Category Archives: Reviews

Homeschool Mosaic Review: Apologia Picture Book “A Light for My Path”

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review disclaimer1We love picture books in this house, so I was glad to get the chance to check out a new one from Apologia called A Light for My Path. Written by Davis Carman and beautifully illustrated by Alice Ratterree, this ABC book is based on Psalm 119.

A Light for My Path picture book

A Light for My Path picture book by Apologia

Both of my kids already recognize the letters of the alphabet, but they still enjoyed naming each corresponding animal or plant as we got to it (and learned a few new ones as well!). Additionally, the book teaches both uppercase and lowercase forms of the letters, so it’s a good book to reinforce that concept. Their favorite part was looking for the animal from the previous spread on the current page.

L for Light with a Ladybug (and a Koala from the previous spread)

L for Light with a Ladybug (and a Koala from the previous spread)

After the ABC pictures that describe attributes of God’s Word and Law, A Light for My Path contains Psalm 119 divided into individual stanzas that start with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I pointed out the picture and name of the Hebrew letter at the top of each page as I read them to my kids, and noted how the letters looked different than our English alphabet.

Psalm 119 with Hebrew letters

Psalm 119 with Hebrew letters

What I love:

  • Although it’s a paperback, the book is well made and the thick pages seem like they will hold up pretty well.
  • The illustrations are colorful and engaging, and my children loved searching out the different animals throughout the book.

Potential pitfalls:

  • I was expecting a bit more text in the main part of the ABC section, rather than a repetitious phrase and a one-word attribute. I think I had initially expected the verses from the Psalm to be incorporated on the ABC pictures, instead of at the end. But the book states in its introduction (a “how to use this book” section, essentially) that this is intentional and I can see how this approach would work well for young kids still learning the alphabet.

If you’re interested in checking out A Light for My Path (available here for $14), there’s a bigger sample here on Apologia’s site. And read more reviews from the Mosaic team at the Mosaic Reviews blog!

Homeschool Mosaic Review: The Classical Historian Medieval History Memory Game

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review disclaimer1Family Game Night. Does that conjure up memories of endless Monopoly games or charades? A child who can’t get enough of Chutes and Ladders? We have a lot of great games that we enjoy bringing out to play as a family. My husband recently taught our daughter how to play mancala, and now she’s beating him at it! 🙂 She positively loves just about any type of game, and especially matching games. So when Homeschool Mosaic Reviews was offered the chance to check out a memory game from The Classical Historian, I was pretty excited. I wasn’t sure if the material would be too far over her head, but since it was a game, I was willing to take a chance. And I’m so glad I did!

Fresh out of the box: The Classical Historian Medieval History Memory game cards and instruction sheet

Fresh out of the box: The Classical Historian Medieval History Memory game cards and instruction sheet

The Classical Historian is a family-run company that sells history curriculum for middle and high schoolers and games for all ages. I got the chance to review one of their memory games, Medieval History (available here for $14.95). Other games include Ancient History and American History Memory, and a Go Fish game in the same three time periods, for the same price. The Go Fish games looked fun also, but with a nonreader and an emerging reader in my home, the memory game was the way to go.

Medieval History Memory contains 64 game play cards and two sets of four category cards (Europe, the Americas, the Far East and Arabia). Game set-up and play is like any other Memory game on the market. Set up the 64 cards in a grid formation, face down, and players take turns flipping over two cards at a time, looking for matches. The player with the most matches at the end of the game is the winner.

Game play is ready to begin!

Game play is ready to begin!

The cards are nice and sturdy cardboard (so is the storage box), and the pictures on them are high quality. I like the variety in them, both in terms of subject and in medium (some are photographs, some are illustration). The Medieval History set covers several people, places, events and concepts from Europe, the Americas, the Far East and Arabia, although the highest concentration of cards fall in the Europe category.

The cards contain a great variety of subjects in Medieval History: people, places, concepts. In addition to classic Memory, game players can also play a Categories game and match cards to regions.

The cards contain a great variety of subjects in Medieval History: people, places, concepts. In addition to classic Memory, game players can also play a Categories game and match cards to regions.

We played Medieval History Memory as a family and had a great time. My husband and I were able to tell a little bit about each card as it was drawn, and I love that the game provides an informal and fun way for the kids to learn about important people and places in history. My daughter drew the card for William Shakespeare, and as soon as I read his name, she got excited. She knew who he was because we were currently reading a Magic Tree House book about Shakespeare. “He is the man who did the play with Jack and Annie!” she said. I can see us playing this game again and again, and learning more a little each time. I’m also pretty interested in the American History matching game; I’m putting that on my wish list for when we start an America unit in our homeschool.

What I love:

  • The game uses lots of different depictions on the cards: photographs of real places and art, illustrations, etc and are well made.
  • The pictures spark great questions and provide a jumping off point for further research and learning, even though we aren’t doing any “formal” history lesson right now.

Potential pitfalls:

  • The game says it’s for players age 3 and up. But even though my 4-year-old made the first match on his first try (there’s luck for you!), he didn’t stick with us in the game for very long. Maybe if we had done a smaller number of cards than the whole 64, he would’ve been more interested. He’s not much of a Memory fan in general though, and he did pipe in with questions and want to see the pictures when others made matches, so even with smaller kids who may not want to play the game, there are still lots of fun ways to use the cards for learning.

Check out The Classical Historian’s web site for this and several other games that are fun for the whole family! Also, the Mosaic Reviews Facebook page is hosting a FB party for The Classical Historian on Friday, June 28, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. Feel free to pop in and learn more about the games–and maybe even win something!

Made a match of Monastery! Now it's your turn!

Made a match of Monastery! Now it’s your turn!

Homeschool Mosaic Review: Apologia Picture Book How Do We Know God is Really There?

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review disclaimer1Our homeschool year has been finished for a few weeks now, so I’ve been away from the computer for a bit as we enjoy our free time together as a family. But I’m back with a couple of Homeschool Mosaic Reviews in the next week or so, including this picture book from Apologia that tackles a tough question: How Do We Know God is really There?

My kids love sitting out under the stars and listening to their dad tell them about what they are seeing in the sky (he loves astronomy!), so I was excited when Mosaic Reviews offered the chance for me to review this picture book about a boy and his father talking about the evidence of God’s existence through His creation of the cosmos. It seemed like it would fit in with the talks they have already had.

Reading Time: How Do We Know God is Really There?

Reading Time: How Do We Know God is Really There?

How Do We Know God is Really There? by Melissa Cain Travis is the first in a series of picture books “designed to introduce kids to important questions of the Christian faith,” according to Apologia’s site. In the picture book (available here for $16), Thomas and his father are enjoying viewing God’s creation through a telescope, but what he sees prompts Thomas to go even deeper with his questions, because a friend told him God didn’t exist. His dad converses with Thomas to explain about how science proves God’s existence because something (the universe) cannot be created from nothing. 

I’m not sure the science part of the book quite resonated with my kids yet; my 4-year-old in particular was antsy before we got to the end of the book. But it did prompt some good discussions, and the kids loved the pictures. They thought skateboarding on the moon and racing around Saturn would be fun, and they laughed hysterically at Thomas’ poor cat.

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Thomas scares his poor cat!

 

What I love:

  • The book is well made. The hardback cover and thick pages seem like they will hold up well, which is important in my house where my kids don’t treat books as nicely as their mom (yet).
  • The colorful and fun illustrations by Christopher Voss engaged my kids and they liked to leaf through the book and talk about what they saw in the pictures.

Potential pitfalls:

  • Even though it’s a picture book, some of the content seemed just a bit over the heads of my 4 and 6 year olds. However, I think it’s a great conversation starter even for the younger ages and talk with them about the subject in ways closer to their comprehension level. For those with a bit more science background, I don’t think this would be a problem at all.

If you’re interested in this fun and educational book, there’s a bigger sample here on Apologia’s site–go check it out!

Homeschool Mosaic Review: The Waterproof Bible

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review disclaimer1Today’s review isn’t really a homeschool product, but it is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Have you ever heard of a Waterproof Bible? I didn’t know they made such a thing! So I was pretty excited when my review copy of the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs arrived in the mail. But I had trouble at first with intentionally dousing a *Bible* with water. In fact, my husband had to do the first test because I couldn’t bring myself to do it!

I needn’t have worried, because this Bible is made of tough stuff. Its synthetic pages are stain- and tear-resistant and 100 percent waterproof. Spill coffee or OJ while you’re reading in the morning? It’ll wipe right off and not leave a trace. You can hold a single page of the Bible and shake it around a bit, and it won’t tear (don’t try this with your regular Bible! :-)) The binding of the Waterproof Bible is stitched and sewn before it’s glued so it’s made to last. And there’s very little bleed-through of text between pages, so it’s easily readable.

Caught in a rainstorm? No worries; this Bible is easily wiped dry and the pages won't be ruined!

Caught in a rainstorm? No worries; this Bible is easily wiped dry and the pages won’t be ruined!

The Waterproof Bible, by Bardin Marsee Publishing, was the brilliant idea of two friends who enjoyed the outdoors and being out in the elements, but often wound up with ruined Bibles that couldn’t hold up. Or they just didn’t take their Bibles along for fear of ruining them. But they wanted to be able to read God’s Word out in His creation, and thus set about creating a Bible they could take with them and fit their active lifestyle. Their first product, called the Outdoor Bible, was a Bible in several volumes that folded like a backpacker’s trail map. It sounds pretty cool, but the format didn’t go over that well; people wanted a more traditional-looking Bible. So a few years later, the Waterproof Bible debuted.

For those who like to mark passages while they read, you can highlight on the Waterproof Bible’s pages with a dry highlighter (available here on the accessories page), as well as write with a pencil or ballpoint pen. The company does not recommend using Sharpies, gel pens or rollerball pens because those require the page to absorb liquid, which the Waterproof Bible will not do. Also, beware of using petroleum-based products, because the petroleum will smear the ink.

The Waterproof Bible is great for outdoor use, and is virtually indestructible.

The Waterproof Bible is great for outdoor use, and is virtually indestructible.

The Waterproof Bible is available in two types: the full version with Old and New Testaments (from $39.95) and a New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs ($24.95), and in the following versions:

You can also add a personal touch by imprinting a name or initials for an added fee.

The Waterproof Bible even floats!

The Waterproof Bible even floats!

What I love:

  • Its size: small and lightweight enough to stash in a pocketbook or tote bag (or backpack). At 3/4 of a pound or lighter with about a 1 inch spine, it’s not going to add a lot of bulk to your bag.
  • Its near-indestructability: I really don’t have to worry about the kids spilling anything on it, or accidentally leaving it outside in bad weather.

Potential pitfalls:

  • I think the only thing that might be a concern for some people is the font size. At the moment, that’s unavoidable, because when the company tried to make a Bible with a larger font size, it turned into a large book weighing about seven pounds, and that defeats the purpose of having a lightweight, smaller Bible that you can take anywhere. The font size is something they’ll revisit when the paper technology catches up (the synthetic paper currently used is about three times as thick as regular Bible paper, which is why it’s so durable, and thus, heavier). That said, neither my husband nor I had a problem reading the Bible.

The Waterproof Bible’s tagline is “Be Inspired. Anywhere.” And with their product, I believe that’s true! This would be the perfect Bible for military personnel on deployment and missionaries in remote locations–as well as backpackers, kayakers and families going camping. The possibilities are endless.

Where will you take your Waterproof Bible?

Where will you take your Waterproof Bible?

 

Edit: Check out what else you can do to this Bible in more Mosaic Reviews on the blog.

Homeschool Mosaics Review: Ooka Island Adventure Reading Program {+Coupon Code!}

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review disclaimer1Over the past several weeks, Homeschool Mosaic Reviewers have had the chance to use a pretty fun tool for reading: Ooka Island Adventure. Ooka Island’s program is geared toward pre-K to second graders and teaches phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Due to the nature of the program, children are introduced to a new skill only when they have mastered the previous one.

Ooka Island is divided into three sections, called the Learning Flow Cycle by the creators. Guided Play focuses on phonic development through skill-building instructional activities;  the e-Reader book series focus on fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension; and  Free Play allows children to play activities that reinforce what they have learned, reread e-books or just do fun games. Guided Play lasts for 20 minutes, the e-Reader for up to 10 minutes and the Free Play for about 8 minutes. The structure and sequence of these different sections help the children stay engaged in the program.

Ooka Island's cast of colorful characters

Ooka Island’s cast of colorful characters

My kindergartener (age 6) is already a reader, but she’s a brand new one and still learning. I liked that we could use Ooka Island to reinforce concepts she’s already learned and to improve her reading fluency and comprehension. She loved playing all the games, unlocking various rewards after completing certain levels and enjoyed listening to and reading the stories. Her favorite games were the soccer ball one and the submarine one, where the pigs are dropped into the water. My 4-year-old also used the program, but his attention span for the game was not as long as my daughter’s. He also had a more trouble maneuvering the mouse in the game, but as he practiced more, I could definitely tell he improved in that area. All the games are point-and-click based, so it was more of a physical skill of moving the mouse for him to learn than the interface being difficult. He would only play for about 10 minutes or so at a time; my daughter could probably spend all day on Ooka Island if I let her!

Ooka's books follow the adventures of Kayla, Jaiden and Boo.

Ooka’s books follow the adventures of Kayla, Jaiden and Boo.

What I love:

  • Ooka Island’s colorful graphics and fun games entertain my kids as well as help teach them phonics and reading skills and computer skills.
  • Because it’s not a streaming online program, I don’t have to worry about either of my young children accidentally surfing to something I wouldn’t want them to.
  • The Ooka Lighthouse assessment on the web site helps me keep track of which skills the kids are learning and their percentage of correct answers in the games.
  • The freebies online, including motivational tools like certificates and book paths to track your child’s progress.

Potential pitfalls:

  • A few times, the program would freeze up, and once or twice it kicked my child off in the middle of play. Part of the reason for this might have been our computer, which has been locking up more over the past month. They didn’t seem to lose their progress, however.
  • Due to the way the game is set up, players have to wait until they progressed in the game to certain points and unlocked features and places to use during free play. Not a big deal, but it took some convincing of my four-year-old who desperately wanted to go to the volcano first thing. 🙂
Ooka Island's map filled with areas to explore

Ooka Island’s map filled with areas to explore

This was the first time I’ve used a computer program in our schooling, and it’s been a good experience so far. If you’ve got a child in the 3-7 age range, or a slightly older child who could use reinforcement in reading skills, I invite you to check out Ooka Island. For home and homeschool editions, you can pay monthly ($12.95 for 1 student/$19.95 for up to 4) or annually ($124.95 for 1/$149.95 for up to 4). There is also a school edition.

Ooka Island has given Mosaic Reviewers a coupon code good for 30 percent off your annual or monthly subscription! Offer valid until June 1, 2013. Simply copy and paste this URL when you order:

http://offers.ookaisland.com/inblog?purl=wnOve

Edit: More Ooka Island experiences at the Mosaic Reviews blog!

Homeschool Mosaic Review: Saving Memories Forever

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Ever been in the middle of a family reunion, and someone starts sharing a story you wish you could record…but no one has a camera readily available? Well, if you have a smartphone with the Saving Memories Forever app on it, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Saving Memories Forever is a web site and free mobile app that work together to help you easily record, organize and share your family history. Features of Saving Memories Forever include the ability to:smf_logo

  • Record stories right on your smartphone, and categorize them according to storyteller, age group and question asked.
  • Add tags and transcriptions to stories online, search for stories and share stories with other family members.
  • Include photographs and Word documents to enhance the audio stories* (*paid service only; premium subscriptions available for $3.99/month or $40/year)

After signing up for an account (Mosaic Reviewers received a premium account for review purposes) and downloading the app, it was pretty easy to get started. First you add the names of your storytellers (two on the free version, unlimited on the premium plan), then you choose a category. You can also upload a photo of each storyteller.

Saving Memories Forever allows you to categorize your storytellers to easily keep track of family history

Saving Memories Forever allows you to categorize your storytellers to easily keep track of family history

After you’ve gotten your storytellers set up, you can scroll through the plethora of questions available in each category. These are great conversation starters and memory joggers if you’re unsure where to start. The helpful hints online are also good to keep in mind before recording.

Questions from childhood memories to major life events help spur the memory keeping

Questions from childhood memories to major life events help spur the memory keeping

Once you’ve selected your question, you’re ready to record. It’s a simple matter of pressing the red “record” button, telling the story, and then pressing stop. You’ll then have the option to play back the recording, re-record it, or upload it. Now’s the time to make any needed adjustments; once you press upload, you can listen to the story on the Saving Memories Forever secure web site. You also have the option to share it on Facebook. And that’s it. You can find more info (and a video) on the process on the Saving Memories Forever web site.

Ready to record, playback and upload

Ready to record, playback and upload

What I love:

  • If you’ve got a smartphone, the ability to record family stories is literally at your fingertips. You don’t have to carry around an extra recording device or make sure the video camera is nearby.
  • The organizational features on the Saving Memories Forever web site help you manage the recorded history efficiently.

Potential pitfalls:

  • I didn’t run into any problems using the app on our Android phone, but I believe some other reviewers did experience some technical difficulties. Also, the application is currently for iPhone and Android platforms only.

I found Saving Memories Forever pretty easy to use; I wasn’t around any extended family during the review period to get some family history in audio format, but the kids and I had fun recording some songs and stories. It’s definitely worth checking out the free app, and if you find you’re wanting to do more with your memories, you can compare the Free vs. Fee benefits on Saving Memories Forever’s web site. There’s also a newsletter and a blog chock full of information. I think, as its creators say, that Saving Memories Forever is a great way to give the “generations in your family a voice.”

Edit 5/03: Check out more reviews of Saving Memories Forever on the Mosaic Reviews blog.

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Homeschool Mosaic Review: Spanish for You!

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I’ll never forget the day when, out of the blue, my 3 or 4 year old daughter counted to 10 in Spanish. Her pronunciation was a bit off in some cases, but the intent was very clear. I was so proud of her–and so astonished! I wasn’t teaching her another language. But, as it turns out, she was internalizing more of those Dora the Explorer shows on Netflix and Dora books that we were reading more than I realized. During that time, she also picked up a few more random words, which was fine by me, but other than clarifying pronunciation now and again, or refreshing her memory on what the words meant, I didn’t really push her to learn more. At her age, I just didn’t see the need.

So I admit that I was hesitant when asked to review the Spanish for You! language curriculum for Mosaic Reviews, because my daughter’s only in kindergarten. She’s still learning how to read and write in our own language; I didn’t want to pressure her at this point in trying to learn another. I looked over the curriculum I was sent, the Fiestas package, and was a bit overwhelmed with how I would present this material to her. Verb conjugations, vocabulary lists, tests, etc. There are lots of worksheets, but they are text-only and really aimed for a solid reader. All of this makes complete sense, because Spanish for You!’s curriculum is geared for third through eighth graders, not six-year-olds.

s4ulogoSpanish for You! is an affordable, flexible and effective curriculum designed to put your children or students on the path to foreign language fluency. Spanish teacher Debbie Annett created the program to help elementary and middle school students learn key language components through a themed approach.  Spanish for You:

  • Allows students at all grade levels to learn the same material at their own pace.
  • Provides lesson plans, worksheets, audio files, flash cards and other activities to present the material in a fun, interactive manner at a low price point.
  • Builds on material already covered in each book with new vocabulary and concepts, yet also reinforces that which has already been learned in other themes.
  • Has already been tested in a school environment prior to its sale, and many students who have been studying with the program are able to start high school Spanish early or at an advanced level.

I’ve got a pretty good–if a bit distant now–background in Spanish. I took four years in high school, plus a few semesters in college. Most of my classes were taught only in Spanish (unless something was so brand new, it required English explanations). After awhile, it wasn’t really intimidating; I loved my high school classes because the teachers made it fun. I decided, obvious as it is, that was the key in this situation as well. Take what I could from the curriculum and make it a fun mini-unit about Spanish for my kindergartener.

I chose several flash cards from a couple of different lessons in the Fiestas package, and focused on learning just the vocabulary and making the overall experience fun. The flash cards are simple black-and-white line drawings. If they look a little childish, that’s because they are drawn by children. This was intentional, in order to appeal more to the student demographic as well as help keep costs of the overall curriculum down.

For the Fiesta de Cumpleanos lesson (birthday party), my daughter and I created a little story out of the flash cards. The repetition of it helped her identify and learn the Spanish vocabulary. After she had memorized the words and their meanings, I wrote out the story, leaving blanks for her to fill in the vocabulary flash cards. I read the red parts of the sentence, let her pick out the right flash card and say the Spanish word, and then paste the card in the right spot. I added the Spanish words under the flash cards in blue, although at this age, I’m not expecting her to write or spell out the vocabulary.

A fill-in-the-flashcard story about the boy's fiesta

A fill-in-the-flashcard story about the boy’s fiesta

I also incorporated learning the names of some colors in Spanish with this theme, and we listened to the Happy Birthday songs in Spanish from the audio collection in the curriculum. I really, really wanted to make a pinata (also one of the vocabulary words), but haven’t been able to fit it in our schedule yet. I’m putting it on the list of possibilities for Cinco de Mayo. Even though pinatas are definitely more birthday party oriented than Cinco de Mayo.

Another lesson in the Fiestas package is Feria de Abril, or April Fair. This is an annual celebration in Seville, Spain, that lasts about a week and is a time filled with food, flamenco and fun. Aspects of it seem pretty similar to a state fair here in the United States, especially the amusement park rides and the inclusion of animals in the festivities. Two of the vocabulary words for the Feria lesson are paella and churros con chocolate, so we made both of those foods during our study. (Here’s how our paella turned out.) My daughter helped mix up the churros batter, and even though I didn’t have the correct pastry bag tip, the churros were still tasty even if they weren’t quite the right shape.

Churros awaiting their fate: dusted with powdered sugar, sprinkled with cinnamon or dunked in warm chocolate? Would all three be a bit much?

Churros awaiting their fate: dusted with powdered sugar, sprinkled with cinnamon or dunked in warm chocolate? Would all three be a bit much?

In addition to making the fair foods, I found a couple of videos of the most recent Feria de Abril on YouTube (like this one, for example), because this year’s fair was going on right during the review period. I pointed out the horses and the flamenco dresses and style of dance (both of which are vocabulary words in the lesson). When the video was over, my four-year-old son asked, “After Daddy gets home, can we go there?” I told him I really wished we could. 🙂 I think he was excited by the glimpses of the fair rides more than anything else.

For a musical aspect, we also made homemade castanets to go along with the April Fair theme. The vocabulary list included this word, and I liked the chance to include a musical craft in the unit. I followed this tutorial on Education.com. TG used markers and colored paper to decorate thin cardboard, and then I superglued bottle caps on. We also painted the tops of the bottle caps to cover up the root beer logo, but that proved a bad idea because it muffled the sound a little bit. And the paint chipped off anyway. But the kids have had fun clicking and clacking away with these guys.

Quick and easy castanets with cardboard and bottle caps make a fun and musical craft

Quick and easy castanets with cardboard and bottle caps make a fun and musical craft

What I love:

  • The native speaker audio. I think that’s a good resource for in-home foreign language curricula, because it helps emphasize correct pronunciation and allows students to hear the words as they would if they were in a region where the language is spoken.
  • The price: around $65 for a year’s worth of language learning for multiple children and multiple age groups–and maybe even less than that depending on your family’s needs.
  • The freebies offered on the Spanish for You web site are great additional material or can provide a starting point with colors, numbers and other basics.

Potential pitfalls:

  • It took me awhile to understand the file naming system of the lessons and worksheets. I received an all digital package, so I am unsure whether or not this is a difficulty in the physical book. If I were regularly using it with age-appropriate students, I would probably reorganize them into something that fit my personal system better.
  • While I do like the themes that the curriculum is divided into and the flexibility inherent in that, I wondered if it would be difficult to jump into for someone with little-to-no background in the language. Perhaps for the future, the company might consider a beginners package of some sort to help newbies. The freebies offered online do cover some of those initial basic need-to-knows.

Update: Debbie from Spanish for You! has reorganized the worksheet files for the Fiestas and Estaciones themes into folders by grade level, and put audio files into folders according to lessons. These changes should make navigating the information much easier for those who purchase the curriculum from this point on. Thank you, Spanish for You!, for your excellent customer service!

As you can see, I used the Spanish for You! curriculum as a starting point to introduce my daughter to some new Spanish vocabulary, culture and experiences. For a kindergartener, though, that’s pretty cool. And it’s something I probably would not have done had I not been reviewing this curriculum, so despite my initial hesitancy, I’m glad I got the chance to do both. For those of you with children in the recommended age group, third through eighth graders, I think Spanish for You! is worth checking out to see if it will fit your needs for a foreign language curriculum.

 

Edit 5/03: Learn how other reviewers used the Fiestas and Estaciones (Seasons) packages from Spanish for You! at the Mosaic Reviews blog.

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Homeschool Mosaic Review: Apologia’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Debra Bell

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It’s so hard for me to believe, but in just a few short weeks, this first year of homeschooling will be over. Kindergarten will be in the books. I don’t want to contemplate that too long, no matter how much I’m looking forward to a break over the summer! 🙂 With that said, I am already thinking about next year and what school will look like for us. I feel like I still have been pretty disorganized over the year, despite my best intentions. I started late in the game in terms of planning, so I am hoping with more of a headstart, things will run more smoothly and I will feel like I have a better overall plan and goals. Plus, our state homeschool convention is next month, and we definitely want to have a better grasp on what we’re looking for when we hit up that massive vendor hall.

With all of that running through my mind the past couple weeks, I was pleased to have the chance to review Apologia’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner as I look ahead to the 2013-2014 school year. Created by Debra Bell, this planner (as well as the student planners also available) doesn’t just help you plan out your homeschool courses. Its goal is to help make you aware of God’s faithfulness and activity in your homeschool journey, and help your children become independent learners.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planners from Debra Bell and Apologia

The Ultimate Homeschool Planners from Debra Bell and Apologia

For a newbie like me, I appreciated the user guide in the first 10 or so pages of the planner that detailed how to effectively put it to work for you and your family. After that comes the one-year planning grid to help you get all the holidays, birthdays and already set vacations and activities written in. Once you can see all of those at a glance, you can fill out each month’s calendar with the pertinent priorities for those weeks. The heart of the book, the weekly planner section, devotes two double-page spreads to each week. There’s a page for Sundays, where you can keep track of your personal Bible study and spiritual growth; a page to record the week’s memorable moments to enable you to reflect on the successes in your students and fun times with your family; and two pages for the week’s schedule. The non-detailed six by six grid enables great customization in terms of number of students, days of the week and subjects. Additional features include sections for recording grades, field trips, reading lists and a year-end review.

The year-at-a-glance is a helpful tool to get an overall perspective of your year.

The year-at-a-glance is a helpful tool to get an overall perspective of your year.

I filled in as many dates as I could think of for the year-at-a-glance calendar, and then used the resources pages to make notes of curriculum I need to purchase or want to look more into for next year. I also utilized the character and academic goals pages to help me determine what we need to focus on during our next school year. I have to admit I didn’t really do much overarching goal planning this year. With a year’s experience under my belt, I know more in how to approach this facet of homeschooling and I think this planner section in particular will be quite helpful in keeping the next school year on a better track. Also, I appreciate having a place each week to write out spiritual struggles and growth.

Each section has lots of room to help you in your planning.

Each section has lots of room to help you in your planning.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner ($28 retail) is part of Apologia’s Ultimate Homeschool Planning System that also includes two student planners ($19 retail each). I was also sent a copy of the Ultimate Daily Planner for Students, which is geared for older elementary and middle school age children. There’s also a teen version for junior/senior high schoolers. The student planner also has monthly at-a-glance calendars and a weekly schedule broken out by day where kids can write in their assignments. There are also sections to record activites, books, grades and other notes, plus several pages filled with helpful hints and information for math, science, English and history. With my only student a kindergartener, I was not able to fully review the use of the student planner, but I plan to bring it out again in a couple years when she’s old enough. It’s definitely geared toward older children, as the younger elementary ages don’t have the necessary skills to use it effectively. I can definitely see how the design of the planner promotes more independence in kids and aids them to take responsibility of their own work.

The interior of the student planner allows for plenty of room for students to keep track of their school assignments and activities.

The interior of the student planner allows for plenty of room for students to keep track of their school assignments and activities.

What I love:

  • The year-at-a-glance grid really helps to put the whole year into perspective, in terms of when to take breaks and what else is going on in your family life besides school.
  • The planner is made of flexible and sturdy (and cute!) material, with two pockets to help you keep track of loose papers that might otherwise end up lost or trashed.
  • The amount of space for weekly memorable moments, as I can be kind of wordy :-), and the large weekly scheduling grid allows me to be detailed with lessons. (For those with larger families, however, space might be more of a problem.)
  • The student planner’s helpful hints (pages with things like measurements and math charts, maps, history timeline and grammar rules) is a great tool for students–and moms, too, who have been out of practice for awhile!
The helpful hints section in the student planner contains information about various subjects, including math, science, history and English.

The helpful hints section in the student planner contains information about various subjects, including math, science, history and English.

Potential pitfalls:

  • I understand why the planner is undated, as it allows much more flexibility, but I am finding that I prefer all of that to be taken care of beforehand. I might be in the minority, however, as I have seen many people talk about this feature as one of their favorites. I also would prefer the weekly schedule sections to be placed after each month, rather than having to flip back and forth from where all the monthly calendars are to the current week’s pages.
  • The lack of an attendance record is not a dealbreaker for me, but given the thoroughness of the rest of the planner, it’s a curious omission. I would find it a very useful feature to have.

If you’re looking for a planner to help guide you in your homeschool journey, check out the Ultimate ones on Apologia’s web site. They’ve even got some pdf samples to help you out. Or discover more about Apologia and these planners at the MR/Apologia Facebook party on Friday, April 12!

Edited 4/12/13: Read more reviews about these planners on the Mosaic Reviews blog!

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Homeschool Mosaics Review: We Choose Virtues (+ Coupon Codes!)

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I’ve got a great product review for you today–We Choose Virtues (WCV). I had actually seen some of these colorful cards at another homeschool mom’s house one day, but could never remember to ask her about it when I saw her. How thrilled I was when one of the products chosen for our Homeschool Mosaic Review team was a product from this company! With a 4 and 6 year old in the house, we can use the help in teaching virtues and instilling godly character. In fact, we were at a bit of a loss in how to proceed, and then this product review turned up. Perfect timing, I’d say!

WCV uses colorful kid characters, memorable catchphrases and Bible verses to exemplify each of 12 character traits.  Heather McMillan, the creator of WCV and a children’s teacher herself, saw a need to enable parents and teachers to inspire lasting character in their children and students. Three years ago, We Choose Virtues was born out of that felt need.

Heather sent reviewers a set of Virtue Flashcards, as well as a sample of the Parenting cards, and a few pdfs (a family character assessment, coloring pages, butterfly award and a couple other items). We decided to start out with “The Three Rules” in our home, which are the virtues of obedience, kindness and helpfulness. Heather said they were so named because all of the other virtues flow out of those three. We pulled out the flashcard for Oboe Joe, “I am obedient,” and within minutes, the kids had already memorized the sing-song catchphrase: “O.K. Whatever you say, I will obey right away.” We went over the accompanying Bible verse and talked about obedience. Just a few minutes at night, and re-emphisizing throughout the day has made a difference. We’re still working through these three, so I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this program offers. But I’m excited to keep moving through all of the virtues over the coming months.

WCV flash cards with the kid character, memorable catchphrase and Bible verse on back

WCV flash cards with the kid character, memorable catchphrase and Bible verse on back

When the kids are slow or reluctant to obey something we’ve asked of them, we immediately start reciting Oboe Joe’s catchphrase. They’ll join with us in saying it, and usually that leads into them into obedience. It’s a much better atmosphere instead of a stalemate of disobedience. Like I said, we’re still working through the cards, but we can see an improvement. And the cards aren’t just for kids, either. I find myself thinking about how I conduct myself and whether or not I’m using virtues, too. For example, “Am I using a gentle voice in correction? How can I exhibit more patience?”

What I love:

  • WCV gives my husband and I a great vocabulary to draw from in encouraging proper behavior and good character in our children. We would often say things like “Don’t be mean” or “Stop disobeying,” but, in the heat of the parenting moment, sometimes found it hard to follow up with concrete examples of what we expected. WCV provides us with a well of positive statements to draw from, enabling us to ask “Were you being kind to your sister?” and follow it up with how to change the action–and the attitude behind the action.
  • The boys and girls on the colorful cards are engaging and my kids love to leaf through the cards and ask questions about them. I’ve placed our current virtue flashcard on the fridge as a reminder, and more often than not, I find it removed and being studied. Pairing a visually appealing, named character with a virtue helps it stick better in their minds, I think.
  • The ideas on the parenting cards are invaluable. (Note: I purchased the full set of these after seeing what the sample offered.)  I appreciate the games and activities to present the concepts of the virtues in different ways, and I liked the stories behind each of the Virtueville kids. I plan on expanding the brief story ideas on the cards to offer my kids more ways to internalize the virtues and put a bigger story to the characters.
WCV parent cards with helpful tips and activities on presenting a lesson on each virtue

WCV parent cards with helpful tips and activities on presenting a lesson on each virtue

Potential pitfalls:

  • Most of these materials are made for younger children, around age 3 to fifth grade, which makes it perfect for our family!  But good news for those who have older children: there’s a version in the works aimed for those older kids to help them see how living these virtues can help them become the people they want to be. Additionally, a Spanish-language WCV is also in development. Keep checking the WCV blog or Facebook page for information on these new products if they interest you–Heather said they may be ready sometime this fall.
  • Some of the pricing might provoke a double take, especially if you think (like I initially did) that this is something for which you don’t necessarily need a big program or curriculum. If the various kits are out of your price range, I encourage you to look at some of the individual products. In particular, Heather recommended the virtue flashcards, the kids virtue poster and the 3 Rules poster as some of the top products for families on a tighter budget. I also recommend the parenting cards. They’re a bit more than the flash cards, but the extra information on the back has been so helpful. If you’ve got room in the budget for it, the homeschool kit or family kit provide a bunch of great products in one bundle. (Keep reading for a way to get a discount on WCV products!)
We have a special little place to display our current virtue card.

We have a special little place to display our current virtue card.

I also bought the Kids of Virtueville coloring book, because I was hoping the stories were expanded in it, but as it turns out, they’re the same paragraphs as on the parenting cards. The pictures are the same as the coloring pages, except smaller. Heather had a great idea for the coloring pages: laminate the finished product and create placemats. I love that! Once the kids have colored a few more pages, I plan on using her idea. Also, with the coloring book came an “Official Virtue Kid” pin. One pin, two kids. That’s a dilemma! My husband and I came up with the idea to use the pin to help reinforce virtuous behavior. When we see our kids being obedient, kind, helpful or otherwise virtuous, they get to wear the pin. It’s been a fun little way to let them shine and promote character.

When we see our kids exhibit positive virtues, they get to wear the Official Virtues Kid pin.

When we see our kids exhibit positive virtues, they get to wear the Official Virtues Kid pin.

Now, for the good news! We Choose Virtues has provided reviewers with a special promo code to offer readers!

If the homeschool kit interests you, be sure to use the code HOME20 to get 20 percent off the kit. This code is good through April 30, 2013.

If that’s still a bit out of your budget, feel free to use VIRTUE15 to receive 15 percent off your total order. There is no expiration on this code.

(Note: These two codes will not stack.)

Edited 4/3/13: Check out more of the Mosaic team’s reviews about We Choose Virtues on the Mosaic Reviews blog.

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Homeschool Mosaics Review: Free Blog Planner

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As I mentioned in January in this post, I’m part of a review team with Homeschool Mosaics. I’m excited about the opportunities that will come my way from being part of this group. We are already reviewing products and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming months. In fact, I get to share the first one today, and the best part is, it’s a free product! Also, it’s the perfect tool to help me get better organized on this blogging and review posting journey: a blog planner.

We had several to choose from, and I loved various features from a bunch of them. It was a hard decision! In the end, I picked the one from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • The planner had less than 30 pages, which was a good thing since I was printing it out at home. Saves paper and ink!
  • It was a simple design that incorporated a lot of features, but wasn’t too bare bones.
  • It included boxes to check off whether posts have been scheduled or promoted via social media–helpful reminders!
  • There were sections for post ideas and reviews, a separation which I feel will be helpful in keeping things straight in my own mind.
  • I just liked the flowery design–I felt it matched well with the homeschool planner I’ve been using already this year. This, of course, is not a make-or-break feature. 🙂
Blog Planner from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Blog Planner from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Most of the sites I visited that featured free downloadable blog planners mentioned printing them and spiral binding them at an office supply store. And they looked very nice that way. But I wasn’t sure another booklet to keep up with would work best for me. Since I already had my “life binder” that I mentioned in this post about organizing for our homeschool, I felt the best way for me to use this blog planner was to holepunch the pages and slip them into the binder in between the homeschool planner and the file folders. I put a sticky tab on the top of the first blog planner page that said “2013 Blog Planner” so it’s easily accessible from wherever I may be in the binder. As you can see in the photo, I also holepunched the calendar pages so that they would lay flat opposite the notes page–no flipping back and forth! I love being able to see the whole month and all my ideas and review needs in one glance.

If you’re in the market for a free blog planner, I recommend you check out this one at Confessions of a Homeschooler. She even has two versions of the planner (one with the calendar grid pages, one with a lined format).

Or you could check out these planners (all free downloads) at Say Not Sweet Anne, Mama Jenn or The Flourishing Abode.

Edited on 3/01: Check out more of the Mosaic team’s reviews about these and other blog planners on the Mosaic Reviews blog.

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