A while back I wrote a review of Kwik Stix Tempera Paint Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc. They were a big hit with my kids, but unlike many products, Kwik Stix were not just a passing fad in our house. They want to get them out on a regular basis, and we’ve actually used up our first set and need to purchase more. And we have a new option, as Kwik Stix are now available to purchase at toysrus.com!
Category Archives: Product reviews
This is the first year we have done any sort of formal grammar instruction, and I’m curious about different resources that are available. I was thankful for the recent opportunity we were given to try Sentence Diagramming: Beginning from The Critical Thinking Co.™.
Sentence Diagramming: Beginning is a 72-page softcover workbook consisting of 12 lessons. Designed for use with Grades 3-12+, the lessons are simple but not childish, so they can provide instruction and/or practice at any of these levels.
Lesson 1 begins with as simple a sentence as you can get, with just two words forming the subject and predicate (e.g. “Cats purr” or “Artists draw.”) Subsequent lessons add in new concepts one at a time, building upon what the students have previous learned, until their diagrams become quite complex:
- Lesson 1: Simple Subject and Main Verb
- Lesson 2: Direct Object
- Lesson 3: Adjectives
- Lesson 4: Adverbs Modifying Verbs
- Lesson 5: Predicate Adjectives
- Lesson 6: Predicate Nouns
- Lesson 7: Prepositional Phrases (Adjectival)
- Lesson 8: Prepositional Phrases (Adverbial)
- Lesson 9: Compound Subjects
- Lesson 10: Compound Predicates
- Lesson 11: Compound Direct Objects
- Lesson 12: Compound Predicate Adjectives and Nouns
Within each lesson, the student gets to work through 4 different types of exercises (after brief instructional section with examples at the beginning of the lesson):
- Correcting errors in given diagrams
- Diagramming given sentences on given diagrams
- Writing original sentences on a given diagram
- Diagramming given sentences independently
Answers for all exercises are given at the back of the book.
I was surprised at how much my boys enjoyed the process of diagramming sentences. It really appealed to their mechanically inclined brains, and I think it helped certain grammar concepts “click” in a way that has eluded them up to this point.
I really liked the way each lesson approached the diagrams from several different angles, and certain ones worked better for each boy depending on their strengths and how they think. I would usually go through the examples at the beginning of each lesson, explaining which new concept was being presented. They we would go through a few of the exercises in each section together, and I would have them try others on their own.
I especially appreciate the copyright, which allows me to make copies to use within my family. As a mom of many, I try to look for resources that I’ll be able turn to again and again, rather than having to repurchase multiple copies for each of my children. Some of these lessons I just did at home with the boys on whiteboards, but others I copied for them to take with them when we were doing school away from home. It was great to have this flexibility.
The minimal instruction made it easy to get into the first few lessons, but as they get more advanced, I think it would be hard for these lessons to stand alone. The book shows how to draw the diagrams, but it doesn’t provide much explanation for why words are placed in certain spots, why some lines are slanted, and things like that.
Because of this, I think I would hesitate to go much further in the book on its own. We are using it in conjunction with our current grammar program, which is teaching the boys about parts of speech more thoroughly, and as they get more comfortable with those labels, I think we’ll come back to Sentence Diagramming: Beginning to help broaden their understanding. It’s also a great resource for families already doing sentence diagramming with their grammar program but looking for clear examples for extra practice.
Right now, this “Beginning” book is the only one available on The Critical Thinking Co.™ website, but I would be interested in seeing what the Level 1 and Level 2 books (mentioned on the title page) look like when they come out.
One Last Thing
The Critical Thinking Co.™ believes in the Importance of Preschool Academics, and has some great resources for parents who want to give their children some academic experience before they reach official school age, such as their “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™” bundle, which includes five apps designed to teach basic skills. You can see what other Crew members thought of these programs and other products from The Critical Thinking Co.™ by clicking on the banner below.
About Elementary Spanish 2 (Grade 3-5)
Like all the Middlebury Interactive Languages Courses, Elementary Spanish 2 uses stories, songs, videos, and interactive games to help students learn basic vocabulary. Depending on the activity, they must listen, read, write, and speak the key words for each lesson.
Elementary Spanish 2 (Grades 3-5) covers 16 units over two semesters, each unit consisting of six lessons.
Within each lesson, there is a variety of activities.
Students can go back and repeat lessons as many times as they want.
This course was definitely more advanced than the Grades K-2 course, mostly because of the addition of the reading and writing activities. Elijah reads at at least a strong 3rd grade level, but I think this made the course more challenging than he expected. While I do think it is important to be able to read and write when learning a new language, I am cautious about adding in too much of this. In my own foreign language experiences, focusing on the written aspect of the language has hindered my ability to speak and understand it when spoken. This is mostly due to the fact that I am a VERY visual learner and NOT strong at auditory learning. I think there was still enough variety in this course to make it worthwhile for students like myself, who really need to focus on listening and speaking to become proficient, but because of this aspect, I didn’t like the Grade 3-5 course as much as I did the one for Grades K-2.
The only other issue we had was that because this course was building upon what Elijah has learned in the Spanish 1 course, it was beyond my own knowledge of the language. He struggled a little more in this course, but now I’m not able to help him nearly as much. Most of the time just going back and repeating some of the introductory lessons in the unit was enough to answer his questions and get him back on track, but I could see where it might be helpful to have the teacher support, which is available for an additional cost.
Overall, I still think Middlebury is a great option for families whose students need to work independently on learning a foreign language. I love the way the stories immerse the student in the language by using only Spanish, highlighting the vocabulary words to help them understand while getting them accustomed to hearing the language spoken fluently. My children may never speak Spanish completely fluently themselves, but Middlebury has at least given them a good foundation upon which to build.
About The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury
I’m pretty particular about what we focus on during the Christmas season, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we first started listening to these stories. I was pleased to find that not only were they all Christ-centered, they were thought-provoking as well. Here are some brief summaries of the eight stories we received.
Cootie McKay’s Nativity
When a small town’s cherished nativity scene is ruined, they commission a local man to create a new one for next year. The only trouble is, Cootie McKay is not only a little odd, he doesn’t even know the Christmas story. Over the course of the year, Cootie learns about Jesus, and his creation helps the whole town see the familiar figures in a new way.
Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster
When Jason gets irritated with his sister’s fascination with their “boring” manger scene, he pretends to blast it to bits, never expecting his wish to come true. “Captain Chaos” erases the birth of Jesus from history, and Jason sees how different life would be if he had not been born, gaining a new appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.
As a stranger comes knocking at the homes of members of a small church, fear and distrust threaten to taint their Christmas experience. On a snowy Christmas Eve, Sam’s family receives the dreaded knock, but his father only hesitates a moment before inviting the stranger in. The family is soon able to look past Jesse’s outward appearance and their Christmas is truly blessed as they open their home and hearts to him.
The Bishop’s Dream
Not just another re-telling of the story of Saint Nicholas, “The Bishop’s Dream” looks at the true historical man and places him a modern setting, imagining what he would think of the shift toward a holiday focused on Santa and presents rather than Christ.
Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest
Isaac is embarrassed by the plaid Christmas vest his father insists on wearing to church every year as soon as Thanksgiving has past until he learns about the story of Harold Grubbs and how God changed him.
Gladys Remembers Christmas
Gladys hasn’t had a joyful Christmas since she was six years old, just before her mother died. Years later, while packing up her father’s house, she finds their old manger scene, and discovers love for the the first time since childhood.
The Secret of Snow Village*
Catherine loves to look at her grandmother’s ceramic village. Somehow Christmas seems better for the small figures, though she can’t figure out what she’s missing until she visits the village herself and finds out what Christmas is really about.
It’s Called Christmas*
300 years in the future, Nook is puzzled when his “Happy Holiday” greeting is returned with the puzzling reply, “It’s called Christmas?” All traces of this word seem to have been erased, and it is no easy task for Nook to find out what Christmas is, but when he does, he sends a warning back to the past in hopes that Christmas can be saved for future generations.
*These final two of the stories are not included in the collection in the CD collection, though all eight are available in book format.
Todd Wilson says, “As the father of eight children, I wanted Christmas stories that took longer than 5 minutes to read, didn’t confuse the truth with a tale, and above all, pointed my children to the Savior. I couldn’t find any, so I wrote my own. My hope is that Cootie McKay”s Nativity will give you gobs of snuggling time, Christmas enchantment, and will point your children to the manger year after year. ”
He has certainly succeeded, and the stories will definitely become part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Ian really liked “Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster.” I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I think either “Cootie McKay’s Nativity” or “The Secret of the Snow Village” would be at the top of my list. I loved the creativity and variety in all these Christmas stories, and Jim Hodges is a wonderful storyteller whose warm voice draws you in as you listen. We enjoyed all of these stories so much, I’m looking forward to getting the two Easter stories for our family as well.
Each month, members have access to 8 pre-set meal plans:
My Experience With MyFreezEasy
There are several videos on the website to help you get started, so I watched those and read through all the information I could find before even glancing at the meal plans themselves. They really helped me understand how to use the program, and plan how I wanted to do my shopping and prep work. I chose to swap several meals and create a customized meal plan with a variety of different foods. I followed the suggested to do my shopping and prepping and different days, which was a good idea since my prep work took me almost two hours. (Maybe it will go faster next time, now that I have a little better idea of what I’m doing.)
I really liked the ease of printing the labels (there’s a link to Amazon to buy the right ones), though I wish they were smaller so they could all fit on one page (or if you could put 6 meals in your plan to fill up two pages rather than wasting two empty labels every time). Not only do they make it easy to know what’s in the bag, they include instructions for cooking and suggested sides for completing the meal.
We’ve had each meal at least once, and while some were more popular than others, for the most part they were well received. Here’s what I chose to make last month:
I’ve never made anything similar to this before, but for some reason it kept catching my eye as I went through the meal plans, so I decided to give it a try. It was good, very sweet (popular with the kids), but ours turned out a little dry. I think when I defrost my second bag of this, I’m going to throw it in the slow cooker to see how that turns out.
Chicken Fajita Bake
The instructions for this meal called for a disposable baking dish, but the next time I make it I think I’ll just put it in a freezer baggie (like all the other meals) and then dump the contents into a regular baking dish. I didn’t even attempt to serve this one to my picky kids, but my husband and I really enjoyed making burritos with it.
Chicken Taco Bake
This recipe combined several ingredients and spices to freeze. When it was time to cook, we just threw everything in a skillet to warm it up, then poured it over tortilla chips, sprinkled cheese on top, and popped it in the oven for ten minutes. So simple, yet it was really good, and I loved having the majority of the ingredients all thrown together when it was time to make dinner.
Cilantro Lime Chicken
This was my least favorite meal of the five we cooked, but it might have been because I had substituted coconut oil for the olive oil called for in the recipe and lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh squeezed limes. It just wasn’t quite as flavorful as I’d been hoping for, even with fresh cilantro, and I think I would have preferred using chicken breasts rather than thighs. Still, everyone ate it without complaint (and my kids are extremely picky eaters, so that’s saying something).
Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
I was highly skeptical of this recipe because it called for ground beef instead of stew meat like my mom always used for stroganoff and it just seemed too simple (Mom always used a seasoning packet, which for some reason led me to believe it was complicated to make). However, this turned out to be our favorite meal out of all the ones we tried. I actually made another two bags of sauce for the freezer because it was such a hit. I want to be sure we always have it on hand! Since the meat was cooked before freezing, I’m not sure why it’s labeled as a slow cooker meal. I did it stove top one time and it was still delicious. (I wish I’d gotten a picture of the final product, but we were all too eager to dive in!)
I loved how easy the whole process was, from selecting recipes, to shopping and preparation, and finally getting the meals on the table. When I’ve been pregnant in the past, my family has definitely had to scrape by when it comes to dinner, both in the early months when I struggled with nausea and then toward the end when I was exhausted and struggling to get everything done each day. I’m so excited to have MyFreezEasy this time.
I had ten meals in the freezer before I reached the nausea stage, and soon I’ll have another prep day and get it restocked. We found some new family favorites, and I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes this month!
(This post includes affiliate links.)
About this history series
Carole P. Roman has written dozens of books, including a series about cultures around the world that first used the title phrase “If You Were Me and Lived in…” Now she has a new series out with a similar idea, but this time looking at civilizations throughout history.
There are currently eight softcover books in this series for elementary aged children), each exploring a different historical setting: If You Were Me and Lived in…
- Ancient Greece
- Renaissance Italy
- Elizabethan England
- Colonial America
- Ancient China: The Han Dynasty
- the Middle Ages
- the American West
- Viking Europe
Each book introduces important events and people from that era, as well as information about homes, clothes, meals, education, games children played, and common names. Pronunciation guides help children learn new vocabulary words, and colorful illustrations on every page help them visualize the text.
Since we’re sort of covering two periods of history right now (one with our family history cycle and one with our homeschool community that meets once a week), I chose to review If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 6). Although varying lengths, both books were packed full of interesting information and were a great contribution to our studies.
When I chose If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America, I was expecting to read about life in the colonies before the American Revolution, but actually this book is limited to the experience of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation about a hundred years earlier. It begins with a discussion of the religious situation in England from the early 1500’s on, explaining why the the Separatists chose to leave the country and eventually headed for the New World. While mentioning the hardships that took the lives of many, the book doesn’t focus on how many people died, but rather talks about the accomplishments of the settlers who did make it through the first winter before moving on to details about the types of food you would have eaten, clothes you would have worn, and how you would have spent your time as a child living at Plymouth Plantation.
Although I find the title a bit misleading as far as the breadth of what is covered, I appreciated the information presented about these early settlers. Even if you’re not studying this period of history, this book would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving unit studying the Pilgrims.
The other book that fit in with our studies right now was If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages. Not only is the book almost twice as long as the one on “Colonial America” (97 pages), each page contains much more text and is more appropriate for upper elementary readers.
This is a fascinating look at life in the middle ages, covering a wide range of topics, from the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of feudalism, and William the Conqueror to the process of becoming a knight, religious life (including the building of cathedrals), and various vocations.
There’s so much here, we haven’t even gotten all the way through the book yet.
The publisher also generously sent us two additional titles to review.
Although I haven’t read any of this book with the kids yet, If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty will be a great resource to pull out the next time we cover ancient history. The Hans ruled from 206 BC until 220 AD, one of the longest dynasties in Chinese history. This period is often called the Golden Age of Ancient China, so the book provides an intriguing look at a unique civilization that in many ways was so different than that of the Ancient Romans living at the same time.
It is similar to the book on the Middle Ages as far as the reading level, with multiple paragraphs on each pages, though this one is only 76 pages long (including the pages on Important People in Ancient China and the glossary). I’m looking forward to going through it with the kids in the future.
If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 2)
Our homeschool group will be moving onto the Renaissance this week, so we’re almost ready to pull out If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy. With a special focus on Florence, this book looks at many of the exciting subjects that were being explored during the Renaissance, such as architecture, art, and music. It covers what life would be like as a child in the family of a wealthy merchant.
At 53 pages, this book is similar to the one we read on Colonial America as far as length, font size, and the amount of text on each page.
Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew received different titles in this series, so if you want to find out more about those, click on the banner below to get to their reviews!
Fast forward a few years, and we have been blessed to become familiar with the work of Heirloom Audio Productions, a fabulous company that is bringing Henty back for a new generation by creating exciting audio dramas of some of his most popular novels. Their latest creation is none other than my old favorite, The Cat of Bubastes. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to review this CD set.
About The Cat of Bubastes
The Cat of Bubastes tells the story of Amuba, a young man who grew up as a prince but is taken to Egypt as a slave after his people are conquered in battle. He and his father’s friend Jethro (who was given the order to protect him) become faithful servants to the Egyptian high priest Ameres, a man hungry for spiritual truth. Through his friendship with Ameres’ son Chebron, Amuba becomes familiar with Egyptian spiritual beliefs, including the sacredness of cats. They also befriend some Israelites and learn about the one true God. When Chebron accidentally kills the family’s honored cat, the boys must flee Egypt and head to Amuba’s homeland, where he fights to reclaim his throne.
Along with the CD set of the audio adventure, we were given the following bonuses:
- The Cat of Bustastes on MP3
- eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter (pdf)
- ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
- A beautiful printable pdf poster with inspirational quote
- cast poster (pdf)
- soundtrack (mp3)
- “Behind the Scenes of The Cat of Bubastes“ (mp4 video download)
- “God Meant It for Good”
- “The Knowledge of God”
- “Idolatry and Tyranny”
Finally, the study guide concludes with more historical background information.
Although the boys and I have been enjoying adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions for the past few years, my husband has only recently discovered them, as he entertained himself on long overnight drives during our road trip this summer by listening to all the past recordings. So when we went on a weekend getaway recently, he was excited that we had something new. Our whole family enjoyed listening to The Cat of Bubastes together. As the excitement built and the boys are rescued by an Egyptian Prince, even my husband couldn’t help blurting out, “Moses!” when they asked his name. It was so fun getting to enjoy the story together.
The great thing about Henty’s adventures is that they’re not just exciting adventures, they bring history to life. I love that as we listened to The Cat of Bubastes my children were learning about life in Ancient Egypt, their culture and religion, and even getting some insight into what life was like for the Israelites during their time of captivity. It helped make the Bible more real to them, and that’s more than any textbook could do.
I don’t often find the time to read fiction these days, so I was thankful for the opportunity to review a new book called The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles by Mark S. Mirza (published by CTM Publishing Atlanta). I was intrigued by the premise of the novel, namely, the power of prayer in the lives of believers and the role of both angels and demons as they interact with the human world. At 372 pages, I wouldn’t call this softcover novel a “light” read, but by using the medium of historical fiction, the author is able to convey a lengthy teaching on prayer in an entertaining manner without it getting dry.
The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles follows three mostly separate story lines, all taking place in different eras (although the same angels and demons are involved in each one).
In the 1st century, the book follows the journey of a young man named Thales, who is discipled by his uncle Epaphras (based on the biblical Epaphras, a leader in the church of Colossae), and those with whom he shares the good news about Christ.
The second story line follows the ministry of a 19th Century traveling preacher. A Northerner who feels called to minister in the south, Alexander Rich devotes his life to prayer and ministering to the people around him, from Confederate soldiers in the beginning of the book, to his neighbors in a small town whose gossipy ways could destroy his ministry as the book progresses.
Finally, in the current day, the book introduces the reader to a college track coach named Dale, who also leads the men’s prayer ministry at his church. He and his wife Margie have a powerful prayer life, and that guides them as they minister both in the church and at the college where they both work as they interact with students and other faculty.
The book jumps back and forth between these three eras. Throughout all three stories, the reader is privy to the workings of demons and angels who are assigned to thwart or help the Christians in their work for the Lord (with the same ones being present in the lives of the main characters across the span of history).
What I thought of The Pray-ers/Book 1 Troubles
To be honest, I had a hard time getting into the novel. The characters seemed exaggerated: the “Pray-ers” were too perfect to feel real, and many of the others they encountered seemed like caricatures. Consequently it took me a long time to warm up to them. By the middle of the book I was engaged enough to want to keep reading to find out what happened, though I found the ending lacking resolution. (Perhaps this is because the author has written a sequel, which should be released in the next few months.)
I’m normally a fast reader, but I found a few repeated distractions that slowed me down. The author, Mark S. Mirza, feels a strong conviction about not showing any respect to Satan or his demons, so he refuses to capitalize their names. I appreciate the sentiment, but by ignoring the conventions of English, I felt like it not only made it more difficult to read smoothly, it actually called more attention to those characters, which I’m sure was not his intent. I found myself skipping over (or at most, skimming) the passages about the demons because I prefer to read quickly and I found those sections frustratingly slow to get through because I had to really concentrate on where the names were.
The other thing I found distracting was the number of errors throughout the book. I kept having to stop a re-read certain “sentences” because they didn’t make sense the first time through. Most of the time when I went back over them I realized they weren’t complete sentences (or sometimes they were just phrased awkwardly or punctuated incorrectly). With careful editing this problem could easily be remedied.
There were many things I enjoyed about the book, however. I appreciate the Mirza’s use of fiction to share his message, and as long as the reader goes in knowing that this was his intent, the didactic tone will probably be acceptable. Throughout the book there are footnotes containing Scripture references for those who want to see the biblical basis for what they are reading. (That’s not to say I agreed with every bit of theology, but for the most part I felt comfortable with the Mirza’s interpretation and artistic license.) His notes at the back of the book are also helpful for understanding both the characters and some of the thoughts behind the writing of the book.
Overall, I would say The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles encouraged me in my own habits of prayer by modeling a lifestyle of continual prayer through the characters. It also reminded me to be more aware of the spiritual realm and the battle the is going on around us. If you prefer to read fiction books and are looking to grow in your prayer life, you could find this book to be both enjoyable and helpful.
KidsEmail.org allows parents to set up email accounts for their children (up to 6 accounts) with more control than a traditional email service would allow. From controlling what senders are allowed to write to their children, to receiving copies of emails, to restricting when children are allowed to access their inbox, KidsEmail.org has many features parents will appreciate.
There are three types of accounts that can be set up:
Once you’ve chosen what option will work best for your child, you can customize exactly what features you want them to be able to access. Settings can be altered for individual child accounts or for all of them at once. Here’s what the “Safety Settings” look like in the parent controls.
It’s not just the parental controls that make KidsEmail.org appealing. The set-up is very kid-friendly, and there also features kids will appreciate:
They can choose their own background themes.
They can create drawings within their emails (though I couldn’t quite figure out all the functions in that panel).
I was really impressed by how much KidsEmail.org allowed me to customize our family’s email experience. I signed both of my older boys up right away and set to work getting familiar with the parental controls. It was really helpful to be able to establish what I wanted for both of them at the same time.
It was also easy to create a global contact list that is accessible for every child on my account. Since they aren’t really old enough to have friends with email addresses, the only contacts I allowed for them were myself, my husband, and their grandparents.
Elijah was the only one interested enough to sign on and get started. He started emailing Grandma right away.
They ended up corresponding back and forth several times before we went on a trip and then he forgot all about it until I asked him about it. (He also emailed Grandpa, but that correspondence fizzled out quicker for some reason.)
Even though my kids get to see their grandparents fairly regularly, I think this is going to be a fun tool for them to communicate more, and I hope they will take advantage of it. As they get older, I’ll gladly add others to their list of approved contacts and help them learn to use some of the other features.
About the CHSH Download Club
The CHSH Download Club gives members easy access to over 50,000 pages of educational downloads. Memberships can be purchased for 1 year ($25) or a lifetime ($99.99), and members have the unlimited ability to download any the files shared on the site. Most have been uploaded by CHSH’s creator, Lynda Ackert, but other members can also share files they have created (or have permission to share).
It is extremely easy to search for documents to suit your family, as they are listed in a variety of ways: by subject, by grade level (above), and by months (below).
I try not to rely too much on worksheets for my kids, so I wasn’t sure how much I was going to use my membership. However, I have found that my preschooler really enjoys having pages to color and work to complete. I ended up using the CHSH Download Club quite a bit to find worksheets and activities for her to do while my older boys were doing their own school work.
It was really easy to find work for her. First I went into the preschool section and found a few topics that I thought would interest her. She loved coloring a picture of the planets in the solar system as she listened to the boys do a lesson from their astronomy course. She was also excited to create her own “All About Me” book.
It was really handy to have one place where I could find so many pages for Arianna. I love the idea of the CHSH Download Club, where homeschool families can share ideas, and I look forward to seeing it grow. There are already so many pages available, and if more members add files, it could be an even more helpful resource for homeschool families.