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Aug 30, 2016

HomeSchool Scholastics TOS Review

 Building healthy families at home.

My decision this spring to get myself moving and healthy has been difficult for Xav.  He has been concerned that I've been "starving" myself.  Though I have been explaining nutrition, healthy eating, and sensible portions he seemed to really struggle with the idea of "denying" yourself food.  He seems to think if you eat a healthy meal, you can fill the time between meals with all the empty junk you want.  The WAY Comes Home Kit from HomeSchool Scholastics, an i4 Learning Company is helping me teach the boys more about the better choices I've been making and why it is important for all of us to look after the bodies God has given to us.

WAY stands for Wellness, Academics, & You.  Originally, developed in 2005 for use in schools, the new WAY Comes Home Kit was created especially for homeschoolers.  WAY combines physical activities, vocabulary, and learning activities about health, nutrition, and fitness. The WAY Comes Home Kit includes tons of items to help you teach your family a bit about all those topics.

UN-boxing day was a blast!  The kit comes with an Instructor/Parent Guide, DVD with video clips and exercise segments, student journals (3 options based on age/grade level), a balance scale, plastic eggs, three small bins, a stethoscope, ink pad, WAY Comes Home to MyPlate booklet, vocabulary cards and activity pack, and glitter.

The Parent Guide and Journals (for K-1, grades 2-3, and grades 4-5) are all softcover books.  The journals vary in length from 40 to 64 pages.  The Parent Guide is 144 pages.  The boys loved that the journals have a blank cover for them to personalize any way they wanted.

There is also a consumable packet of WAY vocab cards and illustrations.  This pack includes the cards for all three levels.  Copyright allows for copying some of the pages for games like matching.

All of these cool pieces are included in the WAY Comes Home Kit.  There was just so much.  You can see why the boys were so excited to unpack the box when it arrived.

For ease of use, the Parent Guide is color coded by the three age levels.

  • Health Safari - blue and green for K-1
  • Me Mysteries - orange and red for 2nd-3rd
  • Innerspace Adventure - purple and blue for 4th-5th or 6th
In this manner, parents can quickly locate the activities for each module and the appropriate grade.  The PG has all of the information needed to facilitate the modules for one or more children.

Each lesson begins with a synopsis for the parent, followed by a list of required and some optional items for that level, including on-topic library books.  Vocabulary words are listed and followed by activities that involve reading, demonstrations, and discussions.  These are followed by possible ways to include children in the household who are working at other levels.

Some of the activities in L to R Health Safari, Me Mysteries, and Innerspace Adventure.

There are plenty of blank pages in the journals for recording information and completing activities from the Include Me Too! sections, but the books aren't actually set up to do exactly the same thing across the age levels.  Part of this makes sense, as children at different levels understand the information differently and may need different instruction.  As the parent teaching three kiddos at different levels, it would have been more convenient if everyone was recording basically the same things.  For instance, in module three one book had a chart to record the student's resting, active, and recovering heart rate.  Another level has several blank, lined pages for recording all physical activity and related information for one week.  The third level has pages for drawing pictures.  I would have loved a simple chart in each book.  We all completed the activity and recorded the information, because heart and respiration rates are an excellent indicator of how we are working our bodies.  I think WAY works best for multiple kids at different levels if you chose a level to work on, then do the activities that incorporate other ages.

The journaling pages in the upper grades and K-1 books.

The lessons can be completed in a week or so or could take much longer with all of the other optional activities.  The topics remain the same for each module even though the journals do not cover them in the same way.  There are so many things to choose from and books to read, this could keep us busy for much of the school year.

Module 1: Getting Started - The importance of learning about health and wellness.
Module 2: Where Do You Begin - Students learn how to assess where they are now and document the information so they can review personal progress.
Module 3: Let's Get Active - Explore different types of physical activities.
Module 4: The Nutrition WAY - Learn about healthy eating using the MyPlate Guidelines.
Module 5: Health-It's Personal - Everyday health and hygiene practices are learned in this module.

You may know that technology is not my friend.  I've looked and looked for pictures from our germy/moldy bread experiment and cannot find them anywhere!

I do, however, have pics from the glitter experiment WHICH WE DID OUTDOORS!  Here, Xav was contaminated by glitter germs.  If you've ever worked with glitter you know it *is* just like a contamination.  He shook hands with Merrick and we examined the cross contamination that occurred.  After that, they went around touching the railing and other things around the yard, happily spreading their glittery germs everywhere they went.

Spreading germs.
The DVD in the WAY Comes Home Kit includes skits to introduce WAY and each module to the kiddos.  They're often humorous skits with similarly aged children in the upper two levels.  The Health Safari segments are more like watching book pages as the audio plays.  The exercise component is also included with the DVD lessons.  These fun, short aerobic workouts are available in a variety of musical genres.  You can also choose the length of time you want to exercise.  We tried a few out and while they're fun, they definitely got out hearts pumping!

There is also an online component available to purchasers.  We didn't receive access to it, but I understand new content is added every month and lessons in math, science, and technology are being planned.  This is a terrific Homeschool health and wellness curriculum.

As of right now, the entire WAY Comes Home Curriculum kit is $10 off the regular price of $49.95.  As a special offer to all Schoolhouse Review Crew readers there is an additional discount of $15 which will about cover shipping to most locations!  Simply use the code GC0737011 at checkout.
Find HomeSchool Scholastics on social media.
Twitter  @WAYComesHome

WAY Comes Home Kit Review

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Aug 26, 2016

PunchBug Simon!

Every week when I head to my Weight Watchers meeting, I play a solo game.  Micah and I decided we could save PunchBugs for the kids, *if* we were in the car alone.  We didn't ask for input from the kids, so they have mixed feelings about the game.

No matter which of the two possible ways I head in, I am almost guaranteed to see two PunchBuggies before I get to the meeting.  If I head to the grocery store, there's often one there, plus the random drive by.

I need to remember all the Buggy colors or I can't use them.  Hence my Simon skills.  I keep track of them by repeating the colors periodically to myself as I drive.  Red, red.  Red, red, yellow, green.  Red, red, yellow, green, red, blue, white.  It's a fun way to spend the driving time and torment the boys when I get home.*

*Don't worry.  It's all in good fun.  No one is injured and my brain gets some exercise.

Can Do Cubes TOS Review

Not your Grandma's ABC blocks!

Earlier this week, I told you about just2ducks LLC's Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar.  I plan to continue using those with Merrick for the foreseeable future.  I was so excited to receive's companion product, Can Do Cubes.  While the Can Do Cubes complement Jolly Phonics nicely, we've found that they can be used alongside any phonics, spelling, or reading program you have.

Can Do Cubes come in a box with labeled dividers, making it easy to find exactly the cubes you are looking for.  Well, provided your four year old isn't putting them away!  There are two levels included, beginning with the Stage One: Simple Alphabetic Code cubes.  This level has 27 six-sided blocks with letters that represent the 44 basic phonemes of the English language.  Stage Two covers the Complex Alphabetic Code, which includes spelling variations for the 44 sounds.  Also introduced in the Stage Two cubes are split vowels (in a funky connected-but-not pair of cubes), capital letters, punctuation, and double letters  There are 32 cubes in this level.

There is a faint line below each letter for orientation.  You'll have no confusing p/d q/b issue with Can Do Cubes.  Each cube is made of hardwood and is laser engraved.  I find them quite beautiful, actually.

In the box, you'll also find
  • Can Do Cubes instructional handbooks for Stage One and Stage Two
  • Teaching, Learning, and "Sounding Out" with Debbie Hepplewhite DVD
  • The four part Teacher's Guide and Template Book by Laurie Fyke on CDRom
  • Phonics Chart
  • Word Charts that list all the words that can be spelled using the cubes in Stage One.

Every one of the boys has been using the Can Do Cubes.  Merrick uses them alongside his Jolly Phonics lessons.  We also play a game he just LOVES.  He rolls the "dice" and tries to spell words with the face up letters.  This doesn't always work out just right (he has had a Yahtzee of letter I before!), but it has been a fun challenge for him as he grows and develops his understanding of phonics.

Ready to Roll and Sounding Out.
I also found some worksheets on the CDRom.  And I know my boys, so I laminated them.  It's a fun activity to match the cubes with the letters on display on the templates.  We look at even the ones he has not necessarily learned yet and Merrick gets a sneak peek at the different ways some sounds can be spelled.

Merrick also likes a game we call The Squish Game.  He lines up the sounds of a word with a space between the cubes.  After saying the sounds, he "squishes" the cubes together and reads the whole word.

As I said, all the boys have been using Can Do Cubes for spelling.  Mostly, they've been playing with them and spelling some of their favorite words.  These cubes will be *great* when we start our new spelling program this fall.  (I can't believe it's almost time!)  I've been looking into ways to "cement" spelling words into Mal and Xav's heads.  They really do well with a physical component added to learning when ever possible.  We are going to be adding finger spelling with ASL.  The Can Do Cubes will add just another fun dimension to their spelling curriculum.  Anything concrete like that, which adds another dimension to spelling is so cool.

I'm looking forward to keeping Can Do Cubes close at hand for *many* years to come.  With the high quality of the cubes, I expect to be able to use them for a long time.

Find on social media.

Can Do Cubes

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Aug 24, 2016

Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar A TOS Review

Giving Children a Flying Start

I recently was invited to review's phonics and grammar programs with Merrick.  Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar are components of a comprehensive six year program, beginning with the phonics books in Kindergarten and continuing from Grammar 1 through Grammar 5.  just2ducks LLC kindly sent us the Jolly Phonics series, Jolly Grammar 1, and Jolly Songs for our review.

Jolly Phonics Student Books (1-3) and Teacher's Book is for children in preschool and kindergarten.  The Jolly Phonics Teacher's Book covers all three of the Student Books.  The softcover Teacher's Book is 184 pages long.  Nearly thirty pages are devoted to the Jolly Phonics teaching method.  As with most TMs, I highly recommend taking the time to read this section.  Honestly, I rarely used to read these, but I've often found the information invaluable.  Sometimes, I've struggled with using a product only to find out the information is in the Teacher's Manual!

The balance of the Teacher's Book covers lesson plans for each page of the Student Books.  Each Student Book has a different color page border, so it's easy to locate the proper section of the Teacher's Book.  Students are taught all of the main letter sounds - 42 of them - and how they are written.  One new sound is introduced each day.

The Jolly Phonics program uses this progression.
  1. Learning Letter Sounds (letter names are introduced in Student Book 2)
  2. Learning Letter Formation (including proper pencil grip)
  3. Reading (also known as decoding or blending)
  4. Identifying Sounds in Words (independent writing begins in Student Book 2)
  5. Tricky Words (irregular spelling or advanced phonics)
The softcover Jolly Phonics Student Books are 48 pages each.  I like that lowercase letters are used almost exclusively in the first Student Book.  The uppercase are shown with the lowercase letters, but only the lowercase are written by the child.  Uppercase letters are written in book 2 along with plenty of lowercase practice.

Merrick is plugging along, learning new was to spell sounds and reading unfamiliar forms, like when e says /ee/, not /e/.  It's fun and challenging for him.

Phonemes are such an integral part of spelling and reading, when speech is unclear or a child struggles to pronounce words properly, there can be a real disconnect there.  I remember when Merrick worked on one of the earliest lessons, /s/.  He was supposed to circle the pictures with the /s/ sound.  He determined that "pider" does not start with /s/.  I think that was the first time I realized his speech would effect his other language work.

Jolly Grammar 1 Student Book and Teacher's Book is for first graders.  The Student Book has 73 pages of spelling and grammar activities as well as space in the back for 36 weeks of spelling tests. The Teacher's Book is 104 pages. Colors used to identify the parts of speech in these lessons are the same as those used in Montessori schools.  Parts of speech which are introduced in Jolly Grammar 1 are
  • nouns,
  • pronouns,
  • verbs,
  • adjectives,
  • and adverbs.
Students learn about making their writing easier to understand by using correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and neat writing.  It's a pleasure to read stories incorporating those tools and making use of interesting words.  They will learn how to accomplish this in Jolly Grammar.

The Teacher's Book contains detailed lesson plans and teaching guidance for each activity page of the student book.  Jolly Grammar 1 is thirty-six weeks of learning in two, one-hour lessons each week.  That leaves three days each week to work on other areas of literacy on your own, covering comprehension, reading, and writing.  It's recommended that you try to incorporate learning that relates to what is being taught at that time in Jolly Grammar.  It looks like fun, you know, for grammar.  I'm really looking forward to using it with Merrick.

Jolly Songs is a book and music CD used to reinforce the phonemes as taught in the Jolly Phonics lessons.  The CD slips into a clear pocket on the outside of the book, making it terrific for car trips.  The songs reinforce the sounds, while the read along book reinforces the spelling.  The short songs are written to familiar tunes like Old McDonald and Skip to My Lou.  The hand motions from the Jolly Phonics program are included along with a colorful picture, all helping to make remembering easier.  The songs are sung by children and accompanied by music.  It's over 23 minutes long.  Some games and activities are in the back of the book. offers many complimentary products for use with Jolly Phonics.
  • readers
  • flashcards 
  • posters
  • CDs/DVDs
  • puppets and more!
One of those complimentary items is the Can Do Cubes for synthetic phonics.  I'll be reviewing those as well this week, but here's a sneak peek.  Bee-you-tee-ful...

Find on social media.

Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar Review

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Aug 22, 2016

My Comedian

It's time again to start going through everyone's dressers and pulling out too short pants and ratty shirts.  It's time for the boys to moan and groan as I hand them clothing to try on to check for fit.  They have it pretty easy.  They only need to try a few items to give me "templates" for comparing with all the clothes in the drawers.

I asked Mal to look through his socks and put all the ones with holes in them *here* and all the others back in the drawer.  When I checked on his progress later, all of his socks were placed *here*.  Then I asked him why.

"Mom, all of my socks have holes in them."

Mr. Literal

Aug 19, 2016

Enlivenze TOS Review


I am a puzzle fan.  I admit it.  I love puzzlers.  Sadly, I am not great at some of the trickier ones, but give me a few minutes of peace and quiet and I'd either choose to read or do something puzzling.  Enlivenze LLC has really unique puzzles.  My family received the Tyrannosaurus Rex FlipStir Puzzle.

FlipStir Puzzles are completely different from any I've ever seen before.  It is basically a ten piece jigsaw puzzle.  That sounds deceptively simple.  Don't be fooled!  The puzzle comes sealed in a jar with only a special stir stick to manipulate the pieces.  Because the pieces can't be removed, they travel very well.  These puzzles are perfect for in the car, camping, or while waiting for your brother at Tae Kwon Do.

The plastic jar holds the ten 3D puzzle pieces and the wand comes in through a hole in the lid.  You use only the wand, gravity, smarts, and coordination to maneuver each segment of the puzzle into place.  With the sealed jar, you can never lose any of the pieces.  There is very little wiggle room inside the jar.  The pieces are "slices" of a half cylinder.  You must turn them this way and that to not only get them all facing the right direction, but also in the right order.

FlipStir Puzzles are challenging, but doable.  I've completed our puzzle multiple times now.  It usually takes me just under five minutes.  It can take much longer for others and I've seen several people admit defeat and give up.  Unless you're very young or have muscle control issues, I'd say anyone who perseveres *will* complete it.

I've learned a few puzzling tricks which help me complete it so quickly.
  1. The Shelf - As I get nearer to the end and it is difficult to manipulate the last few pieces, I will set a couple of slices on the "shelf" made by the completed segments.  Usually, I put slices 7 and 8 up on 1-6 while I maneuver 9 and 10 at the top of the jar.  Then I slide the last couple pieces in between.  Sometimes, I put 9 and 10 on the shelf and complete it all in order.
  2. All In a Row - I've also tried just getting them all going in the right direction and *then* rearranged them into the right order.
The latter is definitely the more difficult of the two.

The puzzles come in several designs and levels.  Our Tyrannosaurus is a level one.  This means that the pieces have a straight edge on the side they stack.  Level two puzzles have a wavy edge, making some of the manipulation a bit more challenging.  Both levels are intended for ages 7 and up.  They are made right here in the USA.

Some of the other Crew reviewers have puzzled over the Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Pencils, and the Solar System.  Be sure to click the green box at the bottom of this post to see some of the other puzzles in action.  They would make great gifts.  I have my eye on the Periodic Table of Elements.  Maybe for my birthday.  *hint*

This is the most fun puzzle I've seen in a long time.  I like that it doesn't take me that long to complete.  The designs are varied and interesting.  Enlivenze's customer service was fantastic.  They were very quick to respond and super helpful.

You can find FlipStir and Enlivenze LLC on social media.

FlipStir Accounts

Enlivenze LLC Accounts

FlipStir Puzzles Reviews

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Funny Find ~ Sasquatch!

I want to say this could only happen here.  Sadly, I know there are actually quite a few states with claims on this guy!  Big Foot was strapped tightly into a truck at the grocery store.

Aug 18, 2016

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids TOS Review

¿Hablas español?  We are learning Spanish right now with the award winning Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Spanish Starter Set 1.  This is an immersion method of learning Spanish.  Videos are taught completely in Spanish by a fun, lively family of three boys, Eli, Andy, and Parker.

This 20 week curriculum includes a DVD, the student books, the corresponding Guide for Teachers and Parents, label stickers, and cards for the first three lessons.
  • Basketballs Aren't for Breakfast
  • The Little Magic House
  • The Little Magic House Part 2
  • and Go Squish game instructions for use with the cards.
There is a flight theme throughout the homeschool Spanish curriculum.  The student books are in-flight magazines to read as we fly off to a country in South or Central America. The lesson is introduced as we prepare to take off in our plane.  It's super cute, but I do want to mention the whine of the jet engine in the background plays havoc with my tinnitus, so I don't actually watch those segments.

The lessons follow the boys through a morning beginning with a hearty desayuno (breakfast).  You are introduced to the children as they come to the kitchen.  It's important to keep track of the boys' names as the workbook exercises will sometimes ask specifically what one or another of the boys enjoys doing with his time.  We learn that Andy likes to read, Parker likes to play basketball, and Eli *really* likes to eat!  I confess that we all had an awful time figuring out Parker's name when we first heard it.  To our untrained ear, it sounded like Pockets!  We are such New Englanders!  The boys also have two dogs, aptly named Grande and Pequeño, who join their adventures.  Mamá is rarely heard and never seen.

The engaging video stories can be viewed by all the kids together.  Merrick loves being involved and he went around for weeks saying "may gooska" whenever he liked anything.  It was one of those times that it's just so cute, you don't want to correct it.  We watched the lessons multiple times, even sometimes watching ahead, because the more they see it, the more they will remember it. They caught on to individual words quickly.

The workbooks included practice and review with typical workbook questions, as well as word puzzles, games, geography lessons, fast facts, and idioms.  One interesting idiom was "the last Coca-Cola in the desert" which means someone thinks they are "all that and a bag of chips."  (See what I did there?)

The colorful books are made of sturdy, thick paper, but the pages do have a glossy or waxy finish.  This does make writing with a pencil a bit tricky.

The Guide for Teachers and Parents walks you through the lessons and even gives a time frame for the daily objectives.  Some lessons at the beginning only schedule a portion of the video.  Later, lessons include longer video segments, certain assignments from the workbook, applying stickers, or playing a game.  The first few pages of the first TM are particularly important as they explain the teaching philosophy of Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids.  Everything is planned out for you.

The included stickers are intended to be used to label objects around the home.  There are three sheets of stickers for each lesson.  This is great practice for translating.  The boys needed to remember what each word meant and then find something suitable on which to apply the stickers from the set, reinforcing the vocabulary being taught.  There are multiple copies of many of the words.

The Go Squish game is played similarly to a Spanish speaking version of Go Fish, with the vocabulary flash cards included for each lesson.  The more players you have, the more lesson sets you need to use.  You can also play with the cards like a memory game, matching the written word with a picture from the video stories.

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids is a fun, relatable Spanish curriculum that the whole family will enjoy.  I might actually learn some Spanish!

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids can be purchase as lessons on DVDs or as online access (a free 48 hour trial is available).  The back to school sale continues through August 31, 2016 and includes $5 domestic shipping.

Find Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids on social media.

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review

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Aug 13, 2016

Funny Find ~ Sign Oops!

I was thinking about grabbing this sign for our homeschool area.  Using one chalkboard square per kid, works out perfectly.  What do you think?

Aug 4, 2016

Talking Shapes TOS Review

Talking Fingers Inc., the same vendor that brought us the super fun Read, Write & Type, also has a reading and spelling program called Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy.  Merrick is thoroughly enjoying this one, too.  He is learning to spell more CVC words while playing games on the computer.

Two sisters, Pat and Nat, realize that it's difficult to remember all of the great stories they enjoy telling each other.  They decide it would be a good idea to create a written language so they won't have to memorize them all.  They start by making letters that are shaped like pictures which begin with the sound the letter makes.  C is curved around a resting cat's back.  T is a tall pine tree.  A is an acrobat.

One important thing they notice, while looking in a pool, is that their mouths make different shapes as they speak.  Using a handheld mirror is a great way for children with enunciation issues to practice speaking clearly.  It will also help them differentiate sounds for reading (decoding) and spelling (encoding).  I remember once, years ago, giving Xavier a paper about beginning word sounds.  He wrote a W next to the reindeer because that is what he heard when he spoke.

The program includes seven books to be read in order.  Each book contains a story, reading and spelling games.  At the completion of a book, the child receives a gold, silver, or bronze award based on how well they completed it.  The next book can only be accessed once the current book is completed.  However, the games can be repeated later, playing them is not a "one and done" deal.  Scores can also be improved which will change the trophy next to the book.

In book one, they learn C, H, F, A, T, and S.  They're spelling and reading cat, fat, hat, and sat well by the end of the book.  Book two only introduces five more letters, but children will be able to read short vowel words much longer than just CVC.  Each book should be not just completed, but grasped thoroughly before moving on.

Talking Shapes does take a few minutes to load, every time you use it.  I recommend waiting for that to finish *before* calling the kids to the computer.  Don't waste their short attention span on waiting.  The screen remains black while it loads, with no indication it is loading.  Once you click on one of the books to begin, there is another short wait, though not as long as previously.

Talking Shapes would work best on a touchscreen computer.  Using the mouse or the touchpad on the laptop is difficult to maneuver because the button has to be depressed as the mouse is moved around the letter.  I thought Merrick would be completely put off by that, but he loved the challenge.  If he unclicked, he just went back and started where he left off.  If the letter is nearly complete, the system will accept it as complete and move on.

If you log off or leave the program, it will take you back to where you left off.  This was a great feature, as I'm a firm believer in letting preschoolers call an end to school.  When Merrick is done, we are done.  It's nice to know we won't have to repeat segments when we pick it up again to get back where we were.

In the lower left corner, Owl Scholar is waiting to give you a child report. It's a basic report which lists the book number, their score, and the highest possible score.  There is a score for each book, once completed.  Several times in the series there are cumulative review exercises which also are scored.

OK, so he resembles a penguin to me!

Talking shapes is a complete reading and writing preschool curriculum and will take some time to complete, depending on your child's ability.  The program is for children 4-5 years old.

A release for seven separate apps are being planned for use on tablets.

Find Talking Fingers on social media.

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}

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