2021 Blue Ribbon Awards

Each year, the Homeschool Review Crew members vote on their favorite products of the year. Here are my choices, and the list of winners. Links take you to my reviews of the product.

Image by Peter Lomas from Pixabay

Favorite Literature Reading Resource: The Reading Game
Winner: The Reading Game

Favorite Literature Resource: Progeny Press
Winner: Progeny Press

Favorite Vocabulary Resource: (no vote)
Winner: The Critical Thinking Co. Vocabulary Virtuoso

Favorite Language Arts Resource: Words Rock!
Winner: Words Rock!

Favorite History/Social Studies Resource: Figures in Motion
Winner: Home School in the Woods

Favorite Science Resource: The Critical Thinking Co Science Mind Benders
Winner: Greg Landry’s Homeschool Science

Favorite Math Curriculum: CTC Math
Winner: CTC Math

Favorite Math Supplement: Triad Math
Winner: MathRider

Favorite Bible Resource: Bible Breakdowns
Winner: Teach Sunday School Easter Escape Room

Favorite Children’s Bible Resource: Tommy Nelson Roar Like a Lion
Winner: Roar Like a Lion

Favorite Fine Arts Resource: (no vote)
Winner: ARTistic Pursuits

Favorite Martial Arts Resource: Practice Monkeys
Winner: Practice Monkeys

Favorite Elective Resource: The Fallacy Detective
Winner: The Fallacy Detective

Favorite Book/Book series: Buck Academy
Winner: YWAM Publishing

Favorite College Prep Resource: ACT Mom
Winner: ACT Mom

Favorite Helpful Tool or Resource: Fermentools
Winner: Fermentools

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: ACT Mom
Winner: WORLD Watch

Favorite Preschool Product: Reading Eggs
Winner: Buck Academy Baby Buck

Favorite Elementary Resource: Words Rock!
Winner: YWAM Publishing

Favorite Middle School Product: (no vote)
Winner: Teaching Textbooks

Favorite High School Product: Triad Math
Winner: CTC Math

Favorite Mom/Teacher Product: Fermentools
Winner: The HomeScholar

Kids Choice, Grasshopper: Words Rock!
Kids Choice, Dragonfly: Reading Eggs
Kids Choice, Bumblebee: Reading Eggs
Winner: Reading Eggs

Teen Choice, Scorpion: Practice Monkeys
Teen Choice, Ballet Boy: Triad Math
Winner: LightSail Education

All Around Favorite: Practice Monkeys
Winner: Creating a Masterpiece

What has been your favorite homeschool product you used this year?


Practice Monkeys for Self-Defense

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Several months ago, my husband took a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. Without telling anyone. Then when he came home, he challenged Ballet Boy to a roughhousing match (they horse around all the time – have since Ballet Boy was small), and took him out. This was quite a surprise for Ballet Boy because as he’s grown, he’s gotten closer and closer to being able to win in these matches against his dad, but after the secret self-defense class, Dad gained the upper hand once and for all.

Then we found out the Practice Monkeys review. Ballet Boy was quite interested in taking their self-defense class. That incident with Dad was a motivator, but he likes being physical in general, so he would have been interested in the class even if it hadn’t happened.

The self defense class (for ages 5 and up) through Practice Monkeys teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and when you sign up the first thing you have to do is schedule an initial assessment. This, and all the classes, are live sessions taught via Zoom. The assessment is a private meeting with the teacher of the class, Dr. Peter van Kleeck. Once you’ve had the initial assessment to determine which level your child needs to start with, he will add the proper lesson to your dashboard. Classes are taught live with Dr. van Kleeck and his son, Titus, four days a week. Each class lasts 15 minutes and students are encouraged to practice an additional 15 minutes each day on their own. Each student needs a partner for this class (unlike the music classes that Practice Monkeys offers), so Scorpion took the class with Ballet Boy. Our initial plan had been to have Grasshopper and Dragonfly also take the class, but after just a lesson or two they decided they weren’t interested. It is helpful to have the students be of similar size for the class.

After our initial assessment, the kids were put into Level I. This wasn’t a surprise as they hadn’t had any sort of training in this art before. The classes were at the same time every day (Monday through Thursday), so I set an alarm on my phone to help us remember to sign in for the live classes. To access the Zoom call, you have to first sign into the Practice Monkeys website. From there, you can find the Zoom link on your dashboard. Because of the nature of Zoom, the daily classes aren’t private. All of the students at your level in your course are there together, but you don’t see them; on your end, you only see Dr. van Kleeck and Titus. They teach the material and then have your students practice while they watch. It was pretty rewarding on my end to hear him praise my kids during the lessons (“Yes! Good job, Robertsons!”), and I also appreciated hearing him talk to the other families taking the course. It really showed that he was watching all the kids and making sure they got the material.

What if you miss a live class? While the live classes are better because of the feedback you get from Dr. van Kleeck, you don’t miss out if you can’t make it. All of the Zoom calls are recorded and at the end of the week added to your “treehouse.” This is where you go to watch past lessons, either for extra review or because you’ve missed one (or more) live class. I do wish that these classes were uploaded later on the same day they were recorded, but I understand why that might not be feasible for the van Kleecks.

After you’ve been in the class for a while, you’ll be invited to take an assessment in order to move up a level. In the self-defense class, this was an individual Zoom call with Dr. van Kleeck. You have to schedule them through your account in the Practice Monkeys website, and then you access the Zoom call the same way you do a live class at the right time. The assessments take 25 minutes. To determine whether my sons were ready to move from level 1 to level 2, they were given a spoken instruction and Dr. van Kleeck watched to see if they succeeded based solely on the name of the move. They did, and by the time of their next class, our account had been updated to allow them into the level 2 class instead of the level 1 class (same thing, just 15 minutes later).

Ballet Boy and Scorpion have been having a blast learning self-defense with Practice Monkeys! We haven’t made it to every live class, but they do their best to make up the classes on their own when we miss one. The classes take place in the middle of the afternoon in our time zone, so it’s not always feasible to make it live (sometimes Ballet Boy is working, for instance). There have also been times when Zoom was acting up and the kids could see the class but couldn’t hear the instructions, so to avoid the inevitable frustration that would cause they opted to do those classes later as well.

Practice Monkeys’ main emphasis is instrument instruction, so if you or your child have ever wanted to learn violin, cello, piano, or guitar, then you should absolutely give them a chance. Practice Monkeys is priced per instrument (or BJJ) for the entire family. So if you have two guitar students, they can take the class together (at the same time). If you have a piano student and a cello student, though, you would need to purchase 2 subscriptions for those lessons.

I can’t recommend Practice Monkeys enough; Ballet Boy is even interested in continuing his BJJ lessons beyond our review subscription (that’s something he’ll be talking to Dad about!). Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew site and learn more about all the different types of lessons, though.

Before I finish up, the biggest question still remains: Can either of the kids “take out” Dad now?

Not quite. But with the skills they’ve learned, they don’t go down quite so easily.


Math Practice with I Know It

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Getting enough math practice done in the elementary years is vital for future math success. I Know It is a supplemental curriculum that can help your children with just that – practicing all sorts of different age-appropriate skills in a no/low-stress environment. We have been using I Know It with Dragonfly (age 6, kindergarten) for the past few weeks.

I Know It is a supplemental math practice website for kids in grades K-5. Each child will need their own account, but they all fall under just one log in, which is nice because you can have an account for each of your children without the need to remember several usernames and passwords. When you get logged in, you’ll get a pop up that shows each of your children with individual icons, and you just need to choose the child who’s working at the moment. Once you select the right icon, it will load up the proper lessons so your child can get started with their math practice right away.

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on I Know It with Dragonfly for the past few weeks. Since he’s in kindergarten, that’s the level we’ve been working at and that’s the level I’ll be discussing in today’s review.

I Know It provides lots of opportunity for math practice, but it’s not a teaching program. You won’t be able to use it on its own (unless you’re ready to teach the concepts and then use the program as an online “worksheet”), but it makes a great supplement for any other math curriculum. Because Dragonfly is just in K, we actually have been using it exclusively, but he already knows the basic concepts being practiced in the kindergarten lessons. We’ve just been having him get lots of extra practice to get him ready for more advanced things in the coming weeks and months.

The kindergarten level has 12 topics, and each topic has between 5 and 10 different lessons. The lessons each have 15 questions and they’re all related, based on what topic and lesson within the topic you’ve chosen. The questions are reasonably easy; my kindergartner didn’t have any problems getting 100% on every lesson he did (except one at the beginning, where he missed a single question). With each correct answer, your student gets an approving message (“Yes!” “Great!” etc) and the robot mascot does a little dance. If your student gets a wrong answer, there’s no robot dance or words of affirmation. Instead, the program pops up a window to explain the correct answer.

When the lesson is complete, depending on the child’s score they’re given a “trophy.” These trophies collect in their progress dashboard. I found that Dragonfly really got off on earning trophies more than he did the robot dances. At the end of every lesson, he’s excited to learn what award he earned that day. Today, he was an “Awesome Adder.” He enjoys going back and looking at his past trophies, too.

If you’re using the program with an older child, you can show them how to log in and then send them on their way. It’s a very intuitive program to use – easy enough for a child. There’s also a way to assign specific lessons, but since I have been working right along with Dragonfly I didn’t explore that aspect of the program.

Are you a co-op parent or public school teacher? You can use I Know It in those situations, too. They have special pricing for teachers vs families vs entire school districts. So I Know It really can be used in any situation.

Overall, we’ve had a lot of fun firming up Dragonfly’s math skills using I Know It for daily math practice. I’m very happy with his progress in the program, and he enjoys doing his “robot math” each day, too.

Please click through to find out what my fellow Homeschool Review Crew colleagues thought of this program.


Resources for a Literature Based Homeschool

The past few weeks, I’ve focused quite a bit on what a literature-based homeschool looks like, at least in our family. Today, I’m just going to do a short roundup of some of the best resources for this type of schooling experience that I’ve come across. This is by no means comprehensive, but I hope it will give you a jumping off point and encourage you to dig around the internet for even more resources as you homeschool your own children.

Ambleside Online

This is a free homeschool curriculum that uses the Charlotte Mason technique of homeschooling. We used them as our core curriculum one year when my teens were in elementary school, and it was a great year. We learned a lot that year, and were introduced to tons of great books. It is a lot of reading, but the books are wonderful so it’s not tedious.

Homeschool Share

This is a place I’ve discussed very recently because we’ve been using their animal lap books for Dragonfly’s kindergarten classes. We also recently started a Hanukkah lap book with both Grasshopper and Dragonfly, and I’ll share more about that in a couple of weeks. But Homeschool Share also has tons of lap books and unit studies that are based on children’s novels, and those are some of my very favorite ways to teach my kids!

As We Walk Along the Road

I first came in contact with Leah when we were both members of the Homeschool Review Crew years ago. I still am a member there, but she’s moved on as her kids have aged and now she is focused more on providing fantastic literature-based studies for other homeschool parents. She has over 50 literature-based unit studies available as a free ebook (just sign up for her mailing list) as well as loads of paid ones, too. You should definitely check her out; you won’t be sorry!

Moving Beyond the Page

I had the absolute pleasure of reviewing a couple of their courses a few years ago, and let me tell you: if budget wasn’t a consideration, we would be using them exclusively. I loved their curricula. It was such a great way of learning in a hands-on, living-book way. Even if you can’t afford their full year curriculum, I think everyone should try out at least one of the classes at some point.


I don’t actually have any experience with this one personally, but I know of a lot of families who do, and I’ve never heard a single bad word about it. Sonlight was founded in 1989 by a missionary couple who were pioneers in the literature-based community. Their method is to start with history and find real, interesting books to do the teaching. No textbooks found here! They offer a full curriculum based on the grade/age of your children.

Lit Wits

This is another one that I don’t have a ton of personal experience with, but I’m on their mailing list and their studies look amazing. And what’s even better is that they’ve recently started migrating all of their studies over to a new site and made them completely free! They charge for some of their printables, but the base studies are now completely free. You can use the paid printables to supplement, or create your own papers to go along with the studies.

Progeny Press

You might have read my most recent review from Progeny Press; if you did, you’ll know all about them. I really like their study guides, which are great for a wide range of children’s ages. I’m not going to go too much into them here, though. Read any of my reviews for more information.

2021 | 2020 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014

Design Your Own

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a literature-based homeschool doesn’t have to be complicated. You need a few non-literature subjects to hang the framework on (math, for instance), but from there it’s really “anything goes.” I tend to choose a book or series to read with my kids and then add things to that. I remember a few years ago when I read Henry and the Paper Route to them and we built an entire unit study around newspapers. We made a lapbook, created our own paper using shreds from newspapers, and even took a field trip to the local newspaper office. It was fantastic! You can build spelling lists from the novel, and make grammar lessons that use phrases from the book as examples. The sky really is the limit.

I hope this post will encourage you to try one or more of these resources, or maybe even try your hand at creating your own literature experience for you children. In either case, I encourage you to explore a literature based schooling experience with your children.


Math Rider (review)

Disclaimer: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Knowing math facts can be difficult for young kids, but it’s absolutely vital in the early/mid elementary grades that they master them. It’s easy to think about “math facts” as just the “times tables,” but addition, subtraction, and division are just as important. Without those foundational facts memorized, all math is harder for kids. Flash cards are a great (non digital) way to reinforce those facts, but what if you had a computer game that was as engaging as it is beneficial? Now you do with MathRider.

Math Rider is a one-time fee downloadable computer game that teaches kids math facts in all four areas: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It’s an easy download, and the game is simple enough that you’ll only need to teach them how to play once and they’ll be able to handle it on their own after that. We have been using the game with Grasshopper to increase his speed with addition facts.

When you click on the icon to open the game, you’ll need to choose which child is working and sign in with their password each time. The password requirements are quite simple; we have chosen something that is easy for Grasshopper to remember on his own, so I don’t even need to help him with that.

The game itself is centered around quests. There’s a story that includes simple animation and text that is read aloud to your child. Once they’ve heard the story, they move on to the map, where they can then choose “play” and get into the math portion of the game. Depending on what math facts your child is assigned, that’s what the game will offer them to answer.

There are 30 facts per round, and your child simply has to read the problem and type the correct answer before his horse gets to the problem. (To be honest, it looks more like the problem is coming toward the horse though; the horse is always on the left and the problem moves toward the middle of the screen.) When they’ve answered all 30 math facts, they’re given a score based on their speed and accuracy. Then the game takes them back to the map, where the path they just “rode” is highlighted in pink. When they get to the end of the path, they’re given a new quest, and that continues until they’ve achieved 100% mastery of the math facts. I’m not entirely sure what happens after that, because Grasshopper hasn’t quite gotten to that 100% mark yet.

MathRider has been really fun for my son to play. He gets so excited to see his path turn pink, and he’s engaged by the story. His recall of those addition facts is getting quicker, resulting in higher scores each day. He always asks to do “horse math” first thing in the morning. Grasshopper really responds well to learning games, so I’m happy to let him play things like this that really cement things in his mind and help him to keep learning. We will absolutely keep having him use this game as long as he’s engaged and his math fact recall continues to improve!

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website this week.


Learning About the Dollar (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

When you think of the word “buck,” what do you think of? My first thought is a male deer, so I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that Buck Academy is actually a company that’s created a series of books to help you teach your children about financial literacy. Because I have a toddler as well as elementary-school-aged children, I received a copy of each of their books. Let’s take a look at them.

BUCK Making Cents is a hardcover picture book written with children ages 5-10 in mind (in my case, Grasshopper and Dragonfly). The book is split up into three sections. After a brief introduction for parents, the first chapter covers basic things like the definition of money and common nicknames for an American dollar (like a “buck”!). The main character in the book is Buck the dollar, and he shows up throughout the book. The rest of the first chapter covers the coins. After a brief introduction of the coins as a whole, including pictures that are foiled for realism, each coin (penny, nickel, dime, and quarter) gets its own page. On these pages, there are more pictures of the coins as well as information about the coin. It also describes the image on the heads side and tails side of each coin, including discussion of past iterations of the tails sides (like the quarters before 1999, when the state-quarters were introduced). The final page of the first chapter is the same as the coin pages, except it focuses on Buck, the one-dollar bill.

Chapter 2 is a lot shorter than Chapter 1. It focuses on the coins again, but this time in how they relate to the dollar. It has pictures of the correct number of each particular coin to equal a dollar.

The final chapter in the picture book is the “memory bank,” which is a clever name for a review/quiz chapter.

Baby BUCK, How Much Am I… is a book to help you teach very basic financial literacy to your toddlers. It’s a board book, perfect for ages 0-4. The story is a super simplified version of BUCK Making Cents, and it has an interactive element which makes it fun for toddlers. Instead of teaching how many of each coin make up a dollar, Baby BUCK teaches the value of each coin. The pages ask the question “how much am I?” for each coin, and there’s a lift-the-flap with the answer beneath.

My kids love having read-aloud time, and the Buck Academy books were a valuable addition (pardon the pun) to our home library. All three of my younger boys enjoyed the books; we read them many times. Even though the two book technically have different age ranges as their demographic, all of my kids enjoyed both books. Dragonfly loved lifting the flaps in Baby BUCK just as much as Bumblebee did! And Bumblebee sat quietly and listened to BUCK Making Cents with not a trace of boredom. These books are great for teaching the most basic lessons of financial literacy for kids – without a formal math class!

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew site for more information and to read additional reviews!


Our Favorite Study Guides for Literature

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

If you’ve been here very long at all, you know that I’m always excited to review Progeny Press study guides with my children. Every single year I’ve been a part of the Homeschool Review Crew, we’ve been blessed to work with these guides, and 2021 is no exception. This year, Grasshopper (4th grade) and Scorpion (9th grade) are the lucky recipients.

About Progeny Press Study Guides

The study guide we received is the digital edition, as always. Each study guide comes with the guide itself and an answer key, both in PDF format. I had no problems downloading the files to my computer. I’ve got a folder full of our past Progeny Press study guides, and I added this year’s guides to it. When it was time to begin work on the study guide, I printed off the pages we needed as we went, rather than printing the entire study guide at once. These guides are also designed to be editable PDFs, so if you prefer, you can have your student work directly on the computer. Printing works better for us, so that’s what I did.

Progeny Press officially recommends that you/your student read the entire book within the first week of the unit and then work through the study guide at a pace of 3-5 pages per week, depending on your kids’ ages. That’s never worked for us. It’s just too much time between finishing the book and going back to answer the questions when you do it that way. So I looked at the breakdown of the study guide and we worked in those chunks – reading the chapters, then printing and working on the questions. Then we’d read the next set of chapters and answer those questions. And so on. I had Scorpion work the same way with his book.

When you purchase a study guide from Progeny Press, you get as many downloads as you need for 1 year. After that time, if you don’t have a copy saved somewhere you will need to repurchase the guide if you want access to it again.

A Cricket in Times Square Study Guide

This is a classic book written by George Selden in 1961 about a group of unusual friends: a country cricket, a city mouse, a city cat, and a young boy. We are introduced to the characters in turn over the first four chapters, and then quickly move through their adventures together in NYC. The animals all teach each other valuable lessons through their various life circumstances, and none are more important than the others.

Grasshopper and I have been reading this book together out loud. He is capable of reading it on his own, but it’s nice to have a bit of snuggle time with him as he’s getting older. When I found out we were getting this study guide to review, I checked the digital library and the book was only available as an audio book with a 6-month wait (!). So I ended up purchasing the Kindle edition and we’ve been reading that. (This was before I got my new library card.)

The study guide for A Cricket in Times Square is 52 pages, including the cover and copyright pages. Progeny Press is really great for Christian parents because every single one of their study guides is from a Christian perspective. This means they always include spiritual lessons that can be learned from even the most secular books. Cricket is no exception. Grasshopper and I were able to practice finding Bible verses together and interpreting them and culling lessons from them that related to the book we were reading. This was really good for him. There are also the “basics” of study guides in Progeny Press – your standard reading comprehension questions and opinion questions as well as vocabulary words and longer writing assignments.

Frankenstein Study Guide

Scorpion has been working through the Frankenstein study guide on his own. He didn’t have a firm reading or literature class in his curriculum, so it was fairly easy to just add this in. We started with a digital library book for him (because it’s a classic novel, it’s “always available”), but he didn’t really like reading on his iPad. So when we were able to start getting physical books from the library, we found him a copy to check out. Even our tiny town library had a copy of Frankenstein!

The Frankenstein Study Guide is 79 pages, as like I mentioned before, it is able to be typed right into as a PDF on the computer or printed out. We printed out just the pages we needed as Scorpion completed his work and reading. It took him, on average, about 1-2 weeks per section to complete. There are a total of 8 sections in this guide, so he’s got a ways to go still.

Because Frankenstein is a book for older students, the study guide is more complex than that of Cricket. The vocabulary pages rely more on the student being able to rephrase the definitions on their own than simply choosing the correct definition from a list. The comprehension questions are a lot more difficult, too, and there are a lot of writing assignments that are more essay-length than simply requiring a few words to answer.

As always, the Progeny Press study guides have been a fantastic addition to our school days. Members of the Homeschool Review Crew were able to choose from a total of 4 study guides this year: Wagon Wheels, A Cricket in Times Square, Redwall, and Frankenstein. Click through to the main website to read more reviews!


Using the Library in Homeschooling

A common question that homeschoolers are asked is “What is something you couldn’t do without in your homeschool?” and a common answer to that question is “The public library.” If you don’t have a large home with a jillion bookshelves, then you probably already knew this – and utilize your own public library for help with gathering homeschooling resources. Let’s take a little while to explore different ways to use the library in homeschooling.

using the library in homeschooling


This is a no-brainer. The library is a fantastic place to gain access to more books than you could ever want, especially if your library is part of a larger system that allows you to borrow books from a variety of locations (my library is part of a 17-library system, which is good because it wouldn’t be very useful otherwise; small towns don’t normally have good libraries and mine is no exception). The library is likely to have dozens, if not hundreds, of books on any given topic – way more than most families could possibly buy for themselves. And even if you do have loads of space for books and an unlimited budget for book buying, the library will probably have books that you can’t get your hands on (usually older books). Even if an older book has information that’s a little outdated, they can still be valuable to teach your child to be discerning in their research.


Don’t be afraid to talk to your librarians! Just today (the day I’m writing this article, not the day it’s posting), I got a new library card. I hadn’t been to the library in my small town since before COVID, and only a few times then, so the librarians didn’t really know me. Because I was a “new” patron, they were especially helpful, and it was a really nice experience to get to know them (albeit briefly) in this manner. The children’s librarian gave me a short tour of the children’s room in the library, showing me where to find the various types of books (they separate the children’s fiction into “series” and “non series”), and she gave me several crafts to bring home for the boys. The adult librarian showed me where to find all the fiction books and nonfiction books (they’re in separate rooms). She explained to me that the nonfiction room has a different internet provider from the rest of the library (and from the one we use at home), so if our internet is ever down at home, it’s likely working at the library and we’d be welcome to use theirs if needed. (I explained to them that we were homeschoolers.) There are more resources than just books at the library, and your librarians are the tickets to finding out about those resources.

Digital Books and Audio Books

I wrote a whole article on using audio books in homeschool, and we use the digital version of those audio books. But many libraries have CDs of audio books that you can check out (if you still have a CD player in your home – we don’t). There are benefits of regular books and benefits of e-books, and I don’t personally have a preference. I know some people are adamant that “paper books are the only way to bother reading,” but I’m not one of those. I’ve had a Kindle since they were brand new, and I still read books on it almost every day. The biggest benefit to using an e-book instead of a paper book from the library is no late fines! I love the freedom of being able to check out library books right from an app on my phone, and then when my loan period is over, the book disappears from my Kindle the next time I connect to wifi. I love that there’s no risk of losing or damaging a library book and having to pay for it later. But for kids, nothing beats a paper book. They need that tactile experience of holding the book, feeling its weight, and turning the pages. It’s more than a story for kids. But having the flexibility for both digital books (reading or audio) and paper books is invaluable. And if your library is part of the Overdrive system, having fines on your regular card doesn’t prevent you from borrowing digital material like it might from paper books.

Other Programs

There’s the obvious here, like summer reading. But did you know that a lot of libraries run a variety of things all year round, especially for kids? Like I mentioned earlier in this article, our tiny library gave me a craft for each of my younger children today for Halloween. In the past, our larger library system has provided free access to language learning programs right on their website. All you needed was a valid library card. Our library system also allows you to check out passes to a variety of children’s and family museums in the area. This is an amazing way to get into some of those expensive museums for free, if you’re willing to wait a while to get the access pass (they tend to have long hold times). Ask your librarian if you have any resources like these available to you. You might be surprised!

Do you use your local library? What’s your favorite thing about it?


Roar Like a Lion (book review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Devotional books bring a lot of joy and meaning to people’s lives. I have read many of them over the years. Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of reading Roar Like a Lion: 90 Devotions to a Courageous Faith with my younger kids (and having them read it together without me).

The devotional, written by Levi Lusko with Tama Fortner and published by Tommy Nelson Books, was designed with kids in mind from cover to cover. The front cover is rather exciting, with bold geometric shapes making the lion’s face. It looks very ferocious (courageous, maybe?) with its teeth bared. And then you get to the inside of the book. The pages are thick enough to stand up to repeated use, even among slightly younger kids. The color printing is very bold. Because the pages are matte (almost like card stock), it’s not an overwhelming bold, though.

When you get to the devotions, the illustrations match the style of the cover. They kind of remind me of Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) style illustrations – as if they were made from paper cutouts rather than pen and ink or paint.

Each devotion has one main illustration to help it make its point and go along with its title. There’s also a “Did you Know” section with additional information that’s related, but not directly related, to the lesson. Like most devotions, the book is written specific lessons in mind and Bible verses are chosen to support each lesson. For example, in the lesson “Roar Like a Lion,” the verse is 2 Timothy 1:7:

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control.

Each devotion also ends with a simple prayer related to the lesson (also fairly standard devotional fare).

All of the devotions are written under the umbrella of being bold and courageous in your faith. Take a look at part of the table of contents to see what I mean:

The devotions are very encouraging for children. They offer great information to help your children understand how we can be strong in God. We read one each day, and it was great to see the boys show such interest in the topics presented. Sometimes, Grasshopper even did the reading!

Nearly 20 members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been spending time with Roar Like a Lion: 90 Devotions to a Courageous Faith. I invite you to head over to the main website to find links to all of those reviews this week.


Kindergarten Fun: Giraffes

The Homeschool Review Crew recently asked on Twitter

I responded

Upper elementary. Reading and basic math are mastered, but you’re not yet to the difficult upper level courses. Lots of fun things to do with the 3-4-5 grade crowd.

I stand by that, but I also think Kindergarten is pretty fun. When you’re not dealing with the frustrations of a child learning all their letters and sounds but being unable to put them together in random scenarios (i.e. outside of Reading Eggs), kindergartners are a great bunch. They have intense interests and very little can sway them from the things they like. This makes it an ideal time to really cater the schooling to those interests, thus creating a fun schooling environment and teaching them that learning is fun.

Dragonfly loves giraffes. Like, really loves them. They’re his favorite animal by far. I don’t know where he developed that love, but I understand it (I love elephants in almost the same way). So I decided to hone in on that love with a kindergarten unit study for him. He and I have been spending the past week or so, and will spend the next week or two, learning all about giraffes. Under normal conditions, we would head to the library and get a stack of books, but we can’t really do that in the age of COVID. (Although, a quick online search tells me that our city library is actually open again with limited hours. I think I’ll head down there today!) Instead, we’re doing a lot of online research and relying on the information that came with our lap book from Homeschool Share.

Let me tell you a bit about Homeschool Share and how I use their resources with my kids. Homeschool Share is a website that’s chock full of homeschooling resources for a wide range of ages. I typically use them for finding the “fun” stuff – primarily lap books – for the younger kids. It was founded in 2004 by Ami, a homeschooling mom of two boys. She initially started it as a forum of sorts, where other homeschool moms could post unit studies they’d written for their own families in order to share and bless others. It quickly exploded, and there are now hundreds of unit studies, lap books, and printables – all available for free. The site is organized by subject, but there’s a search feature too, in case you want to find something specific for your child to learn about (as was the case with Dragonfly and giraffes). If you scroll down on the homepage, you can find the age breakdown of the resources (as opposed to the subject breakdown in the menu bar at the top). It’s really quite simple to poke around, and you’re almost guaranteed to find something you can use. The only “fee” for using the resources is signing up for the email list, but Ami isn’t one to spam your inbox every day.

The giraffes lap book is perfect for a kindergarten student. It’s got 18 pages of mini books (some of them take up more than one page of printing; if I remember correctly, it was 15 mini books total). The entire study is self-contained, with the exception of additional books, which are, of course, optional especially in the digital age. But all the information you need to complete the mini books are included in the first couple of pages of the unit study, so for a basic, generic understanding of giraffes you don’t need anything more. The pages are black and white, which is perfect for allowing your child to color in all the giraffes. Some of them are already shaded, so there’s less to color on those mini books, making them ideal for the days when you don’t have quite as long to work.

What will your student learn in their study of giraffes? Quite a bit for just a simple, 18-page file! Topics covered include giraffe-related vocabulary; giraffe anatomy; diet, predators, and defenses of giraffes; how giraffes live together in herds; names of the different genders of giraffes; fascinating facts about baby giraffes (for example, they are able to stand within 15 minutes of birth and are 6 feet tall when they are born); where giraffes live and what their habitat is like; the closest living relative of giraffes (there’s only 1 known relative of giraffes, the okapi); and miscellaneous fun facts. Did you know that giraffes have such large shoulder muscles because they run “front wheel drive” instead of “rear wheel drive” like most other animals?

In addition to learning about giraffes specifically, one of the things I really like about this lap book is the opportunity students are given to practice their handwriting skills. Dragonfly is still working on reading better, but he’s getting pretty darn good at copying letters from one page onto another in his own handwriting. These papers will make for lovely keepsakes when he’s older.

When Dragonfly and I finish up learning about giraffes, we’re going to utilize the other African animal lap books from Homeschool Share and continue this line of study for quite a while longer. It’s such a fun way to learn (and teach)!

What’s your favorite animal?