Middlebury Spanish ~ a TOS review

Middlebury reviewWhen languages fascinate, the opportunity to review an online language learning program is exciting. The youngest giggly girl loves languages and Middlebury Interactive Languages has been a great fit for her. We reviewed Middlebury previously and J used the first semester of their Elementary Spanish I, K-2. This time around she was able to complete the second semester of this course. There are a number of Spanish Courses available, from Kindergarten through high school, including an AP course.

J was just as excited this time around as she was before and insisted on completing more than one lesson each time. Most common, she completed an entire unit at a sitting. She will be going back through the lessons if time permits before the subscription runs out to help engrain the learning in her mind. But she is getting it and remembering it.

That is what happens for her when learning is authentic. What I mean by that is the learning is done true to the situations in which it will be encountered or through stories and songs and discussions. Middlebury teaches their elementary courses through themes – colors, numbers, body parts, and more. Then, using authentic stories, fables, myths and legends, the vocabulary is emphasized within the story to help the student understand and gain the context use of the words. This helps the student understand the culture while learning the vocabulary.

When the learning is authentic like this, I see the application of it happening in daily life. It is not at all unusual for J to use Spanish words to ask for something or to discuss something. No, they are not yet complete sentences but she knows and understands the words she is using. A big part of that understanding comes from the authenticity of the teaching and the age-appropriateness of the topics and themes. The immersion in the language, combined with the funny cartoon characters and variety of activities has made all the difference.

calendar theme

An Example Unit

In any given unit, the student will experience a wide variety of activities and immersion moments. Each unit begins with an exploration of the words that are the focus of the unit. Then there will be a story told entirely in Spanish with illustrations and words on the screen to help the student follow the story line. Then the student will revisit the cartoon and the movement will stop on certain scenes to help focus the student’s attention on the key words for the unit.

After this, the student will begin listening to words and matching them to a picture or setting. The student might match the written word to an audio of the word. The student might have to click on the matching picture of an audio prompt. There is a lot of verbal work with the program. The student is exposed to the pronunciation a lot during a unit, as many as 20 times or more. This is very helpful and by the end of a unit, J’s pronunciation is pretty good.

Each unit generally has at least one printable worksheet for the student to complete. There are coloring sheets, vocabulary lists, full stories, and worksheets to go along with the lessons. Most units have seven lessons.

calendar worksheetAt the end of the unit, there are tests for matching the words and phrases but there is also a speaking lab test. In the speaking lab, the student has to pronounce the words. This provides a well-rounded, experiential exposure for the student to the language and its use.

Each part of Middlebury’s unit works together to give the student a very diverse, immersion into the language and culture for a better understanding.

What You’ll Need

Middlebury is an online course. To use Middlebury Interactive Languages, you will need:

  • a computer with speakers and a microphone; and
  • a subscription to the site (either with or without a teacher; see options for Spanish Courses).

***We used this program without issue on both a relatively new desktop PC and a pretty old Mac laptop.
***For the microphone, we hooked up our video conference camera. The microphone worked with the program just fine.

microphone example

A Couple of Notes

We had some of the same issues this time around with navigation. When you log into the site, there is a fairly blank screen. Time and again, I have had to remind her where to click to find the table of contents. Then she had to remember which unit she was on. Once to this point, there are check marks that come up when you have completed a lesson (if the student remembers to click to have the activity checked) so it is easier to find which lesson of the unit you are on. I would love to see a navigation that required a lot less clicking from the initial page, especially for these younger ages. My 11 year old was more than capable of helping her get to her lessons but as a 6 year old, it was just too many clicks for her to remember.

We have really enjoyed this course, yet again. We love the interactivity of each lesson and the inclusion of cultural lessons and stories/myths/legends. It makes for a language learning experience that is remembered.

At Home.

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Hot Air/Cold Air ~ a science experiment

Hot Air vs. Cold Air

We did a quick science experiment to go along with our hot air balloon unit that we are working on. To see the effects of the temperature of air on a balloon, we used this fun activity.

You’ll need:balloon science

  • a bottle
  • a balloon
  • a bowl with very hot water (but don’t let anyone get burned!)
  • a bowl with ice



  1. Put the balloon over the mouth of the bottle.
  2. Place the balloon in the hot water bowl. You’ll need to hold it if you have a plastic bottle because of the buoyancy of plastic. (Another quick lesson we did!)
  3. Watch the balloon expand.
  4. Move the bottle to the ice.
  5. Watch the balloon deflate.

This was fun for the girls to experience and it added a lot to the discussion of hot air balloons. I also asked a few questions based on the things the girls said. We discussed how the material the balloon was made of would affect it. What would happen if your balloon had a hole in it? What if it was a big hole? What if it was a small hole? What if your balloon did not have a cooling vent? What if the rip cord didn’t work? What if the air outside the balloon was pretty hot or pretty cold?

There are lots of options to expand the questions based on where the experiment goes.

Youngest gigglygirlThe youngest giggly girl stayed at the experiment station for a while playing with the temperature of the water and seeing what happened. She eventually began adding ice to the hot water to see what happened. Well, she found out what you probably already knew but it was a learning opportunity for her and she enjoyed it a lot.

Hope you have fun with this quick experiment.

At Home.

USAopoly ~ a TOS review

USAopoly gamesDon’t ask! I can’t figure out how to say the name for the game company we have been having a blast reviewing! However you choose to say it USAopoly has some amazing game concepts that are so much fun to play. We love learning through play. We have been playing Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone and laughing so hard our sides ache.

USAopoly is the company behind many of your favorite branded games. Their website is packed full of fun products that will bring delight. Since, 1994 USAopoly has been brainstorming all sorts of joy for families. With award-winning games such as Telestrations and Ratuki, there is no end to the laughter coming your way. With a passion for bringing people together and unique ideas, this company is sure to be around for a while yet.


Wonky piecesWonky is a strange combination of a tower building game, a card game, and laughter. But don’t bump the table or it all starts over! The concept of Wonky is simple: get rid of all of your cards. The application of that concept – not so simple. You have to build a tower with blocks that are not square in the process. Those cards you have to get rid of? They have different pictures on them showing you which color and size of block you must add to the tower. If you are successful, play moves on. If not, the tower falls, you have to draw more cards, and everyone laughs at the silliness that ensues with each fall of the tower.Wonky blocks

This game is labeled for ages 8+. We played it successfully with all of our girls who range from age 6 to 11. I think that it could perhaps be a frustrating experience for the younger ages, depending on personality because the blocks that have to be added to the tower are not straight sided. They are intentionally curved and not square, reinforcing the name of the game: Wonky. However, this was lots of fun. If you love card games and building towers, this will bring you some laughter.


Tapple is a word game that requires concentration, speed, and out-of-the-box thinking if you are going to best that wordsmith in your family. The word Tapple itself is a word play – Touch Activated Press & Play Letter Eliminator. I love that!

Tapple gameTo play Tapple, someone picks a card and selects a category from it. Then, the 10 second timer is started, and play begins. Each person has 10 seconds to say a word that fits the category and tap the timer. Play then moves on to the next person. The trick is that once you say a word, you also have to push down the first letter of that word. Once the letter is down, no one else can use a word that begins with that letter. Not so bad while T, N, S, and E are still available but when you get down to O and I, it can get tricky with lots of the categories! Not every letter is even a possibility to begin with. The letters that it is really unusual to have a word start with (like Q and U) are not included at all.

We actually didn’t use the timer all that much. We did play with it a little bit. What we found, though, was that it was really frustrating for all of the girls. Even our 11 year old, though the game is marked at ages 8+. Ten seconds is just not very long. So, when playing as a family, we often didn’t time it at all. We did push them to answer quickly and if they drug their thinking out too long, we’d move on and eliminate them from that round. It would be easy to grab a little timer and set it for 30 seconds, which I think is more age appropriate for our girls. And a neat little storage feature they have included? The cards have a compartment on the back that is easy to open and holds all the cards, so they are less likely to get lost.

What We Think

We love Tapple and Wonky is lots of fun. The girls are constantly asking to play these games and have railroaded a college-age friend who comes over for dinner every week into playing with them several times. These are perfect for family game night and these games will stay in our play rotation for quite a while, I imagine. They are fun and so very different from others that we have. Thinking games are always welcome here.

At Home.


Connect with USAopoly on social media:
Twitter https://twitter.com/USAopoly
Instagram https://instagram.com/usaopoly/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/usaopoly
Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/usaopoly/

Read reviews on Wonky and Tapple from other Review Crew members.

 USAopoly Review

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Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, There’s Just Something About That Name

I’ve been trying to stick with songs that are fully in the public domain because things can get kind of sticky with copyright. I have, however, had a song stuck in my mind (a very good thing) since the title of our church’s fall gospel meeting was announced. The title of our gospel meeting, which started this morning and continues through Wednesday, is “The Name That Changes Everything.” What an amazing, challenging title and Mr. Neill has been fantastic to listen to. I can’t wait to hear more. But, this song has been playing in my head for days and days now. So, maybe it is the one I am supposed to share with you today.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus


Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Bill and Gloria Gaither (1970)

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus There’s just something about that name Master, Savior, Jesus Like the fragrance after the rain Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Let all heaven and earth proclaim Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away But there’s something about that name.



That’s it. Beautiful, simple words that bring a whole host of meaning to the name of Jesus. This song has comforted my girls since they were babies just as it has often comforted me for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it will bring you comfort today, too.

At Home.

C.S. Lewis from YWAM – a TOS review

CS Lewis and YWAMC.S. Lewis is a favorite author for our family and the chance to review a unit study about his life and writing was exciting. Especially for E, who has read the Narnia series all the way through several times. YWAM Publishing has a series of books called Christian Heroes: Then & Now. One of the titles in the series is C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller. This is the book we received to read and review. We also received a CD copy of the Unit Study Curriculum Guide to go along with the book.


As with any book, when C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller arrived in the house, it disappeared very quickly into E’s room. I didn’t see it again until she was done with it. I don’t remember for sure but it was either later that evening or early the next morning. She flew through the book, enjoying every moment of it. She had so much new information in her head that she could hardly stand it. She had so much to share with me about Jack (the name C.S. Lewis was called). Her recall of the information was fantastic and she enjoyed sharing it with me. As I read through the book, she kept asking me if I remembered things that she had read.

It is a very well written book that grabs your attention and holds it well. It is written on a comfortable level, even for me. The engaging storyline is filled with well researched facts that carry you through the life of one of the beloved authors. You find that Jack was enamored with stories from the time he was a very small child and that his life centered around that in various ways at all time. While many people know that CS Lewis was at one time an atheist, I was surprised to find that he had been a believer before that. He drifted away from his beliefs during the time in his life when there were no hard and fast answers to struggles and no one really to guide him. He was brought back to belief in God through friendships with folks who cared enough about him to challenge his thinking and make him really question his thoughts. With authors such as JRR Tolkien, Lewis grew and became the wonderful author we think of today. When a storyteller had gone through all that Lewis did – death in his family, two world wars, rough boarding schools, and wonderful friendships – you can’t help but love even more the stories that reveal so much about him.

CS Lewis display

The Unit Study Curriculum Guide is a wonderful resource. Filled with a large number of possible activities, it is a necessity to pare down the activities to those that fit a need with your student or meet a goal for the student. We had a CD copy of the guide but I needed to be able to mark up the pages of it with what we were going to do and what we were going to skip. I ended up printing out the parts I needed; I printed four pages of the guide per sheet of paper. The font size in the PDF file is large enough that it was still very readable printed that way.

crossword puzzleThe unit study contains ideas and information in a variety of categories. From written work (essay suggestions, creative writing, and hands-on projects) to Bible studies and social studies, there is more than enough ideas here to find something to fit each student. There were certain activities I would have loved to have E do but they just didn’t suit her style. I had to admit that she would do better with other ideas. I love the idea of creating a relief map of the areas Jack lived but she was more interested in creating a display with things the represent various parts of his life. I would have enjoyed doing all of the thinking questions; she wanted to answer them verbally and do the vocabulary in a different way. When I let her use the vocabulary from the questions to make a word search and a crossword puzzle online, she was excited. She not only created them, having to type the words several times along with their definitions, but she also worked them. She enjoyed learning a bit about the countries that are part of the U.K. and how that played into Jack’s life, including looking up pictures of the homes in which he lived and wrote. She explored the two world wars a bit, as well. Another fun thing the guide suggested was looking up some of his works. One is called The Four Loves and we had an audio copy. It was enjoyable to listen to the only known recording of C.S. Lewis. He sounded much different than we expected. There is so much more we could have done!

exploring a websiteThe guide included some websites that corresponded to C.S. Lewis and his life. I was evaluating a couple of them for E to use when L saw them over my shoulder. She came over to see what I was looking at. After she finished her schoolwork, she asked if she could explore those sites. I allowed her to and she has gone back several times to learn more about World War II and the effects of the war on the children, especially the Jewish children. She has searched out books at the library and is going to start reading the C.S. Lewis book when she finished the books study she is working on now. That is a “rabbit trail” that would not have happened without this study guide.

When a book and its activities spark the kind of excitement about learning that just cannot be ignored – well, that is the definition and example of quality. And YWAM Publishing has found that quality with Heroes of History, Christian Heroes: Then & Now, and the corresponding Unit Study Curriculum Guide for each book. We are already searching out more.

At Home.


Find out more about YWAM and the mission work your purchase supports by visiting them on social media.
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Read about other of the Christian Heroes and Heroes of History from the Review Crew by clicking below.

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Will You Not Tell It Today?

Will You Not Tell It TodayToday’s sermon by Bobby Wheat brought this song to mind. Am I doing everything I can to share the good news? Have I shared my hope? Have I shared the way to share salvation with those around me? Made me think about a quote from the book Through the Eyes of a Lion – “If you have breath in your lungs, you have a microphone in your hands.” Have I been using my microphone?

Jesus give me hope and help every single day. We have faced much uncertainty in our lives but we know that God has a plan much bigger than we can ever imagine. We pray each day that our circumstances, abilities, and resources will be used by God to share His love with others.

I want everyone to have the same salvation that I do. This is what God tells us we need to know and do. It is found in the Bible. We need to hear His word (Romans 10:17); believe in Him and believe that Jesus is His son who came to earth to die on the cross, taking our sins with him, was buried, rose again on the third day, and ascended to heaven (Matthew 16:16, John 8:24, Mark 16:16); repent of our sins (Acts 17:30-31, Luke 24:47); confess our sins before others (Matthew 10:32-33, Romans 10:8-10); and be baptized in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of our sins (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16).

So, this song has been in my head for a couple of hours now. It is one I grew up with and like a lot. The challenge in it is straightforward.

If The Name of the Savior (Will You Not Tell It Today?)

Words: Jessie Brown Pounts (1887)
Music: James H. Fillmore (1887)

1. If the name of the Savior is precious to you,
If His care has been constant and tender and true,
If the light of His presence has brightened your way,
O will you not tell of your gladness today?

O will you not tell it today?
(O will you not, will you not tell it today?)
Will you not tell it today?
(Will you not, will you not tell it today?)
If the light of His presence has brightened your way,
O will you not tell it today?

2. If your faith in the Savior has bro’t its reward,
If a strength you have found in the strength of your Lord,
If the hope of a rest in His palace is sweet,
O will you not, brother, the story repeat?

3. If the souls all around you are living in sin,
If the Master has told you to bid them come in,
If the sweet invitation they never have heard,
O will you not tell them the cheer-bringing word?


At Home.

Quick Science

Today we got a package that contained packing peanuts. J had never noticed this type of packing material before, I guess, because she was really interested in them. We talked about the purpose and how they have changed over the years. In the conversation about the changes, we talked about how most packing peanut now will dissolve when exposed to water. She wanted to see it so we had a science experience.

Quick Science

We put a packing peanut on a saucer and gave her an eye dropper and let her put some drops of water on it. She watched and noticed that is was dissolving the material. She played with the dropper and water and packing peanuts for 30 minutes or so. She took a second one and colored it with a marker because she wanted to see what it would do if it had been colored. She had a lot of fun, I think.

quick science 2

She left them sitting and then saw them a couple of hours later. She noticed that they were soggy messes but had not dissolved completely. That was kind of interesting (and gross looking!).

It was a quick, simple science experience for a Saturday afternoon. Thanks Koru Naturals! (Watch for a review from them in a few weeks. We are trying their Emu Oil Shampoo, Emu Oil Conditioner, and a couple of other products. Excited!!)

At Home.


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