At Home in Dogwood Mudhole bookAt Home in Dogwood Mudhole, by Franklin Sanders, is an interesting title for an interesting and fun read.  The story is taken from a collection of letters that the author has written over the years for his newsletter, and this first volume gives a peek into his family’s life as they become (reluctant) farmers.

Even if you are not a farmer yourself, nor planning on becoming one, this book will probably have something to offer you somewhere in its 379 pages.  One of his first stories is about how the family dog, bought as a puppy for $30, has to go to the vet for a broken bone and how it became a $400 dog.  Later, the dog gets hurt again and the author good-naturedly relates how one questions at times how much a family can afford to spend on a pet.

Although the author’s style jumps around a bit for me (at times I was wondering how events were related to each other), I found his writing to be enjoyable and cheerful.  Mr. Sanders certainly has a dry sense of humor that I appreciate, which is sprinkled liberally on almost every page.  Throughout the book you can tell how important his family and nature are to him, and that is both refreshing and inspirational for me.  Due to its conversational tone (although it even contains some snippets of Chaucer) you certainly feel that you are along beside him in his journey and it is easy to relate to the joys and sorrows their family experiences (check out the sample chapter).

As an added bonus, all of the chapters are short enough, at an average of 5 pages in length, that they can be easily squeezed in whenever you have a few minutes to spare (or kill).  I wish that I would have asked for this title in e-book format because I think that it’s style lends itself perfectly to that medium.  And, you have to love their guarantee: “If you don’t laugh, cry, gasp, hug your spouse or jump up and down, we’ll refund your money and you can keep the book to use as a door stop.”

Lastly, I feel like I need to mention that Mr. Sanders is from the South and his writing certainly reflects that (eg. the Civil War is known as the War for Southern Independence), but it is done in such a manner that only a very rare person (I hope) would be offended.  But, I just wanted to let you know that if you don’t find Southern charm all that charming then you should definitely read the sample chapter before buying.

Price: $22.95 for paperback, $16.95 e-book format

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VocabularySpellingCityVocabularySpellingCity is an online and app-based program that can be used for spelling and vocabulary work for grades K-12.  I was looking forward to reviewing this program because I have a daughter that really enjoys learning new words and (currently) proclaims that spelling is her favorite subject.  There are basic and premium memberships available and for this review I was able to try out the premium subscription.

After setting up my account I logged in and quickly realized that I didn’t know which words to use for our vocabulary study.  There are many lists out there that have been created by others that can be easily imported, but it was a bit overwhelming for me.  Did I want to focus on science or geography terminology?  Or perhaps I should use words from our spelling program that have proved to be troublesome.  In the end, I decided to use vocabulary words from our writing program and from a workbook-based vocabulary program that we had previously discarded for being too boring.  I typed in several batches of 10 word groups.  After inputting the words, you can select from available definitions and sample sentences or create your own.  For the most part I was pleased with the definitions and sentences that were already in the program, but there were a few times that I added my own.

Next up was selecting the activities that I wanted my child to complete for each word list.  There are several choices, depending upon whether you are using the lists more for spelling or vocabulary work.  There is also the option to save an activity list so that you may simply use the same sequence for each list that you create or import.  Finally, you can select if you want your child to work through the activities in order or if they can hop about as they please.

One of the best features for our family was the ability to use (almost) the whole program on the iPad (so far only available for iOS devices).  There is an app available that can access your account, provided you have an internet connection, and most of the games can be played.  When I was setting up the activities for our word lists I made sure to only include the ones that were app compatible (identified by an icon) as I knew that would be our preferred method of use.  My daughter had no problem with the app and everything was super intuitive to use.

There is also a portal in which to access your child’s progress that is available with the premium membership.  Whenever my daughter logged in and worked on the words in my lists the program tracked her progress and I could easily see how much work she had completed.

I think the only thing that I wished was different was that a definition for the word that you are playing for in Hang Mouse was provided.  With a definition it would be easier for the student to concentrate on the spelling of the word instead of randomly guessing letters.  However, my daughter has thoroughly enjoyed this program…so much so that she completed three weeks of work in just a week.

As this is a feature-rich program it is wonderful that there are loads of videos available on site describing all the different possibilities and how to perform all of the tasks so that you can tweak this program to fit your family’s needs.

Price: $29.99/ year for up to 5 students

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Time 4 LearningTime 4 Learning is an online educational curriculum that is available for grades preK through high school.  This self-paced program covers everything from language arts to math to science and social studies.  I was able to review this program two years ago at the first grade level and this year we were able to explore the second and third grade levels.

When we first set up our account I tried answering the placement questions to see where my daughter should start at, but I could never figure out what the results were.  So, we began with where most of her current work is at: second grade.  My daughter was able to easily log on for herself and she quickly completed all of the science and social studies lessons in just a few sessions (there are only about 20 activities in each of these learning areas at the 2nd grade level).  When she went on to the language arts and math sections she complained that they were too easy – most likely because we are just about at the end of our year.

3rd gradeThe nice thing about Time 4 Learning is that you can easily go into your parent’s account and change the grade level for any of the individual components.  I decided to change everything to third grade since she has already finished the science and social studies portions and we were amazed at the difference.  In the second grade level there are usually short videos on each of the topics and just about all text is narrated to the child.  In the third grade level the child is expected to read quite a bit more and the words are much smaller.

My daughter was not thrilled at the changes and decided that she was not going to do the social studies or science topics because they were too difficult for her to read.  I was a bit disappointed since at the 3rd grade level there are many more activities for children to complete in these areas (almost 200 a piece) and they really seem to be her favorite.  However, the language arts and math were at a much more suitable level for her.

For those that would like additional support there are printable lesson plans available and reporting tools available to track how much your child is using the program.  In addition, there is a parent forum that seems to be lively enough so that you can ask questions or get ideas from others that are using this program as well.

Although we thought that this was a light curriculum (rigor wise), I can see how I could use it during extended breaks or when life events just wouldn’t allow me to school the way we currently do.  Again, as I noted in my previous review I wish that it was iGadget compatible, but alas it’s not.

Price: $19.95 per student, per month for the preK through 8th grade levels

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Greene Bark PressGreene Bark Press is a (new to me) family company, established in 1991, that is based in Pennsylvania.  According to their website they only publish books that they feel are “original, colorful, imaginative, and have some value to add to the growth and learning process of young readers.”  I was able to review one of their newer books entitled Look Left, Look Right, Look Left Again, authored by Ginger Pate.

This board book is aimed at ages 3-8 and is all about teaching children the appropriate way to cross the street so that they don’t get hurt.  At 22 pages of large text, this is a quick and easy read that only takes a few minutes to get through.

The story centers around a young duckling named Wally Waddlewater.  He really wants to go into town to mail a card that he’s just made for his grandmother, but he is nearly run over when he tries to cross the street.  Luckily, his mother pulls him to safety and then begins to teach him the “look left, look right, then look left again” mantra.  After practicing many times with his mother he is eventually allowed to cross the road by himself, at the end of the book, to visit his grandmother.

When this book first arrived my son (3 years old) was immediately drawn to the bright colors.  He asked me to read the book several times to him in the first week that we had it.  I really liked the premise to the story…our young duck really wants to do something nice for his grandmother at the beginning of the story and then he is off to spend time with her at the end of the story.  And, I liked the repetition of the mantra throughout the story, including having to wait for emergency vehicles, cars, buses, and the crosswalk signal.  But, I wasn’t enamored with the cartoonish look of the book and the unusual scenario of having to wait for an elephant to cross the road seemed odd.

While my son asked for the book several times in the first week he essentially ignored the book after that.  Although he already knows how to responsibly cross the street I was surprised that he never once repeated the mantra from the book.  Perhaps he would have been more intrigued with it had he been younger; I am a bit surprised that the recommended age range was so high (ages 2-5 seems more appropriate to me).

Overall, though, I think that this book would be a worthwhile read for anyone that has children that have not learned how to cross a road safely or just need the lesson reinforced.

Price: $8.50

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Bible Study Guide for All AgesWe haven’t done much in the way of bible literacy education beyond having my daughter read through a children’s bible.  And, as you may have guessed, we are not an overly religious family.  However, I have been looking for something to help me teach my children bible stories (my knowledge is woefully lacking) and have discussions about morality.  Thankfully, Bible Study Guide for All Ages was a program that I was chosen to review, as it has easily surpassed my expectations and can be used with children from preK up until the teenage years.

BSGfAA does not cover the bible in a chronological fashion.  There are a total of 416 lessons spread across four units.  Each unit is further broken down into packets of 26 lessons.  The first lessons cover the story of Joseph: how his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery up until his family finally joins him in Egypt.  Then the program moves on to Daniel and subsequently Jesus, before going back to cover Adam and Noah (click here to see the order of study).  The authors state that the first 30 lessons are meant to give some bible history before going back to fill in the gaps, and that going between the Old and New Testaments makes for a more balanced way to study the Bible.

Primary Student PagesThere are several levels to this program depending on the age and reading ability of your child(ren).  Each level covers the Bible in the same order so that it becomes easy for a family to use this program together.  The beginner level is for non-reading students, the primary level is for students who are beginning to read, the intermediate level is for children reading at a second grade level or higher, and the advanced level is for fifth graders and up.  Although my daughter is reading at about a third grade level I decided to try the primary level student pages for her since I was unsure of how much reading she would want to do (the names of people and places in the Bible can be daunting at times).

Primary Teacher Guide For the primary level (only) the teacher guide is considered a necessary purchase and I certainly agree with that assessment.  The guide is spiral bound and the lesson plans in the guide are so easy to follow.  The student pages come separately and it is easy to tear out the page that is needed for that day’s lesson.  The content of the lesson is a bit repetitive, but I found that to be helpful for the memory work portion of this program.  Each lesson begins with a quick review and then moves on to some memory work and suggested songs.  Following that is the main story for the lesson and some review questions to check for comprehension.  The lesson ends with the student doing some mapwork or filling in a timeline and then applying the lesson learned from the bible story to a contemporary situation (sample pages can be found here).

Generally we broke up a lesson into two sessions and so we were able to easily cover two lessons a week.  At times my daughter wanted to push through an entire lesson, but I preferred doing the review, listening to the songs, doing the memory work, and reading the story the first day and then finishing up the lesson the next day.  I would read the main story from our Golden Children’s Bible, but I would also need to have the New American Bible (BSGfAA can be used with any version you have) close by to read certain verses to her when they were not included in the student pages (the GCB does not clearly indicate individual verses).  My daughter enjoyed following along with her student page (there is only one double-sided page per lesson) and filling in the blanks, marking the correct answer, matching people to their names, drawing on the maps, and filling in the timeline.  Aside from wanting to follow the teacher guide, there is no particular reason that you couldn’t break down the lesson however you see fit and scramble up the pieces if you so wish (eg. reviewing the previous work and reading the current story and then doing the memory work and mapwork/timeline portion).

Children's Songs CD setBible Book Summary Card frontbible card back
Two other resources that we used were the Children’s Songs CD set and the Bible Book Summary Cards.  Although these components are not required, they certainly did add a richness to the program that I would be hesitant to leave out.   The CD set features a cappella singing that is pleasurable to listen to and many of the songs are included to help out with the memory work component of the program.  One of the first songs suggested is to help memorize the 12 sons of Jacob, and you will find suggested songs in the teacher guide for each lesson.  The Bible book summary cards are a stack of 66 8.5″x11″ full color cards that represent the main message for each book (of the Protestant Bible).  On the front side is a picture (or several pictures) depicting the themes and on the back is a summary of the book along with some good memory work questions at the bottom.  I have included images of the front and back of the first card that covers Genesis, but more sample cards can be found online.  These cards are also referred to many times in the teacher guide, but only three are used in the first packet of 26 lessons.

working on the student pageOverall, I was quite impressed with this program and I have already purchased the next student pages and teacher guide packets for our studies.  I loved the fact that this program can be used in a secular sense for bible literacy.  There is no particular denomination that is followed (although it is based on a Protestant Bible) and it is easy to flavor the studies however you choose.  According to the BSGfAA website, the authors “work independently of any church group or denomination and make no attempt to teach their opinion about issues of debate.”  I also appreciated the lack of crafting, gluing messiness; a set of colored pencils/pens/crayons is all that is needed.  The only thing that I was not happy with is the flimsy paper covers on the student pages and teacher guide – these certainly need to be treated with care if they are not to be destroyed quickly…quality cardstock would have been appreciated.

Need help deciding what to purchase for your family?  Check out these helpful FAQs when trying to decide what you might like to purchase.

Price: student pages $9.95 each, teacher guides $9.95 each, children’s songs cd set $19.95, Bible book summary cards $24.95

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