For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lord Heritage - TOS Review

Struggling with scheduling, looking for a scheduling tool? You will want to read this review. I had the privileged of researching and using a new scheduling tool on the homeschool market: Lord Heritage by HomeSchool Office.

What is Lord Heritage? It is an online scheduling tool that promises to help you keep track of all your to do's in your home, especially your homeschool routine. It is exclusively online, therefore you will need a computer or tablet to use it. It does offer printing ability for your schedule once set on your Lord Heritage"s account.

Philosophy and how does it work?

Its working acronym is the word POWER:

P - Plan
O - Order
W - Work
E - Evaluate
R - Report

What this means is that HomeSchool Office offers you a way to manage your life in a very organized, methodological, and logical way.

Once you buy the program you are given a login to access Lord Heritage. Once inside, you are taken to a home page, from where you can start your planning and organizing.

First step:

Setting up your team:

This where you enroll everyone that is involved in your scheduling. That includes teachers, tutors, students etc.... In my case, I set up my two boys, and myself.

Next you make your way through the different aspects of the program.

Plan - This is where you set up everything that you want each child to accomplish

  • First you enter the subjects you wish to schedule, and add lessons if you want.
  • Then the school year calendar (which days of the school year you will be working).
  • Then you create your master schedule, which is assigning each subject to a time slot on the calendar.
  • Then you schedule projects, if you are planning any.
  • Lastly, you set up your budget.

Once that's done you move on to ordering.

Order - This is where you arrange your calendar as you wish. 

On this tab, the calendar schedule you created in the planning stage shows up, and you can then rearrange it as you wish, and edit the subjects by clicking on them. If you have lessons planned, an icon will be displayed next to the subject name. If the subject has been completed, a green tick will be displayed.

You are offered the choice to view your calendar by month, week, day, as a week list, or a day list.
You are also offered the option of printing each of these options. They will print lists.

In this same tab is also an option to create a to do list. Unfortunately I did not see anyway to print that list.

Once you are done ordering you move on to working.

Work - this is where you can view your schedule but cannot edit it.  This is the section that  your child accesses.

Evaluate - This is where you can enter grades and keep attendance

Report - This is where you can create a report or transcript.

I do not keep grades, and definitely no transcript, so I did not research this aspect of the program.

How did I work this program and how do I like it?

Well, I spent most of the review time figuring out how it all works, so I did not spend much time actually using it. I did not find the application very intuitive at all. It takes a lot of figuring out, but once you understand how it works, you can use it as a very useful organizational tool. It really has great potential.

 I will have my son work with me in setting it all up again, so that it will decide the order in which he wants to go through his subjects, since the schedule goes by time in the day.

The programs has a lot of nice features worth mentioning:
  • Everyone can have a personalized calendar and schedule.
  • All the different schedules can be visualized in one mega calendar
  • When you hover a subject in the calendar, you can see the lessons that you have input in there.
  • You can push the lessons forwards
  • You can easily move things around in your master calendar
This is great tool to keep track of all the things that needs to be done in your homeschool and in your home, to the finest details,

Unfortunately, there are a few things I wish it had or did:
  • Copy/paste function. It was rather laborious to enter all the subjects for each day one at a time and for each child. I only have 2 kids, I can,t imagine for big families.
  • The ability to add our own subjects.
  • Get rid of the time slots. I do not function on a schedule, I follow a routine of things that need to be done, time of day is not a concern for me so much. My boys don't mind it though.
  • Though, they have a good support system, with some q&a and ticket system (must I say with prompt responses). Video tutorial would be so helpful and much better.
  • I wish the calendar could be printed as a calendar, not as a list.
Overall, I would say that This program is really good for people who love schedules and live by it. It can be quite readily useful and helpful for people like me who is not so much of a scheduler, if the fore-mentioned aspects were to be improved. It is so nice to have everything in one place

HomeSchool Office Review

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Toronto - A Homeschooler's Trove for Field Trip Ideas and a Giveaway

I live in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), which is in the province of  Ontario in Canada. Canada is known to be a very accepting, loving and beautiful country. Since we moved here about 9 years ago, we have enjoyed living here. We started homeschooling shortly after moving and field trips have always been part of our yearly activities, whether with a homeschooling group, or with the family.

This month the Canadian Blogging Team is taking you around the GTA on a virtual field trip. Come on along and see all the places Canada has to offer.

A round-up of posts on places to see and field trips ideas across Canada

I will list here all the places I would take you if you were to pay me a visit, and all the places we have taken out boys, or hope to soon, on Field Trips.

The CN Tower, right downtown Toronto, one of the hallmarks of Toronto. Not to be missed!

The Ripley's Aquarium, the newest attraction in Toronto, right downtown as well, and definitely worth the visit. This is also a place great for a field trip, which is how we went.

The Ontario Science Museum - What parent does not like taking their kids to museum, especially those of us who homeschool? The Ontario Science Center is the place to be for museum in Toronto. WE also had a membership there for a few years when the boys were younger. They have a very appealing and hands-on kids' area. The boys really enjoyed their trips there. This is also a great place for science related field Trip with adapted programs. They seasonal exhibitions tend to be really cool as well.

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) - Another museum to enjoy, right downtown as well. This one is more artsy and Historical in nature and also has a nice kids' area. Very enjoyable place to be, with very interesting seasonal exhibitions as well.

The Falls at Niagara, 2 hours a away, but can't be missed! Whether it is summer or winter, it a scenery to set eye upon. It is a great place to go around Christmas/NewYear and see the show of lights and skate around there.

The Toronto Zoo, right on the outskirt of Toronto and one of the largest Zoo out there. We held a membership there for a couple of years. The boys really loved going, and it was good exercise for us walking around. They do accommodate field trips as well.

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) - if you love art you want to go there. Even if you don't one must visit this place at least once. It is beautifully filled with great pieces of Art and has a nice children's art spot as well, especially for the young ones.

Tall Ships: experience the world of a sailor aboard the Tall Ships from the Great Lakes Schooner Company.

Humber Arboretum, this is a wonderful place for an outdoor field trip as well where the focus is on ecology, which includes,animal, nature, water studies and everything in between.

Black Creek Pioneer Village - a place to experience life as the pioneers did. Great variety of programs.

Around this time of the year, there are a few different places where you can organize a trip about Maple syrup harvesting all around Ontario. A few of these places are:
White Meadows Farms
Brooks Farms
Gibbons Family Farms
Horton Tree Farms
McLachlan Family Maple Syrup and Pancake House
Kinsmen Fanshawe Sugar Bush
Kortright Center
Bruce's Mill Conservation Area

Just outside the City:

Westfield Heritage Village - A place where Canadian History come Alive for kids. You can learn about Maple syrup harvesting there as well.

Pickering Village: experience life as a settlers. Very enjoyable educational programs that takes you back to the time of the first settlers

Stafford: where you can enjoy beautiful plays

Ottawa, full of museums and the capital city of Ontario, if you don't mind driving 5 hours from Toronto, you will have plenty to do there.

Ste Marie on the Huron - History related field trip where you explore the lives the first Ontario European settlers first hands.

Hamilton Civic Museums - I have not been there yet, but this has been on my list of to do for a few years now. I need to schedule that in for the next school year!

Fair Glen: about 2 hours away from Toronto, outdoor explorations and discovery which includes activities such as canoeing, rope climbing and lots more.

Ontario also offer a large variety of parks to visit and enjoy. Among there are the Rouge Park, Niagara -on-Lake, and many more.

Make sure to visit everyone's post on the team over at The Canadian Homeschooler.

Now for the giveaway

This month we have 3 giveaways for you:

1) Family/Group Discovery Pass from Parks Canada. Valid for 1 year from date of issue. Value $136.40. Here's the details on what it includes etc:
2) Rough Guide: Canada - travel guide book. Value $29.99. Here's the Amazon listing if you want more info:…/…/ref=sr_1_1…
3) The Ultimate Guide to Field Trips in Canada ebook. Value: $5.99. From Sharla Kostelyk of The Chaos and the Clutter. Details:…/

Details: Open to Canada only – excluding Quebec. Must be 18+ to enter. Ends April 15th, 2015 @11:59pm EST. 
Please use the entry form below!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Math Analogies by The Critical Thinking Co. - TOS Review

Logic and critical thinking are subjects, though very important in one's education, can be very hard to teach. Lots of kids struggle with logic and making analogies. The Critical Thinking Co. has been making critical thinking materials for a few years, and is a very well regarded company when it comes to critical thinking products. We were blessed to receive their Math Analogies Level 2 software for review in the last couple of months.

What is Math Analogies? It is a downloadable software that provides you with exercises to practice logic through Math Analogies. As a software its use requires a computer unto which you can download the program. It only works on Windows though. Once downloaded you do not need any internet connection to use the program. It is stored on your computer and always accessible.

The program comprises 152 questions that the child gets to do at his own pace. There is immediate feedback for each question: correct or incorrect.

How did we use it? I had my 4th grader work on this program everyday and do between 10-15 questions at a time. The program was done mostly independently but my son needed my help with some of the questions.

The Math Analogie level 2, which we got to review, is meant for grade 4-5, but I think some of the problems were a bit difficult for that age group. Nonetheless, the problems really forces you to think analytically, which is the goal. There was no shortcut to these exercises, you had to take the time to think through the analogies systematically and logically. Fortunately you were given a choice between 4 options for the answer.

The program, though it uses Math as its main vehicle for teaching logic, did a good job in the variety and types of problems offered. It explored patterns, fractions, money, weight, comparisons etc...

Only one child can use the program at a a time as its keeps its record, and allows you to complete the ones that you missed over 4 series of attempts, each attempts only presenting you the ones that you have missed..

Once you are all done with your child, you start all over with another child.

The program also shows you your progress and your level of success through a percentage of correct answers to the amount attempted.

My son loves logic and challenges. This was right up his alley, and he liked working on the problems. However, he had lots of difficulty working through these problems. He  got frustrated that the program would not tell him why his answers were wrong. Sometimes I could not tell either. I think it would be really useful if the parent/teacher had an answer sheet with explanations or something of that nature. On another note, the fact that he had difficulty pointed to the fact that he tends to rush through answers, and not take the time to think it through. So, this was really good for him in sharpening his thinking skills.

Overall, these exercises were really useful for my son to help him focus and really think through the problems. Some were obvious, some required him to think outside the box. This program is very easy to use and would be a great add-on in your homeschool in the area of Logic, thinking and analytical skills.

Right now I am having my older son do the problems and the same thing is to be said. These questions are really good at forcing the child to take time to analyse and come up with the most probable solution.

You can find the Critical Thinking Co on Facebook and Twitter.

The rest of the crew got to review other products as well, so don't forget to check them out.

Critical Thinking Company Review

Friday, March 13, 2015

Random 5 on Friday

It's been a while since I did a random 5 on Friday. Life here has been going smoothly following the routine.
The Pebble Pond

1. This week I got to get together with a friend I had not seen in years. It is so good to rekindle old friendship!

2. Spring seems to want to make an appearance here in Toronto, and I am so glad for the milder temperatures.

3. On the school front everything is still on target. We started Narrative II from Writing and Rhetoric last week. We all really love R&W. Watch for a review coming soon.

4. I was privileged to interview Christine Hoover about the release of her new book From Good to Grace. If you miss it make sure to check it out.

5. The boys have been enjoying our latest review product Startoaster. Watch out for the review coming up in April.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Visual Learning Systems - TOS Review

I have to admit I am in love with our first review product from the 2015 crew year. We received a full year subscription to Visual Learning Systems's Digital Online Science Program Elementary edition and Secondary edition.

Science has always been one those subjects I am having all sort of trouble deciding what to use and never being fully satisfied with what we are doing. Well my search is over. I am really hoping to stick with this one.

What is Visual Learning Systems? Visual Learning Systems is an online science publisher that provides quality science educational material through videos. They offer Unit Studies for K-12 in DVD or digital format, as well as a Digital Online Subscription for both Primary/Elementary (K-5) and Middle/High School (6-12).

The program we received, the Digital Online Subscription, is totally online. Therefore you need a computer and an internet connection. It also works fine on tablets. When you sign up you get a log in for the student and one for the parent/teacher.

The program covers all the major fields of science: Earth Science, Life Science, Physical Science, Health Science, Integrated Science. Each major field is then divided into smaller chunks.

Each individual section consists of:

  • a video (that can be watched straight, or in smaller segments), 
  • animations (which are in the videos, but can be looked at separately on a different tab)
  • images available as well on a separate tab
  • Students worksheets
  • Teacher's guide (only available in the parent's account) in the form of a downloadable PDF file. These teacher's guides contains all the worksheets, answer keys and video script.
The videos are engaging, simple, and though not flashy, they keep your child's attention. They range between 10 minutes (in the primary levels) to a bit over 20 minutes (in the higher levels).

The printable worksheets consists of :
  • Pre-tests and post-tests that check the overall knowledge of the topic, 
  • Vocabulary and writing questions that allows for checking further understanding. 
  • Activities and experiments to conduct

How did we use it and how we liked it:

So we received access to all the levels of the Digital Online Science program. Since my boys are in grade 4 and 6, I decided to have them work on it together and used the Elementary section. Because we had not done much life science in the course of our homeschool I decided to go through the life science topics. In the six weeks we have been using the program, we covered:
  • What are Plants
  • Plant Parts
  • Activities of Plants
  • Traits and Heredity
  • Nutrition
  • Food and Digestion
The way we went about it was to have them take the pre-test, then watch the video (sometimes they did it together, sometimes by themselves), and do the post-test, all on the same day. Then during the rest of the week we would spread out the other worksheets and activities.

The boys do not shout or jump for joy when it is time to do science but they enjoy the way the topics are being presented. They have no complaints whatsoever about the videos, or the worksheets. The worksheets are just the right lengths and formats with false and true questions, multiple choices and writing exercises. My youngest does not like writing his answers, so we often do those orally.

In the six weeks that we have used the program, the boys have learnt a lot. I will definitely keep using this. My youngest loved the study on heredity and keeps referring to it all the time.

This is a program I recommend for the following reasons
  • It is visual (as the name suggests), perfect for visual learners
  • It is interactive and engaging: throughout the video the narrator ask the listener questions that he is encouraged to think through and answer in his mind or out loud
  • It encourages critical thinking
  • It develops note taking skills
  • It includes hands-on activities
  • You can go at your own pace
  • It is very exhaustive in what it covers
  • It can be done independently
One thing to note about this program is that it is secular, but this is absolutely no problem for us. Though we are creationists, the science covered here is perfectly sound (at least in so far as we have used).

You can find Visual Learning System on Facebook and Twitter.

They offer a price for homeschool which amounts to $99 for the elementary edition (K-5) and $99 for the Secondary edition (6-12) as well..

Visual Learning Systems Review

Thursday, March 5, 2015

From Good to Grace - An Interview with Christine Hoover

I love theology, and I love reading books about theology and the Christian life. I am so glad I was able to get my hands on a copy of a brand new book that came out just this week: From Good to Grace by Christine Hoover.

If you do not know Christine Hoover, she is a Church planter's wife who loves the Lord and loves the people of God. By the title you can tell she has a message of grace to offer. While reading the book I was overwhelmed with this sense of "Yes, I so need to depend on Christ and His work, and the Holy Spirit." This book is a breath of fresh air in our world where measuring up, mistakenly, seems to be such an important concept.

I was so happy to be able to conduct an interview (via e-mail) with her, and am even happier to share it with you.

I truly hope that her answers will bless you and encourage you to pick up the book and read it. I have no doubt it will bless you too.

Q. What challenges  and attitudes were you trying to address in writing From Good to Grace?

I’ve found that many Christian women are deeply entangled in the bondage of “not good enough”. They live their lives solely based upon what others are saying and the loud voices of expectation in their heads. These voices correspond closely with cultural messages of “do more, try harder” and “be the change you want to see”. They’ve infiltrated our churches and have confused the simplicity and beauty of the gospel of Jesus. I wrote this book for those women, the ones who don’t even know they are living by the goodness gospel but feel the effects of it: the comparison, competition, division, people-pleasing, isolation, self-condemnation, and guilt. They are the ones who felt like I did: unloved by God and certain that they’ll never be enough or do enough for Him.

Q. How were the preliminary responses to your book?  Has the feedback been what you expected? and in what way?

I think I’ve been surprised at just how many women are resonating with the spiritual perfectionism I describe in the book. I am a Type-A, driven person by nature, so I suppose I assumed this book would resonate with that audience. I’m finding spiritual perfectionism doesn’t affect just one personality type, but all women. I think that’s because the goodness gospel is an innate belief: if I work hard, I will earn rewards or love.  

Q. How do you think your book will be received by those who think that some of us are making too much of grace versus law, and that we minimize the need for striving for Godliness? How do you think grace ad godliness are related?

In writing the book, I didn’t want to use the typical Christian phrases. I wanted to describe God’s grace as best I could with fresh word pictures and phrases. However, because I haven’t used the words “righteousness” or “holiness” directly, I think some will assume I’m cheapening grace and not calling for righteousness. The exact opposite is true. I believe that righteousness is an imputed gift (2 Corinthians 5:21) and a fruit (Romans 6:22) of presenting ourselves to God as “slaves of righteousness”. We aren’t presenting ourselves as slaves to righteousness, we’re presenting ourselves to God as slaves to righteousness. That’s a big difference, because it makes a distinction on who is in charge of our growth, change, and holiness. I can’t create godliness, but I can present myself to God in submission and surrender so that He can grow it in me. When we receive God’s grace, it compels a response of joyful obedience.

Q. I really appreciated your emphasize and centrality of the gospel throughout the book, do you think that much of our issues and hang ups over godliness and grace has to do with our misunderstanding of the Gospel?

Yes, I do. The gospel is not innate to us. It’s an announcement of good news that we must hear and proclaim to ourselves over and over again. We must let it consistently sink down deeper into every crevice of life. We get it wrong so often because what I term the goodness gospel--spiritual growth through self-effort--is innate. We tend to innately believe that external behaviors can change internal realities, so self-effort has an appearance of wisdom to us. We must, as Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “stand firm in the liberty for which Christ has set us free”.

So there’s this fight to live in the grace Christ has won for us, but I think in our churches we often focus on what the gospel says about salvation, but we aren’t always talking about how the gospel applies to our sanctification. How do we grow? How does the Holy Spirit work in our daily lives? What does it mean to walk by faith? Without understanding these concepts, we naturally revert back to the goodness gospel.  

Q. I was really encouraged by your emphasis on our postures as believers. If you had to summarize that posture in one sentence what would it be?

Receive God’s love and it will compel you to respond in obedience (which is based on 2 Corinthians 5:14).  

Get your copy at Amazon today!

Christine Hoover (@christinehoover) is an author, a recovering perfectionist, the wife of a pastor, and a mom of three boys. She writes online at and has contributed to Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, Send Network, and iBelieve. Her newest book, FromGood to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel, offers women biblical freedom from trying to “be good enough”.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

10 of my Favourites Slow-Cooker Recipes

I love my slow-cooker, otherwise known as crockpot. It makes cooking so easy and is handy for a lot of different situations. It really saves the day when I have to be out of the house the whole day, or need to bring something to church and need a large quantity.
Slow Cooker Recipes Round-Upl
I have a lot of recipes that I really love and that regularly make it on our menu, so I decided to share ten of those with you all: 
Chili: Any Chili recipe can be made in the crockpot. So, go ahead and try that Chili recipe of your in there. If you do not have any at all, you can try this Chili Recipe. I just add cocoa powder and sugar to mine and use black bean instead of pinto optionally.
Chicken and Potatoes: a whole meal in the crockpot.
Chicken Tortilla Soup: great with guacamole, sour cream and cheese
Taco Soup: also eaten with avocado, sour cream and cheese. Ground beef sauteed with garlic, onion and green pepper (optional). 1 can of black beans, 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup salsa, 1-2 cup of beef broth, paprika, cumin, and taco or Tex Mex seasoning (about 2 Tbps). Cook for 4 -6 hours on low. Towards the end of the cooking add a small drained can of corn.
Lasagna Soup: easy version
Potato Soup: wonderful with some French or Italian bread.
Crockpot Ravioli Casserole or some version thereof of pasta and ground beef.
Chicken and Wild Rice Soup An easy week day meal and delicious.
All Day Red Bean Soup perfect for that left over ham bone.
Cajun Chicken: This is my go to recipe. Chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, seasoned with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning (generously). Add to crockpot with one diced onion and 2-3 crushed garlic. Pour 2-3 Tbsp of Balsamic vinegar on top, and let it cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 4-6 hours.
This works well with a whole chicken as well, or in the oven.
These are just starters. I often adjust recipes with what I have on hand. The crockpot is a great useful machine. So take it out and be creative!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

5 Book Series My Boys Have Been Enjoying Lately

Back at the beginning of the summer I wrote a post on top reading books for middle schoolers. Since then my boys have discovered some books that they are really enjoying, so I thought I would share them with you.

The Penderwicks  and the other two in the series, though the first and the second are liked better.

The Indian in the Cupboard and the next two in the series