Under Drake’s Flag (Heirloom Audio Productions) . . . A T. O. S. Review

Growing up, I often heard my dad telling us children about my grandmother listening to the original soap operas on the radio, and about programs on the radio that appealed to the children and families of that time. I had never listened to an audio drama, so I thought this would be an interesting review, especially since my own children have always had the visual along with the audio (what with watching their movies, as opposed to listening, you know). In fact, they are SO used to looking at the screen, I wasn’t sure how well this would be received, but I knew *I* wanted to hear it, so I went for it, LOL! This audio production is written to ages 6 – adult, and I thought that to be pretty accurate.

Heirloom Audio Productions is where you may purchase this wonderful 2 CD boxed set of the Audio Drama “Under Drake’s Flag“. It is available as an “instant access” mp3 version for $20.00, which also includes the following bonuses:

1. The complete Under Drake’s Flag eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter.

2. A beautiful, printable copy of Drake’s Prayer.

If you prefer, you may purchase the 2 CD boxed set at $29.95 plus $6.95, which includes the following bonuses:

1. The “instant access” download of Under Drake’s Flag valued at $20.00.

2. The complete Under Drake’s Flag E-Study Guide and Discussion Starter. 30 pages of Under Drake’s Flag discussion points, history-learning guides and story-related Bible study, valued at $20.00.

3. The Under Drake’s Flag Soundtrack MP3 download, valued at $20.00.

4. A beautiful, printable copy of Drake’s Prayer, valued at $10.00.

The add on bonuses in the CD boxed set add up to $70.00, making this a very good deal, in my opinion!

Now, down to the review! We ended up choosing to listen to the complete story, rather than breaking it up into chapters. After all, when we watch movies, we don’t break them up, either! Plus, to be honest, I was concerned about losing their interest. I didn’t need to worry though, because they listened pretty well! “The Artist” and “Mr. Loquacious” really paid more attention that “The Batman” and “The Puzzler”, and were much better able to answer the comprehension questions in the mini study guide which is included in the boxed set. There is a much expanded study guide as a download, but at this time, it wasn’t a good fit for my boys.

Both guides have comprehension questions for each chapter: “Listening well”, “Thinking Further” questions, and “defining words”. There is also a Bible study section with sections such as “Godly Character”, “True Manhood”, and “Confessing Christ”, each of which is related to parts of the story, and has corresponding Bible verses to use in your study. Drake’s prayer is also printed inside the CD holder, and it is a beautiful prayer.

After explaining to the boys that this would be like “listening” to a movie instead of “watching” a movie, we popped the first CD into our DVD player and settled in. I had told them they could either draw pictures relating to the story while listening, or write down interesting things they heard, but surprisingly, none of them did, they just flopped onto the floor and listened! Even their dad and I enjoyed it, although we were both very tired and not feeling at our best, and so we dozed off a couple of times.

I liked the way the audio drama was written. It begins with two boys, Ned and Gerald, who are British boys in school, working on a report about Sir Francis Drake. Gerald is CLEARLY more interested in the history, while Ned just wants to skip doing it and go to a cricket match. They happen upon a man they are invited to call “Mr. George”, who offers to tell them a story about Sir Francis Drake, in which there just happen to be two boys named Ned and Gerald. We are to understand that Mr. George is G. A. Henty, who lived and wrote about history, writing 122 books which became essential reading in English schools. He promises that if the boys become bored, he will stop if they tell him, so they may go to the cricket match. In the end, they become so caught up in the adventures of the Ned and Gerald in the story, and how they adventured the seas with and without Sir Francis Drake, that they don’t ever ask him to stop telling them the story!

In “Mr. George’s story, we hear about how Ned first comes to Drake’s attention by saving a man who is in the water, Drake promises that should he ever return to Ned’s village, he will offer him a place on his ship, something Ned wants very much, even though his mother is opposed, having lost her husband to the sea. Eventually, though, Drake does return, and offers Ned a position. His mother, knowing what is right for him, gives him his father’s dagger and her blessing.

Ned and Gerald have many adventures, helping to fight against the Spanish Armada, saving a Spanish young lady from drowning, facing the Spanish Inquisition, and more, all the while learning from Drake about being good men with Christian principles. We are hopeful that heirloom Audio Productions will soon release even more wonderful audio dramas such as this one, as we thoroughly enjoyed it!

I highly recommend this audio production!

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UberSmart Software . . . A T.O.S. Review

My boys and I have had the opportunity for the past few weeks to work with UberSmart Math Facts.

This little program, created by a homeschool dad whose wife wanted their children to have help with learning their math facts. It is available from UberSmart Software It is written primarily for students from K – 6, or anyone older (even adults) who need, or would like a refresher on the basic math facts, and can be purchased for $24.95.

I was intrigued enough at how simple this little program is for learning math facts, that I really wanted to give it a try with my kids. As it turns out, it really is a basic little program, which you download to your computer (which must have one of the following: Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8), and you ARE permitted to put it onto multiple computers, which can be of some help if you have several children, and more than one computer.

The UberSmart Math Facts program works just like your traditional set of flash cards, but electronically, on your computer. First, learn, in which your student tries to answer the problem and then hit the answer key to check your answer. Another section, practice, allows him/her to click on the answer they think is correct, and they may also choose test when they are ready, which causes the program to give them a timed session with a certain number of cards.

Depending on whether or not you allow online activity, your student may also choose compete, allowing them to compete against others around the world in a timed session. We haven’t done this one.

This program also has a “report” and a “maintain” tab for the parent. If you like to have printable reports to keep for your records, or if you need them in a portfolio to turn in to your state, UberSmart Math Facts gives you the ability to have them. You can also maintain things like how long you want a student to have on timed activities. The default (4.5 seconds) is too, too fast for all but one of my boys, but you can adjust it, as I said.

Here are some of the different ways you can have the program set up, depending upon the age or ability of your child.

Traditional flash card format:

Keyboarding (practice typing the digits in quickly):

Dot cards:

There are other possibilities as well, such as showing the dots and numbers together.

I wanted to try UberSmart Math Facts because I feel that my boys can use a LOT of help when it comes with the memorizing of math facts, in particular “The Batman”.

I, personally, like this program. My kids, not so much. They thought it was boring, because they have, in the past, used math fact programs that were more like a video game, and they love video games, of course! They love the flash, excitement, and “leveling up”. However, since I can SEE some improvement, I’ll continue using it. We most often use it in the “practice” mode, because it is very hard for some of my boys to actually memorize the facts and have them stick. As with many things, we need to sort of tweak educational materials for our special needs kids, and given that we CAN continue under “practice” until such time as they are ready

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Piano Recital!

So, a little over a week ago, “The Artist”, “The Batman” and I participated in our first piano recital since moving to New Mexico. It was held at Mesa Baptist Church, where we have been members since shortly after moving to this state.


For having been out of lessons ever since we left Michigan, I really don’t think we did too badly!

Here is “The Batman” performing his piece . . .

Next up, we have “The Artist” . . .

And then finally, me!

Here are all of the students with our teacher, Mrs. Aubrey Grantham. She did a wonderful job getting us to this point, and I’m looking forward to learning much, much more from her!


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HomeSchoolPiano . . . A T.O.S. Review

Our two oldest boys and I take “in person” piano lessons, but our younger boys are really not ready yet. Add to that the cost of in person lessons, and it just hasn’t been a possibility so far, so when I was given the chance to review online piano instructions from HomeSchoolPiano, I was very thankful!

We were given HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books, which is The Complete Beginner Piano program. This includes the following:

•Unlimited lifetime access to HomeSchoolPiano.com
•Tracking and quizzes for up to 5 students
•Unlimited lesson streaming to any device
•Unlimited music downloads
•Unlimited video lesson downloads
•Downloadable Jam Track CD

HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books is available for purchase at the one time price of $299.00, or you can buy it with 3 monthly payments of $99.97 each. This program is designed for anyone, children and adults, so you can learn right along with your children! :-)

This is not an instructional program wherein you must log in at certain times, or miss a class. Your lessons are available at any time, day or night. Also, you can view them on your computer, tablet, or even your phone! No fancy equipment is required, you can use a regular piano, or a keyboard with at least 49 keys.

You may be interested in finding out about the 6-step learning cycle, as well as signing up for a free lesson to discover if this would be a good fit for you and/or your children.

The instructional books are pdf downloads. You can choose to print any given book out all at once, or do as we are doing and printing out a page at a time right now. That is because “Mr. Loquacious” is in “Core Piano”, which so far, has been mostly online instruction. Right now, he is the only one of our kids doing the lessons because we have been in the process of moving, and have not had the time for more than one to be taking them. He is enjoying them though, and his twin is wanting to begin as well. :-)

Core piano is for absolute beginners, which “Mr. Loquacious” is. Core Piano covers basics such as the musical alphabet, finding the individual keys across the keyboard (find the c’s, find the d’s etc”), skipping over keys in thirds, correct posture, and the five-finger scale, among other things.

Here is “Mr. Loquacious”, watching one of the lessons, before going to the piano to practice.

I have since realized that we should be rigging up a way to put my laptop or tablet right at the keyboard so that he can do things right when he is being instructed. This is definitely something we will do, as soon as I get things in order in our new home!

Meanwhile, here is “Mr. Loquacious”, practicing on our keyboard.

We really like the way the video lessons are set up. We can see the teacher, Willie Myette in the lower corner of the screen. Then, above that, going across the scree, are two keyboards. One is a bird’s eye view of Willie’s hands as he is playing, so we can see and understand what he is doing, and the other is a digital keyboard, on which the keys are highlighted each time he plays it, enabling the student to learn where the keys are that he should be playing.

As I told you above, “Mr. Loquacious is working in Core Piano at this time, but I’m happy that he will be able to move on to the other levels eventually. They are:

Book 1: a second beginner book which teaches how to read music, play simple music, and even create one’s own music.

Book 2: This book is for the more advanced beginner to intermediate level, and will start to teach more advanced techniques.

Book 3: This is for the intermediate student, and begins to teach more challenging aspects of playing the piano.

This has turned out to be a great addition to our educational library! As I said above, both “Mr. Loquacious” and “The Puzzler” have expressed interest in learning to play the piano, but have simply not been ready. With this program, they can go at their own pace, even when it means doing the same lesson over and over until they “get” it, which is where “Mr. Loquacious” happens to be right now. He is a bit stuck at the five-finger scale, but he is plugging away at it. :-)

I do recommend this program to the homeschooling family, because if you have multiple children, it is very cost-effective. I also recommend it because it isn’t a subscription that you have to renew every year, it is a life time program, which really extends the cost effectiveness, in my opinion.

To follow HomeSchoolPiano via social media, check them out at the following:


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What’s New?

I know I have not been writing as much as I usually do lately. We are in the process of moving, and on top of that, I’ve been under the weather.

We’ve spent the past two days doing our move in inventory check-list for the new house, and there’s a lot that needs to be taken care of. But, once that all is done, I think it will be a good place.

Our two oldest, “The Batman” and “The Artist” were off to teen camp with our church yesterday, and will be gone until sometime Friday afternoon. The best part is that unlike Winter Retreat, I did NOT have to get them to the church so early in the morning that it was still dark! :-) This time, they had to be there at 11:45 a.m., a much more decent hour, lol!

I will try harder to keep up to date on our move and everything else, as time and internet connection permits, but we’ll be disconnecting stuff next week, so it’s all in what my phone hot spot can handle. :-)

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Moving Beyond The Page . . . A T. O. S. Review

My kids and I have been given the opportunity again to review curricula from Moving Beyond The Page.

We were asked to choose a language arts package and either a science or social studies package. These are available as stand alone units, but have also been developed so that you may choose a language arts package, and easily find a coordinating science or social studies unit. I chose to go with a coordinating set. Our language arts was an online package with the curriculum online and the story books shipped to us, while our science package was a physical set, with everything shipped to us.

This year, we chose the Language Arts Package – Tornado, and received the online package.

This package costs $20.91, and includes the online curriculum, along with two books which were shipped to us in the package containing our science set. The two books for the Tornado unit are:
How The Turtle Got His Shell (a Little Golden Book)
Tornado by Betsy Byars.

We also received the Science Package – Amazing Weather, available for $36.97.

This set was shipped to us, and included the spiral bound curriculum (with the workbook pages bound into it), and the following books:
“On the Same Day In March” by Marilyn Singer and Frane Lessac
“Weather” by Lorri Mack.
“Weather” is a DK book, which is a wonderful series of books. I scoop them up whenever I can, because my boys LOVE them!

We also received an individual boiling point thermometer.

I did receive a note in my package that the Weather” book was on back order with the book publisher, but that they had a used copy they were sending me so as not to delay my shipment. I must tell you though, if they had not told me this, I would not have known, it looked like a brand new book.

Our two units are designed for students in the 7 – 9-year-old range, but I would say that would be gifted children in that range, myself.

The Language Arts Unit-Tornado Unit covers a story about a friendship between a boy and his dog, and the student will also learn about the effects of weather on farm life.

When you first activate your online unit, you will see links to the following:

list of reading and materials
student activity pages available as a pdf download
Reading and questions pages
Summary of skills
How to use Moving Beyond The Page
Review Sheet

You will also see links to each of the lessons. In the case of our unit, “Tornado”, there are 9 lessons, along with a final project:

Lesson 1: Weather on the Farm (2 Days)

Lesson 2: The Storm (2 Days)

Lesson 3: The Tornado

Lesson 4: A Card Trick

Lesson 5: Turtles (2 Days)

Lesson 6: The Best Pet Award

Lesson 7: Conflict

Lesson 8: The End of the Storm (2 Days)

Lesson 9: Plot

Final Project: Think-Tac-Toe

Finally, at the bottom of the page, you will see links for spelling and vocabulary.

When you go into the unit, for example our “Tornado” unit, and click on a lesson (I will use lesson one as an example), you will see the intro page. Here it told me about the questions we were going to explore, what facts and definitions we would be looking at, the cross-curricula skills we would be covering, the materials we would be using, and an introductory activity to use with the student. This was pretty much the norm for each lesson. The table of contents also told me whether a given lesson would cover more than one day.

As most of you know, I am a huge fan of doing educational material as a group whenever possible, and as we did last year, this is what I chose to do again. It is easier to do this with the online curriculum, because you are permitted to print out copies for each child. However, one thing that I really, really wish (and had hoped!) that had been changed since last year is the 90 day limit to finish your unit once you activate it. The whole reason I have come around to purchasing online/downloadable curricula is for the opportunity to use it in the future.

Because of the special needs issues in our family, we chose to do this primarily as an oral unit. We read and discussed the reading materials, and did the drawing, coloring and mapping, but whenever there was much writing to do, we did it orally so that everyone was equally involved. They are still not at the point of thoroughly understanding the structure of a story (although “The Artist” is getting there”, but still, they did seem to enjoy this unit. They liked the stories, and they always enjoy the discussions that come up as a result of reading and doing things as a group.

Now, on to our Science Unit – Amazing Weather. As I said above, we were shipped the spiral bound teacher’s guide/student workbook. I personally would prefer that the student pages come in a separate book.

When I first opened the curriculum, I saw the table of contents, and then a section on how to use Moving Beyond The Page. An integrated approach is used, so that even if you are using this as a stand alone unit, it is still going to hit things like art, drama, or music. The student will also be reading quality literature, which means that even though it is a science unit, it is including language arts. This unit also includes vocabulary, and it is important to use it while going through this study. The student doesn’t have to memorize it all, but should be able to understand and use the words correctly.

Again using lesson one as an example, I found a “Getting Started” section. This section summarizes what we did with the following headings:

Big Ideas (how does the environment affect living things?, and Why does the weather change?)

Facts and Definitions (for example, what a meteorologist is)

Skills (describing weather in various ways, identifying and using common tools to measure weather, and gathering information using simple equipment)

A materials list, which included what student pages to use

An introduction suggestion to use with the student

A list of the activities for this lesson

Required reading for this lesson, along with the comprehension questions for that reading

A wrapping it up section and a life application assignment.

Of course, my kids (as usual!) enjoyed the reading. The writing? Not so much, lol! So again, we did a lot of the unit orally, with group discussion.

We live in New Mexico, where there has been a severe drought for several years, so our weather during this study had VERY little variation, but it was still interesting nonetheless.

To sum all of this up, I want you to know that I really do like Moving Beyond The Page. I probably would not purchase it though, because of the “cons”.

With the online version, I can read the teacher material right from my tablet or laptop, and print out as many copies of the student pages as I need. However, I have access for only 90 days, which as I stated in my previous review, feels a lot more like a rental than a purchase, given that as far as I can see, there is no way to print out the teacher materials. With the physical unit, I have everything in hand, but am not allowed to make extra copies of the student pages. I would very much like to see one of these cons change.

The pros, for me, are that we CAN do these units as a group! With the varying levels of ability that my kids have, we are still able to spark very good discussions with these units, and it often surprises me just how much some of them have really learned!:-)

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Experience History Through Music . . . My Review

I am so excited to bring you this review of Experience History Through Music, which is just now being released by noted homeschool author Diana Waring!

I grew up in a musical family, with a father who was very much an amateur historian. Everyone in my family except for me played an instrument. I sang. I have been taking piano lessons over the past few years along with my two oldest kids, which made the three books in this series even more fun for me, and for my kids.

Experience History Through Music contains 3 book/CD sets:

America 1750-1890:The Heart of a New Nation
From the French and Indian War to the first transcontinental railroad, America is a chronological tour of American history through its music.

Westward Ho!: The Heart of the Old West
America’s westward expansion is amazingly rich in stories and songs. In Westward Ho!, you will find the pioneer spirit that stirred the hearts of thousands of Americans to leave the safety and comfort of home expressed in folk songs of or about that time. Now you can experience the pioneers’ adventures, dangers, joys, sorrows and hopes as you join in and sing along.

Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder
The well-loved stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder will come to life all over again as you listen to the songs that were a part of life for the Ingalls and thousands of other pioneering families. Written by William Anderson, noted Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer, the book also includes beautiful photos by internationally known Little House photographer, Leslie A. Kelly.

It is really impossible for me to choose a favorite. This series of three books with accompanying CD’s is a must have for anyone who enjoys history and music, whether they are homeschoolers or not. I was not homeschooled, but I believe that if this series had been around when I was a child, my dad would have bought them for sure.

Author of Beyond Survival, Reaping the Harvest and Diana Waring’s History Revealed world history curriculum, Diana discovered years ago that “the key to education is relationship.”
Beginning in the early ’80s, Diana homeschooled her children through high-school—the real life opportunities to learn how kids learn. Mentored by educators whose focus was honoring Him who created all learners, and with an international background (born in Germany, university degree in French, lifelong student of world history), Diana cares about how people learn as well as what they learn. Audiences on four continents have enthusiastically received her energetic speaking style.

This is MY first experience with anything Diana Waring has written, and I’m very impressed. These books are easy to read and understand, and each song has a short, two page segment explaining the historical aspect of it. The CD is bound into the back of each book, and the books each contain sheet music for the songs, so that we can learn how to play them! In fact, here is a quick video of “The Artist” playing “Boll Weevil”, from the “Westward Ho” book:

There have been days when we did several more than one segment, because it really didn’t feel like school work! We love the music, and it’s so much fun to learn the history behind each song in the series. Our country has used music for all of it’s history, to tell the sad tales, the happy stories, and to tell history itself. I’m very glad we’ve gotten to be a part of it by reviewing the new series “Experience History Through Music”, and being part of the book launch for this set.

I encourage you to get these book/CD sets soon! Each one retails for $18.99, but through this July only, you can get the entire set for $50.00!

As always, I’d love it if you would join me on all of “My Journeys Through Life”! Just go and enter your email into the “sign me up” button at the top of the blog, and never miss an update! If you DO enjoy “My Journeys”, please go to our Facebook page and give it a “like”. I’d sure appreciate it if you did! :-)

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