Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: WealthQuest for Teens

WealthQuest for Teens
Cost:  $39.95
Age: High School

In tough economic times, with four teenagers, we are constantly seeking ways to help our kids become better financial stewards.  We teach them all the time they we are blessed with what we have and have a responsibility to manage it well.
TOS offered me the opportunity to review WealthQuest for Teens.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to further expose my high school sophomore to financial management strategies. 

The program comes with three parts:  a Parent Guide, an online video seminar, and a Teen’s Basic Seminar QuickStart Guide. 
Parent Guide

The parent guide provides information about the program itself.  Why we should teach our children financial management, and why this program is the best way to do it.  I did appreciate some of the ideas around why parents fail to raise financially capable young adults.  The guide isn’t a resource so much as it is confirmation to the parent that they should be teaching their child about finances and then selling this program.
Online Video Seminar

The Online Video Seminar includes seven videos aimed at walking your student through how to get rich.  Personally, my son and I found the focus of “being rich” inappropriate.  While financial stability is important, the pursuit of riches is not something we focus on here in our home. 
Each of the videos is well done.  Peer actors are used in addition to the primary course creator, Jill Suskind, to explain to the students why being rich is important.  The videos go on to detail that your student should look for ways to earn income (makes sense) and should invest some of that income.  I felt like the coverage of how to invest was just an overview.  My goal with this program was depth of understanding of financial management, not just a focus on being wealthy.  The videos do tell the student to read lots of books about money management to gain insight – I’m not sure that’s helpful as that’s seems obvious to me.

However, the videos are cinematically well produced.  They are engaging with good flow, strong speakers and motivating music.  Along with the video a sidebar allows the student to read about the content being covered in the video, input answers to questions, and print the module content.  I did like this aspect as it was interactive.

The final couple of videos focus on the money management “silo” system, which is the crux of the system.  Students create containers or silos for their money using the following categories:

1. Future Financial Freedom 10%
2. Heal the World 10%
3. Saving for Big Ticket Items 10%
4. Learning 10%
5. Fun Money 10%
6. Necessities 50%
No matter how much money a student gets or earns, the money should be divided among these silos according to the amounts indicated.  Discipline in doing this will leave to being rich.  I appreciate the concepts of discipline, charitable contribution and monies dedicated to learning!

After completing the videos and the workbook (I’ll discuss that in a minute), students are sent to the site to practice the silo system.  This site is separate from Wealth Quest.  It is free to all users.
This is a six week program.  The videos are intended for the first week.  The Workbook is Weeks 2 and 3.  Week 4 they use, Week 5 students read a book about money of their choosing, and Week 6 is reflection. 

The content provided by this site is Weeks 1-3 and suggestions for using the other resources as part of a six week course.

Teen Workbook

The teen workbook or Basic Seminar QuickStart Guide is a journal numbering thirty days.  Two to four pages can easily be done each day.  The purpose of the workbook is to get the teen to reflect on what he/she thinks about money, how he earns money, and how to use the six part system to manage his or her money.

The pages are very open ended – they are made to ask simple questions and have the teen spend time reflecting on the answers.  If you have a teen that will take the time to do this and do it well, I believe it would be helpful.  If your teen is like mine and views worksheets as busy work, then his/her answers may be overly simplistic and not really help the process of learning to manage money.
The workbook tries to get the teen to really reflect on what the lessons taught before taking the next step and putting into action the silo system.
I’m not reviewing this piece; however, I will say that it is setup differently than I would have expected for the silo system.  I guess I expected it to function the same way as the process described.  However, with a little work it is easy to setup the “silos” for your student to begin.

Overall Impression
Personally, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  I do think the silo system has some merit, and I do like the quality of the presentation.  However, I do not like the focus on “being rich.”  I would have like to have seen a program that goes over situations like mortgages, student loans, smart purchasing, etc.  The cost is very reasonable and using the program may be a good way to start a dialogue with your teen about being fiscally responsible.

To see reviews by other member's of the TOS Review Crew - click here.

*** Disclaimer: I received this program free of charge as a member of the TOS Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman

Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman
Author:  Janie B. Cheaney
Age:  Middle School / High School
Writing is one of the most challenging subjects for a homeschooling parent to teach.  Yes, physics, chemistry and calculus are difficult; however, they come with answer keys.  Writing, on the other hand, doesn't.  It’s subjective.  Your experience with writing impacts your ability to teach your children how to write.

Sure, there are rules – spelling, grammar, mechanics.  There is structure – parts of a paragraph ,parts of an essay, and genres of writing.  Nonetheless, when it comes to evaluating writing, a parent is limited by his own opinion, bias (we all love our kids and don’t want to discourage them) and perspective.

I think that’s what makes finding a good writing curriculum so difficult – there just isn’t a packaged deal complete with answer key and the solution to what is good writing.

There are good curriculum out there, however.  Timberdoodle has asked me to look at Wordsmith by Janie B. Cheaney.  I received the Creative Writing student and teacher’s guide aimed at 7th to 9th grades and the Wordsmith Craftsman, a self-directed high school program.

Wordsmith 7th to 9th provides a step-by-step approach to understanding the foundations of writing.  Much like with any other subject, if you don’t have the foundation, you can’t build upon it.  Wordsmith starts with basic grammar, works its way to building strong sentences using the parts of speech and then on to developing paragraphs and finally essays.  The focus is on creative writing – description, narrative, dialogue.  This allows the young writer to use his or her experiences in the writing rather than having to pull from research or build a case in their writing. 

The approach is simple, but effective.  As a short course, I think it does provide the foundation for getting a young writer on the path to understanding that writing is more than just putting words on paper.  There is an approach, there are rules, and being able to apply those effectively are the key to success.  If you have never had your child really sit down and walk through how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and finally a full essay, then I can easily recommend this program.  Writing cannot be taken for granted – it must be taught.

As I noted earlier, teaching writing is difficult.  The teacher’s guide provided with this edition is very effective.  Not only does it help with the grammar and basic structure that an answer key can provide, but in a conversational tone helps the parent understand how to evaluate his/her student both through encouragement and constructive criticism.

Prompts are provided throughout the teacher’s text to help you help your child.  Here’s an example:

“Read season poems out loud and comment positively on any details you especially like.  Then go over each line and check for weak spots.  Pay special attention, once again, to nouns and verbs.  Are they concrete and vivid?  Are all the senses included?”

The teacher’s guide is excellent!  It truly empowers the parent to work with his or her student to strengthen his writing.  I’m very impressed. 

Wordsmith Craftsman is focused on the student alone.  As a high school student, independence is key; however, I do wish there was an included parent guide for this book as well.  The level and depth of material covered would benefit from parental guidance, especially for the weak writer.

The books starts by discussing taking notes and outlining.  I can’t stress these two skills enough!  Homeschoolers don’t always learn how to take notes since they don’t sit in classrooms often.  Teach your child to take notes – they will thank you in college!  Outlining is the linchpin for success in writing – if you teach your child to outline, he or she will have far more cohesive and unified papers!

Letters are covered next.  I like this approach because they are simple and allow for different genres – personal and business.  I teach letters in my college course.  What surprised me was the feasibility study required at the end of this chapter.  It goes well beyond what is covered in the chapter and may be overwhelming for a student.

Paragraph techniques followed by word choice emphasis and finally essay are covered.  Each of these skills, as noted previously, are incredibly important.  The essay section begins with descriptive, narrative and expository allowing the student to pull from personal experience to write a paper.  Next comes more common types of research papers found in college – critical and persuasive. 

While the research paper is covered, it isn’t in quite enough depth.  The need for understanding research, citation, third-person perspective and applying style (APA, MLA, etc.) are not addressed. 

I could see this text being a good beginning in tenth or maybe eleventh grade; however, to really be prepared for college, your student needs to explore research in more depth in twelfth grade to be fully prepared for collegiate expectations.

Writing is just as important as math, science and history.  Don’t let it slide!  Don’t just trust that people naturally know how to write.  This just isn’t true.  Writing well is a learned skill just like algebra or biology.  In fact, maybe even more so since every class they encounter in college will require some level of writing.  I’ve even challenged my boys to come up with a career that never requires them to be able to write – they haven’t been able to.

Thank you to Timberdoodle for the opportunity to review this curriculum.  Don’t forget to visit them on Facebook – Timberdoodle is one of my favorite resources for curriculum!

*** I received these programs free of charge as a member of Timberdoodle’s review team in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Courageous Teens

Courageous Teens

Author(s):  Michael Catts & Amy Parker

Age:  Tween through Teen
After having seen Fireproof at our church, I knew that books and films by Michael Catts were powerful messages about today’s faith.  I agreed to review Courageous Teens because I had heard a lot of good things about his movie, Courageous, and thought it would spur me on to watch it.  Alas, time and energy have not allowed for that to happen; however, I did get the opportunity to read an excellent book.
Courageous Teens uses the teachings in the movie along with Biblical and modern history quotes and examples to help teens understand their value as God’s children and to spur them on to live up to that role.  I appreciate very much the use of characters in scripture partnered with other everyday heroes to show the principles of moral fortitude necessary to strive for a Godly life, to share that life with others and to face peer pressure and critics.  Why do I like this so much?  One issue I hear from teens today is the relevance of the Bible.  To see that people in the Bible underwent similar tests albeit under very different circumstances provides a level of relevance; however, when partnered with stories from recent history like Lincoln, Roosevelt, local church heroes, people who withstood tremendous trial and overcame through Christ – the relevance is solidified. 

Should the movie be viewed first?  It doesn’t have to be, but I think the use of quotes from the movie would really come into context if it were.  The forward states this book would make a good group Bible study or a devotional for a teen.  As a devotional, the chapters are a bit long.  Bear in mind when I say this that most devotionals are just a page or two.  The reader would need to be committed to the reading, and it is well worth the investment.  As a group study, illuminating Biblical, historical and present day figures leads to not only a more grounded knowledge of faith application, but would encourage discussion.  I could definitely see this as a good resource for teens.  In fact, I’m going to pass it along to our high school youth leader.
Catts and his co-author Amy Parker have a no-nonsense way of speaking to teens.  They aren’t trying to sugar coat the life the teen should be living nor are they trying to denigrate the teen for poor choices.  They are simply and clearly saying what it means to follow Christ and apply that in their daily walk.

I’m still going to see the movie!  I am!  Movies aren’t my thing, but reading about the applications for life taught in the movie through this teen devotional has put it on my to-do list.

 *** Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.


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.