Thursday, February 25, 2016

A TOS Review: The Climbing Knights (SimplyFun)

We love games. Games are not only great for family togetherness, but they provide wonderful learning opportunities for the players. Last year we got to review a wonderful game from SimplyFun. Well. They just came out with some NEW games. We just got to review one of those four games, The Climbing Knights .

SimplyFun  creates educational games for families, homeschoolers, classrooms…just about for anybody learning games are appreciated. They do offer a homeschool membership that provides two free games a year and a discount on all other games you might purchase. I appreciated this section on the SimplyFun website that talks about the Importance of Play and give a number of resources about the importance of play. They made my "Early Childhood Teacher" heart sing.

For this review, I received The Climbing Knights. My request (i.e. begging and pleading) for The Climbing Knights was two-fold. For one, who doesn’t secretly wish to live in a castle? This is about the closest experience we are going to have. My other reason is a bit more practical. This summer our theme for our annual Cousin Camp is Knights and Castles! I couldn’t have planned it more perfectly.

You bet your bippy this game is going in my box of perfectly wonderful things to do.

The Climbing Knights is intended for ages 8 and up and can accommodate 2-4 players. In our house a 14-year-old and a forty-something (which would be me) got into to the action. I plan on taking it with me to our Reading Club when we next read something “Castleish”. They will be thrilled to play.

The purpose of the game is to have your knight climb the castle. You are to capture your Coat of Arms. Actually, you have to capture your Coat of Arms twice. It’s not an easy climb. You have to avoid all windows and (bahahaha) two gnarly looking guards.

Can you see why I wanted this game? What a game! I think it could provide at least some shelter in a pinch.

The game, itself, was easy to put together. I was worried about complicated bits and pieces, but found that the construction took little time. The castle is only a few pieces and is made out of some kind of magnetic board. It is also easy to put away. Score!

Here is my knight and coat of arms. I would have liked my knight to be sporting a sparkly tiara, but we can't always get what we want.

Someone else in the house found the Castle to be perfectly enchanting. I believe this is one of Josiah's favorite time lords. He's everywhere.

The whole set-up didn't take any time at all. We read the directions (which were easy to follow) and we were off!

The game starts with the knights at the bottom of 2 scaling walls. There are 3 dice included with the game. The black die tells you what to do with the black guard. The gray die tells you what to do with the gray guard and the white die tells you how many spaces you can climb.

The game requires spatial reasoning. For example, Josiah had to decided what direction would be the best way to proceed around the window. For Josiah, who is dyslexic and has a few other issues to go along with that, spatial reasoning can be difficult. This was a great, non-intrusive way to work on that skill.

This guard is asleep right now, but if you get in his sights you have to start over again!

Because the player also moves the guards according to the roll of the die, he has to decided what direction to move them...using some strategy, of course.

Yikes! I'm almost caught.

Josiah won this particular game, but Momma was not out yet. I lived to climb another day.

This game is fun, fun. We didn't have to think too hard. It didn't take up too much time. It made us get up and move around a bit. We had to strategize and think about what to do next.
I also love that this game is sturdy. The pieces are not flimsy or cheaply made. It is something that will stand up to multiple playing experiences.
The whole set-up is unique and perfect for kids like my guy who needs a hands-on experience. I mentioned that Josiah is dyslexic and, while he is reading beautifully, he prefers activities that do not require any reading. The instructions obviously have to be read, but I did that and he simply followed instructions and his own intuition.
This is a game I am thrilled to add to our game closet.
You can connect with SimplyFun via the following social media outlets. Don't forget to click on the banner to read more reviews (some members of The Crew reviewed different game).
Instagram: @SimplyFun

SimplyFun Review

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A TOS Review:

I have to admit I am not a big fan of The Worksheet. I understand the appeal, but to me they seem like a good excuse for busy work and don’t mesh with every learning style.
I tend to favor a variety of hands-on experiences in our homeschool. I like having the option of using eclectic methods. That being said, I also appreciate the need for tests and worksheets for practice or independent learning. 
Recently, I had the opportunity to review We received a one-year subscription to the  Pro Plan which has a variety of tools available for the homeschool family. A huge draw for me was the combination of skill mastery, review resources and  interactive options not generally seen with comparative products. is an online resource. The site includes printable worksheets and tests, online lessons, a handy test maker and more. There is something for almost everyone. The resources are intended for grades K-12. You will obviously need a reliable internet connection and a printer to really take advantage of the site.

There is a variety of options available for users on You can sign up for a free membership which allows some access to the site. A  Pro Plan provides the user the ability to create tests and assign them online. It also gives you access to hundreds of premade worksheets, tests and lessons. There is also a group subscription for schools and businesses.

How We Used And My Thoughts

I used the site primarily as a supplemental resource. I want to share with you how I used it with  the assistance of a few screenshots.
You can see that there is a line of tabs at the top of the screen. The first tab is the one I used most often. Tests & Worksheets.

One concern I have been having is that Josiah needs work on his comprehension skills. Because he is dyslexic I often focus more on the execution of reading rather than the content of the material. The site contains tons and tons of great little articles (fiction or nonfiction) that I can assign for just this purpose. He did really well and I could tell it built his confidence. This is certainly something we will continue to do.
I liked using the informational texts available. They are sorted into reading level. The word count and type of skill used is also recorded.


One of the articles I used was this one on yawning. You can see that I am given the option to print, save as a PDF or take online. I can also schedule the assignment for Josiah to do at a later date. There is an answer key provided, as well.

Some assignments I chose to print off, but I can tell you that the "take now" option is a lifesaver for those of us who find printer ink a hot commodity. The online test opens up in a separate window. It also presents each question at a time with the reading passage conveniently located at the top of the page.

This was Josiah's score. Instant gratification. The site also records what tests he has taken so I don't have to be on my game most of the time. You know how that is.

Another tab we used was the Lessons tab.

This screenshot features the science lessons. Now. I only found lessons from grades 5 and up. This wasn't a problem for us, but you might do so more digging if you have younger children.  You can see that there is a grade level available; as well as the time needed to complete the lesson as well as an "assign" tab. I never used the "assign" tab, but it allows you to send or share the link to your student.

I focused on the Astronomy lessons because Josiah had just completed a unit study on the planets. I felt like this was a great supplement. I loved all the options and little extras available for us.

I've provided a few screenshots for the "Why Does The Sun Look So Bright?" lesson.  Picture 1 is a informational article to read. When you scroll down just a bit you will find Picture 2. It includes a tab to take small quiz. There is also a multi-media presentation and a link for a related worksheet. Picture 3 provides links to related lessons and additional resources. The additional resources took us offsite to fun places.

A fun and handy tab is the Games tab. You can make your own or find one already premade. I found the word search generator to be very handy.

I didn't use the test generator at all for this review. Frankly, I was thrilled to find plenty of content I could use. I am sure that it will be something I will take advantage of in the future.
Given my aversion to most worksheets, I was pleasantly surprised with my experience. This is much more than a worksheet site. I love the interactive aspect. I especially love the option to take the tests online. HelpTeaching is constantly adding new content. My son (who is an big sports fan) loved the sports themed worksheets and has suggested that they add more. As a homeschooling mama to a Middle-School-aged son I just appreciate the help.

You can connect with via the following social media sites. Don't forget to click on the banner below to read more reviews.




Twitter:  @helpteaching   #HSReviews #printableworksheets #onlinelessons #readinglessons

HelpTeaching Review

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Shiny New Thing

I felt like I should put out some sort of announcement.

Here it goes.

We (The Muffin, Josiah and I) are announcing the happy release of Bertha (or is it Bessie?) the Buick and Fred the Ford.

They've gone to a happy car lot and potential salvage yard in the sky across town.

Before I remiss about our many years and the many miles shared with Bertha and Fred, I want to introduce the newest member of our family.

Isn't she pretty? And shiny?  I am so giddy I can't help myself. I'm thinking about painting my toes red in celebration.

I can't even begin to tell you of the miraculous blessing behind our ownership of this beauty. It was certainly a God thing. We are completely humbled and so, so grateful.

I was the first one to test drive her. My first act was to see if the air conditioning and heating worked!

I've been burned, my friends. Or frozen. Take your pick.

This morning, The Muffin took the car to a doctor's appointment at the VA (Veteran's clinic). As he is driving down the highway he is giving me a play by play.

"The signals both work!"

"This is amazing."

"The heat works!"

"This is amazing."

Josiah and I were talking today of the "good ole days" when every trip in one of our "classics" was potentially a break down.

"Remember that time we broke down at Wal-mart? Or did we break down at Wal-mart more than once?"

"How about the time we went in to get Sushi and came out and you couldn't start the car?"

"Oh! The worst was when we broke down in Freezing Rain and had to get a tow."

"Remember a few weeks ago when we drove home from the farm and it was 7 degrees? We were so cold we had to stop in at Dollar General and try to find those little hand warmers to put in our shoes."

We felt like the pioneers!

Josiah was a bit sad to see the old cars go. The boy can't remember a reliable car. I think he's going to miss living wild.

I'm not.

I am in AWE of how God has taken care of us.

Through the years, family members and friends have helped us through breakdowns and blowouts. They sent us money to help with repairs, been willing to take a look under a hood and given us a lift when we've needed one.

There is some sort of kinship among those of us who drive a "beater"....

Where we would we be without duct tape?

This time around our new car came about because some dear to us gave even though they knew we couldn't give back. And I can't forget the prayers going out....

I don't have the words to express my thankfulness.

I haven't given the newest member of our a family a nickname yet. I don't know if that will happen until after our first breakdown.

Which, hopefully, won't happen for a very long time.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A TOS Review: U.S. Elections Lapbook

Undoubtedly, your television screen and news feeds are filled with politics these days. As caustic and unreasonable as politics appears to be there is no excuse for being ill-informed. We have been given a roll in this country of ours and we all need to be aware of the political process.

I was blessed to have some fantastic teachers in High School and then college who were passionate about our system of government. It can be overwhelming to wade through with all the jargon…“electoral colleges” and “delegates” and “super delegates.” I recently received major assistance from Home School in the Woods with HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-on History Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections. This has been a fun review for Josiah and a good refresher for me!

U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review

I have raved about Home School in the Woods for years. They simply do excellent work. Home School in the Woods features lap books, timelines, history studies…did I mention their timelines are simply fabulous?

U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review

I really believe that lapbooking is a terrific hands-on learning tool. HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-on Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections is exciting and interactive. I received the downloadable version, but you can purchase the CD if that is more your speed. The study is intended for grades 3-8.

Upon receiving my download, I immediately sat down and got a lay of the land. There are a lot of moving parts with this product. There are detailed project directions and instructions for assembly so I wasn’t left in the dark. There are a total of 21 lapbooking activities as well as a printable reading text. I was THRILLED to discover that there are also audio files of the reading text. This is such a help for my dyslexic boy. Sometimes he just needs another voice besides mom’s (which is easily tuned out).

I need to tell you that the reading text comes in a handy booklet to print or a 3-page letter sized layout. The picture below is a pretty copy from Home School in the Woods. We chose to print out the 3-page version which is now covered with ketchup.

U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review

I have made friends with my local printing company (They gave me a Christmas card) so I bit the bullet and sent the whole kit and caboodle off for printing. This was not the most economical decision, but it was a matter of time management. There is a lot of printing.

If you do the printing on your own you will need cardstock, colored cardstock, printer paper and colored printer paper. I went around and made sure I had the supplies I needed for all the projects. I consider myself a "lapbook making pro" so I didn’t have to go far and wide for most of it. Not to worry. The supplies are easily found and the Home School in the Woods folks make sure they have provided a thorough list.  

Now that my prep work was complete we simply started through each section and completed one each day.

One vital tip that I learned years ago was to keep all of the completed activities in a plastic baggie. Just be sure to put said plastic baggie somewhere you can find it again. I speak from experience!

Another great thing about this lapbook is that you can personalize it to your child’s ability or interest level. Because Josiah is dyslexic (and hates to write) we used the files with text more often than not.

This booklet on Terms Of Office simply provided all the text needed to learn.

I felt like the text was easy to understand and interesting for the reader.

Not all of our projects reached their potential glory.   This is Josiah's Economic Policy. Nothing. Much like most of our current presidential candidates.

One of my favorite things about lapbooking is that a student doesn’t have to rely on cramming in short term knowledge to succeed. I am not a huge fan of the worksheet so the hands-on books and projects make for a happy lesson.

I think that Home School in the Woods simply have some of the most clever and creative lapbooking projects out there. Take for example this presidential candidate. He is movable! He is literally running the Electoral Race! So fun!

And what could better illustrate the Three Branches of Government than a tree?

Remember how I boasted of my lapbook preparedness? I had brads..just not brads that were best suited for the project!

I am sure this is what the creators of this gorgeous lapbook project had in mind when they created it! Football brads!

Can you feel the love?

This is such an awesome product.

The HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-on History Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections is of such quality that we will be able to enjoy it for some time. Especially during this long election year!

You can click on the banner below for more reviews! Check them out...

U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Kwik Stix! A Review

Happy Saturday! Hope this week has been a good one for you.

Today I have something fun and more fun to share with you.

You might share my life's mantra (at least one of them).

"One can never have enough art supplies or books"

Can I get a witness!!!

We've recently added a really, really (really) cool product to our art supply arsenal. Towards the end of last year, Kwik Stix (from The Pencil Grip folks) contacted me and asked if we would like to review their Kwik Stix Tempera Paint Sticks.

Would we?

Send them on down!

Now Kwik Stix promises that their Tempera Paint Sticks are basically mess proof. They dry in a mere 90 seconds AND that they leave a paint-like finish.

Josiah and I immediately put them to the test by sharing them during an afternoon with some little (and very crafty) little friends.

Josiah's first priority was to throw down a poster for his favorite team. A guy has to have his priorities. I've shared this before, but Josiah has dysgraphia, which makes writing difficult at times. Kwik Stix was easy to use. The paint pens went on smoothly.

And who could argue with a page of warrior ninjas and a rainbow? For this project we used plain brown craft paper. I was really impressed with the brightness of the paint...even on the brown paper.

You might not know this, but most of my work history as an adult has taken place in a classroom. In fact, my degree field is in Early Childhood. I can tell you that in my experience "tempera paint + little people = big mess." Nary a paint smock nor cup of water made an appearance. Best of all, I didn't have to bring out the paint brushes.

Those are some really crazy Ninjas!

I was concerned that the paint pen tips wouldn't be fine enough to do much more than coloring in shapes, but you can see that Josiah has done fine. More football scores! Imagine that!

I know what your thinking. I NEED these!

Of course you do!

We were sent the 12 pack (which is fabulous), but Kwik Stix also comes in a 6 pack AND a 96 pack! (for a whole class of little people).

Just a few thoughts.

Don't worry about a the Kwik Stix having a short life span. Each tube comes with quite a bit. You simply roll them down like a tube of lipstick. And unlike lipstick they don't crumble or break off.

Kwik Stix also promises to work on wood. We didn't try any on wood, but I'm thinking that would be a really neat project to work on for gifts.

Kwik Stix also was also nice enough to send me a couple of their fabulous pencil grips. More on that soon. Did I mention they are fabulous?

My friends! Go grab you some of these! Everyone needs crazy ninjas in their life!

*Kwik Stix sent me this product for free for my balanced review. All views are my own and completely honest. :<)
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