Thursday, October 29, 2015


For my primary literature class this week, we read "Apples to Oregon" by Deborah Hopkinson

It's a fun tall-tale adventure as "Delicious" treks cross country with her apple-tree crazed Papa.  My kiddos loved the book!

Our project was making apple-shaped suncatchers.

I cut out a simple apple shape out of red paper, with the center open.

Then, I took clear contact paper and covered the apple.  We flipped it to the sticky side and used colored scraps of tissue paper to fill it in.

I covered this side with contact paper too, to make it more durable.

We punched a hole and hung them in our sunny window.

Another free activity!  (I had all the supplies already)

The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics: A TOS Crew Review

Maestro Classics Review
The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics
Maestro Classics Review
Bentz Test Laboratory could not wait to get the newest edition to the award-winning lineup from Maestro Classics! They currently have 12 CD's available for a range of classical music and well-loved children's literature.  Each CD is just $16.98, and MP3 downloads are available for just $9.98.  We love being able to take them with us in the van!

The Nutcracker , recommended for ages 5 and up, couldn't have arrived at a better time!  Two of my testers are ballerinas, and they are performing in an upcoming Christmas performance of this very story with the San Antonio Ballet as a soldier and a mouse.

This CD features the music of Tchaikovsky - performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and adapted & conducted by Stephen Simon is narrated by Jim Weiss (a personal family favorite!).

The Nutcracker is a delightful story about young Clara, who gets a Nutcracker as a gift from her Uncle on Christmas Eve.  During the night, the handsome Nutcracker comes to life as a prince and takes Clara on a magical trip to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  He valiantly battles the Mouse King, and sweeps Clara off her feet.  When morning comes, Clara awakes from her enchanted dream.

We LOVE this story, but the music is what blows us away, every time!

In addition to the hour long CD, which features the music from every section of the ballet, you get narration from the great Jim Weiss. (We have listened to his voice on audios for so long, we feel like he's a family friend!)   I just love how Maestro Classics brings these stories and music to life for my young listeners.  The narration takes place during the music, so that you know exactly what is happening in the story.

Each CD comes with a 24 page , full color booklet that gives more information about the story.
  • A description of each track
  • The History of Ballet  
  • Music for the Overture
  • An introduction to the Harp 
  • A short biography of Tchaikovsky
  • And some fun activities like a word scramble and crossword puzzle.

Maestro Classics also offers free downloadable curriculum guides that correspond with all of their CDs. For The Nutcracker, the curriculum guide included activities about ballet, history, geography, science, language arts, art, music, and math.  This is a really fun way to expand the learning potential!

This is the perfect time for you to introduce your children to The Nutcracker, and make it a new family holiday tradition. 

Several Special Deals are available right now that I want to tell you about... these are great stocking stuffers:

The complete 12 CD set is currently priced at $150 (the list price is $200), and they’re offering free shipping.  Enter the code PIANO for a limited time to get another $20 off.

Or, you can use the code FLUTE to receive 15% off your purchase.

Remember, CDs are $16.98, but if you order three, you will get them for $45.

Other members of the Crew got to listen to :Peter and the Wolf. You'll love this one too!

Maestro Classics Review

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner from Apologia Educational Ministries : A TOS Crew Review

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner    from Apologia Educational Ministries 

Let me start with a "before" and "after" picture of my planning process...  As you can see, I could not wait for the The Ultimate Homeschool Planner    from Apologia Educational Ministries to arrive!  

This planner is designed by Debra Bell - one of my go-to, homeschool experts!  She's been down our path, and survived to tell about it, as well as encourage us who are still plodding on.  

This planner is not only beautiful, and sturdy (laminated cover with pockets too) - but, it's functional as well.  I have such a "non-standard" life that the average "standard" style planner never, ever works for me.  This Planner is just the opposite - it seems like it was designed especially for me and my crazy schedule!

Here's a some of the planning features included:

  • Six years of calendars for long-term planning 
  • One-Year Planning Grid for the year ahead
  • Student Goal Setter pages to identify academic and character goals for each child 
  • Family Priorities page to help you keep life in perspective 
  • Resource List pages to track resources for up to six children 
  • Two-page planning grid for each month 
  • Special Notes for scheduling exceptions that break your routine 
  • Wide margins to record prayers and answers to prayers Scriptures for meditating on God’s faithfulness 
  • Exclusive Lord’s Day feature for making God’s Word a central part of your plan 
  • Maximum flexibility to organize for up to six children by day or subject 
  • Memorable Moments and Evidences of Grace pages for recounting God’s activity in your life and home school 
  • Pages to record grades for up to six children and six subjects 
  • Reading List pages for up to six children 
  • Field Trip and Outside Activities log
  • Year-End Review pages for reflection and next year’s planning

Debra Bell starts with a "user guide" that will encourage you that planning is an essential element in your day.  She recommends a "painless" 5 step process, and gives details (with pictures!) on how to implement a new plan that works for you:

  • A yearly planning retreat
  • Monthly planning sessions
  • Weekly planning breaks
  • Monday morning tutorials
  • Friday afternoon weekly reviews

She caught my attention right away with "Prioritize for Sanity" - this was pure gold for me.  We have been very busy... ballet, soccer, violin, piano, basketball, serving, church, Coop, small groups....on and on and on.  But, I hadn't taken the time to prioritize any of it, and sanity was far from a word used to describe my world!

I think that my favorite feature of this planner is that I am the one that gets to customize it.  Blank monthly and weekly planner pages allow me to fill them in the way that I need to.  I don't have any guilt not following the pre-printed pages. 

The 2 page Monthly pages are first, followed by the Weekly planner pages:

This is the perfect layout for me. The weekly planning pages begin with an inspirational quote, Bible plan, Battle Plan - with "fighter verse", Prayers, Hospitality/Outreach - I can start each week focused on what is truly the most important thing... God's plans for me and my family!

The Weekly planner two-page spread has space for 6 people's weekly schedules.  Or, since it's blank - you can customize it to meet your needs.

 Since there are 10 of us to plan for in my family, I decided that organizing by activity type was better for us than person by person, so that's how I filled this section in.

I used the 6 rows with a row for boys activities, one for girls activities, another for church activities, coop activities, a row for medical/dental/etc appointments and of course - a row just for mom/dad activities.

The 6 columns gave me a column for every day of the week, except the Lord's Day - another gentle reminder to put God first!   The ample margin space for notes, supplies and appointments became my grocery and to do list area.

A blank page to record the week's memorable moments, achievements, and evidences of Grace gives me the opportunities to look back with gratitude on our week.  How many times I have said..."I should write that down so we remember"  This is the perfect spot to capture all those funny things your family says at dinnertime :-)

What a blessing to have a planner that reminds me of what is truly important.

My "Orange" planner (and the "Blue" one) have 48 weekly planning sections.  The "Yellow" design has 52 weeks.

 Sections for recording grades & scores for up to 6 students are included as well.  I didn't dive into this, but it's a great place to keep track of those ACT, SAT scores for your high schoolers.

Speaking of high schoolers, or those who are soon to be in high school - you will love the " High School Planning Grid with a sample plan" pages.  You can easily create a plan for your 8th-12th graders to cover the basic subjects as well as electives, tests and summer activities.  And, it'll all be in ONE place!

Six blank Reading lists and Field Trip logs offer a place to record those important activities.  For those larger than average families, you could use each as a semester, group list.  At least that's how I plan to do it.

The teaching tips in the back are worth the price of this affordable planner alone!
  • Checklists for Raising an Independent Learner
  • Motivating the Reluctant Learner
  • Learning & Thinking Skills
  • Power Tools of Learning

And finally,  a section for you to record your "Year in Review".  This is the perfect place to reflect on your goals and praise God for the progress and answered prayers.

This will become a treasured keepsake of your year, and I know it is a resource I will not be doing without!

Check out the other designs available:
Apologia Ultimate Homeschool PlannerApologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

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Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

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Resource Pack from Institute for Excellence in Writing: A TOS Crew Review

IEW Phonetic Zoo

A Resource Pack from Institute for Excellence in Writing:

Timeline of Classics
Teaching with Games Set
A Word Write Now

I was like a kid at Christmas when this package arrived!  We are huge fans of everything we have ever tried from 
Institute for Excellence in Writing - and this Resource Pack was no exception!  
Let me tell you about them:

 IEW Phonetic Zoo
Timeline of Classics : Historical Context for the Good and Great Books by Gail Ledbetter

$29.00 in spiral-bound 192 page book.

or $19.00 downloadable Ebook.
This handy guide is the only tool you need to coordinate your literature and history studies for all ages.

It is organized into 4 time periods (great for classical study families ).  The Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance & Reformation and Modern World.

Within each section you will find a Description or Time Period, Title, Author and suggested level (E-elementary, M-Middle, H-High school)  for resources (books and movies!) that coordinate to that particular historical time period.  If you pencil in the date as your child reads/watches each resource (or in my case...make a spreadsheet )  you can have a handy completed literature list for transcript purposes.

They have included an inspirational quote on each page too,  I love these!

We are currently studying the Civil War.  I simply opened to "The Modern World" and found an entire timeline of literary and excellent movie choices for ALL of my testers.

I have always wanted all this in one place, and now I've found it! This is one of the most valuable tools I have, and I know I will be using this one over and over again.

IEW Phonetic Zoo
A Word Write Now by Loranna Schwacofer

$35.00 spiral-bound 106 page book.

Check out a sample

 This book is a MUST HAVE writing tool for all my students. It's way more user friendly than a thesaurus. It's organized around character traits, descriptive words, and words for movement & senses. 

The appendix offers ways to "Make it fun" playing with words, transitions, prepositions, and literary genres and devices. 

We keep this handy because ALL of my students use this resource regularly!

 IEW Phonetic Zoo

Teaching with Games Set $29.00- DVDs presenting a 130 min. workshop  AND the 117 page E-book and Bonus material (taken from Dress-Ups, Decorations, and Delightful Diversions, also from IEW) on CD.
or $19.00 spiral-bound book without the workshop DVDs
Check out some samples

By far, this is one of my favorite resources! (I know... I keep saying it, but it's really true!)   I love using games to teach...learning should be fun, right?  
Games are just plain fun, but it's even more than that:
  •  games increase motivation & retention  Did you know when we use and apply information, like in playing a game, we have 90% retention? 
  • games build critical thinking skills 
This fabulous resource from IEW walks you hand-in-hand into the world of teaching with games.  It's organized into several user-friendly sections:
  • No-Prep games
  • Matching Card Games
  • Question Games
  • Math Facts Games
  • Make as You Teach Games
The DVD's feature Lori Verstegen teaching us how to teach with games.  She's in front of a small class of moms.  Not only does she go over how to create and play the games, her "class" demonstrates by actually playing them!  They looked like they were having so much fun that I wanted to join in.

I have taken many of the ideas in this book and used them both at home and in my Co-op classes.  Several are old favorites... like Jeopardy and Bingo. 

 But, I found a couple of new twists too,  like Hot Potato (using my timer) and Continent Coverup that have been huge hits!

Black line masters for many of the games are included.  However, she really encourages you to take her suggestions, and make your own customized games for your students.

The CD includes the PDF file for the Teaching with Games Ebook and some great Bonus Materials.  If you are a fan of the IEW Writing approach, you will love these alliteration and similie games based on classic literature.  Reproducable game boards and cards are ready for you to print. (taken from Dress-Ups, Decorations, and Delightful Diversions, also from IEW)

Anyone who is wanting to breathe some new life into their learning should definitely get this resource!

Be sure to check out the reviews from the Crew for Phonetic Zoo Spelling!
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Friday, October 23, 2015

Christmas Around the World: A Review

Christmas is coming... it's time to take a break from the regular school schedule and plan some fun learning!  Every year, I look for something new we can do during this season.  I'm excited to be able to introduce you to Christmas Around the World by Katie Hornor.

It's designed for grades K-6.  It's available as a  downloadable, PDF file or Print Edition - complete with internet links for you and your family to explore.

This 6 week long unit study will take you on a trip around the world to visit 30 countries and learn their unique Christmas customs and traditions.

Countries include: Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Tailand and the U.S.A.

I love having something new to keep my kiddos busy learning, while I am busy with Christmas preparations.  There are printable worksheets, coloring pages, word finds, notebooking activities and much more.   You can use this with multiple ages as well.

One of the things I appreciated the most was that this study introduces them to various peoples of the world while focusing on their spiritual needs!  It's just missionary focus is just what I was wanting to share with my family this year.

Order your copy by Oct. 25th and you get a Free Holiday Planner as well.

 Disclaimer:  I was given a free download copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Crayon Fun

We have begun a new Co-op adventure this year with some new friends.  We are loving the chance to learn together with these families!

I get to teach writing to all the ages - which is something I love.  But, I also get to teach "literature" to our youngest students.

Basically, my assignment is to pick a fun kid's book, and come up with something creative for us to do.  I am so enjoying getting to revisit some old family favorites, and meet some new ones along the way.

This week we read "The Day the Crayons Quit" by Drew Daywait

We loved this book!  It instantly became a family favorite!!  Its a fun story about what happens when crayons find their "voices".

Here's what I pulled together for us to do....

First, we made our own Crayon People.  We glued googly eyes onto chunky crayons and added little "thought" bubbles of what we wanted them to say with paper and a toothpick.  We used hot glue to hold everything together.

Next,  I made a "All about Me" poster.  I took a large piece of paper and snipped off the top edge to make a crayon shape.  With sharpie I drew the lines to make it look like a large crayon.

Then, they colored it to be their favorite color. and in the center drew things that told everyone about them.  Favorite animals, favorite activities, anything they wanted to.

These turned out so cute!  Best of all,  I didn't spend anything (except some googly eyes...) and they loved the activities. (and I get an adorable reminder of my kiddos to hang up and show off to Grandma!)

We can't wait for the sequel... "The Day the Crayons Came Home" to arrive at the library!