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The Dragon & the Raven {A Jim Hodges Audio Book Review}

Jim Hodges Productions has a wonderful line up of Henty books on audio and I'd love to share our review of The Dragon & the Raven as well as the Study Guide in PDF format that accompanies it.

Fall School Photos {2014}

The older boys started public high school and college this year and were not with us for our annual fall photo shoot.

Here they are on their first day of school with friend (and our first snow in September!).

Dylan, 14, 9th grade, Gabbie, Nathan, almost 16, 10th grade,
& Jordan 18, freshman in college 

I look forward to taking our fall pictures every year and am extra thankful when the fall weather is warm and beautiful as it has been this month!

Malachi, age 9, 4th grade

Eliana, age 7, 2nd grade

Boaz, age 3, Preschool

We've been enjoying the beautiful weather while we can. (I can't wait to share the nature walks we've gone on!) It is already starting to cool off and it feels like winter will be here soon. I'm looking forward to snuggling up with blankets and hot cocoa and really getting into a homeschool rhythm!

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." ~ Anne of Green Gables

Me too!

MathTacular: Unbelievably Understandable Math™ {Review}

Have you seen the MathTacular series from Sonlight?! Starring a quirky teacher named Justin, they are a series of DVDs that make math "unbelievably understandable" (and fun) using everyday objects.

I'd love to share my review of the MathTacular® 1-4 Bundle with you!

The Mathtacular® 1-4 Bundle contains:

Price: $98.99

I am using these DVDs with my three youngest children:

  • Boaz, Pre-K

  • Eliana, 2nd grade

  • Malachi, 4th grade

What I loved right from the start is that I didn't have to ask the kids to sit and watch. I just popped in a DVD and turned it on. Within minutes, I was surrounded by curious kids. I let them move in, and I stepped back to let the DVD do the teaching. So easy!

After that, the kids were asking me to watch MathTacular, so it was easy to add it to our weekly schedule, about 3 days a week.


Justin covers a complete list of concepts from every top Math K program in MathTacular - including Horizons, Saxon, and Singapore and makes math fun by demonstrating hands on ways to learn math. Justin makes it so understandable and fun that after watching a segment, my preschooler wanted to go "play" with math and learn for himself. Not only that, Justin demonstrates how math is all around us in our everyday life with his unique style and silly humor.

This DVD includes four hours of math activities and games–plus PDF training tools (aka printables) that you can print.

In fact, we used many of the printables for our Preschool Morning Board!

All of the top pockets contain printables from MathTacular: colors, shapes, number words, months of the year, and days of the week - all concepts I am working on with my preschooler to get a head start for Kindergarten.

I added the weather printable on the side of the tri-fold. Bo loves running outside each day to feel how warm or cool it is and then choosing the picture card to match.

After we put up the new date on the calendar and sing the "Today Is" song, we count the days in the month using the number word cards, and then count and sing the days of the week song using the days of the week cards I printed from the DVD.

Then we recite the months of the year together and name the current month.

I love that the months of the year have seasonal reminders. (They do have seasonal holiday reminders, but I removed those for our use.)

Watching the DVD has inspired Bo to do many independent math activities - all on his own. This is how Justin makes math understandable and fun - children can watch and see math in action and then can imitate what they have seen.

Making tessellations with shape blocks:

Counting objects with a tape measure number line:

Sorting objects by color onto color cards that I printed from the DVD:

What is wonderful is that this is just what I happened to capture! Bo can watch the DVD and do math all on his own. He is being exposed to Kindergarten skills early through the lessons on the DVD. He is not ready for all of them, but he still enjoys watching them!


Eliana is using both MathTacular and MathTacular 2. She enjoyed watching many of the lessons of MathTacular with Bo, and then Bo enjoyed watching lessons with her from Level 2.

What's wonderful is that the lessons have tied in well with her current math program.

MathTacular 2 teaches:
  • Addition

  • Subtraction

  • Money

  • Time

  • Place Value

  • Number Theory

  • Data and Statistics

  • Geometric Shapes

  • Spatial Relationships

  • Measurements

  • Perimeter and Area

  • Graphs

  • Basic Equations

  • and more!


Malachi is using both MathTacular 3 and 4.

MathTacular 3 teaches:
  • Multiplication

  • Division (short and long)

  • Estimation

  • Mathematical properties

  • Equations

  • Factors

  • Prime numbers

  • Spatial relationships (like angles and coordinate planes)

  • Time zones

  • Money math

  • Conversions

  • Fractions

  • and more

MathTacular 4 is different than all the rest in that it is one continuous story ~ a mystery that is solved using math problems. The DVD also accompanies a workbook.

It has a silly, but fun mystery theme in which Amber Wave's precious prize pig has been porknapped by the dreaded "Word Puzzler" who has left behind clues. Detective Justin Time helps her solve the clues, which are actually word problems. These word problems are in the workbook, along with extra practice problems. As the mystery progresses, the problems get more complex.

I love how MathTacular 4 makes problem solving fun through the use of the mystery, and understandable by taking my student through the process step by step. The program first has Malachi cross off any unnecessary information. This is extra information the "Word Puzzler" has added to try to stump you. It makes solving story problems like solving a mystery. 

The answer key has step by step solutions for each problem.

The MathTacular DVD is for grades 4+, but the workbook is for grades 6+. Malachi was able to only work part way through the workbook, but literally begged me to finish the DVD! I had him go and far as he could and then I gave in and let him finish the mystery! I love that he begged me and learned math in the process! :)

I especially love that MathTacular:
  • can be used independently

  • supports any math curriculum

  • teaches math through the use of manipulative and real life examples

  • is taught with a silly sense of humor that makes learning fun

  • encourages imitation

  • can be played over and over

I recommend this for a supplement to any math curriculum for K through 6th grade, or for your preschooler to get a head start on K math concepts!

The Mathtacular series includes:

Connect with Sonlight on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Sonlight Forums, and the Sonlight Blog!

Disclaimer: I received a free Mathtacular 1-4 Bundle from Sonlight in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations. 

TOMY Super Pop-Up Pirate {Review}

Super Pop-Up Pirate, from TOMY games, is a simple but fun game for little ones. It is designed for ages 4 and up, and up to 4 players can play at a time.  Play is fast, but fun!

To play, you push the pirate down into the barrel until he locks into position. Each player selects a set of colorful swords, and then take turns pushing the swords into slots on the barrel. One of those swords will trigger the pirate to pop up! The thrill comes from the anticipation of waiting for the pirate to pop, and then the surprise when he does!

The player that makes the pirate pop up is out, and the remaining players play again until there is one remaining winner. We played as directed, except we let everyone play again each time and the last one to "pop the pirate" was the ultimate winner.

The mechanism that triggers the pirate to pop out is different each game, so each game is a new game. The pirate does fly up good, but it has a soft top in case it hits anybody or anything.

My kids are almost 4, 7, and 9 and they all love this game. They played again and again. The game is quick, so it really doesn't take too long. I played one round with them, and they continued to play on their own.

It does not require reading, only simple taking-turn skills, so my youngest was on equal playing ground as the older two - he loved that!

It is a little hard to insert the swords - it requires a little force and you have to hold on to the barrel so it doesn't fall over. Also, my youngest loves playing with the swords, so I am finding them all over the house.

The pirate theme is a fun theme and the game has some educational value in that the swords can be counted and sorted by color. But, my little one likes to play pirate with them mostly!

Bonus - no batteries! The Super Pop Up Pirate game is just a simple old fashioned game with a surprise element that keeps kids entertained.

Price: $24.99

Available at Amazon.com.

I've reviewed several other games on Amazon recently! Want to see? 

Educational Insights My First Microscope

I wrote:

My First Microscope is a great first microscope that's not only kid-proof, but it has many similar functions to a real microscope and has lots of kid appeal.

The extra large eye pieces make it easy for little ones to view objects with both eyes. The large focusing knob is easy to adjust. The LED light lights up kid "specimens" for easy viewing. It does require 3 AAA batteries, but once installed, the LED light can turn on with the push of a button.

Designed for ages 3 and up, my 3 year old was so excited to try it that as soon as it was out of the box, he disappeared with it to play with it. He has seen his brothers use their microscope for Biology, so I didn't even have to tell him what to do. He knew to look through the eyepieces and turn the focusing knob. So cute! And he has been examining things under the microscope for the past several weeks - everything from toys to leaves and rocks. He also takes it to bed with him and uses it as a night light! The light points down, so it makes a nice night light that is not too bright, and the light reflecting off of the green and blue makes it a really soothing light at bedtime. I worried he would wear out the batteries in a short time, but it is still working after several weeks.

It's sturdy and a great first microscope to teach little ones how to use a microscope. It's also great for instilling an early love of science and, in our case, makes a great night light. :)

Educational Insights Underwater Explorer Boat

I wrote:

The GeoSafari® Jr. Underwater Explorer Boat, designed for ages 3+, is a fun, sturdy magnified "glass bottom" boat. It easily lends itself to play in a pool, bathtub, pond, or creek, but also on dry land. My 3 year old has been carrying his around with him and loves to play with it in and out of the water.

He hasn't figured out that the orange life preserver can go around his wrist yet, but he loves to put his toy people in it. It does detach, so I worry he will lose it, but so far he hasn't. Looking at it, you would think it is hard plastic, but it is rubbery and soft - perfect for securing around their wrist.

He loads up all of his people in the boat so he often can't see through the bottom, but it is magnified. It is not a high powered magnification, but to little ones, it's neat.

I love that it encourages exploration and think this would be perfect in a ocean sensory tub. I make a baking soda clay and hide ocean animals inside the clay, and then give my little one a quirt bottle of vinegar to make a fizzy ocean world, and I think this boat would have been perfect for that! You could see the bubbles, sea shells, and creatures through the boat.

I was anxious to get my hands on this boat for another reason, though: to go along with our unit study on the book My Blue Boat. I like to give him a special toy for special books we use in our preschool and this was perfect!

It may be a tot friendly scientific tool, and great for exploration, but my little boy loves that it holds all of his little toys, that it floats, that he can see through the bottom when he is playing in the tub, and that he can use the boat for pretend play.

Disclaimer: I received these products from Educational Insights for free in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations. 

My Big Green Pocketbook {B4FI♥AR}

~Boaz is 3 years, 9 months~ 

My Big Green Pocketbook was our "back-to-school" row this fall. It is a sweet story of a little girl and the memories she makes during an outing with her mother one day. She collects her morning in her pocketbook, and then accidentally leaves it on the bus. But, it has a happy ending, and we enjoy this book and the wonderful illustrations.

Along with reading the story, we had a bus themed breakfast for the first day of school, and went on several outings, like buying orange slices at Lucky's Market for one! We also had fun mixing yellow and blue to make green, learning about absorption, and more.

Also see our row with Malachi and Eliana in 2010. We've made some happy memories with this book. :)

Reading the Story

We read the story each day, but the first day I gave Bo two lollipops ~ one for now, one for later (just like in the book).

We did letter F this day (and later G), made fingerprint fishes in the pond, colored the frog and letter F, and worked on rhyming by playing "Get out of the Wagon." The word picture that does not rhyme, does not belong in the wagon. :) Bo loves these activities and games.

First {Official} Day of School {2014-2015}

Our bus themed breakfast, including "spare tire" donuts.

With all the attention my little Bo had been getting over the summer (on the blog and at home), you can imagine how left out he was been feeling this week - our first week back to school. He was grumpy, and started writing Xs all over the house with a red marker. I figured out that he was missing his time with me, and taking time to do something with him each day (anything) helped.

Like working on Letter G, coloring the goldfish, G, and using glitter!

(I love how he traces each letter. He's starting to write letters now, too. So sweet to see his first little letters and writings).

And I love how easy it is to pull together a Pre-reading lesson! Unless I want to do a special letter activity (like for a theme), the lessons are literally open and go.

And playing a rhyming game with Ziggy. . .

The second day we read the book, I used the green pocketbook printables from Homeschool Share.

But, we didn't make it far. When we got to the typewriter, Bo wanted to go play on the real typewriter. (An old fashioned typewriter that I picked up to type my Project Life journal cards, but could never get to work properly).

He spent a good 30 minutes investigating how the typewriter works and playing with the ribbon spool and keys. (Bo has a mechanical bent like his big brother, Jordan). And we typed his name in CAPITALS and in lowercase ~ just like in the book. ;-)

Math ~ Shapes/Squares

Working on shapes with a Mathletics printable on Squares.

And playing with blocks.

Science & Colors: Color Mixing with Softest Playdough

This was going to be our no-cook playdough for the 12 Months of Sensory Dough series for September, but I stepped down from the series, needing to slow down a bit. This recipe is from Kid's Activities Blog and is super easy and super soft! (Click over for directions!)

We used Little Blue and Little Yellow for a go along book for our row, which really is a cute book.

(Bo's little green family, modeled after the book. So sweet!)

Absorption and More Color Mixing

We also did an absorption demonstration ~ a little yellow and blue color mixing fun.

Art: Shades of Green

Interactive Picture Books

We read Green and picked out the shade of green that most matched the Green Pocketbook. This book is a book in the Embrace the Wiggle with Interactive Picture Books series on the All About Learning Press Blog. Click to read Marie's review on Green and to read about more books in this series.


Life Skills: Routine with a Calendar and Morning Board 

I got the idea to focus on routines from Angelicscalliwags's row of My Green Pocketbook. With a new school year starting, I loved the idea and used this as an excuse to finally make a Preschool Morning Board to help establish a morning school routine for Bo.

Shopping for Orange Slices

In the story, the mom and the little girl buy orange slices for Dad. Since we discovered that Lucky's Market in the city has all natural, non-GMO fruit slices, we make it a point to stop there once a month for candy. :)


I took a video to show how I introduce my little ones to the idea of narration. I read the book with them, asking questions and asking them to tell me about what's happening on each page. It's hard work at first, and Bo kept saying he didn't know what the words said. He tired quickly and let me know, so we stopped. As he grows, he will be able to tell me more without prompting and eventually tell me the story without using the book.

To see more rows, please visit the B4FIAR link up!