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Hank the Cowdog

My boys and I received three items from the Hank the Cowdog series published by Maverick Books. I have heard plenty about the books and have seen them in our library. My sons, who usually focus on science related books or ones along the lines of Lord of the Rings, had never read any of this series; so I was eager to see what all the talk was about.

 Hank #8     Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse, Book #8

I’ll start this review with the book we received entitled The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse. This book is based on a very clever and amusing premise with the story being told in the words of a dog who has appointed himself, Head of Ranch Security. He lives on a ranch with a faithful companion and sidekick Drover, his man/owner, his wife, their young son, and a cat. This story is broken into chapters, almost vignettes, with very descriptive narratives of events that occur in Hank’s day as he fulfills his duties in his very important and indispensable position of Head of Ranch Security.

My boys and I thoroughly loved the idea of Hank telling the story from his point of view and we could begin to imagine our dog thinking and doing the very same thing during her day at our house. I was impressed by the level of vocabulary used in the book, unlike other chapter books I have read for this age range (8-10 reading alone, younger if reading aloud as a family). There is no simplifying the descriptions and storytelling here just to make it an easy reader. We also enjoyed the play on words that was used when Hank would mistakenly quote an often used saying when handing down sage advice to his trusty sidekick. For example, “wearing the foot on the other shoe” or “… a few fancy words, sprinkled here and there into your sentences, would help break the monogamy of your conversation.”

We especially enjoyed the ending when after all the trials and tribulations that Hank faced culminated in him saving the day. He rescued two little girls from Tuerto the Killer Stud Horse, hence the reason for the book’s title. We found ourselves routing for Hank after experiencing with him all of the disasters of his day and admiring his sincerity in trying to do his self-appointed duty to the best of his ability.

This book is different than one that we would ordinarily read or read again for our family, personally. The type of humor was more slapstick and the dog duo reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy team where there was name calling and some derogatory remarks made. We enjoy more of a dry sense of humor and more wit and satire of Mark Twain or Howard Pyle’s Adventures of Robin Hood as opposed to physical comedy. Thus, when Hank found himself being strangled by the rancher’s wife when she was having a very bad day and Hank got in the way, this was not what we would typically find funny. We turned that portion of the story into more of a lesson in handling your frustrations and stress in a more positive manner. But, other families who enjoy physical comedy, the kind found in the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy, may also enjoy this story.

However, try out one of these books on your own and see if this is a good fit for your family or a reluctant reader who would enjoy a good yarn told from the perspective of a dog, especially one who is Head of Ranch Security. The price for the paperback version of this book is $4.24. You can find it here along with other Hank the Cowdog titles.

 Hank logo

Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog (Stories and Excerpts from 10 Books plus 9 Original Songs)

The second item for review was a CD with Hank the Cowdog story excerpts and original songs written and sung by John R. Erickson, the author of Hank the Cowdog series. The stories and songs are told and sung in voices of animal characters in excerpts from various Hank the Cowdog books. We enjoyed listening to Mr. Erickson portray the animals’ different personalities through his many different voices and the kinds of songs they sang.

My boys especially enjoyed hearing Hank’s voice after he tries not to believe he’s been stung twice by two “bimble bees” on the nose. Think about what it sounds like to have a very stuffed nose and you’ve got the idea. A song we enjoyed listening to was sung by two coyotes Rip and Snort entitled, “We Don’t Give A Hoot.” This song, of course being sung by what you would consider scavengers, basically conveys the message that these two do not give a hoot what others think of them or what they do when they sing,  “We don’t give a hoot, we don’t ever wear a suit. We’re nothing but animals, outrageous cannibals…”

Again, most of the stories and songs were not quite our cup of tea. However, maybe your younger children will enjoy them; especially, if you don’t mind the kind of song that refers to a posterior body part. (It rhymes with shiny.) Someone who reads alot of Hank the Cowdog books would thoroughly enjoy listening to the characters come alive in some of their favorite stories. This CD can be purchased for only $3.00 from the Hank the Cowdog official website.

Tornado game

Tornado Game

My son and I enjoyed this game most of all. Based on the book The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado, this game is played very similarly to Sorry. Each player gets three markers, Hank, Drover, and a buzzard, all characters from the story. By spinning the spinner, you move your pieces around the board in order to get home. While moving around the board, you can send other players back to their starting positions or you can be sent back to yours. You can also be penalized when landing on a spot with a picture of a tornado. This game comes with a cassette tape with excerpts from the book. It served as a good lesson in graciously accepting bumps in the road that unexpectedly come your way and then moving on. We enjoyed listening to the story on tape while we played. I think it would make a great gift or surprise for a big Hank the Cowdog fan. The Tornado game is available for $12.99 along with other Hank the Dog items.

Read other opinions of this set of Hank the Cowdog products at the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Web Design For Kids…and Curious Grown Ups

Well, after reading various books entitled with a name like Webpages or HTML for People who Don’t Know What They are Doing, I’m embarrassed to admit, I still didn’t know what I was doing. Until, I sat and watched “Web Design For Kids…and Curious Grown Ups” by Cick Drag Solutions.


This is a great DVD geared towards kids (starting at 10, maybe 8 up to Adults) so that they (and me) can easily understand how to get started developing a web page. The DVD consists of the following lessons:

  • Ten Basic Lines of Code
  • Sandwiches and Colors
  • Make Subject Stand Out
  • Stand Alone Tags
  • Designing Backgrounds
  • Fonts and Paragraphs
  • Pictures

Each lesson features, Brian Richardson, a former middle school computer literacy teacher demonstrating easy step by step instructions to follow and simultaneously develop your own web site. My son and I found that it worked best when he worked on a laptop (you can always use a nearby computer) while he watched the DVD and I hit the pause button on the remote when needed and took notes for future reference.

My son was extremely excited to look at his web page he was developing after typing each portion of code and bask in the results. I had to make him wait to begin the next lesson and work on this over a few days because other people needed to use the computer.

If you are looking for a computer class or an introduction to writing code for your children, I highly recommend this DVD to get you started. Mr. Richardson is presently working on a second DVD picking up where he left off from the first and delving into more HTML techniques. The reasons this program is so well done are

  • this program is motivating because the children can see results of their efforts immediately.
  • they will learn the idea that code has to typed in exactly or won’t work, providing great practice in attention to detail.
  • all necessary software you need is on your computer. (Windows – Notepad and Internet Explorer; Mac – TextEdit and Safari)

Right now, the DVD, usually $40.00, is on sale at %50 off for $19.99 plus shipping. There is a money-back guarantee.

My son and I enjoyed this program so much that we discussed ways in which he can use it to develop his own blog/website. When that is up and running, I’ll be updating you all on that. We hope it will be beneficial for teens and their parents! (but that’s all I can say about that for now)

Visit sample websites developed by kids using HTML learned by watching Web Design For Kids…and Curious Grown Ups.

To get back to Click Drag Solutions – I also admire Mr. Richardson because he is a charitable man.

He has established Click Drag Foundation which provides DVDs and instruction to youth programs in urban neighborhoods. He also donates a portion of his company’s profits to the following charities:

  • Ronald McDonald House
  • Children’s Miracle Network
  • The Smile Train
  • Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
  • American Foundation for the Blind

I encourage you to visit Click Drag Solutions to view a video clip from the DVD. You won’t be disappointed.

If you would like to read other reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Using Nature Study to Study all Areas of Science

I love the idea of nature study and bringing my kids outdoors and exploring science in a natural way. But how do you turn it into something where you know your kids have learned some of those scientific concepts you want to teach?

Sure, I like Charlotte Mason’s ideas of attention to detail and creating a picture in one’s mind of what you are looking at. I also like the idea of getting outside in the fresh air and experiencing science and nature first hand. But, I guess I’m a little too up tight to just leave it at that without turning it into some kind of lesson on a concept.

One way that Charlotte Mason and homeschoolers do this is by keeping a nature journal of what they are observing in nature. Through the use of observation and reading field guides, children can narrate onto journal notebook pages what they have observed in nature, what they read in the field guides, any other information about their nature walk, and maybe a drawing.

If you want to put this narration and drawing in a bound book, you can find these in book stores or school supply catalogs with lined or blank pieces of paper. Some may have fancy fabric covers; some may be plain white or with a simple outline sketch on the outside. We have used all of these variations and have enjoyed them all.

Now that is an effective way of teaching about what you see directly in nature. But, how do you teach areas within biology, physics, and chemistry from there? Well that’s where you build a bridge or connection between what the child experiences first hand in nature and has a personal connection with a concept of science that can be extended from the child’s first hand knowledge.

Let’s say you are studying weather where it is common to experience thunderstorms and lightning during that month. After you observe this weather, maybe making charts of what the weather has been or making predictions, and researching what causes thunderstorms and lightning, you want to extend your study into other areas of science. From thunderstorms, you  begin to read and do science experiments with sound waves and vibrations or examine the water cycle. Or, you look at acid rain and focus on some chemistry experiments looking at the effects of acid rain, which can extend into a study of acids and bases and ph.

Maybe you want to move from there and look at lightning and what causes that and do experiments with static electricity and electrical circuits and conductors and insulators. Or, after rain, sometimes you can see a rainbow. After looking at the causes of a rainbow, you look at the color spectrum and perform experiments with white light and prisms and color absorption.

As you can see one study in weather, can lead you into more detailed studies encompassing areas of physical sciences and chemistry. Any studies with different classes of animals and plants can build into anatomy and physiology, and botany studies.

So, don’t be afraid to let go of that textbook, at least for a little while. After exploring where your nature studies lead you, you may find you are enjoying and learning so much more science than you imagined that you will forget to return to your textbook.

If you are interested in more ways to teach science this way like integrating geology and crystals, buoyancy, density, volume, magnetism, and gravity and so on check out Using Nature Study, Nature Journals, and Poetry Through the Year.

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Winner of Nature Study ebook Announced

I had promised for a few months now, that anyone who subscribed to our newsletter would have a chance in a drawing for a copy of our new nature study ebook, Using Nature Study, Nature Journals, and Poetry Through the Year.

So, we notified our winner last night and received an answer back from her this morning! Congratulations, Joanna! We hope you enjoy the book and your nature study adventures with your kids!

If you haven’t checked out the book yet, please take a look here: Using Nature Study, Nature Journals, and Poetry Through the Year.

To check out a slide show describing this ebook, click on this link: Ebook Slide Show

We hope you enjoy!

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Improving Math Computation Skills with Quarter Mile Math Software

My kids and I enjoyed and got alot from using the Quarter Mile Math Deluxe software we’ve been using recently. You can watch a video or see a demo here.

 1/4Mile Image          Smaller Size

 Alot of homeschoolers do very well in understanding math concepts. However, speed in computational skills that is required in those pesky standardized tests usually needs some work. I had heard through the homeschool grapevine that this software has done so much to help homeschoolers with their computation, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I had thought, “What could that program do that doing timed drill worksheets can’t do?”

After seeing my boys use this program, I can see the difference. This program has alot more to offer than flashcards or worksheets, or even other math software programs.

Here’s What the Program Does for You and Your Kids

The deluxe version of the math program offers practice and review in math computation for skills in grades K-9 with the following math areas:

  • Numbers and Letters
  • Whole Numbers
  • Introduction to Fractions
  • Fractions
  • Decimals
  • Percents
  • Math Strategies
  • Estimation
  • Integers
  • Equations

Within each of these areas, you can choose a particular topic. For example, one of my sons reviewed his multiplication tables in the Whole Numbers subject area. My other son practiced working with like and unlike fractions within the Fractions subject area.

With the Deluxe version of the software, you are able to access all subject areas of math available from Levels 1, 2, and 3, and you can choose to race against others at the same time (family members and siblings in your account who also have access to the internet)  or race against the computer (Fast Eddy) or your own scores.

So that your children can participate in a tournament with others outside your family, you can form a co-op of homeschool families under one account with one person acting as the administrator for the account. Barnum Software is looking for seven or more families who would like to participate in a pilot tournament program. Families in the group would use a special Deluxe version of The Quarter Mile Math that would enable students to have tournaments with each other.

If you are interested in receiving documentation about this program, contact The Quarter Mile Math at tournaments@thequartermile.com

When you have the Standard version you work from a cd-rom and only have access to subject areas for the levels you purchase on the cd-rom. You do not access the internet and you only race against your own scores, the computer, or other scores that other family members have previously earned and saved on that computer.

Here is how the two formats compare:

Deluxe Version

$2.95 per family per month
$19.95 per family per year
$34.95 per family for two years

Has all 323 topics in the entire product line and all 70,000+ problems. Covers K through 9th grade (pre-algebra)

Up to 12 family members can use it. 

Student progress tracking features:

  • Tracks a student’s progress over time automatically.
    Has a single screen that shows…
         All topics in which the student has practiced.
         Their chronological progress in each topic.
         The number of races completed daily in each topic plus grand totals.
         The number of correct answer completed daily in each topic plus grand totals.

Multiple students can use it on different computers simultaneously.*
(DSLor broadband is required to be able to do this.)
Students can be in real-time tournaments with other family members on multiple computers. Even those out of state. 

Free upgrades. 

Program can be downloaded. Ordering a CD backup is optional.

Internet connection required but students never go to the web. Students scores are automatically saved to Barnum Software’s Quarter Mile Math server. Minimum connection: dial-up.

Standard Version

One-time purchase–prices range from $39.95 to $89.95 depending on the grade range. Description of level packages

7 different Quarter Mile Math products to choose from covering different grade ranges.

All family members can use it.

Student progress tracking features

  • A student’s progress can be tracked over time.

Can be installed on multiple computers but only one student can use it at a time. Students can take turns competing in a topic during a tournament.

$5 upgrades.

Comes on a CD that is shipped to you.

No internet connection needed. Student scores are saved onto your computer(s).


Once you choose your subject and topic you wish to practice, you can choose the option of racing cars or horses. (I liked the horses myself. Of course, my boys chose the race cars most of the time.) Then you choose whether you are going to “Race with everyone” or “Track your own progress over time”. This takes you to your race track. If you chose yourself, the top 5 averages of your scores will be your competitors in the other lanes. (Or, if you don’t have those scores yet, you will be racing against Fast Eddy, the computer.) If you chose to race with everyone, you can choose who you want to race with and they will appear in your competitors’ lanes.

The math problems appear at the bottom of the screen and you type in your answer as quickly as you can. Each correct answer makes your car or horse accelerate the pace; each incorrect answer keeps the car or horse moving at the current pace. When you give an incorrect answer, you get 2 more tries to type in the correct answer. If you still do not get it right, the program shows you the correct answer and gives you a chance to type in that answer. This process repeats until you type in the correct answer and move to a new problem.

At the end of the race, you select “save” and your score is saved in the correct folder (race with others or tracking your own progress).

Reasons Why We Liked this Program

  • Everyone can use it, alone or the same time on multiple computers and using the internet.
  • Everyone can see progress. The child can see it in his scores from race to race and from day to day. The parent can see the scores for the racers on a Student Scores screen or print them out.
  • It was a fun and effective use of time building math computation skills in short periods of time that you can include daily or a few times per week. (We’re doing a few times per week in addition to our daily math lessons.)
  • This program gives immediate feedback to show you a correct answer in the place of an incorrect answer and your racing placement and time after each race.
  • This kind of program really motivates children to want to perform math calculations faster and more accurately so they can see if they can “beat their last score.”

This is one kind of drill and practice that excites my guys and me! It is alot more motivating and confidence boosting than our kitchen timer and a blank sheet of math problems and mom saying, “Go!”

For more information about the benefits in using this program with your math curriculum visit Quarter Mile Math and watch some of their videos.

Now until September 30th when you place an order with Quarter Mile Math, you can enter the Referral Code – 7J7C7 – to receive a $5 discount on either the Standard or the Deluxe version.

For other reviews by homeschoolers, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew.

ALEKS Math Program Deserves a First and Second Look

     My boys and I have had the opportunity to review ALEKS online math program. I had previously glanced at this program a year ago, but did not spend enough time looking at it to fully understand all that this program does for its students. For this review, however, this time I jumped into it with both feet and brought both my boys with me. And I’m glad I did! This program really deserves a second look! If you’ve briefly looked at it before or have never looked at ALEKS, I encourage you to give it a good long look and try out their free one month trial.

     ALEKS is the name of an online math program and the acronym for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces. This program is not a drill and practice online math quiz or game. It is a customized and prescribed full math program that teaches, provides practice for, reviews, and quizzes your child in math concepts that he shows need in mastering based on an initial assessment he takes when beginning the program.

It has it all. It even provides a math fact review in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to keep your child fresh in his/her computation skills. It also includes a master account for you, the parent/teacher, so you can keep abreast of his improvement, current mastery level, and future concepts yet to be mastered.

The Setup

     When signing up for the trial or the service, you will enter student information for record purposes as well as selecting the math level you wish your child to begin using. (This can be modified if you feel you need to change it.) ALEKS offers everything from elementary math levels 3-8, specialty high school math subject areas, advanced placement, as well as business math and higher education math levels available as an upgrade.

You will receive a user code and password for each child for his own student account in which he will do his work. You will also receive a user code and password for yourself for each child to set up a master account for each one, where you will be able to manage each student account. Upon registration, you will install a plug-in on your computer, but you will be logging in online and running the program online during each math session. The setup process was simple for us.

Using the Program

     When using the program for the first time, your student is given a quick tutorial in how to input answers into the program. When that is completed, an assessment appears that your child completes so that the program can determine the areas in which he has already achieved mastery and those areas that still need work.

ALEKS Student-Account_Assessment

Your child then is shown a pie chart to visually explain his skill level in individual topic areas for the math level you have selected. Darker shaded areas of the pie pieces depict mastery, while the lighter remaining areas of the pie pieces indicate room for needed practice.

Aleks Student-Account_MyPie

     Your child is now ready to select one of the underlined concepts listed within a topic from the pie. When presented with a math problem to solve, he can click on the Explain button to see an explanation of that concept with examples of how to perform the math task.

aleks Student-learning mode

     There are different formats of open-ended questions. No multiple choice or true/false questions here. Your child is required to perform steps to complete a problem, just like he would with other math programs.

aleks Student-Account_Graphing-Tool

Your child receives immediate feedback after answering each problem with suggestions to correct his answer and a chance to answer again.

You can print off worksheets to further practice or review concepts based on your student’s current knowledge. There is also a portion of the program called QuickTables where your child can practice math facts based on the number range you select. This program also displays his mastery as he progresses through the drills.

aleks Student-Account_QuickTables

Games provide fun review opportunities and motivation. My boys enjoyed the math games!

aleks Student-Account_QT-Games

Stuff Just for You to Help Your Child

Your separate Master Accounts provide you with up to date information about each of your children. You can look at progress and attendance reports, create and edit quizzes, look at quiz results, and edit student account information and courseware levels.

aleks Master-Account_Homepage

Our Reaction to ALEKS

Mom – Well, what’s not to like about a math program that lets you have more time to work on another subject with another child while your child receives customized math instruction, feedback, and prescribed lessons? Both my guys learned each new concept easily and efficiently while I did not have to correct math work or formulate lesson plans.

I liked that I could select the math level I wanted to start with each child and I could adjust it up or down depending on how my child was performing. I loved seeing an up to date assessment on mastery of each math concept so I could get a good handle on what still needed to be mastered. I appreciated the many types of support options available to me to ask questions, look up answers to questions I had, or read other homeschool parents’ ideas in using the program with their kids.

I liked that I could generate, edit, and administer quizzes at will; and, request progress reports for my children to be mailed to me according to a schedule I chose. E-mail is a wonderful thing that puts the information right in your lap instead of having to login to another program.

The last thing I especially appreciated was that the program matched lesson objectives according the standards for the math program in my state. If that is a concern to a parent, this program assists you in ensuring your child is following those standards.

My Guys – They liked the efficient lessons and the games included. They learned the concepts that were being presented. I only had to help my older son understand the explanation for ratios when he didn’t quite get the explanation; but he got it right away after I took it step by step with him. Other than that, both my guys were able to work completely on their own.

I have an auditory learner and a kinesthetic learner. One enjoys listening to and conversing with someone about math, which this program, unfortunately, does not do like the program he is presently using.  The other likes to work with manipulatives he can hold and move around while he is solving his math problems. Working on the computer is not his personal preference.

So for right now, they like what they are using. But, in the future if those math programs do not work for them, I am definitely keeping ALEKS in mind.

The prices are as follows:

  • $19.95/month
  • $99.95/6 months (the price of 5 months)
  • $179.95/12 months (a savings of $59.45)
  • There is a family discount plan available as well.

I encourage you to check out ALEKS for yourself and really take the time to look at everything ALEKS has to offer you and your children. Let your children try it out for a month and see if it suits their learning needs with the free one month trial.

 Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial


     Check out other homeschoolers’ reviews of ALEKS with the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Carnival of Homeschooling and Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

Just wanted to share with you the locations of this week’s Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival at http://counterculturalschool.blogspot.com. Neat site! Molly is also the powerhouse behind My Audio School. Very Cool site! Check her out. The Carnival of Homeschooling is at About . Com Homeschooling this week. I’m on her newsletter and love it. Always getting good homeschooling tips and unit lesson plan ideas from this site.

If you haven’t tried it check it out! I even receive a weekly newsletter about the 50 states to include in our state study.


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