Friday, August 31, 2012

Improving Reading, Spelling and Comprehension with Reading Kingdom

I am super grateful that Levi – thanks to several great products that we’ve reviewed in the past year and a half – has pretty much learned how to read by himself.  I am convinced that God knew I needed this quality in Levi (as well as the products that we reviewed which helped him), because during the years when Levi was ripe and asking to read, I was a bit distracted by some of Luke’s vision and reading struggles.

Levi isn’t an independent reader by any stretch yet – he still needs some instruction and help.  That’s why I’m really grateful to review Reading Kingdom right now, because it is supplementing some key skills that Levi needs to acquire to be an independent reader.

Here’s a brief summary of the purpose of Reading Kingdom from their website:
Our commitment to online reading for kids is based on our patented six skills method for reading success. These skills include sequencing, motor skills, phonics (phonemic awareness), meaning, grammar and reading comprehension. Our online reading for kids program is ideal for preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, special education, homeschool, and English as a second language. The Reading Kingdom online reading for kids program is an ideal supplement to existing curricula, as well an excellent independent curriculum. Our online reading for kids program is also a great educational alternative to other entertainment options. In fact, most children refer to the Reading Kingdom as a reading game, since it is so fun to play.  (emphasis mine)

Reading Kingdom is available as a monthly subscription ($19.99/ month for your first student) or for $199.99 for an annual subscription.  This is a one license account, but you can add more readers for a reduced rate.  To view subscription rates, click over to the Reading Kingdom site.  You can also try Reading Kingdom for free for 30 days to see if it will be a good fit for your student.

I really appreciate that Reading Kingdom makes no assumptions about a student's skill set – even to the point of making no assumptions about keyboarding skills.  When Luke was younger, I used a popular program that had been converted to an on-line reading/spelling program, and was horribly disappointed that many of the mistakes my son was having counted against him were more related to his typing/ keyboarding skills than his actual decoding and spelling skills.  With Reading Kingdom, each child is taken through an assessment of their keyboarding, sequencing, reading, spelling and other skills to see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
The goal of the program is to supplement or teach a child the skills s/he needs to get to a 3rd grade reading and writing level.   It is designed for kids from ages 4-10 – those who are beginning readers to those who are accelerated in their skills.  Your child will need a computer (of course), a mouse, one of the popular web browsers that can run Flash Player (you’ll need that, too – but it is free).  I let Levi use a headset to help make sure he can hear the words spoken to him, but as long as the room is reasonably quiet, you won’t need a headset.

It is best if you can schedule Reading Kingdom at least 4 days a week.  Sessions last about 10-15 minutes.  Usually, I require Levi to work through one or two a day.

My recommendations and thoughts:  Setting up the program is easy.  Levi and I share the same sign-in information, which makes retrieving his performance easy once he is finished with his work.  His progress and performance is rated using these cute symbols:


I’m used to getting numerical data about the boy’s performance, and although I’m not getting that, I do appreciate that I can click on a couple headings and find out how well my son is doing with specific targeted vocabulary.  Here’s how he did with the reading and spelling tasks for the word “bird”:

I totally love Reading Kingdom. Levi loves Reading Kingdom.  However, he did get tired of the initial assessment, which we had to complete over several days (he thought it was boring).  Once that was over, though, he has been in heaven.  “Mom"! I hear almost daily, “Look at this!” Today, there were pig shaped balloons at the end of his lesson to show his progress.  I’m so grateful that these little things are encouraging to him!

I cannot think of anything negative about Reading Kingdom.  It is a well executed program that is definitely helping Levi learn.

Like to read what other homeschool-mom-bloggers think?  Please click over to the TOS Crew blog to get some other opinions about Reading Kingdom (click on graphic below):


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a one year subscription to Reading Kingdom, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shakin’ up our Chore Chart for the Year! {Review}


I jumped at the change to use Everyday Homemaking’s Family Chore System ($19.99 as a glossy coil-bound book; $17.99 for the downloadable e-book) to revitalize our “family blessing” (aka: chores) program this year.  The system I set up a few years ago has worked fine, but we need to get some variety and expand on responsibilities now that I’ve got 13-10-7 in the house (well, the 10 and 7 will be here soon enough).

The  book is divided into three parts (from the table of contents): 
  • Part One: Laying a Foundation - Child training is the first step to successful home management training.
  • Part Two: Implementing the Plan - Teach them HOW to work; Motivate them to succeed
  • Part Three: The Actual Chore System

In the first part, Ms. Bentley asks that you think ahead to when your children leave your home.  What do you want them to be?  By looking ahead and then moving backwards, you can develop a plan for what specific  skills you want to impart on your children.  I love that she includes reminders to think about age-appropriate expectations and standards – but always train and teach in love.

The second part is designed to help you think about what needs to be done daily and periodically in your week and consider the developmental skills of your children (she has a great comprehensive chart to help you look at what a 10 year or or 6 year or 3 year old should be able to do).  She also believes in rotating jobs on a monthly basis so that your children are learning a variety of skills – but also so that no one is “stuck” with a perceived horrible chore.

The third section of the book includes suggestions on how to actually build a chore system.  Foam core board and clothes pins play a big part.  Here’s a peek at our board:


Not shown are job cards, which explain step-by-step processes to clean and manage different chores.  I really liked this part!  I’ve never created such a detailed set of instructions for our chores and can see now that it was really missing in my training.  Mrs. Bentley explains that there is mentoring and training that needs to go on with these cards – it is a process and mind-set that you are training so it will take patience and time.

How this worked for us:  I really love the idea behind this.  It expands on our previous chore chart system that we’ve used for the past few years.  Now that Levi is almost (!) 7, I had wanted to introduce more variety into our chore system.  Ms. Bentley’s ideas have been so helpful for me to re-evaluated our chore system, and I’ve been able to adapt her system to fit our needs.

My biggest need is continuing to train the boys to take care of their own possessions.  This means that they need to keep their room picked up. I had adapted the idea of dividing their room up into “zones” so they would pick up area each day.  I wanted to keep this system going, so I added it into our new system.

You can see on this picture to the right that below each day is one of the zones for the boys’ roDSCN1215oms.  Monday, for example, is the day to pick up laundry, toys, and whatever else might have found it’s way into their closets.  Tuesday is  under bed day and Wednesday is desk (for Ben) and toy chest (for Luke and Levi) day.

On the left side of the days is the Everyday Family Chore System inspired rotation.  Since I’ve already got the boys trained to do their own laundry, I wanted to continue that pattern.  On one of the boys’ laundry days, the other two will rotate the two chores.  On non-laundry days, the boys will rotate the three chores for a one-a-day family blessings.
On the bottom half of the chart are the boys’ daily responsibilities. These chores will rotate weekly, so each boy will have two dailies to manage – and one of them involves being my assistant:  assistant cook, assistant dishwasher and assistant table setter/ clearer.   I’m really excited to have an assistant – especially an assistant cook.  Ben has been doing a great job of cooking things like canned soup, eggs, macaroni and cheese.  With Boy Scouts, I know he’s done cooking of things like tacos and pancakes. But, I’d like to get him involved in cooking some other items – a few main dishes and sides.  Levi, on the other hand, is my main man when it comes to cookies and baking, but I’d like to begin to include him in more aspects of cooking and food handling.  And Luke?  Well, he’s my eater.  But, to be an eater you gotta cook!

My recommendations and thoughts: I really appreciated the thoroughness of this resource.  Most of my other attempts at setting up a chore system and been a-little-of-this and a-little-of-that. 

I want to warn you that this might not be a quick system to set up; it wasn’t for me. Because I’ve got a wide age-span of kids, I really needed to think and re-think how this would work.

I spent several nights looking at lists of what was age-appropriate for each boy, and trying to mesh that with a system that could rotate and meet each boys’ life skills needs. And, because I’ve done some decent training in laundry and room cleaning in the past, I needed to fold (no pun intended) what we currently do into a new system. It took another couple nights to figure out how to get room chores/ zones integrated into Mrs. Bentley’s system. Then I had to make it!

I feel like Ms. Bentley's system is something that can last longer and serve us as a family for a better purpose of not just getting stuff done, but of training in life skills.

As far as implementing this system with the boys, it is taking some time, but I expected this because it is a significant change from what we've been using for the past few years.  Even I am learning what boy does what job (I keep forgetting I have an assistant cook to employ!).  But, I know that the time we're investing in this will pay off in the end.  Patience, I just have to remind myself.

To see what others thought of this product – as well as Ms. Bentley’s Everyday Cooking (which some members of the Crew reviewed), please head on over to the Crew blog by clicking the banner below:


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Molly Crew, I received a free copy of the Family Chore System e-book, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Crew Review: Mr. Pipes & the British Hymn Makers

 Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers from Christian Liberty Press.
Author: Douglas Bond
Price: $8.79 for the PDF download, $9.89 for the book.
Intended audience:  7th – 10th grade (though as a read aloud, a much wider age range can be reached)
Mr. Pipes has a series of similar books!

Drew and Annie are stuck in England for their summer vacation.  They are not too thrilled about it, since the town they are living in is quite small and seems to be inhabited by only adults .  Exploring one day, the meet a Mr. Pipes, who happens to be an energetic, organist at the local church.  He invites the children to learn to fish with him, and thus begins their adventures learning about British hymn writers from the Reformation period:
My recommendations & thoughts:  We’ve used books similar to this to explore historical figures in the past, so my children are quite used to them.  The children Annie and Drew, Mr. Pipes and other characters from the town of Olney are fictitious, but the writers (men and women) about which they learn are real.  Having grown up in a church where we sang traditional hymns, I love learning the back story – the inspiration, events and struggles -- that inspired such beautiful poetry set to music.
For my guys, this book was a little too “school-y” for a summer read aloud and (now that I think about it) I should have searched out some examples of the hymns from each writer to help the boys make connections to the material we were reading.  I think that would have sparked more interest from my guys.  {I should insert here that our church offers up contemporary worship music to the Lord, sometimes with a traditional hymn writers’ words as the chorus or incorporated into the body of the song, so my kids sometimes don’t realize they are singing a traditional hymn – which can be a good thing and a bad thing simultaneously!}    Levi (6 yo) found the chapters to be too long to hold his interest, but Luke and Ben did fine with the average of 20+ pages/ chapter. 
Overall, however, I love including books like this into our home education.  The series of Mr. Pipes books would complement many different home school curriculum that cycles through all of history.
The PDF that you receive with the download has a clickable table of contents, which can take you to any chapter in the book easily.  I’m still not totally used to doing read -aloud with e-books, and for the small price differential, I would consider purchasing a hard copy of the book instead. 
To read what others have to say about Mr. Pipes:
Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this eBook, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Crew Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

We begin transitioning from summer to school on Monday the 20th, and although I haven’t finished purchasing one of Ben’s 8th grade classes nor have I registered him for one of his online classes……

…but I know what one of his high school classes will be: Apologia’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist Curriculum ($33.00).

Using the very readable best-selling book with the same name ($16.00) by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek as it’s spine, the curriculum complements to it’s namesake, yet expands on the topics with additional readings (contained in the book), study and thinking questions, charts, and “hooks” to make students really think about their faith, it’s veracity and reliability.

The book and workbook handle the big questions that we have all wrestled with during our lives and hard circumstances – Christians are no exception.  Each chapter of the study guide  helps the student to distill out the main points from the book (which is a fantastic book for mature teens up through adults), reason and express themselves (in writing, though I can also see this curriculum being used in a small group study setting), and help students not only own their faith, but defend it.  I appreciate the glossary at the end of the guide to help make sure everyone is understanding some of these terms in the same vein.

Oh, and for those black-and-white people like me:  there is an answer book (and answers to test questions)! You just have to log into Apologia's website, following directions in the student book.  These are free downloads. The curriculum guide is basically a workbook that your student completes (verbally or in writing).

Here’s a sample from the table of contents of the workbook/ study guide/ curriculum:

You can download a sample from the book and guide at Apologia’s website (it opens as a PDF file).

I had hoped to be able to read the book, summarize it with Ben, and walk through some of the discussion questions.  But, as a new 13-year-old, he is just not ready to handle the thinking in this book.  We’ve read through other apologetic books designed for kids so the idea of defending your faith isn’t new to him.  I found some of the questions quite challenging myself!  I definitely think this curriculum is a great tool to include in your home before you launch your children into the world.

I will add that this is a curriculum that I believe you will want to read (and maybe even complete) along with your child.  The chapters are heady (not impossible), and although the workbook summarizes the main points of each chapter, you will want to draw from the fount of information in the book.  As a matter of fact, I’d consider making sure that each of your children has his/her own copy of this book, and allow them to highlight, make notes, and own these resources.  Arming your child with his/ her own copy of the Bible and this apologetics course will – by God’s grace – launch your child well into and adulthood of love and service for Him.

To read what others thought of this offering from Apologia, please click on the icon below:


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a copy of both of these books, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Crew Review: Vocabulary Spelling City

This fall (well, in two weeks!) Ben starts 8th grade.  I cannot believe this – his last year until high school!  Aack!  This is going so fast!

As we finished last year and looked ahead to the fall now, I pin-pointed Vocabulary Spelling City as the tool I wanted Ben to use to finish off some upper level spelling skills.  He finished all but two handfuls of his spelling words from Spell to Write and Read (our main program for the past few years), and I’m ready for him to move on to something less parent-intensive (I’ve got two more kids to bring up through the program). 
Vocabulary Spelling City allows you to use previously created spelling lists (made by other parents, teachers and schools) or your own to quiz students on computer-generated games that help children to learn spelling as well as vocabulary development.  There are lists for grades k-12.  As the teacher with a paid account, you can pull-up your student’s record to see their progress.  You can assign lists and specific games/ tasks for the students to work on.  Your lists can be 2 words or 40 words.  There is a lot of flexibility here.

For this review, I was given a one-year, premium family subscription, which costs $29.99.   The premium membership gives you many helpful tools that the free membership does not have (click on the summary of benefits below and you’ll go straight to the webpage with even more information about a premium membership).

Capture 1
There are hundreds and hundreds of word lists available.  I was even able to find (with the help of Vocabulary Spelling City’s forums and search features) lists for Spell to Write and Read.  This means that even my little boys can use Vocabulary Spelling City in the fall as additional practice for their word lists. Do you use BJU or Abeka? You’ll find lists already entered here!

If you are an auditory-visual learner, you will love all the short videos that are used to answer FAQs and for training in how to get lists, create assignments, and use other features of this program.

My experience:  I’m grateful for all the helps available on Vocabulary Spelling City, because I needed several sessions to get a feel for where I was in the program and how to find lists, assign them and get moving on them.  Once your children’s names are entered and you’ve assigned lists, you can actually select specific games to target vocabulary and/or spelling skills:

Capture 1
You can save up to 10 of these games/ tasks as a reusable set for your children.  I picked activities that were appropriate to both Levi and Ben and saved those tasks with their name.

After playing them on one or two occasions, I realized they may not be totally appropriate, so I was able to change ‘em up and try again.  Like I said, LOTS of flexibility. {I will say that I am not at all impressed with WordFind, where the student is challenged to make up words using the letters of the target spelling word.  Many of the little words that Levi was asked to find were not grade-level appropriate and some were even texting terms, like “LOL". Plus, how is this helping my student learn to spell the target word?}

My recommendations & thoughts: I’m really happy to have this to use with Ben this coming year as his primary spelling program.  we need to tweak some of the activities I had originally picked out for him, but I’m confident we’ll come up with a decent plan for him.  Most of the games have an educational value to help a student learn spelling words.
For Luke and Levi, I plan on picking two or three activities each for them to work on independently during the school week.  I should note that if you use a program that stresses phonograms, Spelling City’s Teach Me game will frustrate you, as they use letter names to spell words out loud to the student.  I’ll probably ignore this activity and choose other tasks.
If you would like to learn what others thought about Vocabulary Spelling City, please click on the graphic below:


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Crew Review: Vocab Videos

I know this may be premature because our TOS 2012 Review Crew is not even half over, but my son has already labeled Vocab Videos his Most Favorite Crew Review Product of All Time.  And I am not exaggerating.

Quirky.  Irreverent.  Funny.  Smart.  Clever.  Hilarious.  This is how he would describe Vocab Videos.

From the website:
Vocab Videos uses hilarious professionally produced short videos to illustrate the meanings of 500 essential vocabulary words. The platform is a highly effective system for learning words that appear on tests like the ISEE, SAT, ACT, GRE & TOEFL. Each video includes a representation of the meaning of a word in a way you can relate to and understand. Vocab Videos will expand your vocabulary--and you'll have fun along the way.
Each lesson teaches 20 vocabulary words presented in a 10 minute or so episode. Each vocabulary word is pronounced and defined by a narrator.  The characters act out the word or show its meaning in a short scene.  When the scene is over, the word is redefined in the context of the scene.  I encourage you to visit the website to view Vocab Video Segments and Clips.

It is a great presentation of auditory and visual cues to help students “see” and experience SAT-level vocabulary. 

Here’s what the screen looks like when you are working through one of the videos:

The words being defined and used in the clip are below the screen (the video can pop-out to be a full screen movie) and when you are finished you can easily click on the additional learning tools (lower right side) to help your student practice using the words.

I usually have Ben download and print the crossword puzzle to help him practice knowing the definition more.  Then, a few days later, he takes an on-line quiz (you can download the quizzes and print them out).  So far, his quiz scores have been acceptable enough that I have not made him work through other learning tool activities:

Capture 2

Students can create digital worksheets by typing up to 3 sentences on a template and save it for use as a crib sheet or to make digital flashcards.  Here’s what the student ‘home’ page looks like:


The 20-question quizzes use typical multiple choice questions to test familiarity with the words and definitions.  There are two types of questions – one type asks the student to correctly insert one of the words into a sentence about the movie while the second type of question asks the student to match a short definition with the word.
The Teacher interface is very user friendly.  I can view each of my students’ activity to see what they’ve watched, when they watched it, and their quiz scores.  I can view which words he missed on quizzes and even print out the quiz with his answers.  I really appreciate the detail that Vocab Videos gives me about my student’s performance.

There is an optional workbook that is available for an additional cost.

My recommendations & thoughts: Ben absolutely loves this product.  It is definitely different from using “just” a written vocabulary workbook to improve skills.  Some of the videos have what I would consider PG ratings, mostly for language.  We have not viewed any videos in which I was concerned about compromising situations.  Given this, though, I do believe this is most appropriate for middle and high school level students.

It has been a couple years since we’ve used a vocabulary program – and those we’ve used in the past have been workbook-based.  This is a refreshing change and I know Ben will enjoy working through during this, his 8th grade year.

There are 25 videos to watch, each with 20 words, so you could easily work through this in a school year or less if you completed one video per week.  If I were to use the program this way, I would want to encourage Ben to do more with the words, such as writing sentences and reviewing them more – maybe with flashcards.

Student Accounts to Vocab Videos start at $24.99 for 6-months or $39.99 for 12-months.  If you have more than one student at a time who could use this, you can sign up for a teacher account.  That allows up to 20 students to use the program for $74.99 (this is what I received for this review).  You can sign up for a one-month free trial of Vocab Videos.

If you would like to see what other Crew Reviewers thought about this product, please click the box below:


Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a year long subscription to this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine

Monday, August 6, 2012

Multiplication Made Easy?! Um, Yes!

Please note: 
This product is no longer available from the website, unfortunately.  However, I decided not to remove it from my blog, because so many people on facebook have asked about ways to learn multiplication facts easily.  Although my youngest two have been in Classical Conversations for several years, learning skip counting has not been the best tool for them to grow independent in their recall.  This product (as well as Math U See's Gamma program) have been the single best resources we've used for learning multiplication facts.  The principles from Glenda Brown Jame's program are easy to replicate at home into manageable pieces, and the scissor-and-glue activities can be easy to replicate or alter for your child's needs and interests.

If you want to know the biggest asset to a prospective reviewer for Schoolhouse Review Crew must have it is flexibility.  Even if you are using a curriculum or program that you love, you might need to abandon it {temporarily} to try something new.  And that's what we have had to do with math this summer.  The opportunity to review Math Made Easy multiplication came up, and I could not say no.  So far (four weeks into a six week program), so good.

The author, Ms. Brown James, breaks multiplication into bite-sized pieces over the course of 6+ weeks.  Her home school program is reasonably priced at $24.95. This is designed for 3rd-4th graders.

How It Works:

First: Teach your child the "easy" facts using some tricks:
  • x 0 is always going to have an answer of 0.  
  • x 1 will always have an answer of the other factor
  • x10 will always add a zero to the other factor
  • x11 will always double the other factor in both the tens and ones places.
After introducing this idea, there are a few pages of worksheets to reinforce this idea, and you can collect the flashcards for these facts from the pre-scored sets of flashcards in the back of the book.

Second: Systematically teach the remaining 36 fact pairs (4x5 and 5x4 are mirrored pairs).  Your student is taught both of these facts at the same time.  At this point, you abandon memorizing fact sets (like all the x3's) and are teaching your child pre-determined sets of six facts.  For example, the first week Luke learned:
8x2     3x3     9x6     2x7     5x5     8x4

These facts are taught in a variety of ways:
  • Daily worksheets.  They are labeld with the days of the week to help you keep track of where you are.  I appreciate the variety of tasks on these worksheets:
  • Flashcards.   We use these daily and add in some from the previous weeks to keep it all fresh.  
  • End of week review: This looks like a traditional multiplication worksheet, aggregating all the facts your child has learned. 
  • Crafty learning tools: An apple which is supposed to reveal the product under the worm:

{It doesn't line up perfectly for all the facts;  I do wish this worked a little better.}
    A game:

And this thing, which I'm sure more crafty teachers figured out before I did.  I was really unsure what these three pieces were going to make: 
  1. Sets of six feathers (1 set for each week)

    3 Native Americans on a sheet of cardstock (1 for each week)
    Six of these branch-like things (with products on it)

    As I was cutting out the sets for week 2 (we didn't use this during week 1), I finally realized what Luke would be creating: 

I went ahead and penciled in the answer on the opposite side of the feather, so that Luke could check his work independently and use this a couple times before gluing it together on Friday. I don't think he'll want to color it in, but that would be a good option for craftier kids.

    My thoughts and recommendations:   The math programs we've used up to this point tend to take the approach of teaching kids the "why" behind math.  Here, the author does recommend that you teach kids that multiplication is fast adding and that 4x5 is four groups of 5 objects, but that is as far as it goes for "whys." There is one worksheet per week that asks the child to draw out 4 sets of 5 apples and then determine the total.  But at it's heart, this program is about memorizing 6 facts each week.

    This has been a great fit for us.  Luke already knew about 6 fact families before starting this, and to be honest, I was not looking forward to reviewing and starting up again in a few weeks.  What I love about it is:

    1.  Manageable number of facts to learn each week:  6
    2.  Variety of worksheets
    3.  Variety of facts to prevent over-reliance on skip counting (Luke was really good at skip counting x3 and it took a little while before they became solid facts for him).
    4.  All-in-one packet.
    5.  Reproduceable within your own family.

    I do wish the instructions for several of the learning tools were more clear and I do wish the apple lined up better!  Although the materials are on a cardstock (or even a coverstock weight paper), I think they could use a bit more professional layout so that student and teacher are not disappointed.

    Overall, I'm pleased with this program, and plan to keep working through all six weeks before we re-start our usual math program in the fall.  I'm hopeful that the hard work we are doing now will bear fruit in the fall, and we'll breeze through the remainder of his current math program (which is heavy on multiplication right now) and be ready to learn division soon.

    And, when Levi gets to this stage of math, you can bet that I'll pull out this resource and use it again.

    If you'd like to see how other families used this product, as well as Ms. Brown James' companion product, Addition Made Easy, please click on the banner below:


    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    2012-2013 Curricula - The Whole Enchilada Years Begin

    2012-2013 Curricula

    credit here
    This is our 9th official year of homeschooling.  From a previous blog post here, I'm calling these The Whole Enchilada Years because finally everyone is officially official in our state:  I've got an 8th grader, 4th grader and 1st grader!

    • History, Literature, Worldview, and Geography -  The highly anticipated Year 4 of Tapestry of Grace.  We have never studied the 20th and 21st centuries.  I put it off when Ben was in 4th grade for two reasons.  One, I just wasn't ready to begin the heavy, weighty material.  As much as he wanted to learn about World War II, I wasn't ready for hippies in the 60s, Vietnam, and the changing culture.  I know that TOG is pretty gentle about these topics in the grammar level, but I still wasn't wanting to go there yet. The second reason (and more influential) was that I had finally found a local homeschooler who had a same-aged daughter and we wanted to start a history group for accountability. 
    • Science
      • Ben - Exploring Creation with Physical Science.  We will not be meeting with others to do labs this year.  Just us.  
      • Luke and Levi are finally working through the earth science component from Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space.  Plus, we are working on critical thinking skills with Critical Thinking's  Developing Critical Thinking Through Science for now.  The boys really wanted to do a lot of science experiments (earth science lends itself to hands on activities, but not a whole lot of grammar level science experiments), so that is why the Critical Thinking Co.'s book. 
    • Bible  
    We are using Word of Life ministy's Quiet Time books. They have a student (teen) book, 3rd-4th grade book, and the adult book. Actually, I purchased them in the spring, and have the 2011-12 version of the books -- but they are not specific to any date.  Here's a picture of their grade 1-2 books:  
    • Grammar
      • Ben is using Fix-It by IEW.  I'm glad for this new approach.
      • Luke is giving Winston Grammar a try.
      • Levi is using Critical Thinking's Language Smarts B for something new. 
    • Writing
      • Ben:  He completed an intensive week reviewing IEW's Student Writing Intensive B the first week of school.  Now we will work through the Continuation Course B for the year. 
      • Luke and Levi are using WriteShop products this year.  I think it is going to be fun for them! They are also going to make lapbooks to summarize what they learn about history this year.
    • Math
      • We are a Math U See house.  Ben finishes Pre-Algebra, Luke finishes Gamma, and Levi finishes Alpha.  Then, they move on to the next book.Luke will use Math U See Beta and Gamma.
      • Levi will use Math U See Alpha.  
    • Language Arts
      • Luke and Levi use Spell to Write and Read for spelling again this year.
      • Ben is sharpening spelling with Vocabulary Spelling City.
      • Luke is using some books for reading comprehension.   
      • Levi is reading the Pathway Readers with me.  He's now in the 2nd grade book!  
    • Music
      • Ben is taking drum lessons; Luke is going to participate in the elementary band program.  Levi loves KinderBach.  Music history in the 1900s.   
      • The Portland Symphony Orchestra has a great children's program and I hope to take the boys to see them! 
    We are learning Spanish this year!

        If you'd like to see past years' choices you can click on this category title:
        Our Curriculum

    Crew Review: Create Better Writers

    I have to admit that my attempts to teach writing to Ben have not been horribly successful enjoyable. I’m afraid I’ve scared him – or scarred him – from writing.  During our annual reviews, my reviewer assures me that he’s doing grade level work, but I’m afraid she doesn’t know about the tears and  frustration (on both our parts) which precipitated the finished product.

    I’ve eagerly volunteered to review nearly every writing program that has approached our Schoolhouse Review Crew – I’m willing to look at anything that will make writing a little easier for Ben and will ease Luke into the writing process.  So let me introduce Create Better Writers

    They offer a number of home school curriculum to help decrease tears and fears of writing and increase success.                                                                      

    The creator of this program is a school teacher who was searching for The Perfect Writing  Program for his middle school students.  Unable to find it, he decided to create his own program.  You can read his interesting bio at the Create Better Writers site. 

    For this review, I received:

    How to Write a Paragraph, $7.99 (eBook only).


    How To Teach the Five Paragraph Essay sells for $17.95 (e-book only)


    Home School Writing Action Plan (e-book $15.95)

    You can get these products in sets, which definitely decreases the price.  Please look at the online store!

    Let’s look at the Home School Writing Action Plan first.  From the book:

    “What is the goal of this program?
    This program is designed to solve three major problems for the
    home school parent:
    1. To eliminate the need to spend a fortune on various
    writing curriculums.
    2. To make is easy to teach several different students in
    multiple grade levels using just one writing curriculum.
    3. To provide a blueprint for successful writing so that teaching it is no longer a
    difficult task. Unlike many home school language arts programs, this program
    offers a clear systematic approach for writing instruction. This book will be your
    blueprint for successful writing.”

    The Homes School Writing Action Plan gives you an overview of how David Dye’s system works.  The 54-page e-book guides you through his writing program, which starts with How to Write a Paragraph.  You can begin his program in 3rd or 4th grade, but he also has suggestions on how to begin in 6th grade or even high school.  Here’s the table of contents for the Action Plan:


    The e-book is divided into three parts.  The Summary is convenient for those of us who want to see the Big Picture first.  The Pacing guide gives suggestions on how much time to spend on each step in the program.  He makes suggestions on what to accomplish for the first semester and second semesters at each grade level, depending on if you start at 3rd grade, 6th grade, or 9th grade.  In it, he points you to his writing program.  The Road Map gives you implementation suggestions for each step along the way, and suggests writing prompts across the curriculum. 

    I think one of the strengths of this program is that you can use this methodology with any curriculum you are using. It is easy to integrate this techniques of this program into any content area you are learning about – science, history, geography, creative writing, you name it! And, when you purchase this program, you are purchasing a tool that will help you teach writing to all your students – even teaching different grade levels at the same time. 

    Here is a sample from one of Mr. Dye’s seminars he taught to give you an idea of how he teaches writing a paragraph:


    {I love his analogy with painting a house. Boy, is he right! We’ve had a couple painting projects where we needed a nap after the prep was done.}

    My recommendations & thoughts:

    I started using How to Teach the Paragraph in July with my rising 4th grader.  It really made sense to me, especially with him just starting out with writing.  We’ve done several paragraph writing exercises to summarize our history or science readings.  Luke and I have used writing webs before to brainstorm content for the paragraph, but we’ve never  talked about the main idea and topic sentence of a paragraph.  Since Luke needs to engage visual strategies to help him learn best, I appreciated how Mr. Dye incorporates some create visual cues and reminders to help students learn the parts of a paragraph:


    Using the Home School Lesson Plan, I also went ahead and adapted this for Ben because paragraphs are still hard for Ben.  He is a kid with a lot to say, but he just hates putting it down on paper (he’s been known to sit for a whole morning staring at a blank page).  He needs guides and boundaries to bring out his best writing.   After our lesson, he said the Mr. Dye didn’t really incorporate anything new that he didn’t know about writing paragraphs from other programs we’ve used. 

    Mr. Dye uses (what I would consider) traditional writing prompts to help his students practice the steps of his program.  For example, he suggests giving kids broad topics and having them write down one main idea, and then practice writing a topic sentence for a paragraph.  Ben does not like these sort of prompts at. all.  He finds them a waste of time.  However, had we been in the middle of a school topic (we’ll have lots of great topics to write about in the fall),  I think Ben would’ve been more receptive to this sort of practice exercise.

    One thing to note:  This isn’t a lesson plan….it is a guide which takes you incrementally through his program to help you teach your children how to write.  If you are looking for a day-by-day lesson plan, you will be disappointed.  Personally, I do not consider this a strike against the program – I just want you to be aware of what you are considering.

    Would I consider purchasing this product to help teach writing?  Yes, I would.  I appreciate that Mr. Dye has incorporated some unique visual strategies to help visual learners understand the basic elements of a paragraph.  I know it will be very helpful to Luke as we learn this year.  I will definitely use his strategies as I try to be more intentional about integrating writing into our content subjects and as we practice writing paragraph summaries of history and science topics.

    I’d encourage you to visit the rest of the Schoolhouse Crew (click link below) to read what they thought:


    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the three products mentioned above, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    So, You Want to Be in a Co-op

    The Schoolhouse Review Crew is gearing up for the new school year with a Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.  While I haven’t been participating every day, I thought I’d share what we have done for the past few years with a “co-op".”

    The phrase “co-op” has come to mean a nearly all-day event where many homeschooling families come together at a common location to share the teaching of a variety of subjects – courses from literature to sewing.

    We’ve never participated in one of these BIG, formal co-ops – however, had the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure we would’ve jumped at the chance.  Before a Classical Conversations community emerged two years ago, the only established co-ops were geared towards high school students and their siblings.  We just aren’t there yet!

    A little more than four years ago, I recognized that I needed a little bit of accountability in our homeschooling and that meeting with another family might be just the “umph” I needed to make sure geography maps were created, hands-on activities were created, and art was drawn. Additionally, I wanted to create learning opportunities (public speaking, group projects, crafts and celebrations) for Ben with a same-aged learning partner.

    I *finally* met another mom who was cycling through Tapestry of Grace at the same pace I was, and we decided to try to meet weekly to do hands-on projects with our oldest students, alternating our meeting locations to each other’s homes.  {We initially allowed the little siblings to have a playdate during this time; most recently, they’ve had some of their own grammar-level work.}  It worked SO well and helped both my friend and I to accomplish more both together and separately.

    The next year, we added another friend and her two daughters. We’ve been meeting together weekly for 3 full years now!  We have two 8th graders, one 7th grader, one 5th grader, two 4th graders, one 2nd grader and two 1st graders.  At this point, the kids have done a lot of growing up together and look forward to our day of fellowship as much as we three moms do.  Not only have they learned history, geography and literature together, they have created constitutions for imaginary countries, monetary systems for a city in the woods, plays, movies and stories together.  And don't forget the obligatory game of Sharks and Minnows or Capture the Flag!

    We used to meet for only a half-day, but as the years went on, we decided to add lunch, then afternoon playing and more visiting and fun.  I’m grateful when we can get in home in time to order a pizza for dinner!

    So what do you do if you do NOT have a big, honkin’ co-op to attend?  What if big, honkin’ co-op is not your style?

    Create your own.

    {It doesn't have to be that hard.  Promise.}

    Our group has a common theme of Tapestry of Grace, but there are a million other common threads to bind a couple families together.  Art, music, science experiments, book clubs, lego clubs, robotics.
    Boys. Teen Girls.  What. Ever. 

    Last year (Ben’s 7th grade year), I knew I wanted a bit of accountability for science.  I asked a few moms who I knew were using the same science program that I was using, and we had a “co-op” for science experiments.  We met bi-monthly to complete the science experiments for each module, with the moms facilitating the experiments alternately.  Sometimes, the boys came to our class with the experiments completed (especially when it was a multi-day experiment) and other times we did the experiment together as a group. Already involved in other groups and coops, we kept to a fairly strict time frame and could return home to finish up lessons before dinner time. In all, we were out of the house for a maximum of two hours from door-to-door. 

    So, what is my advice if you’d like to have some co-operative learning?
    1. Expand your idea of what a co-op means.  Do you have to meet at a church?  Does it have to be a lot of families? Does it have to last all day?{I know a few moms of girls who have gotten together to do an American Girls "co-op" -- what a great idea!}
    2. Pray.  Seek God’s guidance in how to best meet the spiritual and educational needs for your children. 
    3. Ask.  Seek out families that share similar beliefs and goals.  Ask them if they’d like to share in the teaching of a subject or two. Sometimes, starting small can lead to other opportunities.
    4. Talk.  Make sure you talk about your expectations for this new partnership.  You should be able to reach common ground about the subjects you are teaching, what to do with siblings, where to meet, how often, and what expectations you have for your children.  Talk about all these things upfront.
    So, what does this year have in store for us?  Well, one of our history group families is moving out of the area, so we won’t be able to meet as often as we have been able to for the past 3 years.  We’ve decided to use technology to our advantage and are having our older, dialectic-aged students meet with several other families in an online co-op weekly.  On a monthly basis, we’ll all gather together to have a Big History Day – picking out a theme from the previous month’s studies to explore more in depth with hands on crafts, food of the era, music and art of the time period.  We’ll be studying the 20th Century, so I think it will be a GREAT time.  {SHHHH} I’m thinking we’re even going to learn some of the dances of the time period too.  Think:  Jitterbug!

    Click on the graphic at the top of this post to read what others have to say about the Blog Hop topics!
    If you would like to cruise blog posts about any of the weekly topics, click below: