Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Ooka Island Reading Game

Review: Ooka Island Reading Game
Review: Ooka Island Reading Game

I recently had the opportunity to review this learning-to-read game, “Ooka Island Adventure” from Ooka Island Inc. This is a reading game aimed for ages 3-7 to help teach younger children how to read using a three-pronged approach:

Picture 5The reason that this is aimed at a younger age group is that the founders of Ooka realized that if you can teach children early enough on, most significant reading problems you come across later on can be avoided. (Something I noticed time and time again in my 7th grade classroom).

Pricing for this product is as follows:

Picture 6(The price is the same for homeschooling, too.)

While again, Evelyn is only 10 months old and isn’t quite ready for this product, I did do my best to test it and play with it.

The games are easy and fun to play with, and while some of them take a little time figure out initially, you get the hang of it quickly. The story line is fun and compelling, especially for the targeted age group. It’s easy to see how sounding out sounds in a game and creating words can teach kids to read before they even realize that they are learning!

The setting of the island and the different games and challenges are well done, both in teaching and playing. It’s also aesthetically pleasing.


To put it simply (and to keep the review short!) I am definitely interested in getting this product in about 2 1/2-3 years for Evelyn.

Some other fun facts I learned while reviewing this product:

  • Ooka Island was a family affair: The creator was a teacher in a smaller community in Canada. In the 1960s, one of her sons had 5% of hearing and there wasn’t a lot of support set up in school for him. His mother started creating reading programs for him and found the connection between reading well and speaking well. She was super successful and soon had everyone in the community sending her their children with any sort of disabilities or just reading problems. Recently, they brought the technology aspect in with help from another son (who is a teacher), and he created the story line.
  • Ooka Island did quite well with a big study done by the US Public Education department when they studied several reading programs out there.
  • It was essential to the creator that she didn’t want to lose the “at the table 1×1” aspect with the technology that was so important in helping students in person.
  • Why Ooka? They started calling in “Booka” Island, but when the children testing it spoke about, most dropped the “B” and just called it “Ooka”, and the name stuck!

Interested in checking this product out? You can get 30% off if you go through this link! 🙂

Review: Saving Memories Forever

Review: Saving Memories Forever
Review: Saving Memories Forever

I recently was able to review a very innovative idea for those of you interested in family history and genealogy- especially saving those great stories from loved family members while they are still here! The Saving Memories Forever App and website are built especially to preserve those stories by recording them through your smart phone and uploading them to your website.


Now…. I REALLY wanted to like this. I worked really hard to be excited about it. I love the idea, and I know several friends and family members who could benefit from something like this….

However, I found that there are just a lot of issues with this product. Too many for me to overlook, which put a serious damper on my excitement for this product. Like the fact that the App doesn’t work well with my phone, which is a fairly new phone and updated Android system.

But before I get into the issues, here are a few of the positives:

  • As I said before, I do really like the idea behind this product, and I know many people who would enjoy trying to use this to preserve memories of themselves and others for future family members.
  • Overall, cute interface. The app mostly worked on my husband’s phone, and while he wasn’t as crazy about it, I thought it was kinda fun.

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  • The app works for the iPhone and Android (though, not my android) so they are working on making it available to all smart phone users.
  • A simple, short four minute “How To” video to help you with the basics of getting started.
  • Several prompts and categories to help give you ideas of questions to ask/talk about if you would like that extra help to get started.
  • A good breakdown of the benefits of a free vs. paid account.

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But none of these benefits were able to outweigh the many problems I uncovered as I tried to use this product.

  • If you are not near any family members and would like to record their stories (like us, being 1,000 miles away from most of our family members,) then you can’t record them. So I can record stories of my life, or my husband’s but that’s not the same as being able to get meaningful information/funny stories/etc directly from the family member. Or you could have them record themselves on their own computer program or something and email you the MP3…but that kinda defeats using Saving Memories Forever all together.
  • If you want to have multiple people sharing their own stories, you have to share your email and password with them. This could be useful if you all want to do some reminiscing about your Great Uncle Bob* who is long since passed, but that means they are have free run of your account. And could accidentally delete/mess around with files. And could cause more family drama… Eek?
  • This app did not work on my phone. At all.  My phone is an Android (Samsung Galaxy S 4g, with Gingerbread), and pretty up to date and has no problems with most apps I try to download. (Perhaps iPhone users will have better luck, as it’s easier to have apps created for the iPhone than all the many Androids.) BUT THIS APP REFUSED TO WORK.Picture 10
  • I was stuck at this screen most times trying to log in. It would “Load Data”. Indefinitely. If I tried to turn off the WiFi, as some suggested, then I could get past this screen (most of the time), but  I couldn’t log in to my account. My husband didn’t have to worry about that on his phone, so that is a definite issue.

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  • Also as you might have noticed in the above two pictures is that this app doesn’t fit the screen of my phone. The first time my husband loaded it on his phone, it was a problem, but when he re-downloaded it recently, it seemed better. My phone, however, no matter how many times I uninstalled and reinstalled, had this “overlapping” links/doesn’t-fit-in-the-screen issue.

When we got it to work on my husband’s Galaxy II, we found a few more things we weren’t fond of:

  • It only works holding your phone upright. When you turn the phone sideways, it doesn’t adapt, which is a pain for typing.
  • When you finish saving a file to upload, your only options are “Go Home” or “Share” on Facebook. I have absolutely no interest in sharing all this personal information with all the friends I have on FB, and most of them really don’t want to hear about Great Uncle Bob’s* famous family fishing trip story. And “Go home” takes you ALLLLLL the way back to “Choose a storyteller.” Meaning that you have to choose the storyteller again, choose the category again, choose a new prompt again.
  • No useful “back” button. Every time you do any sort of item in this app, it takes you back to the home screen/choose a storyteller. It was driving my husband crazy.
  • No indicator to show if you have already recorded a story to a prompt. Particularly if you have lots of stories saved, it would be useful to have a visual that showed that you had already saved a file under that prompt. IF you do save two stories under the same prompt, it will show up as “[Prompt] (Story 1)” and “[Prompt] (Story 2)”, but all the same it would be nice to know so you don’t waste time doing the same story twice.
  • I personally think that typing up a lot of my personal history in a word processor program and making copies (digital or paper) to send to family members would be a little more well polished and just as easy, though I could see the allure of having a few recordings to hear of a loved one’s voice, particularly if they are deceased.


I really, REALLY wanted to love this product. In theory, there are a lot of great things about this app that could have been wonderful. But, in the end, I’ve had to conclude that it’s in more of a “Beta” testing phase than a well-tuned, “Finished” product that I would spend money on. (Or even download a free app for!).

If you ARE still interested in checking this out, look for the App. It’s free, and you can see how well it works for you and try to work with a free account first. If that works well for you, then you can consider if a paid account is worth it for you.

*I do not really have a Great Uncle Bob (that I know of?) who has passed away, so no need for condolences. That name was chosen merely for example’s sake. 🙂

On Facebook? There will be a FB Party for Saving Memories Forever. It’s scheduled for this Friday (May 3) evening, from 9-10pm (Eastern).  

Here’s the link to the event page:


Review: Spanish For You!

Review: Spanish For You!

Recently I have had the opportunity to check out Spanish for You!‘s curriculum for homeschooling. I reviewed the Estaciones (Seasons) e-book and all digital files for this product for grades 3-8.

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Right now, there are two themed curriculum for sale. You can get the Fiesta (celebrations) OR Estaciones packages. A single grade level costs $39.95, or you can purchase grades 3-8 together for $64.95. From what I have seen of online language curriculum, for all the items and scholastic value, this is a fantastic price. (There is also a third book, Viajes (travels), that will be available soon and has some short units for sale now.)

What you get for the price:

  • a soft cover book (trial packages, like mine, come with an e-book instead)
  • a 24-30 week lesson guide for the grade(s) you order in PDF format
  • self-checking worksheets in PDF format
  • flash card pages with pictures that correspond to the ones in the book in PDF format
  • audio files in MP3 format of the entire book spoken by a native Spanish speaker from Mexico
  • Audio files in MP3 format spoken by an American that is a little slower (great for beginners!)


Disclaimer: To be honest, I had a difficult time with this review, but a large part of it is that I only have myself to test it out with, and so I can’t be fully honest with how effectively it works with the targeted age range.  I also have NO experience with Spanish, except the basics like, “Hola, amigo!” and “Gracias”. While I found similarities with my experience with learning French years ago, second languages have always been a weak point for me-ESPECIALLY when all I have is myself to work with!

Another bummer was that I’m a very hands on person with books and papers, and I only received digital files for this product (like the e-book). I’ve also had limited access to a printer right now. The organization of the files was very frustrating for me to try and figure out, and almost made me give up on giving the product a good try. Fortunately, in the past week, the author, Debbie, has said she’s completely revamped the organization of the digital files, so it should be easier to maneuver through if you download the product tomorrow. Yay! (Debbie is so responsive to feedback and willing to help with the product- a definite plus to this product.)

Knowing all that, don’t discount the value of this product. 

There are several positives.

  • The back story to this product is worth knowing: Debbie Arnett, the creator, IS a certified teacher and has experience teaching this curriculum in an Enrichment Home school Coop. She tests out and adjusts all her curriculum through the students (grades 3-high school) there first for an entire school year before placing it for sale. She also studied in Spain. (You can learn more about Debbie here.)
  • Each unit includes key building blocks for learning a foreign language, like vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, verb conjugation, and grammar, to help develop their fluency.
  • I love that this is designed for multiple experience/age levels, and that you can use the same book, just the different grades of worksheets depending on your students. And if you have an advanced 4th grader, why not just bring them up a level?
  • Audio to help with sound and pronunciation (where I struggle the most!) from native speaker from Mexico and by an American. Having the English speaker audio was great because it sounds more like what I would sound like speaking Spanish; it’s slower and less intimidating to pronounce!
  • Flexibility: you could take 3 days just to work on lesson 1, Day 1, or you could do 3 lessons in one day. (I was definitely more in the first group!)

Additional things to know before purchasing this product:

  • Have a good internet connection to help with downloading the material. It’s a lot of downloading, especially with the audio files.
  • Printer: You MUST have a printer ready to handle the load. Or have somebody handy to reload the ink cartridge when you run out.
  • You need a computer program that can play all the MP3s for the audio, which I found extremely valuable.
  • You need a computer program like Preview (Mac) or Adobe to view the many, many PDFs
  • Useful, but not necessary items to make this more interactive and fun could be colored paper (or card stock), dry erase boards/markers.

In conclusion: If you’ve been considering adding a foreign language to your curriculum, Debbie’s Spanish For You! material is definitely worth considering for the unbeatable price for the material you will receive. 🙂


Addendum to Ultimate Planner by Apologia

Addendum to Ultimate Planner by Apologia

It has just come to my attention that APOLOGIA has made a statement regarding the LDS Faith stating that it is not a Christian church. It also makes several false statements on what the LDS faith truly believes. If you wish to read it in its entirety, please click below:

As most of you know, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or as we may be more commonly known, LDS or Mormons. Jesus Christ is the very foundation of our church, as shown by His name in the name of our church. My belief in Christ and the Bible is integral to who I am as a person. I BELIEVE IN CHRIST.

As one could imagine, I am deeply saddened to see Apologia make such statements about us. And as much as I enjoyed this planner, I cannot support a publisher that has made these false statements. I do not know if the author, Debra Bell, also supports this view, but as things stand for now, I will have to look into other planners for now. 🙁

For more information on what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe, please see some of the following statements made from our church leaders regarding our deep belief in Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Review: Apologia Debra Bell ULTIMATE Planners

Review: Apologia Debra Bell ULTIMATE Planners

If you are homeschooling, you will want this planner.

If you are teaching in the classroom, private or public education, you will want this planner.

If you use a planner at all, YOU WILL WANT THIS PLANNER.

When I was sent Debra Bell’s The Ultimate Homeschool Planner and its companion The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students from Apologia, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t too excited about looking at a planner. After all, I just left the classroom, and the only student in my foreseeable future is just learning to wave “Bye-Bye” and sign “milk” and “more”. Why would I review this planner for homeschooling, especially since I’m not sure I’ll even go that route when my daughter is older?SAMSUNG

The moment I opened these planners, I took it all back. I ALMOST – almost – wanted to be back in the classroom so I had an excuse to be actively using these planners. They are awesome, in so many ways. Quick summary:

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Lets start with the Pictures and Pros:


Let’s start with the parent/teacher planner.

Things that I LOVE about this planner- It has a lot of fantastic features that you can choose to use or lose. It’s so customizable.SAMSUNG

Like to have the big picture far in advance? You can have a very simple day/day plan with this one year planning grid.SAMSUNG

Setting individual goals for your children or students, both character goals and academic. As a former English/writing/reading teacher, I loved it when students could apply what we were doing with a book or writing to their own lives- that’s what good readers and writers do to make it meaningful. And often they can use that to set character goals as well as academic. Could you imagine having students set SMART goals at the beginning of a year or grading term and letting them keep referencing them throughout the year to help achieve those goals? LOVE.

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I also love that you can put the days/weeks/months/years into the monthly and daily planners. I am one of these people that always had good intentions, but I constantly had to readjust my plans because my kids needed more time or less time to complete our units.

SAMSUNGAnd I love these inspirational quotes and scriptures on the pages.


Of course, as this is an Apologia product, there’s the nice touch of your “spiritual” battle plan. SAMSUNG

The reading teacher in me LOVED this reading record list. I used to do this with my students every year when I was a Public Ed. teacher.SAMSUNG

At the end of the planner, you have some great tips/lists for things like “Raising Independent Learners” or “Helping Reluctant Readers”.


Now for the student planner:SAMSUNG

Several features at the beginning help the student with understanding how to use their planner and set up their own goals of where they are now and where they’d like to be in the future. Fantastic!


I think these features would be perfect if you as the teacher or parent can sit with your student(s) and talk over these goals and ways to make the most of their education. 2013-04-09 14.24.42

Again, like the parent planner, these are very customizable by date- no need to waste pages because you skipped a week (or forgot to write things down… because what student EVER forgets to write down their assignments? LOL!).2013-04-09 14.25.15

There are also more scripture quotes and fun facts for students to utilize- I love this trivia!SAMSUNG

Plus all the fun extra useful pages of information such as grammar and good writing tips, US facts, maps, and measurement equivalency charts?! I might make a copy of this page and carry it around with me in my pocket since I’ve forgotten most of this. 😉

The Cons:

First, the price can be a turn off- especially for multiple students. The parent planner is $28.00 (though in searching I was able to find it in a few places for a slight discount) and the student planners are $19.00

With all the extra features, both planners are no lightweights. They are fairly bulky and would definitely take up room in any bag/purse/backpack. I would not have wanted to cart this back and forth from the school- I’d probably leave it at school during the week and bring it home on a “planning day” or weekend.

Lastly, if you do have an environment that is purely secular, I could see how many of the scripture quotes and references to “Battle Plans” could be a major turn off, particularly because that takes up a large section of the parent planner.

As you can tell, I really loved reviewing this product and highly recommend it. I feel the pros definitely outweigh the cons, but needed to be mentioned. If you do get this planner, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!