I found the idea for a terrific Christmas present for my and Pat’s parents. It was in the TOS Digital Holiday Supplement for 2009. I made silhouettes of all the kids for my parents and for Pat’s mom. Then I made a set of Wendy and Will’s for their nouna and nouno (Godparents). They turned out great and were actually fairly simple to make. I used digital scrapbooking papers for the backgrounds. Then I took photos of each kid and manipulated them in the Gimp. Then I printed a mirror image of each picture, pasted it onto heavy black cardstock, and cut them out. Once assembled, they looked great, although the pictures I got don’t do them justice!


02 2011

So Much Ketchup

…or so much catching up, I should say! I’ve been out of the blogging world for a bit, but now I’m back. What has the Taylor Family been up to lately?

Well, we were ALL sick for Thanksgiving. :) Luckily we got it over with before Christmas. Pat even had the flu! I think I got it, too, but he was officially (:) diagnosed with having it. Once we all recovered, we had to recover from the financial disaster that ensued from Pat being out of work. God always provides, though, so we made it through! I think the kids had a marvelous Christmas (I know Pat and I did), thanks to my Mom and Dad. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

We found out a couple of weeks ago that the Nintendo DS Lite that we bought for Partrick for Christmas as a replacement for the DS that .handsome-will broke just a few months after Patrick received it for the previous Christmas from Santa is a FAKE! I was so shocked. I know those things happen, but it happened to us! LOL. Anyway, I returned the questionable item (against my better judgment) to China (go figure!) and am eagerly awaiting a refund through PayPal. The worst part is that I had to pay to return the ruddy thing – a fake sold as an original. There ought to be a law! ;) I’m none too pleased with PayPal’s refund policy.

Another lovely item that we bought from China this year turned out to be a piece of junk. I just put it in the mail today to return – but again, at my own expense. I think I would have had better protection if I had just used my American Express to pay for the items instead of PayPal. The whole experience has caused me to avoid paying with PayPal for online purchases I have made since.

Pat is enjoying his job. The kids are blossoming in school. I am going to start teaching at Hayden’s Way. I must admit I’m a bit nervous, but I am even more excited. I will only have one student to begin. He is in 8th grade. He will study the same topics as the other students, but more in depth. That’s where I come in. I am going to supplement his Humanities studies with extra readings and projects. I am also going to teach his Math. I’ve been busy planning his work.

I have also been busy re-creating the Hayden’s Way brochure, website, and other business forms. I think the brochure turned out nicely, even if I do say so myself.

Hey, have I mentioned all the snow? We had two good snowfalls over the last month and a half – which is quite a bit for where we live. The kids have thoroughly enjoyed playing in the snow, sledding, and building snowmen. They have also enjoyed all the icicles – there’s even one in our freezer.

I will try to be more diligent in updating this blog in the future. Plus I have some lovely printables to add soon. Hope you’ll stay with me!


02 2011

REVIEW: Roman Town by Dig-It! Games

Roman Town is a thoroughly fun game for all ages. Each of my youngers really enjoyed playing and asked time and again for me to start the “digging game” for them.

Roman Town is also a thoroughly disguised unit study on Ancient Rome and the study of Archeology. The kids and I have reviewed and learned so much neat stuff about Ancient Rome over the past few weeks – all under the guise of playing a game! Wonderful.

In the game, you are an archaeologist who is going on several digs. You find all sorts of artifacts while you are excavating different areas of Ancient Rome. Then you reconstruct the artifacts and learn about them. You also get to play lots of fun mini-games and complete puzzles. The one game that my .blessed-dyslexic liked the most was a version of Seni. He kept going back for more.

The game is different each time you play since you find different things on your digs. This game can be played over and over and the kids don’t tire of it. Check out the video walk-through of the game on the Dig-It! Games site. You will be impressed.

My Patrick has always had a fascination with Archeology and the study of ancient cultures, so this game is exceptionally fun for him. The only only thing I could have wished would have been to have audio explanations of the artifacts. That would have made the learning accessible even when mom couldn’t be there to read it out loud. They played anyway when I couldn’t be there and then just asked questions about the things that really caught their eye.

This is a game my kids will be playing for a long time – so much fun! Roman Town may be purchased directly from Dig-It Games. It is modestly priced at $39.95. If you want to dig in right now, they are offering a super discount to all the TOS Crew review readers:

Use the code TOS2011 to get 20% off the 2010 price of $24.95!

That makes the game only $19.96. Skip the McDonald’s trip once and you’ve paid for something way better for you and the kids. The code expires Feb 21, 2011.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


02 2011

REVIEW: Times Alive

City Creek Press offers a whole kit of fun stuff for kids to use to learn their times tables. I was fortunate enough to be asked to review their Times Alive software. It’s fantabulous!

The best part is that the kids have fun while they learn their times tables. It has been proven that mnemonics work wonders for dyslexics – and this program is based on mnemonics. Each of the facts for the 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s, and 8s has an associated story and mnemonic device for aiding in memorization. For instance, 8×8 = 64 – two snowmen (8×8) go camping. They are cold and need sticks (6) for their fire (4). Easy! Students watch a movie, hear a song, play a game, and then practice what they’ve just learned. The songs are catchy, too. :) My .pengwendolen is already singing them. :)

The other fact families, 0s, 1s, 2s, 5s, and 9s are presented as tricks to be learned. They are familiar “tricks” – like 0 is the king and wants everyone to be just like him – so anything times 0 is 0.

Patrick was the main tester for me. He did a great job learning with the software. The whole thing is audiovisual, so he was able to work completely independently. How do I know it worked, then? There are built in quizzes and tests. All results are recorded in a detailed, printable progress report.

The software is easy to navigate. The lesson list acts as both the program menu and the curriculum outline. You are able to print blank copies of all the tests, which is nice for “on the go” learning.

This software makes learning times tables pretty much effortless – certainly for mom since the kiddos can work completely independently. I would suggest this for any family that has kids who need to learn their times tables. My kids and I loved the program so much that I bought one of the accompanying books and I’ve got my eye on the music CD.

You may purchase the Times Alive software directly from City Creek Press. A CD-Rom version sells for $48.95. A downloadable version sells for $44.95. The software is also sold as part of a package with all sorts of goodies to reinforce the learning. Check out at least the software – your children will thank you!

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

REVIEW: TenMarks

TenMarks is an online way for students to practice, learn and master math concepts for third through eighth grade plus Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. The program is based on three simple principles, all of which I agree with as a homeschooler:

  1. Personalized Learning Makes All the Difference.
  2. On-Demand Instruction Provides Help When You Need it.
  3. Practice Builds Confidence and Improves Achievement.

When you sign up, you create a parent account plus a separate account for each student. You will choose a grade level and a state for correlations for each student. I was able to try out third grade and Algebra I for this review. Both are fantastic programs.

As I stated before, each student has their own account. All of the student work is tracked and graded; students receive instant feedback on their progress, which is wonderful. The parent has access to all student work and lessons through the parent account. From the parent account, you can review all the work your students have completed, how they answered each question, how they are progressing, and their overall grade. You are also able to customize the student’s learning path. You can re-order, add, and remove concepts.

What I appreciate most about this program is that students are presented with a definite progression of work. Other programs we have tried have not offered any guidance as to what the student should do next. TenMarks makes it easy for the student (and the parent) to know what work to do next.

You as the parent decide how many worksheets each student should complete each week; the default number of worksheets is four. The worksheets are assigned once a week and the student then works at his or her own pace. Video lessons are provided for each topic and hints are provided for each problem. Each worksheet consists of ten questions that cover one topic in several ways. For instance, one of the last worksheets that Patrick completed was on Addition Properties – basically looking for faster, easier ways to add numbers. Each question presented the main topic in varying ways, mastery of which indicates understanding.

Looking over the last worksheet that Patrick completed, I can see that he didn’t use any hints, his concept strength is high, and that he scored 10/10. I can also see each question, how he answered it, the video lesson Patrick saw, and a complete solution to each problem. One thing I appreciate about the video lessons is that they are succinct and that you only see what happens on the “whiteboard” – there are no distractions since you only see what the instructor is writing.

This program is great on several levels – the kids can work (mostly) independently, the content is excellent, and the worksheets are short. And the program does just what it’s supposed to do – let kids practice, learn, and master math concepts on-demand and in a way that is personalized just for them. There are no distractions, the kids work at their own pace, and the kids get instant feedback on how they are mastering (or not) a concept. They can keep practicing until they are confident that they have mastered each concept.

There are only two aspects I would change. First is that you aren’t able to print out any of the questions, worksheets, teacher notes, or solutions. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to just pick up a worksheet and go – like when we have to wait in the car to pick Wendy up from ballet. :) The other aspect I would change is that there is no audio for any of the questions. I had to sit with Patrick to make sure that he could read all of the problems. I think it would have been nice to have the option to have the question and answers read to him – then Patrick would have been completely independent. Still, it’s a great program!

One thing that I thought is a nice touch, but that we didn’t use, is that parents are able to set up rewards to be given to each student based on his or her progress. The rewards are given at certain intervals, for example after the student has completed 50 worksheets – again at his or her own pace. They can be any type of award – it’s a promise from you that they will get something once they’ve reached a goal that you have set.

TenMarks is very reasonably priced at $10 per student per month. There are discounts for 6-month and 1-year terms. You can get started right away at the TenMarks website. If you don’t know where your student should start, you can request an assessment that indicate what level of math they should work on. And if you aren’t convinced that you should put all your students on this program, sign up for the free trial and see for yourself!

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

REVIEW: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids is a wonderful book. So much valuable information is contained in the 200+ pages – and it’s all for kids!

This dictionary contains reconstructions of biblical places and buildings, illustrated charts, a pronunciation guide, photos, maps, illustrations, and definitions. Each entry also refers back to at least one verse or section of scripture where the entry term may be found. Kids can find answers to lots of questions they may have about the Bible in one handy place.

The illustrations are richly colored, as is the entire book. The book itself is hardback, which means it can hold it’s own in my house. :) The kids have had a terrific time looking through its pages – from Will who can’t read to Patrick who is (still!) struggling to read. Plus, some of the entries have sparked wonderful conversations that turned into teaching moments. Gotta love that!

As you probably guessed from other entries in my blog, we are an Eastern Orthodox family. That being said, this is a terrific book although it’s not written from an Orthodox standpoint. Again, opportunities for instructing in our faith, something we live for.

My favorite parts of the book are the special sections on varied topics such as the list of Apostles. The list is succinct, and the illustrations are wonderful visual reminders for each Apostle. Some of the other special sections include photos of different animals, birds, and plants in the Bible, a chart of the 10 Plagues and a Table of Weights and Measures in the Bible. One other thing I really appreciate about the book is the judicious use of real-life photos when possible. Photos help to make something concrete for the kids.

You can download a 22 page sampler of the book directly from the publisher’s site. The book may be purchased from any Lifeway Christian Store (click to locate one near you) or ordered directly from their website for $14.99. It’s well worth the cost! And while you’re at Lifeway, be sure to check out some of the other wonderful products they have to bring the Bible to life in your family!

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

REVIEW: Speekee

Speekee is a great way for kids to learn Spanish. I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced that this was going to work for our family, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The program is a set of ten videos and corresponding worksheets. This is a complete immersion take on learning Spanish, which is one of the reasons I was hesitant about it. It works, though. Even my four year old .handsome-will is learning and repeating phrases that he has learned. My two youngest ask to watch the videos over and over.

Since this program is total immersion, there is a bunch of repetition and all kinds of visual clues to meaning. My kids connected with the kids in the videos and enjoyed watching them in different situations, like the park, the zoo, and the cafe. In addition, there are adorable hand puppet characters – Speekee, Lupi, and Dino.

Dino, Speekee, and Lupi

The videos were made in Spain with real Spanish children. It’s wonderful for the children to hear and imitate native speakers of any language they wish to learn. Also, what makes Speekee super for busy homeschool moms is that the children can work independently! What a bonus – and, need I mention, probably the only way my kids will learn Spanish? What a blessing that I can be working with one of the older children while the youngers are learning. And what a blessing that I don’t have to know any Spanish myself, although I do know a smattering. Speekee makes it so easy!

The worksheets reinforce vocabulary and other concepts learned in each video. They don’t require written instructions, so again, the children are able to work pretty much independently. Real images from each video are used in each worksheet so there is no confusion over what concept is being practiced. They make a nice review and addition to the study since they teach the children correct Spanish punctuation and spelling.


A subscription to Speekee TV is $7.50 per month, with the first two weeks free. There is no commitment or contract, so you can cancel anytime. If you want your kids to learn Spanish but don’t speak it yourself or don’t have the time to teach them, then Speekee is a great choice. The children will definitely learn to speak Spanish – and they’ll have fun doing it!

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

REVIEW: Maestro Classics – Peter and the Wolf

“Mom, why can’t we see anything?”

“Well, Gwennie, you see it in your head. You listen and then make a picture of what you hear.”


What a delightful story. And what a terrific, even after all these years, introduction to the orchestra for kids. Prokofiev’s work is splendid on several levels, and this rendition does his work justice. The music is well performed and the narration is just right – enough but not too much. My kids really enjoyed the whole experience. Once they figured out that there was nothing to ‘see’, they saw everything they needed to see.

For this version of Peter and the Wolf, Maestro Classics has included additional music that goes along with the story, a segment about Prokofiev’s life for the children, and an instrumental version of Peter and the Wolf. Also included is a booklet that contains lots of helpful information, wonderful pictures and a few fun games. The children enjoyed looking at the pictures of the instruments and figuring out which one represented each character. What a great segue-way into a full-blown study of the orchestra and its instruments! The only complaint I could possibly have about this version is that there is only one copy of the booklet. :) My three youngest listened to the story, and they aren’t always as willing to share as I would prefer. :) It would have been nice to be able to download additional copies of the booklet so they could each have their own and write in it.

Maestro Classics has several stories to choose from, like The Tortoise and the Hare and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Separately, each CD is priced at $16.98. Maestro Classics has a deal right now, though, that offers any 3 CDs for $45 plus FREE SHIPPING (UPS domestic ground). Use coupon code ‘WINTER2010′ at checkout. But, how can I choose just three? I mean, especially with the two that are coming soon – My Name is Handel and A Soldier’s Tale?? Decisions, decisions…

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

REVIEW: Early Modern Age (Explorers to 1815) History Schedule by Easy Classical

Our homeschool, as I am sure most homeschools are, is an eclectic mish-mash of teaching philosophies. Our main emphasis, though, is on a classical education. I follow The Well Trained Mind, while adding a bit of our own Taylor’s Mark style to it. That being said, I find that most of what I want to teach fits nicely into a classical education.

Easy Classical provides support materials for families who are implementing or want to implement a classical education in their homeschool – even if in just a few subjects. The product I was asked to review is part of Easy Classical’s History Schedule line of products, the Early Modern Age history schedule. The schedule, in a nut shell, is 36 weeks of plans for teaching Early Modern history from a classical standpoint – it’s a schedule of teaching Story of the World but on steroids.

Weekly Schedule

As I mentioned earlier, the schedule provides 36 week of teaching plans, but with all the extras included, like reading lists, project lists, and comprehension questions. Everything is mapped out for you, so you just add the books and you’re set to teach the entire year. The primary spine books are the Story of the World books. Additional readings are included, though, from other classical books like Story of the Thirteen Colonies and a History of US.

What I found nice about this schedule (besides the fact that all the planning is done for you!) is that it’s based on literature and history reading lists as suggested for use with Story of the World and they are books that your family will use time and time again. I find that Story of the World with its accompanying activity book is a good, basic history for the grammar stage. Easy Classical, though, takes it much further – projects and other activities are added that correspond precisely with the week’s topic. The readings are also chosen to further enhance the student’s understanding of the topics. I really wish I had Easy Classical schedules the first time I went through Story of the World with my older children, since I was always looking for a bit more in-depth information on each topic. Easy Classical provides it.

As a side note, you certainly don’t have to purchase each book on the supplemental reading lists. You could choose to add in only those books that you can readily find in your local library, or those you can borrow from a friend. The schedule is flexible enough to be used without all the suggested books.

At first glance, the Monday readings each week look to be a bit on the heavy side. Our family, though, could choose to spread the readings out over a couple of days if we wanted. The schedule provides a terrific framework while allowing enough freedom to adapt it to individual circumstances. For instance, it’s understood and clearly stated that your family won’t and shouldn’t attempt to do everything included in the schedule every week – it would be too overwhelming. That’s where the freedom part comes in – you choose what’s right for your family (one reason you homeschool!). The weekly projects, comprehension questions and history writing assignments are quite do-able, even for your youngest grammar age students, while they are challenging enough for your older grammar age students.

Weekly Comprehension Quiz

I did not have an opportunity to evaluate two of the products that Easy Classical produces to go hand-in-hand with its schedules, Geography with History and Writing with History. Those two components certainly sound intriguing since they are made to follow exactly with the Schedules and would make teacher preparation just that much easier. If we ever have any more of a school budget :) , I am going to look into purchasing these guides.

The Easy Classical website is terrific. It provides links to purchase all the suggested history and literature readings from several different vendors. It also has a section that offers guidance in implementing a classical education model in your homeschool. Under development is an area of the site that will offer direct links to internet resources as they correspond to each week in the schedule. What a tremendous time-saver for mom!

You can purchase any of the Easy Classical products, including their History Schedule series, directly from their website. There are six different products in the History Schedule section alone – each one corresponding to a certain period of history, as befits a classical education model. Each schedule includes 36 weeks and is priced at $35.95 for a hard copy or $29.95 for a digital copy. Please visit the Easy Classical website for samples and additional products.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free trial of the product in exchange for my genuine and unbiased review.


01 2011

2010 Santa Train

We took the kids on the Santa Express train this year to see Santa. What wonder on .handsome-will’s face! He was absolutely thrilled – and he hugged the big guy. Here’s a collage of some of the shots we got on the train. If you look closely, you might even see me. :)


01 2011