Thursday, May 24, 2012

Putting the Story Back into History

From the Heritage History Introduction: "We developed the Heritage website with the intention of helping to repopularize old-fashioned narrative history. We believe that the current trend of teaching Social Studies rather than history to young people is unfortunate, not so much because it is politicized, but because it is boring. Too many students leave school with a vague disinterest in history because it was never presented in an engaging manner.

At Heritage History, we seek to promote, not so much the study of history as the enjoyment of History. By making available old-fashioned history, as it was enjoyed as a pastime rather than studied as a subject, we hope to help reawaken the interest of a new generation."

Heritage History is one of those products that makes me very glad I am on the TOS Review Crew. It has been an almost perfect fit for our family, so you will pardon me if I gush a bit.

I want to start out by telling you, though, that at first, I wasn't so sure why it would be all that useful. I am a clever and enterprising individual and at last count I had over 1200 quality, older ("heritage") FREE books in my Amazon Kindle account (utilizing their free app for desktop computers). Why would I want to buy a collection of e-books when I can find so many online for free?
Columbus Discovers America

Speaking of free, Heritage History offers ALL of the books available on their disks FOR FREE online. How's that for generous?? You can read them to your heart's content on your laptop or desktop directly from their site. You can even download and print up FREE timeline figures, maps, and character sketches. I especially like the timeline figures since they are all pictures from old books instead of cartoon-y clip art. Not to mention that they are FREE!

What is offered for FREE on the Heritage History site is absolutely amazing, and exceptionally helpful to anyone studying almost any sort of history: Greek, Roman, Christian, American, World Wars, Norse, African, Asian, and more. The only facet of history that is missing is the more modern history because the books used for Heritage History area all printed before 1923.


So why invest your hard-earned homeschool budget in buying a disk of Heritage History e-books if they are available for free online?
  1. Well, first there's the altruistic reason that you should buy the disk to support the incredible efforts these folks are making to their growing site.
  2. Then, there's the convenience of being able to access the books even without an internet connection (which is handy if you have limited time online or prefer to have your kids use their computers offline).
  3. There is also the benefit of the Teacher's Guide and printable reading registers (book lists and accountability forms) to help you implement the curriculum.
  4. Not to mention the fact that the disk makes the e-books printable, so you can choose a book (or ten) and print/bind them yourself for off-computer use (or take them somewhere to have it done).
  5. But my main #1 reason for LOVING the disk option (vs. reading from their site) is because it allows you to download the books onto your Kindle (or other e-reader).
Did you catch that? I said the "K" word. YES! I did get a Kindle Touch for Mother's Day and we have been using it non-stop since then.

If you know me at all, I'll bet you'd never have guessed I'd go for an electronic reader. My cell phone is almost four years old (yes, I know I am due for an upgrade), but I am resisting changing it because I just don't want to get sucked in my all that Blackberry web-surfing and texting and constant Facebooking/Twittering stuff.

Then there's the fact that we own some where around 12,000 REAL books...we donated over a thousand back in Florida before moving this last time and did not even put a dent in our supply. Anyway, I just love the feel and the experience of holding a REAL live book in my hands. Curling up with a good book on the couch on a rainy day just wouldn't be the same as using a cold, hard electronic device to read a book...would it?

I am not going to try and tell you that using the Kindle (or other e-reader) is as good as a book. It's not in many ways. BUT it does have two advantages over real books which we have found very helpful in our homeschooling: Text-to-Speech capability and type-size customization. Wowsers!

My Three Amigos are LOVING these features in every way. Text-to-Speech allows them to "read" the more difficult books from our Young Readers Classical Curriculum from the beginning, and the text-customization allows them to follow along with ease.

Here's what we've been doing for history/reading/writing for the last few weeks since I received the Kindle and downloaded the Heritage History Young Readers Collection to it:

Listen to the book online at Books Should Be Free
  • I chose a book called American History Stories to use for the summer, to give the Amigos a break from Ancient Civilizations, which is where we are in history. Since we live in a historic area, American History is always relevant! Also, the Young Readers Collection is geared towards elementary students, while the other collections are not necessarily as easily independently useable by them. You can check on the Heritage History website for age-appropriateness as they have color-coded each book link according to Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced.
  • The first reading, the children get to sit either with the Kindle or with me and listen to the story (chapter or section). This helps familiarize them with the story and the words. I ask them to narrate back what they learned to make sure they comprehended the information, and they have a chance to ask any questions.
  • The second time they "read" the story, they follow along as the Kindle reads the story. The first time we worked through the process, I demonstrated how they should follow along and we worked out bugs like not touching the screen to point to words or you will mess the Kindle up! The purpose of this is that any difficult words and names will be pronounced again for the child, so when they read it through a third time on their own, they will be very familiar with the story and can read confidently. As the majority of the books in this collection are geared towards upper elementary, I am pleased that they can do the reading alone when it is presented in this way.
  • The final time they read the story, they really read it...independently, out loud, to me. I allow them time to read it silently before they "present" their oral reading to me (and often an audience of non-readers) if they request it, but mostly they are eager to show what they know and don't want more time. I use this as a final opportunity to ask a few questions to make sure they learned the information and as a way to let them show me how smart they are.
  • Lastly, they complete a notebooking page to demonstrate their learning. Ladybug writes most of hers on her own (I may write a few words down on a paper for her to copy after her narration), Cowboy narrates to me and I write his narration down for him to copy, and Firefly either only copies a few words, or I write what she says down for her. We get pages from Notebooking Fairy, Notebooking Pages, Notebooking Nook, Enchanted Learning, or by using a Google search for a specific topic.

During this time we also read a few picture books on the same topics, but we did that at night, for "fun." I feel as if by using this method, we are covering history thoroughly (a bit at a time, at an age-appropriate level), as well as really working on their reading and writing skills (not to mention neatness, diligence, creativity, memory, art, public speaking, and much more)...all using just one book of a large collection of 82 stories which cost only $29.99!!

I keep track of what they read on a reading chart that was in the Heritage History Study Guide that came with my disk.

So far, the kids, especially Ladybug, are very eager to pursue this form of learning. We have used notebooking before, especially for science/nature study and reading (journaling) and I am SO happy we are finally working notebooking into our history program, as well as integrating our reading and writing programs with our history studies even more.

I plan to utilize the excellent collection of clip art to use to develop our timeline later this week. I figure if I start out by adding our timeline figures after every few stories (every other week), I won't get overwelemed by it. We can work it up to once a week, once we become accustomed to it.

There is also a nice collection of maps we can use, though I will probably continue to pull maps from some of my other favorite sources. These will go into the children's history notebook, along with the notebooking pages (they all put their pages in a history notebook together, while their reading journaling pages are in individual notebooks).

I just can't tell you enough about how excited the kids and I are to have found such a convenient and easy way to do history/writing/reading/art and more. Heritage History has inspired and empowered me and I am so thankful for that!

Another thing I love about Heritage History is that it is easily integrated with other curricula. That means that if  you have a favorite curriculum like TruthQuest (which we also reviewed and loved, and which suggests that you can substitute books you do have for any they list that you don't have), you can still use it.

The Heritage History collections will serve to compliment many other programs rather than taking them over, which makes it an enormous asset and very versatile. Think of all the money you will save by having to buy just one disk opposed to having to buy a huge box of "real" books to read (not to mention how much easier it is to buy just one disk, or all of the library trips and fines you will avoid...).

And then there's the fact that when we went to the optometrist's office today, I only had to take one book (well, the Kindle) instead of five or six or...(I usually can't decide what we might be in the mood for or have time for, then each of the kids wants their own books, and my bookbag just gets heavier and heavier, and my back gets more and more painful...). Anyway, it was so nice to be able to take just one small item, then rotate the kids between using the Kindle to read their current book (or listen to it), and coloring one of their (light) notebooking pages (and playing with Boo).

Having all those books on disk might not be my romanticized idea of what it means to "read a good book," but it surely does provide some tangible and appreciated benefits to my family as a resources for filling their ears with really GOOD, heritage, classic, quality books from the Golden Age of Literature, and I am very, very glad I was chosen for this review. Thank you, Heritage History!
A "heritage" historical book
Oh, I almost forgot to mention one last important thing: The stories on the Young Reader's Collection are just plain interesting. They are easy to read, as "living books" are...they will immerse you and your students in the world of the characters and draw them into their adventures. This will lead your students into wanting to go on their own adventures, both in the pages of many other wonderful living books and also in your big backyard (and the rest of the real world). Anything, electronic or not, that gets my kids interested in and excited about learning is a BIG winner for me.

I give this product an enthusiastic bump to the top of my list for favorite history products.



Disclaimer: I received a Young Reader's Classical Curriculum disk and supporting printed materials packet for the purposes of completing this review on this product. All of the opinions you see expressed here are my own based on the experiences and feelings of my family. If you have questions about this product, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

And The Winners Are...TOS Homeschool Review Crew Product of the Year Awards

As the 2011-2012 Crew year comes to a close, we are once again presenting awards to our vendors. The awards are known as the TOS Homeschool Crew Blue Ribbon Awards.

The following vendors are the recipients of the award this year. 
Click on their name to check out the Crew reviews!

*Favorite Reading Instruction Product: Reading Eggs
Favorite Writing Product: Write Shop (we did not do this review)
*Favorite Language Arts Product: Progeny Press
*Favorite Social Studies Product: TruthQuest History
*Favorite Science Product: Amazing Science
*Favorite Math Product: Math Mammoth
*Favorite Online Math Product: Math Rider

*Favorite Foreign Language Product: Visual Latin
*Favorite Fine Arts Product: Artistic Pursuits
*Favorite Christian Education Product: Apologia: Who Am I?
*Favorite Preschool Product: Before Five in a Row
*Favorite Elementary Product: All About Reading
*Favorite Middle School Product: Write with WORLD
Favorite High School Product: Excellence in Literature
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Excellence in Literature

*Best Online Resource: Reading Eggs
*Best e-Product: Heritage History
*Best Homeschool Resource: Apologia: Educating the Wholehearted Child
Best Book, Novel, or Magazine: Apologia: How to Have a HEART for Your Kids
Best Children's Book: Amazing Animals by Design (I'd have to say The Person I is so sweet and I want all of my kids to know it by heart).

*Best Game or Toy: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything
*Best Hands-On Resource: Pitsco Education
Best Resource I Didn't Know I Needed: eMeals (I said Time Timer really has helped a LOT)
*Best Customer Service: K5 Learning
Most Adaptable Resource: Creek Edge Press
Most Family-Oriented Resource: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything

*Kids' Choice (favorite of CHILDREN ages 0-12): Reading Eggs
Teens' Choice (favorite of the TEENAGERS): Pitsco Education (Tex said Critical Thinking Company's Balance Math)
All Around Crew Favorite: Visual Latin  


Each winning vendor has received this wonderful award to display with pride:

Congratulations to our winning vendors! 


What we have to say about the results:

Our favorite resources were the same as many of the same ones listed above (the choices marked with an asterix reflect same responses). I have indicated a few of our differences when we really felt strongly about the choices which were different. We might have felt differently because we did not try the product, or because it just wasn't a good fit for our family, but I think you can be confident that any product on this list is a really good one (and that is not saying that the ones that didn't win are not good products...these were just the most popular).

My favorite overall resource is (in my opinion) the best homeschooling book ever...Educating the Wholehearted Child. If you haven't read it yet, please check out my review of it, then order yourself (and a friend, a difficult relative, or an interested potential homeschooler) a copy. I think it will become one of your favorite home educating books, too, and it could really change your upcoming year for the better. I try to buy one "how to" homeschooling book each year, as I feel it really keeps our home education program dynamic.

Also, my kids' all around favorite for the year (which could not win even though it deserved to since only 20 of us received this AWESOME! product) was.......TOYDLE. Check out my two reviews (Toydle Part One and Toydle Part Two, then hop on over to their website and start saving up for one for your kids for Christmas. Your kids will thank you over and over and over again...


Many Crew Members are blogging about these awards as well.

Click here to see what they have to say.


Thank you for sailing with us this year. It has been a great one.

We will be continuing our voyage with the TOS Homeschool Review Crew through the summer, up until Thanksgiving, when the current crew year will official end. A new Crew year will start after New Year's Day, but next year, our family plans to "stay ashore" so we can focus on notebooking, developing a Heritage Children's Library, getting certified to foster/adopt, and fixing up the old homestead...not to mention lots of reading!!

 I hope you will stick around and keep checking for more reviews all summer...there are some good ones coming up!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

May Your Future Be Bright

I found this beautiful song last week and have been enjoying learning it since then. I wish that I could teach it to my Amigos before the wedding and have them sing it with me at Bubba and Miss As wedding, but the time is too short. They will have to settle for this simple post which wishes them both all of the best, all of our love, and an abundance of prayers.

We will be spending the day at Nanny and Poppy's as it is Miss As wedding shower today and my mother is hostessing it. What a joyous day it is! Only one month and a few days until the big day. We are so excited! We love you both. God bless you always.

"May Your FutureBe Bright"(Our Blessing Song) 
 Words & Music by Gary Bower
Copyright 2011   *    All Rights Reserved.
 (Song Lyrics)
May your future be bright.
May your sorrows be few.
May your family grow closer.
May your friendships be true.
May your clouds have silver linings
bringing joys that are new,
and may you never doubt
that God is passionate about
the way He feels for you.
May you plant seeds that grow.
May you prosper and thrive.
May you live each day with meaning --
embrace the reason you're alive.
May each challenge make you stronger,
helping you fight the good fight
with a purpose that's clear.
May you love without fear.
May your future be bright.

(Chorus)He has great plans for you,
to give you a future and hope.
He has great plans for you,
to give you a future and hope.
 May miracles bloom
out of your heartache and loss.
May your comfort come from the One
who really knows the weight of a cross.
May He show you new horizons
as you walk in His light.
And when your pathway seems dim,
may your trust be in Him.
May your future be bright!
May your mind be at peace.
May your laughter increase.
May your future be bright!
May your spirit find rest.
May your children be blessed.
May your future be bright!
May you rejoice in the Lord
at your final reward.
May your future be bright!

Big plans, big dreams, big hopes for your future.
Big plans, big dreams and hope.

Please visit the site for Bower Books and check out their lovely and heartfelt books.
Every parent should get copies of these books and read them to their children.
You can read my review about the book The Person I Marry here.



Now That's a Fact! CapJax Math Facts

CapJax Math Fax is a math drill program that can be used effectively with any math curriculum. Since "instant recall" of basic math facts is so essential to later math success, it is imperative that we take the time to make sure our students "have all the facts" before advancing them beyond the basics. 

It is also important to be consistent in practicing the facts, since "practice makes better." You can never be too accomplished at knowing your math facts...CapJax will help your students get faster and more accurate, which will help them in all other areas of math. Now that's a fact!

  • CapJax Math Facts drills all four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You can choose to practice only one operation in each set, or mix it up a bit for more of a challenge.
  • While there are recommendations of varying numbers of problems for each level of set, you can choose any number of problems for your individual student to complete in a set. If they are only able to do a few, set it at ten. If they need a challenge, give them more! This is especially good for students who have limited attention spans, are just starting practicing math facts, or who need to work up to larger problem sets gradually.
  • Your students can also pause between problems since they have to press the button asking for another problem. This allows for emergency breaks and less stress.
  • You can choose at which level to practice, starting with simple addition and going up to multiplication and division, even adding in negative numbers in all functions.
  • Your basic math facts are for numbers 1-10, but you can change the settings to allow up to 12s.
  • While they recommend a time allowed setting of 3 seconds, you can choose to allow up to ten seconds for your students to respond to each problem. Responding within this amount of time earns your student a "SUPER" which is very motivating (at least it was for my Crew). This is good for children who are just starting keyboarding, as well as those who are nervous, or who might have special needs because they can take a little bit of extra time without forfeiting the exercise of needing to answer within a time frame which helps with that skill of "instant recall."
  • Your students are given three tries to get the answer correctly. When the answer incorrectly on the third time, the answer is shown (in small numbers) below the response area. Once your child has entered that answer, they are still shown the word "RIGHT," so the experience remains positive.
  • Your students are shown the time it takes them to answer each problem on the screen when they answer each one correctly. Answering within the time limit you set earns a "SUPER" on the screen. Answering after the time limit earns a "RIGHT." At the end of the session, their total number of "SUPER" answers is displayed, along with statistics on the pattern of their responses (ie. how many tries for each correct response, how many seconds each took, and which problems were undertaken...all of this can be printed for your records, too).
  • Your students may practice keyboarding first, with no marks against their scores.
  • You CAN turn off the "display seconds" feature (ie. not showing the time taken after each problem), if that stresses your student out).
  • They may also practice their facts first, with no marks against their scores, before choosing to "Play for Rating." This means that they will see a record of their previous scores, and any other students "competing" at the same "school."
  • When you play for a rating, you see your old rating and your new rating displayed. You are allowed to print up a simple page showing your new rating. This provides tangible accountability for busy  moms who might want each child to complete a certain amount of fact work each day and to bring to her evidence of that practice...
  • After the problems are completed, a graph is shown that charts the student's progress. You can go to a different screen and show a chart of the progress of each student in any (or all) of the four drill areas and print it for your records. You can also print the screen at any time, if you have a super proud student who wants a print up of their first "SUPER" (or anything else).
  • If you have a child who is motivated by badges or similar rewards, you can order actual merit badges from the company for just $4. You can add them to a hat or something (I plan to order them for my crew to use over the summer...they can put them on their book bags...I know they will be excited).
  • The problems are shown in a variety of formats during the drills (numbers horizontally, numbers vertically, various multiplication and division symbols, & words--only when you choose the "word thinkers" option).
  • The fact that you can drill with negative numbers (and "word thinkers") makes this program usable by even my older student. Who can't benefit from a bit of brain exercise and fact brush up?
  • The simple format will keep easily distractable children from getting, well, distracted by many choices or flashy features. 
  • This program allows for the practice of math facts without the tedium of flash cards. All of this excellent practicing can be done without the teacher's involvement, freeing her up for things such as reading instruction or assistance with higher math problems (or a few moments of quiet time!).
  • This program does a nice job of helping a teacher keep track of her student's progress. The way it is designed allows for independent students to sign on and do a daily drill, bringing their teacher a print up or number to record on a daily or weekly basis. Students will improve their math facts skills using this program, and since the ability to retrieve math facts quickly and correctly is the backbone of all math success, that is a valuable asset.
  • My Ladybug LOVES this program and prefers it to other flashier programs. I was surprised by this, but the truth is, she likes the little sayings that pop up, she appreciates the   printable certificates, and she likes seeing her progress. It offers everything she thinks is valuable without lots of bells and whistles, and hey, what's wrong with that?
Potential Negatives: 
  • I will admit that at first I was turned off by the simplicity of the program. It honestly seemed a little bit, well, boring compared to other math fact drill programs we have tried and enjoyed. BUT once I delved into all of its abilities, such as the screen printing, the charts, and the ease with which it functions, I began to understand its appeal. I like it...a lot.
  • In spite of my appreciation for the program's versatility and ease of use, I realize that not every student, especially those impressed by bells and whistles, will find this program engaging enough to want to keep at it. Now, my students are easy. They are pretty compliant when it comes to school work, and they did not balk at doing five to fifteen minutes of math drills with CapJax regularly. And, like I said, Ladybug PREFERS this program to others we have tried. I think that is great. Every child is different, so you just need to try different things (if you can...there is a free trial for this one...see below) and find out what suits your varied learners.
  •  I think the price is reasonable if the program works for you and your learners. However, if you have limited funds, and you and your children expect more than simple drills (which this product does a great job of providing in a simple way that is easy for mom to manage), then you may need to look elsewhere. If simplicity works for you, then this is your program.

You can purchase a download of CapJax Math Facts for just $29.95. This will enable you to download it to one computer and use it with as many students as you like. 

You may want to evaluate it first for free by downloading a trial version,  to see if it suits your family. This is a fantastic offer and will let you evaluate its suitability for your family.

You might want more information about the specific features of CapJax Math Facts...if so, check out this page. Check out the page that tells you the story behind CapJax Math Facts. It's pretty interesting. Don't miss CapJax at a Glance for more facts.

If you are interested in seeing what other Crew members have to say about CapJax, sail on over to the TOS Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received a free download of CapJax Math Facts for the purposes of evaluating the product and providing an honest review about my experiences. All opinions and experiences you see written here are my own, or my family's. If you have questions regarding our experiences with this product, please feel free to comment or contact me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Serving Others to Build Character

If you stopped by from the "5 Days of..." Blog Hop, I apologize for not having my final post on "Serving Others to Build Character" posted yet. I have had a bad migraine for the last three days and it has finally used up the last of my fortitude. I am going to give in and go to the ER to get a shot, and hope that will break the cycle. Please excuse my delinquency, and check back tomorrow for the post, which I am hoping you will find helpful. I will tell you the stories of how my oldest son learned to serve others in so many ways as the Lord provided us with a multitude of opportunities that became great blessings for ourselves and others. Thank you for your understanding, and enjoy the other posters' entries on the Blog Hop. Have a blessed day!



Building Your Homeschool Library? Start Here.

Library and Educational Services has been offering quality educational and inspirational items to educators, churches, libraries, and wholesalers for over thirty years. Ranging from quality oldies-but-goodies, like the Moody Science Video Classics to newer additions such as the Drive Through History dvds, there is something for everyone in your family at a price that even dad will like. Price cuts range from 30% to 70% off of retail, and you can begin shopping immediately after completing a short free registration process. You will receive e-mail notifications of specials and new arrivals in your in-box, and you can customize the frequency and content of what you receive.

I've been using LES for about nine years now. I discovered them when someone gave me a catalog after I mentioned my oldest son's love for Adventures in Odyssey audios. You can imagine how pleased I was to find them greatly discounted---about 50% of what I was paying at the retail stores. We still listen to sets of tapes we ordered back then.

The Adventures in Odyssey complete set of 54 compact disk albums
retails for $699, a savings of 50%. Boy, would we love to get that for Christmas!

Over the years, I've added to our homeschool library using LES during sales or around holidays. Last Christmas, my grandmother was not feeling well, but wanted the children to have something more personal than money in a card, so I suggested that I could find each child something out of the LES catalog and she could pay for it. I sent her the catalog with the items circled so she could see what she had "chosen," filled out the order form and an envelope for her, and all she had to do was to write a check and put it in the mail (though they do take Internet orders, my grandmother does not!). Needless to say, the children were thrilled when they opened their gifts of books. The girls received the Circle C Beginnings books and the Mike's Inspiration Station art dvds. The little boys received the new Adventures in Odyssey Imagination Station series of books and a Bible devotional and hymn book and cd set. Tex received an entire set of Christian adventure books for the same price as one hardcover book bought from the store, and I was the lucky recipient of the Adventures in Odyssey Bible Eyewitness Collector's set, which the kids have LOVED listening to in the car.

I was excited to be asked to review something from Library and Educational Services since not only would it give me a cool product, but it would also give me to opportunity to tell about one of my favorite online distributors. I was even happier when it turned out they wanted us to review not one, but TWO, science videos from the Go Science series. The series teaches about science through demonstrations of experiments and my kids LOVE science.

We have been sincerely trying to go through our video/dvd and book collections this year to take out not-so-good and even just plain "good" stuff, but keeping the better and the best things. One of the areas we are particularly convicted in is the need to get rid of more and more of the video "fluff" we have lying around. We got rid of cable about three years ago, and I can't say I miss it. We limit the children's viewing of videos, and do our best to make deliberate decisions about what is being watched rather than letting them default to some old not-really-good-for-much show that makes no effort to teach or enrich in any way. In fact, the eventual goal is to have only educational videos, and those that have a deliberate and obvious character-building theme to watch on a very limited scope. 

Well, the Go Science videos are definitely going to get to stay!

Not only do they educate, but they also may a Biblical connection with every experiment. My homeschooled children, ages 2-14, liked them enough to ask for them when given an opportunity to choose a video. I liked them enough to utilize them in our homeschooling day. We used viewing the experiments on the two videos we selected to teach certain principles, and then we also used one experiment to teach the younger children the process of the scientific method and how to write a lab report.

The videos are simple. There are no astounding effects or amazing feats of technology included. The scientific principles which are demonstrated, however, are fascinating enough on their own to not need a lot of glitz to interest me. Filled with examples of how God incorporated so many intricate and precisely coordinated mechanisms and functions into our wonderful world, the straight-forward and to-the-point episodes will clearly explain many scientific principles to your children in a way that will make it possible for them to take what they learned and then go out on their own and explore the new ideas. The presenter also gives a brief tie in to a principle of God's word, the Bible, that each experiment reflects, at the end of each episode. Sometimes it seems a bit hurried, but it is always heartfelt.

Both of the volumes I ordered had fourteen episodes, and each dvd ran for 52-59 minutes (we ordered episodes 2 and 3). There are six volumes in all, each of which has 12-14 episodes with run-times of 29-60 minutes. The topics include: motion, machines, magnetism, force, electricity, design, weather, flight, chemistry, matter, sound, water, space, engineering, gravity, and life science.

The short episodes (about five minutes each, sometimes a bit less) have a PBS sort of feel to them. The presenter, Bob, is warm and friendly, and talks to the kids in a way reminiscent of Mr. Rodgers. There is a studio audience of kids ages about 4-12, and they are all well-behaved, wearing matching science tee shirts (kind of like science camp).

The video series is definitely targeted toward the younger end of the age spectrum (perhaps 2-8), but Tex watched them through once and felt like a few ideas/demonstrations he'd only read about were clarified for him (seeing them in action helps). The younger crowd at my house (ages 4-10) all liked them, especially Cowboy and Ladybug. I ordered the disk with the Tornado Tube experiment specifically because Cowboy has been begging to do that one, and I've been putting it off since I didn't want to have to figure out how to explain what it was demonstrating.

GASP! Can you believe I said that? A homeschooling mom admitting she told her student "no" when he wanted to do a hands-on activity simply to avoid having to explain it (and try to look smart about it, too)? Sigh. It is true. While I do pretty well with biological things, physics and engineering are not my strengths. This is one of the BIGGEST benefits of these dvds. If you have ever felt the same way, these demonstrations will give you the ability to meet the needs of those inquiring minds without having to become a science experiment genius. Yay! You can either watch the video and then just talk about it, OR you can watch the video and the explanation, then reproduce the experiment on your own with more confidence. Nice!

Sweet Ladybug always does her best with a smile!

 The blue you see all over their fingers and faces is from all of the mulberries they 
were eating off of our bush/tree just before I called them inside.

We chose to give the experiment a try. Actually, I asked Tex to run things for me, and he did a great job. After watching the video, they talked about the ideas, made a tornado tube, saw it in action in person (though since we couldn't find Daddy's duct tape, the seal wasn't perfect, so the cyclone was not as impressive as the one on the video), and then talked about how and why to write a lab report. We used FREE printable lab sheets from Homeschool Notebooking, and they completed and understood the concept in about a half and hour. That's a nice science lesson!

The dvds are available for just $8.97 at the time of this post, or can be purchased as a set for $47.95. The normal retail for the set is $ that's savings!

Another thing I like about LES is that years ago when I ordered some items from them, once they packed the box incorrectly. I called and explained that I had received several items I had not ordered, and that a few of the items I did order were missing. They offered to put the correct items in the mail the next business day and I asked how I should go about returning the wrong items to them. They told me that I could either be blessed by keeping them for our family or that I could donate them to a church library. Needless to say, I was impressed!! That, to me, is the ultimate in Customer Service. Thank you, LES.

Boo didn't do much but watch and be silly, but he seemed interested...
at least he was until the camera came out, then all he was interested in was being a ham!

If you'd like to read what others on the Crew have to say about LES and the Go Science videos, please check out the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received two Go Science dvds from LES for the purposes of evaluating the product and the service of their company. I received no other compensation, and the review you read here reflects  my own honest experiences and opinions about both.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Character-Building Christian Literature

This week I've been listening to the seminars at the Lamplighter Publishing website. They are truly transforming, and while very serious in topic, they are also quite entertaining. If you get a chance this week, listen to a few of them and let me know what you think. You might also want to hop over to and check out the current episodes of one of their audio dramas. We listened to a  "A Peep Behind the Scenes" recently and it was very moving, as well as fascinating. I read the online version of the book in just a few hours and absolutely loved it. The audio version is adapted, but still very good. Some of the topics are pretty heavy (alcoholism, death), so it may not be one to read with your youngest children (though all of mine listened to it, and we had some in depth discussions about sin), but the message is timeless and the ending is uplifting.

Lamplighter Theater Life Transforming Mark Hamby. He is both transparent, convicting, and amusing. A wonderful mix. Husbands will enjoy these, too.

Lamplighter Theater "A Peep Behind the Scenes" audio story (for a limited time) Episodes 1-4
Read  A Peep Behind the Scenes online (alternate format of the book)

It is so important to make sure that what we are reading and listening to is building us up instead of tearing what we are working on day by day down. It is easy to go for the simple fix and turn on the television to a cartoon or children's show (yes, I do it) that may not be particularly harmful, but neither does it do anything to edify. Why not (at least some of the time) choose selections that teach very good lessons to everyone (including the parents), and develop in your kids an appetite for quality literature and stories? I know I am going to try to do a better job of adding more of these Christian Classics to our reading list.

You can do this by reading books, especially older titles, which are written specifically to teach  moral lessons. They may not be silly, or have a pink frosting happy ending (I like those, too), but you can find stories that are rich in character, deep in message, and full of blessings for your entire family. Start small (with 15 minutes or so), perhaps even starting by fitting it in after you read your usual bedtime stories, or while the kids eat dessert or do the dishes. I'll bet you will find that it is not long before your kids are wanting to hear more, and begging you for just one more chapter.

Here are some classic book titles of a spiritual nature that I found online last night to get you started:

(Some of these are available on the Lamplighter site, and have the introductory audio available for listening might get the family interested in the story by listening to the audio episode, then reading the rest of it out loud to them).

The Basket of Flowers by Christoph Von Schmidt
Beautiful Girlhood by Mabel Hale
Teddy's Button by Amy Le Feuvre
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (audio available)
In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
The Hedge of Thorns by Mrs. Sherwood
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss (or on audio)
Saved at Sea by Mrs. O.F. Walton
Christie's Old Organ or Home Sweet Home by Mrs. O.F. Walton
Poppy's Presents by Mrs. O.F. Walton
The Lamplighter by Maria S. Cummins
Greasy the Robber tr. by Charles Lukesh
Jessica's First Prayer by Hesba Stretton
The Robber's Cave by A.L.O.E.
The Boy of Mount Rhigi by Charles H. Peirce
Ishmael: In the Depths and Ishmael: Self-Raised by E.D.E.N. Southworth

Here are examples from John Ploughman's Talk.
You could teach your children the verses...

John Ploughman's Talk (Plain advice for plain folk) by Charles Spurgeon
John Ploughman's Pictures (More plain advice for plain folk) by Charles Spurgeon

Collection of Little Colonel Books by Annie Fellows Johnston online (I have not previewed these, but they were mentioned other places)

Collection of G.A. Henty Books online (alternate source here)
Collection of R.M. Ballantyne books online

Check out many more books on The Baldwin Project site. 

Project Gutenberg has over 39, 000 free e-books. You may find some of them to not be in the easiest form to read, but if there is an old classic you want to check out, you can check there and have a good chance of finding something.


Of course, you can't forget about Amazon...Tex and I have collected over 500 free classic books from Amazon and put them in our Kindle collection. Initially, I simply downloaded the Kindle app for computers and he read them from the computer, but recently (for Mother's Day), Hubby was nice enough to give me a Kindle Touch so that I could have the kids read the books from there.

You can find all sorts of old family favorites for free there...books that while not necessarily quite as deliberately character-building as some of the books listed earlier, are sweeter, cleaner, and more innocent than the usual book you find being published today. We've found may of the Bobbsey Twins books, all the Henty and RM Ballantyne books, the Thornton Burgess nature stories, E. Nesbit tales, Robert Louis Stevenson, Clara Dilingham Pearson, James Baldwin, Andrew Lang, Hugh Lofting, L. Frank Baum, and many, many more.

What I did first was to download the free Kindle app for PC from the Amazon site. Then I typed in keywords in the search bar like "free Thornton Burgess Kindle" (these are a favorite of my children, especially Tex, who loves the Reddy Fox stories and Aesop's Fables) and waited to see what came up. You then just go through the "one click" process to add the books you want. 

I find it faster to open up lots of tabs with the books I am interested in, then I go to each one and click on the "buy this book now" button, and move to the next tab. I can "buy" all of the books first, then go back to the beginning and start closing the tabs, because the transaction is completed. Just leave one open to start exploring more from again later. I find new books I want by looking at the "other people who bought this book also bought..." section towards the bottom of the screen. I do take the time to read through the reviews, if there is a book with which I am not familiar. Usually I find the reviews to be fairly reliable.

Here's Amazon's take on how to start finding free e-books for your Kindle.

Jimmie has a nice article on Squidoo about using the Kindle in your homeschool.

Marcy at Ben and Me compiled a great list of FREE Kindle books from Amazon. Her list is an excellent place to start. It will keep your kids reading for weeks...

Here's a list of FREE! Kindle books for homeschoolers on Amazon. I simply Googled " free kindle books homeschool" and found it. There might be more, since this list says it is list number four. I just have to wait until I have some free time to explore it...

Ambleside Online has a great reading list to give you ideas of books to look for. Their curriculum is free, and the books in the list support it. It is a Charlotte Mason approach, which uses Living Books as the core teaching method, so you can be sure that the book choices will be good.

Another huge book list is from the Classical Education website.

Heritage History will give you access to a plethora of FREE! history-related titles on their website. To add them to your Kindle or other reader, you must make a purchase, but if you just want to read from your computer screen, try them out for free online.

**Another family-favorite source of classic literature, but in audio form, is My Audio School.

You can also head over to Librivox and look up any book you haven't found yet. I can't guarantee the reader will be interesting (some are very soothing to listen to, while others are a bit of a snore. You just have to give them a try...).


Speaking of audio books, here are some quality audio story sites  from my homeschool-for-free website your family might enjoy listening to together. They are favorites of my kids.

**Adventures in Odyssey is a permanent family favorite in our household. I can't think of a more pleasant way to while away the miles on a long trip than to join the well-rounded characters from Odyssey on a new adventure. This charming Christian radio drama is produced by Focus on the family. Your kids cannot spend time listening to these stories and not gain a tremendous amount of Bible knowledge. Here's another link with an extensive collection of episodes at FAIO.
**Down Gilead Lane is a wonderful radio drama from CBH Ministries centered around small community life. My kids have listened to it for year and higly recommend it. Your kids are certain to engage with the interesting characters and story lines, and will build up their own character in the process.
**Your Story Hour is a classic Bible-based broadcast for kids of all ages. These lovely broadcasts help develop strong Christian character with mrmorable stories from the Bible, famous people, and folks just like you and me. The motto of the ministry is: "Making boys and girls of today, better men and women tomorrow." *Interested in a Bible Study program for your kids? This ministry offers a program through the mail, and every time your child returns two lessons, he receives a new CD from the Life of Jesus Series. By the end of the study, he will have the entire 13 CD set. Now that's a freebie I will look forward to receiving!
Paws and Tales is a broadcast from Insight for Living that teaches Biblical principles to children through stories of friendship and adventure. These stories incorproate music and lovable animal characters, so they will be especially appealing to younger children.

Okay, I won't say that this site is a character-building site on the same level as some of the other more serious content I have listed (can it be when it is so much fun?), but Jelly Telly, from Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, is hysterical at times, and Biblically informative at others. You can watch full episodes of Adventures in Odyssey and Last 
Chance Detectives here, and it is a good solution on a day when mom or kids are feeling under the weather and need a bit of cheering up. Be sure to check out the Sunday School Lady. She's a hoot.


Well, that's all I have for today. I hope you discovered a few new treasures. If you know of any more FREE! quality character-building literary and audio materials that we might like to add to this list, please feel free to leave a comment with a link so that everyone can see them. Thanks!

Schedule for the week:
Monday--What is good character and Who needs it??
Tuesday--Why must we deliberately train for develop good character?
Wednesday--How can we develop good character in our children? (with links to character-building freebies and our favorite not free character training resources.
Thursday--How reading aloud to your family will help strengthen character and your family. (With links to online/downloadable free quality literature and audio books)
Friday--When do we train for character and who benefits...Developing character in your children through serving others.

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