Monday, February 28, 2011

TOS Review - I See Sam

For the past several months we have been reviewing, I See Sam, early reader books as part of the TOS Crew. 

 I See Sam is a series of readers that span eight levels. We received the first four levels for review, as well as the flashcards, (purchase for $15 or downloaded for free and you print out on your own card stock). Each level contains up to 27 Little Books that work on different decoding skills, building on those skills as you work your way through each progressive level. Recommended age for all eight levels is K - 3.6.

 Level 1 readers

Each reader starts with a Sound Practice as well as an introduction to New Sounds, where your student goes over sounds they will encounter in that particular reader.  The words used in each reader are also introduced and mastery of each of these components is desired before moving on and actually reading the Little Book. Once your student can read the sounds and words with fluency, you start the new reader.  Fluency is key with this program. Your child is to read through the story two times before moving on, to ensure fluency and mastery.  If your child makes two mistakes in a reader, you read the book again until mastery is achieved. Every fifth or sixth book has a "Looking Back" section that reviews sounds and words your student has already encountered in the earlier books. Again, mastery is key. If your child is making mistakes with this review session, you back it up and go over these areas again before moving on.

Achievement is rewarded by a progress chart and lots of praises from you! The best reward though is watching your child's face as they discover that they are reading. :)

The Level 1, at the K level starts very basic.  There are only a few words on each page along with black and white drawings to show what the words mean.  Down at the bottom of the pages there will be cues for the parent to either ask the child a question about the picture (enforcing the words they just read) or a reminder to praise them for their hard work.

You can see a flash demonstration of one of the Level 1 readers here.  You'll be able to flip through the pages to see exactly what is in one of these readers. The layout, pictures and interactions between student and teacher.

 This program has been developed through years of research and utilizes these five essential areas that researchers have proven leads to reading success:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

How we used I See Sam in our homeschool

I used this program with my 7 year old who is still learning to read. He found the readers to be easy, which is not meant as a negative. He was able to read them, which gave him a tremendous boost in his confidence, the thing that I feel has been holding him back from blossoming in reading so far.  Each book is small and simple enough that he feels like he is accomplishing something huge, reading a whole book! 

There were things I liked and didn't like about I See Sam:


  •  Simple program with out a lot of flash (that's a pro to me). Not a lot of clutter to distract your learner.
  •  Very easy to use with zero teacher prep involved. You literally pick up the reader and go. For busy homeschool moms, this is a plus.  
  • relatively inexpensive compared to other reading programs.
  • The stories are nonsensical. There is no point to them, which bugs me personally.
  • Often times there are tongue twisters, which can trip up an early reader.
  • The stories are not written in the way anyone talks in real life, which is another pet peeve of mine in early readers.
Would I recommend this product? If you're looking for a solid, no frills early reader program that utilizes graduated readers, yes, I would recommend I See Sam.  I think that my cons to this program are my personal opinions for my own tastes but the fact that my son, who is the one learning to read, enjoyed them and wants to continue reading them, is a deciding factor for me in recommending this program.  I don't think it would have been a good fit for his older three sisters for the same reasons why I didn't care for the readers, which is why I mentioned it. But for my guy, this was actually a pretty good fit.

There are a few ways to purchase I See Sam.  There are different bundles you can purchase, check here for types and prices or you can buy each individual level for $30 each (there will be up to 27 books in each level).

Make sure you check out  Academic Success for All Learners site for video's and guidance on using this product and to check out some of their other products.

To see what others on TOS crew thought of I See Sam, click here.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

TOS Review - Math Rider

 When MathRider was listed as one of the vendors I could possibly review for TOS, I was so excited. When I got picked to review this product, I was elated! :)  I have a horse loving gal who needs help with her math facts. What a perfect combination!

This is another product that came from someone seeing a need, in this case in the developers own daughter, and went about doing something about it. I love to hear stories like this. :)

MathRider takes your student on different quests through The Mathlands.

They can choose from Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division. Within each of those they can choose from easy, medium or difficult, which changes how far they travel in their quest. They can also change what numbers are used in the quest. Don't know the 12's yet? That's ok, from the pull down menu, change the number to 10, or whatever number it is you are desiring to work on.

Watch this video to see a demonstration of MathRider

To accomplish your quests you need to complete a series of math facts. The horse and rider, who in the story is identified as "you" :),  appear at the bottom of the screen. As they ride along they encounter hurdles with a math fact listed below them. In order to clear the hurdle the math fact has to be entered correctly.

The faster you work, the faster you ride and you'll get a higher score. However, the game will adjust to your speed. So if you're slower, the game will slow down to meet you at your ability.

 You can see the progress at the top of each screen

 Each section of The Mathlands has different scenery, so you feel as though you are traveling through different lands on your quest. 

As you complete the quests different pieces of your kingdom appear on your main page, where all quests begin. When all quests are completed, your castle and lands are complete.

There is an area for practice, where the scores are not recorded and don't affect your overall performance. There is also an area that shows the statistics for your student and how they are performing for each math operation.

 example of statistics. 
The grid shows areas of mastery (green), areas that need work (red and orange) and facts not worked on yet (gray).

How this product worked in our home:

I created accounts for my 11 and 9 year old daughters as well as myself, my target student being my 11 year old.  She enjoyed the quests and trying to complete them. The graphics were simple drawings and the music was quiet. There's not a lot of flash in this product, which is why it's perfect for this particular daughter. She's easily distracted if there's a lot going on in a video, whether it be flashy characters, lots of movement or loud music and words, she loses her focus on the task she's trying to accomplish. MathRider's very simple, childlike comic book drawings and quiet music, accompanying the rider on his quest, enabled her to enjoy the product and still focus on her task, which was to learn her math facts!

Would I recommend this game to other parents whose children struggle with math facts? Yes, with a caveat. For those that are used to computer games and expect a certain level of "entertainment", due to the low level of exciting graphics, they might find this product dull and uninteresting. If they have a child like mine, who rarely plays computer games or needs a less overstimulating media, then yes, I would recommend this product as a fun way to reinforce math facts.

How to purchase:
MathRider is available as a download only and can be ordered at MathRider's main website. The retail price is $49.95 US dollars but right now, it's on sale for $37 US dollars.   You can check out the system requirements here, to make sure that your computer is compatible before you purchase. MathRider also offers a 30 day money back guarantee.

To see what others on TOS crew thought of MathRider, click here.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Valentine's Day Tea Party

I live in the best neighborhood! Neighbors that are neighborly is a rare treasure in today's age of cyber living and fast paced, jam packed schedules. Along with the kids getting together to play on the spur of the moment, our neighborhood gets together on a regular basis for yearly block parties, Easter celebrations, book clubs and a monthly gathering of moms for "tea".

This month, it was my turn.  I asked if the ladies would like to do a larger gathering that included all the ladies, young and not so young ;), from our neighborhood. They were on board right away and we found a date when all the young ladies could come, President's Day! They all were off from school and my crew just took the day off even though that's a holiday we typically school on. :)

My girls and I spent the week prior gathering supplies to decorate and make this an occasion to be remembered. All weekend long we decorated with tissue paper flowers and pom poms, heart garland, valentine's and decorating the house to look like Valentine's day.  What fun! Having a V-day party after Valentine's day means you can find a lot of decorations for cheap! :)

aren't these wooden chairs and tables great! I borrowed them from a new friend of mine. So appreciated her generosity in helping to make this a special day. :)  (I'm also watching my local party rental places for sales on their used equipment. ;) )

Heart garland, made by my gals

We provided the beverages, lemonade, iced and hot tea and water, and everyone else brought the food. That was such a blessing!  We don't drink coffee so one of the moms actually carried over her coffee maker w/ fresh brewed coffee and some spare freshly ground beans, in case we ran out.

Doesn't this all look so delicious?  It was! We had chocolate croissants, and regular croissants, mini quiches, fresh fruit and veggies, homemade red velvet cupcakes, bagels and cream cheese, homemade pumpkin muffins, mini sandwiches, pumpkin bread and scones. YUM! I added the chocolate, because, what's a party without lots of chocolate! Especially a valentine's day party. :)

shot of the room while the girls were making their own tissue paper flowers, before the feasting began.

  table with the place settings. (notice the chocolate! :) )

 another view of the room. Don't you love the hanging pom poms? Thanks to my dear hubby for hanging those late Sunday night, you're the best! 

Some shots of my sweet neighbors 
The Mama's. Love you all!

mother and daughter, so precious

My final thanks and praises go to my three, precious oldest girls. Without their help, this would not have turned out as lovely as it did. I love you all so much and I am so proud of you.




Aren't they beautiful? I am happy to say, they are beautiful from the inside out!

This was so much fun! We're hoping to do it again soon. :)

Nature Study

Don't you love it when God provides a nature study right outside your window?

Friday, February 18, 2011

TOS Review - Kid Scoop

In January we received Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution for review.  What is the Reluctant Reader Solution? It's a clever, fun bundle that contains 365 pdf worksheets of various topics and a colorful, on-line newspaper that is full of interesting facts, pictures and games ~ wordsearches, mazes & math problems are just a small example of the games. Kid Scoop, itself, is an amazing resource that you'll want to check out as well. The offerings on this page are not included in the Reluctant Reader Solution and are not included in this review, I just want to make sure you don't miss out on this resource!

The purpose behind the Reluctant Reader Solution is to get kids who aren't interested in reading, interested!

February Issue of the on-line Newspaper

Front Page

a look inside

The newspaper is easy to read and navigate. You flip the pages using the arrow keys and can zoom in to get a closer look.  You can print individual pages of interest, or the whole thing! There is also the option to have the paper "read" to your student by clicking on the "Listen" button on the toolbar at the top. It's the typical computer voice, so your student may not like this option. ;)

PDF Files

The PDF files have topics that cover a wide variety of topics. They are like mini unit studies, each 5-7 pages long. Some of the topics covered:
  • baseball
  • bubblegum
  • nutrition
  • fitness
  • Tom Sawyer
  • most Holidays
  • many, many more!
The activities include information on the topic as well as experiments, games and puzzles and some exercises to help build critical thinking skills.

Our take on this product?  We loved it! I don't have any reluctant readers but I do have avid readers, and beginning readers, that enjoy finding more information about various subjects. Wrap it up in a colorful and fun package, and you have some happy readers! Even though I don't have reluctant readers, I do have one where reading isn't something that comes easy. She loves to read, she just can't devour the books like her sisters do. This product has been a great fit for her and keeps her encouraged with her reading, which I love.

The Reluctant Reader package is $97 for all 365 downloads and a 12 month subscription to the on-line newspaper. To purchase the Reluctant Reader Solution click here.  They offer a 365-day money back guarantee, so you can try it for an entire year, and if you aren't happy with the results, they will refund you your money! You don't see an offer like that too often!

While you are on the website, make sure you sign up for a month of free ideas delivered to your email box!

To see what others on the TOS crew thought, click here.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Growing, still

J., 4 - but almost 5 ;),  lost his first tooth yesterday. 
Yet another reminder of how my precious gifts are growing.

Lord, as they grow older and bigger, help me to guide them to grow stronger in You.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Sedona 2004
4 kids, ages 6, 5, 3 & 15 months

Sedona 2010
6 kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 7, 4 &  22 months

Sedona 2004

Sedona 2010

 Flagstaff 2004

Flagstaff 2010

Funny photos

The kids are always taking the camera to take pictures and videos. Whenever I download the pictures, I never know what I'm gonna find!

Tonight, I came across these two funny pictures that were taken about a second apart.

I don't know who the photographer was but I am curious as to how they got them to pose this way. One w/ a cheesy smile, while the other is straight faced and then one second later, reverse that pose. Crazy, funny kids.

Oh, and to prove the randomness of the photos that come across, this was also taken at the same "photo shoot". This shot was taken a few seconds before the top picture on my post.


Like I said, crazy funny kids. :)


My sweet daughter made me a snack today.

Lord, thank you for these blessings and may I never take them for granted.

TOS Review - The Curiosity Files Blue Footed Booby

We recently had the opportunity to review one of the Curiosity Files from TOS.

Curiosity Files are unit studies that take kids, ages 8-13 (can easily be adapted for younger kids), on an adventure with science loving, fact finding, Ana Lyze. These studies are written by homeschooling moms and they are loaded with lots of information, wrapped up in a fun package.  There are nine titles in the series:

  • Quicksand
  • Blue Diamond
  • Dung Beetle
  • MRSA
  • Puffer Fish
  • Red Tide
  • Zombie Fire Ants
  • Blue-Footed Booby
  • Cicada Killing Wasp

I looked through the titles and chose one that I thought my nature loving 11 year old would enjoy, The Blue Footed Booby.  When I told her about the file I just downloaded, she was excited to get started learning about this funny bird.

This particular Curiosity File takes the explorer to The Galapagos Islands where they get to meet this odd bird.  With 98 pages, filled with color illustrations, facts, quizzes and games, Blue-Footed Boobies will keep your kids occupied and answering questions like these:
  • Why the funny looking blue feet? How are they important?
  • How does the blue-footed booby defy the theory of natural selection?
  • What is so unusual about this seabird’s makeup and mating practices?
  • How many different species of boobies are there?
  • What things could be working against the survival of the blue-footed booby . . . and yet this animal has thrived?
  • Has the blue-footed booby ever been spotted outside its natural habitat? Where?
  • What answers have scientists been able to find within the theory of evolution that explain why the blue-footed booby has so many oddities?
  • What great truths can we grasp from the Bible? 
  • And a whole lot more! 
You can check out a sample of The Blue-Footed Booby Curiosity file here.

My daughter loved this unit study! She was excited to get started and enjoyed working through the pages, learning more about this bird and how the Blue-Footed Booby defies the theory of evolution.  This is a true unit study, covering several subjects with the central theme being, the Blue-Footed Booby.  Along with all the background and science information on the birds, there is also a bible study, covering Wisdom, math problems, more information about The Galapagos Islands and their inhabitants, geography - including map work, art, language arts questions which include story writing, sentence sequencing, copy work (in cursive and printing), spelling and vocabulary words. There are questions specifically for Elementary age kids and for the Jr. High kids and some of the activities have adaptations for kids with special needs, so you don't have to tweak the questions to fit your child's age or ability.  The science goes into details of the birds anatomy, ornithology and includes a recipe for suet and nature journal pages, so you can do a little backyard nature study. While you probably won't be seeing any Blue-Footed Booby's in your yard, you will discover all sorts of fun birds that are more familiar to your own area.

The Curiosity Files can be purchased a few ways.

You can purchase all nine (the best deal) for $49 on CD; or $46 for E-Books 
Purchase each unit individually, check The Schoolhouse Store for current pricing.

These studies are well done, full of information that is presented in a clear but fun way.  I would definitely recommend this series to everyone! But don't just take my word for it, check out what my fellow crew members had to say about the files they reviewed.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions.