Monday, August 21, 2017

Phonics Museum App

Our family loves the Veritas Press Bible programs, so when we had the opportunity to review for the company again, I was excited. They offer materials for much more than Bible classes though, and this time, we we've been learning with their new Phonics Museum App.

Veritas Press was created by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler as a way to give their own children a classical education. After their curricula worked so well for their family, they wanted to make it available to other like-minded parents, as well. Since then, the company has grown to offer full curriculum, a publishing company, an online classical Christian academy, and two classical Christian schools. 

The Phonics Museum App is a multi-sensory program that teaches kids to read in a fun, engaging way. The student joins William and Wendy on an adventure through an art museum. Percival, a walking-talking suit of armor guides and encourages them as they look at the paintings, learn their letters, and discover that art can be exciting. They are then introduced to Miss Biddle, the quirky museum curator, as she leads the lessons. She's animated during some of the games and activities, but "comes to life" as she teaches the lessons to the student. Like the other materials from Veritas Press, this app follows the Classical Approach of learning, and not only teaches letters and sounds, but includes bit of information about artists and their works, inventions, history, nature, and more. 

The app was designed for early-readers in the 3-7 year age range, so it contains over 900 games, videos, interactions, real teaching, and memory songs to keep little ones engaged. A typical lesson has around 11 stages.  It always starts and ends with a video and has other activities throughout. For example, it might follow this format: video, song, video, game, video, game, video, game, video, game, video. A student must complete each stage of the lesson before he can move to the next, and he can see what each lesson contains by looking at the numbered easels with the appropriate icons. Sometimes the videos are simply Miss Biddle announcing the next activity, but mostly they are filled with teaching and silliness.  

The Phonics Museum believes in "edutainment," meaning games and learning collide and children don't even realize it. That's why there are 22 games that not only will the student enjoy, but also will learn to read while playing them. The games reinforce the learning by encouraging the student to recognize the individual letters--both upper and lower case along with both printed and written versions--and their sounds. The games are simple, but cute. There is a chipmunk that eats nuts, a frog that catches flies with his tongue, birds that happily splash in a bird bath, a catapult that launches paintballs that decorate the castle, and many more.  

One thing that I appreciate about the teaching is that for the games that focus on the sounds, there is a slight emphasis on the specific letter that is being reviewed. For example, during an M game, the student is supposed to touch the sarcophagus when Miss Biddle says the words that begin with the M sound. Mmustache. Boy. Penny. Mmoose. There is that slight emphasis on the /m/ to trigger the sound for the student. It is not overly done and the student himself might not even recognize it, but subtly it helps.   

My kindergartner is learning to read, so this app came at the perfect time. He loves watching the videos, playing the games, and reading the simple books. He adores Miss Biddle. Seriously, she must be the cutest teacher ever with her bold dress covered in letters, ribbons in her hair, her quirkiness, and her charming personality. She's a bit like Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, but not quite as eccentric and without the transforming bus. Many times I catch even my older kids watching the videos and laughing at the silliness. 

The museum contains 10 floors of interactive fun. The paintings come alive, the characters are silly, and the whole experience is fun. Most importantly though, it helps kids learn their letters and sounds--and ultimately how to put those together to make words--with a solid phonics-based program. I'm excited to watch my little one learn and explore with the Phonics Museum.  

The Phonics Museum App is available through iTunes. It is a complete curriculum on its own, but since it is a spin-off of the physical version, it can also be used as a complimentary aid. If you'd like to see the app in action, there is an informational video on the website.

You can connect with Veritas Press on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of this app on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 8/11/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Friday! I have a shorter-than-normal list today, because much of the week was filled with sickness. It always breaks my heart when my little ones aren't well, but we still make sure to find reasons to Smile. This week, we celebrated National Sea Serpent Day again,  I read the kiddos a complete chapter book (that we're reviewing) in one sitting, canned 4 batches of jam, and spent a bunch of time loving on my babies. 

1. Zac: "Mom, I love to hug you."

2. Tyler: "I can speak Baby."


4. Zac: "You're the best mother anyone could ever have. The prettiest, too."

5. Tyler: "Do you know what was my favorite thing in my whole entire life? The mirror maze!" (even though he thought he saw the exit, got excited, and ran straight into a mirror.)

6. Alyssa: "Whenever you make jam, a masterpiece is made."

7. Zac, going outside: "I'm going out barefoot."
Nicholas: "I go tippy toes!"

8. Leighton took the 2 healthy boys to the park to run off some energy while the other kids rested. They found a (huge!) painted rock and brought it home to re-hide as a family. 

9. Zac, reading my label on the jar: "Strawberry jam. I'll tell you what it's called: deliciousness."

10. Nicholas: "49 love you!"
Me: "49 love you?"
Nicholas: "Yeah!"
Me: "What does that even mean?"
Nicholas: "I don't know! 49 love you!"

What made you Smile this week?

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 7/28/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Monday! This week, we went swimming at a friend's house, Zac made a vase specifically for his grandma, we bought some books and played at the park. We also moved Nicholas out of a toddler bed into a full-size bunk bed, hoping that he'll finally start to sleep at night. What made you Smile?

1. Jake: "It's kinda cool waking up and seeing what happened to your hair at night. Sometimes this part is sticking out or this one, or it will be sticking up back here. You just never know."

2. Alyssa: "I love taste testing! It's my favorite part of cooking."

3. Zac lost his top 2 middle teeth in the same day.

4. Zac: "Mom, you were the first one I kissed with no teeth!"

5. Jake: "I have a special performance for you!"
He then, with a huge smile on his face, proceeded with a series of armpit farts.
Me: "And what do you call that?"
Jake: "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain in fart form. I thought it was absolutely hilarious!"

6. Zac: "Nicky is the cutest baby on earth! Jesus may have been cuter, but Nicky's the cutest baby on earth."

7. Jake, because the kids couldn't decide who got the last of a treat: "Hey, let's cast lots!"

9. Me: "Do you want to make this into one loaf or two?"
Jake, making cinnamon bread: "Two, so we can have more!"
Me: {blank stare}
Jake: "What? Isn't two better?"
Me: "Tell me you're joking."
Jake: "No, I love it, so of course I want more. Two loaves."
Me: "Turn this one batch of dough into two loaves instead of one?"
Jake: "Right."
Me: "And that's going to be more?"
Jake: "Yes, two is more than one."
Me: "But it's the same amount of dough!"
Jake: {blank stare}

10. Alyssa, reading a poem: "This is weird. It doesn't make any sense."
Me, after reading it: "It's written by the dog. Read it again like it's the dog talking."
Alyssa: "Well, that explains the improper grammar."

What made you Smile this week?
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Friday, August 4, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 7/14/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Friday! The month of July was crazy busy for our family. This week, the oldest two kids went to junior camp for the first time, family from Texas came for a visit, and we went to the Toledo Zoo with friends. So many memories, so much fun.

1. Tyler, because Zac hadn't come to the table yet for his pb&j lunch: "Zachry, your sandwich is getting cold!"

2. Jake: "Next vacation, can we go sky diving?"
Me: "No!"
Jake: "Why, because it's expensive?"
Me: "That's not why."
Jake: "It's not like it's dangerous or anything. I mean, you're wearing a parachute."

3. Jake: "If at first you don't succeed . . . watch another YouTube video."


5. Alyssa: "Why are so many people scared of the dentist? That's like the silliest thing. The dentist is your teeth's best friend."

6. Tyler, in the aquarium at the Toledo Zoo: "Whoa! That's an ugly fish!"
Zac: "No fish are ugly, because God's creation is beautiful."

7. Leighton, to Nicholas: "Hold your pea-pickin' horses."
Jake: "He has horses?!"
Me: "And they pick peas."
Jake: "What! I don't even have a phone, and he has horses! Those are way more expensive."

8. Tyler, watching Leighton fill water balloons: "Dad, I am not the perfect water balloon target."


10. Nicholas, putting a cup upside down on my head, like a crown: "You pincess!"

11. Jake: "Want to hear the song I just made up?"
{singing to the tune of Oh, How I Love Jesus, verse}
"This is how I brush my teeth.
I brush them twice a da-ay.
I brush them 'til they're white as snow,
And brush the plaque away."

What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

In the Riegn of Terror

Our family appreciates the privilege of reviewing products as a member of the Homeschool Review Crew. Over the years, we've been introduced to some amazing vendors and have fallen in love with their products. Heirloom Audio Productions is one of our favorites. They have produced some of the best audio dramas we have ever heard and always make our family happy to learn history.

Our schooling is very literature-based. Our family loves read-alouds and will often sit together to read various novels for hours on end. I love reading my kids quality literature and sharing that time with them. Not only does it teach them life lessons, it also introduces them to new vocabulary. Along with that time spent together, we love to incorporate audio books and dramas into our days. Whether we're folding clothes, driving in the van, or just needing some downtime, audio books are perfect. In the Reign of Terror is no exception.

Heirloom Audio Productions has converted multiple historical adventure novels by G.A. Henty into theater-quality audio dramas. Our main curriculum lists many Henty books in the reading list, because they are known for their deep history, rich literature, and exciting plots. So far, my kiddos aren't drawn to the novels themselves, but they are truly captivated by these adaptations. If you close your eyes, you feel as if you're there in the story. Think of it as watching a movie, but with no picture. In fact, each time we turned on the CD, my two-year-old would point to the television, "Turn on, Mama? I watch movie?" The music, the actors, the sound effects--they all make the story come to life. You hear a horse walking on cobblestone streets, the birds chirping, an angry mob shouting, swords clinking, crickets humming, and the glass from a window shattering, and you feel as if you are there in France as one of the characters of the story. It is that realistic. The narrator, Brian Blessed, has a rich, powerful voice that makes the drama exciting to listen to. We were immediately pulled into the story.

The story takes place in the late 1700s during one of the darkest times in history--The French Revolution. It follows the life of Harry Sandwith, a 16-year-old English boy who leaves his homeland to tutor the sons of the Marquis de St. Caux in France. Harry is befriended by the family and becomes like one of their own. Throughout the story, he protected the marquis' daughters from a rabid dog, stabbed a "demon" wolf to death, and escaped an angry mob. He experienced firsthand the terrors and injustices of the times as he watched the people he grew to love imprisoned and put to death, simply because of their heritage. He risked his own life as he tried to reason with the commoners and show them their unlawfulness. In all of this, he trusted in God to guide him. Along with the non-stop action and exciting adventures, there are plenty of morals and Biblical truths taught along the way.

There is a downloadable Study Guide & Discussion Starter that accompanies the story. This complete guide is used to enhance your learning and complement your study. Each section, which correlates to the tracks on the CDs, is  filled with review questions (Listening Well), ideas to get you thinking deeper (Thinking Further), and vocabulary words (Defining Words). There is more information about G.A. Henty, Maximilien Robespierre, and Marie Antoinette; multiple Bible studies that coordinate with the story, many pictures from the times, and much more historical information. There are Expand Your Learning boxes throughout the study that are filled with snippets of information that relate to the period.

There are many more extras that are included as part of the Live the Adventure Club, too. There is the original In the Reign of Terror ebook, the official soundtrack composed by John Campbell, a printable cast poster, an inspirational verse poster, and a downloadable desktop wallpaper. A new thing that I don't remember seeing with other dramas is the inclusion of the official script download. This was extremely helpful during portions of the story that were hard to understand and helped give appropriate information. Also as part of the Live the Adventure Club, you gain access to many more features, such as the community forum, daily motivational quotes and stories, hundred of articles about parenting, collection of rare textbooks from the 1700-1800s, and hundreds of fun activities.  

The 2+ hour audio production is ideal for ages 6-adult, but our entire family enjoyed listening to it. We had a harder time understanding this story than we have with the others. It was a combination of the heavy French accents and the softness of the voices, I think. Normally we can enjoy these while driving, but we realized it took more concentration to follow along because the road noise was a distraction. Even my oldest commented that all the voices sounded similar, so he had a difficult time deciphering which character was speaking.They did, however, enjoy the French words sprinkled throughout the story and laughed at the Frenchman who made funny mistakes when trying to speak English.
We used the study guide questions to review the story and tackle difficult topics. The kids and I especially enjoyed the sections teaching about architecture in Paris in the 18th century, fashions of the day, medical practices, and the guillotine. Of course, the little ones didn't quite understand everything, but it's never too early to introduce quality literature. 
This will be a story that we reference throughout the years. In the Reign of Terror is a wonderful resource to have.

You can connect with Heirloom Audio Productions on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of this productions on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.
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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

English on a Roll

I am always happy to review new products that might excited my little ones. I'm a huge believer in making learning fun, especially in the younger years, so we incorporate hands-on learning all the time. I know many people don't enjoy learning the nitpicky rules of the English language, but I've always loved it and chose Secondary English as my college major. Though I ended up teaching only one year of high school English classes before coming home full-time, I now have the privilege of passing on the love of the  language to my own kids. But how can learning (or even teaching) grammar be fun for those who don't naturally enjoy it? The English Grammar Teaching Method from English on a Roll is designed to meet that need.

English on a Roll was created by Linda Hopkins Koran in 2001, when she was teaching an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. None of the 25 students spoke English, and most of them were illiterate. After searching for something to help her communicate with the students and finding nothing that worked, she began to develop a program that quickly helped them build sentences in English. English on a Roll has been helping students ever since.   

"Languages are like intricate puzzles, each with unique rules and structure. Once the basic fundamentals of a language are understood, communicating becomes much simpler and more successful.” ~ Linda Hopkins Koran

The English Grammar Teaching Method is a multisensory program that uses color-coded cubes to teach English grammar. By combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, the program becomes a full approach that reduces errors and aids in the understanding of the language. Students learn syntax by manipulating the 40 cubes to create sentences and phrases. Because each cube contains only one type of word, students are able to find the correct choice more easily and learn parts of speech by association. The cubes (along with two blank ones) are divided into the following types and coordinating colors:

  • Pronouns: blue
  • Question Words: green
  • Nouns: dark blue
  • Articles: dark blue
  • Prepositions: dark blue
  • Verbs: red
  • Adverbs: orange
  • Adjectives: purple
  • Conjunctions: black
  • Punctuation: black    

Each cube has one word on a side and contains a "cluster" of similar words. For example, The subject pronouns cube has I, you, he/she, it, we, and they. The common preposition cube has at, for, to, from, with, and of. The cube for all forms of have lists have, has, had, having, and to have. Familiarizing yourself with the cubes and colors will make both teaching and learning easier.

A detailed teaching textbook is included with the cubes. Very little preparation is needed on the part of the teacher, because everything is laid out in the text. Each lesson follows the same format:
  • Prep: shows the needed cubes, pages to copy, and materials
  • Notes & Vocabulary: teaching tips and new vocab
  • Teach the Concepts: detailed teaching instruction using the cubes and handouts
  • Games/Conversations: games to review the new concepts
  • Written Exercises: reproducible exercises for more practice
English on a Roll was written with the classroom setting in mind, but it can easily be adapted to be used one-on-one. I had gotten this set to work with my kindergartner. Since I read that this could be used as young as 5-years-old and those learning to read, I assumed there were letter cubes along with the words cubes. The website clearly states that the curriculum is for grammar, so the misunderstanding is solely my own. The lessons start simply by teaching the pronouns and singular/plural. There is a reproducible with stick figure examples that can be copied if using with multiple students, but we just used it directly in the book. Lesson two has the addition of the Be verbs. The student learns which combinations can be made, such as I am, you are, he is, they are, ect.. The 37 lessons continue in this fashion. Each cube that is added opens up multiple new combinations and teaches new concepts.

Since my boy is a learning reader, we've been taking it slow. I think it's important to have a solid foundation of phonics before introducing too many sight words. I work through the lessons with him, giving him as much help and direction as he needs. He loves playing with the cubes and finding the words he wants to make the appropriate combinations. Even though I personally think this curriculum would be better suited to an English-speaking student who can already read, this truly is written in a way that can gently be used even with non-readers. Of course, it also works well with those who are learning English as a second language.

English on a Roll is a great hands-on product that teaches English grammar in a fun game-like way. If you'd like more detailed information of the curriculum, you can request free sample chapters and watch a demo of an actual lesson.

You can connect with English on a Roll on their Facebook page and website

You can read more reviews of this product on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 7/7/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Weekend! This week Alyssa made french bread for the first time for Kids Cook Monday, Leighton and I spent a date day at Go Ape zip line and ropes course, and we all enjoyed the holiday together.

1. Zac, the day he learned to ride his bike without training wheels: "Whoa! I was riding fast! I was going at least 2 miles per hour--maybe 3!"

2. Tyler, watching fireworks: "Whoa! I saw the steam!"

3. Jake: "What kind of corn is the nicest? . . . Sweet corn."

4. Jake: "Am I your favorite oldest child?"
Me: "You sure are."
Zac: "But who's your favorite child?"
Me: "I don't have one. I have 5 favorite children. But you know what I have only 1 of? I have only 1 favorite husband."
Tyler: "Who? Daddy?"

5. The typical cooperation I get from these two.

6. Tyler: "My hair is sweating!"
Jake: "Your hair is sweating?"
Tyler: "Yes, it's literally sweating!"

7. Alyssa, at the store: "That dress has macaroni straps." (spaghetti straps)

8. Me: "Being quiet is not one of Ty's strong suits."
Zac: "Tyler and quiet have never met."

9. Tyler, watching me apply make up: "Why do you put that on?"
Me: "Because I like it."
Tyler: "But why? It doesn't seem like there's anything special about it."

10. Me: "Tyler, please be careful."
Tyler, scaling the door frame: "I got all the way to the top, and I didn't even break a single leg."

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

R.E.A.D. Curriculum Review

There are many benefits and various reasons that our family loves homeschooling. One of my personal favorites is teaching my little ones to read. Reading is a skill that will help them the rest of the lives. Whether for education needs or recreational desires, reading will mostly likely aid the process. And being the one to help them learn their letters and sounds, form early words, and read their first books is exciting to me.

Everyone has a different style, and while I didn't use a curriculum to teach my first three kids to read (but instead relied on skills I learned while teaching first graders in the classroom years ago), some might prefer something that is planned out for them. I admit, I've slacked lately in helping my soon-to-be-kindergartner with his reading skills, so it was nice to have the Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook and R.E.A.D. Review Pack to help. Since The Crafty Classroom did all the work of putting together the materials, all I had to do was print and get busy helping my little one.

The Crafty Classroom offers all sorts of downloadable curricula to help your students, including categories of the alphabet, Bible, geography, math, reading, science, and writing. There is super sequences, color science, ASL alphabet, U.S.A. mazes, writing prompts, The 10 Commandments, and so much more. Just browsing through the options makes me want to buy all the curriculum. It all looks so fun! As a homeschooling family with their own four kids, the Crafty Classroom has designed their materials to make teaching a bit easier.

The Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook (798 pages) is a 36-week curriculum for those who are Ready, Eager, Able, and Determined to READ. It's designed for a 4-day school week and contains everything you need to teach your child to read. The materials cover phonics, digraphs, blends, sight words, grammar, and writing. One word family and two-three sight words are taught each week. Set-up is simple; you print the pages and place in a binder. The only other supplies that you will need are basic classroom items (like crayons, glue, pencil, ect), a composition notebook, two page protectors, dry erase marker, and something to store flashcards.

The format is the same each week with the same activities/pages on their corresponding days. For example, the schedule every Monday looks like this:

  • Calendar & Warm Up
  • I Can Rhyme Chart (reading)
  • Letter Sound Chart (language)
  • Handwriting
  • Playdough Mat (activity/game)
  • Word Cards (sight word)
Other types of worksheets include find & color pages, word mazes, making words with letter tiles, finding the nonsense words, story reader, and more. Each day begins with the calendar and warm up exercises before completing the other pages. These warm ups teach key life skills like first and last name, time, weather, temperature, money, days, months, numbers, and more. The pages can be kept in page protectors so they can be easily erased and completed each day.  

The R.E.A.D. Review Pack is a group of 28 early readers. The books can be used as a stand-alone product, but they were created to correspond to the R.E.A.D. Notebook and promote reading fluency. The two products compliment each other well and help the student put to practice what he's learning. The mini books are very easy to assemble. Each one prints on three sheets of paper, then you cut, stack, and staple.  There is also an instructional video link included in the book. The download is 92 pages.

Each book is based on 4-6 word families and 8-10 sight words, as well as previously learned words. The first page of each one lists the word family review and the sight word review that is covered. There are simple pictures and text on each page.

My little kindergartner is loving using these materials. He's pleased whenever I tell him it's time to do his schoolwork. He really likes the hands-on pages where's there's something to cut and glue, the mazes, and dot-to-dots. He always laughs when we talk about real words and make nonsense words and likes using various liquids to complete the dot painting pages. However, he is not crazy about all the writing pages. He'll usually write the smaller portions with no complaints, but grumbles when there is a page that has line upon line of tracing or independent writing. Since he's still young and building up those hand muscles, I allow him to write each word once or twice and move on. 

The curriculum is working well and helping him to read better, which is evident by the fluency he's reading the review pack. One thing that concerns me though is the number of pages. Don't get me wrong, more for your money is a good thing, but more in every area is not necessarily good. I don't think he needs to be doing 5 worksheets along with the calendar warm up every day. To me, that's a lot of seat work for a little one. Which ones I choose to do each day depends on the amount of effort required and his interest in them.

Another issue with the number of pages is that the book is nearly 800 pages long. Even if I were to be able to print front and back, that's a lot of paper and ink, but because several of the pages have portions that are to be cut, it would be impossible to print on both sides. I could go through and determine which ones I could print double-sided, but that would take up precious time. I've used other curricula where there was a separate workbook with all pages filled and activity book with just the fronts to be cut. Maybe something like this would work here, too.

Making something work for your family is a great aspect of homeschooling. Choosing our pages instead of doing absolutely everything that's offered means that the Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook and R.E.A.D. Review Pack are great options for our home. My little guy enjoys his work and loves having his own books. Most importantly, he's learning to read.

You can connect with the Crafty Classroom on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of these products or of some of the others offered by the Crafty Classroom on the Homeschool Review Crew blog. 

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I have artsy kids, so anytime we can review art supplies is sure to be fun. Almost daily, someone is drawing, coloring, or folding origami creations, but it's not as often that we pull out the super messy supplies. The Rigid Wrap and CulluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit from ACTÍVA Products definitely falls into that get-your-hands-dirty category. Along with the kit, we received the ACTÍVA Products' Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS eBook that's filled with project ideas. 

ACTÍVA: Basic Materials for Creativity is a company that has been dedicated to quality arts and crafts supplies since 1959. They offer all sorts of materials from multiple types of air dry clay to plaster and molds for casting to colored sand and dried floral products and more. Along with their merchandise, their site is full of useful information like instructions, tips, techniques, and safety sheets. 

I knew the kids would be excited to start crafting as soon as the package arrived in the mail. I opened the box and immediately knew something was wrong. There was a white, powdery substance all over the kit and inside the shipping box. I carefully opened the kit to discover an even bigger mess. The CelluClay had a gaping hole in the clear, plastic packaging, causing the powder to cover the contents of the box. The two bags of Rigid Wrap, the instruction and project sheet pages, the remaining CelluClay, everything was a mess. I sent a quick email and received an equally quick reply. Within a few days, I received another kit, sans hole in the bag. Good customer service is always a plus for a company.

We really weren't sure what to expect with these products. I pulled up the free eBook and browsed through the ideas with the kids. My daughter (9 years) immediately was drawn to the bold beads made from Rigid Wrap plaster cloth strips. She loves making bead jewelry, so the ability to design her own beads was very appealing. The book lists skill level, time, materials, directions, and tips for each project. The directions for the beads was a little confusing, so it took some trial and error to figure it out. And though some of the beads were a little rough around the edges or bumpy and misshapen, that didn't stop her from exclaiming dozens of times how much fun she was having. She said, "I just can't stop making these!" Some more practice, I am sure her technique will improve and the bead-making addiction will be even stronger.

The boys, however, were not impressed with any of the suggestions in the book. (They were initially excited when I read "Deadly Dinosaur," but when they saw a friendly brontosaurus-type dino with a smile, they were disappointed.) They also did not prefer the projects that came in the kit either (which were mostly the same as the book and looks like a photocopy of a photocopy and blurry with one page so crooked that half of it was missing). Instead, they each decided on a project that we found while looking through the video demonstrations on the site. I found some old jars, gave the boys trays and bowls of water, and cut strips of Rigid Wrap. They got to work dipping the strips in water, removing the excess liquid, and wrapping the jar. My 7-year-old made his own (which he filled with roses and gave to his grandma, heart melt.) and my 11-year-old  helped his 5-year-old brother make one. (Make sure to check out the video at the end of the post he made of the process and see how easy it is to create your own!)

Both the beads and the vases dried quickly, but the kids didn't get a chance to paint them until the next day. That part was equally fun. I always like watching their creativity and differences as they design their masterpieces. The acrylic paints worked very well on the dried Rigid Wrap.


Next was trying to decide what to make with the CelluClay. This isn't a true clay, but rather an instant paper mache clay made from 100% pre-consumer recycled paper. Since no one wanted to recreate a project idea from the book, we brainstormed ideas and searched the web. It came as no surprise when we settled on a working volcano. (There is actually a volcano idea in the book, but it is a simple sculpture, and honestly, not what we were looking to make.) 

We enlisted the help of my husband to design the structure of the volcano. Then we used the CelluClay to coat it. This is where we ran into problems. There are no instructions whatsoever for the clay in the box. There's nothing on the bag. There's nothing in the eBook. There's not even anything in the description of the product on the website. Everything just says "mix the CelluClay in a Ziploc bag," but nothing is mentioned about amounts or process or anything. He did a search and found that it's recommended to use 32 oz of water to 1 lb of clay (which, I find a bit confusing, since the free eBook calls for 2.5 cups of clay for one of the projects. One is based on weight and the other volume. They're not interchangeable.) Just to be safe, we used 24 oz of water for our 1 lb, because you can always add water if needed, but you can't take away. Our oldest mixed the concoction, but instead of forming into a ball of clay, it stayed as a soupy pulp. It still worked to form the volcano, it was just sticky and messy and not clay-like. I enjoyed the process, but the kids did not like the feel of the goop. 

The volcano took a couple days to dry and the thicker parts finished off with the help of a fan. Next came a coat of spray paint, and our masterpiece was ready to erupt. The kids always enjoy watching the reaction of baking soda and vinegar. The CelluClay softened up again after multiple eruptions, and it seems that the vinegar has slightly eaten away at parts of the volcano, kinda giving it the feel of real lava destroying things in its path, ha. 
All in all, we love these products. I really hope they will improve their directions, both in the Rigid Wrap and CulluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit and in the ACTÍVA Products' Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS eBook. I did eventually find the full instructions on the website, but it took some searching around. I think it would be helpful if they linked to the instruction page on the product page. The Rigid Wrap was simple to use and the kids really enjoyed crafting with it. I'm eager to use the CelluClay again, with some tweaking of the amount of water. The possibilities of these products are endless!  

Here you can watch my 11-year-old create a vase with the Rigid Wrap. Super simple. And though the video is sped up, it only took him 7 minutes in real time to create it. You can see how he chose to wrap the top also, whereas his younger brother decided to leave it uncovered (in the vase and roses picture above). The best part of art is your creativity and uniqueness!

You can connect with ACTÍVA Products on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews with fun projects made by kids on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 6/30/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Friday! This week we went to the park, did a ton of yard work, made a bunch of granola, and had a lot of Smiles.

1. Nicholas, looking at Alyssa with a giant magnifying glass in front of her face: "You so cute!"

2. Jake: "I know this is pig, because I can taste the 'oink.'"
Me: "You know that's cow, right?"
Jake: "Oh, yeah . . . but then why is it called hamburger?"

3. Zac learned to ride his bike without training wheels!


5. Alyssa: "Mom, will you come with me to kill a spider?"
Zac: "I will."

6. Tyler: "I'm so glad I picked a baby brother."
Me: "You picked him?"
Tyler: "Yeah."
Me: "Why didn't you pick a baby sister?"
Tyler: "Oh, yeah, I should have!"
Jake: "You didn't actually pick him."
Tyler: "Yes, I did. I literally picked him! Don't you remember?"
Me: "How did you pick him?"
Tyler: "You asked if I wanted a baby brother or a baby sister, and I picked brother."

7. Jake: "I went to Home Depot with Papa today to get top soil and sand to fill in the pond."
Me: "They took the pond out?"
Zac: "What! Why?"
Jake: "Because they didn't want it. Besides, Gramma already killed the fish."
Zac, laughing: "Yeah, can't you just see Gramma reach in and grab a fish and stab it with a dagger! . . . Wait. Is that why you had fish for dinner tonight?"

8. Nicholas, hugging my neck: "My pincess! My pincess!"

9. I found Nicholas walking out of the kitchen with a stick of butter. I snapped his picture, and he ran away while taking a giant bite. 

10. Me, opening a bag of cinnamon: "Wow! This cinnamon is strong!"
Tyler: "Why? It won't come out of there? Like it's holding itself in the bag?"

11. Me, in frustration: "Nicholas Samuel."
Nicholas: "Nichoyas Samuel Yeaf?"

12. Nicholas: "I see Papa."
Me: "No, not today. Gramma's coming over today though."
Nicholas: "I see Papa."
Me: "Not today, sorry."
Nicholas: "Mama, look. {puts hand to mouth and gives the most pathetic cough, cough, cough} I need Papa."

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Make-A-State Activity

We are thrilled every time get to review a product from Home School in the Woods. This time was even more exciting though, because we were able to use their newest product! The Make-A-State Activity, which is part of their Activity-Paks line, is filled with hands-on projects that teach all about the 50 states.   

Home School in the Woods is a family business that was started as a way to make history real, understandable, and applicable. Using timelines and realistic illustrations as a foundation, they've created many resources to make learning history an enjoyable process. I, like Amy the driving force of the company, did not enjoy the boring textbooks in high school. It wasn't until we started our own homeschooling journey that I started to realize that learning history wasn't boring, but, in fact, could be quite interesting. I was excited to download this study and learn more about the individual states that make up America.

The download (also available as a CD) comes as a zip file. Once you open it, and see the multiple folders, click on the "start" file. At that point, the entire program will open in your browser, making it very easy to use. Instead of clicking through multiple folders, trying to bounce back and forth among the resources, everything is laid out as you need it.

The Make-A-State Activity-Pak contains templates to create an individual lap book for each of the 50 states and also includes a bonus book for Washington D.C.. The projects incorporate illustrations, coloring, creative writing, map skills, research, and more. Each lap book covers the same 20 activities. Some of the templates are the same for each state, while others are individualized. There are 20 activities for each lap book:
  • Key State Facts
  • Origin of State Name
  • State Motto
  • State Symbols
  • State Song
  • State Industry/Agriculture/Climate
  • State Wildlife
  • Regions
  • State Geography
  • State Government
  • State Seal & Flag
  • State History
  • Famous People From . . .
  • Native Tribes
  • State Landmarks
  • Sports Teams
  • State Quarter
  • Recipes
  • State Vocabulary
  • State Timeline 

While there is a bonus page of learning about each state that is filled with facts and other brief information, the activity-pak is designed to compliment your own curriculum, text, or research. This product is different, in that sense, from the other materials we've used from Home School in the Woods (U.S. Elections Lap-Pak, Project Passport: The Middle Ages, and Project Passport: Ancient Egypt) that included the complete lesson texts. The company is known for their detailed, hands-on curricula, and this study does not disappoint. The activity-paks encourage independent study, by guiding the student through a series of topics and offering activities and projects. Hands-on assignments add another level of learning that helps the student to better retain information. There are detailed instructions for each project.

This study is recommended for grades 3-8, but, personally, I've found that it works well even for my younger kids (ages 5 and 7), too. We like to incorporate as much family study as we can, and the Make-A-Sate Activity-Pak is wonderful. Everyone can be involved, whether it's helping to research the information on the internet or helping to cut and tape or helping to draw and color.

We chose to start with the study of Michigan since that's where we live. The kids already knew things like the robin is our state bird and Lansing is our capital, but they've learned so much more than that the last month or so. They've enjoyed seeing our state symbol and flag, learning our motto, and listening to our song. We've studied about wolverines, assembly lines, the Great Lakes, the Soo Locks, meat pasties, and more.

The only negative opinion I have about this study is the breakdown of the PDFs. Because everything has very specific printing instructions (regular paper, colored paper, white cardstock, colored cardstock) each individual page is its own file. I understand the need for the "special" pages, but because of the individual files, you have to open each file individually and print. On pages that are double-sides, you have to open the file, print one page, turn it around, open another file, and print the back. The other studies we've used from this company incorporated more cardstock, whereas this one used mostly regular paper. It would be so much simpler, if the entire resource were one file, or could at least also be given as a single PDF, along with the current format. That way, I could choose the double-sided printing option and my printer can do the work for me when needed and have the option of printing all the regular pages at once. Printers have so many options now that make printing easy, and I really feel that this format hinders it. It's the same complaint I have of each of the products from Home School in the Woods. I had really hoped to see this changed since it's their brand new study.

Aside from the printing frustrations, we absolutely love this study; so much, in fact, that we will continue with our study of the states, even with the extra work to get it all printed. The lap book activities are well done and offer such variety. Because of the slower pace of our summer schedule, we're at the point where the Michigan lap book is about to be assembled. The older kids (ages 9 and 11), especially like the resources from Home School in the Woods, and since they're away at church camp for the week, we'll wait until they're home to put it all together. I'm excited to see the final project with all its moving parts and opening flaps and pages.

Home School in the Woods really is a fantastic place if you're looking for hands-on history curricula. If you'd like another activty-pak, like this one, they also have options for The New Testament, Artists, and a couple others. If you'd like a product that includes more lesson text, their Time Travelers or  Project Passport lines might be more appealing. The also offer timelines, map sets, lap books, and more. A new feature that is being offered is the A La Carte Projects, if you're looking for just a few projects for topical studies. Currently, you can even use code "alacarte" at checkout to get the Erie Canal project for free! Try it out and fall in love with their resources, just like we have. You can find entire lists of products on their website. 

The Make-A-State Activity is a great resource for encouraging independent study of the 50 states. My kids and I are enjoying using this product and look forward all that we'll learn as we continue our study.

You can connect with Home School in the Woods on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of products offered by Home School in the Woods on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 6/23/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)

Happy Friday! This week we celebrated our 14th anniversary and Father's Day, did some major yard work, spent time with out-of-town family, and had many Smiles.

1. Jake: "Did you know that taking candy from a baby isn't exactly easy? I mean, they scream."

2. Tyler: "When can we do that?"
Me: "Whenever, I guess."
Tyler: "Right now! Right now! Right now!"
Me: "Well, not right now--"
Tyler: "Today! Today! Today!"


4. Tyler, adding ice cubes to soup: "I just colded my broth."

and later . . .

5. Tyler: "With you hotten your water, please?"

6. Jake: "Nicky, do you want to go see Papa tomorrow?"
Nicholas: "I go Papa now!"

7. I walked into the kitchen and found these LEGO creations sitting in the counter. I assumed they were for me. Come to find out, the boys built them for Alyssa, because she made a big fruit salad for them. Flowers and hearts to show their appreciation

8. Zac, about a Lego set: "Do you think Hulk was a good choice for Dad? 'Cause Hulk is strong and Dad is strong."

10. Tyler: "Alyssa! Mom has your archenemy--mustard!"
Me: "Archenemy? How can mustard hurt her?"
Alyssa: "I hurts my taste buds."

What made you Smile this week?
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