Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Critical Thinking Company - TOS Review

Do you want to train and challenge your children to think beyond multiple choice questions and improve their comprehension skills? The people at The Critical Thinking Co. publish curriculum for that exact purpose.

Mission Statement
The Critical Thinking committed to developing students' critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life. We do not teach through drill and memorization or teach to the tests - we empower the mind!

I recently reviewed World History Detective Book One - I received the 362-page, softcover, physical book. It's intended for grades 6-12 and I used it with my daughter in 9th grade and my son in 11th grade. Seventy-eight lessons are included in this book. This book can be used as a standalone text book and that's how we used it. But it can also be used as a supplement or as a review course for older students.

This covers prehistory, ancient, medieval, and early American civilizations. The intention is to help the student learn to think critically - not just to find the right answer and fill in the blank. This company is committed to making your children better problem solvers and I believe they do it very effectively.

Let's take Lesson 19 for example: Ancient Greece: Sparta. The top of the page has a map showing the area of the world which is covered in the reading. Sparta is in southern Greece so it shows that part of the world in addition to the Persian Empire, Black Sea, etc. I do like to have my kids identify where these things are on our large wall world map if I'm not certain that they are sketchy on the geography. We spend a lot of time with geography and how it ties into all of our studies; I believe it's important to not see it as an isolated subject.

While there is only one page of reading, it's detailed and not something that could be skimmed. The bottom of the page displays a diagram which explains the different branches of the Spartan government.

The next page of Lesson 19 has multiple choice questions - pretty standard fare. However, this book is different (and better, in my opinion) than your usual history studies because it asks the student to tell which sentences in their reading best support the answer.

The next page of Lesson 19 has a Venn diagram for Sparta and Athens (from Lesson 18) and the final page of the lesson has what is called a concept map. Both of these pages were more challenging for my kids and required more thought. My eldest does well with clear-cut black and white answers so this was a great challenge for him especially.

Other lessons provide the students with opportunities to give essay evidence (helping with their writing skills), draw inferences and conclusions, and distinguish between fact and opinion. Timelines and maps throughout the book greatly enhance the material being taught. For the most part, I had my kids do this book independently with little interaction from me. Occasionally I had them work on a lesson together - my two oldest kids are very different in their learning styles and methods of thinking so it really helps them think from a different perspective when they are required to work in tandem.

My one criticism in the lessons that we have completed is in the earlier sections - prehistory to Neanderthals and early modern humans. The kids pretty quickly identified that the facts presented are contrary to what we believe the Bible says, but at their age it's good to learn discernment so it was a good opportunity for further discussion as to what we believe God's Word says.

There is an answer key in the back of the book, and with perforated pages, it would be easy to remove it for your own sake. However, I kept them in because we really stress to our children that I'm not teaching so they achieve a certain grade but so they are actually learning. For most of the lessons I had them self-check. Obviously, this is something that has to be done after they've earned your trust, but it is something which I think benefits them in many ways. Most of all, it teaches them to accomplish something for the sake of doing it well and to truly learn from it.

Critical Thinking has a vast number of resources available for kids of all ages. This book is available for $34.99.
Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Koru Naturals: TOS Review

So many of the items that I review are specifically targeted for homeschooling families, but recently I was able to review for Koru Naturals - ideal for any family.

This company is based in New Zealand and we were privileged to review Emu Oil and Koolpurrie Restoring Balm.

Koolpurrie Restoring Balm is a combination of lanolin and emu oil. (I can't even tell you how many jokes have been made in the Toliver house the past several weeks about emu oil!) It is supposed to be highly effective at healing severely dry, damaged skin.

We found the consistency to be very thick, almost wax-like. It's much thicker than a cream or ointment, even thicker than petroleum jelly.

It is made up of all natural ingredients - no chemicals, dyes, or perfumes. I tend to have sensitive skin - as do several of my kids - so this makes a difference to me. We were pleased that we had no trouble with bad skin reactions to any of Koru Naturals' products.

I wanted to try the Koolpurrie Restoring Balm on my heels which tend to be very cracked. (possibly due to the fact that I rarely wear shoes . . . ) And you know what? It worked! I was really surprised because I have tried many different softening and soaking products and they've had very little long-term effect. But this actually did the trick. My sweet husband actually rubbed it into my feet - possibly more information than you could ever want - and it was pretty amazing how even after just a few treatments they really are much, much better.

I do recommend that you take advantage of your husband's offer to apply the Koolpurrie Restoring Balm to your feet; however you probably should be prepared to hear an endless litany of emu jokes . . .

(It also works to put the balm on the slightly skinned knees of five year old hypochondriacs - there's your mothering tip for the day.)

Price for Koolpurrie Restoring Balm: $12.50 for 1.4 oz. I would consider that a very reasonable price and would certainly plan to purchase more.

Pure Emu Oil: This is a natural oil traditionally used by Australian aborigines. Like the Koolpurrie Restoring Balm, it has all natural ingredients and we had no trouble with any skin reactions. The website does mention that some other companies carry a less pure form of emu oil that has been clarified which eliminates some of the best stuff in the oil.

I liked the consistency of the emu oil - it's really a lot like most essential oils that we use although I think it absorbs even more effectively. One of the main uses for it is hair conditioner. Both my daughter and I used it in our hair and did not see a big difference. We both have super thick, coarse hair (I'm a mite jealous of all you fine-haired ladies!) so I would guess it would be more effective in finer hair.

However, the thing that I did like Koru's Emu Oil for was for a facial moisturizer. Again, I mentioned the whole sensitive skin issue and that especially applies to my face. However, when I saw on the bottle that it's supposed to "reduce the depth and length of fine lines and wrinkles", I was willing to take the risk. Forty-two years old with eight kids? Yes, I have wrinkles. While I can't say every single wrinkle disappeared, I was very impressed with how well it moisturized my face. It felt slightly greasy for the first few minutes, but it soaked in quickly, and I was able to apply makeup soon after applying the Emu Oil. My skin tends to be very dry but this was really much more effective than other products I've used that are more expensive.

Again, the emu jokes from the husband and children never end, but I think that the products and the results speak for themselves and I was impressed.

Price: $9.85 for a 2 oz. bottle of Emu Oil.

If you check out Koru Naturals' website, you'll find many more products, including shampoo, conditioner, lip balm, and lanolin cream.

Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Heirloom Audio Productions - In Freedom's Cause - TOS Review

Heirloom Audio Productions produces wonderful professional audio dramas that bring history to life for the entire family. We enjoyed productions of theirs in the past - Under Drake's Flag - so we were excited to hear that they continue to make new ones. We were recently sent In Freedom's Cause (single package) for our review.

It's based on the G.A. Henty book - In Freedom's Cause - which gives the historical account of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce as they fought for Scotland's freedom. G. A. Henty was a prolific author in the 1800s who wrote many books in the historical fiction genre. Henty wrote about true historical characters and events - such as Wallace, Bruce, and Scotland's fight to be free from England's rule - and added a fictional young person to the narrative. My oldest son in particular has read many Henty books and Heirloom has made these great books more accessible for the whole family.

We are history lovers around here so reviews like this are exciting for our entire family. Listening to the two-CD set during lunch or in the van was a simple thing for us and it's ideal for giving a richer understanding of history. Wallace and Bruce are notable freedom fighters and the sacrifices they made - particularly Wallace - are well-worth a deep discussion with the entire family. Heirloom's productions are very professionally done - both the acting and the background work - and are a delight to listen to. 

My children all enjoyed it with a couple of little exceptions - my three and five year old girls weren't completely captivated although the five year old understood enough to have some good questions. And my seventeen year old son, who has extensively read Henty's books, is rather a purist and doesn't like hearing the abridged versions. This certainly isn't a criticism, but I think it's worth noting because  I believe that these audio dramas from Heirloom may be best for those who haven't read the unabridged books. 

Henty's books can be overwhelming for some readers and I'm glad for Heirloom's commitment to make his books more accessible while at the same time piquing interest in history. In Freedom's Cause lasts for over 2 hours which makes it a perfect accompaniment to road trips (or just to keep kids busy when you're housebound from a crazy unexpected Texas snowstorm!).

Another thing worth noting about Heirloom is the actors who are involved with their production. Remember Edmund from Chronicles of Narnia? He's one of several very well-known actors who play a part in this audio drama.

While we didn't use the accompanying study guide as much as I would have liked, I do want to use it more in-depth in the future - particularly when we reach this historical era in our history curriculum. There are 37 lessons which cover different sections of the audio CD. Resources within the study guide include the following: maps, details on Scotland's amazing history, comprehension questions and discussion tips for understanding the material better, and vocabulary. Also included is a Bible study guide which explores the Scriptures behind some of the character traits within the story. 

In Freedom's Cause is one we'll listen to again and again and we're excited to see that Heirloom has more productions in the works. Not only are your kids learning to love history, but they're also discovering the strong moral character that drove great men like Wallace and Bruce to do extraordinary things.

Click here to read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew. With Lee in Virginia is the next one that Heirloom is releasing so make sure you check out their Facebook page to stay updated!

Great Commission Films - IndoctriNation - TOS Review

Great Commission Films recently sent me their IndoctriNation DVD for my review. This is a 102 minute film which challenges viewers to consider the educational system in the United States. Specifically, it approaches the subject of how the public school system has influenced the decline of Christianity.
Colin Gunn is a Scottish father of seven. He's also a Christian filmmaker and homeschooling father. Along with his wife and children, Gunn traveled the United States to interview a number of men - historians, pastors, and teachers - on this topic and to explore the direction our nation is headed.

Quite fittingly, his family travels in a yellow school bus! This film really gives an in-depth look at the history and origins of our education system and how its treatment of Christianity has changed so much over the past 200 years. One teacher that he spoke to had been fired because he took a stand for Christ. His interviews with public school teachers were very enlightening as to what is currently going on within the school system.

Regardless of where you stand with your education views, it is truly worthwhile to consider what the agenda is of those who are teaching your children and those who are controlling what your children are being taught. Gunn obviously falls on the homeschool side of the debate, but the issues are ones that all Christians need to consider in light of our culture.

IndoctriNation approaches vital questions that all parents should consider - such as, is the public school system physically and morally safe for our children?

I also want to make it very clear that while I do agree with much of what Gunn said and conclusions that he reached I do also believe that homeschooling is a personal family-by-family choice. For us, it has been a fantastic choice, but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. Regardless, this film will make you think and evaluate what you truly believe.

One final note - I would caution you against letting your children watch this with you unless you preview it first. We ended up turning it off the first time we watched it because there were a number of serious issues that we felt weren't appropriate for our entire crew. My husband felt too that it would have been more advantageous if we had watched it beforehand. We had heard of so many families that watched IndoctriNation all together, that we took for granted it would be appropriate for ours as well. It would have helped if we had watched it as a couple and then discussed some of the issues with our kids first and then perhaps watched selected portions.

IndoctriNation is also available for download and there is also a companion book available.

DVD: $19.95

Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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