Friday, September 28, 2012

Box of Ideas-SALT (Schoolhouse Review)

Salt (Physical Box) 

A Box of IDEAS is a ready-t0-use box of activities, all on a specific subject. Each box includes 10 or more modules of activity-based learning activities that include games and experiments. The topics include: Pigs, World War 2, Eleven, Salt, Quilting, and Laundry.
We got to try the Salt module. Ours actually came in PDF form, so I had to print out all the pages myself, assemble them into file folders, and find a few supplies to use. It took a couple of hours of my time, but then I was ready to go.

I put the colorful file folders in a basket and left it sitting out in the kitchen. Emily, who was on vacation the week I assembled the folders, and had been watching suspiciously lest I “make” her do school on her vacation, didn’t let much time go by before she was peeking into the folders to check them out! The surprise factor of this approach has something going for it!
The Salt topics include:
  • The science of salt
  • The history of salt
  • The language of salt
  • The Salt March
  • Preserving with salt
  • and more…..
The learning modules in the “Salt” Box of Ideas can be used in any order. Each time we did one, Emily picked a folder at random to try. Our first module, “Preserving with Salt,” included information on the topic, several internet links (with experiments), and a game. She enjoyed preserving apple slices using baking soda, Epsom salt, and table salt.

One of the activities for “The Language of Salt” was matching idioms (such as “back to the salt mines” ) and place names (Salzburg) with their meanings or origins.
Other activities include a timeline game that teaches the role salt has played throughout history, making a bar graph to compare the amount of salt produced in various locations, and an experiment that tests the effect of salt on melting ice. With the help of online videos and websites, we learned about mining salt, extracting it from sea water, and “visited” an underground cathedral in Poland made of salt. Most of the modules included card games with nice colorful drawings and photographs.
We have thoroughly enjoyed this cross-curricular study. Who knew that there was so much to study on the topic of salt! The activities generally take about an hour or two to complete, although the time could be longer if we spent longer on the internet links. We usually just picked one or two of the links to skim through.
The PDF download of Salt sells for $49 and the physical box sells for $79. Extra student modules  sell for $4.00.  The program is designed for ages 9-16.
Other members of the Schoolhouse Crew reviewed SALT and WW2-Pearl Harbor. Click below to read about their experiences!

Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Crew, I received a free Box of Ideas unit in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homeschooling an “Only”

Once upon a time, I was a busy homeschooling mom of three. Many times, I felt like I was juggling—keeping all three busy and learning, running from one extra-curricular activity to the next, and so on. I loved it, but it was busy busy busy. My first three went on to public high school and now are in college or through with college.

My youngest child is eight years younger than her sister, so while her homeschool years overlapped homeschooling with her next oldest sister for a couple of years, for the most part, she has been the only one home during the school day, and, for the past two years, the only child living at home. In addition, my husband has not lived at home for the past 5 years, so it really is just the two of us most of the time!

Honestly, I loved having three or four kids at home. The kids played well together, often worked on unit studies or science experiments together, and kept our home lively. But there are advantages to homeschooling an “only” as well.

1. I think that, in many ways, I have a closer relationship with Emily than I did with the older kids. With several children, life divides between “mom” and “kids.”  With one child, we end up being more like friends because we’re each the only one there to “hang out” with the other.

2. Because we’re not tied to schedules of other children (or in my case, a husband), we can take more field trips and travel more. For many years, I had at least one child in public school, which kept up tied to their schedule. This fall, I hope to visit some friends in Florida for a few weeks. We’ll just take Emily’s schoolwork and my work along. Obviously, this is an option for any homeschooling family, but it’s easier to just pick up and go with just one child.

3. I do have to make more efforts to get Emily together with other kids, especially other homeschoolers, so she has someone other than me to hang out with, though! In the past, we’ve hosted various weekly or monthly activities in our home—art classes, science clubs, and so on.  I did this with the older kids too, but it’s probably more important for me to make the effort now.

4. Having just one child at home gives me a bit more time for work or for leisure. I’ve done occasional speech therapy for years, but didn’t start writing and blogging until I was down to one child.

It’s a different season of life for me now, but still good. Just different!

Please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Cruise to read more about homeschooling an “only!”


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The River (Review)

I was surprised to learn that The River is the first book that Michael Neale has written. The plot, language, and themes were those I would expect from a more seasoned author.  The poetic language made it a pleasure to curl up with and to escape from the busyness of my world for a couple of afternoons.

This novel tells the story of a young boy, Gabriel, whose father tragically dies in a river accident. From that point on, Gabriel is afraid of the water, afraid of new things, risk, and even other people. As he grows up, however,  “The River” keeps calling him back with its beauty, its excitement, its danger, and its mystery, eventually leading him to discover his purpose in life.

The novel drew me in from the first page with compelling characters and a storyline that made me want to just keep reading.  I loved how the author personified “The River” as one who knew Gabriel better than he knew himself and as a path that he was destined to follow.  This was a book that I was sad to see end, but it left me with thoughts  to chew on.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Family Fitness (Schoolhouse Review)

Fitness 4 Homeschool - Physical Education Curriculum

A formal PE program is not something that has been a part of our homeschool. The kids played recreational league soccer, basketball, and/or swim team at times. My older kids took Gymnastics lessons for a few years. So, they weren’t actually couch potatoes, but exercise was off and on. Emily does play outside and ride her bike a lot, but that’s about it except during soccer season. Years ago, I did briefly use a formal homeschool PE program with my older children. While I think it was pretty good, it wasn’t laid out in a manner that was very easy to use. I had to pick and choose activities, make my own lesson plans, and it was just easy to forget about.

When I asked Emily if she was interested in trying the Family Time Fitness, she was very enthusiastic about the idea. (She’s my most active child. Believe me, this would not have been my reaction at her age!)

The Fitness 4 Homeschool Program consists of PDF files that include 260 unique daily lesson plans. Each day includes 8-12 activities from warm-up to cool-down that include both written instructions and a link to a you-tube demonstration. Individual activities are repeated periodically, but no day is the same as any other.  The activities include yoga stretches, crab walks, jumping, skipping and hopping, balancing, push-ups, games, and more.  An optional outdoor activity is also included each day. We found that about half of the outdoor activities were games that required 3 or more players. Everything else was doable for just Emily and me. I really like that this can be done inside (eliminating bad weather as an excuse not to exercise!) By moving our coffee table out of the way, we had enough room to do the program.









Look at the scope and sequence to see all of the skills that are covered. Each day’s activities take 30-45 minutes to complete.

Fitness 4 Homeschool is designed for every age and ability level. Most activities are easy enough for a 5 year old to do, but strenuous enough to leave both my 12 year old and me sore some days!  Emily is enjoying the program and I’m already seeing improvement in some of her skills, such as jump roping and stretches. I’ve also noticed that she seems to concentrate on her seatwork better after 30 minutes of good exercise!  We found the program easy to follow and fun to use. I am very impressed by all the work that went into the preparation of this program and highly recommend it!


The Fitness 4 Homeschool Program sells for only $57 and  includes lifetime access to any updates. If you are interested in trying it out, a  free trial is available on the website.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received  this program free in order to write this review. All opinions are my own. 


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

12 years ago….

Twelve years ago (yesterday), we made the trip to Guatemala to bring home 3 1/2 month old Emily. Katie (8), came with us, so she was the first of the siblings to meet her little sister. We stayed in Antigua, Guatemala for 4 days to obtain Emily’s visa and take care of other final paperwork, and to do a little sightseeing.

I’m so thankful for the blessing she has been to our family!



Monday, September 10, 2012

The History of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express (Schoolhouse Review)


The History of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express DVD, sold by Marshall Publishing ($19.95), is a 50 minute video for students (and adults) 4th grade and up.

The videos used footage of well known landmarks on the Oregon trail, beautiful films of the landscape, and photos of art and sculpture that depicted the travelers. The narration was informative, explaining the varied reasons that travelers made the difficult trip west, such as mission work, religious freedom (Mormans), lust for gold, and the desire for land and a better life. Narration by “travelers” was included, which I assume came from diaries and added a personal touch. 

A few years ago, we took a trip west, following much of the Oregon trail. The films reminded me of the landscape and landmarks that we visited on our trip. Emily was only three, but remembers bits of the vacation, and was interested to hear that we saw this or that landmark that was shown on the video. I think she does remember a museum in Independence, MO, where the kids got to actually pack a wagon with the necessities for the trip.

We’re hoping to make a similar trip in the next year, so we anticipated that as we watched, too.

Although I knew basic facts about the Pony Express, the video brought it to life for me, teaching about the individual men who birthed the idea and their successes and failures in its implementation. It was such a short blip (19 months) in our country’s history, but one that captures our imagination.

Since these were basically  documentaries, I can’t say that Emily found them exciting to watch, but I thought that they were very well done and we both learned a  lot.

Discussion and activity questions and research activities are available for both before and after viewing to enhance the learning experience of this DVD. We looked at a topographical map to guess the route of the Oregon Trail before we watched, then compared our guess to the actual route. There are also some diary writing suggestions and research ideas to further delve into the topic.

Note: I had some trouble getting the DVD to play on either of my DVD players. I contacted customer service and they responded quickly to send me a replacement DVD. The second one didn’t work either, so I can only assume that there was some sort of format incompatibility. I was assured by Marshall Publishing that this was not a common occurrence. We were able to view it with no problems on our computer.

The History of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express DVD sells for $19.95. Use t”he code, “TOS27” to receive free shipping! Marshall Publishing also produces many other DVD’s for various ages, several of which were reviewed by other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received  this DVD  free in order to write this review. All opinions are my own. 


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Labor Day Trip

We made the 6 hour trip to visit my sister and her family in South Carolina last weekend and had a great time visiting. Since we’ve been schooling all summer and haven’t traveled anywhere since May, it was a nice break.

On the way, we stopped for a break at Desoto Falls in Mentone, AL. Emily enjoyed climbing on the rocks and it was a nice place to stretch our legs.







Our busy weekend included swimming……




a trip to the zoo…










playing in the water in the river…..




and a hike in a nearby state park.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First Week of School

We did “light” schooling all summer this year, partly to do some catching up and partly because we had a lot of review items that we had to use anyway, so I figured we might as well make it official “school time.”  I’d like to take some time off to travel during the regular school year, so now that we’re ahead on our school days, that will be easy to do.

As the local public schools were just starting up in mid-August, we started a two week vacation. We officially started our fall semester on Tuesday.

7th Grade!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Math 911 (Schoolhouse Review)

Math 911 is math software designed for students who struggle with mastering math skills. It uses a mastery approach that does not penalize students for incorrect answers, but allows them to work at each concept until it is mastered.

The Introductory Algebra course may be downloaded for free at Math 911. It is a full introductory algebra course. Topics are arranged by chapter, section and levels. Within each level are all the types of problems that identify the concepts that your students must know in order to be successful in algebra including graphs and word Problems.

  • All problems are algorithmically generated.

  • 10 minute learning curve.

  • Step by Step solutions.

  • Only Free-form answers.

  • Dynamic Grade reports on all screens.

  • Needs no internet connection.

  • Can be networked.

  • Free Home Use For Teachers

  • Free Upgrades

  • Free Install on New PCs

An upgrade to the Premier Version ($49.95) includes access to these additional courses: intermediate algebra, statistics, trigonometry, college algebra, and pre-calculus! I can’t attest to the completeness of the upper level courses, since we didn’t spend time with them, but there is definitely a LOT of practice material included in this one program!

The problem is printed at the bottom of the page. The student types the answer into the box. When a sufficient number of correct answers have been given in a section, then that section is marked as mastered. For each problem, a step-by-step solution is provided if the student needs help.


A chart shows the student’s progress.


Our Thoughts: The first thing I noticed was that the program was very simple in appearance. It actually looks like an old DOS program. (The website also has an outdated feel.) This didn’t seem to bother Emily, though, who likes the program and is progressing rapidly through the first sections.

I would hesitate to call it a “full program”  because no actual teaching is done, although it definitely has the content of a full program. If the student doesn’t know how to work a problem, his only option is to study the solution to figure out how it is done. I think most students would require actual teaching before working a new type of problem.  The website does have free downloadable pdf’s for algebra that teach the concepts, but these teaching helps are not provided for the upper level courses. It does seem very thorough, though, and would be an excellent no-frills practice program.

I think that the price of $49.95 is a bargain for the huge amount of content—five high school level math courses!

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received  this software  free in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.