Monthly Archives: November 2009

TOS Crew: Mathletics

When the TOS Homeschool Crew received a 45-day subscription to the Mathletics website, I was excited. I had already signed up for the free one-week  American Math Challenge, but with the TOS subscription our girls were able to explore the site before the Math Challenge began. (And a good thing, too, but more about that later.)

American Math Challenge

I didn’t really “get” this. I’m not sure if there’s an explanation in an email I missed, or something. Students and classrooms all over the country seemed to be racking up points somehow, and yet a big part of the Math Challenge seemed to be playing games (“problem solving” section?) that didn’t seem to generate points. It appeared that you got points by answering the questions in the “Practice” section, or engaging in live math contests (sort of like fact drill races).

(Technical difficulties)

I guess that the points students earned were applied towards the American Math Challenge, but our girls weren’t motivated to try in that competition, as they weren’t able to start until late Wednesday (even with a couple of phone calls for technical help on Monday and Tuesday, though I must say the tech folks at Mathletics were sympathetic and did their best to be helpful). For some reason their passwords would get them into Mathletics, but not into the American Math Challenge, so that by the time they were finally able to access the American Math Challenge they felt like there was no way to catch up–hopelessly behind, in other words.

World Math Day

In addition to the American Math Challenge in November, Mathletics hosts World Math Day in March. I’ve heard exciting things about World Math Day but can’t tell you anything from personal experience about it. Yet.

Practice, Problem Solving, Live Competition

As for Mathletics, there are three sections we’ve been working through:

– the Practice section, which allows the student to practice grade-appropriate math concepts. From what I’ve seen in our daughters’ accounts, there are ten main subject areas, and each of these is further broken down into sub-areas, ten questions in each sub-area. Looking at the sixth-grade screen today, I clicked on the “Decimals” topic, and got a list of sub-topics where the student will manipulate decimal numbers by comparing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, estimating, etc. Within each subtopic you answer ten questions. You get points for right answers, and if you get 100% you win a “gold bar”. If you don’t get 100% you can repeat the sub-topic and see different though related questions.

The Problem Solving section involves math games. You don’t gain points through solving these problems, but the reward comes with a short cartoonish video at the end of the game when you win.

Live Competition is available at the click of the mouse. Your student can choose to compete against one or more other students drawn from all over the world. It was fascinating to think of all these other people “in school” at the same time that we are, even in New Zealand on the other side of the world! As I watched, I saw our daughters spurred to answer math facts faster and faster, beating their own record even when they didn’t win against others. Of course, it was a real ego boost when they did win.

Spending points

What do you do with the points you earn? You get to spend them in the avatar store. You see, when you first register, you get to pick a figure (girl or boy) with a few basic choices in dress, hair style, accessories, and backgrounds.

As you accumulate points, you can spend them to vary your avatar’s appearance. Our girls really get into this kind of thing, and evidently other students do, too–we get to see their avatars during live competitions, and they can be quite striking in appearance.

Points accumulate on a weekly basis, and a running total of top point-earners appears on the main page.

A subscription to Mathletics is $59 (accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for 12 months) per student. Mentioning the Human Calculator’s favorite number (9) when you sign up gets you $10 off. There’s a 10-day money-back guarantee. Sign up at the Mathletics website. To put the cost in perspective: $49 is less than a dollar a week per student for math drill that is fun and motivating…

Wrap-up and final impressions

After the American Math Challenge was over, I encouraged the girls to try a little Mathletics drill in every day’s math session. Two out of three seemed to enjoy using the site, the third avoided using it unless Mom insisted. The two that enjoyed the site used it much differently. One liked doing the exercises, sort of like mini-quizzes (10 questions per section, a perfect score earns a gold bar, and you can ask for an explanation at any time by clicking the big question mark), while the other found these drove her crazy because there was a lot of repetition. She hates repetition. The Repetition-hater seemed to enjoy racing against other students all over the world, a race that drilled math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The Mini-quiz Queen did not at all want to race against other students, but didn’t mind racing against the computer.

The third? Well, she avoids math as much as possible, so that she really didn’t spend much time at all on the Mathletics site. I’m going to try to make it part of her regular math time, though, as I find the drill really helps her jumpstart her brain for problem solving during her regular math lesson. Yes, we’ve decided to get three subscriptions (at the reduced price, hurrah) for the coming year, at least ten minutes a day just to get the math juices flowing. And if they do more just for fun? Well, that would be pretty amazing.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Mathletics, click here.

Thanks to Erin from the Crew, here’s a link to a brochure with screen shots and more information about Mathletics.

Disclaimer: The TOS Homeschool Crew families were given 45 days of free access to Mathletics for every student in their families. Opinions shared here reflect our family’s experience.

TOS Crew: Gymathics DVD


gymathics1When I started watching the Gymathics DVD, it was just me and the dog in the living room. It didn’t take long for curiosity to draw the girls in, though. (What’s Mom doing, watching a video during math time?)

The dog was excited to see me doing the warmup stretches along with the video. It looked to her like the kind of stretches that take place before getting out the leash and going for a walk. Walks (along with meals) are the high points of her day. She wagged her tail and brought me her stuffed toy just to let me know she was interested.

gymathics2I kept following the moves on the television screen. The dog didn’t, of course, but she plonked herself down right beside me to offer moral support. Before long, however, Middlest had joined me and was doing the warmup stretches while commenting on the mathematical relationships pointed out in the video. The warmup stretches were easy, even for this out-of-shape mama.

The video doesn’t really teach basic math concepts, but works well for review or reinforcement. We’re talking about lines, simple geometric shapes, patterns, place value, and some skip counting. The math facts target young learners in Grades 2-5. I could see where doing the exercises every day brings a playful attitude to math. In addition, incorporating gross motor activity has been shown to help dyslexic children to learn letters and sounds–why not math concepts?

gymathics3The workout includes:

– warmup stretches, incorporating lines and shapes

– aerobic exercise, such as jogging in place, air punches and kicks, along with counting

– step patterns (sort of reminded me of aerobic dance routines), with a discussion of different types of patterns

– strength training, including pushups and crunches

– cooldown stretches; no math here, but lots of brief statements related to healthy living and positive thinking

Middlest commented often during the video when a move resembled something she’d learned in her Pilates class. I noted elements that could have been taken from a number of exercise classes I’ve taken over the years, including aerobic dance, calesthenics, water exercise (without the water) and stretches.

Neutral background music

Instrumental music accompanies each segment, appropriately peppy or soothing as suited the exercises or stretches. Middlest found the peppy music annoyingly repetitive, but she finds repetition annoying in any event. The first part of the video seems to be set in a small room, while later segments are on a deck in front of a beach setting.


All ages

As if to emphasize that the video is appropriate for all ages, there are one or two girls and two boys exercising on the video. They range in age from a little girl (preschool or early elementary) to high school aged boy.

Our girls were enchanted with the little girl on the video, and just a little disappointed that she wasn’t in the segment with pushups and crunches. I wondered if some exercises were age appropriate? In addition, the exercise leader performed a different kind of pushup than the others, and her crunches looked different. It might have been nice to have an explanation of different levels of intensity, or alternate ways of doing the exercises, perhaps in an “additional feature” on the video.

Cheerful role models

The children on the video show varying degrees of coordination and ability, which is reassuring to the klutzes among us. They’re also good sports, high-fiving each other at intervals when called to do so by the exercise leader, and performing all the moves with good-natured smiles.

Gentle, beginner-level workout

The 30-minute workout is appropriate for a range of ages, and gentle enough for someone just beginning an exercise program, though of course the video includes the caution that you should check with a medical professional before beginning an exercise regime.

The Exploracise® Gymathics® DVD is available for $24.99 from the Exploramania website (see link). A second DVD is due out soon, with a higher intensity workout and math facts targeted at students in Grades 4-7. You’ll find other products combining math, exercise, and concepts for healthy living at the website.

Click here to read more TOS Crew reviews of Gymathics.

Disclaimer: TOS Homeschool Crew reviewers received a free copy of the Gymathics DVD for personal use. TOS Crew reviewers receive no monetary compensation.

TOS Crew: Sarah Books


(This has been one of those reviews that is very difficult to write, because the book kept disappearing… taken by one avid reader, or by another when the book surfaced once again, so that for the longest time I caught only tantalizing glimpses here and there.)

History has been one of our favorite subjects, and one reason is because we supplement our studies of historical periods and events by reading historical fiction. We have pretty high standards for historical fiction, though. I like books that are faithful to the past time periods they are portraying, i.e. the dialogue doesn’t sound modern, the children behave appropriately for their time period, the children in the story aren’t portrayed as smarter than the adults, etc. Writing from a Biblical basis is a plus.

Jim Baumgardner, author of the Sarah Books, has written a series of books set in the 19th century, about an orphaned girl who takes on her late mother’s charitable yet dangerous mission. Three books have been published so far, and another is in the works.

Mr. Baumgardner is passionate about history, as well as a gifted storyteller. His characters spring to life in your imagination–as Middlest says, she can easily imagine herself inside the story. Eldest, too, wanted me to tell you that she gives Sarah’s Wish five stars (out of five, of course!).

Sarah’s Wish is the first book in the series. The book is set during the time before the Civil War (War of Northern Aggression, as my Southern cousins like to call it), during the time of the Underground Railroad. Through reading, you get a good idea of day-to-day life at the time, as well as the dangers involved for those who were trying to escape to freedom, and those who helped them.

The book received high marks from our daughters, who have been begging for the rest of the series ever since reading Sarah’s Wish. (Well, Christmas is coming…)

There’s a link in the back of the book to a free audiobook download, and the author is offering special pricing to readers of  TOS Homeschool Crew blogs. You can email the author at to get a form sent to you, or go to this page and print out the form.

In addition, the author kindly provided discussion questions for homeschoolers who are reading Sarah’s Wish. I’ve copied them to a page, which you can find here.

Special pricing is as follows (from the author’s email):

Sarah’s Wish – 126 pages            $8.50 retail: $10.99 save $2.49

Sarah’s Promise – 245 pages       $10.50 retail: $14.99 save $4.49

Sarah’s Escape – 304 pages         $15.50 retail: $21.99 save $6.49

Extra special offer: Purchase all of the items above and add an extra copy of Sarah’s Wish for $4.00. You can give it to a friend. They will think you are great!

To read more about the author and his books, to order books and audiobooks, or to sign up for the Sarah’s Web newsletter, click here.

To read more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of Sarah’s Wish, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were sent a free copy of Sarah’s Wish. All opinions in this review belong to our family (but we hope you’ll enjoy this book as much as we have!).

TOS Crew: Virginia Soaps and Scents


One of the fun things about being on the TOS Homeschool Crew is getting to try products I’d never heard about before. When the soaps from Virginia Soaps & Scents arrived, it was like getting an unexpected present in the mail!

The soap sampler was beautifully packaged, a group of small hand-cut bars (three soaps and a shampoo) nestled in with a little packet containing the makings for homemade laundry soap. I wish I’d taken a picture of it! Here’s a picture from the Virginia Soaps & Scents website.

The soap bars are softly scented with natural oils, creamy to the touch, pastel colored or delicately marbled. They come in a number of scents: We received coconut lemongrass (refreshing!); oatmeal milk & honey (gentle scrubbing, with real oatmeal–but not drying to the skin); and fresh orange (mmm, that citrus smell). The bars were well-cured and have lasted well.

Soap bars are 4.5 ounces and sell for $4.50 per bar, or in various combinations (3 for $12, buy 4 get one free, 10 bars for $35). Victorian Rose, Violets and Lace, and Country Clothesline will make wonderful stocking stuffers for people I know and love (but shhh! Don’t tell the girls!)…

I’m really happy with the shampoo bar. I’ve used shampoo bars before but had gotten into the habit of buying inexpensive shampoo, some years ago, after young daughters-who-will-remain-nameless-here decided to use my somewhat spendy mail-order shampoo bars to wash their dollies… ouch!

Recently I’ve been reading the chemical list on the backs of those shampoo bottles, and looking for a more natural product. Our allergies have steadily been getting worse, and I’ve read some sobering information about the chemicals routinely found in health and beauty products, but hadn’t been able to find an affordable alternative yet. Virginia Soaps & Scents‘ package came along just at the right time!

Different hair types seem to respond differently to the shampoo bar. Middlest, with her thick, wavy hair, does best if she rinses her hair with a vinegar-water solution after shampooing. I have thin, fine hair and find I only need to rinse with vinegar about once a week, or I start having trouble with tangles. The rest of the time my hair is smooth and shiny, and looks about as it used to when I’d use one of those volume-promoting shampoos.

Each 5.5 ounce shampoo bar sells for $5.50 each, and lasts through many washings.

The Laundry Soap kit is fun! If you’ve read the recipes and how-tos on the web for making homemade laundry soap, this will look familiar. The kit contains grated unscented cleaning soap plus packets with premeasured amounts of borax and washing soda. This is exactly the recipe that I’ve been using the last few years!

The sample kit we got made 1/2 gallon of laundry gel (you use it about 1/2 cup per load), while the full size kit ($4.95) makes 2 gallons (64 – 72 loads at less than seven cents a load). There are no dyes or perfumes, making this a good choice for families with allergies (which is why I started making our own laundry soap awhile ago). I’ve been told that you can use this in HE front loading washers, but I don’t have one of those. I do know that it’s low-sudsing but does a good job of getting the clothes clean, and you can use it for pre-spotting stains as well as in the washload.

If you go to the Virginia Soaps and Scents website, you’ll find a long list of  products, including all-over body bars, pet shampoo, lip balm, body butter and body powder, gourmet and holiday soaps, and more. (Gourmet soaps, you ask? Chocolate soap, for one! The others range from elegant to practical, with a little whimsy thrown in.) I’m planning to order soaps for Christmas, including their bayberry-scented Christmas soap for our bathroom and a variety of scents for presents.

Along with our sampler pack, the Crew received a brochure telling the inspiring story behind Virginia Soaps & Scents. It is the story of a family crisis, of beauty rising from ashes, and finally, of a homeschool history project that turned into a family business.

I give this family business an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and tender thanks to The Old Schoolhouse for introducing us to their products.

To read more TOS Crew reviews, please click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were sent free sample boxes from Virginia Soaps and Scents to use and review. Results reported here are from our own family’s experiences. TOS Crew members receive free products for review purposes, but no monetary compensation.