Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Brain Blox Building Planks (A Homeschool Crew Review)

Building toys are always a huge draw for Garrett, so he was pretty excited when he was given the opportunity to review  Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks , another product from Brain Blox, the same company responsible for Fun Family Chess.   

Garrett loves anything that he can build with so this particular review was right up his alley.   Brain Blox Building Planks is a set of 1 inch wide, 4 ¾ in long and ¼ inch thick rectangular pieces of wood that are super easy to create and build structures with.  Each plank is made from Earth friendly New Zealand pine wood, a renewable resource.  The planks are sanded smooth to eliminate splinters and burrs.  The set that we were given for review contained 200 wood planks as well as a bright red canvas drawstring style backpack to keep all the planks together when not being used.  (Sets with 100 planks and 300 planks are also available for purchase). 

Unlike other building block sets, Brain Blox planks do not use magnets or locking systems to hold the planks together, so the user has to use their imagination as well as problem solving in order to build their creations.  Without realizing it, they are using math, physics and engineering concepts in order to use the blocks to create structures that stay together and are able to bare weight. 

The first thing Garrett decided to make with his blocks was a tower that he originally saw in the idea booklet that came with the building planks.  I'm not entirely sure what it was suppose to be, but he told me it reminded him of the Flight Tower here on base, so he wanted to created it.

It didn't take him very long to create, probably about 10 minutes and he was pretty happy with himself once he completed it.  I didn't know that the original design idea came from the idea booklet, so I instantly saw the flight tower when it was completed.   It wasn't until I was looking at the booklet that I saw he got the original idea from there.  LOL

Flight Tower here at Edwards AFB

Next, he decided that he wanted to build the original World Trade towers.  He ended up making one and had begun the second one when our dog knocked it down with his tail.  Luckily, I decided to take a picture when he was finished with the first tower instead of waiting for the entire project.

Another idea he found in the idea book was for the Parthenon.  He is studying the Parthenon with his architecture course this year so it was really neat for him to work on this one.  This one did not take him long to build either. 

These building planks have been a huge hit with Garrett and they are something that he can keep on hand to play with when he needs "busy" activities to focus on.  I am trying to figure out ways to incorporate their use in our homeschool assignments, such as with STEM activities as well as his architecture lessons. 

#hsreviews #BrainBlox

For more information about Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks ,be sure to visit their website. You can also find Brian Blox on the following social media sites:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brainblox
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpUttakNtthj_haX8LwRlwA

Be sure to click the banner below to read reviews from other Crew members and see how they used Brain Blox Building Planks with their families.
Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks {Brain Blox Reviews}

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fun Family Chess (A Homeschool Crew Review)

My son is a huge fan of strategic games.  We have a pretty extensive board game collection in our house and his first choices are always those that require some sort of strategy to play.  Until recently, his favorite game was always a specific game that has you seeking to sink boats hidden in the ocean (you know the one) but it's been well over a month since he asked to play that game.  No, my son has a new favorite game that he's asking to play all the time now.

What is this game, you might ask?  Well, for the last month, Garrett has been dominating the board as we play Fun Family Chess from Brain Blox.   And he's counting the days til his father comes home so that they can play together (Dad is the skilled Chess player in our house and Garrett knows it!!).

When Garrett found out that we had been given the opportunity to review Fun Family Chess, it was like Christmas for him.  He's been wanting to learn to play for some time now, but we just haven't found a chess set to purchase for him to being with.   Once he learned this set was on it's way, he literally stalked the UPS man until the package game.

Opening the box, I have to admit I was VERY impressed with this chess set.  Yes, it's designed with kids in mind yet there's nothing cheap or kiddy about this set. 

Upon opening the box,  Garrett found a beautiful foldable wooden playing board.  This board also serves as the storage case for the piece of the game, with metal hinges and latches to help keep everything securely inside when not in use. 

The inside of the board is lined with a black velvet like material and is deep enough to hold all the pieces.  Inside you will find two velvet pouches, each containing the 16 chess pieces for either the dark or light player, as well as two reference cards, a six sided wooden die,  and game instructions.

Once folded out flat, the board has guides to show what color piece should go where in order (and on what side of the board) to set up the game.   Very helpful for someone just starting out and saves a TON of time not having either search google or look thru the written instructions in order to find this information out.  With the guide, Garrett and I were able to have our board set up within a minute or two.

Next, our attention went straight to the pieces themselves.  These pieces are nicely designed wood pieces, very smooth to the touch with a felt material on the bottom.   The dark side is represented by a beautiful dark cherry brown stain while the light side is a glossy white.  The pieces are not too heavy but are also not light, making them perfect for smaller hands.  (And on a totally secondary note - the board and pieces smell absolutely amazing when you open the case!!)

The next piece is the large chess cube.  This cube (as well as the reference cards) are used during the beginning stages of Fun Family Chess, where the player is learning the pieces and moves.  This is a six sided die that has a color and visual representation of each of the pieces found on the chess board, with the exception of the King (There is instead a black star that leaves the player the option to move either a piece of their choice or the King).   This cube is only used in the learning stages of the game, when the player is first learning how each piece moves on the board. (I will explain this more in a few moments).

The final component of Fun Family Chess is the reference cards.  These cards list the game pieces both by name, shape as well as a color (matching what is found on the Chess Cube) so that students can quickly refer to the card in order see how that piece is allowed to move.  It also makes note of any special ability that the piece may have, such as the Pawn being able to move 2 spaces on it's first move or that Knight can jump over other pieces.  

Also included is a 12 page booklet that details how to play fun family chess as well as the actual game of chess, tips and strategies for standard chess, and even a description of plays such as Castling.

There's two ways to play Fun Family Chess.  There's of course the Standard Chess play that you can play with any standard board.  However, if your new to playing chess like we are, then you have the second option.  This option allows you to set up the board and then roll the Chess Cube.  Using the Cube as a guide, you move the piece that is face up on the die.  The reference card is there so that you can know that the "Orange pointy piece with the slot on the top" is the Bishop and can move along a diagonal line or that the "Blue piece that has a loaf of bread on it's head"  ( how Ashleigh described the King) can move 1 space in any direction.

The player rolls the cube, makes their move and then the next player rolls the cube and makes a move.  This allows the player to become use to the pieces and how they move across the board without the pressure of needing skill.  As such, the player then builds the knowledge to acquire that skill while building confidence in their ability to understand the game in a more comfortable setting rather than be told to "sink or swim" against someone who understands the game more.

How We Used Fun Family Chess

Unfortunately, his dad left for military training right before the package arrived, so poor Garrett only had his Mom to play with.   Mom, who has never played chess EVER had to learn right along side with Garrett.  However, that's what makes Fun Family Chess completely different from other chess sets.   Mom could sit down with him and within a few minutes, we were both learning the basics of chess.

Garrett setting up his pieces using the guide on the board
Reference sheet ready to go

The smile says it all
Yeah, he beat me!!!!

Okay, so maybe I let him beat me (maybe I didn't - I won't admit either way. )..  Oh man, that's all it took for him to get bit by the bug. Suddenly, all he wanted to do was play fun family chess.  And I noticed that even before our first game was over, he was getting a pretty good understanding of how each piece moved.  I was still having to reference the cards where he was actually telling me how I could move the piece from memory.

And so now, every night, I'm getting asked to play chess.  I come home from Bible study and he grabs the board and asks to play.  It's really become our own personal time to spend together.

And he really starts thinking about his moves more and more then when he first started..   I'm still relying on the chess cube for moves, but I honestly think he's probably ready for the actual game though.

Thankfully, his Dad comes home this week. His Dad actually plays chess and is pretty good at it, so I think it will be great for Garrett to spend time with Dad and learn from him. As it is, when I told Charles that we were playing and he said something about castling, I said I had already moved my Rook (because I had rolled it on the cube) and he called me an amateur.  So, I guess I might start playing Ashleigh  using the "Fun Family Chess" Style while I continue to learn while Dad and Garrett have fun battling it out.

Additional Information

While we haven't accessed these aspects of Fun Family Chess, I do want to mention them.  First, the website offers a few different videos for those who learn better from an audio/visual video rather than reading instruction.   These videos teach how to set up the board, how to play Fun Family Chess, how each piece moves and how to play standard chess.

Second, the purchase of Fun Family Chess also comes with a 2 month subscription to the website ChessKid.com which says to be a 100% safe, family friendly website that allows kids a place to play chess online with other children.   This is not something we have yet taken advantage of as Garrett hasn't begun to play a game of standard chess yet, but once he has begun we will probably look into this for him.

Fun Family Chess can be purchased from Brain Blox website as well as on Amazon (with free shipping for Prime members).

#hsreviews #FunFamilyChess

For more information on Brain Blox and Fun Family Chess, be sure to visit their website.  You can also find more information on the following social media sites:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mybrainblox
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brainblox
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpUttakNtthj_haX8LwRlwA

Be sure to click the banner below to see what other members of the Crew thought about Fun Family Chess. 
Fun Family Chess {Brain Blox Reviews}

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Meal Planning

Yeah..  The fifth member of our household is home, which means we're back to family dinners once again.    I'm not cooking on Sunday, however ,as we are attending a birthday party and I promised the husband a McRib.  lol 

You'll probably note that a few of our meals are repeats from the last few weeks.  This is because I promised the husband I would make the meals again when he got home.  This week, we're repeating the Steak Bites and the Air Fryer rotisserie chicken.   Not that I mind repeating either of those.

Sunday-  McDonalds

Monday -   French Dip Sandwiches with chips

Tuesday -   Pizza Soup

Wednesday -  Steak Bites with mushrooms and tomatoes,  baked potatoes and mac and cheese

Thursday -  Deli Cobb Salad with creamy herb dressing .  Kids are having pizzas

Friday -   Rotisserie chicken with mash taters and mac and cheese

Saturday -    Asiago Bisque with Salad and Crusty Bread

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Welcome back Dad!!!

We headed to Los Angeles today to go pick up the missing member of our household..  He's been gone for over a month.  We were a bit worried that we might have to drive way out of the way to get to the airport, but luckily, they opened the highway we needed and was allowing traffic thru.  We could see smoke from the roadway though. 

Of course, we had to make some silly signs for his return :)

And then we stood right in front of the luggage area waiting for him.

There he is :)

Been living here 9 years, and this is the first time I have actually seen the Hollywood sign. 

We went thru Los Angeles to head over to Victorville to eat at Cracker Barrel, so we has to pass thru Los Angeles.

Dad made a friend at Cracker Barrel

Ashleigh did as well.   LOL

Dad gives a big thumbs up to returning to California and to his family.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Progeny Press (A Homeschool Crew Review)

Progeny Press is a company that we have become very familiar with in our household over the last few years, as they are known for providing high quality literature guides for a wide variety of classical literature for all grade levels.  Recently, we were given the opportunity to review two more study guides in our classroom - Little House on the Prairie Study Guide  and Shadow Spinner Study Guide .  

Our review will mostly focused on the study guide for Little House on the Prairie because that was the guide that we worked with first and was able to complete the entire study from start to finish.  However, we began working on the Shadow Spinner study guide after completion of the first guide and have gotten a few weeks into it at this point as well. 

Both of these guides were given to us as digital download PDF files.  Each study guide consisted of two files - the interactive study guide itself as well as a separate answer key.  A physical copy of the guide as well as a physical CD of the file is also available for purchase from the Progeny Press website.

About Progeny Press

Progeny Press is a publishing company who offers E-guides for literature with a Christian perspective. Offering guides for reading levels from early elementary through high school, each of the Progeny Press guides are designed to help students to better understand the story they are reading as well as to recognize the themes presented by the author. The units contain study questions as well as recommended map work, research ideas, vocabulary lessons, and even Biblical verses that tie into the story.

However, what makes Progeny Press different from other literature study guides is that Progeny Press uses Biblical teachings, backed with scripture, to tie the story into practical lessons. While many books contain content or beliefs that do not align with Christian beliefs, Progeny Press guides direct students to instead study what God says about such things so they will be better prepared and strong in their faith when they face such behavior, language, and philosophy in life. 

Using Progeny Press in our Homeschool

We were offered two different literature study guides to use in our school.  We selected Little House on the Prairie Study Guide and Shadow Spinner Study Guide.  Both of these guides are listed as being "Interactive" files, which means that they can be opened using Adobe Reader on a computer and the student has the ability to enter their answers directly into the file and save their work to the computer, or the teacher can choose to instead print out the study guide as a handout for the student to write out their work.  For this review, we decided to try both methods - we printed out the study guide for Little House on the Prairie and for Shadow Spinner, I decided to allow Garrett to type out his answers and print out a hard copy of his work once he finished each section.

Ashleigh's Notebook with copies of both of her study guides inside

We immediately started with the Little House on the Prairie Study Guide.  This is a 62 page PDF guide to be used while reading the book of the same name by Laura Ingalls Wilder and is designed to be used with grades 4th-6th.

Each week, the guide would recommend a set amount of reading for the students to complete.  We read the book selections aloud for our morning time each morning.  What typically worked best for us during this particular guide was to read 2 chapters a day for three days (the reading for Little House on the Prairie typically required 5-6 chapters a week) and then for the last two days of the week we would work on the questions together during our discussion time.  Suggested activities were then scattered throughout the lessons  where they would fit in best  - for example, listening to the songs Pa would sing at night worked well while reading that portion of the chapter.

Luckily Picket doesn't understand English and our reading about stewed Jack Rabbit with dumplings and gravy.

Following the suggested reading, the study guide followed a pretty general format.  The first activity included some sort of vocabulary exercise, such as determining a word's meaning based on the context it was used in or looking up the actual definition.   Vocabulary exercises were followed by a series of questions that progressively require more from the student as they completed them.  The first set are simple comprehension questions that could be answered straight from the reading.  A second set of questions then asked students to use deductive reasoning skills to answer questions that weren't as straight forward as the comprehension questions - such as what they think a character might have meant in saying something in particular or comparing their own lives to that of the characters. A final third set of questions - the "Dig Deeper" section of questions - uses situations found in the book and asks the student to read a passage of scripture and find a correlation between the two.

In addition to vocabulary and questions, there are also suggested projects and activities that can be done to help with enrichment.   This section offers a wide variety of activities that fall into a large array of categories.  One activity gave a recipe to make cornbread from scratch (something we do often in our home) while another activity had the children make a list of Charities that they can make a gift to this holiday season.  A few activities that we included with our reading was using Lincoln Logs to build a log cabin, listening to recordings of wolves howling at night, and listening to recordings of fiddle music of some of the songs mentioned in the reading. 

Garrett's Log Cabin out of Lincoln Logs

Listening to some of the fiddle selections that Pa played in the book. 

Working on questions following a chapter in the book

After finishing The Little House on the Prairie, we then began reading the book Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher.  The PDF study guide for this selection is written for grades 5th-8th and is 103 pages in length (89 pages for the guide and the 14 page answer key).

As this study guide is for middle school students and requires more writing then the previous study guide,  I opted for Ashleigh to use a printed version that she could write on while I allowed Garrett to work on the computer to type his answers.   The PDF allows for Garrett to fill in the answers using a reader program, save his work and then we can print out his work and put it in his binder.  

Garrett gets rather frustrated with writing, especially with longer writing, so being able to type has been a blessing for him.  Granted, I do catch him using shortcuts in order to do his definitions, but he's happily completing the work. 

This particular study goes deeper into studying literary tools that are used by the writer throughout the book, such as foreshadowing, juxtaposition, alliterations and such.  Where as the Little House on the Prairie study had various activities, because this study is for older grades, it focuses more on learning these literary tools in addition to vocabulary and comprehension questions.

We have always enjoyed using Progeny Press study guides in the past and the older the kids get, the more they seem to appreciate these guides.  I especially enjoy the large selection of guides that are offered, especially for older grades, as well as the Christian perspective the guides give (the Dig Deeper section really provides an opportunity for students to see how scripture gives an understanding for our lives beyond the pages of the Bible).  

#hsreviews #literature #homeschool #unitstudies #reading #english #criticalthinking #ilovebooks #progenypress

For more information about Progeny Press and their various literary guide offerings in addition to the two guides that we reviewed, be sure to visit their website.  You can also find them on the following social media sites:

Members of the Review Crew were given their choices of four study guides, one for each level of schooling (Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Middle School and High School).  Be sure to click on the banner below for the opportunity to read their reviews today.

Study Guides for Literature {Progeny Press Reviews}

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