Thursday, September 29, 2011


And no, not the money-in-the-pocket sort of "change". I'm talking about the much more difficult to come by "CHANGE". Real change. Heart change. Change of direction. Or as some would say, change of trajectory.

You know, you sit on your comfy little couch, with your comfy little food in your tummy, your comfy little stove warming you up, and your comfy little fuzzy socks on your feet, playing Angry Birds. That sort of change of trajectory, the kind that gets the little angry birdies to do their job properly so you can move on to the next level. And the next, and the next. That kind of change of trajectory, right?


No, I'm talking about Impossible Change.

You know the kind; it's the ones we hear in so many cliche's: "Once a thief, always a thief.", "You can't change a tiger's stripes." and so on.

Like the Sugar Maple trees in the woods around our home. They look like completely different creatures in the different seasons. Perhaps the tree is being dishonest since it is not showing all sides of itself at all times and to all people. Perhaps we cannot look to it and see the Glory of its Maker at all since it does so very much changing, over and over and over again?

Here in America especially we are infatuated with the endless possibilities before us. We don't want to be tied down, corralled into a certain path or a certain lifestyle or a lifelong partner we're committed to for our entire lives! "Give us Change!", we yell. Or at least, "Give us the opportunity to change ourselves when it suits us."

And don't try to take that freedom away, lest you want the wrath of fractured relationships and hard feelings to mar your day.

On the other side of the coin, we're also obsessed with the "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.", mentality. I can change on a whim, for any purpose I see fit, YOU, however, will NEVER change. Thus, I can't deal with you any more. Goodbye*.

*cue slamming door.

So much is our society wrapped up in these thoughts that if you are perceived as being a "doormat" not only does your IQ go down by 30 points but your entire ability to be seen as a reasonable, productive, valuable member of society and other relationships is shattered.

How can you let them treat you like that? Why don't you just walk away? LOVE must be tough. You must have low self-esteem. You must be gullible. You must be stupid. You must have no idea of what your true worth is in God's eyes or you just simply wouldn't be in this position. People treat you like you let them treat you.

In other words, There. Is. No. Excuse.

There is no excuse. No one changes. Not REALLY.

It's... impossible.


Isn't it? There are classes all over the place and TV shows about people reinventing themselves. Complete transformations! The Biggest Loser! The Apprentice! Go back to school and get your degree through night classes! It doesn't matter if you're 20 or 80!

And yet... perhaps the real problem is that we've simply stopped believing in true change. We've become cynical. We feel powerless to actually change ourselves, hence the reality shows to get people moving. We look at each other and think, I can't change who I am (and maybe I don't even want to) and you can't change who you are, so let's just call it quits. We've written off everyone in our lives that hurt us without looking back - because they'll never change.

Maybe, just maybe, we should look out our windows this month, as the wind blows the leaves from the golden trees and rethink this just a little. Yes, the Sugar Maples didn't turn into Frasier Firs, but the changes that did occur are no less real. They've gone from blending into the forest full of green to great golden orbs of light, each one with its very own shade of yellow, orange, or red. But naming the colors themselves does justice neither to the sight that welcomes us as we step outside nor to the Creator of each leaf, each branch, each distinct shade of golden light.

Perhaps we should reread the verse in the Bible that we think only speaks of forgiveness. Maybe it speaks a little more about losing our cynicism towards people:

"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?". Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

Shall we keep then a literal account of every wrongdoing? Every offense? Every hurt feeling, or just every time the person broke one of the commandments and it affected you? Just holding our breath while we wait for the ticker to hit 490.

Or maybe Jesus was speaking a little bit about not losing that belief that someone could change. Maybe He didn't want us to write off people, cut them out of our lives, or shut our hearts away under lock and key so quickly.

Maybe we should dwell a little more on this verse: "But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." and a little less on exactly what everyone around us needs to do to implement the "right" changes in their lives.

Even then, while dwelling on that verse, our focus should not be on the change itself, but rather the security in knowing your value and worth to the One who made you who you are. You are maybe a leopard who can't change his spots, or a chameleon who changes their spots every 30 seconds. God made you who you are and the price He paid for your life says it all. No offense or hurt feelings should shake that conviction within your own soul. But I'll write more about that later (if I can get my head wrapped around it).

He paid it for your life. Not so He can change you, but because He loves you. The change comes with the knowledge of that love. Not by convincing yourself that you need to do it or by convincing someone else they need to stop doing x,y, and z.

Stop trying to change other people, and stop trying to change yourself. No matter what the motivation is, it won't be enough. You can't do it. Only He can.

Like the butterfly and the Maple tree, one thing that we can be sure of is that the result will be breathtaking!

"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."

**verses quoted, in order of posting: "Matthew 18:21-23; 19:26, Philippians 1:6

Friday, September 23, 2011

AIMS Education Foundation - TOS Review!

I was able to receive a copy of AIMS Education Foundation's Getting Into Geometry book for Grades K-1 for review last month, and I am very happy to be able to share this with you!

AIMS Education Foundation is a non-profit foundation that provides hands-on science and math for students grades K-9 in an affordable, easy-to-use format.

They offer:
  • Activity Books
  • E-Activities
  • Essential Math
  • Classroom Sets
  • Labs, Kits & Components
  • Literature Links
  • Math Resources
  • Science Resources
  • State Specific Science (for certain states)
  • AIMS Magazine
The Activity Book that I was given to review -

Getting Into Geometry - is aimed for grades K-1 children and contains 48 activities and is 264 pages. Included with the book is a cd of printable worksheets to use, a very helpful tool to go with this book!

The book is laid out in very easy-to-use fashion, with lessons clearly outlined under headings such as, Key Question, Learning Goal, Management, Procedure, and Connected Learning, among others. The Procedure heading is broken into specifcs steps to follow in teaching a classroom about the concept for that lesson.

If there is a printable to go with that lesson, it will be found immediately following the lesson plan so you know exactly what you are looking for on the cd to print out in appropriate quantities for the children you are teaching.

I enjoyed the layout, the prep work was very minimal thanks to the very specific instructions and plan to follow. I used this with my grade 1 girl and pre-K girl and they enjoyed the activities very much and asked several times to do more! This appeals very much to a kinesthetic learner, but I believe every lesson in the AIMS products would as they have a philosophy about the most effective way to learn:

"At AIMS, we believe that hands-on math and science is the most effective way to develop conceptual understanding." - from the AIMS website, emphasis provided by me.

The lesson plans and activities are definitely aimed at being a tool for the classroom teacher, with multiple students to teach and direct in these hands-on activities, however, I did not find it terribly difficult to adjust to teaching only two children. I find Getting Into Geometry to be a valuable homeschool tool for me that I will continue to use this year and may branch out to other AIMS products for my son as well.

The beginning lessons start out very simplistic, but they do build upon each other and could be used over any period of time that you deem appropriate.

You can find the Getting Into Geometry book here at the AIMS Educational Foundation website for $24.95 or call 888.733.2467 for more information.

For more reviews on this and other AIMS Education Foundation products, you can see them here at the TOS crew blog!

*I received this product free of charge in return for an honest review only.

Friday, September 16, 2011

BigIQKids! TOS Review

Are you looking for a way to get your child to do the drills necessary to get math facts, spelling words, or U.S. Geography to stick in their little brains?

BigIQKids is an online program that teaches math, vocabulary, spelling, and United States geography in a simple, 10-15 minute a day approach!

There are free programs available:
  • Spelling
  • Math Facts
  • U.S. States
  • Vocabulary
  • Spelling Game and Spelling Bee
  • Vocabulary Game
  • Ebooks
  • Short & Long Vowel Program
There are also Premium Programs for a subscription fee in these subjects:
  • Spelling Junior
  • Math
  • U.S. Geography
Acc to the BigIQKids website, "The primary differences between the BigIQkids FREE and PREMIUM programs are the ability of the PREMIUM program to monitor the progress of the student and advance that student only when mastery of the subject matter has been achieved. "

The premium program also offers detailed progress reports including problem areas that can be emailed to the teacher or parent and a game center rewards program that includes receiving coins (to be used as credit toward game time) for every lesson completed!

Also available to premium program users is a "Big IQ Buddy" - a personalized buddy that the student can give character to, including hair color and clothing according to their choices. My kids actually did not choose to personalize these because they didn't want to use a game coin in order to do so! That Emmy was more interested in playing the games than choosing to make her buddy wear pink clothes says a lot about the fun games!

Pricing on all of the premium programs can be found here.

The Spelling Junior Premium Program is $7.99/mo. or $39.99/12 mo. for individual students or $99.99/12 mo. for a classroom (up to 32 students).

The Interactive Math Facts Program is $9.99/mo. or $49.99/12 mo. for individual students or $149.99/12 mo. for a classroom.

The U.S. States Interactive Program is $39.99/12 mo. for individual students and is only available to the classroom when purchasing the bundle.

Joshua particularly enjoyed the U.S. Geography program and asked to use it several times. It seemed at first to repeat the same lesson several times and each time you go back to it, though later I realized it goes through several rounds of the first level before moving on to the next until you reach the mastery of each section. It also points the arrow at the Intro section every time you return, which does not need to be repeated every day. Once you understand a few quirks like these, the program becomes more useful and easy to navigate.

The math program started out very frustrating for all of us. The default setting is for 50 questions, far too many for my 5 year old to do without being bored to tears. The 50 questions were also more than my 7 year old to do in the 10-15 minute window. It wasn't until I discovered that I could adjust how many questions were done per lesson that the tears stopped! The goal is to get each lesson chopped into that 10-15 minute interval so that the drill becomes a quick review of facts already learned to make recall faster and easier!

It wasn't as easy to navigate as I hoped it would be; jumping between programs is not always a one-click process and while my second-grader can read instructions and figure out what to do next, it still required my help and presence more than I would have liked. My first grader needed near constant supervision to avoid clicking on something that would kick her out somewhere else entirely.

On the lesson pages there are no ads, but the ads on the rest of the pages, including the log-in page and the after-log-in page where the student chooses the lesson are distracting.

I think this would likely be a great program for a classroom where the teacher can use it to quickly switch several students through the same lesson in quick succession before moving on. However, for a homeschooling family with one child on each level it is not quite as ideal. We will continue to use it, especiall for the U.S. Geography program, for the rest of our one-year subscription.

I received my premium one-year subscription from BigIQKids in exchange for an honest review only.

Click here for more information or email BigIQKids at!

You can read more reviews on BigIQKids over on the TOS Crew Blog!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time 4 Learning - TOS Review!

Let's face it. Our children have different learning styles. Our children have different learning motivations. Our children do not fit into cookie-cutter molds.

So in my very limited experience with homeschooling, I have found that what motivates and inspires one of my children to sit down and learn, does not necessarily work with another.

I've been looking for something online to be interactive on a one-to-one basis for those times I need to shift my focus between three different levels of schooling, a baby, and a household that still needs cleaning, care-taking, and COOKING!

I was excited to be given the opportunity to review a one-month subscription to Time 4 Learning, an online learning system that can be used as a homeschool curriculum, an after school supplement, or in place of a summer school to catch up for the next grade level.

Time 4 Learning is for students from Preschool through 8th grade and includes these benefits:

  • Gives access to 3 grade levels of lessons (the grade level you sign up for, one above, and one below)
  • Over 1,000 student-based multimedia activities
  • Language Arts and Math for everyone starting at Kindergarden,
  • Science for first grade and above
  • Social Studies for second grade and above
  • Detailed progress reports for record-keeping
  • Lesson Plans and teaching tools for parents
  • Lessons correlated to state standards

Getting started is quite easy. From the Time 4 Learning Home Page there are easy to find tabs for Lesson Demos, Lesson Plans, The Parent Forum, A Site Map, Help/FAQ page, and Sign up, as well as a Member Login. From the Home Page you can also find links for the overview of each grade level, how to use the curriculum in a homeschool, afterschool, or summer school setting, and complete curriculum overviews. If you still need help getting started, try the Getting Started link, where you will find helpful videos that walk you through the welcome process!

Each grade level overview includes screen shots of different activities for you to see a little bit of what to expect and tells you what major milestones for that level that will be covered in the curriculum.

There is so much to the Time 4 Learning website to help you make a decision on whether this will be a good option for your present schooling situation, from helpful hints to shared experiences of current Time 4 Learning users! I encourage you to check it out and spend a few minutes exploring the site!

We used the Second Grade curriculum for Joshua, Kindergarden for Emmy, and Preschool for Elayna. I wasn't sure if Emmy would be able to navigate the First Grade pace on her own, and I wanted to be able to set her up and see her be engaged at a level that didn't frustrate her to start with.

I shouldn't have been worried. One of my favorite things about T4L is how it is appropriately engaging for each level of learner. For instance, some of the instructions at the Grade 2 level are "read on your own". This level of learner is expected to be able to follow instructions with minimal help, or at least, with an understanding of how to press the "next" button, find the help button, etc. For Elayna's preschool level, on the other hand, the instructions are given by audio command and students are given the cutest little smiley faces to choose from - one is green and is "nodding" for yes, the other is red and "shaking its head" for no. It's pure genius, at least in my book! I don't even have to sit next to my 4 year old and constantly watch and direct. She does it herself!

The children were so entertained during the learning process with T4L that they would often want to sit and watch their siblings do their lessons and asked when it would next be their turn. They loved the engaging characters, enjoyed the interactive games, which were also very age/level appropriate, and hardly knew they were learning at all.

When you have a few kids to homeschool and keep track of, keeping records can be tricky. Time 4 Learning takes the guess work out when it comes to remembering what lessons your children have done and how they did. The progress reports are quite comprehensive and you can even adjust what portion or time increment you want to check up on. It has color-coded bars for quick reference on whether your child has mastered a lesson or needs to work on that one a little more to achieve mastery before moving on.

There was only one thing that I did not like about the Time 4 Learning program: the science curriculum is not based on a Christian worldview. It has traditional public school values of science and evolution, that sort of thing. That may not be an issue at all for some homeschoolers, but for us, if we continue with T4L, we will choose to use a different curriculum for science and skip those lessons in the T4L program, which would not affect any of the other subjects or their progress at all.

The other point of interest to think about when using this as a comprehensive curriculum is that you will need to add in a penmanship and writing course for a more complete language arts learning circle.

Here are a few more screen shots of the various activities and levels the students will see:

Third Grade Language Arts:

Second Grade Math:


Time 4 Learning is a subscription based program. There is nothing to download, nothing to purchase, just a month-to-month subscription that you purchase access to.

Pricing is as follows:
  • $19.95 for first student
  • $14.95 for each additional student
  • NO contracts! Cancel anytime!
  • 2 week money-back guarantee!
Sign up HERE or call (954) 771-0914 for more information.

I do want to continue using this but need to figure out if it fits into the budget or not. I would like to recommend that if you are looking into a computer based curriculum that you give this a try for two weeks and see if it's a good fit for your family!

I received access to the Time 4 Learning online program for three of my children for one month free of charge in return for an honest review only.

Go HERE to see the Time 4 Learning post on the TOS Crew blog and read more reviews!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Slow is Smooth...

"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.", I said to myself.

"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

I mean, it worked for Mark Wahlberg in that movie, The Shooter, right? 'Cause he was slow, smooth, fast, AND could shoot things that were like 2500 yards away, right?

This will work.

Trust me.

We'll know, take our time, move along at a slow, steady pace, not get all worked up about anything and get there when we get there.

I mean, it's not like what I was about to do was STRESSFUL or anything. Just a run-of-the-mill textbook sort of vacation. A trip to see the family. A "coming home" of sorts.

With FOUR kids in tow.

Oh, and, of course, BY MYSELF.

"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast." I repeated a few more times.

We set out from the house about 9 am.

Then we stopped at the place in town and had the oil changed, filled up on gas, and stopped at the bank. Oh, and the post office.

We made it all of 15 minutes down the road when I started feeling... Sleepy??? Really?! Yep, sleepy.

Great. Only 6 more hours of fighting off this drowsy feeling to go.

We stopped at the next town and did a slightly different sort of fueling up.

Okay, back on the road we went. A pit stop or two and we were in - Grand Rapids!

Now I had this little plan in the back of my mind about how I was going to jump off the freeway, stop at the mall, make two returns (I had my returns, the receipts, everything needed all bagged and ready to go) stop at a walmart, make another return, (I hate doing returns but I really wanted that little bit of extra spending money for the trip, right?) grab lunch, pee and water the troups, and be back on the freeway in under an hour. I even had my printed out directions to follow IN MY HAND.

It gets a little fuzzy between taking that exit and ending up in timbukno-where-near the mall, but I do remember the distinct realization that my second mistake (I still have no idea what the first mistake was 'cause I tell you I followed those printed directions PERFECTLY) was to listen to what google maps was telling me to do on my new snazzy phone that has, like, this uncanny ability to KNOW right where I am just by where my PHONE is. I know, crazy, right?

So here I am, following the directions on google maps, and getting thismuchcloser to the mall than I was before. And we were hungry. And needing the bathroom. And sick and tired of looking for the mall. So I followed the nearest sign for the nearest freeway and continued SOUTH without looking back.

Well, until the next couple of pit stops had me repeating my new mantra, "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

"I can DO this!" I said under my breath as we neared the exits for South Bend.

I know right where the mall is and I can just shoot off, make my returns, and we'll be back on the road in under an hour...

Yep, sounds familiar, I know.

So.... two hours later when I was attempting to get back on the freeway after an incredibly frustrating time with an airhead employee at the FIRST store (hey, it's not MY fault that abercrombie and fitch insists on hiring people that inspire to be a&f models and have no concept of customer service nor care to) and giving up on attempting the other two stores, I was again listening to google maps tell me how to get out of South Bend.

And while I'm on the subject - it's not my fault that abercrombie and fitch went ahead and decided to follow this strange new trend where all the mens shirts are cut like womens shirts in the shoulders. I mean, really?! Who decided it was the thing to do to change the classic shirt that I rebought Colby (okay, so it WAS my fault that I ruined his favorite shirt and needed to replace it, but still) in the same size as his last one, but would have fit ME in the shoulders, not HIM. And by the way, a&f employee/inspiring model - after you go EAT something and can think straight again, try to catch this concept: when someone is trying to exchange like for like (straight across, exact shirt) they are NOT trying to rip you off just because they bought the shirt online at a lower price. Really. I promise. If you'd take that pounding music out of my head I might have tried to talk you into that concept but no, pounding music + 4 little kids does NOT a happy momma make.

Okay, where was I?

Oh, yeah.

I saw WAY more of South Bend than I ever did when I lived in the area and WAY more than I ever, ever, EVER wanted to, believe me.

What did we learn?

Don't listen to google maps with its little blinking green light on your phone saying, "it's okay, listen to me, I won't get you lost!" while leading you all sorts of astray!

Just a few more pit stops and we were *almost* to our Indiana destination.

And then the phone rang.

"Are you at such-and-such a road or have you already passed that? Where are you?"

She spoke so fast I had a hard time deciphering what on earth she was saying.


She repeated it and I picked up a little more, or at least enough to slam on the brakes as I came to the very road she was talking about right then.

"Okay, what am I doing again?"

"Just turn right, okay? Then go down to the second street and..."

"Oh, man! I was supposed to turn right? I just turned left!!!"

And so went yet another round of "Who's on first?" for half an hour until I finally found the place I was looking for and picked up the missing paperwork that had been floating around at the wrong address for a while.

Without any further ado (or pit stops!) we made it! (that was day ONE. just wait till you hear about day TWO!)

It only took us 12 hours what should have taken 6!

Turns out, slow may be smooth, and smooth may be fast, but sometimes... slow is just...


Friday, September 09, 2011

TOS Review - Griddly Games Nature Nuts Game

When we received the Griddly Games Nature Nuts travel game and expansion set, my first thought was, uh oh, the age range starts at 8 and goes up! How are we going to do this?!

The outside of the box says, "Nature Trivia with a Nutty Twist" and "Ages 8+, 2-4 players". I figured my 7 year old would be able to answer some of the trivia questions (I was totally surprised by how MANY he could) but how much fun would it be for him to play it with just me?

And then my kids (all ages 7 and under) found the dice. They were in colorful dice-rolling heaven as I read the instructions and then the dice kept them playing even when the little ones couldn't answer any of the trivia questions! I did modify the game a bit here and for the girls (ages 5 and 4) we played a little bit outside the "box". I let them roll the dice but chose a Wise Alec card for them each time!

The box comes with three stacks of trivia cards in these categories: Earth, Animals, Plants, and one stack of Wise Alec cards that include silly actions to do, "give your best mouse impression", tongue twisters, yoga poses to try, and list questions to answer, such as "name 5 amphibians". Each trivia card has two questions, an easier 3 point question and a more difficult 7 point question so both older and younger kids can be challenged. Also included in the box is the color coded dice and directions printed right on the inside of the box so they're never lost! The tray keeps the cards and dice in place and a magnetized flap secures it nicely.

Griddly Games products can be purchased at several game boutiques around the country, you can click here to go to the Griddly Games, Inc. website to find one near you, or you can find them on several websites, most notably Amazon where you can purchase the Nature Nuts travel game and expansion kit for $14.99 new.

Because it was a "travel" game, and we were planning on doing some traveling, we took it with us all the way out to Washington, where there were a few cousins in just the right age group to play with us!

We played with our 10 year old and 8 year old cousins, while the littlies watched and participated when we broke out the Wise Alec cards, particularly the active ones like this Yoga pose!

I was surprised by just how much the kids enjoyed this game. When we were done with the first round (we played to 50 points) they begged for another! It is definitely aimed at the recommended age range stated on the box, but we did still enjoy the game and had fun with our lower age adjusted way of playing. The only thing I didn't like about it were the somewhat flimsy cards. By the end of an hour of play several of the cards were bent or creased. It's probably best to keep the cards close by the side of mom or dad or the most responsible kid playing if you want to keep them nice.

The Nature Nuts set can be used as an expansion of the Griddly Games, Inc. Wise Alec Family Trivia Game, which I think my kids would enjoy very much here in a few years!

I was given this Griddly Games, Inc. product free of charge in exchange for an honest opinion and review.

You can see more information and links to more reviews on this product at the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.


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