Wednesday, September 30, 2015

USAopoly Review

Homeschooling isn't all about books and learning. Our family loves to incorporate fun into our days, especially since we still have a house full of little ones. I'm a big believer of learning through play during the younger years. Games are a great way to have fun while increasing some skills without the kids even realizing it. We were happy to receive two games from USAopoly: Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone.

USAopoly is a company that is all about fun and games. They have been a leading developer and manufacturer of puzzles and board games "with a twist" since 1994. Their products are designed to bring friends and families together by creating memorable moments and emotional connections. When the company's values are "bring a smile, play fair, do it right, honor your word, and give it your best," you know the products are going to portray it.

Wonky is the crazy cubes card game. Players build towers using oddly-shaped blocks that come in 3 different sizes and 3 different colors. The game comes with 9 custom blocks, 54 strategy cards, storage bag, and rules, all packaged in a wonky, misshapen box. Players take turns choosing cards that show which type of block to add or an action to complete. The first person to play all his cards or who successfully plays the 9th block on the tower wins.

Some examples of the cards are
  • Stack the large blue block
  • Stack the small purple block
  • Stack any size, any color block / The next player draws a card
  • Pass turn to next player without stacking a block
  • Stack any color medium block
  • Stack any color, any size block
  • Reverse the direction of lay without stacking a block

What a fun, silly game this is! Like I said, we have a house full of littles, and little ones haven't quite honed the skills needed to stack crooked blocks, ha. We've played a few times with the cards, but mostly the kids just like to take turns choosing blocks to add to the wobbly tower. I'll even find them each playing by themselves sometimes, concentrating on stacking all the blocks. I love that they have to use strategy and building sense to make it work. My husband, with his engineer's mind, is definitely the best at the game. It'll be even more fun, I'm sure, as the kiddos get older and can understand the tactics of playing certain cards to sabotage their opponents.   

The blocks and the pack of cards fit comfortably in the canvas drawstring bag, so it's convenient and space-saving to store the game in just that, rather than the cute, bulky box. 

Tapple is fast word fun for the whole family. It contains the portable Tapple wheel (requires 2 AA batteries), 144 categories on 36 cards, and rules. The cards fit conveniently in a compartment on the back of the wheel, making the game easy to store. Players choose a category and start the timer. Then they take turns naming a word that fits the category, tap the corresponding letter for the beginning of the word, and press the button to reset the timer. The next person has 10 seconds to pick a word starting with a letter that has not been used and reset the timer again.

Categories include the following:
  • Countries
  • Something Red
  • Boy Names
  • Books
  • Candy
  • Fictional Characters
  • Furniture
  • In the Ocen
  • and so many more

I love word games! This one is fast-paced and lots of fun. The younger kids like to play, but quickly get frustrated because of their inexperienced spelling abilities. The older kids though really enjoy playing. There are so many great category topics (like Bible Characters and Family Members), but we like to make up our own too, to make it a little easier for the little ones. We'll also play without starting the timer and just press the letters. The lack of pressure from the ticking causes less stress and makes it more enjoyable when the younger ones get frustrated. The letters pop back with a simple twist at the top of the wheel. This game, especially, would be perfect for parties, game night, get-togethers, and holidays.

We've been having lots of fun as a family playing these games, and I'm sure we'll enjoy them for many years to come as the kids get older. Even though both games are best for ages 8+ and we have only one child that fits that age range, we've been able to adapt them to be enjoyed now. These games are great for any family to own.

You can connect with USAopoly on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used these games, please read the reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
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Friday, September 25, 2015

Things That Make Smile 9/25/15

Jake (9½), Alyssa (7), Zac (5½), Tyler (3), Nicholas (9 months)

Happy Friday! This week we went to our library's sale and bought a bunch of new books, spent many hours together reading, and played a bunch of games. And we Smiled, lots.

1. Zac: "Who found it first?"
Alyssa: "I did."
Tyler: "No, I did."
Zac: "Alyssa found it first."
Tyler: "No, I find it after her!"
Zac: "So she found it first."

2. Jake, after reading a joke aloud out of a book: "Haha, I don't get it, but it's funny!"

3. Zac, casually: "I'm almost rich, by the way."

4. The kids were cleaning their room and divvying up the tasks. I walked in to put away some clothes as Zac proudly stated, "I'll be the one to throw everything under the bed!" With that last word, he saw me and his face fell. Busted. His expression was so funny that I didn't even try to hide my laughter. And he didn't try to hide all the toys either. 


6. Tyler was dipping apples into homemade caramel and got some caramel on his hand.
Me: "Do you need a napkin?"
Tyler: 'No, I can just use my tongue."

7. Zac: "Here's a rule: Never use an exacto knife while closing your eyes."

8. Zac: "Here's another rule: Never cut yourself on purpose."

9. Tyler: "Can I have a pancake?"
Me: "We don't have any pancakes."
Tyler: "Oh, do you have any awfuls?" (waffles)


11. I was talking to the kids about where they'd like to visit one day. After giving answers like outer space, Australia, the North Pole, and Alaska, Zac shouted out, "Legoland!"

12 . Jake, while praying for his snack: ". . . and thank You for making Mom a good cook."

13. Tyler, trying to go outside: "Daddy, I can't 'cause it's locked."
Leighton: "It's locked? Well, can't you open it?"
Tyler: "No, 'cause it's really, really, really, really locked."

14. Me, reading: "The ship . . . had been wrecked on some rocks and all hands were lost at sea."
Jake: {cracks up laughing, shows his hands} "Hey, look, I have 2 hooks!"
Me: "You know that means they died, right? Their hands didn't fall off in the water."
Jake: "Oh."

What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

David Livingstone: Africa's Trailblazer Review

Our family loves read-alouds. I know, if you've read our blog much, you already knew that. The kids love cuddling up with me on the couch and listening to a story come alive. Some days, we'll sit for hours at a time, immersing ourselves in the pages of a book. We love all sorts of books, but my oldest's favorites? The ones he himself will devour? Biographies. He loves reading about the lives of people, knowing that that events actually took place. I knew he especially would love to review   David Livingstone: Africa's Trailblazer, both the book and the Unit Study Curriculum Guide.

This book by Janet and Geoff Benge is part of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series from YWAM Publishing. The series relates the stories of ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things for the glory of God. They are great role models for kids and adults alike, as you read about their faith being tested and how they remained true to God. This book is suggested for ages 10+, but my 9, 7, and 5-year-old enjoyed it just as much as I did. 

The kids learned about David Livingstone at Vacation Bible School at our church this summer. Every night, their teacher would tell a portion of his story. When we had the chance to review a book from YWAM's vast collection, I started listing some names the kids would recognize. I read David Livingstone's name, and the kids immediately all agreed. They wanted to learn more about this amazing pioneer missionary.

Livingstone's life began in a small town in Blantyre, Scotland. Life was difficult. He lived in a one-room apartment with his parents and 4 siblings and had to help pay for it and their food. By the time he was 12 years old, he worked at the cotton mill 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. After his shift was over, he attended classes for 2 hours and often stayed awake studying for another 2 hours into the night. Livingstone didn't mind the rigorous schedule though, because he loved to learn. He was often teased by the other children for his love of reading and desire to gain knowledge. At 9 years old, he could recite all 176 verses of Psalm 119. The only problem, per se, was that he was strongly drawn to science--anything from botany to astronomy. His father insisted that science and religion were not compatible. It wasn't until Livingstone's pastor loaned him a book, written by a Christian scientific designer who showed that the study of science would draw one closer to God, that he was convinced the two were connected. His father, too, was swayed when he learned that the best kind of training for a foreign missionary was medical education.

Livingstone had to save every bit of extra money for many years before he could attend one term of medical school. He worked hard in school, lived in dilapidated places, and struggled to earn the needed finances, yet he never gave up. His determination in getting to a foreign field was the same determination that kept him there when life was difficult again.     

Once in Africa, it didn't take Livingstone long to realize that he was different from the other missionaries. They were content to remain at the mission station and help to improve the lives of the people in the area. Livingstone, however, longed to explore. He wanted to travel inland to where no white man had ever been, to learn the land, to share the Gospel with men who had never heard, to discover "the smoke of a thousand villages."

His road was not as easy one. He often slogged through swamps and deep black mud; lived among slave-traders and cannibals; contracted malaria many times, pneumonia, cholera, and ulcers, watched his children become ill, saw the death of one of his babies, had his medical supplies stolen, and experienced many hardships. His zeal though allowed him to discover Victoria Falls and lakes Nyassa and Bangweolo, draw various maps of inland Africa, and learn much about the continent. He worked to end slave trade, open the land for merchant traders, and bring Christianity to the natives. Despite his many good characteristics, I was sadden to learn that while he was a phenomenal missionary, he all but neglected his family. He didn't see his wife or children but once or twice after he sent them to Scotland. His children were raised without a father and his wife lived without a husband. She did leave her children with their grandparents and spent her remaining couple of months at his side before she died. All in all, I was rather disappointed in his actions toward them. Regardless, his influence caused many people to turn to mission work and the cause of Christ.  

Along with the book, we received the Unit Study Curriculum Guide. The guide helps to further your study including geography, social studies, history, and world missions, to name a few. It is designed to benefit all learning styles, group and individual study, and a wide range of ages.  
The guide includes the following:
  • Student Explorations - essay writing, creative writing, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, arts/crafts
  • Social Studies - reproducible maps, geography, terms/vocabulary, journey tracking, critical thinking
  • Bible Study - scripture memorization, devotional application, spiritual concepts
  • Community Links - meaningful field trips, guest speakers, service projects
  • Related Themes to Explore - missions, current events, life skills, math, government, science
  • Bibliography or Related Resources - books, movies, documentaries, magazine articles, websites
  • Culminating Event - project displays, cultural food, music, and activities, oral presentations

Since the recommended age is 10 and my kids are younger, a lot of the study guide was a bit advanced for them. We discussed the comprehension questions at the end of each chapter. The first question was always a vocab word (veranda, hinterland, regal, obsolete, etc.). I'd ask the kids what the word meant. If no one knew, I'd use it in a sentence. They'd tell me the meaning after that. I personally loved that part. It's very important to me to read my children rich literature that incorporates vocabulary that is above their level. I also enjoyed discussing the questions with them. It helped us to review the story and got them understanding it more fully. We also practiced cartography, made a timeline, and studied the constellations. I fully intend to read this book again with them many years from now so we can partake in the other great activities in the guide. We can create flags in the Bantu language or host a South Africa fair.  We can video a mock interview with David Livingstone, write essay questions, and prepare regional food like sosaties, cassava, and plantains. The study guide is filled with activities, projects, and ideas to greatly further your study.  

Both the paper and digital copies of the book can be purchased for $7.50 and the unit study curriculum guide can be purchased for $7.49. We enjoyed these materials immensely. In fact, we own multiple books from their hero series. It's not just Christian hero books they offer, they have heroes of history and heroes for young readers, too. Not only does a purchase give you quality books at a great cost, it helps support missions around the world.

You can connect with YWAM Publishing on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to read more reviews of other great books and study guides offered by YWAM, please head to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 9/18/15

Jake (9½), Alyssa (7), Zac (5½), Tyler (3), Nicholas (9 months)

It's two days in a row of Smiles! We started back to school full time this week. It's been busy, but having more structure to the days has been good. Now that Nicholas isn't napping as much, we're back to rearranging the schedule and trying to stay flexible. Homeschooling makes the days interesting-and full of Smiles. 

1. Me: "Ouch!"
Tyler: "What happened?"
Me: "Oh, I hit my hand on the cupboard. See that mark?"
Tyler: "That's your cutie mark. You look cute."

2. Jake: "Whoever invented paper bag puppets was really smart."

3. Alyssa: "In movies, they make it look like you can eat an apple so fast, like it's so easy."


5. Jake: ". . . dinner, breakfast, and lunch."
Me: "Or, like most people say, breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
Jake: "Yeah, but the Bible says, "Evening, and morning, and at noon."

6. Jake: "Alyssa said that girls make 100 cooties an hour. Is that true?"

7. Jake: "Only girls under 18 makes cooties. They stop making them at 18."
Me: "That's why you have to wait until you're 18 to get a girlfriend."
Jake: "Yeah, so she doesn't infect me."

8. Tyler: "You're a good girl, Mama."

9. Tyler: "Mama, hold me! Hold me! Hold me!"
Me: "I always hold you. You hold me."
Tyler: "No, I'm too big."


11. Tyler, because Nicholas kept ruining his train tracks: "Mom, I think Nicky's hungry. Can you let Nicky eat."

12. Alyssa, after picking the tomatoes from our garden: "These will make a good impression on our salsa."

13. Me: "Hey, get back here with those little buns!"
Tyler: "Those are Gwamma's widdle buns."

14. Tyler was making music. He stopped playing, but I continued to sing.
Tyler: "Mama, that's enough." 
Me: "Apparently Tyler doesn't like my singing."
Tyler: "Well, I do like your singing, when you stop."

What made you Smile this week?

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 9/11/15

Jake (9½), Alyssa (7), Zac (5½), Tyler (3), Nicholas (8 months)

Happy Friday! These Smile were from our vacation. If I could put the entire week on this list, I would. We had such a fun time! I am hoping to get a post or two (or three . . . ) written about the week, but here's a glimpse.

1. Leighton: "Zac, don't worry about your baby brother. Eat your dinner."
Tyler, whining: "But Daddy, Nicky is my baby brother."

2. Zac: "How do you make an S in Spanish?"

3. Tyler, after taking a drink: "Look! I have a mushtache!"

4. Dressing up like pirates at an old time portraits place.

5. Alyssa, about a bottle of Powerade: "That's for Dad, because it says power on it."

6. Zac: "Aww! Nicky was lying down and cuddling with a blanket. And he had his cute eyes on! It was so cute!" 

7. Tyler, about the elevator: "Can we ride the alligator?"

8. Tyler: "It's too sunny; I think it's going to rain."

9. Tyler: "Mama, look at that nice flower! I will pick it for you."

10. Zac, about Nicholas: "Every day he's happy at me."

11. Tyler: "Mama, there's a hole on my sock. Can you take off the hole?"

12. Tyler: "May I have some fishies now?"
Me: "No, how about some string cheese."
Tyler: "No, that's too young for me."

13. Tyler, seeing a cornfield while driving: "Corn and the cob!"

14. Alyssa, after riding her first roller coaster: "That was terrifying. Can we go again?!?" 

What made you Smile this week?

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Super Teacher Worksheets Review

One of the great things about homeschooling is the flexibility. Whether it's the hours you keep, the place you study, or the topics you learn, you have the ability to choose what is best for your family. The bulk of our family's schooling is based around reading and hands-on activities. While some families might thrive on workbooks, I would be tempted to all but forgo their use, that is if my little ones would allow it. You see, two of my children love worksheets. They enjoy having their own fun papers. They love coloring. They like sitting at the table and completing a sheet. They are proud to show off their work. I knew they would be pleased that we received a year-long Individual Membership to Super Teacher Worksheets.


Super Teacher Worksheets is a websites devoted to providing teachers with printable worksheets. Not just a few worksheets, mind you, but thousands. Pretty much, if you need a worksheet for a certain topic, they have it. Counting quarters? Yes. Fact or opinion? Yes. Finding letter Q words? Yes. Learning landforms? Yes. Labeling body organs? Yes. Identifying verbs? Yes. Counting by 8s? And yes. The list of topics is impressive. Of course, each topic is filled with many subtopics, as well. 

  • Math
  • Reading & Writing
  • Phonics & early Literacy
  • Handwriting
  • Grammar
  • Spelling Lists
  • Science 
  • Social Studies
  • Holidays
  • Puzzles & Brain Teasers
  • Pre-K & Kindergarten

There is also a Teacher Helpers section that is full of resources to help keep you organized and provide some fun extras. There are dozens of awards and certificates (from reading 25 books to zipping a zipper), crafts (like building a neighborhood diorama and creating a feathered turkey), electives (such as learning the parts of a computer or labeling musical notes), and even reminder wristbands (for things like lunch money and field trips).
Along with those aids, there is an entire section dedicated to worksheet generators. You have the option to easily create a worksheet using your own information. You can make bingo, flashcards, crossword puzzles, word searches, multiple choice, matching, short answer, and more. If you can't find what you're looking for already on the site, you can make it yourself quickly and easily with these resources.     

One of my favorite aspects of this site is My File Cabinet. You can save your favorite worksheets with a click of a button in a digital file cabinet. This feature is especially helpful for me. The best time I have available to browse the worksheets is when my baby is napping. The problem with that is that our wireless printer is in our bedroom, the room where he sleeps. If I try to print while he sleeping, well, let's just say naptime--and my time to browse worksheets--is over. I can save the worksheets I need in one place and then just print when he wakes up. I love it!  

Another exciting part of this site is that it's up-to-date. They are coming up with new worksheets every week! It's easy to find the latest pages by clicking on the What's New tab. Need a page that's aligned with Common Core? They have that, too. The homepage also features worksheets that apply to the current time. Weeks ago there were Back To School pages; now there are autumn printables. The site is current. It's fun to see what changes each week. 

My two little ones (7 yr, 5 yr) that I said love worksheets are enjoying all the fun things I've printed. They ask all the time if I'll print more. My other kids are enjoying the work, as well. My oldest (9 yr) has never been a worksheet-lover, per se, but he does like puzzles. I've been giving him pages like graphing to find a hidden picture and coded messages. My other child (3 yr) has been using resources like the letter wheels and mini books. There truly is something for everyone here.

We have used so many sections of this site already, and I have plans for even more.There is so much more here than typical worksheets. They do offer hundreds of FREE printables that can be found in each category, but a membership provides any worksheet or the ability to make your own that you might possible need. At $19.95 a year, it's completely worth it. These printable online PDFs are a great resource for any teacher to have.

You can connect with Super Teacher Worksheets on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used this resource, please head to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read more reviews

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 9/4/15

Jake (9½), Alyssa (7), Zac (5½), Tyler (3), Nicholas (8 months)

Happy Monday! I had been hoping to get my Smiles posted before we left for vacation on the 4th, but I was busy with last minute preparations. Packing for 7 is work! Of course, the time away was much appreciated and enjoyed. Everything has been unpacked and put away, the house is in order, and we even completed the first official day of school today for the 2015-2016 year. Now that all the work is done, let's Smile!

1. Me: "Just play the game. You don't need the cards; you can't read."
Tyler: "I can't read?!?"
Me: "No . . . Can you?"
Tyler: "Yes. A, b, c, d, e, f, g . . . "

2. Alyssa, after Nicholas climbed across her to get to me: "He loves you. You're like a super hero to Nick."

3. Jake, about Legos: "Nick, no, these are building materials, not lunch."

4. Dressing up as cowboys for Round Up Sunday at church.

5. Leighton: "Did you go potty for bed?"
Tyler: "Yes, ma'am."
Leighton: "Yes, sir. Mommy is ma'am; daddy is sir."
Tyler, sincerely: "Yes, ma'am."

6. Leaving my parents' house:
Tyler, sad: "Papa didn't wave to me; only Gwamma did."
Me: "Papa waved goodbye."
Tyler: "No, only Gwamma waved to me."
Me: "Then who did Papa wave to?"
Tyler: "All my friends." (siblings)

7. I was standing in the kitchen, eating the last of the Nutella out of the jar with a spoon. Zac got out of bed and walked in. I quickly slid the jar across the counter with lightning speed and innocently turned to him.
Zac: "May I have some water, please? {gasp} Hey, I didn't know we had some of that!!! Is that called Nutella?"
Me: "Oops, you weren't supposed to see that . . . And it's called Mommy's."

8. Alyssa made puppets and a stage and put on a show for her brothers.

9. Zac: "I'm in love with too many people. Even people who are already married."
Me: "Oh, yeah? Like who?"
Zac: "Mrs. Shaw. (a lady at church) And Cinderella." 

10. Tyler: "Mommy, I want to spend the night. I want to spend the night . . . in my room. No, at Gwamma's! At Gwamma's! At Gwaaaammmaaaaa's!!!!!!!"

11. Jake: "Can you be good and quiet?"
Tyler, yelling: "I can be quiet!"
Jake: "And good."
Tyler, yelling: "No! I can only be quiet!"

What made you Smile this week?

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dig-It! Games Review

We're year-round homeschoolers, and while summertime means that our workload is light and our schedule is flexible, the kids know that they have some sort of learning activity each day. It's exciting though when I tell them, "You have to play a game today." And when that game is played on the iPad or the computer? Well, that's a real treat.

Dig-It! Games is a company that focuses on game-based learning. In 2005, Suzi Wilczynski, founder, began to create fun, interactive learning experiences for middle school students by using her education and archaeology background. Not only are children naturally drawn to fun and games, but these games have "the potential to enhance learning by encouraging persistence, valuing effort over rote performance, and rewarding success without punishing failure." Depending on the game, they also learn important facts along the way. We've been learning the last several weeks by playing Roman Town (iOS App) and Mayan Mysteries (Online Game).

Roman Town is set in the ancient city of Pompeii. It is your job to help catch Ladrone, a master thief, by using strategic thinking, spatial reasoning, memory, logic, math skills, and problem solving. On your quest through the city, you play game with people you meet along the way. If you win the game, they give you a clue to help solve the case. 

Along with learning facts about Pompeii, you'll also learn about Roman life, experience ancient Roman games, and play 35 unique puzzles. The game teaches social studies, math, and literacy skills.

Jake, my 9-year-old, tested this app for me. He was thrilled to play the games and find the clues. Had I not put a limit on his game time, he probably would have completed the entire game in one sitting!
There were a couple times when he asked for my help (like the Roman numerals game), but otherwise played it by himself.

Mayan Mysteries is an online game in which Ladrone is back on the loose. You along with Professor Alex Quinn, Fiona, and Charlie make Team Q and try to figure out who is digging up Maya sites, looking for ancient artifacts. On your mission to save the mythical city of Ich'aak from looters, you'll discover 7 Maya sites and play more than 25 challenging puzzles.

The game teaches skills in social studies, math, language arts, geography, critical thinking, and reading enrichment. It is historically accurate, aligned to National Standards, and offers built-in assessments.

Since this game is best for grades 5-9, Jake played this one, too. He's actually a tad young for this, and it showed in both his understanding and enjoyment of it. There is a lot of information involved. You can either read the text yourself or choose the option to allow the characters to speak aloud to you. If Jake read it, he lost interest; if he listened, he stopped paying attention. The game is very fact-heavy. That can be a good thing for learning, but it just frustrated him. Every day after playing for a while, he'd ask, "Can I be done now?" It was a very different experience from Roman Town.

This conversation sums up his feelings about the games:

Me: What did you like about the Mayan game?

Jake: Nothing really. There were too many quizzes and so much information that you needed to remember.

Me: So, it didn't really feel like a game?

Jake: Not at all.

Me: What did you think about the Roman game?

Jake: Oh, that one was awesome! That had a lot of fun games.

I was in contact with customer support several times because of both a game-related issue and a user-caused issue. Each time, the service was prompt, helpful, and extremely understanding. I was very pleased and confident in the company.

Both games are full of historical facts and bring a fun element to learning. Jake might appreciate Mayan Mysteries as he gets older, but his 9-year-old self loves Roman Town.

You can connect with Dig-It! Games on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used these games, you can read more reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. 

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