Friday, December 27, 2013

Hello Fresh - Review

Several years ago, I went with a group of friends to a local business that offers freezer-ready meals that you assemble and then take with you to fix at your convenience.  I thought it was a great idea and I don't remember not enjoying any of the meals.  It was a little pricey, though.  I only went the one time, but I really enjoyed the experience.  

Hello Fresh is an online company that offers you the same type of experience, but you don't have to leave your home to enjoy it.  They come up with the recipes, you pick the three meals you want and then a box of fresh ingredients is delivered weekly to your door.  Easy peasy!  
Hello Fresh takes pride in using fresh, local ingredients and each recipe is designed to be around 400-800 calories..  They have interesting little bios about the suppliers they use on their website.   

My musings:
I really, really enjoyed this review!  Who wouldn't like to receive the ingredients for three pre-chosen meals on their doorstep...the week before Christmas?!?  Actually, the timing was both a blessing and curse.  With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I actually had to make the meals within a couple days (during lunch/dinner) rather than using on three separate days.  

Three meals are chosen for you, but there are two optional meals that you can use to exchange for one of the original meals choices.  The recipes I chose were:  Sautéed Chicken with Ginger Parsnips and Carrots, Yogurt Marinated Shrimp with Arugula Salad and Penne all'Arrabbiata with Pancetta.  Sounds yummy, huh?  They were.  The recipe cards that come with the delivery are printed on full color, glossy 8 1/2 x 11" cards.  Love!

Boxes are delivered on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  I got a call on Wednesday afternoon saying that my delivery was on the truck, but that it wouldn't be delivered until Thursday.  I was a little concerned about a box of fresh food sitting on a delivery truck overnight, but it was pretty cold last week, so I figured it would be okay.  I did call HF to see if they knew why there was delay.  No problems came up so it was decided that it was just because of the increase in holiday packages.  Let me take a moment to sing the praises of Hallie and HF's Customer Service Department.  They. are. awesome!  I had a sign up problem initially - totally user error - and it was quickly fixed and I was along on my merry way.  When I called about the delivery delay, they were very apologetic and reassured me that everything should be fine.  I was asked to call back after I received the delivery just to let them know the condition of the box and contents.  Everything arrived just fine.  I then received an email saying that I'd receive a $10 credit on my next order for the inconvenience.  :-) 

The food is delivered in a heavy cardboard box lined in a foam padding.  There were two large ice packs inside (that were still frozen solid) that the meat sat upon.  Each meal is organized in separate packages within the box with labels on them, so you know what goes with what.  
Here are the ingredients and recipe card for the Yogurt Marinated Shrimp recipe before fixing it.  Of course, I have no pictures of the food finished.  Lame.  
My favorite meal of the trio was the penne with a fresh arrabbiata sauce.  It was so good and one recipe that I will be making again.  

* Fresh and local ingredients
* Meals already chosen
* Ingredients pre-measured, so nothing wasted (I don't normally have bottles of turmeric or cardamon in my pantry, so it was nice not having to buy large amounts for a teaspoon or two.) We also got to try a couple new items I've never used before:  pancetta and arugula.  Loved them both. 
* Customer service driven company
* Beautiful photo recipe cards

* Price - This is only a slight con for me.  The Classic Box (for 3 meals/2 people) is $69.  I could probably do better, price wise, shopping myself, however, for the convenience, it might be worth it.
* Meal size - The options are only for 2 or 4 persons.  We are a 3 person family.  :-)  Maybe if the portions were slightly increased (although, the pasta sauce was plenty for all of us) to 2-3 or 4-5 people, it might work better for us.  I wouldn't pay the double price for a 4 person box, but would want to buy a box that would work for our whole family.  A conundrum!  
* I really have no other cons!  I loved the experience!  

I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to review Hello Fresh.  I would definitely recommend them to anyone!  High fives all around.  Read what other members of Homeschool Mosaic thought of Hello Fresh here.

*Disclaimer:  I received a Classic Box from Hello Fresh in exchange for my honest review.  No other compensation was given.*

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

PlayDate Digital Review - My Little Pony: Party of One App

Hello.  How are you today?  I am fine.  (Bonus points if you can name the book character that always says that line.  Hint, her author just passed last week.  So sad!)  

We were given the opportunity to review the My Little Pony:  Party of One app by PlayDate Digital.  

From the PlayDate Digital website:
PlayDate Digital Inc. is an emergent publisher of high-quality, interactive, mobile educational software for children. PlayDate Digital's products nurture children's emerging literacy and creativity skills by turning digital screens into engaging experiences. Designed in collaboration with leading preschool education experts from insights gleaned from years of extensive research, PlayDate Digital content is built in partnership with some of the world's most trusted global brands for kids and developed and published for iOS and Android devices.

My musings:  
Julianna, 8 1/2, loves My Little Pony, so I figured this app would be a hit.  It was, but the impact just didn't last very long.  It's a cute story about Pinkie Pie planning a party and inviting all of her pony friends, but they all have excuses as to why they cannot come.  Unbeknownst to Pinkie Pie (who now feels slighted and begins to spy on them to see what they are involved in), they are actually planning a surprise party for her.  The story can be set to "read to me" or not.  The chosen vocabulary/sight words are highlighted, so the user can click on them for pronunciation clues.  The illustrations on each page are also interactive and perform an action when selected.  Unfortunately, other than those features, there really isn't anything for the user to do. The app is listed at $2.99.  I was given a code to download it for free in exchange for the review, however,  I somehow missed the prompt to enter the code and ended up paying for it.  Oops!  Honestly, I probably would not pay $2.99 for an app that had just one story.  Especially, with limited additional features.

  • App is well done (graphics are nice and the interactive illustrations are fun)
  • Pinkie Pie's actual voice is used in the story
  • Featured vocabulary are highlighted for extra practice 
  • Kind of pricey for one story
  • Limited activities
  • Age recommendation may be a little high (it's listed for Preschool - Elementary) 

Julianna's musings:
I only liked it so-so.  It was kind of babyish. There was nothing to do!  

So, if you have My Little Pony fans in your household who are Kindergarten age and younger, then this might be a good app to think about.  It's available in iTunes for the iPad or iPhone for $2.99.  You can read what other reviewer thought about the app here.  

*Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this app in exchange for my honest review.  No other compensation was received.*  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TOS Review - Time4Learning

*I have been woefully neglectful of this poor blog.  *sigh*  Too many irons in the fire, I guess.  I've been trying to get my new Sunday School room up and running - Fail!  Still not done.  We just started our new school year this week and we are still alive to tell about it - Success!  I will try to post more regularly now.*

Leading up to beginning our new year, we were asked to review Time4Learning.  Julianna enjoys to play online games, however, it seems every online educational program we've been asked to review has been solely a reading program...and our usually met with great trepidation.  With this program, there is, of course, a Language Arts component, but also, Science, Math, and Social Studies. That made for a much more willing participant!  

Time4Learning is a online educational program that covers Language Arts/English, Science, Math and Social Studies for Pre-K through High School (just added!)  For a monthly fee ($19.95 for Pre-K thru 8th and $30 for High School), you have access to a lot of activities.  A lot. Don't let only five subject titles listed fool you.  There are hundreds of activities in most of the academic areas.  I'm not sure I'd spend the extra money (not that it's super expensive) as a supplement for our homeschooling program, but if it was my main curriculum, then it might be worth the investment.  Check out the Lesson Plan page for a list of what is covered in each grade.  You can click each subject/activity link for a breakdown of the scope and sequence.
My musings:
I am very impressed with the large range of activities available through Time4Learning's website.  Initially, we started the program in the third grade level.  We realized pretty quickly that it was a little bit higher than Julianna was currently at (actually, the biggest problem was it was a lot of text based instruction/activities rather than being interactive which immediately posed apprehension for her and reluctance to even try), so I requested that she be moved to the second grade level and she has done super with it!  She wanted to do Math and Science and "no reading", but as it worked out, she gravitated towards Language Arts (and Science) activities anyway.  :-)  She seemed to enjoy the majority of the activities which meant she was content to complete them with minimal fussing.  I also liked that it showed a countdown timer to when the "playground" (games and activities (not necessarily "educational", but definitely fun - i.e. Pacman!) that are available after doing a set time of lessons.  Parents have control over the minimum lesson time and maximum playground time (which can each be set up to 59 minutes).  The time settings can be changed permanently (which means you don't have to go in and change it everyday, but you could if you wanted to) or just for the current day.
Parents can also go in and see a report of the results of all the activities completed (with percentage grades, if applicable).  There is a way to set assignments that need to be completed, but I couldn't, at a quick glance, figure out how to do that.  Not that I really wanted to do that yet, so I honestly didn't try very hard.  Maybe that is something only available to teachers?
*  Engaging, interactive activities
*  Large number of activities in each academic area
*  Parents control the time settings
*  Customer Service very accomodating if you need to change academic levels for your child.  (It says when you request it, that it could take 24 hours, but mine was completed within a couple hours.)

*  The website isn't the easiest to navigate - easy to get to the activities, but you have to back out of things to get to parental areas.
*  Hmm, I'm having a hard time coming up with more cons.  :-)

We enjoyed the website.  Will I renew the subscription when our six months is over?  Not sure.  Maybe if we need supplements in specific areas that are offered.  We'll have to assess where we are at the time.  You can get a customized demo of the Time4Learning curriculum HERE to see if it might be a good supplement for your homeschool.  It's definitely worth a look!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

TOS Review - Reading Kingdom - Redux

Last September, we reviewed Reading Kingdom - an online reading and writing program (you can read about it here), and it went pretty well.  When the opportunity arose this time around, I thought it might be interesting to review it again to see how Julianna had progressed in the program.  
Reading Kingdom was created by Dr Marion Blank, the Director of the Light on Learning Institute at  Columbia University. From the Reading Kingdom website:
Current reading education typically teaches a phonics approach, a whole language approach, or a combination of the two. But the simple fact is that the vast majority of words in the English language cannot be sounded out. This is true even in a classic phonics book such as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" which begins with:
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. 
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.

In this text only 8 of 23 words (the bolded words) can be sounded out. The other 15 (or 65% of the total) cannot. In order to overcome the problems inherent in sounding out, phonics relies on children memorizing almost 600 rules, such as the "silent e" rule, the double vowel rule, the consonant combination rule and on and on. Remembering nearly 600 rules is impossible for a child - or even an adult for that matter. What's worse is that the rules themselves are riddled with exceptions. For better or worse, in English, irregularity is the rule. To put it simply, if phonics worked as advertised to teach a child to read it would be spelled "foniks". 

Whole language has had even poorer results. It provides very little structure for learning and as a result, children are overwhelmed with unfamiliar words and sentence structures - and reading failure often ensues. 
Reading Kingdom uses a 6 skill model of reading instruction (sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and composition) that incorporates elements of phonics and whole language while teaching additional skills required for reading and writing success without requiring kids to learn any complicated rules. 

By focusing on these skills, Reading Kingdom teaches a children 4-10 years old how to read and write on a third grade level.  

When you begin the program, your child will complete an assessment to place them at the appropriate level.  There are 6 levels to work through - Letter Land, Reading and Writing Levels 1-5.  Once the child is placed in their level, they will work sequentially through the program.  

My musings:
I still like the Reading Kingdom program and think it works okay for Julianna.  I decided to continue at the level she ended the last time (Level 3).  I had asked that she be bumped up a level (to Level 3) at the end of our last review because I felt she was getting bored and frustrated at the lower level.  Beginning this time, I had thought about doing a reassessment, and in hindsight maybe I should have, but we continued with this level.  We're plodding through and she's doing well, but recently it has been with more complaining.  Each lesson tends to be similar in the activities that are done and I think a varied approach might keep her attention better.  She makes silly mistakes because she's just trying to rush through.  

Pros of the program:
*  Julianna can work on the lessons independently.
*  Progress reports for each reader are sent (periodically by email) to the parents/teacher.  You can also sign onto the program and download a report at anytime.  
*  Teaches keyboarding skills.
*  A progress meter (with the percentage completed of the level and program) is shown after each lesson.  

Cons of the program:
*  While the progress reports are nice, it doesn't really give me a "real world" level that Julianna is currently working at.  For example, she is working at Level 3, with an excellent performance, but what does that equate to?  Completing the program is supposed to have the child reading/writing on a 3rd grade level.  I would like an equivalent score for the current progress - Level 3 is a Grade X level, etc.  I know as a homeschooler I'm not supposed to care about grade levels and such, but I do.  I don't have any other children to compare her too, so I would like the grade references.  
*  I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get the actual keyboard to work with the program!  I'm sure this is just a glitch on my part.  The mouse and keypad work fine, but it would be great if the keyboard could be used as well.  I probably missed something during the setup.  
*  The subscription is kind of expensive.  They offer a free trial (see details below), but then you have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription.  Subscription scholarships are available. 

Overall, I still really like the Reading Kingdom program and we will continue (I'm sure some days kicking and screaming) using it through completion.  She's over halfway there.  Woohoo!  

If you have a child in the 4-10 year old range that may be starting out in their reading journey or may just need a little extra support in reading/writing, check out Reading Kingdom.  

When you sign up for the Reading Kingdom, you receive a free 30 day trial. After that, subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month (with no monthly minimum), or $199.99 per year (20% off). Additional children in your account get 50% off ($9.99/month or $99.99/year). You can cancel your subscriptions at any time. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

TOS Review - Bible Study Guide for All Ages

I usually don't have a problem finding curricula that I's usually the opposite - I WANT IT ALLLLLL!  With one exception:  Bible.  Now, you'd think that this wouldn't be too difficult to find, but, for whatever reason, we have always seemed to strike out.  I'm not saying the Bible devotions or studies we've used have been bad, but they've just not been a good fit.  Well, we might have found a winner:  Bible Study Guide For All Ages.
From the company's literature:
The Bible Study Guide is a Bible curriculum that covers the entire Bible in 416 lessons, studying some Old Testament and some New Testament books each year.  A simple timeline and maps (for ages 1st grade and up) are used to help students understand the context of everything they learn.  Students learn the "big picture" of the story of the Bible, in-depth knowledge of the Bible and, best of all, how to apply it to their lives.  The curriculum is not dated and can be begun at any time and at whatever pace you choose.  All ages can study the same text at the same time if desired.

For the review, we received the Intermediate Level Student Pages (Les 1-26) ($5.95 per set of 26 lessons) and The Bible Book Summary Cards ($24.95.)

My musings:
I really liked this Bible Study!  So much so, that I'm thinking of buying the next set to see if we continue to have success with it in our new school year.  It was easy to use - essentially no teacher prep. It also has enough of a variety in activities (timelines, fill in the blanks, etc.) on the student pages to keep my girl would that be the case for the remainder of the curriculum?  Not sure.  She sometimes burns out of I'm willing to try, though.  I like that it doesn't go in order from Genesis to Revelations.  Julianna is a visual learner, so the Bible Book Summary Cards work well for her.  Each page has picture representation of events in the particular book of the Bible.    It makes it easy to remember what book it is as soon as you learn what the pictures stand for.

Here are a few pictures of the Bible Study in use:
Bible Study Card - Genesis 
Student Page - Intermediate (one side) 
Student Page - Intermediate (second side)

Filling in the timeline. 
Student Page 
Julianna felt that the Joseph drawing needed some hair.  Lol

The Bible Study for All Ages products range from Preschool to Adult.  If you're in the market for a Bible Study to use with your family, look at what this company has to offer.  Along with the items I posted before, they also have other things:  timelines and maps, CD of Children's Songs and a Teacher's Unit.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

TOS Review - Legacy Documentaries

Like everyone else at the time, I watched Little House on the Prairie growing up, however, as an adult, I would not look back and say I was a fan.  
I didn't like Pa Ingalls.  I think it was his hair.  
Now that Julianna is getting older and growing out of a lot of the younger programs, I wanted to look for something wholesome that we could all enjoy.  Full circle back to Little House.  Julianna loves them and I will admit, I am enjoying them much more now than in my early years.  The sad thing is, a show like this, which is easily considered a classic, would not be made for today's TV viewers.  Not necessarily because they wouldn't want  to watch it, but that the production companies wouldn't make it.  Just confirms our decision not to have cable.  I digress.  ;-)

Dean Butler was one of the Little House actors. He played a minor character named Almanzo Wilder. (Just kidding!) Considering that Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder, he played a pretty big part. He now has a production company named Legacy Documentaries that has created three DVDs honoring the heritage of Little House: Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, Pa's Fiddle: The Music of America and The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder (available through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum website.)  Laura's DVD is what we chose to review.

My musings:

The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a well done documentary.  It has a nice blend still photographs, live action reenactments and beautiful art and music throughout.  The story begins after Laura is already married to Almanzo Wilder and focuses on how Laura and Almanzo began their life together and all the hardships they faced....physically and financially. She actually begins her professional writing career as a columnist in a local newspaper writing about topics from a farmer's wife point of view.  She developed her writing through journal entries begun as her family (while she was growing up) was traveling across the West and through letters written to Almanzo when she was visiting her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, on the West Coast.  Rose and Laura had a rocky relationship, but, through her literary connections, she did help get her mother's foot into the publishing door.  It was through these connections that Laura's first book was published as a children's novel, Little House in the Big Woods.  It was quite a success and Laura was even signed to a three book deal.  
Her second book, Farmer Boy, was rejected on her first draft.  During this time, one of the greatest difficulties in her relationship with her daughter was faced when Rose used, without permission, her mother's ideas and characters from her first failed publishing attempt, Pioneer Girl, in a work of her own.  It never said how Laura reacted to this, but only that Rose realized that she hurt her mother and tried to make amends by helping with research for the revisions on Farmer Boy.  The remainder of the documentary highlights how the rest of her books came to be and how the series ended.  As well as, the awards and accolades achieved and then the deaths of both Almanzo and herself.  
Unfortunately, Julianna wasn't really interested in the documentary, but both Michael and I found it interesting.  I would definitely say it would be best for older elementary school aged students and above.

The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder DVD is around 75 minutes and includes bonus footage:  Director's Diary and trailers for the Almanzo and Pa's Fiddle DVDs.  If you are a Little House fan, I would recommend that you add this documentary (and maybe the others too!) to your library.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Caterpillar discoveries

So, I was walking through my overgrown garden the other day and discovered some caterpillars on my parsley plant.  I thought it was a Monarch...they look very similar..., but apparently it's the Black Swallowtail.  Monarchs don't eat parsley.
Black Swallowtail 


Close, huh?  The Black Swallowtail has pale green stripes between the yellow/black ones.  (It's white, though, when it tiny.)  As they get bigger, the green really takes over.  I guess it's to camouflage them from being gobbled up in the circle of life.

I brought a sprig of my parsley plant inside with a couple of the caterpillars to watch the life cycle.  We have a butterfly habitat (we've hatched painted ladies a couple times before), so we are now just waiting for them to finish eating and go into the chrysalis.  It's really a fascinating process.

Here they are.  You can guess which one will be hatching first.  :-)  I think the juxtaposition between the sizes is cool.  The big one was just brought in the house on Saturday and it was smaller than the one on the left is now.  It's "The Hungry Caterpillar" book come to life...only they are munching on parsley rather than salami and stuff.

We're leaving on vacation on Saturday, so I guess they will be traveling with us.  I'd hate to miss their metamorphosis.  Well, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a great place to be released once they hatch.   I'll keep you updated.