Essential Traditions/Real Food Real Frugal

The archives for the old Essential Traditions blog and the old Real Food Real Frugal Blog

Activity Bags Review – Schoolhouse Review Crew

Activity Bags Review - Finding Beauty - susangodfrey.comAs a member of The Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was recently able to try out 4 really wonderful ebooks from Activity Bags: Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 1, Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 2, Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 3, and Math Games in a Bag.

About Activity Bags

Activity Bags books all come in PDF ebook format and are a fun way to add learning games to your homeschool day.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned that if you can make learning fun, then your kids learn and retain the information better.

Each book contains all the information and pritables that you need to assemble the games/activities.  I love that they also encourage you to assemble the, as a group to exchange.  They provide a free Coordinators Handbook just for this purpose.  This is a GREAT way to assemble these games/activities, as each person assembles multiples of a couple of them to share with the group.  This allows you to be able to purchase some items in bulk at a discounted price which makes it even cheaper to assemble them.

Assembling the games/activities is easy.  All you need to do is gather the supplies for each activity/game, print out the masters from the ebook for each game you are assembling,  and then tuck them into a gallon sized ziplock bag for storage.  Easy Peasy!  Once assembled, you are ready for some educational fun!  The games are mostly designed for 2 or more players and they are geared toward grades K-8.

We received 4 books to review:

Activity Bags Review - Finding Beauty -

Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 1 – This book contains 25 experiments for biology, nature, and general science.  It costs $15.

Activity Bags Review - Finding Beauty -

Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 2 – This book contains 25 experiments for chemistry, the human body,  and general science.  It costs $15.

Activity Bags Review - Finding Beauty -

Science Experiments in a Bag Ebook 3 – This book contains 25 experiments for chemistry.  It costs $15.

You can purchase Books 1 & 2 in a bundle set for only $27 or you can get a bundle with all 3 books for $39 (a $6 savings!)

Activity Bags Review - Finding Beauty -

Math Games in a Bag – This book contains 33 math games and costs $15.

They also have books with Preschool Activities (2), Reading Games, Travel Activities, and Daily Activity Journals.

My Thoughts on Activity Bags

I have to say, I’m highly impressed with Activity Bags.  My son loves playing games and doing science experiments, so this was a BIG hit at our house.  The games and experiments are really easy to assemble and many times we already had the “ingredients” around.  We have a lot of homeschoolers in our church and I can see doing a swap really soon with these Activity Bags.

Riley’s favorites have to have been the Science Experiments in a Bag books.  He loved making salt crystals and volcanoes.  The experiments are hands-on and fun.  He’s also been struggling with math of the Math Games in a Bag were so helpful in encouraging him to strengthen his math skills.

I am actually going to be using these books a lot in the next couple of months.  I’ve decided to make up quite a few of them for my nieces as a Christmas present for my nieces.  My sister-in-law is homeschooling her 5 girls and it’s always hard to pick gifts for them.  So I though that these would be perfect as a gift.

I really think Activity Bags are a great way to add some fun into your homeschool.  I really can’t recommend them high enough.  They are reasonably priced and are chock full of homeschooling fun.  I suggest you run out an purchase them today!

Want to find out what other people thought of Activity Bags? Then check out the rest of the reviews from the The Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking the graphic below!

NOTICE: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this item free from the creator. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Samson’s Classroom Review – Schoolhouse Review Crew

As a member of he Schoolhouse Review Crew, I recently was able to try out a subscription to Samson’s Classroom in exchange for a review.

About Samson’s Classroom

Samson’s Classroom is an online educational program that encourages children to become better readers.  Within the program there are three sub-programs: Sight Words With Samson, Spelling With Samson, and Reading With Samson.


It is intended to be used with grades K-5.  Samson’s Classroom has many payment options:

$30 per year for a home use account, which covers 1 user.
$50 per year for a family use account, which covers up to 4 users.
$80 per year for a classroom use account, which covers up to 30 users

There are also many other subscriptions available, see their website for the full subscription rates.

Sight Words With Samson helps children master 224 of the most commonly used words in the English language.  The program uses a 5 step process to help children learn these words.  They learn through a variety of games.

Spelling With Samson helps children learn to spell over 5,000 words.  The list is exhaustive!  Children learn through a variety of games.  You can even create your own spelling lists which can include up to 30 words.

Reading With Samson focuses on reading comprehension.  The child is asked to read a passage and is presented with 10 questions about the reading.   There are four different levels in the Reading With Samson program.

There is also a resource center where parents can find articles and printables such as awards, lesson plans, and worksheets.

You can try a demo of Samson’s Classroom and be sure to watch this short video for more information.

How We Are Using Samson’s Classroom

We’ve been using Samson’s Classroom as a supplement to the reading program we are currently using.  Although, I am seriously considering using it on a daily basis because Riley is really enjoying it and is learning using it faster than with our current program.

My Thoughts on Samson’s Classroom

Riley (age 8) really seems to be enjoying the program. The games are fun and I’m really seeing some progress in his reading skills.  We are not big users of computer programs for homeschool.  Some of the ones we’ve tried in the past just were not good fits and didn’t work well for us.  They’ve generally caused Riley a great deal of frustration, which in turn frustrates me.  Samson’s Classroom is the exception!  It makes learning fun and Riley really does enjoy it.  Samson’s Classroom has been a hit with Riley and I appreciate the great content and the ease of use.  I would recommend Samson’s Classroom to my friends, it’s a great program!

Want to find out what other people thought of Samson’s Classroom ? Then check out the rest of the reviews from the The Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking the graphic below!

NOTICE: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this item free from the creator. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Music Together Review – Schoolhouse Review Crew

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew , I recently was able to try and review the Family Favorites Combo Set from Music Together.

About the Family Favorites Combo Set from Music Together

Music Together is an internationally recognized early childhood music program for babies through 2nd grade.  They provide music education classes that kids and parents can enjoy together.  Parent participation is key to the program.  The developers of the program, Kenneth K. Guilmartin and Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz philosophy is that:

  1. All children are musical.
  2. Therefore, all children can achieve basic music competence; that is, they can learn to sing in tune and move with accurate rhythm.
  3. The participation and modeling of parents and other primary caregivers is essential to a child’s musical growth.
  4. This growth is best achieved in a playful, musically rich, and non performance-oriented learning environment.

I received the Music Together Family Favorites Combo Set to review.  It comes with the Songbook for Teachers and the companion CD.  It contains 19 fun songs that are sure to become favorites.  The combo set sells for $39.95 which is a $5.00 savings from purchasing them separately.

  How We Used It

When the package arrived, I was so excited to open it up.  I love music and so do both of my kids.  Since my oldest is 19 and my youngest is 8, we were only able to use it with Riley, our 8 year old.  Riley really loves music and so we put the CD on right away to listen to it.  As I said, Riley is 8 (nearly 9), and while he did, somewhat, enjoy the songs, many he complained about being “too baby”.  We worked on a few songs several times per week and did the associated activities.  Some he enjoyed and others he didn’t.  But  being a boy, he did usually enjoy the activities, even if the song was “too baby”.  Often, when it was time to start the program, he could complain and not want to do it.  After we’d get going, he seemed to enjoy it better.  His main complaint was  “Can’t we listen to our usual stuff”, which is usual classical music and/or praise and worship.  We were actually able to adapt some of the activities to use with our “usual” music, which helped some.  Overall, Riley did not enjoy this program as much as I would have liked, but he would have LOVED it at around ages 4-5.

What I Liked About the Program

  • I think the activities and songs will be very enjoyable to younger students
  • The songs are simple and easy to learn
  • I love that the teacher book includes activities specially designed for special needs kids.  I actually think this is an EXCELLENT program for special needs kids.

What I Didn’t Like About the Program

  • My son who is on the older end of the recommended age range did not enjoy this as much as I would have hoped.


I think this is a solid, EARLY childhood or SPECIAL NEEDS music program.  Toddlers through kindergarten will love the fun songs and activities, but older children may find it too “babyish” as my son did.  But, other than that, I would highly recommend it!

Want to find out what other people thought of Family Favorites Combo Set from Music Together? Then check out the rest of the reviews from the The Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking the graphic below!

NOTICE: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this item free from the creator. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Story Builder App Review – Schoolhouse Review Crew

Story Builder AppThe Story Builder App for iPhone is a learning application from the Mobile Education Store. It is available from iTunes for download for only $5.99. It was the winner of the Best reading app of 2011 by the Huffington Post.

The Story Builder App is designed to help children accomplish the following goals: 1) Improve paragraph formation; 2) Improve integration of ideas; and 3) Improve higher level abstractions by inference. Extensive use of audio clips promotes improved auditory processing for special needs children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorders. Story Builder App offers a rich and fun environment for improving the ability to create a narrative.

  • Record feature allows students to record narrative in their own voice
  • 3 levels of play
  • Simple and intuitive interface to record narrative
  • Recorded answers are stitched together to create complete narrative
  • 50 distinct story lines to create narratives from
  • Over 500 audio clips of questions to guide narrative
  • Optional question text and answer introduction reinforcement

I installed the app to my iPhone several weeks ago and have found it to be a really simple, yet fun app.  My 8 year old son spent the whole afternoon that I downloaded it playing the Story Builder App.  It really encouraged his creative thinking and I have seen an improvement in his sentence and paragraph writing skills.

One of the fun features of the Story Builder App is that it records your narration and you can email  the narration to others.  I’m afraid to say that his grandparent’s got quite a few emails from him that first day…lol!  The media file type that is emailed is  a .caf file, I was able to open it with my QuickTime Player.

I also like that it prompts you to answer the questions in complete sentences.  This is something my son struggles with.  He just wants to answer with a quick and easy reply and I’ve been really working with him to answer in complete sentences.  The Story Builder App encourages that, because if you don’t answer in complete sentences, then the recorded narration makes no sense.  Of course my son wants the narration to make sense because he loves emailing them to his grandparents and other family members.

Story Builder App

There are 3 levels of difficulty.  Each level leads the child into making a longer and longer narration.  My son played on level one for several weeks and the improvement in his sentence and paragraph construction is noticeable.  He’s looking forward to starting the higher levels.

Overall, I think that the Story Builder App is a great app for teaching your children how to construct sentences and paragraphs.  The story starters kept my son interested and he enjoyed crafting his own stories.  The Story Builder App is perfect to keep the kids entertained when waiting at doctor’s offices and other appointments.  I heard my youngest son (8) and my oldest son (19) giggling over the silly stories the were creating.  It’s a bit like mad libs, which kids always seem to enjoy.  The ONLY drawback I can see with the Story Builder App is that after a while some kids might get bored with it.  It’s not meant to be used as an game app, such as Angry Birds, to be played continually.  I think it’s best to use 2-3 times per week as a way to practice their sentence and paragraph construction.  This way your children will not get bored with it.   I certainly think that the Story Builder App is a good addition to your homeschooling arsenal and worth the money you would spend on it.  It’s a fun way to learn and improve your child’s story telling ability and writing skills.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this item free from the creator. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Linking To: a href=”” target=”_blank”>Wise Woman Link-Up, Homemaking Link-Up, Encourage One Another, Wisdom Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday, Hearts 4 Home, Natural Living Link-Up, Proverbs 31 Thursday, Beautiful Thursdays Link-Up, Modest Monday, Teach Me Tuesday, Domestically Divine Tuesday, Titus 2sday, Making a Home, Thankful Homemaker Link-Up, Titus 2 Tuesday,


Addition War

This is such an easy game to make and fun to play. It quickly and easily teaches the addition facts in an enjoyable way–I get no arguments for leaning math with this game!

How to Make:
Supplies Needed

  • 3” x 5” cards
  • Markers
  • Stickers or other decorations

On the 3” x 5” card write the addition facts you are working on. For example, on our set, I did 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, 8’s, 9’s, 10’s, 11’s & 12’s. Do not write the answer on the card, IE: 2+2= or 9+7=. You will also want to make 4 “Wild” cards, by writing “Wild” on them. I let the kids decorate the cards however they want with markers, stickers, etc. Leave the backside of the cards blank and make sure that the facts on the front don’t show through the card (don’t use a permanent marker that soaks through the card).

How to Play:

  1. You will need 2 or more players.
  2. Shuffle the cards and deal them face down. Each player will have a stack in front of them, face down.
  3. Starting with the youngest player and going around to the left, each player turns over their top card and gives the answer to the problem on the card.
  4. The player with the highest answer wins all the cards and puts them on the bottom of their stack.
  5. If a player gives a wrong answer to a problem, another player may call out the correct answer and add the card to the bottom of their stack.
  6. When 2 cards of equal value are played, a playoff is declared. The players who have cards of equal value take 2 cards from their stack, leaving them face down. Then they turn the next card face up. The player who plays the card with the highest value, and gives the correct answer, wins the playoff and takes all the cards. If an incorrect answer is given, the cards go to the opponent. If, during the playoff the 2 face up cards are again of equal value, the play off steps are repeated until one player has turned up a card of higher value. The winner then takes all the cards in both playoff piles.
  7. When a player turns over a “wild” card, they win all the cards.
  8. Play continues until a player has collected all the cards.
  9. Variation: cards won are placed in a separate pile, face up. When the face down card piles have all been played, the game is over. The person with the most cards wins.

This game can actually be done with any math facts, subtraction, multiplication,division, etc. It puts a fun spin on learning math facts.  I think it could also be done with other subjects.





Our Homeschool Curriculum – 2012

I occasionally get asked what we use for  homeschooling Riley.  I don’t use a complete curriculum from one company, but instead do a lot of mix-and-matching, using items that work well for us.  That’s one of my favorite things about homeschooling, being able to tailor your child’s education to their skills and personality.  We subscribe to the classical education model with a lot of Charlotte Mason thrown in.  We are very relaxed homeschoolers.  Riley is currently completing some 1st grade work (reading) and we began 2nd  grade work in January(everything else)).  Grade level wise, if he were in public school, he would be in 2nd grade.  But that’s the great thing about homeschooling…you can let you children learn different subjects at their own speed.  A lot of our learning is hands on and real world practice of skills.  But we do use books too :).

I consider Bible class our most important class, followed by reading and math.  There’s really no other way that a child can learn how to become and live as a Christian without it.  If we have a busy day, this is the one class we do regardless.  For Bible we use a variety of helps.

We first of all start off with a Bible devotional.  We are currently using Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland.  I’ve had this book for years and I think it’s one of the finest available.  It really puts these sometime complex ideas into a way that children can understand.  I generally use this book in Kindergarten and 1st grade.  We are nearly finished with it for the 2nd time around and then we will begin using Our 24 Family Ways by Clay Clarkson.

Scripture memory is also an important part of  Bible class.  For that we use the Scripture memory system I’ve blogged about in the past

The Bibles we use in class are The KJV Kids’ Study Bible, Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible, and The Beginner’s Bible.  We use the KJV Study Bible to read any associated Scripture included in the lesson.  I read aloud the Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible and Riley reads The Beginner’s Bible on his own.

For phonics instruction, we are finishing up with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. 100 Easy lessons is kind of a toss between phonics and reading.  We are also using the Explode the Code system. We are currently finishing up Explode the Code Book 2 and about to begin Explode the Code 3.  I love both of these resources for phonics instruction and they have worked extremely well with Riley.

For reading we are currently using the Hooked on Phonics readers that come with the Hooked on Phonics system.  I bought a used copy of it a thrift shop and the system itself didn’t work well for us.  BUT, Riley enjoyed the books so we continue to use them.  They are a series of easy to read books and easy to read chapter books.  He reads 1 easy to read book each day or 1 chapter from the chapter books per day.  He reads the selection once during class and then is required to read the same selection to his Dad when he get’s home from work.  Once he’s finished a book, it goes onto his bookshelf for free choice reading.

We also are using The Original McGuffeys Eclectic First Reader.  He reads one lesson per day and writes the words list from the lesson 3 times each.

This year we are using a new item for spelling, suggest by my friend Jenny.  And let me tell you, it is working wonderfully!  It’s called Sequential Spelling 1, we just started using it in January and he is already words like beginning, agreed, and disagreed without any problems and we’re only up to about lesson 10!  I am so impressed with this spelling program that we’ll be sticking with it and telling everyone we know about it!

We are using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2.  I have really been impressed with this English program. We just started it in January and Riley seems to really be enjoying it.  He’s learning all about nouns and verbs right now and it seems to be sticking with him well.  He’s also already memorized one poem selection (The Goops) and his copy work is going well.

I just ordered The Complete Writer: Level Two Workbook for Writing with Ease.  It’s by the same author of First Language Lessons.  I was so happy with here English program that I decided to start using here writing program.  We also use the Handwriting Without Tears program for penmanship practice.  We just finished up Printing Power and will begin Handwriting Without Tears – Grade 3 Cursive Handwriting this Fall.  Right now, I just have him doing copy work and writing short essays…he’s just not quite ready for cursive yet.

We start off math with a timed drill, we use the drills found in CalcuLadder 1: Basic Addition & Subtraction and it’s working really well for us.  For actual math instruction, we are using JUMP at Home Grade 2, this was another suggestion from my friend Jenny and we are loving it.  Next year (grade 3), we will move on over to either Teaching Textbooks or Saxon Math 3.  I also add in an extra math worksheet from off the internet to help fill in any gaps.

This is one of Riley’s favorite subjects.  This year we are using the really hands-on Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the 5th Day.  He is loving it!  This book, along with its companion Zoology 1 Notebooking Journal has really got Riley excited about science.  I adore all love all of the Apologia science texts and plan on using it all through his school years.  He is also working his way through the Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 1.

In January, we began using The Mystery of History Vol 1.  I really like the way this book is set up.  We will use Mystery of History V1-V4 twice in his school life, 2nd-5th grade and again 7th-10th grade.  We are also doing a time line notebook using the History Through the Ages Timeline Figures Creation Through Christ.  I plan on purchasing the whole series of History Through the Ages timeline figures so we can add figures to our timeline that we discover throughout our homeschool studies.  I’ll have to post photos of our timeline notebook at another time.

We are also are taking the more Charlotte Mason approach with a study of American History.  We are using the vintage The Golden Book History of the United States Complete Set (Volumes 1 – 12).  We are reading a section at a time and plan on reading through the whole series during the 2nd-4th grade years.  We also are checking out books from the library and using along with this for our read aloud times during the day and evening.  This is working out really well and makes learning American history fun and easy.

Well that’s it!  These choice are working well for us and we usually complete all homeschool work in 2-3 hours.  We are also only homeschooling Monday through Thursday.

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