Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: R.e.a.l. Homeschool Spanish

Vendor Name:  R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish (R.E.A.L. stands for Relax, Enjoy, Aspire, Learn Spanish)
Vendor Contact:  R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish  website
Age Range:  K – 8  (a kindergartner could certainly take part in the oral lessons, some of the review puzzles are geared towards older kids.  A High School supplement is in the works)
Price:  $49.95 for download version of the Book, Activity Book, Answer Book, and audio files
   $59.95 for all of the above plus Daily Curriculum Guide
   Hard copies (with audio Cd's) of above are available for $89.95 and $99.95 respectively  with free shipping

Foreign Languages:  I think we’d all agree that there are part of a well rounded education.  Many college admissions offices expect to see them on a transcript.  Being able to speak at least one can give you an advantage when applying for jobs.  The problem is how to teach it, especially if it’s not a language you speak.  In my high school days I had dreams of standing atop the Eiffel Tower in a striped sundress and a straw hat so I enrolled in French.  Those dreams didn’t work out for me and now I’m left in a pickle because both my husband and I agree that Spanish is the more useful language these days.

Our review product is designed to help those parents who are familiar with the concept of foreign languages (conjugating verbs, etc) if not the language themselves.  The author, Dr. Karyn Williamson-Coria  earned her doctorate in Expanded French Studies and married a native speaker of Spanish so she is certainly familiar with breaking down the study of language into digestible chunks.
The download files include both a color and a black & white copy of “The Book” which I would call an expanded teacher’s manual.  The colorized version has Spanish vocabulary and phrases in black and English translations in green.  A lot of the Tips to the Home Educator and enforcement ideas have green backgrounds so if you plan to print everything out B&W would be more economical.    
There are Ten units broken into smaller lessons:
    • 1A  Greetings
    • 1B  How are You
    • 2A  Colors
    • 2B Numbers
    • 2C More Numbers
    • 2D Telling Time
    • 3A Fruits and Vegetables
    • 3B Meats and Proteins
    • 3C Carbs and Desserts   [personal note-the title made me laugh, dieters should avoid this lesson!']
    • 3D Beverages, Condiments, Dairy and Other
    • 4A Family
    • 4B Family
    • 4C Adjectives
    • 4D Adjectives
    • 5A Face
    • 5B Body
    • 6A Clothes
    • 6B Clothes
    • 6C Weather and Seasons
    • 6D Months of the Year
    • 7A Places
    • 7B Days of the Weeks
    • 7C The verb “to go”/ir
    • 7D Transportation/Places
    • 8A Animals
    • 8B Animals
    • 8C Nature
    • 9A Sports
    • 10A Verbs Parts 1,2,3
    • 10B The House
    • 10C Things in the House
Most units also contain tips to the home educator on how to present the material, ideas for reinforcing vocabulary and some grammar tidbits.

The Activity Guide is designed to be printed out and only comes in a black & white version.  These reinforcing activities include crossword puzzles, word searches, fill-in-the-blank dialogues, scrambled tiles, and more.  I would classify some of this a busy work to occupy students in a classroom while the teacher works with slower learners.  Other exercises are really clever ways to see if a student is comprehending what they read, for example putting sentences in order to create a dialogue between two people or reading a dialogue and answering questions based on clues in the text.   The Answers Book are the solutions to the Activity Guide’s exercises.

The audio files are broken down to correspond to the unit sections (4A for example).  The female speaker will say the word in English first and then in Spanish.  The book has the Spanish listed first and then English so you are sort of required to read backwards but this isn’t terribly difficult to overcome.  Each word and phrase is only said once and there is no way to select a specific word to hear.  You must listen to the entire lesson to reach the word you are seeking.

The Daily Curriculum Guide is optional, but to my mind worth the extra $10.   The curriculum is divided into 48 weeks of daily lessons and each week includes a sixth day with preparation for the teacher.   Most helpful to me were the reminders to check R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish’s website for links to help bring the culture (mostly Latin American) to life. There are games, history, recipes and more.  If you prefer to do your own planning, the Book includes a page you can print out and fill in your own schedule.

Some of these files were zipped, but they were still big.  If you live in dial-up land like me and don't want to pay the premium for hard copies you may want to see if you can visit the library or a friend with high speed service and download to a thumb drive.

Schnickelfritz is in third grade so right now I’m content for him to learn to speak and listen to Spanish.  We can add reading and writing as he gets older.  The lessons are taught by me having a conversation with him of previously memorized sentences (an example in English is below)
Me: Good Morning Fritz.
Fritz: Good Morning Mama.
Me: How are you?
Fritz: Very well, and you?
Me: Very Well.
Fritz: See you later.
This is almost identical to the first lesson I ever had in French twenty-something years ago.   Looking ahead (because we haven’t gotten that far) I can see where we begin to conjugate verbs—those that follow a pattern and irregular; learn about masculine and feminine nouns and how adjectives are spelled differently for each.  I could not find a lesson on punctuation, specifically why some punctuation marks appear upside down at the beginning of the sentences.  Perhaps this will be covered in the more formal High School Supplement. 

We will be continuing our Spanish studies after Christmas break.  If you think you'd like to add Spanish to your lessons, check out the samples from the Book, Activity Book, and Daily Curriculum Guide .

You can read what other Homeschool Crew members think about R.E.A.L.  Homeschool Spanish by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I recieved a free copy of the R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish Book, Activity Book, Answer Book, Audio files and Daily Curriculum Guide for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opion.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


A homeschooling mom in our county offered to teach a class on Hanukkah.  Schnickelfritz and I had a similar lesson at her house last year.  This year was so much better attended (I think it's because most of the HS moms had been attending her year-long course on Biblical feasts) that we had to move to a church fellowship hall.  I hadn't planned it this way, but God has perfect timing; Fritz and I had just finished Daniel chapter 11 in our Discover 4 Yourself Bible study and so he was very familiar with Antiochus IV Epiphanes--the cruel ruler that desecrated the temple.  It was during the cleansing and rededication of the temple that miracle of the oil took place.

Several types of Hanukiah
 After a brief lecture, the group was free to go to several craft stations, play the dreidel game, and sample donuts, baklava, and latkes (everything fried to remind us of the oil).

The boys drifted to the dreidel station (could it be because there was chocolate involved?)  According to the tradition, Jews would hide their Torahs and pull out these tops to play with when Greek soldiers would stop by to make sure no one was involved in illegal worship. 

The younger kids could decorate a paper menorah with stickers.

More ambitious or older kids could make their own menorah out of paper plates and foam.

While Hanukkah is not one of the Biblical feasts prescribed by God in the Old Testament, it is mentioned in the Bible, referred to as the Feast of Dedication.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Money Monday: Christmas and Commercialism

Yeah, there's a lot of bad 'isms' floatin' around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it's the same - don't care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck. 
Alfred the Janitor,  Miracle on 34th Street, 1947
Poor Alfred, what would he think today?  In recent years we’ve been treated to headlines about shoppers being trampled to death and one lady resorting to pepper spray in order to grab a bargain before anyone else.  Does that put you in the Christmas mood?  Whatever happened to Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men?  This isn’t the holiday I signed up for—the one where people get in line two days before Thanksgiving to fill their shopping carts with Wiis and Ipads at incredible bargain prices.  It’s supposed to be about the Savior, not savings.  PS—to those stores that decided it was better to make a buck than let employees enjoy Thanksgiving with their families, I didn’t spend any of my money with you that day or any other since.  I will not worship at the altar of your cash register.
At the same time, though sadly not as prominently in the news, food pantries and organizations like the Salvation Army are struggling to stretch their resources even further as demand increases and donations go down.  The Boy Scouts’ food drive this year was down almost 30 percent in St. Louis.  Our local paper showed bare shelves at a pantry trying to serve 60 families each week.   Americans spent around $450 billion on the “Holiday Season” last year on lights, cards, ugly sweaters and Chia Pets.   The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign took in $142 million, that’s 3 hundredths of one percent of the holiday splurge. 
For the past five years, our church has participated in the Advent Conspiracy—a radical idea to separate the birth of our Savior from the massive shopping frenzy.  It’s done in four simple steps as seen on their website.

It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one.  Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.

God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?

When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Vintage Remedies

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  I Corinthians 13:11

No disrespect to the Apostle Paul, but here is my version--

When I was a child, I ate like a child.  I wanted soft white bread and fizzy drinks.  I believed that all food came wrapped in plastic or boxed or canned.  I used pine scented aerosols and cleaning products that sent me running from the bathroom choking on the fumes.  I believed that the only way to get better was to ask the doctor for an antibiotic.  Now I am a woman with a child of my own.  I have seen that foods made of chemicals and preservatives have left our nation overweight and yet still undernourished.  I have seen children suffering from asthma and chemical sensitivity.  I hear stories on the news about organisms that have grown resistant to our best treatments.

Of course I want better for my Schnickelfritz.  I could just force changes on him and say "I'm the mom, I know what's best,"  or I could help him try to understand why I'm making the choices I do.  Enter a new Homeschool Crew review product designed to help me do just that: Vintage Remedies for Guys.

 This book, geared towards 7-13 year old boys is broken into three sections: Food, Nutrition and Culinary Skills; Health and Body, and Natural Living.   Chapter Headings include:

  • Real Food
  • Healthy Drinks
  • Growing Your Food
  • Healthy and Clean Bodies
  • Immunity and Prevention
  • Backyard Medicine
  • Aromatic Oils
  • Cleaner Cleaning
  • Reducing and Reusing
  • A Natural Home
The Appendices have quizzes,  tips for making this a homeschool or co-op curriculum,  and information about further learning opportunities from Vintage Remedies.

The book is written to the boy but an adult will want to stand by to elaborate on certain topics and help with the hands on projects.  Schnickelfritz is not quite ready for facial wash or homemade deodorant, so we stuck with the kitchen recipes-specifically yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese.

Technically, I don't know if what we made can actually be called yogurt or cheese because we're not using yogurt culture or rennet for the cheese.  Both the cream cheese and the yogurt recipes call for cultured buttermilk.  I asked the book's author, Jessie Hawkins, about her ingredient choices.  Her reply was that she was trying to use ingredients easily available for the average parent. 

Here is Fritz pouring our fresh, raw milk into a pot.  I didn't have one big enough to heat one gallon (nor was I willing to use up our precious supply) so I cut the recipe in half--the opportunity to practice dividing fractions.

We're adding raw apple cider vinegar.  I realize that not everyone is going to have access to non-homogenized milk or raw ACV.   The parent/teacher guide for each chapter gives you a list of ingredients and tools needed so you can determine what you can and can't do.

Our curds are forming.  Now the hardest part, waiting patiently for three hours.

Well, the recipe worked but I must say I'm disappointed by the quantity.  A half gallon of milk yielded about 2/3 cup of ricotta cheese--no wonder it's so expensive at the store.  Our cream cheese experiment didn't work very well either but I think the problem was user error.  At the time I didn't have cheesecloth (note to self: always check the parent guide and make sure supplies are on hand) so I used my yogurt strainers.  I think the mesh was too fine to allow the liquid to drain so I never got a thick cream cheese.  What I did have was perfect to substitute for sour cream in my Thanksgiving recipes.

Schnickelfritz was certainly more interested in doing the projects than reading the associated lessons, but he was certainly able to read the text (I was concerned about the font which resembles handwriting).  If you chose to use this for schooling,  the quizzes in the back would make great short essay questions to test comprehension.

Our book is for guys, there is also a Vintage Recipes for Girls.  My understanding is the main differences deal with hygiene.  There is also a kids book for younger children (ages 2-6).  Vintage Remedies for Boys retails for $45.  If you hurry to the Vintage Remedies website you can purchase the Boys and Girls material in a single volume called Vintage Remedies for Tweens for only $29.95.

You can see what other Homeschool Crew members think of Vintage Remedies by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Vintage Remedies for Guys for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gold Trail Award

After three years of hard word, my Schnickelfritz earned his Gold Trail Award for Ranger Kids.  The presentation was made in front of the whole church.  Royal Rangers is a scouting program, like Boy Scouts, but run through churches.  In addition to learning to tie knots, he had to memorize scripture and hymns, learn the names of the books of the Bible, the 12 disciples, and more.    Fritz has now moved up to the Discovery Rangers and is tearing through merit badges on his way to the Gold Falcon.  At this level he needs to complete two Bible merits (each one is a five week study on a particular book) for each skill merit in order to advance.  We've been able to incorporate the work into our homeschool.  He just completed a Presidential study learning each president's terms, home state, education, vice president, political party and two major events that occurred while they were in office.  He had to look up Bible verses on the topic of leadership and write a 300 word essay on his favorite president and how they displayed at least three of those leadership traits.  Wow!  I never assigned him anything that challenging in our history/English work before.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Fractazmic

Well December has rolled around again...our burst of enthusiasm for a new school year has waned just as holiday activities and winter sports have kicked into high gear.  I don't want to drop school work entirely and yet I'm ready for a break from the "heavy" stuff myself.  That's when I like to pull out the educational games--there's still learning going on (or at least refreshing old facts learned), but it's all done in a spirit of fun.  It's a perfect time to review a card game like Fractazmic.  This is from I See Cards, the same company that provided our Pyramath  game last year.

Fractazmic's focus is on fractions, so instead of having symbol suits the cards are organized into tenths, twelfths, and sixteenths.   The fractions are reduced to their simplest terms (1/4 instead of 4/16) but you can still keep track of the fraction families by the colored border and the picture on the cards.   Tenths are green with a 1 liter water bottle, twelfths are blue with an egg carton, and sixteenths are red with  a magnified view of a ruler.  This was my one qualm with the picture choices: the magnified view focuses on half of the inch not the full inch. In the above example the grasshopper represents 4/16 or 1/4 of an inch but the picture itself looks like it's taking up 1/2 of the space.  This made it a little confusing to my son who's new to fractions.

The object of the basic game is to form "hands" by collecting cards of the same suit to equal one whole.  For students just learning their fractions, they can count the number of eggs, etc to make sure they have a full dozen or twelve/twelfths.  Once again, you have to keep in mind that the ruler suit represents sixteenths not eighths so you need to "fill" the ruler twice.  Players take turns drawing from the draw or discard piles (if you take a card from the discard pile you must use it in a hand immediately).  Schnickelfritz and I found that completing the final hand and going out was extremely long for a game with two players.  We developed our own rule that the final hand can be made up of different suits as long as it still totals one.  There are other game rules as well as samples of all the cards available at this website

Fractazmic, Pyramath, and Prime Bomb card games are available for $6.95 from the I See Cards website.   You can also try online versions of their games and possibly win a free deck.  Rather than an age range for this game, I would consider your child's math skills--are they ready for fractions.

You can read what other Homeschool Crew Members think of Fractazmic by clicking here
Disclaimer: I recieved a free deck of Fractazmic cards for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Money Monday: The Sodastream

For those of you who don't know me personally, I've always had a passion for educating people about money.  My degree and business experience is in accounting.  When I would see all the errors on troop leader's deposit slips or spend twenty minutes on the phone explaining to a camp counelor why her paycheck didn't match the salary in her hire letter (taxes coming out), I always felt like our schools were really dropping the ball when it came to personal finance.  So I'm going to try and start a new series covering various money topics from earning to saving to keeping track of it all.

Today's idea came from a very real conversation I had with the Toolman last week.  Our weekly paper had a $10 rebate  for the Sodastream, a device that allows you to make carbonated beverages in your own home.   The Toolman is a devout cola drinker and I am a kitchen gadget junkie so this seemed like a good fit.  We are however,  both recent graduates of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University so we needed to look at this from a financial side.  

Kohl's has the Sodastream on sale for $89.99 and as luck would have it, they had just sent us a 30% off coupon.  Combined with the rebate the price of the Sodastream was down to  $52.99 (I'm not considering sales tax in any of my equations to keep things simpler).  The kit includes the machine, one carbonation canister, and one plastic liter bottle to hold to finished product.   The flavor syrups are on sale for $4.99, if I use my same 30 % coupon the cost comes down to $3.49.  Each bottle claims to make fifty 8 oz servings.  Now lets get to some math.  For any parents teaching math to their kids, this example with help them see the importance of including the units in their math equations: $/oz, oz/liter, etc.

50 X 8 oz =  400 oz

$3.49 / 400 oz =  $0.00873/oz

 That's not the end of the cost for Sodastream soda though--the carbonation canister is a consumable product.  Kohl's doesn't sell the canisters separately so I needed to do some online research.  According to, the canister to fit the Kohl's model holds enough gas for 60 liters ( 1 liter = 33.814 ounces).   There are no retailers in my area participating in the canister exchange program so I would need to get my canisters directly from the company.   Just to get the price of the gas, I'm not going to worry about shipping costs right now.  Two exchanged canisters cost $29.99 (of course I only have one to exchange from the starter kit)  $29.99 .   120 liters X  33.814 ounces/liter = 4057.68 oz.

$29.99/4057.68 oz =  $.00739/oz

$.00739/oz + $0.00873/oz = $.01612/oz

A can of soda is 12 oz so the equivalent amount of Sodastream soda is 12 oz X $0.01612/oz = $.19339 or 19.4 cents per can

For comparison, we can buy a 24 case of Coca Cola for $6.98 or  (6.98/24=) 29.08 cents per can.  Yes,  the Sodastream is cheaper but you would need to drink 544 cans before you broke even after purchasing the machine in the first place.  If I weren't able to get the syrup on sale that would raise the cost of a can's worth of soda to 26.8 cents--practically the same as the can of Coke.

Bottom line for us, there are a lot easier ways to save money so the Sodastream won't be under our Christmas tree this year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas in Hermann

It's a tradition for us to go to Hermann in December, but this year there were a few changes.  First, the weather was MUCH warmer than in the past.  The temps reached the sixties, which doesn't do much to put you in the holiday mood but it helps wonderfully when you're outside learning about Lewis and Clark.  For the first time we skipped the school day for the Corp of Discovery re-enactors and visited on Saturday so we could take advantage of some other events in town: Kristkindl markt (arts and crafts) and Weihnachtsfest (German Christmas) at the Deutschheim historical site.    I suppose that a lot of folks picture a Dicken's village when they get nostalgic about Christmas but think how much the Germans have contributed to our holiday traditions: an evergreen Christmas tree, gingerbread houses, nutcrackers, Advent calendars,  and carols like Silent Night.

Paper Marbling

Here's an artisan making patterns with nails in the paint he's just dripped into a dish of water.  Then he'll lay paper on top to catch the paint and make the wonderful paper designs you see in the background.

This house has been decorated to celebrate a 19th century German Christmas in Missouri.   As you can see hanging Christmas trees from the ceiling is not a new idea.  I can't tell you why they did it although children will probably say to fit more presents underneath.
Cookie Molds

These molds are for Springerle cookies (although Schnickelfritz is demonstrating with Playdoh).  The cookies have a lot of anise seeds which gives them a licorice flavor.

Making Rope
We also spent time with the Lewis & Clark campers.  I was surprised and saddened by the small turn out of visitors, especially on so warm a day.  I suppose they were all at the Christmas events.  It just meant more attention for Schnickelfritz from the interpretors.  I've always said the best teachers are enthusiastic about their subjects.  These folk are definately enthusiastic if they will take a weekend in December to camp out and share their knowledge with boys and girls. Here's Fritz making a rope.

Starting a Fire

 Fritz got to start two fires--one with this glass lens and one with flint & steel.  He'll have to do both for his Royal Rangers merit badge someday so this was good exposure, but he was less than thrilled about holding combustible material in his hands.

Fife & Drum Corps

Okay, these guys don't really fit in with a German Christmas or the Lewis & Clark Corps, but it was very entertaining to hear Jingle Bells and Hark the Herald Angels Sing performed by fife and drums.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...