May 222013
 

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Let me start off apologizing for the delay in this review. We have had a massive family crisis and blogging had to take a back seat. I’m trying to get caught up.

My girls love computer games. They love their Leapster Explorers and learning through games like that. So I was thrilled that I got to try Ooka Island Adventure. To say my girls really enjoy playing it is an understatement. They beg to have time on it, especially the Beans (she’s 5).

logo-ooka

Ooka Island is a computer game, based online that was designed to assist you in teaching your Pre-K to 2nd grade child reading skills in a very fun and engaging manner. Your child has what amounts to quests to complete in guided play that teaches the letter sounds and how to blend, comprehension of books and reading and then some free play where they get to play with the Ooka Elves that they have rescued by reading books. Let me tell you, Beans especially loved rescuing her elves, playing with Zobot and completing tasks in the game. Each time she completed a new game, she would come running to me excitedly exclaiming about what she had done. I have never seen her so excited to learn new things like this before (and in fact, she didn’t realize she was learning phonics…). Beans is recognizing words she has seen in Ooka Island when she is doing other things and gets excited because she knows what these words say. My eldest enjoyed playing it too (6) but she wasn’t quite as exuberant as her sister.

Bugs did play it, and she did enjoy it. She loved climbing the Alphabet Mountain and then getting to skate down it. She knew it was a school game so that tempered her enthusiasm a wee bit. However, the results I have seen in here were more than I hoped for. For the first time, after about a week of playing the game (she knew all her standard phonics sounds but had gotten hung up on sounding out words. She has a tendency towards perfectionism in her school work and if she can’t do it perfectly the first time, she gets frustrated and angry. This game helped her work on blending and for the first time ever since she has started using this game she has sat down with a book on her own and sounded out the words she didn’t know in it without becoming upset when she hit one she had some issues with! For that, this program is worth it to me).

Ooka Island, on top of being an interactive online game also has books for you to download as part of your experience with it, it tracks your children’s progress through the program and gives you reports on how they are doing, you can have it set up to email you when they read new books. And the girls loved it because I could send them messages to receive whenever they logged on. It thrilled them to see what message they were getting that day.

I love how Ooka Island builds upon your child’s skills as they master them, while still having practice in what they have already learned. It grabbed both of my children’s attention, and they have both grown in their reading skills beyond what I had hoped for in an online reading program. For the most part, I have never been a big fan of online learning for ones so young and prefer to drastically limit my children’s screen time. However, Ooka Island has made me rethink some of that. Online learning at this age, if controlled and counter-acted with plenty of time outside can be beneficial. The learning is fun, engaged the girls better than I had hoped it would and I had results with it. And I will admit, it was nice to be able to let them play on Ooka Island while I was able to get some housework done. I appreciate the fact that Ooka Island is something that I can let them play and not have to worry about values being taught through the stories that are contradictory to what we are instilling in our children.

Until June 1, 2023 you can get 30% off a year-long subscription to Ooka Island by clicking on this sentence. That is a pretty good deal since it takes the annual family subscription from 149.95 (for a family for up to four children) to just over 100.00. For a full year’s access, that isn’t too bad for reading instruction help (and perhaps some time to get other stuff done around the house! Not like I advocate screen time as a babysitter, sometimes it does help). Believe me, if I had the spare money right now, I would be taking advantage of this offer so I could extend our subscription because I do like this so much (however, since I can’t, I shall be grateful for the time we’ve had with Ooka Island and the success we have experienced with it and I’ll pinch my homeschooling budget and keep an eye out for a deal to come around again). Yes, it is rare that I want to keep a subscription to an online program of any sort, so you know this program has to be good!

May 162013
 

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Have you ever gone someplace spectacular in the great outdoors? Someplace so awe inspiring that you so wanted to have your Bible with you to read about the glory of God in such a place, yet you left your Bible at home because you knew that where you were going wasn’t going to be friendly to printed material?

Now, when you go camping, hiking, boating, to the pool, lake, ocean, get deployed or even just have a habit of wanting to read in the tub but don’t because you have the dropsies, you can take along the Waterproof Bible.

Yes, you read that right. I had the privilege of reviewing a WATERPROOF BIBLE!!!!!!!

This is so cool. It is produced by Bardin Marsee Publishing to fill the need of being able to take the Bible everywhere. This Bible is so hard to mess up. It doesn’t rip (even my manly man of a husband couldn’t get it to rip when I had him try it). This Bible can get wet, get totally submerged, mud on it, dropped in a river, taken up in the Himalayas, accidentally shoved in the freezer while wet, go visit sharks and any other random place that it can go. Dirt just rinses off, the pages are very sturdy synthetic material and very hard to mangle (I think having it bitten by a rattlesnake would put holes in some of the pages probably, and dropping it into an active volcano will probably render it melted but I’m not sure I would be willing to try and fish it out of hot lava myself…). I’m not too sure how well it would hold up if it is run over with a lawnmower if it is left out in the grass on mowing day, and I’m not too willing to try that test myself (as it was, having HubbaHubba try and rip it apart was nerve wracking enough!)

If you are a person who insists on writing in your Bible, don’t use a water based pen. Ball point pens and dry highlighters work best or you run the risk of smears or it rinsing off when you tip your kayak over in the rapids.

They have several different translations of the Bible to choose from. They carry KJV, NKJV, ESV, NLT and NIV so you can choose the version that fits with your ideology. You can purchase the Waterproof Bible at several different retailers if are so excited you can’t wait for one to get shipped to you or go through their website, especially if you want to order something a bit more customized that they offer.

I so look forward to going camping with this Bible later this summer. I’ve always been rather scared to take our good paper Bibles out with us on outings like that before, and now, I can’t wait to do so! Plus I can read it next to the pool while the girls are swimming the summer away and not have to worry about it getting ruined.

—I will add photos later after I get them edited. I am just now getting back to routine after a family emergency that required us to make a hasty trip to my parents’ home ten hours away for nearly a week. More on that and what else that has been going on in our lives recently (all rather crazy stuff) later after I get caught up. Thanks for bearing with us in this season of life.—

Apr 112013
 

If you homeschool, you know the frustrations of finding a planner that will work for you. I can’t tell you how many planners, systems, printables I have tried in finding a system that will work for the way my brain is wired. In fact, it got so interesting in our house last year in regards to calendars and planners (of various sorts) that my husband had to put his foot down and forbade me from purchasing any more calendars/planners/printables/binders for new ways of doing things.

Ok, so maybe I have a problem. Is there a twelve step program for people like me?

I did come up with a way to keep track of lesson plans, curriculum and such that worked just fine for the way my poor brain is wired. It has been working well for me and the way we school for two years now.

Logo in black lettering for Apologia

Recently, I got to review Debra Bell‘s planning system (The Ultimate Homeschool Planning System and the Student Planner) which is sold by Apologia (yes, the wonderful people who has brought us the Exploring Creation series, the terrific Who is God series, a great selection of books to inform, motivate and inspire us in our homeschooling journey).

Front cover of Debra Bell's The Ultimate Homeschool Planner and the Ultimate Student Planner

This is a good planner. I appreciate the fact that included in the planner are articles to help you master the planning beast with a yearly planning retreat, how to plan for a month, take a quick plan weekly, how to use it to show your children the plan for the week and then use it for a review of what they did get accomplished at the end of the week. It has sections to set priorities, make a list of resources you need to procure and a large yearly planning grid. There is space for up to six students to plan individually your goals for each for the year too.

For the nitty gritty, there is a section to record grades, reading lists and activities that you are involved in. Plus there are helps and suggestions on how to create an independent learner, motivating those who are a bit more reluctant, an article on learning and thinking skills.

Front cover of Debra Bell's Ultimate Homeschool Planner

The planner isn’t overly feminine and frilly. It has a good neutral tone to it and a non-frilly floral pattern that I love (it actually goes fairly well with my wall calendar!). It is spiral bound with a sturdy spiral, and the covers are a plastic which will repel moisture (not like any of us would ever get liquid [ahem, coffee] on our planners, eh?) and have folders in the front covers.

I love the pages for planning your week, space to enter in your triumphs, prayer focus, your own Bible reading plan, and how you are incorporating ministry to others into your homeschool days.

I do really like the layout of this planning system. It is a good general homeschooling planner that anyone could use (and in the even that Mom isn’t able to teach, it is self-explanatory enough that most people could grab it and take over for a few days). I did have an issue with trying to switch planning styles (I’ve been using a printable and a clip board for the last two years and have become rather accustomed to the way I’ve personalized it). I also plan out our school for six weeks on and one week off and while it is doable in this planner, this planner is designed for a year, almost like a regular teacher’s planner book (only way more detailed than the ones I used as a teacher in Christian school). I know if I had started with The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, I wouldn’t have had the issues I did with changing planning styles/layout totally. I fully intend to use this to it’s fullest potential in the coming school year (which starts fairly soon for us actually since we school year round, six weeks on, one off with extra time off around holidays. It gets too hot in the summer to do much so we may as well school and have a great time when the weather is nicer).

While the planner is terrific as it is, I would add a few more folders inside. And perhaps an elastic loop to attach a pen (I don’t know about you, but it seems my writing utensils wander off on a regular basis) and a zippered envelope to hold paper clips, stamps, rubber bands and chocolate. And while this is a terrific general planner, I would love one aimed more for parents of elementary aged students (while I do intend to homeschool all the way through high school, I don’t need the articles on doing it currently in my planner) with more space to organize learning life skills for that age group, how to survive the years of not-so-independent learning, field trip ideas (and space to record field trips in more detail). Don’t get me wrong, I do really like this planner, but this is how if I was going to do it, would lay it out and what I personally would add.

I also got to review the The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students. It is laid out so very well for those beginning to learn how to schedule their days and assignments. I love how there are sections for the students to record their favorite things, articles and helps to guide logical and analytical thinking, the places to record grades, reading, physical activity plus the added history timelines, geography lists, how to convert measurements, multiplication table and a whole lot of other information that will be great to have at your scholar’s fingertips. I would love to see a place to attach a writing utensil in this planner too, and perhaps folder pockets in the covers like the master adult planner. My eldest would love for it to come in more girly colors. But then, she is a girly girl and loves pink and glitter and glam. One of the coolest features of this planner is that the spiral binding on it glows in the dark. Which at first when it got left on my nightstand kind of freaked me out until I realized what was glowing beside our bed…

Front cover of The Ultimate Student Planner

These planners are beautiful (and there is a choice of two covers for The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, so you have more options!). They are encouraging, make it easy to keep a record for the year of what you have done and will serve as a great tool for looking back and reminiscing when the kids graduate (which thankfully for me is a long way off yet). These are great for any mandatory record keeping you have to do in your state, promoting order and peace and training our children to make wise use of their time and being diligent in their work. I can highly recommend these planners to make your life more streamlined.

You don’t have to take my word for it, to find a medley of other review perspectives, visit Mosaic Reviews!

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Feb 232013
 

I started this blog a few years ago at the urging of my husband who decided I needed a creative outlet. He noticed that I needed something else to do, we both realized that I really enjoyed reading some blogs and we both knew that I really liked to write. For me, writing is a way to express myself safely, be creative and is fun. So, close to my 30th birthday, my husband helped me put together my blog. It has taken a few twists and turns since then, and I’ve had times where I have written a lot, then not so much, as I was writing when the mood struck, when I had a review due, or when I felt led to say something. Posting has always been a bit helter skelter for me.

As a member of the Mosaics Review Team (noticed my newest button over to the right?) we were asked to choose a free printable blog planner and review it for our first review. I’d seen blog planners before, and figured that while they looked nice and all, I probably would never use one. I love to plan, don’t get me wrong, but then when things happen and plans fall through I feel horrible. I also have a very hard time finding a planner that works for the way I think. I like things with enough structure to make me be able to quickly see where and what I should be doing, but with enough freedom that if I wanted to move things around quickly I can. I like having seperate areas for different aspects of the blog (and life. It has taken me three years to get a homekeeping binder put together that I even remotely like) but I want something that flows and works together as a whole. And I want it to look nice.

I chose the blogging planner by Jolanthe at Homeschool Creations to try out. The pictures of it on Jolanthe’s website make it so pretty! I love flowers and gentle feminine looking things, ok? This planner is also quite huge. It is a planner designed for a full year, and is over 60 pages long. The forms contain calendars, sections to plan out a focus for each month, giveaways and reviews (including contact info, what key words to use, and even has a check mark box to say that you have chosen a winner for your giveaway), pages to mark off blog posts, SEO, and social media promoting. Those pages are a godsend themselves. I prefer to plan with a pen and paper. I have yet to be able to force myself to convert to straight digital planning. I just can’t do it. My brain has never worked that way and I’ve always been able to think better with a pen in my hand. These pages fit the bill precisely!

Then, if that wasn’t good enough, Jolanthe added in some extra forms which made this planner go way over and beyond what I was expecting a blog planner to do and be. There are forms to track your website analytics (very helpful to track trends and for pitching to companies), a form to remember websites and blogs you frequent and log in information, a form to keep track of your affiliate programs (great to keep passwords, payout information and such all sorted out and tracked), a Twitter Hashtag Tracker (yeah, I can’t remember the good hashtags to use, nor what they pertain to a lot of times…This is a wonderful form!), a form for the blog linkups you like to participate in, and forms to track income and expenses, mileage and a place just to jot down the random ideas that don’t want to leave you alone.

I printed off the pages at home on my black and white laser printer and did dual sides (so the pretty colorful flowers aren’t so colorful, but for us, that made the most sense economically for what it costs us to print versus taking it to the office supply store). And while I wanted it spiral bound, I ended up using my trusty three ring hole puncher and put it into a one inch binder I found on clearance. I mark where I’m at using paper clips (I do get the prettier colored ones) and I plan on putting in some page dividers and plastic pockets and a folder yet (one of those things that takes a bit of time which has been lacking for us this year). It is quite serviceable and useable the way I have it set up right now. At least for the way that my brain works.

Yes, this planner basically does it all (well, except the thinking of the blog posts, lining up giveaways, writing your posts for you….) if you use it. This is an excellent tool to help you take your blogging to the next level. It makes it easy to organize your thoughts and ideas, keep track of the nitty gritty details that are so easy to forget and is a breeze to use once you get into the routine. It makes my blogging feel more “official” if you will.

Having a planner helps to define my blog, my purpose for the blog and makes it easier to carve out the time I need to devote to it without sacrificing my family to it. I suggest that if you are serious about taking your blogging up to the next level that you use this blog planner. It is starting to salvage my sanity…Granted, there wasn’t much sanity to salvage to begin with, but knowing I have a chance at keeping what little I do have left is a wonderful feeling.

Do you think this planner won’t work for you? Well, there are many other options out there and other bloggers with the Mosaics Review team had a chance to review them. I hope you find just what you are looking for over there!

I was given this planner as a part of the Mosaics Review Team in exchange for this review. All opinions are mine and mine alone, no other compensation was received.