Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Starfall Home Membership (A Homeschool Review Crew Post)

Sometimes you just need a little fun in your life.

And if that fun happens while one is learning…we are all better for it! I am a HUGE proponent of learning through play. I’ll talk a little more on that in a minute, but first let me tell you about this review. We recently took a look at The Starfall Home Membership Review from the Starfall Educational Foundation.

Way back in our early homeschooling days, Starfall.com was one of the first resources that I fell in love with. Josiah is (and was) a struggling learner. He is dyslexic and I searched high and low to find resources that would give me a leg up. Or at least a toe. Learning to read is tough for these kiddos!  No matter how much he would appear to master the material on a certain day, by the next day it was like he was learning a whole new language!

Anybody with me?

I am not even sure how I came across Starfall all those years ago, but it was an instant hit in our house.  He could “read” along with the little stories. School become “fun.” And I grew to understand how VITAL review and play was going to be for Josiah’s learning experience.

Zac the Rat and Peg the Hen became important parts of Josiah’s school days.

As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I was immediately impressed with the content and ease of the site for my little guy. He could use it (mostly) by himself and felt very accomplished. 

So a little more about Starfall.com. It is an educational website created for kiddos in pre-K through 2nd grade or special needs learners. The site concentrates on learning to read through phonics, but The Starfall Home Membership has expanded access beyond the free content to math and additional reading activities.

I normally don’t post prices when I post a review (product prices can change from year to year), but I believe I can make an exception in this case. The Starfall Home Membership only costs $35 for a year. This membership fee is for the entire family. Basically, all the kids can use across multiple devices and computers.

Of course, you can use a lot of content on Starfall.com for FREE, but the Home Membership is really a great deal. Especially if your house is filled with littles.

Obviously, it has been a long time since we’ve needed Starfall.com in our school day. Josiah is now 16. While reading is not his favorite pastime, he is a confident reader. In fact, he recently told me that he volunteered to read the main part of “Shrek” in his High School Homeschool Co-op theatre class.

That is a BIG deal for my guy.

When the opportunity to review The Starfall Home Membership came available, I begged and pleaded (probably) to be included. If only for the chance to plead my case. Starfall is a TERRIFIC addition to the struggling learner’s educational toolbox.  It made such a difference for us. I just knew I needed to share the love.

I want to show you just a few peeks into the world of Starfall.com and share with you some of my favorite things. 

Fair warning. There are a WHOLE lot of screen shots here. 

This is the main page I see when I log into our account. All the little icons at the bottom are holiday related. They take the user to fun things to do according to whatever you might be celebrating at the time. 

The Math Song page is genius. In addition to being dyslexic, Josiah also has something called Dyscalculia, which is a disability relating to math. 

Using songs to teach is such an effective method. Starfall.com has done it brilliantly.

5 Little Speckled Frogs is a song Josiah and I sang together. I also used it for years when I taught. Here the kids can actually see the little frogs jump in to the pool. I'm a fan.

The 2nd Grade Math Skills section is not comprehensive, but they have the basics available. I am telling you. If you have a student who struggles with math...let them play games.

This game is a matching game. Even the student who struggles daily with memorization will feel like this is something he or she can tackle.

Another fun section is the Talking Library.

There a variety of books to chose from. This one on humpback whales is right up our alley. One of the great things about these books is, yes...they talk!

Another fun little section is a Sing-Along. There is also a section just for motion songs.  See that continuous play button? Oh yes. Be prepared to have "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" playing all. day. long.

The 1st Grade section has a math and a reading section.

This little story is under one of the Phonics tabs. See that little ostrich tab on the right hand side?


Here he is! The student simply clicks on the ostrich and is able to see a coordinating activity. 

Starfall has an excellent Parent Teacher Center. It is so awesome that you need to be able to add to get into it! I had to do math in my head! No fair, Starfall. It's been a long time since college algebra.

The Parent Teacher Center is really great. It is extremely well organized. It has special articles and instructions for homeschool parents...which I think is great. Sometimes we just need it all laid out for us, don't we?

They also have a wonderful download center.

This particular picture shows the activities available for download under Grammar.

I clicked on Short A - Classification and it brought me to a PDF of this printout. Perfect!

Printable books, posters...just a little bit of everything is available to us. It really makes for a complete learning experience.

I mentioned previously that The Starfall Home Membership also has a mobile app you can download. I didn't check it out, myself. I did hear (through reliable sources) that it doesn't have all the content that is available on the desktop version, but I know that I personally love having learning games and books on our tablet.

You can see that I'm a big fan! If you are able, go check The Starfall Home Membership out. I think you are going to be impressed.

You can connect with Starfall.com via the following social media outlets. Don't forget to click on the banner for more reviews!

The Starfall Home Membership {Starfall Education Foundation Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, February 24, 2018

You Might Be Wrong About Homeschooling

Before I begin spilling all I know (it happens), I do need to tell you that I don't speak for all homeschoolers.

That would be ridiculous and, frankly, impossible. There are a plethora of reasons why a family might consider homeschooling.

I have found, however, that many people have strong reactions in homeschooling. Most former schoolteachers I have met think it's a wonderful thing. Most folks who don't either don't have any experiences with anyone who has homeschooled or they have that one relative who took her kids out of school because they got mad at the principal. And wouldn't you know it! That lazy girl didn't make her kids do any work!

At least, that's what I heard.

And then there are those who heard about some awful abuse case on the TV. You know the one. That's when you start seeing articles about the dangers of homeschooling and how we need to make people accountable, dang it!

Please, please. Don't react to the awful and despicable actions of a few. Homeschoolers are as varied as the rest of society. We have some good'uns. We have some bad'uns.

But I am not doing to address those kinds of issues (such as the ills of society) today. Instead, I want to share with you some common things I have heard over the years while talking to others about our personal homeschool experience.

Some of it has just been plain wrong.

And, yes. I have had all of these things said to me.

Homeschooled Children Don’t Socialize 

You know I had to start out with this one. I have heard the “don’t you want Josiah to be with kids his own age?” argument more times than I can count.

Would it make you feel better if I told you that it was my intention all along to deprive my son of a peer group? Was that what you were hoping to hear?

It’s simply not the truth.

Let’s be honest. Being able to interact and get along in a society filled with people of all ages, racial and economic backgrounds has little to do with what a child does behind a desk in a classroom all day. 

Frankly, I would rather my son emulate the people who have filled or are filling his life with great adventures, important truths and kindness. Like the 96-year-old World War II veteran who worked for the Secret Service. Josiah used to paint her fingernails (yep…she was one brave lady).  Or our retired friend who supervises Josiah’s weekly job of vacuuming the church. Josiah gets paid in biscuits and gravy. This man is precious and we don't know what we would do without him! 

Josiah does attend a weekly homeschool co-op with (imagine this!) teenagers and other kiddos of varying ages. Though, at this point in his life he does have more senior citizens as friends than 16-year-old boys.  But guess what. He is perfectly fine with that.

The beauty of homeschooling, my friends. You get to make the rules.

Parents Aren’t Qualified to Teach

Some homeschool parents didn’t attend college. What’s worse is that some didn't even bother to step into a “math for teachers” or “child development” class.

Another truth is that our homeschool laws don’t require a homeschool parent to have a formal education. Somewhere along the way, wiser heads and hearts decided instinctively that parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life.

Before I move on…I do need to make a disclaimer. Not every parent needs or wants to assume this responsibility and it’s perfectly okay. But for those of who chose to become our child’s primary teacher, a university education isn’t necessary.

For my part, I did attend college. I have more college credits than most people that have questioned my ability to teach my son. And yes, I did have “math for teachers, “child development” and countless other education-type courses.

Not that it made much difference. Let’s face it… taking philosophy in college did little for me in my real world life. (Though I could have used an “how to be awesome at editing your own blog posts).

Homeschooling has been as much of a learning experience as my 5+ years of college. The beauty about our lifestyle (and yes, it’s a lifestyle) is that I am constantly learning and growing. I read. I listen. I ask questions. I also rely on from time to time, those who know a bit more than I do about any given subject. There have been plenty of online lectures, courses at local universities and input from friends "in the know" for my boy. 

You do need to be self-motivated and a little bit of a crusader to be a homeschool parent.  It is also helpful to be just a little bit crazy.

True story.

Homeschoolers have to follow requirements put out by their local public school

Ummm. No.

Homeschoolers have to follow the guidelines set forth by the Homeschooling Laws of their state. My current state, Indiana, and my previous home, Missouri, have very broad homeschooling requirements.  This means that my husband and I get to choose what requirements we set for our son to have by the time he graduates.  The benefit to being the Queen of my Homeschool Castle is that I can decide what my son studies…based on his own interests. On his inclinations. On his particular developmental and learning needs.

 In fact, this year he has been following quite a few rabbit trails on his own. Some of those rabbit trails involve a few too many long-haired 80’s bands for my taste, but he has also included anatomy in his current obsessions…so we’re good.

Homeschooling is a truly individualized education experience. Some of us fit into that box better than others. Some of us need to have a set of expectations given to us. Some of us have no trouble in creating our own.

I know the idea that some kiddos are under a different umbrella than the public school system makes some out there absolutely NUTS. Before making your mind up, I urge caution and doing a bit more research. Most who react negatively to homeschooling simply don't know enough about what it all actually looks like. 

If You’re Homeschooled, You Can’t Get into College

This is a common misconception. Let’s talk hard facts. Did you know that many colleges eagerly seek out homeschooled students? In fact, (and this where it might get rough for you) most don’t care if your course work was accredited or not.

Many homeschoolers I know begin their college experience at the local community college well before they were of college age. Dual Enrollment is a popular thing in homeschool circles, but even that is not necessary for many colleges.

I will be honest. Some of what we do is a great experiment. I don’t think Josiah has an inkling about what he wants to in his future life…other than play video games. I, myself, have adjusted my life goals several times. What I imagined myself doing when I was 16 is completely different than the reality. I believe in following your passions and being a being faithful in whatever you chose to do.

Homeschool Students have a harder time fitting in

I suppose if you’re worried about fitting into a particular societal mold this might be an issue.  In truth, I think fitting in also has more to do with one’s personality or stage in life than where he or she goes to school. Not to mention the group one is anxious to fit in with. 

I personally start twitching whenever I think about going to an event with a lot of people. I am not great at small talk and I would prefer to spend the majority of my time with a good book and a hot cup of tea. 

This isn’t to say that I am not a friendly person.

It’s just who I be.

My son, however, the child who only went to one year of public school happens to love meeting new people. And, yes, he can be a bit odd.

He has taken to wearing sun glasses all hours of the day. One visitor to our church was concerned he had vision problems. Can you imagine that conversation?

“No. My son just thinks he looks cool like that. He really isn’t worried that people think him weird. In fact, he probably prefers it that way.”

He is not afraid to dance in public and still loves to give me a kiss on the cheek once in a while. He fills whole notebooks with football stats, interesting song lyrics and names of some of those 80’s hair bands I’m hoping he’ll outgrow.

Some of his favorite past times involve hanging out at the local Dairy Queen or body shop with a group of older men. He knows more about local politics than I could ever hope to. Almost every time we go out he sees somebody he knows. I will see him across the Walmarts.... eagerly shaking the hand of someone I have never laid eyes on. It so happens that the group at the Dairy Queen gets around.

Josiah doesn’t see race, class or ability. Every Sunday he sits somewhere different in church. By the sweet young widow who lost her husband last year. By the older couple who pass him a dollar every once in a while to “buy a Coke.” By the friends who took Josiah hiking. By the gentleman who let Josiah drive his golf cart the first time we went over to their house.  He follows his Sunday School teacher (a precious young man who has an important job at a bank) like a puppy. When this same friend gave him a Broncos jacket for his birthday, Josiah didn’t take it off for 2 weeks.

I think he’s fitting in just fine.

As I said before. Homeschooling isn't for everybody. It is more of a lifestyle than an educational method. Some days you are going to feel like you are winning life! Some days you question your very existence and wonder why it necessary to teach our young anything! 

But it's worth it. Every bit of it. And I'm not wrong about that. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

UltraKey Online (A Homeschool Review Crew Post)

I've got to tell you about our current review, UltraKey Online Family Subscription by Bytes of Learning. 

I can’t remember the name of my typing teacher in High School. She was a neat and trim lady of an indeterminable age.  My instrument of choice was a state of the art IBM typewriter. While it had a newfangled correction ribbon, typing errors were the things of death. We weren't allowed to use said correction ribbon. Instead, we had to keep a bottle of whiteout right next to the typewriter. Nothing could earn me a cool, disappointing raise of an eyebrow like a loud “ooopsie!” from my corner of the classroom.

UltraKey Online Family Edition
While typing was an important skill to have way back then, finding one’s way around a keyboard nowadays is even more critical. 

 I received a year’s Family Subscription for UltraKey Online. This online subscription service can be used anywhere you can log onto a computer. It also doesn’t use a plug in…so we didn’t experience any crashes or glitches common with programs that do.

You do need a reliable computer with a keyboard (though UltraKey will happily come up on multiple devices) and a good internet connection. I also recommend some sort of speaker set or earbuds as there are a few videos and/or audio instruction. Currently, the program is set up to use with the North American keyboard and content. However, I believe users in the UK and Australia/New Zealand can expect their own versions in 2018.

The program is intended for use with ages 8 and up, though I believe you can adapt it for kiddos a bit younger.

One of the great benefits for Homeschooling families who use UltraKey is that everybody can have his or her own separate account. As the parent, I am the administrator (aka Queen of my Castle) and I have oversight of all the other accounts. I can adjust and customize goals and experiences.

Set up was very easy and required very little effort on my part. In fact, my job is to add “UltraKey” to Josiah’s daily assignment sheet and check his progress.

It is important for students to set a goal initially. There are a few ways to do this. You can set a goal for your student as the administrator or your student can set his or her own goal. Because Josiah has had typing, I chose to take a timed typing assessment so that UltraKey could place him where he needed to be.

He had forgotten that a typing program generally doesn’t let the user “use” the delete or backspace button. What you type is what you type! I know when I was fiddling around with the program I found out how much I rely on that backspace button!

After Josiah’s goal was set he got to move on to finger position and proper posture. This was more than necessary for Josiah! He had gotten into some bad “one finger” typing habits.

The lessons are short and contain only a few letters to master at a time. Along with each lesson is a skill check that measures for accuracy and, of course, speed. The student doesn’t get to move on until they met their goal.

UltraKey is an extremely flexible program that can fit into any homeschooling schedule. Josiah has been practicing typing every day. I have been pushing the idea of “slow and steady wins the race.” I like the mastery aspect of UltraKey.

There is a fun game section for extra practice, but frankly, Josiah hasn’t used that section much. He is much more task oriented that he was when he was younger and just likes to be able to complete his lessons.

One of my favorite parts of UltraKey are the reports I can bring up. Not only does it measure accuracy, but it provides a great little screen shot of what each finished skill check looks like. I can see what kind of issues Josiah is having and what kind of progress he is making. As an extra incentive there are fun diplomas and certificates the student can earn.

I expect Josiah to finish the program soon, but UltraKey is something I can continue to have him use from time to time to keep his typing skills fresh and unfettered by the “one finger” typing phenomenon.

Being as this is a typing program for the whole family, I can use UltraKey is spiff up my own skills. And trust me…they need all the “spiffing” they can get.

Before I leave you to check out UltraKey on your own, I need to tell you that I don’t think I have ever come across a typing program that is this flexible and user friendly. I also like to be able to find all the information I need in one place and I love the handy user manual in PDF form.

UltraKey is a winner!

You can connect with Bytes of Learning via the following social media outlet. Don’t forget to click on the banner below to read more reviews.


UltraKey {Bytes of Learning Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Wulf the Saxon (A Homeschool Review Crew Post)

Yaass! Our very first Homeschool Review Crew post of the year. This is year 6 or 7 for us with The Crew and every year, we are introduced to the best products. And we’re starting out 2018 with a doozy!

 If you have followed the blog for any length of time you know might know that one of our VERY FAVORITE vendors are the kind folks at Heirloom Audio Productions.  Their latest and greatest production for our reviewing pleasure is Wulf the Saxon.

I received a 2 audio drama CD set with 2.5 hours of listening. The product is intended for ages 6 and up. 

But first….a little about Heirloom Audio and The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty.

Heirloom Audio simply tell stories. And oooohhh the stories they tell. Their stories of filled with historical adventure, heroes of the Faith, excellent musical scores and top-notched performers.

G.A. Henty is a British author and war correspondent who wrote these marvelous adventure novels in the late 1800’s. Heirloom Audio has used Mr. Henty’s stories to transport us to a Civil War battlefield, Ancient Egypt, the Scottish Highlands and the American West.

Most importantly, these productions bring Christian values like courage, honor, honesty and loyalty to life.

Wulf the Saxon is set in medieval England around 1060. If you have studied history of this time period, you probably have read about William the Conqueror and the Norman Invasion.

At the beginning of our story, King Edward is ruling Britain. Wulf is 16-years-old (Josiah’s age!) and is a Saxon page working for the King’s brother, Harold. Wulf is a bit headstrong and gets into some trouble early on. He eventually redeems himself as Harold’s (later King Harold) loyal servant. 

The villain of the story is the wily Duke William of Normandy who, at the Battle of Hastings, gains the crown of England. Some of our favorite characters don’t make it past this battle, but the story isn’t over for Wulf (or Britain) and he eventually marries his one true love. 

I personally love the extra historical details that weave their way throughout the story. The adventure meter is high in this story. There are shipwrecks! There are battles! There are spooky, dank dungeons! 

Of course, some of my favorite voices made an appearance yet again in this production. Brian Blessed, who plays the narrator, Mr. Henty himself, is fantabulous! I’m also a Call the Midwife fanatic and loved hearing Helen George.

The battles are fierce and the sound effects are truly awesome.  Josiah and I both commented about how much we love to hear those familiar beginning notes of each Heirloom Audio adventure. We get Doo-Dads!

This is definitely one of our favorites! You, of course, don't have to be a homeschool family to enjoy these terrific productions. History buffs, adventure seekers and Brian Blessed fans everywhere will love them! 

I am also a member of the Live the Adventure Club. This special club is filled with awesome resources that can help you and your kiddos enjoy history that much more! There are study guides, articles, recipes and much more. You can check it out for a free 30 day trail.

You can check out my other Heirloom Audio Reviews below. We are proud owners of them ALL! 

Under Drake's Flag

In Freedom's Cause

The Dragon and the Raven

With Lee in Virginia

The Cat of Bubastes 

Beric the Briton

In the Reign of Terror

Captain Bayley's Heir

Don’t forget to connect with Heirloom Audio via the following social media outlets AND click on the banner below to read more reviews.

Wulf the Saxon {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, February 19, 2018


It's Monday!

Whew Whew!

In full disclosure, I spent most of my Monday in bed. I've had a touch of something. Not quite sure what that "something" is...one can't really tell nowadays.

We had intended to go to Indianapolis for some pastor training, but I knew that I wasn't up to that. Josiah also didn't have any of his Monday classes, being as it is President's Day.

Right now I'm perched on the cozy corner of my comfy couch. There is a Hallmark movie on, but my brain isn't fully engaged.

Sometimes I just have to be in the right mood for sugary sweet drama and romance. I'm thinking about heading off into the bedroom and find some sort of documentary about the Black Death or French Revolution.

'Cause I am weird like that.

I'm also a little melancholy. I had a diagnosis (or two) this past week that wasn't any fun. I'll go into more of all that at a later date. I can tell you I found out I have something called Chronic Venus Reflux. It has to do with the arteries and veins in my legs.

There was another "good" piece of news (I am totally being sarcastic), but I'm not going to go borrow trouble right now.

I did have a very special Valentine's Day week. I'll post more about that a bit later. Right now I believe a documentary is calling my name.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Saturday Random Thoughts

Happy Saturday, my friends! 

I'm presently encamped in the corner of my comfy couch. I've got a long "to-do" list for the day and I'm trying to muster up some motivation to get 'er going. 

I've not even had a hot beverage yet. 

It's been a while since I've treated you to one of my "Random Thoughts" posts, but I figure I'm long overdue. 

You're welcome.

1. Josiah has taken to wearing the same pair of 80's sunglasses 24/7. I've had to threaten him within an inch of natural life not to wear them in church. He even wears them at night. And I'm pretty sure there is a song about that somewhere. Here is the deal. I'm trying to pick my battles. Battling over a pair of tacky sunglasses with a 16-year-old boy is probably the least of my worries. Plus, I'm hoping he'll move on to a new obsession. Let's hope it doesn't involve a mullet. 

2. The Muffin and I are once again wrapped up in our annual viewing of Downton Abbey. It's our tradition. We start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) and go from there. We figure that we'll be done just in time to start the new When Calls the Heart season. Sappy...I tell ya! Though we are woefully unaware of most popular television programming. With the exception of the aforementioned When Calls the Heart the only other show we keep up with is Fixer Upper. 

3. I'm sure I've mentioned this a time or two, but since the beginning of October I have been going to cardiac rehab several times a week. Now I am not having major issues...so don't worry that my heart is being all funky again. There are just a few nagging things to worry about and cardiac rehab provides a safe way to keep on top of things. I absolutely love my therapist, Maggie. She is one of the few people who know my actual weight. I'm the kind of person who would rather not admit something is wrong or try and ignore potentially gnarly health issues. Going to rehab several times a week has forced me to pay attention to what's going on. I think I need a Maggie in every area of my life. Laundry, for example. I need a Maggie for laundry.

4. Have I mentioned that it has been COLD this winter? I might have. Cold doesn't like me. It teases all these pins and screws I have holding me together. It's always a little tempting to fall into a big ole pity party. AND then I feel sorry for myself for feeling sorry for myself. I continually have to remind myself that I have been on this journal a LONG time. It can't be all sunshine and roses every single minute. That would just be exhausting. Sometimes it's good just to take my mind off of myself and spend a little time with a little mindless entertainment. Which leads me to my confession. I LOVE DR. PIMPLE POPPER on youtube! There. I said it. I enjoy watching a dermatologist excising cysts, removing blackheads and scrapping a Seborrheic Keratosis. I can't even begin to tell you why this is. I was the girl who took Anatomy and Physiology 1 in college and spent the entire semester with a scowl on my face. However, Dr. Pimple Popper has been my guilty pleasure on youtube. Who can feel sorry for themselves when somebody else has a lipoma the size of Nebraska hanging out the middle of their back? 

You got to take it where you can get it, my friends. 

5. Josiah has just started a couple of classes with a homeschool co-op. He is taking Graphic Design and Theater. He told me that this past week he had to read both Paris and Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet.  He also told me that he had an easy feeling that someone was going to ask him to perform on stage at some point. Which, we all know, is generally the idea of a theater class. I did have to threaten him with bodily harm if he wore those crazy sunglasses in class. That's all we need. I have also decided that I am going to increase his anxiety level by making him watch the Romeo and Juliet ballet on youtube.  I know what he will be thinking. "Are they going to make me wear those tights?" I figure any boy who insists on wearing those 80's shades will just have to be okay with some spandex. 

So that's it for now. I have a list of stuff I need to do and my Saturday will be gone  before I know it. Plus, I've got a strict pimple popping viewing schedule to keep up. 😁

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