Turning Busy Work into to Memorable Work (NotebookingPages.com review)

The idea of doing our homeschooling in a “notebooking way” really appeals to me, but I’ve never really known how to implement the method. When the Schoolhouse Review Crew members were offered the chance to review a Lifetime Membership from NotebookingPages.com, I knew right away that I wanted to a part of it. I’ve explored the free side of the website before, but never really used it all that much. Doing a review was the perfect opportunity to explore the site fully and figure out exactly what notebooking would look like in our homeschool.


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We received access in the middle of May, so the first thing I did was look at the resources for holidays – specifically Memorial Day. Using some of the pages found on NotebookingPages.com alongside other resources I found online, I put together a Memorial Day unit study for the boys. Besides Memorial Day, NotebookingPages.com has printable pages for just a wide variety of (American) holidays from Martin Luther King Day in January to Christmas in December.

When we’d finished studying Memorial Day, I needed a new topic for us to study. We’ve been on a big classical music kick recently, so I decided to see what was available for composer studies. I was not disappointed with the selection – there are 28 composers to choose from! I looked through our record collection and the NotebookingPages.com options, put some books on hold through the library online catalog, and was able to put together a study on several of our favorite composers. We learned about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Sousa. Our very favorite composer (Rossini) doesn’t have any NotebookingPages, though. But no problem – my NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership came with a one-year subscription to their web-app, which allows you to create your own worksheets either from scratch or based on any of theirs. (The web-app doesn’t always come with the Lifetime Membership; if this is a feature you’re interested in, double check before buying.) Using the publisher web-app, I was able to adjust the other composer notebooking pages to swap in Rossini’s name and picture, and we had exactly what we needed.

During this review period, I’ve also been reading Courage and Defiance (my June book club book) to the boys. It’s all about the Danish resistance during WWII, so I once again headed to NotebookingPages.com. They have a series of WWII pages in the “modern history” section, so I printed those out and had the boys summarize each chapter of the book in their own words.

In our six weeks of use, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what NotebookingPages.com has to offer. Allow me to touch briefly on the different categories.

  • There’s a huge variety of categories under the “famous people” umbrella, not just composers. This includes artists, American presidents and first ladies, missionaries, church history figures, scientists, and explorers.
  • There are pages for 54 Biblical studies (mostly individual characters, but Jesus gets two, the rest of the New Testament is all on one, and some other are buddied up), as well as “Quiet Time Journaling pages.” I am looking forward to having the boys do some of these; in fact, I’ll probably print some out as soon as I finish writing this review!
  • The Geography tab includes pages for when you study the US or do a countries of the world study. There are also maps you can print.
  • Under history, you can choose pages that cover ancient times, middle ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and modern times. There are loads of different categories under each broad category, and multiple pages under each of these.
  • There is a wide variety of copywork pages under the Language Arts category, as well as plain lined papers for things like spelling lists.
  • Science and Nature covers things like animals, astronomy, anatomy, plants and trees, and experiment recording pages.
  • A-Z pages for the youngest learners to practice their alphabet in preparation for reading and writing. We did just one of these with Small Fry – the first letter of his name. I’m really excited to do a whole alphabet notebook with him this fall. He’ll be a bit young for formal Kindergarten (he turns 4 in two weeks), but definitely old enough for preschool-type work.

Even this huge list feels like it doesn’t even come close to doing NotebookingPages.com the justice it deserves. There are thousands and thousands of different options for notebooking, copywork, and blank pages to choose from. You really have to explore the site yourself for the “full effect.” If you sign up for a free account, there are several notebooking pages you can access for no charge.

notebookingpages sample

This page was downloaded page directly from NotebookingPages.com

Now I need to discuss what these pages look like, because it may not be what you’re expecting as you imagine what “notebooking pages” look like.

They’re not worksheets. This is not a curriculum.

These pages are essentially decorative journal pages for your child to record what he’s learned. If you’re looking for something other than “blank” pages, then NotebookingPages.com isn’t it. This doesn’t mean that it’s not an amazing resource for homeschooling, though. It’s important for children to record their own thoughts on things rather than just regurgitate answers based on worksheets, especially as they get older. For this use, NotebookingPages.com is exactly the right answer.

Rossini notebooking page

This page was created using the NotebookingPages.com web-app.

Each subject has a variety of different pages to choose from. Some have room for a lot of writing, some have room for some writing and a large drawing area, and some have room for a fair amount of writing and smaller drawing areas. Also, each style of page comes in “big kid” or “little kid” styles – plain lines or training lines with the dashes for learning letter placement. There really, truly is something for every family who wants to notebook on this site.

In addition to the actual pages you can print, there are video tutorials on what notebooking is and how to implement it in your homeschool. There are ideas for how to bind your child’s notebooks. (During the review period, I just purchased inexpensive folders with metal clasps. When school supplies go on super sales next month, I’ll stock up on other better options.)

I have just one issue with the program, and it’s fairly minor considering all the good things. I wish the PDFs would open in my web browser for me to review before I downloaded. Currently, they automatically download when you click on them. If I decide it’s not quite what I wanted, I have to delete it from my computer. This isn’t a deal breaker, but having it open in the web instead would be a huge plus.

The NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership currently sells for $97. Included in this is access to every single page on their website for life. There’s no limit to how many you can print, so it’s great for all of your children, even if you have large age gaps where you’ll go without using the site for a long time.

There are 100 reviews of NotebookingPages.com on the Crew blog this week. Make sure to click over and read about how this resource worked in other families!


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Homeschool Year in Review (2015-16)

The time of year to reflect on the last year in our homeschool is upon us once again. There were some things that were really good for us, and others where I wish we’d done better. Here’s what we accomplished.

We (almost) made it through the entire Fix It! Grammar (from IEW) level 2. If I’d gone through with printing the pages of the student book instead of hand-writing them, I think we would’ve done better. As it stands, I’m pretty happy with the work we got done here. The kids learned a lot of new grammar concepts, and they continue to apply them to their own writing.

We read a lot of books, and we have quite a few literature guides ready to use next year. As read-alouds, we did:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Give Me Liberty

Independently, Munchkin read the entire Harry Potter series. Seahawk is working his way through The Lord of the Rings. That one’s incredibly difficult, so I’m giving him a lot of leeway as far as the time it takes to read it.

KIMG0411We studied a lot of science concepts using multiple curricula (such is the life of a reviewing family). With Visual Learning Systems, we worked through loads of different life science units including animal classification, the human nervous system, and all about plants. There were several other units that we did before our subscription to VLS ran out, too. We also talked about Dinosaurs and the Bible using a curriculum from SchoolhouseTeachers.com. And finally, Munchkin and I worked through several weeks’ worth of Science Shepherd Introductory Science, focusing mostly on Creation. We’ll finish this curriculum next fall.

We studied World War II (though not as thoroughly as the topic deserves). Each of the boys wrote a report on a famous WWII leader. Seahawk chose Winston Churchill and Munchkin chose Adolf Hitler. To go along with that, we’re currently reading aloud Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson. This is a true life account about the Danish resistance, and it will be my Book Club entry for July.

Logic of English flashcardsUsing Logic of English, we learned several phonemes and spelling rules (especially important for Seahawk). This was an easy to implement, yet still very thorough English curriculum. We made it through a few weeks’ worth of lessons, and we will definitely be using it in the fall as well.

The boys are still working on their novels that they started when we reviewed the writing curriculum Here to Help Learning. I’ve given them the task of finishing those up by the end of the summer.

For math this year, we’ve been using textbooks (circa 2002, but math doesn’t really change all that much) that I purchased from Amazon. The boys are each about half to two-thirds done, and they’re working all summer long to finish those up in preparation of moving to the next grade level at the end of the summer. Additionally, we used A+ Interactive Math Mini Lessons. Seahawk mastered decimals while Munchkin learned to read an analog clock more easily. Thanks to Times Tales, the boys also finally really mastered the times tables. They’re still a little slower than I’d like, but at least they know them now.times tales collage

Seahawk has been practicing his drawing skills using ARTistic Pursuits. He’s really enjoying this book and plans to finish it on his own (it’s designed to be student-independent). In a couple of years, Munchkin will get to use it.

I think that’s about it. As you’re working through all the different months, sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re accomplishing much, but then when the year-end post comes around, it easy to see that quite a bit actually did get done. This is especially true doing homeschool the way we do, without a boxed curriculum. (The idea of one of those is very tempting to me, but with two school-age kids, and another one coming up quickly behind them, it’s out of the question budget-wise. I’m so thankful for the Schoolhouse Review Crew for giving us the opportunity to use so many things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to!)

This week, several other members of the Review Crew are reflecting on their own homeschool years. Click the banner below to be taken to the roundup post on the crew blog.


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Give Me Liberty (Progeny Press Review)

Progeny Press is one of those companies that I always request to review when the opportunity arises. This will be my third time reviewing one of their literature guides, and as always, I was very impressed with it.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been working through the Give Me Liberty E-guide, which goes with the novel of the same name. Give Me Liberty, written by L.M. Elliott, tells the story of 13-year-old Nathaniel Dunn, an indentured servant living in Revolutionary War-era Virginia. His mother died on the ship to America and his father abandoned him upon arrival. His master is broke and selling off all possessions, including the staff. This is where the novel starts (at the sale). Nathaniel is sold to a man called Owen, who begins beating the boy before he’s even completed the transaction. A kindly schoolmaster, Basil, steps in and purchases Nathaniel from Owen and trains him in carriage making. As Nathaniel and Basil continue to work together and bond, other colonists begin the uprising that eventually leads to the Revolutionary War. As this is happening all around Nathaniel, he has some serious decisions to make. Should he join the Rebels? Stay loyal to the throne of England? And how will his life change if the Revolutionaries are successful?

The Give Me Liberty E-guide is designed for middle-school age students, which corresponds precisely with the book (we found it in the “Young Adult” section of our library, which is their way of saying “Teen”). It’s a bit more difficult than the upper elementary guides (which we’ve only used one of – Little House in the Big Woods), but not terribly hard. It covers things such as vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, writing tools (similes, metaphors, etc), and “Digging Deeper,” which involves looking at themes in the novel and drawing biblical truths from them.

There are a couple of different ways you can have your student use the E-guides from Progeny Press. The purchase of the E-guides gives you an instantly-available, downloadable, interactive PDF. Interactive is the key word there. Because it’s interactive, rather than flattened, your child can use the computer and type their answers right into the document.

Or, you can make it “old school” and simply print off the pages, make a notebook by placing the printouts in a binder or folder (or binding them with comb binding or something similar), and then have your child write their answers on the paper. We chose to use the guide this way; other than when absolutely necessary, I prefer using “real” things for the boys’ school over screen things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with computers and smartphones and tablets, but there’s a part of me that prefers to keep my kids innocent from those things for as long as possible. (They use them, but not for every little thing.) Plus, I like having the printed documentation that they actually did the work. (My state doesn’t require it of homeschoolers, but I like to have it on hand “just in case” anyway.)

Once you decide which way to use the E-guide itself, you have to decide how to pair it with the novel. Progeny Press typically suggests reading the whole book and then coming back to the guide, but we’ve never done it that way. It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult for a child to read a whole novel and then try to remember what they read in the beginning with enough detail to answer in-depth questions. So we always read the section as a read-aloud (in the case of Give Me Liberty, it’s 5-chapter chunks; each chapter is fairly short, so the 5-chapter section was 30-40 pages long – fairly easy to read in one or two sittings). We did the reading at the beginning of the week and then the boys worked through the subsequent worksheet pages for several days afterwards. I’d have them do one section (vocabulary, comprehension, digging deeper, etc) per day. If a section was especially long or complicated, I’d allow them an extra day to work it over. Then we’d do it all again.

As with our other study guides from Progeny Press, I was definitely not disappointed with the Give Me Liberty E-guide. I love the intense study that this company puts into their study guides. It really takes reading to the next level for kids.

The Give Me Liberty E-guide is designed for middle school students (grades 6-8), but Progeny Press also has guides for Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, and High School. Make sure to check out the other reviews to learn all about the differences between the different levels. For more of my thoughts on Progeny Press, you can read my reviews of the Little House in the Big Woods E-guide and the Tuck Everlasting E-guide.


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Memorial Day Unit Study

KIMG0418We spent the past two weeks (ending last Friday) learning all about Memorial Day. I found some online resources and coupled them with my new NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership (review on that in a few weeks) to create a unit study for the big boys. We’ve always found unit studies to be our favorite way of schooling, but we haven’t done one in a long time. We were definitely overdue.

The holiday was originally called Decoration Day because it was a time to decorate the tombstones of fallen soldiers. It was first celebrated during the Civil War, and for the 100 years of its inception, it took place on May 30th (regardless of the day of the week). In the 1960s, there was a congressional order to change certain holidays to create convenient 3-day weekends for American workers; Memorial Day was one of those. Now we celebrate it on the last Monday in May, and a lot of people see it as nothing more than a time to get away and the unofficial beginning of summer. For this reason, there’s a grassroots movement to move it back to May 30th rather than keeping on the Monday for the sake of a long weekend.

For this unit study, we:

I found most of the ideas for this unit study on Free Homeschool Deals. There were even some ideas there that we didn’t get to. It ended up being an invaluable resource for me as I planned this unit study.

KIMG0417Some of our activities were done each day (copy work), some were done multiple days (writing to the soldiers – we didn’t do all of those on a single day), and several of them were done just once. I’m so glad we have our notebooking pages to help us remember all that we learned about this important American holiday.

I hope you all have a blessed Memorial Day. Take some time today to remember fallen soldiers and thank those who are still with us.


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Creation-based Elementary Science (Science Shepherd Review)

Science is one of those subjects that a lot of homeschool parents dread. It’s also one that children adore. So how do you marry the two desires? The best way I’ve found is to find a good program that will help you along the way. Introductory Science from Science Shepherd is one such program. Munchkin and I have been working through this program for the past few weeks, and I’m pleased to be able to bring you this review today.

KIMG0411Science Shepherd Introductory Science combines two methods of teaching: video lessons and a workbook. This is one of my favorite ways of “doing” science with the boys, so this was a perfect fit for us. The video lessons are very short (under five minutes), and each is followed up by a page or two in the workbook. The whole lesson takes less than ten minutes. Don’t let that small amount of time fool you, though. The lessons are full of good information, and the workbook is a perfect complement to the videos.

Even though we’re near the end of the school year, we started at the beginning of the program. It opens with the story of Creation and the videos, which are hosted by Science Shepherd creator and homeschool dad Dr. Scott Hardin, explain why that qualifies as science – and why it’s an important aspect to know and study before getting into the more “sciency” science.

science shepherdWorking as the program is designed (one video and the corresponding workbook pages each day), moving through Creation takes two weeks. It’s very tempting to move a lot quicker than that, especially if your child is well-versed in the Creation story. Even if you do a whole week’s worth in a day, it’s not a huge time commitment (30-60 minutes). We did this for the first two weeks’ lessons, and then slowed down to the suggested pace.Week three talks all about Science Skills and Tools, and week four moves you more into the “real” science, starting with meteorology.

In addition to Dr. Hardin’s instructional videos, there are demonstration videos as well. For example, in the Science Skills and Tools week, students are taught about the scientific method. During the explanation of a hypothesis (educated guess, in case you’re a bit rusty), a pair of students makes the hypothesis that a hammer is harder than an egg. Over the course of the 2 1/2 minute video, Dr. Hardin explains what a hypothesis is, and then it cuts away to the students. They talk about why they think a hammer is harder than an egg, make notes and observations about both, and then hit the egg with the hammer. Of course the egg breaks, thus proving their hypothesis true.

KIMG0412In Introductory Science, there are two levels offered – A and B. The videos are the same for both, but the workbook is slightly more difficult in Level B. Level A is suggested for ages 6-8 and Level B for ages 9-11 (it’s not based on grade levels). We got Level B, and I’m glad we did even though Munchkin is on the lower end of that age range at 9 1/2. It was very basic and easy for him. As we progress through the course, it might get more difficult, but time will tell on that count. (We’re going to set it aside for now but definitely pick it up again in September for his science course next school year.) Workbook activities are varied. So far, we’ve come across things such as:

  • Video comprehension questions
  • Matching (an item on the left with what it goes with on the right – draw a line)
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Coloring, cutting, and sorting shapes (flowers), then answering questions based on how the student chose to color them

Besides Introductory Science, Science Shepherd also has a course in Life Science and one in Biology. From what I’ve read, these upper sciences are much harder and more rigorous than Introductory Science. I’m definitely interested in trying out Life Science with Seahawk. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were able to sample all three levels, so if you have an older student, make sure to head over to the Crew blog to learn more about those upper levels.

Access to the Introductory Science videos is $35; for that, you get a full year of elementary science curriculum (35 weeks of videos). Access is good for 12 months. If you don’t finish in the year, you can extend your access for $5 a month. Workbook level A is $12; level B is $15. These are consumable resources to be used by one student. There are answer keys available for each level for $3 each (although, we haven’t needed ours yet; the workbook is pretty simple).


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The Pursuit of Drawing (ARTistic Pursuits Review)

I’ve heard good things about ARTistic Pursuits Inc. over the years, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to review for them – until now. In the past, the supply lists have been a big turnoff for me, but as my children are getting older and their interests are developing, we actually have some of the supplies on hand for a curriculum like this now. When the list of options for this year’s Schoolhouse Review Crew run came out, I was pleased to see that one of the options was Middle School Book One. Since I have a middle schooler who is an art enthusiast, I looked into this curriculum. I was ecstatic to learn that the supply list for this book included all things that Seahawk had received for Christmas – primarily, high quality drawing pencils in a variety of lead hardness, erasers, waterproof ink, a nib pen (holder and nibs), and paper. So, for the first time in three years, I requested to be on this review.

Assignment: draw water

Assignment: draw water

ARTistic Pursuits is a company passionate about creating artists, especially in the homeschool setting. They have a variety of textbooks ranging from preschool to graduation, which are specially designed to help children learn to harness the powers of observation while they explore art history, art appreciation, and art technique.

Middle School Book One is a soft cover, comb-bound text book of nearly 100 pages. The first few pages are notes for the parent, and starting on page 6, the lessons begin. There are sixteen units which cover a wide variety of teaching the student to draw better. These units include things such as

  • Using the space of your paper well
  • How to best use your pencils to create interesting lines
  • Creating interesting textures within your art
  • How symmetry or asymmetry can be good
  • Perspective
  • Proportion
  • And many more

ARTistic Pursuits 1When we first received the book, I had big ideas of everyone working on it together. We even did the first lesson all together (even Small Fry, who’s just 3) the same day the book arrived. It became clear in the lessons that followed, however, that just because your kids like to draw, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for formal lessons. This was the case with everyone but Seahawk. And that’s okay. He’s the only one technically in the age range for this curriculum, anyway. So after that first week, I let him do this subject on his own. Each lesson consists of a short passage to read followed by an art assignment. Since the review period lined up with the beginning of a beautiful spring here in the Pacific Northwest, he would often take his book, drawing pad, and pencil set outside to work. There was not one time when he brought me his work to look over that didn’t leave me impressed.

What did Seahawk think of ARTistic Pursuits? In his own words:

I found this to be the “funnest” class, that’s for sure. Before I used this book, I thought I knew everything there was to know about drawing. I just couldn’t master it. The book taught me different ways of using pencil lines to emphasize things and different ways to use combinations of shapes to make things look right. The book was challenging, but in a good way.


Assignment: practice texture by drawing a bear

My thoughts as a mom? This is a high quality book full of great tips for learning to become master of your supplies. I like how there are stories and lessons from a variety of world areas, which are used to teach different drawing techniques. I like how it teaches independence as well as art. Once the student knows the basics of how the lessons are set up, it’s easy for them to work on their own (especially good for non-artistic parents, or those whose art skill set lies elsewhere, like me). And I really like how they state right on the book that’s it’s designed to be non-consumable. This means that a single purchase (this book is $47.95) will cover all of your children, even if they’re all different ages. You can use it over and over again. Talk about value!

What’s not to like about ARTistic Pursuits? I can’t think of a single thing! I’ve read dozens of positive reviews for this company over the years, and now I know why. The materials are top notch.


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As with all Schoolhouse Crew Reviews, there are loads of other reviewers talking about ARTistic Pursuits this week. You can visit the Crew blog to find what they all thought about the variety of books ARTistic Pursuits offered for review this time (which include books for all grade levels, preschool through high school, and a pair of sculpture books).

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Studying a Master Storyteller (YWAM Review)

We were recently blessed with a series of literature units, and we worked our way through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. When I learned of an upcoming review from YWAM Publishing – and that one of the books being offered was Christian Heroes – C.S. Lewis – I knew this would be a perfect followup, so I eagerly requested the book.  So for the past several weeks, the boys and I have been reading this biography as our read-aloud book. (In addition to the book, we received a Digital Unit Study to go along with it.)

About YWAM and YWAM Publishing

Youth with a Mission was founded in 1960 and has three major goals, all wrapped up in the base idea of sharing Jesus with the world. First, evangelism. Sharing Christ is the main thing we as Christians are commanded by God to do, and this is the first stated goal of YWAM. They have over 17,000 volunteers and staff all over the world proclaiming the good news of the Gospel to people in multiple countries. They pass out Bibles, and they follow up with their converts, making sure they (the converts) are able to find fellowship with other believers. Where none exists, they help the new Christians develop one. Second, training. The theory of multiplication rather than addition is a real thing, and YWAM understands that new Christians need to be trained in order to then reach even more people with the Gospel. Finally, Mercy Ministry. This is the arm of the company that takes emergency and physical aid to places where it’s needed most.

YWAM Publishing creates books that help meet the goals of the bigger organization (evangelism, training, and mercy ministries). The books showcase these qualities in their content, and by purchasing from YWAM, you’re helping to fund missions work all over the world. They have 150 of their own titles and are authorized distributors of over 2,000 additional titles.

About C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller

This biography, penned by Janet and Geoff Benge, tells the story of The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity author C.S. Lewis starting with an exchange with his nanny when he was six years old and going all the way through his death in 1963. We learn in the very first sentence that he preferred to be called Jack, and this is how he’s referred to throughout the entire book. The biography is told from the third person omniscient point of view, meaning that we don’t see things only from “Jack’s” perspective. Events are described from one looking at his life as an outsider rather than a participant. This gave the biography a very rich background upon which to weave the story of C.S. Lewis, who had a very fascinating life.

One of our favorite chapters (and by “favorite,” I mean it was fascinating to us, not that the content was something that should be “favorited”) was the one that described Lewis’s time in WWI. He spent a month (after basic training) leading a group in England before he was shipped off to France. The chapter ends with him being hit by friendly fire and everything going black for him. Despite the fact that we were in the habit of reading only one chapter at a time, we felt the need to keep going after that one to find out what happened next!

The Digital Unit Study made the book an even richer experience. There was so much great information and ideas to help move this book from a basic read-aloud to a full-blown unit study, which I love. Unit studies are my boys’ favorite way to learn, but one of the most difficult to put together, so having a plethora of ideas all laid out for me was amazing. In fact, we’re still working through a lot of the ideas (and some of the book!). There are tons of hands-on activities to go along with the reading of the biography, plus more basic things like comprehension questions for each chapter. For now, we’re just doing the questions, but I have every intention of having the boys do some of the other activities when we finish the book (probably next week). These include, but are not limited to:

  • Writing a newspaper article, poem, or song based on a specific event in the biography.
  • Creating arts and crafts based on the book (a family crest, a comic strip of events, mobiles, dioramas, etc).
  • Using a tape recorder and having one child act as interviewer and the other as Lewis. Record a conversation.
  • Writing a report using one of the many essay questions provided in the study guide.

There is so much available information and ideas in the study guide that turning each of these biographies (there are several; C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller is just one) into a full-blown unity study would be fairly easy and provide a very rich history curriculum for students.

Final Thoughts

There’s really nothing we didn’t like about our experience with this book. The biography was well written, the study guide was an amazing addition, and we would happily use more of these. YWAM is a winner!


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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing lots of biographies from YWAM this week. Make sure to click over to the Crew blog to read more reviews!

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Closing Math Gaps with Mini Lessons (A+ Math Review)

Does your student have learning gaps in math? Are there things you’d like them to practice further in order to master? Then I have the perfect solution for you today: Math Mini-Courses from A+ Interactive Math. For the past several weeks, Seahawk and Munchkin have been working through some of these mini courses, and let me tell you… they’re pretty great.

We’re no strangers to A+ Interactive Math. I think they’re a great company because they offer a full range of math solutions from a full curriculum with books and workbooks (or entirely online, your choice) to supplemental maths like the Mini-Courses I’m reviewing today or their Adaptive Placement Test with Individualized Lesson Plans designed to close learning gaps, which I reviewed about a year ago. Surely there’s something in their course list that will fit the needs of every family.

Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}So, what is a Math Mini-Course, anyway? It’s a series of lessons (the two I’m reviewing had 20 lessons each, but the number varies depending on which Mini-Course you select) all surrounding a single subject. Each one takes about 10 minutes to complete, and in those ten minutes your student gets a video lesson (nothing to teach on your part!) and an interactive worksheet to make sure they understood what the video taught. It’s incredibly user-friendly; all you have to do is log in and click the appropriate lesson. The video starts automatically, and the interactive worksheet is super easy to find at the end of the lesson.

For this review, Seahawk studied decimals because he’d covered them in his math textbook earlier this year, and I thought it would be a good thing to make sure he fully understood them before the year ends. Munchkin studied time because he tends to get the big hand and little hand mixed up on the clock. He loves analog clocks and watches (he chose a pocket watch for his personal souvenir from our British Columbia, Canada trip last year), and I figured he’d love them all the more if he could read them quickly. Plus, I want him to appreciate traditional clocks rather than resorting to digital. Each of these courses gives you a full year of access (though your student shouldn’t need anywhere near that long to complete the class) for $12.99. (This is the price for the two I’m familiar with. Like with the number of lessons, the price varies depending on which course you select. They range from $9.99 to $19.99.)

Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}
Don’t let the “mini” in the name fool you. These courses are very comprehensive. The Decimals class that Seahawk starts easy, with a basic introduction of what decimal numbers are and why we have them. By the end of the 20 lessons, students will have learned how to multiply and divide with decimals, convert decimals to fractions and back again, and play a game with money. The Time unit covers a wide variety of time-related topics, including things beyond the clock the we (I, anyway) don’t always think about when I’m considering teaching the children “how to tell time.” These are things such as days, weeks, months, years, and seasons. I tend to get bogged down with the actual clock, so it’s nice to have other (and dare I say, more competent? lol) teachers who remember the big picture.

Something to remember with these units is that they should be treated as supplemental to an existing math curriculum. In our case, this is a basic textbook. Because the Mini-Courses are each based on one narrow topic, they can’t stand alone as a full curriculum. They should be viewed as what they are, which is a tool to help your student close a learning gap in a particular area. For this purpose, they’re amazing. My boys have done a great job at retaining the information they’ve learned from this program over the past few weeks, and that’s a win for me.

Since we used this product as a supplement, we didn’t do it every day. I had the boys work through their textbook lesson each day, and then they would alternate the two supplemental programs we were/are using. One would happen on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; the other on Tuesday and Thursday. Since we’ve finished up one of those supplements, they’ll bump up their use of A+ Mini-Courses for a few weeks more until they’ve finished them.

As much as the kids and I liked this program (and we did like it, especially the kids – they often tried to get me to let them do this instead of the textbook rather than in addition to it), no program is perfect, and this one is no exception. However, the “problems” are barely anything, and have more to do with the execution of the actual website than the material taught. The main problem we had with it is that each day we had to remind the program that we’d already completed the previous lesson before it would allow us to start the new one. That’s not so hard to do, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to do that. Having it know that the student made it all the way through the video and completed the questions would be nice. Short of that, having the “update my progress” button at the end of the lesson be more prominent and user-friendly for kids would be a reasonable substitution. Again, not a deal breaker, just something that would make a great product even better.

There are loads of different Math Mini-Courses from A+ Interactive Math being reviewed on the Crew blog this week, so if your students need help with something other than Time or Decimals, make sure to check out the A+ site for more info or the Crew blog for 79 other reviews of this product.


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Learning Multiplication through Stories (Times Tales Review)

There are about as many tricks for learning the times tables as there are students learning them. The one thing they all agree upon is the notion that children simply must learn them. There’s really no way around it.

We’ve tried a plethora of different methods for teaching the boys (Seahawk and Munchkin) the times tables. While they’ve done okay at learning them (they can almost always figure out the answer, but they definitely don’t have them memorized), nothing has really made them stick. Until now. Thanks to The Trigger Memory Co. and their Times Tales videos, my kids are finally – finally – remembering the multiplication tables.

I received these videos as downloadable files (currently on sale for $19.95; regular price $21.95), and printable worksheets were included. My laptop doesn’t have a whole lot of memory, and it’s not really conducive for us to use Will’s computer for school stuff, so I had to come up with a way that would work for us to use a downloadable product. Here’s what I ended up doing: First, I downloaded the videos and worksheets to Will’s computer. Then I uploaded them to my Dropbox account. (I did not share them with anyone but myself. This method was simply a workaround for a low-memory computer that couldn’t handle the downloaded videos.) This allowed us to stream the videos, which was perfect for us. The download files are quite large (two 30-minute videos, after all), so if you don’t have access to good (read: huge – preferably unlimited – bandwidth/upload/download speeds . . . I’m not entirely sure what the right terminology here is) internet, then the downloads probably aren’t the best choice for you. Never fear, though; Times Tales is also available in DVD format for $24.95. The downloads and DVDs are identical in content.

The way it works is simple. There are two videos (one for the “lower tables” of 6-9 and one for the “upper tables” of 6-9). Each number (starting with 3) is assigned a character, and there are stories created using the characters that tell a multiplication problem. For example, the character for the number 4 is a chair, and 7 is a bubble-letter 7 with a face whose name is “Mrs. Week” (because a week has seven days). The story for this problem is

Mrs. Week sits on a chair to go fishing. She catches 2 boots and 8 trout.

times tales collageBecause Mrs. Week represents the number 7 and the chair represents 4, the problem is 7×4. The 2 boots are the tens column of the answer, and the 8 trout are the ones. Therefore, 7×4=28. Students are instructed that the order of the stories is important (because 7 times 4 does not equal 82). Each story is accompanied by simple animation to help bring them to life.

Each video is approximately half an hour, so it’s not a hardship to spend the time watching. The idea is that you watch the first video, work through the stories and worksheets and games to encourage memorization, and then one week later – just one week – move on to the second video. By the end of two weeks, students know all of the upper times tables.

In addition to the videos, there are printable worksheets to go along with the curriculum. Included in the worksheets are a crossword puzzle (for story recollection), several pages of flashcards, a practice test (using the characters), a final test (using the “regular” numbers), and cut-out-and-fold dice for a practice game. The dice game was one of the highlights of this product for us. We all had fun rolling the dice and telling the stories to each other.

My favorite part of this program? It actually works! The kids learned the stories (quickly), and were able to translate them into multiplication problems. And they’re remembering the problems/stories/answers. What a blessing this has been! And guess what? Small Fry (3 years old) has memorized the stories, too. He doesn’t quite understand what they mean, but he knows them. I’m pretty sure this means that when he’s old enough to learn the times tables himself, it will be a breeze – not the hardship it’s been for the older two.

Times Tales has been a welcome addition to our homeschool. If you have students just learning (or struggling) with their multiplication tables, this is definitely a product you should try. They even have a 20-minute video on their YouTube channel that shows you their method using just the 9s. If you’re at all skeptical, check that out first. When your child masters the 9s in just a few minutes, you’ll be a convert too!


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This review is brought to you by the Schoolhouse Review Crew. There are loads of other families reviewing Times Tales this week, so don’t just take my word for how great this product is – read other reviews, too.


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Studying Literature the Classical Way (Memoria Press Review)

Memoria Press review

We’re no stranger to literature studies in our home. We love them! And we especially love trying out the large variety of studies out there by all the different companies. So it goes without saying that when Memoria Press was offering literature studies to the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I begged to be chosen for the review! We were offered choices from second grade through ninth grade, but I ultimately chose the Fifth Grade Literature Guide Set, primarily for Munchkin (who is technically in 4th grade, but excels in language-based subjects). The other benefit the Fifth Grade set had was that one of the books it covers is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This was a benefit because Munchkin asked for (and received) a Chronicles of Narnia box set (a single-volume, actually) for Christmas, so we didn’t even need to hit the library to do this study.

Each of the literature studies comes with a student workbook and a teacher answer book. These are available together or separately, and the novels you need to complete the study are also available directly from Memoria Press if you need them. The workbooks are a nice quality softcover with a gloss cover, and there’s one spread in the workbook for each chapter of the novel.

We started the very day our package arrived – we were that excited to dive in! The first lesson was all about the author. The Lion study guide began with a short biography of the author as well as a bit of information about the specific novel being studied right in the workbook. On the opposite page is a list of comprehension questions about the passage. Then the real fun begins – reading the novel and working through the study!

Memoria Press suggests that you read each chapter (or section of a chapter) and then do the workbook pages for that section. So each day, Munchkin and I would read a chapter together (he didn’t need my help to read it, but it’s a nice way to spend a few minutes together) and then he would work through the questions. There are some straight comprehension questions and some “digging deeper” type questions (Which biblical character do you think Peter represents? for example). It was a nice balance between the two types. In addition to questions, there are other types of activities for students to do – drawing pictures based on the text or copy work, for example. I think my favorite part of the study is that it requires students to write their answers in complete sentences; my children are traditionally the kings of the short answer. This was a really good exercise in answering questions properly for Munchkin.

The teacher’s manual follows the student book exactly. The pages look identical, except with answers typed into the blanks. Where the student book ends, though, the teacher book continues; this is where you’ll find the (reproducible) quizzes and the final test that I touched on before. I really like the inclusion of tests. I know a lot of homeschool parents shy away from these types of measurements, but I find it really helpful to gauge how well my children are doing in a particular subject. The tests include several sections, including multiple choice, short answer, and essay. There’s a grading rubric right in the teacher manual, which makes assigning points (and *gasp* grades) easy.

Some of the guides have really neat hands-on activities, like recipes. In Lion, it was for Turkish Delight. I really wanted us to be able to make it, but I just couldn’t find all of the ingredients (specifically the rose water, which apparently is the most important ingredient in Turkish Delight according to my online research).

Lassie gives us a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding, which is a favorite of our family and one we haven’t had in ages. (If you’re unfamiliar with Yorkshire Pudding, it’s a traditional English side dish that more resembles bread than pudding.) The kids will be thrilled when Munchkin gets to that part of the book and we get to enjoy that treat again! In addition to the recipe, the Lassie study guide includes a comprehensive appendix of things that the student will find helpful while working through the book (a biography of the author, maps of the locations in the book, information about the industrial revolution, poetry, and much, much more).

Heidi has a lot more interesting kinds of written activities, such as making a to-do list for the main character, writing a letter, and copywork of poetry. It varies quite a bit from the straight question-and-answer pages that Lion had, which will make it more interesting for Munchkin.

I can tell based on the literature selections that 5th grade is the year Memoria Press expects students to study Europe; all three of the books are set there (LWW in England, Lassie in Scotland, and Heidi in Switzerland).

We were incredibly blessed to have received the full grade set of literature studies. Extra special thanks to Memoria Press for this gift, even though they knew the review period would only provide time for working on one of the titles. 

While Memoria Press is known for providing a “classical education,” you don’t have to subscribe to a classical philosophy to use these study guides. In fact, I’m not even 100% sure what that means, and we really enjoyed using this guide. I can definitely see myself working these into our school budget moving forward. (And when Small Fry and Dragonfly are older, we’ll just need new student books!) What a gem we found with this product.


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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are blogging about a wide age range of Memoria Press literature guides this week. Make sure to click through to the Crew blog to find more reviews, especially if you’re interested in a grade level I haven’t discussed today.

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