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Thursday, August 20, 2015

TOS Review: Horizons Physical Education Grades PreK-2

Alpha Omega Review
If you home school, how much time and thought do you devote to teaching physical education? Not soccer, football, baseball, sailing, or other evening/weekend sports but P.E. as part of your standard curriculum? My answer is "none". I teach reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history, and all that, but P.E. is so very different and out of the traditional curriculum box that I've never considered adding it as a scheduled subject. And I don't think I'm alone.

When I was asked to review Alpha Omega Publications Horizons Physical Education Grades PreK-2 I was very intrigued, and was curious to see if this would be a guidebook I could use to add P.E. to our school week. True confession - I am not a naturally athletic person and was the kid picked last for teams in gym class - I have no clue how to teach P.E., especially not how to make it fun and educational!

The large physical book arrived in the mail, all 440 pages of it. The interior pages are black and white, with some drawings and diagrams but no pictures. This book is definitely a teaching manual and feels serious and "textbook"; it took me a little while to warm to the book because it isn't cute and fun, but this big book is full of knowledge and I felt like I got an almost free full semester of an early childhood physical education college course. Once i got into it I really got into it.

Physical Education Grades PreK-2 is Christian based. The book begins by explaining how educating the body through physical education relates to Christianity; how the task of physical education is to put into practice the principles we teach children - honesty, kindness, respect, discipline, and unselfishness - through physical activity. Would you benefit from this book and curriculum if you're not teaching from a Christian perspective? Yes, you'd just have to glean over a few of the sections and pick and choose what works for your family.

The next chapters break down physical education curriculum by grade (preK/K, 1st, 2nd) beginning with goals (complete with references to pages in the chapter to meet those goals) and moving on to what and how to teach to reach those goals.

As an example, one goal for a first grader is to work on motor proficiency for a variety of skills, including jumping. The section begins by explaining the components of a good jump; feet together, deep crouch, swinging arms, trunk is propelled at a nearly 45' angle, thighs extend nearly parallel to the ground during flight, arms remain high, body weight is forward at landing. Suggestions are then given to teach and learn the jump; ask students to stop and get ready between jumps, have students wave after jumping, have class members pretend their feet are glued together and can't come apart, work on the timing of the arm swing with a chant "The arms swing first to show the feet which way to go". Nine different practice activities are given that will help focus on jumping including jumping over ropes, have students jump over a moving rope, standing broad jumps, and a Thai game called KHAM HUAY in which a tiger has to jump over five kind of lakes without touching them (complete with diagram describing what to do at each lake).

Following the curriculum for each chapter is a section devoted to implementing the core values through games and discussion, a section integrating physical education into other school subjects, and a very detailed model teaching sequence with monthly and daily plans.

The book ends with an evaluation chapter, providing numerous ways to measure the child's performance in P.E.

Ok, I know that's a lot of description, but like I said before this book is full of knowledge, I don't feel like I'm doing it justice if I don't mention most of what's in it.

River (age 6) and I worked on the first grade curriculum in the book. We worked a few days a week at it, about thirty minutes a day, and he really enjoyed it, as did I. We found some areas he needed to improve in and we worked a little harder on those. Because I'm a reluctant exerciser myself (I do my 30-45 minutes a day but many days I have to really push myself) I appreciate that the book gives me more logical, legitimate reasons to exercise than just "because it's important". We'll be using the book as we begin our school year next Monday and it will be on our schedule.

I'm also looking forward to incorporating some of the activities ideas into our Cub Scout pack this year. No, P.E. won't specifically become part of our program but coordinating some of the games with the values we're working on will be a lot of fun, help with our goals, and wear the kids out (seriously, these boys have more energy than a power plant).

Horizons Physical Education Grades PreK-2 is available from Alpha Omega Publications for $40.95.

To read more reviews on this and many other AOP products click the image below.

Alpha Omega Review

Thursday, August 6, 2015

TOS Review: The Conversation by Classical Conversations

Classical Conversations Review
When I began home schooling my kids I let them know they'd have the choice of going to high school or home schooling through high school. Of course, when they were starting first grade this was an easy offer to make, it got a lot more "real" when the time came to make that decision! This year Adam begins high school and has decided to stay home and home school instead of entering the high school his older siblings attend. He will be the third child to spend at least a part of their high school years at the kitchen table.

While I've got a pretty good idea of what Adam will study this year I always want to learn new things and be a better teacher, so when I was asked to review The Conversation, a book by Leigh A. Bortins focusing on providing a classical education to high school students I was more than willing to check it out. The 267 page paperback book is published by Classical Conversations.

I didn't know this until after getting through the first chapters of the book but Leigh A. Bortins is the founder of Classical Conversations, a homeschool support organization of sorts with a following of over 62000 students and 8000 parents. I don't personally know much about the program/system, having not heard of it before, but you are welcome to gather more information here.

The Conversation focuses on teaching high school students through a classical, Christian approach. The book begins by addressing the concerns many parents have teaching high school - and there are worries, even as a more seasoned high school teaching parent with access to online classes I question whether I can guide Adam to learn all he needs to know to be ready for college and the real world while still enjoying learning.

The book then moves on to guide the reader in what and how to teach high school; with chapters on Reading, Writing, Math, Government and Economics, Latin, and more.

Finally, the book finishes with some real life applications, from games to resources to observations from parents.

The goal of the book, I believe, is to empower parents with the confidence and knowledge to teach their high schoolers, and to give parents the motivation to go beyond the basics in their teaching. While the author doesn't hand the reader the exact ingredients (ie - reading lists, specific curriculum to use, etc) of successful high school homeschooling she does provide plenty of ideas and examples of how to teach these subjects in a classical style, moving beyond the basics to teach with a focus on rhetoric.

We are very eclectic, laid back home schoolers who've always loosely followed a classical approach to education. This is my 14th year teaching kids at my kitchen table. I add and remove curriculum as I see what works for the kids and I have a good idea of what we can do in a day. That said, I was initially very turned off by this book and struggled to read beyond the first thirty or so pages. I felt the author presented a more-than-perfect home school life early in the book that just wasn't attainable or realistic, at least not in my experience. It just didn't work for me.

Knowing I had to write this review I kept reading and found myself more interested in the chapters focusing on specific subjects. Immediately after reading the Reading and Writing chapters I wrote out Adam's reading list for the next four years, a pick and choose list of great books we'll read, disect, and write about. This book provided motivation and excitement to get that list going. I do think the "meat" of this book is a good resource for high school home schooling and I'll refer to those subject-specific chapters when we start to veer towards rote work and boredom (it happens, usually right before Christmas, when we just want to get stuff done, and we forget to make time for the creativity and exploring and discussing that's so important in learning).

The Conversation, by Leigh A. Bortins, is available from Classical Conversations.

Classical Conversations Review

Friday, July 31, 2015

New Design: Diamond Tip Bow Tie (and a necktie to match)

Stylish diamond tip cotton bow and neck tie for men and boys

Introducing the diamond tip bow tie, available for both men and boys.

Both ends of this tie are finished to a point, rather than a traditional square, taking the bow tie to a whole new level.

Modern, stylish diamond point navy blue and white plaid cotton bow tie for men and boys

This tie was on the drawing board for quite some time before it became a reality, but once the first prototype was made we were in love. The character and sophistication of this handsome style won us over very easily, and I'm sure it'll do the same to you.

Currently the tie is available in the print shown. However, any of our ties can be created in this style ... just ask.

We do, of course, offer the coordinating necktie.

Styling navy blue and white plaid cotton necktie for men and boys

Check these ties out in the shop.

TOS Review: With Lee In Virginia

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review
The kids and I became fans of Heirloom Audio Productions Audio Theater when we were asked to review In Freedom's Cause - The Real Story of Wallace and Bruce. When we were asked to review With Lee In Virginia I jumped at the chance.

With Lee in Virginia is an audio CD adaptation of the G.A. Henty book With Lee in Virginia - A Story of the American Civil War. The 2-disc Audio Theater CD's tell the story of a young soldier fighting in the Civil War - but with a twist. The main character, Vincent, is a southerner and a slave owner fighting with the Confederate army.

Given the recent attention, especially via social media, to the Confederate flag and it's significance this CD production couldn't have come at a better time.

The book, and CD's, combines true history with a little fiction to create the story; while Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson were real men and real history is referenced, Vincent and his slave, Dan, were fictional and are representations of the young soldiers and slaves of that time period. G.A. Henty did extensive research before writing his books to present a historical representation, as did Heirloom Productions - traveling to the battlefields portrayed in With Lee in Virginia. The CD has a definitely Christian slant, with plenty of prayer and Bible references, which we felt was very fitting for the time period.

There are some household names in the cast of With Lee in Virginia; Kirk Cameron, Brian Blessed, Kelsey Lansdowne, and Sean Astin.

The CD's tell the story of Vincent from his mid-teens, when the Civil War began, through his very early 20's when the war ended. It also tells the stories of his friends and fellow Confederate soldiers, some as young as fourteen, and the stories of slaves on his, and a neighboring, plantation. Vincent was a Virginian and we learn that he, and Lee, fought in the war not to defend slavery but to defend states rights and their home state. In fact, throughout the adventure Vincent questions whether slavery is right and whether it's what God wants, but he never questions his loyalty to his state and never considers leaving the Confederate army, feeling it's his duty to fight, until the war ends. Throughout the story Vincent, Lee, and Jackson maintain their faith in God and in doing what they believe is best for the nation. I really, really wish I could tell you the whole story but you have to get the CD's and listen to it!

The kids - Ian (17), Mia (16), Adam (14), Kaden (12), and River (6) and I listened to the CD's in the car. At first I wasn't sure if they were paying attention because they were so quiet, but when I stopped the car they begged me to keep the car running so they could find out what happened next! That happened throughout both CD's and involved all the kids. Given that the CD's totaled 2 1/2 hours of play I thought it would be good to listen to them again, in case we missed or forgot anything the first time. Well, they definitely devoured With Lee in Virginia the first time, because the second time through they were saying the upcoming lines out loud and foretelling the story. They then spent some time telling their grandparents about the story. Every single one of them, and I, were enthralled by the story and fully engaged.

In addition to the CD's an assortment of downloadable bonuses are included with purchase, everything from a copy of the With Lee in Virginia book (300+ pages) to a complete study guide and story curriculum to a cast poster. While we opted to not use the study guide at this time I did take a look through it and was very impressed by how thorough it was.

The kids and I strongly recommend this audio drama. It's such a different, and important, viewpoint of the war, and is a necessary reminder that the war wasn't solely about slavery - it was about states rights. The CD's bring the Civil War to life in a way that no textbook could, making a memorable impression on the listener.

With Lee In Virginia is recommended for kids and adults, ages 6 and up and is available through Heirloom Audio Productions.  Click the image below to read what other TOS reviewers had to say about this exciting audio adventure.

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Thursday, July 16, 2015

TOS Review: Homeschool Buyers Co-Op; Homeschool Planet home and homeschool scheduler

I was recently introduced to Homeschool Planet, an online interactive home and home school scheduling program produced by Homeschool Buyers Co-Op and asked to give it a try.

Homeschool Planet is an online scheduling and organizing program, great for schoolwork, household tasks, blogging and/or other home business work, kids activities, chores, etc. ... basically, everything on your plate and those of your family members.

To begin, I watched the video tutorials. There are thirteen short videos and they are amazingly helpful and provide lots of tricks and tips to the program that'd take quite a bit of trial and error to find otherwise. There are also "how to" and "FAQ" sections to the planner answering a lot of oft asked questions. I was very impressed and pleased to see how much effort was put into making this program as easy to navigate as possible.

After watching the videos I set up my people. Each family member is represented and by doing this I'm able to assign tasks to just certain people, ie - Adam and Kaden may be attending an event without the rest of us, I can specify that, or River may have an assignment to do for school that's unique to him, with this program I can easily clarify that.

We travel a lot in the summer and the kids spend part of the summer with their father so we really don't do a lot of schooling during summer break. However, we do do plenty of stuff. I wanted to be able to enter Adam, Kaden, and River's school schedules in now with correct dates and assignments so I opted to use our "real life" summer schedules (and chores) for the purposes of this review and enter the schoolwork accurately and do a mock run-through of us using the program for schoolwork.

Entering the regular activities is a piece of cake. I named the activity, assigned a date and time, if it wasn't all day thing, to it, specified who was doing the activity, and hit save. That simple. I could then look at everyone's activities using the calendar or planner views.

Suppose Ian is asked to do some volunteer work on Thursday afternoon. Well, Kaden's orthodontist appointment isn't relevant and neither is anything else that Ian isn't doing, I can go in and alter the settings so I'm only seeing what Ian has on the calendar, making it much easier to know if he can do that volunteer work or not. I could also print out his calendar, or planner view, so he knows what his week looks like without the clutter of everyone else's schedule..

Entering the schoolwork was also very simple.

I chose a subject, chose a child (or children) to assign the work to, and a time of day. Typically, I do our school schedule manually on a sheet of paper. With some subjects we do 1 assignment per day, every day, with some we do lesson 1 on Monday, 2 on Tuesday, 3 on Wednesday, etc., some things we do daily, some every other day, some once a week, and some Monday through Thursday. River does workbooks that need to be done by the end of the year and he does 2-3 pages per day. On notebook paper with a pen this is super simple and takes me about 10 minutes each Monday morning. Quite frankly, entering all that into this program sounded like a real pain the neck. Well, it wasn't. The program is designed to handle all those idiosyncrasies and more. I simply entered my parameters, the entered the days of the week we did the assignment, and the assignment on the calendar was generated the way I wanted it to be. There's even an option to complete a certain number of assignments or pages by the end of the year that'll automatically calculate how many pages to do per day. I was done entering the entire years worth of work in about 30 minutes.

Of course, I don't always need to know what everyone needs to do, so I can again print the schoolwork for just one student by isolating them and generating a printable calendar or planner for them.

The program will track assignments past due and ask what to do with them. They're not just going to disappear (much to the kids' dismay) and can be marked as completed or carried forward as assignments still needing to be completed.

It is very easy to print reports of schoolwork to do or completed, calendar views and planner views, as well as other reports.

The calendar you create can be shared with Google calendar or Apple iCal. Also, log in information can be created for each child so they can view their own schedules on their mobile devices. I think this is going to be a great way for me to share the kids assignments and schedules with their father when he comes to town.

I have really only touched the surface of the assets and benefits of this easy, multi-faceted planner. Right now, a 30 day free trial of Homeschool Planet is available at Homeschool Buyers Co-op and I highly recommend giving it a try!

Take a look at some more of the TOS Review crews reviews of this planner to see how they used it.

Homeschool Planet Review

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Memory Quilt for an Eagle Scout

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

One of the scouts in our Boy Scout troop earned his Eagle rank recently (congratulations, Sam!).

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

His mother has been saving mementos of his scouting journey through the years and asked if I would make him a quilt to commemorate his scouting career. Of course I said "yes".

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

The quilt measures about 50" by 60". The front side background fabrics are uniform shirts, scouting t-shirts, and rank neckerchiefs. The backing fabric is navy cotton. The binding is leftover fabric from the back and the neckerchiefs.

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges
Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

I attempted to put the patches on the right neckerchief - wolf rank on the wolf neckerchief. The patches on the bottom half of the quilt are mostly Boy Scouting ones, earned at various events.

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

On the left side I left space for his merit badge sash and included a pocket for Webelos pins and any other pins. Sam earned Eagle before aging out of scouts and needed his sash for another year or so, so the sash was added after he received the quilt.

Boy Scout memory Quilt, given at Eagle Scout ceremony, great way to display saved scouting memorabili, pins, uniforms, and badges

Again, congratulations Sam. We couldn't be prouder of you.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sew Sew Much More Sale

Independence Day Sale Going On Now

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I promise you, we'll be back to ties and fabric in no time.

In the meantime, a vacation photo taken near Waupaca, WI on the Chain O Lakes.

Friday, June 26, 2015

We're Back

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Flag Day

Happy Flag Day from all of us to you.

In case you hadn't noticed, the shop is currently closed for vacation. We'll reopen the end of this week after some family time.

Photo above taken a few days ago at Whitefish Bay in Door County, Wisconsin.

Friday, June 5, 2015

TOS Review: Memoria Press - The Book of the Ancient Romans

The Book of the Ancient Romans middle school history text and study guides
In the 1920's Dorothy Mills wrote a series of history books for middle school students; The Book of the Ancient World, The Book of the Ancient Greeks, The Book of the Ancient Romans, and The Book of the Middle Ages. For this review Adam, Kaden, and I were given The Book of the Ancient Romans to review, after it was republished with additional illustrations by Memoria Press.

For this review we were given the history book itself, a beautiful 435 page soft cover book filled with chapters of text and black-and-white illustrations and written by Dorothy Mills. We also received a Student Guide, written recently by Matthew Anderson, which contains 77 pages of questions for each chapter of the book with 2 pages devoted to each chapter, and a Teacher Guide, also written by Mr. Anderson, with the answers to the student questions as well as tests to use throughout the study of the book and a final exam . Both these books are soft cover books as well.

The Book of the Ancient Romans middle school history text and study guides

Adam (14) and Kaden (12) were able to work through the history book and study guide independently, with me just checking their answers and going over any areas they had issues with. The program is organized so well that I really didn't need to be involved in the day-to-day reading and learning.

The chapters of the history book run anywhere from 5 to about 30 pages, with the larger chapters divided into smaller segments. The boys were able to read the chapters to themselves and answer the study questions in about 20-30 minutes a day, varying a bit based on the length of the chapter.

The Book of the Ancient Romans middle school history text and study guides

Ms. Mills combines storytelling and history lessons to make the text interesting and engaging. The boys were easily able to read the lessons and feel that they understood what was going on. Also, the books provide a very comprehensive coverage of the materials, 435 may seem like a lot of pages but they are chock full of great information. The Book of the Ancient Romans begins with the founding of the city and ends with it's fall.

The student's guide has vocabulary words to look up, comprehension questions, activities such as adding to a timeline or creating a map or researching and writing a page, and facts to know.

The Book of the Ancient Romans middle school history text and study guides

The boys worked this program very independently, so I asked them to share their opinions of it.

Here is what Kaden (age 12) had to say:

The Book of the Ancient Romans is a fun learning book. You learn about Italy and Rome. You also learn about ancient tribes.

I learned new words that I had to look up.

I think that it was a learning activity that was not too challenging for kids, but it was hard enough so you actually learned about the ancient Romans. The book taught me about how Rome conquered all the places near them and became the biggest and most powerful city of it's time.

I also learned about Romulus and Remus. I learned how they founded Rome and Romulus was the king. I learned about how Romulus killed Remus.

The Book of the Ancient Romans middle school history text and study guides

And from Adam (age 14):

In the Book of the Ancient Romans you learn about the past of Rome, about how Rome was founded by Romulus, about the rulers along Rome's greatness. You learn about Rome's battles, how Rome kidnapped the Sabini women and how the Sabini women stopped a war with their fathers and husbands.

This book is very educational and a good home school book. I liked The Book of Ancient Romans and I learned a lot about Rome that I didn't already know.

The Book of the Ancient Romans by Dorothy Mills is available from Memoria Press for $16.95. The set of book, student guide, and teacher guide are available for $39.95. This program is geared toward 6-12th graders.

Memoria Press Review