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You can find all of my articles including those on the now-closed Homeschool Mosaics site at Tactile View.org . The adventures of my life in the Dark Silence continues there with a few surprises, too. Follow along! I would love to see there.

TeenCoder™ logo of professor reclining next to the words TeenCoder Java SeriesI used to love programming, and I still love to watch my students learning to love programming. There have only been a few homeschooling programming curriculum choices, and we have used them. They are usually limited to basic stuff and not much in the way of modern languages. Past that, we introduce students to the various industry standards available at most local bookstores in the computer section. I go back to BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL (shh, like any respectable programmer from way back when, I am not really admitting that I know COBOL), so yeah, I’m old and old school. Having had to learn so much over again in life like reading, living skills, computer skills using assistive technology because I am Deaf and blind, I have lost much of my interest in programming at this age and time. However, there are many DeafBlind programmers in the industry, so it can be done. As a teacher though, I am always looking for good curriculum even for programming. I recently got the chance to review Homeschool Programming.com’s TeenCoder™: Java Programming course.

 

With TeenCoder™ courses, you get everything you need to learn and apply the skills taught for a good solid foundation. Course begins with using the basic textedit/notepad and terminal for hand coding and compiling for your first program which is the famous “Hello, World” popular since the beginning days of programmings. The course carries you through Strings, User Input, Basic Flow Control, Debugging, Object-Oriented Java, Graphical Java, Swing Input Controls, Arrays and Collections, Derived Classes, and more. Every concept you need to jump start your learning and carry you through to more formal applications. Explanations are clear and easy to understand with the why you do it fully covered. Activities are fun and apply the concepts learned well. There is plenty to allow you to build your expertise as you move through the chapters. Solutions are provided including screen shots to help you know what you are supposed to get. As you step into development packages, the course recommends and uses free software and gives detailed instructions for downloading and installing. You do not need to purchase anything beyond the course materials to complete the course. Having used other course materials and industry-standard, I can tell you that this textbook is a much better read.

 

My fellow reviewers at Mosaics Reviews have spent a lot of time with this course and other TeenCoder™ courses, too. I will let you read their detailed reviews and opinions here. As usual, my main objective when possible, is accessibility. Several felt that their students enjoyed the courses and could easily do the work on their own which is a plus for a family where the parent may not be into computers, especially programming. I know my students were reluctant to stop the course each day wanting to continue through more than one subject time. That sounds like a win to me. Another parent and I both agree that with other courses used or industry-standard texts the students just didn’t seem to learn much. These TeenCoder™ courses seem to get much more information across and allows the student to really be able to apply the concepts to very detailed activities. One parent stated that their student did the work on their own, but got  great help from TeenCoder™ staff when he emailed them directly about a problem. Some of the courses have videos available to according to one parent who used them. That could be a great help to some parents. Read the detailed reviews to get even more  information and tips.

Accessibility is the big question for me and my students always. My regular students loved the program and took off with it with almost no help from me or anyone. My blind and DeafBlind students along with me struggled at first trying to read the book. We had assistants sign in ASL or read the book to us which was slow, but because the book was so well-written we were all able to accomplish the tasks. The fun was there, but dampened some by the lack of true accessibility. I asked the developers if they would send us some accessible documents for the time-being because I felt from what we had done that the course materials could be useful and easily made accessible. They, after some thought, did so which I commend them for because giving strangers full access to your hard work can be scary. Upon looking at the materials, their were only a few images that wouldn’t be accessible to a screen reader and/or braille display which made it wonderful to us. Most everything including the code boxes to show exactly how the code was to look was actually text-based making it accessible to us. The few images could easily be tagged and the information listed as text, too, with little work. The document with the most images, of course, was the solutions book, but there were few screen shots even in that book. Almost everything had been described in text and text-based boxes. Perfect!

 

By making the books available through iBooks or e-pub formats from text-based source documents or through Bookshare.org, Homeschool Programming could offer their courses to not only regular education students, but also print disabled including dyslexics, blind, and DeafBlind with very little extra work and no extra expense. That would be a win for everyone as it would widen their market to all students and even schools.

 

Worried about the software they use for developing? Well, the textedit and terminal programs for hand-coding is text-based and naturally accessible. Their choice of Eclipse for IDE or Integrated Development Environments is perfect. It is almost totally accessible already. We found the tab close buttons were not linked to the screen reader, so we couldn’t close those, but opened tabs didn’t hinder us in any way. All of the instructions could be easily followed as listed by commands, instead of with the mouse as intended, of course. We used the command listings as is to use the menus for access. The initial screen had an image-based click environment where you had to click an image of an arrow. Of course, our screen reader couldn’t see that arrow image, but in the menu we were able to get get past the initial “desktop” image to get to the actual workbench area. Once there, we could use the keyboard to follow the steps in either the work area or the top menu to navigate, open files, type code, run programs, etc. Now, we are slower, especially since we didn’t have accessible documents in the beginning, but we are picking up speed now. Our fastest student has made it through Chapter 13 of 16 chapters which goes through page 262 of 310 including the Index. That chapter began activities that sight would seem beneficial to understand if you had never had sight. We had student assistants help our student with tactile representations of the images to give him the grasp of what the program was trying to accomplish. However, other activities to come shouldn’t be that difficult because all of our students play chess and other similar type games, so we should be able to understand the reading and some 3D representations of the visual aspects of the program will certainly help us know what the program is designed to do on screen for visual users. With that understanding, we blind and deafblind programmers can code visual games, too. This course will really go a along way helping our blind and deafblind students enhance their mental mapping skills, too.

Screen shot of Eclipse and working braille window.

Screen shot of Eclipse and working braille window.

 

As far as the few accessibility problems with Eclipse IDE, the program is totally usable, and we will contact the developers of this freeware program to help them make the few adjustments to accessibility. Even if that doesn’t change, this course is beneficial and usable to all populations if the interest to learn exist. Hopefully, the few statements needed to explain to blind and deafblind users how to follow the steps through the menu  instead of the mouse and the other couple of modifications or lack of access can be added to the course instructions because they really would be only simple additions. If the Homeschool Programming staff will make the course available through Apple’s iBooks or bookshare.org, we know we can learn programming through their material, and that would make us very happy, indeed!

 

The company has many different courses and different levels, too, so you need to check out their  web site athttp://homeschoolprogramming.com. The TeenCoder™:Java Programming can be purchased as textbook only $75, videos only $20, or package of book and videos $90. Videos, according to one parent may not be detailed, complete lessons, but can be very useful especially for those whose learning styles use multiple visual inputs and/or auditory input. Unfortunately, the videos are not closed captioned, so they are not useful for deaf students overly. That could be easily fixed, so maybe the company will do that in the future.This is an excellent course to introduce and build programming skills in Java. In fact, this old programmer may have just gotten interested again because the accessibility proved to me that I don’t have to start over learning again! Thanks, Homeschool Programming. You made my day for sure!

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Classical Historian's Ancient History Go Fish Card Game DeckThere is a simple, but interesting way to commit to memory those often tedious bits of information in history like people, places, general chronology. The homeschooling parents of The Classical Historian have taken old card game formats and applied them as new tricks for a tired, old dog called flash cards.

These cards are really more than flash cards, but the analogy still holds. Each card contains the information covered in a chapter or more of a history book in a simple format for seeing and understanding while giving the freedom to do several game formats to spice up learning with fun and make remembering the facts easier.

The four card games that The Classical Historian brings to you with their set is Go Fish, Collect the Cards, Chronology, and Continents. With the simplest, Collect the Cards, the student will get familiar with pronouncing the name, repeat visually seeing the spelling, picture, and simple facts including category, and a time frame code. Simply asking for the names of cards to complete their set of four of a kind, the student is practicing memory skills. The other three games reinforces memory of facts, time, and place about each card in the deck. Two of the games which are played against a clock can even be played alone, if required, by trying to improve their own personal best at placing cards in the proper time order or under the correct continent the cards were found. Whether alone or in a group, the games are as fun as the original games, but teach even more now.

A Go Fish game card that has been overlaid with clear plastic sheet and brailled with the information on that card.

You may be wondering how I played such a game designed for typical people meaning hearing and sighted. Well, my husband told me in fingerspelling what was on each card and even where (I used to see, so I understand visual placement). Using that information, I brailled a piece of clear plastic for each card. I did this in using a regular braille slate and stylus. For example, I also used a larger sheet of plastic to braille a separate “card” using jumbo braille as some older or younger students might need. The sheets are bigger in jumbo braille, of course, but for a blind child or adult playing with children, it is still quite usable. Yes, it can take some time to braille all these cards in either size, but the joy of playing a game and especially a learning game is worth the effort. I have lots of games that I still play with my husband that we have tactiled in various ways. Sometimes, we may even have to modify play slightly, but it doesn’t prevent us from enjoying the game or our quality time together. Be open and creative. It is worth the effort.This is a clear plastic sheet broiled in jumbo braille all the information from a Classical Historian's Go Fish game card.

The Classical Historian sells the card games in three categories: Ancient History, Medieval History, and American History. You will also find on their website, classicalhistorian.com, A Memory game format covering these categories and other curriculum resources. The Go Fish card games are $11.95 each. You will find there is replay value (fun to play again and again) in the games, and the game cards are very durable which makes them worth the price.

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Just how are we supposed to answer such big questions from children when they are big questions with no visible, concrete answers even for us? That is especially difficult when you know a lot rides on that answer. One such question is about the existence of God? How do we know God is Really There? is a book by Melissa Cain Travis and illustrated by Christopher Voss and published by Apologia that might get you started with your little ones and maybe, even firm the debate dialogue in your own mind.

Father and son reading the book which is the cover pic of this book.The story is a simple plot that plays out in many bedrooms, kitchens, backyards, and yes, treehouses over and over. A mother and child or a father and child playing and learning together when a child suddenly asks that question that makes our mind jerk to a halt and releases the feelings of inadequacy and even a little fear as the questions of our own spill into our mind. What? How did we get here now? How can I possibly explain this to him when I can’t always put words to this myself? How do I tell her that I just know God exists because I see Him everywhere when He is invisible? Using wonderful illustrations that look drawn by a child and almost real enough to touch the crayon wax and words that fill your mind with awe and lead you through a rational discovery through the known ideas of science to the abstract thinking in a step by step path to the only conclusion that makes sense of a person who chose to create the world and has the power to do it. You end with a pretty powerful answer to that all-important question: How Do We Know God is Really There?

Father and son looking through a telescope at Saturn as they explore God's creation to discover Him as Creator.

The  book’s scientific content does seem a bit weighty for very young children, but it can be a good read-to-me book for five to eight year olds and a good read together book for up to about ten or eleven with some children. The concept though can be used in conversations beyond that age level. Many young children and some special needs children may not get all the deep content the first time, but they will get the gist that can be grown through repeated readings as they grow older. The analogy to to rewinding a video is a humorous way of toning down that weighty science material. if it isn’t enough, the idea might lead you to something even better that your child will understand, so don’t fear giving this book a chance.

Father and son discussing how they can know God is really there by exploring creation to know there is a Creator, God.

You can find this book on Apologia’s web site to get more information or to order. The price is $16.00 for a durable, glossy, full-color hardback copy. That is affordable, but is it worth it? Three parents that I asked to read the book felt it was a great way to handle this tough question. Two students I read it to, including one in ASL, got really big-eyed and curious and really loved the pictures. The book got even the four year old who happened to be listening, too, talking about how “God is so big and can do anything.” That delight was enough for me to make it a part of our library permanently.

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

My Homeschool Grades logo image with blocks with initials of the name and the full name written out beside the matching letter.

If you are like me, you must have a grade program. I don’t like figuring out the grades, and I need something to keep everything organized digitally because there is too much paper and too many things for a grade not on paper. There are a few homeschool programs out there which are fine, but none that are accessible. Some, though, are just public school oriented re-packaged for homeschoolers which makes them too complex for most homeschoolers to bother. We don’t need discipline logs, parent-teacher conference notes, lunchroom fee modules, and the like. We need something flexible in regards to assignment types, grading styles, and keeps transcripts. Some of us need attendance sections, too, along with simple lesson plan listings. Anyway, flexibility allowing uniqueness is hard to come by in grade programs because most think too much like regular schools. My Home School Grades does an excellent job, is constantly listening to their consumers adding and adjusting, and is accessible, too!

 

My Home School Grades’, an online program, main appeal is its simplicity. It has an uncluttered view even with numerous students or classes listed on the screen. Though simple and easy to use, the program has the features you need in the homeschooling world. You can have as many students as you need, and each can have as many classes as you like to provide. You can add activities that can include experiments, films, theater, field trips of every destination. That simplicity allows you to have your unique feel to your student’s academics and experiences. You can choose the curriculum descriptions of numerous popular publishers or list yours as custom. You can’t list your description, but if you’d like to suggest that the vendor add that feature or any feature, click support at the top right of the screens and suggest away. They are adding people’s suggestions all the time, so they make it very easy to suggest something to them. In fact, the company is working on including attendance now because consumers suggested it. This company is really listening, so ask away!

 

Set up of your school information which is used for transcripts takes only a couple of minutes including setting up your name, address, and style of grade display which can be edited any time in the account area along with your password. Then you add your students and their classes in a matter of minutes even if you have several students. When you add a lesson, it is just as simple, and you can list ahead and add grades later or add them as the students complete them. There is nothing complicated here, and it is all easy to find and figure out on your own. But, if you have trouble or if you want to see how easy things are before you buy, check out their tutorials on the steps that are found on the front page of their web site.

 

You can also designate your classes as Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors which will automatically be given a higher GPA point value by default. You can list your grades by lesson plan for individual assignments and grades or by a single, final grade for the course. If your student is doing Dual Enrollment, you can designate that and list the college where the course is taken. You can adjust credit when applicable for .25, .5, .75, or even 1, 2, 3, or 4 credits depending on the type and schedule of course. You also have an option for non-credit if you just want to list the experience, but no credit is given. You can list  the course as full year, Spring, Fall, Summer, or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Quarter.

 

Using your student and course data, transcripts are clear and professional showing school name, address, grading scale, course and credit list, total credits, and GPA. The transcript’s second page lists the activities the student has participated in during their academic career. You can export your transcript to a saved file or print for your records. The grading scale calculates the GPA by using 5 points for Honors courses down to 0 for 59 and below and 4 also given for classes you deem as Pass/Fail. I love the fact that Social Security numbers and graduation dates are not stored on the My Home School Gradesserver, but is entered each time you export transcript. You click the settings buttons on the Export Transcript screen and enter the Social Security Number and Graduation date and then hit print. You can print without that information if you desire. Settings options also allow you to hide certain grade levels and activities, if desired.

 

With these features, you will certainly find My Home School Gradessimple, but flexible and professional for use. In addition, the online program is fully accessible for low vision and screen readers and braille display. At this time of writing, it is the only homeschool grade tracking program that is accessible to my knowledge, and that knowledge is extensive though not complete. There are a few screen reader focus issues with My Home School Grades that hinder navigation slightly like when a pop up screen is present for adding/editing a student or lesson or course, the braille display advance command or the keyboard tab still advances on the back page for several places before finding the pop up page. This is an easy fix, but it needs to be addressed because a blind person will have no way of knowing that the button they clicked actually worked by popping up a screen. Again, it is easy to fix, and I am certain based on the knowledge of the vendors’ customer service reputation which is excellent that this will be handled in the near future. Despite this little hang up, the program is definitely usable by a low vision or blind user, and that makes this reviewer extremely happy.

 

To make it even better, My Home School Grades works well on most tablets and smartphones connected to the internet. On the iPhone, My Home School Grade’s web app through Safari is also completely accessible to Voice Over and a braille display compatible with Voice Over. You can keep up with activities and lessons while on the go which makes handling your homeschool even easier.

 

Now, it is your turn. You can check out My Home School Grades on their web site at https://myhomeschoolgrades.com. You can try it out for a 14 day free trial, see how the online program works with their tutorials on their home page, and get the facts on their “Learn More” page. The price is one of the best things about this program because you get a lifetime membership for just $49.99. With that, you are set for all of your students throughout their homeschool years.

 

 

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

The Waterproof Bible is sitting on a dock with the lake water overflowing the dock. Be Inspired. Anywhere.You probably haven’t thought about the notion of a waterproof Bible. Unless you have activities in your life where you want to take the Word with you into the world beyond Church, you probably are thinking, “Why on earth do you need it waterproof? You going to throw it in the river?” Well, I won’t purposely, but if I fall in crossing that river with my cloth backpack, everything in it including my Bible will get soaked. For that reason, I often left it home longing for it in those quiet moments seeing God’s glory displayed in the vistas surrounding me. Or, when I was Scoutmaster along with my husband of an active, high adventure type troop, I took it to always have it handy for an opportune moment on the trail to teach, and for those Sunday “A Scout is Reverent” moments of instruction, worship, and praise only to have ti torn, soaked, stained, and unreadable after several months on the trails. I hated to see God’s Word used well, but abused in the process. Bardin and Marsee Publishing thought the same and solved the problem with The Waterproof Bible.

 

I got to test one out recently. I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to put that Bible through the paces of seeming torture. It just doesn’t sit well with me to abuse the Word of the One, true God. This was for a good cause though, proving the claims of the company, so I could tell you whether it was worth buying this product if you are an outdoorsy, adventurous type or just want a Bible you can read while in the tub. Still, it wasn’t easy. In fact, I couldn’t do it myself. My son’s fiancé, Rachel, had to take over the reins for this little project. I am quite appreciative, too. We dunked the Bible in the pool, and it floated. Phew! I am glad because I sure didn’t want to dive in that cold water of March to retrieve it. I would have seriously regretted not thinking about trying it in the tub first. We retrieved it easily as it floated to the other side of the pool. The Bible was wet, but the pages weren’t soaked at all. The water just beaded up on it and were shook off with a good fan of the pages. Of course, that isn’t even close to what I could put a Bible through on the trail, so Rachel took that Bible and ground it into mud, Georgia red clay, mud, mind you, which is the archenemy of every mother in Georgia! It is almost impossible to get rid of those stains. Whew! The Waterproof Bible came through again! We just rinsed it off, and the mud came off from the cover, the edges, and the inside pages with ease. There were none of the stains we all know so well even from a quick, dunking in the wet muds of Georgia. Coke, grape juice, milk spills later were no match for the survival skills of this Bible. All washed away with not one even dim stain or ring. Then came the ultimate test. I put the again soaked with water Bible in a dark bag for a while as a Scout would have to do on a trail and left it for a long while. I got it out in a few days, and not only was it dry, but it wasn’t mildewed or stained in any way. You can’t beat that at all!

Rachel has thrown The Waterproof Bible into the pool and is waiting to see if it floats. It does!Rachel, with my husband looking on, gives The Waterproof Bible a good rubbing in the mud inside and out. The Waterproof Bible is covered in Georgia red clay. The cover is stained with dried mud.

With the smaller, but clear, crisp font, The Waterproof Bible is just the right size to carry with you without adding a lot of extra weight or bulkiness. It truly is the perfect Bible for the trial and other outdoor activities. They have several Bible versions available: ESV-English Standard Version, KJV-King James, NIV-New International, NKJV-New King James, and NLT-New Living Translation. They have pink and blue pastel covers and a few outdoorsy camo-inspired covers, too. You also have a choice of the full Bible or just New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. You can also personalized the covers with names, too, for an additional fee. if you wish, or organizations cam imprint with name and/or logo also for an additional fee. Full Bibles are $44.95 and NT, Ps, and Pr. editions are $24.95. Now, my only request would be for a larger print version and even an extra large print version (for low vision readers) just so we don’t have to worry about carrying our Bibles in the rain, and yes, for reading in the tub!

After being cleaned with water and stored wet in a dark backpack for a week, The Waterproof Bible comes out dry and clean without any stains and the words of clear and readable like new.

For more information, go to the Bardin Marsee Publishing web site.

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

The Ultimate Planner System with the Student and Teen's planner on top and the Parent's Ultimate Planner on the bottom.

The Ultimate Planner System integrating the teacher’s Ultimate, The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students, and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens taming the chaos.

The Ultimate Planner System with the Student and Teen's planner on top and the Parent's Ultimate Planner on the bottom.

Planners? You may be wondering why I am reviewing planners when I can’t see to use them. Well, I love planners. I have to use computer planners now, but I used to love my Day Timer when I could see. My life was so full that if I lost my Day Timer I would have a heart attack. I came close once, and that was a lesson enough to always keep it handy. When I taught school, I had a lesson plan notebook. It did its job, but without flair and whimsy. I always searched for something that I felt showed my personality and gave me features that I wanted to use. I was never successful. Lesson plan books were so boring back then. Times change. Good things come to those who wait. As a homeschool teacher, I needed a Day Timer and lesson plan book combined and more. How do you put it all together to keep you together and your students on track. Apologia has some nice planners for homeschool students and teachers. I recently got to hold all three of their planners: The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens, The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students, and The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. All three are designed by Debra Bell, author of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling with many features allowing flexibility for your needs.

The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is bright and colorful with blank monthly grids and undated weekly assignment pages to allow the planner to fit anyone’s school calendar. There are Scripture verses and trivia questions alternating across the tops of the calendar and assignment pages teaching lessons of life disguised as fun facts and musings. There are a few pages at the beginning that let the students fill out their favorite verses, music, best friends, colors, desires, and dreams to record a little snap shot of who they are in this one year. There is also a little guide to how to study to get the student started on a life-long process of organizing and learning to help them also love to learn. There are history timelines, a clear ruler, scientific method flow chart, geography features, math facts and more to help them have useful information handy. The student can keep up with their grades, reading list, physical exercise  plans, and activities all in one place to keep them on track. I love the little calendar stickers to highlight certain events in a fun way. These are all kept in a spiral-bound, durable book built to stand up to life’s happenings in a young student’s life.

The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is very similar, but dressed for the more mature. Knowing that college and career preparation is becoming more intense the Scripture and facts at the top of the pages are replaced with vocabulary words for SAT and other testing preparation. More space is allotted for more classes and a credit track guide is added to help the student get what is needed on that journey. There are also calendar pages for a few years into the future because teens have to look further ahead than when they were younger. There are still stickers because no one truly outgrows those. Though the cover is a little more mature, it is just as durable because this planner will probably go further than just the bedroom desk and floor.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is for the orchestra leader of all that is magical and necessary in the homeschooling lives of your family. It, too, is bright, cheerful, and durable for all the chaos in and out of the home where learning takes place including the kitchen with its soup and the dirty, wet bleachers of the soccer field. With similar features like Scripture and quotes from famous people, monthly and weekly grids, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner fits in nicely with the student and teen planners, but it goes further than that. The thing I love the most is that the three planners are actually part of a system helping you to orchestrate your homeschool and life activities coordinating with your students to keep everyone on the same page, but also learning organization skills and planning strategies for school and life now and into the future. With a user guide explaining the system and how to do yearly, monthly, and weekly planning for yourself and with your students (up to six students easily), and Monday Morning Tutorials (to help your students work in their planners) and Friday Afternoon Reviews to discuss the week and providing accountability, encouragement, and support, the planner system takes you easily through a year better able to handle the chaos that can come.You can set goals for each student, set up pre-planning guides to prioritize family needs and activities, set up resource lists needed for each student letting you know what to gather before it is needed. Another favorite feature of mine is The Lord’s Day which is the beginning of your weekly plan. You begin in a quiet place recounting God’s faithfulness during the prior week and committing to make God’s Word the key of your plan for peace. As you find areas that you are vulnerable in, you can create a battle plan to strengthen your resolve along with fighter verses you can write to refer to during the week to help you stay on track. There is even a list of these verses available free on DesiringGod.org. This along with your Friday Reviews with each student gets you started and ended in a better place each week and ready to tackle the next week. This really is one of the best designed programs I have seen and the first that truly makes the teacher and student planners coordinate and integrate for learning organizational skills and provide growth from year to year. Add the teaching tips and the year-end review helper, and you have a system that carries you forward.

As a former public school teacher, I could have used many of these features even for a classroom of forty students to keep my head in the game, and my spirit where it needed to be for my students despite these planners being focused for homeschoolers. As a homeschool teacher, I know that it fits the homeschool lifestyle to a tee with structure and flexibility to suit most families’ needs.

The prices also fit the need, too, as The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is $28.00 and The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is $19.00, and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is also $19.00. These are affordable prices for taming the chaos and imparting skills for growth. My only wish is I had these kind of features in a digital, non-visual based planner that I could use. Well, we can’t have everything we want, but it is nice to know that some things are taming the homeschool chaos.

Check them out on Apologia’s website.

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Girl Budgeting

Growing up, I liked the things it could bring when I had it evidenced by my circling toys and dog-earring pages of my much loved “Sears Wish Book” catalog each year.  If I wanted a coke, I walked from the house down the country road into the little town looking for empty glass coke bottles that I would return for money. I usually found enough to buy me a coke and occasionally enough to also get peanuts to put inside the bottle to eat as I drank my coke. If I was really lucky, I got enough empties to get a Moonpie with the coke instead. Ah, those were the simple days. I cared little for learning about money. At six, my parents got me a savings account with a small deposit. I added birthday and Christmas money to it when I got it. I received an allowance. I could save it longer term if I had something I wanted that required more than a few allowances. At sixteen, my parents opened a checking account for me. I received $100.00 per month then to buy gas for the old family car that I now drove and buy whatever I needed. I learned the ways of checking accounts, budgets, and such the hard way. Saving, though, didn’t come quickly. I was well into my adult years and had a family of my own, struggling, before I took that seriously. I believe many children may be like me, though. School never covered these topics, even economics. A little help might have gone a long way. Recently, FamilyMint sent me a simple, but thorough course to review. Let me tell you about it.

The FamilyMint Money Management Certification program is a work book program ideally suited for students  in grades 5 and up. Children from age 6-14 with parental involvement can benefit, though. The booklet is about fifty-seven pages long including printable pages of checks, deposit slips, check registers, budget planning forms, and exercise assignments. The booklet can be used as a stand-alone product or with their online software which provides a simulation of the more modern way to do your banking tasks, web banking. After instructions on how to use the course, there are four chapters on Tracking Your Money, Goal Setting, Budgeting, and Interest-Growing $. There are topic related exercises in each chapter with an overall, learning summary at the end which is a short essay form to allow the student to describe in their own words what they have learned throughout the course. Though filled with vocabulary and concept type questions to aid comprehension assessment, the assignments are actually more project-based allowing the student to set up a virtual bank account (either on paper or online through the web banking simulation) to practice hands-on the elements of financial literacy. The student begins by making a deposit and listing it on the General Savings Tracking Worksheet which can be copied from the book or printed from or kept on-line, and then start keeping a record of all money coming in and going out. This begins the process of discovering how the student uses money and begins thinking about the best ways to manage money.

The chapters include clear, concise explanation of concepts and a vocabulary list. The lists of vocabulary are in sidebars on the pages that use those words. Throughout the reading, the vocabulary words are found in bold print to draw attention to how the vocabulary words are used in context. You have definition and context use within close proximity to enhance comprehension without breaking the flow to go back to a main list of definitions. There are also “Fun Money Fact” boxes throughout the chapter giving extra, tidbits of information that interesting to remember. The chapters end with exercises designed to give the students hands-on practice over the chapter’s objectives.

I love the fact that the material is not overwhelming, but still covers all of the essentials of good money management. Also, the pace can easily be set by the student, and the parent can decide when the material is mastered by observing the performance progress. I also loved the ways that the author explained interest. The student could easily relate and see the concept, especially if they actually do the activity the illustration describes. Now, the program might could cover more topics, but for the age range, it covers the essentials and does it pretty well for most students. Parental involvement, which they encourage, will help others ease into the material.

Unfortunately, being Deaf and blind, I can’t review the web site, though I was given access, because the site uses Adobe Flash which is totally unaccessible to a braille display and screen reader. I will have to leave that part of the review to others on the Mosaics Review Team. I hope the developers will look into ways of making their site accessible in the near future.

As far as the text-based curriculum, I had to scan it in with optical character recognition software to reduce it to a text document that would allow me to read it in braille. That isn’t easy because that doesn’t always work overly well even with the best of copies. There are usually mistakes that I may or may not be able to figure out by myself. Hopefully, the program can be provided to Bookshare.org, so that organization can provide it to blind and dyslexic students in various formats. As far as the checks and deposit slip templates, they can be used with check writing guides or even made tactile enough with wax pencils are puffy paint lines. The other forms like check registers and tracking logs and goal sheets can be recreated in a text file in a more understandable format for the blind and DeafBlind. Hearing blind can usually use talking software like Money Talks from American Printing House for the Blind. We have been using the program with an older Special Needs student with developmental delays with great success. The key, of course, is parent involvement. A parent who is also teacher knows what their child can grasp and how to best present it to them for best reception. The Family Mint Money Management Certification program covers the essentials in a clear way which should give the parents the tools they need to teach these financial essentials to most students capable of using the daily services of a bank and preparing financially for the future.

The program has several pricing options that make it affordable. If you don’t wish to use the internet, then purchase only the workbook. Normally, the subscription service for the online software is $24.99 per year or $4.95 per month which allows multiple student accounts. However, you can not purchase the workbook and get the premium upgrade for a lifetime subscription to the online software usable by multiple students for $29.99. If you wish to try the online program first to see if it suits your needs, you can get a 14 day trial subscription for free. There are some features of the paid version that you will not have access to with the free trial, but the trial does give you access to the basics needed. You can also order additional workbooks, if needed, for 50% off. The program, written by MBAs has won numerous awards. After using the program, I feel I can completely recommend it for teaching the appreciation of money and financial planning.

To check it out further, go to http://www.familymint.com.

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