Phonetic Zoo Level B

Spelling is one of those subjects that can often get overlooked in homeschooling. Sure, our children pick up and learn words through writing projects but there are times they need to learn certain "rules" to spelling. One program that not only teaches spelling by phonetics and sequential repetition but also teaches spelling rules is Phonetic Zoo, by Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). The specific level we reviewed was Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level B (Starter Set).



Phonetic Zoo uses a multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling. The student listens to words being read while writing the words down at the same time and also has lesson cards that list the words they can study.

This spelling course comes with several different products:
  • Phonetic Zoo Lesson Cards- These cards have pictures of animals on the front whose name corresponds to the sound that that lesson is teaching as well as 3 words from each level for that lesson. On the back, the card has the jingle or rule that pertains to that lesson as well as the full spelling list of 15 words for each lesson. The cards are printed on heavy stock card and has a hole punch in the corner if you want to keep them connected together.

  • Spelling Zoo Cards- These cards are a small set of cards (think playing card size) that have the same animals on the front as the Lesson Cards with the "sound" that that lesson is teaching listed at the top. The back of the card lists the jingle or rule that helps teach the sound & spelling for the words being taught in that lesson.

  • 5 audio CD's- These CD's contain the spelling list that are read by the instructor. The teacher also spells out the words for the student to correct their words. You also have the ability to download the MP3 of the lessons if you didn't want to use the CD's (such as putting it on an iPod).

  • Downloaded teacher's note- This comes in a PDF file and explains just how to use the program as well as lesson plans for each lesson.
  • "Spelling and the Brain" video seminar- This seminar explains the how & why their program works as well as the importance to using headphones when listening to the spelling words.

This program contains 47 lessons as well as a final test. The way the teachers manual has this laid out is that the student and teacher sit down before each lesson to go over that lessons rules or jingle and to look at the words for the lesson. Using a sheet of notebook paper, your child writes the numbers 1-15 on every other line. Then they put on headphones (highly recommend by IEW to use) and listens to the spelling words that are read by itself as well as in a sentence. Once all the words are read, the instructor on the CD goes back and spells out each word for the student to see if they got the words correct and to rewrite the words that were misspelled. Another key point that is stated in the teachers manual, the student is to use pen to write their words. Any corrections done are to be done next to the misspelled word.

All in all, this doesn't take long at all for a student to complete. The next day, they repeat the same lesson. Once the student scores 100% twice in a row, they can then move on to the next lesson. This program is self paced so there is no rush to push through each lesson.

There is also a personal spelling list for every 5th lesson. This is where the student can write down words they misspelled in the previous 5 lessons to practice.

Because my 10th grader wanted to use this program to brush up on her spelling, she used this completely independent of me. She uses a spiral bound notebook to write her lessons in. Usually the first time she did a lesson, she listened to the CD. When she repeated the lessons, she had me read the words out loud to her then she looked at the spelling list to correct it herself. It really only took her less than 10 minutes a day to complete. We both liked that this was self-paced and that she could make slight changes to it (such as having me read the words) to suit her style.

There are 3 levels to Phonetic Zoo and they offer a Placement Test online to know which level your child would need. Another note about this program is that you can use it with multiple children!

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Koru Naturals

Earlier this year, I shared with you all about some products I tried out from Koru Naturals that I absolutely loved. Recently, I was given a chance to try out and review some more of their naturals products. I received Skin Clear CreamManuka Honey Propolis Soap, and Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic.

Koru Naturals is a New Zealand based company that provides a variety of hair care, skin care and general health items that are all derived from naturals products. Manuka honey for example were in 2 of the products I tried out.


The Skin Clear Creme is geared towards those who are acne prone though it works as a great moisturizer even if you aren't. Some of the natural products in this creme are manuka honey, burdock root, thyme, kawakawa and harakeke (traditional Maori remedies for skin conditions). It is recommended that this product be used by kids 12 and older and that pregnant women abstain from using it due to one of the essential oils it contains.

The creme comes in a small container and when you open it, you'll find a lid on it with a small paddle which is used to scoop the creme out so you aren't having to put your fingers directly into the creme (and not introducing bacteria into it). It's suggested use is twice a day and a little of this creme goes a long way. My teen daughters were the ones who begged to use this creme for the review. They said they liked the feel of the creme and that it was fast absorbing and not greasy. Overall, they think it helped clear up some of the acne they were dealing with and plan to continue using it.


The Honey & Propolis soap has been one of my favorite products to try out. Even while still in the package, you can smell the sweet honey smell from the soap. Both honey & propolis are known to be skin moisturizers. Honey also has anti-bacterial affects and what better way to protect your skin than using a natural soap!

When taking the soap out of the package, you can see the 2 toned colors and that it is a large bar. 


Not only do I enjoy the pleasant honey smell of this soap but I loved how it made my skin feel. My skin felt soft and silky after using it. I also used it as a face soap. It lathers up quite easily and this bar hasn't even looked like it has been used much even though I've used it almost everyday for the length of this review. So I have no doubt this bar will last a long time!


The Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic is made up of a blend of essential oils to moisturizer and tame frizzy hair. It comes in a pump bottle making it easy to apply. The recommended amount to use is 2-3 drops for your hair (which means this bottle will last for a long time). I really enjoy the scent of the tonic as I love the smell of sandalwood essential oil. 

My daughters and I all used this during the review and found it really works well to get rid of the frizzy hair. We used it on both wet & dry hair with the same results. Typically if we let our hair air dry, it would end up frizzy but if we applied a little bit of this tonic to damp hair, it dried without the frizz. Or if our hair was already dry, a few drops of this hair tonic made the frizzy's disappear! We simply put a few drops of the tonic into our palm, rubbed our hands together then ran our hands through our hair.

If you like using natural products for your skin & hair, check out all the different things Koru Naturals has to offer!

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Sweet 16!

I can hardly believe it but I am officially the parent of TWO 16 year olds! Yes, today is my twins 16th birthday. I just don't know where the time has gone.

For those that don't know, I didn't even know I was having twins until I was 36 weeks pregnant! Shocking I know! I am a small gal and was only measuring big enough for one baby most of my pregnancy. It wasn't until 36wks when my midwife was palpating my belly to feel the position of the baby when she became confused. She kept feeling a head & butt in 2 different places. She said either something is wrong or you have more than one baby in there. So off I went for an ultrasound that showed us we were having twins!

Of course because I was already 36wks, they told me I could have them at any time. HA! In those last few weeks, I popped out immensely (to the point I couldn't fit into maternity clothes) and became SO uncomfortable! Nope, those 2 stinkers were not coming out on their own so right at 40wks I was finally induced! (presenting baby was head down which meant I could have them naturally). Unfortunately, I don't have many photos of me when pregnant with them (and the few I have, I need to dig for). This was before the era of the internet & Pinterest with all the "cool" maternity photo ideas.

About 2 hours into labor, they did an ultrasound to check on the babies and didn't my presenting twin somehow turn herself breech which resulted in me having a c-section. (*ahem* thanks Sarah! lol)

We didn't know what we were having so we were pleasantly surprised to hear "it's a girl" twice! For only gaining 25lbs and not knowing I was having twins, they were a great weight. Sarah was 5lb 6oz and Susan was 6lb 2oz, both 19". We called them our little monkeys because of the full heads of dark hair they had.

They shared a bassinet (look at that HAIR!)

About a week old and me enjoying walking them slowly around the block.



Their 1st birthday!

Their 3rd birthday!

Their 4th birthday!

Fall 2005, they were 6yrs old

Our first cruise in 2008, they were 9yrs old

The girls 11th birthday

Their 13th birthday surrounded by their close friends!

Officially employed at 14 1/2!

Headed off to work June 2015

While these photos are just a brief glimpse of the last 16 years, it's been an amazing journey thus far. God has blessed me with some AMAZING children! Sarah & Susan are my oldest and often what I tell them, my "experiment". I am far from perfect and mess up quite often as a parent and have to go to them and ask forgiveness. Not many people jump into parenting with 2 children right from the start so that has added it's own set of challenges, learning to balance 2 children an identical age but 2 different personalities.

What I can tell you is that these young women are some of the most sweetest, caring gals you could be blessed to have in your life. They go out of their way to be there for their friends, they are both huge helpers with their siblings and they seek to follow Jesus with their whole hearts.

I can hardly believe we have already reached this milestone as it feels like yesterday they were just born (and it seems like *I* was just 16 myself!)

Happy 16th Birthday Sarah & Susan! We can't wait to see where God continues to guide you both in life!






National Pregnancy and Infant Death Awareness Day

The month of October is recognized all over for being Breast Cancer Awareness month but many people unfortunately don't know that it is also Pregnancy & Infant Death Awareness month as well. Yes, I realize most places call it pregnancy & infant loss awareness month but if you ask many moms, we prefer the word death rather than loss. We didn't lose our child, they died.



1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of an infant shortly after birth or in the first year of infancy. I fall into the last category. My son Noah died the day after his full term birth due to Trisomy 13.

Guaranteed you have someone in your life (if not more than one person) that has had a baby die. You might not even know it because talking about baby death is still somewhat of a taboo, though that is slowly changing thanks to having a special month and day to remember and honor the babies whose lives ended much too soon. The more we talk about our babies who've died and share our stories, the more we help break the silence surrounding infant death.



Today, October 15th, is a day specifically set aside for special remembrance gatherings as well as the International Wave of Light.

If you know someone whose baby has died, please let them know you are thinking of them, even if it's just a brief note. Say their child's name as this is the most precious gift you can give to a bereaved parent.



If you are home tonight at 7pm your time, please consider lighting a candle for 1 hour in remembrance of all the precious babies who are so deeply loved and missed. (take a photo of your candle and share on social media as well to help light up the internet in honor of our babies!)


To my fellow bereaved moms, I am thinking of you and your precious babies today especially! When our babies died, so did a lifetime of dreams and memories. I know that speaking their name out loud is healing so please feel free to share your baby's name in the comments below.



Reading Kingdom


My 4 year old preschooler has been working on her reading & writing skills since she was 3, probably in part to having much older siblings who she loves to emulate! So when we were recently given the chance to review Reading Kingdom Online from Reading Kingdom, we jumped at the chance for Olivia to check out this program.

Reading Kingdom is not a phonics based program like many of us are used to. It was founded by Dr. Marion Blank who has a patented 6-step approach that she calls a Skill Integrated Method. That approach covers sequencing, writing, sounds, meaning, grammar & comprehension. This program doesn't focus on one specific area at a time but combines several of them at a time as your child works through the lessons. This program is geared towards ages 4-10 to help them reach a 3rd grade reading level. They also offer a reading program geared towards Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help with reading, writing & comprehension.



While working on learning reading skills, Reading Kingdom also helps build keyboarding skills. This program fully customizes itself based on where your child is at with their skills. Before starting any lessons, they take a skills assessment test. They have the option of using an onscreen keyboard (using the mouse to click on the letters) or if you have an iPad, you can use a touch screen keyboard. You can also use the actual keyboard on the computer or laptop.

It is important to note that because the program is always customizing itself based on the students answers, if they accidentally hit a wrong key (or 2 keys at once), don't press the key down all the way when they think they did or take too long to answer, it will assume they don't know that particular skill and will repeat itself. We did find that part a little frustrating at times as Olivia knew the answer but had a bit of "user error". Which I do understand is what she is working on with learning keyboarding skills. Another point to note is the time between each screen. Olivia would hit the key she needed to but then have to sit there and wait for feedback. There is a parental control where you can speed up the response time to help the child not lose interest.

This is what we saw when she finally got passed the assessment skills section and finally able to start the program.

Reading Kingdom emails a weekly comprehensive progress report telling you specifically in all the areas where your child is at and what advancements they've made or where they need attention at still. This program is fully hands-off for the parent as it dictates all the directions for the student (in fact they mention at the beginning that the parent is not to help the child at all as it would mess up the placement & customization of the program). So if you are busy working with other kids, this is a bonus! 



The suggested use of Reading Kingdom is at least 4 times a week. We averaged using it 3-4 times a week. I admit, it took us awhile to get through the assessment skills placement test. It really does take while and for a young child, it was a bit much so we had to break it up over the course of several days. Many times Olivia asked to be done. She obviously knew a lot of the things they were quizzing her on, but it just took awhile to complete as it was quite repetitive. 

The graphics are eye catching and engaging. Make sure to leave your sound on as there are verbal directions given with each screen. If the child hesitates and isn't sure, the program will give hints with highlights and more verbal clues of how to complete each task.

I do think this program is helping Olivia master both reading & keyboarding skills and we plan to continue with it.

Check out their Free 30 Day Trial to see if this program is a fit for your child.

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How to Clean Your Shower Head Effortlessly!


I'm so excited to share my latest money saving (and time saving) tip that I recently tried out! I noticed for awhile during my showers that some of the holes were clogged and I had gaps where there was no water coming out. Honestly, cleaning this was so low on my list of to-do's, I just dealt with the sporadic water stream. But the other day I got the itch to try something new, or maybe it was the fact that I walked into my bedroom to get something, noticed wash in the bathroom that connects to our room needed to go in the hamper, as I went to grab that, the shower curtain was crooked so I went to straighten it but then the bright idea of cleaning the shower head struck me. Ya ever do that? Walk into one room to do something and end up on a rabbit trail far from where you started & never accomplished what you originally intended to do? Yeah me either.

Anyway, I've shared before about the awesome powers of vinegar and how I use it to clean anything. Well friends, dig out that bottle of vinegar, a plastic baggie and a twisty tie as that is all you need to get rid of mineral build up from your shower head. Yes, this really IS that simple!


Pour some vinegar into a sandwich baggie and slide it over your shower head, securing it with a twisty tie making sure that vinegar covers the entire front surface of the shower head.

That's it! Now go put your feet up, make a cup of iced coffee and read a good book.

Ok, that's what I wish I did after I took this picture. Instead, I returned to my mountain of zucchini's and worked on whipping up some food. Meanwhile, I forgot what I went into my bedroom to get, the wash never got to the hamper and the shower curtain was still crooked BUT I was on my way to a clean shower head! haha

Anyway, let that baby soak for several hours or overnight. I was itching for results so I just let this soak for a few hours then took off the baggy and this is what I got:


Perfectly streaming water out of each & every hole and no more mineral build up!!! No nasty chemicals, no scrubbing or taking apart the shower head, just a nice soak and only costing you a few cents for the vinegar & baggie.

Oh, and after I took this last picture, I finally did straighten the shower curtain & put the wash in the hamper. I'm still trying to remember what I went to my bedroom for.

What's one of your favorite cleaning tips that saves both time AND money??

Don't forget to check out my other Money Saving ideas.!


Middlebury Interactive Languages

When it comes to teaching my children a foreign language, I appreciate getting added help. Especially when it's interactive, online language help! We recently had the chance to review High School Spanish from Middlebury Interactive Languages.


Middlebury Interactive Languages has a special section for homeschoolers. They offer French, Spanish, Chinese and German. Many of these languages are offered from Kindergarten all the way to 12th grade.


The self paced course teaches the languages by using total immersion through text, audio, video and images. This is put into practice by listening to the language, practice speaking the language, as well as reading & writing the language. The immersion approach not only teaches the student language skills but also teaches them cultural awareness which we found quite interesting learning those added facts!

The program also offers an addition of having a teacher work with the student (for an added fee).Though we didn't try this portion of the program out, it is a nice to know it's there. I took several years of Spanish in high school and lived in Peru for awhile so I felt pretty confident in helping my daughter out when she needed it.

Each course is set up to be 1 semester long. This equals out to 18 weeks doing 5 lessons a week. The program is set up for the student to work independently though there is a gradebook for the parent to check in on completed lessons and grades.

 To start using the program is quite easy. It's just a matter of signing in and going to the main menu. From there you could choose to view the course in a calendar layout or by the table of contents. My daughter (and I) preferred the table of contents layout as when she did her lessons didn't always correspond to the same day of the month that the lesson was listed under.

With the table of content view, you could see exactly where she left off at as it automatically put a check-mark beside each part of the lesson she completed. There are 18 units with 5 lessons in each unit, a midterm test at week 9 and a final test at the end. There were also some quizzes throughout different lessons. The first lesson in each unit goes over the objectives and what the student will learn in the next 5 lessons.


(click on photos to enlarge)

Frequently used conversational language was taught right from the start. They used a variety of methods to help instill the words into the student through having them match up phrases (Spanish to English translation) and even pictures to words.



At times, the student also practices spelling the Spanish word (as in the above print screen). There is an audio button they can click on to hear the phrase being read. The student can also practice speaking the language themselves in the sections called "speaking labs". This is where you hear the teacher say a word or phrase using a microphone, you can record yourself saying the same thing then play them back to see how closely you matched the teacher's word.



Another way the student practices the language is by listening to the teacher read a paragraph in Spanish. While listening, they have to check off the words or phrases they heard being read to them. This connects the auditory to the visual aspect of learning the language.

We found this program easy to use yet very engaging. The photos they used are ones that show kids of the same age as the student who is using the program so it feels more relatable. The voices (both male & female) that spoke Spanish were clear and easy to understand. The lessons weren't boring as each section of a lesson was short and to the point. It took my 10th grade daughter approximately 20 minutes to complete each lesson. 

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