Thursday, October 29, 2009

Virginia Soaps and Scents

My philosophy has always been that no matter what the size of business, all materials and products should be professional quality. So when I received my package from Virginia Soaps and Scents, I was very impressed. From their website to their brochure to their packaging - it is all beautiful. Even their stationery is classy. The items I received were 3 Bed and Bath size soap samplers (Orange; Oatmeal, Milk & Honey; and Coconut Lemongrass), a sampler Ginger Lime shampoo bar, and a trial laundry soap kit.

Peppermint You definitely need to visit the Virginia Soaps and Scents website. Their products are beautiful and it is a really fun place to shop. They have soaps, shampoo bars, bath and body products, and who knows what else they have developed. The Bed and Bath Sampler  would make a Cookies and Creamgreat gift. And their Christmas Collection of Wild Bayberry, Pumpkin Spice, and Peppermint scents looks delicious! The Peppermint, in particular, is gorgeous and almost too pretty to use (although they maintain their color well). Really, I would love to try one of each scent. They even have a CHOCOLATE flavor  for  all you chocolate lovers (and friends of chocolate lovers). And don't miss the Victorian Lace. They also have All-In-One Body Bars for shampoo, shower and shave in the scents of the Outback Bar, Victorian RoseWaltzing Matilda, and the Kiddiwink Bar (a very fun bar for the little tykes). If you prefer no  scent at all, they even have that available for their products. I could go on and on with my list, but you will just need to check out the website for yourself. My daughters and I had more than one fun day doing so.


It's one thing to ooh and aah over beautiful pictures and yummy sounding scents. But what were the products like?



 Shampoo BarsSHAMPOO BAR - $5.50
My husband claimed the shampoo bar. He liked that you just had to run the bar over your hair and a rich, thick lather formed. He also liked how clean it made his hair feel. My 12yo daughter really liked the shampoo bar as well. I liked how it made my hair feel too. It  definitely gave it more bounce. Unfortunately, I have an itchy scalp and it did not seem to agree with the shampoo bar. So I will have to wait to use it until I can solve my scalp issue. Our shower trial-size bar lasted us between 2 and 3 weeks. The actual shampoo bar is 5.5 ounces which I believe is about 3 times the size of our sample bar. It comes in three scents of Ginger Lime, Coconut Lemongrass, and Cherry Almond. They also have an Oily Hair/Clarifying formula that comes in Tangerine Grapefruit.

Bed and Breakfast Sampler SOAP - $4.50 per bar; $12 for 3 bars; $35 for 10 bars 
I was impressed at how well the soap lasted. The bars stayed firm and did not dissolve into a puddle of mush even with being used by a 2 year old. My favorite scent was the Oatmeal, Milk and Honey. It seemed to have a cinnamon scent to it. My 6 year old liked the Orange. And my 12 year old daughter liked the Coconut Lemongrass. The thing I liked about the scents was that they were clear and sharp. The full-size bars are 4.5 ounces.

Laundry Kit LAUNDRY SOAP - $4.95 (64-72 loads)
Before my Virginia Soaps and Scents samples arrived, I already had been using homemade laundry soap. I hadn't been super impressed with the results but the laundry didn't seem any worse than with what I was using before, so I stuck with it.

The difference I found with the Virginia Scents and Soaps Laundry Soap Kit is that it made a more concentrated soap. It also seemed to clean the socks better than I have seen in a long time (even with commercial soap). A big plus for me is that it is made with their unscented Cleaning Soap which is much better than the commercial variety I previously used. (The Cleaning Bar is a different formula than their Body Bar just in case anyone has the same question I did.)

If you already make your own laundry soap or want to buy some of the ingredients yourself, you can purchase just the 4.5 ounce Cleaning Bar for $3.95 and follow the recipe on the website. I know I will be putting these on my order! I definitely want to try this laundry soap again.

The Virginia Soaps and Scents products were very well received in our home. I can't wait to place an order but am having a hard time deciding my top choices to try.

These products were used in many different households, so please take time to read the other Crew reviews to see how they were received.

I hope you have as much fun perusing the Virginia Soaps and Scents website as we did.

 Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amazing Bible Timeline

The Amazing Bible Timeline is very large and contains A LOT of information. 6,000 years of Bible and world history are combined to help you put things into perspective. Color-coded, the timeline follows the Semitic, Hamitic, and Japhethic lineages all through history. It also follows the Catholic church and its history. It lists the timeline of the Reformation as well as other historical events.

For me, the Amazing Bible Timeline is sensory overload. There is too much information to take in at once, and I have trouble focusing on just one portion of time to get the big picture. That, coupled with its size (apx 3' x 4'), makes its use difficult. A wall dedicated to its use might make a difference. But I am a bit frustrated because I feel like I have a wealth of information in my hands and my brain is not allowing me to take advantage of its worth.

Interactive Holy Land Maps - These maps could be useful for Bible history study.

The Amazing Bible Timelines w/ World History e-chart - This is a copy of the large timeline in digital form. It can be helpful for lesson planning or perhaps understanding the timeline better. Unfortunately, it was not enough to help me breakthrough my visual overload. Perhaps in the future the timeline will be more useful to us.

For someone who enjoys deep history study and isn't easily overloaded visually, the price tag of $29.97 for this product is very reasonable.

Make sure to visit the TOS Blog to read how others families utilized the Amazing Bible Timeline. I know others had different experiences.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

AVKO - Individual Membership

An AVKO membership looks to be a good value if you use their products or prescribe to their method of teaching reading and spelling. I already use a reading and spelling program that has a philosophy I am comfortable with, and I had a hard time reconciling the AVKO method with it. But It might benefit those who have not found a method that strikes a chord with them. An individual membership costs $25.00/year and includes many resources.


  • 25% discount on all printed AVKO material
  • Hundreds of dollars of free ebooks
  • AVKO newsletter with freebies, discounts, and resources
  • Access to Don McCabe's workshop recordings
  • Supplemental curriculum materials including word games, worksheets, activities, and more
  • Access to pretest and placement tests
  • Access to the Answer Keys for the Unscramblers and Family Reunion exercises of the Engaging Language Kits

You can visit AVKO to see if this company is one that will fit your needs. Also read the reviews of my fellow Crew members.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers


Designed for 4th to 8th graders, A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers from Bright Ideas Press helps students (and parents) break the code of classical music. 32 weekly lessons include information about 26 composers from 6 different eras. Notetaking pages, coloring pages, and composer info-cards are all part of the weekly lesson. There is also a timeline template to be completed which gives an overview of time periods and relationships between composers. Internet links are provided so you can listen to the music of individual composers while doing your study. It is also recommended that you complete a a folderbook for your study. (A folderbook is a simplified lapbook.)

The study starts with an overview of the beginning of music. Then you study about music in the Renaissance. This lesson contains a lot of information and could be spread over more than one lesson with younger students. Next comes the Baroque Period and the start of studying individual composers. You also study composers from the Classical Period, the Romantic Period, and the Contemporary Period.

There are game suggestions for the use of the composer cards to help your students retain the information they have learned. In the appendix you will also find a composer resource list, a glossary, and answer keys to the student reviews and timeline.


I have long wanted to do composer studies but never got it put together. So I was very glad when I received A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers to review. I was concerned that it might be too young for my 7th and 9th graders but figured that even a light exposure would be better than no exposure. But as I looked closer, the information to be put on the notetaking sheets and timeline is heavy enough to keep their minds busy remembering.

It has been really fun to read about the history of music and to hear the different styles. It has brought an awareness of the arts that was not previously present.

If you would like to introduce your family to classical music, this is a great choice. Perhaps it might even light their interest to pursue it further.

You can read here to see how other families used their Bright Ideas Press products.


A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers can be purchased as a CD-ROM for $29.95 or a Printed Book for $34.95.  I reviewed the CD-ROM version. It was nice to be able to print the extra pages straight from the computer file instead of copying. The downside was having to print and bind the book. I printed my book and then laminated the front and back covers before taking it to a printer to be spiral bound. It turned out pretty good, but I would choose the printed book next time.

Other products available from Bright Ideas Press include Mystery of History, All American History and Christian Kids Explore Science. Make sure to read my review of Mystery of History.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mystery of History 2


Mystery of History, published by Bright Ideas Press, is a classical history program written with a Christian worldview. Linda Hobar, the author, has developed the material and activities to meet each stage of the classical trivium while recognizing the needs of various learning styles. Each lesson is broken down by level. The grammar stage (or early elementary) is primarily about absorbing information. This is done through the lesson activities, creation of Memory Cards, and review activities.  The logic stage (or middle school) is about questioning the information learned. A logic student should also be learning to summarize and outline material. The Memory Cards and other lesson activities accomplish this. The rhetoric stage (or high school) is about analyzing information and defending the student's position on that information. This is the stage where the student masters the art of expressing thoughts. The older student activities in Mystery of History include research and writing assignments to help the student practice his expository skills. Mystery of History is written such that you can repeat the series during each stage, building a strong foundation in your students.

In addition to the activities in the 84 lessons, the students keep a timeline, do mapwork, and are kept accountable on the retention of the material through exercises and cumulative tests.


1)Quarterly Topic Overviews: Around the World

2)Weekly Pretest (3 lessons per week)

4)Lesson Activities by skill level

5)Weekly Memory cards
6)Timeline work

8)Biweekly Cumulative Exercises /
9)Biweekly Cumulative Quizzes

10)Quarterly Putting It All Together Worksheets

11)Semester Tests

12)Additional Appendix Activities

So as you can see, the student has at least 12 interactions with a topic throughout the year. This allows the material to become meaningful to the student and not just a fact to remember for a test and then forget. I know for my 7th and 9th graders, the activities assigned are mostly writing and research-based which helps with the retention of a topic even more.


  • Supplemental activities
  • Supplemental books and resources by topic
  • Additional resources by lesson and skill level
  • Materials list by lesson
  • Bibliography
  • Answer key

Map outlines are also provided. 


The lessons themselves are short, leaving time for further research and writing assignments. I am enjoying having skill-appropriate assignments already scheduled. The weekly review activities, including Memory Cards, timelines and mapwork, provide a great opportunity to recap the week's material.

I feel that the activities in MoH are great for middle school as is. For high school I assign additional history and literature reading to complement our studies. I also require more in depth writing assignments from my 9th grader. For example, both girls may research the same topic. However, my 7th grader may be required to write a paragraph or two about her findings while my 9th grader may be required to write an in depth report or possibly a comparison or persuasive essay.

My booklist for this time period was already picked prior to starting MoH, but Linda includes many book suggestions broken down by lesson number and skill level in the appendix. She also includes a book list by topic.

Mystery of History is a program that can be used as a good overview of history, or you can make it a heavier course by including more of the scheduled activities and adjusting the requirements to fit your student's needs.


Printed Book $49.95
Audio Set $48.95
Reproducibles CD $19.95
Craft Pak CD-ROM $19.95

Other programs available from Bright Ideas Press include All American History, Christian Kids Explore Science, A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers (which I am also reviewing), and their new product Illuminations.

Please visit the TOS Blog to read reviews of other Bright Ideas Press products.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

My Access


I recently reviewed an online writing program called My Access! Home Edition from Vantage Learning. We had used this product a few years ago and I was curious to see what changes had been made. The writing prompts are broken into 3 ages groups: 8-10, 11-14, and 15-18. I used it with a 12 and 14 year old.

-Choose writing prompt (90 choices for 3 age groups)
-Start Writing Course OR Go to Writer's Space

WRITING COURSE -Narrative Writing Prompt
-Reporter training
-Basic elements of narrative writing
-Quiz of basic elements
-Daily access rubric training
-Planning your narrative writing
-Graphic organizer 
    -Intro: Hook, Setting, Characters
    -Rising Action: Events leading to Climax, Conflict
    -Climax: Turning Point
    -Falling Action: Events after the climax 

After the student finishes the writing course, he moves on to writing his first draft. However, the student can return to the writing course at any time. He also has access to the Writer's Toolbox which contains a rubric, writer's models, writer's guide, word bank, student's outline, focus checklist, and word count. The Writer's Guide included in the Toolbox has a lot of information as does the Rubric and the Word Bank should the student choose to utilize those resources. Also available to help the student are the Writer's Checklist and the Graphic Organizer Outline (created during the pre-writing). Two other features of the Writer's Space are the Tutor and Editor. The Tutor uses generic examples to help the student through problems in the 5 graded areas of Focus, Content Development, Organization, Language Style, and Conventions. The Editor uses the student's own writing to show where mistakes have been made in his writing in those same five areas.

Once the student has submitted a writing piece, it is graded as Below Proficient, Proficient, or Advanced in the 5 areas listed above. There are revision activities to help the student learn more about the skill before attempting to revise his writing. However, the activities use generic material so they may not be as effective as learning directly from the student's own material. But when the student goes back in to revise his writing, he can once again go into the Editor and see what the computer has marked as problem areas. Unfortunately, more than once, my daughter experienced that many of the revisions recommended had already been addressed in the original writing and were not errors at all. But there are still some useful critiques that may be followed to tighten up the writing.

I was disappointed in the Parent Center. I would expect to be able to know what projects my students are working on and what steps they have completed on those projects. I also want to be able to see their pre-writing work such as graphic organizers and outlines. But with My Access I can only view a student essay once it has been submitted. And I can only see the essay and the recommended editing plan. I cannot track what my students are working on, and I am not able to see the pre-writing that occurred.

Each activity the student does in My Access earns him points. The parent account allows you to set rewards for certain point levels providing incentive to use the program features.

My Access! Home Edition also allows the parent to enter his own writing prompts. This can work well if you are using another writing program but want the tools available with My Access. It also works for assigning writing projects from other subjects such as history, science, or literature.

The Student Center has a lot of neat features that can help the student write stronger prose. However, as much as the student center does a good job helping the student through the writing process, my overall feeling is that writing is too subjective for computerized grading. Also, the breadth of tools available in the Student Center may be utilized by a motivated student, but an unmotivated student will miss much instruction that is available.

I can see My Access being beneficial from the beginning stages of the writing process through the second or third draft. After that I would prefer the writing to be critiqued in person.

The Student Center of the program has greatly improved since we used it before; however, for it to work in our family, even in the preliminary stages, more tracking would need to be available through the Parent Center.

Visit here to check out My Access! Home Edition for yourself. An annual subscription costs $99.95 and supports up to 3 students. You can upgrade to 6 students for a total of $129.95. If you have high school students, you might be interested in the add-on package of the SAT Prep Pack for an additional $49.95. (I have not reviewed the SAT Pack.)

You will find other Crew reviews here.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sarah's Wish

Sarah's Wish by Jim Baumgardner is a book about a girl who is orphaned and faces the challenges associated with taking her mother's place as a station on the Underground Railroad. Meanwhile, the town is working together to find her a home.

I have a hard time reading books that have suspense so I let my daughters read this book. Of course, they thought I was crazy for thinking Sarah's Wish was scary. But such is life. So both my daughters read our personally autographed copy of Sarah's Wish. My 12 year old thought it was very well written, while my 14 year old thought it was well written but not as deep as she is used to. Both thought that Sarah acted more like 9 years old than 12. My 12 year old liked it enough to want to read the rest of the series. My 14 year old felt it was too young.

Visit Sarah Books to see what you think about the books in the series: Sarah's Wish, Sarah's Promise and Sarah's Escape.

Sarah's Wish for $9.99 (Also includes an audio download link)
Sarah's Wish Audio Book $16.99

Sarah's Promise $13.50
Sarah's Promise Audio Book $16.99

Sarah's Escape $17.50

You can read here what other Crew members thought of Sarah's Wish.

 Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

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