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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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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