Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree {a TOS review}

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review
Time spent on an iPad is something that is few and far between for the kids in our household - for many reasons.  However, on the rare occasion the kids do get time with the iPad, I strive for that time to be educational time.  (I know, I'm a terrible and horrible mom). 
For the last month my nine year old son has been allowed time to use our iPad, using the new app Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree from Star Toaster.
Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review
What is Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree?
Orphs of the Woodlands is an 122 page interactive book intended for grades 2 through 5.
The story is set in the Woodlands where a flying squirrel named Abba and Packrat Dod have built a fort called Tangletree.  You'll also hear of Hattah and Eixie who build a fort named Thornwood. 
These two forts in the Woodlands are being threatened by Night Creatures, who have broken the woodland's dam and flooded the forts.  You (the reader) take on the role as spy to help the now orphaned creatures of the Woodlands.
The Orphs depend on your young reader to grow as a leader and learn to care for them, by reading Abba's journal.  "Lessons" are interwoven into Abba's journal and count as job training towards work you will find in the Woodlands.  The reader will earn pay in the form of goldstars.  These goldstars are used to build a new home for your orphs.
In What Way is the app Educational?
As your young "spy" reads the 23 chapters of Abba's journal he/she will see vocabulary words highlighted in blue that link to job training.  The 75 training jobs are clever little ways to teach small snippets of many different subjects.
  • Math
  • Science
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Thinking Skills
  • Character
  • Life Skills
  • The Arts

The training lessons are completed in several ways, such as a simple definition of a word, short animation of a given subject, an informative graphic, or a short paragraph to talk about whatever subject the training is on. 

The animation lesson usually begins with a spoken joke, such as:
Q:  "What kind of shorts does a cloud wear?"
A:  "Thunderwear!"
After "training" your little leader of the Orphs will enter into 1 of 136 jobs to earn his/her currency for the building of a new settlement.  The jobs (and training) are unlocked by reading more of Abba's journal.  These "jobs" are just a single question based on the corresponding training with funny little answers .  (These almost always had my son cracking up - see image below, answer D).

Inside the app
The first task we performed after downloading Orphs of the Woodlands is enter in the name of our student.  You are able to add more readers to this app by clicking the menu icon in the upper right.  As far as I can tell, the number of students you can add is unlimited.  We added two players, myself and my 4th grader.  After we both went through this I have decided to also add my 1st grader as a user.

There are 4 icons along the bottom screen.  The compass takes you to the map of the Woodlands, where you can see Tangletree and Thornwood.  Thornwood is an additional interactive book coming soon, so keep up-to-date!
The second icon is the open book, here is where your student can read more of Abba's journal.  The app automatically bookmarks wherever your child leaves off.  The highlighted vocabulary words can be clicked on and learned now, or can be found later under the star icon.

The star icon takes you to Stumptown.  Here at Stumptown your little leader will touch one of the stumps to enter into training or a job.  The number of jobs available will be shown above the stump.

The last icon, the stump, takes you to the Orphanage, Fort Tangletree, where your little hard worker is rebuilding a settlement for the Orphs of the Woodlands.  Here you will see progress made and progress to be made.  The number of stars shown is how many goldstars (currency in the Woodlands) are needed to complete the next task of rebuilding, such buying fresh water, diapers, food, clothes or a stove.
Under the menu icon, in the upper right, you are able to see and do several things.
  • change name
  • add user
  • view work accomplished
  • view progress
  • leave a review
  • contact for support
  • Table of Contents (for the journal)
  • download artwork for offline reading
  • video on getting started
  • goals
Our Final Thoughts
My 4th grader worked at this on his own, and has completed all tasks offered.  He work about a chapter or so for every time I had him sit down with the app, where I'd let him play until he felt he was done - which ended up being anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes a session.  He is a very gifted reader, and even though the app is intended to help struggling readers, he loved the app and is eager for more to be added.
Here is Connor's summary:
"Well.  There's a flood and then everybody was homeless.  And there's only one place left.  And it was attacked by some sort of creature.  There were these little orphs that were drifting on the river which was caused by a flood.  Then they had to get orphs food and they found a diary.  And it was from Hattah's mom.  And Hattah was a hedgehog that was taking care of orphs.  And in the diary it said one day Hattah asked why her name was the same backwards and forwards.  And then she wrote "Who knows.  Who cares."  And it's written with a period, not a question mark because Who is a critter.  And then another guy who was taking care of the orphs said that he would find out who Who was."
I asked what he thought of the app:
"It was really good.  I like how they put in the jobs.  And first there's job training.  And the actual job, in the job training... sometimes there's videos.  And you do it [the jobs] so you can get stars so you can get stuff for the critters.  Right now I'm at a stove which costs 100 stars.
This momma?  She's happy he had so much fun while learning many different subjects!
To see additional reviews of Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree, click the banner below:
Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car {FIAR}

Recently we completed another Five in a Row (FIAR) unit, with Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car.  This book is definitely on the shelf on favorites.  My youngest (3), especially loved this one and loves to point out Gumpy's motor car whenever one similar is spotted.  (We have a toy antique car).

This was an easy week for us, where we didn't do anything too elaborate, and just stuck with reading the book and doing a few things from the FIAR manual.

Only a couple extras were added in by us to accommodate our age range or preschool to grade 3.

Our preschooler actually requested school this week so we did pattern block car and he made a playdough letter C. 

This week he also insisted on painting pine cones and drawing our family (a first for him - so cute!)

Over in Kindergarten land we did nothing but read the book, really.  Girly is not interested in cars.  (outside this cute story). lol   -- I'm fine with a week of nothing as her imagination was still wonderful to witness as she dressed up in her finest and created a story board on our fence.

Of in 3rd grade land... well, it just so happened that he received an awesome Smithsonian Motor-Works for Christmas and it was perfect for this week.

A simple, but fun week!

A New Hobby

For about five years now our eldest has been working with clay - and getting pretty decent at it!

He's often found in his room forming dinosaurs and labeling them, making his own little "museum" that he likes to invite us too. 

Just the other week we were downtown at a science discovery event and came upon a booth put on by a local animation studio.  They had clay out and Connor got to work immediately, building an orangutan while the owners and us (parents) talked.  I was only half listening in my sinful anger, as we had seen them once before and their prices for classes were unaffordable to us.  But my husband kept at me until I came out of my stupor and realized he was trying to tell me they changed their prices to a per class - and it was very affordable to us!

I told the owners we'd LOVE to have our son attend as he just loves to work with clay.  At about the same time he picked up his now complete clay orangutan and the owner stopped mid-sentence in astonishment.  "He's good!  How old is he!?"

Being 9 he was a little young for their advanced class, but after hearing about his passion and seeing first hand how well he can form clay (considering his age), they asked if we'd like the more advanced class, which actually gets to animate.  YES PLEASE!

The feedback we got is that our son really has a knack for the concept of Claymation.  He just naturally gets what most of their teen students struggle to understand.  So the teachers just sit back and let him do his thing.

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
I'm really excited to see his progress as he learns from professionals and uses professional equipment!

ArtAchieve {a TOS review}

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

Art has always been the subject that I love most, but also the subject that I find the hardest to teach.  I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so when my kids set to work on a project I find it hard to not wrongly criticize them and smother their unique creativities.  In order for us all to effectively learn and love art in our family, I have to have someone else oversee the teachings.
We've been working on a new (to us) homeschool art curriculum from ArtAchieve, over the past several weeks.   The Entire Level 1 is taught through online videos as well as through an online hosted PowerPoint.
ArtAchieve's Entire Level 1 art class has eleven lessons, the first two of which are free to use.  Purchasing a lesson, or an entire level, grants you access to the online lessons for one year.

The Level 1 classes are beginner classes, starting around Kindergarten and go up to adult.
Each lesson has 4 parts.
  • a PowerPoint lesson
  • a warm up page, to print
  • a video lesson
  • a printable example of the lesson
In addition to the instructions for completing the art project, each lesson has "Suggestions for Cross-Curricular Connections".  These suggestions are found not under your account where you'll view the lesson instructions, but under "Art Lessons" then your chosen level.

Both formats, PowerPoint and video lesson, start out with a brief history of the given art project topic.  The background information is followed by the lesson's supply and warm up page.  With the warm up, your student does a relaxation technique to relieve any tense muscles, then is instructed to listen to some music, and finally to complete the given warm up printout.  With the warm up printout your student copies lines to ready him/herself for the lesson.
After the warm up a set of "Rules for Drawing" are listed.  These are simply put, encouraging reminders that were especially helpful for myself - being a critical overseer of my children in the past.  A couple examples:
  • There is no right or wrong way to draw
  • There are no mistakes.  If you draw a line you don't like, change it into a line you DO like.

These "rules" helped me move away from my harmful critiquing of my kids - even outside of ArtAchieve's lessons.  My daughter (age 6) lives to draw and color and it is nice to now remind her to change her lines into lines she likes, which instantly relieves her frustrations. 

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

What the lessons look like

I'm going to use the free lesson of the Czech Cat from Level 1 to show you what each format looks like.

In this lesson the video is approximately 22 minutes long, and features the artist behind ArtAchieve,  John Hofland.  The PowerPoint has 43 slides, and carries the same content that is spoken by Mr. Hofland in the video.  Each format is equally as useful, I'd say.  The video adds a personal touch.  You can see and hear a teacher.  The PowerPoint is great for those that do better with written, as opposed to spoken, instruction.  (Plus I consider it great reading practice for the younger students, ha!)

Each format takes the student step by step with drawing and ends with suggestions and picture examples of how to color and finish the project.

I have two students, ages 6 and 9, working their way through the lessons.  They preferred the PowerPoint lesson format, so most of our completed projects where done that way.  My kids get easily distracted with background noise (usually made by little brother), so having a silent self-paced lesson via the PowerPoint was excellent.

Our Completed Projects

My two students have completed 6 of the 11 lessons from the Level 1 classes.  My eldest is part way through lesson 7 - we just need to pick up some oil paints so he can add color to his Owl from Bali.

Lesson 2:  The Czech Cat

I just love my son's detail.  He gave his cat a beard!  And check out that background detail! 

My daughter loved hers so much she requested it be framed for her room.

 Lesson 4:  The Haitian Gecko
This shows that, while we did most of our lesson at the desk with the desktop computer, we liked to move around and do lessons using the iPad as well.
Lesson 5:  The Dragonfly from Ecuador
Lesson 6:  The Chinese Dragon

Not shown from Level 1 ArtAchieve:
  • The Hungarian Insects
  • The Owl from Bali
  •  The Kitenge Tree Wall Hanging from Tanzania
  • The Plate from Nepal
  • Four Suns with Four Faces
  • The Sheep from Wales

Our Final Thoughts

I just love these lessons.  They aren't just art lessons.  With ArtAchieve your child also gets geography, science, culture, history and more with each lesson!

I love that each piece is unique to each little artist.  The encouragement they get from the lessons is just amazing.

I liked that the lessons stayed with them throughout the weeks.  For example, my daughter was drawing (on her own, apart from the ArtAchieve lessons) and she placed "planning dots" on the princess she was intending to draw.

My 9 year old's thoughts:  "I thought they were really cool on how they did the instructions.  And how good they (the projects) looked, and the ideas for the coloring.  My favorite was the dragon."

My 6 year old's thoughts:  "I liked the cat one best."  What did you like about the lessons?  "That we got to do backgrounds, and that I got to draw them in.

To see more reviews of ArtAchieve, including Levels 2 and 3, click the banner below:

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

Patriotic Penmanship {a TOS review}

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books  Review}
One subject my son has always struggled with is penmanship.  He truly dislikes any writing in any form, however he did ask to learn cursive last year.  He did learn cursive and swiftly, because he wanted to, but even so he still resists writing now that the novelty of cursive has worn off.. 
What he does love is his American heritage.  So, even though we do reside in Canada, we were happy to receive Patriotic Penmanship Grade 4 (cursive), from Laurelwood Books.
Laurelwood Books is a Virginia based publisher.  At this online store you'll find homeschool books, CDs, DVDs, and curriculum.  In addition to the product they also offer help and advice to get you settled in your homeschool.
Patriotic Penmanship is more than just a book to copy down letters.  In this series, your students will read and write words from our forefathers, verses from Scripture, and hymnal stanzas.  The Patriotic Penmanship series covers all grades, from Kindergarten up through grade twelve.
In the Grade 4 level of Patriotic Penmanship there are 62 lessons, each containing words from our past.  There's Abe Lincoln, the Bible, old Primers, John Newton, Ronald Reagan and more.  Not all passages are serious.  I found Lesson 22 with Mark Twain to be humorous. 
"Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principal one was that they escaped teething." Mark Twain in Pudd'nhead Wilson

The lessons are self-paced.  It is recommended that you (the teacher) read the provided quote, in full, to your child.  Then he or she works at his or her pace, with the goal of completing one lesson a week.
Each lesson begins with the full quote, framed, at the top.  Then the lesson is segmented into 4 or 5 parts.

The first part is the first line of the quote, shown in cursive, as an example. 
For the next 26 lessons there is a Letter Practice, with capital letter and lowercase letter practice.  After the alphabet review is complete, the lessons carry on with the rest of the 4 segments. 
Next is the cursive practice for Key Words found in the passage.
On the following page your student will practice the Word Pairs from the given passage.
Last your child will copy and practice the Full Quote.
Little extras:
Each lesson has vocabulary, shown at the bottom of the first lesson page.  In addition each lesson has the full alphabet provided as a reminder, shown at the bottom of the 2 page lesson spreads.
How we used this Patriotic Penmanship workbook
My 9 year old, as I said before, learned cursive about a year ago.  To keep up with his penmanship I like to have him practice a few times a week, but the thing is - he hates writing. 
With Patriotic Penmanship he chose how much he wanted, or didn't want to do, a given day.  Usually he'd be done in 3 days time, working maybe 5 to 10 minutes a day. 
We'd begin, on Day 1 with a new Lesson.  I'd read the entire given passage to him, then I'd hand him the book to work until he felt done.  We'd repeat throughout the week until his lesson was complete. 
Sometimes we'd talk more about a passage, whether it be words he didn't know (and I'd point out the vocabulary section) or sometimes we'd talk a bit about what the passage could mean.  This was especially so with Lesson 1, "Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.", Cotton Mather.
My Thoughts
I like that the student works at his or her own pace. 
The historical quotes are something I like since it can easily turn into a mini history lesson.
The only thing I'd like to see different is a spiral binding as with the spiral the pages would lay more flat and be easier to write on.
To see additional reviews of Patriotic Penmanship's additional levels, as well as other workbooks from Laurelwood books, click the banner below: 
Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books  Review}

Quick Tips for Photographing Fireworks

Having recently celebrated Canada Day (the anniversary of uniting 3 colonies into 1 dominion), I thought I'd share a couple beginners tips on photographing fireworks as America gets ready to celebrate her Independence.

As an American, I think my favorite holiday of the year would be Independence Day.  I always loved the celebrations, family bbqs, and the late bedtime after watching fireworks.

There's been a sort of explosion (see what I did there) of DSLRs becoming the family camera, in place of the easier "point and shoots".  Owning a DSLR doesn't guarantee you'll have decent photos if you don't know a few basics.  But have no fear - photographing fireworks is actually quite easy.

The first thing I do is, before it gets dark, focus your camera on a tree line (or structure) near to the distance the fireworks will be seen.  Then switch your lens to manual focus (there should be a little switch on the left side of the lens, marked A for auto and M for manual.  This way you won't miss the shot while waiting for your camera to focus.

Now turn your camera's flash off. 

The next thing I do is switch my camera picture mode into manual (M) from the dial on top.  Aperture mode (A not Auto) also works well for fireworks.

I dial my aperture open to a f/4 - check your manual and learn how if you don't know how.

I set my shutter speed to 100.

Next I set my camera on my knee and enjoyed the show, snapping the picture anytime I especially liked a firework - periodically check your photo to see if it's too dark or light and then adjust accordingly.  Move toward f/3.5 if you're photo is too dark.  Move towards f/11 if it's too bright.

Finally, don't worry too much about taking the perfect photo, just enjoy the show.  Chances are you'll never print the photos.  :)

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