Monday, November 29, 2010

My Animal Family book and DVD Review


Several weeks ago we received another item to review for The Old Schoolhouse.  This time, it was a book and DVD set from My Animal Family, about a small polar bear (named Nanuq) and his family.  How fun!  With beautiful illustrations, and an engaging story, the hard-back book was just down our alley.  We read it SEVERAL times that first day, and it is a treasure.  I really love the cute but realistic pictures in this book, and I would love to see the elephant one.... I know Baby Girl would get a kick out of it.  :)

When you add to that the short-but-sweet DVD, you have a great package.  The DVD contains real footage of Polar Bears from BBC, and it is narrated by Nanuq himself, through the voice of a child.  It isn't long, but it is filled with information about Polar Bears.   There is also a music video with one song and a section where you can learn more about the animals.  Since we have no television, I really like this cute little show.

PhotobucketWhen you purchase a book and DVD set from Smart Kids Publishing, you also get an access number for the website.  You are supposed to be able to play games and explore the animal's native habitat.  We received access initially, but later on the website seemed funky and we were not able to get it to work right.  That wasn't a big disappointment, however, since my children were not too impressed with the game in the first place.  When you first sign in you are given a character to dress and personalize, and that was pretty much the only part my children enjoyed.  The habitat itself seemed pretty small, and there were a few games scattered through it that the children could play, to earn points.  After they earned 4000 points they were supposed to be able to get to more of the habitat and new games, but Bop and CJ eventually gave up.  The games were not very engaging, and you had to do the same few games many, many times to get your 4000 points.

We also had several other problems and questions about the website, including how long you are allowed access with the purchase of a book.  One place said 6 months, one said 12 months, and the reviewers received one month.  It is not uncommen for reviewers to get a shorter time with a digital product, but I did not want to say that you get more time then is actually true, so I am just saying I do not know!  Several of the Crew contacted the company with this and other questions, and our Crew leaders also tried several times. None of us ever received an answer.

To sum it up, this is an excellent physical product.  High quality, great illustrations, and a sweet story.  At only $12.99 for the book and DVD set, buying this product for the set alone is not at all unreasonable.  If you are wanting a great game for your kids, I would skip this one.   I have considered purchasing another animal set from My Animal Family, since they have several more- but with their sketchy customer service, I don't know if I will.  You can see their other book sets at the My Animal Family store.

Be dure to go to The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog to read more reviews on this product, or go to the main blog page to see what else is happening!

I received this product free of charge
as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Download N Go Benjamin Franklin Review

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. "
 ~ Benjamin Franklin

This week we took a trip back through time to the beginnings of our country, to learn about the life of Benjamin Franklin, through a Download N Go unit study.  From inventor, to writer, to statesman, few men in history are so interesting.  As one of our Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin is a household name but there is a lot about him that many people don't know.  We learned so many amazing facts this week, and I found out so much I didn't know.

We started off our week by learning a little bit more about Ben's own history.  His birth, his family, and his younger years.  We also got to explore some of our own history and the children loved filling in their own family tree.  Through the next few days we pressed on to more intriguing learning.  Inventions.  Discovery.  Politics.  Great thought and great risk.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." ~ Benjamin Franklin

I especially enjoyed the Ben Franklin quotes scattered throughout the lessons, and the kids really thought about what they meant.  It brought many opportunities to discuss and reflect.  They even had some of them memorized by the time we were done with the week!  Bop knew right away what "A penny saved is a penny earned" meant.  I found it interesting that so many of the sayings that we use every day are attributed to Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard's Almanac.

There were some really neat videos included in this Download N Go, and I am always so relaxed clicking on the links in the study.  They go right to an embedded video on a Download N Go page, so there are no nasty sidebars.  We got distracted by some of the other links, since they had some great historical sites included.  The web is so great for rabbit trails.... :)  The links in these Download N Gos are really nice.  They always have the best information, and a lot of times there is so much there that we bookmark it to come back later.

Some of the kiddo's favorite activities included designing a sign for Franklin's first printing shop, drawing a picture of "what we want to be when we grow up", and inventing something new. I enjoyed how personal a lot of this unit was, inspiring reflection and critical thinking.  Download N Go units all have a variety of worksheets for many different learning types and abilities.  We enjoy the drawing pages and the lapbook pieces, but others get more use out of the workbook-style pages with places to record the learning that is happening.  Our kids are not really into writing much yet, so I only use a few of the worksheet and copy work pages, but they are great for older kids.  Add in a few of your own assignments or books and this unit could be stretched upward into higher grades really easily.

I mean really, I am the teacher, and I still learn a lot with each and every Download N Go!  :)

Don't forget to check out the other reviews for Ben Franklin on the Download N Go blog!  You can also see all of the other Download N Go titles on the Download N Go website. There is a huge selection, so take your time!  

Now is your chance to buy Ben Franklin on sale for only $6.25 until November 22!  Be sure to head on over the the blog to get your children learning all about this intriguing Founder!

 "A penny saved is a penny earned."
 ~ Benjamin Franklin

I received this product free of charge for review purposes.I promise to be honest and fair in my reviews, and I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. You can visit the Download-N-Go blog to read more reviews on this product.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The American Patriots Almanac

I knew right away that I wanted to read this book when I saw that is was co-authored by William J. Bennet.  What I didn't know was that it would be hardback and nearly 2 inches thick, with cloth binding!  This is an extremely high quality book, and the content matches it in quality as well. 

Imagine a book with dates for every day of the year, and items of American history, from the monumental to the mundane, located on each and every stuffed page.  Then, add in songs, articles, and other information, and you will have some idea of what this book is all about.  

This book has one page for each day of the year.  That page has a main reading for the day, and also a list of the other events in American history that happened on that date.  At the end of each month there is an article with more in-depth historical information, and some have songs, prayers, poems and the like.  This makes the book excellent for reading daily.  Kept on a bedside stand or coffee table, it is great for daily reading and then the further contemplation throughout the day that is sure to follow.  

If the read-a-little-a-day style does not suit you, don't give up on this book just yet.  I am not one to read a snippet and then put the book down until tomorrow.  (Maybe that is why I always read devotionals more like novels- straight through. )  Even though that is not my style, I really enjoyed reading this book.  There is a lot here, and even if you just pick it up and start browsing, it is easy to read.  If you take into account the thick index in the back of this book, you have a valuable resource book as well!

I received this book from Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review.  I am always honest in my reviews,  and I will receive no other compensation.

I review for BookSneeze

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SpellQuizzer Review

I received the chance to review a nifty little program called SpellQuizzer. This is a computer program designed to drill spelling words for kids. It is NOT a game and it is not fancy. However, sometimes the best learning tools are tools and nothing more! Kids don't need fancy games to learn to spell.

SpellQuizzer sells for $29.95 and it is an instant download- no shipping time. You can download several list of spelling words on the SpellQuizzer site, and you can make your own with a microphone. You simply name your list, enter the correct spelling, and add the audio word (or a hint if you don't want to fiddle with the audio and your kids are old enough to 'get it'). Presto! Your list. Now, instead of a parent drilling spelling words, the computer does.

How did it work for us? After playing around with SpellQuizzer for several days, and having bop try it out, I have decided that it is not right for her at this time. For several reasons. It is obviously intended for older children, and though Bop is advanced in spelling and phonics, the typing is just too tedious for her to do and actually enjoy. Also, I really prefer her to handwrite her words at this point, to get in extra practice.

However, that does not mean that SpellQuizzer is not a great program for older children, or families that prefer a more conventional spelling list approach. i can also see how SpellQuizzer would be an excellent program for children with Disgraphia or those who simply don't like writing.

I received a free copy of SpellQuizzer for my unbiased review. I will not receive any other compensation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do we really need more education reform?

One thing that you hear a lot about during the election season, and through out the rest of the year, as well, is education reform.  There is no doubt that our young people are the future of our great nation, so education should be one of our greatest concerns.

So why have decades of education reform resulted in failure?  I submit to you that public education as it stands today cannot be reformed, because
it is working exactly the way it was designed to. 

Many people live under the mistaken conclusion that public education was set into place to meet the needs of children living in poverty, who, it is supposed, received no education because their parents could not afford to send them away to what would have then been the equivalent of expensive private schools today.

However, the sad fact is that nothing could be further from the truth.  The TRUTH is, that in early America, the literacy rate hovered near 100%.  The TRUTH is, there were publicly funded schools.  They were just not FEDERALLY funded; they were not even STATE funded, they were funded locally by the families who were using them.  The TRUTH is, that the federal compulsory school system was never intended to free children from the bondage of ignorance, because there was no bondage of ignorance.

With the rise of the industrial revolution, it became evident that there was one large obstacle to corporate domination.  Free enterprise.

As long as we were a nation of freely educated, creative, ambition, frugal people, the large corporations would always be at risk of collapse.  That is the hard law of competition.  Every creative and driven young man was a threat to the towering empires of wealthy families.  Every smart and innovative child could become the next American millionaire.  These companies needed two things to thrive:  Consumers and workers.  The public school system was a way to produce both, while at the same time limiting creative thought and uniqueness.

Ringing bells.
Age segregation.
Extension of childhood long beyond historical ages.
Separation from parents.
Younger and younger students.
Lowering standards.
Removal of proven methods. (Phonics, Arithmetic, Latin...)
Creative thought discouraged.
Adding meals to the school day.
Rewarding conformity and disciplining independent thinkers.
Classical schooling completely removed.

All of these things point directly to an underlying system.  And it is working exactly like it is supposed to.  

I just want to add that I have the greatest respect and admiration for our public school teachers.  Most of them are doing the best they can in a system that has undermined them from the very beginning.  Most teachers are trying, really trying, to teach their students and most of them succeed against overwhelming odds.  But the cost to our countries greatest asset, creative thought, is devastating.  The system is failing teachers as much as it is children.  

What do you think about our failing education system?  Can it be reformed?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Download N Go Expedition Australia review

Do you want to take a trip across the Pacific ocean?  Let's go to the "sun-burnt land", down-under, the outback: Australia.  This is one of our favorite Downoad N Gos, and I just find the study of other countries and cultures so important.  I know several people are taking a 'trip around the world' with Download N Go this year, and that sounds like a lit of fun to me.  Expedition Australia will fit right in with that!

There is so much material here- links, worksheets, drawing pages, maps and more.  All of the Download N Gos are priced at only $7.95, and are intended for a one week study.  These studies are divided into days, but not really into lesson plans, so to speak. Instead, they are laid out for the child and parent to read and research together, with all the subjects neatly melding into each other in a gentle sequence. Targeted for grades K-4, I think if you had older children you could easily modify it a bit so that they could join in the fun.

I was delighted to find that we were going to study social studies, (In the form of holidays, geography, and language differences) science (Australian animals), math (temperature, time and currency) Literature (poetry) and art (drawing). The unit includes lapbook components, and then we stapled the worksheets together and added them, too.  Expedition Australia seemed to abound with Bops favorite Download N Go feature- the drawing pages.  They have so much fun drawing in pictures to go with the backgrounds and borders that are provided!

This unit features an Australian Animal of the day, which is great for animal loving families like ours.  Therea re so many amazing animals in this world, and it is one of the great privelegde of our modern world to be able to learn about them on ways never before possible.  I just love watching the Download N Go videos.  They are all embedded in a Download N Go screen, so there are no yucky comments or ads to watch for (Except for the occasional Google ad which can quickly be clicked away.)

We got to learn about temperature and went on some rabbit trails about the seasons and the way the solar system works together.  The seasons are a subject that has been coming up in all of our units this fall and I just love seeing how God uses the versatility of Unit studies to bring things together.  I had not planned in ANY 'space' type units this fall, but I had planned them for next spring because that is an area that CJ is interested in.  Little did I know that God would use all of these unplanned units to teach to CJ's interests!  Just another example of how God loves our children even more then we do.  :)

Worksheet about Kangaroos

Bop's Kangaroo

Now is the time to buy your own copy of Expedition Australia and head for the outback with your own children!  Expedition Australia is on sale for only $5.95 until November 8th, so hurry!  
They also have a contest to win a large map of Australia from National Geographic worth $19.95.

Also don't forget to go to the Download N Go Blog to read more reviews, and check back here soon for more reviews and giveaways!

I received this product free of charge for review purposes. I promise to be honest and fair in my reviews, and I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. You can visit the Download N Go blog to read more reviews on this product.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Collectorz Review

I like books.  No, I love books.  My personal passion at this time is picture books.  Maybe that's just because of my children's ages- in the past I have had similar passions for Christian novels, Non-fiction of all kinds, historical novels, end-time books, novels about Bible figures, Christian life books, and the list could go on.

Perfect for those of us who think a bookshelf is the best Christmas present, here is a nifty program called Collectorz!  There are several different versions, including Collectorz for comics, games and movies, but I got to review Book Collector.  This is a cataloging program where you can enter, sort, edit, and add all sorts of information about each book.  There are several options for entering the books, including typing in the ISBN or scanning the barcode.  (The barcode scanner is a separate purchase)  This program retails for $ and is an instant download.

There is so much you can do with this program.  I chose to organize mine into subjects.  I chose a few main subjects so I wouldn't get overwhelmed, and I fit all the books into those 'folders'.  The really fun thing about Book Collector is how the folders are set up.  They are not like the folders in Windows- where you stick a file in one folder and that is where it sits.  In Collectorz each book can be in several different subjects, folders, and categories.  For example, take the book "Charlotte's Web".  It could go into the folders for fictional animals, historical fiction, award winners, family life, and read alouds.  Then later, when you search any of those subjects of open the folders, you would find "Charlotte's Web" in each one of them.  Pretty neat!

Another really useful feature on Book Collerctor is the export tool.  You can export your book list to many different devices, including some phones.  How neat!  Imagine, never buying duplicate books at a library sale or curriculum fair again!  Just pop out your phone, pull it up and you can see right away whether you have this book or not.  Unfortunately, I am not the owner of any such newfangled phones, so I didn't get to test that particular feature out, but many of the other TOS Crew reviewers did.

So, what did I think of Book Collector?  I think it works really well.  It is a little complicated to use, at first, but they have great information on the Collectorz website, including video tutorials.  I think it is a neat idea.  It was really fun to input and organize all the books, though possible a big waste of time.  Why? I still go to my bookshelves if I need to know how many thanksgiving books I have.  I have a pretty good idea in my head of what books I have and what I want.  And I just don't USE it.

It is a great program that works really well and has tons and tons of features.  But I have my books organized by subject on the shelves, and the ones I don't need for a few years are stored on shelves upstairs.  I really just don't see myself pulling up a program to run a search on animal books when I could just walk over and pick them out.

But, I currently have 2 copies of at least 3 or 4 books, 
so maybe I am just stubbornly old-fashioned.  :)

Go to The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog to read lots more reviews of this product, and you can check out the Collectorz site itself, and get a free trial run. 

I received this product free of charge
as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Christmas Printable Game Reviews

I decided to try out Printable Games and see how I liked them, when I saw this review offer. I thought they looked like a fun activity for the kids to do this December. They also have birthday party games, baby shower games, and lots of different holiday collections.

When you buy these games you will receive a link and password to sign into the website. You will get access to the games that you buy, and you can go back and print them anytime you need more. I was pretty surprised that the files are not actually downloadable, but instead, they are just files that you access on the site and print from there. This may be good or bad, depending on your needs. It could be helpful if you need to access the files form a different computer, and it is nice that you do not have a bunch of downloads to organize.

On the other hand, if you are like me (and there may not be anyone like me, I may be weird like this. ) you like to have everything downloadable, and backed up in case.... in case SOMETHING happens, and you can't get on the internet anymore, or in case someday you decide to NOT have an internet connection (Oh! The HORROR!) or in case a future government entity monopolizes cyberspace in a wicked and terrible experiment. Or something.

Anyway. These games are really cute. They are pretty much your typical party games- right-left games, trivia, bingo, word games, etc. There is a lot here that would be really useful for churches, schools, and of course, people planning showers, Christmas parties, etc. My kids really enjoyed the Tic-Tac-Toe games, and I had fun with the word searches. I do think the prices, which vary from $6.00 to $20.00 and up, may be a little steep but if you are searching for convenience and simplicity, then it may very well be worth it to you! I personally (again, I am weird) like searching out those elusive freebies and making things myself. :)

So, if you are in the market for party games, this is a great idea! You can get a set, or you can purchase them individually. Again, I think these would be especially great for someone planning Church parties and showers, family reunions, etc, since there is enough in the collection buy to last several years! If you are an individual looking for something fun for you or your kids to do, I would pass these up. These are party games, and that is what they work best as.

[Product review & giveaway disclosure: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."]

Word Filled Wednesday- Little Birds

Little Bird by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

Monday, November 1, 2010

Steps4Kids to Write Their ABCs Review

I recently recieved a DVD from Steps4Kids called "Write Their ABCs". This is a totally innovative and unique approach to teaching handwriting. The author developed the idea after watching her children struggle with their own writing. After she started getting comments from others at the amazing improvements in her children's handwriting, she decided this might be a product that other kids would benefit from as well!

So what is so different about the Steps4Kids method? Well, just about everything! To begin with, there are no workbooks. The kids just learn to write by watching someone else form the letter. This is not animated, there is a real person writing the letters and talking them through it. Instead of tracing letters, the kids make each one themselves. I really like this after hearing more about all of the negative things that tracing can cause.

Another great feature is the drawing lessons. Drawing lessons in a handwriting program? Yes! They use LETTER shapes to teach the kids how to draw some easy little figures and objects, such as using the letter 't' to make a kite. These drawing breaks are not a separate part of the DVD, they are right in there with the letters, so they really keep the kids motivated. Every few letters they get to draw something cute!

99 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

The Steps4Kids DVD does not introduce letters in alphabetical order. This is really important to me because introducing letters by SHAPE rather then order is a lot easier for the children. I especially appreciated the separation of the lowercase letters 'b' and 'd'. The letter 'b' is introduced with the 'l' family, and the letter 'd' is taught later, in the 'c' family. That is so helpful for those kids who have trouble with reversals! And I think kids need minimal exposure to capital letters because of their frequency of use. They need to know them, but the lowercase letters are both harder to form and more important. So it is great that on this DVD the uppercase and lowercase letters are not practiced together.

So, the real test- does it work and do they like it. It really seems to help a lot. This DVD is NOT full of fluff, it is definitely focused on learning. The voice is gentle and the writing is plain and clear. Bop and CJ have both seen great improvements in their writing since using this, but especially Cj, who has had such a hard time with his writing/drawing skills. And as for them liking it, there is no doubt there. They actually ask for it- they love it!

The only thing I wish was different about the Steps4Kids method? I really wish there was more! They already have cursive, manuscript and modern versions. I just wish that they had something that went beyond learning the letters, and had them practicing words as well. I think making the transition from 'handwriting' to 'we write this way all the time' is hard for kids. However, this is no way detracts from what IS here- a great, effective and different approach to learning to write.

You can watch an informational video on the Steps4Kids website, or see more of their products here.

I received a DVD from Steps4Kids in exchange for this unbiased review. I did not receive any other compensation, and my reviews are always honest.
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