Tag Archive | product reviews

Review: Artful Agenda

I love planners! And pens! And stationery! And pretty much all office supplies! But a combination of my body not cooperating and having 3 teens who all have calendars to manage means I really need a digital planner. So for years I have used the calendar, reminders, and notes app on my iphone to manage everything. (See my post on using color to organize your family to learn more about how I color-code our calendars.)

These all work, but left me missing the old planner that I could personalize. Stickers, a pretty cover, my own handwriting…I miss all these things. Enter Artful Agenda.

After looking and researching for years, I finally found an app that says it combines the benefits of a digital calendar with many of the things I missed in a physical planner. Here are the highlights:

Cost: $35 per year (as of 8/25/19) after a 2-week free trial. The site lists the normal price at $50/year, which is what I would expect once development is complete.

Format: App for your phone/tablet and web-based access. Seems to work best on Chrome.


  • Syncs calendar to iCal, Google Calendar, and Outlook
  • A number of covers and handwriting options
  • Digital stickers (not yet available in apps)
  • Month, week, and day views
  • Priority and other tasks in each day
  • Tracking for water and meals in day view
  • Extra customizable list in day view (I call mine “To Buy” because we seem to need to stop at some store almost daily)
  • List tab (not yet available in apps) to help you keep all your lists/notes organized
  • Weekly and monthly goals section
  • Priority tasks and meals show in week view


  • Lists and tasks do not sync with Reminders or other to-do apps
  • Lists and stickers not available on the apps yet (the “Coming Soon” section promises this is in the future)
  • Many of the cover choices are floral and all are feminine
  • You cannot set tasks as reoccurring
  • No alerts/alarms
  • No way to increase the font size in the calendar
  • Only Priority tasks show in the week view, other tasks only show in day view
  • Goals cannot have a date assigned other than than month or week where you type it and do not show in daily view

My Thoughts:

This site/app does offer a lot of the same experiences as a traditional paper planner. It gives you the ability to select a cover and handwriting, which I like. It seems to sync seamlessly with my calendar app from Apple, which means I did not have to enter things twice. However, the fact that the lists/notes and reminders/tasks do not sync with my existing Notes and Reminders apps is a major negative. When paired with the lack of notification from Artful Agenda, it means I still have to use my Reminders app in addition to the Artful Agenda. Also, until the lists and stickers sections are fully functional in the app, using the web-based version is really the only solution to get all the features. I do find that I use the task sections regularly for daily things I used to write in a notebook on my desk. This means the tasks are accessible to me even when I am not at my desk. That has helped improve my productivity.

Final Recommendation:

If you miss the feel and function of a paper planner or want to go digital, Artful Agenda is worth considering. Because this is a newer app/program still in development, some things do not yet work the way I would like, but I am hopeful that this will happen as things progress. If you are just looking for a calendar, there is no reason the to buy Artful Agenda. But if you are willing to pay for the paper “feel” in a digital app, I recommend trying Artful Agenda. Go to https://www.artfulagenda.com to start your free trial and reference code RH14913.


Give-Away : Trades of Hope

I want to let you all know about a great opportunity to help women and get some really great jewelry and accessories. Trades of Hope is a direct sales organization that offers products made by women who have been rescued out of human trafficking and slavery. These women are given the opportunity to produce jewelry, scarves, and other personal and home accessories to earn a living instead of having to sell themselves to provide for their families. Purchasing products through Trades of Hope offers you the chance to make a very real difference in the life of a woman who has been in bondage!


I have personal purchased many items from Trades of Hope, and I can tell you that the quality and beauty of the merchandise offered is second to none! Prices are reasonable too – but how can you put a price on helping a woman have a safe way to provide for her family?

To help spread the word about Trades of Hope we are partnering with them to do a give away! You have the opportunity to win this awesome aqua scarf! Between now and July 14, 2013 enter the drawing for this scarf by leaving a comment on this post with your name and contact information and liking us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/theorganizedwife) if you have not already done so. On July 15, 2013 we will randomly draw one winner from all the entries.

To browse Trades of Hope products, make a purchase,  or to find out more about Trades of Hope, please visit the Trades of Hope website.

Legal Stuff: One entry per person. No purchase in necessary to enter or win. Prize will be awarded by a random drawing on July 15, 2013 from all entries. Duplicate entries will be thrown out. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries. Author received one aqua scarf as part of the promotion. Opinions are solely the authors and do not reflect any opinion or text supplied by Trades of Hope.

Curriculum Review: The Story of The World

Concept: As though telling a story, this world history curriculum moves elementary students from ancient times to the modern age over the course of four years. Supplemental activities and tests are available to encourage retention of material and assess progress.

How It Works: Each week you read through the story book, which gives students insight into the historical time period and culture you are studying. Each chapter is divided into two sections, allowing you to break up reading with review questions. The activities book provides review questions and guides for narration exercises. The activity book also includes map work pages and instructions for students. The back of the activity book has masters of all the map work and coloring pages. The activity book also includes supplemental activities and research you can do to increase student learning and retention.

How We Used It: We have used this program various ways depending on the age our girls were at the time. Initially I read the chapters out loud and guided the girls through the review questions and map work. Coloring pages were done during free time. As the girls got older they started reading the chapters on their own, with me going over review questions and map work with them. We also introduced tests when the girls were in intermediate grades. Some weeks we covered two chapters a week, and other times one, depending on the rest of the kids coursework. We rarely did the supplemental activities and projects, as I felt they were often too involved for what we were trying to accomplish. We do supplement learning with the History Speaks series for branches of government and important documents in American history as we read through the last two volumes of The Story of The World, taking a break from STOW to learn more about America.

Concerns: The curriculum information says it is for 1-4 for read aloud, and 5-8 if they read it on their own. While that is true, the activity pages are clearly for first and second graders. By third grade the girls were bored with the pages. The stories are too much like stories for older kids.

Recommendation: We recommend this curriculum for grades 1-4. After grade 4 we suggest supplementing with more challenging activities for students. We recommend not using the tests until at least second grade, and possibly waiting until third or fourth grade to begin testing. This world history curriculum lays a good foundation for further study in junior high and high school.


Curriculum Review: Shurley English

Concept: Based on grade level, Shurley English teaches grammar and writing skills by starting with simple sentences through teaching your child how to write 5 paragraph essays and narratives.

How It Works: Shurley English comes as a basic kit with Teacher’s Manual, Student Workbook, and Jingle CD. Each lesson is completely scripted, giving the home-school parent the exact words to stay to teach grammar and writing to their student. Each lesson is paired with jingles to help students remember the various parts of speech and basic grammar and writing rules. Each year starts out teaching the basic concepts, so you can start this program at any age/grade level. About the 4th week/chapter, students begin getting writing assignments, and older students will have two a week in addition to a weekly test. Shurley also incorporates weekly vocabulary words (8) to teach synonyms and antonyms, which help students improve writing skills. In addition to the kid books, you can add in vocabulary and literature selection books, as well as a practice book with all the sentences students have to classify.

How We Used It: For the younger grades we pretty much followed the script, doing jingles daily and reading the teaching text to give the kids a good base. As they got older, we found that the jingles became boring (because they already knew it) and we stopped using those after a couple of years. Additionally, because each year starts out with teaching the same basic ideas (just more quickly as students progress to higher grade levels) we began doing the first 1-3 chapters all the first week. We did all the writing assignments until the end chapters, which incorporate thank you cards and friendly letters. These we do at different times during the year, as appropriate (say after birthdays). After a few years, generally my kids just read the references in their workbooks that go with what they are learning and then do the activities. At this point (4th and 6th grades) Shurley requires very little teaching from me.

Concerns: The jingles get very boring and are not interesting to older kids. Two writing assignments each week can seem like a lot, especially to students who are not as interested in English (like my house full of math geeks).

Recommendation: We highly recommend Shurley English. While there are flaws with the system, in the end, the grammar and writing basis that this gives students is excellent, and that is the goal of English curriculum. In our opinion the grammar and writing preparation found in Shurley can’t be beaten. We also recommend purchasing the practice booklet as it saves time and hassle in the daily classification of sentences. The vocabulary madness books were too easy and just busy work, so we say skip those. If you aren’t using another reading curriculum, the literature selections are a great way to expose kids to prose and poetry at their grade level.

Curriculum Review: Saxon Math (Early Elementary Grades)

Concept: Saxon Math teaches basic math principles such as counting, skip counting, telling time, number writing, addition, subtraction, and slowly builds on these skills daily to teach higher level math concepts.

How It Works: There are 130 daily lessons with a written assessment every 5th lesson and an oral assessment every 10th lesson. Lessons take approximately 30 minutes a day and include daily meeting activities such as calendar and weather. Each lesson includes a worksheet with side A and B to reinforce skills taught. Lessons are completely scripted and the teachers manual gives you daily lists of items needed for each lesson.

How We Used It: Initially we followed the lesson plan, doing everything listed in a lesson. Very quickly we realized that the pace of these lessons was way too slow for us and so we stopped doing the side B of worksheets and eventually went to doing two lessons each day. Initially we just picked up at the next grade level because our kids used this when they were in school. We got smart and used the placement tests that can be found on the link above for our last child and he tested into Math 1 when he was 4.

Concerns: Overall this curriculum was much to slow-paced and repetitive for our kids. I definitely recommend using the placement tests and starting your child where they place according to those results.

Recommendation: Despite our concerns, we do recommend this curriculum. It gives a great basis for higher-level math and you can switch seamlessly to other more challenging materials (such as A Beka). If your child struggles with math concepts or just isn’t advanced in math, Saxon is a great choice that will get them where they need to be without a lot of tears and fighting. Plus, if our child is more advanced in math you can easily double up lessons and move at a faster pace to cover more material in a short time. If you will be using this curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade we definitely recommend buying a math manipulatives set. If you are starting this material above First Grade I would suggest that you probably don’t need the manipulatives.

Curriculum Review: Apologia Exploring Creation Series

Concept: Through the use of text, journaling notebooks, and lab activities, Apologia Exploring Creation Series exposes elementary-ages students to Astronomy, Zoology, Anatomy, Physics, and Botany.

How It Works: Textbook reading is broken up into easy to manage sections and lesson plans are laid out for two 60 minute lessons each week. Lessons include reading, lab activities, and notebooking pages to allow students deeper understanding of the given topic. In student notebooking journals, students have the opportunity to write down facts they have learned, illustrate topics, and make books displaying newfound knowledge. Lab activities help students apply book knowledge to practical activities.

How We Used It: We used these lessons across grade levels and specifically taught Astronomy, Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day (Zoology 2), and Anatomy & Physiology. We actually did three 60 minute lessons each week, covering the same materials the curriculum plans attempt to cover in two days a week. We found that the extra time was needed for the kids to do the activities. On a given day, we read the textbook and did 2-3 activities relating to what we read.

Concerns: The materials and notebooking journal can be too advanced for younger elementary kids. There are now junior notebooking journals available, which I think would help when teaching across grade levels with younger elementary students. Anatomy & Physiology was laid out somewhat differently than the others we used in the series, and we did not prefer its style.

Recommendation: I recommend the Apologia Exploring Creation Science Series by Jeannie Fullbright. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed learning science with these materials and it was fairly easy to teach across grade levels. If you choose to do the lessons only two days per week, allowing up to 90 minutes to complete the lesson would be necessary. I highly recommend purchasing the lab kits available from CBD.com. These kits have the needed supplies for lab activities, broken down by lesson, and even include general supplies like paper and colored pencils.

Curriculum Review: Horizons Phonics & Reading

Concept: Using workbooks and readers, Horizons Phonics and Reading teaches phonics-based reading and decoding skills, beginning with letter sounds and going through digraphs and diphthongs.

How It Works: Each day has an activity relating to a specific phonetic sound (individual letters or combination blend sounds). The child does a workbook page (front and back) and reads a story that goes with the phonetic sound they are learning. Every 10 lessons there are reviews and assessments over previously learned materials.

How We Used It: We started with this program for Middle Child in 1st grade. We were thrilled with the easy-to-use workbooks that allowed even younger children to work independently. When we realized that First Born was struggling with spelling and some reading skills in 3rd grade, we went back and did the 2nd grade level of Horizons Phonics and Reading. Going through the 2nd grade course dramatically improved First Born’s reading and spelling abilities. Little Man will get the full benefit of the Horizons program as he is starting with the Kindergarten level after completing Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

Recommendation: Yes, we recommend Horizons Phonics & Reading. This curriculum gives a great background for phonics, especially blends, digraphs, and diphthongs, which really help unlock higher-level reading and spelling skills. At the end of the second grade  level our kids could read at well above second grade reading level.

Curriculum Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Concept: Using 100 simple lessons that require approximately 20 minutes a day you can teach your child to read and understand what they have read. This is a direct instruction method based on phonics and a phonetic alphabet.

How We Used It: I followed the script outlined in each lesson, saying word-for-word the teaching each lesson set out. While we continued reading books to our children, the child was not asked to do any reading beyond what was set out in each lesson (no reading books to themselves or us). We did one lesson per day for 100 school days, taking breaks for weekends, holidays, and school vacations.

We used this book for all three of our children. Two of them responded wonderfully and have learned to read using the methods outlined in 100 Easy Lessons. First Born and Little Man both used this method exclusively for learning to read and by the end of the 100 outlined lessons both could read and answer questions for Kindergarten and early 1st Grade level books (many of which are listed in the Now What? section of 100 Easy Lessons). First Born went through the book when she was 3. Little Man did it during his Pre-K year (ages 4-5). Our Middle Child, always wanting to be different, did not respond well at all to the lessons in 100 Easy Lessons. We tried it when she was 3 and she just wasn’t ready. We pulled it out again at four and she fought us every step of the way until we finally gave up using this with her. About 2 weeks after we stopped, Middle Child picked up a book and began reading. I still really have no idea how she actually learned to read!

Concerns: Because this material uses a phonetic alphabet to explain sounds, some children can have trouble transitioning from the phonetic alphabet to reading actual books. 100 Easy Lessons works from lesson 75 on to help with this transition, but I have noticed that wasn’t always as smooth as the book would like to you think. The writing lessons also assumes fine motor skills for a 5-6 year old. If you are using this book with younger children you may need to adjust your expectations of their ability to form letters.

Recommendation: Yes, we recommend this book as a great way to teach your child to read. While it won’t work for every child, (I have yet to find any magic curriculum that does) it is a good program with proven success. Pairing it with other phonics-based reading materials, such as Horizons Reading & Phonics Grades K-2, will also help to continue building reading skills.

TIP: If your child just isn’t “getting it”, put the book away for a few weeks or even months, especially if they are young. Learning to read is a process and if your child isn’t ready for it no materials or curriculum will change that. Wait a while and try again. Based on our family’s results, you will likely have success using this program.

Curriculum Review

I get a lot of questions about what curriculum we use, what we like, how we decided on what we use, and a plethora of other questions about curriculum. I am going to take some time over the next few weeks to give you honest reviews of curriculum we have used, some we liked and some we didn’t. I have not received any compensation for my reviews. I have purchased all products myself for use in our home school or they were handed down to me by trusted friends who wanted to share curriculum.While no one can predict what materials will work well for you home school situation and your children better than you, having reviews from others who have used products can help make decisions easier, especially for new home schoolers, or those changing grades or curriculum.

Product Review: Woolzies Dryer Balls

Recently I was provided with Woolzies Dryer Balls and asked to use and then review them. These balls are 100% wool and designed to be used in the dryer as a natural fabric softener. The site says that they will last for 100s of loads and reduce drying time by 25%. Of these benefits I was most interested in the natural fabric softener part. Because we line dry most of our laundry things often have a “crispy” texture. We generally throw things in the dryer for 10-20 minutes to fluff the clothes.

Upon using Woolzies I noticed that the laundry was much softer. I would definitely recommend these dryer balls as natural fabric softener, especially for line-dried laundry. This was a great solution. Not only did the clothes get softer, but we also noted that it took only 5-10 minutes to fluff instead of the usual 10-20.

For the purpose of this review, I dried several loads of laundry straight from the washer. Loads generally consisted of 5-8 beach towels, sheets, or jeans and pants. Things dried in 45 minutes on high heat, which is a time savings of about 25%, which is what Woolzies advertises.

Overall I am pleased with Woolzies and would recommend using them, especially as a fabric softener to those who line-dry clothes.