Friday, May 27, 2011

TOS REVIEW: Apologia, Read for the Heart



  • READ FOR THE HEART was written by Sarah Clarkson (daughter of Sally Clarkson). Sarah discovered a love of reading early in her childhood and wants to help others as they strive to create this same love in their children.
  • Her book begins with a peak into the Clarkson home as Sarah and her siblings were being homeschooled and taught how to enjoy reading. I found this part of the book so insightful and encouraging, I couldn’t put it down once I started. I always enjoy learning from other successful homeschool families.

She also explores the issue of illiteracy in America, offering some statistics as well as opinions on why American children don’t enjoy reading as they once did.

While the first 3 chapters share a little about her life and love of reading chapter 4 is designed to prepare you to use the rest of the book as a general reference. Ms. Clarkson has divided the book into the following sections:


In each of these sections she briefly discusses the category (picture book, classic, children’s fiction, etc) and then goes on to name authors and books that fit the category. In most cases she even gives descriptions of the book and offers other books by the same author.

The appendixes are just as meaty as the book itself. There she offers the following lists:

  • A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS (just as the name suggests, some of Ms. Clarkson’s very favorites)

This book has prompted me to get back to the basics so to speak. My family has let life and school steal our time recently and I am so glad to be reminded how valuable read aloud time is in our home. I have joined a read aloud challenge over at Footprints in the Butter, and although we still aren’t reading as much as I would like, we are making an effort to read aloud each and every day, even if it’s just a couple of short picture books.

I have enjoyed soaking in the details of this book as well as just flipping through and finding books that I’ve already shared with my children and books that I want to read to them in the future. This book will be a great reference tool for us now and in years to come.  Then, as the end suggests, when the time comes, I will pass it on. It’s too valuable to sit on a shelf and not be used.

Read for the Heart is a large paperback with 384 pages. The cost is $17 and may be purchased here. If you click here, you will find a sample chapter to entice you!! Enjoy.

If you would like to read other reviews on Read for the Heart, click here.

**Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion/review. For more honest reviews from real homeschoolers, visit the TOS Crew website.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TOS Review: IEW


From the IEW website:
Our Goal
”In order to succeed in every area of life, children must hone the skills needed to communicate confidently and effectively. Through the process of learning to write well, students learn how to think clearly and to express themselves eloquently and persuasively. Our goal is to equip you to assist your child in this process.”

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Student Writing Intensive A Pictures, Images and PhotosOf all the products we’ve used and reviewed this year, IEW has had the greatest impact on our schooling. Going into the year I considered myself a Charlotte Mason/eclectic homeschooler.  Finishing the year, I am seeing the many benefits of a Classical method of schooling. I will never be able to put myself in a box and say I am a ____, but I am pleased to have had the opportunity to learn more about the Classical style and look forward to giving my Charlotte Mason school a nice splash of Classical education next year.
This is a rather lengthy review and I just want to add, here in the beginning, a link to help you get started with IEW. This page will help you tremendously if you are new to IEW. It can be overwhelming at first, so take it in small doses. Also, I highly recommend downloading or requesting a copy of their magalog (it’s a catalog but it’s filled with enough information to be an actual magazine).

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

IEW stands for Institute for Excellence in Writing and for the most part I believe excellence in writing is their main objective.  But their vision doesn’t stop with writing, it reaches far beyond just offering the tools to be a great writer. IEW also has programs to help young children learn to read and all ages learn to spell. They offer an endless supply of support on their website as well as their Yahoo group. There are webinars, seminars, DVD’s, MP3’s, articles, and much much more to help you with homeschooling, active boys, writing, language arts, music and more. The list seems to be endless, and every time I visit their website I see something else I need to listen to, download, or explore more in-depth.
To get a better idea about the history of IEW and the mission, you can visit this page of their site and be sure to download “What Are We Really Doing Here?” at the bottom of the page. Andrew Pudewa is the director of IEW and he explains it better than I’ll ever be able to, plus he’s just so darn fun to listen to. My kids and I really enjoy his video’s so much, it’s not like doing school when we get to watch an IEW video.

My first impression of IEW

In my local homeschool group we have certain people that we consider the math “expert”, science “expert”, and Language Arts “expert.”  We call these people this because they either taught the subject in school or majored in it during college.  Last year as we were finishing up our school year and looking forward into this year, I began to question which Language Arts path to take with my soon to be 5th grade son.  We had been using a Charlotte Mason “light” program. He loved this program (and that’s always a plus) but I worried that perhaps it wasn’t strong enough.
So what did I do, I went to the “expert.” She informed me that she was actually planning to use that same Charlotte Mason program (surprise!) but she highly recommended I use it in conjunction with a program I had never heard of. It was called IEW.
I looked into IEW and considered using it but decided it wasn’t possible at that time but perhaps we could add it in before the school year got too far underway. At that point I had already spent my homeschool budget and I was a little overwhelmed with all I was going to be doing for Josiah so I didn’t know if I would have the time and energy to do an intensive writing program (read on to discover how easy IEW is to use).
As it turned out the TOS crew was given an opportunity to review this exact same program. It seems the Lord really wanted us to use this program. What a blessing! When I first received the package I was a bit overwhelmed and a little thankful that I didn’t get the combo pack that included the Teaching Writing Structure and Style (TWSS $169) video seminar with 9 DVD’s and a workbook. Now, after using it for 6 months, I’m very sad that I didn’t receive the TWSS and, in fact, hope to obtain it in the very near future.

We Received

What we did receive was the Student Writing Intensive (SWI) Group A ($99), Structure and Style Overview DVD ($10), and the Portable Wall ($7)
The SWI includes four DVD’s of Andrew Pudewa teaching the children how to complete every part of the structure and style that he is well known for and that is included on the TWSS DVD’s. The SWI comes in three levels/groups. Group A (grades 3-5) Group B (grades 6-8) and Group C (grades 9-12). It is possible to do this program using the SWI and the workbook (we’re doing it) but it is much better if you’re able to be trained with the complete TWSS seminar.
With SWI, there are 15 lessons included and it takes 1-2 weeks to complete a lesson. You could easily make it last the entire school year, especially if you don’t plan to teach writing 5 days a week.
The workbook that is provided with SWI is a three ring binder with dividers to help organize the child’s writing (current and finished work) as well as the different techniques that are used while teaching the writing. Also included is about 100 pages of teacher notes, checklists, and student handouts. It is very easy to purchase one product and make duplicates for additional students because the pages are 3 hole punched and loose, ready to be added to the binder. Just purchase another binder and make copies as you need them and you’re ready for an additional student. This is what I did for my boys.
The Structure and Style Overview DVD includes a brief explanation of the nine units of structure and an introduction to some of the stylistic techniques. The DVD is almost 2 1/2 hours in length.
The Portable Wall is a tri-fold folder that includes the techniques and styles that are taught in SWI, as well as word lists to give the student easy access to the information they have learned so they can concentrate on writing.

Our Experience

When we first received the package I spent an evening watching the Structure and Style video, taking notes, and looking through the manual. It all seemed a bit overwhelming at first and I do believe that is the one downfall of this program. You really have to pay attention to take it all in. The manual offers a Scope and Sequence, an overview of each daily lesson, a DVD scene breakdown to tell you exactly where to start/stop the DVD, as well as Teacher’s Notes to tell you what you need for each lesson. It took me a little while to make heads or tails of it all and to determine which of these I would use (I didn’t need to use them all because they were somewhat repetitious.)
After feeling that I understood the jest of it, I called the boys together and we watched the first lesson on the SWI DVD. The lesson was supposed to last 45 minutes but I forgot to stop it and the boys never even realized we were doing too much. Andrew Pudewa is such an engaging instructor and we were enjoying the lesson so well that the time just slipped by and before I even knew it we had been watching the video for about an hour and a half! Since then I’ve been more careful about starting and stopping at the right part, I really have to look carefully at my book because it’s not always easy to tell when you should stop the video. As I stated above, this is something I think could definitely be improved upon, but that’s probably my only complaint with the program.
Basically Andrew teaches the kids step by step how to write a paper. He uses the following steps, teaching one step at a time:
  • Unit 1-2 Notes and Outlines
  • Unit 3 Story Sequence model
  • Unit 4 Summarizing References
  • Unit 5 Writing from Pictures
  • Unit 6 Library Research
  • Unit 7 Creative Writing
  • Unit 8 Essay Model
  • Unit 9 Critique Writing
This list may seem a bit boring or typical but when you start breaking it down you really see how wonderful this program really is. There is too much to try to explain in this blog post, but I will give you an example. As part of the program you are given certain banned words. These words are banned because they are boring and Andrew wants the child to learn to pick more interesting words. So instead of using words like ‘go’ or ‘went’ your child would learn to use something more lively like ‘meander’ or ‘ambled.’ He calls these “strong verbs.” Talk about building your vocabulary!! And to make it even easier, he gives you word lists to choose from! That’s just one small little example, there are so many others.
As we learned little by little what we were going to be doing, the boys became more comfortable with it and began to loosen up a bit. I am going to share one example of my 8 year olds writing. This was one of the first papers he wrote and I was very impressed with the words he choose and his ability to quickly catch on to the idea’s presented in IEW. I would like for you to keep in mind that he is dyslexic and struggles with reading and spelling. I am his editor so any mistakes are mine. I am very impressed with his writing ability considering the difficulty he has with language skills and I know it’s because IEW makes it so easy to succeed in writing.
The Raccoon and the Cookies
                    By: Josiah 
    The ferociously hungry raccoon reached into a pitcher which had chocolate chip cookies. He grabbed a handful of cookies and tried to pull his hand out. His fist was bulging with cookies and he tried to pull his hand out again and again, but his hand had too many cookies. He was unwilling to drop any cookies. He ravenously tried to break the pitcher but could not break it. An older raccoon saw the hungry raccoon through the window, came in and said, “If you would take less you could get some more later. Sometimes if you are satisfied with less, you will get what you want.”

Final Thoughts on IEW

As a homeschool mom I really want my children to have a good quality education without the extra “busy work” that comes along with a lot of popular curriculum. Grammar and writing are two subjects that I really wanted them to fully grasp, yet I didn’t feel I was properly trained to do this job without some major help. Although the online/DVD programs look nice I certainly didn’t want to purchase rent the expensive DVD’s that needed to be returned at the end of the year. I wanted something I could use with multiple children and that was reasonably price, and also that was ‘meaty,’ not just an endless amount of work.
I found what I was looking for, and more, with IEW. Andrew Pudewa is an excellent teacher for my children (and me Smile.) There is no “busy work” involved because this was written with the homeschooler in mind. Best of all, the DVD’s are not only affordable, they’re ours to keep and use with the younger kids when they get older. IEW offers a great writing program and I would advise anyone and everyone to give them a try. You may be very pleasantly surprised at how easy and affordable it really is.
If you would like to see what other homeschoolers thought of IEW, click here.

**Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion/review. For more honest reviews from real homeschoolers, visit the TOS Crew website.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: This Little Prayer of Mine


This Little Prayer of Mine

This Little Prayer of Mine by Anthony DeStefano.

Illustrated by Mark Elliott.

Endorsed by the National Day of Prayer

This beautifully illustrated book for children follows a young boy and his little sister through different scenarios in which they each go to God in prayer in their time of need. It isn’t a ‘story’ it’s more of a poem.

It explores different instances when we would need to cry out to our Heavenly Father, such as when we are afraid, facing temptation, and feeling alone. As it continues they began to thank God for the different things in their lives that we so often take for granted. Then it moves on to praying deeper prayers concerning their future and the choices they should make.

Below is a small excerpt of one of my favorite pages in the book:

“Please help me, God, to be like you. Give me your love to share.  I want to help the poor and sick and show them that I care.”

This is a very early book of prayer to get children acquainted with going to God with our needs and doing so with a thankful heart. It was very well written and the rhyming is nice and appropriately used. We enjoyed this book and will continue to enjoy it for years to come.

The retail cost of this book is $12.99. It’s a hardback, full color book with about 34 pages.

**Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

TOS Review: Go Trybe



Our family has been given the opportunity to review Go Trybe ( pronounced Go Tribe).  This is an online fitness/health program that has partnered with the USDA’s MyPyramid Corporate Challenge and is also an advocate for the National Physical Activity Guidelines. It is the neatest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Go Trybe is separated into three different age groups: K-5 (zoodoos), 6-8 (trybe180), and 9-12 (nextrybe).  We reviewed as zoodoos.

There are a number of different things to do on the GoTrybe website, from reading blogs to making friends and chatting in a forum. In the health and physical wellness portions of the program, there are four different components: Fitness, Nutrition, Motivation, and Wellness.

GoTrybe Fitness

This is the physical aspect of the program. After signing up you choose the work out that suites you. There are so many different options, you could possibly do a different work out every day for a year or even more. Or if you happen to get one that you like you can save it and do the same one again. Let me explain:

There are four different categories: Warm-Up, Cardio, Strength, and Flexibility. You choose one video workout for each of these, except Cardio, you choose 3 video workouts for Cardio. Each video is lead by a certified trainer and has a target age that will help you choose one that is challenging enough for an older zoodoos child, but not too tough for a younger one. If you hoover over the video thumbnail you will see a brief description of the activity, the target age, length, instructors name, etc. You choose the one you like and then drag and drop. Do this for each of the slots until you have a complete workout ready.


The Warm Up video’s are 3-5 minutes long and there are numerous video’s to choose from. These video’s are designed to get  you ready for the actual workout.

Cardio video’s are next.  You choose three of these and they are designed to get your heart pumping. Each of these will last about 3-4 minutes. Since there are 3 of these you will get a total of 9-12 minutes of cardio work-out. This may not seem like much, but remember this is the zoodoos program for K-5th grade.

The Strength video slows it down a bit and focuses on a targeted area. These last a little longer, around 5-9 minutes.

A Flexibility video finishes up the workout. This video helps you stretch out your muscles and cool down with some flex-yoga. These video’s are about 2-3 minutes long.


As you’re choosing your video’s you can see how long your work out will be, and once you’ve chosen all the video’s you’ll know exactly how long the workout will take you to complete (the above workout is 22 minutes 8 seconds). You can then choose to save it for later or begin the work-out.  When you start the work-out the first video begins, when you finish that one the next one automatically starts, and so on until you complete all 5 video’s. The total workout should last between 20-30 minutes for the zoodoos.

You earn points for each completed video. These points help you buy things for your avatar. We didn’t do a lot to try to earn these points because we had more than one child signed up to use the program and we weren’t able to figure out how to share a workout while still allowing each child to earn the points. I emailed GoTrybe but didn’t receive a response.

Something that was really nice was the way GoTrybe snuck in some fun learning during these videos. For instance, during one warm up video we counted our stretches in Spanish, over and over. What a neat way to learn to count to 8 in Spanish without any effort. Also while doing the workout the instructor will ask the students questions such as how much water your body contains and then give the answer at the end of the video. Little things like that really impress me. I’m such a simple person Smile

GOtrybe Nutrition

Each day you can read a short paragraph and answer a question concerning nutrition. By doing this you earn more points for your avatar. Below you can see an example of one of the daily activities for nutrition.



gotrybe motivation

Motivation is a video of an athlete that does just what it says---motivates. The video’s are all personal and different. You can watch one per day to earn points for your avatar.

gotrybe Wellness

This is very similar to the motivation portion. It offers a short video for you to watch in order to earn points. It’s not always about physical wellness. For instance, one of the video’s was about cheating.

This program is still new and there are some website glitches that come up from time to time. Also, my boys would have enjoyed some men instructors. I believe there are some in the older groups but we didn’t see any for the zoodoos. We did not use the chat or forums because I prefer to keep my children away from online socializing.

I really enjoyed doing these workouts with my sons. My 3 and 5 year old children even joined in for many of our work-out’s. The cost of this program is $19.95 per year, per child. Visit GoTrybe for a free trial to see if this program is something your family would benefit from.

If you would like to see what other homeschoolers thought of this program, click here.

**Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion/review. For more honest reviews from real homeschoolers, visit the TOS Crew website.

Monday, May 9, 2011

TOS Review: Monki See


My three year old and I have been exploring a new product by Intellectual Baby called Monki See. This is a program designed to help babies learn to read by using poetry, music, and Puppets. The targeted age group is 3 months and up. For a more detailed explanation here is a quote from the Monki See site:

“The younger your child is the faster and easier your child will learn. A three month old will learn faster than a one year old. A one year old will learn faster than a two year old and so on. The brain's development is slowing each day from the day of birth and tapers off at about five years of age. However, this does not mean that your child is "over the hill" and can't start the program at 2, 3 or even 4 years of age. It just means that they will not learn as quickly, as say, a 6 month old will. They will however, learn to read easier than they will at age 6, when they officially start school, so you really have nothing to lose.”

The cost of the entire program is $139.95, or you can purchase individual portions. For this review we only had the Baby’s First Words DVD ($19.95) and the Know Your Monkey book ($9.95). You can also choose to purchase other books, DVD’s, and flashcards for an additional cost. Visit Monki See for more details.

In addition to learning to read, Monki See will also help your child learn other important preschool skills such as colors, shapes, sizes, etc.

My daughter loved watching the DVD and meeting Howie and Skip.  The DVD was very engaging but not so filled with excitement that she missed the point. We have not had enough time to do this consistently for the amount of time needed in order to see proven results, so I can’t speak for the effectiveness of the program. But we have used it several weeks and she did enjoy it very much, and even asked to do it it instead of watching her usual TV show favorites.  I believe that given enough exposure she would be able to recognize these words again.  

If you are interested in learning more about Monki See you can visit the crew blog to see what other homeschoolers thought of this program.


**Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion/review. For more honest reviews from real homeschoolers, visit the TOS Crew website.

Friday, May 6, 2011

TOS Review: Kregel Publications’ Circle C Series




We had a wonderful time reviewing Kregel Publications new Circle C Ranch series. The Circle C Ranch is all about Andi (a young girl in 1874) and her faithful horse Taffy. There are four books in this series:

  • Andi’s Pony Trouble
  • Andi’s Indian Summer
  • Andi’s Fair Surprise
  • Andi’s Scary School Days

There are two more books slotted to debut in August of this year.  Each book is a paperback with approximately 75 pages and the cost of each is $4.99.


The Circle C Ranch is designed for children ages 6-8 and would be considered an easy reader. For our family I used it as a read aloud with my two younger children ages 5 and 3. We had recently completed a Laura Ingles Wilder book so this went along well with what they had already learned. The Circle C Ranch is a spin off from the Circle C Adventures in which Andrea (Andi) is older.  The books in the Circle C Adventures series are designed for ages 9-14. Both series’ were written by Susan K. Marlow

The booPhotobucketk we read was Andi’s Scary School Days. The story was about little Andi’s first day of school in the local one room school house. She’s a true outdoors girl and going to school is not her idea of fun. But little Andi learns some valuable lessons as she makes mistakes and new friends.

The end of the book has “A Peek into the Past” to discover what school was like for children in those days. One of the most amazing parts about this series is the special activities that come with each book. They are available free online at We did all of the activities for our book and they included a vocabulary word match, a schoolroom map, schoolhouse maze, and McGuffey's Eclectic Primer for Young Children.


The kids colored the pages of their primers and I cut them out and made them into little individual booklets. I loved this because it showed us how the children learned to read in those days. It was such a simple procedure and it seems we’ve actually made it hard at times. (I know all kids do not learn the same and although this primer would work well with some of my kids it would most certainly not work for all of them).

If you would like to see what other homeschoolers enjoyed about the Circle C Ranch series, click here.

**Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion/review. For more honest reviews from real homeschoolers, visit the TOS Crew website.


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