Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Appaloosy Books (A REVIEW)

Horses are amazing creatures that attract the attention of both children and adults, so to find this Mattie Richardson's Horses in History Series is so cool. I love a good story that includes horses in any way, and my children do too, so I was excited to give these books from Author Mattie Richardson/Appaloosy Books a try! I was very impressed with how history could come alive through the eyes of a horse. What an awesome way to teach children about important parts of history!

Four books in the Appaloosy Books horse history series.
For this review, we received all four books in the series (signed by the author), as well as a digital copy of the enrichment guide for one of the books (which I'll talk about later). The books are softcover with beautiful hand-drawn covers. Physically, they are about the size of a typical chapter book for kids. Their length varies, but all are less than 150 pages in length. We also received a bookmark!

A glimpse of the inside of the book, and the bookmark we received as a fun little token.
These books are fun to read and make me want to go out and start riding horses, or at least learn more about them. I feel like I was able to understand a little more about the true nature of horses, some of which I've seen in my few interactions with them. So, not only are these books good for learning history, I think they could be a great way to learn about horses too! Great for any horse unit study as well.

Each book in the series has a focus on some point in history. We'll start with Appaloosy. This is the book we started with because I assumed it was the first, but upon looking more at all the books I don't think they have any particular order, and could probably be read stand-alone. Appaloosy is the story of an Appaloosa horse who finds himself in the middle of a battle as the Native Americans (Nez Perce tribe) are fighting the white man for their land. He finds some humans he likes, and some humans he really doesn't like. He finds hope in a young girl named Faith.

Book: Appaloosy by Mattie Richardson ~Takes place in the Nez Perce tribe

The next book Day and Night takes place during the Civil War. It's a story through the eyes of Tucker (A horse in the U.S. Infantry) and Shiloh ( a horse in the Confederate volunteer Cavalry). I have not personally read this one, but I am excited to see what all the talk is about. This book is praised for its historical accuracy. There is a video book trailer and more information at the Appaloosy books website.

Book: Day and Night by Mattie Richardson~Takes place during the civil war
The book Golden Sunrise is about a Palomino raised in Northern Texas and travels with her owner to fight battles in the Famous Fort Alamo against Mexican forces. I did not read this book yet either, but this is a part of history I don't know much about, so I'm excited to get to it.

Book: Golden Sunrise by Mattie Richardson ~Battle of Fort Alamo

The book Dusty's Trail is the story of the Pony Express mail delivery system and the horses and their owners who risked their lives each day. Another part of history I'm excited to learn about when I read this one with my kids.

Book: Dusty's Trail by Mattie Richardson ~The Pony Express mail system

Who read these books in our house? We chose read them aloud together, so we are still working through them. I have been reading them to my boys ages 8 and 11, and these books are really geared toward that age. They've enjoyed the horse aspect, and listening to the story. I think even kids a little younger and older could enjoy them as well. I know I am excited to finish them now.

Day and Night Enrichment guide available on Amazon
There is also an enrichment guide to go along with the book Day and Night that digs deeper into the Civil War. We did not get a chance to use this yet, but it looks packed with so much good stuff. When we get to reading the Day and Night book I am planning to use it. Especially since we are studying American History this year.

If you'd like to see what the other crew review members had to say about these books you can click on the image below.

Book Set: Appaloosy, Dusty's Trail, Golden Sunrise & Day and Night {Mattie Richardson/Appaloosy Books Reviews}
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Friday, November 8, 2019

Amazing Name Video (A REVIEW)

Amazing Names by CrossTimber
A name is a pretty amazing thing to have, but I wonder if we sometimes don't think about how special our names are, especially our children. Do they know how special their name is, what it means, how they got it? I never thought about these questions until this review came up, and I realized that I'd never really told my youngest about his name, and why we named him that. For this review, we received a fun little video from CrossTimber - Name Meaning Gifts that explains all about my son Alex's name in a fun interactive way. It had us both smiling and laughing with fun characters like a pencil, an owl, some stars, and more.

The opening to "Alex's Amazing Name Story" video.

After I sent in all my son's information about his name, I was sent a personalized digital copy of Your Amazing Name - Personalized Adventures for EVERY name! via e-mail for my son to watch. It also came with some fun pages featuring his name that I could print up. That was a fun addition to an already fun video.
Printables with my son's name on them with different activities like mazes, and coloring pages.

For CrossTimber to make the video I needed to submit some personalized information about my son including his full name, a picture, and a piece of artwork that he created to be used throughout the video. My son loved seeing all these things pop up throughout the video. Especially his artwork. That is so fun. What's even better is that it is shown all throughout the video. I like how it was weaved into the story.

A piece of my son's artwork popped up in the video and he loved it.
Throughout the video, the child learns the origin and meaning of their name as well as why names are important. They follow along with a pencil as he talks to different friends (animals) and tries to uncover the truth about the child's name. There is also a personalized letter read to the child about how and why their parents picked the name they did. It's a short letter that the parent submits when ordering the video. I really enjoyed thinking about, writing, and seeing that come to life in the video. My son did too.

This is the origins of my son's name. He also received a separate letter about how his name was picked and why.

My son, whom this video was personalized for, is 8-years-old. He is on the upper end of the age range for this video, and he enjoyed it even though it is geared for younger children. I think a good age range for this product would be up to 8 or 9 years old. Much after that, and they might think it's too cheesy. I guess it depends on the kiddo, but that's my recommendation. Still a great video for that age range.

Alex watching his video. He had his pages to look at as well.

This is a very educational, personal, and fun video. The animations are great, the story is cute, and there are even some puns/jokes that made both of us laugh. If you'd like a fun gift for your child that's different from the usual toys this Christmas, this might be a fun and meaningful thing to give them. There are scriptures and references to God all throughout, so it is a very meaningful way to help your child learn the spiritual ties to their names too.

If you'd like to see what others had to say about this product, you can click on the image below.

Your Amazing Name - Personalized Adventures for EVERY name! {CrossTimber - Name Meaning Gifts Reviews}
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Goldtown Beginnings Series (A REVIEW)

We had the opportunity to check out a new book series for kids, Goldtown Beginnings Series by Kregel Publications, and written by Susan K. Marlow. We received copies of books 1 & 2, Jem Strikes Gold, and Jem's Frog Fiasco. These chapter books are a quick easy read, and a fun way to learn a little about the Gold rush era through the adventures of two kids who lived in a real camp full of prospectors. Including their parents.

We received two physical books both of which are fairly short (about 80 pages, each). They feature colorful covers with a picture that relates to the story, and draws the reader in. There are a few black and white pictures throughout the story as well. These books can be a fairly quick read for an older child. We took a little longer getting through them as I decided we'd use the reading schedule and lapbook activities to go along with them so we could study a little more about the Gold rush era.

Book 1: Jem Strikes Gold

The first book Jem Strikes Gold is an introduction to life in a gold mining camp for the brother and sister pair, Jem and Ellie. Jem is the older brother, and he and his sister not only like to mine for gold themselves, but they help Mama to sell pies to the other miners in Goldtown. This helps them earn more money (in gold flakes) for their family, and the miners have a sweet treat to look forward to. They run into some problems with another kid who is a bully. He threatens to eat their pies, and gives them a lot of problems until they find another "helper" that protects them. They have many adventures along the way.

Book 2: Jem's Frog Fiasco

We didn't get to reading the second book, Jem's Frog Fiasco, yet, but it continues the story of Jem and Ellie's adventures in their life in a gold mining town. This time Jem is trying to earn money to help pay for dog food. As part of his job he gets to catch bullfrogs for the cafe owner. When Ellie gets in the way, he gets upset and she runs away. No one knows where she went, and Jem needs to find her before it's too late. This book looks like a fun continuation of the Goldtown beginnings series.

As I was reading these books with my 3rd grader, I thought this would be a great start to a gold rush unit study. There are some great learning activities available at the Susan K. Marlow author website. There are many printables available including coloring pages, activity pages, a reading schedule, and even a lapbook. Most of these are free, but the lapbook I had to purchase. I decided to purchase the lapbook because it had some great activities to go along with things that happened in the book, but the activity and coloring pages provide plenty of extra fun too.

Lapbook cover for Jem Strikes Gold
With everything printed up we followed the reading schedule, and completed things as they were suggested. I really like the coloring pages.

The first book with some of the printables that go along with it.
These books are a great addition to a child's library, and make for a fun quick read. Give them a try if you're looking for something new for your kiddo to read!

If you'd like to see what other crew members had to say about these books you can click on the image below.

Jem Strikes Gold & Jem's Frog Fiasco  {Kregel Publications Reviews}

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Channie's Math Workbook (A REVIEW)

Practicing math regularly (outside of regular lessons) is important to me, so I am always looking for new ways to get a daily dose of something math-related, especially multiplication. Channie's Visual Handwriting & Math workbooks let us try out their One Page A Day 2 Digit Multiplication Practice for review, and we found it to be a great, simple way to practice long multiplication AND practice remembering facts.

Cover: Channie's One Page a Day 2 digitt nultiplication practice

We received a physical copy of the workbook, and it's fairly simple and straight forward. The cover and layout would best be described as similar to a handwriting or drawing pad with the binding at the top, and the pages can easily be torn out. The pages flip open to the top and the sheets are double-sided. There are less than 50 pages, so it's pretty thin compared to most workbooks. I really like the clear simplicity and the purpose of the book.

One of the first few pages of the book, and completed by my 6th grader.
What does this book have in it? This math book is several pages of two-digit by two-digit multiplication (with some 2 by 1's at the beginning). That's all! But, it's great practice because not only are they practicing math facts, but they are getting the visual of how a problem like these works. There are little boxes for each number that is to be written down under the problem. This visual is a great way to keep all the numbers under control all through the problem, and really see how it is laid out for every problem.

The problems start out pretty easy with ones, twos, and threes (pictured above). As the student moves along the pages become harder, moving into two digits by two digits throughout most of the book. There is no instruction on how to work any problems, so it is purely practice. The student should have already been instructed on the steps needed to complete these complex multiplication problems. There are also answers in the back for correcting. Completing one page a day would be about 48 days of great math practice!

One of the pages toward the end of the book.
This multiplication workbook is a great way to get a lot of good practice. I know I have to convince my kids of this, but I believe that practice really helps mastery. It's tedious, but it's worth it! The same goes for handwriting, reading, and any other subject really. That is why there are other products that Channie's Visual Handwriting & Math workbooks offer such as the ones pictured below. They have sight words, flashcards, and we even tried out one of their handwriting books last time we did a review for them. The crew reviewed a few other products as well as this one, so if you want to see what they tried out you can click on the image below.

Alphabet, Number & Sight Word Dry Erase, Neat Numbers & Page a Day 2 Didgit Multiplication. {Channie's Visual Handwriting & Math workbooks Reviews}

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Friday, October 25, 2019


We live in a city where Spanish speakers are a really big portion of the population. In fact, our local elementary schools even have Spanish immersion programs starting in Kindergarten, so for my kids to have even a little understanding of basic Spanish words would be a big plus. I have learned that online and videos are definitely the way to go when learning a foreign language, so I was excited to see what Excelerate SPANISH was all about when offered the opportunity to review it. We received a one-year streaming membership with access to level 1 and level 2.

Homepage for Excelerate SPANISH
With our Excelerate SPANISH Streaming subscription, we can log-in from any computer or device that has an internet connection fast enough to stream videos. With 2 levels of Spanish videos, there are 24 video lessons in total to watch. The videos are about 30-50 minutes in length depending on the lesson and are recorded with a live class that the teacher interacts with as she is speaking in pretty much all Spanish words.

My log-in page to Excelerate SPANISH
As the teacher speaks in spanish she is introducing a whole lot of new vocabulary, and writing it up on the whiteboard, teaching the students what each thing means, and giving each word or phrase some sort of hand or body movement. After all the vocabulary is introduced she uses real-life situations to sort of tell a story or create a scene. She has children come up and act out or help demonstrate parts of the story she is saying, emphasizing all the new vocabulary and reviewing the past as well.

A lesson from Level 1
The students in the videos seem to really be enjoying the acting scenes. They don't really talk, just mostly emphasized movements. While this was fun to watch for a bit, it was hard not to wish we could be a part of the action. We were wishing it was more interactive for us too. Maybe if we had the books that accompany the program it might be much more interactive, but we didn't have those for this review. But, even without the books or the interaction, there is still a ton of great Spanish to learn in these videos. I really like all the new vocabulary and phrases, and how they are introduced together with a common theme or story.

A lesson from Level 2
I would mostly recommend this for older kids. Probably middle school and above. It looks like there are younger kids possibly in the video, and they could definitely do it if they have the focus to keep paying attention to the video. It does move kind of fast (the talking in Spanish part), and there is a lot of new stuff introduced each video, so a student can get lost quickly if not paying attention for even a short bit.

These videos can be a great introduction to Spanish, for sure! If you'd like to see what other crew members have to say about this Spanish program, you can click on the image below1

Excelerate SPANISH help your students to learn FAST, naturally! (Streaming)  {Excelerate SPANISH Reviews}
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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Smartick (A REVIEW)

We had the opportunity to try Smartick an online Math Program for grades K-8. This math program was not only a great way for my kids to get some practice, but it was also a great way to see where they are at and what they need to work on. They worked on reviewing things they'd already learned, but they also had lessons on new concepts throughout the program. Every day there was something new to start whether it be logic, a video to watch about a new concept or just a fast practice of stuff they needed to brush up on. I was impressed at how "smart" this program is to the child's needs.

Smarttick homepage
Smartick is a completely online program. I was able to sign all three of my children up for a 6-month subscription, each with their own sign-up page. I also have my own parent page to keep track of things. The sign-in page looks like this:

Smartick sign-in page
The child picks their avatar/name from the log-in page to start a session. Once they do that it opens up to a personalized page welcoming them, and a play button to get started. They click on the green play button...

Starting a Session: Welcome page

To find this "how are you feeling" page. My boys usually always picked the sad at the beginning and ended with the happy (they are asked this at the beginning and end of a session)

Starting a Session: How do you feel?
Finally, it's time to get down to work! They answer a series of questions based on the level they are at, and what the task is for the day. Note: if they are just starting the program they will have to do an assessment for the program to place them at the right level (this took a few days for my boys).

On this particular day, my son Alex who is 3rd grade is just working on some addition. Each problem that he works through gets him closer to another tick (the bar at the top in the picture below). This is great to be able to visually see the ticks, but what my boys didn't like was when they finished a bar like the one pictured below, suddenly a whole new bar would appear and they'd have more problems. This frustrated them greatly as they didn't know if/when they would finish. They need to see clearly that a) they are almost done or b) they have a long way to go, but there is an end. I am not sure exactly why that happens. Maybe there's a good reason, and my boys just have to get used to it (which they have).

Starting a Session: An example of a problem.
Smartick is fun and engaging. Other than my boys thinking it took forever to do, they seemed to really enjoy the pictures, sounds, and fun things. There is a store where they can spend their ticks. My 3rd grader decided to earn enough ticks to buy a soccer outfit for his avatar. That was motivating for him! He was very excited when he reached that goal.

The 3rd grader working on a session

One other thing about Smartick is that it's timed. This kinda stressed my boys out at first, but it's another thing they got used to, and it was actually a really good thing. It pushed them to not waste time, and get faster at their mental math. The program keeps track of how quickly the child is answering the questions, and I get a daily report of how well they did in each session. They liked it when I said the report was "OUTSTANDING" and this was another motivator for them.

The 3rd grader working on a session.
Overall, I think this is a great online math program. I love how it works and gauges where the child is in their math journey and presents new lessons or logic questions as the child progresses. It's engaging and challenging at the same time. It really pushes the child to just past what they think they can do. Give it a try for free. I believe there's a free trial, so see for yourself!

Or you can also read what other crew members had to say by clicking on the image below.

Math Enrichment Program {Smartick Reviews}
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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Creating A Masterpiece (A REVIEW)

My kids are always telling me that they want to get better at drawing, so I was excited to try out this Drawing Program from Creating a Masterpiece. We had used Creating a Masterpiece program a few years ago for a different review, so I was pretty familiar with the quality of the lessons. The drawing lessons are no different. They feel like a real art class with real techniques that we can do from the comfort of our own home!

Creating a Masterpiece--Beginning Drawing lessons
For this online art curriculum, we received a year's subscription to all the drawing courses. This included all the beginning, level 1, level 2, and level 3 lessons. The lessons are presented in video format, and most are split up into several clips for easy access, finding or going back to certain parts. It is also encouraged to obtain high-quality art materials, so we had to purchase a set of real drawing pencils, and special paper to get started. We could easily find the materials we needed at the local art or craft store or online. In fact some we already had on hand from previous art kits, so check your supplies too, you might just have something already on hand! The main materials used are different hardness of pencils, charcoal, and colored pencils.

Before I introduced this to my kiddos, I gave the first lesson a try. I wasn't sure how difficult it would be.

Mom's drawing of a "Giraffe in cartoon" from the beginning level, lesson 1
After doing it myself, I decided to let my younger 2 give a try. I had a 6th grader and a 3rd grader try out the first lesson. It was a little too hard for the 3rd grader, but he gave it a good try. It is definitely more fit for middle school and above, I think. Although, I think if he had more patience, he could have probably had more success.

3rd grader watching the lesson introduction, and doodling on his paper.
My early middle schooler did a bit better, and this would definitely fit him better. He was able to make a nice drawing, but he didn't want me to post a picture of it, so out of respect, I am not putting it on here. He wasn't thrilled with how it came out.

6th grader drawing "giraffe in cartoon"
There are a total of 4 levels of drawing lessons included in this subscription, but we didn't even make it past the beginning. Here is a glimpse of the 3 other levels and the projects included:

Creating a Masterpiece--Level 1 lessons
Creating a Masterpiece--Level 2 lessons
Creating a Masterpiece--Level 3 Lessons
I think this is a great drawing program. It teaches real techniques to get some great artwork, so if you have a budding artist this is definitely a great program for that. My daughter (age 18) who draws very well now said she would have liked this back in her learning to draw years.

If you want to see what other crew members had to say about this drawing program you can click on the image below. They have all received the same program, but they may have done different drawings! Go check them out!

Learning to Draw {Creating a Masterpiece Reviews}
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