Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Old-Fashioned Happily Ever After---Vintage-Style Wedding Pictures

Bubba and Miss A. got hitched on Sunday...it was a simple, yet elegant wedding in the country at Miss A's family's boarding stable. 

The ceremony was performed outdoors under God's big and beautiful blue sky, on a lush green lawn, to the music of a single violinist who added accompaniment to the many talented birds that were singing because they were so happy about the upcoming events.

Bubba was obviously smitten by his lady love, and she was a bundle of nerves, but ready for the second-most important moment of her life (the first one being the day she asked Jesus into her heart).

 She was stunning in a white lace gown sprinkled with pearls and glittering in the sunshine. She carried lilies, a symbol of chastity and virtue, friendship and devotion...a very fitting choice for the two of them.

Unfortunately, my camera malfunctioned, so many of my photos wound up having a strange purple hue to them. However, I found that by changing them to a sepia tone, which kind of fits the whole country, old-fashioned, barn thing, I get rid of the odd hue, so it's not so bad.
It's Vintage. 

These pictures will perhaps remind you of the days when your love was young and encourage you to think of your own true love and appreciate him (or her) just a little bit more tonight as you reminisce about days gone by (or to dream of the one the Lord has waiting for you, and say a prayer for their safekeeping). 

 Here are some sweet shots in front of the pasture fence.
Bubba's horse, Dusty, and her horse, Ranger, are back there somewhere...
I am sure they are happy for the newlyweds, too.

Hey, I just realized that not only can Bubba say he was raised in a barn (since he spent so much time there growing up...so did she, for that matter), but he can say he was married in a barn, too.
What stories they will have to tell their kids...*smile*
That's life in the country, folks.

Here's to another happily ever after...the Lord sure did a fantastic job of bringing these two hearts together.

The newlyweds greeted their well-wishers from the loft of the barn, and you can see the joy on their faces
 (and perhaps some relief that the ceremony is over!).

They headed out after the ceremony for a history-lover's honeymoon of visiting Williamsburg, Monticello, and Annapolis

Bubba has planned a few fun things for them to do, including an Orioles game and a carriage ride, with plenty of time left over for enjoying the special moments together (with no horses to tend to).

What a blessing!!

 Please keep the two of them in your prayers during the rest of this week, that they may grow closer together during the time they have on their honeymoon, and over the many years to come.

This is the wedding party in front of the lovely flower-draped arbor where the ceremony was held.
Ladybug and Firefly were flower girls.
My brother was the best man.

I just had to add this handsome picture of Tex. He was an usher at the wedding and afterwards he happily informed me that it will be at least ten years before we have to do the wedding thing again since he plans to finish college and be able to support a wife in the way that his brother can before thinking about marriage. *whew**smile*


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fun Math Practice for Your Family


One of the great things about being on the TOS Homeschool Review Crew is that sometimes we get to try out products that we've never heard of before, and other times we get to try products that we have wanted to try out for some time. This time is was a case of getting to try out IXL as a full subscription instead of as a daily freebie limited to twenty problems as we have always used it in the past.

IXL is an online math practice site for students Pre-K through Algebra. Used in more than 150 countries around the world, IXL lines up with state Standards of Learning and the Common Core  Standards from 2010.


If you've never heard of IXL before, you can check it out for yourself. IXL allows your child to try twenty problems a day for free. As you work the problems, a timer keeps track of how long your student has been working. If you are using the free trial, your access will end after 20 problems each day. If you have a subscription, the program will keep track of your child's progress in each particular skill they practice. Each successful answer raises their success percentage. Incorrect answers bump it back a bit, and they have to do extra problems to compensate in order to reach the reward they are working for.

Here is how we've used it in the past. The kids would take turns signing on and doing twenty problems every few days to work on different math skill areas. The great thing about IXL is that each grade level covers many different skill areas, from 99 in the Kindergarten level to 261 in the 6th grade level. You can also move freely about the site, from one level to another, so your child can practice skills on several levels during the same session.


We tried out the Pre-K through the Second Grade programs. Ladybug (age 8) and Cowboy (age 6) used the program regularly. Firefly (age 4) used it a few times with help.

The subscription program works by setting up an account for each subscribed child under one parent account. Your child signs on as often as you decide is necessary, and then works on any number of skills in the grade level that you assign. The program is not designed to take your child through a pre-determined order of skills. Therefore, it is up to you (or your child) to decide what skills need to be worked on on any given day. 

IXL Screen Samples

You can choose skills to practice that you covered in a regular math program that day, or that you feel they need to work on from previous lessons, or that your child worked on in a co-op or school class recently, or from particular state standards, or you can let your child decide what they want to learn.

IXL Awards and Games

This worked well for us as my kids love math, love computers, and have a blast doing anything that earns them rewards. Yes, rewards. Another great feature, besides the many skills offered, and the ease of finding the skills according to standards or levels, is the Reward screen for each grade that displays "ribbons and medals" your child has earned by completing a certain number of problems, achieving a particular level of mastery, or for working on a skill for a set amount of time. 

My kids (ages 4-8) LOVED this and it inspired them to work tirelessly some days to achieve more stickers. Other times they were surprised when a particular day's practice earned an unexpected reward. It may not seem like much, but kids appreciate seeing a tangible record of their achievements, and even this simple idea of offering "stickers" for various accomplishments motivated mine. There is a separate reward screen for each grade level, so if your child works on more than one level, he will have multiple boards on which to earn rewards. 

He will also see a continuously updated listing of how many problems he's answered, how much time he's spent on math practice, how many skills he's mastered, how many prizes he's earned, and how far to go until the next prize is awarded.
IXL Certificate of Achievement

For those students who prefer something for their notebooks or portfolios, you can print up reward certificates when various skills are mastered or achievements are reached, as well as access a family report that shows all of your family members' progress, including proficiency, time spent on practice, and any trouble areas. Weekly email reports are also sent.

IXL Family Reports

The way we used this product in our homeschool was to have the Amigos sign on a few times a week to practice on areas of their choice. Occasionally, I would assign an area I noticed they needed some practice on during their seatwork math time, but usually, I just let the program build their confidence and enthusiasm with math...and it worked. Both Ladybug and Cowboy are eager to sign on to IXL whenever it is their turn. Both of them feel confident with most of the skills on their grade level, and are now interested in exploring skills in grade levels above their own, as well as going back to practice those in level they've already covered.

One feature about IXL that I especially appreciated was the speech icon (a speaker) next to the problems, so that if you had a child who needed to hear the problem read, they were accommodated. My kids used this feature a lot at first, but as they used the program more, they relied on it less and less. This was due to the fact that a side benefit to having to read to complete their math problems (and of being able to hear the words in the problems read to them at the same time as they attempted to read them alone), their reading confidence and skills improved. Each academic area has its own vocabulary and this program helped familiarize the kids more with math vocabulary.

IXL Fee Buttons

IXL is available for $9.95 a month for a single child or for $79.00 a year per child. You can add additional children for $20 each, once one is subscribed. Each subscribed child will be covered for all grade levels, so they can move up and down as needed. That's a pretty good deal for endless math practice of over 2000 different topics!!

If you don't know if IXL is for you, then please do try the 20 free practice problems a day for a while. You won't get access to any of the reward screens and the program will not keep track of your child's progress, but you will get to see if your student likes the program. I know mine sure did, and when our trial period is over, we will be considering purchasing a teacher's subscription.

Check out more reviews from other members of the Crew at the TOS Homeschool Review Crew Blog.



Disclaimer: We received access to IXL for 6 months in order to complete a review this product. All opinions you read here reflect our experiences with this product. I received no other compensation.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

God's Magnificent Creation...Illustrated.


Creation Illustrated is a high quality quarterly publication which seeks to refresh and renew the faith of its readers through inspiring stories, spiritually challenging articles, creation science updates, contests, puzzles, and recipes. Called the "Christian alternative to National Geographic," this Bible-based Creation Science nature journal is filled to the brim with vibrant photography and uplifting articles. It strives to bring balance between the physical and spiritual man, emphasizing an appreciation for nature. It seeks to help its readers find wisdom and peace through Biblical truths, and to share an appreciation of the blessings revealed in the wonders of God's creation.

Started by homeschooling parents, Tom and Jennifer Ish, this publication has been the mission field of this family for almost twenty years. They state "Our purpose is to share the wonders of God's creation. By revealing fresh insights of His infinite wisdom, gentle touch, undeniable justice, redeeming love, and flawless design, pure truth shall bring renewed peace. Each part of this publication is offered as a reprieve from the daily rigors of life so that all can look to the future with unbridled gratitude and hope."


We received two issues of Creation Illustrated magazine to review as a family. My children were impressed by the colorful and inspiring images on every page. Ladybug, Tex, and I like to take pictures with my digital camera, and just seeing the gorgeous photography made me wish my camera was working so that we could try a few of the shots out using our own beautiful surroundings.

While most of the content was not really geared towards the under 10 years old crowd, Ladybug leafed through the magazine a time or two and appreciated a story comparing a stray cat who didn't trust anyone even though it had been adopted by a loving family to those who have been adopted by God, yet still don't trust Him to care for them. This was from the Children's Story feature. There was also a nature-related word search in the back of the magazine that helped pass the time once while in a waiting room. It was easy enough for the younger kids to enjoy.

Other regular features include: Creation Up Close, Re-Creation and Restoration Through Outdoor Adventure, Creatures Near and Dear to Us, Children's Story, Gardens Around the World, Genesis Cuisine, Creation Highlights, Creation Stewardship, My Walk With God, and Wholesome Fun for All to Enjoy. 

For families who might want to use a publication like this to supplement family devotions, or other homeschool studies, Creation Illustrated always has an Instructional Guide in the back of the magazine with discussion questions for each article. They also host a regular photography contest for your budding photographers. For those who are future journalists, we noted that one article was written by a ninth grade homeschooled child, so it is possible to submit articles for consideration, too. You can read the guidelines for submissions here.


One story I particularly appreciated, Witness in the Wilderness (found in the Summer 2011 issue), was about a female volunteer forest ranger who was in an isolated area on a mountain when she encountered five men of middle eastern descent. In spite of her discomfort at being alone with men she did not know (which was exacerbated by their very forward and odd questions), they had a surprisingly deep conversation that transcended their cultural differences and which was a true witness to them. They admired her courage and appreciated the faith in Christ that showed through her kind Christian witness. One of them told her as she left, "I will never be the same again. I didn't know a person like you existed in the whole world. I will never forget what you have told us." What an inspiring and powerful way to show that you can be called into being a witness for Christ anywhere, anytime, even on top of a deserted mountain in the middle of a rainstorm.


While I found several of the stories in the two issues to be inspiring, my preference for magazines turns more toward the scientific. There were two regular sections in the magazine which covered recent findings that support creation science and environmental issues, and I loved these, but alas, each one was only one page long. I wish their "Tips for Simple Living" article about natural insect repellents had included not only a list of potential ingredients for making oils to keep bugs off of your family, but also had step-by-step photographs of the process and specific recipes for combinations of the essential oils that smell best together.

The healthy recipes looked interesting and delicious, but since there are only three per issue, that's not really enough to convince me I need to subscribe. I think the photography contest would be something my older children would like eventually, and they did enjoy checking out the winners in each issue, as well as admiring the photography throughout the magazine, but currently, they are not at the point where a contest like the one offered in the magazine is something they would feel they could do (there are pretty good cash prizes, though!).

All of those issues, however, have only to do with our particular preferences. There are many families who would truly benefit from having this lovely magazine grace their living room table for all to peruse at their leisure.

I do have one final comment about the magazine. I was uncertain whether to present it, but then decided that I must. As I glanced at the ads in the back of the magazine, I realized that there were several from Seventh-Day Adventist organizations. You can usually tell a lot about a publication from its ads. Further inspection revealed that the "prize" for being one of the first fifty respondents to send in the information reply card was an Adventist publication. The only reason I made these connections is that I am revamping our church library and discovered a book which I initially liked, but then I started detection something that was not quite "right." When I investigated it, I realized it, too, was an Adventist publication, so I had to look up their doctrine. Here is what I found

I want you to know that I am not saying that this magazine promotes anything aberrant in any of their articles. In fact, one of the apologists I read said that conservative Christians are likely to find more in common with Adventists (who tend to be conservative) than with most members of  modern-day churches. However, there is the fact that you must always know who is writing and supporting what you and your children are reading (and from what perspective they are writing). I personally enjoy publications from companies who are largely Calvinist, and I do not agree with all of their doctrine either, so I take what I believe to be scriptural and benefit from it, and do not take in the rest. You must decide what your family should do. I just felt that it was important to share what I noticed with you.

Creation Illustrated is available for $19.95 for a year's worth of issues (4) or $37.95 for two years (8). You can request a free trial issue, then if you decide you like it, you get to keep that issue and receive four more issues at the regular price. That's a good deal!

Check out what other reviewers had to say about Creation Illustrated at the Homeschool Review Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trials and Smiles


Sometimes, tackling problems can be difficult, even annoying. Other times, while the problems are still, well, problems, they open up opportunities and reveal good things that you might have never known about if you'd not faced the trials.

Such went my review of the My Math Lab online math program from Pearson products, the same folks who offer other valuable products like the perennial favorite among homeschoolers, Sing, Spell, Read, Write. Due to an unfortunate mix-up, I was issued the code for a non-homeschooler's math course, and the process to uncover and eventually correct that problem took many hours on the phone and using online chat sessions with folks at their customer service centers. Eventually, however, I got in touch with someone who could really help me, and since then, the company's attention to making things right has been phenomenal. 

In fact, not only did they set up our course for us, but Pearson also set me up with an online live webinar with the very experienced math professor who created the My Math Lab for homeschoolers (by adapting the text written by Elayn Martin-Gay)! Our conversation was extremely illuminating and fantastically informative. Sandee was so kind and helpful, and was very eager to hear what our perspective of things was so that she could tailor the Homeschool Edition of My Math Lab to best fit the needs of homeschoolers.

Since our time using the course has been somewhat limited by our difficulties, I want to focus mostly on telling you about the many specialized features that are worked into the My Math Lab program for homeschool use based on my conference with Sandee and our time using the program under the teacher's option.

I think once you read them all, you will be impressed. Once I have shared what was revealed to me during our conference, I will tell you about our personal experiences with the program so far. Then you can check out the experiences of other homeschool families on the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew blog. Not everyone on the Crew tried out this program, but those who did should have identified themselves in the label under their thumbnail pictures.

Features of My Math Lab--Algebra I: Homeschool Edition

  • My Math Lab is a course based upon the Algebra 1 textbook written by Elayn Martin-Gay
  • The My Math Lab Algebra 1 course is mastery based. This means that students are expected to demonstrate mastery (full ability) of each topic before moving on to then next. This philosophy is particularly important in math studies, as each concept is a building block for the next one.
  • The online eText is an integral part of the course, and includes embedded links to over 3000 lesson videos (featuring the author explaining various algebra topics), computer scored exercises and practice problems, animated demonstrations, power point presentations, progress tracking, a personalized study plan, test prep videos, and online learning assessments (quizzes and tests).
  • There are 113 assignments and 11 tests. Each section introduces multiple objective- based concepts.
  • Videos can be watched as an entire unit (and are about 20 minutes long), or can be watched as they are covered in each section (they are objective-based). This means, you child does not have to spend time watching instruction on topics in which he is competent, but can skip to areas of trouble.
  • Exercises have a "help me solve this" button. This means that the computer will show a demonstration of how the problem is solved, then a new, but similar problem will be generated so that your student is truly demonstrating his ability to solve using the introduced method. This can be done as many times as is necessary to achieve mastery.
  • There is also a "similar exercise" button which will allow your student to generate endless problems of the same type, until he feels comfortable with the problem type.
  • Students are not allowed to move freely within the problem sets, tests, and quizzes. They must, for example, complete the problems in section 2.1 before moving on to section 2.2. They must pass the quiz before progressing to the following section. Problem sets with prerequisites are marked with a green flag (this would be all sets, unless the instructor unlocks one for some reason). 
  • You can, however, explore a bit under the "Study Plan" option.
  • The mastery level is set at 90% for the homeschool edition (at the request of polled homeschooling families). You can adjust this mastery level for your individual student, which makes this program ideal for students with special needs. Students can re-do the exercises, quizzes, and tests until they "get it."
  • Problems in the practice mode are not tracked by the assessment software allowing students to practice until they feel competent in each area. Problems in the "tracked tutorial mode" are tracked in the gradebook and study plan.
  • Parents (teachers) receive log in codes when their students do. They then proceed to set up a course and enroll their student. At this time, the parent can choose to set due dates on various assignments. You can choose to set dates on homework, as well as tests and quizzes, or just on the tests and quizzes, or not at all. Your student will be locked out of assignments once the due date is past, and instructor intervention will be required to re-set the dates. 
  • Use of problems sets under the instructor log-in does not affect student work at all, so the teacher can work problems ahead of their student so that they can refresh their knowledge of topics ahead of the students.
  • The MML homepage will show visual representations of student progress and achievement through bar graphs and a course timeline. This helps them and their instructor keep track of where they are and how far they have to go, and whether their performance is holding steady or improving.
  • Time spent on watching videos and working through the book is timed, which can show instructors an approximation of how much time is being spent on work. Of course, this does not account for interruptions, so this is just an estimate. Homework is not timed, to remove pressure from the students. You will, however, see a record of date completed.
  • There are no time limits on homework, BUT you can set time limits on quizzes and tests, if you have concerns that a student is not applying themselves or might take advantage of extra time to look up help online (hopefully not an issue).
  • You can edit the number of questions in the homework assignments, if there are too many for your learner. You can also allow them to break the section assignments into two or three day's worth of work. You must just remember to "save" if you stop early. Since each section covers multiple objectives, breaking them up over a day or two may make sense for some students.
  • Problems identify which objectives they cover, and where in the book to find those objectives, so you can see where to look for help if you need remedial work. You can also use the multimedia tool to look up specific helps according to topic.
  • Problem sets tell you what you did wrong after completion, so it is easy to see where you need more work. 
  • You can review your homework and quizzes before taking a test. There is also a practice test in each book, and a video of the author working through a sample test. This is an excellent way to practice study skills. I think this would prepare students well for online or in-person college courses.
  • Enterprising parents can create and assign their own tests and quizzes. Don't ask me how they do this, I just know you can. I do NOT plan to do this. I am happy that this course is 100% complete without any intervention from me.
  • The program is self-paced (if you do not set due dates) and easily self-taught (using the videos, problem sets, and other multimedia tools along with the eText). This makes it an excellent choice for homeschoolers.
  • Oh, before I forget: If you have trouble figuring anything out in your My Math Lab Course, you can access an online "help manual."
I am certain that I have not come close to telling you all there is to know about the Pearson My Math Lab Algebra 1: Homeschool Edition program, but if I go on much further, this post will be way too long...

What we have experienced personally so far indicates to us that this program is just what I explained to you above: an excellent, self-paced, mastery-based, independent learning math program. Tex enjoys watching the instructor. She is very cheerful and seems like someone you would like to know. The problem sets are thorough, but not intimidatingly so. The mastery level of 90% has so far not been a problem, in part because the preparation for each set of exercises is thorough. The visual representations of the content covered and of student performance are motivating to Tex, as it helps him to see how far he has to go and how far he has come. He particularly likes the "help me solve this" option, as that way he never gets stuck for too long on any one thing. He can see how a problem type is worked, then work a different, but similar problem for full credit. 

My favorite thing is the fact that I can set due dates for the quizzes and tests to provide some accountability for Tex, without having to set dates for the homework, so his schedule can remain somewhat flexible. After that, I really do appreciate the fact that Tex cannot move past any topic until it is truly mastered, as he is a creative sort of learner and tends to skip around as he explores interests, which is nice sometimes, but it can also be distracting and leave gaps. I feel that by the time he completes this course, I will well and truly know that he is competent in Algebra.

Sandee told me that she surveyed many Algebra courses and made sure that every subject area that most places felt was a necessary component of Algebra is covered in this program. If we find anything that is missing or needs more coverage, she even asked for us to call her and let her know so that she can tweak that section. Now that's service and dedication for you!!

Our only negatives with the product resulted from our difficulties in our attempts to contact customer service. The phone number to reach them is not easily apparent on their site, and their hours for phone contact are limited to 12 pm-7pm EST, which was most often outside of my window of availability (our busiest hours of the day). If you want help outside those hours, you can contact them via email and you can request an online chat help session 24/7. Unfortunately, the few online sessions, other than the amazing webinar conference call I had with Sandee (which was two hours, but it was awesome, so it impressed me), took way too long to set up (a half-hour wait once, for a total of two hours on the chat, most of it waiting between transfers). The knowledge of the phone reps I encountered was also somewhat limited (some of that was due to language barriers, I think). 

Pearson has told me that they are re-evaluating their call center operations, and also that they will be sending a printed copy of the "help manual" to any homeschooling families who sign up from now on. The reps I talked to never even mentioned the online manual's existence to me in the many times I spoke (or typed) to them, and it really did help in making the program and how it works much more clear to me. Pearson was very apologetic about my difficulties and quite helpful once the "right" people knew about the problem.

My Math Lab Algebra: Homeschool Edition is available for $49.97 for each level (Algebra 1 or Algebra 2). To me, that seems like a very reasonable price for a turn-key product that can take your child through an entire year of upper-level math (you can also fully-customize it, if you are so inclined)

If this seems like something you might be interested in, I suggest that you check out the Homeschool Review Crew blog and see what others on the Crew thought about the product. I did not find that the Pearson site really revealed to me much about the product, though the product page does offer a link to the Table of Contents, if you are interested in seeing which topics are covered.

Overall, I must say that while figuring out this product was a small trial for us, I think it revealed some issues to the company that they are addressing, and I think our experience will help others have a better experience in the future. Also, I do believe that of 100 reviewers, I was the only one who had huge issues (though I haven't read every review). Honestly, I'd probably not have had such a difficult time figuring things out if the proper codes had been sent. The homeschool edition is MUCH easier to navigate than the one intended for public school use, and being able to log in to the correct product was a BIG relief...and a pleasure, now that we are well into it.

Mistakes do happen, and I say better me than someone else, since I am not so inclined to get mad as to look upon it as a learning experience for everyone involved. Now that my trials are turned into smiles (since we are truly liking this product), I am very glad we were asked to review this math program. I think we may have settled on using this as Tex's Algebra program this coming school year, and we are very grateful for it. 

Have a blessed day,


Disclaimer: I received access to Pearson's My Math Lab Algebra 1: Homeschool Edition for the purposes of reviewing this product. What you read here are our actual experiences and opinions about My Math Lab. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

All You Need Is...Ants?


All right, I know that the title isn't grammatically correct. It should be "All You Need Are Ants," but then you kind of miss out on the cultural reference, so I left it. I can hardly stand it...and me an ex-English teacher!

The point is that all you need for an interesting homeschooling project are some ants. You can watch those busy little creatures for HOURS without getting bored. And even better, so can your kids. Just find an ant hill and a vantage point from which to observe without getting crawled upon, and you will see evidence of how God shows us the order and precision of His creation even through the smallest of creatures. Add a few peanut butter and jelly crusts (liberally doused with jelly) and a whole new dimension arises!


Add a Discovery Scope and the world of observation takes on a whole new level. 

What is a Discovery Scope? Well, it's this nifty little tool with a 1" lens that magnifies things to 25x their size. Fitting in the palm of your hand, this durably made plastic scope allows for up close observation of creatures as small as a paramecium and as large as your child (small parts of them, that is). You can see a detailed, labeled photo hereFor just $40, you can purchase a Basic Kit which comes with all you need to get started on nature-observing adventures: the Scope itself, two clear view boxes, a mini-clamp, a chamber holder, and a water dropper.

Recently, we took out our new Discovery Scope and devoted a day to observing ants. We initially discovered about twenty of them feasting on a dead beetle on our porch. We grabbed the unlucky beetle and stowed him in one of the clear view chambers that came with our basic kit. Then we managed to snag two wily ants before they got away. We dragged the unfortunates inside and watched them for a while, then the kids (ages 3-14) took turns observing them with the Discovery Scope.

The "Basic Kit," plus samples of the Biology-in-a-Bag and the Quick Slides

While the website says the Scope says is for "all ages," it does explain that young people ages 6-7 will need some instructional time to use the Scope most effectively. I agree with this, as it took Firefly (age 4) and Cowboy (age 6) a few minutes of my explaining how to focus using the eyepiece for them to "get it", while Ladybug (age 8) and Tex (age 14) picked it up right away. I don't think little Boo (age 3) actually saw anything through the Scope, but you never know. He was excited anyway. I found it worked best for the littler ones if I found the object, focused the lens (by adjusting the clip arm or box holder arm), and then they took turns looking while I held the Scope.

We discovered that there is one ingredient that is very important to using the Scope most effectively, and that is good lighting. Our dining room tends to be a little bit dark (which works for me since I often have migraines), and that darkness is not conducive to getting a clear view of anything using the Scope. Add some regular sunlight or an area light and the images sharpen up nicely. Too much light is no good either, as the lens tube is designed to filter out light for a sharper image, but normal daylight has just about the right amount. Oh yeah, holding the lens upside down doesn't work well either. We figured that out, too.

The kids were fascinated by being able to see the hairs on the dead beetle's legs, and watching the pincer mouth parts of the ants opening and closing. The Discovery Scope offers an up close and personal view of many aspects of the natural world that are usually reserved for fancy science films and documentaries. It's pretty neat to be able to go out in the world and make your own observations!

scope1Some of you might own a stereo microscope (or other scope with slides) or a magnifying glass and wonder why you should want to buy a Discovery Scope, too. Well, we have a microscope, too, but it's not something that we take outside with us. Yikes! Imagine toting that thing around on a hike. No way!

The Discovery Scope, on the other hand, can be easily packed up and slipped into a backpack with little added burden. You can even purchase a Naturalist's Kit (instead of the Basic Kit), which comes with a nifty travel bag in which to pack your Scope. Ours arrived in a square plastic Ziploc tub, which I actually like a lot since I don't feel the tool will be crushed easily by a distracted child.

The kids also have magnifying glasses (from the dollar store), but they just don't offer the acuity of view that the Discovery Scope does (25x magnification)...you just can't see the details as well, plus you don't get all the nifty little extras like the Clear View Chambers, the Quick Slides, and the "Biology in a Bag" bags. The Clear View Chambers were great for holding those ants hostage all afternoon (we did open the lid occasionally to add air as we had no idea how much oxygen ants would need), and you can even use the dropper that also comes in the basic kit to suck up some scummy pond water and have a look at it up close (plug your nose, though!). We noticed one reviewer who scored a tadpole and all their kids had a blast observing it up close and personal.

 Firefly Observing Seeds...age 4 
       Ladybug Observing Ants...age 8 

After using our Scope for a little one-on-one time with our two ant buddies, the kids went out in search of an ant hill to observe. They took a few leftover jam-smeared bread crusts to entice the unsuspecting ants, as well as some plain sugar, some honey, chocolate chips, a strawberry, and a piece of hard candy, so the kids could see which item was a favorite of the ants. I won't tell you the results, so you will be encouraged to do this experiment with your own kids. (*smile*) It was a lot of fun. You can do this experiment without the benefit of a Discovery Scope, too. In this case, a magnifying glass helped with the observation-making since it is difficult to get a good focus with the Scope on a moving target. The field of view is fairly precise, so you kind of need your subject to be in a confined space, preferably staying still.

That's okay, though, as my Crew liked the idea of starting a non-moving biology collection using the "Biology in a Bag" baggies. What you do is collect something natural, store it in the baggie (which is the size of a regular microscope slide), and you can mount it (using staples) on the Quick Slide frame, then label it. We only received one of each of these items as an addition to our Basic Kit, so we will be ordering more. They are $11.00 per one hundred for the frames and $15.50 per one hundred for the bags. That's a bit much (in my opinion) for baggies and cardboard, especially when the Scope itself with all the great stuff (viewing chambers, box mount, clip, and Scope) is only $40, but since the kids are excited about starting their own "slide" collection, I will count it as a homeschooling expense and won't mind at all. If you order a Scope, you can purchase just ten of each for $1.50 and $2.00, respectively, to see if you like them.

Later, we headed on over to the library, and while Tex completed his training so he can volunteer at the library this summer, the Amigos and I checked out some fascinating books on ants and each child picked one to read. I plan to read the others to them over the next week or so to keep the learning moving. While at the library (with our ants and Discovery Scope), the Amigos completed a notebooking page on ants using facts from their books (see links below).
To round off our study of ants, we went online and found some other great ant resources. I will list them here and leave you with the links so you can explore them when you do your own ant observation.

I can definitely say that the kids love using their Discovery Scope and we look forward to using it for years to come to make many fascinating new discoveries about God's marvelous creation. 

Oh, since my good camera is on the fritz (sent off to the manufacturer), I thought I'd give you a head's up that for some AWESOME photos of what you actually see through the Discovery Scope, you should head over to Marcy's blog, Ben and Me, and see more of her incredible photos. In case you are a photo afficianado yourself, you might be happy to know that there is a camera attachment for the Discovery Scope that can be purchased separately. ;-)

Amy has a really cool video of a snail using the Discovery Scope on her blog, Bow of Bronze. Check it out!


**Don't forget to check out what other reviewers had to say about this wonderful product at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: We received one Basic Kit from the folks at Discovery Scope, plus one each of the Quickslides and "Biology in a Bag" bags for the purposes of this review. What you read here details how we used the Discovery Scope in our homeschool and is an honest reflection of our opinions about this product. If you have any questions about what you have read here, please feel free to contact me or comment on this post. No ants were harmed in the writing of this post...;-)
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