TOS Sweet Critique: ALEKS


What:  Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces {ALEKS}

Cost:  1 Student – $19.95/month, $99.95/six months, $179.95/12 months OR the Family Discount Program for multiple students

Recommended Ages:  Grades 3-12 and up


What is ALEKS?


ALEKS, in a nutshell, is a browser-based math learning and assessment tool.  After administering a quiz to assess the student’s math knowledge, ALEKS teaches lessons that the student still needs to master, while reinforcing what has already been learned.  The goal is to move toward mastery of each topic.

What makes ALEKS stand out is it’s use of “adaptive questioning”, which means it quickly determines what a student does and does not know to tailor lessons to that student.  This helps avoid repetitive learning {which can bore a student} while also ensuring topics are being mastered.

Our Thoughts


I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated about ALEKS at first…  It’s not like other browser-based math lessons you generally find, which have colorful characters, music, etc.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t just as good, though.

After I sat down and went through the master account, I understood how to use the program more and quickly discerned it was easy to use and rather spot-on with determining what Babydoll needed to learn.

ALEKS Master Account

When your student first enters ALEKS, they are asked to take an assessment {not multiple choice} that helps the system determine “where they are” in math.  They can type in their answer or choose an option that states the current question is something they haven’t learned yet.

I went through an assessment and answered some and skipped some saying I hadn’t learned the stuff yet and I saw the assessment quickly change to accommodate that.  I think this is very helpful for self-conscious students who might feel bad after selecting “I didn’t learn this” so many times.

Once the assessment is finished, the student is presented with their “pie”, a graphical representation of what they know well and what they will be learning.


From here, the student can click on lessons and start learning!  Once you get over the fear of how “official” looking ALEKS is, I think it is a really good and comprehensive program to teach math.  I really like how it adapts to the student; that’s a total win!

What Do Others Think?


See what other members of the TOS crew think about ALEKS by clicking here.


True Confessions:  I was provided with access to ALEKS in order to facilitate my review.  All opinions are my own.

TOS Sweet Critique: Math Rider

Math Rider Collage

Math RiderWhat:  Math Rider

Cost:  $37 until February 15th, after that, $47

Recommended Ages:  6 to 12, or grades 2 to 6


What is Math Rider?


Math Rider is a computer game designed to teach children four math operations:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  The software is built to reward progress and ultimately help children develop mastery of each operation with numbers one through 12.

Each player lives in the Land of Ray and rides a horse named Shadow.  His or her mother is sick, and so he or she has been sent {by the doctor} to The Mathlands to find the mysterious Pythagoras flower to help her.  Playing through math quests, the player advances across the map to find the flower.

Our Thoughts


I think Math Rider is a fun way to encourage mastery of math facts in your child.  The game play is easy for children to grasp, the maneuverability is easy, and they are rewarded for making progress, not for perfection.

In addition, the game intuitively determines your child’s speed and knowledge and adjusts ride speed and questions based on this.  It is easy to track progress, see where you are on the map, and view the facts that you need a bit more practice with.

One thing I wasn’t too fond of was the fact that while the math problem is on the bottom right of the screen, the answer box is on the bottom left.  This doesn’t really affect game play, but if you have a visual child who needs to see the answer as they type it {or if you’re like me and thought you typed it but aren’t sure}, they’ll have to do a lot of glancing back and forth.  A big deal?  No, but something I thought I’d mention nonetheless.

I also want to point out how great a value I think this game is.  We love video games in this house, so I know a thing or two about games and pricing.  We’ve tried {or are currently using} several different games to enforce learning in a variety of subjects.  Most are monthly subscriptions, which can add up and are rather expensive when you add it over a year’s time.

At only $47 {a one time cost}, you have access to Math Rider for up to eight children.  That’s an amazing deal for a game that covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division through mastery.  Love it!!

Here are a few screen captures of the game:

What Did Others Think?


To find out what other TOS Reviewers though, visit this link!

True Confessions:  We were provided with Math Rider software in order to facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own.

TOS Sweet Critique: Celestial Almanack


Celestial AlmanackWhat: Celestial Almanack

Cost:  $3.00

Recommended Ages:  Middle School and up/Parents


What is the Celestial Almanack?


Celestial Almanack is an illustrated guide to the sky!  Complete with guides for both the daytime and nighttime sky, as well as information about “special” events of the month {Leap Year, Groundhog Day, etc.}, this guide extensively covers planets, stars, everything that’s going on up there.

Our Thoughts


I think most kids find the stars and planets fascinating, even more so when they know what they’re looking at.  For this reason, I think the Celestial Almanack is a great thing for every family to have!  It’s always fun to head outside {especially when it’s cold and you can have hot chocolate…} and take a gander up in the sky.  Quality family time!

The Almanack points out a variety of nuances happening in the sky this month, and provides great illustrations to help you digest it all.  There are 21 pages in this months Almanack, and with the wealth of information contained, it’s well worth the $3 price tag.

A few of our favorite things:

The chart of moon phases

The daytime sky

The nighttime sky

One thing that I’d like to note for those who are not strictly Christian homeschoolers is that this product does have a fair bit of religious information contained inside.  I personally found it easy to simply leave this information out, and think with the amount of other information in the product that it is still a great thing to purchase!

With a new Almanack coming out each month, I think this would be a fun thing to use to start a family tradition of stargazing!

What Did Others Think?


You can find out what other homeschoolers thought here.

True Confessions:  I was provided with a copy of the Celestial Almanack to help facilitate my review.  All opinions stated are my own.

Sweet Critique: Princess Recovery

Princess RecoveryWhen I first got the review copy of Princess Recovery:  A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters, I was excited because it was pink and sparkly {like, it actually shimmers}. I can’t help it, I love pink and I love sparkles and glitter and girly stuff.

With that said, I also believe strongly that females should be able to stand on their own two feet as independent, hard-working, functional individuals.  Whoa, that’s a loaded statement isn’t it?

For the most part, I’m not heavily slanted to one side or the other on this issue.  I am a very strong-willed and independent person {having been raised by a single mother} who feels strongly that women have not gotten enough credit throughout history, but I also enjoy having a husband that goes out and makes the money for the household and whom I can throw burdens on if I need to.  For the record, I know it sounds like I just use him for money and stress relief, but I really do love him tons!

So, after the “Oooooo” of the pink and sparkly wore off, I thought that the concept of this book was fascinating and I couldn’t wait to dig in.

My Favorite Part of the Book


Right off the bat I found my favorite part of the book.  Inside the front sleeve is a section entitled Who Will Your Daughter Be.  You know, I’d like to think that all of us would pick “The Heroine” for our daughters, but sadly, at least some would pick “The Princess”.

I want Babydoll to:

  • appreciate her inner AND outer beauty
  • help herself – and others
  • work hard to earn her successes
  • maintain healthy relationships with everyone she loves
  • believe in a bright future she’s imagined for herself
  • define herself by her own standards and moral compass
  • expect the best of herself – and treat others with compassion

I don’t want her to think her looks are most important, romance will fix a relationship, that marriage is an end-all, be-all, or that she is entitled to the best at the expense of others.  That was one powerful little section.

My Second, Almost Equally, Favorite Part


I was a little worried that this book would be a bunch of babble about how girls can’t like pink or dress up or balls or other girly stuff, and I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that is not at all what Hartstein is endorsing.  In the back of the book she has two sections, Children’s Books for Heroines and Healthy Princess Play Ideas.

We love books in this house, so a section that outlines books such as The Daring Book for Girls and Watch Out for Clever Women! was great to see.  And Babydoll loves to play dress up and have tea parties and go to balls, so I like the fact that Hartstein points out things such as designing a dress, having a real tea party, and learning to dance as great add-ons/alternatives to these activities.

The Book as a Whole


In it’s entirety, I think Princess Recovery is a must for any mother of girls.  Hartstein provides practical action items for a variety of age groups to help you teach your daughters how to become heroines that appreciate themselves as a person and what their talents and abilities are, rather than a pretty object.

The book is not heavy on complete avoidance of girly stuff, but celebrates the fact that girls can be multifaceted and love being girly as well as going out and getting dirty.

I definitely recommend it!

True Confessions:  I was provided with a review copy of this book to facilitate my review.  All opinions are my own.

Making Dinner Special with Bertolli


Bertolli Meal Soup

We’ve talked several times on Sweet Phenomena about the need for easy weeknight meals.  Y’all know that during soccer season it’s killer around here!  Some days, if we’re really busy, we eat out for every meal…  *gasp*  Hey, I’m just keeping it real.  When you’re sick of eating out, you know there’s a problem…

I’ve found several ways to help us out, but I’m always open to more.  I do love meals at home after all!

We recently checked out Bertolli’s new product, Bertolli Meal Soups.  The idea behind this product is to provide a hearty, easy, and delicious meal for two in just minutes.  Will it fit the bill?

Which Soup Did We Choose?


Tomato Florentine & Tortellini with Chicken Bertolli Meal SoupWe tried the Tomato Florentine and Tortellini with Chicken soup.  I have to tell you, this thing was good.  And, I’m not a soup person.  At all.  I swear, it is really difficult to tell this is a frozen meal.

What I really loved about this soup is that it had a nice kick to it, a bit of spice.  I can’t stand getting bland frozen food.  This touched all the right taste buds.  I also appreciated the fact that the pasta was not soggy or hard or weird.  Perfect!

The soup looks like the picture below, straight out of the bag. All you have to do is pour in some water, bring it to a boil, and then simmer for five minutes. That’s. It.

While that was coming to a boil, we heated the oven for some roasted garlic bread.  We bought it premade, but that’s just how I roll when we’re in a hurry.  You could easily make your own.  We also had some applesauce.

We decided that a good end to our meal was some angel food cake with fresh sliced strawberries.  After the bread was going, Babydoll sliced the strawberries and we were good to go!

How Long Did Dinner Take?


Fifty minutes.  That’s it.  To heat the soup, the bread, prepare strawberries, dish it up, everything.

We decided to use some of the pottery we painted not too long ago.  That was fun!

This was a lot of fun for Babydoll and I.  We picked a few fun items that we don’t normally have with dinner and worked together to put dinner on the table.  Cooking with your kids is priceless!

I recommend checking out the Bertolli Meal Soups for a quick and filling lunch or a quick dinner.

You can find Bertolli on the web, Twitter, and Facebook!

True Confessions:  I was compensated for my participation in this challenge.  I really did like the soup and the time I spent with Babydoll!