the younger kids:

Danny and the Dinosaur

At night the kids have been listening to Sugar Creek Gang stories on CD (review coming this week) as well as Your Story Hour CDs.

Link up with what you are currently reading aloud at Footprints in the Butter.  What are you reading aloud right now?

Menu Plan Monday

Last week I tried 3 new recipes, apple marinated pork chops with cabbage (delicious), maple mustard glazed pot roast with winter vegetables (also delicious) and three cheese zucchini and spinach lasagna (not so good).  This week I'm really behind in menu planning since it's already Tuesday and I'm just getting this done.

Monday: Mary Lu's Cheesy Tomato and Macaroni Soup

Tuesday: Weight Watchers Fluffy Cheese and Greens Fritatta (The original recipe is from the current issue of the magazine.  It calls for spinach which is what I will use.)

Wednesday: Spaghetti and bread

ThursdaySpicy Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder with Ham* and rolls
 (I've made this twice..once with the chipotle in adobo and once without...this week it will be without)

Friday: Sweet and Sour Chicken and rice

Saturday: Pan-seared chicken, roasted butternut squash and stuffing

Sunday: leftovers or something easy like sandwiches or pancakes

*From the new Weight Watchers cookbook  I ♥ Leftovers. You can purchase this at a Weight Watchers store near you for much less than it is listed on Amazon.  I only paid $10 for mine. (You do not have to be a member to purchase items in a Weight Watchers store.)

Link up your own menu plan at  (Or just find great ideas from other bloggers that share their menus.) This week is found here.
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