Monday, March 31, 2014

Captivated (Schoolhouse Review)

Captivated Movie Review
Everywhere I look these days, I see evidence of children, teens, and adults addicted to media…preschoolers playing with  iPads and their parents’ iPhones, boys spending hours playing video games, and teens and adults texting on their cell phones instead of interacting with the people around them. Technology is a wonderful thing, but I think that most of us acknowledge that it can be easy to abuse or over-use. The Captivated DVD, produced by Media Talk 101, takes a serious look at the history of media in society and the positive and negative effects of media consumption in our current world. While watching this DVD, I learned a lot, heard about many of the studies that have been done about the effects of media, and heard personal testimonies about individuals’ experience with TV, video games, and cell phones.
Captivated would be of interest to teens and adults. I’ll admit that my 13 year old wandered in and out while it was playing, but didn’t watch the whole movie. (I think she was afraid of what she might hear!)
What I learned and heard:
  • We think of media use as a modern invention, but the age of media usage (and abuse) actually began in the mid-1800’s with the invention of the telegraph! Telegraph operators chatted and played games, such as checkers, long-distance with each other. This sometimes interfered with the work they were supposed to be doing! A nineteenth-century novel even chronicles the tale of a couple who fell in love, sight unseen, over telegraph communication!
  • One concern about media consumption is the time spent on the activity. Whether computer or TV usage is beneficial or not, it still consumes time that could be spent with others, working, exercising, creating, or even sleeping. 
  • Media usage affects the brain.  One speaker claimed that “The more television you watch, the dumber you get!”  Numerous studies were cited, showing that screen time really does affect the brain. Playing video games can produce a drug-like “high,” making the players to want/need more and more. In fact, playing games on big or small screens can trigger a response in the brain that gives the player a feeling that he or she has accomplished something.  (Think of all the young adult males who prioritize gaming over work and relationships and other responsibilities.)
  • Media usage affects children’s development. Children that watch more that 1/2 hour a week of media use use have higher rates of ADHD and behavior problems.
  • Media promotes self-absorption, causing us to be less other-focused and less relational. Note the YouTube slogan, “Broadcast Yourself!” Are most of us really that remarkable that we need to be broadcast to the world?
  • Media influences behavior in both positive or negative ways. Studies have long shown that children exposed to violent programming tend to behave more aggressively with others. Producers certainly understand this fact, and for many years, have shaped society’s values and behavior through television and movies. It is so easy for us to believe that a show is innocent fun while we are being influenced by negative attitudes or gratuitous s*x.  David Frost says, “Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.”

In addition to the full-length Captivated movie, the disc also includes several hours of bonus material, consisting of full interviews with many of the experts that contributed to this documentary. I tend to skip over the bonus material on DVD’s, but found this well worth watching, since it went more in depth on many of the issues.

While the Captivated DVD does address the many dangers of media consumption, it also acknowledges the benefits. It is certainly hard to imagine our lives without the advantages of cell phones and the internet. These tools can be time savers and are very useful in education, communication, and business. Watching TV and movies can be an enjoyable way for families to spend time together. But, I think that most of us agree that there are negative effects as well. We each need to make decisions for ourselves and for our families as to what place media will have in our lives and how much time it will consume. I think that Captivated is an excellent tool for opening discussion on this topic and in aiding families to discern possible limits.

The Captivated DVD sells for $16.95 (free shipping), with discounts for purchases of larger quantities.

Connect with Captivated, the Movie:

Twitter: @CaptivatedMovie


  Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Teaching Language Usage or Pragmatics to Your Child

 pragmatics button

This is an excerpt from my book, Language Lessons: From Listening Skills to Conversation (available in PDF or Kindle format).

The ultimate purpose of language is to communicate. The ability to communicate well has many components, including auditory memory and comprehension, syntax or grammar, vocabulary, and processing spoken language and formulating a reply. Non-verbal actions are also part of the communication process. All of these skills are pulled together into language usage in the area of "pragmatics." Children who have trouble relating appropriately to others may have difficulty in this area. They may not answer questions or carry on conversations in a socially acceptable manner. They may talk too much or jump from one topic to another inappropriately. They may not have picked up on the expected social responses to phrases such as "thank-you" or "How are you?" Typically, children absorb the usage and nuances of communication with others without a lot of specialized instruction. But if they do not, specific behaviors and responses must be taught one by one.

Does your child…

· make eye contact when speaking and listening to others?

· respond to questions?

· ask questions and wait the answers?

· stay on topic in conversation?

· share the conversation rather than monopolizing it?

· exhibit turn-taking skills in conversation?

· use appropriate voice volume levels?

Can your child…

· answer the questions, "How are you?", "What is your name?" or "Do you like to _______?"

· give the appropriate response to "thank-you?", "good-bye," or "hi?"

· answer questions about a favorite book or TV show?

· ask for help when needed?

· listen to a speaker attentively?

· express his feelings when he is sad, happy, hungry, or angry?

· politely ask for what he wants rather than giving commands?

· give a compliment?

· politely ask the speaker to repeat something that he didn't hear or understand the first time?


Here are some ideas for practicing pragmatic language skills with your child:

Practice "mirroring." Make facial expressions or strike poses and have your child imitate you. Then let the child have a turn leading.

Make facial expressions. See if your child can identify the emotion (sad, excited, angry) that you are displaying.

Practice conversations while your child thinks about facing the speaker and making eye contact.

Identify skills (including those in the above list) that your child needs to learn. Have conversations to specifically practice those responses and behaviors.

Play act different scenarios to let your child practice responding appropriately. ("I'm so sad. My dog just died." "Guess, what? We're going to Disney World!" "I am angry at you.")

Say a sentence for your child to repeat. Have him say it in a monotone, then repeat it, using a lot of expression. You may need to model the intonation for him.

When your child uses a vague phrase, such as, "Where is that stuff?," model a more descriptive sentence, such as "Where is the toothpaste?"

Contrast loud and soft voices. Have your child learn to monitor his volume levels by saying something loudly, then softly. Talk about appropriate voice use in different settings. You may want to develop a nonverbal cue to give him when he needs a reminder.

Play board games to practice turn-taking.

Pass an object back and forth during a conversation. Only the person holding the object may speak. This helps the child alternate between listening and responding. This technique can be helpful with children who interrupt. It can also be a useful way to illustrate the need to ask a question or make a statement that encourages the other person to respond and keep the conversation going.

Have your child think of two questions he could ask in response to each statement.

· I made $35 at my lemonade stand last Saturday!

· My birthday is next week.

· I just got back from the doctor's office and he put my arm in a cast.

· My sister took me to the movies last night.

· I just got a new puppy!

· I am so mad at Jerry!

· I am taking swimming lessons.

· I really like school.

· I am going to the beach next month.

Ask your child to restate each command or remark in polite way.

· Give me a cookie! (May I have a cookie, please?)

· Don't touch me!

· Wear your hat.

· Give me some money for lunch.

· Close the door!

· I want a new toy.

· Your clothes are a mess!

· You never share.

· This room looks like a pigsty.

Teach your child how to apologize by saying, "I'm sorry. Will your forgive me?" or whatever phrase you prefer. Play act various scenes to let him practice responding.

Use play phones to practice making phone calls to these places. Help your child plan what to say before each call.

· grandparents

· the library—Find out the hours of operation

· 911

· pizza restaurant—Order a pizza.

· grocery store—Ask if they have Cheerios in stock.

· a friend—Invite him or her over for dinner.

· your mother—Ask her to pick you up from swimming lessons at 3:30.

· a neighbor—Tell her that her dog is loose.

· the doctor--Make an appointment.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

TV Station Tour

Last week, our homeschool group enjoyed a tour of a local TV station. We arrived in time to watch the 12:00 noon news. During the breaks, our guide, who also happened to be one of the meteorologists, explained everything to us—the sets, the scripts, what happens when there is breaking news, and so on. After the show, the kids all had a turn sitting at the anchor desk and trying to give a weather report in front of the green screen. Okay, I admit, I took a turn with the green screen too! It was actually harder than it looked to point to the correct spot while watching the monitor.

photo 2

After seeing the studio, we walked through the newsroom and other offices, then paid a visit to the control room, where we got a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes action.

It was a fun trip, and it has been fun afterward to recognize the sets and the weather person that we now “know” on the daily news broadcasts! If you are looking for field trip ideas, ask if your local TV station gives tours!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mango Languages (Schoolhouse Review)

Mango Languages Review
We have tried out quite a few foreign language programs—several Spanish programs and a couple of Latin ones. Learning Spanish has been our priority, so that’s been great for us. But what if we want to learn some more unusual languages? Enter Mango Languages! Mango Languages offers over 60 different language courses through their online programs. This is amazing! Want to learn Irish or Russian or Polish? Or maybe you want to learn or experiment with Yiddish, Tagalog, Japanese, or Hawaiian. Or even---PIRATE! How fun!
As members of the Schoolhouse Crew, our family was given a 1-year subscription to the new Mango Homeschool Edition to try out. There are some great features in the Mango Homeschool Edition:
  • Access to multiple languages for each family member. (I can learn 3 languages at a time, if I choose, and my children can each choose a different language.)
  • Ability to track the progress of my children.
  • A collaborative language-learning community.
  • Useful for ages 6 to adult.

I was excited to try this out, because I wanted to improve my own Spanish speaking ability. I had 4 years of high school Spanish (a very long time ago), so beginning programs aren’t much help to me. I can still read Spanish fairly well, but my understanding and speaking ability is poor, and most verb conjugation beyond the present tense—Forget it!

Emily was eager to use it because—well, frankly—she likes to try out new things. I liked that this was something she could use independently.

Our Experience:

I found that the initial sign on experience and user interface was a bit complicated. We were provided videos that clearly explained how to set up accounts, link accounts, and choose languages. These were very helpful and made the process easy, but the process would have been confusing without them. Basically, we had to sign into the Mango Homeschool Community site, where there is an opportunity to participate in chats and discussions with other users as well as sign up for any of the language instruction. From there, we had to sign into the particular language and log into the instructional page for that language.

Since I’ve studied Spanish before, I started with a placement test. I listened to dialogues, answered questions, and assembled sentences, then was placed in Chapter 6 of Journey One (the first of 4 units). Since much of the content was still review for me, I was able to progress quite quickly, finishing Journey One in just a couple of weeks. I’m currently working through Journey Two.Mango Spanish Lesson

This is how Mango works: Each chapter begins with a dialogue. Then the dialogue is broken down into words and phrases, with each part being taught separately. A word or phrase is spoken, the learner repeats it, then is quizzed on the next screen. The phrases and sentences gradually become longer and more complex. Grammar is not taught separately, but is instead interwoven into each lesson, with concepts such as verb conjugation and proper usage of plurals and adjectives taught as they are needed. After a concept is introduced in one context, another slide may expect the learner to generalize it to another situation.

Before you know it, you are speaking lengthy sentences in the foreign language! Because of the incremental approach, learning is almost effortless! Grammar helps and cultural information are interspersed throughout each lesson.

Mango Spanish language lesson

I have really enjoyed using Mango, finding it almost addictive. I tend to do several lessons at a sitting, even if I sat down planning to do just one!

Mango Language’s focus is primarily for the traveler; the concepts taught include concepts such as:

  • asking for directions
  • greetings, names, and introductions
  • dining
  • numbers and currency
  • shopping and payment

These topics are, of course, useful for any language learner, but the focus is less on classroom vocabulary, writing, and grammar memorization than you might find in a more traditional academic program. I do think that the reading-hearing-repeating-producing approach might be more effective than the typical textbook approach, though.

There is not a written component built in, but this would be fairly easy to add, by having the student construct a written dictionary from vocabulary learned, or by making quizzes from the PDF course guide files that include the text of all the lessons as well as the grammar and cultural notes and a vocabulary review.

Emily has really enjoyed using Mango. She says, “I like Mango because it’s easy to use. It helps me learn Spanish better because it actually makes sure I know it! It has me repeat everything, which makes sure that I know it well and am ready to move on.”  (Because she has used other Spanish programs, the lessons at this point are probably 50% review for her, and this does make it easier than if she were a brand new learner.)

Additional Features:

The only time I used Mango’s community features was when I had a question about the upper levels of Spanish not being accessible. (It turned out that they were temporarily offline, but that problem was corrected.) Although the community features enable users to interact with each other, I wasn’t able to figure out why this would be particularly helpful for us.

I understand that more features will be available very soon in the Mango Homeschool Edition, such as goals and lesson plans, printable quizzes, recording of “seat time” and progress reports. I’m looking forward to these new features, because right now, I have to log on as Emily to see where she is in the program. It is also hard for me to determine what she has actually learned, rather than simply what lesson she is on. (She claims that she is mastering the lessons, and does tell me her score on the end of chapter tests, but at 13 years old, doesn’t like me hanging over her shoulder to watch her do her lessons. It will be great to have detailed reports and additional tools at my disposal.


1 subscription is $18/month or $125/year total 
2 subscriptions is $28/month or $175 /year total                     
3 subscriptions is $38/month or $225/year total                    
4 subscriptions is $48/month or $275/year total                
5 subscriptions is $58/month or $325/year total

Connect with Mango


Many of my fellow TOS Crew members also reviewed Mango languages. Please click on the banner below to read about their experiences with other languages.

Click to read Crew Reviews

I received a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mermaid Swim Tails


I’ve been busy over the past few weeks with my new business—making mermaid tails. Last summer, my sister started sewing mermaid tails for her daughters to swim in, then progressed to making and selling them on ebay and etsy. She’s phasing out her business to spend more time with her kids and I’m taking over the project myself. My guest/sewing room is now piled high with glittery fabric and costumes!  Emily can’t wait until summer so she can try out the tail I made for her in the pool.

It turns out that there is quite a demand for mermaid swim tails, and I’m already doing a brisk business! Please visit my MysticCoveMermaid shop on etsy if your little girl needs a mermaid tail!

(The cute models are my nieces.)




Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dial Deep Cleansing Hand Soap (Giveaway)

There is a newcomer to the Dial soap line-up: Dial Deep Cleansing Hand Soap. As a Purex Insider, I got to be one of the first to try this brand new product. This premium soap comes in three great scents:
  • Yellow Raspberry and Black Sugar
  • Water Blossoms
  • Coconut Lime Verbena
This deep cleansing hand soap features gentle micro-scrubbers that gently remove dirt from your hands while the skin conditioners moisturize your skin. The pretty bottles will add a splash of color to your kitchen or bathroom counter.
The first thing we noticed about the hand soap was the slightly gritty texture. I use face wash products with scrubbing particles in them, but having them in a hand soap was a new sensation. Not a problem, just different! It’s not an extremely gritty texture,  like the orange scented grease cutting cleaners, just not quite the usual silky soap feel. Emily didn’t like it, though. (She also won’t use face washes with scrubbing particles.)
We both loved the scents of the two varieties we tried, with the Coconut Lime Verbena being our favorite. As I’ve said before, I love hand and body products that smell good, so this was a big improvement over the typical “soap” scent! It even left my hands smelling nice! I plan to buy and try out the Yellow Raspberry and Black Sugar scent next.
Would you like a chance to try Dial Deep Cleansing Hand Soap for free? Two winners will each receive two coupons for free hand soap.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I received this product free in exchange for my honest opinion as a member of the Purex Insiders.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Some Thoughts About Creativity

Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.                                                    Henri Matisse

Those who do not think outside the box are easily contained.         Nicolas Manetta

Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.              Kurt Vonnegut

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.    Michelangelo

The Possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.                Emily Dickenson

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.                              George Smith Patton, “War as I Knew It,” 1947

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Super Star Learning Game Sale!

Are you interested in adding some educational games into your curriculum? I have always found that playing games is a great way to reinforce concepts and to make learning more fun. These are all games that I designed over the past several years to use in our home.

I have temporarily reduced the price of the Super Star Learning Games Bundle at Currclick to only $15. This bundle includes 15 different print-and-play games and covers the following topics:

  • Ancient Rome
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Egypt
  • American Colonies
  • Continents
  • Explorers
  • Inventors
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Insects
  • Planets
  • Spanish vocabulary
  • Old Testament
  • New Testament
  • American Revolution

This bundle usually sells for $24, but the price is reduced until March 30.





Saturday, March 1, 2014

Disney World

To finish up our Florida visit, we spent a day at Disney World with my friend, Becky. It was a very long day, since we had to drive 1 1/2-2 hours each way!  We spent most of the day at the Magic Kingdom, then a couple of hours at Epcot, hitting some of our favorite attractions.2014-02-25 17.59.56

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

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Chilling on the PeopleMover

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Buzz Lightyear

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