Wednesday, July 30, 2014

{Crew Review} Hewitt Homeschool “My First Reports”


Hewitt Homeschooling sent one of their early elementary products to me for review.  Called My First Report: Eastern United States ($8.95), the product provides approximately 9-12 weeks of unit study or report/ research work for grades 1-4 (designed for grades 3-4, but easily adaptable for younger and older students).

The idea behind these products is that children are used to reporting and telling us information and therefore going through the process of completing reports about more academic topics should really be a smooth transition.  Children will develop research skills (using references and books to look up information), practice penmanship, write complete sentences and improve their vocabulary.

What’s Included?

This product arrived in a slim, white envelop enclosing a 66-paged, 3-whole punched packet.  If you want to use the program with more than one student, you will need to purchase one set for each of them.

Each packed contains three sections of materials:

1. The first set of pages has one double-sided page per state (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey ,Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland). Each page has a set of approximately 6 research questions on the front cover, then a set of 4-8 vocabulary words. The back side of each page has state facts.

2. The next section is the bulk of the unit study.  Are you familiar with unit studies?  The basic idea is that you pick a topic, and then you study the topic from multiple angles and academic subjects.  It can be an engrossing way to learn about a topic.

These  24-pages will provide dozens and dozens of ways to develop activities to engage your children in a study of the North Eastern United States.  Topics include:  Bible, History/Geography/Social Studies, Reading/ Literature, Language/ English, Math, Science/ Health, Physical Education, Music and Art.  Included are a variety of field trip possibilities (many that do not involve travel across the country) as well as a keyed bibliography of books (the key symbols help you to know which of the academic areas the resources may be of value to help learning).

3.The final set includes:

  • Capital city/ state crossword puzzle
  • 5/8” rules pages for copy work
  • Blank 5/8”, 1/2”, and 3/8” ruled pages that can be photocopied for copy work and report writing.
  • Full page sized backline maps of each state , the United States, and a North America map

I have to admit, these were Levi’s favorite pages.  Well, at least the maps and puzzle (not the handwriting part!):


How We Used This

I have to admit that I am not naturally a unit study sort of person.  Our studies might eventually be sort-a, kind-a unit study as we dig into a subject and discover natural connections between literature, geography, music, art, etc.  And, hats off to all you out there who LOVE them and CREATE them for yourselves.

But if finding those connections and thinking up all those ideas is NOT your cup of tea, then perhaps having a bunch of building blocks (so to speak) will help initiate you into the unit study style of learning.  And, the First Reports might be a good place to start.

Because the product is providing a jumping off point for your studies, you can proceed a myriad of ways. 

For our home state, 6 questions were given which helped us research our state name, presidents from our state, a famous person from our state, among others.  We have a pile of books about our state that I pulled out to help us jump start:


After researching the questions, it is then up to you to help your student craft a report.  The guide does not come with any additional helps for you to use to teach report writing;  you will need to teach the idea of topic sentences, supporting details, transition words, etc. yourself.

Then, there are the multi-subject suggestions included in the 24-page unit study. Here are some of my favorites related to our state:


  • Why were some of the universities in New England founded?  Do they still exist for these reasons?
  • Discuss the State Motto


  • Learn about Robert Frost and his work


  • Math graphs showing the number of states with coast line vs. those without.  Make a line graph of states’ coastline
  • graph the population of the states

History/ Geography/ Social Studies:

  • Learn where the “old” was for the states that have “New” in their name.
  • Use the blank map to draw geographic features

Language Arts:

  • Make a Horn Book
  • Write a poem about our state similar to Robert Frost


  • Learn about Alan Sheppard

PE/ Music/ Art:

  • Learn about games children played in the past


  • Search for a state song.  Learn why it is important to our state


  • Make a mobile with our state bird, mineral, flower, etc.  Draw pictures of them, cut them out and construct.

Trust me, this is only a small, small fraction of some of the ideas that are included in this guide.  Just reading through the guide gave me a few extra ideas and inspiration for me to design my own activities.  Since I reviewed this primarily with Levi in mind, I recalled that there are quite a few state-related field trips that he probably doesn’t recall, because it has been a few years since we’ve been there.  We have been too busy this summer to include any state related field trips, but I plan to add a few in as summer winds down before our busy soccer season.

As you can see, I really didn’t have any trouble finding activities to do, thanks to the help of the guide! However, if I was new to homeschooling and wanted to give unit studies a try, I think I would want more hand-holding or some suggested resources (online or books) about how to design a unit study based on this program.  {I know it isn’t rocket science, but I cannot be the only one who is a little nervous when trying something new and wanting a little hand-holding to make sure I’m doing it right.}  Thankfully, Hewitt has included some information on their page Unit Study Helps.


Levi loves maps and geography.  He instantly saw the map of the continental US, and had a hard time deciding what to do with it.  In the end, we decided to practice using postal abbreviations.  Next day: coloring states!

My recommendations & thoughts: If  you are a person who likes unit studies (or wants to try them out), yet would like some assistance in getting started, these might be a good tool to get you started.  They are reasonably priced, though I do wish they came as PDF downloads so I could access them right away and not have to pay a shipping charge to get them. 

This product is definitely an inspiration product. It will inspire you and get your creative juices flowing.  It will encourage you to ask questions about the topic that you might not have thought of previously.  You will still need to seek out tools to help you teach the writing process as well as learn how to design a unit study.

Hewitt offers many different kids of unit studies for this age range:

In addition, they have a variety of language art products for middle and high school students.  Many were reviewed by the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  Click below for details.

Hewitt Homeschooling on Social Media:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Analytical Grammar {Crew Review}

The authors over at Analytical Grammar are on a mission to change how grammar is taught to American students.  Creator Robin Finley (with her daughter Erin Karl) believe that systematic instruction in the can be the foundation for grammar knowledge that all students (from learning disabled to gifted) can take with them through their lives.  Originally a public middle school teacher, Ms. Finley has successfully taught public school students and began selling the program online to others in the late 1990s. 

For this review, I was sent their flagship program Analytical Grammar and the new Companion DVDs. The program can be used with students from grades 6 through high school seniors.

Analytical Grammar Teacher and Student Book set ($94.95) – Please note that the workbook is consumable.  You can purchase additional student workbooks for $49.95

Analytical Grammar Companion DVD Set ($39.95)

This is one hefty grammar book – almost 400 pages in each of the student and teacher books.  Both books are soft-cover, and the student book is perforated so workbook pages and tests can be removed. Since the authors recommend that the program (and tests) be “open book,” I have Ben remove his worksheets and tests;  what is left are the Unit Notes (I’ll explain those in a minute), which Ms. Finley suggests binding to create a grammar book for future use.  Apparently, her system has worked so well, her students have returned from college very grateful to have had her note pages to help them through their post-secondary academic years!

The DVD set contains 4 DVDs which guide you through each of the 35 units.  In case you are curious, the DVDs cover the following lessons:

DVD 1: Units 1 – 9
DVD 2: Units 10 – 18
DVD 3: Units 19 - 27
DVD 4: Units 28 – 35

How it Works:

The program is meant to be used over the course of several years (middle and high school) in three “seasons.”

Season 1

Basic Parts of Speech and Diagramming

Unit #1: Nouns, Articles, and Adjectives
Unit #2: Pronouns
Unit #3: Prepositional Phrases
Unit #4: Subject & Verb
Unit #5: Adverbs
Unit #6: Patterns 1 & 2 (Sentences with and without direct objects)
Unit #7: Pattern 3 (Sentences with indirect objects)
Unit #8: Patterns 4 & 5 (Sentences with predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives)
Unit #9: Helping Verbs
Unit #10: Compound Situations

Season 2

Phrases & Clauses

Unit #11: Participial Phrases
Unit #12: Gerund Phrases
Unit #13: Infinitive Phrases
Unit #14: Appositive Phrases
Unit #15: Adjectives Clauses
Unit #16: Adverb Clauses
Unit #17: Noun Clauses

Season 3 --

Punctuation and Usage

Unit #18: Comma Splits and Splices and Comma Rules 1, 2, & 3
Unit #19: Comma Rule 4
Unit #20: Comma Rule 5
Unit #21: Comma Rules 6, 7, & 8
Unit #22: Comma Rules 9, 10, & 11
Unit #23: Quotations
Unit #24: Dialogue
Unit #25: Titles
Unit #26: Semicolons and Colons
Unit #27: The Possessive
Unit #28: Capitalization
Unit #29: Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
Unit #30: Subject-Verb Agreement
Unit #31: Choice of Pronoun
Unit #32: Who and Whom
Unit #33: Adjective or Adverb 
Unit #34: Transitive/ Intransitive & Assorted Usage Errors
Unit #35: Active/ Passive Voice

Between seasons, students complete reinforcement exercises once a week or so until the next “season.”  Analytical Grammar does sell four high school reinforcement books that can be used in these rest periods.

AG 3 year plan

If you need to work through the program at a faster pace, you can find a two-year timetable:

AG 2 year plan

Conveniently, the program has 35 units, so if you really need to move through the program in one year, you can schedule out one unit per week for your student.

Even within the program, the authors give tips on how to move through the program (especially the first 10 units) at a faster clip for those students who have a firmer foundation on grammar basics.

Like I said, lots of flexibility.

How It Works:

A week of Analytic Grammar with the Companion DVDs looks like this:

Day 1: Watch DVD and do Exercise 1.  On the DVD, Ms. Finley or Ms. Karl will walk the students through the Notes page for each unit.  Here is an example of a notes page:

notes page 1 notes page 2

Let me just say that having the Companion DVD set makes Analytical Grammar work for us.  Even though the instructors are just talking through the pages, they are able to add some additional helps and tricks, which greatly increased our comprehension of the material.  Also, reading through several pages of grammar information can be difficult for auditory learners, so the DVD set is hugely helpful to walk students through the page and explain information. Each DVD lesson is approximately 10 minutes.

After the explanation, Ms. Finley (our her daughter, Erin Karl) walked Ben through the first couple worksheet sentences. I love that she actually models the thought process students need to go through in order to understand and complete the work. If the exercise worksheets contain different types of tasks, she walks students through that as well.  Students then pause the DVD, complete the lesson tasks themselves, then re-start the DVD to check their work.

Here’s a screen shot from the DVD which shows how she walks students through the lesson:

still from DVD

Day 2: Correct Exercise 1 (about 20 min. of time), and have student complete Exercise 2

Day 3: Correct Exercise 2 and have student complete Exercise 3

Day 4: Correct Exercise 3.  There is an optional  section called Skills Support with many lessons.  These are passages of literature used to incorporate the grammar concept.  If you want, assign that exercise on this day.

Day 5: Correct Skills Support and give test.

Day 6: Correct Test with student.  Watch DVD and do Exercise 1 of next lesson.

The Teacher’s Guide gives plenty of suggestion on speeding up this process as well as “testing out” your student on different concepts.

How It Worked For Us:

First of all, let me be honest and say that this is not our first experience with Analytical Grammar.  I had tried it with Ben when he was in 6th grade, hoping to make it through the program and have a grammar expert by the end of 8th grade.  At the time, I do not think the DVDs were available, and he and I had a hard time working through it.  Even through Ben has used a grammar program since 1st grade and even though he did well on the assignments, it is something that just does not stick in his brain form more than a few weeks.  Following the guide, Ben and I would read through the Notes page, which has the bulk of information about the grammar concept being learned. But really, just reading it through did not help Ben to understand it. We really floundered with the first unit, and after many tears, sold it and moved on.

But, this time, the Companion DVDs are making this program a “keeper.”  At least for me, I have a much better understand of how to teach grammar after using various resources with all three of my boys.  The DVD allows me to learn how Analytical Grammar works and to help him when questions arise. The DVDs are helping me to be better at grammar, but also better at teaching the concepts. 

2014-07-29 09.42.12Because it is summer and we’ve been using the program between vacations and soccer games and water park visits, I have used some of the suggested short cuts to progress Ben through the beginnings of the program.  Our day doesn’t look much different than what is recommended in the guide, but I have taken the liberty to assign just odd (or even) sentences;  if he is having some problems with those sentences, I might add in a few more of the even (or odd).  A couple times, I asked Ben to do the first half of the sentences, then added one or two more after we corrected his work. 

The guide recommends having an open book testing policy, which might feel uncomfortable at first.  Yes, the authors want the students to use the Unit Notes as a reference while they are testing (remember, these pages can be put in a thin 3-ring binder as a reference for high school or even coil bound).  As someone who always did a lot of writing in high school and college (as well as after college), I have often had some sort of style guide or reference to use for my projects.  Rather than worry about recall mastery, student are learning grammar progressively as well as learning to look things up along the way.  That is a good skill to teach students.


My recommendations & thoughts:

I am very, very happy to have this curriculum for Ben; he is going to use it this year (we may divide it into a two year program and get the American Literature Reinforcement book).  For us the make-it-or-break-it item is the DVDs.  Without them, we would probably still be having a hard time using the program.  Since grammar is something that is not natural for him (and not something he is interested in), the Companion DVD provides a way for him to access his excellent auditory learner skills and understand the information better.  I don’t think parents should use the DVD as a crutch;  watch it with your students.  I think the Finley/ Karl combination will help you to understand what is being taught and will improve your own teaching skills.

Analytical Grammar w Companion DVD reviewed at

Analytical Grammar also has a program for 4th-5th graders, called Analytical Grammar Jr., as well as a writing program, Beyond the Book Report, and cultural guide, The Eternal Argument, which helps make literature and history more meaningful.  Click below to see what Schoolhouse Review Crew members said.

Connect with Analytical Grammar:
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Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday - Family Date

As a family, we have now lived through our busiest part of the summer.  Mid-July had us going in various directions:
Two weeks of morning swim lessons for Levi and I.
A week of Trail Life USA camp for Ben, Luke, and Dad.
Get the house ready for Nana and Opa’s visit; pick them up from airport.(They stayed with the boys while Dave worked and I was gone).
Get home from camp, unload and drive 2+ hours to a 50th birthday party for family. Get stuck in horrific traffic jams.
Next day, I leave for 5 days to a Classical Conversations training in upstate New York.
Ben gets a 4-day a week, 6 hour a day job for the rest of the summer.  We have mounds of laundry to do.
After such a busy time of not really seeing anyone, I proclaimed this past Sunday Family Date Day.  After church and lunch and a bit of rain, we headed to play mini-golf.
What a sweet time of laughter it was!  I haven’t belly laughed at so many comedic errors in a long, long time.  Everyone was in good spirits and was a good sport.  We all laughed at each other over and over again.  Dave’s ball knocked Ben’s into the cup, giving him a technical hole-in-one……and just a few holes latter, Dave did it again giving me a hole-in-one.  There were a couple holes that Luke (or me) just couldn’t get the ball more than 5 feet past the pin.  Over and over this happened.  Yes, I know you had to be there so appreciate it all. We had a blast.
Because my boys cannot go 2 hours without eating, we decided to splurge and have ice cream for dinner:

It was a great family memory day, and I know that we will have to have another A-Team Comedy of Errors Mini-Golf Challenge in the future.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ben’s Pygmalion; Levi’s Cloud


Ben and Levi took a drama class this summer.  For the final class, the middle and high school students each performed a monologue, and Ben was given Professor Henry Higgins.  I was very pleased with his performance:


I really enjoyed Ben’s performance.

Levi and the elementary aged students (all girls – except Levi!) performed Aesop fables.  Levi’s fable was the North Wind

2014-07-09 10.47.15

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

{Not so} Wordless Wednesday: Yep. I Built This.

Trust me, this isn’t going to turn into a furniture building blog. 
For Christmas, Dave demo’ed a  front coat closet we had.  It was an annoying closet because the edge of it – just about 1/4 of an inch at the bottom – prevented the front door from opening back all the way.  Since, we don’t really come up the front steps in the wintery months, the coat closet wasn’t really used for more than stuffing junk in. 
So he busted it out of the house, and now I have this nice little nook that needed a bench to put purses and bags on.  So I found a simple bench to build at Ana White.

The top opens up and we can put gloves and hats and stuff in it.  I went funky and stained the bottom this blue-ish color, and I wanted a darker black-ish stain on the top.  I like how it turned out!  Next up is a wall rack to hold coats and mail.  I hope it will look like this, but I’ll put some of the blue stain on it as an accent:


Entryway Bench and Storage Shelf with Hooks

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Nina and Pinta


The boys and I met up with some friends to tour the reproductions of Columbus’ beloved Nina and the Pinta as it made its way up the Atlantic coast.

The Nina – way smaller than I could’ve imagined.  I cannot believe 26 people sailed on this across the ocean! : 

2014-07-03 12.24.41

2014-07-03 12.28.19

The Pinta- slightly bigger than the Nina, but not as large as the original boat:


2014-07-03 13.06.54

Families in the Midwest, don’t think that you are left out!  The ships are headed up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal, and Great Lakes will make their way down the Mississippi River this fall.

You can check out their ports of call:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Perfect Summer Day


Luke and Levi had friends (a pair of brothers) sleep over recently.  My boys had been working on making paper folded fortune wookies prior to their arrived, inspired by Tom Angelberger’s Origami Yoda book series:


After they returned from the soccer field, the four boys starting transforming practically every piece of construction paper in the house into paper-folded Star Wars characters.


Who has to say, “OK boys, time to put your origami away and go to bed?”  Me, happily me.

And who wakes up hearing boys pass tape, fold paper, and discuss eye placement?  Me, happily me. 


They even made up some of their own characters,and adapted some of the folding instructions in the back of the books to make them a tad more realistic (I mean, ya gotta have R2D2 legs!) What an awesome summer day.