Review: Times Tales

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Published: 04/06/2016
More educational supplement reviews!! As we're heading into SOL time here in Virginia, I hope that these reviews will be helpful to all of you, not just homeschoolers! This one is particularly good- The Trigger Memory Co. provided us with the digital version of Times Tales for us to use in our home school, and we have really enjoyed it. I used the product with my 10 year old 4th grader, who already "knew" his times tables and wasn't super interested, but my 8 year old second grader really likes the program and has asked to use it each day.

Times Tales is, admittedly, a little weird at first.  I learned my multiplication tables the old fashioned way- my mom ran through flashcards until I cried, she yelled, and I tried again.  Eventually I got really fast at them, and then the dreaded cards went away, not to be seen or heard from again until my own children needed to learn.  Times tales, however, takes a very different approach.  If you have a learner that doesn't like route memorization or that does better with visual learning, this might be exactly what you've been looking for- whether you need a refresher before testing or you need to teach multiplication from scratch.

Each multiplication fact is told as a story.  In the first CD or digital download, the student is introduced to a cast of characters like Mr. and Mrs. Week (who only go out together).  Once they memorize the characters and confirm they know each one, they are able to move on to learning the "tales" portion.  Here's my daughter explaining a little more:
We've really enjoyed Times Tales for helping Savannah learn her multiplication facts, and we think that it's a great option, especially for kids that have not enjoyed learning facts in more "traditional" ways, or parents who just want to make multiplication fun from the outset! Another thing I really like about this program is that it moves seamlessly from online to offline.  The program includes printable resources that make a lot of sense- they start with the images of the characters your children have learned and then move to math facts with regular numbers, allowing your child to move from the stories to the written math to traditional math easily and without tears.  Additionally, the program is very easy to use- Savannah was able to use this as a supplement to her regular math curriculum without my assistance, which is always nice when you have three learners who need you.  At this point, after being taught how to open and run the program, she can do it entirely independently, although she's quite comfortable with her math facts after only a few hours using Times Tales and doesn't really need it anymore!

You can purchase a digital download of Times Tales for just $19.95 right now, and there's no waiting or shipping because it's instantly delivered to your computer.  If you're a classroom teacher, they also have classroom bundles available that include mini flip charts and a classroom sized flip chart, as well as a CD to print all of the hard-copy reinforcements that I mentioned earlier.  We really liked using Times Tales and think you'll like it, too! It's a little different, but if it's your learning style, it's the perfect way to learn your math facts in a fun way with no tears!

Times Tales by the The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
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Review: Yearly Membership

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Published: 01/07/2016
I know that not all of you homeschool, but I know that a lot of you come to me for advice about homeschooling, so this year I took advantage of an opportunity to work with the Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Review Crew to bring you guys some fresh ideas on making education work at your home.  If you don't homeschool, there's still tons of information available here that you could use to supplement what your child is getting at school, fill in a gap in their learning, or meet a need for an interest they have that isn't being met in the classroom. 

So, now that we all know what's going on here....

My first invitation was to review's Yearly Membership.  This amazing subscription service offers over 200 courses from preschool through 12th grade.  There are classes on everything from math to computers to Bible to foreign language.  There's nutrition and fitness, geography, science, and even art! Now, as far as value goes, I think it says it all with the foreign language.  If you're teaching foreign language at home, or if you need a little extra help for your student, you can't beat the price of simply based on their courses in languages! You can join for $12.95 a month, or you can join for $139 for the year.  A certain language course you can purchase that's named after a famous rock (ahem, not naming names) is $99 for one level!

What I was particularly excited about, though, was art.  When we lived in Woodbridge we took homeschool art classes, which were fantastic, although with three kids the costs definitely stacked up.  Now that we're in Manassas, art instruction all falls directly on my shoulders, and let me just tell you I stink at it.  I was never a particularly enthusiastic art student, and while I enjoy a good craft for me, I find making art with the kids to be stressful! I'm never sure how things will turn out, I don't really have great ideas, and I just haven't really been doing as well as I could have with them in this area.

SchoolhouseTeachers Review 2016
Courses are broken down for art by Elementary, Middle, and High School.  Everything is pre-recorded, so you can take lessons in any order, take a break, skip ahead, whatever works for you.  Since two of my kids are elementary and one is 6th grade, I decided we'd go ahead and try one of the Elementary options, which include South African Art Appreciation, Art Techniques, Elementary Art, and Everyday Easels.

We ended up going with Elementary Art, which offers an initial twelve unit lesson on Great Artists. These are very simple and easy art lessons that I can add into our day without a lot of fuss or struggle- which is important with our schedule! I love that they're really "grab and go" and designed to use what you already have.  Our Michelangelo unit, for example, gave us just a paragraph or so of background on the artist, samples of his work to look at, and a suggestion for an art project we could complete with materials that were already in our house! Brilliant.  I love that these can really be a "oh, we have time- let's do a quick art lesson".

Savannah is drawing on paper taped to the chair- we learned about Michelangelo and this was the suggested project to replicate drawing on ceilings- minus the scaffolding!
This was a big hit for me and my younger two, but my middle schooler was not impressed.  Too easy, he declared.

Riley loves oil pastels- that's a tomato and two peaches
Well, fine.  Since the subscription covers everything on the site, we'll just switch you to something else! For him, we ended up selecting "Art Techniques" which offers various 4 module lessons on different media.  Riley really likes chalk and oil pastels, so we decided to start there.  I like that these lessons are written to the student.  They tell them what materials they'll need, and they walk them through the procedure for what they are to do.  Oil pastels moved Riley from sketching the basic lines of a picture (day one) to a fully finished art work (day four).  Since he can read the lessons himself and use the teacher's examples for what he's supposed to have accomplished by the end of the lesson, this is really something he can do in his down time between lessons.
Next up, we are really excited to try the keyboarding and computer science options! I think that there is a bit of something for everyone on, and we're really looking forward to exploring it all as we have the opportunity! I think over the summer it will be really fun to let everyone pick their own unit of study for enrichment.  I am 100% positive my middle child will be taking Geology (there's 2 units!) and will be super excited about it! Review 2016
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Guest Post: Snow Days Can be ‘Grow’ Days

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Published: 01/23/2015
Snow Days Can be ‘Grow’ Days
By Eugenia Cole and Robin Banford-Geisler
Winter Break is officially over, but the winter season will likely provide a few more mini-breaks before spring arrives.  Last year, Prince William County Public Schools lost 13 days to snow--almost 3 weeks of instruction time. Although snow days can provide a welcomed break from the normal routine for parents, students, and teachers, they can also provide boundless opportunities for intentional conversation and learning at home.  
A good example of the impact even trivial communication moments have on little listeners is a conversation Mrs. Cole recently had with a kindergarten student. The young lady informed Mrs. Cole that she would soon be attending “Reading Workshop” (an after-school reading enrichment program) on Mondays, instead of her normal Thursday time.  Mrs. Cole hadn’t heard anything from the parents regarding the change, but, based on her experience with the student and her family, Mrs. Cole knew this information was something that the girl’s parents had communicated with her and the young student remembered. 
While that example of a young student’s attention to and retention of information shared in conversation may seem minute, it goes to show how responsible and responsive our younger learners can be when provided the opportunity. Often times, questions asked to kindergartners regarding real-life matters are met with shrugs and “I don’t know.” This response is not because our children are too simple or young to be aware, but simply because parents don’t often communicate with them regarding what they consider to be irrelevant topics for children. 
The difference between students who are included in higher-level discussion at home and those who are not becomes evident in classroom discussion and learning time, where a distinction emerges between which students are having things explained to them and which ones are simply having things done for them.  The simple act of regular and intentional dialogue with a kindergartner can permit high-level return in the classroom. While, understandably, parent work schedules contribute to a lack of time for intentional communication, snow days can provide a convenient opportunity to have purposeful family interaction time.
While even kindergartners are as tempted to attach themselves to their electronics as we prove to be, days off from school, prompted by winter weather, can be full of personal interaction & conversational learning for our students. These mini-breaks are a wonderful opportunity to intentionally focus on strengthening your young child’s communication skills by including them in every-day discussion. Use the together-time to help your learner build towards a successful second half of the year and beyond!  
As teachers of a younger audience, we package our learning objectives into fun and interactive lessons in order to engage kindergartners. While electronics and technology may rule our day, there is still opportunity to be creative in how you engage your kindergartner on snow days.  The right kind of game can help him/her strengthen foundational skills, such as following directions, pre-reading (making a guess about topic based on pictures, clues, etc) and working together. Below is an explanation of three great offline, or non-electronic, activities that can help your kindergartner build a solid learning foundation for 2015.
  • Indoor Games:
Brain Games are an example of activities that can help exercise and develop memory. Additionally, has a list of information processing activities that are worth considering, including the 30 Second Spotlight game, in which participants pick a family related topic, take turns, and talk about the topic for 30 seconds of uninterrupted time.  This game is a great one for your student because it aims to help your kindergartner strengthen his/her listening and responding skills.
If you are already using games as a learning tool, be encouraged that your efforts are foundational. Continue to establish such routine interactions with your kindergartner during snow days and add additional games to work on new skills. 

  • Learning With Snow
Snow is fun to play with, but can also be fun to learn with.  Sledding, snow-ball fights, and snow man/fort building are all fun activities during snow days.  Author Jean Warren shares on that snow, as a learning material, presents the opportunity for children to work on Thinking skills, Coordination Skills, Art Skills, Math Skills, Music Skills, Language Skills, Science Skills and Concept Skills. With a little intentionality, you can turn those and other activities into unique learning opportunities.
One example of a specific, fun snow activity that Jean Warren recommends is “Rolling and Throwing,” as explained below. 
Children naturally love to roll snow into large balls and throw smaller snowballs.  Encourage rolling and throwing.  Both of these activities help your child develop their coordination skills.  Instead of throwing balls at people, help your child set up a row of plastic bottles to knock over or a tire to throw through.
You can learn more about this activity at  Although this article is geared towards preschoolers, these activities can be beneficial for your kindergartner as well!

  • Experimenting
The third important opportunity we highly encourage you to take advantage of is providing times for experimenting. One of those things very obvious in the classroom is the difference between students who are not allowed to experiment, for parental fear of inaccuracy, and those who are challenged to develop independence and find a way to do things on their own.  
A practical example of how student experimenting provides advancements in independent thinking comes from a summer camp situation. During those days filled with heat, we like to offer the students a treat of ice cream in little cups that usually have wooden spoons attached for convenient scooping.  However, one time, the wooden spoons were not included with the ice cream cups.  We had kindergartners begin to cry because they could not figure out how to eat the ice cream without the little spoons.  This presented an opportunity for the kindergartners to problem solve and use reasoning skills to figure out how to eat the ice cream without the relied-upon spoon.  We began to experiment with the students to figure out (non-messy) ways to eat the ice cream, like taking the time to lick the ice cream, squeezing the cup to get the ice cream out, or folding up the lid to make it into a spoon in order to scoop the ice cream out. While exercises in experimenting open doors to less than perfect results, they establish skills in solving problems, encouraging creativity, and rewarding diligence. 
Take time during the snow days to experiment and create opportunities for your young student to practice problem solving and reasoning skills. Intentionally create scenarios in which normal tools are not available to accomplish a task and guide your child toward figuring out how to overcome the challenge faced.  
All of the above-mentioned opportunities, and others like them, can not only create new, important life-skills for your young student, but they can also serve the double benefit of building their self-esteem and sense of security.  Engaging your kindergartner in any of these simple, offline activities will allow your student to more fully and effectively engage in the classroom, more prepared to learn and grow during the second half of the school year.  

If you have any questions related to Kindergarten please send an email to 

CCA’s next Open House is January 24th from 1pm-3pm.

Robin Banford-Geisler 
BS/Early Childhood & Elementary Education; Masters/ Reading Literacy, George Mason University
Kindergarten Teacher
Elementary School
Eugenia Cole 
BS/ Christian Elementary Education, Virginia Baptist College
Kindergarten Teacher
Elementary School
Christ Chapel Academy is dedicated to unleashing the leadership potential within each student. Academically rigorous programs, a vibrant Christ-centered community, and a unique multicultural learning environment make CCA a great option for parents who want a smaller school but don’t want to sacrifice big opportunities for their student(s). 
Christ Chapel Academy was voted as the “Best Private School” in Prince William County in 2014, by Prince William Today readers. 

Learn more about Christ Chapel Academy at

Tomorrow: Dumfries Charter Day- May 10, 2014

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Published: 05/09/2014

KODU Game Design at Animated Child

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Published: 05/01/2014
Animated Child in Montclair has a little something for everyone.  My Kindergartner loves their indoor play space designed with areas to involve each of Gardner's seven intelligences.  The preschoolers I see there always look happy and engaged during class, which is based on Last Child in the Woods.  There are language classes, music classes, art classes, and then, there are the camps.

My boys LOVE them some camp at Animated Child.  They've now tried both the Minecraft and the KODU Game design camps and they liked both.  I like that even though there's time on the computer, it's educational, and that the staff makes sure the kids have other activities, as well, so they're not just tuned into a screen for 3 hours and nothing else happens.

My 8 and 10 year old actually tried the game design camp over Spring Break just so we could write a review for you guys.  What can I say, they're just selfless like that ;) Both boys were incredibly excited when I picked them up the first day, although they were devistated to learn that I hadn't signed them up for the afternoon session (camp was 1/2 day) which was Minecraft. Bad mom.  They spent the first day setting up their worlds, and they had a tremendous time.  By Wednesday, my 8 year old complained that he would like more time off the computer, and the staff instantly responded by ensuring there were logic-based games for him to engage with for more time than already planned.  In our house I really limit screen time, less than an hour a day, so this was different for him, but the staff was very responsive. At the end of the week, both kids were very excited to show their dad their games.

For those of you that have not met my children in real life, this is actually how they speak.  And boy do they speak.  They talk and talk and talk and talk. I thought about youtubing their responses for you, but decided that they'd start goofing off and singing weird songs, and we wouldn't be very productive. 

From Riley (Age 10)- "I think other kids would like it, but they would have to like playing video games and creating things.  My favorite part was when we got to actually start understanding how KODU works.  My least favorite part was that you have to be a little patient because you have to be able to create something first before you can play it.  Sometimes I'm patient. I had fun.  My overall experience was great.  You didn't let us stay for Minecraft, though, and that was not cool.  Seriously, mom."

From Logan (Age 8)- "So this camp was fun.  I was a little scared at first because I thought the programming would be like JAVA like dad does, but then it was really easy and fun.  I didn't know KODU would be like that.  I though it would be super complex and you would need to type in a bunch of codes instead of clicking on things and then putting them together. My favorite part was when I found out before anyone else on my own how to make enemies in a game only shoot at you and not each other because I'm awesome. My least favorite part was the day I was sick and couldn't go. I think other kids would like this camp if they really like learning because it filled my head with a bunch of interesting things. That's about it."

I'm going to be honest with you guys that camp at Animated Child is not cheap.  You definitely get what you pay for in terms of experienced staff, educational value, and engaging experience, but it's not something that our family could afford every week of the summer.  Luckily, though, you can choose your week(s) and that allows you to do the Kotlus Family Rotation, which is a week of chillin like a villain, a week of camp you pay for, a week of VBS (cause it's free!!) and a week of vacation somewhere.  Doing that each month allows me to keep the budget sane, and still pick really cool camps. STEM/STEAM activities are so vital for our kids, and camps that include STEM components tend to cost more because of the equipment needed, but I definitely think that this camp was worthwhile!

Disclosure: Animated Child is one of our sponsors, but we provide our honest feedback and reviews.

Host a Student with USA Connections

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Published: 04/08/2014
USA Connection is an exchange program that is currently looking for host families (who are compensated!) who would like to have a student from Spain join their family for a few weeks this summer.  Interested? Here are some details! 

1) Tell me a little about your organization and how you got involved

We have always enjoyed intercultural experiences, since we  ourselves are an international couple, and we have traveled, lived in different countries, and speak different languages. Last year, for the first time, we decided to extend that experience to others by inviting a carefully selected group of Basque teens to stay with American families during the month of July.  It was a great experience for everyone.  After last year's great experience, we were really motivated to do it again!

2) What's one of your favorite exchange stories from students?
One of our more conscientious students forgot to change the timezone on his cellphone alarm. So, on his first night with his host family he went to bed at a relatively normal time only to get up, shower and go down to have breakfast at 1:00 a.m. all the while wondering how American's could sleep so late on a week day!

Another was at a 4th of July pool party, and was the only one to notice when a toddler fell into the pool. He quickly jumped in to pull the toddler out.

3) What's one of your favorite exchange stories from a family?
One of the families from the Lake Ridge area enjoyed the experience of having one of our youth so much that they want to host the same student again! They've kept in touch all year and are even planning on being the first family to do a full exchange with our program by sending their daughter to Spain to stay for 3 weeks with their host student's family.

4) What's involved in hosting a student?
Nothing special, really. We do ask that our student have a private bedroom and that Spanish not be the primary language of the host family. Other than that, they should do their own laundry, help with basic chores and go where your family goes.

If your family goes to church, take them to church. If one of your children has a softball game, take them to the game. The only "extra" thing would be to drop them off at the pickup point for our 2 day trips and when we take them to summer camp- and pick them back up, of course!

The families, in general, aren't expected to pay the students way. They travel with their own pocket money. They also travel with full medical and liability insurance in the case of any mishaps.

Having a teen in the family is preferable, but not necessary. Children that they can interact with is a requirement though.

5) Where do students come from? What do they like to do?
Our students come, primarily, from the Basque Country, a small nation between Spain and France. Most of the Basque live on the Spanish side of the border.  Because of the Basque Country's unique situation, most of our students are trilingual, with Spanish, Basque and English. A few speak French as well.

Our students are very similar to kids in the US. The boys like soccer and video games. Many of them surf if they live near the coast. The girls tend to be athletic as well, playing soccer and field hockey. Basketball is also very popular. It's common to see groups of teens hanging out on a park bench talking and playing with their cellphones just like kids in the U.S. In the summer, they tend to spend the day at the beach.

6) What kind of support is offered to host families?
We try to be as supportive as possible. We travel with the kids from Bilbao to Paris and on to Dulles and help make sure they arrive with their host families safely. We stay in the area for the entire trip, so we're available any time to help out with any issues, like homesickness or illness, that might come up. We give families basic instructions on what is expected of them while hosting one of our students, as well as a list of appropriate activities that they might want to consider. We also invite family members to come on day trips that we organize and the going away party.

We also offer a stipend to the families to cover the cost of having an extra person in the house.


This is a sponsored post brought to you by USA Connections.  PwcMoms has not participated in the program and makes no explicit or implied claims about your family's experience.

30 Acts of Kindness Task 8: Help @ An Elementary School

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Published: 02/08/2014
During February, I'm celebrating my 30th Birthday with 30 Acts of Kindness suggested by readers.  The point of these posts isn't to "brag" about what I've been doing, but rather to raise awareness about different organizations in Prince William County and share how you and your family can get involved in making our area a better place to live.  If you'd like to join me in any of my assignments, or if you participate in one on your own, I'd love to get your picture and/or story to share!! I'd love to think this is making a difference, and I hope that you'll join me! 

Whoohoo is this 30 Acts of Kindness keeping me busy!! Listen, if I can fit 30 of these suckers into a 28-day month, I hope some of you will consider getting in one at some point in 2014! Hopefully more, but at least one! I'm trying really hard to give you lots and lots of options so that you'll find something that is a perfect fit for you!

I cannot find the email, but someone wrote in and suggested I volunteer at an elementary school that doesn't get a lot of volunteers.  When Riley, my 10 year old, went to school (we haven't always been those weird homeschoolers, you know) I volunteered as much as I could at his base school.  It's not always easy when you've got younger kids at home, but there is truly no better way to understand what's going on at your child's school, and to know which teachers you want, than to be there!!  

I put up a post on Facebook asking for teachers that could use a few volunteer hours, and the first response I got was from Mrs. Rupay-Dean of Neabsco Elementary, who invited me to help out in the library for a few hours.  

Holy holy holy, people.

If you've got kids, and I assume you do since you're reading my website, you know what they can do to a bookshelf.  Now imagine a few hundred of them over the course of a day.  

Yup, we've got some shelves to stock :) This was actually a really nice way to pass a few hours- the kids come in and out, but clearing the carts really made me feel like I actually accomplished something, even if I knew it wouldn't last.

I'm in touch with that concept- I keep cleaning my house, and my kids keep messing it up.  However, I feel really good for the five minutes it lasts :) 

Anyhow, volunteering at a  school can work for just about anyone! Love kids? Great! They can use you in a classroom, as a reading buddy, or helping with an after-school activity.  Don't love kids? You can make copies, cut pieces for file-folder games, or stock books in the library.  Want to help but don't have a babysitter for your little kids? Call the school- there's probably something you could do from home, whether it's prepping a project or cutting out bulletin board pieces.  If you have a special skill, like computers, robotics, or any passion you'd like to share, the school might have just the place for you!! Just call the front desk and let them know you want to help out!

I think that volunteering at a school could be a great fit for lots of mommas, whether you're checking out the school your little ones will go to, helping while your children attend, or just going to help because you can! Teens could be a great help too, especially homeschoolers who have extra time, although I remember helping at the Lake Ridge Elementary French program when I was a high school junior- I just had to make sure I beat the buses out of the parking lot!  

Thanks for the great idea, and thanks to Neabsco Elementary for having me (and for the fire drill! Those were always the coolest when I was a kid!)  

US Science and Engineering Festival 2014!

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Published: 01/24/2014
The 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest science festival in the US, features nationwide contests and school programs, including our popular 'Nifty Fifty' science speaker program - presented by InfoComm International. The Festival culminates in a Grand Finale Expo on April 26-27, 2014, with the US News STEM Solutions Conference on April 23-25, and Sneak Peek Friday - presented by the Department of Defense - on April 25. New this year: X-STEM - presented by Northrop Grumman Foundation and MedImmune - an Extreme STEM Symposium for students on April 24.  Get your tickets HERE.

"Area’s Sweetest Teacher" Contest at Sprinkles

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Published: 01/15/2014
Since my neurosurgeon (although I guess he's not "my neurosurgeon" much longer since I hope my last visit will be in February!) and my oncologist (she's mine for the next decade, poor woman!) are at Georgetown University Hospital, I have become a connoisseur of cupcakes in the area.   I know you're not supposed to use food as a reward, but you know, after you spend 2 hours in an MRI tube, those rules no longer apply and you get frosting.  Period.

Sprinkles is by far my favorite DC cupcake location, and they're running a fun contest for teachers.  Check it out below!

Sprinkles Cupcakes Georgetown, the Washington, DC, outlet of the world’s first cupcake bakery, announced today that it will be running a “Sweetest Teacher Contest,” beginning January 21st. Area K - 8 students at schools in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia are invited to submit their favorite teachers for consideration by February 10, by writing a short (250 word) essay about why their favorite teacher is the best. Sprinkles will choose the top three teachers out of these submissions, and the public will vote on the final winner on the Sprinkles DC Facebook page. “Education is such an important part of our community,” said Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes. “This is our way of reaching out and saluting the teachers that give so much of themselves, and provide so much to the children in our area. We are excited to give students a chance to think about their teachers, and express what makes them great. We can’t read to see what students have to say about the educators that have changed their lives.” Forms will be distributed at the store itself, located at 3015 M St NW, Washington DC, or can be submitted to

The winning teacher will receive a $250 Sprinkles gift card and a $250 gift card for office supplies, while the first runner up will receive $150 at each location and the 3rd place teacher $100 gift cards.  For additional information and a list of future locations, please visit

Hylton Planetarium

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Published: 12/13/2013
While the Hylton Planetarium isn't my typical Friday non-profit/charity, they do only operate based on community involvement and attendance.  New shows run between $10,000 and $20,000 a pop, and that money comes from groups coming in.  We had an awesome time, so I'm sharing today :) If you have a child who attends PWCS, they'll benefit from the awesome planetarium at some point, too! 

We had the chance to take a field trip to the Irene V.Hylton Planetarium at Hylton High School this past week, and it was so much fun!

As part of our memory work curriculum, we are learning astronomy facts this year.  My kids have memorized the parts of the sun, the planets, types of stars, phases of the moon, types of other objects in our solar system, and the names of US space missions.  Our group decided to do the Planetarium as our culminating trip, although I know another group did it as their introduction. 

The planetarium offers several different programs that homeschool groups, moms groups, retirement communities, girl scout/boy scout troops, or just a bunch of people who are super into astronomy can choose from.  We selected a program for grades 3-7 called “Earth, Moon, Sun”, which could have probably included a little more technical information for our group of kids, but they absolutely loved everything about it, especially the coyote “scientist” who kept blundering things up.  They spent a lot of time laughing and definitely liked the presentation of the material in such a 360 format.  I enjoyed the fact that they wove in some mythology and talked about how much our understanding has changed over the years.  I thought it was very well done.

Other programs are available for various age groups.  When you email the director, Anthony Kilgore, to set up your program, he can help you select for your group. 

As for details, you’ll need a minimum of 30 people, and the facility can accommodate a maximum of 60.  Shows are $10 per person, and for groups they ask that you give one cash payment or write one check.

The show was really fun.  The program isn’t anything like I remember- when I was little and you went to the planetarium, there was a giant “ball” that projected stars onto the ceiling and then the attendant would point things out with a red laser pointer.  Now, the presentations are more like movies projected on a dome, but they’re still very cool and the kids like the presentation of the material in such a fun format.

At the end of our program, the director Mr. Kilgore, who is fun and engaging with students, took our extra time to show us one song from his current holiday laser program which was amazing.  First, he explained to us that there are only three lasers in the planetarium, a red, a green, and a blue.  However, using a complex series of mirrors, he’s able to turn those three lasers into an incredible show of light coordinated to music.  The kids were in absolute awe, and I thought they  might absolutely lose their minds when at the end of the song it started “snowing” in the planetarium. 

If you’d like to catch a laser show, there are public performances each week during December:
Friday, December 6th/13th/20th 2013
6:00pm - Laser Holidays
7:30pm - Star of Bethlehem
9:00pm - Laser Holidays

You can purchase tickets at the planetarium Monday-Friday 7:30am-4pm, or in person if there are seats left the night of the show.  Bring $10 per person, exact change, and be sure to arrive 10 minutes prior to showtime and use the restroom before you go in! Once the doors lock, you can’t get in, although you can leave- but that means if you walk out to use the restroom, you’re not going to see the rest of the show, so prepare accordingly!

We really enjoyed our field trip, and it would be an awesome way to earn an astronomy badge, or to enjoy a fun trip for any group (did I mention that we took a group of kids to the planetarium for my oldest son’s 7thbirthday? We did.  And we schlepped all the way to the David Brown Planetarium in Arlington(!) and it wasn’t nearly as nice as Hylton’s, which is right in our backyard.  I don’t remember what made us have to go to Brown, I think Hylton was already booked the night we needed to do his birthday party, but just for comparison’s sake, Hylton has a nicer interior and equipment, as far as I can tell!

For more information about the Hylton Planetarium, or to book your group or event, please contact Director Anthony Kilgore, via email or at 703-580-4000. 

Someone pointed out that I forgot my funny disclaimer!! My bad!!  I was not compensated or remunerated in any way for this post.  I didn't snag a discount for being awesome, either, although that's never happened so I'm not sure why it would start now.  All opinions are my own based on our experience. Your experiences may vary, and PwcMoms is not responsible for your kids trying to turn your basement into a laser show, or the crick in your neck from looking up at the show for an hour.  Try stretching first.

Featured Organization Friday: Keep Prince William Beautiful/ Prince William Recycles Day

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Published: 11/01/2013

We attended this year's Prince William Recycles Day and Paper Shred, and had a truly fantastic time.  There were lots of activities set up, and the kids could earn tons of "swag" by participating in games like litter clean up, recycle/compost/trash sort (it was a beanbag toss- not real trash!) and more.  There was also tons of information from various local groups, as well as bus tours of the dump, which were very interesting!! Below, find a press release about the event.  I'd definitely put this on your radar for next year!! 

Recycles Day and Paper Shred Achieve Record Participation
Prince William, VA, October 28, 2013 – 
This year’s Prince William Recycles Day, a local celebration of American Recycles Day, brought a record 850 guests to the annual landfill event. The accompanying paper shred also broke a record with more 500 citizens that took advantage of the paper shred service at the Landfill and the Balls Ford Road facility.
Prince William residents were entertained by regionally known environmental “edutainer” Billy B. In addition visitors learned about the importance of recycling valuable resources from numerous displays, games and activities, had hands on experience with trash trucks, took landfill tours, voted for the best recycled art project and enjoyed door prizes, food and face painting.

Many residents look forward to this annual event and return year after year. The event was so well attended that even Billy B was impressed with amount of community participation—guests and display sponsors. He noted, “Even though I have been in this business for many years, I picked up several new ideas for organizing a successful event.” He along with several other participants and sponsors especially liked the recycling trading cards that were distributed at each table display. The trading card collection encouraged guests to visit all the tables and learn about the organization or business and its role in recycling or “greening” the environment.
Prince William Recycles Day was sponsored by Fortistar, Broad Run Recycling, Solid Waste Services Charlie and Sons Trash Service, SCS Engineers, Davis Industries and supported by donations from American Disposal Services, AshBritt, Atkins North America, Bates Trucking & Trash Removal, Call2Recycle, Daniel H. Barrett Trucking, Davis Industries, Eastern Clearing, EnivroSolutions, GBB, Golder & Associates, Keep Prince William Beautiful, R. E. Daffan, Madera Farms LLC, SP Recycling Southeast, Trash Away, Veolia ES Technical Solutions, and Waste Management.

Prince William Recycles Day is the local celebration of America Recycles Day, which is officially November 15 each year. For photos of Prince William Recycles Day activities visit 

Sponsored Post: Animated Child Programs for Fall

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Published: 10/24/2013

We are so thankful for all the businesses that support what we're doing at PwcMoms!! Animated Child is one of our fantastic sponsors, and we want to share with you more about a few of the programs they offer.

1. Before/After School Care:
Animated Child is the alternative to typical Before and After School Care.  Our program allows children to explore and learn while they spend  time in our Open Exploration area. Many parents have compared it to a children's museum! We ditch the traditional teaching model and learn science, technology, engineering and math in a completely hands-on environment.  Children can feed our animals in the Nature Smarts area and construct buildings in our Spatial Smarts area. Homework help is always at the ready and our S.T.E.M. room houses multiple computers for online learning. Join our program and receive 2-FREE Weeks of tuition! 
Call 703-763-0003 for enrollment information.

2. Classes in Language, Art, Social Skills, and STEM Topics
Animated Child is full service enrichment center offering classes in Spanish, French, Art, 2-D Gaming Design and P.E.E.R.S. social skills. Language classes are $200  for 1 class per week. $340 for 2 classes per week. Classes are in 8 week sessions. Enrollment is ongoing. Register any time!  Membership guarantees enrollment and great discounts.

3.  Open Play and Parents Nights Out
The Animated Child provides an integrated environment where children are encouraged to be curious and independent. Our setting is created for the inquisitive child. We aspire to develop a deep sense of self in our children.
Open Exploration Times: (Monday-Friday)
9:00am-10:30am                    Open Explorations are $9 ($7 for members)
Open Exploration Times: (Saturday)
The atmosphere is made to promote imaginative and creative problem-solving skills that generate intrinsic motivation. The Animated Child exists to bring into being an organic movement of emotionally balanced children that recognize abilities within themselves. Our innovative center is inspired by the multiple intelligences of Gardner’s theory, and we engage children in every element in order to highlight their unique way of learning. The vital element of emotional and social intelligence with a global perspective makes the Animated Child a leader in children’s education. The Animated Child recognizes the crucial value of a second language and provides a playful curriculum for complete immersion in language and culture.
4.  Birthday Parties
Various theme options available, including Minecraft!! Visit the website for details and options, as well as pricing. 

FREE Recycles Day and Community Shred

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Published: 10/15/2013
The Prince William County Recycles Day and Paper Shred will be October 19th, 2013 from 10am-2pm at the County Landfill.  It may seem a little odd to go to the landfill for a family day, but there will be an environmental "Edutainer" food, prizes, games, tours, and more! Check it out! 

Meetup Giveaway: Engineering 4 Kids

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Published: 06/06/2013

Engineering for Kids® was born right here is Stafford, Virginia! Founder Dori Roberts began her teaching career in 1999.  During this career, she saw a dire need for math, science, and engineering enrichment programs.  To remedy this, she ran an after-school club that participated in various engineering and science-based competitions.  After membership hit 180 students, and the group won multiple state championships, she decided to tailor her own program and apply it to a wider age demographic.  Engineering For Kids® offers programs for homeschooling, scout troops, and birthday parties, as well as regularly scheduled classes and camps throughout the school year.  Engineering for Kids (R) will even come to your school--a great opportunity for PTA/PTOs who are looking for activities that will help students foster a love of science, technology, engineering, and math. 

We're really excited about Engineering for Kids® and they've got a great giveaway/meetup scheduled for us!

Join us for a FREE 2-hour LEGO® Robotics workshop! PwcMoms is teaming up with Engineering for Kids® to offer your child the best in fun, challenging, hands-on education.  Children are natural engineers, and we want your child to be part of the experience! "Like" the Engineering for Kids® Facebook page and comment on this post.  When you do, you'll be eligible to win a spot in our free LEGO® Robotics workshop!

Enter using the Rafflecopter widgit below.  There's room for 20 kids in our meetup class, which will be held Thursday, June 20, from 10am-12pm in Southlake.  When you enter, please keep in mind that the appropriate age group is 7-14.  Boys and girls will both enjoy this event! We can't wait to see you there!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PechaKucha January 2013

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Published: 01/23/2013

PechaKucha Night is an informal community gathering where creative people get together and share their ideas, works, experiences and thoughts in a standardized format. Each presentation features 20 images, which are timed to show for 20 seconds each. Each presentation is six minutes 40 seconds long.
PechaKucha Nature Night is this Saturday, Jan.26. Doors open at 6:00 PM (dinner), and the program begins at 7:30 pm at The Electric Palm (12745 Sea Ray Lane, Woodbridge). Sponsored by Lake Ridge Parks & Recreation Association and Prince William Conservation Alliance, this event is open to the public and free of charge; buy your own food & drinks. Please note the restaurant seats 60 people; after that it's standing room only.  You won't want to miss this popular event featuring outstanding presentations by your friends and neighbors: 

Kristi Smedley - Galapagos 
Eli Hosen - Food for All Ages
Neil Nelson - Trail Projects in PWC
Marty Nohe - Off-road Hiking with Kids
Kelly Jimenez - Eggscellent Chicken Tales
Cindy Smith - Flowers and Bugs Make the World Go Round
Caryn Stein - Snapping & Trapping in Prince William Forest
Charlie Grymes - Open Spaces and the Tri-County Parkway
Uriah Kiser - Government Island: A walk into monumental history
Julie Flanagan - Spring Warblers are Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You
More information is online at or call PWCA at 703.499.4954.

12 Days of Giveaways: Little Pim Language DVDs

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Published: 12/17/2012
Thank you all for your patience as I let this space be quiet in respect for all of us as we processed the events of the last few days.  I'll catch up on the giveaways, but sometimes we all need a moment to reflect, especially with such great tragedy.

I was asked to try the Little Pim series of educational DVDs and I was very excited to give it a go.  We pay pretty decent money at a preschool that teaches a foreign language for our daughter, but since I speak (spoke, in college) Russian and French, I'm not much help with the German she gets at school.
As background, Little Pim was created by the daughter of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, who developed the Pimsleur method of learning languages for adults.  They call the approach in the Little Pim series "Educational Immersion", and it is targeted at children ages 5 and under.  For more about the development, methodology and approach, you can check out the Little Pim Website.

So, remember when Baby Einstein was a thing? (Maybe it still is, I'm a few years out from babies) This is a similar format with a simple animated Panda between footage of actual people doing things.  It's all immersion, so there's no English, although there are subtitles for parents who need help with pronunciation.  In German that wasn't an issue at all, but in reading reviews from other sites, some users complained that in languages like Russian and Chinese, the subtitles were phonetic and native speakers teaching their children often felt like they'd do the phonetics differently, or they wanted their child exposed to the alphabet of the language they were learning.

Each DVD is divided into 5 minute mini episodes, so if you are really trying to get a younger child to focus, they only have to do it for a brief stretch.  My daughter sat down to watch this with my husband. She's 4 and he's in his 30s, and he did such a great job learning German, I'm very proud ;)
My daughter loved the DVD and at her age, she stayed focused intently for half the DVD, and then said her brain needed a break.  She's already asked if she can watch again tomorrow.  I assume that they use the same footage for each DVD and just put the language over the top because our first DVD was food/eating themed and we learned how to say "rice" and "chopsticks", but we also learned "strawberries", "kiwi", "cake", and "the oven is hot".  I'm not an expert, but I know that this approach seemed to work quickly for my daughter (and my husband) because they could see the actual item being used and hear the words.

You can order Little Pim in gift sets like the one above, for $169, which includes books, DVDs, music CDs, a plush, a backpack, and flash cards, but only in French or Spanish.  Other languages, including Chinese, Italian, German, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, English ESL, English ENG, and Portuguese, are available in 1 DVD or 3 DVD packs for $34.95 or $59.95.
(Shhh.....until the 19th you can get them over at Groupon, too)

Anyhow, I like the DVD concept.  I'm not going really dedicated to the idea of being bilingual by age four, so I enjoy that I can provide my child with learning materials she can use on her own, working at her own pace.  Could you really work these up into a language curriculum program for your toddler? Sure- but it's really nice to just pop in the DVD while you're making dinner, too.  I think we might pick up a few other German DVDs for my daughter, but if you'd like to get your own starter DVD for free, enter to win! Best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was provided with a DVD to try and with one to give away to one of you lovely lucky people.  Shipping will be directly from Little Pim.  PwcMoms is not responsible for your child walking around speaking a language you don't understand.  Winner assumes all liability.

Delegate Anderson to host "Future Delegates" Program

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Published: 11/13/2012

Dear Prince William parents and students,
At 7:30pm on Wednesday, Nov. 14th, we will host an orientation for parents and students in grades 7 through 12 who want to participate in the 2013 51st House District “Future Delegate Program” that we will host at the Virginia State Capitol in January and February.  The orientation will be in the Board of County Supervisors chamber at the McCoart Government Complex at One County Complex Court in Woodbridge
During the orientation session on Nov. 14th, I’ll brief applicants and their parents on the program, distribute application forms, and answer questions.  Additionally, I’ll brief parents on the House of Delegates Page Program in 2014 so that interested students may apply in late 2013 for the two-month-long Page Program at the Virginia State Capitol in early 2014.
If selected for the Future Delegate Program, students will spend an entire day with me at the Virginia State Capitol.  Students will accompany me to all sub-committee and committee meetings, press events, and the daily floor session of the Virginia House of Delegates. They will also have an opportunity to meet senior officials of the executive and legislative branches of Virginia state government.
All students who apply for the 2013 Future Delegate Program will be able to participate on a date that is convenient to the student’s family.  The day will provide each student with a first-hand look at the legislative process in Richmond. All students are encouraged to apply and participate, regardless of party affiliation or viewpoint on matters of public policy.
AND IF YOU LIVE IN PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY AND KNOW OF STUDENTS IN GRADES 7-12 WHO MAY BE INTERESTED IN THIS NEW PROGRAM, PLEASE FORWARD THIS INVITATION TO THEM.  We are able to host a total of 68 students during the forthcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly!
I look forward to seeing students and parents this coming Wednesday, Nov, 14th, at 7:30pm in the Board of County Supervisors chamber at the McCoart Government Building on Prince William Parkway.  To discuss the 2013 Future Delegate Program before or after the orientation, parents and students may contact me at DelRAnderson@house.virginia.govor at 571-264-9983.
And if I can ever assist you in any way, please call our legislative district office at 571-264-9983, or if your need is urgent and can’t wait until the next business day, at my Woodbridge home at 703-730-1380.  We’re here to help and are as close as your keyboard or phone!
Warm regards,
Delegate, 51st House District
                                                         Virginia General Assembly

Help for Homeschoolers

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Published: 05/07/2012
In the past few weeks I've had a few reader questions about homeschool resource groups/homeschooling in general/homeschool curriculum.  I'm not an expert, but I'm sharing what I know.  If you are someone that finds homeschooling offensive or dumb, you're welcome to stop reading 3 sentences ago :) For those of you that would like this information, please continue on.  

This year I became one of "those crazy homeschool people".  Yup, that's me.  "Kristina That Crazy Homeschool Person".  It's on my business cards.

In the process, I learned that a great deal of whether or not you succeed has to do with both your personal commitment to excellence, whatever your definition of excellence may be, and your successful implementation of a support system.  

Without boring you with too many details we are primarily a classical-model homeschool family, although we do use a more worksheet-based math program (Singapore).  If you'd like to hear more about how we homeschool (and please note that I'm not expert, it's only been 1 year!), or why we homeschool, I'm happy to share those details with you via email.

That being said, no matter your approach, there is a group of people out there that want to help you succeed and your child thrive.

I.  Prince William County Public Schools
I actually cannot comment on whether they care if you succeed or not, but I can tell you that they need to be your first stop.  PWC requires you to fill out an "Intent to Homeschool" form.  This is NOT A MASTER'S THESIS or a senior dissertation.  They just want to know how you're filing (parental ability, correspondence program, religious exemption, medical necessity, whatever) and what curriculum you'll be using.  You don't need to submit a lesson plan, a manifesto on why you're homeschooling, or copies of your textbooks.  You will need to provide proof of progress, and re-file each year.  Additionally, you should know that middle and high-school students are permitted to partially enroll in up to two classes, and that partially-enrolled students who meet all other requirements may participate in after school activities and sports, excluding VHSL sports, but including Varsity Club.  

Both of these groups offer support, information, and advocacy.  HSLDA is a great resource if you run into resistance, or are interested in increasing homeschool access to tax-provided resources. I did not need to use my HSLDA membership this year, but had a friend who was very happy to have it in dealing with a particular issue. 

III. Homeschool Groups, Christian
You don't need to be religious to homeschool, but I know that many people are.  I'm breaking it down, therefore, by groups that you may want to include or disclude yourself from depending on your family situation.
**Classical Conversations is both a curriculum and a highly-developed and dependable co-op with paid directors and trained tutors.  It's international, so if you move frequently, this may be a good option as the entire CC world is doing the same thing at the same time, so moving families can just plop in right where they left off.  Fees vary by campus.  There are several campuses in our area and the range from 4's-High School.
**FISHE offers soccer, testing, monthly meetings and more.  It is inter-denominational. 
**LDS Homeschoolers serves greater NOVA homeschoolers who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 
**REACH is Christian-led but open to anyone, and focuses on field trips and conferences. 
**WHEAT offers classes, testing, field trips, coops and parent support.  

IV.  Homeschool Groups, Religious, Non-Christian
**Heathen Homeschoolers, primarily for those that identify as Pagan, Agnostic, UU, but atheists and agnostics, and label-defyers are welcome, too. 
**Online support groups are available for everything from Adventist-Zoroastrian (okay, maybe not Zoroastrian, but I needed a Z!) on the VA Homeschool Website

V. Homeschool Groups, Secular, Humanist and/or Atheist
**VA Eclectic Homeschoolers' only rule is there is nothing political or religious allowed, but anyone may join and there is no particular method or ideology required of members. 
**VA Homeschool Resources is open to people of any background, and provides information about the entire state of Virginia and resources for various groups. 
**VA Homeschool Atheists is open to any atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist homeschoolers. 
**VA Gifted Homeschoolers is secular and inclusive for parents homeschooling gifted children in the DC Metro area
**NOVA TAG is a secular group for parents homeschooling "Talendted and Gifted" children.
**Quantico to Fredericksburg Homeschoolers is a secular group for families with at least one child over age 6.  Younger siblings are welcome, but this is NOT a preschool playgroup. 

VI.  Homeschool Sports Leagues

This is by no means an exhaustive list!! Hopefully, though, there are enough groups on here to get you started!  If you're a new homeschooler, my best advice is to read and figure out who your family is and what approach you're taking before you get involved in any groups so that you are staying true to your mission, and not being swayed by more experienced homeschoolers who can make any method sound perfect, which it may be for their family, but may not be for yours!  Also, don't over-book yourself! In our area it can be easy to take a field trip every day, but try to start with one group and see if it's meeting your needs before you move on. Or don't, I could be wrong.

Have additional group or ideas? Leave a comment below.  

Milla's Playland A Play Gym Designed for Parents and Children Aged 10 Months to 4 1/2 Years...