Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Time Travelers Civil War

Last spring as part of a blog hop I shared ways we’ve used Photoshop Elements in homeschool---specifically, how we’d enhanced/colorized/etc. the PDF files from the Home School in the Woods’ Time Travelers U.S. History Studies.  Of course I asked their permission before sharing any of their images and after seeing my posts they gave me the opportunity to review one of their products.  This fall my son and I have really been enjoying their Civil War CD-ROM.

Obviously, if I was using their products last Spring I’m familiar with the vendor but let me be perfectly clear up front: We LOVE Home School in the Woods!!!  We’ve now used five of their Time Travelers sets, their Project Passport Middle Ages, and their Timeline Figures.  If you hated history (or your kids do) because of dull texts or unending lists of only names, dates, and places I urge you to give their activity-based unit studies a try!

Everything is contained on one CD-ROM.  I always start by printing out the Teacher’s guide and Lesson Texts which I comb-bind for our use (the book on the left below).   This gives me a Lesson Plan of material to be covered and all the instructions for creating a notebook, lap-book, crafts and other keepsakes to remember our study.  We’ve always used the Time Travelers to enhance our regular history curriculum  so I look through the lesson plan page first to see how the subject material matches up with each chapter of our textbook (to be honest, Time Travelers could stand alone as your history study if you don’t mind not having quizzes or tests).

The book on the right is my son’s notebook.  Rather than four separate pieces: a notebook, a lap-book, a newspaper, and a box of biographical mini-books (referred to as the Library of Leaders);  we compile everything into one large bound notebook.  We mount all the printables on cardstock pages-- this includes the mini-books of famous leaders and generals.  In this case, we used Photoshop Elements to add flags to the image backgrounds so we could keep sides straight, but you could just differentiate with the color of paper you use for printing.

Some of the other notebook pages include a massive timeline….

and samples of the uniforms for both the Union and Confederate soldiers.

When we went to the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob, we took spare copies of the pages that taught us to identify ranks and corps badges—it was like having our own private program to know all the players! 

The Union Cavalry was stationed directly in front of our spot, and we quickly realized that the “real man in charge” only had the rank of First Sergeant even though there was a Captain right behind him.

I could go on and on about the materials in our notebook…copies of important speeches and documents, maps, flash cards of military terms, history makes & other vocabulary; even recipes to make our study a more immersive experience.  Want your kid to know what it’s like to be a foot soldier?  Let him spend the day walking all over a battlefield and when he asks what’s for lunch, pull out the piece of hardtack you made the week before! (and then when the shock wears off, go visit one of the food vendors—I’m not that cruel).  

Of course the heart of the study are the Lesson Texts.   Here’s where Time Travelers really shine.  Every subject from pre-war Slavery to Reconstruction, every battle in between is told in a Charlotte Mason/Living Book format.  Sure there are dates and places and General’s names to remember, but everything is fleshed out to give it real meaning.  I’d found a used book of Civil War battle maps that my son kept side by side with the lesson texts and he could follow all the troop movements on the maps as he read.  Everything was spot on!


  The Civil War won’t be our last product from Homeschool in the Woods (we’ve still got three more Time Traveler studies to go).  And lest you think I’m gushing over a product I got for free in exchange for this review—I was a customer LONG beforehand, having purchased every other product we’ve used.  Every one has been a treasure—a real “this is why I homeschool” experience.

The Civil War is available for download for $27.95 or on CD for $28.95 (plus shipping).  It is recommended for grades 3-8.  You can see more project photos and download a sample lesson on the website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TOS Blue Ribbon Awards

I can’t believe another year on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has come and gone! You may be wondering…what happens once the review is over?  Well if the product has been really helpful/enjoyed, it becomes part of our school or home life.  My son still looks forward to each new book in the Hank the Cowdog series and that’s something we reviewed years and years ago, my first year on the crew.

By far my son’s favorite review this year was HomeschoolPiano!  Yes, he looks forward to piano lessons and piano practice every day (a mother’s dream, I know).   We’re working through Book Two now.  I don’t know what we’ll do after Book Three.  I’m hoping Willie Myette will keep adding to the series.

I’m more excited about Fix It! Grammar, at least more excited to see me son’s progress.  During the review, he might make three guesses as to what the verb of the sentence was.  Now he can mark main and dependent clauses and the subjects and verbs for each on his own.  It works so well with the IEW writing program we’ve been using anyway (a review from year one as well).  I’ll be using the whole series of six books, I’m sure.

The reviewers of the Crew have the opportunity to vote on favorite products at the end of the year.  If you’re interested in the results (many award categories and overall winners too) just click on the link below.

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Smoky Corn Chowder


Snow……..cold……need something warm and hearty to eat…’s soup weather.  Normally, I don’t get in this mood until after New Year’s Day, in the dead of winter ( I was planning this for a Jan-Feb blog series).  Normally we don’t have 4 inches of snow on the ground before I’ve even finished raking up the leaves.  I checked the pantry, hit the recipe books and came up with this dish.  It normally calls for bacon, but that disagrees with my hubby’s tummy.  I had a smoked turkey leg from our local butcher on hand so I used that instead.  Know what—I think it made the recipe even better.  Both my husband and son asked for more over the weekend.  I’d say this serves 6-8 people. Anybody smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving?  Here’s a chance to use up leftovers.



6 T butter                                                        16 oz. bag frozen corn

5-6 baby carrots, sliced                                4 russet potatoes, peeled & diced

1 sm. yellow onion, diced                             meat from 1 smoked turkey leg, chopped

1 t. diced garlic                                              4 cups chicken stock

1/2 C. flour                                                      2 C whole milk

salt & pepper to taste                                    pinch of nutmeg (optional)      


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, onion & garlic and cook until slightly softened (2-3 minutes).  Stir flour into mixture, making a paste, until flour is lightly browned (4-5 min.). Remove saucepan from heat and set aside while you chop potatoes and debone the turkey leg.

Heat 4 cups of chicken stock in a large stock pot (my stock was frozen to start). Ladle some of the heated stock (a little at a time) into the veggie/flour mix and stir it until thoroughly combined. Add corn, potatoes, turkey and the veggie/flour roux to the stock pot.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until thickened (about 5 minutes)

Stir in milk and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes).

You might also want to throw in some grated cheese or just use some to garnish in the bowl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Purposeful Design

I once heard a motivational speaker say “You’ll be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  For that reason I’m careful with whom I keep company and the books I choose to read and keep around the house. I look for books that are thought-provoking, positive, and fill me with wonder.   Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation by Jay Schabacker hits all those marks.  His book, and the free curriculum available on his Purposeful Design website allow us to not only consider the wonders of God’s creation, but also build a positive self image as we realize that we too were created for a purpose.

Purposeful Design could be considered a “coffee table” book –the 90+ pages within its hardback cover are filled with gorgeous photography and verses of scripture.  On the other hand, it’s a book full of fascinating facts, questions to consider, and charts & diagrams too.  Mr. Schabacker spends a chapter on each day of the creation week and some of the amazing (and sometimes odd) examples of God’s handiwork.  Did you know a camel can carry up to thirty gallons of water in its hump? Or that even after spending years in the ocean a salmon can migrate thousands of miles back to the stream of its birth?  Water is one of the few elements that becomes less dense when it freezes—and why is that so important?  Along the way we learn things weren’t done just so, life on Earth wouldn’t even be possible: if the planet weren’t tilted at just the right angle, if a different percentage of the earth’s surface was covered by water, if the moon was at a different distance to control the tides, etc.  The seventh day chapter is filled with Bible verses for contemplation  and the epilogue wraps everything up with the statement “…the author wants to share his findings so that you can marvel at (and be thankful for) the love showered on us by a very personal and compassionate God. 

My son and I both loved perusing the pages—he had more interest in the astronomy and focused on Day 4 while I had more fun reading about the human body on Day 6.  This book is great to just pick up as time allows and read a page or two that draws your attention.  Then when we were ready for a deeper study, we downloaded  the free Young Explorers workbook (there’s a teacher’s answer key also).

Each lesson begins with the applicable verses from Genesis describing the creation of that day.  The author really had my son in mind when he phrased some of the questions…rather than ask “how does this verse speak to you” (as you might find in an adult Bible study) he asks “What is your favorite sentence or group of words? which was much easier for my son to understand.  Next comes a series of reading comprehension questions and then some additional Bible verses (again asking which is your favorite and why).  The other final questions for each day are 1.In your own words, what do you think was neat about what God did on Day ___? and 2. In your own words, how do you know that God loves you very much?  Each day we’re re-enforcing that God planned everything with no mistakes (including me and you) and He did it all because He loves us so much.  As I said at the beginning—positive message, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking. 

Purposeful Design can be enjoyed by all ages and is available on the website for $18.95.  The Young Explorer’s Club curriculum is free.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Snake Oil

There’s no denying a change of season is upon us: it’s dark by 5:30 and it’s too cool to sit in the porch swing and read now.  We’re spending a lot more time inside and will be for a long time, so let’s look for ways to entertain ourselves rather than sit passively in front of the television.  Why not a family game night? Out of the Box Games specializes in games that 1) can be learned in minutes, 2) can be played in less than an hour, and 3) feature dynamic player interaction for start to finish.  I’ve found a sure winner from their product line --Snake Oil.  

If the title brings to mind images of a slick-haired, fast talking salesman pitching his “too good to be true” product to the unsuspecting masses, then you’ve already got a good idea about the game.  One player per round acts as the customer and draws an identity card (e.g. pregnant woman, pirate, or Santa). The remaining players each draw five word cards—grammatically speaking these are all nouns but they may be tangible or intangible.  Their job is two combine two of these words into a compound noun (here’s your grammar lesson for the day), a noun made up of two or more words which may be hyphenated or combined into a single word—representing the product they will be pitching to the customer. After hearing each spiel, the customer gives their identity card to the salesman with the best product of the round.  This continues until everyone has had a turn being customer, the winner is the one who’s collected the most customer cards.

As you can tell, the game requires at lease three players: one to be customer and two to vie for the sale. The rules suggest 3-10 players, but provide variations for classroom or a 24 player tournament.  There was nothing for a mom at home with her only child after a morning of homeschool….SO WE INVENTED OUR OWN RULES!  In our game we put down 12 words cards face up at a time so all were legible.  We left the customer cards in a stack and turned them over one at a time (the customer cards are two-sided, so we played the newly revealed side each time).  Then we competed against each other to find our two-word product from the available word cards.  It wasn’t enough to be the first to combine and create a sales item, you had to back it up with a sales pitch (to prove you hadn’t randomly thrown two cards together). In the example below, my son thought a hostage would benefit from a Freedom Cannon that could blast through the walls of any holding cell.

Next I took the game to our homeschool co-op and shared it with the drama/improvisation class.  The 7th grade and older kids were divided into teams of three. One was the customer, who shared his identity with his teammates (so they could come up with their sales product), BUT NOT THE AUDIENCE.  Then they improvised a scene and the audience not only voted who was the better salesman but had to guess the identity of the customer based on verbal and physical clues.  The kids loved it!  They asked to play a second round.  At the end of class, no one rated the activity less than 8 out of 10.

This isn’t an important issue as far as game-play, but I noticed how well the Snake Oil box stores and travels.  The packagers included cardboard grid pieces to hold the stacks of playing cards in place in the box--tell me you don’t hate having to organize loose cards/money/whatever before you can start playing a game?  But what I like best about Snake Oil is it’s not just a luck of the draw (or roll) game nor is it overly reliant on strategy or thinking out moves.  It IS all about exercising  that creativity muscle that seems to atrophy as kids get older.  Snake Oil has earned a place in our family’s game closet.

The suggested retail price for Snake Oil (ages 10 to adult) is $19.99.  The is also a Snake Oil—Party Potion  geared to slightly young kids available for $14.99.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Countdown to Thanksgiving

True story: I ran into the local Wal-Mart the morning of Nov 1st in hopes of scoring some 75% off candy corn and other fall related treats for a bonfire/leaf pile party we were having that day.  When I got the the aisle—that just HOURS ago sported costumes and candy for Halloween I found that everything had been switched out to red and green, peppermint candy canes, and those cheapo gifts you buy for the people you don’t know what to buy.  I’m not knocking Christmas—I love that holiday, I’m not even complaining about the commercialism.  I’m just shouting out to whoever will listen that there’s another holiday that falls between the two aforementioned—and it’s a really good one!  DON’T FORGET THANKSGIVING!!!!

I’ll admit my bias here:  my son and are are the 12th and 13th generation descendants of Governor William Bradford so we’re talking family history as well as American history.  But everyone should enjoy the sentiments of Thanksgiving no matter their pedigree: gathering together, sharing food & good memories and being thankful.  The question is how to get that focus in your home when it’s being bombarded with Black Friday ads, parades, and football games. 

Well, have you ever participated in Advent?  It’s a time of slowing down and reflection before Christmas to think about the real Reason for the Season.  Well, thanks to Amy Puetz of Golden Prairie Press you can now have that kind of experience for the Thanksgiving season.  You may remember my reviewing her Heroes and Heroines of the Past American History curriculum last May.  She’s recently published Countdown to Thanksgiving: Memory Making Stories & Activities for 14 Days Leading up to Thanksgiving which she’s graciously given me access to in exchange for this review.

The 96 pages of the eBook are  mostly black & white print and illustrations (there are a few color photographs of sample projects).   I loaded mine on my Kindle Fire so we could read the daily stories in a cozier setting than around the office computer.  The stories were all written within two decades of 1900 (either before or after) and while some share about the Pilgrim fathers and mothers and their Native American friends, others just take place on Thanksgiving in a different era: a pioneer family struggling on the prairie, a newspaper boy buying a meal for a stranger, even how Sarah Hale inspired President Lincoln to create the national holiday.

In addition to the stories, you’ll find songs to sing, crafts to make, games, skits, poems, even some recipes if you’re still struggling to figure out what to have at your Thanksgiving feast.  So before you start fretting about what size turkey you’ll need or who’ll be stuck at the grandkids table, why not take 30-40 minutes a day with your kids for the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to slow down and really consider what this holiday is about?

Countdown to Thanksgiving retails for $17, but through Nov. 13th you can save $5 with the coupon code THANK .

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Sing the Praises of Charcoal

Before you wonder if this post will be about grilling or barbecuing--I'm speaking of activated charcoal and how it helped me with a terrible case of diarrhea (and I promise not to get too graphic).  A week ago my dear hubby started to get run down--what started with his own case of the trots has grown into a miserable flu.  I'd been managing to avoid it for five days when I woke up in the middle of the night to my own gurgling in the guts.

Drowsy as I was, I did the usual thing and reached for the pink stuff.  I was up three or four more times following the same procedure till morning.  Then, when I was finally wide awake, I remembered that charcoal was supposed to help with that sort of thing.  I'd seen the information in several resources, but the first one I found that morning was Karen Weaver's book Be your Child's Pediatrician so I'm giving her the credit.   She says"

Mix one tablespoon of powdered charcoal into one glass of water and drink the whole thing quickly, through a straw if your child minds the color and grit...Follow this dose with another glass of water, since charcoal can be constipating. Repeat the dose after each run to the bathroom and the problem is soon history.

This really is better a remedy given at night time when things are dark because drinking a glass of black water is unappetizing.  I actually used some mango juice I had on hand and did use the recommended straw.

Amazingly, within 15-20 minutes the pain was gone.  I had one more run to the bathroom (so I repeated the dosage) and that was it!  Yes, it is disconcerting to see an inky black toilet too but I felt so much better I didn't care.  It's now been two days and I'm felling great--I never did catch my husband's other flu symptoms if that's what I had.

According to another Weaver book, Be Your Own Doctor,  activated charcoal was used for treatment from the birth of America until the 1950's when drug companies started pushing their own over the counter remedies.  I guess people prefer drinking something pink rather than something black which is a shame because charcoal is good for treating so many things: drug overdose, counteract poison, diarrhea, intestinal gas, bad breath, vomiting, jaundice, bites & stings, infections, and draining wounds.  It's cheap, easy to use (albeit messy), and simply passes through the body once it's absorbed what's bothering you.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Online Physics lessons



Recently the Homeschool Crew was offered the opportunity to review one of the three online science programs offered by Fascinating EducationAccording to their website, the material is designed to cover what you’d expect to find in a high school level course—which is a little above my Schnickelfritz’s head.  I did well in high school science, but won’t deny being worried that I’m a little rusty (because he’ll be ready for upper level science before I can blink) so for this review I was the student .  I chose the Fascinating Physics program, having studied physics in high school and two semesters in college as well as being the teacher’s aide my senior year. 





After registering I was given access to the 15 lessons that make up the physics course:

  1. Movement
  2. Vectors
  3. Forces
  4. Energy-Work-Power
  5. Circular Motion
  6. Fluids and Gases
  7. Waves
  8. Light-Part 1
  9. Light-Part 2
  10. Light-Part 3
  11. Electrical Charges
  12. Moving Electrical Charges
  13. Electrical Currents
  14. The Atom
  15. The Nucleus

Under each lesson picture are tabs to view the lesson (similar to a Power Point presentation), access & print the lesson script, and finally take the test associated with that lesson.

Fascinating Education is assumes the student has no previous knowledge or experience in the science field being studied. Rather than reading any text, you will view a screenshot and listen to the presenter explain the illustration (they claim this method of teaching will use the right hemisphere of the brain for learning). The lesson screen allows you to see all the slide titles.  At any point in the lesson you may also click on the glossary tab (behind the menu) to get definitions for terms you may not understand.  The entire lesson from start to end lasts 45-55 minutes.  If you leave the lesson at any point you’ll be asked if you want to continue from that point when you return. 

It seems to me that the lessons are focused more on being able to solve physics problems (the old “If two trains start traveling towards each other….” scenarios) rather that the theories of physics. As you can see in the example above, you need to have an understanding of trigonometry as well (yet another area where I am rusty).  Apparently my brain doesn’t learn well with this right hemisphere method—trying to listen to the speaker work through equations with all the m1’s and m2’s in the example above just became alphabet soup in my head.

I tried printing out the scripts to follow along, but didn’t always find them any more helpful. For example the solution to the above problem (regarding a light fixture hung off center) is:

Slide 11: Solve the problem.
Let's solve for F1 along the x axis. F1 equals 0.51 time F2.
Substituting the value of F1 into the equation for forces exerted in the Y direction, we get the values for F1 and F2.
The force exerted by the shorter section of the wire is 81.8 newtons, while the force exerted by the longer section is only 0.51 of this, or 41.7 newtons. The wire must be able to withstand 81.8 newtons of force.

Clear as a bell, right?

The tests take the form of multiple choice questions.  I guess they’re not too worried about someone cheating by having multiple windows open on the computer because each question has a “Need Help” button that will replay the lesson slide associated with the question.  You’ll receive your results as soon as the test is done and be given the option of reviewing each question (with your answer and the correct answer), printing the test results or retrying the quiz. I found it helpful to print out the answer key to the test as it includes screenshots of the problems and a paragraph or two explaining how the answer was obtained.

You can access the Fascinating Education Physics course for a full year for $79.00.  You’ll need internet access, but I didn’t have any issues with my less than stellar speed service.  Supposedly the course also works on mobile devices, but I think you’d be happier with the larger screens of a a regular computer to see all the details of the formulas.  You can try a sample lesson on their website to see if the program will work with your family.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: If He Had Not Come

If you like to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive or like to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year—have I got a book for you. David Nicholson is reintroducing the world to a story originally published in 1938.  Back then author Nan Weeks asked her readers to consider what life would be like if Jesus hadn’t come to Earth in the form of a new baby in the book If He Had Not ComeThe hardback book ($18.95) contains the 28 page story—each two page spread includes an full color illustration for the kids to study while you read aloud (it works great if you can hold it open and read it librarian-style). The pictures were done for this edition of the book and have a nostalgic look about them—not quite 1930’s but certainly not modern.  I’d place them in the 50’s.

The story follows a young boy named Bobby who wakes up on what he knows should be Christmas morning  to find no decorations, no presents and no day off work for the local factory workers and shopkeepers—and why would there be if we weren’t celebrating Christ’s birth.  It gets worse though as Bobby discovers no Christmas means much more than no presents, decorations, or carols—there’s no church, no orphanage, no local hospital, and no homeless shelter.  At every location Bobby finds the words “If I had not come” (taken from John 15:22).  Fortunately for Bobby he wakes to discover it was all a dream.  He prays to thank the Lord that He did come and promises to do everything he can to please the Lord on Christmas and every day.”

The story is recommended for ages 6 and up and I chose to read it aloud to my boys in Ranger Kids. I could easily read it in the 15 minutes we have for devotions (but you may want to allow for extra time if your kids like to comment during story time).  Although it’s technically a “Christmas story” I found it worked perfectly to share in the time of preparing- for-but-not-yet-celebrating the season.  After reading the story we took a little tour of the church building to see how we had opportunities to be God’s hands and feet.   Bobby tried to visit the Children’s Home to watch them open the gifts his class collected and I  took the boys to see the Operation Christmas Child boxes our church was distributing.  Bobby looked for the homeless shelter and we looked at the sign up sheet to ring the Salvation Army bell and talk about how they use the money collected.  We also stopped to see the box where we collect non-perishables for the local food pantry.  We talked about the hospitals in our area—St. Lukes, Missouri Baptist, St. Johns Mercy –all with religious affiliations. 

The book also includes discussion questions, a brief Bible study covering why Jesus came and what it would mean if he hadn’t come, and the ABC version of steps to lead a seeker to salvation.  All my K-2nd grade boys enjoyed the story and eagerly participated in our discussion about it.  I think it’s a perfect fit of religious scouts, Sunday School classes or your own family—especially before a service project of some sort done in Jesus' name.

Click to read Crew Reviews
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