Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All About Homophones

Brought to you by the creator of All About Spelling (see review of AAS here), Marie Rippel has now published All About Homophones. This 240-page workbook takes children (suggested grades 1st-8th) through fun activities while they learn and test their knowledge of common homophones--words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. For the teacher the book provides worksheets of different kinds of graphic organizers, a list of suggested children's books that are helpful in learning homophones (great idea!), answer keys, and a master list of homophones used in the book as well as a long list of others. For the student there are fun fill-in-the-blank worksheets, ready-to-print-on-cardstock card games, crossword puzzles, riddles, puns, and tongue twisters. Also provided is a simple worksheet where the student can record the homophones they have learned in one list.

My final verdict: It is a fun workbook that can get kids excited about a pretty neat phenomenon in the English language! My daughter (grade K) enjoyed going through the activities for the homophones for grade 1 and some of grade 2. She even explained to her dad what homophones are and then quizzed him to see if he knows the difference between "be" and "bee" and "see" and "sea." What a blast to see her learn it, review it, and then teach it to someone else! The book is available in hardcopy as a softback workbook for $29.95 or as an E-book for $27.95. ALERT: Special offer that is good only until February 2, 2009: get $10 off any order of All About Homophones with coupon code FUN. See some sample pages from the workbook.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nana Star and the Moonman from ee Publishing and Productions

"It was a wonderful day for Nana Star to begin her journey to return the lost baby star to his home in the heavens." So begins the 26-page story of, Nana Star and the Moonman, by sisters Elizabeth Sills and Elena Patrice.

My final verdict: What I like: As children read the book they are asked to keep an eye out for a misspelled word. The explanation from the author in the introduction is that, "...we all make mistakes...only God can make all things perfect." I like how that immediately gives the child a reason to pay close attention to what they're reading, and I agree with the explanation.
What I did not like: This is the second book in a, so far, two book series. It is not a satisfying story on its own and reads more like a chapter rather than a book in its own right. A bigger issue than the quality of the story, for me, is its message. Once God is mentioned in the introduction, He is nowhere to be found in the actual story. Animal's are referred to as, "Nature's creatures, " and the moon is given the lofty responsibility of being Nana Star's guardian. "Do not be afraid, little Nana Star. Remember, I am the Moonman and I will be with you always. Even when you can't see me, I am with you, watching over you." This is walking a fine line between someone's idea of symbolism for God and elementary notions of New Ageism. The authors could have easily made sure that God was given the due credit as Creator of all creatures or as the One who can comfort Nana Star in times when she feels afraid. These are the truths that I am teaching my children in our home.

Though Nana Star, the Moonman, and ee Publishing and Productions have won quite a few awards, I am not a fan. I know that some may say that I'm reading things that aren't there. When it comes to my young children, I will not hesitate to err on the side of caution. The story sends a confusing mix of messages to young readers. When there are lots of God honoring choices in early children's literature available, I do not feel like I have to compromise by choosing a story like Nana Star and the Moonman.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Critical Thinking Co.

Are you a Critical Thinker? See if you can figure out the following:
  1. You have only an 8-liter jug and a 3-liter jug. Both containers are unmarked. You need exactly 4 liters of water. How can you get it, if a water faucet is handy?
  2. While relaxing on the deck outside her cabin one summer evening, Vivian fell into a deep trance-like sleep. When she awoke, she felt as if she had slept only an hour or two, but it was now the middle of winter. How could this be?

The Critical Thinking Co. offers products that will help children develop and strengthen critical thinking skills. I had the opportunity to use one of their titles: Building Thinking Skills- Primary.

The Primary book is for Grades K-1. This large volume, 265 pages broken down into eleven chapters, begins with describing shapes and ends with making analogies. The first four chapters on shapes does require the use of attribute blocks and interlocking cubes available for separate purchase on the website. Children learn to describe a shape by color, size, location (middle, first, last, left, right, top, bottom, above, and below), and to be able to write the descriptions as well. They match, compare, and sequence shapes. Finally, children learn to group, sort, and classify shapes. Starting in Chapter 5 and going all the way to the end of the book, using the skills already learned about describing, sequencing, and classifying, children begin to organize information about family members, food, animals, occupations, vehicles, and buildings.

My final verdict: This book is a fantastic resource to get my daughter thinking critically! I like how it gets her to look at attributes to organize and classify. It is a fun way to begin to learn to look at information and make sense of it. Some downers: This workbook is expensive ($29.99) and the necessary blocks and cubes make it an even larger investment ($20.99 and $11.99). The workbook is non-reproducible, so one per child is necessary. The pages are not perforated. It soon becomes difficult to write, trace, and color when the child's hand is resting on the large lump of book spine due to the workbook's many pages. My solution? This is a workbook that I will probably end up chopping off the binding, three-hole-punching, and putting in a ringed binder so that my daughter can work on the pages individually without burden. Is this book worth the cost? I believe so. Yes it's pricey, but I believe it's money well spent to get a child off to a good start learning basic skills for thinking critically...and the workbook makes it FUN! The Critical Thinking Co. has LOTS of books and software to exercise the brain. Check them out, and find out the answers to the two questions above and more to see if you ARE a Critical Thinker!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bible Story Songs

Raise your hand if you've ever been subjected to a single children's music CD for so long that you have memorized each song in its playlist order, the lead and accompanying parts and can even imitate the instruments at times tempting you to seriously consider pitching said CD from the open window of your vehicle while driving at highway speeds. Anyone?! Ok, I think I'm not alone in this.
So I get this new CD in the mail from Bible Story Songs to listen to and to review...Moses, Volume 1- The First 80 Years. My oldest daughter is THRILLED! First question out of her mouth, "Can we listen to it in the car??" Put on your seat we go.

My final verdict: Ok, ok...I admit it, I love this CD. I mean it! It is really, REALLY good! The songs take you through the first 80 years of Moses' life, from his birth to his leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. The music and lyrics are great and are, for the most part, sung and narrated by (older) children. I like that these songs are new--I've never heard them before, AND they follow the Biblical story of Moses--with some scripture memory! Yes, we've listened to this CD more than I'd like to admit, and I have had to swap it out with other music from time to time, but I don't have the urge to chuck it out the window of my moving vehicle...very happy about that!
Check out Bible Story Songs. Their other albums include Volume 2 for Moses, two on the book of Matthew, one about the Bible, and one on David. They also have song books and sheet music that accompany the CD's available for purchase. Think about picking up a handful of CD's for yourself, for friends, and as kid's party gifts as they do give volume discounts!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Math Mammoth

This is my first year homeschooling, and my first student is a Kindergartner. I have looked at a few different math curricula for her--Math-U-See, Saxon, Singapore, workbooks from Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store. I had never heard of Math Mammoth until I was given the opportunity to review one of their products. If you have children in grades K-8, keep reading.

I reviewed Math Mammoth's Lightblue Series Grade 1 with my daughter. It is a complete one-year curriculum provided in PDF format for instant download and printing at my leisure. The first half of the year is broken down into three chapters (see a sample here):
  1. Chapter 1: Addition Within 0-10
  2. Chapter 2: Subtraction Within 0-10
  3. Chapter 3: Addition and Subtraction Facts

Addition starts off with showing the student how to separate a total of something into two groups (ex.: 4 balls can be grouped as 0 and 4, 1 and 3, 2 and 2, 3 and 1, and 4 and 0). My daughter circled the groups. Sometimes she was asked to write the dots on a die face or to count simple pictures in each group. She learned the symbols in an addition equation (+ and =) as well as being able to tell which is more using greater than or less than. She has now gone over and understands adding with zero, filling in a missing addend, using a number line, solving simple word problems, doubling a number, filling out an addition table, and using equal to or not equal to. We have finished Chapter 1 and will be moving on to Chapter 2. Though we will not finish the second half of the year until my daughter is officially in first grade, it is broken down into the following five chapters (see a sample here):

  1. Chapter 4: Place Value Within 0-100
  2. Chapter 5: Clock
  3. Chapter 6: Shapes and Measuring
  4. Chapter 7: Adding and Subtracting Within 0-100
  5. Chapter 8: Coins

My final verdict: Math Mammoth is challenging, in a good way, for my daughter! I really like it! I found that it moves at a good pace. Within each lesson there is a bit of a review on previous concepts and/or concepts are introduced in a few different ways. Every couple of lessons there is a lesson set aside to practice the learned skills. There is plenty of room for my daughter to write her answers and just enough color on a page to add interest without draining my color printer cartridge. I will say that there is not much explanation for the teacher on how to teach a concept. For this level, Grade 1, I do not find it a problem (and actually I enjoy figuring out ways to teach to my daughter in ways I know she will understand best...using object, pictures, explaining things in practical terms). I really like that even at this early stage word problems are introduced. Word problems seem to forever haunt people in all areas of their lives. I've explained to my daughter that there's not much use for "knowing" all these math facts if you can't use them in everyday life. The word problems are great for getting her used to using what she's learned in her lessons and applying it to situations she sees inside and outside of home: toys on a shelf, books in a bag, two friends sharing crayons, slices of bread needed for sandwiches, etc.

We will be continuing on with Math Mammoth. I like the different ways it introduces and illustrates math concepts, and I am impressed with my daughter's progress and performance since we've been using the program. Go see all that Math Mammoth has to offer on the website. The cost is very, very reasonable and package deals are available. Sign up for the newsletter and get access to free worksheets!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


What do a donkey, a caterpillar, an eagle, a frog, and a gorilla have in common? They're all characters that your child will meet as he learns to play the piano online with reading necessary!

Karri Gregor has created KinderBach for ages 2-7 as an introduction to playing the piano. The online course is broken down into two years: Levels 1-3 for year one (30 weeks total) and Levels 4-6 for year two (also 30 weeks). Each Level is divided into 10 weeks, and each week has an Introduction video and four different lessons. The introduction lets you know what skills will be learned that week and the supplies needed (scissors, paste, rhythm instrument, etc). The individual lessons vary in length, but they seem to be around 5 minutes long give or take a minute or so. Print outs for each lesson are provided in PDF format. While having a real piano would be nice, a small and inexpensive keyboard works just fine with this program.

My final verdict: My five-year-old daughter went through the entire first year, Levels 1-3. She was able to comfortably complete an entire week's worth of lessons in one sitting, taking about 30 minutes from start to finish. She enjoyed the variety of activities that she got to do: coloring, cutting, pasting, listening exercises, counting, matching, using rhythm instruments and playing the keyboard. KinderBach teaches children to find keys on the keyboard by associating different characters (whose names begin with the same letter as the key) with them. This made it fun and easy for my daughter to memorize the location of the white keys. In Levels 1-3 she learned the following, as taken right from KinderBach's website:

Level 1

  • - Familiarity with the black and white keyboard landscape.
  • - Aural discrimination of high and low sounds as well as loud and quiet.
  • - Music term “Piano” means quiet or soft.
  • - Quarter note, half note and the beat value of these symbols in common time.
  • - Keeping the beat with rhythm instruments and on the piano.
  • - Distinguishing left and right hands.
  • - Finger numbers for playing keyboard.
  • - Introduction to songs that will be used for Kodaly Solfege.
  • - Introduction to pre-Staff note reading by patterns.

Level 2

  • - Review all concepts from Level 1
  • - Characters for C, D, & E and their location on the keyboard.
  • - Emphasize relationship of the character to their letter name.
  • - Play simple songs with these notes.
  • - Aural discrimination of high, middle, and low sounds.
  • - Music terms “Piano” and “Forte”.
  • - Identify simple rhythms.
  • - Introduction of two Solfege terms.
  • - Play pre-Staff note patterns on the keyboard.

Level 3

  • - Review all previous concepts.
  • - Add characters for F & G and their location on the keyboard.
  • - Emphasize relationship of the character to their letter name.
  • - Play simple songs with these notes.
  • - Aural discrimination for music direction.
  • - Eighth notes and their beat value in common time.
  • - Addition to Solfege terms.
  • - Proper hand and finger position at the piano.
  • - Addition to pre-Staff note patterns and playing them on the keyboard.
  • - Identify pre-Staff note patterns by ear.
  • - Clap back simple rhythms.

I sat in on all of her lessons, and she really did learn all that is listed in the syllabus. My daughter's favorite part, and the most rewarding for all piano students everywhere, is when she learned new songs and could play them all on her own. Whenever we come across a piano or keyboard in a store or friend's home now she immediately plays what she knows. How cool! It was convenient not to have to leave the house to go to a lesson. I could replay any part of the lesson we wanted, either to go back over a concept or to practice a piece of music with Karri. I was able to pause the instruction while my daughter colored as part of the lesson so that she didn't miss anything. My only concern, because I have taken traditional piano lessons in my past, is the concept of timing not being a focus. The references to beat are just a bit confusing (strong, medium, and weak beats?) . It was emphasized to me that music is all about timing. I guess I am just wondering whether it will be a rude awakening for my daughter once she takes more advanced lessons. Overall, though, I think KinderBach is a great program! It's economical, convenient, fun for the kids, and the learning comes easy in the format in which it's presented. Karri has a great on-screen personality that my daughter really enjoyed. You can try out the first two weeks absolutely FREE! See KinderBach's website for a lot more information on the program and pricing options.

Contest winner!

A very big Thank You to Stacy for writing an email in response to my contest. She has won an autographed-by-the-author copy of Daily Focus: A Devotional for Homeschoolers by Homeschoolers. I am excited to have her as an accountability partner throughout this year. Stacy, I hope you enjoy the Daily Focus devotional, and thanks for being an encouraging Sister in Christ!