Essentially English (Logic of English Review)

I’ve always heard that English is the hardest language for people to learn because it’s the least logical. Logic of English has made its mission to dispel that myth by finding and explaining the way the language works – and more specifically why it works the way it does. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing their Essentials 2nd Edition curriculum with the boys over the past several weeks, and I’m excited to tell you all about it today.

There is so much involved with this curriculum, but it all works so easily (for the teacher) and in perfect harmony that it was a true pleasure to implement this into our school day. When you get your package, there will be a lot of things in there (it was a heavy box!): textbook, two workbooks, five packs of flashcards, two packs of game cards, and a pack of game tiles. I’ll go over these items one at a time in the coming paragraphs.

The Elements

Logic of English TextbookThe main component is the textbook, which acts primarily as the teacher’s manual. It’s a very heavy, hardcover book with over 600 pages. The first hundred or so pages is instructions for the teacher, explaining how to teach the course. Then comes the placement test so you know which level to use with which student (there are 3 levels, and all three levels can be taught using the same book). After that are “pre-lessons,” to be used in case your student needs to learn very specific skills before starting lesson 1. The bulk of the textbook is the lessons themselves.

The lessons are very teacher-friendly. The textbook scripts out exactly what you need to say during the lesson, and there’s even a section at the beginning of each one telling you which of the supplemental materials (workbook, spelling journal, and which specific deck(s) of flashcards) you’ll need for that lesson. There are 15 lessons, each split up into 5 sections, which is perfect for a school week (even us, since we recently switched back to a 5-day week to make up for all the extra time off we took for the baby’s birth last November). The lessons are very streamlined and rarely took us more than about half an hour. What I loved most about this curriculum is that it’s mostly “open and go.” It takes a bit of time to go over it all when you first get the book to learn the ropes (remember that the first hundred pages are all teacher training). But once you understand what you’re doing, all you have to do is gather the appropriate student supplies and read the script. Easy.

Logic of English workbook coverThe next component is the student workbook. This is a softcover book with over 300 pages that is designed to be consumed by one student. How your student performs on the placement test will determine which level you start them at, but all three levels are included in both the textbook and the student workbook. There are a variety of different types of activities, and because all three levels are included in each book, you could presumably use the same text and workbook for three years. The lessons would be similar from year to year doing it this way, but there would still be some building on the previous year’s learning.

Logic of English Spelling JournalThe Spelling Journal is like a dictionary that students create themselves using Logic of English phonograms. The book is divided up using the different letter combinations, with letters creating the same sound on the same page (c, k, and ck, for example). It shows each way of making the sound at the top of the page, and underneath is the rule for when to use that form of the sound and several blank lines. Students are instructed to use the guidelines they learned during the previous lesson and put several words in the correct column.

The series of flashcards are really helpful. The five decks include: Basic Phonograms, Grammar, Spelling Rules, Advanced Phonograms, and Morphemes. We primarily used the Basic Phonograms and Spelling Rules decks, with the others making only occasional appearances.

Logic of English flashcardsThe textbook will tell you which flashcards you need and when to use them. The cards are clearly labeled so it’s incredibly easy to find the one (or more) you need for a particular lesson, especially if you put them back in order (ABC or numerical) when you’re done, which I did.

The flashcards are many, so you’ll need an organized way to keep track of them all. I rubber-banded each deck together, and then stored them in a 10×5 crocheted basket that I made especially for the purpose of storing these cards.

In addition to the flashcards, there are two decks of Phonogram game cards, one set in “manuscript” and one set in “book face” (just two different fonts). These cards are used frequently for a variety of activities and games. Their use was probably the highlight of the program for both of my sons.

Finally, there’s a set of Phonogram game tiles. We haven’t come across a lesson that uses these yet, so I can’t really tell you much about them except that they exist and are much thicker than the regular flashcards (think of the spinner board from a children’s game). I have these stored in a ziploc baggie in our flashcard basket.

Our Use and Opinion of the Program

The package arrived late in the week, so I took the weekend to go over the teacher training portion and we started in right away Monday morning the following week. We followed the lessons pretty much exactly; because it’s all laid out so beautifully for you, there’s really no reason not to. Since we had just one workbook and Spelling journal, I assigned those to Seahawk since he’s not quite as strong in the language arts as Munchkin. It was enough for Munchkin to do the work orally.

I don’t think the kids necessarily loved the program – it is pretty intense – but it’s so easy to work through that they were willing to do so. Logic of English does something that no other company we’ve come across before has done – explained the whys of English in a way that makes sense. For Logic of English, it’s not enough to teach students what the rules are. That’s not to say that knowing the rules is a bad thing, but understanding and implementation jump to a whole new level when students know precisely when and why to use a specific group of letters to make the sound they need. It’s not enough to know that “sometimes C says /k/ ans sometimes C says /s/.” Logic of English tells us when C makes each of its sounds. This has been a vital difference for the boys, especially Seahawk. It’s even been interesting for me to learn, though I’m naturally a good speller (as is Munchkin). It’s good to know why we use which letter(s) when spelling; this knowledge helps the non-natural spellers among us to determine on their own how to spell a word correctly.

Long story short: we (I, at least) loved using this program. I saw a marked improvement in my kids’ understanding of their first language. The ease in which I could teach it was a definite plus for our family. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to use.


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Besides Essentials, Logic of English offers a series of English Foundations for younger students. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are talking about the different levels this week. Click over to the Crew blog to find out more!

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Around the World ~ the social studies (Virtual Curriculum Fair)

This is the third week in the Virtual Curriculum Fair. I didn’t post last week, but that’s okay – last week was math, and we just use circa-2002 math textbooks. It’s not exciting, but it’s very effective.

This week is all about the social studies – geography, history, world cultures, and even life sciences like biology. I’m going to focus primarily on geography and history.

We’ve used a few different geography studies in our school, and I think our favorite was probably Drawing Around the World from Brookdale House. They have a US series and a Europe series; we used the Europe series. It’s a curriculum that focuses on teaching kids to learn the locations and shapes of the countries (or states, in the case of the US study) by having them draw the country onto a map each day. It was quite effective – and fun, for our art-loving family.

For history, we’re currently working through a World War II unit study. It’s based on the Who’s Who in WWII? curriculum found on, which focuses primarily on the leaders of the different countries during the war. In conjunction with this, they’ll each be doing a big research project and presentation on one of the major leaders from the time period (they choose their leader later this week, so more on that project later), and Will is watching Band of Brothers with them.

Another history product we enjoyed in the past include Famous Men of Rome from Memoria Press for history. This study takes  you through the major leaders of ancient Rome with a textbook and workbook.

Moving Beyond the Page are positively amazing unit studies that cover reading/literature along with a corresponding science or social studies supplement. They’re expensive, but totally worth it if you can afford them. If it weren’t for the price tag, they would hands-down be our core curriculum.

Apologia ReviewFor worldview curriculum, we absolutely adore What on Earth Can I Do? by Apologia Educational Ministries. This comes with a hefty textbook, coloring book for younger children, junior notebook, and regular notebook. Also from Apologia, the iWitness book series is a really good place to go to help instill a Christian worldview in your children. For a more fun approach to the importance of missions, the Brinkman Adventures is a wonderful audio drama series. We reviewed seasons Two and Three of those.

While not quite as expanse as our language arts curriculum (that’s something I need to work on – subjects other than English, grammar, and math), our social studies products are just as good.

What do you use for social studies in your homeschool?


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Writing a Book with Here to Help Learning (Review)

My boys love to write. They have so many creative ideas in their heads, and every so often they get the hankering to write a book. Not a 200-word picture book; no, they always want to write a novel. The problem is that they never have the “stick-to-it-tive-ness” to complete the novels they start. So when I heard about Here to Help Learning and their novel-writing class (formally called Flight 3 Essay Writing), I knew this would be something the boys and I would want to review.

Here to Help Learning Review

What It Is and How It Works

Here to Help Learning combines video instruction with practical use. There are six levels of instruction, from the basics of learning to turn thoughts into paragraph form all the way up to where we worked, writing a six-chapter novel. The program is designed to be used twice a week. The first day of each week, there’s a video that runs about 20 minutes over the course of five sections. I quickly discovered that the first section is the same each time, so after the first two weeks we started skipping that part. (Each section is its own video ranging from about 2 to about 15 minutes, so this was easy to do. It was the 2-minute opening video that we started skipping.)

The titles of the videos are the same from lesson to lesson, and they’re all based on airplane terminology: Pre-Flight Checklist (this is the one we omitted from later lessons), Flight Check-in, Take Off, Full Throttle, and Flying Solo. The meat of the lesson is found in Take Off and Full Throttle, so that’s where I’ll spend the majority of my focus for this review.

Flight Check-in is the part of the lesson where students turn in the previous lesson’s Flying Solo work (what would be “homework” for a public school student, but is just independent study work for homeschoolers) and separate the new week’s worksheets into their appropriate tabs in the binder. Flight Check-in is also when the group is instructed to recite the program’s Bible verse focus, Colossians 3:17 (Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him). I love this verse, and I love that the program includes its recitation each week. It’s a fabulous reminder that our skills come from God and that we should praise him through our work and talents.


Working on a writing warm-up

Take Off includes my boys’ favorite part of each lesson: the writing warm-up. There is a picture prompt that is different with each lesson as well as a literary technique. Students are instructed to use the prompt as the basis for a short story (they’re given 7 minutes to write and 3 more minutes to finesse after that) which includes the “literary technique of the day.” This is one of the “Top 10 Literary Techniques,” and it’s explained/described during the video – including examples – so the students can understand how to use it an include it in their story. These include metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, and others.

After the writing warm-up is completed, you move on to the longest of the five videos: Full Throttle. In Flight 3 Essay Writing, this includes the Meet the Authors segment of the program, where Mrs. Mora (the HTHL teacher) interviews successful Christian authors. We’ve just completed lesson 8, and so far it has been different portions of the same interview with Bill Myers, author of over 100 books and creator of the animated series McGee and Me. The interview covers a broad variety of topics, but they all come back to what it’s like to be a writer for a living and letting God have control over your life (another great reminder for Christians).

Once the interview video is over, there’s time to go over the “big assignment” of the week, all of which culminate in the student writing their novel. So far, at the end of lesson 8, we’ve done a lot of brainstorming and list-making. My kids are getting antsy to actually start writing their novels!

How We Used It

There are worksheets to print out each week, so upon getting access to the site I sent the first three weeks’ worth over to the print shop. There was quite a bit of printing in the beginning (due to doing several weeks’ worth plus the 36-page Language Helps workbook) so I had it done on Saturday, when copies are half price.

Armed with our worksheets, we watched the video that very first day (I’d watched it in advance so I would know what to expect) and from there, it was easy to implement everything. We quickly found our groove. For the first three weeks, we followed the course of study exactly: the video and worksheets one day, the homework another day, working only two days per week.

After that, though, the boys were getting anxious that they hadn’t really begun their novels yet. (They don’t realize that they are writing their novel. Knowing about their characters and what the main conflict will be is going to help them not to lose their mojo later on in the process.) So, they requested that we up the speed. We still do one section per day, but now we do it four days a week instead of two, thereby getting through two lessons per week. This speed is working really well for us. When we get to the “write chapter one” lesson of the program, I imagine we’ll have to slow down again because I’m pretty sure they won’t be able to write two chapters per week.

Final Thoughts

If you’re not sure whether the program is right for you, they have a free one-day trial where you get full access to everything the site has to offer with no credit card required. If you want something a little more, there’s a 14-day trial (with a credit card) and the price is $6.99 per month after that. This fee covers your entire family – no limits – and includes all the videos and worksheets you need to run the course.

We’ve really been enjoying working with Here to Help Learning. The lessons are relevant and it’s nice that we’ve found something that teaches the boys how to write (a very important skill in our opinion) that isn’t sluggish and boring. Here to Help Learning is a program we heartily recommend.

I’m one of 100 reviewers talking about Here to Help Learning this week. Make sure to hit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to find more reviews about the program!


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Our Language-Heavy Homeschool

The next several weeks mark the annual “Virtual Curriculum Fair” for homeschool bloggers all over the web. This year, it’s being hosted by Laura at Day by Day in Our World, Chareen at Every Bed of Roses, and Kristen at Sunrise to Sunset. This week, the theme is Playing with Words: The Language Arts, and that category covers everything English (spelling, grammar, writing, and more), as well as foreign languages.

Language and writing is super important to our family, so it’s no surprise that Language Arts make up a huge percentage of our homeschool day – and they always have. We don’t neglect the other subjects, but the language stuff is just so diverse that it makes sense that it would take up more time and energy. Here’s how we do it, and what curriculum we’re using to accomplish our goals (as well as some that we love but are the back burner right now for one reason or another).

Links go to my past reviews of mentioned products. From those review posts, you can find links to the actual products from the vendor. Special thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew for providing these review products for our family.


iew grammarMy absolute favorite grammar program is Fix It! grammar by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It’s a gentle introduction to grammar concepts for children as young as 3rd grade. Children are given one sentence of a longer story per day with the task of identifying words and concepts (nouns, adjectives, verbs, main and dependent clauses, etc) and making corrections (adding proper paragraph breaks, capital letters, ending marks, quotation marks, and more). Then the student copies the sentence correctly into a notebook. There is also vocabulary included in the curriculum.


We’ve tried lots of different spelling products over the years: spelling lists, Spelling You See (from Demme Learning), The Phonetic Zoo (from IEW), and currently Logic of English Essentials (which is more than just spelling, but more on that later). We’ve had varying degrees of success with each of these, but our favorites are The Phonetic Zoo and Essentials.


We adore literature studies in our homeschool! We always read these books together out loud and then do the corresponding studying of the book. We’ve used two Progeny Press studies in the past (Little House in the Big Woods and Tuck Everlasting) as well as worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets (for Charlotte’s Web). Currently, we’re working through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with a study guide from Memoria Press (there will be a review on that in a few weeks).


iew student resourcesThis is another subject where we’ve tried a few different things. We used My First Reports from Hewitt Homeschooling, which were a great introduction to writing a couple of years ago. They give students a series of questions on a topic to research and answer, finally compiling everything into a single report. We were also blessed with a copy of Student Writing Intensive from IEW, along with the teacher training that goes along with it, Teaching Writing with Structure and Style. This is a great program but ended up being a bit “much” for us. Currently, we’re using Here to Help Learning, a wonderful video-based writing program that we’re all absolutely loving. With the guidance of Mrs. Mora, the boys are each writing their own six-chapter novel! There will be a review on this program coming up soon, too.


I’m pretty flexible with my kids when it comes to reading (once they’ve mastered the art, anyway). They have to read something each day. What they read is entirely up to them. Right now, Munchkin (9) is working his way through the Harry Potter series. He’s about halfway through Order of the Phoenix right now. Seahawk (12) is reading The Lord of the Rings (we have a single volume with all three novels), at Will’s urging. Both of these books have really long chapters, so I don’t require a full chapter to be read each day like I used to; now it’s a minimum of 20 minutes.

Foreign Language

We’re plugging away at Rosetta Stone French here. We picked this up on a great sale about a year ago (5 payments of $37 instead of the normal price of $500), and it’s been a real game changer in our learning of the French language.

So that’s what we’re studying in the realm of Language Arts! Make sure to check out one of the other blogs (there’s a linkup on the blogs I linked to up above) for even more ideas!


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Homeschooling Essentials: Flexibility (Throwback)

Homeschooling Essentials Flexibility

Two years ago, I did a series on what I thought were the essentials of homeschooling. I thought it might be interesting today to take a look back at one of those posts and see what, if anything I’d change. Here’s the original article:

You have to be flexible to be a homeschooling parent. Things don’t always go exactly the way you planned, and that has to be okay. There are unexpected sick days (for the kids and you), last minute errands (or days of errands…), and burnout days. You have to be flexible enough to let things go and say, “There’s always tomorrow.”

Earlier this month, we had half a week of the need to be flexible. Right around New Year’s, Small Fry was sick. I think it was New Year’s Eve, actually. He was just feeling puny and was not himself, and finally, about an hour before bedtime, it became clear why when he threw up all over me (sorry if that’s TMI…). That was on a Wednesday. Thursday was normal, and on Friday, Munchkin was sick with the same thing. He spent the day in bed, but was fine the next morning. But that morning, Seahawk was under the weather and slept most of the day. Sunday of that week, the day before I’d planned to start school up again, was fine. We went for a family bike ride and all was well. During the night, though, I came down with the illness. Here’s where the need to be flexible really struck. Even though it was Monday, and the day we were “supposed” to get back to school, there was no school happening with Mom stuck in bed. Let me also say, I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who’s self-employed and works (mostly) from home. He was able to take that Monday (which happened to be our anniversary) off to take care of the kids so I could sleep and recover. Enter Flexibility Day 2: Tuesday. We’d missed school on Monday, and because we’d also missed our anniversary, we took Tuesday off from school, too. The kids spent the morning with Grandma so hubby and I could have our anniversary date. (We went to see Saving Mr. Banks. Have you seen it? Very good. I don’t even care for Mary Poppins and I liked Mr. Banks. In fact, hubby’s been reading the book Mary Poppins aloud to the kids this weekend. Then we’re going to watch the movie, and on Tuesday, which is discount day at the cinema, we’re all going to see Saving Mr. Banks again.) Anyway. So we started school on Wednesday the 8th instead of Monday the 6th. And did anyone die? Nope. Because we understand the importance of being flexible.

Now, this is not to say that you can call yourself a homeschooler and just never “do” school with your kids. There has to be a balance, and I think it’s better to err on the side of more school days than less. The education has to happen, whether you’re at home or sending your kids to school. But you have to accept that things aren’t always perfect.

Outside of the time-sensitive portions of the post, I think what I wrote are still applicable to every day life for homeschoolers. In order to keep your sanity, you have to have some flexibility. We need to do what works for our particular families, within the confines of state law for where we live. If you live in a state with attendance laws, make sure you’re falling within those guidelines. Are your laws more along the lines of “show us what you did”? Then do that. So long as you’re not risking getting into trouble with the local government, there’s really no right or wrong way to homeschool your children.

Take us, for example. We don’t have attendance laws, so I don’t stress (too much) over which days we do school. About a year ago, in fact, we switched from a 5-day-a-week schedule to a 4-day-a-week one. It’s better for all of us this way. It allows us a day for errands (doctor’s appointments, haircuts, banking, grocery shopping…) and also gives me an extra day each week for prep work. This extra day for preparation means I don’t have to do that work on Sundays, which gives our family a better Sabbath experience each week.

Or when I had a baby two months ago. I knew going in that we’d have to have some flexibility around that time, so we adjusted the schedule to be able to take things easy during the final month of my pregnancy and off for several weeks after the baby was born. By not stressing over keeping a strict schedule, I was able to focus on recovering from my c-section and bonding with the baby rather than stressing over what was (or wasn’t) getting done, school-wise. I think that probably helped me to be able to recover better and faster.

Regardless of what it looks like for your particular family, flexibility – within certain parameters – is a must.


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This post is linked up with Throwback Thursday, Blog Style at Tots and Me… Growing Up Together.


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A Huge Variety of Homeschool Lessons in One Place – Review

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, one of the biggest blessings I receive is a free Yearly Membership to 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 – 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. 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.


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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 🙂

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?


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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!


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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.


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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.


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