Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A+ Tutorsoft, Inc {Review}

A+ TutorSoft, Inc. is a fully interactive, multi-sensory Mathematics program.  This curriculum was created for use with children in grades 1-6.   The goal of the program is to provide engaging, expert instruction in order to help the student reach their top educational potential per grade level.  The program is available for homeschoolers, as well as public and private school use.

For purpose of this review, I was given access to A+ TutorSoft 2nd Grade Online Homeschool Edition.  This edition gave me access to A+ TutorSoft's full online program for the 2nd grade level.  This includes worksheets, interactive online lessons, graded exams, progress reports, access to placement tests, 24/7 online access, answer keys and much, much more.

The lessons in the online program are animated and to-the-point.  Interactive FlashCards are included for additional instruction.  Parent's have access to online grading and tools to help identify weaknesses and strengths in a child's progress.

I tried this program out with both of my older children as I wanted a feel of the program for each of my very different learners.  I found that one enjoyed the animated, interactive lessons online while the other enjoyed the lessons along with the extra worksheets to do off the computer.  I liked the fact that I was able to make the program work for both of my children and was easily able to adapt the lessons to fit both of their needs.  We often use the same program as they are both basically on the same grade level in many areas.  A+ TutorSoft provided a great basis for math to use for them both.

The program allowed me to immediately create a copy of the lessons available and the basic skills taught through the 2nd year portion of this program.  I was then able to take that sheet and break it into smaller lessons that worked for us.  My next step was to view some of the lessons myself in order to prepare to teach them off the computer.  I was also able to print worksheets to use along with these lessons with ease to give on the necessary days for offline learning.  These lessons were easily adapted.  I was able to prolong sections as needed and didn't feel behind if we weren't able to work on the lesson for that day.  The kids were able to pick back up with no problems as we worked on the program too.  This fit in very well with our laid back style and also with our busy days since we've been having several of those lately.

We did not use the exam portions of this program for this review as I do not do testing in our homeschool lessons.

A+ Tutorsoft, Inc is available online through their website.   Both the CD program and the online program are available. The cost for their 2nd Grade Online Homeschool Edition is available for $19.95 a month, $49.99 quarterly, or $124.99 per year.  Each subscription covers one parent and one child.

For more reviews of A+ TutorSoft, Inc., please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog!

*Disclaimer - This product was provided free in exchange of my honest opinion shared in a review post on my blog by A+ TutorSoft and TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew.  All opinions are my own and no money has been exchange in the process of this review.  I am including this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Organized Tax Investments

It's tax time again.  This year with taxes, we decided not to spend it all on cool gadgets, junk and stuff to clutter our house.  Instead, we've chosen to invest it in our house.

For as long as I've known Josh, he's wanted a covered porch added on so that he can sit outside in the afternoon and late night to enjoy the outdoors without those great southern mosquitoes.  This year we are making his dream come true.  We're investing in his outdoor room.

Today, Josh, his Dad, cousin and the builder who is a friend of ours, removed our old decks to get ready for our new addition.  They were relatively easy to move since they weren't buried in the ground.  The men-folk lifted them onto the back of one of our trailers and towed them across the yard to my Mom's house using the four-wheeler - yes, we're redneck y'all!  Our two largest pieces have become my Mom's new front room and the small one, her back porch.  She is tickled pink, I tell you!

If this weather holds out, we will have the beginnings of our new covered oasis beginning next weekend - fingers crossed!  I know Josh cannot wait to be able to come home and just hang out in it - my trucker is an outdoors man through and through.  The kids are going to love playing on it, too.

The other thing we are investing in is cleaning and reorganizing the inside of the house, and hopefully the storage building too!  I'm hoping praying that we are able to put new flooring in before Jackson begins crawling in the next few months.  This carpet desperately has to go and no better time than now!

This weekend, we began our investment (other than removing those decks) by purchasing a few key pieces for organizing.  We purchased shelves for the hallway, to make a closet where a closet should have been in the first place - no idea why there isn't one there.  We purchased a shelf to put in the water heater closet in our laundry room to make better use of that space.  We purchased fold outs for the sink front in the kitchen so I can put sponges inside.  We purchased baskets and baskets galore for creating DIY organizers in drawers and other spaces throughout the house.

My two favorite storage pieces are my 6 cube organizers that we purchased at Walmart.  They cost around $35 each and were easy to put together - yes, I built them myself.  I put one underneath the super-huge over-sized computer desk.  The other one goes underneath the table in the kitchen.  I plan to put items that we don't need daily under the desk, as well as linens.  The kitchen one will store my review items, desk stuff I need at hand, and extra kitchen junk I don't have other storage for.

It's a slow going process but in the end I think both Josh and I will be happy with our tax choices this year.  He will have his happy place outside and I will be happy inside with my organized house.  Both are investments worth making for a lifetime.

Handwriting Without Tears {Review}

Handwriting Without Tears is an award winning, world-renowned program created by Jan Olsen in 1977, while her son was struggling with first grade handwriting skills.  This easy-to-use, developmental elementary program has brought success in handwriting to millions of children for over 30 years now.  Every day children continue to overcome their handwriting fears thanks to this wonderful program.

Recently, Handwriting Without Tears has advanced their exceptional program to include a digital app called Wet Dry Try for Android and iPad.  Wet Dry Try includes handwriting skills for both capital letters and numbers.  It is a multi-sensory, interactive tool used to encourage better handwriting skills in young children, just like the original Handwriting Without Tears program.  This app encourages correct formation and orientation habits.

Wet Dry Try was created to appeal to many different learning and educational styles.  The app is in a game format that gives just the right amount of writing practice while still keeping the program fun.  Children work on one letter at a time, mastering the letter formation of that letter before moving ahead to a new letter.  Working in this way prevents and eliminates writing reversals commonly seen in handwriting.  A wooden frame, like an old fashioned slate and an imprint of a smiley face in the upper left corner of the frame help children learn orientation and correct formation.

From the Home screen, children can log in by choosing their name after inputting the correct information.  They can then choose between two games to learn their capital letters and numbers.  They can play Pick and Practice which will allow them to practice writing in any order or they can choose to play Winning Order to play using Handwriting Without Tear's developmental teaching order.

As children work through this app, they earn a star for each level they pass correctly.  With each star, the level's difficulty increases.  Once three stars are earned for the letter, the child then receives a letter card.

We used this app with our iPad generation 1.  It worked fine for us with a few mild issues.  We were not able to get our names registered in the program (app itself) and it had the occasional glitch that kicked us out of the program while using it.  I attribute the last issue to our iPad being full and needing to be cleared of excess apps that we are not using.

The Wet Dry Try app itself is a LOT of fun.  I personally played it when my children weren't looking.  My two older children also gave it a whirl and will continue to use it as an additive for handwriting around the house.  But for this review purposes, my four year old was the reviewer of this product.

Laycie is four, turning five in April.  Developmentally, she is about 3-6 months delayed due to health issues with her Epilepsy.  Handwriting is a skill that we are just beginning to get into with her.

Laycie found this app to be fun on the first star level but slightly frustrating, especially on the second and third star levels.  She enjoyed receiving the stars as she worked through the program.  She found the Handwriting Without Tears Winning Order portion to be overwhelming though, as she isn't ready for that much structure in handwriting at this time.  She enjoyed using  Pick and Practice, choosing the letters she wanted to give a try.  She became frustrated by having to stay on the "line" as she worked through different letters and of course, preferred the easier letters to the harder ones.  She was encouraged to keep using this app and asks daily to work on her letters.

As Mom and Teacher, I found this app to frustrate Laycie but I think with practice it will be extremely useful.  I felt she had a hard time staying on the letter line but also know that comes with practice.  I found the slate drawing and continued repeating of the letters to be helpful for Laycie and I can see how that will encourage her to perform better as she learns to write.  I will be using more of the Winning Order game with her as her skills further develop over the next year.  I will also continue to use the app with my older children to encourage better writing, but on a "fun" practice basis.

I believe this app would be perfect for children who have a little more practice with handwriting than Laycie has at this time.  It would also be perfect for use with occupational therapies, challenging children to follow the lines, and stay on the path, encouraging development in those necessary skills.  I also recommend this app to educators looking for more structure in handwriting to help build skills.

Handwriting Without Tears award winning program can be purchased online through their website.  The Wet Dry Try app can also be purchased, either on Android or iPad.  The iPad app is currently listed at $4.99 and is available in the App Store.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog!

Disclaimer - I received this app free for review from Handwriting Without Tears and the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest opinion of the product shared in a blog post on my blog.  I was not given money in exchange for this review.  I am including this disclaimer in accordance of FTC guidelines.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flowering Baby, LLC {Review}

Flowering Baby, LLC is a wonderful, fully interactive curriculum created by Martha Saunders and her inspirational mother, Carolyn Schulte.  Martha, a homeschooling mother of an energetic little boy, encouraged her Mother, a long-time public school educator, to write down her thoughts and ideas in hope to encourage others with her experiences and educational talents in child development.  Flowering Baby, LLC is the result of of that encouragement.
Flowering Baby, LLC, a whole child development approach for birth to five, has been created to go with a child's pace in learning, whether that be faster than average or slower, depending completely upon the child's needs.  This program is designed for an educator/parent to work with the child, from ages birth to five, for 20-40 minutes daily for 20 days a month on varied skills such as social, emotional, language, gross and fine motor and much more.  A solid and full foundation is the goal created through Flowering Baby Curriculum.

Flowering Baby, LLC is designed to be used with children from birth until five.  The first two years of this curriculum provide activities based upon age alone.  Beginning with age three, activities based upon Monthly sections and theme are provided.  These include Math, Science, Language, etc. and theme's are like mini-unit studies filled with information on various subjects.

Birth to One:

This section was created to be used for the first year of your child's life.  The activities in this year are simple and fun, designed to be used with common toys, household items and supplies.  Each day contains one activity, book and/or song that will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.  The purpose of this is to expose your baby to a variety of activities and sounds to encourage learning function within your infant.  Cost for this unit is $30.

Year two is about Exploration, as baby learns to walk, talk, and play even more.  The same as Birth to One, this curriculum year also includes one activity, book and/or song to work on and is designed to be used with common items around the house.  The goal of this year is to work on directional tasks, explore with sensory items like paint and tasting things, and encourage independence in your toddler.  Cost for this unit is $30

Two to Three: 

This is the year learning really begins, as your child develops even more skills and learns more about his capabilities in the physical world.  The goal of this year is to ensure that your child has a solid educational grasp of important learning concepts and structures through multiple activities.  This year covers shapes, numbers, letters, community helpers and so much more.  Cost for this unit is $30.

Three to Four:

At age three the curriculum introduces theme studies, along with the daily general education guide.  The general guide provides math, language, science, etc. and expands upon the concepts and activities learned during year Two to Three.  Theme guides are 24 mini-unit study like themes that are used throughout the year.  The curriculum suggests using 2 a month with six days of activities for each theme.  Cost for this unit is $38.

Four to Five: 

This age uses the same kind of daily general education guide and theme studies as the year before.  This year encourages a more thorough study of math, language, science, etc. than the previous years and encourages writing and recognition in the activities provided.  Cost for this unit is $38.

For this review, I chose to use two products: Birth to One and Four to Five.  I really enjoyed the concept of this curriculum.  I often find as a Mother to four children, that it is hard to come up with new, fun ideas to use with my kids during the day.  Flowering Baby, LLC helped that by providing me with a full activity to use each day.

It was honestly fun to have activities to do with Jackson that were classified as "educational" since he is only 5 months old.  The kids enjoyed knowing their baby brother also had "school" each days.  The activities were simple and fun things like stretches, songs to sing and do finger plays along with.  Food introduction was also included in activities throughout our lessons.  We read books like "Is Your Mama A Llama?" by Deborah Guarino and listened to classical music by Chopin and Mozart.  We played "Pat-A-Cake" and "This Little Piggy".

The best thing about this curriculum was that it allowed me to expand upon daily things that we already do by adding in new activities and also expand upon the curriculum by building upon the suggestions made in the lesson plans.  I completely recommend this year to all Moms but especially to those who are looking for ideas to use at home with their baby and who are completely new to Motherhood.

I used Four to Five with Laycie, my baby girl.  This particular curriculum year had two sections: Theme and general daily guide.  The general daily guide is a basic daily lesson plan while the theme section is a mini-unit study created to teach the child more about the subject at hand.  Themes can be chosen by interest for the child, or by monthly topic, or really however you'd like to chose it.  The general daily guide is set up to be followed as is for the most part.

Each of these curriculum years provides the needed materials per month on the first page of the lesson month.  This allows you, the educator, to gather books and materials needed before beginning the lessons.  It is a nice addition to assist in planning for the month ahead.

Laycie and I worked on the month of January for this review.  We worked through letters of the Alphabet which was something I had previously planned to do before we began this review.  We were able to practice letter writing following along with this guide, breaking each letter down to various days.  Numbers were completed the same way.

We read various fun children's stories all of which Laycie enjoyed.  There were a few books that we didn't have available to us but I was able to make our lessons work by subbing in a similar book to read.  This did not affected the concepts or lessons we did in any way.  The adaptability of this curriculum is a huge bonus and benefit to it's usefulness.

 Many of our activities got Laycie up and moving, which is a nice boost for our non-therapy days.  One of our lessons had her walking up and down steps, counting to ten as she did the lesson.  This provided much needed exercise for her and also made the lesson a little more fun then just rote counting of numbers.

The theme units we reviewed were Dinosaurs and Aquarium & Arctic Life.  Both included a suggested fun activity like going to an Aquarium or something fun to fit the theme itself.  Theme's were not long or unable to be accomplished but I did have to tweak a few things to make them work for us as I chose not to make a landscape table as the Dinosaur theme suggested.  Overall, the themes were really informative and a lot of fun for both Laycie and I.

Flowering Baby, LLC is a curriculum I will definitely continue to use with both Jackson and Laycie in the future.  It is also one that I will recommend to others to use at home with their little ones.  This curriculum was has been a great boost to our home lessons for the small ones and really enjoyed by each of them.

Flowering Baby, LLC can be purchased through their website at www.floweringbaby.com.  Each unit is a separate price and can be purchased in one large curriculum package.  Pricing is listed below:
Birth to One: $30
One to Two: $30

Samples of each curriculum year unit are available at www.floweringbaby.com.

For more reviews of Flowering Baby, LLC, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Disclaimer - I received a copy of Flowering Baby Five Year Curriculum in exchange for my honest opinion shared in a blog post review.  This product was provided by Flowering Baby, LLC and the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  No money was exchanged at any time during the review process.  All opinions are my own and that of my family.  I am including this disclaimer in accordance with FTC Regulations.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day: How Do You Share Love?

It's Valentine's Day, the day of love but love shouldn't be expressed just today.  Love is something one should express every day.  Showing others you love them can be done simply and in so many wonderful ways.

You can give a small gift to someone who is down.  Give flowers to your neighbor.  Bake a cake for a friend.  There are so many simple ways to show and share your love.

My children practice this every day.  It's rare for someone to stop by my house and not be gifted a specially created card or note from one of my littles.  They love to share snacks and candy too, when I allow them to, and when it comes to showing love to others, I always allow them to.

And of course, they too receive love in return for all they give.  A treat brought from their Aunt's house.  Small trinkets to collect.  Crayons or pens and papers to use to create the gifts they love to give.

What are some simple ways you share love in your day to day?  Share them below in a blog comment.  And much love to you today and always. <3 p="">

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Parent as Teacher... What An Idea?!

As a homeschool Mom and a review blogger, I tend to receive a lot of questions about curriculum and educational choices when it comes to homeschooling.  I am by no means an expert on either of these things but I do have strong beliefs of what homeschooling is intended to be.  That said, this is my personal two cents of what's what and does not reflect any opinion of the companies that I work for, or the friends that I have in this "business".

Homeschooling is meant to be school at home but in no way is it meant to be public school at home.  If you are looking to do public school at home, my best advice to you would be to join a Virtual School or Home Bound program or simply to leave your child enrolled in your local public school system.

If you really, truly want to home school then you must completely change your way of thinking.  

Consider this:  When you give birth to your sweet baby, you as the parent immediately become the main teacher of that child.  You don't have an instructor to really go by.  There is no one to educate you on what to do with your child.  Sure, you get helpful advice from those who have been there and done that but YOU are the one who decides whose advice to follow and generally parents follow the beliefs that are instilled inside them as being right.

When that child begins to grow and learn, it is you who helps them along.  It's you who shows that child how to roll over, providing the assistance needed to learn those skills.  It's you, the parent, who assists them in learning to sit, to eat, to sleep, to potty, to play, to love reading and so much more.  And they do learn from your efforts to teach them these necessary skills for life.

Then comes the age where the parent must send their child off to school.

Hold up... Why is that?  You, as the parent, have taught your child so many skills already, often without help from others.  You, as the parent, have managed for 4-5 years without a teacher guiding you on how to do these things.  Why is it, suddenly when your child reaches this age, you the parent are no longer skilled enough to continue to educate your child?

Let me tell you... you ARE skilled enough.  You ARE able to educate your child, in your home, on your time. And in my opinion, there is NOTHING better.

Now, I know someone out there is saying, I cannot afford to stay home with my child.  I understand that.  Some parents must work to provide for their child.  Some situations do not allow a parent to be able to find care for that child other than sending the child to school.  And some people just do not have the patience to educate their children.  I'm saying now, THIS BLOG POST IS NOT DIRECTED TO THOSE WHO CANNOT HOMESCHOOL.

It is however, directed to those who are considering homeschooling and second guessing themselves on this ideal.  You can homeschool.  It's worth the sacrifices.  It pays itself off in the end, emotionally and financially.  And guess what?  You've been homeschooling your child since the day they were born!

Think about that... really let it sink in: You've been homeschooling your child since the day they were born!

You, the parent, are your child's first teacher and you were meant to be their only teacher.  God (or whoever you believe in) equipped you to do the job of educator, to teach your child the things they need to know to live and survive in life.  You only have to try, to give yourself the chance to manage to educate your child and to enjoy the experience along with your child along the way.

If I can do this, and I have been for 12 years now, then anyone can.  You just have to make up your mind and take that first step to attempt to home school.  I promise you can do it!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What to blog, What to blog...

What to blog, what to blog?  This is a question I often find myself asking.  I simply have no clue what to write about at any point when I first begin.  Unless I am writing a product review that is.

A product review is a pretty obvious blog post.  I am going to tell you about how I used that product, how I liked that product, what I didn't like and how you can use it.  Simple stuff.  Easy peasy, as they say.

A normal blog post is not so easy.  I have to come up with a topic, an ideal that will capture my readers attention.  I must admit, I am not at all good at that!  My readers are often my friends and they enjoy hearing about our life and how things are going. But what about those people who just randomly stop in to read my blog?

They want to read something interesting.  Something that they can relate to.  They don't want to necessarily hear my ideals, or my opinions on life.  They want something substantial to read, just like I do when I'm visiting blogs around cyber space.

So how does one come up with a blog idea?  Research?  Asking a friend?  Stealing the idea off another blog?

I honestly have no clue but I keep chugging on with blogging and trying to come up with something that keeps my blog going and readers interested.  And I suppose that is all I can really do.

Until next post...


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