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Balance Benders by The Critical Thinking Co.

PhotobucketI received a copy of the beginning volume of Balance Benders:  Logic and Algebraic Reasoning Puzzles by Robert Femiano to review for TOS HomeschoolCrew.  This book is published by The Critical Thinking Company, and it is but one of a boatload of resources produced by this compnay.  The volume of Balance Benders we used is marked for grades 2-6, so I was not very optimistic that my kindergartener would be able to complete any of the puzzles.  However, as so often happens, I was pleasantly surprised that she was able to complete the first exercise with little trouble.  In fact, she enjoyed it!  The whole concept behind this book is that of recognizing equal statements that are based on a balance or scale that contain symbol(s) that are equal .  I will be the first to admit that I’m not as knowledgeable about “logic and algebraic reasoning” as I should be will be one day, but I sincerely want this to be a part of my children’s education.  This is definitely a resource that I plan to hold onto for future use, and at $10 a volume, I would definitely consider purchasing the more advanced volumes in the future.
For more reviews of this and other Critical Thinking Company products, check out TOS Homeschool Crew blog!

This product was sent to me free of charge for review purposes.


Math Mammoth

I scarcely know how to write this review because I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this curriculum.  I received it as a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, and since we are in the middle of using a curriculum for Lulu’s kindergarten that seems to be working extremely well, I used Math Mammoth as a supplemental resource.  I incorporated worksheets from the Blue Series, which I received electronically.  Specifically, Lulu worked on pages from the Math Mammoth Addition 1 worktext, since that is as far as she has gotten skill-wise.  I used it as an open-and-go resource; I did not do any extra instruction, which is exactly how the Blue Series books are designed to be used:  as supplemental, remedial, or review material.  The worksheets Lulu completed served the purpose for which we used them very well.  I was also pleased to find in the introductory material of the worktext a list math websites that could be used for practice.  Lulu and Louise have both played a few math games on some of the recommended websites, and I appreciate the fact that these resources were gathered for me and I didn’t have to go looking for them.


Although the Blue Series worktexts are arrange topically (as opposed to by grade level), Math Mammoth does publish complete leveled curricula for grades first through fifth.  I have not seen these materials, but I would guess based on our experience thus far with Math Mammoth that they would be an excellent choice for a complete curriculum. 

I give Math Mammoth a Highly Recommended.  It is very affordable and can be purchased in a variety of combinations determined by the students’ needs.  The website offers a wealth of helpful information, as well.  I am glad to have Math Mammoth in our homeschooling arsenal, and I am sure we will continue to use this resource as the girls make progress in their mathematics education.

For more reviews of Math Mammoth, check out TOS HomeschoolCrew blog.

I received this product free of charge for review purposes.


As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I had the opportunity to view two DVDs from MathTutorDVD.com for review.  Honestly, educational DVDs are not a high priority here at the House of Hope; we much prefer books over anything on a screen.  However, we gave these DVDs a try. 

The first DVD the girls and I watched is from the Young Minds series, and it’s obviously for the younger, preschool set.  The title of it is Young Minds–Numbers and CountingAfter watching a few minutes of it, it was obvious that my girls, at ages 5 and 4, are too old for this particular DVD.  (Perhaps a better way to say it is that they are beyond the skills emphasized in this DVD.)  Essentially, it’s simply a series of pictures containing one to ten objects.  For example, the first picture/screen is of a frog with the number one beside it.  The next screen is a picture of two objects, etc.  For much younger children, this might be okay.  However, my girls watched up until number four out of sheer politeness.  (Louise was busily turning somersaults off the sofa in the mean time.)  There are a few positives:  the photographs are bright, colorful, and very eye-catching.  The whole DVD is set to classical music.  (You can view excerpts from the DVD here.)  However, I would prefer to introduce my own young child to the concept of counting and numerals by simply reading him any number of board books.  For the $19.99 pricetag, I would skip this one.


We also reviewed The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor, which I scarcely feel qualified to review at this point in our homeschooling career.  I’ll give it a try, though.  🙂  We watched part of the first section of the first DVD.  It is entitled “Adding Whole Numbers,” and obviously, it’s all about addition in the context of word problems.  I was surprised at how engaged Lulu was during the part that we watched.  She actually listened to the on-screen tutor and did the addition by counting on her fingers.  This was a proud mama moment!  🙂  Honestly, I thought watching the DVD was a lot like watching a teacher teach the concepts in a classroom.  The part we watched was very low-tech.  It was simply a man (who didn’t give an extremely polished presentation, at that) standing in front of a white board, explaining and working math problems.  His explanations were slow and thorough, but there weren’t many (any) “bells and whistles.”  Since we’re not at the point in our homeschooling experience to actually need such help, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I do consider it a plus that it engaged Lulu enough to complete a few math problems, though.  I think I might consider this DVD if our more one-on-one approach weren’t working, and at $26.99, it wouldn’t break the budget.

MathTutorDVD.com offers much more than just these two DVDs–take a look! You can also find more reviews of their products at the HomeschoolCrew blog

I received these products free of charge for review purposes.

Katy and the Big Snow::Lapbook and Related Activities


In this last installment of the Katy and the Big Snow series here at Hope Is the Word, I wanted to share a few pictures of the lapbooks we made and the artwork we did, all inspired by Katy.  Let me admit up front that I am NO lapbooking expert, as you will soon see.  😉  In fact, after a few attempts last year, I had all but sworn them off.  My girls didn’t seem to get it, or to care one way or another.  I didn’t really get it, either, in fact.  Now I see more value in them, especially after perusing such blogs as Jimmie’s Collage (see her lapbooking category, specifically, but don’t miss her living in China posts, either–some of them are very funny!).  Obviously, her student is much older than mine are, but now I see just what potential is contained in these little projects.  I also really like the fact that Jimmie employs the Charlotte Mason method in her homeschool.  I’m currently having a philosophical crisis as to which direction we should take next year in our homeschool, and there may or may not be a post about that in the future.  🙂

Anyway, back to lapbooking.  For Katy and the Big Snow, I almost exclusively used ideas and resources from Homeschool Share.  (The direct link for the Katy resources is here.)  Honestly, a hodgepodge of activities with no rhyme or reason behind them is not exactly how I like to do things, but for students as young as my girls, I think it’s probably okay.  (I admit that at this point in our home educating journey, I need some hand-holding.)  Besides, that’s how Five in  a Row works; it’s a collection of such varied titles that there really is no theme at all.  (As a side note, this issue is one reason I like Jimmie’s Collage so much–her lapbooks are used primarily for narration, etc., and I like that.  I can see the purpose in it–I just have to remind myself that her daughter is older than mine!)  I think the activities I chose for us to use for our Katy lapbook, though, were meaningful for my girls.

I had the girls draw a picture of Katy for the cover of their lapbooks.  Unfortunately, I chose manila-colored (is manila a color?) drawing paper, which made for a rather visually boring project (minus the girls’ drawings, of course).  The first one is Lulu’s, age 5.  Louise, age 4, liked her drawing of Katy so well that she didn’t want me to cut it, so we ended up putting her first drawing on the back and she made another picture for the front.  Thus, the next two pictures are her handiwork.

(This is a picture of the “bacry” (bakery) in Geoppolis.   That’s Katy drawn in pencil in the upper left-hand corner.)

Next is the inside of Lulu’s lapbook.  Louise’s looks the same, except for the fact that almost all of the activities required more fine motor skills (and patience!) than she currently possesses, so she was essentially along for the ride.  Her drawing skills, though, are par excellence!  🙂  The inside of lapbook itself is where things look a little rough from the teacher end.  (Why, oh why must I be a perfectionist?)  When I look at it, though, we covered a lot of territory:

  • math:  addition word problems made up from the story, counting by fives, and patterns
  • science:  a week-long weather log and compass/compass rose introduction (with daddy)
  • character development:  the meaning of the word responsibility and personal application
  • handwriting
  • vocbulary:  lots of discussion about horsepower and compass/compass rose

The little math worksheets are part/whole circles for addition.  We use RightStart Math, and this is one of the ways addition is introduced.  I was quite proud of myself for figuring out how to make those worksheets in Word, and then I promptly forgot to save the document.  Ah, well–at least I’ll get lots of practice in making them!  😉

We also spent some quality time with our watercolors in some Katy-inspired artwork.  I even got in on the action–that’s my picture (copied straight out of the book!) at the top of the post.  (In addition to being a novice at lapbooking, I am also quite unskilled as an artist.  But I do enjoy it!)  After we got started, I realized that watercolors were probably not the best medium for this type of project, but we were already too far in to turn back.  It’s difficult to read, but Lulu’s piece is a building (the highway department, maybe) with “Geoppolis” on the front. 

I feel like the whole idea of lapbooking and studying different topics based on a common story came together with this Katy and the Big Snow experience. Our study was punctuated by Lulu’s sickness, but I still think she got something out of it.  One thing that we didn’t include in our lapbook that related to this story was our Bible memory work.  Before Christmas we had been working on Psalm 34 , but that sort of fizzled out with all the Christmas activities, etc.  (I believe we got down to about verse 14 or 15.)  However, once we got back into our normal morning routine, I decided to go with something shorter.  Candace’s use of the hymn “Whiter Than Snow” in her snow unit inspired me to come up with a snow-related verse, so we learned Isaiah 1:18:

“Come now, let us reason together,”
       says the LORD. 
 “Though your sins are like scarlet,
       they shall be as white as snow;
       though they are red as crimson,
       they shall be like wool.”

This turned out to be the perfect short memory passage since we actually had a little bit of snow!

If you’re interested in backtracking and reading all of my Katy and the Big Snow related posts, here are the links:

Before I end this marathon of a post, I wanted to share a little piece of our schoolroom.  Back in September, Steady Eddie and I made a dash over to Atlanta to purchase some things for our room.  This marked our inaugural visit to IKEA (!!!), and I brought back these little red frames from there, among lots of other goodies.  These frames are sized 8.5″ x 11″, so they’re made for artwork. 

I hope to one day soon give you a tour of our schoolroom.  We use it every day, and we’re thoroughly enjoying having our own space.  I just need to tidy it up a bit (and keep it tidy long enough to photograph it!) and finish up a few little projects.  Stay tuned!  🙂


As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, my family was given the opportunity to utilize the math website Mathletics on a trial basis.  While we have by no means thoroughly used this resource, my girls have used the kindergarten level of the program.  The kindergarten level of Mathletics covers the following topics:

  • sorting/naming shapes, objects
  • knowing numbers and patterns
  • measurement and money
  • getting ready to add/subtract

The activities do require that either the student be able to read.  The sentences were a little bit above Lulu’s current reading ability, so I had to stand nearby and read the questions aloud to her.  One thing I noticed, too, is that in the sorting/naming shapes activity, there was a lot of repetition and what I would call “open to interpretation” questions.  For example, the question might be, “Which of following object(s) is/are hot?”   Pictured might be a fire, a sun, an apple, an iron, and a fire engine.  I’m not sure whether or not the fire engine entry was deliberate (quite possibly it was), but I thought it was unnecessarily confusing. 

My girls are always happy to use the computer, but overall, I don’t think they were too taken in by Mathletics.  I found it to be a little bit cumbersome to use (for example, the student must first click to submit his answer, and then click to go to the next question) and the graphics are a little bit stilted.  Perhaps as they get older and have more formal math knowledge (and a need for more practice), these things would not be such an issue.  Right now, though, I don’t think that this is how I would choose for them to spend their “screen time.”

To be fair, there are plenty of positives about Mathletics, but they aren’t ones that necessarily appeal to us or apply to our situation right now.  Some of the positives include 

  • it is a way for students to both compete with themselves and others in a safe online community (students sign in but there is no identification of them and they do not communicate with others)
  • there is parental feedback
  • students have the option of redoing exercises they do not master

However, at $59 a year per student, I don’t think I could justify the cost.  Please don’t just take my word for it, though.  Read some reviews from parents of older students to find out if Mathletics might be a good fit in your homeschool. 

I accessed this product free of charge for review purposes.



As a part of TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a copy of Educaching:  GPS Based Curriculum for Teachers by Jason Hubbard and the Staff of SDG Creations, Ltd.  This 128-page curriculum is divided into five sections:

  • Teachers Training
  • Lesson Plans
  • Field Sheets
  • Acquiring GPS
  • Beyond the Basics

This curriculum is written by a fifth grade teacher who obviously has a good deal of knowledge about GPS units and the concept of geocaching, which he tweaks in this curriculum to make it more “educational.”  Plenty of introductory information about GPS units is provided so that even a novice (like me!) should be able to read the first section of the manual and have a pretty good idea about how to proceed.  The lesson plans are written for general classroom use in grades 4-8, and some of them are basically a technological version of a scavenger hunt.  For example, the curriculum suggests that a very basic “mathematical” educache is one in which math problems are hidden and then found via the GPS unit, solved in the field, and then brought back to the classroom for discussion.  However, some of the lesson plans actually integrate the subject matter and the technology so that the students are actually using the GPS unit as a part of the lesson, not just a fancy toy to get them out of the classroom.  One such lesson plan involves a class game of modified kickball in which the students each kick a ball as far as possible three times, input the location at which the ball lands as a waypoint in the GPS unit, and then return to the classroom and use the data for all sorts of mathematical calculations.  Although this curriculum is heavy on the science and math connection for obvious reasons, efforts are made to integrate all areas of the curriculum and make it a multifaceted approach.  Field sheets for recording data are included for each lesson.  A section for classroom teachers about how to acquire funds for classroom sets of GPS units are included.  The curriculum ends with several pages of ideas of how to take educaching beyond just the lesson plans provided.   

Although my children are young, I was excited to have a chance to review this curriculum because Steady Eddie has participated in geocaching himself and has used it in this job as a science educator and has talked enough about it for me to know it’s something I would enjoy.  However, I did not factor into the equation of receiving this curriculum that we would have the rainiest fall in memory.  We finally had enough of a break in the weather (and enough sense to plan to do it when we had a clear day!) earlier this week.  Because my girls are only 5 and 3, Steady Eddie set us up with a modified version of one of the lesson plans.  He marked four waypoints at various places around our neighborhood block, each one of which was near a tree or bush.  The original idea was to have the students identify the trees and plants.  Instead, Steady Eddie provided us with clues (typewritten AND in rhyme, no less), and I just intructed my girls to gather a leaf from each tree or bush we located.  (It would’ve actually been much harder to get them to NOT collect leaves–Louise, especially, excels at collecting nature specimens, and we have an overflowing nature shelf to prove it.)  I carried the GPS unit and did all of the navigating, but I did show it to the girls, and they were somewhat interested in it.  I am pleased to report that we properly identified three of the four plants.  (The one we missed had more to do with miscommunication between Steady Eddie and me than anything.  Keep in mind that he gave me my little GPS inservice/lesson preparation session just after 6:00 that morning before he left for work!)  The girls definitely enjoyed this activity, although I think it had more to do with the fact that daddy left us a scavenger hunt than the fact that we were “educaching.”  Obviously, my girls are still a little young for this.

Educaching is a neat idea, and I do think this curriculum covers the basics of using a GPS unit in an accessible way.  Although the lessons are geared toward classroom use, most of them are adaptible for homeschool use with fewer students.  However, I’m not sure that every single lesson would have enough educational value to warrant doing it for one or two students.  (Sometimes it’s just easier to solve the math problems and then go outside and enjoy a walk in nature sans technology, in my opinion.)  Educaching would be fun, though, for use in a co-op or some other group setting.  The curriculum itself is well written and it is obvious that a lot of thought, planning, and passion went into its design. 
Educaching is available for a cost of $32 plus shipping, handling and applicable taxes, or to avoid shipping costs, it can also be purchased in electronic format for $32 plus any sales tax.  You can also download sample lesson plans to see if Educaching might be a good fit for your homeschool or your homeschool group.  You can read more Homeschool Crew reviews here.

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This curriculum was sent to me free of charge for review purposes.

Egg Carton Math

egg carton math

I knew it would happen, so I should’ve been better prepared.  Louise is riding Lulu’s coattails this year.  The kindergarten curriculum, we have down.  It’s the three-almost-four-year-old-who-thinks-she’s-already-five that I’m not ready for yet.  We have always, always, always done everything together, and so we keep right on going.  I try to give them each my undivided attention in 5-15 minute intervals, alternatingly, while we work on phonics, handwriting, and a little bit of math.  The phonics and handwriting are easy–I’ve covered the phonics part before with Lulu (‘though I’m realizing it will look different each time, with each child), and Louise really doesn’t possess to motor skills to print properly yet, so we can get by with a little preschool workbook (Get Set for School).  However, the math always sets me scrambling. 

Like all good homeschooling mothers 😉 , I am saving everything I think might come in handy in the near future, empty egg cartons included.  I was struck with inspiration the other day and pulled out one of these ultra-useful items.  I numbered the inside of the egg wells (cups?  you know what I mean) left-to-right, putting number seven below the number one.  I then grabbed my handy jar o’ buttons and had Louise pick some yellow buttons out of a pile I scooped out for her.  I instructed her to put one button in each well, starting with one and finishing at twelve.  I did something similar to this with Lulu when she was younger, and I remember originally getting the egg carton idea from Slow and Steady Get Me Ready.  By my adding just a little to the original activity, Louise worked on sorting, left-to-right orientation (important for a leftie like Louise, especially), and ordering.  However, I’m sure that there is a lot more that can be done with the lowly egg carton that I’m missing.  I’ve pondered this before, but I’ll pose the question anyway:  what else educational or entertaining can be done with an empty egg carton?

The Quarter Mile Math

1/4Mile ImageI received The Quarter Mile Math software from Barnum Software as a member of TOS Homeschool Crew, and I’ll admit that when I received it, I wondered how on earth I could ever incorporate this software into our homeschool day. After all, I have a kindergartener and a preschooler. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that because I had received the Deluxe Bundle, I did indeed have the whole grade-range in my possession: from K through grade 9!  Still, though, I had my doubts because we literally just started our formal math instruction on Monday of this week.  Although my kindergartener, Lulu, has absored a good bit of real life mathematical knowledge, she doesn’t have much official, text-bookish mathematical knowledge at all.  I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I realized that in addition to including several hundred mathematical topics, The Quarter Mile Math also includes some basic keyboarding and alphabet skills games in the kindergarten level.  Bingo!

The premise of The Quarter Mile Math is that it operates as a race, either between cars or riderless horses.  Whatever topic the student chooses to work on, the game is the same:  he or she competes against his or her own best score.  (There is also a tournament option which you can read about here.)  The student then answers math (or alphabet or keyboarding) drill questions as quickly as possible.  Race sessions last from 45 seconds to 2.5 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the topic.  Since students are usually competing against themselves, the idea is that the competition will spur them on to answering more quickly, etc.  This concept was somewhat lost on my little girls, but I could see that given a year or two of learning, they might really get into such a program.  Lulu actually played an alphabet game in which she had to key in the next letter of the alphabet given a sequence of two letters and a number game in which she had to key in the next number, and she was able to do them both with minimal frustration.  Obviously, the main problem is unfamiliarity with the computer keyboard, but then again, that’s part of the point for the game she played.


Quarter Mile Math

The Quarter Mile Math covers hundreds of mathematical topics and is used in Sylvan Learning Centers across the U.S. and Canada.  It is a fun way to review mathematical concepts, skills, and facts.  It is easy to install, and although the program itself is not intuitive to run (at least not to me, but I admit to being a little technologically slow), a thorough guide book is provided.  On the downside, though, visually it is nothing like playing a modern video game:  the graphics for The Quarter Mile Math look more like I remember from my old Atari when I was a child than anything I’ve watched my tweenage nephews play.  My girls are very uninitiated to the world of video games, so they were quite excited to play this game, but other students who have had more exposure to technology might notice this.  Running the program on Vista (as we are doing) might cause a few problems (mainly freezing up, which did happen once to me), but Barnum Software has provided a patch to fix such problems. 

The Quarter Mile Math is available in a couple of different configurations, and I would consider $2.95 a month for a family subscription a bargain for something that would offer variety to my family’s (future!) math curriculum.  Visit The Quarter Mile Math for more information, and for more reviews, check out TOS Homeschool Crew blog.


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