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Families Again
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Reading With Reading Street
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Homeschool Product Review


John Allen, our oldest, went to public school through third grade. There were various reasons why we felt the Lord was leading us to homeschool. Those are discussions for another post. I will say, however, that he had excellent teachers during his four years in the elementary classroom. In fact, I credit his second grade teacher for instilling his love for reading. There were two second grade teachers who had been teaching for years - Mrs. Young and Mrs. Clouse. In fact, both of them are retiring this year after many faithful years as excellent teachers. Mrs. Young and Mrs. Clouse worked together in many ways and were very resourceful teachers. When the school system decided to switch reading curriculum, as they did every five or six years, they didn't throw away the old sets of reading books, they saved them and used them. I am telling you the truth - the year John Allen was in second grade, they must have gone through six reading books! They were always reading. They had their regular story every week, then they also had one or two other stories that they read that week. From that year on, John Allen has loved reading.

That's why I was thrilled when I was chosen to review a set of 2nd grade reading books developed by Scott Foresman called "Reading Street". Scott Foresman is a company that develops curriculum for public schools, but is really wanting to get into the homeschool market. Before you totally exit out of my blog, however, let me tell you that I was doubtful at first that this would be something that would work with homeschoolers, but am now convinced that for some homeschoolers it may be a worthwhile investment.


Here's what I really liked about Reading Street:

  1. Joshua really loves it! This is probably my main reason for liking it, although there are some other great features. The stories are very interesting and the pictures are colorful. Although this is not a Christian company and the stories may not have a religious theme, I have seen nothing immoral about any of them. Also, we haven't read through all of the stories, but so far there has been very little mention of evolution or other controversial topics. There was one story in the second book that told about the life cycle of frogs and mentioned that frogs had lived "230 million years ago". When we get to that story, I intend to use that comment (the rest of the story was wonderful) to have a discussion about what we believe.  
  2. It is very well laid out and, as I mentioned above the stories are great. The set that I received has two books. Each book has three units in it with about 10 stories in each unit. The unit topics are right down Joshua's alley and include - Exploration, Working Together and Creative Ideas in book one and Our Changing World, Responsibility and Traditions in book two. In each unit there are five main stories with five other stories that are "coupled" with the main stories. For example, one of the stories in Unit One was "Exploring Space With An Astronaut". It was coupled with a story titled "A Trip to Space Camp".
  3. The third thing I liked about these books was the extras. At the beginning of each group of two stories there is a word list of about six words that may be new or harder to read. Then there is a short five or six sentence story using all of those words in it. I had Joshua read the words and then the story and, if he had problems, we discussed the difficult words. There is also a little blip that explains the Genre of each story. That's something that I would have never thought to explain to Joshua. At the end or the first story is a comprehension section and an "about the author" section. I really like that this curriculum encourages the student to retell the story to help with reading comprehension. They have six of the pictures from the story in order at the bottom of the page. Joshua was able to look at the pictures and retell what he had read. At the end of the second story there is a very simple "Writing and Grammar" section - another thing that I don't recall ever being included in my reading books when I was growing up, but is a wonderful addition.

All in all, I was really pleased and pleasantly surprised with these books. Joshua loves them, they are simply laid out and have just the right amount of comprehension activities to enforce what he is learning. It could easily be used as a core reading curriculum if you wanted, but I like it just as a supplemental resource.

Now, before I tell you the price of these two books, let me explain something. Each on of the main stories that are in these books can be bought as a stand alone book at Wal-Mart or at your local book store. Each one, however, would cost $3 on up to $10 or more if bought separately. Just as an experiment, I looked on Amazon for the five main books from Unit One. They added up to be around $50 if bought new! So, how much does "Reading Street" cost? If bought together the two books can be $86.97. Separately they're $43.47 each. Remember, though, that these are beautifully bound books with all of the stories in them and with the added comprehension/grammar sections. Why go through all of the hassle of buying each one of those great children's books separately and spending all of that money if you don't have to. Just click here or on anyone of the hi-lighted links above for more information. The website that you are lead to has other supplemental resources that I can't vouch for because we didn't receive them, but look great. There is also a website of free supplemental lesson plans, activities and other things developed by teachers that are ready to be printed out and used. You can find them by clicking here. Finally, other TOS Crew members reviewed reading street and some of the other great Scott Foresman products and you can find  them by clicking here. Happy Homes Educating!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received book one and book two of Reading Street - 2nd grade in order to try out and review on my blog.

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Posted by tink38570 at 11:50 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2011 1:27 AM CDT
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Monday, 23 May 2011
False Witness - A First Wild Card Blog Tour Book
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Book Reviews

I've been reading a lot of good books lately. I'll tell you why in a coming post. Most, however, have been classics. Classics, of course, are notorious for grabbing your interest early, and keeping it until the end. You can't find a lot of good books like that any more. There are a lot of hum drum books that are okay, but are at times hard to get into.

Not this book! In False Witness, the author, Randy Singer, hooks you in the first chapter - really even before the first chapter Surprised, and keeps your attention all throughout the book. If you are one that loves mystery adventures, then this is a book for you! Check out more about it below.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

False Witness

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Reprint edition (April 25, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed author and veteran trial attorney. He has penned 10 legal thrillers, including his award-winning debut novel, Directed Verdict. Randy runs his own law practice and has been named to Virginia Business magazine's select list of "Legal Elite" litigation attorneys. In addition to his law practice and writing, Randy serves as teaching pastor for Trinity Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He calls it his "Jekyll and Hyde thing"—part lawyer, part pastor. He also teaches classes in advocacy and civil litigation at Regent Law School and, through his church, is involved with ministry opportunities in India. He and his wife, Rhonda, live in Virginia Beach. They have two grown children.

Visit the author's website.


Clark Shealy is a bail bondsman with the ultimate bounty on the line: his wife's life. He has forty-eight hours to find an Indian professor in possession of the Abacus Algorithm—an equation so powerful it could crack all Internet encryption.

Four years later, law student Jamie Brock is working in legal aid when a routine case takes a vicious twist: she and two colleagues learn that their clients, members of the witness protection program, are accused of defrauding the government and have the encrypted algorithm in their possession. After a life-changing trip to the professor's church in India, the couple also has the key to decode it.

Now they're on the run from federal agents and the Chinese mafia, who will do anything to get the algorithm. Caught in the middle, Jamie and her friends must protect their clients if they want to survive long enough to graduate.

An adrenaline-laced thrill ride, this retelling of one of Randy Singer's most critically acclaimed novels takes readers from the streets of Las Vegas to the halls of the American justice system and the inner sanctum of the growing church in India with all the trademark twists, turns, and the legal intrigue his fans have come to expect.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Reprint edition (April 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414335695
ISBN-13: 978-1414335698



THE LONGEST THREE DAYS of Clark Shealy’s life began with an expired registration sticker.

That was Clark’s first clue, the reason he followed the jet-black Cadillac Escalade ESV yesterday. The reason he phoned his wife, his partner in both marriage and crime . . . well, not really crime but certainly the dark edge of legality. They were the Bonnie and Clyde of bounty hunters, of repo artists, of anything requiring sham credentials and bold-faced lies. Jessica’s quick search of DMV records, which led to a phone call to the title holder, a Los Angeles credit union, confirmed what Clark had already guessed. The owner wasn’t making payments. The credit union wanted to repo the vehicle but couldn’t find it. They were willing to pay.

“How much?” Clark asked Jessica.

“It’s not worth it,” she replied. “That’s not why you’re there.”
“Sure, honey. But just for grins, how much are we passing up?”
Jessica murmured something.

“You’re breaking up,” Clark said.

“They’d pay a third of Blue Book.”

“Which is?”

“About forty-eight four,” Jessica said softly.

“Love you, babe,” Clark replied, doing the math. Sixteen thousand dollars!
He ended the call. She called back. He hit Ignore.

Sixteen thousand dollars! Sure, it wasn’t the main reason he had come to Vegas. But a little bonus couldn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, the vehicle came equipped with the latest in theft protection devices, an electronically coded key supplied to the owner. The engine transmitted an electronic message that had to match the code programmed into the key, or the car wouldn’t turn over.

Clark learned this the hard way during the dead hours of the desert night, at about two thirty. He had broken into the Cadillac, disabled the standard alarm system, removed the cover of the steering column, and hot-wired the vehicle. But without the right key, the car wouldn’t start. Clark knew immediately that he had triggered a remote alarm. Using his hacksaw, he quickly sawed deep into the steering column, disabling the vehicle, and then sprinted down the drive and across the road


He heard a stream of cursing from the front steps of a nearby condo followed by the blast of a gun. To Clark’s trained ears, it sounded like a .350 Magnum, though he didn’t stay around long enough to confirm the make, model, and ATF serial number.


Six hours later, Clark came back.

He bluffed his way past the security guard at the entrance of the gated community and drove his borrowed tow truck into the elegant brick parking lot rimmed by manicured hedges. He parked sideways, immediately behind the Cadillac. These condos, some of Vegas’s finest, probably went for more than a million bucks each.

The Caddy fit right in, screaming elegance and privilege—custom twenty-inch rims, beautiful leather interior, enough leg room for the Lakers’ starting five, digital readouts on the dash, and an onboard computer that allowed its owner to customize all power functions in the vehicle. The surround-sound system, of course, could rattle the windows on a car three blocks away. Cadillac had pimped this ride out fresh from the factory, making it the vehicle of choice for men like Mortavius Johnson, men who lived on the west side of Vegas and supplied “escorts” for the city’s biggest gamblers.

Clark speed-dialed 1 before he stepped out of the tow truck.
“This is stupid, Clark.”

“Good morning to you, too. Are you ready?”

“All right. Let’s do it.” He slid the still-connected phone into a pocket of his coveralls. They were noticeably short, pulling at the crotch. He had bought the outfit on the spot from a mechanic at North Vegas Auto, the same garage where he borrowed the tow truck from the owner, a friend who had helped Clark in some prior repo schemes. A hundred and fifty bucks for the coveralls, complete with oil and grease stains. Clark had ripped off the name tag and rolled up the sleeves. It felt like junior high all over again, growing so fast the clothes couldn’t keep up with the boy.

He popped open the hood of the wrecker, smeared his fingers on some blackened oil grime, and rubbed a little grease on his forearms, with a dab to his face. He closed the hood and walked confidently to the front door of the condo, checking the paper in his hand as if looking for an address. He rang the bell.

Silence. . . . He rang it again.

Eventually, he heard heavy footsteps inside and then the clicking of a lock before the door slowly opened. Mortavius Johnson, looking like he had barely survived a rough night, filled the doorway. Clark was tall and slender—six-three, about one-ninety. But Mortavius was tall and bulky—a brooding presence who dwarfed Clark. He wore jeans and no shirt, exposing rock-solid pecs but also a good-size gut. He didn’t have a gun.
Clark glanced down at his paper while Mortavius surveyed him with bloodshot eyes.

“Are you Mortavius Johnson?”

“You call for a tow?”

Mortavius’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. The big man glanced at the pocket of Clark’s coveralls—no insignia—then around him at the tow truck. Clark had quickly spray-painted over the logo and wondered if Mortavius could tell.

Clark held his breath and considered his options. If the big man caught on, Clark would have to surprise Mortavius, Pearl Harbor–style, with a knee to the groin or a fist to the solar plexus. Even those blows would probably just stun the big man momentarily. Clark would sprint like a bandit to the tow truck, hoping Mortavius’s gun was more than arm’s length away. Clark might be able to outrun Mortavius, but not the man’s bullet.

“I left a message last night with the Cadillac dealer,” Mortavius said.
The Cadillac dealer. Clark was hoping for something a little more specific. “And the Cadillac dealer called me,” Clark said, loudly enough to be heard on the cell phone in his pocket. “You think they’ve got their own tow trucks at that place? It’s not like Caddies break down very often. If everybody could afford a Caddie, I’d go out of business.”
Clark smiled. Mortavius did not.

“What company you with?” he asked.

“Highway Auto Service,” Clark responded, louder still. He pulled out the cell phone, surreptitiously hit the End button with a thumb, then held it out to Mortavius. “You want to call my office? Speed dial 1.”
Mortavius frowned. He still looked groggy. “I’ll get the keys,” he said.
He disappeared from the doorway, and Clark let out a breath. He speed-dialed Jessica again and put the phone back in his pocket. He glanced over his shoulder, then did a double take.

Give me a break!

Another tow truck was pulling past the security guard and heading toward Mortavius’s condo. Things were getting a little dicey.

“I left some papers in the truck you’ll need to sign,” Clark called into the condo. But as soon as the words left Clark’s mouth, Mortavius reappeared in the doorway, keys in hand.

Unfortunately, he glanced past Clark, and his eyes locked on the other tow truck. A glint of understanding sparked, followed by a flash of anger. “Who sent you?” Mortavius demanded.

“I told you . . . the Cadillac place.”

“The Cadillac place,” Mortavius repeated sarcastically. “What Cadillac place?”

“Don’t remember. The name’s on the papers in my truck.”
Mortavius took a menacing step forward, and Clark felt the fear crawl up his neck. His fake sheriff’s ID was in the tow truck along with his gun. He was running out of options.

“Who sent you?” Mortavius demanded.

Clark stiffened, ready to dodge the big man’s blows. In that instant, Clark thought about the dental work the last incident like this had required. Jessica would shoot him—it wasn’t in the budget.
A hand shot out, and Clark ducked. He lunged forward and brought his knee up with all his might. But the other man was quick, and the knee hit rock-solid thigh, not groin. Clark felt himself being jerked by his collar into the foyer, the way a dog might be yanked inside by an angry owner. Before he could land a blow, Clark was up against the wall, Mortavius in his face, a knife poised against Clark’s stomach.

Where did that come from?

Mortavius kicked the door shut. “Talk fast, con man,” he hissed. “Intruders break into my home, I slice ’em up in self-defense.”
“I’m a deputy sheriff for Orange County, California,” Clark gasped. He tried to sound official, hoping that even Mortavius might think twice before killing a law enforcement officer. “In off hours, I repo vehicles.” He felt the point of the knife pressing against his gut, just below his navel, the perfect spot to start a vivisection.
“But you can keep yours,” Clark continued, talking fast. “I’m only authorized to repo if there’s no breach of the peace. Looks like this situation might not qualify.”

Mortavius inched closer. He shifted his grip from Clark’s collar to his neck, pinning Clark against the wall. “You try to gank my ride at night, then show up the next morning to tow it?”

“Something like that,” Clark admitted. The words came out whispered for lack of air.

“That takes guts,” Mortavius responded. A look that might have passed for admiration flashed across the dark eyes. “But no brains.”
“I’ve got a deal,” Clark whispered, frantic now for breath. His world was starting to cave in, stars and pyrotechnics clouding his vision.
The doorbell rang.

“Let’s hear it,” Mortavius said quietly, relaxing his stranglehold just enough so Clark could breathe.

“They’re paying me six Gs for the car,” Clark explained rapidly. He was thinking just clearly enough to fudge the numbers. “They know where you are now because I called them yesterday. Even if you kill me—” saying the words made Clark shudder a little, especially since Mortavius didn’t flinch—“they’re going to find the car. You let me tow it today and get it fixed. I’ll wire four thousand bucks into your bank account before I leave the Cadillac place. I make two thousand, and you’ve got four thousand for a down payment on your next set of wheels.”
The doorbell rang again, and Mortavius furrowed his brow. “Five Gs,” he said, scowling.

“Forty-five hundred,” Clark countered, “I’ve got a wife and—”
Ughh . . . Clark felt the wind flee his lungs as Mortavius slammed him against the wall. Pain shot from the back of his skull where it bounced off the drywall, probably leaving a dent.

“Five,” Mortavius snarled.

Clark nodded quickly.

The big man released Clark, answered the door, and chased away the other tow truck driver, explaining that there had been a mistake. As Mortavius and Clark finished negotiating deal points, Clark had another brilliant idea.

“Have you got any friends who aren’t making their payments?” he asked. “I could cut them in on the same type of deal. Say . . . fifty-fifty on the repo reward—they could use their cuts as down payments to trade up.”

“Get out of here before I hurt you,” Mortavius said.


Clark glanced at his watch as he left the parking lot. He had less than two hours to return the tow truck and make it to the plastic surgeon’s office. He speed-dialed Jessica.

“Highway Auto Service,” she responded.

“It didn’t work,” Clark said. “I got busted.”
“You okay?”

He loved hearing the concern in her voice. He hesitated a second, then, “Not a scratch on me.”

“I told you it was a dumb idea,” Jessica said, though she sounded more relieved than upset. “You never listen. Clark Shealy knows it all.”
And he wasn’t listening now. Instead, he was doing the math again in his head. Sixteen thousand, minus Mortavius’s cut and the repair bill, would leave about ten. He thought about the logistics of making the wire transfers into accounts that Jessica wouldn’t know about.
Pulling a con on pimps like Mortavius was one thing. Getting one by Jessica was quite another.

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Posted by tink38570 at 6:18 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 23 May 2011 6:36 PM CDT
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Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Mad Dog Math - The Soap Opera Continues
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Homeschool Product Review


When we last left our two lovely homeschool mom's, Marge and Babs, Babs had introduced Marge to the world of unit studies. This time it is Babs that is having some homeschool problems with her son Jimmie and it is Marge who is doling out the advice. Let's listen in on their conversation.

Scene One - Exasperated Homeschool Mom - Visiting Her Next Door Neighbor


Marge (Answering door) ~ Uh Oh! I've seen that look in your eyes before. What's going on?

Babs (Storming past Marge in the kitchen) ~ Honey, I need coffee and I need it now!

Marge ~ Get yourself a cup and sit down and tell me all about it.

Babs ~ It's Jimmie again! I'm about to wring his little neck!

Marge ~ Has he been tying Sandy's shoe-laces together again?

Babs ~ No! It's worse!

Marge ~ WORSE! What's the cute little fella done this time.

Babs ~ It's what he hasn't done. He hasn't learned his time's tables. We have been working on those things all year long. I've tried everything...flashcards, drills, number games...you name it I've tried it! I don't know what to do! Honey, It's driving me crazy!

Marge ~ I heard about something just the other day that was supposed to help kids with their math facts. Now where was it that I read that? Oh, now I remember, it was on that blog Families Again. Oh, I just love that blog. And that author, Tim Tinkel, is cute...yep he is caaayute! I've seen his picture. I'm telling you if I weren't already married I would go after him in a heartbe...

Babs ~ Earth to Marge, earth to Marge...your running out of oxygen again! Now quit babbling about this Tim Winkel...Dinkel...or whatever his name is and get to the point!

Marge ~ It's "Tinkel", and he's part of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Babs ~ I told you to quit babbling! What in the world is the TOS Homeschool Crew?

Marge ~ Babs, Babs, Babs! You don't know what the TOS Homeschool Crew is? You mean to tell me that we have been buying the great TOS products and we get The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and you don't know what the TOS Homeschool Crew is? I am shocked! The TOS Homeschool Crew is a group of homeschooling parents like you and me. They get homeschool products to try out and review on their blogs. Tim Tinkel has been the only man on the crew for the past couple of years and let me tell you he is a hunk!

Babs ~ Okay, honey, he's cute, I get it, but what has that got to do with Jimmie's time's table problem?

Marge ~ Well "the crew", that's what they call it, "the crew". Anyway, the crew just reviewed a product called "Mad Dog Math". It's kind of like the old timed math drills that we used to do in class as kids, only this is a download that you use on your computer.

Babs ~ Oh, honey, I've tried those computer things with Jimmie before and they don't work. Besides, how do you know we can trust this TOS team or group or whatever you call them?

Marge ~ Oh, PUHLEEZE, Babs. Remember, this is TOS - The Old Schoolhouse! Have they ever led us astray before? The crew always has a bunch of homeschoolers reviewing each item. Let's go to the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog and see what they have to say about Mad Dog Math.

*One hour later*

Babs ~ Wow, those reviewers really know their stuff. And, you were right about that Tim Tinkel fella. He had some great things to say about how it helped his son with addition and subtraction. I think I'm going to get the one year license download for $19.99. When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be expensive, but that is cheap!

Marge ~ Yep, it's worth a try. I'm going to get it for little Penny to practice her addition and subtraction. We'll see if Mad Dog Math is all that the crew says it is.

Mad Dog Math 

Scene Two - Two Weeks Later - Exuberant Homeschoool Mom - Visiting Her Next Door Neighbor


Marge (answering door) ~ Well, you sure look a lot calmer today than you did a couple of weeks ago. Why the change?

Babs ~ It's that Mad Dog Math! I can't believe it, but Jimmie is actually learning his time's tables! It's amazing.

Marge ~ I know. I was just about to call you about that. Penny loves the addition/subtraction part. She always laughs when the little dog barks at the beginning. So, what do you think? What's you favorite part?

Babs ~ I love how they keep track of how Jimmie is doing and tell us when he's ready to advance to a new worksheet. They tell us exactly what worksheet to do next. They just keep getting a little harder and keep adding a few new things. The neat thing about it is it's so gradual that Jimmie doesn't even know what's happening.

Marge ~ Oh, I know. Aren't they sneaky. And I really like how they keep challenging the kids. After they get done mastering all the worksheets of 20 addition or subtraction problems in 2 minutes, they go back and do the worksheets again but this time in 1 minute. Eventually they go back and do them another time to see if they can do them all correctly in 30 seconds. Woo! Makes me tired just thinking about it. Penny will surely know her addition and subtraction when she gets done with this!

Babs ~ Well with the multiplication and division it's 24 problems in 2 minutes. And have you taken a look at the different levels. After your Penny gets done with just finding the sums, she's going to have to do worksheets where she has to find the missing addend! I sure wish I would have had Mad Dog Math when I was younger. I still add on my fingers!

Marge ~ Oh my, I didn't see the addend thing!

Babs ~ Well, honey, did you see the Challenge Level that they have at the end? It has addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all on one sheet. And it's not just finding the answers, sometimes the answers are provided and there are missing numbers that they have to find! My little fingers don't work that fast. I'm thinking about going through all of the levels myself.

Marge ~ I was thinking the same thing. I think it's so neat when they get a club sticker. Penny was so excited when she completed all of the worksheets in 2 minutes and became a member of the 2 minute club! Now she can't wait to become a member of the 1 minute club. Those club stickers are sure good motivators.

Babs ~ Honey, I'm so sold on this that I'm forgetting the $19.99 for the one year license and the $29.99 for the two year license. I'm going straight to the $39.99 for the perpetual license. Then I'll have it forever and all the kids can use it when they are ready.

Marge ~ Yep, that's exactly what I was going to do. Which reminds me. I have a friend that doesn't have a computer. Don't they sell Mad Dog Math in a notebook form just like the worksheets that we used to use.

Babs ~ I think they do. Let's look on the Mad Dog Math website. Do you have the web address?

Marge ~ I think I marked it as one of my favorites...let me see...yep, it's http://www.maddogmath.com/index.html . It's right next to the address to the crew blog entry that has all of the Mad Dog Math reviews - http://homeschoolblogger.com/homeschoolcrew/783984/. I remember that one because Ida Brubaker was interested in it the other day. Speaking of which, you know that she is on the ladies aide society at church. Can you believe what they want to do with the sanctuary?!? Oh and listen Babs...

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I, the hunk, Tim Tinkel, was given a free download of Mad Dog Math in order to try out and review on my blog.


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Posted by tink38570 at 10:56 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 May 2011 11:57 PM CDT
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Monday, 16 May 2011
Wonder Maps - Will Joshua Become a Geography Whiz?
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Homeschool Product Review

Most of you know that our middle child Joshua has Asperger's Syndrome which is on the autism spectrum. Many people call aspergers kids "Mini-Professors" because those kids grasp on to topics and almost become obsessed by them. They learn everything they can about them. Joshua's first obsession was Thomas the Train. He learned everything he could about that great video/book series. That progressed to trains in general, then to helicopters. Before he could even read he could look at a helicopter and tell you right away what kind it was and all about it. The past year or so it's been football and professional wrestling (yes I said professional wrestling - that's a story for another post Smiley). Recently, however, he has been entranced with geography, and I have to give some of the credit to Wonder Maps.

What are Wonder Maps? Well, sit down and let me tell you. I say sit down because I don't want any of you falling over in amazement at this totally awesome resource. Let me start by asking you a few questions (well maybe a little more than a few):

Do you ever find it hard to find good reliable maps for you homeschool use?

Do you ever wish that you could pick and choose what was listed on your maps instead of relying on just what was there?

Do you find it hard to find unlabeled maps for the use of your students?

Do you ever wish that you could see exactly where in the world things happened in Bible times?

What about during the Middle Ages?

What about during the Revolutionary War or the Civil War or World War I or World War II or...?

Did you ever wish that you could turn off all of the colorful stuff on a map and make it black and white so that you could see it more clearly?

Well, wish and want no more because Wonder Maps is here!

Wonder Maps was developed by Bright Ideas Press, the great people who put out The Mystery of History and that fantastic book that I reviewed last year, Hands on Geography. And it does all of the things that I mentioned above and more.



Wonder Maps uses this great thing called layers. You just bring up the maps that you want and you can pick and choose what you want to see. Don't want to see the river names? Just click a button and they are gone. Don't want to see the rivers? Click another button and they are gone as well. Don't like all of the terrain stuff? Poof...it's gone? Want a black and white map with just the borders so that you can test your kids? You got it! What ever you want you can print out with just a few clicks of your mouse! 

And that's just the geography stuff! I haven't even gotten in to the historical maps yet. They have maps for everything. Ever wondered where Abraham really walked? Doing a study on Ruth and Naomi and want to know where exactly Moab was and how far they had to travel? Want to know what modern day countries you would have to visit to see where Paul stopped on his missionary journeys? You can do all of those things with the Bible Map section.


In fact, you can do similar things with all historical eras. Just click a few buttons and there they are. You can turn on and off features that you want or don't want with the historical map section as well. For example - if you were doing a study of the Revolutionary war and wanted to test you child on the names of all of the battles, you could print out a map with the locations marked but not labeled.

You could print out any of those things with Wonder Maps...or...nothing at all. Which brings me back to Joshua. He loves to just get on Wonder Maps and explore. Just the other day he said, "Hey Dad, I see where Marcelo lives!" Marcelo is our Compassion International son from Bolivia. He even asks to get on Wonder Maps just to play. Hey, anything educational that my children asks to get on has got to be good! I'm hoping that this will catch on and he will become a geography/history whiz just like he's a helicopter and...yes...a professional wrestling expert. Smiley

Okay, enough about Joshua! I want to talk about me (isn't that a country song?). Anyway, if you are map challenged like I am, you may wonder what in the world you would do with all of this stuff. How do you really fit it in to your program. Well, if you use one of the Bright Ideas Press history programs, there is a special button for you to push and all of the recommended maps that come with that program are ready for you to call up and print out. No more trying to bend the spine of your Mystery of History book or All American History book to try to copy the maps.


But, say you use another curriculum, or maybe no curriculum at all. Well, Wonder Maps has everything - even a Teacher's Guide! It contains gobs of information like audio and visual downloads of great ways to use these maps and learn to love geography. There are also some great articles that will inspire you like "How to make a salt-dough map", and "Fifty bright ideas for using outline maps". I have had a blast just looking through them and getting excited about how I can teach geography with stickers, current events, and even by following the schedule of my favorite sports team! Really neat ideas.

You may think that a resource like this must cost up toward $100 or more. I mean, after all, a good world atlas at the book store would cost $60, $70 or more and you can do much more with Wonder Maps. Think again! The Wonder Map CD is only $49.95. The only thing you need is Adobe Reader v9.1 or greater and you can download that for free. Check out Wonder Maps by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. Also check out what other TOS Crew Members have said about this great product by clicking here. Happy Home Educating!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was given a free download of Wonder Maps (sold on CD, not available for retail as a download) in order to try out and review on this blog.

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Posted by tink38570 at 7:25 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2011 1:13 AM CDT
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Thursday, 12 May 2011
EIW - Excellence in Writing
Mood:  happy
Topic: Homeschool Product Review

One of the beefs that I have always had about my school days is that I never was taught how to write well. It doesn't matter what type of writing, there was no instruction on writing research papers, short stories...nothing. I only remember one teacher teaching us anything about writing, and that was about writing poetry. Perhaps each teacher thought that good writing techniques should have been taught in previous grades. Maybe it was but I just didn't catch on. It wasn't until college that I finally learned how to write a research paper. I don't recall ever getting any instruction on writing short stories. I've just picked things up here and there.

That's why I was so thrilled when John Allen and I were selected to review the Excellence In Writing (EIW) Student Writing Intensive Level B. I had seen it before but really didn't know much about it. I just knew that it was supposed to be an excellent writing program. I didn't realize just how complete it is or how impressed I would be.

In this 15 lesson/30 week course your student begins by learning how to write a good paragraph, moves to writing a story, then on to the correct way to write a report and finally about creative writing. These are all things that I wish I would have learned in high school but John Allen is learning them in middle school!

And the way Andrew Pudewa teaches it in such a neat way. Who is Andrew Pudewa? Oops! I'm so excited about this curriculum that I'm getting way ahead of myself. Andrew Pudewa is the author of this program. Along with all of the notes, worksheets, lesson plans, charts, etc. that you need (well over a hundred pages) you get a great three ring binder and four DVDs. The four DVDs contain the teaching of the 15 lessons. Don't think, however, that these writing lessons must be totally boring. If you do, you'll be totally wrong!

As I said, each session is taught in a really neat way. Andrew Pudewa is a very entertaining teacher. Each lesson is filmed in front of a classroom of students, so it is an actual teaching session. Everything is taught step by step from the very basics up. You start out by learning what makes up a good paragraph by reading good paragraphs. You learn how to make key work outlines and learn the rights and wrongs of writing a good sentence/paragraph/story.

Have you ever heard of a "who/which clause"? It's a way to "Dress-up" your paragraph to make it look and sound better. You'll learn about a lot of "Dress-ups". Things like using "-ly words" and "adverbial clauses".

You'll also learn about "banned words" - not naughty words Surprised, but words that are best left out of a paragraph and replaced with more interesting and catchy words. Don't you just hate stories that say "he said" and "she said" over and over again? Isn't it more fun to hear "he exclaimed" or "she whispered"? It is more interesting to read, and it sets the tone of what is happening in the story. Can you tell that the word "said" is one of the banned words? There are quite a few banned words and you learn about all of them and you'll learn about better words to use in their place.

Do you know what an "Overlapping Topic" is or how to "Fuse an Outline"? You'll learn all about those things in the report writing unit.

I could go on and on about the different things that you will learn, but this review would soon get to be very long and I'm sure I'll be breaking one of Andrew Pudewa's rules! Let's just suffice it to say that this course is very thorough.

Nevertheless, although this is a full course, the materials are very easy to use and very well laid out. On the first day of a lesson you always watch the video of that lesson. As I said before, the teacher is very entertaining and you never know what he's going to come up with next. Then, for the next two weeks, you simply practice what was taught in that lesson. Each day is very manageable. The longest day is almost always the first day of the lesson. Some of the video's can be up to an hour long. The lessons are very flexible as well. If your child is taking a lot of time to complete each days work, stretch it out. If they are breezing through it in no time at all, double up on some lessons.

And, don't worry, the parent/teacher's part is very easy. Everything is scheduled and explained in an easy way. You can almost just look and see what the student is supposed to do that day, tell him what to do, and hand him the materials. The video's do all of the teaching. If you aren't a writing whiz, you can sit and watch the video with your student (or watch it ahead of time). If you still have problems, there is a plethora of online helps on the EIW website. There are yahoo groups that you can join and even a whole separate Teaching Writing: Structure and Style course that you can purchase. I didn't review the Teaching Writing materials, so I don't know quite what is in them, but some of the crew members did. Check out the link to the other crew member reviews below.

Let me just tell you - we have regular curriculum that we use in our everyday homeschool.  It's tried and true curriculum that we have researched and used over the years. For the most part it is curriculum that we are comfortable with and is a good fit for our family. I've reviewed a lot of things the past two years  with the TOS Homeschool Crew. A few items just have not been a good fit for our family, but overall we have enjoyed or at least tolerated the things we have used. Some we have used for the review period and that is it. Others we have used for a little while after the review has been written, but eventually they got shelved as well. The benchmark in the Tinkel household is whether or not a review item finds it's way on to our everyday/year round curriculum list. That has only happened a few times and when it has, you can tell that it is a good item and is a keeper. EIW's Student Writing Intensive curriculum is a keeper. We like it so much, that we are going to continue on with it.

So, how much does all of this cost? Well, there are Student Writing Intensive courses for all ages - Course A is for 3-5 grades, Course B (the one we used) is for 6-8 grades, and Course C is for 9-12 grades. Each course is just $99. We also received a "Portable Wall" that corresponds with the level B course. It's a tri-fold wall that your student can use to block off distractions. It has many of the hints and lists printed right on it that the student uses in his everyday writing. This valuable tool is sold separately for $7. EIW also has other courses such as a k-2 writing course and an Excellence in Spelling course. You can check out their website by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. As I mentioned, other TOS Homeschool Crew members have reviewed this item and other items and you can check those out by clicking here.

Happy Home Educating!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received EIW's Student Writing Intensive Level B and the corresponding Portable Wall for free in order to use and review on my blog.



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Posted by tink38570 at 4:32 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 14 May 2011 12:32 AM CDT
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