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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.

Children’s Bible Hour::Seasons of Faith

As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I have been blessed with the opportunity to review a great resource from Children’s Bible Hour Ministries.  The Seasons of Faith illustrated book series is a series of books based on Children’s Bible Hour radio scripts.  According to the CBH website, “[T]hese stories teach core truths of the Bible so that kids can easily apply them to their lives. Each book focuses on a season of faith-developing topics.”  The books are paperback and include a “read along CD” narrated by “Uncle” Charlie.  (Regular readers here know how much we love audiobooks here at the House of Hope, so these were very welcome!)  The stories illustrate Biblical principles and are kid-friendly.  So far, my girls and I have listened to Braving the Storm, which is the story of a young boy whose family has been dealt a series of difficult blows.  His grandfather helps him come to understand how such difficult times are the times to grow down deep roots in Christ.  I have also listened to Seventy Times Seven, which is the story of a boy who learns what it means to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.  Both stories are very practical and realistic in that they are about events that could really happen (and often do) in the lives of children.  Each story ends with the plan of salvation that is presented similarly to the way it is presented on the website.  These stories are very evangelistic or discipleship-oriented.  While I would not categorize these as fine literature, they do remind me of something I would’ve watched or listened to as a child in children’s church or youth camp.  I am more than happy to add them to our audiobook collection.  At $10 per title, these book-and-CD sets are comparable in price to any other that you would purchase. 

Be sure to visit the CBH website for a host of resources, including a video of the making of the Seasons of Faith series!

Visit the TOS Homeswchool Crew blog to read more reviews of this product.

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

Homeschool Library Builder

As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I have been given the opportunity to review a useful resource, the Homeschool Library Builder.  Unlike most of the other products I’ve reviewed, this is not something you purchase; rather, it is a service you use.  Homeschool Library Builder is simply an online new and used bookstore which caters to the needs of homeschooling families (although anyone who loves a good book could benefit).  Becoming a member of Homeschool Library Builder is free, and it is a great service to use to search for those difficult-to-locate titles.  Books are arranged in categories, or you may simple search for a title or browse all books.  The website is easy to use both visually and technically. 

I’m not sure how the quantity of books stocked by Homeschool Library Builder would compare to the big online stores, but I like the fact that this is a home-owned and home-grown company (run by homeschooling families, no less!).  To my knowledge, all of the books (both new and used) are offered at a discount from the retail price.   Shipping appears to be based on a flat rate, too–$4.50 for USPS Media Mail and $12.20 for USPS Priority Mail.  You may pay via PayPal, credit card, or check, and they even offer an incentive program called Book Points that enables you to earn credit based on what you spend.  As a homeschooler who tries to give her business to small businesses, I’m fairly certain I’ll be returning to Homeschool Library Builder when it comes time to purchase more books. 

If you’d like to read more reviews of this company, please visit the TOS HomeschoolCrew blog.

I received no compensation for writing this review.

Beehive Reader 1

As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I was sent the Beehive Reader 1 by Marie Rippel and Renee LaTulippe to review.  Beehive Reader 1 is a phonics-based reader written for use with the All About Spelling curriculum.  (Read my review of All About Spelling here.)  However, the reader can also be used independently of the spelling program, which is what we did.  

Beehive Reader 1 is simply a phonics-based basic reader.  Since January as her reading skills have greatly increased, I have been requiring Lulu to read one book aloud each day.  So far, she has read the first story from Beehive Reader 1, and honestly, she didn’t want to do that much.  Usually she has some say in what book she gets to read.  I keep a basket full of easy readers on our reading carpet in the school room.  These readers include the Bob books, various other phonics readers I’ve picked up here and there, and other easy readers (I-Can-Read books, etc.) we’ve checked out from the library.  Sometimes I’ll pick for Lulu, but often I let her pick.  She likes that.  However, she read the story from Beehive Reader 1 with no problem, and I appreciated the fact that it was entirely predictable in the skills needed to read it in its entirety.  (Not every easy reader is that way!)

Beehive Reader 1 has an old-fashioned feel to it, with black-and-white pencil sketch-ish illustrations.  It’s really quite lovely.


The illlustrations are simple enough to not be distracting, but interesting enough to encourage the reader to want to keep reading. Beehive Reader 1 contains ten stories, and the stories grow progressively more difficult.  To put it simply, it’s just a reading textbook (or maybe a supplemental reading textbook would best describe it, since it contains no instructional materials), and it serves that purpose well.  I think if we were using All About Spelling as our primary language/reading curriculum, I would use this supplementally.  However, I’m not sure I would shell out the $19.95 for this as a stand-alone book.  We have reading materials in abundance here at the House of Hope, and we have access to several well-stocked libraries.  However, if phonics readers were in short supply, I might consider a reader like this. 

For other opinions about Beehive Reader 1, be sure to visit TOS HomeschoolCrew blog.

I received this product 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.

Presidential Penmanship by Zeezok Publishing

PhotobucketAs a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I received a copy of Presidential Penmanship from Zeezok Publishing for review.  Presidential Penmanship is a series of handwriting practice pages.  I received the Italic style complete program, but programs are available for many different styles of handwriting.  This is essentially a CD-ROM containing copywork for first grade through high school; however, it is also available for download. 

Students using this program copy presidential quotations.  I have looked most thoroughly at the first grade program since I am currently teaching a kindergartener and a preschooler, and I can see the usefulness of this resource.  Students focus on one quotation each week.  In the first grade program, students have two opportunities to trace the words, and then there is space for them to write the quote independently.  Each year’s program also has blank, lined pages for more copywork practice.  Obviously, it would be easy to compile a list of quotations and develop one’s own program, but for the cost of this program, I think it might be worth it.  The complete program is available for $39.99, and individual years are only $9.99.  (As a bonus, this program could also be used for memory work!)

Check out the HomeschoolCrew blog for more reviews of products from Zeezok Publishing.

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

Bertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey

PhotobucketBertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey is the story of a twelve year old girl, Bertie, who lives with her family in Washington state during the 1960s.  Bertie is the middle child, squashed between an self-confident older sister and a mischievous younger brother.  Fear more or less controls Bertie’s life.  Her number one fear is of the Communists and nuclear war, since this troubling threat is always present on the airwaves and in the newspapers.  In fact, she can’t even go to school without being reminded of the possibility of a nuclear attack–they have drills to prepare for such an eventuality.  Bertie is also afraid of her father–of disappointing him, of disobeying him, of having to visit “the woodshed.”  All of these fears force Bertie into something of  a shell of isolation–she reads a lot and works on fixing up her own nuclear fallout shelter for her family.  She uses the fear to protect herself, much like she expects her new, light-colored winter coat to protect her from radiation when the missiles are launched. 

Bertie’s War is a book in which not much actually happens; it’s definitely more about the internal life of the protagonist than anything else.  I think that’s one reason I had a hard time warming up to it in the beginning, too, although I usually like such books.  It bothered me that a twelve year old girl was so worried and afraid all of the time.  However, I haven’t read much about this historical time period, and so I imagine that the book might give a realistic picture of what it was like to be a sensitive child during the height of the Cold War. 

I received the book Bertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey to review for TOS HomeschoolCrew, and as I’ve already mentioned, it took me a while to warm up to it.  I took the book with me on an overnight business trip I took with Steady Eddie back at the beginning of December, and on the trip I read probably the first half of the book.  I stalled out after that, due to a combination of morning sickness (how long will I use this for an excuse, you’re wondering, I’m sure 😉 ), Christmas preparations, and the general blahs.  However, when I picked it back up again to finish it, I found myself liking it more and more.  I’m not sure that it was any fault of the book’s that I didn’t like it to begin with, but this is a story that comes together more at the end.  Published by the evangelical Christian Kregel Publications, Bertie’s War is not the typical in-your-face-with- the-Gospel approach to a novel.  Although a message is there, it is very subtle, present almost only through symbolism.  I found the light touch to be nice, and in the end, I think that this might be what made me like it so much.  Thoughtful tweens or teens, especially girls, might like this one.  It would also be useful to get a “feeling” for life during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bertie’s War is available for purchase through Kregel.  If you would like to read more reviews of Bertie’s War visit TOS HomeschoolCrew blog

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



As a member of TOS HomeschoolCrew, I was given the opportunity to use KinderBach online preschool piano program with my children.  I need to state up front that my girls have been involved in a terrific early childhood music program since they were toddlers.  Lulu is currently in a group piano class, and Louise will soon be graduating from a general music and movement class with an emphasis on piano and rhythm to the level one piano class.  We have been tremendously pleased with their progress in the classes and really couldn’t be happier with the program they’re involved in.  However, when reviewing KinderBach, I attempted to look at it as an alternative to a real, live class and not compare the two.

KinderBach is a six-level program, sixty week program (four lessons per week) that teaches keyboard skills (i.e. note location, etc.), rhythm (note values), some musical terminology, some solfege, treble and bass clefs, and much more.  Students access teaching videos online.  The lessons are taught by a woman with a pleasing  and engaging demeanor.  The lessons, at least in the beginning,  involve songs :-), finger plays, and several engaging cartoon characters.  There are also printable worksheets to accompany each lesson.  This seems to be a solid music program, although it is one that would probably best be started at the beginning so that the students catch on to all the little tricks and shortcuts to remembering things (like note location, etc.) that are used.




There are a few things about the program that I find frustrating.  The first one is more personal than anything, but someone else might be in a similar situation.  We do not own a keyboard, but we do own a piano.  However, our computer is on one end of our house and the piano is on another, and never the twain shall meet.  🙂  This caused problems for us, but an obvious solution to this would be to use a keyboard.  Another issue I had with the program is the size of the screen which plays the actual lessons.  It takes up only the center portion of our large monitor, and there is plenty of white space all around.  I could never find a way to make this box larger, so we were stuck, and I found it rather distracting.  This was especially true when the worksheets were displayed:  it was very difficult to see some of the items on the worksheets.  Of course, the idea is to print out the worksheets and use them alongside the video.  My girls, however, expected the program to be interactive, and it is not.  Essentially, it boils down to watching a DVD on a small screen and completing related worksheets.  (Actually, the whole program is also available on DVD, which might eliminate this problem altogether.)

I value music education very highly, and I personally see the value in “outsourcing” it, especially if you have no musical knowledge yourself.  I think KinderBach would be an excellent choice for preschool and early elementary music instruction.  It is available for as little as $95.88 for a year’s worth of access to the website and all of the lessons; this is a great bargain and much, much cheaper than an in-person music class. 

Would you like to read more reviews of KinderBach?  Visit the HomeschoolCrew blog!

I accessed this product free of charge for review purposes.


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.