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    © Katie's Homeschool Cottage 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Katie's Homeschool Cottage with an appropriate link to the original content.
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ACT Explore

     My family recently received the Explore and Plan series of assessments, a part of the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS), published by ACT Advantage for the purpose of its use and review as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Homeschoolers worry about “doing enough”, “doing too much”, “covering everything we need to”, “will my child test well when he has to as part of the college admissions process”, among other questions.

I’ve had those thoughts a number of times. So, when I received a copy of the Explore assessment from ACT Advantage, I was curious as to how my eighth grade son would perform.

I previously reviewed the ACT Discover online program as my son explored possible career choices; now we could try out another product offered to help prepare students for the future.

PhotobucketThe Explore and Plan assessments, part of the Educational Planning and Assessment System, are designed to test students in four core subject areas, to help parents identify subject areas needing remediation, and to provide parents with suggested skills activities to promote progress in core subject areas. These tests can help you determine your course for ACT, high school, and college preparation.

The Explore assessment is targeted for the 8th and 9th grade; while the Plan is for 10th grade. Each assessment has four timed test sections:

  • English – Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills (organization and style in writing)
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

Each test comes with a bubble answer sheet, simple directions for administration, an answer key, and directions to tally and interpret resulting scores. There is a helpful explanation as to how your child’s test results relate to percentiles and level of likely college -readiness.

What is especially helpful and significant about these assessments is a booklet, “College Readiness Standards”, that accompanies the test booklet. This booklet is broken up into the four core subject areas – each subject area is broken into brackets based on test scores. In these brackets are detailed descriptions of skills and learning strategies to promote further knowledge and progress in that subject area. So, if you want to know how to help your child acquire the knowledge indicated as needing remediation, this booklet serves as a map to follow to gain knowledge in more advanced levels.

The tests were all about 30 minutes each and my son found it simple to understand and complete. If we did not cover a concept in math yet, he skipped that problem on the test. (Since my son took this test the fall of 8th grade – we used the chart available for this time frame when interpreting the results. Other charts are available for interpreting test scores when taking the test in the spring of 8th grade and the fall of  9th grade.)

Each homeschool packet is $22.95.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew to read more reviews of the ACT Explore and Plan assessments.

Merry Christmas! God Bless Us Everyone!

Merry Christmas! What a wonderful time of year to reflect on life’s purpose and step back and enjoy our loved ones around us. Reflecting on current times, some of us have to exert a little bit more effort to find those blessings. But, I found that I only have to look at who I spend my day with to see how richly blessed I am and to be able to continue what I am doing with our family.

Everyone is talking about “simplifying” and “getting back to basics”. My family has been doing that for the past couple of years now and it does truly clarify things, eliminating stress and time other-wise well spent. We are more choosy in how we spend our time and resources and have ventured into new activities and friendships that have truly been a blessing.

Appreciation for health, freedom of religion and to be able to pursue our homeschooling, and for family and friends have been our key to peace and joy in our days.

Cherish these few days together before you rush into “planning” for the new school year. Enjoy one another, as we all know too well, these days pass much too quickly.

I hope for all of you a season and new year of faith, peace, love, joy, hope, health, and prosperity (of all forms) through all current and future events.

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!


Maestro Classics

   My family recently received a free copy of “The Tortoise and the Hare” – Stories in Music by Maestro Classics for the purpose of review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Do you remember as a child listening to the musical version of “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev? Or, something less classical like “Tubby the Tuba”? Believe it or not, I have visions of being 5 at my neighbor’s house jumping up and down on the sofa to “Peter and the Wolf” (permitted by the mother of course – something I wouldn’t have been able to get away with at my house.) That was forty years ago! Music can really make connections with memories and make them stick.

That’s only one benefit to listening to music, other than the obvious enjoyment you can derive from the experience – which we obviously did, as children. In that tradition, when my children were younger, I was eager to share with them my enjoyment with this musical classic.

Maestro ClassicsNow, there are a large variety of these musical stories available through Maestro Classics.   

Stories in Music™ is a collection of works for symphony orchestra and narrator designed for children ages 5 and up. These recordings are the outgrowth of years of successful concert hall programming at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC where Stephen Simon, conductor and composer, and Bonnie Ward Simon, creator of the original Stories in Music concerts at the Kennedy Center, produced their highly-acclaimed parent-child educational concerts with the Washington Chamber Symphony.”

Maestro Classics believes in three main benefits of listening to this series:

  • Expanding listening skills and musical horizons
  • Develop listening skills in differing musical styles and instruments, while accumulating  musical memories
  • Encourage adults and children to listen to music together

M.C. Tortoise and Hare      On “The Tortoise and the Hare” CD you hear:

  • The story (a somewhat different adaptation of the classic) with a narrator and London Philharmonic Orchestra (20:43)
  • About the story – Ms. Simon relates background information about the story (2:49)
  • Pretzel Vendor of Paris Song performed by Maestro Classics Dixieland Band (2:06)
  • About the music – Stephen Simon explains the music and instruments and their sounds to better understand the musical piece (4:49)
  • Now That You Know a Little More – A repetition of the “The Tortoise and the Hare” story now that you have a better understanding with which to listen (20:43)
  • Want to Have Some Fun? Prepare to Perform – Ms. Simon invites the children to sing the Pretzel Vendor of Paris song (:35)
  • Pretzel Vendor of Paris Sing Along – music only for the children to sing to (2:06)

The CD comes in a nice 3 fold cardboard holder with a booklet specific to the use of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
The booklet contains:

  • a nice colored spread of the instruments found in an orchestra
  • a visual explanation of measures, notes, rests, and beats
  • facts about turtles, tortoises, rabbits, and hares
  • information about the contrabassoon
  • a dot to dot
  • music and words for the “Pretzel Vendor of Paris” song
  • pictures of instruments found in the Dixieland Band
  • a word jumble
  • crossword puzzle

I enjoy cds and tapes to listen to in the car or when my guys are doing some kind of arts and crafts project at the table to supplement our schooling. My guys like to listen to cds and tapes at night as they fall asleep or during their free time in the afternoon.

This particular story was a bit young for my boys, 10 and 13. They enjoyed it; but it’s not something they will repeatedly listen to. If it was another one of the other stories available that was new to them or more sophisticated, I know they would pick it up to listen to on their own.

We all appreciated the explanation about the music and the instruments and trying to pick out the different instruments within the music. We also enjoy interpreting the music and its symbolism for action or mood in the story. My younger song enjoyed the “The Pretzel Vendor of Paris” song.

Other titles available include:

  • Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
  • Casey at the Bat
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster (also available in Spanish)
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Peter and the Wolf
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • A Soldier’s Tale (coming soon)
  • My Name is Handel (coming soon)

The CD’s can be purchased for $16.95 each or for a special coupon code price at their site 3 CD’s for $45.00. A couple of gift sets are also available at additional cost.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew for additional reviews of this product.


    My family and I have recently been using a free trial of the Mathletics online program for the purpose of a review as part of the TOS Crew.

Do you presently enjoy your current math program, but wish you had a source for reinforcement and enrichment? I feel like I have finally found the “perfect fit” for my guys this year for their core math programs. However, there is an occasional concept that I want to provide for them some extra practice, and then I go hunting for a source for that reinforcement.

Mathletics        I found that reinforcement opportunity with Mathletics. At first, I had the uninformed impression that this was another program of drill and practice for computation. This program has a lot more to offer. Competing against the computer and other students across the world in drill races is just the tip of the iceberg.

What does this online program offer your child?

To use the program, there are different options offered to your child. After you choose the appropriate level, available from Kindergarten through 8th,  in which your child should begin working, your child is ready to begin practice from a list of topics and subtopics from that level.

Choices include:

  • Create a mathlete avatar for your screen
  • Practice a curriculum concept from a subtopic within a main category topic


  • Concept instruction review from the student center in a visual and written description
  • Take a test that covers a main category topic
  • Participate in a timed race to complete mathematical problems at different levels covering a specific topic of your child’s choosing – in two formats
    • Against himself for his best time against the computer
    • Against other students online around the world at the same level


  • As your child completes competitions and earns performance averages your child gains several things
    • A Ranking Name – starting with “Raging Rookie” and ending with “Human Calculator”
    • Points to be calculated to earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Certificate
    • These points can be used to purchase additional accessories to dress up his mathlete avatar
    • Gold bars to unlock games to play at your child’s level
    • Highest ranking mathletes are displayed on the web page
    • Those mathletes who earn a Participation Certificate for the week are entered into a random drawing for Mathlete of the Week to earn two movie tickets
  • Problem solving exercises using logic
  • Primary math skills in the form of Rainforest games
  • Choose to look at his report to see his progress

So, you can see there are a lot of different activities and opportunities for remediation, reinforcement, and enrichment in a motivating format with fun incentives and rewards. Feedback is immediate and in several visual formats for your child to see his progress. To read more about what is available for your child, read the Student Center Guide.

What is available to assist the parent?

There is a parent center where you can not only monitor your child’s progress for each concept, but you choose at which level your child should work.

You can:

  • Select the starting level for your child and then adjust it up to six times during your yearly subscription
  • Monitor your child’s performance and mastery of each skill
  • Select subtopics to display on your child’s screen to assist him in focusing on specific skills you wish to direct his attention (I personally, think this is the coolest feature for the parent)
  • Select multimedia presentations to assist you in presenting concepts to your child for his understanding (nifty tool as well)
  • Downloadable and printable workbooks for extra practice

I also appreciated the feature where the program intuitively presents more difficult problems as your child begins to master the concept on which he is working. One issue I had was having two children with their own user names and passwords and I had my own as the parent to access the Parent Center, but only one student showed up in my parent center. As a subscriber I would persue making sure that I had access from the Parent Center to both my students.

My kids’ verdicts –  They definitely enjoyed creating their mathlete avatars, selecting a topic to work on, and then competing against others live online. The real-time online competition, chance to gain points to earn certificates and avatar accessories, and move up in rank is “the” highlight of this program for my guys.

To see what Mathletics can bring to your homeschool, visit their Homeschool Brochure.

A yearly subscription per student is $59 per year with a 10 day money back guarantee. If you enter the “computer’s favorite number as ‘9’”, you can receive a discount for a subscription for $49 per year per student.

To read other reviews from the TOS Homeschool Crew about Mathletics, visit here.

Tektoma GameMaker Tutorial for Kids

    Our family has received a limited time membership to Tektoma to use the software and share our experiences with you as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Do you have a child who has expressed interest in learning how to develop his own video game? I do and I was thrilled to be able to show him this website and let him try it out. He’s 13, almost 14, so he was able to work on this independently after I registered with the site and installed the necessary software.

Photobucket       Tektoma offers a safe learning environment where all materials, projects, and forums are moderated to ensure appropriate content for all ages. This site offers video tutorials to teach game programming to children from ages 7-17. (I’m not sure that children under 12 would be able to do this without parental assistance. I showed my 10 year old son how the tutorial worked and the GameMaker software you use with the tutorial. He had no interest in going through this procedure at all, so I didn’t push him.)

The tutorials are all about using the GameMaker program, so you have to install the free (Lite) version of the software onto your computer from the Yo Yo Games website. (Your child is not really programming with a language, but is taking the first step in constructing a game with premade items.) There is a Pro edition you can purchase and install later if this is a big hit in your home. You also have to install Game Resources to be used in programming. This allows you to use premade items in your game such as tracks, transportation vehicles, and characters. (This part was the most difficult step for us – maybe because I did it, and not my 13 year old.)

There is a tutorial on how to use the gamemaking tutorials. There are also sample games you can try out to get an idea of what kind of games you can make.

Now, we were ready to begin. Because we have the capability, I had my son watch the tutorial on one computer while he followed the steps and constructed a game on another computer. The explanations are very clearly explained and demonstrated on the screen within the GameMaker software, so you see the instructor using the same screen you are. My son was able to follow these steps very easily – so easily, he turned the volume down because he preferred to just watch what the instructor was doing and follow along.

There are various types of games your child can construct, each explained in good detail as to its contents and game components. These tutorials range in length from about 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours:

  • Beginner Games
    • Racing – racing cars, building a track and map
    • Arcade – character combats enemies and gains bonus points
    • Memory – a memory/concentration game
  • Intermediate Game
    • Platform game – similar to old Mario Brothers game with tracking health, lives, and score
  • Advanced Game
    • Fantasy Adventure Game – Conducting a quest, travel through different countries, collect treasure while using magic and swords

There are also shorter tutorials instructing how to add additional features to these games once your child has made them. Once your child has completed his game construction, he can send them to others or share them on the Tektoma website. Any games uploaded to the Tektoma site are moderated to ensure proper content. Your child can also play games uploaded to the site by others.

The various tutorials gradually progress in difficulty so that your child can move through the various levels learning different software features and programming skills.

As part of the membership benefits, your child can participate in the site’s forum for discussion and technological questions, also monitored for proper content.

I am counting my son’s time spent with this endeavor as his computer/technology/keyboarding time for school.

If you would like to try the tutorials out for yourself or see if this of interest to your child before purchasing, you can try out the 14 day free trial and look at some of their sample games.

Monthly memberships are available for $14.95 per month with automatic renewal until cancelled or $140.00 per year. You can also earn 15 days free when you refer a friend with the Refer a Friend button and that friend purchases a membership.

Presently, the tutorials only run with Windows XP or Vista, a broadband connection, and a current web browser. You need the GameMaker software and resources, 128mb of RAM, DirectX 8 with a minimum of 32mb of video memory, and a screen resolution of 800 x 600 to develop the games.

For other reviews of the Tektoma, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew.

All About Spelling

What happened to learning spelling rules? Wouldn’t it make sense for children to learn spelling rules so that if they come across a word they have not memorized, they will be able to spell it? That’s what I think.

All About Spelling presents all spelling rules in a sequential order in six levels for auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. This program begins with preschool and learning letter sounds and ends with the soon to be published high school level six.

Beginning with the practice of letter/sound and phonogram/sound identification, your child learns to segment a new spelling word to be able to identify and then place each letter in its proper place in the new word. After learning spelling rules such as “‘c’ makes the /s/ sound when it is followed by ‘e’, ‘i’, or ‘y'”, your child can apply the proper spelling rule when a word deviates from its phonetic sound.

Your child learns about rules that apply to the use of vowels, syllable division, and open and closed syllables, as well as the formation of plural words, suffixes, homophones, contractions, and more.

All About Spelling approaches spelling with a variety materials to engage all learning styles and to assist you in your teaching:

  • Teacher’s Manual – Complete lesson plans and script to save you time and assist you in organizing and prioritizing sounds, words, and rules.

Sounds, words, and rules are grouped and presented to your child in a progressive and sequential manner – keeping sounds and word families together with applicable rules that will “stick” in your child’s memory bank.

  • Student Material Packet – This packet contains flashcards, flashcard dividers, specific materials to use for each level, a progress chart, and a completion certificate.

Flashcards include – phonogram cards, sound cards, key cards (spelling rules), word cards (mastering spelling words)

The various cards are used to present a new sound, word, or spelling rule, for review, and to keep track of skill mastery.

  • Starter Kit – letter tiles, magnets, phonogram CD-ROM

Letter tiles are used to kinesthetically and visually reinforce spelling concepts.

My son enjoyed this spelling program far and above any other program we have tried previously. We started near the end of Level One with the last lessons pertaining to syllables and dove into the program with Level Two. He already knew the individual letter and blend sounds in Level One, but we reviewed them so we could get a good feel for the program.

As I used All About Spelling with my younger son, I’m embarrassed to say, I learned a few spelling rules with which I was not fully knowledgeable. I also areas that my older son should review to reinforce his spelling knowledge. I am totally excited about this program and plan to use it through high school with my children in the future.

All About Spelling has made a believer out of me! To read articles pertaining the instruction of spelling and learn about the philosophies behind this program, visit their website.

The Starter Kit (to be used with all levels) can be purchased for $26.95, the Level One Teacher’s Manual and Student Material Packet can be purchased for $29.95, and the other level packages can be purchased for $39.95. Additional student packets can be purchased for $14.95 or $19.95 each. Additional starter kit components can also be purchased.

For additional reviews of All About Spelling, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew.


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