Friday, June 27, 2014

Veritas Press Self-Paced History Courses {Crew Review}


Levi is loving history!

Veritas Press sent us a complementary 12-month subscription to one of their Veritas Press Self-Paced History courses for elementary grades (2nd – 6th grade; minimum age is 7 years old).  Levi wanted to study the Bible and chose Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Old Testament and Ancient Egypt ($199) with the accompanying Old Testament & Ancient Egypt Flashcards ($19.95) to help him learn the ancient portion of the Veritas Press timeline. 

About Veritas Press:  Based in Pennsylvania, Veritas Press is a provider of classical Christian curriculum.  The have comprehensive packages of grade level materials as well as online classes through Veritas Academy.  The program that we had the pleasure of using a self-paced program, which affords a student with the multi-media benefits of Veritas’ online teaching with the ability to work around your family’s schedule.

Their elementary-aged history courses include the following five courses (each is offered as a self-paced course):

  • Old Testament and Ancient Egypt
  • New Testament, Greece and Rome
  • Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation
  • Explorers to 1815
  • 1815 to Present

You can read more about Veritas Press at their About Us page.

Technical Requirements:  This product is 100% online. Well, except for the timeline cards. You will need to be connected to the internet every time you use the program.  This is compatible with both Apple and PC operating systems.

  • You will need an up-to-date web browser (we found that Firefox and Chrome both worked well)
  • 1GB of RAM (2 GB is preferred)
  • Flash Player 10 or above (you can check which Flash Player you have at this Adobe Flash Player Help site). 
  • Make sure that you enable pop ups for this site!  Otherwise, you will get very frustrated and hear a lot of “Mom, it’s not working!”  {Ask me how I know!}
  • You can find additional technical information at Veritas Press Self Paced History FAQs.
  • Internet speed is recommended to be a minimum consistent speed of 1 Mbps.  You can run  Additionally, if you navigate to, you’ll get a grade for the quality of your connection.  Veritas Press recommends a minimum grade of B for their program to work.  My connection quality was given a B (I ran the test while we were streaming a movie), and we have had no trouble running the program.

How The Program Works:  Veritas Press sent comprehensive directions to me to help me register myself as the instructor and then set up my student account.  When you purchase the program, only one student can be registered for the cost of the registration fee (but there is a discount for siblings!).  The program offers multiple choice and online worksheets and tests that are graded immediately, therefore only one student’s scores will be recorded. 

The teacher’s screen looks like this:

VP teacher screen with comments 
Progress through the 160 lessons is noted on the left side and up-to-date course grade is reported on top.   The program was created for students to work on daily (5 days a week) and there is one worksheet per week scheduled as well as one test.  In a traditional schedule, the worksheet is done one lesson after the test (so a test ideally would be on a Friday and a worksheet for review on the following Monday).

On the lower left side of the instructor’s screen are PDF documents that help flesh out the history program into a comprehensive history/ literature course.  One document, a supply list, can be printed to help you plan the hands-on projects you can build to enrich lessons – things like an Egyptian Paddle doll, coloring pages, or a King Tut mask.  The activities can all be printed out from within the lessons.  In addition, a reading schedule of selected books (available through Veritas Press) have been aligned with the history lessons.

So, about these history lessons.  Each lesson is an interactive PowerPoint-like slide presentation.  Our guide was the an Egyptian Sphinx.  He introduced lessons and often gave Levi his quiz!  Here are some screen shots of from a lesson:

VP video clips in slidesThis slide is a short movie clip that is introducing a lesson.
VP quizThis slide is an interactive quiz.  Levi would click the correct a purple bar to indicate the correct answer.
VP history card readingThe history timeline song is sung for practice, and the timeline cards are used in the lesson.
VP attachmentsThe table of contents allows you to see what is covered in each lesson.  Also, the attachments section pulls down;  you can print the paper craft activities from here.
Veritas Press Jeopardy game (lesson 30)This was one of Levi’s most favorite review activities!  A Jeopardy-style quiz! 

You can sample and view a week’s worth of lessons from all of the history courses (Sorry, I don’t know how to make them show up here in the review).

The Old Testament & Ancient Egypt Flashcards ($19.95) are beautiful, high quality timeline cards that sequence into the history program.  The facing side shows beautiful artwork that captures the essence of the historical event represented on the card.  The words on this side are those used in the timeline song;  dates are included when appropriate.  The opposite side of each card has a summary of the event and includes additional resources that can be used to dig deeper into the event (the resources are available through Veritas Press).  

How We Used the Program:  Levi jumped into this program the second after I was finished registering him.  Lessons were never very long --- 15 minutes maybe – and the slide presentation had a variety of live-action material, interactive lessons/ quizzes, songs, and action that it really held his attention.  As a matter of fact, it held his attention SO well, he often completed multiple assignments each day!  I can definitely see that if you were only completing the self-paced history lessons, you could easily finish in shorter than 32-weeks!

Levi did hit a snag in one section of the lessons – he was asked to type out a new vocabulary word in 40 seconds. This was hard for him and frustrated him to the point that he didn’t want to work through the program anymore!  After I coaxed out his reason for refusing to continue, we talked about it, and I helped him through that step.  He is good to go know – but I used this as a reminder that even though the program is very self-motivating and easy to progress through, I do need to keep my eye on what he is doing more than I had been.

I did want to talk for a minute about how we used the history timeline cards.  The cards are considered essential to the program – and having used similar cards in the past, I totally understand why.  Having the cards as a hands-on tool is really important.  We actually started the online program a few weeks before we received the cards in the mail, and I was happy to report that it didn’t really affect Levi’s desire to use the program nor his ability to learn the information – including the timeline song!  I am always SO impressed to see how students soak up information – especially when put to song.  The detail he is learning about the Old Testament + Ancient Egypt is amazing.  Now that we have the cards, I like to hand him some of the cards out of order and make him order them correctly.  He enjoys it as well.

My recommendations & thoughts:  I am very pleased by how much Levi is retaining and learning by using Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Old Testament and Ancient Egypt.  There is just the right amount of teaching and systematic review.  The variety of teaching (and quizzing/ testing) styles makes the program very interesting to 21st Century students.   Using the online course by itself will give your student the basics of the the time period, and if you include the additional tools available from Veritas Press (literature and nonfiction books), you will have a very full curriculum. 

Veritas Press Review

If you are looking for middle/ high school self-paced courses from Veritas Press, crew members also reviewed Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus I.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

God Spotting: Six Months in….My Word for the Year

{God Spotting posts are for the benefit of my children.  I am hopeful that they can see God working in me everyday and will look back on these posts to see that God was constantly working in the life of a poor wretch saved by His amazing grace.  I pray it will encourage them in their walk.}

My computer ate my “Word for the Year” post earlier this year; I was so frustrated that I just could not re-write it out!  Until now.

I have had times in my life that I just knew what God wanted me to work on for a period of time.  One year it was prayer.  One year I could sense that God wanted me to “just do it” and go deep and intentional with my Bible reading – so I read the Bible in 90 Days (It was amazing and I highly recommend the challenge!).  Last year must have been the year to trust God as we jumped full into self-employment.  I know I learned a lot during 2013 – but I’m grateful God doesn’t give us grades. When I sense that God is giving me something to work on, I often feel like I am playing Tug-of-War with Him.  I struggle with constantly letting him be in control and leading.  Well, 2013 was definitely a Tug-of-War!

{image credit}

January 1, 2014 came and went, and I was still overwhelmed with issues from 2013.  It wasn’t the best start of the year in my walk with God, and if I am honest with myself I would have to admit that I was struggling to listen and hear God.  I was wrestling with a lot of worry, busyness and some anger with God. 

But, by the end of January or February, when life had finally calmed down, a date night conversation with Dave revealed the character and spiritual trait I needed to work on in 2014 – contentment.

Let me backtrack a couple decades and paint this picture for you.  Dave and I did a major backpacking trip when we were first dating.  Without the benefit of the internet or cell phones or GPS, we managed to plot a course of travel from the top of the Whistler Village Gondola, and hiked (bushwhacked) in the beautiful mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia. We did, literally, have to bushwhack through some grasses that were well over 5’ 5” tall in order to connect marked trails together to reach our destinations.  We were hesitant with each step, hoping we didn’t run into a resting bear behind the foliage! 

The memory that I have of pushing past the grasses immediately in front of me and trying to look two or three steps in front of me – this is sometimes how I feel I am living life.  I am a project person…which (to me) means that I see life sometimes as a series of projects to dive into.  Which often means that when I am about midway through a project, I become antsy for the next new thing.  I’m ready to be done and ready to move on to the next.  I’m not content with where I am  at the moment;  I’m not living where I am at the moment.  I’m not seeing the blessings where I am at the moment.   

Now, let me tell you that home schooling my kids for the long haul has definitely cured me of a measure of discontentment. The start of a new school year or the start of a new math program or co-op or unit  often involves some amount of change and newness, thus my antsyness (not sure that is a word) is curbed a bit.  Oh, it shows up, mind you.  I’m blessed to have had the finances and space to house a nice collection of books covering all sorts of subjects.  I’ve got books that I absolutely adore, but haven’t read aloud to the boys because – well, I already read that with Ben 4 years ago and I cannot bear to read it again to Luke and Levi.  We switched spelling programs last September because I just could not open up the same book I’d been suing for 4 years even though it is a highly regarded, successful program.  I need a bit of change, newness…a “project” to figure out. 

And then there is the worrying part that leads to discontent.  I come from a long line of very competent worriers. 

Back to January/ February 2014 and our date night conversation. I knew that God was speaking to me, because I was expressing ideas I’d never heard rattling around in my brain before – and it was all making sense and resonating with me. (I’ve added some verses that I will thing upon this year)

Be content with where I have placed you.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


Do not worry about The Next Step.  I know and have it under control.

Matthew 6:25

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Job 36:10-12

He makes them listen to correction
and commands them to repent of their evil.
If they obey and serve him,
they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
and their years in contentment.
But if they do not listen,
they will perish by the sword[a]
and die without knowledge.

Enjoy the days I have given you. Each day is a gift.  Treat it as such.

Psalm 118:24

This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Obviously none of these are new ideas.  I’ve thought each of them hundreds and hundreds of times in my life.  But the beauty of God (and the Bible) is that He speaks to us where we need it. The words in the Bible don’t change, but how God uses those words to communicate to me about my life and my relationship to him changes.  Relevant verses and teachings pop out on a page that I’d not noticed before.  Our date night conversation was just like that – relevant Biblical truths were dropped into my mind and so resonated with where I was/ am this year, that I knew it was from God.

As the first half of the year has melted away, I can still sense that I am where God wants me to be.  Learning gratefulness for every day in every situation.  Not worrying about the future, but planning wisely and rolling with the unknowns.  Being present for my boys in their activities and adventures.  For sure, I am not “cured” of my discontentedness (I know I’ll never be this side of heaven), but I am learning to let God be the God of my life on a daily basis, and in Tug-of-War game, I’m learning to be a good loser.

2014 is Contentment at Reaping a Harvest

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Go Science DVDs {Crew Review}


We are usually pretty good in our house about doing science experiments.  I’m not afraid of a mess (well, at least not a BIG mess) and I’ve collected the common but quirky supplies that we might need over the past 10 years.  But every once in a while, there is something cool we’d like to do that is just a little. too. much. for our supplies and our city-sized plot of land.

Library and Educational Services sent us two DVDs from their 7-volume Go Science DVDs. The Series 2 editions– recommended for ages 6 years –10 years -- make good supplements to nearly any science curriculum and will help bridge the gap between home-friendly experiments and those cool, out-of-this-world experiments that might not be practical based on equipment, expense, or mess.


Series 2 includes these seven volumes ($8.97 each, or $59.82 for all seven):
Volume 1: Sound, Gravity, Space
Volume 2: Life Science, Weather
Volume 3: Air
Volume 4: Motion, Friction, Electricity, Light
Volume 5: States of Matter, Water
Volume 6: Chemistry
Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight

Here is a sample (I think it is from volume 1):


We received Volume 3: Air  with the following topics.  Most of the beginning experiments deal with air pressure as well as the Bernoulli Principle.

  • Pop Can Cannon  
  • Marshmallow with Vacuum  
  • Hover Craft
  • Clinging Cards 
  • Table Lift with Baggies
  • Is the Jar Full?
  • Bouncing Bubbles
  • Diver’s Lungs
  • Fan with Balloon and Beach Ball
  • Bow Up Big Bags/ Race


Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight. Topics include inertia, mass, experimental methods (variables), air pressure, vibration and sound,  balance/ center of gravity, and force to name a few:

  • How Much Will it Hold
  • Leaning Tower of Lyra
  • Nail Balance
  • Trebuchet
  • Centrifuge
  • Walking on Eggs
  • Bed of Nails – Small
  • Rocket Balloons
  • Vinegar Rocket
  • Toilet Paper on Paint Roller
  • Film Canister Rocket

Each of these experiments is short, maybe about 5 minutes or so on average.  Hosted by Ben Roy, you can tell that these segments originally aired as part of a separate television program.  Mr. Roy is assisted by a number of children/ young teens who help him conduct the experiments and make predictions about their experiments.  After a quick introduction and the experiment, Mr. Roy gives a quick explanation of the principle at work in the experiment and a wrap up explaining science’s relationship to God. Mr. Roy has a love of the Lord and is able to relate that the properties of science are another way to better understand God and his love for us.

The boys absolutely loved watching the DVDs, and balked when I tried to turn off the show (I thought I’d make them last longer if we watched just a couple a day).  Levi even enjoys watching them a second or third time.  They oooh’ed and ahhh’ed when cool things happened, like lifting up plates of weights with air pressure.

My recommendations & thoughts: I found these to be well done videos for early elementary.  Several times I’d wished additional information had been presented to explain the principles in more detail – but if you are using these along side a curriculum as a supplement, you will likely have resources at your fingertips to delve into a discussion with more depth.  And, these can be a great jumping off point for your kids to investigate concepts that interest them.

I do wish each DVD had come with a teacher’s guide which explained the scientific principles being highlighted in each experiment – that way I could grab the necessary DVD and we could watch the specific experiment that corresponded to our work.  Some sort of simple guide like this would really add value to the products and make them more useful alongside any number of curriculum.  This sort of information on the website would help me to purchase the right DVDs and would help me to know that I was getting a helpful product.

As I said, the boys loved the DVDs.  As I was preparing this review, Levi said, “I think we should get the other ones!”

Go Science DVDs @ reapingaharvest

If you are interested in the content of a particular DVD, please click below as each Crew Member was able to pick from the seven volumes in this series:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting Ready for Classical Conversations: Pouches for Tin Whistle


Luke and Levi love the tin whistle unit of fine arts in Classical Conversations {I don’t mind it either – the boys are pretty good at it!} Last summer, we found some great velvety fabric in their favorite colors.  With a few stitches, about half an hour of time, and the hard cardboard tube from tin foil, I created these wonderful and well-loved storage pouches for their instruments:

Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

You do not need much fabric.  One-third of a yard of fabric will likely be fine – unless you are a sewer like me; I purchase half a yard so that I would have enough fabric in case I made a mistake, which often happens.  I also purchase one yard of ribbon for the draw sting.  Or maybe I bought two.  Just in case.
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

The cardboard tube from a standard-sized roll of aluminum foil is a perfect size in which to slip the tin whistle.  I was a little concerned that the boys’ instrument would be floating around in their backpacks on CC day, and I didn’t want them to be stepped or sat on.  The tubes I had were about 12” long.
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

The basic measurement for the case was 9 inches wide by 32” long (you’ll fold this length in half).
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch
Sew a sleeve for the ribbon draw string, and sew straight up the two long edges.  Cut your ribbon in half.  Insert one half into the left side of the sleeve, then back around the other sleeve.  Repeat on the right side; knot your two ends together.
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

Slide your aluminum foil cardboard tube and tin whistle into the pouch
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

My model here, Levi, has cinched the top closed.
Make a Tin Whistle Pouch

Levi’s bag is the orange and Luke’s is the army green.  Everything with Luke is army green.

If you have multiple kids, ask your friends right now to save their aluminum foil tubes!  And do not by the 200 foot roll of foil – it will add about an hour to your project to roll the foil onto another tube, and it is not easy or fun  (ask me how I know).

The pouches served us well during our first year of CC!  The boys never lost their whistles or their pouches, and since I wasn’t with them during our community day (I tutor a Challenge level program), I wasn’t worried about the boys stepping, sitting or otherwise crushing their whistles with their brute boy strength.

…And these do hang nicely on the office room door hooks during the season when they are not in use.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday



For our anniversary, Dave and I are going to see Tim Hawkins!  We are so excited;  we never do anything like this.  So grateful to have the funds to go, the  babysitter to man the house, and that Tim Hawkins is coming to a close location.  Can't wait!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Learning Palette & Wrap Ups for Math and Language Arts {Crew Review}



Luke and Levi hit “summer review” pay dirt this year, thanks to the TOS Review Crew and the Learning Wrap-ups Company!  We were selected to review a variety of products from Learning Wrap-ups and these products have definitely introduced a fun change-of-pace for us this summer. 

The Learning Palette:

We received a math and language arts base kit. Each kit came with a set of cards and a base kit (the yellow palette):

3rd Grade Math Learning Palette 1 Base Center Kit ($71.99) came with sets of 12 cards in each of the following categories:

  • Addition & Subtraction with 3 & 4-Digit Numbers,
  • Fractions-Money & Decimals,
  • Multiplication & Division,
  • Algebra Concepts, Geometry & Measurement, and
  • Probability & Statistics.


3rd Grade Reading 1 Base Center Kit ($61.99) came with sets of 12 cards in each of the following categories:

  • Prefixes & Suffixes,
  • Reading Comprehension,
  • Synonyms-Antonyms & Homophones,
  • Vocabulary and
  • Grammar


I picked 3rd grade reading because Levi is a pretty advanced reader and I thought Luke could probably use the cards to work on some vocabulary building tasks.  I was right!  This was a good set to get for both of them.  If you are considering purchasing this as a fun reinforcement activity, I would high recommend that you consider the content of the card more so than the grade level of the card sets.

The Learning Palette is basically a self-correcting matching game.  Students match questions to answers, which are arranged around the perimeter of the circular palette using colored discs.  When all the questions have been answered, the card is turned over so that students can correct their work:

DSCN3222 I assigned Luke and Levi a packet of cards to work through.  We decided that 3 cards a day was a good amount – it is fun, and wasn’t too hard.  When we came up to concepts we hadn’t really worked on before, I did a little teaching, and they went off and worked on it themselves.



Learning palette

Here, Luke is correcting his completed card.  There two kinds of discs (solid and with a hole), each with two colors.  When you flip the card over, you can see if the solid bars match the solid discs and if the hole-y discs match the bar with the ‘hole’ in it.

Over the course of our review period, Levi and Luke used the products several times per week.  The physical Learning Palette was preferred by both boys more than the online version, I think because they enjoyed manipulating the discs and cards.  Luke is just weeks away from beginning his next level of math, which will involve intense learning about fractions.  Using the Learning Palette was a fun way to introduce a topic at a basic level.

Learning Wraps Ups: 

I love these low tech, portable reinforcements and practice tools:

Learning Wrap up Basic Math Intro Kit ($44.99 – no CD set) – This includes one set of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division wrap ups plus a fraction set. 

Learning Wrap up Vocabulary Intro Kit ($35.99) –This includes one set of Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms and Compound Words.  A short brochure, The Teacher’s Guide to Vocabulary Builder, includes some creative ways to expand on the Wrap Ups – such as alphabetizing the words, building sentences and even dictionary skill work.

10 Days to Multiplication Mastery  Book & Wrap Up Combo ($12.99)

K753C 10 Days Student Workbook & Wrap-up Combo
10 Steps to Addition Mastery Wrap up and Book Combo ($12.99)

LWU-753C Add Student Wkbk and Add Wrap-ups

I’ll be honest:  I’ve owned (incomplete sets) of Wrap Ups before.  I gave them away a few years ago – prematurely, I might add – when I was in a cleaning frenzy.  So I was so happy to acquire a new set for Luke and Levi. This has been a quick, no tears helpful tool to help the boys review their math facts during our busy almost-summer-vacation days.

The concept of the Wrap Ups is easy:  Match a number on the left to the sum, product, difference or quotient on the left.  Each of the Wrap Ups is for a specific fact family:  +5 or –7 or x3 or the like.  When you’ve answered all the questions, you turn the plastic piece over to see if your string matches the embossed line.  If it matches, you got 100%! 










I’ve never owned their accompanying workbooks, so I was excited to see how these work.  Honestly,I LOVE them.  The idea is to use the actual Wrap Up to reinforce written worksheets which drill and review math facts.  The workbooks are clean and easy to follow. Each day has a variety of worksheets.  Some are word problems, some are just writing out facts, some are practicing the commutative property.  I liked that the Wrap Up itself is reinforced.  Levi enjoyed trying to beat the clock and do it as fast as he could.    Not too much drudgery here:


The multiplication book (62-pages) is meant to teach all the math facts in 10 days:


What I like about this is that it teaches these facts commutative property (a+b = b+a).  Teaching children this property along with addition/ multiplication facts is efficient – you can learn the facts in half the time.  I also like that they teach multiplication to 11 in the workbook (even through there is no x11 Wrap Up).  I do wish that x12 was also taught (such a good set of facts to know with our imperial measurement system), but at least Levi is getting it in his memory work.

Addition is in 10 steps.


Here, +11 and +12 are taught. 

I didn’t have as much success working on the Learning Wrap up Vocabulary Intro Kit with Levi – he wasn’t nearly as motivated as with the math facts, but I was impressed by the variety of vocabulary.  Levi (who is an above average reader) got practice reading multisyllable words and trying to figure out the meaning of the words.  I would say that the set would work well for early elementary through 4th or so grade.  Since the Wrap Ups are a closed set (meaning the number of choices gets smaller as you continue to match words), the task helped him to learn to eliminate words and think about word meanings.  If he was really stuck, we went through some clues together, then he’d check himself and correct his answers. 

Honestly, I’m not sure I would purchase the Vocabulary set with children my kids’ ages, but if I had younger children, I could definitely see using them for years on end, and really taking advantage of all the suggested activities in the teacher’s guide. Online

Finally, we also received access to the new, a family subscription (up to 5 users) service. This is online product has exactly the same question cards as the physical product – except you have access to every level of math and language arts.  With a subscription price of $59.99 for up to 5 users, this might be the most economical way to go (we used it on our iPad without trouble, too!) Homeschooling just one? offers a $25 annual subscription for a single user. And note this: is offering a 20% discount when using the coupon code of HOMESCHOOL online is pretty easy to set up. Each child will have their own log in name and password.  Once logged in, students can select any level (reading is grades ‘basic’ or kindergarten through 3rd, and math is K through 5th), next they select a card category, then they select a card of questions to work on.  You can see that selection process in this screen shot:

online learning palette screen shot

Next, you begin answering questions.  A few times, we found that my 15.6” screen (even in full screen mode) was just not quite big enough to figure out what the pictures in the purples section were – especially with math or with the coins for counting change.  Thankfully there is a magnifying glass you can ‘see’ through.  We used this quite a bit!

enlarge feature for Learning Palatte Online

The teacher log in allows you to see which activities your students are working on and how well they are doing::

Learning palatte online report

I’ve gone ahead and saved a bookmark to on our home page on the iPad so that we can have multiple kids using the program at one time.  Because it is an online program, you will need a constant internet connection – our iPad is Wi-Fi only, so we will use it around the house or in other hotspots only.

The online program is really a bargain for what you get…access to ALL the cards in ALL the categories for ALL grates.  I’ve noticed that for Luke and Levi, there are some holes in their learning (mostly because our math program is mastery based), so being able to move around in all the sets is a huge blessing.  I’m actually using this as a teaching tool to fill in some of those holes! 

COUPON CODE:  Use the code HOMESCHOOL for 20% off your order at!

My recommendations & thoughts:  I was really pleased to review these products, and know that the combination of online + the Reading and Math Center Kids will get a lot of work this summer.  The Learning Wrap Ups are a classic tool to help your students with math fact practice – and the addition of the simple but effective workbooks can really provide an efficient way of learning those important facts.

Learning Wrap Ups and Learning Palette Review @ reapingaharvest

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The New SAT, Homeschooling, & Classical Conversations


On Friday morning, I had an opportunity to sit in on a webinar lead by David Coleman, the president of the College Board, in which he explained many of the changes behind the new SAT and some of the rationale behind them. I was blessed to be able to set aside the time to attend (thank you, boys!) and grateful to HSLDA and Mark Rodgers from The Clapham Group, who arranged the conference call. It was fascinating, and I hope to share some of my notes and thoughts with you.

I admit – I approached this opportunity to listen to Mr. Coleman with more than a healthy dose of skepticism.  After all, Mr. Coleman was instrumental in the development of the language arts portion of the Common Core, which is something that I’m not in favor of. Common Core seems to treat students as robots, and many examples of work and assignments that have been aligned with Common Core standards seems to have an ulterior motive – anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Judeo-Christian ethics.    And, let’s not get started on my thoughts about the role of the federal government in a realm that is supposed to be an issue at the state and local level.  

Like education blogger Diane Ravitch, I feel a little woozy after hearing Mr. Coleman’s opening remarks.  He is a fast talker!  At first I thought he was trying to be efficient as the webinar was only one hour (including Q&A time), but speaking at a fast rate is apparently just a part of Mr. Coleman. One of the first things Mr. Coleman did was to apologize for not reaching out into the home education and faith-based community (including private schools) to discuss education, changes and such.  He admitted to getting off on the wrong foot. Now, to be honest, I’m not sure if he was speaking as a former Common Core architect or as director of The College Board.  In either role, I’ll accept his apology. He hinted that the changes to the SAT would be changes that a good many homeschoolers would embrace because we value the same skills that he does – careful reading, evidenced-based writing, and solid mathematical skills.  He spoke about wanting to engage in the classical conversations about important ideas of freedom and liberty.  I admit I liked what he was saying, but I’m still viewing what he said with some hesitancy. 

Changes to the SAT- In sum, careful reading, mastery of mathematic concepts, and clear writing will be “celebrated” (as Mr. Coleman describes) on the new SAT, expected to launch in the Spring 2016. 

I’m writing from my notes, but I’ve gone ahead and cross referenced with information that is viewable at, a website that openly shares information about the upcoming changes to the CollegeBoard’s assessments.  Mr. Coleman highly recommended parents research the changes using this site, saying they are trying to be transparent and open about everything so that more and more students – regardless of background and economics – will have an opportunity to seek out higher education without the SAT being a barrier.

You can find draft and sample questions at

1. The written essay will be optional.  For the past many years, the SAT has included a mandatory 25-minute essay.  This redesign will have an optional 50-minute essay.  The content of the essay, according to Mr. Coleman, will change significantly.  Instead of asking a student’s opinion about a source text or quote, students will be asked to read and analyze a source.  One example Mr. Coleman provided would be that students would be asked to thoughtfully examine how the writer supports his claim, requiring the student to examine the reasoning (logic, perhaps), vocabulary and writing techniques and evidence to make his/her claim.  Students will be explicitly told not to express their opinion/ agreement/ disagreement with the source’s writer.  Students should no longer feel conflicted about whether they are providing a politically correct/ incorrect opinion about the essay prompt (and being assessed more on their opinion than their writing) but will be evaluated on their ability to examine a piece of writing and communicate effectively about it. 

2. The math subtests will examine a students mastery of a smaller core of basic information (the “fine things” as Mr. Coleman described) that is important for college and STEM fields. Calculators will be less used on the subtests than previously.  The CollegeBoard will be partnering with Kahn Academy to provide a wealth of testing prep so that students will have a more equal access to good, solid training.  The industry that has developed to help students prepare for the SAT “is not our fault,” said Mr. Coleman, “but it is our problem.” Obviously, those families who invest in significant SAT prep training are more likely going to have students who fare better on the test.  By providing more training free across the board (through Kahn Academy and such), Mr. Coleman is hoping a wider swath high school students will take the test and pursue high education, breaking down economic barriers than have been built up over the decades.Thus, the strategic partnership with Kahn Academy.  

Back to math.  The areas that will be covered include:

A. Problem Solving and Data Analysis – The website says that “this is about being quantitatively literate”, and includes using and understanding percentages,ratio, proportions, fractions, applying this to situations and various fields of study.

B. Heart of algebra linear equations and systems and students will need to demonstrate a fluency and mastery of these concepts.

C. Passport to Advanced Math – these are the advanced equations and manipulations that are required for students who aim to enter the STEM fields. 

3.  Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Subtests:  Mr. Coleman promises that at least one “founding document” or a document that continued the discussion around the world regarding freedom, liberty and the “nature of civic life” would be on each test. This could include writing from additional American thinkers and leaders or others:  Edmond Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, Gandhi.  Students will be asked to read the passage and then answer questions about its content and make reasonable inferences from it.  (See sample)

I believe that Mr. Coleman is hoping to garner a lot of support from the homeschooling community – particularly those like me who are extremely patriotic and conservative in our view of our founding documents – that this addition to the test will be well received. 

Also in this section is the much talked about changes to vocabulary.  Gone are obtuse words.  Instead, students will be asked to think deep and wide about the many uses words have within the context of passages.  Mr. Coleman used the example of six uses of the word ‘dedicate’ in the Gettysburg Address.  Students may be asked to think about how the word is used and how the meaning evolves through Mr. Lincoln’s speech.

Additional bullet points from the Q and A section of the webinar:

  • While the essay component may be optional, students will want to consider the testing and admission requirements for the colleges they plan to apply to and verify if the essay subtest is necessary for the institution.
  • The new SAT is not about a specific body of knowledge (the Common Core) but about skills to interpret and engage in learning.  But, as much as Mr. Coleman assured us that the SAT would still have changed even without the Common Core, I’m a little more doubtful.  Other sites have reported that the SAT is changing because of Common Core (here and here).
  • The PSAT will reflect the changes in the SAT.  Fall 2015 will be the new PSAT.
  • The website I mentioned earlier – – will have sample questions and tests a year or two in advance of the actual test.  Again, Kahn Academy is available for all, and it will have more specific information as the new format is released for testing.
  • CollegeBoard is looking at alternative ways of waiving fees for those with low incomes and who are not involved with a school (that is, homeschoolers), who has historically been the vehicle for granting fee waivers.

SAT time frames @ reapingaharvest


Changes to the SAT & Homeschooling & Classical Conversations:

“The redesigned SAT is not about a body of knowledge. It will honor things valued in the homeschool community.”  David Coleman

First of all, I’m hopeful that Mr. Coleman is honest and forthright about his claims with regard to the new SAT and its independence from Common Core.  Assuming this, I think many home educators should breathe a sigh of relief about changes to the SAT. If you are focused on establishing a good foundation for your students in math, reading and writing, then your student should be well-prepared for the SAT.   

Most importantly, I think that those of us who engage in the Challenge level program through Classical Conversations should feel very comfortable that the timeless skills our students are learning and practicing throughout the program will serve them well on this new SAT version. 

As a Challenge II director/ tutor, I cannot even begin to count the number of times I said to my student, “How can you back up your claim/ thesis/ opinion?” Whether in a biology lab drawing conclusions, explaining why an algebraic problem is solved a particular way, or in defending a debate resolution, students in Challenge are constantly asked to analyze arguments and provide support.  In both Challenge B and II (as well as in Challenge III) students study logic in order to discern clear reasoning.  The Socratic discussions and essays utilizing the Five Common Topics of invention will help students think clearly contextually.  They will discuss relationships and ideas. I think our math seminars – where we are talking about math, math laws and properties, thinking about why we do what we do and learning to love math as an example of God’s creativity and order – will serve students well on the SAT.


I’m not sure how the SAT will actually play out in real life – change is always hard and I’m still skeptical– but I feel comfortable that the direction we are on as a family is just where we ought to be. Ben will likely be in the first cohort of students using the new testing protocol; just another “guinea pig” moment in his life as a first born.  I will definitely be reading more about the test on the website and we will continue on with our mastery-based math program.  If my sons do not see that God is leading them towards college, I think they will have had the opportunity to participate in an incredible secondary education where God’s truth, beauty and goodness are celebrated and sought after, and I will continue to pray that they will seek God wherever He leads.

Did any of you attend?  What were your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

'A Life in Balance' Book Introduces Alternative Treatment Techniques for Learning Differences {A Review}


Learning Breakthrough Program, a company that specializes in treatment programs designed for children with learning differences and challenges, sent a copy of their book,  A Life in Balance ($16.95), which chronicles the development and discoveries of founder Frank Belgaum. But this is not just a 210-page autobiography. It is really a down to earth explanation of how our brains work and how others can be helped to reach their learning potential. Indeed, at the end of the book, Frank – through is son Eric, who writes his father’s story – says:

Part of the purpose of this book is to provide some activities that can be
done without any investment in materials, but which can have a positive
impact on academic and work performance, intellectual clarity, and overall
well-being. (
p. 177)

The book reaches back into the childhood of  founder Frank Belgau, who himself struggled with reading. Eventually, Frank was able to overcome his reading difficulties and went on to a successful military career. After his discharge from the service, Frank became a public school teacher, which began his unique and interesting career in special education and the development of his alternative treatments to dyslexia and ADHD.  You can learn about his brain training and brain fitness program at his website.

I found it to be very interesting to read the history of alternative brain exercises and therapies.  I will admit that I am often skeptical of alternative therapies – and I began reading this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.  However, as I read about the stepwise learning Frank experienced as he began working with children (who many educators had written off as uneducable), I realized that much of my skepticism was misplaced.  Being able to “see” how these therapeutic techniques worked through the case studies presented was fascinating.

The story of Frank’s career and discovery is interesting in itself.  However, the second half of the book is a goldmine for those who are interested in apply his techniques – taking them for a test drive, if you will.

In the last 10 or so chapters, Frank explains the evolution of the core tools of his program:  the balance platform, vestibular motor control stick, bean bags, ball tosses, etc.  He explains – in well-written, easy to understand layman’s terms – how these tools help to activate the brain to improve learning potential. At the end of the book, however, Frank shares one of his first low-tech brain training activities:  The Space Walk.  The Space Walk is a movement-base series of exercises that Frank has found to be successful for some of his student with learning differences:

Toe on Spot
Walk Line Heel to Toe
Pick Target
Two Foot Hop
Hop Right
Hop Left
Jump and Turn
Hop – toes on Line
Hop Right 2, Left 2
Hop Left 2, Right 1
Hop Right 2, Left 1

Although I did not try The Space Walk with my boys, it reminded me of two things:  (1) elementary school gym class – maybe they were on to something with all our simple relay games, ball passing games, and exercises, and (2) Luke’s reading took off once he became more active in sports – running, playing soccer, etc. He also had done some computer based eye exercises to strengthen the muscles in his eyes.  But it did seem that he underwent some huge growth all around the same time. 

My recommendations & thoughts: I think this is an interest book to read for those who parent/ home educate children with learning differences.  If you are wanting to “try before you buy” the Learning Breakthrough System, I think this would be a great resource and the The Space Walk program in the appendix could be a great way to understand his system. 

Connect with Learning Breakthrough:

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