Monthly Archives: December 2008

Pending comment…

I had a pending comment on a post (not sure which one) and when I tried to click on it to see what it was, somehow I accidentally deleted it! So if you took the time to comment and it never showed up, my apologies. I hope to hear from you again, and promise to be much more careful with my clicks!!!

Because of spam I have the comments moderated. I approve them as soon as I see them, but I’ve been “away” since just before Christmas, so I don’t know when this particular comment was posted.

Anyhow, I just wanted you to know that I greatly appreciate your comments!

*wishing for some sort of “undo” function*
*spent 10 minutes looking for an undo function, but couldn’t find one*

TOS Crew: Peterson’s Handwriting

TOS Crew

One of the exciting things about being on this year’s TOS Homeschool Crew has been the opportunity to try new products, in all areas of learning.

Handwriting is something we’ve struggled with. Our eldest has beautiful cursive, but the younger two… Our middle child injured her right hand a few years ago, and uses that as an excuse for her all-too-often illegible scrawl. She can print fairly neatly when she puts her mind to it, but she hates cursive and her print deteriorates, the longer a writing session lasts, until the letters all run together and you can barely pick out one from another. Our youngest can print fairly neatly, but she also is challenged by cursive. She can trace it, but still needs work in formation.

Enter Peterson’s Directed Handwriting. (If you explore the website you’ll find  animated graphics and explanations to introduce you to the methodology.)

Now, I have to admit that the handwriting we did before we tried Peterson’s method was a mix of handwriting workbooks and copywork. I’m sure you’ve seen the sort of worksheet I’m talking about. A letter is introduced, you trace it, then you copy it across a line. Eventually you’re working on whole words, and then sentences.

Peterson’s Handwriting method takes a different approach. Rand Nelson, the creator, begins by teaching the parent about the connection between the brain, the eye, and the hand. Rhythm is an important component to shape formation. Basic shapes are formed, eventually leading to letter formation. The program starts with printing and leads to joined letters (cursive, in other words) over time.

The program comes with a CD containing teacher instruction and animated illustrations, plus a special pen with markings to help achieve the proper “hold,” and a placemat that helps with getting the right paper tilt and letter slant. (You can get a “basic” version without the CD, but frankly, I found the animations on the CD to be helpful in working with my children.) Online and telephone support is available before, during, and after parent training. I found Mr. Rand very helpful and prompt in answering my questions.

Gross motor versus fine motor coordination

With our eldest being a special learner, I’m already somewhat familiar with the terms “gross motor” (using large muscles, like shoulders and arms) and “fine motor” (think about wiggling your fingers or picking up tiny screws) skills, and how learning progresses from large muscle groups to the smaller. With our eldest, before she could develop fine motor skill and coordination (i.e. writing neatly with a pencil) we had to work on the skills using the larger muscles in her arms. We’d scrawl huge letters with sidewalk chalk, for example. Painting letters on the side of the house with a house painting brush and water was another exercise. Forming large letters in the air while spelling our spelling words aloud was another. As the movements got smaller, we traced letters in a pan of cornmeal, and eventually began to write.

Hmm. We didn’t do as much of this with the younger two. Perhaps there’s a connection there.

Anyhow, the approach advocated in Peterson’s Handwriting rang true with our experience, and so I thought we’d give it a try.

Impediments to learning

I ran into a few roadblocks.

– Our younger two are 10 and 12. They’ve already formed quite a few habits in their handwriting. Bad habits, from the way one of them holds a pencil, to the way the youngest forms some of her letters – learned and practiced and cemented when I was busy and not watching closely enough as she was working on letter formation in her early days.

– Character issues. Frankly, they didn’t want to do the drill they needed to re-program their brains and muscles. It was a struggle all the way. I can see where Peterson’s will work better either with younger children who are still forming habits, or with motivated older learners who want to improve their handwriting.

– Structure and physical requirements. Peterson’s Handwriting is a highly structured program, and if you want the best results you need to be consistent. One of our biggest problems was achieving the “ideal” writing posture! None of our chair-and-table combinations supports the posture in the illustrations. It appears to work well if you have school desks for your children; we don’t.

Results (for our family)

I feel like one of those ads you see on television, hear on radio, or read in a magazine or newspaper. “Individual results may vary.” Our results certainly have. Our most compliant child has shown the most improvement. Our most resistant child has improved a little, probably not as much as I’d like considering the time and effort invested. She’d still rather keyboard than write by hand.

If only I’d paid close attention while they were first forming their habits, when they were keen to learn to write “just like grownups”!

Keys to success

In summary, I’d say that Peterson’s looks like an excellent investment if one or more of the following is true:

– your children are still young and haven’t formed bad habits

– your children are struggling learners and need a little “extra”

– you have the discipline and dedication to follow a structured program

– your children (or you!) want to have beautiful handwriting and are motivated to work at it.

Homeschool kits are available in Basic and Complete forms for each grade (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, and Advanced or 5-8). Complete kits are $44.70 for Kindergarten level and $38.55 for the other levels. Complete kits contain Pupil Book, Teacher Handbook, Position Guides, Animated letter CD, Audio Cassette and special Pen or Pencil (triangle shaped, with guide marks to help the student with the right grip). Basic kits are $20.80 for Kindergarten and $15.05 for each of the rest, and have the same contents as the complete kits except for the Audio Cassette and Animated letter CD.  (Prices taken from the website’s PDF order form.)

To read more TOS reviews of Peterson’s Directed Handwriting, check out the links at this TOS Crew blog entry.

TOS Crew: Motherboard Press

TOS Crew

Our 12yo has been asking to learn computer programming for awhile now, and while I’ve done some looking for a way to teach this, I hadn’t found much, until Motherboard Books came to my attention. Some members of the Crew got computer science curriculum Computer Science Pure and Simple for older students,  Logoadventure for younger students. I was among those who received Let’s Make a Web Page for 8-12 year-olds, along with the author’s free Internet scavenger hunt.

I also signed up at the webpage for the author’s helpful newsletter, containing newsletter tips and interesting information. I’ve learned about the Logo computer language, for example. The author also talks about her own homeschooling experience, and announces special offers (such as free shipping, with a certain code from the newsletter).

Let’s Make a Web Page is a 60-page e-book in PDF format, written to the student, though of course the alert parent is probably reading over the student’s shoulder! (I know I did.) The course walks the student (“with some adult help”) through the making of a simple website, using downloadable CoffeeCup software (a 30-day free trial version) as your web page editor.

Your student can create a web page that you can view on your computer, or even upload to the Internet. It can be simple or fancy, as your student wishes. You can have fancy backgrounds, illustrations, even animations!

Screen shots are sprinkled liberally through the text so that you can compare the e-book with your computer screen to see how you’re doing.

I already know something about HTML, but a parent with very little knowledge would be able to use this book with their student to put together a webpage.

Things I like:

– The step-by-step instructions. The author frequently reminds you to save your work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with a frustrated child who did not (despite repeated reminders) save her work! Having it right there in the text is a big help!

– The screen shots. While computers may vary, the shots matched well with what we were seeing on the screen. The directions were clear enough for my student and me to follow along.

– The structure. First the author gives a short writing assignment, then leads the student through the process of coding the result into a webpage. The CoffeeCup editor allows you to move back and forth between visual (editing) mode and HTML mode.

As you change things around, you can see how the code changes, and with growing familiarity you’ll eventually be able to transition to where you don’t need an HTML editor at all–you’ll simply code in Notepad or some other text editor. At least, that’s how it’s happened for me. Our daughters already use simple HTML commands in their blogs. Let’s Make a Web Page is taking them to the next step!

(They loved this exercise, by the way, and are asking for more.)

Let’s Make a Web Page is available for $29.99, but right now the author is offering a discounted special price of $19.99. The author offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If your children are younger, check out the “Jr.” version available for 7-9 year olds.

Formats supported: Windows (including Vista) and Mac with Parallels Desktop

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Let’s Make a Web Page and other products from Motherboard books, click here.

Schoolhouse Planner, December Module: Let’s Be Scientists!

Take a good idea and make it better. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Well, I don’t know how easy it was to do, but the staff at The Old Schoolhouse have done just that with their Schoolhouse Planner and additional modules. The Planner itself is great, and if you want to read more about it, click here for my review.

But the additional modules are like the icing on the cake. They add so much!

The December Module is science oriented, just perfect for those junior engineers and scientists in your family. You know the ones I mean–in our family, it’s the one who took apart my sewing machine to see what made it work. And the one who helps with the “easy assemble” products that we’ve bought and then had to assemble at home, while trying to read English translations of Chinese poetry, or something like that.

Activities, and more!

Children are naturally curious, and there’s lots of fodder for them to chew on here (figuratively, of course). Before we get into talking about the activities you’ll find, however, I want to mention all the other pages, too!

Recipes for a crowd

There are yummy recipes perfect for this time of year: Company Chicken (casserole), Shrimp Casserole, and Refrigerator Cookies. The recipes are simple and well suited to making ahead–you can whip either or both of the casseroles up in the morning and put them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them, if you wish. Each one (or both together, for a buffet) will serve a crowd! The cookies are designed to be made ahead; you can store the dough in the refrigerator and slice and bake at a moment’s notice. Mmm, warm oven-fresh cookies!

Copywork pages

This month the copywork pages cover Genesis 1:1-31 and 2:1-2, broken up over 25 pages–that’s a whole month of copywork! Each page has a Scripture passage, clearly printed, a frame just waiting for a picture to illustrate the passage, and plenty of blank lines for writing (I forget what the format is called, but it’s the two solid lines with the dashed line in between, to help guide young writers in forming their letters).

Coloring pages

Four coloring pages relate to some of the topics covered by the activities: weather, chemistry, a microscope, and grossology. (What is grossology, you ask? Just what it sounds like!)

Web-linked activities and reading selections

There are about as many topics covered as there are questions children like to ask: stars, weather, the five senses, chemistry (kids love to mix things!), how the body works. Within the topics you’ll find links to web pages. For example, there’s a section on recycling, with suggestions for new ways to use old things. Here you’ll find links to websites with more information about recycling, even a webpage with instructions on how to turn an old soda bottle into a bird feeder!

Easy navigation

While I’m on the topic of clickable links, I want to mention how easy it is to navigate in this PDF document. Click on any topic in the Table of Contents and in an instant you’re looking at the page you wanted.

You’ll also find a Resource List that links to resources at the Schoolhouse Store. There are books, e-books, unit studies, DVDs, CDs, and more, all related to the scientific topics in this module.

Activities! And more activities!

The module begins with an introduction to scientists in general (What do they do?) and then explores various areas of scientific endeavor. The selections are brief, serving as an overview or introduction, and contain links to more material on the web for further study.

Just for example, I clicked on “wind speed” in the discussion of meteorology and was taken to a fantastic webpage with oodles of information on wind, along with projects and experiments. We just finished a unit on weather last month, and I wish I’d had this resource on my list!

Specific topics:

– What is a scientist?
– Meteorology
– Astronomy
– Recycling
– Chemistry
– Anatomy (including grossology and the five senses)

Activities included in the module: Make your own slime, crystal snowflakes, invisible ink, ice cream in a bag, “gook,” even glowing Jell-O. Find your pulse, test your taste buds. Of course, there are scores of links to more information and more activities to be found on the Web.

There are a couple of quizzes that sum up the module, along with a word search and anatomy vocabulary worksheet. Of course answer keys are included!

You can use the December Module as a supplement to your studies, or you could base your science studies for the year on the information found here and in the links! Just the weather-related links are enough for an entire unit on weather! (We spent ten weeks on weather, this fall, so this is the Voice of Experience Speaking…) You could take any of the sections and put together a great co-op class, in addition to a family study.

This 54-page PDF e-book is available for $7.95, with immediate download from the Schoolhouse Store. It’s excellent value for your money.

Have fun!

TOS Crew: Puppetools

All right! *folding fingers together, cracking knuckles, getting down to business*

I have access to the computer again!

So here you have the first of several reviews for this week.

TOS Crew

Through the TOS Homeschool Crew I’ve been introduced to a website devoted to restoring fun and a sense of wonder to learning. Puppetools is a subscription-based website that promotes using puppets in learning situations. The site has a deceptively simple homepage, and if you follow my link there (or type in “”) you won’t see much as a non-subscriber, just descriptions of the links on the site.

If you’re the artsy-craftsy type you probably won’t need this website (you can probably whip up puppets using stuff from around the house, like egg cartons, feathers, glitter, and glue), but if you’re stuck in an academic rut, if there’s no joy in learning and “school” time is drudgery, Puppetools might just be that creative spark you’re looking for. I can also see its usefulness for a homeschool co-op, Sunday school, VBS program or Backyard Bible Club.

A one-year subscription costs $20 for an individual or family, or $99 for a group (see details at the bottom of this review). With a subscription, the whole site opens up. The concept is built around simple yet elegant puppets based on a hinge developed by Jeffrey Peyton, the site owner.

Site features

On the site you’ll find:

– Templates for building 37 puppets. These will get you started, but once you master the underlying hinge you’ll be able to branch out and create your own patterns.

– Lots of videos of people (adults and children) making and using puppets; still photos of many more puppets to get you thinking and creating. I found most of the videos in the  “resources and workshop area” (under the “Students” tab), along with PDF files showing how to construct and use puppets.

– Audio files offering encouragement, instructions, suggestions. Similar messages are tailored for differing age groups, some addressed to parents of 3- to 5- year olds, and some (ages 6-12 and 13 and up) directly to students

– A Forum where teachers interact, asking and answering questions and offering suggestions for incorporating a playful spirit into education.

– The author’s research on “The Science of Puppet Play” in a series of downloadable PDF files. Topics include brain integration, communication, the ways we assimilate and use information, and how play fits into the picture. (These are found under the “Educators” tab.)

Some practical considerations

I have to admit I found the site confusing at first. I had the feeling of stumbling around as I clicked on various links and tabs, and while I found treasure I also had a little trouble getting back to find something I’d looked at earlier. As I revisited the site, of course, growing familiarity helped.

I’m told that the site is cumbersome for dial-up users, so that may be a consideration.

The puppets are constructed from paper, which is not the most durable material. Cheap construction paper (you know, the standard kind that fades and deteriorates fairly quickly) just won’t cut it. You need to use good quality materials that can stand up to flapping and moving around. High quality construction paper works better than the cheap stuff, but I’m wondering if perhaps thin cardstock or posterboard (or even felt) might be a better idea. I haven’t tried making puppets out of posterboard, though. Even the pricier construction paper needs some reinforcement (like duct tape or that durable clear mailing tape) for any sort of puppet longevity, I find.

Practical application, personal experience

In our family’s experience, we’ve found that a playful approach leads to higher interest. Now, I’m not saying you have to get up in front of your children and talk in silly voices and jump around and wave colorful things to get them to pay attention. Not all the time, anyhow! (Actually, that just might be a road to disaster, giving children the idea that if it’s not entertaining, it’s not worth paying attention. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work tends to make Jack a jerk.)

However, we joined a homeschool science class some years ago. We had a middle-school child and two preschoolers at the time. Part of the class was the “Family Report Night” at the end of the term. Each family worked on a project and presented their findings. From comments I heard after we presented our first report, I gather the reports were pretty dry: students standing in front of the class, reading their reports.

Never having been to a Report Night, and wanting to involve our little ones (it was all about “Family Reports” after all!) we came up with a skit. Our topic was the planet Mars, and in our skit we presented a version of a very old television game show; I think the title might have been “To Tell the Truth.” Each of our girls was Mars: the eldest (who was enrolled in the class) was the planet Mars, the 5yo represented the ancient god Mars, and the 3yo was a Mars candy bar. We prepared the girls with answers to a list of questions (Where are you likely to be found? What are you made of? …that sort of thing) and handed out the questions to the audience; they could ask any of the three “Marses” any of the questions on the list. At the beginning, each of the girls introduced herself as “Mars.” At the end, of course, we had the standard announcement: “Will the real planet Mars please stand up!”

It was a fun way to present all the facts we’d learned about the planet Mars!

Another family presented their report in the form of a puppet show, and they had the full attention of the class, from parents and older students on down to the youngest members of the family attending!

Report Night has never been the same. Science facts are presented at Family Report Night with imagination and flair, and instead of droopy eyelids while listening to yet another droning account, we sit up and pay attention and learn!

Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Puppetools could be a good tool for your family, or your co-op, if you need encouragement or ideas for building and using puppets in playful education. You might even sponsor a puppet-making workshop. Spread the imagination!

Puppetools Pricing Details

Pricing information from the site owner:

*1) $20.00 INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION:* Designed for individual users. Get complete access to all resources for a full year. Upgrade to the group subscription any time for $79.00. Ideal for individual users / households.

*2)* *$99.00 GROUP SUBSCRIPTION (Habitat): *Designed to be shared among  small & large GROUPS such as families, home schoolers, classrooms, scout  troops, 4-H, entire schools, and non-profit organizations with  educational missions. This is the best way to derive the greatest benefit as the group subscriptions as up to 30 people can share the cost and enjoy the ride. Need access for more users? No Problem — you can simply add more users anytime in lots of 50 or 100 and the cost can be as low as $2.00 PER USER. The purchaser (account owner) may assign up to 15 administrators per account –all users receive access to all resources for a full year.

TOS Crew: ALEKS Math Review

For months I’d been seeing emails from ALEKS Math in my email inbox. “Free Trial!” I briefly glanced at one, but didn’t go any farther. 48 hours of a free trial just didn’t seem like enough time to really see how well our girls would respond to the program.

When math is a frustration, you might find yourself jumping from one program to another (Been there. Done that.) in an effort to find something that works, or you might be grimly sticking with what you eventually settled on, hoping perhaps that familiarity will breed content, for a change.

We have three girls. Our oldest struggles with academics in general, and math is no exception. She needs a lot of patient repetition, and sometimes I fall down in the patience department. Our middle child is highly gifted but easily bored. She wants to get math over with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our youngest grasps math concepts intuitively but has a little trouble memorizing facts. Three completely different learners!

Then the TOS Homeschool Crew came along, and offered me a one-month free trial for our girls.

TOS Crew

If you haven’t heard of ALEKS, in brief it is an online, standards-based math course (Grades 3-12, bilingual in English and Spanish) which uses artificial intelligence to adjust the instruction and practice to the student’s level of understanding. That means lots of practice for the student who needs repetition. On the other hand, the student who gets it on the first try isn’t frustrated by having to do the same kind of problem over and over, a pure waste of time.

Getting started; placement

When you first start the program, you as the parent have to assign a grade level to your student. ALEKS administers an assessment (call it a pre-test) and from the score you can decide to move your student up or down a level or stay at the level you selected.

Different strokes

Our first wanted to try pre-Alegbra because she knows that Algebra is required for a number of ways of earning a high school diploma (homeschool distance learning programs and the GED are two I can think of off the top of my head). Off the topic, I find myself wondering what people do who graduate from physical high schools, if they have big troubles with math?

She took the assessment, and her score showed she wasn’t ready for that level. I moved her into Middle School Level 1 and she is plugging along at that level, learning.

Update: We have discovered the adult math courses at Aleks, and moved Eldest into basic math. Now there is no comparison with her sisters, no fretting when youngest passes her level. Youngest, working in the K-12 program, is no longer in direct competition with Eldest.

Our middle child is also doing Middle School Level 1, and yet the program is completely different. You see, it adjusts to her learning style, just as it adjusts to Oldest’s learning style. It’s very difficult to draw a comparison between the two, and that’s a good thing, considering the potential for sibling competition.

Our youngest works steadily at ALEKS at her grade level. I get a little resistance from her on occasion, because she doesn’t want to do the “boring stuff” of pencil-and-paper math. She likes it best when she gets to use the tools: calculator (which is not always made available), protractor, ruler, graph-making tools, onscreen pencil and eraser, etc.

Honesty is the best policy

You wouldn’t believe the number of hits this blog has from people who are evidently looking for ways to cheat the system.

Our middle daughter, looking for shortcuts, found that she could click on the “Explanation” button and get the answer to a problem, then back-arrow and fill in the answer without doing any work. It looked like a quick way to get through the math lessons without breaking a sweat (or, incidentally, learning anything useful, but perhaps that understanding comes with maturity). I was glad, when I emailed ALEKS, to find out that she didn’t get away with anything. The program doesn’t give credit for those answers. She has to do the work herself.

Also, every so often Teacher gives a pop quiz, er, ALEKS puts the student through a new assessment to see how well the learning process is going. There are no “Explain” buttons here, only a place to fill in the answer and a button for “I haven’t learned this yet.”

Teaching, not frustrating, the student

I mentioned the Calculator tool above, how it’s not always available. ALEKS provides problems where you have to do the math either in your head or on paper, and then type in the answer. It’s good facts practice. However, on more complex problems where the emphasis is more on using math, a calculator is available. I LOVE THIS CALCULATOR! For one thing, as you enter the numbers followed by a sign (like + or -), you see the equation on the calculator screen. You can see at a glance if you’ve entered one of the numbers wrong! The answer pops up only after you click on the equals (=) button! This is just one example of the careful design put into ALEKS to maximize learning and minimize frustration.

ALEKS Calculator

ALEKS Calculator

ALEKS Calculator

ALEKS Calculator


ALEKS costs more than the packaged math programs we’ve used over the years, but compares well with the cost of hiring a math tutor. I consider it well worth the cost for our struggling student. ALEKS never loses its patience. It keeps track of what’s being learned, and throws in review at calculated intervals to keep the learning fresh. We’ll be buying Eldest a subscription to ALEKS. It is such a boon to see her efforts rewarded as she diligently works away at her math. The frustration level has gone way down.

To be honest, it’s a bit out of our price range for all our students to participate. *sigh* If I could see a way to make it work with our budget, it would be my math program of choice for everyone.

The cost for a single student is $19.95 per month, on a monthly basis, or you can pay a discounted $99.95 for a 6-month subscription, or $179.95 for 12 months. A family discount is also available for 6- and 12- month terms, where the discount percentage increases with the number of students registered.

Update: After receiving and using a second free month (thank you, Aleks crew!), we’ve decided to devote part of our tax refund to continuing Aleks for all our students, at least for the next six months (we bought the six-month package deal), and probably beyond.

ALEKS has generously extended to the TOS Crew a one-month free trial for our readers. Just click on the link to register!

To read more reviews of ALEKS, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog entry here.

To read our impressions of ALEKS as we’ve gone through the TOS Homeschool Crew free trial:

Day 2 (first impressions)

Day 3 (possible bump in the road? No!)

Update (after settling in)

TOS Crew: Trigger Memory Systems

TOS Crew

I’d already been introduced to Trigger Memory Systems last summer at the homeschool curriculum fair. I kept coming back to the booth with the Bedroom Cleaning for Kids and Zone Cleaning for Kids flipcharts, to flip through the charts and think about our organizationally challenged family. (I know people whose children have clean bedrooms. I have no idea how they manage this.)

Perhaps I haven’t made it clear how remarkable these products are. You see, I very seldom buy items at the curriculum fair that aren’t already on my list. Impulse buys could cause me to blow my budget and not be able to afford the things I’ve already planned to buy!

…but after returning several times to page through these Clean ‘N’ Flip charts, I ended up buying the package deal.

These little books have a lot going for them. For one thing, it’s not Mom, nagging again, but rather a neutral source providing step-by-step instructions.

Zone Cleaning for Kids comes with a little instruction sheet that tells you how to use the laminated flip book with the included dry erase marker.  The book uses color coding (have I mentioned I love color coding?) to cover the steps in cleaning three zones in your home: living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

Here’s my take on using the guide:

– On-the-job training: Go through the checklist with the child you’re going to assign to this zone. Do the job together. You can also assign your own individualized task at this time, and add it to the checklist.

– Flying with an instructor: Next time that zone comes up on the cleaning schedule, follow the assigned child around, letting them do the job and only intervening when something’s not right.

– Soloing: Set the child loose in the zone. Inspect the work. (You’ve heard the old saying, “You get what you expect when you inspect.”) Repeat as needed.

There are pages in the book that allow you to assign zones to individuals or teams, and to assign specific completion times and frequency. For each zone there are daily tasks and also a series of “Day of the Week” jobs for once-a-week tasks, divided into Monday through Friday.

Easy to follow checklist format

Easy to follow text and colorful, illustrative pictures will help your young workers in their tasks. (But if your children are like mine, a neat checklist by itself is not enough. There’s got to be some Mama-motivating going on. That’s a nice name for nagging.)

Bedroom Cleaning for Kids takes you one step at a time through cleaning the bedroom. If your children’s bedrooms are disaster areas, you will probably need to help them de-junk before you can implement this cleaning procedure. I’d suggest the same training pattern as above: instruction, observation, and finally soloing followed by inspection.

The beauty of this guide is that it takes a dreaded task (“Clean your room!”) and breaks it down into manageable bites. I don’t know if you, like myself, have ever sent children to their room with firm admonition to clean the room, and not come out until the job is done. My children would grow old in the room, if I held them to this. I noticed, when I did this, that they didn’t have a clue what to do. They’d wander around like lost souls, pick up a few things, and then sit down to play with what they’d just picked up. It took some targeted instructions, (Bedroom Cleaning for Kids fits this description) for them to be able to manage an otherwise overwhelming, hopeless job.

Trigger Memory Systems has come out with some new products since I bought that package. One is Laundry for Kids, in the same step-by-step format. The pages aren’t laminated, making it easy to customize for your family. (We don’t use detergent by the scoop or half-scoop, for example, because we use homemade detergent due to our allergies. We also don’t have a buzzer on our dryer, so we have to set a timer in the kitchen when we start a load in the dryer.)

This is just the way I taught our children to do laundry, by writing out the steps, then walking them through a few loads. I started each one between age eight and ten, and now they all do their own laundry.

Zone Cleaning is available by itself at this link for $17.95, or packaged together (same link) with Bedroom Cleaning for $22.95; or you can get all three cleaning Flip ‘N’ Clean charts for $29.95.

Times Tales: Painless Multiplication Tables

Times Tales is another product I hadn’t seen before. It’s a different approach to learning the multiplication tables, using little stories and pictures to illustrate the facts. The pictures represent numbers, and when you put them together with the story you’ve got a memory-jogging math fact presented in a whimsical way that appeals to children.

Our youngest has had a lot of trouble memorizing multiplication facts. Drill didn’t work. Usage has worked somewhat; I mean, having her do her math with a multiplication table at her elbow, ready to refer to whenever needed. Lots of use leads to familiarity, and yet there are still those facts that don’t seem to want to settle, like 7 x 8. No matter how many times I tell her, or she looks it up, 7 x 8 just doesn’t settle in her brain.

But looking at 7 x 8 now, she can recall that “Mrs. Week and Mrs. Snowman were driving together and went one mile over the speed limit.” 56! It works!

I have to tell you, this is the most unusual approach I’ve seen to memorizing multiplication facts. I’ve had to take it on faith–go through the lessons as scripted in the Instruction Manual. The program includes flash cards, games, and review tests, but the real treasure is the imaginative approach.

Times Tales is available at this link. For $29.95 you get the Instruction Manual, which tells you exactly how to implement this unusual program and includes multiplication flashcards (plus bonus division flashcards), cut-out cubes for math games, and tests. You also get a large flip chart with the stories and pictures.

For an additional $5 you can get a mini-flip chart in a handy size for your student to use for review.

Thank you, Trigger Memory, for helping us solve two thorny problems (cleaning and math facts) for our family.

TOS Crew: The Little Man in the Map

TOS Crew

Here’s another product new to me, that I found out about through being a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew. The Little Man in the Map, published by Schoolside Press, is a colorful, fun, charming picture book that will help your little ones (and not-so-little) memorize the names and placement of the 50 United States. It’s perfect for elementary-aged learners.

Have you ever looked at something, and seen something else? You might lie on your back on a summer’s day, the grass tickling the back of your neck, watching the puffs of clouds in the sky. There’s a dog, and there’s a duck, and those are dolphins, and see the horse! You might have seen those abstract-looking pictures that conceal a three-dimensional image, if you can only get your brain to relax enough to see it! You might have played with optical illusions. Is the dancer spinning to the left, or to the right? Is that a picture of a vase, or two faces? Is that a beautiful lady, or a duck?

Whimsical Approach

The author and illustrator of The Little Man in the Map have taken just such a playful approach to U.S. Geography. When you look at a US map in just the right way, a little man with a tall hat and big boots jumps out at you. Well, in the book he literally “jumps out” and gives a tour of the states and regions, using jingles, rhymes, and mnemonics to help with memorization of state names and placement.

Although our girls already had a grasp of US Geography I noticed improvement in their times and accuracy, playing geography games after going through The Little Man in the Map. If your children have not yet started to learn US geography, this book would make a good introduction to the subject. Even if they have already learned it, The Little Man in the Map makes for fun reinforcement.

Rhyme and Reason

The lively pictures are colorful and just silly enough to bring a smile. The storyline starts with a classroom of students who are tackling geography. At first they are dismayed, hearing that they have to learn the names of all the states in just a week, but their clever teacher sparks their imaginations and soon the enthusiasm runs high. “Imagination is the magic key/To help unlock the clues you need to learn geography.” Suddenly the little man they’ve imagined jumps out of the map to help!

It’s fun to look at old things in new ways; to look at states and think about what their shapes remind us of. It’s also a well-known memory technique. This playful text does just that!

Teacher’s Helps

Also available is a Teacher’s Guide with activities for children from preschool to Grade 6. Some of these span the range of ages, while others are divided according to age group. You’ll find discussion prompts, writing, singing, math, acting, games, and art among the activities.

Visit the author’s blog, FrogsJumpUSA for more geography fun!

The Little Man in the Map is available for $19.95 at Schoolside Press, and you can even get an autographed copy upon request.

TOS Crew: Time for Learning (Time4Learning) Wrap-up!

Well, this review is a little behind schedule. Blame it on a combination of tummy bug and inclement weather! But here we are, getting back on track, so to speak, and thus you’ll be seeing a new review every day until I’m caught up.

(If the good Lord is willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as my sister-in-law is fond of saying.)

TOS Crew

We’ve been plugging along, with (I’ll admit it) sporadic use of our free trial of Time4Learning. (See bottom of this post for links to my other comments.) In case you didn’t know, Time4Learning is (from their website):

Homeschool Curriculum,
After School Learning,
Summer Use

For PreSchool, Elementary, & Middle School Students

The cost is $19.95 per month for one student, and each additional student is $14.95 per month. There’s a 14-day money back guarantee, which means you can try Time4Learning for two weeks and get your money refunded if you decide it’s not a good fit.

A little history

I have both pluses and minuses to mention, so let me preface this with my gratitude that Time4Learning came to our rescue in 2007. I had chronic bronchitis, relieved only by a bout with pneumonia, from Thanksgiving 2006 until May 2007. I was exhausted all the time. Homeschooling was all but impossible, unless you are a staunch believer in unschooling without a lot of parental involvement besides scattering good books and learning materials around the house.

We’d had a free trial of Time4Learning in the autumn of 2006, I think (October, maybe?) but had to give it up as we were on dial-up at the time and between slow loading times and the computer crashing, it was more frustrating than interesting. Frankly, I didn’t think it was that good a fit for our family, with our hours of reading aloud and our literature-based homeschooling approach.

Time4Learning kindly reinstated our free trial in the spring of 2007 when we got broadband. I admit, it would not be my inclination now (my brain works better, now that I’m getting enough oxygen!), but rather than keeping a close eye on them I looked over the program briefly and then turned my children loose on the lessons. They were in 3d, 5th, and 6th grade at the time, so far as Time4Learning was concerned.

At the end of the month I looked at their records, not expecting much, because I hadn’t been “in charge” but had pretty much given them free rein. I was amazed to see that they’d been doing… math! and language arts! and history! (No science, though. They thought the science would be boring so they hadn’t even looked at it. After I looked through a science lesson, with them looking on, all of a sudden they were begging to do science, too.)

Time4Learning saves the day

Whew. My children weren’t running wild while I was laid low, they were actually choosing to “do” school. And doing pretty well, according to their scores. They passed their mandatory standardized testing with flying colors.

Okay, so let’s talk a little more about my thoughts on Time4Learning after this latest test.

Designed to appeal to a broad base

The younger ones are older now, doing work at 5th and 7th grade. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Yes, we repeated 5th grade, only with another child. This child remembers 3d grade Time4Learning fondly, actually preferring the remembered coursework to the actual. This leads us to our first

Con: This is a “con” for our family, but might not be for yours. Time4Learning is secular, designed to appeal to a broad base.

We don’t watch much (if any) children’s programming on television, so for us zany characters, drawn as if Picasso has been set loose in the studio, don’t have a lot of appeal. The characters get sillier as the grade levels go up. The wisecracks get wiser, in a worldly way, if you catch my drift. It reminds me of why we stopped using JumpStart educational programs after second grade or so.

Children who are used to this sort of thing, on the other hand, might find the characters entertaining. It’s a little like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar that, in this case, helps the education go down.

Christians might find some of the material objectionable, specifically references to evolution, and sitcom putdowns among the wacky characters. Wisecracking and evidence of rebellion against traditional standards is more evident the higher you go in grade level. There were a couple of books in the language arts lessons that I excused our girls from reading because the content did not fit our family standards. (Phil 4:8 is a good starting point.) We got a few pages into a book about a mother and daughter, for example, and quit because the mom played a mean practical joke on the daughter. It might have been an excellent book, but the joke was enough to make the 5th grader ask, “Do I have to read this?” and me to answer, after scanning what she’d read thus far, “No, you don’t have to.”

On the other hand, some of the other books excerpted in the lessons whetted our appetites and made us look for those books at the library in order to read more.

Independent learning (at least in part)

Pro: A lot of the learning is self-directed. The child goes through the lessons, does exercises and practice problems, eventually takes a quiz or end-of-unit test. Your linear thinker can click through the lesson topics one after another; your more random child can click on whatever strikes his fancy.

Con: This is not really a “con” in my book, but it might be for some parents who are looking for something or someone else to direct their child’s education because they are too busy (or too sick, as it was in my case in Spring 2007). Time4Learning requires parental involvement. There are activities built into the lessons that are not something a child can do on the computer. One that sticks in my mind was in a history lesson, where we were supposed to go out on the sidewalk and measure the length of a Viking ship with chalkmarks. There are science experiments, like planting seeds and observing their growth.

This is not a program where you sit your child in front of the computer and go off and do your own thing. Time4Learning is designed to provide part of your child’s instruction. It may cover core subjects, like Math and Language Arts, but a child left to his or her own devices is probably not going to do all the extra activities which are a part of the learning process. Also, there’s a lot to learning besides sitting at a computer responding to prompts. The folks at Time4Learning have lots of suggestions for additional activities, like reading (aloud together and independently) and journaling and P.E.

Parent helps

Time4Learning has lesson plans available so that you can see what your child is supposed to be learning. With these you have quick access to the worksheets, for example, in a lesson (and answer key!), or whether your child has a writing assignment.

Pro: There’s a parents’ forum at the site, sort of a virtual support group. You can ask questions and share information with other parents who are using Time4Learning in their children’s educational program. Recently a section was added for Christian families to address faith-specific topics. See my blog entry here.

Fun and helpful learning tools

Pro: There are some very nice tools in the program. I really like the kid-friendly word processor (The Odyssey Writer) for writing assignments. (Youngest was a little frustrated with this until I showed her how to save her writing.) There are also tools used in some of the math activities.

Record-keeping feature

Pro: The record-keeping is a great parent help. Read more about that here. If you choose to let your accounts go inactive for a month or more, Time4Learning will maintain your students’ records for a small fee.

Learning games

Pro: The lessons, for the most part, are just plain fun! Yes, there is still some textbook-type material here, where you read a passage and then respond to the reading in some way. But a lot of the lesson material has been carefully formed into learning games. While lessons are loading, your child will have the opportunity to play a related learning game. For example, this morning our 5th grader was playing an arcade-style game that compared the volume of a drinking glass to the volume of water found in a pond, a river, a teaspoon, a teacup, etc. while waiting for a lesson on measurement to load.


As if that’s not enough fun, there’s also a playground feature. After so many minutes of lessons (parents set the timer), the child is allowed a specified number of minutes’ access to educational games on the web.

Con: I suppose it could be a “con” if it makes your child less inclined to work at learning when games aren’t possible. Let’s face it, learning is not always fun.

Free trial, money-back guarantee

There’s so much to the program I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Anyhow, Time4Learning offers a free trial and money-back guarantee, so you can sign up for the program, try it out, and see how it fits your family. Perhaps you’ve just pulled your children out of school and don’t know what to do with them, or you’re facing some crisis which makes homeschooling difficult (like my health problems of 2007), or you’re looking for a starting place or a supplement to what your children are doing. Time4Learning might be just what you’re looking for.

Monday, Monday

It’s one of *those* days.

Our phone’s been out since yesterday, it’s below freezing and very windy outside, and youngest has been urping since the wee hours and her stomach is still stuck firmly in reverse.

We didn’t make it to church yesterday, but printed the bulletin and did our own prayer, scripture and hymn singing. And then we went on to sing many more Christmas hymns and carols until our voices gave out.

The Giant Schnauzer went walking in the fresh-falling snow yesterday and enjoyed herself in it for the first time since we’ve had her. I know we had snow last year but I remember her not being thrilled. This time she was biting mouthfuls of the stuff and chewing it and taking handfuls of snow as the girls offered them and following footprints in the snow with interest and waggly tail.

She is not thrilled with today’s day-old, icy snow and spends as little time as possible on necessary outings.

The cable repairman is coming this afternoon to look at our phone, so I need to spend the rest of the afternoon alternating between tidying up and cuddling youngest.

So, no new reviews today, at least until youngest is feeling better.

Hope this finds your family doing better than we are at the moment!