Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pilgirm Study, Hasty Pudding and Christmas Tomorrow

We have recently wound up our studies until January and so completed our study of the Pilgrims. We were using a Pocket Book that a friend had given us and with all the crafty ideas and hands on work my 8 year old has some idea on how these folks struggled. At the end of the study on how the Pilgrims ate we got to make some Hasty Pudding. Well as I was making this I was testing it's texture along the way. some not so fond memories of my high school in Zimbabwe where I boarded I used to eat cornmeal Porridge or as it is called in pilgrim days Hasty Pudding. It consists of cornmeal and water cooked up together and with a sweetener added. We put some Maple Syrup and Agave syrup into our 'pudding' and proceeded to eat. The Hasty Pudding pic is at the top of this post!

The 8 year old student whopped down the first bowl and said how good it was but the second bowl was a struggle. Perhaps he is realizing their food is not so appetizing. Perhaps the sweet potatoes and/or pumpkin dishes done over Christmas will be better for him to stomach.

As far as our family life goes. School some days is extremely hard to accomplish. A toddler in the mix makes for less concentration on the older child's part and so less gets down. I do get really down on myself and him because we don't seem to be accomplishing much in this area and yet he is still learning. Our toddler seems to finally be getting some of his words pronounced better and so I am worrying less about his speech or lack of understandable language.

We miss our dear sweet Brendon so much around this time of year. He loved lights, trees and of course presents too. He loved to sing Christmas carols too. We have some short videos of him in 2007 singing in our children's Christmas production. These bring a smile to our faces. i also found a video taken in 2005 when he was 2 1/2 of the boys singing in front of the Christmas tree which was surrounded by presents, and they were both full of mischief whilst we were trying to photograpgh and film them. I am glad I have these to look back at in the years to come.

I do see on any blogs that folks have moved on in their grief and I am glad for them. We seem to be slower at this but thankfully that is ok. It is alright for us to cry often and remember him with both tears and smiles. He was an inspiration to our whole family and many others. I know my pastor hardly goes through a day without thinking of Brendon and how courageous he was. (and cute too.) Looking at the little guy (now 2 1/2) we are still doing comparisons because they look like each other so much. He is truly a gift sent from heaven even if a challenging one!

We do currently have one runny nos toddler, a sick, feverish 8 year old and an exhausted Daddy due to delivering all those packages and mail before Christmas. Pray for our family to be healthy enough tomorrow to enjoy ourselves a little bit. Thanks.

We do wish you friends and family worldwide a very Merry Christmas and are thankful we get to sing Happy Birthday to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ first. We would not be able to get through a day without His love and grace in our lives.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics

The above company has come up with a grand idea of using classical music in the background whilst telling old classical stories that will truly delight your heart and your children’s soul probably.

I received this CD “The Tortoise and the Hare” for being part of the Old Schoolhouse Crew and since listening to it the very first time I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing it a few more times. My favorite part is the song where the Pretzel Vendor, who is selling pretzels to the Americans, at the beginning of the race sings. “I love selling Pretzels on the Champs Elysees.” This made me laugh and giggle and of course start to sin.

Okay let me get serious here. I love to hear music put behind stories and so of course I loved this review. The CD audio is broken up into 7 sections. The first is a telling of the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Secondly the producer of the CD Bonnie Ward Simon begins to talk about the music and the actions that go with each part of the story. The third part is a repeat of the song “I love selling Pretzels on the Champs Elysees.”(my favorite section of course.) The next part is the Conductor and Composer Stephen Simon talking about all the different instruments that were used during the story. These range from French horns, Piccolo, Violins, bassoons, tuba, cellos, trumpets and Timpani drums to a few more like oboes and clarinets.

My knowledge of instruments increased just a little here! I have listened to classical music since 6 years old and had never heard of a Contrabasssoon or Timpani Drum! The Composer highlights parts of the story where the individual instruments are used and then plays a few bars of music with that instrument. There are pictures of the instruments in the booklet accompanying the CD. There is a replay of the story for the child to hear again so they can listen more carefully to the way the music makes the story more interesting. My son listened to this all the way through on a ride in the van one day and he was most absorbed in all of it. That does not happen often! He has not tried performing the “Pretzel” song yet as we have to master the French words used in it still. He will have fun with that one though.

The other stories available from Maestro Classics are:
Peter and the Wolf
The Story of Swan Lake
Juanita the Spanish Lobster
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Casey at the Bat

Each set contains a CD, story and activity book, and extra information tracks on the CD. The booklet links the story to the music so not only does the child hear the music but can see music notes in the book and read the words to some of the songs too. They are priced at $16.98 per CD set, or $45 for 3 sets. I know this is pricey but this work is extremely well put together and for those of us who are not musically inclined, sure could put some enthusiasm into your music lessons.
I did like doing this review a lot and will have to try to budget some money for more of these CDs in the next year. Now I will probably go to bed tonight with the “Pretzel” song buzzing in my head and it will make me hungry all night long! The music is catchy, classical and can get your child ‘hooked on classics.’

The company's website is

The link to the Homeschool Crew site for other Crew members opinions is

The above review has been my opinion of a product that I received directly from Maestro Classics as a member of the Old Schoolhouse Crew tea. I have received no compensation for this review.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: 3PLearning/Mathletics

Mathletics is a Web-based learning program that integrates both home and school learning via the Internet. It is applicable for both homeschoolers and public school students. It is a very well used website and available for people to use from all over the world.

Both the student and the parent are given sign in codes once you have signed up for one year at a cost of $99 per year. There is a discount price of $59.00 per child (valid for US Subscribers only and using a secret code for the Human Calculator of 9 to get it). Other countries pay the normal subscription price. The students basically are online playing all kinds of games or doing exercises that are reinforcing their skills in all areas of Mathematics. Their scores are kept from week to week and the parent then has access to see what those are and can analyze what areas the student is weak or strong in.

My son for example was really weak in fractions and geometry as we have not covered a lot of these in our math curriculum so far. He liked however to see his rewards. The students earns credit and can then build various characters or purchase ‘stuff’ to create and print off to keep as a result of their correct answers. It is not real money and nothing gets sent to you - just feels like it for the child. My son never really earned enough to do much with it. He did not like it when the timer changed to the next question before he was ready. This means he was challenged by having to give an answer in a shorter space of time than I give to him. The child can print out his certificates if he wishes to do so to display his efforts to the whole family (and visitors too).

The Grade 2 level questions for example are along Modeling Numbers-counting in groups, comparing numbers, patterns; Additions and Subtraction- equations, with animal characters helping along the way at times; Measurement and Money, Time, weights, fluids etc; Geometry, Fractions, Multiplication and Division e.g. groups, fractions, shapes and division of groups. The students can work at their own pace and if needed can take activities at a lower or higher skill level.

Mathletics is a really good program to support another Math curriculum. It seems to help students fill in the gaps that they are missing, reinforce concepts already learned and cements them in your child’s brain I guess. There are live Math challenges that can take place between students without the actual students interacting with each other directly. More information on that is available on the site (

The site is attractive to the children as they can see their own progress and actually get rewarded for their work. Each time they return they can speed up their answers and get more rewards that way.

For our family this would be a good assistant to our math curriculum as it would give our son time to practice his thinking skills for math and have access to the computer. He does have limited time to use the computer so of course he would prefer something fun. I do wish that I had given him more time during our trial on this review to practice. He does get addicted to things and then will not get off when he is supposed to and continues to take more liberty online than he should.
This program is available for International students too with special curricula for the following countries: Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and an International section for others. You can custom design courses with a user friendly ‘drag and drop’ Course creator.

In the USA it works out to be about $2.00 per day for the use of this program. I think it will be something I look into for the next school year starting in the fall of 2010. The overall curriculum covers Kindergarten through to Grade 8 in the USA (5-14 years old).
Please do visit the site if you have any more questions. I did like this program rather a lot although have others to review in the future too I am sure. I will make a note of returning to this site in the next few months.

My above review has been purely my personal opinion. I was given a 6 week membership to Mathletics in order to review the program. I was not paid financially or in any other way for this review. The TOS Crew also has other folk’s opinions on this product especially for those with older children. Please click on through and read some of those too when you have a moment. Here are the two links: and

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tektoma - Computer Game Programming

Tektoma is a new company founded in 2009 by Tom Marx and Matilda O’Connor to provide 24/7 video tutorials to children to teach video game programming. Tom and Matilda have many years of experience with management, engineering and tech stuff.

They have been teaching children for about 9 years now at a summer camp called “Bits, Bytes and Botes” each year. The children have been taught at the camp how to program and build their own video games. As it was costly for parents to send them to the camp they came up with an easier way for children to have access to this technology all the time. Two of their children in their families liked to do this kind of work too.

My curiosity was intrigued when reading some of the above information which is supplied on their website.

Through becoming a member to the Tektoma website for a monthly fee of $14.95 per month or $180.00 per year, one has access to Software to download to your hard drive and to tutorials that help you or your child to design the first game on your computer. On the site there are short examples to see or try out of the various video games you can make. I found the Software easy to download but for some reason my computer would not take the Advanced version which actually makes the game work a million times better.
With a membership comes the following access on the site:
Tektoma offers you this:
Engaging video tutorials for ages 7-17
Tutorials of varying skill levels and topics
Learn at your own pace in the comfort of your home
Natural progression helps develop technical skills
Customize your learning experience
Low monthly membership fee gives access to all our resources
New curriculums available monthly

Examples of Games are as follows:
Racing Game (this is the game made in the Racing Game Tutorial)
Arcade Game (this is the game made in the Arcade Game Tutorial)
Platform Game (this is the game made in the Platform Game Tutorial)
Fantasy Adventure Game (this the game made in the Fantasy Adventure Game Tutorial)
What's New Puzzle Game (this is the game made in the What's New Tutorial)

My 8 year old son listened to the first tutorial and was very confused. He did try the Racing Game online and found it frustrating as using the arrow keys to move the car around it’s racing track did not work well for him. I tried it too and realized you have to be one step ahead of the car’s next move before it getting there and it worked very slowly compared to the other vehicle speeding round the track.

The tutorials are very thorough and fairly lengthy but the process is slow and clear for a child to understand if they desire to learn all the key elements to making this work. I feel that my son is not interested in learning this sort of thing at all, and every time I tried to encourage him to do so he told me that he had something else to do. Perhaps he thought I was working him too hard!
I personally do not like video games very much so am obviously not really keen on learning how to program them. I became annoyed whenever I tried to build my own and could not due to not having the correct gadgets in my directory to work with. I do not like to say this but I think I gave up. The extra load of software on my hard drive made it have to work too hard as well. It requires at least 128 MB of RAM, Direct X with 32 MB of video memory, and a screen resolution of 800 x 600. For those who are 'techie' people you would probably enjoy this site and what they have to offer.

You can link to the Homeschool crew Review site and read what other families who were given this program to try out thought of this. I am not saying it is a bad product but one that I do not understand and no like to be using. Personally I can do better things with my time on the computer and so can my children. Please follow the links below to The Old Schoolhouse Crew review site and also to the Tektoma website too.
I received a 3 month subscription to the above company and access to their website. I have written this review to describe my experience with this product. I have received no financial gift for this review. The above review is my own opinion on this product.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reviews: All About Spelling

I have not been posting for a while again and I am sorry for that. We are facing some personal issues in our home again to do with the loss of our precious son. I will try to keep up weekly now if possible.

I was at a loss at the beginning of this school year to help my 8 year old to spell. He is an excellent reader but I think he is missing half of the words because he can not totally understand everything he reads. I was wondering what spelling program to use or to just plod along. I then received an email from The Old Schoolhouse Crew informing me of the pending arrival of "All About Spelling" program into my mailbox. On receiving the package and opening it I was interested. The method of spelling took me back to his phonics learning days and also the times we did preschool at home using sounds. However, I did not include all the different sounds each vowel made, or the sound the combination of consonants made in that training. Now in the "All About Spelling" packet there was a possible solution to use.

I was leery at first as my son gets distracted easily but once I began using the system he has started to like it. the first few lessons were boring for him being on about a Grade 2 level student. He then started to catch on when we used the counters and the tiles on the board to help out in spelling the words. We are still only half way through Level 1 but we are enjoying ourselves and it is all laid out so easily in the manual that I just have to pre-read the chapter to make sure I have all the correct review phonogram, sound, key and word cards ready to use. When the student is reviewing the sounds or words or phonograms during the lesson he is aware that if he gets any incorrect he will have to repeat them at the beginning of the next lesson before proceeding on. After spelling out the words with tiles you then test him again by asking him to spell the words once you read them out again. I usually mix them around a bit here.

He decided to quit messing around during spelling and now the learning process is a little faster than at the beginning of the exercise. We still have to work our way through the rest of the Level 1 Book and progress to Level 2 which is more complex spelling words with 2 or 3 phonograms in each word. I am glad we started at the beginning and think we may have found something my son likes to learn with.

The program focuses on Phonograms, Sounds, Words and Key cards (explanation cards). These cards are brightly colored too. The books make it so easy to follow once the kit is assembled and put in a card box for safe keeping. The curriculum uses sight, sound and touch to enable the student to 'get' it. Some children process faster in one way or the other but using all 3 ways it causes the principle to cement in the child's brain and not be easily forgotten. Each lesson builds upon the one before.

There are currently 5 levels available and a Level 6 is being worked on by the authors. If you are not sure at which level to begin at with this program All about Spelling have an article available on their website for you to read and some sample lessons for each Level for you to see. I see from the Testimonials on their site that both Homeschool, Private and Public school teachers have commented on how wonderful the program has been to use. There are also more reviews available at the Homeschool Crew blog :

There is a picture of our Level 1 magnets on the Easel above that we use for this spelling exercise. I do like this program and will continue to use as long as I am able to afford it. The Level 1 Manual and one Student Packet is $29.95. Level 2 is $39.95 for the Teachers Manual and one student packet. The Starter Kit includes the Tiles, magnets, and phonograms CD_Rom is priced at $26.95 but is available for use throughout all levels. Additional student packets for larger families working on more than one level are available for $14.95 in Level 1 and $19.95 in Level 2. The products are of good quality and not easily broken or torn either. Please visit their website at this link for more informatsion that may interest you for this excellent thorough curriculum .

All About Spelling" sent me Level 1 and Level 2 of their curriculum to use as I am part of the 2009-2010 Homeschool Crew and I have done the above review for free with no fees paid to myself. The reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.