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?


Using Movies in a Literature-Based Homeschool

One of my favorite things about using a literature-based approach to homeschooling is that there is so much flexibility! Beyond having your kids read books they’re more likely to find interesting for their learning, you can springboard that so easily into watching movies, too – which is great for sick days, hot days, or any other days when you just need an “easy out” for some reason. Here are some ways to incorporate movies into your literature based homeschool.

The backs of cinema chairs, which are red. A gold curtain is covering the screen at the front of the room.

Compare and Contrast

The easiest thing to do is obviously to compare and contrast the book and movie, if a matching set exists. There are so many fantastic children’s books with equally fantastic movies. One of my favorite examples of this is Charlotte’s Web. It’s a classic children’s book, and for good reason. It teaches strong lessons, but isn’t preachy. It wasn’t written with the intent of teaching those lessons, which is why it works so well. A lot of modern books are “lesson first, story second,” and that’s the wrong way to write. It’s much better when authors write a compelling story that kids will be interested in, and there are some lessons that can be organically gleaned from the story. (Pushing those lessons after the fact is also unideal. Let children make the jumps for themselves when possible.) Not only is Charlotte’s Web an amazing early novel for kids to read, but there are quite a few good film adaptations. The best one is the 2006 version starring Dakota Fanning as Fern and an all-star voice cast for the animals. Holes is another great example. Or the entire Harry Potter series. So if your kids are old enough for some serious critical thinking, have them do a compare and contrast between the books and movies they read. Ask specific questions: why do you think the filmmakers chose to change that from the book? Would you have made that change? What do you think was better in the book? Better about the movie? Which did you like better?

Use the Movie as Incentive to Read the Book

We’ve done this before with our kids. We don’t have a strict “you have to read the book before you’re allowed to see the movie” policy, but I know some parents do, and that works well. But even in a familiar story (a movie your child saw as a young child, for example), giving them the motivation of not being allowed to watch the movie (again) until they’re read the book can be a great motivator.

Let the movie help you explain parts of the book that may have been confusing (or vice versa)

In 2015, I saw the movie The Martian for the first time. It had been on my list for a long time, and I was so excited to finally see it. It was only upon seeing the opening credits that I realized it was based on a book, and I was really interested in then reading the book too. I found both to be fascinating – in fact, The Martian is now one of my favorite movies. I watch it about once a year, even now. But there were parts of the movie that I didn’t fully understand. I read the book, and it was even more complicated than the movie – but in different ways. What I found most interesting about that story in particular was how well the book and movie complimented each other. The parts of the book that were more confusing were clarified by the movie; the parts of the movie that were confusing were clarified in the book. They really do work hand in hand. So next time your student is struggling through a specific part in a book, see if there’s a movie counterpart that might help them to get a better visual on what the story is trying to say.

Do you use movies in your homeschool, or just as fun?


Bible Breakdowns (review)

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

Teaching the Bible is of tantamount importance, and simply reading it is the best way to do that. But sometimes a product comes along that does nothing more than help you with that. It doesn’t attempt to insert the author’s own thoughts into the text (like some devotionals). It quite literally just helps you explain the overview of the Bible to your children. This is what Bible Breakdowns from Teach Sunday School does. Nothing fancy, just a basic overview of each book of the Bible.

I received downloadable copies of the Bible Breakdowns, broken into two documents: Old Testament and New Testament. Because I am reading the New Testament together with the younger kids, we focuses on using those pages, particularly the Gospels.

Each Bible Breakdown is 1 or 2 pages, and it gives an overview of a specific book of the Bible. It starts with the name of the book at the top of the page, nice and big. Using attractive graphic design, it also tells you which number and “OT or “NT.” For example, Matthew is 1 NT; Mark is 2 NT; and so on. Underneath the header is a 1-2 paragraph overview of the book, and then the “big info” for the book. This includes the number of chapters, type of book (history, gospel, letter, etc), date written, dates covered in the text, and author’s name.

Once you get through the major, overarching information, the Bible Breakdown takes you on a list of the specific stories covered in that book. It even goes one step further and color codes the “classic Bible stories.” Each verse in the book is covered, so you can easily refer to it and find exactly what’s covered in the book. At the very end, after the verse-by-verse breakdown of the book, there’s a shorter list: the most popular verses in the book. It lists them out in order, and then tells you how that verse ranks in popularity both in comparison to other verses in its book as well as in the Bible as a whole. If you’re looking for memory verses for your kids, this “Most Popular Verses” section is a great place to start!

Like I mentioned, we are reading the New Testament together (me, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly). It’s the first time through the NT with the younger kids, so it was really nice to be able to have the Bible Breakdowns on hand to show them the overview of the books before we started reading. I used the pages as an introduction to the book. We read the top portion of the Bible Breakdown, and that gave the kids a basic understanding of the book and its “goal” for having been written. It gave us just a tiny bit of background about the author, which can be invaluable information – especially for nonfiction books like the Bible.

As we continued to read, I primarily referred to the rest of the breakdown on my end. This helped me to determine a good stopping point each day for our reading. Sometimes that was at an even chapter break, but not always. And while the standard “just read 3 chapters a day” will usually work, it was also nice to have the breakdown handy to refer to larger sections that should be read all in one sitting for context. The Sermon on the Mount is one of these sections. Not only should it be read all together (at least as you’re introducing the idea to your child for the first time), but it’s also not specifically labeled in the Biblical texts as all being one long section. The headers in the Bible tell you “Beatitudes,” “Lord’s Prayer,” etc, but the Bible Breakdown specifically labels those sections as the Sermon on the Mount. This information was really useful to have at my fingertips.

If you’re looking for a Bible curriculum, Bible Breakdowns aren’t it. They are best used as reference for the Scriptures themselves. They don’t tell you what to teach or how to teach it. It’s not a devotional with ideas and concepts added. It is the simplest document in the world, just telling you what to expect from your Bible reading. It’s exactly what I was looking for to help me help the kids understand what’s going on in the Bible.

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews!


Spelling Ninja (review)

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

Spelling is a subject that is fairly important, but can be tricky to teach. I’ve struggled to teach it in the past because I’m a naturally good speller. I don’t understand having to “learn” to spell; I’ve always just been able to do it well. I had to deal with this a few years ago with Ballet Boy (he’s still not the best, but his writing is at least decipherable now – once you get past his handwriting!). Now that Grasshopper is the age to start dealing with spelling, I wanted to try to nip any potential problems in the bud, so we signed up to review Spelling Ninja from Reading Kingdom.

Spelling Ninja is an online program run through the website (not an app). Once you sign in and choose your student’s name from the list, you’re taken to that student’s home page, from which you can launch the program. It’s recommended that your student plays Spelling Ninja 4 days a week for optimal results.

The “game” itself is easy enough to understand. There is a picture at the top of the screen and a sentence below it. The student studies the sentence and then clicks the little star box when they feel ready. If they take a long time to study, the question eventually starts on its own. To pass each question, they simply have to type the words (spelled correctly, of course) into the boxes. Correct capitalization and punctuation is a must. The picture stays in place throughout the studying and typing process, but the sentence disappears a few words at a time. This means that in addition to spelling everything correctly, you must remember the words (which wasn’t usually too hard, but we did sometimes struggle with the specifics when a certain blank could have two words that both made sense in the sentence). The words in the sentences build on each other, meaning that you’ll see very similar sentences at the beginning (Can these kids read? and These kids can read.), but new words are introduced over time. Then those new words are shown over and over in a variety of different sentences. The sentences get longer and longer as you go because there are more words to choose from. There are 10 sentences per lesson.

When we first started, I had Grasshopper work on this on his own, with me watching to make sure he understood what he was doing. It quickly became apparent that that was not going to work long term. Grasshopper has a working knowledge of the keyboard, but he’s not a typist by any stretch of the imagination. He was having to type every single word many times, even when he got the correct spelling because he couldn’t get it typed in fast enough. So the next day, we switched it up and I did the typing while he dictated the letters to me to spell each word.

We worked 3-4 days a week this way (me typing, him dictating), and we had reasonable success. Grasshopper was able to get most of the words quicker, and there were just a few words that he needed to “study” with each new sentence. I really liked that he was able to get the spellings correct so much quicker over such a short period of time (I saw improvement after just 2 or 3 lessons). However, the time limit of the program was really frustrating for us. Even when I went in and adjusted the amount of time allowed before getting marked “wrong,” we still sometimes struggled. For example, in a sentence that’s 12 words long, you can be working along just fine, get the first 8 words spelled correctly and in the time limit but miss the 9th one. When that happens, you have to retype the entire sentence from the beginning, not just the word you missed. It got to be really demoralizing for Grasshopper and frustrating for me.

If your student knows the keyboard well and can type quickly, then Spelling Ninja would likely be a great fit for you. It wasn’t our favorite program ever, but I can definitely see the benefits to it and am pleased with the successes we had.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been trying out three programs from Reading Kingdom; make sure to click over to the main website to read reviews on Counting Kingdom and Story Smarts as well as Spelling Ninja.


What We’re Reading: October 2021

It’s October already! I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited about that. I adore October and November; they’re my favorite months all year long. And I think there are going to be big changes for our family this month. But for now, my fingers are tied on that front.

Instead, let’s talk about what books we’re reading this month!

Read Aloud

We’re still working through our shelf of beautifully illustrated novels. This month we’re going to spend wrapping up both Pinocchio and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (We didn’t do as much reading of those as we should have last month.) We’re also reading A Cricket in Times Square, and we will have a review on the Progeny Press study guide for that book later in the month!

Scorpion (9th)

As I briefly mentioned last week, Scorpion is reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. He will have a hefty portion of guest posting on that Progeny Press review when it comes up in a few weeks. Scorpion has always loved classic novels. From the time he was very young (like 6), he’s been reading them. Of course, back then he read children’s versions. Now that he’s older, I’m glad that he’ll get the opportunity to read some of them in their entirety rather than as a “Great Illustrated Classic.”

Grasshopper (4th)

We’re making great progress with Wayside School, and when he finishes it we’ll dive into a book I read a few years ago (it’s a kids’ book, but I saw it in the store and was intrigued by the plot so I bought it and read it anyway): Circus Mirandus. This is the story of a magical circus that only those who already believe in it can find. The main character must make himself believe so he can find the circus and get in touch with the one person who can help him save his ailing grandfather.


I recently finished reading a book that had been on my to-read list for months, Sooley by John Grisham. It’s a stray from his normal legal thriller and explores the world of high-end college basketball through the eyes of a South Sudanese young man in America on a series of emergency visas. I love basketball, so I was pretty sure I’d like this book. It was not entirely what I expected, though, and Amazon reviews on the book are mixed. (I would give it 5 stars.) But that’s all I’m going to say for now, because more of my thoughts will be outlined when I feature it in this month’s book club post. For my new book, I’m sticking with my Grisham streak and reading an older novel called The Racketeer.

What are you reading this month?


Science for Little Kids (review)

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

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is a favorite in our homeschool. We’ve used many of their books over the years, and always had great success with them. All three of my older children (Ballet Boy, 17; Scorpion, 15; and Grasshopper, 9) have used one of their math books over the years. When they were offered up for review this year, many of the choices were for the Preschool crowd, so I chose Science Mind Benders®: Animals to work on with Dragonfly (5). He’s very interested in learning, and animals are always a popular choice for little kids so I thought it would be a good introduction to science for him.

Science Mind Benders®: Animals is an 86-page, softcover workbook printed in full color. The pages are a bit glossy, so it feels almost like a picture book inside. There are 7 lessons, and each lesson has 7 activities. This gives your child enough time to take the book slowly and reinforce the concepts being taught throughout, making sure they remember they remember what they learned over the long term. At the end of each group of 7 lessons, there is a page of “interesting animals in this lesson” and a review page, which you could use as a quiz if you wanted to.

Because this was Dragonfly’s very first introduction to any sort of formal science lesson, we just started at the beginning of the book and worked our way through. For an older child, you could use this book as a review for certain types of animals and jump around a bit more.

Let’s look at the first lesson – Vertebrates and Invertebrates – fairly in-depth to give you an idea of how you could use this book in your homeschool.

My favorite type of homeschool curriculum is “open and go,” which means that there’s minimal prep work involved. This not only makes it easier to keep your homeschool day moving, but it also limits the amount of loose papers and other things you have floating around your school area. This book is definitely an open and go science curriculum. Everything you need to teach your child is included all in the one workbook – a simple lesson teaching children what they will be learning about and the consumable workbook pages for them to do themselves.What this looks like in the Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson is a page with a short paragraph at the top that you can read to your child or paraphrase to teach the concept, and then the other 4/5 of the page is a series of pictures showcasing the different types of creatures, all separated out so children can get a clear understanding.

Once they have the initial learning done, the next seven pages are activity pages. You could do one activity a day, or all at once, or anything in between. We did one lesson per day because I want my son to tuck away that knowledge and remember it long term, not to just breeze through only to forget what an invertebrate is in two weeks when he’s working on the Mammals and Reptiles lesson.

Examples of activity pages are “point to the pictures of animals that are vertebrates.” This page also comes with discussion questions. Instead of having Dragonfly simply point to the pictures, I had him draw circles around the animals the question asked about. When we got to the question that compared invertebrates with an exoskeleton vs those without, we drew circles and squares to differentiate them. There are some very basic logic puzzles for the children to work through, which is perfect for developing good critical thinking skills. Activity 3 in the lesson shows photos of 6 different animals and you’re given three clues. The child is to determine which clue goes with which animal. Lesson 4 is very much like lesson 3, except that after matching the clue with the animal, the child determines whether each animal is a vertebrate or an invertebrate. Lesson 5 is another logic puzzle. Lessons 6 and 7 mirror lessons 3 and 4. For the review of this lesson, there’s a flow chart. Groups of pictures are shown together and the child determines what word from the “choice box” best fits that particular group. There’s even a bonus question for further research.

Dragonfly and I have had so much fun learning about animals together! We’re not done with this book yet, but we will definitely be continuing to work our way through it. It’s the perfect introduction to both critical thinking and science for my Kindergartner.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been reviewing one of 6 different books from The Critical Thinking Co.™. Make sure to click through and find out more about those books, as well as an introductory article that talks more about the company itself than I got into here.