A Huge Variety of Homeschool Lessons in One Place – SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, one of the biggest blessings I receive is a free Yearly Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Crew reviewers are invited to continue their membership for free as long as they remain on the Crew, and I’ve opted to keep mine up each year (I’m beginning my third year as a member). I don’t always remember to utilize this amazing resource, but I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-exploring it, and I was reminded of just how awesome it is. We’ve already started using some of these lessons (this is our first week back after baby and Christmas), and I definitely see us using more of them in the near future.

The two classes that we’ve just begun are Keyboarding by David Kimball and Dinosaurs and the Bible by Patrick Nurre.

keyboardingKeyboarding is a 10-lesson typing course for students of all ages. Each lesson can last as long as needed for mastery, from one day to a week or more. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in 9th grade, but times have changed since then, and it’s really not all that realistic for younger student not to learn how to type. So many things rely on the computer these days that it doesn’t make sense to keep them away from this generation of children, even for parents (like myself) who would prefer to have our students work more with “real” things like books and paper.

Each typing lesson focuses on a small portion of the keyboard, starting with the home row. It uses a combination of video (explanations that require visual), audio (oral-only explanations, instructions, and music to type to), and written (a printable student packet with letter combinations and words to type). It might be tempting  to skip the printing of the student packet, but don’t do this. This keyboarding class’s goal is to teach students to type accurately without looking at the keys or the screen.

Dinosaurs and the Bible will be our science course for the next several weeks. We dove into it this week, and it’s not so different from the science course we were using before in method – a video paired with worksheets. This may not be everyone’s favorite way of teaching science, but for us at this stage in our family it works very well. Like with most things involving worksheets, I’ve been hand copying them off of the website for the boys.

The Dinosaurs and the Bible course is currently active, which means not all of the lessons are available yet, but more are added each week and will continue to be until the entire course is complete. Once that happens, the archives will remain available on the site indefinitely. That’s one of the things I love about SchoolhouseTeachers.com – that they leave every course up once it’s there. This means that you can use the material any time, not just when  it’s new and active.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com is an amazing resource for homeschooling families. The two classes I talked about are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This website could easily provide the core curriculum for your students. There are classes in nearly every subject for all grade levels, from preschoolers to high school. There are also printable planners and other resources for parents, and the membership includes free access to Right Now Media, a faith-based video streaming company.

The fee ($12.95 per month or $139 for a full year) is per family, not per student, so it’s quite affordable. To make it an even better value, I have a special deal for you today. Sign up for a Yearly Membership during the month of January and get 50% off using the coupon code CREWFOLLOWER. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Blessings,

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What We’re Reading in January

Happy New Year!

Christmas brought a lot of new books into our home, and I’m excited to share about them over the next couple of months as we begin to read them all ๐Ÿ™‚

Wendy (that’s me!)

Will found two books for me from some of my favorite authors, and I’m really excited to read both of them. The decision of which to read first came down to the one that felt better in my hand, especially since a lot of my reading happens while nursing Dragonfly. So this month, I’m reading At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants). It’s a period piece that takes place right at the end of World War II about a woman, her husband, and her father-in-law as they search for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.

Seahawk (6th grade)

He’s working his way through several things right now… He hasn’t finished the George Washington biography I wrote about last time I did one of these posts. He’s also reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and we got him a Star Wars special edition magazine for his “something to read” for Christmas that he’s enjoying.

Munchkin (4th grade)

Munchkin, as regular readers will know, is my reader. This kid will read anything you put in front of him. He was recently quarantined to his bedroom for 4 days while he recovered from pneumonia. He spent the first day of that quarantine sleeping. He felt better after just a day or so on the antibiotics, but because we have an infant we weren’t comfortable letting him out to risk passing the infection on to the rest of us for a few days after that. This was borderline a treat for him rather than a problem – it meant he had 3 solid days to do nothing but read and draw without his older brother giving him grief about not playing! During that half-week, he read the first three Harry Potter books in their entirety. He’s now about halfway through Goblet of Fire. His goal is to read the remainder of that series and then dive into his Christmas books. He received a single-volume Chronicles of Narnia that he’s excited to dive into, among other things. We won’t need to hit the library for him for the next 6-12 months at least!

Small Fry (3 years old)

Sometime in December, this guy decided he was really into trains. I’m not entirely sure what prompted it, but when asked what he wanted for Christmas, the answer every time was “Trains!” So we got him a beginner train set with the understanding that if he’s still interested on successive birthdays and Christmases, it would be easy to add on to. Additionally, we found on sale a book that had 6 Thomas the Tank Engine books all in one volume, so we picked that up for him. He’s loving the book, and will easily sit through 3 or more of the stories at once – assuming he can find someone to read that many to him!

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

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A Bible Study for Kids of ALL Ages (GrapeVine Studies Review)

GrapeVine Bible Study for all ages

It’s important to Will and me that our boys study their bibles. We go to church, yes, but we feel that it’s our main duty as parents to instill a fear of God into them. In this way, and only this way, will they learn to be the godly men we want them to grow into. So, even though we attend church most weeks (unless someone is sick, typically), we also make sure to study the Bible at home. (This is especially important with Small Fry because his church class is taught primarily in Spanish because he’s the only non-hispanic of his age group in our church.) While we firmly believe that the Bible itself is the most important thing, it’s also good to have other options for study under your belt, so to speak. And when those options can work for multiple age groups, all the better, especially in a family like mine with split-age children. This is where this review for GrapeVine Studies comes into play.

The past several weeks, we’ve been studying the Christmas story with Birth of Jesus: Multi-Level. This includes a teacher manual ($12.50 in print or $10 for a family license e-book) and a student book ($8 in print, $6.50 for a family license e-book, or $22.50 for a classroom license e-book) and is designed for ages 7 and up. As a special bonus, I was also blessed with the Traceable student book (same prices as the regular student book), designed for ages 3-6. See what I mean about it being perfect for my family? A study for kids 3-6 (Small Fry turned 3 this past summer) and a matching one for ages 7 and up? I was so excited when I saw this product that I requested to review it even though the due dates for the review were so close to Dragonfly’s birth. That’s how good a fit I thought it would be for our family. And I was right.

The teacher manual is a 65-page PDF e-book that covers the goals for the program (for teachers and students), the supplies needed to successfully complete it, a timeline of the events to be studied, 4 lessons, and a final review. The student book (multi-level) and the traceable book are each 49 pages and cover the same material as the teacher book, minus the teacher resources (goals and supplies). It’s a very easy program to implement. Allow me to explain how we worked it.

First, I had Will print off the traceable book for Small Fry. For the older boys, I had them work with blank paper. They were able to be more creative this way, and I think they enjoyed it a bit more than if it had been “workbook-y.” Then I referred to my computer for the teacher book. I didn’t feel it was necessary to print that off when I could just read off of my screen. Besides the printouts/paper, the only other supplies we used were a Bible to share and a pencil for each child.

A day of using this curriculum was pretty straightforward. The teacher manual shows pictures of the student manual so I could get an idea of what the kids should be drawing. Other than that, it was basically just a list of Scriptures to read. I’d read straight from our Bible the appropriate verse(s) and wait while the boys drew (or traced) an image to go along with that section. Then I’d move on to the next one. Because we were working with Small Fry on this review, too, I kept the lessons short. We did about half a lesson per day in order to keep him interested. The last thing I wanted was to overwhelm him and destroy his excitement about this study. Working at this pace, there were about four pictures per day of drawing/tracing to be done. At the end of each lesson, there’s a series of questions to ask to make sure the material was absorbed.

KIMG0032Our overall thoughts? We liked this study a lot. The boys, as I’ve mentioned before, really love to draw, so this kind of thing was right up their alley. And Small Fry was super excited to have “school” of his own to work on each day. Every single day, he would come up to me and ask, “Is it a school day, Mama? Can I do my school?” It was a real blessing to see him so excited about getting some work done. (This was better than putting him on a video to avoid distraction, in my opinion.) In a nutshell, we definitely recommend this product!

Blessings,

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Make sure to click the banner below to check out what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of GrapeVine Studies. In addition to the Birth of Jesus study, some families are reviewing a variety of Old Testament studies as well.

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The Zoo of the English Language (The Phonetic Zoo Review)

It’s no secret that I love the products put out by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It’s also no secret that my oldest, Seahawk (who turns 12 tomorrow and is in 6th grade) needs a lot of help with his spelling. Despite the fact that he reads a lot, he just hasn’t been able to put seeing all the words into practical terms in relation to spelling. When I learned that the newest Crew offering from IEW was going to be a spelling program, therefore, of course I was thrilled. We’ve had only good luck using IEW’s products, so I had incredibly high hopes that The Phonetic Zoo Level A [Starter Set] would finally be the program to help Seahawk gain some success in his spelling. On the other hand, though, I was a little concerned that since we’ve tried so many different programs that this one might not make the grade.

Learning to Spell with The Phonetic Zoo

So what’s the verdict? Has it worked better than other programs for my struggling speller? Keep reading to find out!

The Phonetic Zoo has three levels: A, B, and C. Despite the fact that he was technically outside of the age range for level A, I chose this level for Seahawk anyway. I made the decision after having him take the spelling placement test on the IEW website and seeing that he definitely needed to start at the beginning – his spelling was that poor.

The program is broken down into three portions: the printed materials, the audio CDs, and the downloadable components. The printed materials cover all three levels, so  you only need to purchase those once for the entire time your child or children are using the program. The audio CDs vary from level to level, so those need to be purchased new each time your child ascends to a new level. The printed materials include teacher cards and student motivation cards (more explanation on each component later). The audio CDs are just that: a set of 5 CDs that include the audio portion of the program. These are also available as MP3 downloads, which are automatically included with the CD purchase. And finally, the downloadable components include the teacher manual and an audio version of Andrew Pudewa’s talk “Spelling and the Brain.” (If you’re a more visual person, this speech is also available in its entirety on IEW’s YouTube channel.)

The teacher cards are large (8×5 or so) flashcards. The side you show to the student has pictures of the animal(s) whose name demonstrates the rule being studied and a small selection from each list (levels A, B, and C), while the other has the rule and its jingle along with the complete list for each level. These cards have a single hole punched in them so you can attach them to a large ring for easy storage. The student cards are much smaller (about business card sized, but not exactly) and have the animal on one side and the rule/jingle on the other. When a student successfully completes a lesson (details on that in a minute), they keep the card and add it to their “zoo.”

The first thing I did when I found out we would be on this review was to hop over to YouTube and listen to the Spelling and the Brain speech, even before I had my download access. This was a fascinating talk explaining how the brain works and why that’s important for learning to spell. Then there was the matter of waiting on the mail so we could dive into the program. It arrived on the first or second day of school, so that was perfect timing. We started the program the day after it arrived (I’d already received the downloadables by then, so I’d spent some time with the teacher manual and felt ready to explain it to Seahawk). One thing to keep in mind is the things you’ll need that aren’t included in the purchase: a notebook or binder with blank paper and a CD or MP3 player with headphones. (I ripped our CDs to Windows Media Player on the computer, then moved the files from there to Seahawk’s MP3 player since we don’t have a CD player except in the car.) The curriculum authors emphasize the importance of headphones rather than a regular speaker because the sound gets right into the student’s ears – and brain – better that way. Plus there are fewer options for distraction.

So, the way the program works is pretty simple, and it’s something the student can do autonomously (mostly). The first day, the teacher goes over the new rule with the child. (The rules are very much the same as those that my generation learned in school – “I before E except after C,” “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking,” and so forth.) The difference between just learning the rules and The Phonetic Zoo’s way of teaching them is that IEW puts an emphasis on making sure students understand that there are exceptions to every rule. This is important for students to comprehend in order for them to really excel. Once the rule has been explained to the student, they’re on their own. They put their headphones on or earbuds in and play the track with the list of words for that lesson. The CD explains the rule to the student again, and then the list is started. There’s a pause between each word, but students are also encouraged to pause their CD if they need more time. This isn’t supposed to be a rush job. They write down the words on their blank paper, one at a time. Then they listen to the next track, which is the correction track for the lesson. In this track, each word is named and then spelled. This is a very important piece of the puzzle for two reasons. First, it allows the students to self-correct. Second, by hearing the letters in the proper order, students can begin to make sense of the words and rules, specifically the exceptions. While they listen to the correction track, students are encouraged to write down the proper spelling of each word, even if they spelled it correctly the first time. Children work the same lesson each day until they get 100% correct for two consecutive days. Why two? Because one could be a fluke, but two in a row demonstrates true understanding.

We used this program exactly as it’s designed to be used, and how I described it in this post. Seahawk did one lesson each school day (four times per week) until he got 100% for two consecutive days – even if that meant his “correct” days were split over the weekend. Sometimes this took only 3 or 4 days, other times it took upwards of 10-12 days.

So, after all of this… what do we think of the program? We like it a lot. It’s easy to follow, and Seahawk likes the autonomy of not needing to wait until I’m available to get the work done. He can just get on his MP3 player and start working. Each day’s work only takes about 10-15 minutes, so that’s a good thing too. Will it work for him long-term? I’m still not sure. So far, he’s only made it through 3 lessons despite the fact that we’ve been working on it for six weeks. But he doesn’t get fatigued, even when doing the same lesson for days and days in a row. To the contrary, he’s very motivated because he knows that he’s building skills, and that he’ll get a new set of words as soon as he masters the current one. My only concern is that while the program emphasizes learning the rules – and exceptions – of English spelling, it does so using lists of words. I worry that he’s learning the words rather than the rules, but I haven’t tested that theory yet. If I remind him of a rule he’s already learned while he’s writing for another subject, he can usually come up with the correct spelling, even if the word giving him trouble wasn’t on the initial list. But he’s not yet at a point where he’s remembering those rules outside of spelling lessons. I hope to see that change over the course of using the curriculum.

All that said, I will say that Seahawk has now passed spelling tests six times (three lessons, two 100% scores each). This is huge, because before this program he’d passed zero. He’s feeling pretty motivated that he’s actually having some success, and I plan to capitalize on that momentum as much as possible. What this means is that we will definitely continue to use the program. It’s showing more promise than any spelling curriculum we’ve tried to date, and that’s enough for me at this point.

Blessings,

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All three levels of The Phonetic Zoo are being reviewed this weekend at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. In addition to the spelling program, some members also had the opportunity to review a series of teacher resources including the Timeline of Classics (putting classical literature in chronological order), A Word Write Now (a thematic thesaurus), and Teaching with Games (a video course that teaches teachers to create games for their students). Make sure to click the banner below for more information on all of those products!

 

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Combining Art and Geography (Brookdale House Review)

My boys love to draw. I suppose you could say it’s just a part of them, considering Will is a comic strip artist for a living. Me, on the other hand, not so much. Because I use other mediums for my art (fabric and yarn, mostly), I’m a bit at a loss for how to include art in their school day considering neither of them is particularly interested in sewing. This isn’t so bad because they spend a good portion of their free time drawing – especially Munchkin – but I still want to encourage them to use their skills to work on things besides superheroes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with superheroes, but I’d like them to expand their horizons, so to speak.)

Enter Drawing Around the World: Europe from Brookdale House. This neat geography curriculum offers students the chance to combine two subjects (art and geography) into one tidy package. The idea is that students work on one (sometimes more, particularly if they’re closely related like Norway, Sweden, and Finland) country or countries per week. They learn to draw the shape of each country as well as where it’s located within the European continent. By the end of the course, they should be able to draw and label their own map of Europe from memory. Each week, the series is the same – and it’s built around a 4-day week, which as regular readers will know is perfect for us!

On day one, the new country or countries are introduced. Students find them on a map (we have a world map hanging in the school room) and then are given printouts from the e-book on which they practice tracing the country. Then they’re given a blank map where they draw the new country from memory. In addition to the drawing on this first day, there’s a table to fill in with data about the country. These facts they learn are area, population, capital city, people/culture, major religion(s), climate, and resources. On the website for the purchase of the curriculum, they provide links to family-friendly websites to help you find all of this information, as well as specific things to pray for in regards to the people of the countries.

Days two and three are similar to day one, just without the fact table. Students practice tracing and drawing the countries (working with all of the countries studied thus far, not just the new ones).

The fourth day of the week, students are expected to name (write down) all of the countries studied to date as well as draw – on a blank sheet of paper rather than the pre-printed map provided – a map of Europe. Obviously, this isn’t done all at once. Like everything else in this curriculum, it’s done on an “add as you go” method, and they should draw only the countries studied so far.

Because I received the e-book version of this product (available for $22.95; a printed version is also available for $25.95), there was some printing involved. I looked through the curriculum and figured out a method that I thought would work for us, without requiring tons of printing all at once or regular printing each week. Here’s what I did.

I had four copies of the traceable map and four copies of the blank map printed for each child. This would get us through the week of each country studied. The boys had one version of each map for each day of the week. Instead of printing the fact table pages, I wrote the categories of facts into their geography notebooks, and they filled them out in there. The maps went into a separate folder that they pulled out each day. I taped a large sheet of blank paper (folded in half) into the front cover of their notebooks for the day four map, and they used that to draw and label their own map of Europe. This map was expanded upon each week with the new countries learned. By the time we finish the curriculum, they’ll each have a complete map of Europe that they drew themselves. While not perfectly aligned with the way the curriculum is set up, it worked for us.

The kids and I all learned a lot during the review period for this product. The fact table included in the book is a great way to turn what might otherwise be a flat, boring, too-easy geography curriculum into something more. It would be a great jumping off point to have students write a report on a specific country. This could be done on each country each week to flesh it out a bit more, or you could have students pick their favorite country when you get to the end of the book. Either way would be a benefit for students, I think. Because of all the different things included in the data collection portion of the week, it would also be pretty easy to turn this into a full on unit study. Make a chart showing the sizes and populations for math. Or explore what population density means. Use the major religions box to learn more about said religions and to pray for people of those religions who need Jesus. The people and culture box would be a great jumping off point for social studies or history – how did they get to be the way they are? Learning and comparing the climates of different countries would be an interesting science study. And so on.

So as you can see, I was very impressed with this curriculum, and we will definitely be continuing to use it even though we don’t “have to” anymore.

In addition to Drawing Around the World: Europe, Brookdale House also has Drawing Around the World: United States in which students follow the same basic outline, just for the different states in the US instead of the countries of Europe. And lest you think they’re all about geography, they also offer a huge variety of curricula in different subjects including, but not limited to, Spanish, Grammar, Writing, and History. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to review something from each of these categories, so make sure to click the banner below to find out more about those products.

Blessings,

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Reading with a Purpose (Progeny Press Review)

Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies for teaching literature to my children. We were blessed to be able to review their Little House in the Big Woods study last year, and I was thrilled when I saw that they were on the “upcoming vendors” list with the Schoolhouse Review Crew again. This year, we had the privilege of reviewing their Tuck Everlasting study guide, and I was just as pleased with this one as I was with last year’s.

The Tuck Everlasting guide is written with middle schoolers in mind, even though the book itself is a lower level. This means there were some differences between it and the Little House guide we used last year (namely that there weren’t any “fun” activities), but the general setup is the same.

The Basics

I received an electronic version of this study guide. This means that I was emailed a link from which I was able to download the guide to my computer. There are also options for a CD version of the guide (digital and CD versions are both $18.99) or you can request a printed workbook for an additional $3 over the price of the guide itself. For a total of $25.98 ($28.98 for the printed version), you can also buy a copy of the novel to go with the study guide. I just picked up a copy from the library.

The e-guide is pretty nice for several reasons. First of all, you receive your product right away. There’s no waiting for the mail. Second, if you’re doing the study with only one student, you can download the student version right to your child’s computer (if he has his own) and he can do the work right in the PDF. There’s no writing required. Alternatively, you can print the guide. This is good if you want to use it with more than one child or if you don’t want your child relying on the computer for every little thing. I fall into both of the latter categories, so I chose to use a printed version of the study guide (sort of – more on that in a minute).

The Tuck Everlasting guide is divided into five-chapter “chunks.” For each 5 chapters, there is a series of “paperwork” for your student to move through. These include activities such as vocabulary, comprehension questions, exploring what the author’s intentions might have been for specific words/phrases used, and comparing things the characters say to Biblical principles. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of what’s included. Additionally, concepts such as foreshadowing and similes/metaphors are discussed and there are activities for students to practice their understanding of those notions.

How We Used It

It’s no secret to regular readers that we don’t really print anything out for our homeschool. It’s not that I have a problem with doing so, but more that it’s just not convenient for me since we don’t currently have a printer at home and going to the print shop for every little thing is a pain. So I spent time before we were ready to dive into each of those 5-chapter chunks I mentioned before writing down all of the activities and questions in each of the boys’ Literature composition books. I did this one chunk at a time to save my sanity (and hand!).

KIMG0035Once the “workbook” was ready, I went through it and divided it into manageable sections, one per school day. For example, our schedule for the first chunk went something like this:

Day 1: The boys did the prereading activity, which was to do some basic research on Juan Ponce de Leรณn (we got a book from the library for this) and write a report on his life, paying particular attention to his obsession with the Fountain of Youth, which he thought was in present-day Florida.

Day 2: I read the prologue and first five chapters to the boys. The chapters in Tuck Everlasting are pretty short, so it was pretty easy to get through that much in a sitting. (Five chapters in Tuck Everlasting was a much shorter section than just one chapter of our August read-aloud book.)

Day 3: We worked together (with me guiding rather than helping) to get through the vocabulary section.

Day 4: We learned about setting and made an educated guess as to the time period that the book takes place. We also explored the author’s descriptive writing, discovering how she used several verbs rather than adjectives to describe a road.

Day 5 (Week 2, day 1): With my guidance, the boys answered the comprehension questions, including some that required them to think beyond the words on the page to answer (for example, “How does the man in the yellow suit react to the sound coming from the wood? What might this indicate?”).

Day 6: We learned all about foreshadowing, and the boys reread the prologue, this time pulling out specific pieces that they thought were bits of foreshadowing. We also explored what a symbol is in literature.

Days 7 and 8: We worked through the “Dig Deeper” questions. These are a series of questions for each chunk that are far beyond simple comprehension and require students to both think more carefully about the story and put the novel into the context of their own lives (for example, do you have any boundaries?) and the Scriptures (what do these passages say about obedience?).

KIMG0036Because the Tuck Everlasting study guide is written for a higher level than the Little House in the Big Woods one was (middle school versus upper elementary), it’s taking us quite a bit longer to get through. To date, we’ve read through chapter 15 and are going to get into the “Dig Deeper” portion for that chunk (chapters 11-15) early next week. The novel has a total of 25 chapters plus an epilogue, so I expect we’ll finish up the study guide around the end of this month.

My Opinion

As I stated in my opening paragraph, Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies. I love their study guides; it’s so nice to have a deep, rich experience studying novels rather than just reading them. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with “just” reading, but that for a “literature class,” it’s good to have something more extensive. I love how they incorporate Christian principles into their study guides and encourage students (and teachers!) to explore the Scriptures in relation to the novels they write the guides for.

Finally

Progeny Press has study guides for students of all ages, so make sure to head over to their site to find one that’s the right fit for your child(ren). I promise you won’t regret it!

Blessings,

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If you have students in other grade levels (from early elementary all the way up through high school) make sure to click the banner below for a selection of Schoolhouse Review Crew members and their reviews for a huge variety of Progeny Press study guides. This year’s Crew is talking about study guides for the following novels/categories: Sam the Minuteman and Miss Rumphius (early elementary); Sarah, Plain and Tall and Stone Fox (upper elementary); Tuck Everlasting and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (middle school); and To Kill a Mockingbird and Intro to Poetry (high school). You’re sure to find something interesting!

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How to Help Kids Build Reading Skills (Reading Kingdom Review)

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I’d heard of Reading Kingdom before, but had never really explored it in-depth because both of my school-age children are strong readers. I didn’t think we needed a program like this. Based on this personal assessment, I was a little surprised to see my name on the list for reviewers of their Reading Kingdom Online program, but I knew that since the Schoolhouse Review Crew is a team, everyone is expected to be a team player and at least try out the programs we’re assigned to review. With that in mind, I signed Munchkin up for the program right away and had him start last month when we started school. I was initially planning to have Seahawk work on the program, too, but then his new spelling program arrived in the mail, and I made the executive decision that he needed to work on his spelling more than his reading, so I let him skip out on Reading Kingdom – at least for the time being.

Reading Kingdom is a program created by Dr. Marion Blank, a top expert on reading and language. The program offers a series of lessons designed to teach children from ages 4-10 to read and write at a third-grade level. When I was asked by the vendor representative how things were going partway through the review period, I was honest and said I was having my son work through the program for the purposes of the review, but hadn’t noticed much because he was already a strong reader before we started. I received in response a very kind and informative message about why Reading Kingdom can be beneficial even for students who already read above their grade level. These include:

  • Writing. Students who write well read well.
  • Phonics and Comprehension. This might seem like a “no-brainer” in regards to reading, but it’s more than just phonics. Reading Kingdom has a special way of presenting a variety of phonemic awareness. This includes working on blends as well as homophones (to/too/two), homonyms (dog’s bark vs tree bark), and heteronyms (ship’s bow vs bow and arrow).
  • Diligence. For maximum benefit from the program, it is recommended that students work on it at least four days per week. This teaches them to keep pushing forward each day; having the diligence to work on the program on a regular basis is one of the fundamental requirements for success with Reading Kingdom.

The first thing we did was to have Munchkin take the assessment test. Because I’d never tried the program out at all, that was an important step. I had him do the assessment test the day before we started school so that on the “Big Day” he could dive right into the program. He was placed into Level 2 (of 5) of Reading and Writing. Because he didn’t start in a lower level, I can’t really tell you about that, but I can describe the kinds of things he did in the program each day.

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Click on any of the images to make them bigger.

First, there’s a “keyword” in each lesson. This word is typed over and over again into a variety of sentences and paragraphs. As the student progresses through the lesson, more and more words are left out of each sentence, but the keyword is always among the missing.

rk 4Eventually, the student gets to a point where the entire sentence is blank and requires typing (but don’t worry – there’s a very pleasant voice that prompts them into typing the correct words).

After this, a complete paragraph is presented. The student’s job is to find the keyword within the paragraph and click on it. There are three of these paragraphs (in the lesson Munchkin did today, anyway).

rk 6Next is a multiple choice activity. There are a series of choices, each one of which is a real word that’s missing letters. The goal is to find the one “that can become” the keyword, click on it, and then type the missing letters.

Finally, one of the paragraphs from earlier in the lesson is repeated, this time with certain words missing letters. The student chooses the correct word from a list at the bottom of the screen and then types the missing letters.

So, what did we (Munchkin and I) think of this program? He says, “There’s a lot of typing. Other than that, it’s very easy.” I think it would be a great program for families with younger or struggling readers. I really like the idea teaching young children to read at an early age. In fact, if Small Fry was a year or two older, I’d definitely use this program with him. But for use with the other boys? I’m not sure it’s the best fit for them. Will we continue to have Munchkin use it now that the review period is over? Maybe for a few more weeks, but if I don’t see a marked improvement to justify its use for an already-strong reader and writer, I’m not going to force him to continue.

Blessings,

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Reading Kingdom has a program for students on the Autism Spectrum, and some of the reviewers of this program tried that with their students. There are also plenty who reviewed the regular program, like I did. For more information on both of these, click the banner below.

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Homeschool Update ~ Oct 1

We’ve been “back to school” for almost four weeks now, so I thought I’d do an update on how things are going. In short, “so far, so good.” Things aren’t exactly the way I’d lined them out in my plan when I wrote about what I hoped to accomplish before we started lessons, but isn’t that normal? Even though they’re not precisely what I thought we’d do, I’m very happy with what we’re accomplishing each day, and that matters more than following a plan that was written before I knew how things would go.

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My method of homeschooling is somewhere between relaxed and purposeful. The boys each have a list of what they must accomplish each day, but half of that is things they can do on their own – hooray for teaching them independence! Those items, they’re allowed to in any order they’d like just so long as they get them done. This is the “relaxed” portion. The rest of the list are things we work on together because they’re either a) slightly above grade level and they need help (I don’t want to frustrate them, but I do want to challenge them, so most things are at their grade level and some things are above) or b) things they both do at the same level despite their different grades and ages. The latter category includes grammar and science, while the former includes our middle-school level literature guide from Progeny Press (more on that in a review at the end of next week). These are examples of my stricter side.

An example of our to-do list. Each child has one every day.

So, how do they know what they need to get done each day? We rely on a simple, tried and true method: the to-do list. For less than a dollar apiece, I bought them each a small (quarter sheet or so) notepad from the local copy store, and each week (usually on Saturdays or Mondays) I map out what they need to accomplish each school day. We do school Tuesday through Friday most weeks, but if I know in advance that there’s something going on one of the other days, we’ll do Monday instead of that day. (An example of this is when I go into the hospital to have Dragonfly. Because he’s coming via repeat scheduled c-section, I know that he’ll be born on a Friday, so we’ll do school on Monday that week since I won’t be around on Friday.) The list includes things that are generalized and specific. For example, they know they just have to do one math worksheet per day, so I just write “math” on their list. But science and literature aren’t that cut and dry, so I write the subject and what I expect them to accomplish (Science – vocabulary, for example) on the list for those subjects. As a rule, the subjects with the extra notes are the ones that we do together.

I added labels to the spine of each composition book so the boys wouldn't have to take them all out each time to look at the cover and find the correct notebook. The labels help to streamline everything.

I added labels to the spine of each composition book so the boys wouldn’t have to take them all out each time to look at the cover and find the correct notebook. The labels help to streamline everything.

The last big thing I want to mention is our attempt at notebooking this year. As planned, I purchased each of the boys a set of composition books for all of their school work to go into. Because this is our first year trying the notebooking approach, I’m not entirely sure we’re doing it “right.” Allow me to explain how we’re doing it, and maybe if a notebooking pro ever reads this, they can give me tips ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, they each have one composition book for each subject (except the computer-based ones). A lot of the things we’re studying have worksheets or study guides to help us/them along, but since I don’t have access to a printer very easily, I’ve been handwriting all of the worksheets. Twice. One for each kid. This is very time-consuming, but it’s worth it to me in order to keep the kids at home to educate them. Fortunately, only about two-thirds of the subjects require worksheets (math, literature, science, grammar, and geography).

For math, I found a website that details what is expected of students to know by the end of each grade in our state, so I’ve been using that as a guideline and my subscription to Super Teacher Worksheets to create math practice. I teach them the concept (Munchkin is working on area and Seahawk is mastering his fraction skills), and then there are several days of practice so they can master it. I think this is better than the old math workbooks we used to use in that I only add the “homemade” worksheets (not really, just copied from Super

Munchkin's handwritten math worksheets.

Munchkin’s handwritten math worksheets.

Teacher to the notebooks by hand) one week at a time. If I feel like they need more practice in the area, I continue with the same concept the next week. Once I’m comfortable that they’ve mastered the concept, only then do we move on.

Science and literature are a bit more streamlined, at least right now. We’re using Visual Learning Systems for science, which I reviewed earlier this year. It’s a wonderful combination of explanatory videos, worksheets, and occasional experiments. We’re doing the Life Science unit right now, and every single worksheet is right on the website for you. You can print them, but since that’s not an option for me at this time, I copy them down and the boys complete them like a traditional worksheet. Literature is very much the same. We’re using a Progeny Press study guide, which can be done right on the computer if you’re only using it with one student, but since I’m having both of mine use it, I copy everything

Handwritten science worksheets. Copied from the Visual Learning Systems website.

Handwritten science worksheets. Copied from the Visual Learning Systems website.

down for them, and they complete it. Once we finish our Tuck Everlasting study, things will get a bit more interesting (for me) because they’ll be doing different books, and I’ll probably attempt to write my own study guide for them based on what they’re reading, thereby combining literature and “read your novel” into one subject for them. Doing so will allow them more autonomy in the literature subject each day as well.

So, I guess that’s about it as far as how things are going and what we do/how we make sure everything is accomplished each day. To-do lists, worksheets, notebooks… That’s how we work.

 

How do you run your homeschool?

Blessings,

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Worksheets for Every Subject (Super Teacher Worksheets Review)

Do your students excel with worksheets? Do you sometimes just need a worksheet for something quick for them to do while you work with another child? Do you want worksheets to help your students with math drills or other topics? Then Super Teacher Worksheets is a website that will be right up your alley. For the purposes of this review, I was given an Individual Membership to the website. An annual membership to this website (which has thousands of worksheets in a huge variety of subjects) retails for $19.95.

The site has worksheets that you can download and print for grades kindergarten through 5th, and I’ve found that it’s been a huge benefit in our school. There are way more worksheets than you’d ever need (I bet), and they cover multiple topics within each major school subject (math, reading, writing, handwriting, grammar, spelling, science, social studies, holidays, puzzles and brainteasers, teacher helpers, preschool, and a “create your own worksheet” feature). It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s really not so bad. The worksheets are all arranged by subject and then by grade level after that. For our family, I found that we ended up using mostly some of the “fun” math worksheets, but I also fully intend to utilize those from the reading and writing category. There are lots of good ones there that I’ll talk about in a minute.

I decided that, at least in the short term, I’d have the boys have a “fun math” day on Fridays. I don’t want them to lose what they’re learning in their other program, but I also want them to keep their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills sharp. Using some of the worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets seemed like a good way to accomplish this goal. The first one I had Seahawk (6th grade, but needs to practice his long division) was a Bingo game. The goal was for him to solve 8 long division problems and then color in the answers on the Bingo board, seeing if he could get a “bingo.” (He did.)

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While Seahawk was working out the division problems, Munchkin worked on a Mystery Graph worksheet. He hadn’t done anything like this before, and it was a lot of fun for him once he got the hang of it. He was given a series of number coordinates (similar to a Battleship game, but with only numbers instead of numbers and letters) to plot and connect. When he was finished, the dots made a picture (in his case, a school bus).

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Beyond these fun math activities, I want to talk a minute about the language arts worksheets I mentioned earlier. There are so many great options here, but the one that we used the most was the “Writing a paragraph – Hamburger” worksheet. This was so cool because it has a fun picture – a hamburger – and each element of the picture is designed to be a sentence (or a sentence idea) all related to the main topic, which will help the children learn to write a paragraph all on the same topic. I had the kids use this for our Tuck Everlasting study – before we started the book, I had them write a report on Juan Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth (more on that in another review in a few weeks). Using the hamburger worksheet really helped them streamline their ideas into proper paragraphs.

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These are just samples of what we’ve actually used so far. There are so many other amazing resources on this site that I’m really looking forward to using (cause and effect, literature studies, and many more). I’ve only scratched the surface in this review, but fortunately, there are loads of other homeschoolers reviewing this wonderful site this week. I hope you’ll take a minute to see what they all have to say about it (just click the banner at the end of this post). I’ll leave my review at this: I’m really glad I have a whole year to explore this site and utilize all of the amazing things it has to offer.

Blessings,

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What We’re Reading in September

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts, but it’s always pretty fun. Since we’re beginning the new school year tomorrow, it seemed like the perfect time to dive back into a book-related post.

Read Aloud (everyone)

We had so much fun – and learned so much – when we reviewed the Progeny Press literature guide for Little House in the Big Woods last school year that I was thrilled to be chosen to review for this company again. This time, we’ll be working through Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I’ll read it aloud and the boys will notebook their way through it, using the Progeny Press guide as the backbone.

Me

I recently finished the first book in one of my very favorite series, The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow. I received that book as a gift from my late mother-in-law before she passed away, and didn’t read it for a very long time – after she was gone. It’s the story of a young woman, Annah, who lives during the time of the great

flood and Noah’s ark. At what seems like a chance encounter, but is really divine intervention from God (called the Most High in the books), she meets Noah’s son Shem. Within a few months, the two are married (though it’s not as clean a story as I just made it out to be). A few months after that, the flood comes. The story primarily follows Annah, but there are plenty of other characters, too – and lots of drama.

The second book is called He Who Lifts the Skies and follows Annah and Shem’s great-granddaughters, Sharah and Keren, through the Tower of Babel era. Even though I’ve read it once before, it’s been several years so it feels brand new, and I’m not very far in so I can’t explain much of the plot beyond this. But I highly recommend the books.

Seahawk (6th Grade)

All on his own, Seahawk decided to pick up the Harry Potter books this past week. They’re reasonable for his reading level, and he’s particularly interested since we recently had a movie marathon (the boys and I) where we watched all eight films over the course of a month or so. We own all seven books, but he couldn’t find the first book when he decided that this series was what he wanted to read, so he started with book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I hope he ends up enjoying these books as much as I did when I read them several years ago (to give you some perspective, I read them around the time movie 4 and book 6 were just coming out).

Munchkin (4th Grade)

Poor Munchkin had to come home early from church camp a few weeks ago because he was very sick – too sick to stay, even though the week was only half over. He was feeling better within just a couple of days, but by then it was

too late to worry about taking him back (he’d have only been able to go back for the final day). To help make it up to him a bit, Will gave him a copy of The Neverending Story, and he’s been working on it ever since. It’s a much longer, harder book than he’s read before, but he’s really loving it. He’s nearing the end, and I expect he’ll be done with that book in the next few days, so I’ll likely be assigning him a new book soon. I’m thinking it’ll probably be Because of Winn Dixie by Kate di Camillo. I have access to some great literature worksheets for that book (among many others), so it’ll be a good jump to make. Besides that, Kate di Camillo is one of his favorite authors, so I’m sure he’ll love the book.

Small Fry (3 years old)

Small Fry is kind of at the mercy of everyone else since he’s too young to read. He loves being read to, though. Sometimes he gets to hear whatever book the reader (and all four of the rest of us read to him on a fairly regular basis) is willing to read, but oftentimes we let him choose. His current favorites are Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss and any of the Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff. We own several of those, and the one he seems to gravitate toward is Babar and his Children, about the birth of King Babar and Queen Celeste’s triplets. This book is particularly relevant to him right now since we’re coming up on the birth of a baby soon.

What’s on the reading list in your family?

Blessings,

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