Writing, like reading, has always been a part of who I am. When I was younger (with time on my hands), I used to write poetry and short stories with every occasion in my life. Whether I was happy or sad, angry or frustrated, writing was my outlet. Writing my thoughts, even if it didn't make sense, helped me get through various phases of growing up. I have encouraged my kids to use writing in the same way, but they don't always see things the way I do : ^ )

My 17yo has always liked to write, but mostly about things that she created, not assignments that were given. With the help of Writing with Sharon Watson, though, I have found a new method to encourage creative writing in our home. As members of the SRC, we were given Sharon's Writing Fiction [In High School]: Bringing Your Stories To Life and Writing Fiction in High School: Teacher's Guide for review. This program has helped re-open my daughter's eyes to her love of writing.

Sharon Watson was a fellow homeschooling mom for 18 years. She now teaches high school composition, fiction writingand literature to homeschool students, and offers all-day workshops. She is also the author of Apologia's Jump In curriculum, as well, and you all know how much I like Apologia :^) She created her writing courses to help students that  were "stumbling through school. . . trying to make sense of their writing and literature classes". She wanted to find "ways to make difficult writing tasks and concepts" easier for students to understand (Sharon Watson Biography). 
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Writing Fiction in High School is a wonderful curriculum designed for high school students that love to write but that may need guidance to get started or even to enhance their already written stories. 

It is written in a conversational style, which makes it easy to follow and enjoyable. The student doesn't have to have a dictionary next to them to understand the lessons, which is not always the case with traditional textbooks.

There are 13 chapters that have multiple short lessons. Each lesson is considered a day's lesson. At the end of each, there is a box with "The End of Today's Lesson". This may seem insignificant, but to students that are wired for lesson plans or need to see the end of the tunnel before going through, this can mean a lot. Because each lesson is brief, the student will not feel rushed when completing the assignment, which, again, is not difficult, yet moves the student forward in the quest to write a great story.

For example, in Chapter 2, point of view is being discussed. One of the activities is to write down your first memory. Later in the chapter, there are a few questions to answer based on that memory: "What point of view did you use, How close to that child is your retelling-in the skin or outside looking at yourself, Did you tell it as though you were that age or from the distance of your current age, looking back?" The next step in that lesson is to rewrite your memory using a different point of view. The lesson and assignment seem simple, but could you do it . . . easily? It took me quite a few minutes trying to decide what my first memory is. Even as I write this, I wonder if it's really the first, and was it really my memory or one that I created based on a story that my mom told me. Writing it from different POV's was interesting, too. Being able to step outside of the story and read it as though it were someone else, is fascinating. Although, I think in many ways, we do this throughout our life in different situations, or at least I do. It's a good way to reflect back and learn from the experience, or see how God had His hands in it.

In Writing Fiction in High School, students are encouraged to discuss their writing with others, which helps adds objectivity and find areas that could be tweeked. The curriculum can be used by independent learners, co-ops, writing clubs, and classrooms. It can be easily adapted to meet the needs of your family and students. Sharon does suggest forming a writing group if the curriculum is not being used in a co-op or classroom. This is so that the students can interact with others and "have lively discussions, read or listen to one another's work, and critique one another's work" (Teacher's Guide, pg 1).

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Writing Fiction in High School also has a "Manuscript Track" for students that already have short stories or manuscripts written. In many of the lessons, there are extra assignments that students can do to modify or enhance their pieces. This is an added bonus for us. Since my daughter has a manuscript that she wrote for our homeschool theater group, it's allowed her to examine it with a different perspective and new found ideas. One of her first comments was "Wow, my characters are really shallow." She realized she needed to add more dimension to the main characters to make a better story. 

The Teacher's Guide offers ideas for discussion as well as answers for assignments and lessons. It's a handy tool for moms that need guidance in teaching writing.

With Writing Fiction in High School, students will learn how to:

* Write engaging dialogue *
* Build scenes *
* Ramp up the conflict *
* Create empathetic protagonists *
* Select a point of view *
* Describe settings and characters *
* Hook their readers *
* Critique themselves and other writers *
* Get published *

* And much, much more! *
(Writing Fiction in High School)
How To Purchase: Writing Fiction in High School is available for $25.05 and the Teacher's Guide can be purchased for $9.95. An excellent price for a curriculum that can be used in multiple ways.

What We Thought: We loved this curriculum. It is well written and very easy to follow. My daughter really liked that. The lessons were straight forward and not difficult to complete. We have a co-op class with our homeschool group and I'm considering offering a writing class and using this curriculum. I believe it will be well liked by other parents and, more importantly, the students.

I wanted my daughter to write her thoughts down, since she was the primary user of it. This is what she wrote: 
"I like the way the workbook is written, it is very easy to follow. The book excerpts given are perfect illustrations of the point the author is trying to make. The examples taken from other books were from very interesting books, I looked up a few of them so I could read the rest of the story.  Writing Fiction In High School is very helpful for learning how to better write new stories of my own, and also to polish the ones I have."
I am confident you will find Writing Fiction in High School a wonderful supplement to your high schooler's curriculum. There is much to offer.

To read more reviews click here or the banner below.
 
 
Reading is more than just a subject in school, it can be a way of life. It can take you into a world as foreign, or familiar, as you choose. It can be educational, inspirational, or fun. But it can also be arduous, abstruse, and obscure. Sometimes we need a little help understanding what's written, or the author's true intent. 

Progeny Press has created wonderful study guides to help your students understand and enjoy what they are reading. As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we were given a free copy of Things Fall Apart Study Guide.
Progeny Press was created in 1992 by Michael & Rebecca Gilleland. Their search for quality classic literature guides with a Christian Worldview yielded little and as homeschooling parents, this wasn't acceptable. Their first study guide was tested in a Christian school and loved. Now, 21 years later, Progeny Press offers more than 100 study guides that are edited and reviewed by The Gilleland's to ensure their high standards are met. 

Their mission: "To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!" (PP) You can read more about Progeny Press on their About Us page.

We have benefited from Progeny Press' study guides in the past. We had reviewed their guides back in March of 2012 and liked them so much I have since purchased a few more to use for our Co-op's classical book discussion. They are written well and thorough, but more importantly, offer a christian perspective in the analysis of each book. In my own research for study guides, I have found Progeny Press to be one of the only company's that offer this. 
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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is a book unfamiliar to me prior to this review so I was happy to have received the Things Fall Apart Study Guide to complement it. We did purchase the book as it does not come with the study guide, but it is very reasonable and may be available from your local library.

The story is about Okonkwo, an Ibo clansman from a Nigerian village ,Umuofi . It takes place in the late 1800's which was entering the beginning of a time of change for what is now called Nigeria. The British would soon be attempting, and succeeding, at colonization of Nigeria, and Christianity was entering into communities, disrupting and disputing the belief system in place there for generations. 

Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 in Nigeria to a Christian teacher. He wrote Things Fall Apart to depict Nigeria and it's culture true to history and not just as perceived by many. He writes of "the complex rules, patterns, values, and rituals of Okonkwo's society". And he "weaves their vivid language, proverbs, and stories into the novel" (Things Fall Apart Study Guide, pg. 8).

The main idea of Things Fall Apart, to me, is best described when Achebe writes,
"Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. . . And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion - to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved" (Chapter 2, pg. 13)

These words foreshadow, to me, Okonkwo's impending demise. Okonkwo strived so hard at not being who his father was and being a man, that his life was filled with ill-fated decisions and actions. 

Progeny Press chose an excellent piece in Things Fall Apart to create a study guide for. Because the book is rich with a different culture and belief system, having a study guide to help understand it is critical, at least to me. There are many aspects of Okonkwo's culture that we are not familiar with, and the study guide explains it well. And offering this through a Christian perspective allows the reader/student to understand it without criticizing it.

Things Fall Apart Study Guide, like most of the Progeny Press study guides, is broken down into groups of around 3 chapters each. Each of these includes a combination of the following activities: Vocabulary, Questions, Characterization, Analysis, Dig Deeper, and Optional Activities. Also included in each of the study guides are the following sections: Synopsis, About the Author, Historical and Cultural Background, Pre-reading Activities, Overview, Essay suggestions, and Additional Resources.

One of the things I liked in this study guide was a Dig Deeper section for chapters 1-3. It described the various "cultural responses to sin". There was info on Shame Based Societies, Fear Based Societies, and Guilt Based Societies. I just found this fascinating. I'm not sure why, I just did : ^ ) Progeny Press has added it all. You can view a sample of Things Fall Apart Study Guide here

According to Progeny Press, Things Fall Apart Study Guide is designed for students in grades 10-12. Because the story is intense, I do believe that this age group would be likely to understand and appreciate it better than younger students. But I also believe that if there were a student in middle school (6th or 7th-9th) they might be able to understand it if working with an older student or parents. The book does have violence, domestic and criminal, as well as information about gods, oracles, and magic, since this was the culture and belief system of Okonkwo's society. 

How To Purchase: Progeny Press offers both the book and the study guide, but they are sold separately. Things Fall Apart, the book, is available for $11.95. Things Fall Apart Study Guide is available as a printed booklet - $21.95, CD - $18.99, or Instant Download - $18.99.

What We Thought: This was a difficult book to read, at times. There were a few chapters that had flashbacks and "two intertwining stories", that really made it necessary to concentrate on what I was reading. There are so many distractions around me that I often end up reading a paragraph a couple of times before getting the true meaning of it. I am glad that I had the study guide to help decipher what I was reading, or more importantly, bring an understanding to what was important.

The questions posed and the Dig Deeper sections of the study guide really brought about great conversations while we were studying this book. Questions like: "Which of the three responses to sin most closely resembles the culture in which you live?", "In Chapt 9, a medicine man told Okonkwo  'that [Elwefi's] child was an ogbanje, one of those wicked children who, when they died, entered their mother's wombs to be born again'. . .What do these statements imply that the Ibo believe about the afterlife? Read Hebrews 9:27-28. What do these verses say about birth and rebirth?". The questions not only helped to ensure an understanding and remembrance of what was read, but give a deeper understanding of what God and His Word says about the different subjects.

My 17yo daughter read the book on her own. She liked it, though she thought it was "dark". My 12yo son and I read through the book together. We all did the study guide together. We had the PDF file, which allows for answers to be typed into the file instead of having to print the pages. (It can still be printed if chosen.) We liked this. I didn't have to worry about using ink unnecessarily. We chose to do a few of the Dig Deeper questions and the Optional Activities, but not all of them. Progeny Press suggests to do one section a week, which could technically be done and include all of the extra optional work, but for the sake of this review, we chose to progress a little faster and not complete all of the work. We were still able to gain a much better understanding of the book. I did choose not to complete the essays (at least on paper). We did discuss the questions and thought about how we would answer. I really like being able to have open discussions with the kids about deeper subject matter like that included in Things Fall Apart. Even though it is based on a society that existed more than 100 years ago, there are still many relevant situations in today's world. 

I believe that the Things Fall Apart Study Guide would be an excellent resource for your high school student if they are reading Things Fall Apart. If this book is not in your syllabus, check it out and see if it might fit. If not, Progeny Press offers many, many more study guides that might. To read reviews about a few of them, click here or the banner below.
 
 
Teaching writing and grammar can be both challenging and exciting. As our children are learning the basics of grammar, there is often frustration while they try to link it all together. But once they've reached the point where they can put their thoughts together and write on paper what their ideas are, there is an exciting new world they've entered that they can share with others.

Essentials in Writing offers a complete language arts program for grades 1 through 12. Each grade offers lessons appropriate for that level: from sentence formation to writing a research paper. Each course comes as a DVD set and includes PDF printable worksheets and answer sheets. There is also an included instructional guide for you to help get started. 

Essentials in Writing was created by Matthew Stephens. He is also the instructor in the videos. He earned an Elementary Education degree and is certified in Elementary education and Middle & High school English. His goal with Essentials in Writing "is to help produce confident writers who enjoy the study of language". By achieving this goal, students will learn "the concepts that are critical to effective written communication".

As members of the SRC, we received the 8th Grade Essentials in Writing curriculum. It is recommended for students ages 13-14.
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This 4 DVD course includes:
* 64 Video Lessons *
* 157 pages of worksheets & answers *
* 15 optional grammar review video lessons *

The 8th grade curriculum topics include:
* Sentence Development *
* Writing Techniques *
* Paragraph Development *
* Compositions *
* Narrative *
* Compare & Contrast *
* Formal Essay *
* Persuasive Essay *
* Choosing/Narrowing a topic *
* Expository Essay *
* Research Paper *
for additional syllabus

So How Does It Work? With the 8th grade course, you have the option of having your student review grammar with the "intense grammar review". It is on the same CD/DVD as the PDF worksheets. It is not required for the course and does not have worksheets to complement the lessons, but is a nice review for students that might need it. Topics like subjects & predicates, nouns/possessive nouns, subject/verb agreements, adjectives & adverbs, capitalization, & punctuation are all covered in the 15 supplemental lessons.

Mr. Stephens recommends reviewing these at the beginning of the course if necessary and then referring back to them should your student not be familiar with a topic during the course of the year.

Once you have made the decision about the grammar lessons, you and your student will move on to the actual lessons. Mr. Stephens suggests reviewing the worksheets first, then watching the lesson (you can view a sample lesson below), complete the worksheet, and finish with a quick look ahead at the next lesson. There is no set time that is required for each lesson, it is dependent on your student's understanding of the subject. 

One of the great ideas that are in place with this program is that the worksheets correlate with the video lesson by number and letter; for example, 3A & 3B worksheets are to be used with video lesson 3. It's a good way to keep track of the lessons. The video clips are short, maybe 5-10minutes long. Mr. Stephens uses a white board to demonstrate the lesson. Each lesson spins off of the previous one so the student is learning in progression. While learning writing, the lessons encourage reviewing your work and ensuring your complete thoughts are expressed. If they are not, then the piece is modified. Mr. Stephens stresses the importance of writing what you're thinking so that your reader can enjoy it the way you intended.

How To Purchase: Each grade level can be purchased for $40, which includes all of the video lessons, worksheets, answer sheets, and instruction guide. This is an incredible price for a full year language arts curriculum. You can also purchase a pre-printed workbook for $20 if you prefer not to print out the worksheets. Essentials in Writing is upgrading their program to digital and will be offering their PDF files via a digital route instead of on the CD's. Not all grades are upgraded yet, as of this review date. If you have any questions prior to purchasing, they have a contact us tab on their site.

What We Thought: I have to admit, I wasn't totally sure about the reaction I would receive when we started this. My son (7th grade) was a struggling reader, and now is sort of a "struggling doer". He's not fond of schoolwork, most of the time. My daughter (12 grade), on the other hand, loves school. So I chose to use this course together with the both of them, to see how it would go. With him a year behind the level, and her several years ahead, I thought it might just work. 

I did start with reviewing the optional grammar lessons. Since my son had struggled for so long with reading, many other aspects of language arts fell to the wayside as we pushed forward with reading. I really liked the lessons that Mr. Stephens added. The first review lesson, subject/predicate, is a basic sentence structure lesson, but it's a very important one. Knowing how and why the two go together is essential to moving to the next step. Actually, all of the grammar review lessons are basic lessons, but are so important to have a grasp of prior to moving on to the lessons in the curriculum. I was impressed with how much my son actually did remember about basic grammar. He didn't necessarily remember the titles, but while going over it together, he would be able to remember the concept quickly. The last review was on capitalization rules. This was definitely a lesson my son needed to review. We have gone over this many times before, but it seems like he was able to understand it a little better after watching Mr. Stephens explain it.

Since I usually add in photos to my posts to break up all the print, I'll add a sample video here of one of the lessons by Mr. Stephens. My review continues below the video.
For the curriculum itself, as I said above, we worked together doing it. We set aside time each morning to complete at least on lesson. One of the first things my daughter said was, "why didn't we have this when I was learning these[lessons]. I wouldn't have had to review so much for the SAT". Mr. Stephens seems to be able to take each lesson and explain it in simpler terms, like taking a math equation and simplifying it before completing it. My son wasn't too keen on it at first, but then realized it wasn't so bad. I printed out the worksheets and after the lesson would have him try to complete as much as he could. I think he surprised himself, even, that he could do it. 

For this review, we moved a little faster through the lessons to get the full feel of the program. It was important, though, to ensure that my son understood the lessons prior to the next one we chose. We quickly moved through the first few lessons of sentence development. The biggest issue was expanding the sentences to become a complex sentence. 

While going through this program, I was reminded of an episode of Little House on the Prairie when all the students needed to write an essay about someone they admired. Laura was young, but chose to write about her mother. She couldn't write all of the words she wanted and couldn't form the essay the way she had it in her head. She spoke one "essay" while another, much simpler version, was on the sheet. There's more to that story but it made me realize the importance of Mr. Stephens' goal. Encouraging children to be able to communicate what they're thinking through their written words is inspiring. 

Going back to our experience. As we moved on to higher lessons, we came to lesson 11A: Using imagery in writing. It discusses using "vivid language" to bring your words to life. The worksheet references Mark Twain's "Don't tell me the old lady screamed. Drag her in here and let her scream!". It sounds funny but makes a ton of sense. Don't just say it, show it. I remember teaching this to my daughter a few years ago. It was difficult for her to get at first. With this lesson, my son finally was able to get it. Though I was doing most of the writing (it's coming along, though, lol), he was coming up with the ideas. It was fun working with him to create little stories from each individual sentence. 

Several of the lessons (personal narrative, persuasive & expository essay's) are similar to speeches that we have in our speech & debate club, so both of my kids have had experience writing them. But the way that Mr. Stephens broke the lessons down really allowed them to work through the creation step by step. It made the process simpler and more enjoyable.

Overall, we really liked Essentials in Writing. The one thing that we didn't really like was the audio quality of the DVDs. It sounded like there was a slight vibration or echo. It did this on our t.v. and on the computer. It wasn't too overly distracting, but was definitely noticeable.

I am impressed with the quality of the curriculum in Essentials in Writing, aend am confident you will like it, too. You can see samples of the lessons on the website for each grade as well as the corresponding syllabus. Check it out for yourself. $40 for a full year language arts curriculum is an excellent price. To read reviews from SRC members for other Essentials in Writing grade levels click below.
 
 
The American Dream. What do you think about when you hear that phrase? For me, I think about immigrants coming to the USA from Ireland, Italy, and other countries, a hundred years ago or more, seeking the Promised Land. Whether it was freedom from oppression in their native countries or the economic hope that was possible, America opened it's doors to many people seeking a better life.

Today's culture may allude to the American Dream, but doesn't encourage youth as it once did. Robert and Kathleen Basmadjian want to change that.

To do this, they created Inspiring the American Dream and wrote their book Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream.

Their mission "is to inspire today’s youth, by instilling in them the values, principles and virtues necessary to achieve the American dream" (Inspiring the American Dream[IAD]).
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I received a copy of Abraham's Journey as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. Though it is available also as a physical book, we received the ebook to read on our iPad.

Abraham's Journey is about a boy growing up in the Great Recession. His journey begins when he learns that his parents lost their jobs and Christmas would be without presents. He wanted to get a job to help his family out and to "save Christmas" (IAD). While texting friends, Abraham Lincoln pops onto Abraham's screen and takes him on a time-travelling journey to learn about the American Dream. Along the way he meets "successful American icons" (IAD) like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Amelia Earhart, Norman Rockwell, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill & Melinda Gates. Each of the characters speak to Abraham about working to find his special talent, reaching his goals, and the American Dream. 

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Throughout the story, Abraham learns about perseverance, imagination, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship. He learns that the American Dream is not just about wealth, but about sharing with others and making a difference in their lives. 

On the last few pages of the book, there are definitions of terms used and character biographies for each of the people Abraham met in the story. The biographies are brief excerpts, but it was nice to read a few of the facts. It also encouraged us to learn more about each of them.

The artwork was interesting and detailed.. On our version of the book (the ebook), the colors were vivid and bright. Each picture is relevant to the story on the page, which is nice. 

How To PurchaseAbraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream is recommended for kids ages 7-12. The ebook is 40 pages long (including the cover pages and title page). The physical book retails for $14.99 and is available through Inspiring the American Dream. The ebook is available through iTunes or Amazon (Kindle edition) for $9.99.

What We Thought: Overall, we liked the book. It did inspire us to learn more about the American Dream and the characters referenced in the story. After reading the book, my son first pointed out the biographies and definitions in the back. He liked that partof the book the most. The next thing he pointed out was one of the pictures. 

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Being a 12 year boy and preferring to look at the pictures before reading, he explores all the little details of each picture. So when he saw this picture, he excitedly called my daughter and said "look, it's Data's arm!!" This, of course, was in reference to Star Trek, lol. But what he was looking at was a yellowish blanket that Abraham is carrying and his father's adjacent hand. They blend together and look like a "severed arm", according to my son. It kind of does, too. This was just a lighthearted observation : ^ ) It did not distract from the overall story.

My daughter (17) liked the story, but stated that some of the words seem a little big for kids 7-12 and the concept of the story might be too mature for the younger reader. She also thought it seemed more like a book that parents might read to their children. This would actually be a good thing, because then, discussion of the American Dream and all of the historical figures can take place. 

I like the premise of the story. But I do agree with my daughter that some of the words are not typically in the recommended age group's vocabulary. I also agree that the overall concept may be missed by the younger readers. But I like that the idea of the American Dream has been revived by the Basmanjian's. Their dedication to helping the youth of America realize their potential is refreshing.

Although I liked the idea of the story, the art work, and the goal of the story, I was disappointed in the general historical content. As each character was mentioned, there was little discussed about what made them an important figure in American history or relation to the American Dream. The first 3 characters actually had almost nothing written about them. There are the brief biographies in the back, but a better place may have been in the front of the book so the reader has an idea of who each are before reading the story. Though I knew the characters, the one thing I wasn't sure about was the "Great Recession". I actually thought it was the Great Depression and couldn't understand why Abraham had a smartphone in the early 1900's. I did figure it out, though. This was one definition that I thought should have been in the back and wasn't. 

My main concern with the story is that God was only mentioned once, in the phrase "God's children". To me, the American Dream includes Him. I do not believe that we can get anywhere without Him. Abraham learns about "faith" but it's more of a faith in himself and his talents. I admire that he wanted to help his parents and that he learned compassion for others, but he started his journey with the pretense of buying Christmas presents to "save" Christmas.

I do think that Abraham's Journey is a nice book and would be inspiring to many. If you are teaching about the American Dream, it would certainly be a nice introductory story for your kids to read. 

So the question remains, is it possible to achieve the American Dream? That is a question I can not answer for you. I do know that working hard to achieve your goals, and allowing The Lord to lead you, will most certainly bring you closer than just sitting in your chair, watching t.v., and wishing you had . . . whatever that dream is.
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Both of my kids like playing computer games. Whether they're on the actual computer or some other platform. They also both like animals and learning about them. I love games that combine their likes with education or a learning environment.

ZooWhiz is a great new website that we were introduced to as members of the SRC. Created in 2011 by EdAlive, ZooWhiz offers kids ages 5-15 an interactive, curriculum based, learning environment that's not only educational, but fun, too. EdAlive was founded by Graham East in 2003 & has quickly become a leading publisher of educational software (ZooWhiz About). 
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ZooWhiz has a "bank of over 17,000 carefully-crafted, finely-incremented learning activities" (ZooWhiz) that will engage your children and motivate them as they complete the questions, earn "coins", visually see their progress, and create their own personal "zoo".

You have the benefit of adjusting your student's learning level quickly and easily if the work is too difficult or too easy. ZooWhiz has striven hard to accommodate curricula from Australia (where it's based out of), USA, New Zealand, UK, Canada, & Singapore, (respectively). You are able to adjust spellings according to US or Australian standards, as well as the measurement systems (Imperial or Metric units of measure or currencies in $, £ or €). I personally think it's a great idea for children to learn both sets of measurement and the currency exchanges. Then they won't have to search the web for a converter : ^ )

ZooWhiz offers your children "comprehensive coverage of maths, punctuation, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, word skills, phonics, phonemics and reading" (ZooWhiz). Each age and/or grade level has focused lessons that progress as your child does. As I mentioned above, if your child advances beyond the lesson, you can freely change the level, or if he needs to work a little more on a specific level, you can adjust it back. 

How Does It Work? The whole site is easy to use, too, starting with the sign-up process. The first step is to pick out an Avatar. There are 12 different Avatar's to choose from right now. 

Once your child chooses her Avatar, the next screen is where she will enter her name and your email address. An email will be sent to you for approval of use.

I want to add, here, that ZooWhiz has taken many precautions to ensure your child's safety online. Each username and password are chosen by ZooWhiz, to "eliminate" any inappropriate words that would show on your child's screen. Another safety feature is that your child's username can be saved on the sign-in page, but not the password, so noone else can sign into his account. And, a very important aspect of the safety system that ZooWhiz has created, your child does not interact with anyone else while on ZooWhiz (ZooWhiz safety)

After you approve your children's accounts, you will receive their username and password. You can also sign up for a free parent account where you will be able to edit each child's "age floor". This is where you can set the content (math, reading, and words), by age, for your child. This is a nice option since you can put math at one age, reading at another, and words at another, depending on your child's individual abilities.

Once your child sign's into her account, she will see the screen below:
The "Learn & Earn" section is for all the lessons available, the "Milestones" section shows the progress that has been made, the "Biodome" is the place your child can use the earned coins to "purchase" animals for his zoo. Once purchased they will receive the animal with info on each including: info, detail, habitat, diet, & threat (the latter 4 are included with the premium membership). The "Arcade" is a where your child can use coins earned to play timed games, some educational and some just for fun.

The navigation in the "Zoo" is easy. Regardless of where your student is, there will either be a back arrow or the compass (seen in the lower right corner), that will take him back to the main page. 

And What Are Educational Activities Like? They are actually very good. They are not easy peasy, unless you want them to be. Below are some screen shots with the grade/age listed below the image.
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Math Age 6-8
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Math Age 10-12
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Words Ages 7-11
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Maths Ages 8-10
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Word Skills 11-15+
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Reading Ages 10-15+
I like that with certain questions, there's a built in lesson. For example, in the above "Confounded Croc" pic, on the bottom right side, it tells what a gerund is, how it's used, and an example. You can click here to see a bigger pic. In the bottom right pic, the definition of an "Onomatopoeia" is given. These are helpful reminders or great lessons, depending on the level of the child. 

Below is a quick ZooWhiz Tour that will show a few more screen shots.
You can also view a larger version of this introductory tour video.

ZooWhiz offers a Free Keeper Membership or a Premium Membership is just $14.95 for a full year. Each premium membership comes with the following:
Because ZooWhiz is a growing site, more benefits are being added for both the Free membership and Premium membership. And satisfaction is guaranteed.

What We Thought. I like all the different elements that ZooWhiz has to offer. We received the Premium Membership for review, so the free memberThe learning activities and questions are definitely challenging and I can see the educational value in each of the sections. I like that the site is interactive and encouraging. I think it's cute that, since it's based out of Australia, one of the responses to a right answer is "crackerjack". Each question has the option of missing it twice before the correct answer is given. This is helpful for a student that may not know what is being asked, or doesn't know the concept. The math is really challenging, too, and I like that. The pattern questions are not simple add 3 or divide by 2, it might be add together and subtract by 1. I am sure you will find each of the sections a welcome supplement to your curriculum. 

My kids, on the other hand, aren't as warm about it as I am. They started out to be, jumping online and working hard to earn coins to buy animals for their zoo. However, once the animal was purchased, there is no interaction with it. It's basically just the facts and a picture. I think they were expecting to be able to "play" with the animal in their zoo. Then when they went to the arcade, each game is timed at 3 minutes. So if they are in the middle of the game, it is timed out and they must purchase another session. They can continue or restart, but nonetheless, the game was interrupted. They did not like this.

But that aside, they did find that the activities/questions were challenging and original. They were able to review lessons from the past and practice ones they are learning (for my son, my daughter is slightly more advanced so the lessons were review for her).

Because the site is upgrading and adding new things all the time, I encourage both kids to check back often to see what's new. They do like all of the animals they have to choose from and like learning about them. The games are fun, too. And I must admit, when I got into one, I didn't like being timed out so quickly either. 3 minutes seems like a lot, but it really isn't when your playing, lol.

Overall, I do recommend ZooWhiz. The price is right, if you choose the Free membership, and the Premium membership is very reasonable. It's a great way to encourage your kids to practice their school lessons and have fun, too. Try a free membership today, to see what you think. 

To read other reviews from the SRC, click below.
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Disclaimer: I received a free membership to ZooWhiz free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after using it. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.
 
 
Throughout our life, we find situations where it is necessary to type more than lol, ty, b4, l8r, 2day. For example: work, resume, writing a business letter, or acceptance of a great award : ^ ) We never know when it may be important to be able to create a great paper or letter for some purpose in our lives. 

One of those very important purposes is the SAT. For every High Schooler thinking about college, the SAT is one of the means to get there. The essay portion of the SAT is often a great stressor for students. Worrying about the topics, the time limits, the content; it can really cause anxiety. But there is a great website that I learned that can help your student prepare - Time4Writing.
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Time4Writing is a writing resource that offers students of all ages, from elementary to high school, guidance and instruction to increase their writing skills. Each of the courses are 8-weeks long and are totally personalized. Each student is assigned to an actual tutor and all of the tutors are certified teachers. 

We were given a membership to the SAT Essay Writing course to review as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. This came at a perfect time for us. My daughter will be taking the SAT this fall and we were concerned about the essay portion. She loves to write and writes creatively very well. But sitting down to write an essay about something she's not interested in has always been a huge task for her. Being timed is another problem area.

Time4Writing has really helped her in both areas. This is because Time4Writing is designed to help "students work on budgeting their time, developing a strong thesis, using solid examples, and editing their writing all within the limited amount of time they are given during the actual SAT exam" The course was created by English teachers who have been official scorers for the SAT and, therefore, students "are given tools and tips from experienced educators who have been in the trenches". (Time4Writing). 

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There are 8 units in the SAT Essay Writing Course that your student will be guided through. He must complete each assignment before being able to move on. This is a great aspect of the course. It is common for students to look at the next page of an assignment just to know what's ahead, but this is not a good tactic. It usually just causes more stress and anxiety because then they worry if they can do it.  In Time4Writing, the student is given an assignment to complete. Once it's complete, the tutor will grade it or offer feedback. Then the next assignment is available. 

The 8 units are: 

Unit 1 – What you need to know when writing for the SAT 

Unit 2 – Breaking down the writing prompt

Unit 3 – Writing an excellent essay

Unit 4 – Using your voice in your essays

Unit 5 – Stronger sentences, stronger essays

Unit 6 – Improving paragraph structure

Unit 7 – Identifying and correcting errors for better essays

Unit 8 – Practice, Practice, Practice
Each of the units builds on the previous and walks students a step at a time. Unit 8 includes real time SAT essay writing. I am excited for my daughter to get to that point!
Time4Writing offers free resources as well as their many courses. You can try them out and see the benefits your student can have from one of their courses.

Each of the courses is 8 weeks long and offers a money back guarantee.
14-Day Money-Back Guarantee
* Flexible Scheduling Available *
What We Thought: I am very pleased with Time4Writing. I am thankful to have had this opportunity to review them : ^ )

My daughter enjoyed working with her tutor. She was apprehensive about starting the lessons at all. She was worried she wouldn't "do it right" or "know what to do". After the first couple of lessons, though, she found it much less stressful and actually enjoyed doing the work. Her instructor was awesome! Her comments were helpful and encouraging.

This is an example: 

"You did a great job with these thesis statements this time! They have all of the needed information:

1. subject
2. claim
3. three points of support

A good thesis statement with this information gives your essay some organization, and it may even improve your SAT essay score. You may move on to the next activity. Keep up the great work!!!" 


I am impressed with Time4Writing's SAT Essay Writing. We have a few more weeks left to our membership but I can truly see the benefits of these lessons with my daughter. Her anxiety level about writing essays has decreased, her skills have improved, and she likes it. That's what I'm happy about the most. It hasn't been a struggle to get her to do it since she realized what it was going to be. 

I believe you will like Time4Writing, too. It is an incredible resource for any student that has struggled with writing.

You can read more reviews by clicking below.
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Disclaimer: I received this a membership free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after using it. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.
 
 
Homeschooling is a definite joy in my life. Yes, there are times I feel crazed (and probably look it, too) but, overall, I love homeschooling. I believe it is the best decision we made regarding our children. 

With homeschooling, though, there have been a few stumbling blocks that we've encountered. Things like: "what's the best way to teach. . .",  "why doesn't she like. . .", or "how can we help him with. . .". These questions have come up, at times, within various subjects over the years. One of the subjects is spelling & vocabulary. It's just an area that isn't always fun to learn. Writing spelling words out 10 times every day for a week only to regurgitate them on a test is the public school way, not homeschooling way; but it was what we did a few times to try and reinforce the spelling. Neither of our kids liked it, and neither did I. It didn't encourage them to remember the words past the test and that was a waste of time and effort. So we would try to play word games or come up with different strategies that could make learning spelling fun. If I had only heard of the next product I'm going to tell you about!

Vocabulary Spelling City is a great website that I have been introduced to through the Schoolhouse Review Crew. This site is pretty nice. It was developed as Spelling City in 2008 and became hugely popular within the next year with over a million unique users a month in 2009-2010 school year. Spelling City has grown over the years and became Vocabulary Spelling City in January of 2011. It is now ranked "as a top 1000 site in the US during it's peak months." (Vocabulary Spelling City)" 

So what is it? It is an online interactive game-based system designed to help your Elementary, Middle, or High school students with vocabulary and spelling. Vocabulary Spelling City has:
You can try Vocabulary Spelling City simply by going to their site.
You can use much of Vocabulary Spelling City's site for free, but the Premium Membership offers you individual student logins, student progress tracking, premium games, and so much more. You can watch the video below for info on the Premium Membership to get a better idea of all that benefits you will receive.
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Vocabulary Spelling City has so much to offer. I was able to create lists based on words that I chose and the system automatically entered a definition and sentence samples. If I like them, I could keep them, if not, I could create my own. I like that ability. I also liked that if I wasn't sure what words to use, I could search for spelling list by grade and find them. I even found our local school district and lists created by teachers there. I though that was really neat.

The games are fun for students, too. HangMouse is like hangman and is allows the kids to have fun while learning. I like the Unscramble because it's challenging. My daughter liked Vocabulary Spelling City because she loves words, lol. The only thing she didn't like was that some of the voices in the games were difficult for her to understand, when saying the her spelling words. But I would like to state here that I gave her words like aberration, pedagogy, & loquacious. They are not typical computer words : ^ ) My son actually did enjoy it, too. Amazingly! He even did his work without too much complaining.

Vocabulary Spelling City can be used for Free, but to get all the wonderful benefits, a Premium Membership is best. It costs $29.99 per year for up to 5 students! That is a great price.

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Disclaimer: I received a free premium membership free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew  with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after using it. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.
 
 
Did you know that vocabulary is worth up to 150 points on the SAT? Is your student ready?

Though we try to ensure our high schoolers are prepared to take the SAT or ACT, it's often for the math or essay portions. Sometimes, vocabulary is one of those things that we might assume our kids will just know. But how would they know if they haven't given them the means to? Yes, you may have a dictionary in your home and there's always access to literature and such, but reading the words, even studying the words, doesn't always solidify the definitions in our minds. Putting the words into context is better than simply reading the definition, but doesn't always make it memorable. So how do we help our students remember?

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we have been introduced to a company, Vocab Videos, that has developed a method that may help your student remember vocabulary words and ultimately increase his SAT score.

Vocab Videos has taken 500 essential SAT and high school vocabulary words and created short clips that illustrate their usage. Because the student hears the word in a contextual way, it makes more sense than just reading the definition. The "hilarious professionally produced" skits are about 10 minutes long and contain "episodes of 20 words...forming 25 unforgettable miniseries [with] outrageous plotlines and entertaining characters" (Vocab Videos). The skits are parodies of shows like Lost, The Office, 24, and Gossip Girl.

Vocab Videos offers all of the following components:
How it works: once you've purchased a membership, the teacher area allows you to add & manage students, view their quiz and worksheet progress, and create flashcards. Flashcards give you the ability to create digital flashcards using your own set of vocabulary words. Below are clips of what you will see on your teacher page.
Students will see their own page, which includes study resources, video library, quizzes and worksheets. They will have a dashboard (below) and be able to see the results of the quizzes and worksheets
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Vocab Videos also offers a workbook that includes all 500 of the words found in their online videos. Using this guide along side of the video subscription can help your student further her understanding of the words and help in the memorization process. It is $11.99 and includes:
  • Definitions, pronunciation guides, & example sentences
  • Synonyms & categories to form connections between words
  • Roots, etymologies, & other memory aids

There are different levels of membership for students or educators. Prices start at $24.99 for a 6 month student membership and $74.99 for a "small" educator account. There is also a one month free trial that allows you to try it out to see if it's right for you and your student. 

What we thought: the concept behind Vocab Videos is excellent. I do agree that learning words within the proper context and having it be a memorable, or catchy, skit makes it fun and interesting to learn. However, I did not like the skits that were created. The shows that they are based on are pop culture shows, which we do not watch. I have actually never watched them nor will my kids. I am concerned that they are adult based shows and these videos are for teens, not adults. For those of you that have followed me for a while, you may know how I feel about society's negative influence on teens. I love a good joke and we are a very sarcastic family; but there's a difference between everyone having fun and picking on someone. These videos, unfortunately, are filled with crass humor, in my opinion, and riddled with hurtful sarcasm. For this review, my 12 yo son was not even allowed to watch the videos and my 16yo daughter didn't want to watch them after hearing them as I listened. For some families, Vocab Videos may fit perfectly or be acceptable, but for mine, they were not.

You can watch a few short clips on You Tube or watch an intro video by clicking on the "Fun & Engaging" video clip near the middle right of the page. You will be able to get an idea of what the videos are. Like I stated above, you may feel that Vocab Videos will work for you and your family. The concept is excellent and I can definitely see the benefits that could come from watching a word come to life. 

To read other reviews of Vocab Videos from fellow crew members, click the link below.
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Disclaimer: I received a free Small Educators Subscription to VocabVideos as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after using the service. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.
 
 
The English language is a complex language full of various sounds that form words, rules for those sounds, and exceptions to those rules. Most of us really do not know the intricate details that comprise the origin of our language, and have actually never had the opportunity to learn them.

Laurie J. White is the author of the book King Alfred's English: A History of the Language We Speak. When she was in college, she took a course on the history of the English language and, she writes, "The history suddenly popped. It came alive. And from that point on I had a framework, a reference, a sequence of pivotal English history events which I never forgot." She also writes, "I had a whole new appreciation for language itself, beyond just English itself, and the miracle of God that it truly is." Because of this, she ultimately wrote King Alfred's English to bring that knowledge to Jr High & High School students (grades 7 & up). Her goal?
"To make this mini-course a broadening, faith building, and entertaining trek
for any student or homeschooling family" (The Shorter Word)
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King Alfred’s English is a 170 page soft cover book (also available for Kindle), that "provides a guided tour of forces and events, conquerors and writers that have shaped, simplified, matured and expanded English into what it is today—the first truly global language in history." (The Shorter Word)

This book really is incredible. I was so excited to receive it for review as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. My daughter loves learning the origins of words and the history of languages. As a matter of fact, when I showed her the logo above, she knew right away that it was runes. She gave me all the facts and even knew what the "letters" represented. I was amazed! Like I said, I knew she would like this book : ^ ) and she does.

The incredible amount of research that went into this book is impressive. Mrs. White doesn't just offer the student simple steps that led to the origin of the English language, but details the entire historical accounts from Julius Caesar to Mr. Crapper (you have to read it to find out). The student will learn about Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Henry VIII, Shakespeare, the English Bible, the Geneva Bible, Claxton and the Printing Press, and so much more. You will find the answers to questions like:

  • What were the driving ideas behind the Reformation?
  • Are the New Testament documents really reliable and how do they compare to other ancient manuscripts?
  • Why was translating the Bible into English punishable by death?
  • …and what does all THAT have to do with the history of English?
And facts you may not have known. Like:
  • The Brothers Grimm compiled German fairy tales, but they were also famous philologists (and what IS a philologist?)
  • There’s a law for the way languages change that backs up Intelligent Design.
  • For over 300 years the official language of the English court was…French! Seriously. But the English were always fighting the French. That’s true. Find out why.
  • There’s a reason we write “knight” but say “nite,” and you won’t believe how they used to pronounce it.
  • It was once punishable by death to translate even portions of the Bible into English! Yikes!
Ultimately, "The capstone of the book is the story of how we got the Bible in English and it’s influence upon our language." (The Shorter Word). 

It truly is incredible the facts that Mrs. White included in King Alfred's English. From The Shorter Word website, you can see the Table of Contents and even read the first chapter. But I caution you, once you've read it, you will want to finish it, so be prepared. 

Not only will you have the book, Mrs. White also offers free student resources, like links, images, articles, videos & movies to watch, and literature that correlates with each chapter. The teacher's resource page worksheets for each chapter, tests, and all the answers for both. There are also additional resources suggested and information on how to count this as High School credit.

King Alfred's English can be purchased in print for retail at $16.95, but you can find it at CBD, Amazon, and the Rainbow Resource for less. You can also purchase it for your Kindle for $5.95.

I am confident that you and your children will find King Alfred's English enlightening and educational. Don't forget, you can read the first chapter to get started today!
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Disclaimer: I received King Alfred's English as an e-product free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after reading it. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.
 
 
Writing a paragraph. That doesn't seem like it should be that difficult. So why, then, do do many students dread it? How is it that we can teach our students all about writing, and they can't create a simple, smooth flowing, 5 sentence paragraph? The answer may be not one we, as parents and teachers, are willing to confess.

We are not teaching them the right techniques to accomplish the task we require them to complete. It's the plain and simple truth. And it's unfortunate. One of my reasons for this is because it's something we've all been doing for years, and maybe not even well, and we've formulated this hypothesis that if we can do it easily, they should be able to get it easily. Why do we think this? Probably because we just need a lightbulb moment. Our kids need proper, clear training in order to do anything. We all do. This means we must take the time and give attention to teaching the skills for writing a paragraph or an essay before we assign a 2000 word paper : ^ )

How can we do this? What tools are available to us that can help us break the steps down into an easy to understand format? I have an answer that may be just what you're looking for.

Create Better Writers is a company that has created materials that will help your student become a better writer. These products have easy to follow steps for you and your student. 

As members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received 3 of Create Better Writers products: How To Teach the ParagraphHow To Teach the Five Paragraph Essay, & The Home School Writing Action Plan. The following is a breakdown of each. You will see that using these can guide you to help your child become a better writer.
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How To Write a Paragraph is the primary guide for students in Grades 3 and up. The paragraph is the basic element of an essay but it's importance is often overlooked. If the writer doesn't formulate the paragraphs correctly, the reader isn't going to be able to follow along and will quickly lose interest in the whole story or essay.

Create Better Writers offers one simple trick to students that will help them master the paragraph.

That plan includes the fundamentals of a paragraph.:

Throughout the ebook, your student will learn 11 steps from the basics all the way to writing the perfect paragraph. This can be purchased for $7.99

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How To Teach The Five-Paragraph Essay takes your student to the next level in his writing abilities.

Create Better Writers states "The teacher is given everything needed to help students master essay writing. Students will be able to organize their ideas, then format and write a five-paragraph essay in about an hour. Every student will be prepared for any class, district, or state writing test." (Create Better Writers)

Below you can see the table of contents and a sample page. Your student is given everything she needs to learn great techniques for writing an awesome essasy.

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How To Teach The 5-Paragraph Essay
$17.95
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How To Teach The 5-Paragraph Essay
$19.95

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The Home School Writing Action Plan guides you through teaching your students to write effectively. 

Part 1 is a summary of all the steps you and your student will be taking. It's a guide to help you know where you are and where you are going.

Part 2 is pacing charts. These charts will help you set the right pace for your student.

And Part 3 is the road map. This section "points out 
key aspects of each section and provides sample worksheets and lesson plans". It will help you implement the plan using the curriculum you have.

With The Home School Writing Action Plan your student will learn:
  • How to write Strong Essays
  • How to write a Research Report
  • How to Write Great Stories
  • How to Write Intelligent Descriptive Sentences
  • Have a Well Developed Vocabulary
  • Be Completely Prepared for the SAT/ACT Writing College Exam

Below are two pages of this magnificent book. You can click them to enlarge.

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Home School Writing Action Plan
$15.95
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Home School Writing Action Plan
$19.95
I loved each of these products. The steps are easy to follow and not complicated. My son has been a struggling reader and his writing has fallen behind because of it. I can really see the benefits of these products because they allowed me to show him in easy step formation how to create a paragraph and finally an essay. I think you will like it, too
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Disclaimer: I received this e-products free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew  with the sole purpose of providing an honest review after using them. For more information on this, please see my disclaimer.