Friday, January 27, 2012

Aperture Science and Opera

I blogged recently about our experience with the Swan Lake Maestro Classics CD. Gess really loved the music and even made up her own choreography for the ballet. Finding interest in the arts was great fun. Well we have found some more music appreciation from an unexpected source. For Christmas Gess got a new game called Portal 2. She just loved the original Portal and we knew this would be a big hit. Well, it just so happens that the voice for the main character in the game, Glados is opera singer Ellen McLain and Gess absolutely loved the theme song she sang during the original version's credits, Still Alive. You have to really understand the game to appreciate the lyrics but it's a still a really neat song.

Well, Ellen McLain sings a few more songs in Portal 2 and they have released the Portal 2 soundtrack and Gess absolutely loves it. Her favorite song is again sung by Ellen McLain titled Cara Mia Addio. This one is more operatic and is just simply beautiful.

In fact, it was so beautiful that Gess was inspired to dance, but she did not want to dance alone. She asked her daddy to accompany her, and he lovingly obliged. Aren't they just adorable?

Another more techno song she likes from the CD is Robots.

I tell you music appreciation can come from the strangest places! I never thought our game would get Gess talking, singing and inquiring about Opera, but hey I will roll with it!

For those wondering what Portal is well it's summed up at Wikipedia as a game that "primarily comprises a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character and simple objects using 'the handheld portal device', a device that can create inter-spatial portals between two flat planes." Here is the trailer for the original game. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Back in August of 2010 I blogged about a therapy activity we did to help Gess answer Why Questions. One of those activities was a workbook called "What's Wrong with This Picture?"

We had fun with the book discussing what was wrong with various scenes and Gess was pretty good at pointing them out. Because of that it was something I put away and we haven't really done for awhile. That is why I just had to post about what Gess has been up to this past week.

The other morning we were in the kitchen getting ready to make Gess' breakfast and she points to the tub of butter that had a butter knife sticking out of it and asks, "what's wrong with this picture?" I was like, well, I guess it has a knife in it. Then she starts looking around and finding other things she deemed "wrong" and kept asking me "what's wrong with this picture?" I thought, how cute!

Well, it seems to have become something she loves to play. In fact, yesterday I took a couple of pictures while she was doing because it was just too cute. You know, this is a great hands on way to play the game and teach a child to say why something is wrong or out of place. Seeing a chair on an actual bed stands out a lot more than seeing a picture of a chair on a bed. Here are the pictures I took the other day. Forgive that my bed is not yet made, she seems to like to play this first thing in the morning for some reason.

She actually put the chair on the bed so she could ask me the question, "What's wrong with this picture?"

As she's getting dressed she comes out and asks me again. Ok, that's just silly!

Then she had to have intentionally picked out the socks, they are always mated in her drawer and even when not, she matches them well.

Even after this one she came to me with her shoes on the wrong feet and asked me again. Once she gets started it's hard to get her to stop. I absolutely love that she not only learned how to identify what's wrong in a picture but that she has the creativity to intentionally "mess things up." I tell you what, she's one smart cookie and one amazing kid! (Though she would be sure to inform you that she is NOT a cookie, that would be silly.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

TOS Review: We Choose Virtues

We Choose Virtues! That's right, we are excited about making good choices because We Choose Virtues has helped make learning virtues positive, rewarding and fun.

We Choose Virtues takes a different approach to character development in children. Instead of focusing on discipline and the negative side of behavior it introduces virtues by having children state them in the affirmative with catch phrases that make memorizing them attainable and fun. Children are not only expected to know each virtue and what they mean but they are encouraged to "choose them and use them" each and every day!

We Choose Virtues focuses on 3 rules:

1. Obey
2. Be Kind
3. Be a Helper

Under those three rules fall the 12 virtues that children are taught.

I am obedient
I am attentive
I am self-controlled
I am honest

Be Kind
I am kind
I am forgiving
I am patient
I am gentle

Be a Helper
I am helpful
I am perseverant
I am diligent
I am content

Notice how each virtue is not just listed, it's stated as something I already am.

I am gentle.

I do not hope to be gentle, I do not wish to be gentle, I am making a choice to actually be gentle. To reinforce how to do that each virtue has a catchphrase that tells what it means to be that virtue.

I am gentle.
I speak quietly and touch softly.

They also explain what it means to NOT be gentle by adding the antonym in the negative.

I am gentle.
I speak quietly and touch softly.
I am NOT...rough, harsh, or loud, and I don't destroy things or hurt people!

We Choose Virtues has several ways to help implement this method in your homeschool or classroom environment. We received the Virtue Clue Cards along with the Teacher's Handbook, Family Character Assesment Chart, Kids Memory Verses and Bible Heroes list, and Kids of VirtueVille Coloring Book for the purpose of our review. With all these helps, I had everything I needed to help introduce virtues to Gess.

The Virtue Clue Cards are a small pack of cards that lists each virtue, it's catchphrase, and antonyms. On the back of each card is a "challenge" for the child to practice that virtue throughout the day. For instance, the I am Gentle card has you "choose to go the whole day without anyone needing to say anything like 'You hurt me' or 'you're too loud!' " They also come in a plastic carrying case to make it handy to throw them in your purse or bag so you can take them with you where-ever you go.

They have also made a cute character for every virtue that you will find on the front of the cards. These characters are also featured in the Kids of VirtueVille Coloring Book. This gives the child a sense that kids can and do practice that particular virtue. Here is Chuck with his Duck, he's the diligent kid.

The Teacher's Handbook offers many helps for not only how to teach the virtues to kids in a positive and rewarding manner but it has many activity suggestions, especially if you are going to teach them in a classroom setting. In fact, they offer classroom, church, and homeschool kits that can be purchased with or without the faith aspect of the virtue.

We have, of course, used these in our homeschool. As I posted at the start of the year, we made a morning devotional as a way to start our day, so these were a perfect fit for that. I would first have Gess choose which virtue card she wanted to work on for the next couple of days. Having her choose the virtue kept me from trying to pick ones I felt she needed therefore making them a struggle. We will eventually do all of them anyway.

So here is how we would do each virtue. After Gess chose a virtue (she chose I am Gentle for her first one) we would use the Kids Memory Verses and Bible Heroes chart to find our bible verse and passage that focus on that particular virtue. On the first day we might read the "hero" passage for the day as well as memorize the catchphrase. For gentle the hero passage was "Jesus Christ and the children" (Mark 10:13-16). The next day we would work on the the memory verse, which for gentle was Proverbs 15:1 and then she would color her VirtueVille Kid picture from the coloring book.

By then we were usually ready to work on the next virtue. Once we had several virtues memorized (for now Gess is only memorizing the catchphrase, I plan on going back through and having her memorize the antonym later) we would review them by playing games, or matching the virtue to the catchphrase. I also randomly drill her on various virtues during opportune moments like when we are driving down the road.

It has really helped us in dealing with behavioral issues with Gess, in fact Gess has responded really well to them. We have always used key words with Gess and this pretty much gave us some more "keys" to focus on. For instance, sometimes when she gets upset she will speak to us loudly in a rude manner and tone. Now we will say, is that being gentle? Once she realizes it isn't she tends to calm down a little and we can talk about it. Sometimes when she does something wrong we will ask her, what virtue do you think will help you with that? We then pull out the cards and let her go through them and choose the proper response herself, without being told what to do.

I think the key is learning the virtues and discussing them when their behavior is good. It is also really important to acknowledge it when you a see a virtue played out correctly. Gess just started making the bed the other day and my husband informed her that he was happy to see her being virtuous. He went on to say how nice it was to see her "find something that needs to be done and do it." (That implemented the catchphrase into the praise we gave her for demonstrating the virtue of being helpful.) It's so great to see Gess light up over doing something good. The next time she doesn't want to make the bed, she will be more likely to respond to the reminder to practice the virtue if she has had positive experiences doing so. Virtues should be positive things, so we shouldn't only focus on them when they are absent in a child's behavior, they should be mentioned all the time!

I think We Choose Virtues is something we will keep using in our house for a very long time. I will even share this with our Sunday School teachers at church. My husband and I also think these are important for every age group to learn, especially the youth, so we were pleased to see that they offer a version specifically for them. They even have a Youth Mentor Handbook to help you teach teens how to choose and use virtues too.

Right now, the We Choose Virtues Clue Cards are 25% off making them just $5.99, but even at full price they are a handy tool for any parent to have. The other resources I reviewed are also very reasonably priced as well. The downloadable Kids of VirtueVille Coloring Book is only $3.00 while the Teacher's Handbook is $4.99 and the other helps like the assessment chart and memory verse card were absolutely free to download. I do think that their poster prices are pretty high which makes the actual teacher and church kits pricey, but they offer a mini-set which is much more reasonable and all a homeschool probably needs anyway.

You may also use these coupon codes for more discounts (you may only choose one)
VIRTUE15 for 15 % off your total purchase
for free worldwide shipping.

Through February they are also offering 100 Days of Virtue Poster and Stickers FREE with any Homeschool Kit purchase.

To learn more visit the We Choose Virtues website or see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a free copy of the "Virtue Clue Cards" (plus the other materials listed above) for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Friday, January 13, 2012

TOS Review: Learn Our History

Learn Our History was launched this past year by Governor Mike Huckabee and Brad Saft to try and get children excited about American History. They strive to offer fact-based, unbiased presentations of history that children don't always get in school and offer homeschooling parents a tool to add to their curriculum.

We reviewed 2 of their DVD's, one we got in the mail and one that was accessible online. The video series is titled "Learn Our History: TimeCycle Academy." The TimeCycle Academy is a group of children who have turned a bicycle into a time machine and travel back in time to experience history first hand.

Gesserine did seem to enjoy the videos and she actually learned from them. There are animated shows that she just won't sit through, so the fact that she watched them, comprehended what she saw and even talked about them later told me that she enjoyed them.

The first video we watched was the one we received in the mail, The Birth of A Revolution. I did love the historical content and utilizing the time travel aspect of the video did seem to help Gess remember where things took place. In fact, when Gess saw the word Boston in a totally unrelated context she immediately remembered seeing that on the screen in the video and recalled that the kids traveled there in the movie.

Here is a preview of The Birth of A Revolution

The other video that was available to us online was 9/11 and The War on Terror. Here is a preview for it.

While the historical content of both of the movies was relatively good (though I wouldn't call it unbiased), I was generally unimpressed with the quality of the animation and disappointed in the character development. One of the characters in the movie (Connor) is somewhat of a bully and is pretty rude to the other children calling them names like "loser." They even attire him in a shirt demonstrating that behavior displaying "I rule, you drool" on it. Having a special needs child that mimics behavior whether it's on TV or in real life, that's not something I want her spending a lot of time viewing. In fact, she already started to pick it up and giggle at a couple of his comments. I was just very disappointed to see that behavior in an educational video. I also found Barley way too stereotypical in his overalls and southern accent.

The Learn Our History series can be ordered online or by calling (877) US HISTORY (that's 877-874-4786). When you sign up you get an introductory video for $9.95 plus shipping and handling. They usually offer introductory specials so be sure to check their website for the most current offers and pricing.

Once you are a member you will continue to get a new DVD each month. They choose a DVD for you and contact you and tell you when it is ready to ship. Each subsequent DVD costs $11.95, plus $3.95 shipping and handling. They always notify customers at least 10 days prior to the shipment so they know it's about to ship. During that time, you have the option to skip the shipment or cancel from the series, both of which are done by contacting the 24/7 customer service department.

As long as your account remains active you are able to stream each DVD title you have purchased directly from within your account on the LearnOurHistory web site. This allows you to view the video from any device, such as a computer, iPad or iPod.

I would have loved to give this a better review because Gess did like it and learned from it but unfortunately not everything she learned was positive. I also personally do not the like membership method of ordering. While the pricing seems to be somewhat reasonable I do not find it convenient to have my DVDs selected for me. I like to order the products I want, when I want them. Besides, having to wait for the next DVD in a series or for the topic you really want makes it difficult to use them as a teaching tool. However, if you find this to be a convenient and easy way to add to your video collection, this might be a good option for you. It's just not for me.

To learn more visit the Learn Our History website.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a free copy "The Birth of A Revolution" DVD for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Friday, January 6, 2012

TOS Review: Maestro Classics

Gesserine loves music and while I enjoy classical music when I hear it, it's not something I generally choose to listen to so classical music isn't something Gess has been exposed to very often. Well, I think that is going to change. This month we had the opportunity to review Maestro Classics and it gave us an entirely new appreciation for classical music.

Maestro Classics is a great way to introduce your young children to classical music. While they recommend it for children ages 5 to 12 years old I think even younger children would love it. What they do is put stories to classical music in such a way that really brings the music to life and makes it interesting for children.

We reviewed the CD The Story of Swan Lake which narrated the classic ballet written by Tchaikovsky so the children could understand what was happening in the music.

Gess was captivated by it and when I told her that it was a ballet, she began her own interpretive dance of the story which actually is quite a workout. She would dance so hard that during the narration she would pause often with a big worn out, "Whew!"

Once you have listened to The Story of Swan Lake, the CD continues to tell you about the composer and the music. It was interesting to learn that Tchaikovsky did not study music until after he was finished with school and how he was even told by one music teacher to give it up! There were many other interesting facts too.

There is also a beautiful, though small insert with the CD that offers other information and many activities. We read through it together and talked about each one, specifically those that were mentioned on the CD.

One of the activities explained the difference between major and minor chords and how typically music in a major chord is happy and music in a minor chord is sad. The book shows you some examples and since my son has a keyboard, I pulled it out so Gess could hear what they sounded like. First I had her try to play them. (She had to play one key at a time.)

Then I played them and had her guess whether it was minor or major chord by asking her was it happy or sad. Then of course she just played on the keyboard for awhile which didn't sound anything like classical music but certainly was fun!

The last part of the CD was really neat as it summed up the story in words using music from within the ballet. You first hear the song, then it teaches you the words and tells you how to sing it (the words are also printed in the insert). Then you sing along with only the accompaniment. Gess really enjoyed this part. Actually we both enjoyed learning the song. In fact we have thoroughly annoyed my husband by singing it way too much. :) Anyway, we have a karaoke system on our television/media center so Gess was able to sing along with the CD using a microphone and that was even more fun!

They also offer a curriculum guide on their website that is geared for homeschoolers that helps you tie the music into your other subjects like language arts, history, science, geography, math and others. We did not use these helps but might explore them in the future. For Gess' level we found the information in the booklet and on the CD gave us enough material to cover although we did utilize our library to learn a little bit more about Tchaikovsky and the ballet.

I just honestly loved everything about Maestro Classics and The Story of Swan Lake. Not being very knowledgeable about classical music myself it was a really great way to introduce Gesserine to it. I didn't have to know that much since the CD took care of it all for me. It also inspired us both to want to hear more of Tchaikovsky's music so we rented a CD from our library. Gess even plays the Maestro Classics CD in her room and will listen to it while coloring or playing when she isn't in the mood to dance. It's just really well done and we both enjoyed using it.

Maestro Classics offers 9 different stories and you can purchase them all together or individually. The CD's sell for $16.98 each or you can download the MP3 and PDF Booklet for $9.98. You can also get the entire collection for $128.00 which is a $25.00 savings.

So, as you can see even the pricing is fairly reasonable for what you get, though personally I would buy the downloadable version and save $7.00. In fact once we have thoroughly explored Tchaikovsky, I plan on purchasing Peter and The Wolf next. We loved this way too much not to get more and I can think of no better way to bring music into our homeschool (which is something we haven't done up until now).

We absolutely loved Maestro Classics and think that you might to0. To learn more visit the Maestro Classics website or see what other members of the TOS Crew thought about it.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a free copy of "The Story of Swan Lake" for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Gess was really excited about the coming new year. Every night before she goes to bed she always asks, "What are we doing in the morning?" By that she means, what are we doing for the whole day tomorrow, not just in the morning. Well, the week before new year that question changed to "What year is it?" She knew the year was about to change and she was eager for it to do so. I would tell her it was still 2011 and then tell her how many more days until it was New Years Eve and News Years Day. She was so excited when I finally told her it was New Year's Eve!

Gess has stayed up until midnight for the past couple years, this year we made it, but barely. We had some friends over and sang some karaoke until about 11 and then they all left. Her friend Kayleigh is much younger and was getting tired. Gess started to go asleep but decided to join us in some singing and at midnight I had my alarm go off. She got her hand clapper to make some loud noise, ran out onto the porch to shout Happy New Year and listened to the firecrackers going off. It was really windy and cold so we immediately came back in and Gess was in bed within 5 minutes and asleep not soon after that.

I mentioned last year how we were going to start a DIY New Year Photo Book that we found at the No Time For Flash Cards website. We made it last year after I went through and found photos for each year.

Here is the book cover and a couple of pages. Gess glued them on and placed the stickers on the pages. We left enough pages so she can do this until she turns 18. What a fun little walk down memory lane that will be!

Now that it is a new year I figured it was good time to put in the photo for 2011. today I let Gess pic out a photo she loved from last year and place it in. Of course she picked one from Special Olympics. Here she is working on it.

It's a fun and easy project and really helps the child get a feel for having grown up and understand the passing of time. It's also fun to look at the pictures and talk about the stories that went with them.

I hope you all had a wonderful New Year's Day and hope that 2012 brings you lots of blessings and joy!


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