Monday, March 29, 2010

The typically unusual homeschool home

Homeschooling does not get left at the classroom door. It permeates every inch of your life and living space.

As a result of our choice to homeschool, our schedule, home, priorities, and habits often look different than "normal" families. Although I do know some non-homeschooling families that share some of these outlooks, homeschooling has become a critical component of many of these.

Schedule . . .

School doesn't take place between 9-3 in some other building. School has become a way of life. We pass along our knowledge -- academic, spiritual, emotional, relational, etc. -- from the time we get up until we go to bed. Our "school day" may have a schedule, but learning rarely allows itself to remain confined to those hours. And, what doesn't fit during the week, we squeeze in through field trips and internet searches on the weekend.

Instead of thinking of weekends as down time, or time for projects around the house, I usually view them as prep time.

Home . . .

We just might consider a time-line fashionable household decor around here.

You are just as likely to find a science experiment on our kitchen counters as at the back of our refrigerator (and, yes, that is indicative of both our learning environment and my lopsided time for housework).

A school room ranks higher in importance than a bedroom for each child (how easily can you find a seven bedroom house anyway?)

Books, books, books, and more books. You would be hard pressed to find a room without books in it.

Magazine subscriptions do not include Better Homes and Gardens or Good Housekeeping. Instead you might find me thumbing through The Old Schoolhouse or a catalog from Vision Forum, CBD, or Rod and Staff.

Priorities . . .

I quit my job a couple years ago in large part because it became too challenging to continue homeschooling well and working full time.

Much "downtime" goes to homeschooling projects -- blogging, product review, support group management, lesson research and plans, extra study helps, etc.

Future plans always include the assumption of homeschooling and how it fits into the picture.

Habits . . .

We get excited about packages because they might contain some new curriculum, product, or tool for learning.

I actually enjoy reading about educational philosophies and new tips and ideas for keeping learning alive.

Family walks become intentional nature discoveries.

Each waking moment is a viewed as a teachable one.

Each day a time to connect with our kids and help them develop into who God designed them to become.

Homeschooling is definitely a way of life that leaves no stone unturned, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

TOS Crew Review -- Critical Thinking

Homepage - The Critical Thinking Company

Although many consider logic an advanced subject belonging only in high school or college level courses, the Critical Thinking Company has created materials to help parents begin laying the foundation for sound logical reasoning.

Logic carries special weight for Christians. We want to be ready to give an answer to those that ask. We also want to defend our faith as necessary in the face of challengers, and perhaps most importantly, we want to arm our children to identify faulty reasoning and not become swayed by illogical doctrines and arguments against their faith in Jesus Christ.

Balance Benders won't accomplish all of that, but they will introduce the concept of logic in a way that even primary students can begin to understand by looking for correlations, applying established truths, and combining multiple properties to evaluate a problem.

Product: Balance Benders
Details: A workbook put out by the Critical Thinking Company that offers 40 puzzles that will stretch your child's logic and algebraic reasoning. Designed for students in 2-6 grade the book offers tips that cover basic algebraic concepts needed to solve the problems and the solutions. They also offer three other books that increase in difficulty for older students.
Price: $9.99

What we loved . . .
  • Open up and dig in. This book requires no prep work. You simply open up the workbook and start working. You can begin by going over the tips in the back so the student understands expectations more clearly. My 5th and 7th graders had no trouble jumping in without any explanation other than the directions on the given page.
  • Great logic workout. Logic plays such a critical role in so many subjects, and this is a simple way to begin discussing not just algebraic concepts, but logic concepts that will help your child in a myriad of subjects. Some kids seem to naturally have an easier time reasoning logically, but all students can benefit from growth in this area.
  • Sturdy workbook. Paperback, but the pages are fairly thick and durable. They are perforated and the original purchaser is allowed to copy as much as needed for in family or one classroom use. Many of these we just discussed the answers out loud rather than writing or even needing to copy the pages. This worked well for our kids.
  • Addictive. I don't know if this is a positive or not, but we definitely enjoyed figuring out the puzzles. My oldest (7th grade) quickly went through the whole book. Obviously, he would enjoy one of the higher level books, and I will definitely have to look into them. For me, I needed my fifth grader to help me on the last couple . . .

Some considerations . . .

  • Just the beginning. This is a short term use workbook. Even if you use just one puzzle a day it will only last you for 40 days (about a couple months of school). This would be an easy and beneficial addition to workboxes for those of you that go that route.
  • Students vary. While a fifth grader might find these a frustration, some second graders might fly through them. Each child is very different in this area regardless of other academic achievement. As I mentioned, my fifth grader is stronger in this area than I am. But, every child can progress, learn, and benefit from foundational logical reasoning instruction.
We really had a great time with this book of puzzles. It is educational and entertaining. I would highly recommend this series of workbooks if you are looking to add this to your routine or even to work on occasionally with your kids individually or as a group. You might even find yourself enjoying taking a look through it.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This workbook was provided to me free of charge from Critical Thinking Company as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Super Star Speech

"Mom, where's my shiwts?"

I think I cringed as much as Faith did at the time. What followed was a slow conversation to figure out exactly what she was asking me -- shirts or shorts? She couldn't say it any more clearly.

At the time I scoured the internet for ideas on helping kids articulate the 'r' sound. Although she was only 7 and many sites told me not to worry until she hit 8, how could I not? We worked on saying the sound over and over. She worked hard, I worked hard, and eventually she did either grow out of it, or conquer it. An occasional reminder was still needed, but now she never mispronounces it. As glad as I am that we made it through that challenge, I wish I had this resource in my hands at that time.

There are resources for reteaching math, for tutoring English, for improving handwriting, but I could not find anything to help my child learn to pronounce her words properly. Well, now there is such a book available for homeschoolers. Super Star Speech offers just that.


: Super Star Speech
Details: Speech therapy made simple! I received the introductory book that helps in identifying areas needing work and beginning some basic speech therapy with your child with easy to use games and activities. The book includes 34 pages of information, assessment tools, and specific instruction and activity guidelines for leading your child through speech therapy sessions. The appendix contains another 30 pages of activities and games to bring more interactive fun to the process of improving your child's articulation.
Price: $18.95 (also available ring bound for $22.95, or in an ebook version for 40% off)

What we loved . . .
  • Easy to use. Although the author has a Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology, you definitely don't need one to use this book. I thumbed through it, read the introduction, and called my little ones in one at a time to check their articulation. This was so incredibly easy to use and interpret.
  • Hours of speech therapy ideas. The book is not huge, but it does not waste space either. Debbie offers a very practical guide that equips the parent to really tackle the tough area of speech therapy head on. Lots of activities, approaches, ideas, and resources to keep making progress without getting redundant. Each page is boiled down to just what you need to know without unnecessary background or technical information.
  • Helps narrow the issues. I could not believe as I gave my son the articulation test how minimal his issues were. While overall I knew he spoke well for a four year old, I was still surprised to see that his only real issue is with two sounds and those sounds are formed almost the same way. This book is like having your own personal speech pathologist.
  • Word lists. Kind of a silly thing to appreciate so much, but I really like having the lengthy lists of words to use in focusing on the trouble sounds. It seems I always draw a blank when trying to test or teach a specific word or sound. The lists give you plenty to choose from.
  • Two great formats. I like to hold the materials in my hand, so I did like having the printed copy to flip through and use with my kids. However, the ebook has the advantage of being easily printable which would be a great format for the games and activity pages in the back which you would likely want multiple copies of to use with more than one child, or even to repeat favorite activities with the same child.

Some considerations . . .

  • Some pictures aren't clear. The articulation test is based on groups of pictures. Most of them are easy to identify. However, my four year old needed some promptings to say the word I was looking for. This was not a big hurdle to overcome, and it did produce some laughs when he identified a baby as a girl and an orange as a golf ball. Some pictures have been revised in the newer edition to help with this issue, so if you purchase the ebook you might not face this issue at all.
  • Not a guaranteed solution. Many people struggle with speech issues into their adult years, even with professional speech therapy. This one book might not be the complete solution for your child either. It also takes a lot of consistent, diligent work on the part of teacher and child to see improvement and success. I do think that this book is an excellent tool to help parents in this process.

I am so grateful to have this book to help me in working through these last couple sounds that my four year old needs to master. He still has a ways to go and I know I need to work this into our schedule consistently, maybe even in place of reading for a bit until we see some more progress. He is definitely becoming more aware of the times when he does not say the "k" and "g" correctly, and is working hard to get his tongue in the proper position. The tips and teaching helps in this book have been exactly what I needed to even know where to begin in this area.

Homeschoolers likely don't have access to a speech pathologist to send their child to regularly, but that doesn't mean they are without tools, or that they cannot at least begin to tackle this problem on their own. If you have a child with articulation concerns I would strongly encourage you to take a look at Debbie Lott's books and resources. This book is just one of many that she has put together with the homeschool parent in mind.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This workbook was provided to me free of charge from Super Star Speech as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Good News or Bad News

I caught just a snippet of a program with Michael Horton, the author of the new book Gospel-Driven: Good News People in a Bad News World.

The conversation focused on our incredible need of a savior, the overwhelming penalty of our sin, and the need for us to live passionately to share the good news with others.

It got me thinking . . .

While I know that the gospel is truly good news (the most amazing news ever!) I know that many others will not view it that way.

Sometimes I feel like I'm bringing bad news to a good news world.

The gospel looks like bad news to those that float through this life in ignorant bliss as a "good" person.

It sounds like bad news to those that want to live however they choose and let eternity worry about itself.

It initially feels bad to those that just want to feel good.

It smells of external expectations to those that just want to smell the roses.

It appears very different from good news to those who don't understand the truth and depth of the love behind it.

Then, talked with my kids about "Good" Friday. They said, "Some people misunderstand the day and think it should be called 'Bad' Friday. But, it is good because of what Jesus did for us that day."

Blake, tongue in cheek, reminded us this isn't to be confused with Black Friday. Interesting that this would come up with my mind racing as it was. Now that would be considered a good day by most of our society. But, the day they may don black and remember death and maybe even drag themselves to a church service would hardly qualify as "good."

Acts 14:15b says, "We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them."

The truth is, the good news is so good, and in our sinful state our vanity so blinds us, that we misinterpret it. We miss the point.

God, the creator of the universe, loves me so deeply that He laid aside His glory and spent 33 years in this trouble filled existence we call life, so that we may experience true life. His death and resurrection secured an eternal reward I could never attain on my own.

That is good news.

We also are men, of like nature with you,
and we bring you good news, that
you should turn from these vain things to a living God,
who made the heaven and the earth
and the sea and all that is in them.

~Acts 14:15b~

Saturday, March 27, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Math Galaxy


Another math product. At first I had to sigh, could I really ask my kids to try out yet another math program? Well, it turned out I could.

Math Galaxy offers software CDs that give you a tutorial on whole numbers, fractions, decimals/proportions/percents, word problems, pre-algebra, and algebra fundamentals. They also have worksheet generators for those same topics (except word problems and pre-algebra). And, they offer some downloadable ebooks with additional riddles and help in whole numbers and fractions.

Product: Math Galaxy
Details: Six different software tutorial CDs that cover different topics from foundational to complex, four different CDs that offer worksheet generators for different topics, and two ebooks with various riddles to reinforce learning with a little more fun.
Price: $29.95 for the software CDs (including the tutorials and worksheet generators) and $14.95 for their ebooks.

What we loved . . .
  • Comprehensive. Each topic is covered in great detail. If you buy the program on whole number you cover everything from addition to probability. This is not just another drill of your basic facts, this program covers a topic thoroughly.
  • Motivating. In addition to teaching skills, the student earns "lives" in a labyrinth game that can then be played on the program. This insures that they do some educational work before playing and gives them greater desire to accomplish the academic work as it benefits them during their time of free play. And, the game requires some logical thinking also. It isn't just a race game or target practice.
  • Self-teaching. Each step of the way, the student receives instruction on the math concept in front of them. When they make a mistake, it shows them the correct way to solve it. And, even when they answer correctly, it reinforces the problem solving strategies so they can double check their process, not just the final answer.
  • Fun. Clearly the creators of Math Galaxy wanted children to enjoy learning math. The program moves quickly, rewards success, encourages weakness, and offers a variety of different formats for learning through fun in their ebooks, printables, and games.
  • Upper levels. So many math program seem to quit in about 5-6th grade. This one has teaching and activities through Algebra. Although some things about the program didn't mesh well with my oldest son, he did appreciate the different format for learning and practicing some of his Algebra concepts. It's always nice to have a change of scenery, even in high school level topics.


Some considerations . . .

  • Graphics leave something to be desired. While the concept and content are top notch, the colors and graphics chosen were not very aesthetically pleasing (in my opinion). Many kids might look past this, and you can get a feel for this (and if it will matter to you and/or your kids) by looking over the samples on their website. Some of it is too busy, too bold, or just too simplistic. (see sample content page pictured above)
  • Get ready to read. Since this program is strictly on screen (no sound) the child must do a lot of reading to learn the concepts. For my oldest son especially this is a big negative. He is more auditory or kinesthetic and does not do well when he has to read a new concept for himself. It also seemed that there were rather long paragraphs without many breaks which discourage me from even reading it all since I like to skim for information. Everything you need to know is there, but be prepared to spend a lot of time reading in order to learn.
Math Galaxy has a lot to offer. They cover some critical math topics in great detail. They provide a great program that can help kids that need something outside of a regular math book to boost their morale and enthusiasm for math. I find these reasonably priced for the volume of topics that they each cover. I would be more excited about them if they were more fun to look at, but they definitely have a lot to offer and make learning some of those challenging math concepts a little more fun.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: These downloads were provided to me free of charge from Galaxy of Education as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up - Spring Break!

This week I realized why I feel like I get nothing done every week -- because I homeschool!

I don't know why it surprised me so much, but Tuesday night I could not believe all I had accomplished already in just a couple days without having to teach all day. I'm so thankful to homeschool my kids, but we really needed this week off on a lot of levels to get things in order.

Of course, it helped immensely that my husband is also off this week, so some of this is what he worked on as well.

Here is just some of what we accomplished this week:

On Monday the girls still had ballet, so while I took them to class, my husband went and got a new van . . . well, not really, but it kind of feels like it. This was a huge answer to a little prayer. One of those little things on our "baby prep" list involved upgrading our minivan to accommodate six back seat drivers instead of the standard five.

He started by calling Dodge dealers -- $1800 for a three person bench seat!!!! For that price, I think we would look for a whole vehicle! Then he hunted Craigslist and came up with some possibilities, but my husband is amazing when it comes to finding the best deal, so he then took a trip to a junk yard type place.

Here is an aerial shot of what he had to search through:

After walking past probably 100s of cars he found a van similar to ours (different color and other features, and missing the back door . . .) And, it had a three person bench seat in very good condition. It may not match, but for less than $50 I am completely thrilled!

It is installed in the van, and we are one step closer to being ready to have six kids in our family. He also spent another day recovering the floor with plastic and a new rug that he cut to fit. It even has a new car smell now. :-) He's amazing. When a job needs to be done, he always takes it a step further and does it the best possible. God blessed me incredibly with that man!

Other miscellaneous jobs:

- Lots of cleaning (vacuumed everything, all the way to the edges), purged our book shelves (in preparation for upcoming book sales), cleaned out the toys (three large garbage bags full for a garage sale or Goodwill), took control of the craft cabinet that had become a dumping zone for anything that might inspire creativity (but it was such a mess no one would ever find it).

- Ordered some tea. Later in pregnancy I like to drink Red Raspberry Leaf Tea as it is said to help in a variety of ways. I contemplated making my own, but since my raspberry plants are still a ways from producing leaves, I broke down and put in an order from the Bulk Herb Store. Ordered on Sunday night and by Wednesday evening I was drinking some delicious tea. Tasty product, good prices and great service, I will definitely be checking out their other teas.

- Made some homemade deodorant. This has been on my to-do list for a long time, or maybe I should say on my "figure out how to do" list. Thanks to Lindsay of Passionate Homemaking, I found this incredibly easy. She even put together a video to show how simple it was. I filled up a container for myself and my two older girls and have been pleased with the results. No more potentially damaging alum or aluminum for us!

- Lots of paperwork and review work done. Wrapping up the year for our Keepers and Contenders club, end of year decisions for our local support group, and Easter prep for church. I really needed this week off just now, so much to get done! I would not have slept this week if I had tried to squeeze school in as well.

My girls had their own ideas for fun -- baking cookies (yum! and, they are almost independent at it), and we worked on learning how to make friendship bracelets, too. I was prompted by We are THAT family to write our sponsored kids more often, and my kids wanted to make bracelets to put in as well. It was quite fun to see them really take to this.

Blake just really enjoyed having his dad around for the week. As he approaches those teenage years, I see more and more an incredible need for him to be around my husband. I may be mom and teacher, but I can't hold a candle to all that he needs from his dad at this stage in his life.

For fun we hit three parks, Chuck E Cheese, and took a trip to Jump Zone tonight (an indoor play place with lots of inflatables). And, the kids spent a couple nights sleeping on cushions in the living room in their fort -- one of their favorite holiday break treats.

Really a great week. Lots accomplished, refreshed, cleaned up, freezers stocked, house back in order, and ready for another 8 weeks of school.

How was your week? Head over to the Weekly Wrap Up to share with others, or just to read how things went for others.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Family Mint

We all know that our country has hit a bit of a speed bump economically speaking. And, while we like to point fingers at this or that politician or political party or philosophy, we cannot ignore personal finances and the disaster that many individuals are facing at that level.

While many reasons exist for the increase in debt and decrease in savings across American homes, we can help save our kids some of that by talking about money and teaching them fiscal responsibility from a young age.

Maybe some of these statistics from a survey of US employees will reinforce this point:
  • 43% do not have a handle on their cash flow and spend more than they make each month.
  • 62% have not set up an emergency cash reserve.
  • 23% do not pay their bills on time each month.

About a year ago I talked about some of our techniques in teaching kids about money, but now we have another weapon in our arsenal, the Family Mint.

Product: Family Mint
Details: A free website geared toward organizing and teaching kids about finances. Offers places to compile and track their savings, spending, and giving. This is not a real bank account, just a place to record real money that exists elsewhere, all still under the control of the parent.
Price: FREE! (they do plan to introduce a Pro version sometime in the future that would have a subscription fee, but a basic plan will continue to be available free)

What we loved . . .
  • Easy to use. Jump on, set up a parent account and accounts for each child and you're off. Very little time needed to put it together. (aside from actually finding all the child's actual money to deposit into their account)
  • All virtual money. I find this a pro and a con (see below), but it is great not having money sitting around my kids rooms. The little ones would like to play with it, and the older ones wouldn't always leave it alone either. We can all see, just by logging in, how much money everybody has in each allocated category. It is visible without being in their hands.
  • Keeps real money from getting lost. My kids had a bad habit of losing their money. They used those great banks for splitting their money into saving, spending, and tithing, but then they liked to take it out to count it now and then. Invariably, some of it went missing. Keeping it all on the computer prevents those coins from ending up in the wash, under their bed, or down the ductwork.
  • Interest and allowance features. You can easily set up the program to automatically give your child an allowance at the end of each week. Our kids have to pay back some of the money if they did not complete their chores correctly without reminders, and we can easily go in and withdraw that money as needed. Interest is automatically deposited as well. We put our kids' money in our real bank account, and this way we can pass the interest right along to them without all the figuring. They get excited, too, seeing that few extra dollars of "free" money going into their account each month. Granted, it is moved right into their long term savings, but they appreciate it more now that they actually "see" it.
  • Teaches fiscal responsibility and literacy. It is very important to us that our kids gain an understanding of money and stewardship of all that God has blessed them with. This program gave us some fresh opportunities for conversations about this.
  • Encourages planning. When my kids just kept their money in a bank in their room, they could just grab it when they wanted it. Now, they need to take that extra step and ask for the money in advance (filling out the withdrawal in their account) so they have the actual money, and their account remains accurate.

Some considerations . . .

  • Virtual money. This is not a real bank account. It is a place to record real money that you (or your bank) hold for your child. They don't actually take your money or give you interest or any of those things. This is merely a recording tool for money that you already have. Also, since it is all in your hands your kids no longer keep money around, but you are the banker that they must come to to withdraw or deposit money. So, it is up to you and your child to make sure that the online record matches real life money.
  • You have to remember to log on to take care of things. I love having the automated allowance, but then I forget about it. I need to remind my kids to log on and split it off into their church money, savings and spending. It's not like a paycheck, where you get the actual money or a copy of a check to let you know money was deposited, you need to remember to get into the accounts each week and take care of the money that is there.
This program has a lot of great features and is easy to set up and use. It is a little more inconvenient that just using real money and piggy banks, but it has a lot of benefits as well. We have enjoyed using it in place of our former ways of money handling, and I would encourage you to check it out if you are hunting for some new tools in teaching your kids about money.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This web based membership was provided to me free of charge from Family Mint as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's wrong with this picture

So, can you figure out what is wrong with this picture?

No? How about this one . . .

I guess when I specified coat and gloves I also should have said pants.

Never assume, never.

Monday, March 22, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Children's Bible Hour

Children need to see how faith interacts with real life. The best way to see this is lived out in the lives of those around them. But, since I don't think you can ever have too much godly role modeling, I enjoyed seeing these books come into our home. Each book, produced by Children's Bible Hour, shows children what it looks like to live out their faith in a different setting.

The idea behind these four books, called the Season of Faith series, as per their website is:
Spring Spring: This is a time when people experience new life in Christ. Faith develops and Christians begin to share the Salvation message with others. Summer Summer: The season when faith grows under God’s love and care. Fruit is witnessed and triumphs are gained through applying His Word and striving to be the best we can be in Christ.
Autumn Autumn: Times of struggle and temptation, peer pressure, making mistakes, and scary transitions happen during this season. Even though it might seem like nothing good can come from this time, God has promised us He will be there. He will teach us how to forgive and then grow in grace. Winter Winter: This season is the most difficult. Deep struggles, mourning, trying to make it through difficult times, or the death of a loved one can pull us away from God. He teaches us to lean on Him for comfort and peace.

Product: Children's Bible Hour
Details: Four books on CD with accompanying picture book. Each book puts the kids in a challenging situation that requires them to live out their faith.
Price: $10.00 each book set. ($40 for all four)

What we loved . . .
  • Faith grounded. I cannot get enough of God centered materials in my home. These are a great addition to our bedtime routines. Not only are they interesting stories, but they remind us of the most important even in history and our responsibility to keep it in mind each day.
  • Quality products. One thing that sometimes keeps me from buying faith-based materials is a lack of quality in the product. I don't want my kids to ooh and aah over the monster truck book and be bored by the lack of visual attraction to Bible books. These books have great pictures and seem fairly durable as well. The CD's are well done and interesting to listen to.
  • Discussion Questions. The website even offers questions to prompt more conversation with your child after listening to the books. We always look for ways to take our learning deeper and more interactive, these questions are a good addition to an already great product.
  • Great bedtime helper. We like reading books together, but some nights I am short on time, or don't really want to read "just one more." These CD's generally take about 15 minutes and tell a great, meaningful story as the kids drift off to sleep.

Some considerations . . .

  • They might seem to move a little fast. The reading itself is at a very listenable pace, but my son especially likes to discuss each page of the book as we read through, and he kept calling me back in the first night to slow it down. So, we read it together the first time so he could ask all his questions, point to everything in each of the pictures, and ponder to his heart's content. After that initial lengthy session, he has been quite happy to listen to the CD.
  • Hearing check. This will likely not apply to your kids, but for those of you out there that don't hear higher sounds well, you might not be able to hear the page turning chime. Not that this would apply to me, I'm clearly not old enough to have any hearing issues. My son kindly reassured me that there was a very clear sound there to tell him to turn the page, and when I turned the volume up, it was definitely there.
  • Sensitive listeners take note. I didn't find anything offensive in the stories, but some of them do talk about kids facing difficult situations. If you have a sensitive child you might want to pre-listen to the stories, or make sure you are on hand to discuss some of these situations.

These books appeal to a range of ages. While they have spent most of their time in my preschool son's room, many of my older children have enjoyed them just as much. Many kids, even through 10 years of age would benefit from listening to these books, and even older kids could benefit from the conversations they prompt.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: These Seasons of Faith book and CD sets were provided to me free of charge from Children's Bible Hour as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Verse of the week -- Malachi 3:6

Sometimes I think it might have been easier living in the days when God was more visibly and audibly vocal.

He spoke through burning bushes. He led through a moving cloud. He sent vivid dreams and visions. Angels brought his message face-to-face. Prophecies fulfilled before your eyes. Promises made and kept in a lifetime.

May have also been a more fearful time to live. Judgments came down in this life, not just waiting for the eternal condemnation. Discretion was just as critical -- weigh the prophets to determine if they truly represented God. If His clear message still remained ignored, there was no excuse.

In the modern day, He often speaks more quietly. A sermon, a picture, a verse or part of a verse, wise advice, a book, even through a child. I miss it if I'm not listening. But, Malachi 3:6 reminds me, "I the LORD do not change."

All those age-old promises still hold true. His hatred of sin stands as strong as ever. His love for His followers flows just as deeply. His desire for obedience remains unchanged.

Human nature is much the same as well. We still doubt, rebel, disobey, forget, worry, ignore, and continue in our own way.

He still forgives, listens, comforts, loves, responds, teaches, disciplines, leads, heals, and remains forever in control.

Am I really listening? He's still talking.

I the LORD do not change.
~Malachi 3:6a~

Thursday, March 18, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Homeschool in the Woods

Maps have an amazing ability to bring things together the way few other visuals can. They help the child needing connections to put a "face" to a name. For some of my kids they remember nothing of the history we study until they have either a time line or a map to tie it all together.

The wonderful company Homeschool in the Woods offers a map download that has a multitude of uses. These can work in conjunction with just about any study of the United States or world history. Or, they can stand alone as the foundation for a great study of a certain location or time period.

: Homeschool in the Woods Maps downloads
Details: Downloadable maps (one set is all US maps, the other is world maps) that come in a variety of formats to use in various projects. The set also includes notebooking pages, teacher's answer keys, and more. The United States set has over 180 modern and historical maps and the World set has over 130 modern and ancient maps
Price: $18.95 each or $28.95 for both (this price is for the download. If you would prefer a CD instead, add another dollar to those prices)

What we loved . . .
  • Full set. Each of these programs offers a wide variety of maps to cover whatever state or country we were looking for at the time.
  • Print as you go. Some programs I prefer to have hard copies in hand, but this is the perfect product for a download or CD. It is all on your computer and you just print off whichever maps you need that week in however many copies you need.
  • Multiple formats. I really enjoy the different formats that each set includes. If you want countries or states marked, if you want an unlabeled map with borders, if you want just a geographical map with no borders, or a title-less map you can print it right out without having to recreate or doctor up an existing map. This is great for learning countries. You might start with the countries printed in and use the blank one for a quiz later on -- or a pretest and a post-test. All at your fingertips.
  • Quality maps. These aren't those cheesy maps that you can easily find all over the internet. These are well made, accurate, detailed maps.
  • Accompanying notebook pages. In addition to the maps, these sets come with notebooking pages that are great for the more creative child to run with or the less creative child to have a structure to build his project on (we have both in our household and I have quickly seen the benefit to both types of learners). These notebook pages are great for building the map into a whole unit, or at least in compiling a project on a particular state or country. I love the travel brochures that you can use to "advertise" the place you are studying.

Some considerations . . .

  • What you see is what you get. I don't know that this is a downside, but if you aren't a big map user, this might not be a product you will use. If you use maps, you will likely find what you need here. These aren't big wall maps, but are perfect for each student to have right in front of them while doing a project or studying a history lesson. This might not be something everyone will find useful, but I was very impressed with the quality and quantity of information packed into these sets.

These map sets can be a great accompaniment to any curriculum. They give you so much to work with and could be a great time saver when you need to find just the right map. So often when I go to look for a map I find one that I have to change or re-size in order for it to be usable. With these sets we have already found a few that were just right for what we needed, and we have not had to look elsewhere any more. These give you a great resource that you will likely use for years to come.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: These map downloads were provided to me free of charge from Homeschool in the Woods as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mentoring Moments -- Chapter 2

I meant to get this up last week, and again the days got away from me, but here is Chapter 2 from my mentoring times with my daughters, Of Cowgirls and Princesses: God's Design for Young Girls. Thanks much to each of you that gave me feedback on the first chapter. I pray that this is a continued blessing and help to each of you:


God’s Plan throughout History

From the beginning of time God had a plan. His plan included you.

He created a beautiful, perfect world. No death, no troubles, no suffering. Adam walked and talked with God as he would a friend or family member. God created mankind and loved him, and loves us as His creation. He made a special place for Adam. A garden paradise. Filled with fruit trees that were both beautiful to look at and held delicious nourishment for him. Rivers flowed through the garden watering it naturally. And Adam tended the garden. Living in joy in the love of God.

God gave Adam an interesting job, naming the animals. Every beast and bird was brought to him for naming. At the end of the task, it was clear that Adam was above each of these animals, and in need of a helper. So, the first matchmaker set to work. God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam. God took a rib from Adam’s side while he slept and closed him back up. Then, from that rib, God made a woman. Again, God had created out of his deep love for man, a perfect helpmeet for him. Now Adam lived in paradise with another physical person to share his life with. Adam awoke, maybe rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and maybe even rubbed them a second time, not believing what stood before him. Adam exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.”

From the beginning of time, God loved man, God loved woman. He created them to be together as man and wife, living and working side by side in dominion over the rest of creation.

Unfortunately, it did not last. Adam and Eve chose to make a decision that sounded good at the moment, but had disastrous consequences. They chose to disbelieve what God had told them and believe a lie instead.

With their sin, the sin nature has passed to all mankind. But, God had a plan.

He still loved. He still wanted a relationship with mankind. Yet, His justice would not allow Him to overlook their sin. He had to make a way.

For thousands of years, God continued to teach mankind to look ahead to His promised answer for their sin problem. They sacrificed animals as a picture of the Ultimate Sacrifice that would come.

Many people lived through those days, living by faith in what they had not yet seen. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and many others, chose to follow God because they looked ahead to their reward.

As a result of their faithfulness God was not ashamed to be called their God. They did not live to see the promise fulfilled, but they hoped and believed in what they did not see. We, too, need to have hope and faith in the unseen.

Follow up: Did you find a way to shine for God in your unique way this week? Share with each other how you did. If you have nothing to share, review what you discussed last week, and continue to encourage each other to seek ways to use your unique gifts to shine God’s light.

Hebrews 11:1, 6, 9-10, 13, 16, 39-40
(You may want to take time to read this entire chapter if you have not done so recently or if your daughter has not, and wrap up with the first couple verses of chapter 12).
  1. What is faith?
  2. What relationship do you see between faith and hope (read Romans 8:24, 25 for more on this)?
  3. Where do we get faith from (Ephesians 2:8,9)?
  4. What should be the focus of our faith?
  5. Does faith have its sight set on this world or the eternal?
  6. Did these people live perfect lives because they lived by faith?
  7. How can we strengthen our faith?

Place a reward at one end of the room (candy, a sticker, a small gift or prize, or even yourself with a promised hug for your daughter).

Stand your daughter at the other side of the room from the reward. Then either darken the room or blindfold your daughter.

Instruct her to head toward the reward. If there are obstacles in the way, use your words to make sure that she still heads safely to the reward.

Now repeat this without a blindfold or darkened room.

Discussion points:
How was this similar to the experience of those in the Old Testament? Of us today?

Does faith require sight? Does sight keep us from having real faith?

When you can see, how does it change your thoughts while going toward the reward? Does this help you understand better how faith and hope play a role in our obedience to God?

Action points:
Pray daily that God would help you trust Him more.
Memorize Hebrews 11:1

Pray that God would continue to grow your faith. Pray that you would walk obediently and keep your focus on Him and His Word.

Faith is like radar that sees through the fog. ~Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Further reading:
For you – Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence – making living by faith a habit.
For her – The Little Pilgrim’s Progress – living by faith played out in this classic allegory

You would both enjoy George Mueller’s biography. He had an amazing ability to live by faith with an understanding of the power of prayer like few others.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Orange ya' glad I didn't say "banana?"

We recently joined a food co-op that has already been such a blessing to our family in multiple ways.

It does make me get a little creative in the food department at times when we get an abundance of one particular item.

Last week it was bananas. Even after giving lots of them away, we still had about 30-40 bananas to enjoy.

We love bananas around here. Eat them in oatmeal, on pancakes, in smoothies, in banana bread, and of course straight out of the peel.

Well, if you ever find yourself with a surplus of bananas even in a banana loving house, thought you might want some ideas.

After all, these conversations get a little old after a while:

"Mom, I'm hungry. What can I have for a snack?"
- "Bananas."
"Oh, thanks."

Or . . .
"Mom, may I have a . . ."
-- (I interrupt) "Banana? Yes, you may."
"Uh, oh, okay."

We started with the usual, eating them and using them in our typical fashion. Then we made a double batch of banana bread. Still 25 bananas to go . . .

We then froze bananas:

- Broken into chunks and placed in a freezer bag. These are great in smoothies and last for quite a while. I was actually running low before, and now I am well stocked.

- Frozen mashed bananas. Our banana bread recipe uses three bananas each, so we put three bananas in a freezer bag and mushed them to a pulp (kids love this, even when they don't really want to eat another banana). Once sufficiently pulverized, we label it and place it in the freezer for a time when we have regained our taste for bananas (might take us a whole two weeks) and we thaw and use it quickly in more fresh banana bread.

We ate bananas with peanut butter:
- Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are far better than PBJ, in my opinion. For variety, we rolled it up in a tortilla, too.

- I made a fruit dip with plain yogurt, peanut butter, and honey (pretty sure I got that idea over at Delightful Learning, but can't find the exact post). We had this with apples before, but it fits even better with bananas.

We made ridiculously unhealthy snacks:
- Frozen Banana pops. Place half peeled banana on skewer. Freeze for about an hour and then coat with melted chocolate (1 cup chocolate chips and 2 tbsp butter melted together) or chocolate peanut butter (1 cup chocolate chips and 4 tbsp. peanut butter melted together). You can also add sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, etc.)

- Banana chocolate parfaits. These are quick and easy. Each person gets a bowl or dessert cup. Slice bananas into bowl. Spread a spoonful of whipped cream on and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Crumble an Oreo cookie on top and add another layer of each if desired. One layer was enough for us, and this was yummy!

And, now we have almost reached the end of our supply. A few more bananas for oatmeal tomorrow and we should be out!

Any other favorite banana recipes?

Need more Kitchen Tips? Head over to Tammy's Recipes.

Also check out more Works for Me Wednesday ideas.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The schedule that wouldn't quit

Some days I actually feel like I have it pretty easy. I used to work full time and homeschool and had little ones that demanded a lot of physical energy and somehow needed to fit sleep into the daily plan as well. Those were interesting years.

Life still isn't easy, but comparatively speaking, I know I do have a wee bit more discretionary time than during that season. But, as each year passes on the homeschooling scene, the responsibilities there increase. More complex subjects, more activities to consider, more lengthy projects, more kids studying more subjects as each year goes by. So, how can we squeeze in everything that "has" to get done?

Well, let's see what fills our time each day. . .

  • A housewife's work takes 4-6 hours a day (cooking, cleaning, bills, errands, etc.)
  • Homeschooling takes 6-8 hours each day (including planning, grading, and teaching)
  • And being a mom is a 24 hour a day job.
Where do I find 34-38 hours each day? Oh, and that doesn't yet consider sleep.

Obviously, something has to give. Rather than pretending that I do actually get all of those things adequately done each day, I figured I would share how we make do with what we have. God gave me enough hours today to accomplish what He wants me to do with them.

Twenty-four hours must be enough, I just need to figure out how.

Some plans and tips that have helped me order my days:

Prioritize -- What is the most important to me, my family, and my day? I like to remember the idea that whenever I choose to do something, I am simultaneously choosing to not do 100s of other things. Is what I'm doing right now really more important than all of those other things that I am not doing? Also, my relationship with Jesus Christ is of utmost importance, so my day must start there and our school day starts there as well.

Multitask -- I shared some of my thoughts on multitasking about a year ago during my "Sharing Footprints" series. But, briefly, I look for as many ways as possible to combine necessary tasks. Spending important time with a child while getting chores done is an easy way to do this.

Share the load -- Kids can be a great help in conquering the housework hurdles. Other homeschool moms can network to arrange field trips and extra-curriculars. If you have local family they might help teach a topic you struggle with or take the kids now and then to allow for planning or projects that get interrupted with a houseful of warm bodies.

Take a day off -- I used to feel such pressure to conform to the typical school calendar. We school through the summer, so it doesn't really make sense to keep working exhaustedly when I really just need a day to plan or clean or sleep. We don't do it often, but every few months I need a day off just because I do. No guilt over that any more.

Organize -- For my sanity I need a schedule (that functions as a goal for the day, not a slave-master), I need time set aside for necessary tasks. I need the house in relative order.

Self-discipline -- This is an area that I know I need to grow in. When I stay disciplined with what I have put in place, life rolls much more smoothly. When I get lazy and let things slide, everything just keeps slipping. Discipline (my own) holds a major key to the order of my day, but I too often fail to utilize its strength.

Keep it simple -- Again, an area that at times I am more successful at than others. When we have a reasonable amount of commitments I find far more satisfaction in what gets accomplished each day. I know God's primary place for me is at home, and I need to remember that more regularly.

I love the weekend -- Weekends are so critical to how the rest of my week goes. They are most important for a time of rest, physical and spiritual. But, they also usually provide some planning time, some blogging time, exercise, projects, etc. When they get too full of other commitments my week also suffers.

Balance, in everything balance. Seasons change, children grow, new challenges loom. No matter what the difficulty in maintaining balance in an era of my life I find it manageable as I surrender it to Him.

Despite all those great ideas, I wish I could say that I consistently implement them on a daily basis. Some days it seems like a losing battle, but we do see growth over time. Always learning, always growing.

And, since I'm always looking for more encouragement in this area, I will definitely be heading over to read others' tips and would encourage you to do the same. You should find them on the TOS Crew blog tomorrow, March 16.

Verse of the week -- Psalm 56:3,4

Just trust your daddy.

As children we often learn to trust our parents. Our fathers are bigger and stronger and wiser (although through some stages we like to debate that last one). Life becomes a bit simpler when we learn to rely on their guidance and simply trust.

This weekend as I listened to Stacy McDonald (who blogs over at Sacred Calling) talk about the Sacred Mission of Motherhood she mentioned her role of supporting her husband by encouraging her kids to trust their daddy. To some extent this is a natural response of a child, and in some ways they need to be pushed a bit to make this decision.

We also can help them see the broader applications of trusting their dad. They don't need to worry or question plans or schedules. They don't need to challenge expectations or guidelines. They can confidently seek counsel or advice. Well established trust has many valuable implications.

What a great training ground for trusting God, and what a challenge to me in my own faith to trust my father more consistently!

Nathan (4yo) and I played a board game and my husband watched from nearby. He gave Nathan a couple tips and Nathan hesitated at first. It didn't feel like the best move to him. But then he heard, "Trust me, just trust me." I smiled as Nathan responded with greater confidence. He is learning to trust his earthly daddy and I pray that he also continues to learn to trust his heavenly daddy.

How often do I need to remember to listen to that gentle prodding even when it defies my human wisdom? Yet, He presses me, "Trust me, just trust me."

Psalm 56:3,4 say, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?"

For some reason I still question Him at times. I'm still learning, still growing. But, as I remember that my kids are looking to my example to learn what this trust will look like, it encourages me all the more to trust more deeply. More than just the health of my own faith depends on it.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

~Psalm 56:3,4~

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up - March 12

Counting down to spring break.

I love homeschooling, and generally my kids enjoy it as well, but right now we are definitely looking forward to a week off after one more week.

We keep plugging through math and English and even with that week off they should all have their cores for the year wrapped up by late April or early May. Just in time for us to have some fun school and review before the baby arrives late May. History and Science are on track as well, but don't have such a clear ending point as the other subjects.

Just for fun . . .

- This week Nathan enjoyed some time playing with his sewing cards that have been put away for a while now. After a few minutes of becoming a pro he said, "I'm quite handy with a needle." Where does a four year old come up with this stuff?

- Brooke called me one afternoon on our in house phone system and said, "I'm so relaxed." I had to go find that one (forgot to bring the camera). She and Faith were in bed and Nathan was giving them a foot massage . . . Better yet, she had this ruler that says, "Measure your stress" or something along those lines and the color it showed as she pressed on it told her she was relaxed in case she couldn't tell on her own.

Reading . . .

- We wrapped up listening to Old Yeller this week. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I don't like animal stories much, especially dog ones. However, I still pick them up now and then because the rest of my family generally enjoys them. Maybe I'm getting used to them, but either way we enjoyed that action and adventure in this story about a boy who doesn't see much point in a dog either, until he has one.

- We also continue our way through The Wheel on the School, for a second time. Love this story about how a quest for wagon wheels pulls a whole town together and helps the kids see that adults are people, too.

Links for learning . . .

- Although we decided to take a break from officially following the Iditarod this year, it has been in our thoughts throughout this week. So many incredible stories come out of this event each year and we always find a few mushers that catch our interest. This year we have enjoyed following a few: our long time favorite, Jeff King; Newton Marshall, a rookie, and the first ever Jamaican in the famous race; and a musher that hails from Illinois originally, Thomas Lesatz. They have some great video clips on the website, and lots of beautiful Alaskan scenery.

- Yesterday on our way out the door we heard a strange bird call coming from a flock of birds overhead. We stopped and observed that these were definitely not the Canadian Geese that have so often flown by, this was something different. When we returned home, we jumped on one of my favorite sites, What Bird?, and found out we had witnessed Sandhill Cranes on their way back north. All told, about 100 of them, amazing!

Check out more weekly wrap ups.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Art of Asking Questions -- The classroom edition

Questions, questions.

Asking questions reveals the depth of learning.
The answers show connections made.
The responses give a glimpse at the extent of understanding.

A while back, I wrote about the art of questions and some basic rules I try to keep in mind in asking questions. Today I wanted to share some of what I have discovered about questions in the "classroom."

We often spend good money on teacher's guides or study guides to accompany a textbook or reading book. Part of this stems from the fact that we recognize the value of questions and the other prompts that fill these materials. We need something more than just a good book in order for our children to learn and apply the substance of what they hear and see.

We also need conversation, often peppered with thought provoking questions.

Consider a hypothetical reading follow-up conversation:

Did you finish the reading?
- yes
Did you like it?
- uh huh
What was it about?
- some kids and they did some stuff
Boys or girls?
- both

And on it goes. Like prying open a clam.

This might be a reasonable starting point, although rather dry and shallow. What we really want is for kids to think while they read and study, not just spit back specific answers regardless of the depth of the comprehension.

To make sure that my teaching and "prying" gets deeper I have found Bloom's Taxonomy helpful in formulating questions.

For those unfamiliar with Bloom's taxonomy, let me give you a brief synopsis. Basically, in 1956 Benjamin Bloom along with some other educational psychologists developed a hierarchy of learning levels which they categorized and summarized. Now, I don't always agree with much of the "educational psychology" floating around out there, but I do find some benefit to learning and utilizing this scale.

bloom's taxonomy

Basically, we want to encourage our students to learn to greater depth, not just memorizing facts, but applying them to situations. Here is a summary of what these levels entail (starting from the bottom):

- Knowledge -- memorizing facts, repeating back basic information
- Comprehension -- restating the facts in your own words
- Application -- taking the information into a new setting and applying that knowledge
- Analysis -- dissecting the information for validity and strength
- Synthesis -- Combining information to come up with a new outcome
- Evaluation -- Making it more personal, including values and morals, defending or criticizing

As kids get older, our questions should more frequently take them into the higher levels of thinking. As Christians, we definitely want to push them to the Evaluation level to challenge them to defend their positions and solidify their convictions.

Instead of asking, "What did the king do when . . . ?" ask, "How would a world leader implement this today?" Instead of "List Martin Luther's complaints." Try, "Distinguish between the positions of Luther and the Pope."

In the place of repeating back knowledge, we seek application and understanding. This makes me think harder, but it makes my kids get so much deeper into a topic and forces them to wrestle with it and make it their own.

I use these levels to evaluate my expectations of my kids. If the focus of our history lesson becomes the dates and names of a certain time period, we aren't accomplishing much. But, if in the process of discussion a child points out that this king should have learned from the one we read about a previous day, or they recall the progression of events that led to disaster and can articulate what a historical figure might have done to prevent that . . . then we are getting somewhere.

Again, as homeschoolers we have the advantage in assessing our student's grasp of a topic. We don't have a class of 30 kids that need to take turns asking and answering questions. We don't have to pass out a written quiz and have them trade papers to grade to find out if they caught the key points in the reading. We can simply talk to them, each one of them in depth.

Charlotte Mason would call this the Grand Conversation. I call it essential, and one of my favorite parts of schooling my kids. Getting past the 'what' to the 'why.' Digging through the facts to plant the fascination.

Some links on Bloom's Taxonomy and other question asking skills:

- Critical Thinking has a great little book about the power of the well framed question, and they say, "The Quality of our thinking is given in the quality of our questions."

- A description of activities and their corresponding levels in Bloom's Taxonomy.

- A summary of Bloom as well as some more recent revisions made to his work.

The deeper your questions, the deeper they must dig for the answers, the deeper their learning through the process, and often the deeper they will dig on their own the next time.

In an area that kids love and jump into independently, they may pull us for a ride through their knowledge and applications gained. But, in those topics that they must learn, but don't always enjoy, raising the expectation can encourage them to dig deeper as they see a challenge to rise to.

So, what are your thoughts?
What have you done with your kids to encourage the depth of their learning?
Were you familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy, and what do you think of it?
I would love to hear . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010

Family Mint

My official review on this product is yet to come, but I wanted to let you know about a product that we are currently using and enjoying that is FREE to anyone. This is a great website to assist you in teaching your kids financial responsibility.

Look for more of my opinions next week, but for now here is an email summary and invitation from the Family Mint team:

We're very excited to share FamilyMint with you, our web-based money management application for kids, where the parents hold the money and act as the bank. It's FREE, SIMPLE and SECURE!
Junior Goals
FamilyMint offers easy-to-use but powerful tools that help parents guide their children's spending and develop vital life skills. Children are given the reins to set goals, allocate savings, and enter their own transactions. FamilyMint encourages children to take charge of their own finances - in a controlled and instructive setting - to ingrain a financial discipline that will pay dividends for their entire lives!

Parents can encourage and reward savings by setting up motivating interest rates, automating allowance, and matching deposits for goals that parents would like to encourage.

Children who grow up without the ability to manage money suffer a HUGE disadvantage. Did you know that 18-24 year olds are the fastest growing age group filing for bankruptcy? Our teens and young adults are vulnerable, facing full access to internet shopping, easy credit card accessibility, and constant bombardment by consumer gratification - yet only 5 percent learn the vital life skills of money management in school.

Parents want their kids to succeed, to be able to live within their means and create financial security for their future.

FamilyMint empowers children to set an unlimited number of goals - shopping, charity, college, toys and activities - and our colorful graphics allow them to SEE progress for each goal, visually distinct for youngsters or teens. Children learn by doing, and have fun along the way!

Getting Started

Getting started with FamilyMint is quick and easy. You can set up your family in less than 10 minutes. Go to and click on either the Get Started or the Sign Up button to create your family bank. While you are at our public web site, be sure also to check out our Features, Blog, Of Interest, and Testimonials.

We hope you and your family will enjoy using FamilyMint and get as much benefit out of it as our families have! If you like using FamilyMint, we encourage you to share it with your friends and family.

Jeff Eusebio & Bob Masterson
FamilyMint co-founders FREE SIMPLE SECURE

Sunday, March 7, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Graphic Toolbox

Do you love to create? Are you always looking for new tools to enhance your projects? I had an opportunity to review an interesting program called Graphics Toolbox that has lots of goodies for those that love to play with images and design.

Product: Graphics Toolbox
Details: A program designed to allow you to do more with your graphics. This program allows you to create professional quality work from your home computer and printer with a number of unique features to help in creating school projects, scrapbooking, business cards, greeting cards, blog designs, and more.
Price: $149.00

What we loved . . .
  • Unique functions. This program has some really amazing abilities. With it you can fairly easily change the color of some part of a picture or layout, not just one single color, but the tonal color (every shade of brown that is in that hair). I think that was my favorite feature. If your family forgot to wear their matching shirts for the photo, you can spend some time changing them all to the same color without it looking like a toddler took their crayons to the photo to "touch it up."
  • High quality capabilities. Graphics Toolbox functions at a high resolution so you retain the quality of the photos that you are working with.
  • Color, it's all about the color. During the training sessions that we were able to attend they emphasized the great access to color in this program. It comes with ready made color cards if you sometimes struggle choosing colors that complement each other well (can I just say, I really need those . . .) You can change colors and shades and still have a quality product. You can choose from limitless choices for colors.
  • Ribbons and borders. In addition to all the great colors, GT offers a wonderful assortment of backgrounds, borders and really cute ribbons to enhance your work. I loved playing with these!
  • Lots of help available. The creators are great to work with. Helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. You can download the user's manual for free which will answer many of your questions about how to use Graphics Toolbox. You can also have an hour of one-on-one time (for $65) to learn how to better use the software and create the projects that you want to create.
  • Tutorials available online. On their site they have recorded a number of tutoring sessions so you can really see how the program works. This is especially helpful for those that need something more than a printed manual to really grasp something new.

Some considerations . . .

  • The Price. I didn't do a lot of comparing, but for me, for what I would use it for, $149 was a lot to spend on a program of this type.
  • Quite a learning curve. While this program does lots of great stuff, it does it in a very different way than I was used to. Just a few examples of the different ways of operating: It doesn't use drop down menus, you can't minimize the program to look at something else on your computer while GT is still visible, and you need to save and resave your work constantly if you want to be able to go back and change something from much earlier (she compares this to creating a poster -- once you glue something down it's stuck there, so you need to save multiple copies of your project as you go so if you don't like how something looks you can revert to an earlier saved version rather than completely starting over).
  • That bears repeating, this takes time to understand. I found that the more I used it, the more questions I had, and the more I ended up looking things up to figure them out. I did learn a lot and figure things out in the process, but it did not come easily.

Personally, I did not fall in love with this program the way I was thinking I might when I first took a look at it. However, I'm not a crafty person in real life, and definitely not on the computer. I personally don't like to just play around with pictures and layouts. If you enjoy creating and crafting and scrapbooking this might be a great program for you. Or, if your kids are looking for something a step up to use for their school projects and you know they would put it to good use, it might be worth the purchase.

I do appreciate that it has a free 30 day trial that you can download to see if it is something that you would make good use of. That is a nice amount of time to really get to play with the program and try creating some projects to see if it suits you and your family. Be sure to check the system requirements before doing so, this is a very large download, and you will want to make sure it fits with your computer specs.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This design program was provided to me free of charge from Graphic Toolbox as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.