Thursday, October 24, 2013

{Crew Review} Not a “Payne”-ful Read Aloud


The 2013-14 season for Schoolhouse Reviews is winding down, but Luke, Levi and I have been enjoying a couple more fun books that help us smile and enjoy one another’s company.  Today, I’ll tell you about a new book from Barbour Publishing and author Annie Tipton called Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story (on sale for $4.49, appropriate for ages 8 – 12 years old).

The books begins each chapter in a writing style my Luke just loves:  first-person diary entries.  These diary accounts of EJ Payne (that’s Emma Jean), an imaginative and distractible 4th grader open each chapter’s  third-person narratives of her escapades and imaginative adventures.  Luke was instantly drawn to EJ’s book.

EJ is the 10-year-old daughter of a pastor dad and school teacher mom.  Her brother, Isaac (aka Space Invader) is just starting kindergarten this year in exciting Spooner, Wisconsin.  This is just not an exciting place for EJ and she has dreams to do something big and change the world. 

I was curious to discover if the boys’ interest would be muted because EJ is a girl. We have had a few books in the past couple years that the boys were less than enthusiastic about because the main character was a girl.  However, add the word “diary” and the curious last name “Payne” and an astronaut walking on monkey bars…well, this was a boy-pleasing combination. 

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As I mentioned, EJ has a very exciting imagination and finds herself using her imagination for good (like helping to calm herself during the Fourth Grade Spelling Bee at school) and for, well, not so good (like when she imagined herself to be a race car driver in the grocery store.  oops).  I think this is really resonating with my Luke.  His imagination usually takes the form of a variety of battles and wars, some that include toy figures and others that include anyone who might be hangin’ around.  I think he is comforting for him to see that there are other kids who are like he is – imaginative and creative.

But bigger than this is the story of EJ and her nemesis – the perfectly mannered, perfectly blond Coralee McCallister.  She wins the school spelling bee, gets to be Mary for Christmas.  Well, you get the picture.  As the story moves along, EJ sees patterns and God moments in her life that help her to see her nemesis as not so…um, nemesis-y.  EJ begins to see that God does have a big awesome plan for her…right in plain old Spooner, Wisconsin.

You can find a link to read a chapter here. (It will download as a PDF.)

I’ve been pleased to use this story as a cuddling’ read aloud at the end of our days.  It’s been nice getting back to reading together as a family {sometimes the best laid plans get jumbled up at our house}.  I love that the author, Annie Tipton, has created a heroine that is approachable with boys and girls.  EJ is a fairly ‘normal’ kid who is learns about God in the every day of life.  What a great lesson for our kids.

And … Book 2 due in the spring!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

{Crew Review} God’s World News for High School

Trak {$28 for home subscription – click for subscription information} is a monthly news magazine published for teens/ high schoolers by the publishers of World magazine.  Part of  God's World News (, the company  has grade-specific issues for children from preschool through high school.  Ten issues are published per year for each of the academic publications (7 issues during the school year and three during the summer – publication schedule is here).

***Update*** I've gotten off the phone with the World/ God's World News people to fully understand what a home subscription includes, and it is actually AMAZING what their World Fellow Program includes.  When you pay the full home subscription price for Trak ($28) you will get access to ALL of the World Magazine online content,  Yes, that is a year's subscription to the adult version of World Magazine, plus back issues, etc.  Online, iPad, etc.  The Whole Ball of Wax.

We have a long history of subscribing to various God’s World News editions, but this year was our first year with the high school level Trak.  At 32-pages this isn’t a quick read-through publications.  Instead, Over the course or our review period, I’ve noticed Ben picking up Trak and reading it at various times, usually at breakfast.

Trak covers a huge range of subject matter.  Often times there is an article about a hot political topic.  October’s issue discussed some issues surrounding the Syrian civil war and displaced peoples during wars.  Other articles explored topics Ben and I had never heard about.  Ever heard of Hyperloops?  We hadn’t either {click here to learn about this alternative transportation mode}.

Several sections in the newsmag include:  Tech & Culture, Playlist {movies, TV, books and music}, SportsTrak, Posts {short articles}, DesignTrak, PrepTrak {preparing for college and life}, BusinessTrak, and SideTrak {very short articles about unique topics}.

A Christian worldview surrounds all the articles.  None of the issues in the two magazines we received during this review period were highly controversial, but the magazine did include some interpretive information to help students consider world events from God’s perspective.
A subscription to God's World News includes more than just the magazine.  There are a couple websites that expand on the magazine.  Weekly emails with links to additional helps and archived content (you do need to opt-in to this).    Just this month we received a link to their new site for a special biography about Jane Austen:


The takes you to general information about the magazines, but also links you to activities and resources for each edition of the magazine. This would be great for younger grade levels, which have activities and lessons plans, but the high school Trak does not have this type of content.  The online content also seems to address more timely events – such as the recent government shutdown.  Discussion questions were provided after a summary:

I only have one complaint about the website access for the educational magazines:  you will have to know your subscription number.  Really?  I have to learn another number to access the content?  It's been a little cumbersome to look up all the time, and I do hope that in the future, the subscription number can be used as an initial log-in and we can opt to change it to something more user friendly. Update:  I learned in my call that they are hoping to change this, too, to make it easier to log in. 

How We Use This:  Since Ben is participating in a Currents Events/ Debate course in Classical Conversations, I had hoped that Trak would be a source of information for him on some of his topics – the death penalty, right to life, gun control, etc. I’ve scanned through Trak’s online content, but haven’t really found articles to help serve as source material. This is a little disappointing to me, because I can really see that God’s World News can fill a gapping hole to help parents – homeschooler or not – navigate our culture with tools to connect God’s Word with God’s World.

I wish I could say that I use GWN systematically in our homeschool to draw out discussions between Ben and myself, and that even the younger boys participate and learn.  This would be the ideal situation and preferred way to use Trak.  Instead, I’ll give you our dose of reality:  Trak arrives and sits on the dining room table or counter where it is read, piece by piece, over the course of several weeks.  Ben usually reads it first, and I’ll page through it, read some myself and we’ll talk about something interesting to us.  All on the fly.  sometimes, Luke and Levi will leaf through Trak noticing some of the political cartoons and we’ll talk about why they aren’t funny comics.

I’m actually OK with how we are using Trak, however.  Not everything has to be a lesson plan.  We are all learning and sharing ideas as we walk through life … and that is what I want our home school journey to be.  Learning and walking, together.

God’s World News providing complementary one-year subscriptions to many other Schoolhouse Review Crew members. 

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Weekly Report: Week 7 - Hundred Year's War and The Plague

We are blessed to live exactly 1.9 miles from a creative couple that lives in a keep!  Our Classical Conversations community has spent the last few Fridays on a tour of their home learning about life in the Middle Ages.

Our turn came this past week.  The boys had a great time learning about subsistence lifestyles of the peasants.  Then we had a simple lunch of bread, apples and cheese while the children asked questions and we learned more about life during this time.



Luke finished his retelling of the Sword in the Stone this week.  He is doing a very good job of using dress ups, decorations and sentence openers.  I do feel like I am missing something because I cannot be in the Essentials seminar (since I am a Challenge II tutor/ director), but I'm grateful to have used a lot of IEW writing products in the past, and we are just working through the material.

I spent some time last week printing out and customizing Half a Hundred Acre Wood's CC planner.. I purchased The Well Planned Day Planner at the beginning of the year, but it is just not working for me.  The boys each have planners, and I just need something that helps me organize my thoughts about Luke and Levi's CC work and some of the little extras I'm using. I'm really very happy with the downloadable planner from Half a Hundred Acre.  With a couple little tweaks here and there, it is helping to remind me of resources I wanted to add to our day. The picture below shows Luke and Levi coloring a picture of a knight in his Hundred Year's War (from Dover's Knights and Armor coloring book) period armor while listening to Story of the World audio book (Chapters 25 and 26 this week).

This is really a very terrible admission to make, but I don't want anyone to think that I've got it ALL together.  Far from the truth.  One of the things I have failed to do this year is to carry out Levi's writing program PAL from IEW.  I did some planning for it at the beginning of the year but I just have felt too swamped to carry it out.  Next week, though, is my week to nail it! {We have company coming this week, so there is no. way.  I'm going to add anything to my plate.}

Thursday, October 10, 2013

{Review Crew} YWAM Heroes of History Unit Study



The Little Boys and I kick-started our 2013-14 school year with a new-to-us read aloud from YWAM Publishing.  Our family is very familiar with their Christian Heroes: Then and Now series of books about missionaries, but we had yet to read any of their Heroes of History books. 

Geared to students ages 10+, George Washington: True Patriot ($6.99, available in paperback, audiobook, Nook , and Kindle) and the accompanying George Washington: Unit Study Curriculum Guide ($7.49, available in paperback, Nook and Kindle) are helpful ways to learn in-depth information about this famous American.

What I received: I reviewed both of these as eBooks that I read from our iPad.  The book itself, which serves as the spine of the unit study, is a 19 chapter, 200+ page book. The boys LOVE the Benge’s books in the past, and this new one is no exception.  The Benge’s have a beautiful way of bringing history to life. I can only sing high praises for these books. 

The Book.  This biography of George Washington begins in his childhood.  I never realized that George was the oldest child from his father’s second marriage, nor did I realize the influence his older half-brothers had on his life. We follow George as he comes into manhood, craving adventure and the life of a military man.  After reading about his exploits and adventures during the French and Indian War (probably the boys’ favorite part of the story), Luke is a firm believer that God had a plan for George to survive and lead our country towards great things.  The book continues to follow George through the Revolutionary War, his Presidency and his death in 1799.

I should mention that I’ve been reading the Benge books to my boys since they were 6 or so.  Usually they will quietly play or sometimes cuddle me while we read, but they always want one more chapter.  This history book did not change those habits or desires to ‘read more.’

The Unit Study. There are may creative learning opportunities in the study guide including drama, essays, creative writing, and geography.  Grade levels are not assigned for any of the activities.The unit study guide is 64 pages long and has the following chapters:


1. Key Quotes

This section, only two pages long, has six quotes from other famous figures that are offered up for memorization, display or sparking conversations.  Although they are not quotes from Washington himself, they might make good starting points for discussing aspects of Washington’s life and character.

2. Display Corner

In a second 2-page chapter, suggestions and examples of items to collect for display are offered. 

3. Chapter Questions

Each chapter is allotted four questions to help students focus on vocabulary, factual information and opinion/ interpretation of the information.  Answers are provided at the end of the book.

4. Student Explorations
     -  Essay Questions
     -  Creative Writing
     -  Hands-on Projects
     -  Audio/ Visual Projects
     -  Arts and Crafts

This 6-page section is divided into several sections with writing prompts, research probes, map-making projects, play and script writing, and other crafty projects (candle making, embroidery, faux stained glass project)

5. Community Links

This 4-page section is basically a ‘field trip’ section.  If you don’t live near Virginia, some general suggestions are offered to help students partake of field trip offerings in your area to help make contact with George Washington’s time period and life.  I thought the horseback riding suggestion was brilliant!

6. Social Studies
     -  Places
     - Terms/ Vocabulary
     - Geographical Characteristics
     - Timeline
     - Conceptual Questions

This section offers more traditional and familiar study tips for understanding the geography of the Mid-Atlantic area.  Conceptual Questions section involve more short projects to help students dig a little deeper in the politics and geography of the area.

7. Related Themes to Explore

The most helpful offering from this chapter is the idea map that allows  you to see other topics and subjects that can be tackled during your unit study, such as surveying, taxation, traveling distances, and science and medicine during the 1700s.  You can see a sample of this idea map here (it is one for Alan Shepard)

8. Culminating Event

These are ideas for closing out the unit study.  Only one idea is provided,however, so the 3-page chapter seems more like a reminder (“Don’t forget to have a party or celebration when you finish the book!”) than an idea bank.

As much as I LOVE the Benge books, I was not nearly as impressed with the unit study guide.  I anticipated that the guide would walk me through the book, helping the boys and I to dig deeper into the Washington book.   I appreciated the Chapter Questions section and the Social Studies chapter.  But the rest of the guide, to me, was not as useful.  It would have required a couple sit-down-and-plan sessions – which requires time, a little quite and peace.  I am not in that season of life right now! 

I think this would be a helpful guide for moms who are able to sit down and plan out a unit study specifically designed for their family – or for a co-op. 

Other Crew Members hand a chance to review a book and study guide about Christian missionary Jim Elliot.   

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew 


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wordless Wednesday


I moved the schoolroom around recently. The boys desks had been against the wall, and I didn't care for it. Now they face the dry erase board and I can be in the room with them to the side (on the couch we have) and we can work. I even set up all my teacher guides and such that I need within arms reach of the couch, so that I can be more efficient and neater. I'm much happier with this layout!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Weekly Report: Week 6 - Groove-y

I think we've hit a sweet spot in our schooling.  We have a groove and system that is working.  For now.

I'm not naive enough to believe that our current system is going to work for anything longer than the next month few weeks or so, but at least the groove we have is working during our busy fall season.  Soon, we hit a spate of time where we hunker down into the depths of autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  Then everything gets crazy-fun again with ski season.

I've never been one who schedules out our day minute-by-minute.  Well, admittedly, I did try a detailed schedule.  It lasted about 30 minutes. That kind of structure is too rigid for me. Plus, life happens -- car batteries die, read-alouds are too interesting, math facts don't get memorized as planned.

But we did need something this year, because nothing was not working.  So I created more of a block schedule for us:
Classical Conversations Memory Work & Subject study
Levi - Spelling/grammar/cursive                  Luke- Indepedent work
LUNCH/ read aloud
Levi - Independent work                  Luke- Essentials grammar/ writing

Truly, this looks very neat and tidy, but in all honesty, it is still quite flexible and messy, but it is a guide for us, and is working quite well.  Each boy has a laminated sheet that lists out all their independent work (math, handwriting, independent reading, instrument practice, chores, typing).  When it is their Independent time, they use their sheet and a dry erase marker to check off their progress. It still amazes me how easy it is to get my boys to accomplish things when a dry erase marker is involved.

Of course, you'll see Ben noticeably absent from this general weekly schedule.  I usually make contact with him in and around this schedule, but I will admit that as a CC Challenge Mom, I'm not engaging as much as I'd like to.  Since I have a rhythm/ routine with The Littles, I'm going to be intentional on connecting more with Ben to quiz him on Latin vocabulary and grammar (I'm learning it, too), work on helping him plan out writing assignments (I've done well in this area this week!) and discussing his current events.  Last week he had to take the side of pro-gun control.  That was a stretch for him.

As far as school work, We have learned about the water cycle, the carbon/ oxygen cycle (photosynthesis), and the nitrogen cycle (much more complicated to explain, but this video about the nitrogen cycle in a fish tank helped us understand it at a micro-ecosystem level).

 Levi excitedly planned his presentation for next week.  He is going to talk about his two favorite family members -- Daisy, our dog, and Tiger, our cat.

 I love all the geography the boys are learning.  Every few weeks, we are pulling out the atlas and discussing these features in detail.  This week we traced the source of the major European rivers that the boys have learned, discussing the countries they pass through (and borders they help define), and their mouths.  

 For review of four weeks of memory week, we spread our all the cards, and the boys threw a small bean bag at a card.

I LOVED the boys art project this week.  They used tissue paper (a la Eric Carle) to embellish a seahorse. Luke didn't bring his home, but we modge-podged Levi's and it turned out SO cool.

This week's history (we focus on this on Monday) was the Crusades.  We used some of our history resources to read about this time and Luke narrated a passage to me then copied it into his history notebook.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

*Updated* 2013-2014 Curriculum -- The Combo Plate

I don't know if this is a good thing or not, but we have just finished a month of school and I'm already altering our curriculum plans.  Well, not a lot, but enough that I need to write it down. {Updates are in italics}

Ben/ 9th Grade: Classical Conversations still provides the spine of everything that Ben is doing this year.  He is progressing through Algebra a little slower than I planned mostly because it is getting pushed to the end of the day after he finishes his CC work.  Time management is still being worked on.  It isn't just time management, however, some of it is just thinking through the writing process.  although Ben's had deadlines for writing assignments, it has never been like this before.  Ben has at least one literature essay due every other week, research for current events articles due, and a report/ presentation of some sort for science. 

I'm hoping that when cross country is over, he will be able to finish his computer programming course.  Spanish?  Well, I'm not sure that is going to happen this year.  I think Ben needs to focus on Latin right now.  I might have him go beyond what is completed in Challenge B to finish a complete Latin 1 course. 

Fifth Grade: 

Classical Conversations' Foundations
Classical Conversations' Essentials (writing, grammar)
Math U See - Delta/ Epsilon
Spelling - Excellence in Spelling level A from IEW
Literature - I mentioned in a recent post that I am going to get some literature guides to keep me accountable for Luke spending some time reading and thinking about good children's literature.  I want to be the kind of homeschooler who can internalize Teaching the Classics, but I just don't have time right now to do it the way I want.  Our first book is going to be Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Science - We are sticking close to the CC science cards and memory work.  Ecology right now, then Astronomy, then Physics. Supplementing with online videos, worksheets, readings, etc.
Bible - Luke and Levi will be using Bible Study Guide for All Ages

Second Grade:
Classical Conversations' Foundations
Math U See - Beta/ Gamma
Spelling - Logic of English
Literature -  Pathway Readers and there is a workbook he'll complete.
Science - Same as above
Composition - Still wanting to use Primary Arts of Language, but I just don't have time right now.
Grammar - Whatever we learn in Logic of English and CC.
Levi needs to take swim lessons this fall or winter.  We just couldn't fit it into the summer financially.