Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Recipe Resources

I absolutely LOVE to cook.  Let’s face it.  I just love food in general and everything about it…the way it looks, the way it smells, the texture, the taste, the enjoyment I get in preparing it, the presentation…everything!  Food is definitely my love language.  I love to cook and serve others and see the pleasure they get from eating what I’ve made.

My all-time favorite cookbook series for healthy recipes that keep the calories in check but still taste good is the Comfort Food Diet by Taste of Home.  There are 3 editions in the series…the original, quick & easy, and family favorites.  There are also hardcover annuals you can order from Taste of Home, but I’ve found them to be the same recipes compiled in different combinations, so you only need to invest in either the softcovers or the hardcover annuals, but not both. 

The softcover versions are handy to use, inexpensive, well-organized, and have all the features I love about cookbooks:  nutritional information, portion sizes, sections organized by category, and then organized within each section by the number of calories per portion, an index, and even handy suggested meal plans that help you keep your daily calories at 1200 or less per day for 3 meals plus 2 snacks...and there are even desserts!  And let’s not forget the most important thing:  the recipes are delicious, easy to make, and appealing to the entire family.  Yay!

So many of the recipes have become favorites in our regular dinner rotation.  After losing all the weight on PINK Method and getting myself in shape, it was important to me to eat right and keep the weight off while eating normal foods.  Really, it’s all about portion control and careful substitutions of key ingredients that keep the calories and fat low while still working out with PINK.  These books do a great job of helping me do that!

I also love reading cooking and health magazines.  Some of my favorites are Eating Well, Natural Health, and Healthy Cooking. 

So do tell…what are your favorite recipe sources for healthy eating?  Please share in the comments.  Bon appetit!

Monday, February 18, 2013

REVIEW: Wet-Dry-Try App by Handwriting Without Tears

My son, Holden (5), and I recently got to try out the Wet-Dry-Try App for iPad by Handwriting Without Tears.


What Is It?:

The Wet-Dry-Try App is compatible with both iPad and Android devices with a 7” or larger screen.  It simulates the popular slate chalkboard that is the well-known staple of the Handwriting Without Tears program. 

The app uses a combination of sounds, music, and demonstration videos to teach young children how to properly form and orient their capital letters and numbers.  It’s intended to be used as a supplementary tool for teaching handwriting.

It’s available from the iTunes or Google Play stores for just $4.99.

It is recommended for grades PK and up, or approximately ages 4-8.


Our Experience:

This app features two options for practice:  Pick and Practice or HWT’s Winning Order.  As you’d expect, Pick and Practice allows you to choose to practice any letter you’d like to work on in no particular order.  The photo at left shows a screen shot of that mode.  At the bottom, there’s a symbol that allows you to select the numbers menu, as well.

Holden started out using this mode and randomly selected some letters and numbers here.  We used this mode for our first couple of sessions.  As he completed a letter correctly, he was awarded a star.  If he completed the same letter again, he got a second star, and three completions gave 3 stars and changed the menu letter to the HWT Letter Card showing a picture of the letter with something that starts with that letter, as shown here.

In the HWT’s Winning Order section, shown at right, the letters are broken up into 3 categories that share similar characteristics:  Frog Jump Capitals, Starting Corner Capitals, and Center Starting Capitals.  As in the other mode, the option to practice numbers is provided in the bottom right corner, but in this mode, the numbers are broken up into two categories:  Starting Corner Numbers and Other Top Starters. 

As you can see in the photo at right, this section provides a carefully selected order that is recommended by HWT.  The child must start with the first letter in the first category.  Holden loved this section, because the other letters were locked until he successfully completed the given letter.  Once he completed it, the next letter was unlocked.  I found that this provided extra incentive for him, as he liked “making it” to the next letter. 

As Holden worked through the program, the app played optional background music, sounds, and voice instructions.  The settings allow you to turn those features on or off.  You can also set game play options that can make the program more or less challenging for your child (adjusting things like stroke tolerance and whether or not starting point cues are provided).  This is a key feature since the program allows you to set up as many as four different users, as it allows you to customize the options for each child.  For Holden, I set everything to the easiest level to avoid frustrations to start off.

When he would select a letter, the teacher would demonstrate how to write the letter on the screen with virtual chDSCF0199alk.  Then the wet sponge would appear on the starting point and tell him to wet the letter with the sponge.  After he completed that task, a dry towel would appear at the starting point and instruct him to dry the letter with the towel.  When he completed that, a piece of chalk would appear at the starting point, and instruct him to write the letter with the chalk.  When he completed all of those steps, he’d be awarded a star.  The cool thing was that as he completed each stroke of the letter, the app would speak and give him positive affirmations of what a good job he was doing.  It used a variety of funny phrases like “cool beans” that made Holden laugh out loud.  This inspired him to continue.  There were also cute sound effects like the “ribbit” sound of the frog on the Frog Jump Letters.  This made Holden giggle, too!  If he made a mistake, it would say “oops…try again" or “give it another try” or else it would demonstrate the stroke again.  I really liked the soft, soothing, encouraging voice of the teacher.  I think all the encouragement she gave spurred Holden on to work hard and do just a little more than maybe he’d planned to work on.

In fact, to my surprise, Holden has actually asked to work on this app out of the blue, all on his own, on several occasions!  That tells me that he thought it was fun.  At this age, the fun factor is an important component to inspiring a child to want to learn and practice a task (like handwriting) that could otherwise be boring.

Holden just turned 5, and although he writes letters already, I generally have him trace letters I’ve already written for him, just because he struggles with putting the letters where they belong on handwriting lines.  But with the Wet-Dry-Try app, there are no handwriting lines, so he was able to focus on the proper formation of each letter, making them proportionate within the parameters of the screen, and making the strokes in the proper order.  I loved that!  He got to build his confidence, and the repetition allowed him to solidify the letter formation in his mind. 

I feel very confident that using this app will help him improve his handwriting and remember the correct order of the strokes involved in letter formation.  He really likes this app, and it’s great to pull up when we’re waiting somewhere and I need something to help him pass the time.  He gets to “play” with the benefit of learning and practicing in the process.  That’s a winner in my book!

The philosophy of HWT is to teach capitals and numbers first because they are easier to learn correctly without reversals, but if I could offer up one request for this app, it would be that perhaps they could allow a child to “unlock” lowercase letters once they’ve completed all of the capitals with 3 stars each.  Then this app would be *perfect* to me.  But this is truly a useful product, and I know we’ll continue to use it and recommend it to others.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this and other products from Handwriting Without Tears by clicking the banner below.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC Regulations.

Friday, February 15, 2013

REVIEW: Song School Spanish by Classical Academic Press

My daughter, Haylee (8), and I had the pleasure of reviewing Song School Spanish Book and CD and Teacher’s Edition by Classical Academic Press.

What Is It?

Song School Spanish is a program that engages early elementary students in grade K-3 with 30 lively lessons that include songs, vocabulary, illustrations, handwriting practice, stories, games, and activities.  It includes a mild introduction to grammar, and its CD of 42 songs and chants gets auditory learners motivated to learn and remember Spanish words, phrases, and pronunciation.

The complete curriculum consists of:
  • Song School Spanish student workbook with CD – $24.95
    • Includes 30 weekly lessons including review chapters, CD of 42 songs and chants, over 100 everyday vocabulary words, lots of activities and workbook pages.
  • Song School Spanish teacher’s edition – $24.95
    • Includes the entire student text, answer keys, additional teacher’s notes, and fun ideas for interactive activities.  It also includes over 40 pages (plus answer keys) of additional workbook pages and activities for advanced students or for those wanting additional practice.

Spanish Amigo Match$26.95
  • This is a suggested supplemental activity that is not required to complete the core curriculum, but can enhance learning through flashcard and matching activities.

All 3 of the components listed above can be purchased in a money-saving bundle for $66.95.

In addition, the Classical Academic Press website provides you with some very nice downloadable bonus tracks to aid in teaching and learning.  These are available at the bottom of this page under Bonus Files:
    • Pronunciation Guide
    • Bonus Songs

They also suggest heading over to the HeadventureLand website to have your student play games, read stories, and watch video adventures that correspond to Song School Spanish materials.

Our Experience:

I used the teacher’s edition and student workbook with CD with my 3rd grade daughter, Haylee, during the review period.  The text laid out a suggested schedule for me that seemed really reasonable.  It went something like this:
Day 1:  Haylee would read through the list of vocabulary words or phrases for the week.  She would then listen to the pronunciation guide audio file, which we downloaded from the website.  (This is nicely catalogued and easy to use.  I was really thankful for this resource, because I have never engaged in any Spanish studies myself, so it was important for her to hear the words spoken by a native speaker.)  Then she would listen to the corresponding song or chant on the CD.
Day 2:  Haylee would read through the list of vocabulary words or phrases again and speak them aloud to me.  Then she would listen to and sing along with the song from the CD again.  She would then read the chapter lesson in the workbook and do the exercises that followed it, stopping when she reached the Show What You Know section. 
Day 3:  Haylee would say all of the vocabulary words or phrases aloud, sing the chant or song along with the CD, and practice singing it without accompaniment.  She would review previous words/phrases and songs from other chapters, and then complete the Show What You Know section to finish out the chapter.
We did not own the Spanish Amigo Cards, so I can’t attest to those personally, but I can imagine they would be a great supplemental activity, allowing the student to match together Spanish and English phrases and words that they’ve learned.

We found the lists of vocabulary words to be just about right in terms of the amount of material to work with at one time. 

Haylee enjoyed the songs/chants very much and found herself singing them randomly around the house!  In fact, both of us had the tunes stuck in our heads from time to time.  Each tune repeated the lyrics 3 or 4 times before the song ended, so you were able to practice the words a number of times without replaying the song, but we didn’t find the repetition annoying. On the contrary, we found it helped us to master singing along by the time the songs came to an end, and then we’d usually repeat it again for good measure once we’d gotten the hang of them.

The workbook activities provided a wide range of varying pencil assignments like matching, fill-in-the-blanks, circle the best answer, and direct translation.

The review chapter that we did included all of the songs and words from the previous 3 chapters, a short play, and a chapter story that used the words that had been learned.  The Chapter Story provided a wonderful opportunity to see the words and phrases used in context, which helped solidify what we’d studied.

Overall, we found the Song School Spanish program to be fun, engaging, highly interactive, and effective in teaching practical everyday Spanish vocabulary.  Haylee enjoyed it so much that she has decided to continue using the program to the end.  I can definitely recommend it as a way to make basic early foreign language learning fun and memorable!

See what other Crew members had to say about this and other products from Classical Academic Press by clicking the banner below.

   Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC Regulations.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Our Valentine’s tradition in the Burgess household is to have heart-shaped waffleDSCF0223s for breakfast.  But this year, we decided to try something a little different. 

So I broke out the Babycakes Cake Pop maker and whipped up some pancake batter.  I served pancake puppies in a bowl topped with their choice of cinnamon apples or strawberries in light syrup with whipped cream on top. YUM!  That was fun!  It was a big hit with all of three of them.  I think a new tradition has been born this day!


Later this afternoon, we’re hosting a Valentine’s Card Exchange and Dessert Potluck with fellow homeschoolers at Redwing Park.  Then tonight, I’m headed off with a friend to see “A Streetcar Named Desire” performed by the Virginia Opera.  This should be a fun day! 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kids Say the Darndest Things!

My kids were talking about planets the other day, and I was reminded of the funniest little thing my oldest son used to do when he was little.

Hayden is thirteen now…but once upon a time, he was a big-time fan of Blue’s Clues…you know, way back when Steve was the main guy in the show (instead of his dorky cousin or whatever).  Hayden had the little “thinking pad” notebook with the giant red plastic spiral at the top and a giant blue crayon, he had the little “mailbox” and loved to visit the local Children’s Museum to sit in the giant “thinking chair.”  He even had the striped polo shirt and khaki pants that Steve wore on the show.  He sang the songs all.the.time…and he cracked me up singing “Mail Time” and swinging his arms back and forth, LOL.

But the best part was this little electronic toy he had from the show that taught you the names and order of the planets through a song.  We still sing it today, and it goes like this:

Well, the sun’s a hot star,

And Mercury’s hot, too.

Venus is the brightest planet;

Earth’s home to me and you!

Mars is the red one,

And Jupiter’s most wide.

Saturn’s got those icy rings,

And Uranus spins on its side.

Neptune’s really windy,

And Pluto’s really small.

Well, we wanted to name the planets,

And now we’ve named them all!

Cute, huh?  Well, the hilarious part is that when Hayden was a preschooler, he misunderstood the words and used to sing it as “Saturn’s got those SPICY rings”…ROFL!  His dad and I used to crack up laughing, ‘cause he really thought that’s what it said!  He always did love food, so it didn’t surprise me that he thought of it as some big onion ring or something!  LOL. 

I think Steve and I will laugh about that until our dying day.  Too funny.  And just think…we get to embarrass Hayden with that story for the rest of our lives.  Smile

Kids really do say the darndest things!  Surprised smile 

So do tell…what funny thing did one of your children used to say?  Please share in the comments.  I could use a good laugh today. Smile with tongue out

Friday, February 8, 2013

REVIEW: Exploring Creation with Zoology 3: Land Animals of the Sixth Day by Apologia

We had the opportunity to review Exploring Creation with Zoology 3:  Land Animals and the corresponding Junior Notebooking Journal by Apologia.


Apologia offers a series of science books for elementary, middle, and high school students.  The Zoology series is designed for elementary students in grades K-6.  The Land Animals book we reviewed is the third book in the Zoology series.  The material allows children to explore God’s amazing land animals, including carnivorous animals, marsupials, primates, rodents, ungulates, artiodactyla, squam ata, rhynchocephalia, repitles, amphibians, dinosaurs, arthropods, gastropods, and worms.  Children investigate a variety of terrains such as jungles, deserts, forests, farms, and even their own backyards!

The corresponding Junior Notebooking Journal is designed for younger elementary students, particularly in grades K-2.  The Junior Notebooking Journal is recommended for younger or older students who have not yet mastered handwriting, older students with learning disabilities, or students that are new to written narration.
Each lesson in the Junior Notebooking Journal starts with two fun coloring pages that the students can complete while they listen to the material being read to them.  Then there are opportunities for creative expression where children can draw and write a couple of sentences about what they’ve learned.  Then there are activities that help the child learn vocabulary words in a fun and engaging way with things like beginner crosswords, matching activities, etc.  There are also Map-It activities that include bright animal stickers.

The hardcover student textbook is available from Apologia for $39.00.  The softcover, spiral-bound Notebooking Journals (regular or junior versions) are available for $24.00 each.

I am happy to say that we thoroughly enjoyed this product, right from the very start!  I love how the junior notebooking journal lays out a suggested schedule for me with what to read and which activities to do per day and per week.  The suggested pace is 1 chapter per 2 weeks.  If I had been using this as my primary science curriculum, that would have worked out quite well, I think.  But since we used this as a supplement to our regular science during the review period, we set aside one or two days per week and completed all of the reading on one day, and all of the activities on another day.  This worked well for us, but the children did say it was a lot of reading for one sitting.  That’s why I think the suggested pace would probably be just right for the kids.  I, on the other hand, was so intrigued with the reading that I found it hard to stop until it was finished!  Interestingly enough, my 13-year old son also found it very interesting, and even he picked up some facts along the way that were new and fascinating, even for him.

I can’t express how impressed I am with this product!  The text is very engaging and informative, yet in a way that is not dry and boring like many public school science textbooks I can rDSCF0201emember.  The illustrations and photographs are vivid and relevant to the text at hand.  I absolutely love the way science topics are explained from a creationist perspective.  After biting my tongue all through my years in public school when the theory of evolution was readily spoon-fed to me, I was absolutely delighted by Apologia Zoology 3’s explanation of natural selection, which made absolute sense to me and my children.  Ask yourself:  does it make more sense that a cat evolved into a horse due to adaptation to its environment over millions of years, or is it more sensible that the combinations of genes through breeding within a “kind” created variations, where only those best fitting their environment survived in a given area and subsequently continued to reproduce?  BINGO!  Not only does it match my beliefs, but it also just plain makes sense!  This is the kind of science I want my children learning.  I’ve concluded that Apologia is for us!

As for the journaling activities, I was just as pleased with those.  Apologia recommends that you select your journal level based on whether or not the children are comfortable writing paragraphs, not based solely upon their age or grade level. I wanted to make sure my youngest could participate, while DSCF0200my 3rd grader is a beginner writer who lacks confidence, and my oldest just plain does not enjoy writing at all. For these reasons, I thought the junior journal would allow active participation of the younger two while keeping it fun for the oldest. Our goal was to do a fun group study of the material while using it as a supplement to our regular science programs, so keeping it fun and light was important for us.  I am happy with my choice of the Junior Notebooking Journal.  It included such activities as coloring pages with scripture related to the reading, fill-in-the-blank pages to review facts covered in the material, experiments that illustrate a concept in the chapter, and hands-on activities that help the student recall facts learned through the creation of mini-books, lift-the-flap pages, newsletters, etc. The text also included mapping activities, and there were stickers in the back of the journal to use for those.  The purpose of this is to identify where each type of animal is typically found.  You need a large wall map for this.

For my family, I found that we all enjoyed the reading and learned things we didn’t know, and my 3rd grade daughter especially enjoyed the journaling activities.  My older son and my daughter often took turns recording facts that we learned, but any creative activities were best matched to her.

I also really like the “What Do You Remember?” section in the textbook.  This was a great way to recall information and check for understanding from the chapter.  We did those as a group, and my kids loved racing to see who could answer first.  I was impressed that each of them remembered so much from the reading, which I did aloud.  That demonstrated to me how interesting they found the material to be, since they had clearly paid such close attention to details while I read to them.

In looking back at the chapters we’ve covered during the review period, I can see how useful a tool the journal can be, since it becomes a storehouse of tools for reviewing what they’ve learned over time.  What a wonderful keepsake to refer to again and again!  I love how everything is printed in the book so I don’t have any printing or copying or prep work to do in order to complete the activities.

I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to review this wonderful product, and I highly recommend it to any Christian homeschool family that wishes to study science from a creationist perspective.  I look forward to using other books in the series with my kids in the future. 

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and other science books and journals from Apologia by clicking the banner below.


Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC Regulations.