Friday, April 17, 2015

A TOS Review: Orphs of the Woodlands

Star Toaster Review

I love reading. It is one of my biggest joys to be drawn into a story that completely captures my imagination and leaves me wanting to revisit again and again and again. This is why I was extremely excited to review Star Toaster's new online program, Orphs of the Woodlands. Usually, if there is something to try on the computer, the kids are all for it. I love it when you can disguise quality learning into fun and games. It's what I like to call Ninja Homeschooling! LOL! 

Orphs of the Woodlands is a reading/critical thinking, interactive experience targeting students in grades 4-7. The website describes it as "an educational journey that combines a reading adventure, an academic treasure and a rewarding game" all woven into one program. Your student will not only be immersed into an engaging and exciting story, but also learn many valuable lessons in  math, science, grammar, vocabulary, thinking skills, character, life skills, the arts, and much more.

I had Connor, Chloe and Canon all try the program out. I sat with each of them for his/her first lesson and read along silently. I was pulled in myself! The story is about a little squirrel who lives alone in the woods. He is recruited to become a spy against the night creatures, has to rescue orphans and return them to their homeland, Ivythwaite. 


There are many interactive components to the reading section. As your student reads, he will likely come across many unfamiliar words. Several of the vocabulary words are highlighted in RED. As they pass the cursor over these words, a pop-up box will appear and give your child the definition. How neat is that? 

Occasionally, there will be a button or graphic to push while you are reading that will play sound effects or a piece of a song. I found it appealing to those whose attention may wander, and it added a bit of fun to the reading experience. The graphics are beautiful, the maps are detailed, the characters are so engaging...I really love this program!


Star Toaster Review
A screenshot of your land. You are required to tend your land, keep house, and care for your orphans.


When I sat with Canon, I could see him getting anxious. He is not an avid reader, and I could tell he was not going to be easily engaged. There were about 30 pages for the first read, which I felt to be a little long for a 10-year-old boy. The books that he typically reads have chapters that usually range from about 12-20 pages. I saw him getting exasperated when he would finish a page only to find he wasn't done with the lesson yet. I think for his age group, there should have been shorter chapters in order to keep him excited about coming back. By the time he finished the reading portion, he wasn't very excited to play the games or go on any missions. 

Connor actually enjoyed the first chapter. He felt the first few games should have been more rewarding, though. It took him quite a bit of time to earn enough to get anything accomplished, and he was losing interest by chapter six because he couldn't do what he was wanting to do quickly enough. And there was no way to retry a game or mission that he hadn't done well on, therefore no way to earn more stars. He hasn't played it in over a week, but said today that he was going to check on his orphans in the morning. So I guess he just needed a break and is ready to jump back in.


Chloe, on the other hand, ate it up! She loves the story, characters, games, missions, all of it! She has stayed very dedicated to this story, and it has kept her attention thoroughly. We just finished our Language Arts curriculum for the year today, and the first thing she said was, "Yay! Now I can play Orphs quicker every day!!!" 


Star Toaster Review

For me, seeing my kids excited about something that is teaching them valuable lessons is very rewarding. I have heard Chloe sharing interesting quotes from famous people over the weeks, and then telling them that she learned them from Orphs. There is character building qualities about this program that truly blesses my heart! Also, another thing I love is that Star Toaster keeps me updated with weekly progress reports emailed to me on every child. This is such a great tool! I can't tell you how often I get behind on grading, so to have one less thing I have to remember to check is wonderful. It emails me, and I can see exactly where they are in the story, how many stars they've earned, what skills have been covered, and so much more. I am loving what I am seeing!

A 60-day subscription for up to 3 kids is $19.99, with a 30-day extension for $6.99. They are offering a free trial on the first 100 pages of Orphs right now! Click the link below to learn more.




Star Toaster Review

I am excited to see this company grow and offer more great stories in the future. It is so much more than a storybook - it is truly a learning adventure! 

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Star Toaster Review


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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blue and Gold

Okay, so I'm a little late getting this one done. Cut me some slack, I have a newborn.

Anyhoo, the boys had a great Blue and Gold banquet back in February. Mom, Dad, Bob and Phoebe all made it, and that made it an extra special night. They boys really enjoy their time as scouts, and it was the first time they've gotten to share it with their grandparents.



Both boys achieved rank. Caleb earned his Tiger, and Canon earned his Webelo. It's hard to believe this time next year, Canon will be ready to cross over into boy scouts! I think he'll continue this scouting journey for a long time to come - hopefully striving for Eagle one day.

                My little Tiger!             My little man earning his Webelo


Caleb also had a surprise that brought a huge smile to his face. He was the winner of the Pinewood Derby race in the Tiger Den and got a shiny little trophy. He was so stoked!



Both boys got to put on skits with their dens. While we, the audience, didn't always know exactly what was going on, the boys were sure having a grand ole time! They laughed so hard at their own jokes that we laughed along with them, even when we had no clue what was happening! I loved watching them both. Canon is such a ham, and he has a real talent for comedy. He doesn't realize it yet, but I hope he goes back to theater one day. He truly shines on the stage. Caleb steals the spotlight every chance he gets, and I see people drawn to him because of his happy energy. They are both growing up, becoming more responsible, learning more every day. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am to be their mommy. I have six amazing kids who I know God has great plans for. He has barely even begun the good works in them. I can't wait to watch their stories unfold.

 

Tiger cubs - I never did figure out what the skit was!



Canon was a court jester in one skit and a fish in another. They were actually pretty funny!

A TOS Review: Memoria Press - Classical Reading and Cursive


Memoria Press Review


Memoria Press' New American Cursive Workbook 1 is a beginning program for first graders. It is a basic introductory workbook that takes your student through the entire alphabet, teaching them the basic strokes and connections of cursive lettering in a fun way. The book is just over 100 pages, including the easy to use teacher's guide.

Caleb is a very busy first grade boy. He doesn't like to sit long, desk work is killer on him, and he groans in agony when I have him do copywork. His print is actually pretty decent, despite all these things. However, he does flip some letters like b and d and has a hard time discerning one from another at times. Several weeks ago at church, one of the verses on the screens was written in cursive. He asked me what it said because he couldn't read it at all. I thought, what a shame that he can't read cursive. There are so many benefits to writing and reading cursive handwriting, and I feel it is becoming a lost artform. What is going to happen if we allow many generations to skip learning cursive? It seems a sad, maybe even dangerous choice, especially considering so many of our historical documents are written in cursive.

I had never thought of starting cursive handwriting in first grade. I did a year of cursive with the older kids when they were in third grade, then let them choose which they would use - they all chose print. Historically, cursive was taught first or alongside print handwriting so it wouldn't be so difficult to approach. Once they've been using print for a number of years, many students have trouble transitioning to cursive. So when I saw this review come up from Memoria Press, I was glad to give it a go. I thought Caleb would be more receptive to learning then continue using cursive if we used New American Cursive starting in first grade.


Memoria Press Review

The New American Cursive program is a gentle and easy way to teach  young child their cursive letters. It is very basic lettering, not too showy, and doesn't use as many strokes that a typical cursive plan uses. It starts with some great basic instruction regarding the three p's:
  1. Posture
  2. Pencil holding Position
  3. Paper Placement
The student is led through the instruction by Mr. Meercat. He appears and sometimes gives helpful reminders on pencil grip or starting positions. The lessons are short and consist of three sections:
  1. Instruction - each lesson focuses on how to form one letter. 
  2. Practice - tracing the letter of the day, and then freehanding the letter twice repeating multiple times
  3.  Play - Exercises and  a free space to draw artwork or practice writing and connecting letters.
 Caleb usually can get through a lesson in about 10 minutes. That's a bonus for us! :) We have only been doing this workbook for a few weeks, and Caleb can already connect letters to form short words. He began with very little interest and pretty shaky handwriting. Now he grabs his cursive workbook as one of the first things he works on for the day, and I think he has gotten much more confident in his ability to write. I am pleased with what I've seen so far, and I can't wait to see more improvement in Caleb's handwriting. 
Memoria Press puts out many different types of curriculum, and our Review Crew has blogged about a few of them. To read up on what they thought about the products, click the link below:


Memoria Press Review

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