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Nov 17, 2014

The Best of the Best ~ 2014 Crew Awards

This year was such an incredibly blessed one.  As part of the 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew, our family was able to use and review nearly forty home and homeschooling products.  Some of these, I had never heard of.  A few I had checked into previously and thought about "for another time."  And there were several I was convinced we could never afford and I could not justify the money on an unknown product.

A week or two ago, as the Crew year was winding down, reviewers and our children were invited to vote on our favorite products for 2014.  I was a rube!  I didn't keep track of each category nor how I voted.  Let me say, some of the choices were clear cut, but many I struggled with just choosing *one* product.  I also didn't vote in each category.  We never used any college prep products, for instance.

In no particular order, here are Redhanded Homeschool's top Crew picks for 2014.  Click the name to read our reviews.

Malachi's pick for 2014
Go Science! DVDs

Xavier's 2014 favorite
Brinkman Adventures Season Two
These audio dramas based on real life missionary stories are well loved and often repeated on long car trips.

Merrick's choice
Egglo Eggs (Remember his fun glow bath?)

My favorite Mom Resources
Preschoolers and Peace
I enjoyed this ebook resource for homeschooling biggers with littles nearby.
A Life in Balance
A great resource for special needs educators and the fascinating story of Frank Belgau's life.

These curriculum favorites are products we are still using, have completed this year, or will use in 2015.

Some of our Language Arts favorites.
The Logic of English - I'm using this with Malachi and will use it with Xavier eventually.
Lightning Literature - We reviewed and are using Lightning Lit 1 with Xavier.  I liked it so much that I signed up to be a guinea pig for LL3 with Malachi.
Spelling You See - Xavier is using Jack and Jill.  We kind of slacked off on this one, but need to pick it back up.  It uses an excellent handwriting "font" that I want the boys to keep practicing.
IEW's The Nose Tree - This is Malachi's grammar program.  It's ONE. Sentence. Each. Day.  Very do-able and we get to read and rewrite an entire story we probably would never have heard of.

Math favorites
CTC Math - We used several math programs throughout the year and this one is my favorite.  The boys are not fans of math. at. all. so they had no favorite here. 

Science favorites
Science4Us was a HUGE hit with Malachi and Xavier.  I may resubscribe and use this one with Merrick in a few years.
Go Science DVDs - We loved the short presentations, so we could discuss a demonstration with more depth, or I could throw in a disk and let it go for 20 minutes or so and just watch the DVD.  Even if we weren't discussing what they saw as an official part of school, they were certainly chatting about it all day long!

Social Studies favorites
Under Drake's Flag audio drama - Just incredible to listen to, amazingly talented actors.

Extra-curricular favorites
Middlebury Interactive Languages, K-2 Spanish - Xav loves this course and finished it quickly.  Next, we will be getting him Grade 3-5 Spanish 1.  There is some overlap and I regret not starting with that in the first place.
Maestro Classics - These classical music CDs are so much more than music.  We learned about instruments and the history of each piece as well.

Just For Fun
Snake Oil Party Potion - There are very few games that make us laugh *this* hard!   
Clued In Kids Treasure Hunts - We found our boys worked best independently, but they loved every one that we did.  We'll definitely have more of these and share the love with friends and family.

Honorable Mention
Apologia's What on Earth Can I Do? - The only reason this is an honorable mention is that we didn't complete it.  I'd really like to start the series at the beginning with Who is God?.

There have been other products that we liked, but not necessarily *loved*.  Some will serve as supplements whenever it applies. 

I am so grateful to the Schoolhouse Review Crew for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of such an incredible group of mom bloggers.  I really enjoyed working with Marcy again, from my Download N Go days, and meeting Debra and Kate this year and getting to know them.  They are truly first-class individuals and make up a great leadership team.  I didn't apply for the 2015 Crew for various reasons, but "my plan" (Oh, how God laughs!) is to join up again for 2016.

Go see who won the 2014 Blue Ribbon Awards from the Crew.

Nov 14, 2014

Snake Oil Party Potion ~ A Game Review

Normally, when I review a product, I like to tell you about it first and then get around to telling you how we liked it.  This time I am telling you flat out.  Stop reading this post right now and go buy Snake Oil Party Potion from Out of the Box Games.  I'm so serious about this, I will pause here while you open a new tab in your browser and have it sent right to you!  I do not remember a game where we have laughed non-stop through the whole entire thing.      

Out of the Box Games Review 
Are you back?  OK.  The "about" section.
Snake oil was, once upon a time, a real product.  It was a muscle linament that Chinese immigrants used after a hard day working on the railroad.  They shared it with their co-laborers and word spread about this miracle ointment.  Shysters would sell ointment labeled as snake oil that did not actually contain any snake oil.  So, "snake oil salesman" became synonymous with huckster or a fraud.

Snake Oil Party Potion is a card game consisting of two decks.  The first deck is made up of double-sided customer cards.  You'll find customers like Artist, Chef, and Snowman.  I kind of like the double-sided aspect because you can choose to play either side of the card.  I'm torn about that though, because there is no way to draw the customer card without seeing one side of it in advance.  The second deck is the product word bank.  These are single-sided cards with words on them like Security, Bazooka, Sponge, Jewel, and Candle.

Game Play
One player chooses a customer card and tells the other players which side of the card they are playing.  The other players draw six cards and choose two from their hand to create a product.  These players then have 30 seconds or so to present their product to the customer.  The customer selects the most useful product and that snake oil salesman gets to keep the card.  Used cards are discarded and two more are chosen.  Everyone takes turns being the customer.  The winner is the player with the most customer cards at the end.

Regular Play
Malachi (age 9) just cannot watch people he knows being different people and he doesn't like to pretend to be someone else either.  He was excused from playing and left the room, but was drawn back by the laughter.

Xav was eager to play, but was a little hesitant with his ability at first.  Micah or I (whoever was not the customer that round) helped him with his product or his pitch a couple of times, but he did great! 

Micah is an amazingly animated person and he just made incredible pitches for his products.  At one point, Xav (age 7) didn't feel ready to make his pitch, so he said, "Mom first."  Micah was the customer, a treasure hunter, but he started joking about a product called MomFirst.  You need MomFirst when you're doing something dangerous.  Send in MomFirst, three for the price of one, you'll need them!  It was hilarious.

One round, I chose Dog for my customer card and Xav sold me "smoke bubbles" that smelled like farts when they popped.  I even acted like a dog during the whole sales pitch and asked dog-like questions. We laughed so unbelievably hard through this whole game.  Xav was very disappointed when we had to stop.  He would have gone on and on.

Alternative Play
One night, just for fun, I sat playing Snake Oil by myself.  I would pull a customer card off the top of the deck, randomly select two "product" cards, flip the customer card over and start my pitch.  After a long, tiring day it was fun.  I tried to sell the president a butt tub, a pop star needed some gorilla fur, and a clown was desperately lacking the ultimate parrot smile.

These cards would also make amazing writing prompts.  Draw random cards and get a conversation going!   Also a great product for building vocabulary and communication skills.

I know this is a game we will play many times, as a family, for Mom's Night Out, and at  co-op.   We'll be bringing up those products for a while, too.  When we got a dusting of snow, Micah told Xav there would be too much snow for Santa this year, but not to worry.  He has a purse curtain for him.  I told Xav, "If you believe that, I have a security statue I'll sell you."

Snake Oil Party Potion has won a few awards, too, including being chosen as a Mensa Select game.

  • Ages 8 to Adult
  • 3-6 players (or one, or a crowd!)
  • 20-30 minutes per game
  • $14.99

Out of the Box Games on social media

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Nov 12, 2014

Purposeful Design ~ A Book Review

Jay Schabacker at Purposeful Design offered the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to read his book, Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation and review it along with the curriculum written for it.  Why purposeful design?  Because our Creator made this world with the intention of housing a special creation.  Human life.  Every day of creation, God said it was good.  When He had completed creation, He looked at everything together and declared it "very good."

Purposeful Design Review

Mr. Schabacker is a former aerospace scientist, a businessman, and theologian.  Many people don't think about science when they think about creation.  God spoke... ta da!  This creation of God's is all about science.  It's incredible!  Understanding creation and how it's "science-y" is very important.  Things would just not work the same if everything about creation wasn't just so.  Some of the questions answered in this award winning book are:
  • What if the earth didn't revolve around the sun at its current speed?  
  • What if it didn't rotate on its axis at the precise angle?  
  • What if it was made up of too much water?  
  • How do plants help us?  
  • Why does ice float?
  • Why is the moon important?  
  • Is it really made of cheese? 
OK.  Maybe not that last question, but I think we all know the answer to that one already. 

There are seven chapters, each coinciding with a day of creation, as well as the preface, introduction, and epilogue, all followed at the end with a Bibliography and Recommended Reading list.  This 94 page book is a delightful addition to any homeschool or Sunday school library.

Purposeful Design's accompanying curriculum, Young Explorer's Club, is available free of charge.  If you are educating from a young earth point of view, your homeschool will be greatly enhanced by this curriculum.  It does not take long to complete.  You can easily break each chapter into two or more days and spread it out over a couple of months.  The only thing I did to supplement the course workbook for my punks is provide a word bank for the fill in the blank exercises.

Isn't the piglet squid looking fat and happy?

The glossy pages are loaded with photos and illustrations to enhance the text.  We liked the "What if?" pages which explained what would happen to the earth if just one thing was different; the earth's spin axis, the amount of water on earth, or the moon's distance or size varied.  After a bath, Mal asked where the water goes.  He thought we must use it again, otherwise how would we get more?  I pulled out the book and went over the water cycle with him again.  He had a real reason to apply the information for himself and that makes a world of difference in what he remembers.

Read an excerpt of the book on

This gorgeous book is suitable for all ages.  The Purposeful Design Young Explorer's Club curriculum is for elementary ages and up.
Order Purposeful Design here for $18.95 (that's 25% off retail).  If you order 10 or more copies, there is significant savings.

Jay Schabacker and Purposeful Design on social media
LinkedIn: Jayschab

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Nov 9, 2014

IXL ~ A Math and Language Arts Review

I am *always* looking for something to help one of the kiddos with math.  He seems to be stuck on adding and subtracting.  Concepts, he gets.  Measurement, patterns, graphs, and shapes; it's all in there.  It's just that adding and subtracting thing.  We practice and practice.  It's craziness and I wonder how I can get it to click.  When IXL came up for review with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was happy to try it out.  IXL offers practice and so much more.  IXL Math and IXL Language Arts gave my family a different way to drill the knowledge they are gaining, providing plenty of review to keep learned topics in their brains.

Christmas Book Review

IXL is a supplemental program that will work with nearly any curriculum your family may already be using.  The content is for practicing skills and there are hundreds of skills to try.  IXL does "grade" your child's progress, but it's a top-secret algorithm based on questions attempted, right and wrong answers, and improvement in each skill.  As the child improves, the Smart Score gets higher, until mastery (100% smart score) is achieved.

While it's helpful in the lower grades if parents are near by to offer direction, you aren't required to sit with your child.  Grades PK-5th, now offers audio support so they can hear instructions and the answer choices read aloud.  This makes independent review work possible for new and struggling readers.  However, if your student is learning a new skill, your input is very valuable.  The only instruction provided by IXL happens after a question has been answered incorrectly.

One drawback with this explanation section is the "got it!" button placed before the explanation.  There's one after it as well, but I've found that the boys will sometimes miss one and click the button to go on without even looking at the explanation.

Parent reports
You can see every.single.question attempted and whether it was correct or incorrect.  There is a report for the child's trouble spots, improvement over time, attempted and completed skills, and time spent.  Everything is all there in spreadsheets, bar graphs, and pie charts.  It's unbelievably thorough and gorgeous!

We mostly used second grade on the website, although Mal did some 3rd and 4th grade work in Math and LA, and Merrick worked in PK a bit.  Some things made me think 2nd grade was crazy difficult, but when I thought about it, I realized that 100% mastery at a 2nd grade level would be the equivalent of an end of the year score.  We're only a couple of months into 2nd, so I imagine we'll get through most of this by the end of the year.  Plus, this is spiral learning, so some lessons will be repeated and expanded on in consecutive years.  For instance, Roman numerals in 2nd covers I, V, X, and L while third grade covers those plus C, D, and M.  We'll see them all again in grades four to six.

Math is the only section with an awesome award board.  When the student fulfills a challenge on the board (master 5 skills in a category, answer 500 questions, practice for an hour and a half - don't worry, it's cumulative), he can click a star that appears to receive a "prize."  Second grade is a cool ocean theme.  PK is a playground with prizes like a tricycle or a slide.  Even though they're virtual prizes, the boys enjoyed uncovering them.

IXL fits in very nicely with our current language arts for both the boys, even though they are using very different courses.  When Xav was learning about capitalization or whether a sentence was a statement, question, or exclamation.  He could practice that skill and the same day, Malachi was working on subject/predicate and fragments and run-ons.

There does seem to be no way for the child to know while working just how many questions there will be.  One day, working on compound words, Mal spent over an hour, did 87 words and had a smart score of 94%.  We were new to IXL and just had no idea when it would end.  Obviously, it is because of the Smart Score algorithm, but these guys like to finish and that means 100% mastery. 

I especially liked having one account to log in to, with everyone having their own user account.  We got to set up names and they each chose an avatar.

They both dislike math, so that is no reflection on IXL.  They prefer the online learning over workbooks, so that's a plus.  I just want them to get the practice in and hopefully, some day, it will all click.  Language arts was a bit easier to align with what we were working on in our books.  I'd setup a topic for them a few days or a week after they had covered it in their books.  That was a great way to review and practice.  

Free apps are available for iPad, Kindle, Android, and Chromebook (some older versions are not compatible).  We have a Kindle Fire that I added the math app onto.  I've used it for Merrick a couple of times.  It's so much easier to use the touchscreen than a mouse when you are two.  Yes, there are some sections in PK that he is able to do; naming shapes, counting to three (or five), same, and classifying by color.

IXL meets common core and state requirements.  You can view the correlations on the IXL site.

Math PK-12th grade
Language Arts 2nd-8th grade
Prices start at $79/year for math or language arts and $129/year for both sections for one child.  There is an additional $20 yearly fee for each extra child.  Monthly pricing is also available.  This nifty page will show you exact pricing when you enter in the number of children you wish to subscribe to which courses.

IXL on social media

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Nov 5, 2014

If He Had Not Come ~ A Book Review

David Nicholson is a retired teacher who wanted to bring the gospel message to families. If He Had Not Come was written by Nan Weeks and originally published in an anthology in 1938.  Mr. Nicholson heard it in church and had retold it to his family for decades before deciding to revive the story for a new generation.  The timeless story illustrates what the world would be like if Jesus never came to earth for us.  It's based on John 15:22.

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin;
but now they have no excuse for their sin.

Illustrations by Charles Jaskiewicz, who has illustrated other religious and children's books.

At size 8.5" x 11" with 40 pages, this sturdy hardbound book will last us many, many years and even more readings.  Little people will take delight in the classic illustrations.

Christmas Book Review

Bobby goes to sleep on Christmas Eve with these words on his mind.  When he wakes up, it isn't Christmas Day.  He runs around town trying to understand what has happened.  What he sees is confusing and concerning.  No businesses have closed for Christmas.  No one knows who Jesus is.  There is no hospital and no orphanage.  It is decidedly a different take on a Christmas tale.

I read If He Had Not Come first and my immediate thought was that it didn't touch on the most important aspect of "if He hadn't come" and that is salvation.  My second impression was that there *would* be hospitals and orphanages.  There would be pleasant people.  Maybe not as many.  Then I made myself suspend those thoughts and enjoy the point of the book.   I planned to read it to the boys later and just left it on the coffee table.  It wasn't all that long before they'd both picked it up and read it of their own volition.  They've read it several times on their own and I've discussed it with them individually.  I was so pleased that they both understood the most important part of all.  Xav figured it out without any prompting.

I would be a bit disappointed if this story, enjoyable as it was, were the end of the book.  However, there is more.  The next section includes discussion starters for families and Sunday school teachers.  The children have to put themselves in Bobby's shoes and think about how they would feel under the circumstances.  They're asked to ponder the verse the book is based on and to consider what's most important on Christmas.

Next, the Going Deeper section in the back does touch on what it would have meant for us spiritually if Jesus had not come.  This section is written by Josh Mulvihill, a pastor and adjunct professor.  Here, you will consider Bible verses that explain why Jesus came to earth AND what it would mean spiritually if He Had Not Come.  Hooray!

This section is followed by the ABCs of salvation.  The best gift ever!  And, finally, a drawing activity to help young learners think about the many ways a Christmas tree can remind us of Jesus and His gift of eternal life.

This will definitely be added to our Christmas book collection.  It's one we'll enjoy for years to come and I'm sure as the boys grow in understanding, it will become all the more beloved.

Ages 6 and up.  This book is for parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, and anyone else involved in the spiritual upbringing of children.
$18.95 for hardcover

If He Had Not Come on social media

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Nov 2, 2014

Family Toolbox ~ A Review

 Affiliate links were used in this post.

Dr. Scott Turansky and Mrs. Joanne Miller, RN, BSN, started the National Center For Biblical Parenting in the 1990s.  NCBP uses a practical, heart-based, Biblical, approach to assist parents with child training.  The newest offering is The Family Toolbox.  I received a DVD and workbook set in exchange for my honest review.

Bribes and rewards may help achieve proper behavior, but they do not bring about changes in the heart.  This isn't a sustainable or practical parenting solution.
Correction is key to a heart change.

The DVD lessons are approximately 10 minutes of parent teaching to be viewed only by parents prior to viewing the shorter videos with your child or teen.  The video dramas convey family situations that are far too common in many homes today.  Together, you and your family evaluate these scenarios and brainstorm solutions for the topics.  Each of the eight lessons covers two Life Success Principles.  These principles truly are lessons for life.  As adults, these lessons will be invaluable.
  • The Heart - Being Respectful Even When It's Hard and Develop Internal Motivation.
  • Instructions - Develop Healthy Habits for Following Instructions and Look For Ways to Contribute to Family Life.
  • Handling Pressure - Solve Problems Instead of Generating Conflict and Instead of Sarcasm, Develop the Skills of a Peacemaker.
  • Correction - Learn to Value Correction and Apologize Well.
  • Responsibility - Develop a Plan for Being Responsible and Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes.
  • Accepting No - Train Yourself to Accept No as an Answer and Avoid Arguing.
  • Anger - View Your Family as a Team and Learn Self-Control to Manage Anger.
  • Consider Others - Practice Flexibility When Plans Change and Learn to Handle Unfairness Well.

The parent sessions are hosted by Gerardo Davila who reviews a clip with Dr. Turansky and Mrs. Miller and discusses the scenario and points out ways to help families involved in similar situations.  The Anger segment is great for parents who struggle in that cycle of escalating emotions.  "You're angry, I'm angry, now let's do a lot of yelling."  Anger is a sign of a problem, but it isn't a tool to find a solution.  Dr. Turansky and Mrs. Miller provide tools to help you remain calm and parent your children in a way that offers them hope and provides the reliability and boundaries they crave.

The paperback workbook contains a summary of each video lesson and discussion prompts.  Each segment is four pages.  The first page is for parents.  The other three pages are for discussion of the video and the Life Principles covered.

The discussions that come about through this are the most important part of the program.  While the video and workbook provide the guidance, you won't see results without meaningful discussion.  Try to watch the lessons with your children at a time when everyone is feeling relaxed and not rushed.  Find times throughout the week to consider what you have been doing, to notice how family members are trying to make adjustments in their interactions, and to praise their efforts.

I would have liked a discussion video directed at the children to go along with their clip.  But that may be just me.  I always want very specific "How do I...?" instruction and I think my children benefit in the same way.  This is a very good program and maybe hit a little close to home a few times, making this mama a bit uncomfortable.  I wouldn't hesitate recommending it to Christian families struggling to help their children navigate difficult emotions and situations while they are still at home and under our loving protection and care.

Intended for families with 10-18 year olds, I believe these DVD lessons are all suitable guides for families with younger children as well.  It's never too early to instill these values in our children.

$79.95 for download
$99.95 for physical DVD and workbook

I've purchased and was pleased with NCBP products before.  One year, for homeschool co-op, I taught Hero Training Camp Children's Curriculum.  Another thing on my wishlist is The Christian Parenting Handbook.

Find The National Center for Biblical Parenting on social media.

Nov 1, 2014

Week in Review 9/7 and 9/14/14

    In my life this week…
The boys were all sick and I was rocking the Kathleen Turner voice.  If there is a respiratory thing going around, Xav gets the croup.  Even Mal was croupy this time.

I keep saying corrective things to the boys, that might be directed right back at myself.  That's certainly somewhat uncomfortable.

    In our homeschool this week...
I'm trying to give Merrick more intentional activities.  My hope is that this accomplishes two things.  He is more involved in "school" with us, thus actively learning, and so we can accomplish more in the morning, possibly taking a short quiet time break in the afternoon when we usually have school.

    In our homeschool co-op this week... 
On the 12th, we missed our first Friday School because of our colds.  Micah went in and taught his class, but I had to take advantage of my sub.

Can you believe I got the hairy eyeball for this back to school pic?
This year, classes include:
Magic School Bus Science for Mal and Xav, Wiggles and Giggles for Merrick.
Flat Stanley for Mal, Little House on the Prairie for Xav, and Round Box for Merrick.
Oceanography for Mal, Mr. Fix-It for Xav, and Nature for Merrick.
We didn't sign up for anything 4th period this year.

Our field trip on the 19th was to a golf course for a tour and driving lesson, followed by a picnic at another Friday School family's home. 

He's been playing musical beds for a while now; crib, Beepa's bed, the recliner.  Back and forth all night long.

Xav: "What's a nasty gram?"
Me: "It's a howler for muggles."

Xav had his second (and last) official trail run of the year.

Micah: "Xav, are you looking forward to running?"
Xav: "Yes."
Micah: "Then smile." *pause* *sigh*
PS Excuse his top lip.  Every time he gets a cold, he licks his face raw!

    What we're reading... 
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire   (Don't judge.  It's a long book and they don't get a chapter every night.)

    Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
We had another exciting trip to the library.  Merrick has the best time in the resource room.  Xav loves the iPad.  Mal mostly just reads.  I love how much the boys are all interested in books.

We had two, somewhat related, field trips on the 20th.  There is an old house in town that we've never toured in all the time we've lived here.  Xav said, "Wow.  The Ingalls really did exist!"  Then we crossed the park to the Harvest Festival, where the boys got to get inside a rescue vehicle.  Mal was mad at himself for liking it so much.  He was busy being angry that we missed out on the wagon ride by visiting the old house.

After that we headed off to a Civil War reenactment.  It is the 150th anniversary of the northern-most conflict, the St.Albans Raid.  It was quite fascinating.  We missed the heist and battle, but I think at that point in the day, Mal was getting to the end of his tolerance for busyness and I had forgotten ear muffs so it was just as well.

    Things Dad is working on...
We're getting a set of stairs to the back porch.  I am so spoiled.  He finally took pity on my old self after watching me heft myself on and off the deck for years! 

    This week's reviews...
The Schoolhouse Review Crew's The 7-Minute Life Daily Planner (including mine)
The Schoolhouse Review Crew's Daily Student Logbook