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20 March 2018

Zirrly Super Beads {Crew Review}

Super Beads from Zirrly are an alternative to traditional purler beads: it's the same idea, but instead of ironing, you just spray them with water to fuse them together. We were given their Mega Pack for this review, and the kids were super excited when it came in the mail; I'm not sure that I've ever had so many "when will it get here" questions the whole time we've been with the crew!

The kit came with a nice big bag of beads, plus a couple of small additions they included. Because the beads fit snugly on the pegboards, they've included a little tool, which is helpful both in getting individual beads off as you build, and it's also very helpful when you have a completed project that's ready to remove from the board.

The kits come with 4 boards, which are about the same size as boards we've had from other fuse beads sets we've bought, but these have a cool feature that none of the others did: they are interlocking. So with the one set, you can build projects in small, medium, or large sizes.

The boards are clear, which means that you can slide one of the templates they've included in the kit into the back -they're designed to fit snugly, and won't move out of alignment or fall out very easily at all, and they're cute designs. The only weird thing was they sent us a whole bunch of copies of the same designs in the kit; sometimes more copies than what we even have boards. So my first impression was, "Cool! Look at all these designs they've sent us," but that quickly deflated to, "Oh. It's just the same for ideas over and over again."

 The designs are easy to use, though: you just snap them into the back of the board. They fit firmly, so there's no frustration about starting and having things slip. Miss Kitty(5) loves this kind of craft, and it was no problem at all for her to do it completely independently once she'd been showed how things work with these new kind of beads.

The fusing process ought to be simple... but it's not. For younger kids, it's still an adult help moment in the project because you have to have enough water to get them wet -- but not so much water that they over melt. It took a couple of tries for us to get the balance right; it's pretty easy to get more water than you think collecting down at the bottom of the tray as it runs down the beads, and we found that the hour the instructions say to let the project sit is pretty optimistic. In reality, we had to  let them sit all afternoon or overnight.

They're weirdly flexible when you first take them off the trays. Hero(11) made himself a "volt meter" and you can see how it moved as I was taking it off the tray for him. (He could have done that himself, but I wanted the picture, so he let me do it.) This flexibility is a feature that the kids played with some; Dragon(7) made a bow and pretended to shoot arrows until the bow broke. We were able to put it back on the tray and mend it... kind of. It was a cool idea, but the beads just didn't bond together strongly enough for that kind of thing. The projects stay flexible for a while, and gradually stiffen. The one Miss Kitty gave me sat on my desk for a couple of weeks, and by the end of the review period has almost completely stiffened. But the flexibility is cool while it lasts, and really these are more process-oriented crafts (the building is the fun part) than product-oriented crafts for my kids, so the change in stiffness really didn't affect anything.

Another problem we ran into is that the beads never "set": there's no process for finishing them, so they're always very vulnerable to water. The bow that Dragon made got set next to the sink and forgotten, which is not an unusual thing to happen to toys at our house, and it got quite icky. We had one bead fall into a glass of water, and nobody noticed it for quite a while, and it had melted completely into a little pile of goo. The fact that they melt in water and the instructions say to wash after using them makes me wonder what kind of crazy chemicals they're made out of, and what precisely "non-toxic" means. I was uncomfortable with this aspect, and wished that they had included more information about what they're made from in the package insert. I don't like that there's no way to "set" the beads so they hold their shape. Miss Kitty loved heat-fused purlers at only two years old, but I don't know that I'd let someone that young have these. Also, one day we had the bowl I put them in sitting on the counter, and a glass of water was spilled near them. It was a close call: had it spilled into the bowl, most of them would have been ruined, and it made me aware of how easy it would be to ruin the whole set. Craft time has always been a time that I encourage the kids to drink some water, but these are just so sensitive to moisture. Makes me wonder how they will handle the "drink your air" humidity we get in the summer around here. I don't know what would happen if they got wet while touching a piece of fabric like a sweatshirt or if they got spilled on while they were on carpet, but I don't think it would be good.

Most of the beads had a hole that went clear through them, but we noticed that several were like this, with the hole improperly formed. Depending what side it was, it could affect the way that they set on the pegboards. It didn't bother me in a set that we got for free, but there were enough defective ones in our bag that I would have been a little miffed if I'd spent money on them.

The Mega Pack description gives several advantages over traditional heat fused purler beads, but I'm not sure that I agree with them on all points. Their claims are bolded; my comments come after. 

  • No More Hot Ironing - This is true.
  • No More Annoying Gluing - We have never glued fuse beads of any sort, so this has no impact. And the value claim "annoying" bugs me; we glue all the time on the miniatures we build; in fact, the building -gluing- is my husband's favorite part of building and painting his favorite art projects. So I don't think that, if we did do a project that was elaborate enough to need glue, that the glue would be "annoying".
  • Super Beads Fit Snugly Onto Board - This was really nice. Bumping trays is no big deal, rather than catastrophic.
  • Simply Spray With Water and the Super Beads Fuse Together - This is true as far as it goes, but you can't set them, and if you get them too wet they're both destroyed and gross.
  • Completed Designs Are Flexible and Won’t Crack - Yes. For a while. But then they stiffen.
  • Fun, Educational and Creative Fun For All Ages - If your child is past needing fine motor practice, calling these educational is a stretch. They are a kid craft, and do not make projects that are nice enough to save indefinitely.
  • Safe and Non-Toxic - I'd like to know more about what makes them melt. The fact that they do melt, and that the instructions say to wash after handling them makes it very hard to completely trust this claim.

What the kids say:

Miss Kitty: They're very good and I like them because they're very good. They're a little like purler beads, but they're not; you don't iron them, you actually spray them. I liked them because I noticed something: that they're very very fun.

Dragon: I think that they're nice, except for one fact: they need water to dry and solidify. I enjoy them. It was rather surprising that they were actually flexible! I did have one project that I accidentally ruined.

Hero: I think that they're nice in their own way, being that they need water, and it's less messy so you don't melt the boards with the iron, but the drawback to that is that they seem like they're a little more fragile. But, they're good in their own way.

Though we had them available with our other craft supplies during the 6 week review period, after the initial excitement wore off they didn't go back to them, but the kids say they like them -- however my husband hates them, and I don't love them. I'd definitely prefer dealing with the ironing to dealing with the mess of beads melting on my bathroom counter; that cleaned up easily, but it was yucky. Ironing is not so bad. Hero nailed it: these are surprisingly fragile, which is not a great feature in a kid craft. The fact that they can't be set means that as they float around my house they're an icky mess just waiting to happen: spills are a normal part of having kids. Toys that can't ever handle even small spills without making a big mess are a problem.

The Crew was offered a number of different super bead kits, and you can check out what they had and how it worked for them by clicking on the banner below:

19 March 2018

A Civil War Foldout for our Book of Centuries {Crew Review}

I was excited when I looked through the Á La Carte products from Home School in the Woods for review this time and realized that The War Between the States Timline was included in the wide range of products that they offered crew members: Hero(11) is just starting to study the Civil War era, and I wanted to include it in our Book of Centuries as a foldout. They have a whole collection of timelines available, but this one is just perfect for where we're at.

There's so much going on in the war, and in the events both before and after, that I think that it'll be good to have a special fold-out, which will leave room for other world events from that time on the main pages of our timelines. We don't have a lot of wall space, so our timelines have always been in binders. This has a number of advantages, including that they last really well, and so we can accumulate a lot of the different things we read about into the timeline over years of reading, so I was excited to have a space-efficient way to include a lot of information about this important period of American history.

16 March 2018

This Week: Garden Planning and More

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

I'm excited: Once upon a time, I used to participate in the Daring Bakers cooking challenges, but I struggled to keep up and dropped out after a while: it was too hard to be consistent. When I finally felt ready to try again, they had finished. And I haven't found a different baking challenge -- until now. King Arthur Flour is hosting one. And they're doing Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves. I'll need to find the fancy cheese, but otherwise, it's ingredients that I've got on hand. However, it's a method that I've never tried before, so that ought to be fun to do.

06 March 2018

CursiveLogic and Art of Cursive {Crew Review}

For this review, CursiveLogic was kind enough to send us their CursiveLogic Quick-Start Pack, which has two parts: a student workbook and a webinar, as well as The Art of Cursive, which is an adult coloring book. The student workbook is designed for teaching someone who is new to cursive. The adult coloring book is an abbreviated course for adult learners or students with some cursive experience, with a very clever system of working the necessary practice into  lovely coloring sheets.

05 March 2018

Magic Stix Washable Markers {Crew Review}

For this review we received a 24 pack of Magic Stix Washable Markers from The Pencil Grip, Inc. These markers are unusual because you can leave them uncapped for days, and they won't dry out. They come in a lovely selection of bright, beautiful colors, with a tough plastic "briefcase" carrier.

We've previously reviewed a set of 12 Magic Stix markers, and when we did that, I deliberately left one of the markers uncapped for hours while we were out, and it wrote just fine. It still does; at this point the kids have mixed the two sets of markers and I'm not confident that I could say which brown marker came with what set: both of them work very well. Considering that one of these markers was left out for hours with no cap, and that you can't tell the marker that's six weeks old from the one that's three months old, I'm pretty happy with the way that they color and the way that they've held up over time.

04 March 2018

Reading Scripture Closely

Reading scripture closely: using sentence diagrams to clearly understand the meaning of a passage.

The more time I spend studying the scriptures, the more that I am convinced that there is great benefit and clarity in taking time to read it carefully and closely. The more exactly that our understanding of the gospel aligns with what our Father in Heaven is actually trying to teach, the better off we are. Sloppy thinking leads to sloppy conclusions, and this becomes particularly problematic in gospel contexts. He has given us the power of reason, and expects us to develop the ability to think logically, carefully, and thoroughly, in order to detect fallacious ideas and doctrines: this is one of the ways we can try to avoid being taken in when the doctrines of men are mixed with scripture and passed off as Truth.

01 March 2018

Watching the Eagles' Nest Cam

It feels like it's been such a long winter, but it's finally getting to be Spring again; hurray!! One of the early signs of Spring is that the nest cams start to be available, and we are big fans, particularly since getting outside has been happening... but not not consistently yet. Winter can be done any time.

27 February 2018

Drive Thru History: Bible History {Crew Review}

When we had the opportunity to review Drive Thru History Adventures, my first questions were about theological compatibility, as these are, I believe, Protestant-made materials. I was pleased to find that the Bible History Adventures materials draw on the shared Christian tradition, and that the theological variances between Protestants and Mormons are not an issue in any of the lessons we have done thus far. We have really enjoyed learning about the life of Christ, and the history and geography that relates to His ministry in the Holy Land.  Drive Thru History Adventures also has an Ancient History and an American History course (other Crew members are checking those out). But we've been quite enjoying the Bible History course.


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