Friday, July 31, 2015

A TOS Review: Heirloom Audio Productions, With Lee in Virginia

A struggle within a nation. Brother against brother. Boys becoming men too soon. Mothers in fear, every night in prayer. The power of this story will overwhelm you. Heirloom Audio Productions delivers an emotional look at one of the most difficult times in our country's history: With Lee in Virginia.

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review
Reading aloud is something we have always enjoyed as a family. It is an opportunity to slow down, take a moment and learn together. An audio book is a great respite for this mama, who often tires of reading in the car on trips, and I can just sit back and enjoy with the rest of them. We have listened to many audio books over the years, but Heirloom Audio Productions brings stories to life in a much deeper way. It is an experience in sound and drama. Not just a voice reading to you, but actors portraying characters, background music, and sound effects. It is basically a movie without the picture. It truly draws you into the action.

With Lee in Virginia takes us back to the spring of 1861, the very week the Civil War begins. We meet Vincent Wingfield, a 15-year-old plantation heir from Virginia. He enlists with the calvary of the Army of Northern Virginia, and he is soon making a name for himself in battles you may recall reading about in your high school history books. Because of the speed of his horse and his eagerness to serve, he moves through the ranks quickly - even despite injury - and is put in the company of the most famous military names in the Confederacy, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee.

Vincent is a slave owner, but he is a compassionate young man who is personally involved with his slaves' lives. His personal servant Dan is devoted to him, as Vincent is to him as well. He is both admired and hated by fellow southerners because of his ideals, but he is not swayed by man's opinions. He is adamant in his faith, and confident in his Heavenly Father.

Like many soldiers who are wounded, he has moments of struggle with his identity, but he only becomes stronger for it and continues to lead his regiment in prayer and battle. For such a young man to lead and be respected by these great men was so enlightening to me.

The faith of the men was revealed throughout the story, something you don't get in today's history books. I enjoyed the perspective of the story, the narration, and of course, the action. It was so wonderfully told, with some of the finest Christian actors of our time taking on major roles. I can only imagine that this will give your children a greater interest in the war that shaped our nation, and give you a new perspective on the men who fought and died so bravely.

But the learning won't stop there! Heirloom Audio has produced an amazing study guide that is 30 pages chock full of study questions, history lessons, and bible themed discussions as well. This could be a full unit study, and you can download the mp3 soundtrack to listen to the score from the production while working together with your family.

To keep up with Heirloom Audio Productions on Social media, go here:

Want to see what others thought of this product? Check out other blogger reviews here:

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekend fun in the SUN

A TOS Review: UnLock Math

Unlock Math Review
So with the summer break looming ahead of us, I was excited to look for new curriculum ideas for the coming year. There are so many choices out there for each core subject, not to even mention the slew of electives available, that it can really seem overwhelming. I have been so thankful for friends sharing resources, free trials, and of course, the TOS Review Crew for giving me opportunities for trying things out to see what works for each child. And believe me, with 6 kids that all have different talents, personalities and learning styles, it can get pretty tricky finding out which course will work best for each child. This time, it was Chloe's turn to be the guinea pig. We have been reviewing UnLock Math, UnLock Pre-Algebra this summer.
UnLock Math is an online math curriculum that uses a comprehensive teaching theory using video, computers, and a teacher. Alesia Blackwood is a high school math teacher and mother of (almost) four children. She understands from years in the classroom how many students just don't get math. In her testimonial, she explains that by the time many of her students reach her room, they've already decided they just aren't "math" people. But her innovative, engaging, and positive teaching skills can soon turn their minds the other way. My daughter has been one of them. 

Chloe is not a "math" person, either. She can be brought to tears most days by math lessons. She is easily intimidated by higher math, and though I've seen her confidence improve this past semester due to another math curriculum we reviewed, she still wouldn't say she really liked math. She could get through it, but that was about it. Alesia brought a nonthreatening personality into our homeschool. Chloe liked her hair (she's naturally curly, like Chloe), and enjoyed her video presentations. I could see her smiling through her lessons, saying yay to herself when she got a higher grade, and just not complaining like she usually does. I watched some of the lessons with Chloe, and I agree - Alesia is the math teacher I would have wanted, too! Her enthusiasm and ability to break down the information into relatable concepts is a gift.

Some of the components we enjoyed were the videos like we already mentioned, the student dashboard, and the progress reports.

The dashboard is the way the lessons are broken down. The student knows exactly where they are, what their grade is at that moment, what is coming up, and what they probably need more work on. 

Unlock Math Review
The progress report gives me the breakdown in a little different format, but keeps Chloe and I on the same page when it comes to what she is learning. I wasn't sure about doing pre-algebra with her this year as a 7th grader (Connor waited until 8th grade). But with UnLock Math, she doesn't feel pressured. She is getting new information every day, but in such small chunks that she doesn't feel overwhelmed. I am very happy with her progress so far.

Here Chloe's take on UnLock Math:

"I like this better than other online programs we've seen. I really like Mrs. Alesia. Having a teacher just works better for me. I respond to a face telling me what's up better than an automated robot voice. I have only seen stuff to review so far, but it's making more sense that it ever did before. I still don't love math, but it isn't so scary this way. 
I like that I don't get graded on the practice problems. It gives me a chance to figure it out before I am graded. That is a bonus.
I wish there was something that encouraged me when I'm doing good. It just gives me a fraction at the top of the page, so I tell myself good job or say yay. In other programs, I've had some incentive or reward, like a message telling me great job or a cute animal graphic. Something like that makes it a little more fun.
I love the learning path! You get WarmUp, Mrs. Alesia's video, Practice Problems, Stay Sharp, Challenge Yourself and Reference Notes. I don't really know what the Reference Notes are or why they are there, but the rest is great. It gives me a chance to get ready for the lesson, hear the lesson, practice what I learned, review something from a past lesson, and then a fun problem that makes me use a critical thinking skill. It's a good way to end the lesson...when you get that challenge problem right.

Unlock Math Review

One thing I didn't really like. Sometimes Mrs. Alesia points her finger a lot to emphasize something. It's almost like she's pointing at me and I'm in trouble...and sometimes she talks like she's talking to a 2nd grader. I am almost a 7th grader, so I kind of wish she talked to me more grown up."

So that's Chloe's "review"! I am excited to see how she does with new concepts coming up, but I am happy to see her enjoying math at this time. I hope to see more improvement, greater confidence, and hopefully...eventually...with Alesia's teaching...she will learn to love math!

To connect with UnLock Math on social media, check them out here:
Wanna see what other people thought about the product? Check out the TOS Reviewers here:

UnLock Math Review

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Family Reunion

It's been too long...far too long. This used to be a regular occurrence. We'd gather together nearly every weekend as kids. Their house was as much home to me as our house, and vice versa. I have 2 sisters, but growing up, I felt like I had 4 sisters and a brother - then later at when I was 10 and Zack was born, another brother. We did everything together, and I never expected things to be different when we grew up. I knew my kids would have all these aunts and uncles and never not know their huge family.

But time and circumstances happen. Lives and schedules, and other things that are even more unexplainable change things. My kids have heard many stories, know I had cousins I was super close to. But only the oldest of mine actually remember a time when they were around and a regular part of our lives. It has seemed so sad to me. But for the first time in who knows how long, we all came together this weekend. For these two.

These are my beautiful nieces. My oldest sister's girls. They have been away from the family for nearly 8 years. It has been so hard to not have them with us for all this time, but what a joy it's been to see them. I am so very thankful for this past weekend and for this coming week. Ten days is just not enough time...but I will savor every second I have.

I can't even explain what it's been like to watch them the past couple days. I see things in them that surprise me. Pieces of me, my sisters. Personality traits that you'd think were nature over nurture, but the time apart completely bashes that theory. They are so like us. They are ours. They are beautiful and smart and funny and sassy. I am loving to get to know them all over again. 

Not only did we all come together for them, but for ourselves as well. As I said, we all knew it had been too long, and we aim to make up for lost time. I pray it continues. I will try not to be disappointed if it doesn't. But I am looking forward, hopeful. I love my family. All of them.





Friday, July 17, 2015

Eudora Baptist

One of our favorite weeks - Eudora Day Camp! I've lost track of how many years this has been part of our lives, but I'm thankful for it every year. It's hard work. It's hot, it's loud, it's absolute chaos in the woods for five days straight! But God always shows up - and He is glorified in the people who love and serve and learn and play. I'm so blessed to be a part of it, every year. Whether pregnant, being a team leader, wearing a new baby, hanging out with teens, leading worship, or working in the craft tent, the conversations are good. The people smile through the sweat! Because we know we are living for the King. Praise Him for this wonderful body He has given us. I love every person there that gives of their time to come and bless and be blessed. It is the little things in life that we remember, and I know my kids have many memories of these campgrounds and the fun they've had. Not to mention the deep truths from God's Word that are planted every summer on these hallowed paths.
Caleb and Christian working on the mosaic - it was Jonah this year.

One of my favorite times - praying before worship

Famous Dave and the fearless Jr High kids - see Chance grinning?

Jonah had some big decisions to make - and the kids got to walk in his steps.

Connor and the guys - Noah, Casey, Ethan, Ashton and Luke

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A TOS Review: Homeschool Planet

Homeschool Planet Review

I have a confession to make...I love so much about homeschooling. Our family has a lot of quality time together. I get to choose what topics and in what order my children are studying. I get to put the most important things first, which are their spiritual training and character development. But there is something that I absolutely dread - something I am not at all good at - organizing. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. I am a complete scatterbrain! Organization was not a gift bestowed upon me. I overplan, miss deadlines, and always seem to throw another fun subject or activity into my poor kids' lives when I know there just isn't room, thus letting all of my multiple spinning plates come crashing down. I have tried planners, schedules, calendars, all. I have tried one for the whole family, one for each child, notebooks, online apps, and so many more. So to have the opportunity to review Homeschool Planet for the Homeschool Buyers' Co-op was a little daunting to my overwhelmed brain. But I was willing to give it a go, for the sake of giving my children some level of sanity within our crazy life.

Homeschool Buyers' Co-op is the world's largest buying club for homeschool families. They are able to find great deals on products and curriculum that will benefit homeschoolers and then offer those products at a group discounted price. They work hard to find quality products to share with us, but they had found many people like me who were discouraged with the homeschool planners available. So they developed Homeschool Planet, an online organizer created for busy homeschool families.

Homeschool Planet has a lot of great qualities. You can begin by setting up a profile for each member of your family. You can enter each individual subject, activity or appointment for a family member. Everyone has their own login and password so they can check their own schedule and mark off what they have done for the day. There is a printable option that you can give each child every day or week so the information is readily available to them. I know I will use this option most with Caleb, since he isn't very computer literate yet. 

Homeschool Planet Review

There is also email and texting notifications available, in case they can't get on the computer or are away from the house, This will be a great tool for Connor. There is a way to see each person's calendar, or everyone's calendar - or whoever's calendar you want displayed! I personally keep my calendar set to display everyone's, but when the kids are on, they don't have to see everyone else's assignments. I really like the diversity in displaying all the information.

Homeschool Planet Review

This is what I have my calendar set to - I can see everyone's assignments and appointments on one page, which is pretty handy for me. But I know it would overwhelm the kids to see all of this, so their calendars are set to show only their assignments.

Homeschool Planet Review
When I go in to schedule their work, I can be as specific or generic as I need to be. I can give them book lists, supply lists, page numbers, book titles, and so much more. This can be a great tool for record keeping! Since we aren't doing a lot of formal schooling this summer, I was enjoying just playing around with the calendar. I added in some of the kids' assignments, then didn't check in for a couple days. I figured it would be a mess! But something really cool happened when I logged in after a couple days away. A pop up box appeared, giving me the opportunity to check off what had been finished. There was also an option to reschedule the assignments without me having to retype everything. Basically, the computer asked me if these assignments had been done. Here is a screenshot of what the pop up box looked like:

Homeschool Planet Review

What a great tool for emergency breaks! (And you know we all have them!) I can just imagine if someone gets sick this winter, and I can just hit the move assignments button - it will be such a relief to not have to worry about it. 

Homeschool Planet offers so much more than just a lesson planner and calendar, ,though. I can't begin to tell you what all is on here, but I'll try. So here goes:
  • Shopping lists that can be sent directly to your cell phone
  • Daily scripture
  • Attendance tracking
  • Grading
  • Transcript templates (I can't wait to use this - transcripts scare me!)
Now, I will admit, when I began, I was very overwhelmed. It didn't really help matters that I didn't have a lot to schedule at this time, so I had to wing it. There was definitely a learning curve for the first several days. But I hopped on the help board and found all these amazing tutorial videos on just about everything I had questions about. The only thing I'm still having trouble with is syncing with my cell phone. 

This planner is the best one I have found. I am excited about planning out the kids' schedules in the coming weeks to get our best foot set forward for the coming school year. There is so much that will help me with planning that I haven't even begun to uitilize all it has to offer. I think Homeschool Planet just may become my new BFF in the homeschool world!

You can follow Homeschool Planet on the following social media:
For more information from my fellow bloggers, check out their reviews here:

Homeschool Planet Review

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

A TOS Review: Prasso Ministries

Teen Prasso Review

I love bible studies. I love the opportunity to dig deeper into the hidden treasure of the Father's love letter to us, His children. It is a highlight of our homeschool journey to share and discover truths from God's word together with the kids. Unfortunately, sometimes the family bible time gets pushed to the wayside in the summer, and this past school year, Connor was working through a separate Bible curriculum than the rest of us and often missed the time I spent with the younger ones studying the Bible. It seems that this review came at just the right time, giving the kids and me a chance to study the Word together using Prasso Ministries' two separate books, Teen Prasso Student Journal and Teen Prasso Teacher's Manual. The bible study is broken down into 13 lessons for a 12 week duration (the first week is an introduction).

Teen Prasso Review

The Teacher's Manual (the cover says Teaching Lessons) is set up to teach in a group setting, not for a typical family study or individual study. Each lesson is broken down into segments made up of a story and a message. The manual suggests you read the story in 3 parts interspersed with the message. I can see how this would be a good breakdown in a group setting. The story follows two brothers, Derek and Brandon, who take a long-dreamed-of mountain trek together. Their adventure is full of twists and turns and very engaging for teenage boys. Their journey is spread through the study, so you are basically reading a chapter with your group each week. The chapters have a key topic with a coinciding key verse, and are as follows:

  • The Right Beginning - Proverbs 4:25-2
  • The Map - Psalm 119:105
  • The Bridge - 1 John 4:9-10
  • The Storms - Romans 8:28
  • The Enemy - 1 Peter 5:8
  • Testimony -  no story, guest speaker
  • The Two Opposing Fears - Proverbs 29:25, Proverbs 14:27
  • Anger - James 1:19-20
  • Forgiveness - Colossians 3:13
  • Pride - Philippians 2:3
  • Refocus - Romans 12:2
  • Prasso - Philippians 4:9
  • Eternal Eyeglasses - 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Being a family who reads aloud regularly, I found the breaks between the story made me lose momentum. So, in typical homeschool mom fashion, I revamped it to make it work better for my kids. We read the story straight through, then I went back through and shared what I felt would benefit from further discussion from the message sections.

Teen Prasso Review

The Homework Manual (the cover says Student Journal) is divided into the following 12 lessons:

  1. God Your Heavenly Father
  2. God’s Love
  3. Why Doesn’t 1 + 2 Add up in My Life?
  4. It’s All-Out War
  5. The Enemy’s Lies…and Where They Lead
  6. Pressure!
  7. Anger
  8. Forgiveness
  9. Two Brothers – Pride and Selfishness
  10. Refocus
  11. Prasso, putting it all into practice
  12. The Journey
There is a lesson for 6 days of every week. The first 5 days are reading scripture, writing scripture, and some critical thinking questions. Day 6 gives the student space to write what they learned or liked best from each day's lesson and then a set of questions to have completed for group discussion. Day 7 would be the day you would meet with your group or family.

Connor reviewed the first 3 weeks' lessons. While he enjoyed the introductions and topics of discussion, he found all the writing of scripture difficult. He liked the scripture, but felt there was a lot of reading for each day. The website said the lessons would take about 20 minutes a day, but he found them taking nearly an hour (again, that may have been due to the amount of writing, which isn't his strong point). So by the second week, he would spread the work of each lesson between two days, which he found much more manageable.

Chloe reviewed week 5: The Enemy's Lies and Where They Lead. She found the introductory theme very engaging - in fact, it has been a topic of interest to her for about a year. (The intro talked about Nazi Germany and codebreaking). She also remarked that there was a lot of writing. However, unlike her brother, she loves to look up scripture and copy it, so it didn't bother her at all. She actually prefers bible studies that have her copy scripture and memorize it because she said it helps her keep it in mind longer instead of just moving forward.

Overall, both the kids enjoyed the content of the study. I am looking forward to continue the lessons as a family, and the kids both said they will continue using the study.

You can follow Prasso ministries on their Facebook page.

Many other TOS Review Crew families got to work in Prasso. See what they liked about it here:

Prasso Ministries Review

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