Friday, September 28, 2012

Review - Box of I.D.E.As - WWII Pearl Harbor

PhotobucketBox of I.D.E.As
WWII Pearl Harbor

Cost:  $49.00 pdf, $79.00 physical box, $4.00 additional modules
Ages: 9-16

 “Box of IDEAs is a company dedicated to creating delightful interactive learning modules centered around random sub-ject areas. Explorers will be irresistibly drawn into critical thinking & knowledge building activities through an amazing variety of fun topics.”
My older son is a WWII enthusiast, so we offered to review the WWII Pearl Harbor box.  There are ten modules each engaging in a different aspect of the events of WWII. 

Since we received the PDF – we had to print out each module.  I appreciated that each module provided clear instructions about what needed to be printed and on what type of paper. 
All of the modules come with information about each event, extensions and links for further discussion and activities including portfolio pieces that the students can complete.  In each of the ten modules there was a card game of some sort.  For example, the Day of Infamy module has each player trying to accumulate the timeline of the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This gives each student a better idea of the moment by moment events that occurred. 
I have to say that my boys enjoyed the first couple card games, but then they got tired of them.  While the card games differ in purpose, I think they would have appreciated other activities like a craft.  Additionally, card games force the parent to have at least two students doing the activities at any given time.  Individual students would either have to play with the parent or not be able to play the game.

The Portfolio pieces are meant to aid understanding by having the students deal hand’s on with the material in a fun way.  Each portfolio piece asks questions from the provided content and has the student record that knowledge so that it becomes memorable. 

I appreciated that Box of I.D.E.As created a answer key for their box upon request.  While we parents love to do activities with our children, there are times when we want them working independently and just have a solution key so that we can ensure they are understanding the content.
Personally, while I like the idea of activities that students can grab and do, I felt like the limitations of having to have two or more students and the high price make this a product I wouldn’t seek out.  $49 plus a lot of ink for a PDF or $79 for a complete set is out of my price range for supplemental material.  If a student is passionate about the topic, it may be worth the expense. 

To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew have to say – click here.
 *** Disclaimer - I received a PDF of this product as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review - The River

The River
Author: Michael Neale
Cost: (Amazon) $11.35

I grew up in Colorado and loved to spend time along the Cache La Poudre river.  In fact, there were large stones that hung over the river a ways up the canyon that I would drive to so I could sit on a rock and read. 
When I started reading The River, I could relate to the majesty and power of a Colorado river.  Initially, I found the story very engaging.  The main character, Gabriel, suffers a tragedy as a child and finds himself in Kansas, a long way from his original home with his father at their rafting center.

As Gabriel grows, he tries to deal with the tragedy and make a life for himself.   One day, an old high school friend invites him on a trip to Colorado where he rafts The River and finds that that lifestyle is ingrained in him.  He returns only to learn the rest of the tragic story he experienced so long ago and begins to make peace with it.

Honestly, I found the story to lack cohesion.  Without offering spoilers, suffice it to say it never really comes together as a complete story.   Maybe I just don’t get it, but The River takes on a personae and there is a white hawk that seems to follow Gabriel.  However, it never really quite makes sense.  There are several events that are too coincidental.  Maybe that’s what we are supposed to glean – that he was made to be there.

When I read the reviews for this book, they said the book was life changing.  I was so surprised when the book ended abruptly as I was still waiting for the epiphany that wasn’t to come.  There may be too much allegory for a literal person like me. 

I thought it was a nice read, but hardly life changing. 
*** Disclaimer: I received a review copy free of charge as a member of Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review - A Cry from Egypt

A Cry from Egypt

Author:  Hope Auer
Or Hope’s Web Site:
Cost:  $12.50
Ages:  Middle School and Up

My youngest is starting world history this year.  A Cry from Egypt by Hope Auer arrived at just the right time to kick off our school year and start with a little historical fiction.  Hope’s book focuses on the time when God sent the plagues on Egypt to get the Israelites released.  My son knows the Biblical story, so having a fictional account to go along with it really brought it to life.
What I love about the opportunity to review this book and have my son read it is that it is written by a young lady who was homeschooled and illustrated by a young man who also was homeschooled.  This shows my boys that you can follow your passions and be successful! 

Hal and Melanie Young run the Raising Real Men web site named after their amazingly successful book by the same title.  They discovered and published Hope and have several other excellent homeschooling resources available.
Hope Auer has really taken off!  She is continuing the series, and, based on her web site, is developing a study guide for the text.  Additionally, she posts on her site lessons that students can follow to work towards developing their own Biblical historical fiction.

I asked my son to write a review of the book, here’s what he has to say:
Well, for starters, I don’t like biblical stories.  But, A Cry from Egypt was fantastic. The story takes place with a large Hebrew family who live in the times of ancient Egypt where Pharaoh opposes God (Yahweh)’s command to let the Hebrews leave to the Promised Land.  God retaliates, and, just like in the Bible, sends wave after wave after WAVE of locusts, frogs, flies, darkness, and more. The family sees God’s wonders, and the mother slowly converts from Egyptian Gods to Christianity.

The family itself consists of a lot of people; however, the recurring ones are Eitan, who wants to marry Ada, the queens advisor, but can’t; Shanya, the rather bossy older sister; Mother, the angry mom; Father, the patriotically Christian father; and Jarah, who is kind of a setback. Jarah is the main character, which is fine, but she seemed a bit too fragile.  Sure, it makes sense to cry whenever you fall inside the crocodile infested Nile river as it turns to blood, but she also cried just as hard if she so much as fell down and scraped her knee. I think they needed a bit stronger character.
All in all, the book was great. I loved the characters and kept on wanting to read. It was a combination of funny, tragic, romantic, and…happy. Great work, Hope.

We have a winner!  My son is a reader, but he likes what he likes.  He clearly enjoyed Hope’s book.  In fact, he would read ahead.  At one point, he was sad when several characters died as God killed the first born Egyptians.  The mark of a good story is invoking emotion.  He said the ending is happy, and he really enjoyed it.  I’m going to make sure to keep buying the series as it comes out!
To learn more about Hope, and A Cry from Egypt, you can go to the following sites:

Hope’s Blog -

If you would like to see what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members thought – click here.
*** Disclaimer – I received this book free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review - HEV (Home Education Videos) Project

HEV (Home Education Videos) Project
Cost:  Pay-What-You-Want
Ages:  6 and up

I was invited to review the HEV (Home Education Videos) project website.  I’ve seen several sites with videos, but this one intrigued me.  For one, they have a pay-what-you-want subscription.  Yes, you read that right.  You pay what you can, there is no set price.  Much like me – you’re probably thinking, Wow! 
See, most of the video sites I’ve reviewed charge a parent an arm and maybe a leg for a subscription.  As homeschooling parents, we often forgo an income in order to be home with our kids educating them.  Expensive is typically not in the budget. 

I’m amazed at what they are offering at such a generous price!
John and Claudia Orgill developed this site.  John has been in web and graphic design for the last decade, and Claudia has spent the last five years along with John homeschooling their children.  They decided to combine their talents and provide a real, God-centered learning environment for homeschooling families.  “We want this to be a place where every time a learner comes, they are learning something that will open their mind, teach them something valuable, and bring them closer to God.”

The site has numerous videos on all sorts of subject matter, perfect short additions to what you are teaching your kids at home.  Videos are also included for parents strengthening their resolve to be home educators.
All of the videos are family friendly.  Unlike other sites, HEV ensures that each rises to a high moral standard so that our children can freely surf the site without concern.  “Each one of them is edifying and strengthening to a student’s heart, mind and soul…”

The over 300 videos provide instruction on a wide range of topics:
For Learners:  Creating Men, Creating Women, Courses, Gifts & Talents, Making a Difference, Book Reviews, Debate, Writing Critique and Spiritual Thoughts.

Each selection has subcategories with videos – for instance Creating Women includes the following:  Beautiful Girlhood, Crocheting, In the Kitchen and Self Defense.
The Courses section is outstanding with over 200 videos on topics ranging from Science to World Geography and Culture to Chess to Guitar and so much more!

To see a list – click here.

I love the variety and the tone in which each video is delivered.   They are short, well produced and clearly target their audience.  Basic English grammar rules target young children, while crochet shows up-close video of the skill being taught.  Science experiments each have two parts (How to do the Experiment and How it Works) as well as downloadable  Project Instructions and Worksheet for the lesson. 

I honestly cannot get over the professional level of the videos.  Again, having experience with other video sites, HEV is putting out a high-quality experience.

For Parents includes information on Home School Life, I was homeschooled, and Book Lists.  Of course, I think the courses are for parents too.  I loved the crocheting videos and am anxious to learn some skill at chess!

In addition to their video offerings, HEV is developing a Debate Forum where students can politely employ their argumentation skills.  A Writing Critiques section will not only include videos about writing critique but will have a forum where students can submit their writing for peer review.  As a writing teacher, I cannot speak highly enough about the learning advantages of peer review for both the writer and reviewer!  Finally, a monthly contest challenges students in various skills like writing, art, science.  Submissions are grouped by age and small cash prizes are awarded.

Visit this link to find out what subjects and opportunities are In Production or Coming Next.  The list is exciting!

My heart is warmed just knowing there are still people out there willing to contribute in such a big way without focus of financial gain.  I’m astounded by this family’s contributions and grateful for the opportunity to spend time on their site.

For a free one week trial to see just want I am raving about go directly to their homepage.

 *** Disclaimer:  I received a free subscription to HEV in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The teens in our area, including my own, have discovered an anime series called Homestuck.  It's the most convoluted, extensive story I have ever seen.  The writer uses MSPaint to create pictures of his characters and flash to create animations that go with the story.  My head spins just trying to follow the story line. 

Here's my son's drawing of the "trolls" of Homestuck.  I tell ya - it's given them lots to talk about with friends, a sense of community, has forced strong critical thinking skills to keep up with it, and has brought back out the artist in my middle son.  Win!


Do your teens read Homestuck?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Homeschool Natural Science - Stream Walking

Through one of the co-ops that we attend four nature discovery days have been scheduled.  One each month.  This month, we went stream walking.  It was a muddy, yet fun adventure!

Heading to the stream

We're in and walking our way upstream

Showing his handfull of natural clay

Climbing down into the natural pool of water

Wading in the pool of water

The narrow stream

Poison Ivy vines

We found a box turtle - the guide is showing us it's a male by the ridge on the bottom

Raccoon skeleton - no touching!  It can still carry rabies.

Beautiful berries

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ten Hints for Homeschooling High School

At first, I was intimidated to homeschool for high school.  It’s the gateway to college, and I didn’t want to make a mess of things.  Then, I got to thinking, there are numerous resources out there, and who wants more for my kids than I do?  So, in we plunged. 
After our first year homeschooling high school, here are my top ten pointers:

1.       Find other families who have homeschooled through high school and into college and get their advice.

2.       Look at the local public school web site and find out the courses they require for high school graduation – this is a good litmus of everything you should cover.

3.       Start a transcript right away and keep up with it.  Include each text that you use – you’ll need to know this if they want to play sports in college – I love the My Homeschool Transcripts online program!

4.       Check with local community colleges to determine what their dual-enrollment policies are so you can consider this as an option for their last two years of high school.

5.       Talk with your student about what he/she wants to take, what his/her plans are after graduation, and start working towards a plan.  If they don’t know, that’s ok – go with the college prep tract from the local high school.  It’s always better to over plan than under plan.

6.        Check out the requirements of prospective colleges to find out what they require for entrance and if they have special requirements for homeschoolers.  Shoot for the requirements of the most challenging school.

7.       Consider having your student take tests like the CLEP to earn college credit for courses they take in high school.  (Check your preferred colleges to find out which CLEP’s or other tests they accept and their expected scores.)

8.       Prepare for the PSAT and the SAT/ACT.  These scores are what the colleges will really look at when considering your student for enrollment.

9.       Take the SAT/ACT multiple times to get the highest score.

10.   Get your student involved in strong extracurricular activites and volunteering – colleges like these!  There are numerous opportunities available to homeschooled students – be sure to take advantage of them!

It can be daunting, but it is doable.  I know several families who have been very successful and sent their children off to strong colleges.  The internet puts finding resources right at our fingertips.

If you and your student are committed to a strong high school experience, you’ll reap the rewards of four wonderful years working together to lay the academic foundation for their future.

To see posts by other Review Crew Members – click here.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

The < = > Approach

A couple of weeks ago, our pastor discussed as concept he had learned about from another member of the church: the < = > concept.  Or, the greater than, equals and less than concept.

What does this mean?  In his discussion, it was suggested that as humans we immediately apply the < = > equation to everyone we meet.  Is this person less than, equal to, or greater than me?  Then, based on that assessment is how we choose to relate to them.

If they are less, then we may treat them as less than we are.  Either by being patronizing or rejecting them.  Perhaps someone who is younger or in a lesser station of employment.
If they are greater, then we might have more respect or be more inclined to want to gain their favor.  Think of a boss, or a pastor, or, for some,  a celebrity. 

If they are equal, then…  Well, that’s a tough one.  Are these the people we are friends with or the ones that we choose to compete with?
It’s food for thought.  I had to acknowledge that while it’s not necessarily a conscious thing, I do believe that we do this. 

Now that it has been brought to my attention, I’m much more cognizant of initial meetings and “sizing people up”.  I don’t want to rank people – I want to accept them as they are.  One thing teaching has taught me is that I may be in front of the classroom, but, given a different subject, that position could easily be reversed, and I'm the student. 
Do you judge people the first time you meet them?  How hard is it for them to break out of the mold you put them in?