Monthly Archives: March 2009

TOS Crew: Schleich Action Figures!

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Hands down (or do I mean hands up?), the toys have been among the favorite review items (for the girls, anyhow) from our current year on the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, with books for reading a close second. One2Believe’s Nativity and Noah’s Ark got hours of play, even if the animals looked cartoonish. The White Seneca and Mary Jane — Her Book from Salem Ridge Press were enthusiastically received and devoured. (Mary Jane’s book took a little warming up, at first, because it looked “too babyish” but when I settled down on the couch and started reading aloud to myself, it wasn’t long before I had an audience.)  The Missing Link: Found from Media Angels also won high praise from our young readers.

But the Schleich figures… These weren’t just spilled out of the box onto the floor. They were unpacked almost reverently, turned over in wondering hands while we exclaimed over the wealth of carefully crafted detail.

We’ve never owned Schleich figures before. When we started to tell people about them, we found a number of friends have been collecting them for years!I think these are the same as the beautiful figures we’ve seen at the local teacher supply stores, that I never looked at too closely because I was sure they’d be out of our budget. I was so surprised to find out what their actual prices are!

In our box of miscellaneous figures, we found a black-and-pink boar (anatomically correct) with a whimsical look in his eye, an African elephant standing at attention and flapping his ears, either to cool himself, or to warn away an intruding lion, stalking his herd, a bald eagle in the act of taking off or landing, its wings spread wide, a baby white tiger, looking cross-eyed and so very cute! …a white goose (you can almost see it waggle its tail) and a beautiful Halflinger pony that immediately was christened “Bill” after a certain famous pony from the Lord of the Rings.

(Isn’t this tiger baby cute? And now the girls want to get him a brother or sister to play with.)

I look much more real in person!

"I look much more real in person!"

I’m a little disappointed with the picture of the goose I found to include here! The goose I’m holding is so very lifelike, and you can make out individual feathers and wrinkles on his webbed feet.

All of the animals display a similar attention to detail. You can see the individual pads on the baby tiger’s paws, while the bottoms of the feet of the horse, elephant, and boar are similarly detailed. The animals’ “fur” is textured to give the appearance of individual hairs; the elephant’s skin is wrinkly. The horse’s mane is not simply painted on, but has dimension and texture.

The animals all bore tags that said they’re for children age 3 and up. The toys are sturdily made and can withstand a lot of active play. The day after they arrived at our house, someone had laid them all on their backs in a patch of sunlight on the rug (sunbathing, anyone?) and I stepped into the middle of them because I wasn’t watching where I was walking. None of them broke, though I certainly had a shock!

When we heard we were getting Schleich animals in the mail, we looked up “Schleich” on the web to see what it was all about. What a wealth of beautiful toys! There are wild animals and farm animals, knights and their gorgeously outfitted chargers, creatures fantastic and commonplace. There are even people! And dinosaurs! And pets! Prices range from something our children can buy with their pocket money, to elaborate sets that will take some saving up for, or perhaps make a dream of a Christmas present.

I have a feeling our collection will be growing…

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Schleich figures, please click here.

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TOS Crew: Generations of Virtue

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Generations of Virtue is a ministry dedicated to encouraging the upcoming generation to godliness. Our family received their Beautifully Made set of books. There are three little books in the Beautifully Made set, which come all tied up with a pretty ribbon, looking suitable for a princess.

Caution: discussion of private female topics follows.

Approaching Womanhood

The subject is a girl’s maturing body. The first book, Approaching Womanhood, is designed for you to use with your pre-pubescent daughter. Written in a simple and straightforward manner, it speaks directly to the heart of a young girl, and is recommended for ages 8-12. I would strongly suggest you don’t just hand this book to her, but read it yourself first, and then perhaps read it with your daughter, together. At least, be ready to discuss the contents!

The book deals with the changes that take place in a girl’s body as she approaches puberty, and all that goes along with the process. Body image, God’s design, physical changes, personal care products are covered. The book is illustrated with simple black-and-white graphics, including a cross section of female internal organs in the section that discusses the physiology of menstruation.

The aim of the book is that no girl should be surprised or alarmed at the onset of her monthly cycle because of ignorance or lack of preparation. (I remember an older relative confiding in a whisper that she’d thought she was dying… her mom never prepared her, and she had to get all her facts of life from schoolmates. How sad!)

Celebrating Womanhood

Celebrating Womanhood is the second book in the series, designed for girls who have begun menstruating. The physiology has already been discussed in the first book, and this book covers more of the practicalities, including selection and use of personal hygiene products.

Again, I urge mothers to pre-read this book before turning it over to your daughter. Some moms may be uncomfortable with this discussion, or will wish to handle this information themselves. As in the previous book, there are a couple of diagrams showing female internal organs.

In this book the author presents a spiritual analogy, which you may or may not agree with. Use it as a springboard for discussion, along with the other material in the two daughters’ books.

This is not full-blown “sex ed” but merely an explanation of what happens to the body of a girl as she becomes a woman, including physical changes, how hormones affect mood, and practical matters.

Wisdom from a Woman–Mother’s Guide

The third book in the set is for the mother to read. The basic idea is to present maturity as something to celebrate, not a curse or inconvenience. There are suggestions for celebrating this milestone in life with your daughter, as well as thoughtful discussion.

Generations of Virtue

“Purity of heart, purity of mind, purity of body” are the bywords of Generations of Virtue. They have products for both girls and boys on the brink of adulthood, a blend of practical information, encouragement, and honoring God and His creation.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of their products, click here.

Free Resurrection Day Resources

The Old Schoolhouse has a gift for you!

Well, three gifts, actually. Two WeE-books and a PDF of Scripture place cards for your holy day meal.

The Real Easter Story: An In-Depth Study for the Whole Family is a 41-page PDF e-book. Inside you’ll find “the Easter story” with Matthew 26-28 (KJV), discussion/writing prompts (some simple and suited to young children, others prompting research and thought), a quiz, word search, and crossword puzzle, instructions for making your own set of Resurrection Eggs, and a recipe for Resurrection Cookies. Of course you’ll find answer keys for the quiz and word games, as well as  a resource list with clickable links to online resources.

Are you a new homeschooler, or thinking about homeschooling?

A bonus appendix offers several pages on how to start homeschooling, including links and an inspiring poem.

One thing I love about the e-books I’ve seen from The Old Schoolhouse is the interactive Table of Contents. You click on the chapter title, and the computer takes you right to the chapter.

Simple, but containing real meat, The Real Easter Story is a wonderful resource.

Copywork

The Real Easter Story: Copywork for the Whole Family is a 71-page PDF e-book containing Scripture verses in manuscript and cursive, along with lines for handwriting practice (copying the verse) and boxes for drawing illustrations. Great for notebooking!

Place cards

The place cards PDF file contains a variety of pretty, colorful place cards featuring Scripture verses and flowers, each with space to write a name.

For these three free downloads, please visit this page. And tell your friends!

TOS Crew: Auralog German, Homeschool Version

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We had the chance to use Auralog’s Homeschool Version of Tell Me More French a year or two ago, and loved it! Dh, a computer type, said the voice recognition feature was the best he’d seen. I was impressed with so many of the program’s features… too many to list here, because I’m not here to talk about a previous version of the program, but a brand-spankin’-new version due out in April. It’s even better!

Choice of levels

Auralog GermanThis time we tried Auralog’s Tell Me More German. As you can see from the box, ten levels of instruction are available to choose from, starting with complete beginner and ranging up to advanced. (Just to give you an idea, I majored in German in college, and though I’m a bit rusty I can still hold up my end of a conversation or read through a news article. On the placement test my score put me into level 7. More about that in a minute.)

When you purchase the five-level package, you have the flexibility of starting with level 1, or if you’ve had a year or two of German instruction already, you can take the placement test and start with a higher level. Registering the product unlocks five consecutive instruction levels.

High school foreign language requirement

Working your way through Tell Me More levels 1-5 would easily fulfill the high school requirement for two years’ study of a foreign language. As a matter of fact, your student might be able to test out of a lower level (or even two) of college German.

Everything you need

The package includes everything you need to get started: a DVD-Rom, headphones with microphone, and basic written information that will get you up and running, from installation onward.

Easy installation

Okay, true confession time. I barely glanced at the written material, beyond the instruction that said something like “insert the DVD and follow the prompts.” I might have gotten into trouble, but the program installed without any problems, and the prompts and screens were fairly self-explanatory, even with the minor hubbub of a homeschool household going on around me to serve as a distraction.

Placement test

The placement test took about 30 minutes, and involved reading and writing as well as listening and responding. Having learned German both at university level and abroad, in a full-immersion program, I scored a 7.2. According to the instructions, I could start in Level 7.

…thankfully I stopped and considered and read a little more carefully. Five levels, the instructions said. Five consecutive levels. That meant that if I selected Level 7 for myself, then none of the earlier levels would be available for my beginning students. No way to stretch from Level 7 down to 1, in five levels. The math just wouldn’t add up, not even for this math-challenged homeschool mom. (I found out later that Tell Me More German also comes in a 10-level version, as well as the 5-level; and also that if you buy the 5-level package and wish to continue your language instruction after completing Level 5, you can purchase the remaining 5 levels at a discounted price.)

Since five levels are more than enough to satisfy the high school foreign language requirement, you can save money by buying five levels instead of all ten.

What do you get in those five levels of learning?

1000 hours of multi-media instruction

There is so much in this package, it’s hard to condense down into a single review. Among the exercises, you’ll find movies, cultural videos and role playing that puts you in the scene, listening and speaking the language.

Lesson modes

There are three lesson modes, three ways of moving through the lessons, suiting individual learning needs. “Guided” is suggested for first-time learners, taking the student through the lessons in a predetermined pattern. “Dynamic” makes note of a student’s strong and weak areas, providing more practice where needed. “Free to roam” is just that, allowing you to move to any exercise at any time, great for review.

Speech recognition software

The speech recognition feature is amazing. You look at a picture of spinach, for example, and say “Spinat”.  If you say it right, the computer lets you know!

You find yourself carrying on conversations with the program, and feeling as if you’re talking with a native German speaker. The computer responds to what you say, whether it’s to further the conversation, or to critique your pronunciation (depending on what type of lesson you’re working on).

Pronunciation

The speech recognition software comes into play in several ways: dialogues, as mentioned, and the pronunciation exercise, where a series of words or phrases is pronounced by a native speaker. You see a waveform on the screen, and are prompted to repeat what you heard. As you speak, your own waveform appears below the example, for instant feedback, and the program grades you on your performance. The patient computer will repeat the process as many times as you wish.

Not quite getting it? Then record your voice and listen to the playback. It’s amazing what you’ll catch, listening to the feedback, that you didn’t when you were just repeating into the microphone.

Still having trouble? Watch the diagram of how you’re supposed to hold your lips and tongue in the Oral Workshop.

Intuitive navigation

As you find yourself moving through the lessons, subtle cues prompt you as to the next move. We learned to scan the whole screen, to watch for flashing symbols. At the bottom of the screen, a prompt flashes when you’ve accomplished enough to move on to the next exercise. At the top right, an arrow flashes to take you to the next component of the current exercise (if you’re doing one in a series of crossword puzzles, for examples, or fill-in-the-blank exercises, or pronouncing words, one at a time).

Instant help

Help on using the current screen is available at any time. When you roll the cursor over any of the icons on the screen, a pop-up tells you what the icon does. You can also click on the Help icon to get a guided tour of the current view. You can also access the program tools from within anywhere in the program, allowing you to adjust volume, turn on or off the music or sound effects, or bring up grammar explanations or verb conjugations or glossary (German-English dictionary with audible pronunciation). A host of program options is at your fingertips, allowing you to configure the program’s response and levels of difficulty in the various exercises.

Variety for spice

As you move through the lessons, there are dialogues, games, and exercises to keep you interested. You might find yourself carrying on a conversation with a waitress, watching a movie about birthday celebrations, answering comprehension questions, pronouncing words and phrases, filling in a crossword, playing a version of Hangman (but nobody gets hanged, rather, you’re helping a knight win against a fire-breathing dragon), conjugating verbs, categorizing words, and more.

Help! I’ve barely scratched the surface, and this review is nearly 2,000 words! I haven’t even talked about the tools for tracking your progress, the cultural lessons, the weekly online news feature, the printable workbook pages, and much, much more…

Recommended Computer Configuration:

PC or compatible: 1.7 GHz processor, Windows 2000, XP or Vista 32/64 bits, 256 MB RAM (512 for Vista), 110 MB available on hard disk, 1024×768 graphics car with 16 million colors (24 bits), DVD-ROM drive 16-bit Windows-compatible sound card, microphone and speakers or headset (headset/microphone is included in package), high-speed Internet connection.

Cost comparisons:

Since five levels are more than enough to satisfy the high school foreign language requirement, you can save money by buying five levels instead of all ten. Auralog’s programs offer a number of advantages over other options we’ve tried.

– Hiring a tutor:

Tutors for language learning charge (in our area) between $10 and $20 an hour. A family we know, getting tutoring in German, has a weekly session with the tutor, working at home the rest of the week.

Tell Me More advantage:

You don’t have to leave home; you fit language instruction into your schedule without having to accommodate the tutor; for the same cost as 20 hours or so of tutoring, you have hundreds of hours of interactive exercises.

– Conversational courses on tape or CD from the library:

These courses will teach you to parrot words, phrases, and sentences. The format we’re familiar with includes listening and repeating what you hear, or looking at pictures and naming things. These have been handy, but there’s no true interaction and you’re responsible for catching your own mistakes, if you can.

Tell Me More advantage:

The program is truly interactive. When you practice pronunciation, the voice recognition software compares your efforts to program parameters and gives you a visual representation. The real eye-opener for me was recording my voice and playing it back, to compare my pronunciation to the native speaker’s. I was able to hear my mistakes on playback, nuances I hadn’t been able to hear while in the process of speaking!

You carry on conversations with the computer, usually having several responses to choose from at each point in the dialogue. Full-color visual cues and videos enhance practice sessions.

In addition to conversational language learning, you’re also learning grammar, reading, and writing.

– Textbook course:

If you’ve taken any sort of language instruction in high school or college, you know how it works. You go through lessons that contain dialogues, grammar instruction, and written work. If you’re taking a course, you’ll have several classes a week, plus possibly language lab exercises.

Even learning language on your own, using a textbook, answer key, CDs and DVDs, yes, you set your own schedule. However, you don’t get the same quality of instruction; you can “repeat after” a native speaker all day long, but if you’re making mistakes without realizing it, what you’re doing is internalizing the mistakes!

Tell Me More advantage:

Again, you don’t have to schedule around a number of classes and a lab. You’re practicing your listening and speaking, learning vocabulary, and learning to read and write, but you’re doing it at home, on your own schedule, and (most important) getting immediate feedback.

In short

Actually, when you look at all the factors, there’s no comparison. Auralog’s Tell Me More wins, hands up.

You’ll be able to order the newest version of Tell Me More German, Homeschool Version from the Auralog website starting in April, for $319.99 (for the five-level program).

Other languages available from Auralog include French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.

To read more TOS Crew reviews about the new Auralog Homeschool Products, click here.

Review: Molly Makes $5 Dinners and $3 Desserts e-book

Mmmmm. I can almost smell dinner cooking. It always happens when I read wholesome, hearty recipes, turn them over in my mind, compare them to my cooking experience and contemplate including them in our eating plan.

But wait…!

Increasing costs… hitting us where we live

$5 dinners? $3 desserts? Is that possible? Why, even the Hillbilly Housewife discovered her $45/week Emergency Menu Plan had gone up to over $70-a-week since 2006!

Meanwhile, her Low Cost Menu for 4 to 6 went up from $70 to $89 in the same time span. I suspect the greater rate of rise in the Emergency Menu Plan means that staples are going up faster than the “little extras” in the more expensive plan. There’s a chilling thought.

$5 Dinners–Really!

To put together Molly Makes $5 Dinners, the Old Schoolhouse Magazine collected recipes from home educators all over the map. These are the tried-and-true recipes, the family-pleasers, perhaps passed down through the family from Depression days, or maybe honed over time while making ends meet on a single income in these double-income times.

Depression-era cooking

My mom had a bunch of these. Creamed chipped beef over toast. Sausage gravy over biscuits. Creamed tuna on rice. Stretch-a-chicken-or-roast over four, even five days. (Roasted on Sunday, hot open-faced sandwiches with gravy on Monday, hashed with potatoes and onions or soup from the bones on Tuesday, fried rice with the last scraps of meat on Wednesday, leftovers Thursday.) Spaghetti! (My own standby.) And when the cupboard was bare of all but the staplest of staples, it was pancakes for supper! (We always had powdered milk and flour, bought in 50-lb quantities.)

Mom learned these recipes growing up in the Depression, and used them when her own growing up family–five hard-to-fill-up children plus a husband to feed–went through hard times.

I’ve found myself falling back on Mom’s standbys, especially when the price of gas soared and cut into our food budget. It’s a little tricky, sometimes, with our family’s food allergies. Of course, cooking from scratch has the advantage of being less expensive than using convenience food.

However, sometimes I run out of steam, out of ideas… and find myself serving spaghetti for the second time in less than a week.

Molly to the rescue!

You’ll find all sorts of yummy, practical recipes in this collection, whether you have a taste for oven-fried chicken or lasagna; chili or hearty, chunky soup that’ll stick to your ribs; nachos and burritos, and more!

We’re not just talking rice and beans, here. (Dh likes to joke about Dave Ramsey‘s rice-and-beans diet, part of the key to “living like no one else so that later you can live like no one else.”) Well, you’ll find recipes for rice and beans, including one of my favorites, Cajun Red Beans and Rice (yum!), but there’s plenty more here to choose from.

I was a little worried about this book, to tell you the truth. I mean, I’m constrained in my cooking, as I mentioned above, by food allergies. We can’t use convenience foods, and we don’t have a microwave.

I’m happy to inform you that, while some of the recipes take advantage of the convenience of prepackaged food (things like Ramen noodles, Hamburger Helper, box macaroni-and-cheese, canned soup, and Bisquick) the bulk of the recipes are made from scratch.

Convenient, easy to follow recipes

If you’re not a “scratch” cook, don’t worry! None of the recipes is complicated, and yet, the results promise to be both delicious and satisfying (not to mention easy on the pocketbook).

These homeschool cooks have also broken out the cost for each recipe by ingredients used. Some items were bought on sale, some are staples that you probably have in the cupboard (spices, for example). Almost every dinner is under $5–that’s not $5 per serving, but $5 for the whole dinner, serving four or more people. Some dinners are everything in one pot or casserole, while others include accompaniments (parmesan “bread” for example, or corn waffles to go along with soup; or salad) within the $5 limit. Some of the dinners are just over $5.

$3 Desserts

We don’t have dessert every night, but we still suffer from that great American malady, the Sweet Tooth. Perhaps that’s why Molly took pity on us, and included a section of inexpensive desserts. I think the Brownie Mix is our favorite, so far, and so economical! …but there’s also chocolate pudding cake, a version of Dump Cake you can make in the crockpot, three flavors of homemade pudding that cook in the microwave (I already make homemade pudding on top of the stove, but the microwave version sounds much faster and easier), pies, and more.

Gluten free recipes, too!

Ooh, I almost forgot to mention that lots of the recipes will fit with gluten free cooking. There’s even a GF donut recipe!

Final word

In short, Molly Makes $5 Dinners and $3 Desserts is sure to be a hit with your family. And your budget.

Look for this handy e-book, coming soon, at the Old Schoolhouse Store.

TOS Crew: Ready to set sail again!

The Old Schoolhouse is taking on applications for a new year, new Crew, more vendors, more products, more reviews!

Are you interested in joining the adventure?

See this link for a copy of the invitation!

Hope to see you aboard when the new Crew sets sail.

In the meantime, keep watching this space for more reviews, and other musings!

TOS Crew: New Testament Lap Book (Home School in the Woods)

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I’m familiar with Homeschool in the Woods — I’ve used their beautifully rendered timeline figures for years.  I’ve also used their Time Travelers Explorers study, nicely put together, fun, and (of course!) educational.

I was glad to be among those of the TOS Homeschool Crew who received the New Testament Lap Book Activity-Pak.

Lap Books are catching on among homeschoolers I know. Don’t know what a lapbook is? In brief, it’s a way of summarizing and organizing information in a creative, attractive way. Lapbooking can help students to assimilate new learning, and makes a wonderful tool for review as well as showcase of lessons learned. To learn more about lapbooking in general, just enter “lapbooks” or “lapbooking” into a search engine. The term “Lap Book” was coined, by the way, by the creators of Tobin’s Lab, http://www.tobinslab.com.

For my own convenience I’m going to refer to “lapbooks” from here on out.

Home School in the Woods’ New Testament Lap Book Activity-Pack has fifteen activities that teach about Jesus: from the prophesies that foretold His coming, to His death and Resurrection, on through the missionary journeys of Paul.

Practical instructions

The first thing I noticed, reading through the instructions for the activities, was the provision for organizing. As you work on each activity, you store the results in a zipper-top plastic bag until it’s time to put the whole lapbook together. I learned the hard way, while working on lapbooks, that lapbooks take time. You don’t assemble a lapbook in one day — well, you do, but only after finishing all the components, and that may take a month or more! It’s discouraging, the way things have a tendency to scatter and get lost. However, it doesn’t take much effort to head off discouragement with a little planning ahead.

Beautiful artwork

The next thing I noticed was the beauty of the artwork provided. “The Miracles of Jesus,” for example, is a shape-book (three books, actually) in the shape of a basket holding five loaves and two fish. Your student will write the details of Jesus’ miracles on pages with a loaf- or fish-shaped cover, or just cut out and assemble the pre-printed pages.

The activities provide for the perfectionist in us, with the interior pages of the books already pre-printed (lineage of Christ, miracles, Bible verses, parables, biographical sketches of the 12 disciples, and so forth). This was helpful for our middle daughter, who likes things to look “just so” but struggles with neat handwriting. She’d rather type, actually, than write.

If you want your student to interact with the material a little more in depth, rather than just cutting out the pre-printed pages and assembling the lapbook, you can take the other option offered, where you write out the information yourself instead of using the pre-printed text.

Coloring for young and old

Some of the activities have pictures to color (large and friendly pieces of fruit, for example, suited to little people with crayons), and others have space to add your own artwork (like illustrating the parables of Jesus).

Most of the material can be printed out in black-and-white. The maps of Paul’s missionary journeys were the only pages with color, and these took up two pages. We didn’t have to print them out in color, as a matter of fact, as we chose to print out the black-and-white maps and mark Paul’s journeys on these with colored pencils, looking at the color maps on the computer monitor as a guide.

Photo gallery

Included with the instructions and activity masters, you’ll find a Photo Gallery which shows each individual element as it might look when finished. (If your family chooses different background colors, or you have very young children doing the coloring, yours might differ somewhat.) It makes a handy reference guide, to see how an activity looks when it’s all finished (for us, this was especially true for the “pie” book, which was a little confusing at first, when we were putting it together).

Clear instructions

Finally, all the activities are complete and it’s time to put the lapbook together! Fear not, for the instructions for assembling the lapbook are clear, precise, and accompanied by full color illustrations!

And, oh, my. The finished product is gorgeous.

We haven’t had time yet to do the bonus activities, “The New Testament Times” and “The Armor of God,” but they look interesting and I’m looking forward to exploring them.

Purchasers of the New Testament Lap Book Activity-Pak have permission to reproduce for for private family use, not an entire classroom.

The New Testament Lap Book Activity-Pak is available from Homeschool in the Woods for $18.95 (downloadable e-book), or $19.95 for a CD-Rom.

To see other TOS Crew reviews of this product, click here.