Friday, June 4, 2010

Reviewing the Crew, Part I: Timeline and Top Ten

My review of the Review Crew -- okay, so this isn't exactly a product review, it's more of a year-in-review thing for me for how life has gone in the past year.

First, a timeline:
  • Just over a year ago, I received an email informing me that I had made the TOS Homeschool Crew.  I was excited, I was nervous, and more than anything, I was totally unsure as to what this really meant.
  • Almost a year ago, I was hooked up with the Crew Forum -- a place where members of the Crew find out what is up, and where we can chat and ask questions -- and ask for or read prayer/praise requests.  I was also hooked up with some Lori person as my First Mate -- whatever that meant -- as the leader of my mini-crew.
  • And around 11 months ago, I started receiving various homeschooling products to review.   That's the part of being on the Crew that I expected... I'd get stuff.  And with any luck, that stuff would stretch my almost non-existent homeschool budget so that we'd be able to have a productive school year.
  • On Monday, the Crew year wrapped up, and everyone not returning was removed from the Crew Forum in preparation for this next year.  Sometime next week probably, the process starts over with the new Crew members getting access to the Forum, and some of them being assigned some Debra lady as their First Mate.  (Poor things... )

Well, that is the timeline... but what was it really like, this being on the Crew?

Well, first, obviously, there is the stuff.  Since I have kids in preschool, and I have a child doing high school level work, and pretty much everything in between, well... I received something from practically every vendor.  It added up to a LOT of products.  You can see that if you look for TOS Review Crew posts on my blog.

The stuff was great.  Sometimes the stuff was overwhelming.  But really, every product we reviewed this year added something to our homeschool.  So... my top ten list, with comments:

  1. Maestro Classics:  We ended up getting almost everything else they have made (with the sole exception of the Spanish title) as Christmas gifts.  Amazing story-telling with music, and well-loved by everyone.  And my whole family notices music in movies and television now, and comments on what they think the composer is trying to do.  It's amazing.  
  2. Classical Legacy Press:  I am so impressed by their Latin and Logic programs, even though we didn't get very far.  
  3. Facts First:  an online math program that is only working on the basic fact tables, I saw huge improvements for all four of my boys (yes, even the one in Algebra II).  I would love to subscribe for a year, and I may do that next January.
  4. Illuminations by Bright Ideas Press: this was one of the hardest reviews I wrote all year, but the product has been amazing.  It made it easier to get all my kids together for history topics, though eventually we decided that it wasn't really enough for my oldest and he is back with Sonlight.
  5. Virginia Soaps and Scents: luscious scented soap, but the best part was the laundry soap kit.  It forced me to actually try making laundry soap... and it was SO MUCH EASIER than I expected.  I've been doing it ever since, unfortunately, with things I had already bought.  I'm hoping to order their laundry bars in the future though, because I like them better than what I had around.
  6. Grapevine Bible Studies: this was one of the first products we received, and I was so impressed with how easy and engaging it made Bible study for our family.  Amazing product.
  7. Bonnie Terry Learning, specifically 5 Minutes to Better Reading Skills:  I want to purchase every product she makes.  Unfortunately, I cannot possibly budget that.  Anyway, this particular one is a very straightforward and easy way of working on building fluency for all my reading children.
  8. Kinderbach: the biggest surprise on the list for me.  I did not expect to love this.  And I did not expect that my big boys, who are WELL outside the suggested age range, would learn as much as they did.  I 'hired' them to teach it to the younger ones.  This covered far more music theory than I expected.
  9. All About Spelling: this would have ranked higher, except I already owned almost everything they sent me.  I think AAS is a nearly perfect program... seriously.  If you have a child who needs a spelling program (I'm not convinced all kids do), and you are able to slow down/speed up as necessary, especially in the beginning phases, I think this program could work for nearly anyone.  And the new readers are just wonderful.  (Here are my reviews for the spelling program, the first reader, and the second reader)
  10. Mathletics: an online math program, which now has levels for kindergarden through high school (it only went through US 8th grade when we reviewed it, some other countries, like Canada, had programs through 12th).  We were able to be part of a group subscription, and I dearly, dearly hope that will be possible to renew.  I am so impressed with this program.
My kids top favorites differ slightly from mine.  Their favorites, in no particular order (and I'm only linking ones I haven't already):
  • Maestro Classics:  Two boys ranked it #1, two boys ranked it #2.  I'm not counting Trina's rankings, but she loves it.
  • Mathletics:  Two boys ranked it #1, two boys ranked it #2.  Trina loved it too.
  • Facts First:  Two boys ranked it #3.
  • Hank the Cowdog book and game: they game is still played at least once a week, though one of the vultures just went missing.
  • Sarah's Wish: everyone loved the book.  The best part is you get both a print book and a downloadable audiobook.  And the author is simply wonderful.
  • EDUDPS: Connor particularly loved the college & career planning book.
  • Tektoma: learning to program computer games?  Yeah, that was a hit with the older ones.
  • Time4Learning Preschool: This was Trina's favorite for the whole year.  Richard thought it was okay (it was mostly too easy for him at the level we were able to use)
  • Family Mint: They love this way of tracking their money.  Love it.  I love the price: FREE.
I'll be posting about the people and the job later today, and maybe a separate post about the 2010-11 Voyage too.

Writing this was fun...


Lori Watson said...

I passed on Grapevine because I needed a break but am regretting it after reading all the great reviews! I may have to break down and buy one to try...

Cristi said...

I can't wait to get started. I, for one, would be thrilled to hear that some Debra person was my First Mate (whatever that is). :D

Debra said...

Cristi -- well thank you!

Unfortunately, they are splitting the mini-crews by age too, so while Tess can be on my crew, you can't :(

I, for one, would have loved to have you on my mini-crew too.

Lori -- I'd been looking at Grapevine for 3-4 years and could never get my brain wrapped around how to use it for everyone, so I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. So I JUMPED at the chance to review it. And I am so glad I did.

Rodna said...

Debra, thank you for this review. It is very helpful.
You know, I think one of the great things that will happen this year, will be that we will get to try products that we have never heard of before.
I have only heard of a couple on your list, and I thought I was an expert on curriculum. LOL
What if you have multiple ages in the younger group? How do they split the mini groups like that?

Debra said...

Rodna -- I thought I knew a lot about curriculum too, but I have to confess that a big chunk of the vendors on the above list I didn't know about before this year either.

As far as putting people into the mini-crews, I don't think they are worried a whole lot about splitting it up by ages within the younger/older crews...

I think this next year is going to be great. Though I'm going to be terribly jealous if Maestro ends up on the younger crew list and I watch all of you get whatever their latest and greatest is!

Unknown said...

Well, I for one know I will be referring back to this post when I have a bit more cash flow :).

Amy B