Thoughtful Stocking Stuffers {or small gifts} for Kids

We are making our list and checking it twice for the upcoming holiday season.  Here in the West Word house we get 3 gifts a piece plus a stocking.  I try to make our stockings be mostly meaningful/educational toys.  Something with a purpose other to be at the bottom of the toy bin one month after Christmas.

Our list this year:

Maestro Classics is at the top of our list.  The kids and I recently reviewed The Nutcracker and we all fell so in love with these stories set to music.  These are great to take along on those long car rides to visit family.  Check them out on Friday for a not to be missed sale!!  (We'll be scooping up Peter and the Wolf and The Story of Swan Lake.)

Any kid enjoys a fun pencil to help get their work done.   Our eldest will be finding "super trained & stealthy" ninjas in his stocking.  The little lady will be getting Unravels.  These crayons peel away to reveal hidden riddles and jokes.  So fun for a our new reader!  Both of these can be found in store at places similar to Mastermind Toys or Chapters !ndigo.  They are also found on Amazon.

Little books are so books fit so nicely into stockings - and they are an excellent take-along for long car rides.  This year our science lover will be getting Human Body, while little brother will find Cars in his stocking.  These are found in many retail stores and on Amazon.

Toobs by Safari Ltd. are so fun for imaginative play.  You can search Safari's website for a store near you.  I am so excited for our avid dinosaur lover to find dino skulls in his stocking!  (Our cat lover will of course be finding cats in her stocking).  We found our Toobs are Mastermind Toys and once at a museum!  They are also on Amazon, but if you're in Canada you're better off finding a retailer.

Padraig is a maker of the best slippers my child was ever gifted - 8 years ago!  They are still around and are now worn by our 3rd child.  These slippers are pricey, but so well made and long lasting.  They are made of sheepskin and wool.  A wonderful gift for baby's first Christmas!!  Padraig offers a very nice store locater to find a seller near you.

If you have a little lady (or lad!) that loves dolls, consider buying little adorable cloth diapers!  Three years ago we purchased from Baby Doll Diapers by Missy  and we have yet to be disappointed in our little doll diapers.

Winter is such a long season to endure, I think especially for homeschoolers being cooped up together all day all season.  Help get the wiggles out with Slap SHOTZ when it is too cold to safely go outside and play hockey!  (We found ours at Chapters !ndigo)

Sumoku is a fun game that can easily fit into the stocking of an older kid (8+).  Other fun games to fit in stockings would be
  • Rory's Story Cubes Mix.  We are going to get Enchanted for the girlie and Prehistoric for the big bro.  When mixed I think it'll be so fun for them!
  • Bananagrams sells cute games for the younger crew, like Pairs and Pears.
  • Kandoole Extreme would be fun for an older kid.
And that concludes our thoughts so far!  What are you thinking of stuffing your stockings with?

Blue Ribbon Awards 2015

My first year on the TOS Review Crew has came to an end and soon we will be gearing up for another year!  It has just all went by so incredibly fast!

The Crew has voted for our favorite products in many categories.  Being in Canada I don't get a chance to review as many product as the others, but we've personally been blessed with about 23 of great products.  Of the ones I have had a chance to review, my top 5 favorites would have to be:

1) Maesto Classics - I just loved this audio story set to classic music!  We've listened to this no less than 5 times already.

2)  Successful Homeschooling Made Easy - this was something I was not excited to review and it ended up being a favorite.  The advice and helps found in this e-course are invaluable!

3)  Cursive Logic - this program is so wonderful in teaching children how to write in a simple and quick way.  This has been tremendously helpful in our school with our reluctant writer.

4)  Homeschool Legacy -  This is something I wouldn't have thought to get for us.  Our bird study was so much fun and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with this study

5)  LaLaLogic - this preschool curriculum is so fun and multi-sensory.  It is just brilliant.  I loved it so much that we went ahead and bought her poetry book for kids.

6) SmartKidz Media - I know I said top 5 but I have to squeeze this one in too.  This website is so wonderful and we use it so often.  My eldest especially loves it.

7) - let's just go ahead and ignore that I said top 5 because I can't leave without mentioning this company.  I am so grateful for being introduced to this Christian movie company!  We're buying some more kids dvds for stocking stuffers.

8)  Middlebury Interactive Languages - Emma (age 5) is still going strong on learning French.  She loves her lessons and often big brother joins.  Whenever we have company Emma shares her new language knowledge - I just love it!

The kids' top favorites:

Connor's most favorite this year was Homeschool in the Woods.  He had such a blast and it works so well with someone that likes learn in many ways- audio, visual, hands on. 

Emma's favorite was Maestro Classics.  Seriously such a good company.  We are going to purchase more of the stories and gift one to a family friend for Christmas.

To see who won the Blue Ribbons click the banner below and also be sure to visit the crew's blogs to see their own personal favorites which could be different than the overall winners.
2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards

Multi-level Bible study lessons {a TOS review}

Grapevine Studies Review
Last year the kids and I briefly used GrapeVine Studies as part of our bible study lesson.  I had only purchased one unit with 10 lessons and when it was over my oldest was upset because he wanted "more stick figure learning."  When the opportunity came up to review GrapeVine Studies the kids were so excited!
We received an eBook of Birth of Jesus:  Multi-Level (also available in a hard copy book).  We received the eBooks for Multi-Level (ages 7 and up) and Traceable (ages 3-6) as well as the Teacher eBook.

What is GrapeVine Studies?

GrapeVine Studies is a bible curriculum and study tool, that helps students learn God's Word and memorize scripture by reading the Bible and then drawing what they've learned in colored stick figures.  Choices are for either topical (Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Moses, Birth of Jesus, and Resurrection)or chronological studies from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

There are a lot of choices for topics, and 5 levels to choose from, which can seem overwhelming, but the GrapeVine website is very well done and offers many visual "helps" to get you started.  For starters, there is a very nice 20 page catalog you can download for free and read about each item offered.  If you want something quicker to help your decision making, there are a couple handy charts.

Grapevine Studies Review
click to view larger
More about the Topical eBook, Birth of Jesus: Multi-Level

The Birth of Jesus takes students on a journey to know and understand the events that surround Jesus' birth, beginning with Mary in Nazareth, and the journey that takes her from Nazareth and back again, with Joseph and the Messiah. 
Things needed that are not included in the eBooks:
  • Bible
  • colored pencils for students
  • dry erase board
  • dry erase markets in 8 colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black and brown)
  • Bible dictionary

The students learn by listening to a Bible passage, then drawing stick figures that show the story they've just heard.  The lesson is completed with a review, scripture memorization and a question/answer session.

Included in the study is mapping of the journey and vocabulary words that students are asked to look up in a Bible dictionary.

The Teacher book has thorough notes of what is being covered in each lesson.  These notes may be read aloud or you can use your own wording for discussion.  Also included are the fully drawn stick figure stories, in color, to be drawn by the teacher and copied by the student.

How we used this in our Homeschool

This Bible study can be used as a daily lesson or a weekly (once a week) lesson.   We used it as a daily study.  Because I have the eBook version, I downloaded the Teacher eBook onto our iPad so that I could open in iBooks as a portable, printer free, way to teach the lessons.  For the kids' books, I printed and hole punched what they would need and put it in a folder so that they everything stayed together and they could keep it after the lessons were complete.

The study begins with a timeline overview of the entire study before starting with the lessons.

Here is what Day 2 looked like for us:

We used this with an 8 year old using the Multi-Level student eBook and a 5 year old using the Traceable Student eBook

The study begins with "The Announcement".  I read from Matthew 1:1, 17, and we discuss using the teacher prompts and then we draw our first stick figures.  I write 5 vocabulary words on our chalkboard and we look them up in our bible dictionary.

We read from Luke 1:26-27 and discuss and draw our second set of stick figures.

We read from Luke 1:28-33 discuss and then draw, completing our lesson for the day.

Day 3 would be the same, bible reading, discussing and drawing then ending with questions.  The answers are provided in the Teacher eBook.

Day 4 the kids would draw what their favorite part of the lesson was and they would recite or write their memory verse.

This pattern is repeated for 5 weeks, with the occasional addition of a locating a biblical city on the map provided in the eBook.

Final Thoughts

The pacing of using the daily schedule worked out great as it wasn't too long of a lesson for young learners.  We really loved the multi-sensory lessons to learn more about the Birth of Jesus.

Emma (5) really loved being able to feel confident in "keeping up" with us, having a traceable stick figure story to complete.

Connor (8) really loved the freedom of making a unique to him stick figure, frequently asking to add in things that he heard in the story but that were not in the stick figure pictures I drew for him on the board.

When we got to the end on our lessons, after 5 weeks, both kids were sad and wanted to know if we could do more. 

We'd recommend this for any Christian home looking for a fun and engaging way to help your little ones grow to know and understand the Bible.  Having them draw the story really helps them commit to memory.

To see the rest of the crew's reviews on the Birth of Jesus and of Creation to Jacob, click the banner below:
Grapevine Studies Review

Surfing the Net: Science {a TOS review}

My eldest son, Connor (3rd grade) can not get enough of science.  He is always making his way straight to the non-fiction section of the library and then hits ups the documentary DVDs next.  For him, a good school day always includes an experiment of some sort.  Connor was very eager to help review Surfing the Net Science for The Critical Thinking Co.
The Critical Thinking Co. is well known for their curricula that help children become better problem solvers.  They offer a range of material from supplemental to full curriculum for students in Pre-K to grade 12.  You are able to find 8 different subjects in the material offered by Critical Thinking Co.
  • Critical Thinking
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Test Prep
  • Tests
  • Technology
What is Surfing the Net Science?

Surfing the Net Science is a 256 page workbook, written by Jennifer Katherine Brooks, for students in grades 3 to 6 in which the kids learn about science, while learning how to research, using the Internet.

The book starts out with an Introduction.  This is one area I was glad for and I believe it is so important not to skip this part.  The Intro provides a "How to" where a few key links are provided for bookmarking, so that the activities are made easier for the students, rather than having to type in the long links each time.  In addition, the Intro provides an overview of the book's layout and a key to the icons that are used throughout the book.  Finally, this section also provides you with a link to a much advised video lesson on search engines and how key word searches work.
Following the Introduction are 7 sections of topics, with 46 sub-topics.  The book ends with answers to all questions asked.  The 7 main sections are:
  • Animals
  • Atmosphere
  • Ecosystems and Habitats
  • Energy
  • Geology
  • Plants
  • Space

Each section begins with an overview of the section's topic and provides links to get you started.  Following the overview is where the "critical thinking" questions are found, for each sub-topic.  The students use key words found in the question to research and find the answers to write down on their worksheet.

Using the links provided a student might do 1 to 8 activities within a topic.
  • Watch a video
  • Search for images
  • Use a website
  • Take a quiz
  • Play a game
  • View an animation
  • Use an interactive website
  • Read an article
How did we use this?

There is no schedule suggested for this book, and nothing that needs to "build" upon a previous subject.  While it would make complete logical sense to just go in order from page 1, we skipped around following our child-led and unit study eclectic school life.  Connor is passionate about science so we are never bored or wondering what to do next.

When we started Surfing the Net Science we had been studying eastern Canada and fisheries.  It made sense to us to begin with "Fish", which is the 4th of the 8 sub-topics offered under "Animals".  In this section the student has 3 full pages of 11 questions total, pertaining to fish.  Connor researched things such as "Largest Mammal", "Largest Fish", and "What is the world's deadliest fish?".

The last page, questions 7-11, were so fun that he repeated it numerous times.  He was asked to dissect a virtual salmon, label and draw organs and then he was asked to take a shark personality quiz.  My shark enthusiast just loved that part.

Next we went to the Hydroelectricity worksheets, found under Section 4:  Energy.  We had recently taken a field trip to Niagara Falls.  This is the only topic we didn't complete as it is hard for an 8 year old.  (The book is for grades 3-6 and Connor is grade 3). 

After coming to a road block with hydro power we switched gears to child-led learning and Connor chose all the rest of his topics, working on about a page a day, three days a week.  He learned about insects, the solar system and the ocean before I asked him to do a couple of my choice.

We next learned about Taiga and Tundra to fit our unit study on Nunavut and finally, since Connor is currently very passionate about orangutans, we learned about the Rain Forest, where he learned about products that come from the rain forest by playing on online game.

Final Thoughts
I love that the links lead the student to safe, legit, well-known science sites such as Discovery and National Geographic.  There is not a single suggestion to watch a video via YouTube, which is a huge plus to me as we have a strict "no YouTube" rule in our home.
With Surfing the Net Science I felt we weren't just skimming the surface of typical science subjects.  Students aren't just fed information, they are asked to dig in and really think about the topics.  The book really helps teach the student how to research, and what to ask oneself when researching.
The review crew has been working with a number of other items from The Critical Thinking Co., to see them click the banner below:
The Critical Thinking Company Review

Eat Your Math Homework {a TOS review}

If you asked my oldest son what his least favorite subject in school is he would say, with no hesitation, "Math!"  Math has long been a struggle for him, and for me as his teacher.  Likewise, if you asked him what his most favorite subject was he would, with no hesitation, say, "Lunchtime!"  Granted, mealtime isn't a school subject, but to him it is the single most anticipated hour of the day.

Recently we have had the opportunity to combine his least favorite and most favorite subjects with a super fun series from Ann McCallum Books.  For review, we have received one book by author Ann McCallum, in which I asked my son to Eat Your Math Homework!

Eat Your Math Homework!?

In this 48 page book you will find incredible hands-on math "assignments" that your student(s) can eat when they are finished.  The math learning starts with the book's introduction.  Here you learn a given your first math vocabulary word, emphasized in bold letter type.

Next is kitchen tips where the student(s) learn kitchen safety and a few tricks.  Following the kitchen tips are six recipes for various math projects, labeled for difficulty of easy or medium, and estimated time it will take.
  • Fibonacci Snack Sticks - easy; 15 minutes.
  • Fraction Chips - easy, 10 minutes.
  • Tessellating Two-Color Brownies - medium, 20 minutes.
  • Milk and Tangram Cookies - medium, 45 minutes.
  • Variable Pizza Pi - medium, 25 minutes.
  • Probability Trail Mix - easy, 5 minutes.
Each recipe starts with an explanation and/or background to the math idea.  After learning about the math concept, students create their edible hands-on project, play with their food, and then they eat their homework!

Some recipes are followed by additional challenge questions or additional information related to the math concept.  The book ends with a Math Review, where kids will find questions and answers for review as well as solutions to any previous questions.  Next is a glossary and finally the index.

There is a free downloadable teacher's guide offered on the purchasing website for Eat Your Math Homework, under the tab "Downloadables".  Insdide you will find extra information and questions as well as fun worksheets for the student(s).  We used a printout from this for the Probability Trail Mix.

How This Looked in Our Family

My eldest, Connor, and I had been talking about probability recently, so when Ann McCallum's book arrived we started out with the recipe for Probability Trail Mix.  This recipe is labeled as "easy" and has 0 cooking time with a prep time of 5 mins., which I found a perfect combo for our first edible math.

We started out by reading the 3 pages of information on probability - all kid friendly wording with delightful illustrations.  Next we collected our ingredients and our "tools".  Connor mixed everything together and then we took our chances playing with our snack.

Probability is a topic he wasn't understanding fully, with the percentages.  With the help of his trail mix and a calculator, Connor filled out his worksheet, estimating his chances of pulling out various ingredients, and seemed to finally grasp the concept.

(this recipe was very yummy and easy and we made it twice.)

We then later went on to make Fraction Chips, Tessellating Two-Color Brownies and Milk and Tangram Cookies. 
Fractions are another math concept Connor was greatly struggling with and this visual, hands on project truly helped him understand more fully.  The fraction chip project is one he was most proud of because he did the actual cooking and cutting.  He gobbled them down, but saved one to show his friends and his dad.

With the Tangrams, what I have to say I liked the most was that as Connor was playing with his edible tangrams, he flipped one over and said, "Mom!  I can tessellate my tangrams!"

Final Thoughts

We loved this hands on math book.  The fact that they can touch and manipulate and eat their project is just brilliant.  I've never seen my son so eager for math before.

The kids, of course, absolutely adore the book.  Emma (age 5) and Sam (age 3) were often each found thumbing through the book giggling at the illustrations.  Emma joined us for the Probability Trail Mix and really was learning right alongside big brother.

I also love that this book can grow with the kids.  We can revisit concepts we've done, and introduce the 2 that we skipped over for this round.  (We are saving the Fibonacci Snack Sticks and Variable Pizza Pi for a later time).

Connor, at 8, still really struggles with his addition and subtraction facts and we want to really get those nailed down with our current math curriculum.  Once he masters those (which should be soon) I plan on celebrating his accomplishment with some time in the kitchen making the Fibonacci Snack Sticks.

The kids loved Eat Your Math Homework so much they already informed me that we are doing the rest of the Eat Your Homework series.

To see the reviews more of Ann McCallum's books, click the banner below:

Ann McCallum Books Review
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