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Aug 30, 2014

Not What He Expected

Merrick has been asking to take Mommy's car to the car wash for weeks.

Not exactly the reaction we expected.

Aug 27, 2014

ESA ~ An Essential Skills Advantage Review

This is the site that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends...  Are you singing with me?  You're welcome!  Essential Skills Advantage is an educational website for kids.  We were able to use it and review the Premium Plan to share the site and some super good news with you.  (You'll see what near the end of this post.)  The focus here is on reading and spelling.  We love having the option to use online learning in our homeschool.  While I teach most of the school day, having a place to send one boy if the other is struggling, say on math, is a great relief.  We keep the momentum going and everyone is able to be doing what they need to be doing.  I wouldn't say anyone was excited to "do more school," but no one complains when it's their turn to work on ESA.
Essential Skills Advantage Review

This is why I call it the site that never ends.  This graphic shows the main directory page that you will see at the parent log in.  I chose Fun With Spelling 1. From there, I selected Short A Word Families.  As you can see, I then had four pages of activities to choose from!  I went with the Short A Word Match so you could see an example of the activity.

I did the same thing so you can see the higher level activities as well.  Here, I started at the main menu, and chose Spell Master Grade 6.  Spelling Stumpers 5-9 was an option and there I found spelling rules.  Stomp the Stumpers and this suffix activity are both found there.  This suffix activity amounted to making the more unusual plural words singular.

I couldn't really take any screen shots while the boys were working or, horror of horrors, I might mess up their time or score.  So for these, I logged in as Merricky.  Yes, even he has an account.  He knows his letters and basic sounds, so he is ready for a few of the K activities.  My baby is growing up!

Using both phonics and sight words and over 20,000 activities, ESA makes learning fun!  The activities aren't games, per se, but they are way more fun and colorful than tedious "sounding out" or flash cards.  You'll occasionally hear a soft outdoorsy sound like a bird chirp, but there are no annoying singing, dancing characters or cheesy songs to get stuck in your head.  (Except for This is the Site That...  Oops.  Sorry.)

The Parent Portal has a complete list of all of those thousands of units and activities and what is covered in each grade level.  It looks like this.

You can manage your students' accounts here as well, like changing passwords and viewing grades.  This shot shows Xav's completed activities in one unit.  The score, time spent, attempts, dates, and percentage completed are all available here.

Unless you go through them in order during your session, the student has to log in a lot.  That was bothersome because the main page reloads every time.  The butterflies are pretty and everything, but every single time someone decided to do something different, we got to see them again.

I wish you could give assignments.  My boys, especially Malachi, jumped all over the place.  He never came close to completing a unit.  Of course, some units were jampacked full of activities and could potentially take a tremendous length of time to complete.  I didn't really mind though, as long as he was working.  Once they do finish a unit, you can print a certificate of completion for their portfolios, if you do that sort of thing.

There were plenty of types of activities to choose from, helping to make learning to spell or reading comprehension more enjoyable.

Don't forget to keep reading to the end.

Covers Reading and Language
K-6th (ages 4-12)
$9.99/month or try the free version.

Essential Skills Advantage on Social Media:

So, here's the Big News.  Essential Skills Advantage is offering the Premium Plan at 50% off the monthly membership.  That means it's just $5/month as long as you keep the membership.  Use the code TOS50 on the premium plan to start enjoying the savings.  The code expires October 1.

If you're undecided or funds are tight, you can access the same courses for free at the new sponsored site.  There will be advertisements and some features will be missing.  You can compare the two plans on the ESA Learning site.  Remember, this site is FREE to you, supported by sponsors.

If your children like elearning like mine do, either of these plans will probably be right up their alley.

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Ubersmart ~ A Math Facts Review

UberSmart Software asked the Schoolhouse Review Crew to test run UberSmart Math Facts version 4.0, due to be released to the general public September 1. 

UberSmart Math Facts Review

I was happy to jump on this review because one of the punks is struggling mightily with math facts.  We are trying everything math related we can think of.  The poor kid is probably about mathed out.  But we know how important a solid foundation is in regards to math though, so he'll be practicing for as long as it takes!

Maybe the easiest way to tell you about the UberSmart Math Facts program is to go through each tab and tell you what happens there.

Here, the answers are not typed in, but instead the student answers out loud and clicks on "Show" to see if they were correct.  In the beginner mode, dot cards are used with or without the numbers on the tiles. 

In intermediate mode, flash cards are used.  The user selects their name, function they want to practice, which numbers they wish to use (0-9 or all), and whether to have the cards shown in order or shuffled. 

The beginner selects either dot cards or keyboard entry.  Keyboard entry allows the student to practice using the number pad to type in the answers through the rest of the program.  I really do recommend a keyboard with a number pad on the right.  That's much easier than keying in numbers from the top of the keyboard.  The faster the student gets, the better they will be able to perform the rest of the requirements. 

Intermediate consists of flash cards and again has the same options at log in as the Learn tab, but keyboard entry has to be performed to complete Practice.  If you get them all right on a practice run, UberSmart cheers for you!

The beginner test mode, students answer how many dots are on a dot card, what number comes next in a sequence, even or odd, and greater than or less than.  Once that section is complete, they are checked for speed and accuracy.  Finally, each function is tested.  Sadly, if your speed and accuracy is too low, the math facts are not tested (see below).  I definitely was disappointed about this, since neither of the punks was fast enough to take a complete test.  I did them for you though, so I could tell you about each section.  I even did one s u p e r  s l o w l y so I could see the "you're too slow" result.

 The intermediate test mode is a bit different.  This one shows your time and test progress, if you like, in bars across the bottom.  The entire test is just math facts.  You determine the parameters.  Another difference is that the previous, current, and next flash card are all shown on the screen at once.

In competition mode, you compete within your age group.  These options are elementary, middle school, high school, and adult.  Sadly, I did not do very well on this section.  I didn't even suggest it to the boys because they are so slow.  I was pretty certain, they'd just feel disappointed.  The timer jumps ahead each time you miss a question (speed and accuracy, people!) giving you less time to compete.

Here, you find all the need to know info on your student's progress.  I thought these Mastery Charts were especially helpful and cute.  Who doesn't like getting a smiley face on their math papers?

Also, the assessments results are stored here.  You can see how much time was spent on the test, the date it was taken and all kinds of factoids about the speed, accuracy, average time answering the correct portion of the questions.  If you like to see facts and figures, this is a terrific result form.

This is the section to administer the UberSmart Math Facts program.  I ended up increasing the length of times my guys had to answer because they would be just about to type in the answer and the answer would appear on the screen and the next card would pop up.  This was frustrating for them, but it was simple to increase the allowable response time from four seconds to six seconds.  Way better attitudes once I did that!

The only bug we seemed to have experienced was the pop up at the end of the boys' practice runs.  No matter whether they were adding or subtracting, and no matter which number facts we chose, they got the same message upon completion.  Mal saw, "You're getting real close to completely mastering addition of zeros!"  This drove Xav nuts, because his original score was lower and he only saw a "Good Job!" and a score of 84% (yes, adding zeros).

If you click this icon, the PDF of the UberSmart help file opens.

UberSmart quizzes kids on the multiplication facts up to 20x20.  For automaticity of all facts, UberSmart recommends use two or three times daily.  We didn't use it more than once, simply because math is still a struggle and I don't want to overload them drilling facts.  Some day, I'd like to say, "He finally got it!" and know that it is due in part to UberSmart Math Facts.  I like how much the program has to offer in practicing the same boring facts in several different ways.

Once you purchase UberSmart Math Facts, it's yours.  You can install it on as many Windows computers as you'd like.

The age range for this product is K-6, but pretty much whatever age you begin math instruction through adult.  (There's even a setting for Adult in the dropdown box under the compete tab.)

Price: $24.95 to purchase the standard home version.  If you purchase before September 30, 2014 and use code “v4 Early Bird” in the discount code box on the purchase page you'll receive a 30% discount.

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Aug 23, 2014

Week in Review ~ 7/20/14

    In my life this week…
Goodbye to Jenny.
Went to church tonight for a goodbye party for my friend Jenny and her family.  They're moving.  our loss is Texas' gain.  Gonna miss you, Jenny!

Mom's night out.
Trisha and I finally planned an evening to escape.  We ended up bringing Trish's son and another mama friend.  Isaac was happy to play Kindle most of the time.  We headed to a coffee house where I tried an Italian soda.  We talked about school and Jenny leaving and all the other mama-type subjects.  It was terrific.  And it will probably be months before we manage one again.

    In our homeschool this week…
The boys decided to build Lego towers as tall as they are.  They got pretty tipsy near the end, but the done good.  Here are some pictures we took.

    What we're reading... 
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

    In the yard... 
One thing about gardening I don't care for is the weird bugs (caterpillars and others) that live in cauliflower and broccoli.  Yuck.  I'd bring it in and soak it in salt water.  Then when I chopped up the heads, I'd sometimes find a carcass.  One hung onto the broccoli through a saltwater soak and a blanching in boiling water.  I have a tough time with that.

    Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
Date night. 
We were invited to a hitchin' for a man Micah used to work with.  It was a small event, with good company.  After, we left that party, we went to a new wood fired pizza joint.  Micah told me to choose any pizza that looked interesting to me.  I couldn't decide between two.  I asked the waitress, and God love her, she told me to get half and half.  So we had a white pizza with Buffalo chicken and a red pizza that was all Mexican.  We both preferred the chicken, but the Mexican was also good.

We hired Olivia (probably the last time before she comes back from college!) and she brought Jasmine along.  Mal and Xav were so excited.  They couldn't get us out of the house quickly enough.

    Things Dad is working on...
The treehouse, natch!  The walls are up!  Before we raised the walls up, I told Micah we should just set the house up around the base of the tree and tell the boys, "Psych!"

      Something I am ogling or have my eye on…
A new bridge.  Yes.  This one is gone and the only other one into town from this side is down to one lane this week.  Fabulous planning.

     This week's reviews... 
The Schoolhouse Review Crew's review of Apologia's Flourish

Aug 22, 2014

Happy Kids Songs ~ A Musical Revue{w}

Don MacMannis, PhD, or Dr. Mac, is a psychologist, singer, songwriter, and author.  He and his music have won many awards.  Dr. Mac, along with Brian Mann and a host of musicians, adult and child singers have brought us character and manners training through music.  His Happy Kids Songs allowed bloggers from the Schoolhouse Review Crew to review three of their albums; Friends & Sharing, Manners & Character, and Happiness & Attitude, and the Happy Kids Songs Workbook.

Happy Kids Songs Review
Happy Kids Songs is eight award winning albums chock full of fun music.  This isn't the usual kid's music with children shouting lyrics.  Let's face it, unless it's your kid screeching out of tune, no one enjoys those albums.  The singers on these albums are all quite good and the accompaniment ranges from mellow to fun pop-type tunes to sort of rap-like, and country.  The lyrics are appropriate for all ages.  The songs were written for 4-9 year old kids.  The music and catchy tunes aid in memorization of the material.

Happy Kids Songs Review

Album 1: Friends & Sharing
Themes: How to be a friend, how to make friends, and being happy with our friends.
  • Sailing on the Seven Cs - This one is super catchy.  We were singing the chorus the first time we listened.  You'll learn the seven C ingredients to friendship; communication, cooperation, concern, and so on.
  • Everybody Wants to Find a Friend - Learn how to approach a potential new friend.
  • Sharing Friends - How to enjoy time with a friend and another friend.  Together.
  • Happy as Happy Can Be - Things that go together.
  • Together - Friends 'til the end and not wanting to end playtime.

Happy Kids Songs Review

Album 6: Manners & Character
Themes: Being honest, celebrating differences.
  • H O N E S T Y - This is another especially catchy tune that I was singing along to the second time I heard it.  I was doing dishes and Xav sat at the table playing Legos while we belted out the chorus.
  • The Magic Word - It's not abracadabra! 
  • Quirks - A quirky little song about the weird things people do.  Being understanding about habits and tics.
  • The Golden Rule
  • Six Little Kids - The story about six people who had never seen an elephant.  Is it a rope?  A wall?  A hose?  Differing points of view can be different without being wrong.

Happy Kids Songs Review

Album 7: Happiness & Attitude
Themes: Thinking positively, being kind.
  • Shake It Out and Dance - Think you can't?  Well, you *can*!
  • Who Knows What's a Kudos? - It's something that's nice and  something that's true.  I love this one!  It's a really catchy, upbeat tune.  We just bought an I Like Book for each of the boys which ties in with this song.  Each night we think of something nice and true for each of the yahoos and write it in their books.
  • I Don't Understand - I love the tune, but I really don't understand how this one fits in.  And I'm not making a joke!  LOL
  • Be Good To Yourself - Great message in this one about being kind to everyone, including yourself.  {{Love}}
  • Better Together - It's OK to play alone, but it's better with you!

The other albums available are
  • Social Skills & Bullying
  • Feelings & Fears
  • Practice & Success
  • Talking & Listening
  • Respect & Responsibility

Download songs for 99cents each or purchase albums for $4.95 each.

Happy Kids Songs Review
I also received a print copy of the Happy Kids Songs Workbook.  The lyrics for all the songs and an activity (drawing, coloring pages, questions, word search and other puzzles) for each one.  The back half of the book is full of activities for each of the themes.  I plan to use a few of the getting to know you type activities with my co-op class, as well as the crafts and other ideas at home.  You can download the lyrics and activities workbook free of charge.  The print edition is available for purchase and is reproducible.

Xav drew a boy in a hot air balloon visiting his friend's house.  The very next day, we drove under one.

The 8.5x11" softcover book is currently $12.56.

Let's face it, we all know I am a technophobe.  Thankfully, I'm married to a geek.  Micah extracted the songs from the zip file, moved them to iTunes, and put them on my phone.  With the songs on the phone, we can listen in the house or when we're out and about in the car.

Sign up for the mailing list and receive the free song of the month plus dozens of coloring and activity pages and lyrics.

Happy Kids Songs on social media:
Twitter: @howsyourfam

Happy Kids Songs on social media:




SEO Keywords:
social and emotional

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Aug 21, 2014

Fast Track Bible Pack ~ A Wizzy Gizmo Review

Justin Cummins and Christian (Ives) Del Aguila, both fathers and involved in ministry, founded Wizzy Gizmo.  Now, with a whole team of people, they create Bible study tools for kids and families.  We were given the Fast Track Bible Pack: New Testament for review.  The folks at Wizzy Gizmo firmly believe in the command at Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a]  
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  

Wizzy Gizmo products use the NASB version. 

Now, I'm pretty certain that I never learned all the books of the Bible, or even just the new testament.  Unless it is obvious, I forget the names of the authors.  I certainly could never tell you what each (any?) New Testament book is about or what the theme is considered to be.  With these cards, we can take our time working through the new testament.  We'll learn all that and more as we keep chugging along.

Wizzy Gizmo Review
The Fast Track Pack consists of twenty-eight glossy 5x9" cards on sturdy stock.  It does not hurt one bit that these cards have a clever play on words using fast track and a train design.  The boys were first and foremost drawn to the fun train and the next thing they know, they're reading the deck.

The back of the cover card is an index of the New Testament books, numbered 1 - 27.  The columns include the name of the book, a theme, approximate dates written, the author, and how many chapters are in the book.  I refer to it as the "New Testament at a Glance" card.  In and of itself, it has real teaching value.

For further study, the front of each numbered card has the same information as above, as well as a synopsis about the author and the book.  A verse has been included at the bottom of each.  I think of the reverse side as "The Key side" which lists an Outline, Key Chapters, Key Passages, Key Doctrines, and Key People for that book.

We used these cards to choose a memory verse for the book cards we've studied so far.  I simply read over the key passages and key doctrines, selected something I wanted to focus on in our home, and chose a memory verse for us to practice that week.  You could simply use the verse on the front of the card, if you prefer.  Through repetition, kiddos will learn all this cool stuff.

I plan to start reading through the Bible September 1.  These cards will be a terrific resource while I'm in the new testament.  I look forward to using them before and during each of these books.  I bet I learn a whole lot more than I ever did before!

You'll find lots of other uses for the cards for ages two and up on the Fast Track Bible Pack page.

Wizzy Gizmo also offers other Bible study tools for kids, including books and audio dramas and Bible flashcards.  Besides this New Testament pack, an attributes and names of God devotional pack is in the works.  I'm really looking forward to that pack and I signed up for the Wizzy Gizmo newsletter so I will know when it's available!  The Wizzy Gizmo book characters are not featured on the card packs.

Christian parents and Sunday school teachers will find these resources helpful.  They're a lovely addition to any Christian homeschool curriculum.

These cards are intended for all ages.

Find Wizzy Gizmo on social media.

Click below for reviews from The Crew about the books and audios, as well as how other families used the cards.

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Aug 16, 2014

Quilt - Ride a Train!

Mal's quilt is new this year.  Beepa (Grandma) of the Forest made it for his birthday.  He loves it so much.  Trains are one of his all time favorite things in the world.  This baby is red gingham with a central panel of a diesel and a steam train.  The diesel has a little plate on the front where Wendy quilted "MAL" for him.  She quilted everything by hand.  She puts an amazing amount of time into her quilts.  Above and below the panel, are two rows of triangles.  I don't know what the pattern is called.  I googled it and didn't see a single quilt with just rows like this.  If you know of a name for it I'd love to know.

Aug 13, 2014

Week in Review ~ 7/13/14

(I want to win, too!)

    In my life this week…
Beepa (aka Grandma) Char headed home on Monday.  Tuesday, I took the yahoos to Saratoga Springs (the halfway mark to "back home") to pick up Beepa of the Forest and bring her back home with us.  Thursday, Poppa of the Forest came up to stay a couple days and took Beepa back home on Saturday.

Joined us at school a few days this week.  He is very distracting generally, so I wasn't sure how it would go.  He kept busy counting pompoms and the punks generally kept on task.  Merrick mostly still naps and at least rests, so I won't have to worry about this too much.  I do want to add some morning school at some point.

Decided to kick up his pancake cooking a notch.  He looked through a kids' cookbook and found these bunnies.

Is getting excited to finally get the treehouse put together.  It won't be long now!

    What we're reading... 
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I'm reading
Hiking Through 

    In the yard... 
We've kept the chickens in the old enclosed garden so they wouldn't dig up the garden in the raised beds.  Now that that garden is doing well, we let them out.  Until I happened to glance at them while I was mowing.  They were literally leaping into the air and eating my blueberries.  They stripped one entire bush!  Now they're back to "free ranging" in the enclosed area.

Micah got stung while mowing.  I haven't decided if he over-reacted or not.  He burned up a bit of yard and a shrub.   

    Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
The single lane bridge is being replaced.  It's one of two ways we can get to town.  I drove to town one day only to discover the other bridge into town was a single lane for repairs.  I'm not sure who decided to repair both bridges at once, but I didn't think it was the best plan of action.

    My kiddos favorite thing this week was…
Surprise fun day for the boys. Woke them up and loaded them into the car. Drove to Saratoga Springs for lunch at McDonald's. They have a play place. The punks thought that was the surprise.
My kids are in there.  Somewhere.

Then Beepa and Poppa of the Forest showed up. Their reactions were priceless. Then they found out we were bringing Grandma home with us. But first, I had one more surprise. We stopped at Railroads on Parade! It was a terrific miniature RR display. I highly recommend it if you are in the Saratoga Springs/ Lake George region of NY.

The displays included four seasons, cities, state fairs, and a 50s setup that included a diner and a drive-in, where High Noon was playing.  The whole place cycled through day and night every fifteen minutes or so.  Every "night" the movie would start and go off when the lights came back on.

We even saw Thomas the Tank Engine.  The folks at ROP have a scavenger hunt list.

I really liked this cross section of a city street.

    This week's reviews... 
Schoolhouse Review Crew's HomeSchoolPiano review 

Aug 6, 2014

Week in Review 7/6/14

Pooped on the potty!  (Hey, it's exciting to me.)

    What I am up to…

Mom visited this week.
...We did some shopping.  I had to laugh at the J.K. Rowling sign.  If she uses a pseudonym, isn't that sort of secretive?  Why use one and then have the author's real name on the sign larger than the fake name?  *shrug*  Love me some Grumpy Cat.  The boys figured out how the drinking bird worked pretty quickly.  <3 br="">

... I took her out for frozen yogurt at Yogurt City.  Of course it was healthy.  That's low-fat granola or something.

...We had an iced tea party.  It was a gorgeous day.  A friend came over and the boys got dressed nicely.  They got to practice manners and we all ate yummy treats.

    What Dad is up to...
Micah pranked Mal and Xav.  They have a lullaby CD they have listened to since Mal was an infant.  Dad had the forethought to save the songs on his computer in case the CD got ruined.  Well, that has happened a couple of times in the 9+ years we've had it.  We finally watched The Lego Movie last week.  Micah enjoys belting out "everything is awesome" at random times to aggravate Xav.  This week, he recorded a special version of the lullaby CD with Everything is Awesome in track three.  Then we stood outside their bedroom, ears pressed to the wall... listening.  

Xav:  "Daaaaaaad!"  He rushes to the door and finds us standing there.  "I knew you did it!  Only *you* have the ability to do such a thing!   

    This week's reviews... 
Schoolhouse Review Crew's Moving Beyond the Page (including my own)
Schoolhouse Review Crew's WriteShop (including my own)
Experience History Through Music by Diana Waring