Friday, October 29, 2010

Buckets-O-Fun Review: Ick, Ack and Gack!

Buckets-O-FunWhen I saw that I was going to be reviewing something from Buckets-O-Fun, I could only begin to imagine what it might be.  You see, I prefer to wait until the product arrives before I go and search out the website.  I like the little surprises that arrive in the mail.

I must say that the name of this company did not disappoint my vivid imagination.  I have lots of boys and I could just guess it would be something fun to play with.  In my manila envelope was a small but powerful sample of deliciously gross goo.  The boys were nearly vibrating with anticipation at the thought of getting to run their fingers through the various forms of slime that were pictured on the brochure.  Not a one of the items that were sent were a disappointment, they all provided afternoons of sloshing and slushing, digging and squishing. The "Yuck" products are most assuredly and item geared to the Kinetic learner!

The first item to try was the Chunky Yuck
chunky It starts out small...  dry, it reminds me of large Kosher Salt, or perhaps Sea Salt Crystals...  it swells when you add water to the size of ice cube machine cubes.  I don't think I can describe to you the strangeness that happens when you see what looks like ice in a bowl, and plunge in your hands, and it isn't super cold...  it is just room temperature.  It kinda freaks you out a little bit.   Then you want to touch it more.  You want to hide things in it, you try to squeeze it,  you breathe on it wondering if it will melt.  It kept the boys totally enthralled for over an hour.
Chunky Yuck sells for $16.00 a pound, and makes about 35-60 gallons.

Then there was Snowy Yuck.
snowy  This was another one that throws your brain for a loop. It really looks like SNOW!  You can play with it frostbite free!  This one didn't keep the boys entertained as long as the chunky, but they still had lots of fun playing with it.
Snowy Yuck sells for $20.00 a pound, and makes 25-50 gallons.

There was Saucy Yuck.
saucy This one feels like clear no sugar, applesauce.  This Yuck begs to be shot out of things at people. It calls out to you " Put me in a balloon, and throw me" , "Squirt me out of a rocket.... Lay me on a slip and slide..."  This Yuck would be PERFECT for what our youth group calls "water" day.    My boys enjoyed the consistency of this Yuck.  They wanted to do the water balloon thing, but the part of me that knew I would be the one cleaning up all the mess, just couldn't let them do it.  I told my husband if we get some more of this one, I will have to leave the house and let them go for it....  I just can't watch it.  I will come back when it is all cleaned up!
Saucy Yuck sells for $18.00 a pound, and makes 35-60 gallons.

The last Yuck was the Sticky Yuck.
sticky I must be honest.  This Yuck is still in the bag.  I didn't make this one.  I haven't been able to bring myself to concoct this sticky, snot-like substance.  I know my boys will love it.  I however, cringe at the very thought.  So in the bag it has stayed.  I am sure that one day Dad will bring it out and be the hero of the house.  I however, will be somewhere else, when that day comes.
Sticky Yuck sells for $20.00 a pound, and makes 5-10 gallons of snot.

Now these products were fun to try, and the kids really had a great time playing with them.  In the literature that was sent to us, there was a brochure to incorporate the Yuck into a Science Experiment.  We did all the observations that were listed and it did make for interesting lessons.  It was helpful to gain a hands on experience with polymers.  We were able to discuss what types of natural polymers were at work in our own bodies and helped to hold them together.  All of the fun aside,  I am not sure that the Yuck is really cost effective for the average homeschooler.  If I were to purchase all of the Yucks that were provided in my sample review pack, I would have paid $74.00 before any shipping and handling costs.  The four pounds of dry Yuck would have made, 100-108 GALLONS of Yuck.  While perfect quantities for larger groups, such as a homeschool co-op or youth group, it seems like a bit much for an average homeschool family of say, 4 kids.  I wonder if it might be a good idea to market a smaller value pack for homeschoolers, of say a 1/4 pound of each Yuck, for $20.00.  I think that homeschool families would be more inclined to use this product to reinforce their science curriculum if it were available to them in more manageable quantities.

Really though, this stuff was F-U-N!!!  Everyone enjoyed playing with it immensely.  If you are looking for a great hands on way to learn more about molecules, polymers, and cellular structure, this stuff is a great tool.  I would recommend going to their website, Buckets-O-Fun, and asking them to send you a free sample.
They also sell lots of different items that are great for use in a co-op, a church organization like Awana or Master Clubs, or for Youth Group activities.

To see what other members of the TOS Homeschool Crew have to say about this product, click here!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I was sent a sample package of Yuck products from Buckets-O-Fun, for the purpose of reviewing their product and providing my honest opinion of it.  No other compensation was given.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PG Key~ Product Review


This is an amazing little piece of hardware, you never knew you needed, (well maybe you did...) and in this day and age, will not want to live without.
PhotobucketLet me introduce you to the PGKey.  The Keyware Corp in Arizona, has managed to provide an amazing piece of monitoring hardware for your computer, it is easy to use, and requires NO annual or monthly fees.
When this product arrived for review.... I read the box....  and then I started to get excited...  I started to feel like Jane Bond.... my inner spy was completely enthralled with the claims this product was making........The box made some amazing claims.  I was looking forward to putting this baby to the test.

  • Have you ever wished you could "see" what the kids actually were doing on the computer... not just the web history in your browser? This product provided a DVD like playback system where you can view all the places a protected user has been.
  • Have you ever wished that you had a monitoring system that would disable your computer if they tried to pull it out? You decide when to allow access to the computer.  If you take the PGKey out, the computer can not be accessed without the key and your password.  If someone attempts to take it out while in use.  It will freeze access, and be disabled till you return with the password.
  • Do you long for Internet searches without the risk of stumbling onto offensive photos, or websites? In partnership with Google, PGKey has created a filtered search engine that automatically blocks undesired content from ever showing up.
  • Worried about cyber-bullying?  Wish you could record BOTH sides of chat conversations? Do your kids keep changing their passwords, in an attempt to hide things from you?  Just another one of the benefits of the DVD playback.  You can see emails, chats, anything that was viewed by that user.  No need to have their password.  If they view it, you can too.
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, the PGKey will be worth the investment.  It costs $49.99 and if you purchase direct from the website they charge $8.95 shipping, for a total of $58.94.  It is also available through Amazon, and this month will be available in an Office Max store near you.  They even have a free trial offer!

My PGKey experience:
The very next morning after receiving this little package of love, I was up and at the computer before the kids.... I plugged in the PGKey into the USB port... and picked a password.... and that was it.  Installation began.  It took me maybe 30 Minutes to pick out the websites I wanted to block, add our favorites list to the Key, and set my email notifications up.  I played around with the DVD like video play back and saw my activity setting up the key right on a little screen.... it was really cool.
I was feeling really, really proud of my sneaky little self.
Later that same day, I had to leave the house for an appointment. I had tested the PGKey... it had sent me and email notifying me that I had used the blocked words in a search.  I knew I had picked a website that my son loves to go to, I was confidant I was going to get an email alerting me he was playing on the computer when he should have been doing school.  See, in my house.... when momma cat is away.... the mice play... I knew I had laid the perfect trap!
When I got home there was no email.  I was feeling very proud of my children for being obedient and not playing games on the computer..........  Alas, my joy was short lived.....  my oldest came in and snitched on himself.  He asked me why the computer wouldn't let him go to his game site.  This got me thinking.... He admitted trying to go there, but I didn't get an email..... hmmmmmmm. 
The product worked.  It blocked his access.  He could not get on that site, no matter how many times he tried.  The play back option the product provides, indeed captured him typing in the game site into the secure web browser.... but no email... weird.
I figured my happy lil spy self messed something up, so I sent an email to the company's customer service department to ask for help.  They replied very promptly, and were very patient with my questions. Turns out, I did not add every possible choice of words to my blocked list....  that was part of it... I had Addicting Games.... I should have added addictinggames to my blocked words list also....  The second cause for the lack of email notification was the dreaded drop down menu on search engines.  If my son were to type "add" into the search engine... it was likely addictinggames would drop down as a choice.  If he never finished typing the word and clicked the drop down choice.... I wouldn't get the notification.
Needless to say.... this was just a minor glitch in my opinion..... the main components of the PGKey worked like a charm.  He was never allowed access to the website I blocked, and the playback feature caught every move he made.  I watched lots of YouTube clips of his favorite video games... (sigh).   I also told him to go ahead and try to hack his way around the safety features....  He was unable to get around them.  My daughter liked the fact that if she searched for something through the PGKey safe search, she didn't have to be bombarded with unwanted images, or vulgar websites.   When my son, a night owl, wants to be on the computer late into the night, I can go to bed knowing he is protected.  The next day, I can open a screen and see exactly what he did.  I don't have to wonder what places he may have visited, the emails he may have sent, or who he chatted with.  It is all visible with a click and a password.
I wholeheartedly recommend this product to absolutely everyone.  It should be used by everyone with a child, not just homeschoolers.  It is incredibly easy to use, and the peace of mind you are able to have for only $50, is well worth every penny. 
As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was sent a PGKey by Keyware Corp. free of charge.  This unit was provided in exchange for my opinion of their product.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Harvest Party ideas

Halloween isn't a holiday I am really into.  Mostly I see it as a waste of money. I don't want to spend time and money on costumes, nor am I really thrilled with the whole going door to door and begging for candy that will raise my dental costs..... not to mention that for the next 6 months I will be telling my kids they can't eat the candy....  So I really opt out on this one.

I like to decorate for the fall, and I like to celebrate Thanksgiving...... So you will see pumpkin on the porch in October, and around the house, they just don't have faces on them, that way I can use them from September thru November.

This morning my Living on a Dime newsletter arrived with some Halloween Alternatives....  lots of these listed could have the Halloween taken out of them and be replaces with a more Harvest type theme.  I could see incorporating it into church activities or homeschool co-op activities....

Here they are....

Halloween Hunt:

Using the same idea as an Easter Egg Hunt, hide little bags of candy corn, or other fun candy around the back yard. Set the kids loose and let them find the candy. Be sure to keep back some of the candy in case someone does poorly. That way you can give them a few more and keep it fun for everyone!
For another fun twist on this idea, hide mini pumpkins instead of candy. Let the kids find and decorate them with craft paint. Let small children attach construction paper cut-outs with glue sticks.

Guess How Many:
Fill a jar with candy corn or candy pumpkins and have guests guess how many are in the jar. (Don't forget to count as you put them in the jar!) Place the jar near the door and hand each guest a 3x5 card to put their name, their guess and their favorite Halloween candy. Halfway through the party read them all off and announce the winner.

Halloween Memory Game:
Place a few theme items such as a candy corn, apple, mini pumpkin etc. on a tray. Show the tray to the guests for a few seconds, then have them write down (or call out) as many items as they remember.

How Many Words:
Hand each person a sheet of paper printed out with a Halloween word or phrase such as Haunted House, Trick or Treat, or Scarecrow. Do these on the computer so you can include some small Halloween Graphics. Ask each person to make as many words as they can out of the letters in the phrase or word you've given them!

Now if it were me... all the Halloween elements would be removed and I would use more Harvest words, I do know that lots of people don't see Halloween the way I do.... So I left the ideas as they were written by Tawra.  Check out her website if you are interested in her Trick or Treating Alternatives.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Soli Deo Gloria Resources~ William Tyndale Unit Study Review

In September I was sent this lovely unit study from Solio Deo Gloria Resources to review, as a part of the TOS Homeschool Crew.  We worked on this unit study with all the children. The unit study stated that it was designed for use by all grades, K-12; and I am happy to report we had a great response from the Junior, the Sophomore, and the 3rd grader.

William Tyndale: God's Smuggler is a unit study that is greatly enriched by several key resources.  At the beginning of the study there is a list of videos, and books for you to choose from.  Without using these resources, I believe the study would fall flat, and lose some of its interest.  Kim, the author of these unit studies, offers suggestions on how to obtain the videos at little or no cost.  We were able to use 2 of the videos from the list and one book.  The videos were in my church library, and the book was at my local public library.
The video on the left is from Answers in Genesis, the book is historical fiction, and the video on the right a cartoon story produced by Torchlighters.  In combination, they gave us a very good perspective on the life of William Tyndale.  My older children really enjoyed the Answers in Genesis film... it was a lecture/sermon, and was full of information.  We watched it on the last day of our study and it helped tie everything together well.

There were many activities to work on.  We enjoyed the timeline, it was interesting to see who was alive when William was.  We also enjoyed the translation, and printing press activities.

Another way we made the materials 'come alive' was to lapbook some of the things we learned.  While this was not a listed activity, we just thought it would be a fun way to collect and see the things we were learning.  Here are two of our lapbooks.
 the 3rd grader's
the Sophomore's

If you have never done a unit study before, this would be a great first time study to use.  The price is very affordable at $8.00.  The format is PDF (or E-book), so you receive it for download right away, and can print as many copies as you need. 

Hop on over to Soli Deo Gloria Resources and browse their affordable and fun products.

Remember to stop by the TOS Homeschool Crew page to see what other families had to say about Soli Deo Gloria's products. 

as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received the above named unit study, free of charge, in exchange for my opinion of how this product worked in my homeschool setting.  No other compensation was received.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kid talk

In the last few days, I have heard some pretty cute stuff.

Hunter and Jeremiah were chatting it up one day in the truck.  Hunter asked " Mom, how old do you have to be to go to college?"
Jeremiah piped up before I could answer.. with a confidant "4."

I was listening to someone say the Pledge to the Christian Flag the other day...her rendition was too good not to share...

"...... one Saviour, crispified, raisin, and coming again....."

I passed her... and I managed not to laugh out loud.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Organizational Redemption

Ok... after that blog cruise about organization, and that HORRID photo of our workbox space...
I really feel compelled to show you that it indeed does not always look like a tornado ripped through it...

Here is the BEFORE.............

and now the AFTER.......................

AHHH  that's more like it...........

Friday, October 8, 2010

Digital Frog ~ Digital Field Trip Series

Do you live in a Rainforest, a Wetland, or a Desert?  No?  (Don't worry, I don't either.)

However, I have been introduced to a way for you to travel there....  without needing a passport, without airline tickets.... all from the safety of your home. Go grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you about it.  Go on.... get the coffee.... I'll wait...........................

Welcome to the world of Digital Frog.
Digital Frog's mission is to bring the world of natural science to your door, and in my humble opinion, they have done a wonderful job. They have created a unique product:   The Digital Field Trip Series.  It contains three separate field trips: The Rainforest, The Desert, The Wetlands.

 Each trip is unique, and comprehensive in the information it provides. The product appeals to all grade levels, there really is something for everyone.

In our homeschool, we have devoted about and hour a week to this Series, and I really feel that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the information that is contained within.

The Series comes in either CD or DVD format.  CD format is compatible with both Windows and Mac.  It is completely user friendly.  I took the CD out of the case, put it in the computer.... and we went to the Rainforest....  it was that fast.  Above is a screen shot of what you see when you have selected The Rainforest as your destination.  Each item in green, is it's own interactive learning area, crammed full of things to learn.

I mentioned it was interactive.... didn't I?  Well it is.  You can use the small screen on the upper left to obtain a 360 degree view of The Rainforest.  There are items hidden within that screen that will take you to learn more about the plants that grow, and the animals that live there.  You can also click on each outpost number, or on the colored text in the notebook, to learn more.

When you find a specific item to learn more about, you will come to a screen that looks like this.  Each shadow picture is linked to a new plant or animal.  There are several pictures of each item, along with informational text printed on the side of each photo.  Some items like the water vine, contain a narrated video.  My son, who is an auditory learner, really enjoyed this feature.  He was able to learn on his own through this option, and frequently would spend the rest of the afternoon narrating back to me the information on all the plants and animals he saw.
I would have enjoyed seeing more videos through out the disc.  Much of the information on the disc is to be read. While the on screen text can be easily read by a parent, or older sibling, I think that having more videos would make the product more interactive and independent for younger learners.

At the start of every field trip there is a quick map drill.  You click through a series of labeled maps to find the area you are going to be studying. All the areas are labeled, and come up on the screen so you are learning about the names of other countries, just by scrolling over them.

Now on to the science of the matter.(pun intended) This is really an area that Digital Frog has excelled.  They have taken complex topics, and made them interactive and easy to understand.  When we used the CD with my youngest son, we did not delve much into these areas of study, but I know will get to it eventually.  The resources in this Series are what make it worth the investment.  In my personal exploration of the product, I see how it compliments our study of Botany ( 3rd grade ) and Biology, and Physical Sciences in High School.  The presentation of the field trip as a Ecosystem Study, and not just a virtual tour, is what truly make this product unique.

Now for the important stuff......  How much does it cost, and how do you get your own.

Digital Frog is a Canadian based company.  They have a direct ordering website, or they sell through distributors.  Click  for a list of their U.S Distributors.  I would recommend ordering direct through their website....  I clicked on a few distributors to see what Digital Frog products they offered, and the pricing I ran into was much higher than what the company makes available for their home licenced product.

The Digital Field Trip Series ( the complete item reviewed here ) Retails on the direct order website for $125.00.  This product is the home license version.  It allows you to use the product in your home, for as many students as you have in your home. This version is not licensed to view publicly. (ie. share with your homeschool co-op)  There is different pricing for use in a school, or with a co-op.
The disc contains workbooks that can be printed as needed.  These workbooks provide direction for the student as they view the CD, as well as all the needed quizzes.

Now, before you choke on your coffee at the price.... lets do some math.  There are three field trips, .... that breaks down to $41.66 per destination. (That is $20 less than if you purchased the trips independently)  I happen to have 4 kids, who will all be visiting these destinations at some point in time during their school career.... A family trip to the movies is $60.00 (without the popcorn) .... and that is just for 2 hours of entertainment.....  you tell me which is the better value...

Don't forget to see what other TOS crew members have to say about this product.

I received a copy of The Digital Field Trip Series in exchange for my honest opinion of their product.  No other compensation was given.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Organized?.... HA!

It is that time of the week again.... I know you expect me to say, cruise time.... but really what I was going to say is... confession time.

Today...  we are going to keep it real.

I am going to expose, worldwide, a hideous disease that lurks in my house.

The disease of DIS-organization.

There, I said it....
admitting it is the first step to recovery....  isn't it?
We are all friends here..... at least I would like to think so..... please don't hate me because I am disorganized!

Today's topic on the blog cruise is: " How do you organize your homeschool?" 
I will tell you, when I read this question a few weeks ago.... I started to get hives.  Really?  I am supposed to come up with some great way that I organize our homeschool?

As I looked over my shoulder to the homeschool area in the kitchen.....  I figured I should just let a picture speak a thousand words, and let you know how real life looks over here.
Is there anything redeeming about this photo, if I can tell you what is in every pile?  Will you believe me if I tell you it really doesn't always look like this? ( It doesn't... I promise!)
The missing workbox is over by the couch with books in it for when we read in the afternoon....
oh wow... that is a mess and it looks even worse... posted here.... I will, however, resist my overwhelming urge for self preservation, and leave it up.  Hopefully, it will encourage someone else.  Maybe, they will see that homeschooling doesn't require perfect organization.

Now, if you were to ask my kids, " Is mommy organized?"  My kids would say yes.... Especially my oldest son.  He thinks I am the most organized person in the universe.  I think it is just because I can keep track of things better than he can at this stage of his life. Honestly, I don't know why they would say I am organized.  They need only look around them to know that I am not.  Maybe it is because I know what is in the piles...

Things we do that work...  ( organizationally speaking )
  • I write things down in my day timer, rather religiously.  This keeps track of appointments, field trips, large assignments that are due.
  • I have created email forms, for the highschoolers, to fill out when they have completed assignments.  I can add paragraph boxes so they can answer essay style, and all of the information is collected in a spreadsheet for my easy tracking.  One look and I know who has done what assignment.  They just open up their email, and enter in what they have done.
  • I still have a toddler, I structure the day so that most of the intensive one on one, or out loud reading for the 3rd grader is done during nap time.
  • We try ( and really we do...) to follow a sort of a schedule.  I like to have the kids starting work by 8 in the morning. We break for lunch ( high school kids ) around 11:30 - 12:00... and get back to work around 1:00 when the nap has begun for Jeremiah.  The workboxes dictate the work for the 3rd grader, he completes the first 6 boxes, and then has time to run and play.  He and mommy work on the last 6 boxes during nap time, much of it read aloud work.  The High Schoolers are free to choose their order of completion, and the amount of work they do each day, as long as their weekly work load is complete by Friday. ( I figure in college, they get a syllabus, assignment lists, and test dates. No professor in the world is going to micro manage their time for them....might as well start this time management skill while they are home)
So that's it.
Our disorganized life.

I am sure that there are some wonderfully organized homeschoolers who have shared their tips and tricks on this installment of the blog cruise....  don't forget to click on the picture of the cruise ship at the top to read what they have to say...  ( I know I will be!!!)

Now, if you will excuse me.... I have to go clean that mess behind me, before someone thinks they need to start a new reality TV show.... "Homeschool Hoarders"

Meals, Meals, Meals

Hey there, I just wanted to take the time to tell you about this wonderful website.

Anybody out there ever coordinated meals for a family member who was ill, a  friend who just had a baby, work meetings, bible study?  If you are a member of ANY type of organization, and that organization occasionally provides meals to others.....  This website will help you coordinate it. (and it's FREE!!!!)

No more passing the sign up sheet.........
No more reminder phone calls to 5 people a week.........
No more awkward phone calls trying to beg someone to make a meal.....

Caring Meals....  does everything for you, via email.  It even sends out the reminders!
You can send the link to the person receiving the meals, and they can see who is coming, on what day, and what type of food they will be receiving.  It takes seconds to sign up.  A few minutes to log in all the emails you may need.... and when you set up a meal plan for someone, it takes about 5 minutes to enter the dates, and send out all your invitations.

They even have a great food blog for recipe ideas.

Head on over and check them out!
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