Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Homeschool Day! by Preschoolers and Peace : A TOS Crew Review

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From their website:

"Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Homeschool Day! is our fabulous, all-ages-are-welcome, group teaching time that allows us to pray together, laugh together, and get to the subjects we often run out of time for.
Plenty of insight, ideas, tips from other moms who use Circle Time in their homes, printable planning pages - are you excited, too? If you’ve been wondering how exactly you can fit Circle Time into your day, then you’ll love having Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Homeschool Day! to guide you. It’s like having seasoned homeschooling moms walking right alongside of you."

Cost - $4.99 (33 page - PDF download)

Circle time.  I know that this is a part of a traditional classroom day...but, can it work in a homeschool setting?  Yes, it can!  Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Homeschool Day!  is a wonderful resource written by Kendra Fletcher - busy mom of 8 (I liked her instantly!!).

Circle Time is really just bringing all your children together to start the day.  Actually, you can do Circle Time anytime during your day, or even at multiple times during the day.

I love having 8 children and I really want us to enjoy learning together.  With ages 16, 13, 12, 10, 9, 7, 6, & 4 - it's not always an easy task to accomplish.

Kendra's suggestions really motivated me to become intentional again about bringing all of us together! 

First, I began by making a list of things I wanted to include in our Circle Time.  Bible memory, poetry, geography, history and a read aloud.  Keeping it simple and short (at first) can really make your efforts be successful.

Now, when to find the time...  Well, if you've visited here before, you know when I like to have them all together.  That's right, at the table, during lunchtime - their mouths are full, and their ears are open! 

Armed with a new plan - lunchtime has now become Circle Time!  Currently, with our summer schedule - we are working on our Bible Bee memory verses together, and enjoying a read aloud - The Mysterious Benedict Society

In the fall - I plan to include our history/geography lessons and some Greek & Latin roots plus an etiquette lesson (since we are at the table - table manners is where we'll start!)

Circle Time includes several printables you can use to create your own "Circle Time Wish List".  In addition, you can find some resource suggestions at Kendra's website.  You will want to take a minute to visit this - I think it's one of the best resource lists I've ever come across!  You will find - Bible, Scripture Memory, Etiquette, Academics and even recommendations for Mom & Dad.

Sample schedules are included - with plenty of encouragement to make this work for your unique children and family.  I love this - no two families will do Circle Time the same!

Helpful suggestions include instructions to create your own Memory Binders, Prayer Boxes, and How to get Your Kids On Board (yes, Circle Time works for teenagers too!)

I really appreciated the practical, real-life questions that Kendra answers from moms like us.  How long to spend on Circle Time?, What to do with the babies?, Planning time and strategies to use as well.

The Words of Wisdom will give you plenty of inspiration and encouragement to get your Circle Time started.

 In no time - you'll be encouraged and ready to start enjoying your children and the time you spend learning together!
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TeenCoder C# Series by Homeschool Programming : A TOS Crew Review

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TeenCoder C# Series by Homeschool Programming

From their website:
"The TeenCoder C# programming courses are designed for 9th-12th grade students who may be interested in computer science as a career, hobby, or who may need a computer course for high school graduation. Build your school transcript with a high quality technical elective that is easily recognized by college professors.

Utlizing the free Visual C# 2010 Express development environment from Microsoft, each chapter explains a programming concept in detail with corresponding sample code. In hands-on activities for each chapter the student will write their own programs based on the chapter topics. Instructional Videos for each course are perfect for your audio-visual learner! These videos do not replace the Student Textbook, but they do re-inforce every chapter and lesson in a fun, animated manner.

Cost - TeenCoder: Windows Programming and TeenCoder: Game Programming each cost $75 for the course or $90 for the course with video instruction.

TeenCoder C# Year Pack combines both the Windows Programming and Game Programming courses for $130 (courses only) or $155 (courses and videos).

The Bentz Test Laboratory has a high school student!  Yikes - how did that happen?  That means not only teaching the basics, but adding in electives.  Now what?

Here's a suggestion...why not ask them what THEY want to learn?  Computer Science is the perfect, self-directed (because I don't know any of this stuff myself) high school elective course.  So, when TeenCoder C# Series by Homeschool Programming  became available...we jumped at the chance!

Homeschool Programming, Inc. was founded by homeschooling parents who have degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering as an answer for curriculum to teach "real computer programming" to children who have parents that do not know it themselves... Horray!  

The TeenCoder C# series is designed for the 9-12th grade student.  A student DOES NOT need prior programming knowledge - this is a "start from the beginning" course, they assume some basic computer knowledge that all kids today seem to be born knowing :-) The course is composed of 2 Semesters:  1- Basic Programming and 2-Game Programming.  You do need to work from the beginning, as the skills build upon each other.

The program is delivered as 2 "meaty" PDF files.  For our ease of use, I went ahead and printed them (250 pages - draft quality) and put them in a binder.  You could also access them directly from your PC, or E-reader if you wanted to instead.  We are very visual learners, so a hard copy was good for us.  A printed version would be a nice purchase option.

We also took advantage of the Instructional Videos.  These are a MUST HAVE in our opinion. (check out a sample of the videos here)  Programming is like learning a new language, and it's very helpful to have a guided tour!

Semester 1 begins with TeenCoder C#: Windows Programing
Topics Covered in this Course
  • Introduction to the C# programming language
  • Creating graphical Windows screens
  • Using dialog controls
  • C# data types and variables
  • User input and flow control
  • Math functions and string operations
  • C# debugging and exception handling
  • Object-oriented programming concepts
  • Classes, inheritance, and polymorphism
  • Collections, sorting, and recursion
  • File Input/Output
Final Project - the student will create a graphical chess game! This project will demonstrate many of the Windows and object-oriented programming skills the student has learned. It's also a great lead-in to our second-semester course, TeenCoder: Game Programming!

My soon-to-be 10th grade tester tackled this program completely independently ("self-directed", to quote Homeschool Programming's description).

He worked through a chapter or topic a day, several days a week.  At first, it was easy to read the chapter, watch the instructional video and complete the activity in one sitting.  As he progressed, the material became more difficult - and he needed to spend more time on each chapter and topic.

Each chapter walks you through learning with step-by-step instructions and even screen shots to illustrate.  An end of the "Chapter Review" goes over key points and the "Activity" actually implements what you have learned to complete another programming step. 

Homeschool Programming has included tools - i.e. 16 chapter tests, to help you assess your student's progress.   Our final assessment was the completion and testing of the end of the chapter activities plus his final project chess game.

Here are his impressions of TeenCoder's Windows Programming:
  • The step-by-step instructions were easy to follow. 
  • The video was VERY helpful in being able to "see" what I was learning. 
  • The activities at the end of the chapter are a fun way to put what I've learned into practice.  I've even been able to expand them. 
  • Sometimes, the video explained an example - but, it didn't match what the text had.  It could be confusing.  I couldn't really read along with the video.
  • I liked learning a new language, that my mom doesn't know!!
  • Working on this, has made me want to learn more about computer programming, and given me a new appreciation for what goes into building a program. 
  • I can't wait to program my own games!
 Semester 2 continues with TeenCoder C#: Game Programing.

Topics Covered in This Course:Homeschool Programming
  • Introduction to the XNA Game Studio
  • Game design, game engines, and timer loops
  • Screen coordinates and color concepts
  • Drawing, scaling, and rotating images
  • Handling keyboard, mouse, and XBox 360 Gamepad controller inputs
  • Creating Sprite objects
  • Collision detection
  • 2D animation techniques
  • Playing music and sound effects
  • Game physics
  • Maze generation and solution algorithms
  • Menus, overlays, and deployment models
  • Multi-player scrolling games
  • Game artificial intelligence (AI)
Final Project -  the student will create new arcade game called Bumper Cars! This project will demonstrate many of the game programming skills the student has learned throughout the semester. Once completed the student will have the confidence and framework to write new games on their own!

My tester did not get to the Second semester in our 8 week review period, but the TeenCoder Game Programming looks every bit as challenging and rewarding as the Windows Programming course, and he can't wait to begin creating his own games! 

Together these make a very solid HIGH school level computer science credit.  The self-study format makes it possible, even if you don't know the subject (the beauty of homeschooling through high school).  If you are wanting to learn more about programming...this would be a great course for the parents too.

This well organized, easy to follow along, course has sparked a new interest in computer programming...who knows where that will take him? Best of all, it's a skill he can use for the future. 

 Other members of the TOS Crew reviewed several other products by Homeschool Programming :
KidCoder Visual Basic Series , KidCoder Web Series, & TeenCoder Java Series
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Couponing Made Simple by Christi the Coupon Coach: A TOS Crew Review

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From their website:
"Saving lots of money really can be easy if you know the secret simple steps.  Get Couponing Made Simple and follow the steps to  great savings!"

Cost -  $18.00 or just $4.99 for the e-book in Kindle format (purchase link available on Christi’s website).
This is for EVERYONE - not just the homeschool crowd..
Who wants to save some money, who NEEDS to save some money?
If you answered yes - you will want to get a copy of this book!
Couponing Made Simple  is NOT extreme couponing - you know, the kind that consumes your life, takes over your home and lands you on a reality TV show.  It's REAL couponing for REAL families - just like us.
Christi set out to be a good steward of God's resources and make her family's budget stretch.  I truly appreciate her reminders of WHO is ultimately in charge of our money - God.  We can use everything to bring Him glory - even our couponing!   A chapter on the ethics of couponing is one of my favorites - "Do you really want to answer to Jesus for your integrity for some savings on peanut candy?"   Love it! 
The 130 page book contains all the must-know information to get started with REAL couponing and saving your family money.   She will inspire, educate and walk you through step-by-step.  First, learn the language of couponing - BOGO, Stacking, Blinkies, Peelies, O.O.P and more (if you want to know...get this book!)
I've always been a couponer, with 10 mouths to feed - I learned this skill early on.  But, even if you are a long-timer - I promise, this book will teach you some new tricks.  The Tips & Tools chapter will save you the cost of the book right off!
One huge tip I took away, was to buy more newspapers.  Keeping a sharp eye out for the inserts, and having multiple coupons per item can really save you big.  We've always had one Sunday paper, delivered, read with coffee... but, now I will make a point to go pick up a couple of additional copies - purely for the coupons.  I know I'll save enough with them to pay for my "coffee subscription" several times over.  And to think,  we were about to cancel our newspaper subscription... :-)
Christi also introduced me to new ways to find coupons.  The internet is a huge resource, mostly untapped (for me) in this area.  The book doesn't specifically name websites (they come and go too fast) but, you can find Christi's Favorites here.
Check out Christi - herself!

I have several friends who take couponing to a whole new level, and Christi has inspired me to get in on the "game" of couponing.  I've gotten more organized, and even begun baby steps to finding great deals online.  I don't have unlimited time, but a couple of changes have led to time well spent. 

 Couponing Made Simple is motivating, the organizational tips are easy to implement, and you will begin saving right away. You will also find tips for saving money outside of just the grocery store at yard sales & thrift stores.  You will even find out how you can use YOUR couponing to bless OTHERS.  Yes, even couponing can be a ministry tool!

Thank you for sharing what you learned along the way Christi! 
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Vacation...Homeschool style - The End!

Don't want you to think that our vacation was ALL learning!  We had lots of fun playing too!

My brothers-in-law actually built a WATERSLIDE in their backyard for our Fourth of July celebration!  I'm not talking about slip-n-slides strung together... an actual, big-time waterslide (that they re-purposed from a waterpark hotel)! 


 It was a wild ride (and a bit bumpy) down the steep hill of their backyard and into the Mississippi river!  The bigger you are, the faster you fly.   Lots of scrapes let us to nickname it "The Bloody Mary".  The kids LOVED it, Josh must have gone down a 100 times.  He'd get to the bottom and sprint back up the hill to go again!  I was a bit of a scaredy-cat, but went down anyway.  Don't want to live your whole life wishing you had just taken that wild ride, do you?  (my ankle is still recovering...)

We played on the river all.day.long.  It truly doesn't feel like summer vacation until we are on the boat!  Sam got right up waterskiing and did a great job. Fun times on the tube too...


How many kids can you fit on one tube anyway??

Watch out for the "River Shark"!
When is our next vacation... I need one!



Friday, July 19, 2013

25 Truths: Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us from Ed Douglas Publications: A TOS Crew Review

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From their website:
"'Today, in a time of declining morals and values, 25 Truths: Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us is a motivational and inspirational guide built around Christian principles about what is really important in life. The book covers character and values, caring and compassionately dealing with others, making a difference in the world, and much more. In today’s fast-paced word, there doesn't seem to be time to discuss these important concepts with children and others, so each truth is concise and easy to read, followed by discussion questions." For grades 6-12, or for adults.

Cost: $12.50 plus shipping & handling

With a house full of children to educate, from Pre-school to High-school,  how do you make sure you're telling them what you want most to tell them?  How do you remember who has been told, and who hasn't?  What if you don't have enough time??  Maybe I should make a list....

25 Truths: Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us to the rescue.  This book began as a three-page list that Ed Douglas had compiled and titled "Life’s Truths" or "25 Tips for an Enjoyable Life." He shared the list with friends, acquaintances, and students that he coached as the head high school tennis coach.  I love making lists, so this caught my attention immediately! 

Each short chapter is actually a "truth" of life that Ed wanted to pass on. This is not a Bible study - rather more of a motivational/encouragement book.

Topics include truths like:
  •  Protect your Reputation
  • Be Quick to Apologize
  • Never Surrender
  • Give and it Will Come Back to You

The Truth is introduced with a quote or scripture.  Ed gives some personal stories and examples to illustrate the point.  Each chapter ends with a quick summary and "workshop" where you find discussion questions.

I am very impressed.  We have been using this together at lunch.  I read it aloud, then everyone gets the chance to listen and discuss. The chapters are short, just a few pages.  The topics have been very timely.  I plan to keep this pattern going, and re-read the book with them. 

I think this would work nicely in a small group setting as well.  I plan to introduce it to my son's group (they call themselves the "MCA" ...masculine club of awesomeness) it would make a great discussion starter.

No more worry if I've told them the basics... this is a list you can use too!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Badge of Honor by Susan Marlow and Kregel Publications: A TOS Crew Review

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Badge of Honor by Susan Marlow and Kregel Publications

From their website:
"Goldtown Adventures - Badge of Honor.   It’s 1864, and Goldtown, California, has seen the last of its Gold Rush days. But Jem and his sister, Ellie, along with an old prospector, “Strike,” are sure they can pan more gold in Cripple Creek. In the meantime, selling frog legs and firewood will have to  do. Then Pa becomes sheriff of lawless Goldtown, and Jem worries. How many outlaws will use Pa’s new badge for target practice? When the creek mysteriously dries up, Jem determines to find out why—and plunges head-on into danger."

 Ages 8-12

Cost - $7.99 plus $2.50 shipping and handling

If you like lapbooks - check out the Badge of Honor lapbook for $12.00 + $3.00 S&H or the downloadable e-book version for $7.00.

Combo set: Books 1 & 2 for $13.95.

FREE Study Guide available!  -

Watch to learn more about Goldtown:

My daughter is a HUGE fan of author Susan K. Marlow.  She completely fell in love with the Circle C Beginnings and Circle C Adventure Series.  Now, her brother gets a chance too, with the new Goldtown Adventures!

I barely had the book out of the package, and there was, shall I say "heated" discussion about which tester at Bentz Test Laboratory was going to get to read it first!

My 12 year son was quicker on the draw... and rode off into the sunset with his new treasure!    Badge of Honor is a great story, set in the 1800 Gold Rush days.  Full of excitement and cliff hangers - I didn't see my cowboy for the next couple of days as he went on an adventure with Jem, Strike and Ellie.

It's hard to find excellent reading material for tween age group.  The choices available are somewhat limited, and it's hard to find the balance of keeping them enthralled with a well-written story - espcecially a story that teaches a timely message about trusting God.  Susan K. Marlow has done just that with this series.

"Adventure, excitement, and I just couldn't put it down" were what my tester had to say when he finally surfaced.  "When can I read the next book?" 

If you would like to add more learning activities with Badge of Honor - be sure to check out the Free enrichment study guide.  It's a 24 page PDF file, filled with vocabulary, comprehension questions, extra history learning, hands-on activities and more.

We can't wait to read the next book... Tunnel of Gold  (Third book in series due in November!)

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Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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Vacation...Homeschool Style- Part 2

A highlight of our vacation was our visit to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.  If you every get close enough to visit - do NOT miss this opportunity!

"The National Eagle Center is a world-class interpretive center located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, MN. We are home to five rescued eagles, four bald eagles and one golden eagle. During a visit to the National Eagle Center, you can experience these magnificent creatures up close."

My son Luke, who has always been fascinated with eagles, was overjoyed to visit his feathered friends (we stop here frequently - since Grandma lives in the same city!).

 The National Eagle Center is filled with hands-on exhibits to teach more about these amazing creations.  You can climb inside a life-sized nest,  test the force of an Eagle's talons, experience their powerful vision, and more.

My cute little nestlings...


One of our favorite parts of the visit is the education session.   We even got to see Columbia eating her lunch - a big chuck of fresh fish! 

Luke had written a poem dedicated to The Eagle, and he gave the National Eagle Center a copy.  I have to brag a little... he's a wonderful writer (age 13) and he's homeschooled!  He gave me permission to share it with you as well.

The Eagle  

By Luke Bentz

There is a bird, who above me soars,
While I walk on valley floors.
Far above my head so regal,
Soars the calm, majestic Eagle.
He flies through joy, through grief, through strife,
He’s been above me all my life.
And when I’m consumed in despair,
His watching shadow is always there. 

He flies with me from dawn till dark,
The bird is with me on this journey that I embark.
He soars higher than any kite,
And never ceases his noble flight. 

He never stops, he never stalls,
And he never ever ever falls.
Far above my head so regal,
Soars the calm, majestic Eagle.  


 These are his two favorites - Wa'shaka the Golden Eagle and Columbia the Bald Eagle.

Our Family Picture with Columbia


Did you miss Part 1 of the fun?  - read it here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mayan Mysteries Online Game by Dig-It Games: A TOS Crew Review

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Mayan Mysteries Online Game by Dig-It Games

From their website:
"Explore the mysterious world of the ancient Maya and learn about their remarkable civilization. Discover artifacts, decode glyphs, visit ancient Maya cities, explore the Maya calendar, and more in this exciting educational journey through history. " Specifically designed for grades 5-9

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Cost - $21.99 (single user license)

 Bentz Test Laboratory loves getting to play on the computer with my encouragement, and blessing.(what kid wouldn't??)  I love that they are learning and having fun. TheMayan Mysteries Online Game by Dig-It Games is a win/win for both of us!
Suzi Wilczynski , the founder, is a professional archaeologist. She brings her impressive knowledge to the game, and your children get an education in archaeology as well.
Since we had just completed studying the Maya in history, this game was a HUGE hit!  While only one child could play at a time with our single user license,  most of my testers wanted to gather around to watch the fun. With the single user license, once one child is finished - you can begin again with another. Or, the same child could restart the game, and see if they master more of the challenges. 
Designed with approx. 12 hours of play to complete the game, they were eager to solve the puzzles, collect the artifacts and achievement badges.  Once finished - we were excited to find out the game continues in the Mayan Mysteries 2 (coming soon!).  The in-game encyclopedia was a wealth of information - and they enjoyed exploring topics more in-depth.  Links are included throughout the text to encourage that exploration. 
I was impressed with the amount of information they were able to pick up along the way.  There is a lot of reading - so, make sure your child can handle that well.  It's a great way to keep them learning and having fun during the hot days of summer.
An iPad App is available as well.
Another home run - Dig It Games!  We loved your Roman Town game too!
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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