Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Good Old Days at Sugar Creek


Think back to the good old days...Saturday nights meant The Love Boat and Fantasy Island..."da plane, da plane!" Ooops. Actually, I meant the really old good old days. Not my good old days (really, I can't believe I actually watched those shows). Not my mom's good old days. But my grandmother's good old days...Those days back before television took over. The days when families gathered together around the radio to listen to programs with exciting plots and riveting dialogue that left plenty for your imagination to soar freely with. Back then (according to my grandmother) there was one radio kept in a central and important location of the home, and when it was on (which wasn't all the time), everyone listened T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R.

Isn't that an incredible thought in this day and age? Doing things together. These days it seems everybody is so "plugged in" that when you peek inside the *average* American family's home, you will find dad in one room with his big screen television tuned to whatever sport is currently in season; Mom is perhaps in the kitchen with her smaller set tuned to Food Network hoping for some inspiration from Paula Dean (add some more butter, Mom. That makes everything taste better!). Junior is in his room hooked up to his gaming station, his little brother is in the same room, but disconnected because he's connected to some game on the Internet, and sister is texting and Facebooking friends with her iPhone as fast as her fingers can type. All in the same house, but nobody has any idea what anyone else is up to, even if they are in the same room. 


Around here we try to limit that sort of scenario. No, we haven't ditched our television completely. Yet. We have one, hiding in a converted armoire, and we use it for videos and Netflix when mom decides the day is too rainy and cold for outdoor play, or someone is sick, or it's Friday and time for movie and a pizza. Yes, we do have Internet (but not cable), but it is monitored strictly and nobody is allowed to hide in their rooms and be online forever like a hermit (though Tex would like to do that occasionally). I have a phone with 3G (yeah, I know that's not as good as 4G), and my kids use it to call my mom or take pictures with it more than I do. We aren't as "unplugged" as I'd like. I'd prefer to get to the point of a video only once a week (for our movie night), or not at all, and to put greater limits on computer time, but we aren't there yet.

Click here to listen to another old time favorite of ours...Cinnamon Bear

As we transition towards more homey, connected, old-fashioned entertainments, I've added more books on tape and radio shows to our weekly activities, in addition to more reading aloud. Audio stories are great to listen to while I sew with the girls, color with the little ones, or make dinner (instances when I obviously cannot read out loud at the same time). Bubba grew up listening to a favorite Christian radio program, and still has fond memories of all the hours spent in his room with his "friends" Whit and Eugene. Tex likes listening to books on tape while in the car. My little ones love those old "read with me" books that ding when it is time to turn the page.

Click here to listen to The Swamp Robbers, a Sugar Creek Gang story for FREE!

But there's always room for more fun and more favorites, or at least that's our motto. I run a homeschool resource library and I am always on the lookout for quality programs to recommend to friends and family. I've had an incomplete set of the Sugar Creek Gang books (a Christian adventure series for children originally published by Moody Press in the 1940s) on my library shelves for few years, but lacking a child of the age to read them (the young ones are too young to read them independently yet, and the older ones are into other things), they haven't seen as much action as I'd have liked.

Little did I know that all 36 stories are available on cd for your listening pleasure from Beloved Books, a Christian publisher who strives to supply wholesome, family-friendly listening experiences for your family. That's over 100 hours of listening fun, folks (if you bought them all), dramatically read by Paul Ramseyer with old timey charm and sincerity. That's a lot of family time!

The Sugar Creek Gang series is unabashedly Christian. It is about six young boys (the narrator is 9) who are friends and have a "gang" (using the old definition of the word). Each of the boys (except for the narrator) has a nickname that suits his personality. Dragonfly has huge eyes that seem to see everything and Circus likes to perform acrobatic feats. Poetry likes guessed it...recite poetry. He knows 101 poems and has the perfect one for every situation. Throughout the stories, you learn about each of the boys and hear true-to-life stories of their antics and adventures, intermixed with uncensored Christian testimony on an easy-to-understand level. 

We had the opportunity to listen to volume one of the series. One of the story lines includes the conversion of a boy who was formerly their rival, all due to their persistent good witnessing and genuine behavior. While the good choices they make (and sometimes foolish ones) will inspire your children, they will not make your kids feel that their brand of "goodness" is unattainable. The stories are fun, rather than preachy, yet you clearly hear the Gospel message in every tale. Bill, the narrator, carries his small New Testament in his pocket everywhere he goes and prays for his friends, both saved and unsaved. He respects his parents, and is contrite when he makes a mistake. He is grateful for what he has and aware that some kids are not as fortunate as he is, including some kids he knows. 

Because the world is not a perfect place and these stories are true-to-life, we encounter some unpleasant events and people in the stories. One of the boys has a father who drinks and his alcoholism is discussed. Another boy who is not in the gang (and is not saved) has a father with the same issue and his story is thoroughly covered in the first set of cds. I liked how realistic the story lines were, but I also liked how everything was handled with one eye towards heaven (prayer) and the other towards the scriptures (the Bible). 

The boys recite Bible verses and the importance of learning (even poetry!) is emphasized in every story. I think that is great. I wish I did everything as well as the folks in these stories...they are a good example for your kids of how friends and families should be...but in a very real-to-life way, without any fantasy or impossible scenarios. The boys do normal things like pick berries, swim in the swimming hole, fish, go to school, help with chores, have fights (one big one), search for treasure, tromp through the woods, care for one another, go to church, and pray. The stories remind me of Norman Rockwell prints, which is why I included a lot of Rockwell prints in this review. Don't you just want to jump in and join them at the old swimmin'-fishin' hole? I do. I think that listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories is sure to have the same effect on your entire family.

The stories made my kids want to do all of those things (well, let's hope all of them except for the fighting part) and more. I really like that my children are being motivated to BE REAL KIDS by these stories instead of being motivated to live in a fantasy world. Mind you, I have no problem with many fantasy novels. I just read a great one over the weekend. It was a fun vacation from reality during Hurricane Sandy, BUT for my day to day doings, I think I prefer that my kids hear and practice being REAL people instead of fantasy cartoonish characters because, after all, they will grow up to be men and women, not Bugs Bunny or even Dora the Explorer. 

We have been enjoying listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories in the car en-route to church and AWANA (it's a half hour drive each way). That gives us time for one episode, and gives the kids something to think about that is worthwhile when they need to sit and keep still. I appreciated the change of pace from our usual listening fare, and there wasn't one person in our car, ages 3-44 who wasn't on the edge of their (car) seat listening for what was going to happen next.

The only reason I am not rushing out to buy every one of the six available volumes is the price, a hefty $54.95 each (shipping is included). You can save $50 dollars by purchasing all six sets at once, plus get an autobiographical set about the author of the books, Paul Hutchens, for $279, but that does make it a pretty high ticket item. I am used to spending less for cd sets of six, and I am not sure yet how I feel about the price.

I can tell you that the stories are definitely worth your while. You can purchase just the first one on cd, an entertaining two-parter called The Swamp Robber, for $4.95 (with free shipping) to see how you feel about them, or you can listen to it with your kids for free online.

The Sugar Creek Gang cd sets would make an excellent addition to your Christmas Wish List for far away relatives who need a simple item they can order online for the whole family. If not that, perhaps you might decide that instead of large gifts for the kids this year, you will want to invest in a year's worth of family time by purchasing the complete set for everyone's benefit (and giving each child a small, personal gift).

What could be a better gift for your kids than 100 hours of happy memories spent the car, the living room, or on your back deck...or wherever else you like to be that makes you happy. Just time, spent together, listening and laughing. That sounds like a pretty nice gift to me.


If you would like to read more reviews about this product, please visit The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

You can also listen to the storyteller, Paul Ramseyer, introduce the Sugar Creek Gang characters and reminisce about the gang here.

See what other find family-friendly Christian products Beloved Books has to offer at their website.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of set one of the Sugar Creek Gang series for the purposes of reviewing this product. No other compensation was received. All opinions are based on our own experiences with this product.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Samson's Classroom: Time for Reading Fun


Samson's Classroom is a useful online tool for home educators and parents of students who are enrolled in school, but need some extra practice when they get home. Intended for grades K-5, Samson's Classroom is designed to build up proficiency in three core areas: sight words, spelling, and reading comprehension, all with the goal of helping your student become a better reader. 


Two of my students, Ladybug and Cowboy, are already reading, but benefited from the spelling portion of the program, as well as reviewing the lists of 244 commonly used sight words already programmed into the system. My third student, Firefly, is just learning to read, and really enjoyed the Sight Words with Sampson portion of the program. She spent a lot of time doing the same lists, but I feel she was gaining confidence (and having a good time "doing school" like a "big kid.")

As a parent and a teacher, I liked the fact that there was flexibility in this program. I could choose to either have my child work on pre-programmed lists of sight and vocabulary words, or I could take the time and enter my own lists based on either our current studies or needs I identified in my students. It was very simple to create my own lists (I figured it out without reading any directions, which is my usual way of doing things), but since I liked the lists that already existed, we only did this once, to practice some of the "th" words that were tripping the kids up.

I also liked how the study portion of the program clearly read the words aloud, spelled them, then said them into a sentence. The reader's voice was soothing and easy to understand (it was a male voice). I thought it was great that Firefly could turn on the sight word practice portion and listen to the same word being spelled as many times as she wanted to. She is fairly auditory in her learning and she got a lot from the repetition. Of course, the repetition could be annoying to the other kids, so we got some headphones so that she could listen to her heart's content. All of the kids liked how you can print certificates for your folder once you have completed a level. They liked the tangible reward (along with some stickers, of course).

Here's an example of the reading practice.

The only thing I saw as a negative was that the reading practice seems to start at a fairly high level, and once you start reading a passage, you must finish it and answer all of the questions or else the unanswered ones will be marked wrong. This stressed out my readers, and it took practice and lots of support from me to keep them from getting to uptight to complete the lesson. I would add passages on lower levels (much shorter and simpler ones...I can't imagine a kindergarten student completing even the level one of the first passage unless he'd been reading since age four), and perhaps allow the parent the option of letting passages be marked as incomplete (which can be finished later) if the student stops. The passages are fairly lengthy for beginning readers and might need to be broken down into shorter bits for some students (of course, this becomes less of a problem if they were to add simpler, more basic passages and let the kids work their way up to the tougher ones).

My kids all liked Samson's Classroom and we plan to continue using it throughout the rest of the school year. It gives me something worthwhile to let one student work on while I work personally with another student. Cowboy saw working in Sampson's Classroom as a reward rather than work, so it was motivating for him when it came to getting his book work done. 

Here's what the kids had to say about Samson's Classroom:

Cowboy says: It's great! Samson Classroom's games are really fun. The best ones are "Crunch Time" and "Spelling Scramble." "Crunch Time" is so funny because you have to spell the words and the walrus crunches pieces of your iceberg until it's all gone (if you don't spell fast enough, that is). "Spelling Scramble" is crazy because the spiders try to catch you while you are collecting the right letters. Once it is easy for you, you can go up to a harder level, so it's always a challenge. It's awesome.

Crunch Time...oops, somebody spelled a word wrong!

Ladybug says: I liked how they spelled the words out loud for you when you are learning them. That helped me a lot. Then they let you spell it yourself and I liked doing that the best. By the time I finished studying the whole list, I really felt like I knew all the words. I use the words more when I write. I love to write stories. My favorite game was "Spelling Scramble" because you have to run away from a spider and spell the words as you go.

Spelling Scramble

Firefly says: I liked the sight word practice part (Sight Words with Samson). It would say and spell the word over and over again, as many times as I wanted it to. It read the word in a sentence, too. I had lots of time to write and learn the words. Some of the games were hard for me, but Ladybug and Cowboy helped me. I liked the "Missing Letters" Karate Chop game the best. It was fun!


Sight Word Practice and Games


If you think you might be interested, you can watch an introductory video that will explain the program to you. It is only three minutes long and it's very helpful in understanding how things work. Then you can give their demo a try (no registration required!) for free.

If Samson's Classroom looks like something that would benefit your family, the price is very reasonable. The cost for one student for a year is $30, and to make the subscription a family subscription (up to four students) costs only $50. You don't find many deals like that out there these days!


To read more reviews by other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received a yearly family subscription for the purposes of writing this review. This review contains the honest opinions of myself and my family members, and reflects our own personal experiences with this product. No other compensation was received.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Help Your Young Readers Excel With This Simple Tool...


Recently, we were asked to try out Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers as part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew and I was very excited because this is the sort of product that you see and want to try, but just aren't sure if the investment will be worth it, so you often skip it. I wanted to be the first to tell you that if you have a struggling or early reader, these bookmarks are top notch and worth every penny.Photobucket

At $16.95 for a pack of ten rulers (you can purchase one of each color, two each of the five most popular colors, or ten of your favorite color), their quality and usefulness makes them worth the price.  What you receive in the mail (if you purchase one of each color, which is what we got) are ten very sturdy plastic and opaque overlay page-width sized ruler bookmarks of varying colors. The overlay is narrower on one side to allow for tracking of one line of text at a time and wider on the other side to allow your reader to view more of the complete reading field at once.


By ordering the variety pack initially, you will be able to choose which color works best for your child. Every person is different. Once you have chosen your child's most helpful color you can order more of just that color.

Ladybug, age 8, felt that the yellow was her best color, while Cowboy preferred the blue. The Reading Ruler's overlay is intended to reduce glare, "dancing" of letters and characters, blurring of text, and other potential reading difficulties for anyone, not just early readers and readers with identified learning disabilities. Neither Ladybug nor Cowboy has been identified as having a learning disability, though my mother, a certified Reading Specialist for over thirty years, has noted that Ladybug seems to struggle a bit with focus and seems to suffer from some visual stress which hinders her reading progress (Ladybug has the skills she needs, she just moves slowly). 


My mom worked with the kids during the review period to determine whether the bookmarks we were given might help either Cowboy or Ladybug and discovered that while Cowboy zooms ahead just fine without the bookmark (he reads quickly, but stops at words he doesn't know for sure and asks, or just skips them altogether...this isn't a problem the bookmarks address), Ladybug's reading stress was visibly reduced and her accomplishments (reading speed and ability to use her word attack skills) were improved greatly.

My mom noted that Ladybug preferred to use the side of the bookmark with the wider overlay window that allows the reader to see beyond one line of text at a time. By highlighting the area of text she was to read, the bookmark helped her focus her attention on those words, yet also see ahead to where the end punctuation for a particular line was, which helped with her reading comprehension and reading expression.

Ladybug said that the yellow color of the bookmark made the words "jump off the page" for her, and she felt they were more in focus. We have had her eyes examined and she does not have any notable visual issues, but even so, altering the color of the page and highlighting the text seemed to work very well for her. She went from struggling to finish one chapter book a week (in spite of good decoding skills) to reading one (eagerly and confidently) in a day AND writing about it in her Reading Response Journal. Now that is a result worth $16.95!

Having been a Reading Specialist for so long, my mom has used several similar products that cover this issue of text color, from full page overlays to a different sort of bookmark. She says that the bookmarks by Crossbow Education are by far the finest she has seen, and if she was still teaching in the classroom, she'd order enough for every child. She felt that the text highlighting alone, and being given the option to highlight one line or several, was enough to sell her on the product, but the durability and obvious quality of the bookmarks is a real plus, too. They are very sturdy and will function as not only a bookmark, but as a valued learning tool for years (and children) to come.


If you'd like to learn more about these bookmarks, check out Crossbow's website. You can also see what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say about this product by checking out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.



Disclaimer: I received a package of Crossbow Education's Reading Ruler Bookmarks for the purposes of reviewing this product. All opinions are my own (and my family's, as expressed to me). No other compensation was received.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thinking About Thanksgiving? Get Ready With Dayspring Academy's "The Pilgrim Story" Course


Sometimes these days it seems that everywhere you turn, you find someone (an individual, group, or organization) trying to take God out of our daily lives, our traditions, and even our history.

That's why it is refreshing to discover a valuable resource that seeks to set the record straight and show the clear influence and impact of God on the history of the United States.

Dayspring Academy, an actual Christian school in Massachusetts, has recently launched an online class called "The Pilgrim Story" that comprehensively covers the experiences of the pilgrims from the influences King Henry had on the later events all the way through to how they fared three years after landing. You and your students will be awed and inspired by the fascinating stories as the talented teacher, Mary Stauffer, weaves the tale of their pilgrimage using many primary source documents and artifacts.

Conducted as very well-prepared Power Point style presentations, the 17 lessons (5 units, 5 tests, one virtual field trip) last 30-45 minutes each (depending on the content and your child's preferred speed). Each lesson begins with the narrator (a male voice) explaining which resources to print up for use later and the objectives of the lesson. You and your child progress through the lesson at your own speed, clicking to the next slide only when ready. The narrator prompts you when you need to stop to complete an optional assignment. There is virtually no guess-work with this class and a lot of flexibility.

Each slide has a story to go with it. The slides often show pictures that support the content visually; other times they show the definitions of the vocabulary words or the content that needs to be copied onto your student's worksheet (important words are underlined to assist younger students). The content is broken down into very palatable bites so that it is simple for easier learners to process in small chunks. Older learners can easily progress faster by moving forward at their own speed.

The class is based upon the Principle Approach of learning which puts God at the focus of every story, not just the story of the Pilgrims or the Bible. It also places a huge focus on building character, such as perseverance, self-governance, and hard work. This class is an excellent introduction to the ideals of that approach, and it also does a great job of showing how notebooking (making learning notebooks) fits into this sort (or any sort) of homeschooling. 

You do NOT have to be a notebooker or a follower of the Principle Approach to use this class effectively or to enjoy it. It is versatile and allows the parent and students to choose which printed assignments and additional activities will be completed. There are essay challenges and craft suggestions, as well as the simpler vocabulary and fill-in-the-blank sheets, and mapping exercises. If you complete at least the basics, you will have an excellent resource for your children to refer to for years to come...and to show off to visiting relatives, as well, giving your kids a chance to help set the record straight about some of the information we were taught as fact in the public schools that is very far from the real truth.

The age range for this class is listed as 3rd through 6th. We viewed the videos together as a family, ages 5-15 (and me...Boo just played). All of the children were interested in the information and were engaged by the way it was presented. In my opinion, it is one of the best online classes I have used. I would recommend it to anyone. 

My younger kids did not do any of the activities. The activities are definitely specific to the 3rd grade and up range. Ladybug (age 8) managed the simpler printed activities like the mapping and fill in the blanks. I did not have her do any essays, though we extensively discussed what we all learned. Now that Tex is doing better and has completed his intense English course for the semester, (he's still moving slowly following his abdominal surgery), I plan to assign at least one of the essay topics this month, and one next month, as he goes through the course on his own. The classes give you plenty to think about and I do not doubt that we will all be more appreciative of the symbolism behind the Thanksgiving holiday by the time we are finished with it.


The Pilgrim Story costs $99 and will be available to you within 48 hours of payment. It is self-paced, and you will have six months to complete all of the assignments so your student to receive a grade. We only registered one student for a grade, but all of the kids (and mom) watched the material. Since Tex is the one who will do the most assignments, I will use the grade for him. The others are young enough that I don't really do grades, but we do grade on participation and effort, which has not been a problem for this course. One night we were even up until after nine-thirty watching a class because they were so interested.

The field trip that is the culminating activity was fascinating. It is exactly what a virtual field trip should be. You and your kids get to "visit" Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. We did a virtual trip to that state when we were studying the states one at a time (that is on hold for a while), and Plimoth was one of our "stops." You can get more links and printables to add to your Plimoth field trip at my Where in the World? Wednesday post on Massachusetts.

What we loved about this course:
  • The format was very well thought out and easy to use.
  • The sources from which information was gathered were reliable, and many were primary source documents.
  • The images/pictures were perfect for supporting the information given. Each one added to the story.
  • The narrator was well-spoken. His voice was soothing, but not dull. He used good inflection and seemed to have a good command of the knowledge he was sharing.
  • Some of the slides in each lesson are interactive, and this provided a nice change of pace for the kids.
  • The kids liked the interactive timeline. It is one of the few slides in the lessons that does not allow you to progress past it until you have completed every part of it.
  • I liked that they provided quizzes. Between the quizzes and the interactive exercises, it was easy to see that the kids were learning from the lessons.
  • The optional resources were useful and provided extra learning opportunities. I did appreciate that they were optional. We are, after all, homeschoolers, and we value flexibility.
  • The amount of content was comprehensive and extensive, but not overwhelming.
  • I liked how I could stop partway through a lesson and then pick up later where I left off using a pull-up menu. That helped us several times when the younger ones had had enough and needed a recess.
  • It's the kind of course you could do as a unit study, in addition to other history work, or you could use it to supplement your current history program (and do fewer of the optional activities).
  • You could also use it as a stand-alone study by doing all of the activities and adding a few period-appropriate novels or biographies.
  • The kids and I now feel like we have the "real" story of Thanksgiving. We all really liked the course and look forward to finishing the last units later this month.
Concerns we had:
  • Some folks will find the $99 price to be prohibitive, especially for a one semester course (one lesson a week).I would not have tried it if I'd had to pay for it...and that would have been sad because this course is high-quality and very interesting. I do believe that the information is worth having, and the course is definitely worth doing, but it's a lot of money for just one topic out of a whole semester's worth of history.
  • It would have been nice to have multiple levels of the written work. If they had a more "primary" choice, it would have been easier for my younger ones to join in and get the whole experience (only leave one word blank instead of a seven word phrase in the fill-in exercise, for example).
  • I had to print up the sheets for each lesson at the beginning of the lesson and this took time in our already crowded day. Yes, I could print them up ahead of time by accessing each lesson at a different time, and yes, I did like that the narrator instructed us which ones to print, but it would have been nice to have an option to print up the whole "pack" of vocabulary sheets, fill in sheets, maps, etc. at one time so I could just print what I wanted from one screen (perhaps let the parent check a box indicating which sheet types they want from the available options), punch the holes, and add them to the notebooks at one time. This would have helped, especially with the younger students. It wasn't as much of a concern with my HS student, but then the course wasn't intended for his grade...I do feel the course was appropriate for Jr. High and HS students, though. I learned something!
  • The addition of links to a few simpler activities would make this more "family" friendly (some simple hands-on activities, easy copy work, coloring pages). By this I mean that as homeschoolers, we often want to do things together, with many grades, and offering ideas for all levels (to be adjusted by the parent) would be ideal. Obviously, I could find these sorts of things on my own, but for the price, it would be preferred to have it available...If they do another course, I'd be more likely to purchase it if it covered more levels and had more options for additional activities for many ages.

This is an excellent product. I look forward to Tex working through it on his own during the rest of October and November (the Amigos and I watched the lessons for this review...he only joined us a few times) and I know he will enjoy it, too. I wish Dayspring had other similar courses, and I am hoping that they will decide to add a few more on other American history topics down the road. I'd love to see one about Colonial America...they could go to Williamsburg for their field trip. Or how about the Jamestown settlement as the next class? There are a lot of myths that need dispelling surrounding that story.

If online courses interest you or you are looking for something to make your Thanksgiving more focused on God and less on the turkey, taking this course as a family unit study during November may be just what you've been looking for. Or if you have an older student (I'd say 5th grade and up) who works well independently who wants to do something different for a while for history, I am pretty sure he or she would really enjoy this class and find it not only challenging, but fascinating.

You can check out Dayspring Academy's website, The Pilgrim Story class, and watch a video explaining the course below.

To find what other reviewers had to say about The Pilgrim Story, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received a six-month subscription to Pilgrim Story for the purposes for reviewing this product. All opinions you read here are my own. No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Zoo Whiz: Great Fun Learning

Do you have a budding zoologist in your house? Or perhaps you host a wanna-be park ranger, like me? Cowboy, age seven, is our resident ranger and he LOVES to put on his explorer vest, deck himself out in all his gear (binoculars, bug grabber, collection jars, magnifying glass, etc.), and head outside for outdoor adventures, usually bringing home something with six legs or more to draw in his nature notebook and look up in one of our many books (or on the internet).
Do you have a handy dandy bug grabber? I think you need one. It's very cool!
Sometimes it's rainy outside, though, and as the days get chillier, thoughts turn to more indoor activities, and it's nice to have a few fall backs for days when I just need to get something done or to work with one of the other Amigos. Recently, we were offered a free Premium membership to Zoo Whiz, an online game produced in Australia (so you get to hear all the fun accents and Australian terms for praises) to help kids ages 5-15 with math, reading, grammar, spelling, and phonics.
Built around the theme of a zoo, your child will have opportunities to choose a subject area and level, then complete problems in one of the three areas (maths, reading, words) in order to earn coins. These coins can be used either to buy games at the arcade or to purchase animals for their "zoo."
The "zoo" is basically a collection of all of the animals they earn/buy, divided by habitat and animal type (there are animals of all types, plus some mythological creatures, dinosaurs, and extinct animals). Your child will get to learn about their animal by reading the animal's "card." Your child will learn about habitats over time (if they do not already know about them), and they will become familiar with which animals fit in each habitat when they check out their card collection at "The Biodome."
Unfortunately, at this point, there is no way to interact with the animals...they are not wandering around a virtual habitat, you can't give them a personalized name, or anything like that. Basically, the animals are simply virtual stickers or virtual cards in a collection book, and other than look at them, there is nothing you do with them. I will admit that this diminished my zoologist's interest somewhat. He wanted to play with and "feed" the animals, or at least see them walking around...However, the collection process is still interesting enough that when he was asked to go play Zoo Whiz, he did not complain. Instead, he'd grab a sibling (usually a younger one) and they'd work together to solve problems and choose animals.

You do get to personalize your animated "zoo keeper" a little bit, and Cowboy liked that part. He chose the one on the very left of the picture above. It reminds me of him when he's all decked out in his explorer gear. He even got a hat just like that one for his birthday.

You can see his poor nose where he did a face plant on concrete at his birthday party...
He's a trooper, though, and got up with a smile.
Zoo Whiz offers games at "the arcade" in addition to the animal stickers/cards you collect. My zookeeper usually used his earned coins to buy more animals, but he did play games from time to time. You get to play each game one time for free and after that you have to use coins to play the games. There is a limit to how long you get to play, so your child can't get fixated on the games and avoid the learning. Either time will run out, or they will run out of coins and have to do more learning to earn more. Cowboy says he really liked the game "Paint 'n Play" and would sometimes give up coins to play it.
There are multiple levels within each age/ability grouping. You can set what you want your child to work on in your parent account, or your child can change the level if they find the work they are trying to do is too easy or too difficult. The problems are narrated within the easiest reading section (age 4-6 only offers "reading" as a subject) for the youngest students. No other areas offer the option of narration of the questions or answers at this point. I hope they plan to add a "read this" button in the future as I believe this would add a lot to the program. Some kids are higher in the math skills than their reading skills, for example, and being able to hear the problems read alound would allow them to advance more effectively, and it's a good accomodation for different types of learners. There were times when Firefly (age 5) wanted to try the program, but she does not read and I couldn't always have Cowboy there to read the problems out loud for her.
Parents can check up on their students' progress to see which areas need work. The happy faces change according to how your child is doing.

Below are some examples of maths, reading, and phonics screens. As you can see, there are a variety of subjects covered on multiple levels. We really only used the "ages 5-7" section, though Ladybug did try out a few of the next level of problems and had a nice time earning coins for her brother to spend. She wasn't as motivated to play the game, though. I don't think it was "girlie" enough for her. She'd rather play with her dolls or sew at this point (though on nice days you will still find her up in a tree...go figure). Firefly (age 5) liked it when Cowboy would sit behind her and read the questions, then she'd click the answer and get to help him choose a new critter when they earned enough coins.




The kids all thought the Australian accents and the praise that was given profusely (out loud with that awesome Aussie lilt) were a lot of fun...Cowboy liked hearing what each new correct answer would give him in the way of encouragement each time. He always smiled and laughed when he played Zoo Whiz. He never grumbled or groused. However, he also didn't beg to play it, if that says anything. I think he would have wanted to play it more often if there was actual interaction with the animals, such as a zoo room where you'd go to actually see your animals wandering around, or a place where you could at least name them, then print up their personalized card to keep at home.

All in all I'd say that for a fun supplement or a way to give your younger children something to do while you work with another child, Zoo Whiz is a nice idea. It is not meant to replace any of your curriculum...just to be a little bit of drill and practice in an entertaining and motivating way. In my opinion, I don't think it is currently worth the $59.95 price that was initially advertized (I feel it needs more content, more games, and more added to the animal collection process...they indicated to us that they are in the process of adding more to the game and that content is building each month), but there is currently a SALE going on that you might want to take advantage of if you have an animal lover in your own home zoo and want to give the Premium option a try.

If Zoo Whiz sounds like something one (or more) of your kids would like, for a LIMITED TIME ONLY you can purchase a year-long premium membership for only $14.95. This allows everything the free membership offers, plus access to premium animals, more parental controls, and more games. This price will not last forever, so if it interests you, go sign your child up for a free membership and try out Zoo Whiz today. Once you know they like it, now is a great time to buy that Premium Membership. Zoo Whiz is great for those rainy or chilly days when your wanderers can't wander outside and need a little something to do since it is educational and fun at the same time.

My wanderer wandering at the park...

To see what others had to say about Zoo Whiz, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received one free year's subscription for the purposes of reviewing Zoo Whiz here on my blog. All opinions you read are my own and are based solely on our own experiences using the product. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

You Can Be BeeYoutiful Inside AND Out


Do you wake up early every morning to the scent of your coffee pot perking that morning cup of coffee that wakes you up enough that you can do you morning devotional in the quiet minutes  of the day? You pray each morning before the kids descend and fill nearly every moment of your day because you know that your day goes better when you have worked on making the inside part of you more beautiful for your family and your Lord...

Or maybe you've given up coffee for water and grab a cold bottle as you dash out the door to run a  mile or two because even though you know you can't get younger, you can get into better shape...and as far as you are concerned, keeping fit is not only smart, but attractive.

Perhaps you've started learning to make your own laundry soap and bath bars because you want to protect yourself and those you love from the chemicals found in most commercially made cleaning's just one more way to ensure that your lifestyle is a healthy one.


From the company Beeyoutiful, makers of my favorite vitamin, Supermom, comes a new line of natural, chemical-free, gluten-free, 100% mineral makeup to support you in your quest for a healthy lifestyle, and to help your inner beauty shine through in a natural way.

Their sister company, Beeyoutiful Skin offers makeup and skin care products that you are sure to love, even if you've never used mineral makeup before. That's how it was for me, anyway.

See, I am cheap. I'd be nice to myself and say the polite term, "thrifty," except I do spend money when it is something I consider particularly important. Like books. Or on filling Operation Christmas Child boxes (which are coming up soon...please fill at least one will be glad you did!). Or the right food for my family's health. 

BUT makeup has never topped my list of important things. I am one of those people who gasps in outrage at the prices at the makeup counter in the department stores. When mineral makeup came out a few years back, I thought it looked really interesting, and healthier, but whenever I'd go check it out, the price tag convinced me that my six dollar bottle of foundation (from the same brand I've used since high school) was good enough. My eyeshadow sometimes comes from the dollar store (and one color often doubles as blush, when I bother to use it), and I gave up lipstick for lip gloss years ago.

In spite of my carelessness with my "beauty products," or at least with my makeup, I think I've managed to do all right over the years, but even an aging dog is interested in learning new tricks from time to time, so I signed up for this review and was happy when I got chosen.

The colors are positively stunning.

After a careful study of the available colors on the Beeyoutiful Skin website, using their very detailed and helpful selection process, I chose a few foundation colors to try. These selections were sent in tiny ziplock bags and I was able to put each one of them on and ask my family which one suited my complexion the best. 


Since one of the foundation choices brought about the comment, "Oh, that one makes you look older..." and the other was obviously too dark, my choices were narrowed down to "Fiona," which sounds somewhat ogre-ish to me (if you've seen Shrek you will know what I mean), but then again, I am somewhat ogre-ish with no makeup, so it fits. 
Silver Peach (in actuality, it is much darker than this looks)

I also chose a color to be my eye color, and since I often use my eye color as my blush color, I chose "Silver Peach" which seemed fairly close to what I use normally (but much prettier and more shimmery). 
Rich Earth (looks just as expected...very nice)

We were also allowed to request a sample of a color that might be used as a contrast or eye-liner, and I chose "Rich Earth," a solid dark brown hue.

Before too long, this pretty bag arrived in my mailbox, along with an instructional dvd, which I needed a whole lot, since I had no idea at all what I was doing. You can see the same content on the Beeyoutiful website's "How-To" page.

I was delighted by the two lovely makeup brushes, the Foundation Brush ($11) and the Combo Brush ($6.50). I've never owned brushes that nice. These are definitely top of the line. They are soft and do not shed, like some inexpensive brushes do, and I think their price is absolutely reasonable for the quality. The combo brush is something I'd recommend whether you use their makeup or not. It just can't be beat.



BEFORE              and                 AFTER

You can see how the makeup minimized my freckles and age spots, 
as well as evened out some of the wrinkles. At the same time, there's not a
 really heavy appearance. Not too bad, I say!

Before attempting to use the makeup, I watched the videos for each step thoroughly. I learned a lot from the short segments. I never had feminine girl-friends when I was a kid, so what I learned, I pretty much guessed at and got from trial and error. I did get a makeover once, but the lady who did it applied the makeup so heavily (and used bright red lipstick on a sixteen year old!), that it intimidated me rather than made me feel more informed.

The videos explain that before using the mineral makeup, you need to "prep" your canvas (your skin) with either skin moisturizer or toner. They recommend their Laveshment line, but I didn't have any of that, so I used the skin cream I make myself. I am pretty limited in what fragrances I can use since scent is one of my migraine triggers, so once I learned how easy it is to make your own face cream, I started making mine with a light vanilla lemon scent. I love it...ask my family what scents I like and they will tell you, "Anything that smells like it comes from a bakery." Yum.

So, I practiced a few times, and I must say, it is not as easy to apply the foundation as it looks on the video the first time you do it, if you are not accustomed to using brushes (I normally apply my liquid foundation with a sponge). I played around with the product a bit and learned you can make it into a liquid product, and thus, use a sponge, so I wound up liking that the best. I am not sure that I am using the product just right yet, because I received only a portion of the 20 oz. of mineral powder that you would receive (for $25), and it doesn't seem that this small amount would last as long as they say it will. I am sure that I will get better at applying the makeup over time, though, and become more efficient and effective.

I found that the "foiling" method of applying the eye-liner was not as hard as it was, in fact, easy, and I think it gives a more natural look than stark eye-liner does. I wish I'd had a few more sample colors to play around with, though. I am used to there being at least a trio of colors to blend with when I do use shadow, and having just one (and I think I chose one that was a bit too dark for me) made it a bit difficult to evaluate its true suitability for me.

I tried lightening up the peach color I'd chosen for my eye shadow (as it was darker than I thought it would be) by adding some foundation, and that worked all right for the eye shadow (it worked fine as it was for a blush), but I wish I'd been able to try another color or two for the eyes so I could fully figure out if using this sort of makeup suits me best. I think if I was going to order more when this small sample runs out, I would definitely order sample packets of many of the 45 colors for $1 each, so I could try them out before choosing what to purchase (a full order of one shadow is $10 for about .5 g of color). Then I'd know I was getting the best for my investment...and it's always fun to play around with colors when your face is the canvas, don't you think?

I did like the containers the make-up came in. They have a simple screw off lid, and there are holes in plastic covers over the mineral make-up so that it does not dump out easily, and you can dispense it carefully as you use it. The video shows you how to sprinkle a bit into the upturned lid and dab your brush in there, then apply to your face. I've bought loose foundation powders before (not mineral make-up, though) that dumped all over the place because there was nothing holding the powder in once you took the top off. Not too smart...especially with little ones around.

I like the natural look.

I did have a Beeoyoutiful lip balm to use when applying the lip color, but your favorite lip balm would do the job just fine. I am addicted to the stuff that comes in a little pot (Carmex or Blistex) and came across a pot that was about one-eighth full. I added barely any of the mineral makup to it and voila!, instant lipstick/lip gloss in a color just right for me! I can add more mineral makeup for a darker effect if I want to for going out at night, or keep it light for every day use. That is my favorite find of this review. 

Overall, I felt that the mineral makeup was very good quality, easy to use, and made me feel like I was taking care of myself by not putting lots of harsh chemicals on my face. I've been wondering lately (since I started making my own soaps and creams) what to do about my makeup. It seems kind of silly to take such care with your base coat (the cream or moisturizer) and then to put a layer of chemicalized goop on top of it. Beeyoutiful solves this problem for you by providing a natural product that simply shines...naturally.


If you are interested in bringing out your outer beauty, so that it matches your inner beauty, using high-quality natural products, then visit the Beeyoutiful Skin website and order some samples of their make up line. You might also want to give some of their skin care products a try, if you don't make your own, and don't forget to go to the Beeyoutiful website and stock up on your SuperMom vitamins to get you through the coming winter months healthy and full of energy...


If you'd like to see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about this product and others from Beeyoutiful, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I was given samples of the Beeyoutiful Skin mineral makeup for the purposes of writing this review. All opinions you read here are mine and are based upon my experiences with the product. No other compensation was received.

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