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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Circle Time

This is a review.

Circle Time is an e-book written by Kendra Fletcher, mother of 8 (I only have 2 more to go to catch her!) of  Preschoolers and Peace.

I got to try a PDF version of this book.  Because I am me, and I need paper, I printed it off and put it in a binder for myself. 


So, what exactly is Circle Time?

Here is what it says on the front cover....The Best Part of Your Homeschool Day
- Teach ALL ages
- Include what YOU want
- Enjoy your kids MORE

This is really just an outline of a way to gather all your children a "circle"...and spend some time together.  Simple concept.....not so simple to do in real life....even for us homeschoolers, sometimes, you know?

We actually used to do something like this in Minnesota a long time ago....probably when I only had 3 kids.  I loved it.  The kids didn't seem to love it at the time, (lots of moaning and groaning, etc.) but they still talk about stuff that we did, or books I read aloud to them during those Circle Times!

But, it was something that fell by the wayside...even before we moved.  I can't blame this one on the dreaded move to Georgia....I think it was just general busy-ness and more kids.

Since we have re-started Circle Time, I love, love, love it.  And, you know what?  The kids do too.

For me, it is because I just feel so much more connected with ALL of the kids on a daily basis than I used to.

Kendra has loads of tips for planning a Circle Time that will work with your individual family, strategies to keep it a peaceful time, and how to get your kids on board.

One of my favorite parts of this ebook was the Q&A Kendra did with questions sent in by moms and her real life advice on how Circle Time works at her house.  It has been different in different "seasons" of her life.....and that is okay. 

Circle Time takes planning and time to think about what your goals or wishes will be for your family and Circle Time. Since it is summer, and we are trying to move, we kept it simple.  Very simple. 

Right now, we aren't doing a lot of academic stuff during our circle time.  But, we are doing Bible study and Bible trivia...and we are praying together.  But again, even though we have structure and have planned out the time, it has already morphed into something I hadn't foreseen.

When we first started, I would just open and close our time in prayer.  That changed into me asking one of the kid's to close us in prayer.  Well, if I asked the same kid too often, it resulted in pouting and hurt feelings....which led to me trying to keep track of who I asked to pray yesterday and so on.

So, I tweaked it again, and now, we all bring our different prayer requests before the group. When everyone is done sharing, I have little slips of paper with everyone's name on them in a tin can.  We pick a name and that person starts our prayer time.  We keep going until everyone gets a chance to pray.  Everything and everyone we wanted to pray for gets covered because one person doesn't have to remember them all.  We are all connected and involved.

It is wonderful.

This summer, we have fit in Circle Time after lunch, which means, Rainman is only here for a few times during the week.  But, it is fun when he is there....the kids like to try to stump him with Bible trivia that we have already gone over.  (He is not stumped very often though!)

There have been a handful of times that the older kids were off at church functions, so we had Circle Time with the 4 younger kids....which was fine....but I prefer it when we are all together.

Our time and activities will change when we start school again.  We will cover more academic subjects, I am sure.  I really want to incorporate some Bible memory verses....a place that our training has been lacking.  I also plan to work in some teaching on music theory, orchestras, etiquette/manners, presidents, geography, Latin/Greek root words.  I want to go back to reading aloud to them.  I might also use this time to teach my kids some traditional hymns (remember we attend a contemporary service - so they are missing that great old church heritage of hymns!). There really is a lot we can do together that will help all of them, regardless of their age level, or their individual studies.

If I run out of ideas or need help, Kendra has a Circle Time Resources page on her website that can be used.  

V-girl, almost 4, (the reason Preschoolers and Peace exists) is thrilled to be part of this and her hand shoots up whenever I ask a question...even if she doesn't know the answer.  It is cute.  She is happy and engaged and not disruptive.  I will have Kendra's ideas in my back pocket though come fall and our Circle Time gets a little longer...and perhaps, over her head.  But, for now, she has been awesome.  Hearing her pray out loud for people would melt anyone's heart.  It is amazing the people that she thinks to pray for, and, how she words her petitions to God are just adorable.

There really is nothing better than piling  on the couch with your kids and doing stuff together.  I mean, I like watching movies and shows with my kids too....but, there is something about all of us piled up together and learning or talking that nothing can compare to.

Like I said at the top, this is a simple concept, but it is well worth the money to get Kendra's ebook on how to get started and tips for making it work.  Really. You can get a copy of Circle Time for $4.99.

Like the slogan says, this really has become the best part of my day.  See how the other TOS Reviewers used their Circle Time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I was working on a review this morning and needed to upload some pictures to go along with the product.  I found a few other pictures that made me smile....

Have I shown you the pictures from my girls make-over party?  I can't remember....

What V-girl would look like if she had actual visible eyebrows.

I better go check with my big girls before I post theirs....

Christi - The Coupon Coach

This is a review.

With a family of 8 to feed, I was thrilled to be able to get a chance to read the book by, Christi the Coupon Coach called Couponing Made Simple.

See, in Minnesota, we lived very close to an Aldi, so that was our main grocery store.  We supplemented with Costco and our local grocery store.  They were all located within a mile of each other, so there wasn't extra driving or planning that needed to happen for a grocery trip.

Fast forward to Georgia:  We are not anywhere near an Aldi.  They have them down here, but both of them are out of the way and about a 20-25 minute drive for me.  So, we became Kroger shoppers, with the occassional supplemental trip to Costco.  Which, again, down here is not conveniently located for me.  Rainman actually makes the Costco trips because they are near his work (so we have to time the trips to coincide with the right work shift for him)

Anyway, our grocery bill since we moved has been significantly higher.  Partly because my pesky kids keep on growing and D-man and L-girl seem to be bottomless pits lately.  Can you say growth spurt?

So, I anxiously read this book hoping for magic.

I sort of got it. 

Christi is very good at explaining things in a detailed but not over my head way on what to do to save money.  She explains the secrete language of couponing (like what BOGO and OOP mean) and truly gives step by step instructions....

And, when you do what she says, it works.

The problem was, I didn't always have the time or mental energy to do exactly as she said.

That being said, even Rainman got into some of the excitement when stuff worked out for us.  When we would combine sales and coupons to get stupendous deals, it was fabulous. 

Be honest now.  Have you watched any of the "Extreme Couponer" shows?  I have (that is actually where I saw Honey Boo Boo's family for the first time).  Anyway, I was fascinated and scared at the same time.  Those people put a lot of time and energy into their couponing...then there was the totally stressful time at the check out....shutting down the cash registers.....people staring.    Having to have a whole room of your house dedicated to your extreme shopping. Yuck! I did not want that.

I just want to be able to have food for my family.  Since we have moved to Georgia, there are things that I miss.  My family for one, but, I also miss our second income.  That was our fun money and our we can get all the ingredients for those recipes and not have to worry about it money.  You know?  Now that we are living on Rainman's income.  We have enough money for essentials.  What I miss is being able to have on hand ingredients for baking or making special sentimental recipes every now and then.  Does that make any sense?

Groceries are expensive.

Which was why I was excited to try this out.  Even though I didn't completely throw myself into it because of the timing (selling this darn house) worked.  We saved money.  We learned a few things like how and where to search for coupons for your store.

Getting things set up and organized for you is sort of time consuming, but Christi encourages you that it doesn't have to be perfect, and your system may change over time.

She really lays out how to coupon in a simple way that is easy to follow.  That being said, I/we didn't always follow it to the letter.  My only excuse is how crazy it has been in our house the last few months.  Plus, we have been trying not to shop as much and just eat the stuff hiding in our freezer and pantry.

But, I did love this book.  I have tried to learn how to really be a "couponer" before and it never made complete sense....or, honestly, just seemed like it took too much time for the savings you ended up with.  But, this book,  made saving money, without spending 60 hours a week working on it, with a family my size, seem possible. 

One of my favorite parts of the book was Chapter 6 where she has general tips and tools.  She warns you to take into consideration the weight of a product and water content, for example.  Sounds obvious, right?  Well, for example, 5 pound bags of fruit can way anything over 5 pounds....they just have to weigh "at least" 5, now, instead of just telling my kids to stop playing with the weight that is hanging there is produce, I am going to actually use it to squeeze a little more more out of our budget, and get the bag of fruit that weighs 5.28 pounds.

The water example really made me think.  She gave examples of dollar store body wash and a different brand body wash that she got with a coupon at a grocery store, that smelled awesome and lasted much longer.....because it had less water.  I really hadn't thought about that when I would price check things.

She cracked me up when she talked about freezing milk that she had gotten as a great deal.  She said that freezing milk does change its consistency a bit and that she doesn't mind the change.  Her kids, however, do, but she basically tells them to suck it up and not be spoiled....and follows that up with "it's not like we are foraging through the forest for food!"

One of the best tips wasn't even in that tips and tools section, but earlier about picking the right cashier.  You want the one who seems happy, pleasant and seems to enjoy her job...not the one with the shortest line!

We are training ourselves so we can get to the 80% savings finish line (although, I think I would be okay with 50% too!)  We always check our store's website now before we head out to see what is on sale and compare it with coupons that we have.  We can also load on-line coupons straight to our card before we go, something we never took the time to do before.

Overall, I loved Christi's approachable and honest way of teaching and sharing her experiences.  One of the other favorite parts of the book was her whole chapter on Ethics.  When I used to watch Extreme Couponing, I would sometimes cringe at the people doing things that just didn't seem right just in the name of getting a year's worth of toilet paper for $0.30, you know?  She addresses how to be a real life couponer that is Christian and that the point is not to cheat companies or your store out of product for the sake of a great deal. 

I used her advice at Kroger, but not at the drug stores, yet.  We seldom go to CVS or Rite that will take a total shift in my thought process.  I am not there yet, even if there are great deals to be found. 

There are little success story boxes scattered through the book utilitizing real life examples of deals she has gotten.  I also have a real life success story in my friend Sherri (who has tried to teach me couponing in the past). She is a great real life couponer and uses the savings she gets to bless people with food.  She has the gift of hospitality and opens her home freely to people.  And, if you enter her home, she has to feed is in her DNA.  I want to be able to do that.  Yes, I certainly want to bring our budget down for just feeding our family, but, if I could afford to have snacks and stuff so I can bake again and my kids can have their friends come hang out and I don't have to worry if they are there over a mealtime because I don't have anything to feed will be a win/win situation.

Christi has been such an encouragement throughout this review process.  I want to share a portion of a recent e-mail she sent that shows that this is the kind of couponing I can and should do.  I know it will take a while to really train me and Rainman , so it becomes second nature, but when we get will be awesome and Real Life couponing:

As an encouragement to you, I want you to know that because I use this system of couponing, I only devote a couple of hours every two weeks to shopping and couponing. I am just like you - so busy that I don’t have a lot of time to devote to couponing. I shop at Publix about every two weeks (except for produce and milk) and CVS about once every 4-6 weeks. I know that every week I am missing out on great deals at 4-5 other grocery and pharmacy stores in our area, but I am O.K. with that. I don't have the time nor the desire to chase deals all over town!

I definitely am not one of the “Extreme Couponers” who spend 40-60 hours a week to get 100% savings. We save right around 80%, invest only a couple of hours every two weeks and we have a life - Real Couponing for Real People! My pantry looks like a real pantry - not an extreme pantry.
I really don't have the time or energy to be an extreme couponer.....but, I think, maybe, with Christi's coaching, I may just be able to pull off being a successful real couponer.  I also found that e-mail encouraging because our new house is close to a Publix and I was scared to death to shop there instead of my Kroger.

(we saved 38% on this bill with our coupons)

I have to be honest here, I think Rainman has more of a head for this stuff than I do. He is better at tracking prices and the in-store deals. I think I am better at the behind the scenes stuff....researching the sales papers, cutting and finding coupons. So, I think we are going to work towards our strengths and I will do the background work while he does the actual shopping.

You can get a copy of Couponing Made Comple for $18.00 right now.

See how much money the other TOS Reviewers were able to save with the help of Christi and Couponing Made Simple.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Truth...It Is Out There.

This is a review.

I just read a book about truth.  Yes, the truth is out there.

25 Truths, to be exact.

It is called 25 Truths - Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us.

I loved this little, almost pocket sized book.  I sat down and read the whole book myself and then got D-man and A-girl involved, because it was recommended for grades 6 through 12.

First, let me quote from an insert that was included with this book, from the author:

This book is about character, values and what is important in life based on Christian principles.  Each truth is very concise (which I think makes young people more willing to read them) followed by discussion questions to promote conversation between parents and their children and/or teachers and their students.  There is a crisis of character in our country, and my hope is that this book can be used as a homeschooling tool to change the world, one person at a time.

I agree with the author, Ed Douglas (whose background is mainly in banking and coaching high school tennis).  I do believe there is a crisis of character right now.  I too hope that the things we are doing as parents and as homeschoolers, can help change the world, one person at a time.

Each chapter covers a truth.  Mr.Douglas shares the general idea behind the truth and then, always shared an example from his life that inspired the truth.  At the end of each chapter ( and by "chapter", I mean a few pages of reading) there are some discussion questions.  They would start with generic ones like, "Do you agree with this truth?"  or "Do you think this truth is important?"  "Why or why not?"  And then moves into looking at your own life and what the truth really means a little more deeply.

I did things a little differently with D-man and A-girl. I didn't go through the book in numerical order. I jumped around and we covered the truths as they were needed.

For example, if, hypothetically speaking of course, D-man said something negative about A-girl (thinking he was funny), but it ended up really and truly hurting A-girl, that would have been (was) the best time to talk about Truth # 6 - Don't Talk Negatively About Others.

Or Truth #5 - Tell The Truth.  This one has been talked about at our house quite a bit.  Rainman and I have always told the kids that, if they tell the truth....even if it reveals something bad...that they will get in less trouble than if they lie to us....because we usually end up finding out the truth sometime.  This truth in Mr.  Douglas' book was given new meaning by his using an example of one of his employees telling a little while lie and after being found out, was fired.  There are consequences to actions, there are consequences to what you allow your reputation to be.

Somedays I went through the chapters invididually with each of them, if I thought the discussion topics were going to get personal.  Other days, if I felt the discussion wasn't going to be super personal, the three of us did them together after our family Circle Time (which I will discuss another day).

Someother examples of the Truths.....

Truth #4 - Be Slow to Judge
Truth #7  - Don't Hate - Instead, Forgive
Truth #9 - Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Truth #11 - Take Life One Step at a Time
I will say that not every discussion was deep and meaningful.....although some days were.  There were days where we went over the Truth, talked through the discussion questions, and most of their answers were something like, "Yes."  "I don't know."  "I will have to think about it."  Or, the occasional, "Yes!  I know, mom!" (followed by a subtle, yet meaningful, eye roll).

But, I think and hope that even on those days where they didn't have much to add to our discussion, that I was planting seeds of thought in their heads.  Seeds that hopefully will grow into conclusions and convictions that will create people of great Christian character.

These truths were a good conversation jump off point for me to share stories from my past of  perhaps things that didn't go so well for me when I tried certain things, or even cautionary tales of friends of mine. 

You can buy this great, 150 page, pocket sized book, for $12.50.  Ed  Douglas has a few other books related to financial management and saving money that seem pretty interesting too, especially considering his background in the banking world.  Might be worth checking those out too. 

Go see what other TOS Reviewers thought of 25 Truths.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Badge of Honor

This is a review.

I just read a book my Susan K. Marlow and published by Kregel Publications called Badge of Honor.

This book is the first in the series of the Goldtown Adventures.  Which is probably exactly what you think....a book about finding gold in a place called Goldtown, California back in 1864.  (Which, for you history buffs, was at its peak from 1848 to 1855.)

This book is meant to be read by 8 to 13 year olds.  It has the look of being a "boy" book, but I think girls would enjoy it too, even though the main character is a boy.  He has a sister that wants to get in on most of the action too.

I had intended this book to be for  A-man, who is 8.  I forgot one simple thing about the boys that live in my house (Rainman and D-man included....although I have knocked some sense into D-man)...they don't love fiction books.  There I said it.  They like non-fiction and reference books.  Weird, I know.

A-man gets just as excited to head to the library as all the other kids. A-man comes to me with a pile as deep as the other kids.  But, there is one difference....his books are always non-fiction.  Books that have facts about spiders, and wasps and snakes, or the Titanic.

I thought for sure this book about a boy near his age that was living in a goldtown mixed with the fact that there was a mystery to solve (a dried up creek and a missing prospector) would suck him in.  It didn't.

In our house during the summer months, I don't put many limits on screen time (either T.V. or computer)....unless there is a lot of fighting.  My only rule is that you have to read at least 2 chapters a day before you get on the computer.

So, A-man started the book.  And then he and I fought about him finishing it.  If I would have been smart, I would have set aside time to read it aloud.  That has worked in the past, but, I think with everything going on around here and trying to sell the house, I didn't think of it.

So, this review is from my perspective, as someone who did read the book (enjoyed it too!) and how it could be used in your house.

The first thing I will talk about is the story.  To me, it was great.  It moved along quickly.  There were twists and turns.  There was even true bad guys and actual life and death situations.  Makes you think about how much more kids were responsible for back in these days, you know?

But the parts that I liked the best were the thoughts and conversations around scripture and how the characters used prayer, God, and scripture to make decisions in the book.  It seemed very real....and not just put in the book to make it a Christian book.  The thoughts and conflicts that the characters had felt real, their prayers felt real, their thought processes felt real. 

There is a free enrichment guide available for free that you can use alongside the book.  Obviously, with A-man not being into this book, we didn't use it.  But, for that magical day when he will embrace fiction, it will be there waiting for us. 

The enrichment guide covers things like vocabulary for words like - obliged; tomfoolery; or, an Arkansas toothpick.  Emoji There are also comprehension questions and a bit of character analysis too.

At 140 pages, for me, this was a super easy book.  For A-man it was too daunting right now, but since I have decided to let go and let  God when it comes to our housing situation, I can use all that time I was using worrying to read aloud to the kids and that will count as their reading time before heading to the "screens".

It really is a great book.  It has action, adventure, spiritual awareness, Godly characters to emulate and true to life examples of how you feel about other people sometimes.

I am going to read it aloud to A-man, S-girl and even V-girl sometime before school starts.  I imagine that A-man will want to read book 2 on his own.  Fingers crossed.  Plus, there is a third book in the series coming this fall.....

You can get a copy of Badge of Honor for $7.99 or go ahead and get the two books in the series for $13.95.  There is also a series by the same author called the Circle C series about life on a ranch that looks pretty interesting too.

Take a look and see what other TOS Reviewers thought of Susan Marlow books

Friday, July 12, 2013

Still Here


We are still here.

On Monday, we thought we had 2 offers coming in.  We were jubilant.  We were relieved.

Now, it is Friday and we have had no offers.  Still waiting to hear back from one buyer who is mulling over our unofficial counter offer (which really was a horrible counter offer from us - because we still lose money...but it was better than their unofficial lowball offer).  The other buyer says that they are still interested but wanted to run things by their lender - who is on vacation until tomorrow, apparently.

Then we had a showing scheduled for yesterday, by an out of town town for one day to look at 11 houses.  We were 11th on the list.  I was sort of excited because I thought we would make a great finish to their day....and maybe....just maybe, we would have an offer put in front of us before they headed back out of town.  That is how we did it when we moved here....we flew in, looked at houses and then filled out paperwork for make an offer on our way to the airport again that afternoon.

But, of course, the showing yesterday never came.  They never called.  They never contacted us.  My poor kids had cereal for dinner because I didn't want to make a mess of the kitchen, because I was sure that they would be calling at any minute telling me they were on their way.

I was scolded earlier this week by a real estate agent for only offering a 2% commision to the buyer's agents.  She was sure that is why my home hasn't sold, because agents are steering people away from my house.  I don't think that is true since we are at about 40 showings for our house.  But, she made me mad. 

I know I am supposed to remove my emotional involvement and think of this as a business deal....but, I am so hoping that someone else comes in and buys the house so she cannot get the $4,000+ in commission she will be paid if her buyer takes the house.  Does that make me a bad Christian?

I have been pretty upset about all of this and questioning our decision to even put the house on the market.  Rainman and I have prayed every step of the way through this process....and, this week, I have been questioning whether we really heard God's prompting and guidance in all of this....or if we just pushed through our own agenda....and, I was making myself sick with worry.  I am really not normally a worrier...that is my Mom's job!  But, I was even having chest pain/tightening and couldn't seem to turn off my mind and its whirling thoughts of what do to.

I was praying as I unloaded the dishwasher yesterday and was sort of whining and crying out to God...."I wish you would just tell me something!  I wish I knew if we were wrong to start this process!  What are we supposed to do?  Are we supposed to take a loss on this house?  Then we won't have any money for the downpayment on the other house and will have to borrow the whole amount, plus enough to pay off our existing loan!  What are we supposed to do?"

You get the idea.  I was whining.

This is where I used to rely on my Dad.  If I felt like we needed clarification on something.  I would call my Dad.  He would pray about it.  Sometimes he didn't get any clear message from God to pass along to us, but, many times he would.  He would, I think, remove himself as my father and just sort of pass along the note from God for us.....because just couldn't seem to hear Him ourselves.

But, Dad has been gone almost 2 years now.

So, as I was stacking dishes in the cupboard and scraping the crunchy gunk that always seems to be on the bottom on our cups off, I clearly heard God say, "Ask Brian."

Brian, is a friend of mine from high school, that now owns an engineering firm in northern Minnesota, is heavily involved with local youth, and is a fabulous nature photographer via Chasing the Wind Photography.

Here is what part of his "mission statement" for Chasing the Wind Photography....

All too often we find ourselves searching for something or someone that will bring "true happiness" to our lives. Have you ever said, "I just want to be happy"? We are so busy trying to fill ourselves with "stuff" that we think will make us happy, only to be disappointed. How many of those people around you seem to be trying to fill themselves up with something that they think will make them happy? Maybe it's a new boy or girlfriend, maybe a new car, a new house, a different job, or more money? Maybe it's not possessions at all. Maybe it's drugs or alcohol? Perhaps it's something that looks much better, such as helping others? Yes, we can even try to fill ourselves up by trying to get others to praise our efforts. Different things for each one of us I suppose. We are all searching for something. Quite often the "something" changes as we grow older. The happiness that a new bicycle brings at age 7, can't be purchased so cheaply when you're 37. We get so wrapped up in our search for happiness and the cluttered nature of our daily lives, that we often forget to slow down and enjoy the simple gifts that surround us.

Clutter in our lives isn't a new concept. Even King Solomon, one of the richest and wisest men of his time, concluded, in his late years, that "Everything is meaningless, like chasing after the wind" (Ecc. 1:14 NIV)......

.....It is amazing how many of us spend the majority of our lives searching for the very love and happiness that God gives us freely. A simple gift from him to each one of us.
I left a chunk of his biography/about us page, feel free to go read it in its entirety (by the way, all proceeds from his photos go to fund wilderness trips for youth)

Brian and I were probably more acquaintances in high school and just sort of traveled in similar circles.  But, we have come to know each other better via FB.  Anyway, I thought it was a strange thing....but, I was absolutely, 100% certain that I heard God prompting me to "Ask Brian".

So, I did.  I started out my message on FB with...."This is going to sound strange, but....." I briefly explained the situation and asked him to pray and see if he got any secret messages from God for Rainman and I.

Here was his response:

God is so amazing. I prayed and 2 things came to me almost immediately. I will continue to pray but will share what I believe that I was lead to share. -Glorify him in all that we do. Are your decisions going to glorify God or you? This seems to be harder for men I think but its what I heard. -Do not worry. He loves you more than you can imagine and will take care of you and your family. You just need to trust that he hears your prayers and doesn't want you to worry. Trust that he will lead the way. Just give it to him. He blessed you with some wonderful children and that's where your energy and emotion should be rather than things which are out of your control. That's it. I will add this. His timing is often different than mine. The verse "be patient and wait on the lord" rings in my ears a lot. Smile! God will take care of it!

I thanked him and sent a message back that said something about how I think a lot of my worrying (in addition to the financial piece) was for the people we were buying the house from, because they want to be in their new school district when school starts...which, here in Georgia is the first week of August.  I didn't want our situation to put their lives on hold. I told him that I was just going to meditate on how much God loves me and making the human nature part of me just leave it alone....and really just trust in God.

His response:

 I struggle with that same thing many days! then I close my eyes, listen to the birds or wind and know that he is here with me, and it is going to be OK.

So, if you need me, I am going to be outside, with my eyes closed.....listening to the birds and wind and knowing that He is God...and He has got my back.

All pictures (except my house) are courtesy of Brian Grund and Chasing the Wind Photography, Bemidji, MN.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Can You Dig It?

This is a review.

Summer is always an interesting time to review products for school.  I, as the mom, am still interested in finding the little gems of products that will work for our family.  My kids, as the kids, are interested in.....well.....summer.

This product by Dig-It Games, seemed like it would be the perfect fit for all of us.

It was supposed to be school, without seeming like school.

It is actually an on-line game where you help solve a Mayan Mystery.  During the game you will discover artifacts, visit ancient Mayan cities, learn Mayan math, decode hieroglyphics and explore the Maya calendar. 

I thought this game would be perfect for A-man, who has declared that he plans to be an archeologist when he grows up.  (Side note - I had plans to be an archeologist around the 4th grade.)  He got the idea from Indiana Jones....I have no idea where my idea came from.  Sadly, my wish did not come true, unless you count digging around strange places for missing socks, or uncovering strange food substances in the back of the fridge as archeology.

This didn't work out exactly like I envisioned it.  The game was suggested for ages 11-18 and this was one time I should have listened to their recommendation.  A-man is just 8, but I thought since he was so interested in archeology and hidden artifacts that the age range wouldn't matter.  It did. 

Some of their reasoning behind the age level recommendations is that some of the material covers topics like warfare and sacrifices are included and are not considered appropriate for children younger than 11. But, that wasn't the part that wasn't a good fit for A-man.  (He found it fascinating/gross/cool that sometimes the Mayans used actual human heads as a ball.)

His issues with this game?  There was a lot of reading. 

Each character has clues and pieces of the puzzle to help you solve the mystery.  So, when you get to a new location, there are characters, or objects, with exclamation points over them.  You click on it, then read a page or two of details and history.  Then you do a challenge or help them solve some math problems. 

This was where some of the trouble started.  A-man would just skip all the hard stuff, like math, so he wasn't able to complete the tasks and solve the mysteries.  His favorite part was whenever he got a hidden object challenge.  He would do better, overall, if I sat down with him and we walked through it together, but I didn't have a lot of time for that right now, with trying to sell our house and all.  D-man sat down with him once or twice and Rainman worked with him once to help him navigate one of the math challenges too.

I will say from the times I sat down and we played the game together, it is an awesome game. 

It is a challenging game....definitely not mindless.  If you really read everything that the characters share with you, you will have a pretty broad range of knowledge about the Mayan culture. 

It has all this detailed and accurate information because Dig-It! Games was founded in 2005 by a professional archaeologist and former middle-school teacher, Suzi Wilczynski, who sought to develop educational games which promoted more independent learning, creative thinking and cultural awareness. (All great things that us homeschoolers love!)  She joined forces with Robert J. Sharer, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and created Mayan Mysteries.

But, the problem was, A-man mostly skimmed over that stuff and just tried to get right to the challenges....and, he actually complained a few times when I reminded him to go play.  Normally, he never complaints about me giving him extra computer time!

When I was there, I could slow him down and remind him that the information he was reading was going to help him finish the challenges and not be caught by the looters. 

It is interesting stuff.  It is detailed stuff.  I agree that it is much better suited for an older child and one who is interested in details and not just jumping into the action...if that makes sense.  It is sort of like a graphic novel in looks.  You have to read. 

Let me say it again, you have to read....a succeed at this game.  And there isn't any action....just choices.

If you were doing a unit study on Mayan culture, this would be an awesome way to get some of the little details into your students minds.  Because Dig-It is jam packed with our case, it was just more information and details than an 8 year old boy was interested in.

If you want to get a better idea of how this game looks and works, there is a free demo for you to try.

You can get an on-line subscription for a single user for $21.99.  This one is also available as an Ipad app too.  They also have other games like Roman Town which is an actual on-line archeology game....pretty sure where A-man and I will check that one out....but maybe when he is a little older.

Take a look and see what the other TOS reviewers thought of the Mayan Mysteries on-line and Ipad app.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cursive. Boo or Yay????

This is a review.

We are trying out a cursive writing from from Classical Conversations called Prescripts Cursive Letters and Coloring - Medieval to Modern World History.

I still believe in cursive.  I really do.  There are many that say it is pointless to teach it, since most communication is handled via technology these days.  Most things are typed can even sign things electronically via a fancy-dancy signature.

But, I still believe my children should know how to actually sign their names...or write a letter to someone in cursive.  So, we got a chance to try this program for cursive that was for ages 3 to 7.  Wow.  That sounded sort of young to me, but sometimes I am a bit too old school in when I start teaching things.  So, I was willing to give it a try.

In our house, the time when you learn to write in cursive is a big right of passage.  At the beginning of 2nd grade, all of the kids who have taken 2nd grade in our household (that would be 4 already!) have taken their penmenship book and flipped through it until they find the magical lesson number that let's them begin the "curly" writing.

So, I felt a little bad letting S-girl and V-girl get a sneak peak or headstart learning cursive.  But, not bad enough to actually not try this book out.

It is a very simple book.  Simple concept.  Simple lessons.

The book starts with just having the students trace with their finger and then a pencil some lines.  That is it.  No actual letters....just different lines....different curves....different shapes.  It gives them a sense of flow and continual writing without the pauses between letters like printing does.

You do actually learn the letters...starting on page you don't have to wait too long.

Did you read what this book is actually called?  Here, I will show you again:

Prescripts Cursive Letters and Coloring - Medieval to Modern World History.

This is also a coloring book.  But, it isn't just any old coloring book.  It is a smart person's coloring book.....or, I suppose in this case, a coloring book that you hope will help make your kids smarter!

You color things like this:

 A sketch of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine.

Or this one.....

Graffiti from the Berlin Wall.

I know.  It is sort of genius, isn't it?  Get your kids asking questions about things and just letting them color it.  I can see this working really well if you use unit studies where all of your students, regardless of their ages are working on a world history study around the Berlin Wall.  Your younger ones can be right there with you "doing school" just like they want to and not just being kept busy with Legos (not that Lego time is bad).  It is spiral bound sideways, so the coils don't get in the way of writing or coloring.

I will say that V-girl, age 3, really was too young to get much from this book...not that she didn't try...but her hand eye coordination and patience just isn't there yet.  S-girl, at 6, did a whole lot better when she tried.  She could easily trace the lines with both her fingers and a pencil.

We will still make a big deal out of officially learning cursive in the 2nd grade, but, what I have noticed that this book did is make it possible for S-girl to read things that are written in cursive....something that my other kids have not been able to do.

If something was in cursive, they would just announce that they didn't know how to read cursive and give up.  S-girl doesn't recognize all the letters yet, but she does pretty good at making an educated guess....although cursive "z"s are still troublesome....but, really, come on....have you seen an actual cursive Z lately?


As you see from the above pictures of S-girl, I wasn't a stickler for sitting at a table and having proper posture when she was working on her cursive, which she loved.  I think that will come later, for now, this course succeeded in making cursive a much less scary thing for her.  These weren't even pictures I asked her to pose for.  We were watching T.V. and I looked down and there she was working on her cursive school.  A homeschooling mother's dream to look up and see.

She actually had fun with this course and I got a little sneaky teaching in too with the world history coloring pages.

You can try out this quick and easy cursive lesson book for $11.99.

Here is a little video preview of the Prescripts series (which has other notebooks that offer cursive along with art) from Classical Conversations.

The TOS Crew got to try these different books for the different age levels in teaching cursive, so, if you have older kids, go check out what they thought.