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Monday, December 22, 2008

TOS review: www.Puppetools.com

Jeff Peyton, the inventor of Puppetools, deeply believes in the importance of using play in education. He has devoted years of his life to research supporting his beliefs. His website at http://www.puppetools.com/ is a wealth of information on using play in the classroom to prevent learning from becoming drudgery.

His site contains a few free downloadable puppet patterns, sections for parents and educators, ideas from not only classroom teachers but students themselves, and many videos and photos of finished puppets being used in the classroom.

He is the creator of the "paper talker hinge" system, which makes his puppets very unique.
I felt our family did not benefit as much from this product as I had hoped. Being a highly creative person with a large and active childhood imagination, I already strongly believed in the theories Mr. Peyton suggests. I already know the benefits of hands-on and active educational learning versus traditional workbook learning. So much more is retained when children actively do. My problem is not lack of creativity or disbelief in the theory so much as it is finding the time to do the fun learning activities in the midst of all the routine school work load that has to be done. The good thing about Puppetools is that puppets are shown used in unit studies, circle time, and so much more. It might be that there is time for puppet play in my home after all, depending on how easily they can be worked into our daily core studies.

I cannot see however, spending money on a subscription to this site when I can do well on my own searching for free puppet patterns via Google. I am very fond of making crafts that last rather than those that fall apart quickly and end up in the trash. I am afraid that paper puppets would not hold up well in my home. As another mom said, it'd be simple to use brown paper bags and free puppet ideas online to make puppets to go along with your studies.

I also had trouble getting the many videos to load fast enough on my dial-up connection. That might deter a few families in itself, as it seems much of the knowledge found on the site is hidden in the depths of the videos. The videos also allow us to "meet" Mr. Peyton as he explains his ideas.

Of course, other families might find the information presented well worth the cost, particularly if they are involved in a homeschool co-op or church puppet ministry.

You can get a trial subscription lasting 60 days for $20. This might be an option for parents to really delve into the site; as for me, I cannot see myself spending that much to try it.

For those involved in groups who can split the cost, up to 30 users can pay $99. This seems to be a much better option for trying Puppetools.

If you have any questions, Mr. Peyton seems to be very knowledgeable and friendly to our TOS Crew group of reviewers, and I feel confident he would love to help you in any way he can.


TOS review: Let's Make a Web Page!

MotherBoardBooks.com teaches "Let's Make a Webpage!"

Phyllis Wheeler of http://www.motherboardbooks.com/ has written this simple but highly informative E-book for 8-12 year olds to teach them, step by step, how to make their own webpages. She asks the question: if kids in public schools get to use the computer lab (or in eleven states, MUST take a computer course to graduate), shouldn't your children also be taught computer science at home? Her answer is yes, resounding through her website's many offerings of programs perfect for homeschooling children to use.

Although "The Computer Lady", as she is called, has geared this e-book towards an upper elementary-middle school age bracket, I found it highly useful as well. I have no web page design skills whatsoever, beyond using easy page builders at sites such as geocities.com. I barely understood codes and HTML at all, until using this e-book.

I couldn't believe how easy the book was to read through and understand. A motivated child over the age of 10 could complete every activity in this e-book with very little parental help.
Ms. Wheeler begins in lesson one by having the child interview someone. This interview is supposed to be the basis for the website. My son chose an entirely different topic to use...the plan of salvation. It doesn't make any difference, really, what topic the website is covering, as long as it is something the child enjoys talking about. In lesson two the reader is directed to download a free trial of Coffee Cup Software's HTML Editor. You will use this software to finish the remainder of the project. Once you have the software installed, you are off and running! Lessons 3-10 cover such topics as adding text, making tables, adding photos, animations and backgrounds; and finally, posting your work. You learn many terms concerning HTML and publishing that you might not have known before. And Ms. Wheeler makes you feel as if she is in the room with you, gently coaxing you on as you read the instructions.

I felt the book was very clearly written and easy to follow. I felt is was well worth my time to test this product and I am hoping to allow my son to finish up his webpage over holiday break.

The author also provides two additional links to free editing programs you may choose to use in place of the Coffee Cup HTML Editor.

Other computer education books are sold at http://www.motherboardbooks.com/, such as Logo Adventures and Computer Science Pure and Simple.

This program can be used on a PC (including Vista) or a Mac with Parallels Desktop.

The price for Let's Make a Web Page is $29.99.Currently this is discounted as an introductory special to $19.99. There is also a 30-day money-back guarantee.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

reviewing www.ALEKS.com

Taken from the www.ALEKS.com website:

ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) can provide you with the instruction and support you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. ALEKS is accessible from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a flexible and mobile educational solution for your children.
  • ALEKS is a Research-Based Online Math Program:
    Complete Curriculum Solution for Math - One Subscription Allows Access to All Courses
    No Textbook Required
    Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
    Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
    Automated Reports Monitor Learning Progress
    Unlimited Online Access - PC & Mac Compatible

And now Lynn says...

I can't believe I forgot to review ALEKS! I completely missed my deadline. For some reason, a load of TOS reviews were due in December, which made it a little trickier to stay on top of it all.

I had been faithfully writing my review deadlines on our family calendar, but this one slipped right by me. I never even wrote it down. I just noticed it was due last Wednesday! What's so sad is that I just got moved up from an alternate to an official TOS crew member, so I now have this late review tarnishing my super-cool writer image. ;)

So here are my many personal thoughts on ALEKS math:

I have tried so many math curricula over the years. We've used dept. store worksbooks, ABEKA, SOS, and a lot of Saxon. Math is not my strong point. I am getting better at it the more I teach it to the kids, but it isn't something I really enjoy. I'm more of the history/literature type girl. My school years were filled with math anxiety. I think it all began in third grade when I stayed sick repeatedly, and kept missing key concepts I needed to build upon in higher grades. Nowadays I would panic if I had to count back change at a yard sale! It would bring back memories of standing at the blackboard with all those eyes boring into the back of your head when the answer just isn't there. Wow, this fear runs deep....maybe I need some ALEKS help, too. The good thing is I believe it is available for parents to use as well.

I never want my children to feel so inadequate about a school subject. I am hoping that if we continue to use ALEKS for math, that will compensate for my own short-comings while giving them a firm foundation. Besides, it makes me feel "safe" to know that math is covered, freeing me up to do those unit studies that I so enjoy. As with www.time4learning.com, having the boys be able to do a portion of each day online is such a benefit to this busy mom's schedule. It gives me time to spend with our preschooler and any daycare children that might be here. And I know my son's time on ALEKS is serious stuff; ALEKS is not a game site.

In fact, you won't see flashy videos and bright colors on ALEKS. At first glance, ALEKS seems rather bland. But my 8th grader likes the simple screen, with only one problem at a time. He says its less distracting and overwhelming for him, and I can see from his progress reports that it must be true, because he is learning. We have been able to try him briefly in both middle school math level 3 and now pre-algebra.

Let me tell you some of the pros of using ALEKS.com:
First of all, the child who will be using ALEKS must begin with an assessment, usually 15-30 math problems. If the child comes upon a concept they are unfamiliar with, they can choose an option which says, "I haven't learned this yet." The ALEKS system uses artificial intelligence to track the child's progress and keep track of what he has/hasn't learned. After this initial assessment, the child is given his own pie chart. It is broken down into sections and as the child completes problems from the sections correctly, the slices are colored in, making it easy for the child to chart his own progress. Nick likes the pie; everyday when he logs in, his screen goes directly to his pie where he clicks on a "slice" (subtopic) he needs to work on. He feels he is in control of his math course just by getting to pick the topic of the day. He may choose geometry, fractions, decimals, etc. I like that the artificial intelligence is used for assessment and daily work. I really feel that feature accurately shows exactly what my son knows and where he needs help or review.

For the child who is overwhelmed by pages with 30-50 problems on them, the one-problem-at-a-time approach is simplistic and works wonders. No more tears! Some might find the lack of color dull but when a child is easily distracted, the simple design of the screen makes it easier to focus on the task at hand.

Not only can the child see his pie and progress recorded there, but parents can see a list of state standards and a comparison chart of how their child's progress stands up to those standards.

For those who like to see some paperwork or need to keep paperwork for evaulautions, there are printable worksheets.

And for extra review, ALEKS has a feature called Quick Tables which is meant to be a way to review and drill math facts, such as multiplication tables.

My cons to using ALEKS are that between letting one son use ALEKS and the other Time4learning, we will be acruing a lot of fees for subscriptions and spending an awful lot of time online. I have mentioned before that since we have dial-up, this too, can be a problem. We have three computers in our home but if any one of us is online, no one else can be. If we get DSL, this will no longer be a problem. In the meantime, family and friends will continue to suffer through the Callwave internet answering machine.

Secondly, your child doesn't get an actual letter or number grade off ALEKS. You can see on the pie chart the completed work; as the pie concepts are mastered, they care colored in. But in some states parents may find that they need to somehow assign a grade for evaluations. I would record A's as long as the pie shows that math is being completed sucessfully daily.

Third, the cost of ALEKS can be pricy for a one-income family. You can get ALEKS for $19.95 per month per child or pay for 6-months at the cost of $99.95. With one child so close to the dreaded high school years, I have to weigh the cost. SOS would be less expensive, but we used an older, bought off Ebay version for 4th grade and it had so many glitches that I have shyed away from it since (of course, newer versions may not have this problem--I'd be happy to snag a free copy to use and review, dear Alpha Omega company). Teaching Textbooks is another option for higher math, but it too, seems pricey. I have come to the conclusion that higher math, when mom must rely on a system to teach it anyway, will cost plenty. However, it must be done and I want it done well. Since I am so frugal in other areas of homeschooling, and since our unit studies cost so little, perhaps it will be workable to keep both ALEKS for the remainder of this year at least. I know my son loves it, is respoding well to it, and feels more confident in his math skills. He used to shudder at the thought of pre-algebra but now asks when he can do his daily math. I would love to use ALEKS all the way through high school if I can.

By the way, we aquired a free trial of ALEKS via The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Anyone can get a free trial, however, just by paying ALEKS a visit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems products review

I got the most awesome package from Trigger Memory Systems
(http://www.triggermemorysystems.com/) to review. I know I get excited about all of my home school reviews as they arrive but when it comes down to it, after using some products for a week or so, it is harder to be as enthusiastic about them. I have tested many wonderful programs that simply don't fit with our family or are very hard to implement. Not Zone Cleaning or Times Tales...I can easily see these products being useful to quite a few families, whether homeschooling or not, and I found all of the books very easy to use once I got some time to try them.

What I received were 3 flip chart books on cleaning for kids and times tables. These cleaning books-Laundry for Kids, Bedroom Cleaning for Kids, and the WONDERFUL Zone Cleaning for Kids-were the first items we tried. The cleaning books are meant to be used with a wipe-off marker so kids can keep track of their progress. But please don't think these are your run-of-the-mill chore checklists; these books teach, yes teach your children in a very understandable and usable manner, proper cleaning techniques.

The laundry book goes step by step from gathering and sorting laundry all the way to the actual use of the washing machine and how to fold and sort the dried clothing. The bedroom cleaning book teaches children to use a system of 4 baskets to sort items into for returning to either their proper location or to go into the trash bin, laundry room , etc. But first, kids begin with making a messy pile. My kids loved this. Making a mess only to turn and clean it sounds counter-productive. But its really simple genius. Children work their way around their rooms, putting all loose items into the messy pile. They then sort the messy pile using the 4 basket technique, return items from the baskets to their destination, and follow up with some simple chores such as emptying wastebaskets and making the bed. Voila! Clean room, efficient, and fast as well.

My very favorite of the three cleaning books is the Zone Cleaning book. We have yet to implement the system, but we have read over and discussed the book's methods and we plan to begin it over the holidays. How it works is the house is divided into zones, such as kitchen, bath, and living room. You can assign a child a zone to monitor for one week. Each day the book shows the child which chores to do in that zone, and then leaves a check-off box for them to keep track of their completion of the work. For example, the bathroom zone has kids (or parents) completing 3 steps every day during the week, such as "tidy up", "wash and disinfect", and "empty trash". After these three steps are complete the zone monitor (my chosen title) is to do another special day-of-the-week job such as mopping and sweeping on Monday, scrubbing the tub on Tuesday, scrubbing the toilet on Wednesday, etc.

At our house we do a few chores everyday but often get behind during the week as we run to and fro. Then we spend 2-3 hours every weekend giving the house a thorough cleaning. I can't wait to try this plan, assigning kids a zone and then setting aside 15 minutes or so each day to do our zone cleaning. This might be a nice time to put on some praise music and boogie with the broom! I think we'll have to get in the habit of doing this everyday but in the end, this will mean one larger chunk of free time on the weekends. Who can argue with that?

I am even thinking of making a spin-the-wheel type chart to assign zones randomly so we can each have a turn taking care of the various zones. This will give the kids a chance to learn to better care for the whole house.

Now, Trigger Memory Systems also has your multiplication woes covered with its book Times Tales. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of this book but when it hit my brain, I could've kicked myself as its simplicity. I was making it too hard, but my visual learner took to it immediately. He picked right up on the concept, and just by reading through the story a few times every day for about three days, he has memorized all the multiplication problems covered thus far. On the first page the child sees very simple illustrations made from numbers. a three looks like a butterfly, a snowman is number 8, and 4 is a chair. These illustrations pop up in a series of simple tales that aid in fact memorization. For example, 9x3=27 is taught by a drawing of a butterfly (#3) flying past a tree house (#9) and she sees a treasure in a box, which is equal to is 27 cents. So in the child's mind he sees that when 3 and 9 are together in the picture, you always get 27. 8x4=32 is illustrated with Mrs. Snowman (number 8) climbing on a chair (number 4) to reach her 3 buttons and 2 mittens on the shelf, thus 8x4=3, 2 or 32. Once the stories for part 1 have been mastered, you use flashcards with the characters on them to reinforce the facts. This is followed by a test. The instruction manual that comes with the set contains all the flash cards and tests to use, plus additional crossword puzzles, discussion questions, and games for reviewing the clues.

If your child is a visual learner who has struggled with times tables I urge you to give this simple system a try. Not every child learns the multiplication tables by repeating boring facts aloud. Or by writing them over and over. Some children need to use word-picture association to recall facts and for such a child, I really believe this system could mean the difference between tears and success.


Little Elves 3rd Annual Workshop

This was the smallest workshop I've ever had, attendance wise, but I think it was the most fun so far. Every year kids from our church, homeschool group, etc. gather at my home to work on making gifts for people. I always charge about $15 and the kids usually come home with 5 completed gifts, ready to wrap. Its not really a money-maker for me, but it benefits me in numerous other ways that make it well worth it: it gives me happy children on which to test craft ideas, I can buy enough supplies to include my own children as well, and hey, its CRAFTING!!! Yay! Need I say more? ;)

This year Oriental Trading threw a glitch in my system when my supply order (sent to them on Dec. 2) didn't arrive on time. In fact, it arrived one day AFTER my class! Ugh! So last minute I had to tally revamp my list of crafts, try to stay on budget, and hope parents were okay with the new crafts. Thanks to a few good friends baling me out by cleaning out their own personal stash of craft supplies and throwing ideas at me, I was able to make it. Donna, who is always saving the day it seems, stuck around to help with the class and I am so glad she did. I got sick during the class and had to take a breather and she jumped right in and took over for me. Thank you all!

We ended up making more than 5 items and in fact, I have some supplies left to possibly offer the class one more time before Christmas. So if you missed out and would like your children to come, email me or call and see how my supplies are going. Perhaps we can still work in a few kiddos over break.

We made a painted glass ball ornament (beautiful!), a lighted snowman "lamp", spiced tea mix, holiday guest soaps, a pampered foot care basket in refreshing peppermint scent, a book marker, picture frame, and a bottle cap necklace. Whew! it took us about 3 hours with drying time but all the kids seemed happy with their crafts. I always enjoy being with them, especially watching the faces of those who are truly excited about it, like me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Spears Art Curriculum K-8 CD

For more information on Spears Art Curriculum by Diane S. Spears, Ed.D. Christian Education, Artist, visit http://www.spearsartstudio.com/

I am not an artist. Let me repeat: I am not an artist, at all. Now I am a crafter, an avid crafter who enjoyed art in my school days so long ago, but I am not an artist. So I am always excited when I have the chance to send my homeschooled children to art lessons taught by an art teacher, since I know our home experiences in that subject area will likely be greatly lacking.

I am a firm believer in creativity; writing for pleasure, drawing, painting, crafting, building, sculpting, playing an instrument, and singing. Over the years I have bought four or five art programs in the hopes I would actually use them and spur this kind of creativity on in my kids. I have drawing books in my cabinet, as well as art ideas books and multitudes of craft books.

We begin the year with high hopes of doing weekly art lessons using these books, and we often do accomplish some lessons in the first month or so. But I find that my biggest challenge is not the mess we make or that trying to teach art intimidates me---it is that I find art time-consuming when we already have so much core curriculum to cover. As the weeks turn into months it never fails that I feel so pressured to cover Bible, language, and math, that I skip the manipulatives, educational board games, and yes, art. You know, the fun learning activities that are hands-on and actually stick with the children. Of course, this is followed by guilt. I again spent money on supplies that I didn't use, and I know that my children and I enjoy those hands-on projects as a sort of family bonding time. I recall the few art lessons we have done with fondness, remembering little tousled heads bent over papers, with intense frowns on faces as the chubby fingers swirled on paint and emblazoned the pages with splashes of color from acrylics and oils. Those moments when no one was fighting, all were creating. There was no right or wrong way to do it; you just made it all your own. I still treasure those masterpieces. I know how important art is to my children's education. I know it can be relaxing, peaceful even, a way to briefly escape. So why don't we do it more? Lack of time is really my art-enemy.

So then, what would make this time-pressed mom be able to really have an art lesson and stick with a curriculum? First, I need well-planned lessons with clear-cut instructions, materials lists, and objectives, and secondly I need it to cover all my children's ages (preferably having them work together on the same project when possible). I need all the hard work to be done for me, so I can pick up the curriculum and go, and easily make art a part of our weekly school time. I need it to use various materials I might already have on hand. I need it to be cost-effective. I need it to be balanced, a blend of arts and crafts. And I need it to be well-written so that this mom with no art background whatsoever can effectively teach the subject without adding more stress to my day.

For last year's art I was able to take advantage of some wonderful classes taught to our homeschool group from a certified art teacher. We discovered, to our disappointment, that she had decided to take this year off to spend time with her own children. I just knew art was over. Then I got a CD copy of an art curriculum from Spears Art Studio.

I was at first overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information contained on the disk, everything from a scope and sequence to a Q&A section, to a glossary of art terms to a supply list. These helpful tools come in addition to charts and tables for each lesson to help you keep it all organized, an article on why art is actually good for your brain, art-to-history connections, 35 weekly themes with 137 patterns to print and use and more than 260 activities, all from a God-centered viewpoint. The lessons and activities can be printed for use in your home or in a co-op setting, and only costs $39.95 plus SH. If you like, you can purchase a printed volume of the same lessons in black and white inside a binder, plus you'll also get a copy of the CD with color pages to print as needed for $134.99.

Keep in mind this curriculum is for grades k-8 and is enough for years to come, making it very economical.

The themes are seasonal but you can use the lessons as you please, any time of the year. Lessons are broken down by age level so while every age level’s activities are connected to the weekly theme, the children might be doing projects that are very different. This can be easily adapted to fit into the homeschool family's levels and ages by doing the same project on easier or more difficult levels.

For example, when my children and I covered one of September's themes, Awareness of Season, rather than letting my children each do the projects in their own grade level which tied into the central theme, I picked one lesson ("Leaf Windows" from grade 3) and allowed all three children to try it. It was very easy to complete the lesson and the children enjoyed making their pictures. Another day we tried an October lesson called Stained Glass Still Life where the children used glue to outline a still life they had previously drawn, and then filled in the outlines with bright oil pastels....beautiful , simple, but something I would never have thought to do. My oldest son who is in the eight grade tried his hand at a lesson on making a paper human body model, posing him, and then sketching him. Soon my third grader had to so the same.

My children are enjoying this. I am finding it easy to use. I really think I could add art back into our week with this curriculum. I believe it could easily be used following the season's themes or by simply picking a topic at random. I can see how it would fit into our unit studies (and finding a matching themed art lesson to go along with my units is very easy to do with the table of contents and overview for each month). This curriculum could be used for years without repeating lessons. I know that my third grader and preschooler will be able to cover each lesson for each grade level throughout their entire elementary school education. Worth the money? You can be sure it is at my house!

There are many other bonuses in this curriculum, including year-long ongoing projects you can opt to complete like a Noah's Ark/flood study.

There are lessons on Ms. Spears site for highschoolers as well, so the whole family can get a complete art foundation. There is really no way to fully describe this full curriculum, so check it out for yourself at http://www.spearsartstudio.com/.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Very busy day

I went to bed very late this morning, about 2:30 AM. I am glad that my Etsy store sales are beginning to perk up but it makes for some late-night custom craft orders. I had to finish some wooden letter plaques for a mom in Washington and some baby ducky soaps for a mom in NY. Then I wanted to piddle a bit so I got out some supplies and made some new items, as well as finishing some that were already in progress. I tried my hand at making a simple charm bracelet, making soap cupcakes with soap frosting, some whipped bath butter, and made some more bathrub jelly. I wish I had more professional packaging and better photos of my goods. Maybe someday...

I learned to make playdough soap and that is pretty neat; I only have to figure out a way to keep it from hardening so I can package it for sell or to give as gifts.

After sleeping in and having completed only two and one half hours of school time this morning (which is actually okay because I worked the kids two extra hours last week knowing this week would be CRAZY!), we went to our homeschool group Christmas party. Lots of fun as always! Thanks to Angela, Debra and Jeremy, and the church at Northside.

From there it was off the the orthodontist to fix a broken spring on Nick's braces, followed by a short jaunt back home to check emails, put the dog back into the fenced area, feed all animals, gather supper for DH, and then gather all my soap making supplies. Had to be at the church by 7 pm to do a class where I had the privilege of teaching some very basic soap-making to a portion of our homeschool group kids and moms. Tomorrow I get to do it again! It is something I enjoy and hope to work into a party-plan program very soon. I think they all had fun; I know I did.

Afterwards I sat with our homeschool co-op's co-director (who are we kidding with this "co" business? She does ALL the work! :) ) to fill out completion certificates for our party on Wednesday.

Back at home by 10-ish to eat a very late supper (Taco Bell), get kids to bed, and write a review for The Old Schoolhouse magazine. Whew! (I would love to hit the kitchen to make that new whipped fluff soap I saw or try those new bottlecap bracelets I have supplies for, or read that homeschooling mag I got in the mail but I physically can't because my eyes are crossing!) Once again it is 2 AM. I am drained! Where did my day go? And I have to start again in the morning. As Scarlet said (and I need to recall more often), "Tomorrow is another day." Some things can wait. 'Night night, ya'll.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

review of Rime to Read

I invite parents of preschoolers and early elementary students to take a look at this new online reading program called Rime to Read (http://www.rimetoread.com/).

This program uses virtual books of "rimes" to teach reading. Yes, I said rimes, not rhymes. Rimes are word families such hat, cat, Pat, mat. These books are based on these rime patterns rather than phonemes (separate letter sounds such as a,t) because children supposedly can hear and distinguish them more easily.

Your beginning or remedial reader can use the program to learn the basics of reading or to practice and master a concept that has been difficult to grasp. It is suggested by the company that children under 4 are not taught reading at all. But if you have a child who is ready to learn and already knows most of his consonant sounds, then he is ready to use Rime to Read.

By the time your child reaches the program's end, she will have been taught single syllable short vowel words from 20 word families and 46 high-frequency words. The rimes are color-coded which makes this program unique and especially easy to use. For example, the first book (which is available for free to sample) is called Pat. The -at rime is blue so on each page, anytime the -at rime appears it will be blue. Learning the rimes in this color-coded fashion is particularly appealing to the visual learner, but can certainly help any child recall the sounds of the rimes.

In each book on the inside cover page you'll find suggestions for using the book. Also included in each book are sight words and the pattern word list for review (these words might be put on index cards with the rimes colored as in the book, and used for simple flash cards). The colored portion of each word in the rime pattern can be spoken aloud by the program as well, thus reinforcing the sounds again. Now you are reaching the child who not only learns visually but audibly as well.

There are simple, non-distracting illustrations on the pages, and the books are short and easy to read in a sitting.

The company has some recommendations for using Rime to Read, such as reading the books in order, reviewing previous books, reading for accuracy of at least 90-95% of the rimes before progressing, making the flash cards (or Go Fish or concentration games from the word lists) for those who need extra support, and waiting at least one day between the books before introducing a new one.

This cumulative 20-book program can be printed for your child or read on your computer directly. You can purchase the entire 20-book set or purchase books in packages of 4. If you opt to go the entire package route, the program costs $44.99.

As a homeschooling mom, I feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to review this program. I have tried it for a few weeks on and off with my 4-year old daughter, and although she is enjoying the books, I am not seeing her recall many of the words. She just turned 4 though, and so it may be that she is not quite as ready as I imagined her to be for reading. But as long as the program is available to me for free to review, we will keep trying it.

I personally find the price to be a bit high for our family but if a program works and teaches reading it is worth almost any price. However, I feel we would be going through the books too quickly to justify the cost. Also, this program doesn't teach the consonant sounds of most letters but assumes that the child has already been taught them. So even if your child memorizes the
-at family and can recite it each time he sees it, if he hasn't been taught the sound of that letter "P" in front of the -at, then he still can't read "Pat" as a complete word. My child has barely scratched the surface of the world of consonants and their sounds, so it may be awhile before this program really clicks with her.

To me, this might be a great supplement or aid to a child who has already been exposed to the consonants and their sounds, or perhaps a child who needs some remedial work.

I would suggest visiting the site and getting the first book free. If that seems like a good match for your reader, then perhaps try a smaller 4-book package before taking the big plunge. The 4-book set will cost $9.99. I would suggest that families who purchase these e-books also print then, laminate them , and perhaps bind them in some fashion to make the program more usuable for a longer period of time. Of course doing so adds more to the cost of the program.

Some families will be very sold on the older but tried and true phonics methods of reading, but there will undoubtedly be many other families who find Rime to Read a perfect fit for their needs.

My suggestions to the company might be to lower the costs slightly, or to offer printable sight word cards in each bundle, and possibly even add some simple printable worksheets/games to the site to reinforce the rime from each book. These small added bonuses might persuade potential customers that they are getting a little more for their money than the e-books alone might.

If you have any questions be sure to drop on over to http://www.rimetoread.com/ and the friendly staff there will be most happy to assist you.

God bless!

review of The Little Man in the Map book from Schoolside Press

Little Man in the Map

This is a bright, vividly colorful, and catchy rhyming book about the 50 States of America. The premise of the book is teach children to locate and identify each state by using visual and auditory clues that are contained in the pages' rhymes; written by E. Andrew Martonyi and illustrated by Ed Olson.

The story begins in a fictional classroom where the assignment is to find a clue or shape for every state and use them to memorize the states. The fictional children soon realize that down the middle of the map is the profile of a man, complete from his hat (Minnesota) to his boot (Louisiana). They name him "MIM", which stands for "The Man Inside the Map". Looking to the left and right of the "man" the students soon see other "objects" that the states seem to form, such as his mitten (one of Michigan's peninsulas) to his trusty " Texas Longhorn chair", made by moving Oklahoma out of his way to sit down. By the time the children have read through this book a few times, its safe to say they should have a pretty good grasp of where many of the states are found. My children, especially my predominately visual son, found the book intriguing and read it repeatedly the first few days after its arrival. By the weeks end I was able to give my children a blank map of the US (there is one in the back of the book) and we orally filled in many states...correctly! Schoolside Press sent us this wonderful book, which has won awards and was a finalist in ForeWord magazine's Book of the Year Award. The company also has a few down loadable worksheets available that are useful for checking student progress. One of these is a crossword puzzle, which was actually very challenging.

This hardback book retails for $19.95 and to me, is well worth the cost if you are able to use it to teach these normally tedious and boring facts. It would make a nice gift for a teacher or to donate to your local library as well.

In the works also is another educational book called Clues for the State Capitals. "MIM" continues his adventures in our great nation there.

You can find these books online at

The company also invites your kids to visit their blog at http://www.frogsjumpusa.com/


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh, I'm bloggin' my life away....

I have a new blog for those who like to read beauty tips, craft ideas, and find out more about cool B&B items I locate online. Its also a way to keep up with my current crafting classes and Scent Shoppe party kits.

You can visit it at: http://whimsylanecreations.blogspot.com/

My goal is to use this blog more for homeschooling/family/product reviews and put more of my Whimsy Lane Creations stuff on the other blog.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


My son is a teenager!!!!

I am old...I feel like Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday, "I'm like the Crypt keeper!!!" My baby boy is now thirteen.

He had a great party...lots of Rockband..."Club Nick" (our transformed garage)....a few guys to sleep over...and 6 pizzas, 5 cokes, 1 cake, and a tub of ice cream all gone in less than one evening. ;) Did someone tell me teen boys have big appetites?
Guests were the Ware family, the Boyds, the Fosters, and the Steiners. Some of the adults tried out Rockband. Our drum skills were way lacking. But it was loads of fun.

Club Nick had guitars, a keyboard, an amp, a disco light, some black lights, loud music, and room to skate. It worked out great with the addition of a kerosene heater.

Happy Birthday Nick!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back in the soap kitchen! and upcoming workshops

Ahhh...my car smells like autumn...my house smells like autumn...my clothes smell like the sweet smell of glorious fall days.

I have been back in the soap kitchen again, making some easy soy milk soaps in fall scent trios.

The leaf soaps are layered with Autumn Eve, Candy Corn, and topped with caramel apple.

The pumpkins have a base of pumpkin pie topped with pecan streusel and rich butter cream.

I have also made a few "Sleighbells" scented snowflake soaps and some sweet little Gingerbread Cake mini-bundt soaps, all soy milk based. Nourishing...that is what soy milk soaps feel like. My two favorite glycerin soap bases so far have to be soy and goat's milk because my skin feels moisturized after use.
I had two soap/spa classes last week, one for an FCE club and another for a girl's youth night. At the FCE class we focused only on making glycerin soaps; for the girl's night we made sugar scrub, after-bath splash, lip balms, lotion, and hand-soap, all custom-scented and custom-colored. I found out recently that what I have been doing with kids and clubs is actually called "Blending Bar Parties" and makes big money in larger towns. It is nothing to go to a studio and pay $20 for one hour of learning to make soap or pay $20 per head to do what we did at our youth night. So keep me in mind for your activities, and I can promise to be much cheaper than that! I will be updating and revising www.whimsylanecreations.com soon to include more info. on party options.
I am getting ready to set dates for two glycerin soap-making classes as well as my 3rd Annual Little Elves Workshop, so watch your email for details. The soap classes will be for adults and children alike. The Little Elves workshop is a great time of fun and crafting for kids while Moms and dads get two hours free to shop, read, clean, or JUST RELAX! All children will come home with 5 homemade items, suitable for gift-giving.

I bought some foaming bath butter whip. I intend to use it to whip up some foaming sugar scrubs. These types of scrubs are supposed to be less greasy and easier to wash off while being nourishing to the skin. They whip up nicely and look lovely layered in colored swirls in wide-mouth jars. Until I get mine done, check out a few of the whipped items at my Simply Tempted site:
Sweet and creative Karen at Simply Tempted has intro'd these new body parfaits with a scent description:

yummy Whipped Shea Butter Body Parfaits...

Pistachio Cream Cake:A decadent layer of soft yellow cake, creamy pistachio custard, topped off with luscious vanilla crème.

White Tea & Ginger:A delightful warm and comforting smell. With top notes of Bergamot, Lemon Peels and Green Daylilies, this fragrance is brought back to its roots with a base of Ginger, Nutmeg and Warm Musk.

Pumpkin Crunch Cake:Pumpkin Pie, Spices, Marshmallow Fluff, Toffee, Caramel, Hints of vanilla cake, sticky icing and streusel.

And don't forget their new fall soap, Pumpkin Crunch.


**I'll be reviewing a new book called The Little Man in the Map (elementary level geography) so check back in a few days. I am done with the book so it is available for homeschool friends to borrow. ;)

Operation Christmas Child shoebox packing party

Today, a portion of our home school group met and packed up 20 OCC shoe boxes to be sent to underprivileged children worldwide, via the Samaritan's Purse Ministry of Franklin Graham.
We were fortunate to have a large gym in which to meet and set up our empty shoe boxes assembly-line style. The kids not only helped pack the boxes but were able to write letters to go in them. They were read aloud a book from OCC called Miracle in a Shoebox, which helped them to better understand why we pack boxes and where they go afterwards. Of course, all this "work" was followed by plenty of free play and holiday snacks.

Group moms went back and added more soaps, toys, and toothbrushes to the boxes until they had to be double-rubber-banded for fear of explosion!

I never get tired of seeing those rows of bulging boxes! Tonight for scout's homework, my third grader had to tell one reason why America is so special, and he said, very simply, "Because we're rich." I couldn't agree more.

The Missing Link: Found book review

My son and I have been reading a paper back novel called The Missing Link: Found as part of our TOS mag review. The book is a mystery, written from a Biblical view, for teens. It contains none of the anti-God messages so often found in written form today, but rather shows the author's belief in God the Creator, and scientific topics from that slant. What's more amazing is the book was written by a 12-year old homeschool student and her mother.

Daughter and writer Christina, and mom Felice Gerwitz know this book may not appeal to the main stream culture but it sure gives Christian parents a reason to rave. Finally, a story line that is mysterious and thought-provoking while being God-honoring. If you have a child who enjoys scientific theories or is studying the topic of Creation vs. Evolution, this book would make a nice go-along tale.

This book from Media Angels, Inc. is the first in a series of mysteries by the Gerwitz family. From an exciting opening FBI boat chase to an excavation site where the theory of evolution appears to be scientifically confirmed, this book will appeal to teens and parents alike. Follow the Murphy family as they go on one adventure after another, in danger and the unknown, all the while with God by their side.

Homeschool mom, Felice, has literature guides available as well.

While you're at Media Angels, Inc., be sure to check out their assortment of other books, homeschool help DVDs, and creation science materials.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

TOS review for www.Helpme2teach.com

I had the chance to review a website aimed at educators called www.Helpme2teach.com and am finally getting around to writing a little about it.

Helpme2teach is a website directory, if you will, of online teaching aids and links to educational websites. The websites are organized into groups of links by category, such as topics like "animals" or subjects like "math" or grade levels such as "preschool". When you click on a link, you'll find lots of sites to go to to get more information about your topic.

I can look for educational worksheets for my preschooler, then visit a site on oceans with my third grader who is completing a unit study, and later visit some driver's ed. sites with my eighth grader.

How this site benefits educators is simple: it saves us time! How many times do we need a little review sheet to go with our topic, or some online learning to boost our thematic units? Maybe we want to make a quiz using one of the online test-makers but can't recall the best ones. The Internet is a vast pool of information, but for an already busy teacher or homeschooling mother, finding the time to sift through the endless search results to pull out the good stuff, the really thorough, truly educational sites involves more time and effort than we can sometimes muster.

So if you find yourself needing information on a particular subject, topic, or for a certain age/grade, before you hit Google, sit down with your steaming coffee and try www.Helpme2teach.com to see if you can find what you need there, faster.

Mineral Girlz going- out- of -business sale

I am sad to report that only a few months after getting involved with the Mineral Girlz company, they have announced that they are having to go out of business. If you have recently ordered from me, your order is already being processed and should ship soon. If you'd like to get some good B&B products for 50% off, now is the time. I love their mineral makeup! *sigh*
Visit www.mineralgirlz.com
Sale lasts only as long as their stock does. Not that it matters, but they won't be able to afford comissions on these sell items. So if you'd only be buying to help me, don't do it. :)

I will still be selling for Simply Tempted Bath and Body at my affiliate site:
I love their stuff as well, although they don't sell mineral makeup. They have lots of other items just as good, or better I dare say, than Bath and Body Works. They also carry some very unique gift items you might not find locally. Give them a try this holiday season and Lynn will thank you!

I had too much on my plate anyway with trying to decide this year which companies to stick with and which ones to stock my www.whimsylanecreations.com shelves with, and had been praying about it. Looks like the Lord helped me to weed out a few suppliers, as Savvy Girlz Boutique appears to have also gone out of business this year. No word there, but the website isn't working anymore. SO, if you see these companies listed for a bit longer on my site, just know I am trying to get caught up and they will be removed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

review of www.time4learning.com

I love http://www.time4learning.com/ (t4l.com)! My kids do, too! I was so excited to hear that Jennifer at t4l.com needed reviewers for this online curriculum as my family has already been using it for about a year. Last year we used it as a supplement only and this year, we use some of the subjects as supplements and others, such as math, as our core.

At present, t4l.com is for grades preschool though eighth, covering every core subject. You get math, language arts and language arts extensions, science, and social studies. All the lessons are up to state standards and are visually appealing and interactive. If you have a child who loves computers or gaming, or is a visual learner, he or she would probably enjoy and benefit from using t4l.com.

You can set your child's grade level accordingly and though I have never tried it myself, the website says you can set a child at different levels, say, higher in reading and lower in math so he is working at a perfect pace.

It is perfect as a core curriculum or supplement, as after-school fun or summer-time review. It makes a great aid for catching up a child who is struggling in a subject.

You can even set your account to "dormant" during months where you might not use it as much, such as summer months or December. Dormant accounts cost a lot less ( I am thinking about $4 or so) and all your child's progress is saved, but your child may have limited access to the site. Or , if you need to, you can always cut t4l.com off completely, and pay no fees as all; if you do this, you'll need to print out your child's progress reports first as her progress won't be saved under this option. Should you need to reactivate, it is easy to sign up again.

The cost is fairly low, about $14 per month per child. You can try t4l.com free and also , if you refer others, you can earn free months of membership.

There are many reasons why I went with t4l.com to begin with, one reason being that I have three children I am homeschooling, on completely different grade levels. I find keeping up with three levels of study in multiple subjects tricky. I love knowing if I need to work one-on-one with a child, I can send the other to t4l.com and be assured that he is working on high-quality academics that, very often, don't need my help at all to accomplish. The "games' teach the lesson well, and then offer quizzes and tests over the material. If a child is working solo in the younger grades, there is an extra (free) download called "Peedy the Parrot" where an animated parrot flies onto the screen and reads the words to them.

As an incentive in the younger grades, parents can set a playground option. This is where I can assign my 3rd grader 30 minutes of lessons to be followed by 15 minutes of playground. When he has completed his lessons, then a screen pops up that allow him to access fun games off sites such as PBS. He can play any "fun" game off the list as long as he has accrued playground time. Once his time is up, the system automatically sends him back to the lessons. As the parent you set the length of both the lesson time and playground time.

Another reason I use t4l.com is sometimes as homeschooling parents we get surprises in our school day that make keeping on task difficult. For example, in my home, its the unexpected migraine. If I get sick I know I can let my children take turns on t4l.com and they are learning even though I am unavailable. Same thing when a sibling is sick and requires extra care, the other children can continue on without much aid from me on t4l.com. Moms often have to be away from the children for a few moments to accomplish some task and yet need to know the childrne are truly working. I used to run to cook lunch for example, tell the children what to be working on, and leave the room only to hear almost-immediate wrestling and giggling with nothing getting accomplished. I had to stand and "crack the whip". But with t4l.com, they want to be working. And besides, now the boys know I can look at their progress report and see what they have been doing. That accountability is very helpful to me and keeps them better on task.

We also have always used unit studies as our core. For the past few years we have used A World of Adventure, which is based on chronological history. I used to worry that my younger son would be way ahead of his peers in one aspect (such as already knowing a bit about many ancient civilizations) but would be completely "out of the loop" in other areas should he ever have to go to public school. I knew his peers were studying an entirely different social studies curriculum, for example, covering topics like community helpers. Now I know I can continue to teach my units each day but be assured that my 3rd grader is also getting a good dose of what other 3rd graders nationwide are learning by using t4l.com.

Sometimes with unit studies, a child can get some gaps in their education; by assigning each child 1 hour of t4l.com daily, I know that eventually they will have covered a wide range of topics that are considered core curriculum. So in that respect, not only is t4l.com a time and sanity-saver, but it gives me additional peace of mind that my children are getting a healthy and well-rounded education.

Just to be sure that the work has been done, there are printable progress reports, resource worksheets, quizzes, and tests. There are also printable answer keys and lesson plans. I find that I don't use the site to the fullest. I really believe if a parent could take the time over the summer to sit and print out the lessons, lesson plans, guides, additional project ideas, and answer keys for each grade level and file them in a binder, then one could really use t4l.com as it is meant to be used. You truly could allow it to be your core curriculum. if I had it to do over again, this is exactly what I would do. There is so much to t4l.com that you don't see until you, as a parent, really dive into it and take it apart.

Now, my cons about t4l.com all have to do with our personal limitations and not t4l.com exactly. We have three computers in our home. But we have one dial-up, slow, 56-k connection, meaning only one child at a time can use the Internet. So we have to take turns rotating the children on t4l.com. If I had my wish, it'd be for a DSL connection so could all use the Internet simaltaneously. For now we use the rotation time wisely, with one child doing seat work/reading/etc. while the other is online.

Another problem you may find with a 56-k dial-up connection is that the graphics-intensive pages load slowly. Once again, that is a personal problem due to our connection speed. We use the time while the pages load to read quietly or so some practice worksheets right at the computer.

Occasionally, my oldest son who is 7th grade by age but doing 8th grade at home, will struggle with comprehending a math lesson. Normally if his quiz doesn't go well, I will have him re-do the lesson, sometimes sitting with him and going over it with him, and then let him re-take the quiz. That is a nice thing about t4l.com is that kids can try again for mastery of a subject matter. If I see he still struggles too much with a particular area, then I can put him back a grade level in just that subject and let him catch up.

Many times my children would rather do t4l.com than any other activity. I actually have to limit their time online at t4l.com and they often argue over who gets to use it first! We are living in a world where children are learning to be very visual and we have to take advantage of that. Children are going to find, somewhere or other along the way, a taste for video games, Internet games, etc. Why not give them a little bit of that fun each day, all the while knowing that what they are playing is actually good for their brains and in a safe environment?

Overall, we have a great time using t4l.com and I have only two suggestions for the company: consider adding high school grade levels and make a CD-ROM collection of grade level handouts, guides, etc. so I don't have to access the net every time I want to print something. I'd pay a bit more for all the paperwork on a CD-ROM disk. :)

homeschooling:schedules, timing, and breaks

I know our homeschool days seem odd to other people. Sometimes my kids and I get lovingly teased about our scheduling. We often "do" school so differently than the public schools that it throws people into a tailspin when they see our schedule.

For example, last week our local public schools were out on fall break. The first thing that happened, as I predicted, would be our ps friends calling to see if they could come over and spend the night or vice versa. It is so hard to explain to these children (and mine) that we weren't taking the whole week off. Lest I sound like a "big meanie" who never gives her children a break, let me explain. I am very busy with lots of side ventures: crafting /soap making classes, helping coordinate a homeschool Fall Festival, reviewing products for The Old Schoolhouse magazine (this past week alone I received access to KinderBach music, Spears art curriculum, and got a free nativity toy set in the mail, plus I am already reviewing Time4learning.com, ALEKS math, and a few other sites--it is to the point where our regular curriculum may have to be temporarily shelved so we can really use these wonderful freebies we've been given!), co-coordinating a co-op and teaching a weekly co-op preschool class to 12-15 2-5 year olds, trying to get my home-biz off the ground (where it has been for months now, etc) that I sometimes find we need to take off on a different day to fit homeschooling into our schedule and really give it 100%. So I like to say that we don't follow the school's schedule because it wouldn't work for our family. What I try to do is meet the kiddos halfway. When their ps counterparts are free, for the most part, I try to give them some time off to be with them. But in the end, I make our schedule fit our needs because I have no other choice. If I didn't plan our homeschooling accordingly, something on my to-do list wouldn't get accomplished, and it'd likely be our actual schooling. I know homeschooling is my calling and it must come first and foremost and so we make life fit that schedule.

On top of our extracurriculars piling up on us, I suffer from migraines that have gotten worse in my thirties. More and more I find myself awakening with one rather than it coming on in the evening as they did in my youth. It is nothing unsual here to have to get up, take a Maxalt, and go back to bed a few times monthly. If this happens on a school morning, we lose a few hours. Same thing with having to be at appointments /meetings on school days. We try to schedule events after school but that can't always be accomplished, so if we have to be somewhere at 2 pm, that cuts a few hours off again. These hours have to made made up somewhere, resulting in weekend time or late night time or taking fewer days off during a public school break time.

Then there are the fun days we take off. I always take off one day during the week of each child's birthday. I use it to plan the party and shop and decorate and the kids just have fun!

Sometimes our local schools let out for inclement weather, like a sprinkling of snow or flooding. We may choose to go out and play for a bit and then come in and do an hour or two of work. Snow days are great days to alternate playing in in the cold with some educational board games (which we buy and then never play) or reading aloud around the fire. So we may do workon those days but it doesn't always feel like work. Art/science projects, which I too often neglect, are great on those days, too.

Or if the weather is truly nasty, why take off at all? We can do our work that day and then take off on a sunny, nice day and go the park.

Another way we differ is our daily timing, We have a fairly set schedule of what we'll do each day. I know that for the most part we'll begin with Bible, move into core subjects/computer schooling and work for two hours there. Then we'll take our lunch and play break, and finish up two more hours, doing unit studies, independent work, silent reading, additional projects for 4-H/scouts/co-op homework, etc. But the time we begin each day sometimes varies. I have never been a morning person. For a lenthy digress on this and sleep disorders/circadian rhythms, see my other posts. Anyway, I know that every now and then, my family and I too, need extra sleep. Other times I just need some personal quiet time to get things done online (we share a dial-up Internet line so only one person can be online at a time even though we have 3 computers....it is my thorn in the side, especially with so much computer schooling to be done, but I try not to be ungrateful because we have been blessed with so many other things).

I also know that teens especially, need more sleep as they grow. This is scientific and documented, much to the deligh of my almost-13 year-old.

Last night we had church/youth and our Wednesdays are particularly full each week, with little rest. On Thursdays everyone seems sleepier than usual.
Last night the boys came home and did an extra hour of schoolwork before bed and Ashleigh (who has been exposed to an illness) began complaining of stomach ache and nausea, so this morning, I decided to let them sleep later than usual. And we already sleep later than most families I know. :) But still, I added on an extra 2 hours of sleep for the kids today. I have enjoyed my free time online to do research, test products, and blog. Now, its true we'll be behind all day today and have to do school way past the time the ps kids come home just to stay on track. We 'll have to rush dinner in order to get it all done in time to be at karate. But its okay with me, because we needed this kind of day.

I used to often feel guilty when we got to sleep in and arrange our schedule the way we wanted. Afterall, it's not exactly fair that the ps kids have late night sports and activities and they don't always get the extra rest they need. I myself recall going to school half asleep very often due to a terminally-ill parent with Alzheimer's (who was often up into the wee hours walking, yelling, and disoriented), and my grades certainly reflected it. I know the ps kids don't have the choices my kids have. But I also know that being with my kids 24/7 is a demanding job that not everyone can handle (or at least that's what I hear from many parents who seem to think I'm some sort of super-woman...ha ha---the truth of my life is simply this: anyone God calls for a task, He equips, and that includes everyone I know).

So I look at it this way: my kids get some benefits from homeschooling that other kids may not, but look at the amount of personal time that I put into our day. If envy of my life ever begins to creep into your mind, remind yourself that I do sleep late...but I am often up working until 2 am. My house looks neat 50% of the time...but you don't see the many messes we make in it repeatedly every day that get cleaned over and over again, nor do you see the clutter from having curriculum for grades pre-k through 8th hidden in every nook and cranny of my home. You might see that we start our day late but may not know that we often don't end our school day until 4 or 5 pm. I do get the joy of being home as a full-time wife and mother with a husband who cares for us wonderfully, both financially and emotionally, but you get vacation days, extra spending money, kids who go to school that you don't have the sole responsibility of teaching every subject, every grade level. If my children turn out to be less-than-genius, I cannot blame anyone but moi, which is a very sobering thought. I sometimes get envious of my non-homeschooling friends' lives! :)

I guess sleeping late and taking alternate vacations could be considered the fringe benefits of my 40-hour-plus week job. :) It is always easy for us to look across the fence and see that greener grass! I know God blesses us in different ways and He calls us to serve in different ways... this just happens to be my way.

So I choose to do things a little differently so we can get the benefits of more rest, less stress, and still get in our legal amount of academics and extras without killing ourselves in the process. I am totally cool with that. Maybe this will clear up any confusion.
Take care!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tales of Glory Nativity Scene/toy review

Here comes a review for TOS mag!

I was surprised to find an unexpected package on my porch a few days ago. I opened the box to find a nativy scene inside. I soon realized this must be one of the products TOS mag's vendors had sent us to preview. My four-year-old was immediately thrilled and couldn't wait for us to take it out of the package.

Upon closer inspection I realized this was more than just another nativity scene...this was a learning toy, a hands-on dramatic playset to teach the story of Christ's birth.

The set is made of a durable plastic and the characters are just the right size for little hands. There are 18 pieces: baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph; two angels and two shepherds; the stable with a star on top, the manger, a palm tree, a bale of hay for all the hungry animals, three wise men, and of course, a camel, donkey, sheep and ram. It included a little booklet to teach the story and even had a guide sheet to help parents know what stage of understanding and spiritual development a child is in at a particular age, and how to help that child develop further, spiritually.

Today we have another preschooler visiting, and she has also enjoyed playing with it. I like the fact this this nativity won't break and is actually meant to be touched. I have always dreaded putting out my breakable nativity scenes in my home when the children were young, because it meant having to train the children not to touch something about which they were naturally curious. Children are attracted to the little animals and especially the tiny baby Jesus, and this set encourages their curiosity which then leads to being able to share the gospel birth in a way that is easy to understand.

I took a look at the box and found that the toy is a "Tales of Glory" toy. You can find the company online at http://www.one2believe.com/. They have a nice assortment of these sets, everything from the nativity that I received to other Old and New Testament Bible story sets to Proverbs 31 dolls to a resource page where children can read online Bible stories. If you save your "points" from boxes you can earn more free toys from their site. I got three points off my box.

I highly recommend these toys for Christian parents, church and preschool teachers, and anyone who wants to spread the gospel to children and encourage familiarty with the treasure-filled book of God's Word. Don't just read the Word...read it and then PLAY ACT it. What a wonderful, gentle introduction to the Bible or as a reinforcement for lessons already taught.

Friday, October 17, 2008

where learning takes place

People who come to our home are often curious as to where we conduct our school time. I am adding a slide show to the bottom of my blog site that shows how we utilize our entire home as a classroom, rather than just one spot. This also provides an idea of how I can care for additional preschoolers in my home if needed.

I enjoy teaching a preschool class at Wednesday co-op. I have a REAL classroom with four walls! Yay! I get excited just knowing it LOOKS like a little classroom and I enjoy using it and decorating it a bit. My dream is to one day have a real, enclosed, not-in-the-front-of-the-house school room to use for homeschooling, craft classes, and preschool.

Monday, October 13, 2008

updated my business site

Today I took some time to update my business site, www.whimsylanecreations.com
Two of the companies I consult for, Simply Tempted Bath and Body, and Mineral Girlz, are also undergoing updates. Please visit them and get ahead for holiday shopping.

I have added some great party options to my site. If you need something to do at a party, scouts, 4-h meeting, etc. consider one of my ideas. See them at my Whimsy Lane site under the "parties" link.

I will soon be holding a soap making class for our homeschool group, another for the Cannon County FCE, and a few kid's crafts classes on the side. I look forward to a fun fall doing what I love the most!

Happy Birthday to Ashleigh!

Today my baby turned 4 years old! We have come a long way with her. All my children's births are miracles to me, but hers is particularly special because she was a 4 pound, half-an-oz. preemie born at the beginning of RSV season. After 11 days in the NICU at Nashville, Ashleigh was finally able to breathe regularly on her own and able to come home with us. This was November 1. She had been born after labor induction at 34 weeks (due to my having severe pre-eclampsia, making my blood pressure shoot so high I was at stroke level).

It was a traumatic birth from the get-go. I knew something was wrong before I even went for my doctor's appointment. Although I had been faithfully power walking 2 miles a day, was eating a diabetic diet due to having gestational diabetes, and was healthier in that pregnancy than I'd ever been, I just began to feel instinctively that I wouldn't be coming home from my appointment. I had felt her "drop" the week before and there had been this tremendous feeling of pressure in my pelvis. I also had begun the tell-tell swelling that I had experienced in my first pregnancy, the kind that continues no matter how much bed rest you take. I packed my son's bags that day, thinking I might be put in our local hospital to be monitored and then sent home on bed rest. My biggest concern was how I would care for an 8 year old and 4 year old and homeschool if I were put on bed rest for a month or so. How little did I know....

Upon examination, it was determined I was most certainly in danger. But there was no local hospital or bed rest at home. I was hastily told to go to our local hospital and check in; from there I would be driven by ambulance to a larger hospital in Nashville that had a wonderful NICU. Talk about panic! I am definitely an admitted control freak of sorts; this was completely 100% out of my control! I think if my blood pressure was high to begin with, this announcement could've killed me. I was whisked away before I barely had time to tell my family goodbye.

Two hours later I was in a new hospital hooked to wires and monitors with no freedom to move. I stayed on my left side all night long and labor began the next day, oddly enough, on October 13. My boys had been born on November 13 and December 13, and many people had jokingly said wouldn't it be strange if all my kids were born on the 13th. We were about to fulfill that prediction.

Labor was intense. I have had two inductions and one naturally timed birth and even though the natural was a 10+ pounder, the two inductions have hit harder, faster, and agonizingly more painful compared to his birth.

Labor was going well until I was told to roll onto my left side again after being checked. I felt the weirdest sensation, as if my insides were actually sliding apart. I told the nurse and my husband that something didn't feel right and no sooner had I said that than monitors started flashing. I have never seen people move so fast. It turns out my baby's umbilical cord was being delivered first and with every contraction of the birth canal, was cutting off her oxygen. Suddenly the head nurse was unhooking my machines and prepping to move me to surgery. She had struck me as some sort of drill sergeant when they brought me in and now I knew why. She was spectacular in her precision and intenseness. All of her focus was on getting me down the hall in record time to have an emergency c-section. She told (barked at is more like it) my poor, confused husband to "Get out of the way!" and before I could even think about what was happening, I was being whisked down the hall, bright lights above my head. I heard doors swing open as we crashed through them and suddenly a team of people I'd never seen was counting to three and lifting me onto the operation table. I knew they'd knock me out in about five seconds and do the operation but before they could, the urge to push became so great I couldn't stop it at all, and Ash came blasting into this world with a strong lusty cry. I still cannot recall the face of the doctor who delivered her. I cannot truthfully tell you his name without looking it up in her files.

My whole family was in the waiting room, pacing the floor when they got the news. I know they were thankful and relieved.

I spent the next few days in a groggy daze. I had to be kept on magnesium sulfate, I think is the drug, to keep my blood pressure under control. If you have ever taken cold medicine that leaves you sleepy, with an unclear head and can't think straight, multiply that by 5 and you'll be in my brand of la-la land. I was so tired and out of it, I couldn't even process the thought that Ash was in the NICU one floor above me or that I couldn't get out of bed to go see her or hold her. My speech was slurred and I felt as if I were dreaming or hallucinating half of everything going on around me. It got to the point where I had to ask my husband if certain people had been in to see us because I wasn't sure if their visits were real or dreamed!

By about the third day I was feeling better and more able to focus. I had been to the NICU a few times via wheelchair as the nurses were afraid I would fall. I was learning to nurse a preemie (with arms of protection around, should I become so drowsy I might drop her). Preemies often cannot suck so while you feed them you must massage their cheeks and stroke under their chins to stimulate the urge to suck and swallow. Moms only have so many hands. Its very difficult to even use the special preemie bottle called the Haverman feeder, while holding it and doing all this stroking and massaging with one hand. Most babies find bottle feeding easier than nursing, but preemies find both a challenge. Every day was hard. Just to see my baby I had to scrub up and wear a surgical gown. She was attached to so many tubes and contraptions that made even removing her from her bassinet for feeding a chore. They warned us not to hold her too tight or rub her too hard because preemie skin is thinner and their touch sensation is magnified until it can be painful. My body was not understanding the sudden birth and had not began to make enough milk, so I had been given the use of an electric pump; I sat hooked to it every two hours as it prepared me for the every-two-hour-round-the-clock feedings we would face when we got to take Ash home. I was drained. Totally drained. I wanted to sit and cry and feel sorry for us both, but I knew I couldn't. There was my little tiny 4 pound baby, no bigger than a sack of sugar we said, who looked like a giant compared to the other 2 pound babies in bassinets around me. My little girl had survived a traumatizing birth and was doing well. I knew that even in the midst of great trial, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I had felt and could still feel His presence. He had spared my life and hers. I had no reason to feel sorry but every reason to rejoice.

I'd like to say I kept my focus during the next 5 or 6 months as I nursed every two hours for weeks on end until the doctor saw a significant weight gain in my baby. I'd like to say I kept my perspective while we homeschooled and my mind was foggy from lack of sleep. I'd like to say I always kept my cool when we were literally trapped at home for an entire winter with a baby that couldn't go out in public places. No church, no scouts, no homeschool group, no Walmart! I relied on the kindness of strangers to haul my kids to their events. I became an expert at driving to their clubs and practices with a good uplifting book and baby in the car and a full tank of gas with a warm heater, letting the boys do whatever they had to do inside--without me--as I waited in the car. My eight year old, who at that time had never been alone in stores without me, was now carrying a short shopping list and cash and doing a few trips for me. I think I might've finally learned some patience that year! I can tell you this: our family grew closer to the Lord then than I think we've ever been . It was only the middle of this upheaval that we really learned how much we needed Him in our lives from day to day. And He held my hand and we survived. Enormous bills from the hospital came and went. A move into a new and bigger home came and went. Life went on. And now, I am here today, 4 years later, reliving that eventful day in my life again as I watch my prissy and sweet little girl playing with her brothers, giggling and squealing. Not one ounce of evidence of her experience remains except for her petite stature. She is healthy and happy and we are blessed by having her in our lives. Sometimes God gives us a wake-up call, a reality check, a dose of realness. Sometimes He wants us to draw closer to Him. What better way to do that than through the warm, sweetly scented body of a tiny helpless baby in your arms!

Happy Birthday, Ashleigh Eden!