Beginning of the School Year Memories

a chalk board with fall leaves around the edge. the title of the post is written in a chalkboard font in the middle.

The beginning of the school year is a special time for students, regardless of what “kind” of school they go to. If you go on Instagram anytime this month, you’ll begin seeing loads and loads of back to school posts. In my feed, a couple of these traditions come to mind; these moms post the same thing every year and it really sticks in my mind. The first is a mom that has a huge frame that she has each of her children hold around their face each fall and spring. It must a dry erase or something, because she writes each child’s grade on it, and it’s different for each of her kids (she also has 5, like me). The second one is a mom who is also a public school teacher. She takes a photograph of her son in the fall and again in the spring standing in front of the school’s sign where he attends. It’s pretty neat to get the same picture nine months apart and see how much taller her son has gotten!

We’ve never really done anything like that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good idea. There are some things from my own elementary school days that I remember having done (mostly from 3rd grade – I must have had a great teacher that year!). Here’s an idea to do with your children/students. At the beginning of the school year, get a manila envelope and have your student write on it: (Name)’s Time Capsule. Do not open until 2046. (Of course, you can choose a different year; I chose that one because it’s 25 years from now.) All throughout the school year, save samples of their work and tuck it into the envelope. Not everything, but a reasonable sample. This will show how much they learn and develop their skills over the course of the school year.

Maybe take some white paper and tempera or acrylic paint and have students create a hand and/or footprint page. This would be a good basic anatomy lesson – I remember being in third grade and not understanding why I had a huge “indent” in my footprint (and trying everything I could think of to fill it in to no avail). Now I know that’s the arch. It would have been nice to have had some sort of explanation for that as a child. Do this again at the end of the school year to show physical growth. When your student opens that envelope as an adult, they will cherish at least some of the papers you’ve tucked inside. I know when my mom gave me my third grade time capsule a few years back, I was excited to see everything in there – the only thing I remembered having done was the footprint. Everything else in there was a surprise.

Last month, I wrote about learning styles. Have you ever considered your students’ learning styles? There’s a personality quiz online that you can have your child take. Garnering information about their specific learning style would be a fantastic way to get the school year off to an amazing start, because you could tailor their work to their specific learning style.

If you’ve chosen your homeschool curriculum already, then you have an idea of what you’ll be teaching this year. How about doubling down on that “before and after” concept this way: Choose something related to one of your year long studies and have your children create something at the beginning of the school year (a world map if you’re doing a heavy geography study, for example) and then recreate that same assignment at the end of the year. Make sure to save the one from now so you can show them how much they learned!

What are some of your favorite “beginning of the school year” memory makers?




This post is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop. Click on any of the links below to read more posts on this topic!


Dyslexia Gold (review)

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

Grasshopper was slow to read. He fought me tooth and nail for a long time. But finally, I told him it was “time.” He was able to read well enough that he had to read a novel out loud to me. It was slow going at first. For a really long time. But as he read every day, he got better and better. Now, he reads everything in sight. I don’t have to force him anymore. And he even (claims to) like reading!

To further his quick studying in reading comprehension, we signed up to review Dyslexia Gold. This is an online program that’s designed for students who struggle with reading, whether it’s due to dyslexia or for another reason. Grasshopper’s reading took off sometime between when we signed up for the review and when we actually started using the program, so the timing was a bit unfortunate for us. That said, he did learn quite a few things from the program, and I’ll tell you all about them!

The program has four main parts, but after a placement test Grasshopper was only assigned three of them. (The one he didn’t get was Reading Unlocked, which I reviewed last year with Dragonfly. We had amazing success with that program! Read that review for a more in-depth look at that program.) Let’s discuss each of the parts of Dyslexia Gold that we used in more detail.

Engaging Eyes is designed to help your child learn to focus. People with dyslexia often have trouble with their eyes, and that inability to focus easily leads to the words “swimming” in front of them. The Engaging Eyes vision training in Dyslexia Gold is done with a pair of 3D glasses. Students wear the glasses and then shoot the targets using the arrows and spacebar on the keyboard. They have to not only aim the shooter, but also make sure it’s on the same plane in order to hit their target. This game was the most fun for Grasshopper. In fact, he had so much fun with it that everyone else in the family gave it a try at one point or another!

Fluency Builder teaches a child who already knows how to read, how to read well. It has a total of 50 lessons, and each one focuses on a specific phonemic sound. It also teaches children to differentiate sounds that might be similar to an early reader (|f| and |v| for example). Each lesson is broken up into a variety of activities that really drive home the phonics aspect of reading. There is also a passage for children to read and answer comprehension questions.

Spelling Tutor is where I saw the biggest improvement in my son. This part of the program has the child read a passage. Then they are to write the passage down, one sentence at a time. When they’re done, they click “mark” and are able to self-grade their work. If they get everything right, great! If they get anything wrong, that word goes on their “practice” list. The program remembers which words the student needs to practice more, and it gives those words to them many times over the course of the program. At the point the child gets a problem word correct, it moves down on the list and is shown less frequently.

Dyslexia Gold also includes a Times Tables tutor, but we’re swimming in math practice right now, so we didn’t use that.

As mentioned, we didn’t end up “needing” the program as much as I thought we would when I agreed to review it. But Grasshopper had amazing success with the spelling portion, and I’m glad we had access to that to help him understand how to get better at spelling.

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website!


Opting for a GED

Ballet Boy, for many reasons that he and Will discussed, decided to pursue a GED (formally “Tests for General Educational Development”). The primary reason is that the two of them thought a “homeschool diploma” wouldn’t be taken seriously by people in the real world. Today, Ballet Boy and I want to talk a little bit about the GED process in our state.

A test on a desk with a teen's hand holding a pencil hovering above the page

Disclaimer: While it seems as though the basics are the same from state to state, do not take our words for facts nationwide. Always do your own research and choose the best path for you, as well as making sure you follow all the laws and guidelines in your specific state.

The GED is a series of four tests, designed to determine whether a student has enough knowledge to “be done” with their schooling without technically “graduating.” You have to be 18 in order to take the tests, and each one is administered separately, with their own fees ($38 each in our state; if a retest is required, the fee is slightly lower). The tests are available for in-person or online, though the price is slightly higher online starting September 1st (in most states). If you take the test in person, there is no practice testing required, but to do it online you must have passed a practice test within the last 60 days. Some states require that you live in the state to take their test, but not all of them do (ours doesn’t). Make sure to find out whether the state you wish to test in has residency requirements or not before you commit. Additionally, not all states offer the test (Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Tennessee, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, and West Virginia), so if you live in one of those states, you need to either take the test online or travel to a state that allows non-residents to test.

With those basics discusses, I will now pass the torch over to Ballet Boy.

The trick with being homeschooled is that it can be pretty difficult to keep track of things like credits. That hasn’t mattered before, but seeing as I’m 18 in October, graduating – or at least finishing – starts to be a necessity. We have done so many different curricula over the years through the Review Crew that it would be much too complicated to go through them all to count up the credits. Instead, I talked with my dad and together we decided that it would be a good idea for me to take the GED test instead of getting a traditional high school diploma. Since I’m not planning on going to college, this seemed like a reasonable way to wrap things up. 

The test itself is made up of four separate exams in a variety of subjects. These smaller tests are:

Science, Social Studies, Math (always math lol), and Language Arts. 

You need to be at least 18 (16 under very specific circumstances, such as being an emancipated minor) to take the test in my state and the fee is around $150 for the whole test. You are not required to take all four tests at the same time. To qualify for the GED you cannot be enrolled in school. The GED tests are scored on a 100-299 scale and scoring is as follows: 100-144-below passing; 145-164-high school equivalency score; 165-174-college-ready score; 175-200-college-ready + college credit score. And if you score 299 I’m pretty sure they ask you to be the president. 

They say you should plan on the prep taking three months to pass the test but they also say that 65% of students fail the test and have to take it again. I’m taking my time and checking all my boxes before I take the exams. The only subject that concerns me is math, so I’m going through a program called Triad Math (which, ironically enough started out as a review product) and brushing up on everything. I also have an ACT prep course that I’m starting, and there’s tons of help on YouTube to fill in all the gaps. So for anyone reading this who’s planning on taking the GED there is no one specific way to prep. Look at the subjects, work on what you’re not confident in till you are, and I’ll meet you on the other side 😉

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Ballet Boy

Khan Academy for High School

My oldest son decided to go the GED route (which I’ve mentioned before). But I’m encouraging my second son, Scorpion, to pursue a homeschool diploma instead. He’ll be starting 9th grade in September, so we’re in full on planning mode now. In my internet searches, I found Khan Academy. I’ve heard of them before, but never really looked into them very much. But when I saw that they have an app, I knew that it just might be a good fit for my technology-loving, visual learner!

This post will likely feel a bit like a review, but it’s completely unsponsored. I just want to talk about our high school plan for Scorpion, to both share with you a potentially new curriculum as well as give us some accountability moving forward.

the app icon for khan academyI signed up for an account before I ever told him about the idea of using this program, and from there I was able to easily create a student account for him. I used the website to go over all the different options for classes, and then I assigned him the subjects I want him to take. We’re on summer break now, but he spent a couple of weeks in the app to get a good feel for it so that it would be smooth sailing when school starts in the fall. Here’s what he’ll be working on.

9th Grade Reading and Vocabulary

This course is still in beta mode, which means they’re potentially working out some kinks. It also redirects to the website because of that, rather than showing up right in the app. The course has three main components: Borders, Social Psychology, and The Apocalypse. Each of the sections follows the same basic outline, but with a different emphasis (fiction vs poetry vs informational text for example).


It’s no secret that I’m a grammar nerd. I live for good grammar, and it’s one of my favorite subjects to teach my kids. I even do professional copy editing for Will’s book design business. But I care more about making sure that commas are properly placed and shouldn’t be a semicolon instead, rather than keeping track of all the nuanced and advanced concepts of high school grammar. So I am more than happy to let Khan Academy take over the teaching here!

The Grammar course has 10 sections, and each one has between 600 and 1300 “mastery points.” Students work through all the different topics, earning their points to pass the class. It starts easy, with things your student should have learned in elementary school (nouns and verbs). By the end of the course, they’re into more complicated things like “syntax: sentences and clauses.” It even includes a style section at the very end of the course!

a screenshot showing the different courses my son will be taking this school year.

High School Biology

This course is also in beta mode, but it works in the app. At the time of this writing, it has two main sections: Matter and Energy in Ecosystems and Interactions in Ecosystems. Each of those sections, when you click through, has a fair number of lessons. Scorpion hasn’t delved very much into this course, but it looks to be a good balance between videos and digital worksheets.


I have a hard time remembering sometimes that my kids are not the same as me – or each other. Scorpion has always been better at reading and literature than math. He has always struggled with math, which is why he’s taking pre-algebra in ninth grade instead of seventh. (I know that sounds like a slight on him, and it’s not. It’s just that pre-algebra in seventh grade was the only reference point I had for the subject until recently because that’s when I took it.)

This class works pretty much identically to grammar, with mastery points. The difference, of course, is that the subject is numbers and not words. I’m excited for him to get a good grasp on these concepts this year!

US Government and Civics

This is another mastery points course. It has a fraction the number of mastery points available, so I think it’s a semester course. It covers everything needed for a good foundation in government: foundations of American democracy, interactions among branches of government, civil liberties and civil rights, citizenship, American political ideologies and beliefs, political participation, and more.

World History (1750-)

There were two or three world history courses on Khan Academy to choose from, so I let Scorpion choose what he wanted to do, and he picked 1750-modern times. Again, this course works on a points system. There are a total of 9 main headings, and each one moves through 3-6 subheadings.

Pixar in a Box

Animation is Scorpion’s passion. He has his own YouTube channel where he posts original animations he’s made. So for his elective this year, I found found this Pixar course for him to take. I’m excited to see how much he learns from the course, and especially to see how well he likes it once he gets into it. It will be neat to see how he takes what he learns in this course and applies it to his own animations over the course of the school year.

As I mentioned before, Scorpion has done just a little bit of the work so far, enough to get a feel for the program before we dive in fully next academic year. Here are his thoughts so far:

Khan Academy is an online learning platform for kids of all ages. So far I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and I’m loving it so far. It has a very user friendly interface, and easy to complete lessons. The lessons take about five minutes to complete and are fun and not too difficult. Khan Academy is a perfect choice for children and teenagers alike.

What’s your plan for homeschooling high school? I’d love to hear in the comments what you are doing/have done.


Exploring Different Learning Styles (and how my kids learn best)

I have four school-age kids right now, and they each have different strengths. I want to take some time today to talk about each of them, specifically in the realm of how they learn and how I homeschool them based on those learning styles, in the hopes that this exploration might be helpful to someone else out there.

Ballet Boy (17 years old)

My oldest son took me a bit by surprise when he was starting school. My husband and I both have academic tendencies, so I expected our children to also veer that way naturally. Boy was I in for a shock! Ballet Boy didn’t really want anything to do with school, and looking back I’m not sure I blame him. All he knew was playing with Mom. He’d never been to daycare, so the sudden change from “little kid at home” to “you’re 5 now, it’s time for school” was a shock to his little system. And back then, I didn’t have half the knowledge I do now about different learning styles. I figured all kids would benefit from a traditional education. Because I went to public school, and only knew kids who also had, I had no idea there could be more to homeschooling than basic lists of things to accomplish. Due to my inexperience combined with my fear of homeschool not being “enough,” we got a stack of workbooks and I taught him the material. He filled out the answers, and we called it a day.

But he was miserable.

See, he wasn’t (and still isn’t) a traditional learner. My oldest son works best when he can hear the lessons rather than seeing them. He can listen to audio books and dramas and retain way more information than when he reads that same book. For this reason, things like Heirloom Audio productions make fantastic history resources for him. He did well with Apologia’s audio textbook for science when he was small.

If you have a child who struggles with reading, maybe try an audio approach instead. (And this is not me saying that reading isn’t important. I believe with all my heart that it is, and everyone should learn to read when they are young. But knowing that there are options besides just books is also helpful.)

Scorpion (14 years old)

My second child could not be more different than his older brother. When Ballet Boy started 1st grade when he was 7 (compulsory school age in our state was 7-18 back then; it’s 6-18 now), Scorpion wanted to do school too. He was only 4 at the time, but we decided to humor him and got some kindergarten workbooks (this was back when we still thought that was the best method for every child). He did really well with them. I didn’t even have to teach him to read. He just randomly picked it up when he was tiny. When he was 5 and Ballet Boy was 8, they were at roughly the same reading level. We had just finished the school year and signed the boys up for summer reading at the library. We told them that if they each read a chapter book, we would give them a monetary prize in addition to whatever they earned from the library. (But the goal wasn’t optional.) They both did it, but Scorpion managed it with a more difficult book than Ballet Boy.

When he was just 5 years old, he read Charlotte’s Web by himself.

Ever since then, he’s been a self starter who thrives with visual learning. He can read all the books in the world and retain everything he reads. Video lessons are great for him because he can see the visual aids and understand what’s being taught. And he’s a self starter. Now that he’s entering high school, I can give him a list (something he can see), and he will just work through it with very little intervention from me. So I recommend for the visual learners that you embrace that fully – give them things they can look at, read, and process on their own terms. You’ll likely have a very independent future student!

Grasshopper (9 years old)

Grasshopper gets a lot of face time on this blog, mostly because he’s at the age where there are so many cool things to teach him. He really loves school now, but it wasn’t always that way. See, when he was just starting, he struggled with reading. I thought it was going to be a repeat of Ballet Boy’s early years. And in many ways, it was. He didn’t read well until this past school year. He fought me many days, and always tried to get some sort of early reprieve from school or better yet, a day off for no reason.

But now that he’s older, I can see that he mostly thrives with one-on-one time. That’s not always possible, but often times it is. If I can distract the younger brothers for a bit of time (an episode of PJ Masks, or a game idea with their toys will usually do the trick!), I can give him 20 or 30 minutes of specialized time to focus on learning. We do a lot of his lessons this way, a little bit at a time, amongst the brothers also needing me. This also works with his attention span (and jealousy of the youngers getting to play while he works). Work a little, play with your brothers. Work a bit more, then play again. It makes the day a little bit longer, but not terribly so. And it gives him the individualized time he needs as well as periodic breaks to lessen the load.

Dragonfly (5 years old)

My fourth son is a lot like Scorpion. He’s desperate to learn, and while he also wants one-on-one time, he does really well with digital learning. Preschool apps (like Reading Eggs or LeapFrog) are totally his jam. He could do those all day long. He was born into a digital era, and he totally embraces it. Other than unlocking the iPad, he can do those types of lessons entirely on his own, which is both really helpful and a little bittersweet. Of course, I don’t let him do only digital things – he reads physical books and works with paper and pencil/crayon too – but it’s super convenient to have them available for him. And I don’t doubt for one minute that he’ll be able to switch to a computer pretty easily when he’s older and ready to take the next technological leap in his teen years and beyond.

What types of learning styles do you deal with in your homeschool?


Making Math Easy with CTCMath (review)

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

Grasshopper had such a huge success when we used CTCMath last year that I happily agreed to review it again to keep his subscription going!

What is CTCMath? In its most basic form, CTCMath is a program that teaches all levels of math from Kindergarten through Calculus. The program is split up into grade levels, and from there, units and lessons. There are also a few games to help with speed facts. Grasshopper has been working on third grade curriculum, which includes times tables. To help him with his times tables, he has been playing the Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up game in addition to doing 1-2 regular lessons per day.

Let’s talk first about the regular lessons. Each one consists of a short video (2-5 minutes long), followed by a 10-question digital worksheet. Students know right away whether they’ve gotten the answer right, which is really nice. In the parent account, you set the “pass grade” for each of your students. We have it set to the default 80%. This means that if my son gets 80% or better on his worksheet, the program allows him to move on to the next lesson. If he gets less than 80% (which he never does – he’s borderline in tears any time he gets less than 100%), then he is prompted to answer more questions to encourage further understanding of the topic. Because the lessons are prerecorded videos, a student can always go back and watch it again if they’re unclear on what to do. We’ve had to do that a time or two. It’s really that straightforward! Grasshopper can easily get a math lesson done in 10 minutes, including the video. That’s why he often does more than one lesson per school day. I’m sure they’re harder when you get into the more advanced maths, but we haven’t been there yet.

Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Answer the multiplication problem by shooting the correct answer. Before you begin, you can choose which times tables you want to practice, or do a mix. The answers are shown in a straight line across the screen in ascending order. The group moves slowly down the screen, and you need to answer all of the questions before they get to the bottom. Once you’ve made it through three rounds, the movement picks up considerably. Even Will and Ballet Boy took a shot at that level, and neither of them could get all the answers in the faster level despite knowing their times tables really well. The numbers just move too fast down the screen.

For more details, look at my 2020 review of CTCMath. You can also head over to the Homeschool Review Crew and see what other members think of this fantastic math program! As for us, Grasshopper is going to continue doing a couple of lessons a day through the summer, and then dive into 4th grade math in the fall.


Further Study of The American Revolution

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

I have reviewed quite a few products from Home School in the Woods in the past, and I’ve got the biggest one yet to share today. For the past five weeks or so, Grasshopper and I have been diving into Time Travelers U.S History Studies: The American Revolution. I knew this would be a well-written, intense curriculum, but I was amazed by just how in depth it went! Let me tell you all about it.

The Files

When you purchase a Time Travelers digital download kit (of which there are many!) from Home School in the Woods, it downloads as a zip file. It’s super easy to extract the files; just use the extraction wizard on your computer. I was super overwhelmed by the sheer number of files at first, but as I continued to dig around in the folders in preparation of teaching the unit, I really got a good feel for how they were organized. They are sorted into four sections, but I only ever used two of them: Menus and PDFs (and Menus was only used once or twice). PDFs in the main bread and butter of the program, and where you’ll spend most of your time.

When you open the PDFs folder, there are 6 subfolders, and most of those will get used quite often, with the exception of “covers.” You’ll only need that one for the initial printing (as its name suggests, it has the cover images for the lap book and notebook portions of the study).

Intro-Etc has things like the acknowledgements from the authors, a list of additional resources you can utilize while working through the study, and tips for using the study. But the most important thing in that folder is the lesson planner. For the first week, I referred to in on the computer, but after that I decided it would actually be better to have it printed out even though it felt kind of wasteful to me. But because it was a landscape oriented document, it was sideways in Adobe Acrobat, and that made it a bit cumbersome to read on the screen.

Lesson-Masters is the real meat of the product, and this is where you’ll do most of the printing for your students from. It has every single thing you need to complete the notebook and lap book for the unit study. I’ll dive more into these pages in the next section, “How we used it.”

Lesson-Projects is a very useful folder. It is divided up into lessons (there are 25 in this study), and it explains how to create each thing you do in the day. This is especially helpful in some of the more complicated lap book elements.

Lesson-Text is the reading portion of the study. Each day gets its own PDF, and each of those is 1-3 pages long.

Teacher-Keys is just what it sounds like: answer keys for the different pages.

How We Used It

I spent a bit of time just getting a feel for the study before I did anything else. I received the files in my email on a Thursday, and spent much of Friday and the weekend going over everything so I could understand how it all worked. By Sunday night, I had a pretty good idea, and then I did the first week’s printing. (I did all of the printing one week at a time; it was less cumbersome for me that way. You could, of course, do all the printing at once and store the pages until you need them if that works better for you.)

Each day, I would look over what projects were expected to be completed and would pull those papers out of our folder. I set everything aside, only giving Grasshopper one page/activity at a time. I’d usually find a simple one for him to work on while I read the lesson text aloud to him. I tried to stick to things like basic coloring or cutting for the lesson time so that he could focus on listening to me read.

Besides the lesson text, there are two main components to the study: the lap book and the notebook. You can choose to do just one of them, but we did both. Grasshopper is at that sweet spot where he’s young enough to still love doing lap books, but also old enough to benefit from notebooking. So I seized on that ability. The schedule clearly labels whether something is “notebook” or “lap book,” so if you’re only doing one of them, it’s easy to cherry pick the pages you need.

For his notebook, we just picked up a basic folder from Walmart (I think it cost me a quarter), and then I also bought a packet of file folders for the lap book because we didn’t have any. We’ve been keeping all of the completed notebook pages on the right side of the folder, and the week’s worth of printouts on the left. This relaxed organizational method might not work for others, but it’s been great for us.

One thing we’ve done differently from the suggested schedule is building the lap book. The schedule has your child create all of the mini books and store them in a baggie, then create the entire lap book on day 24. We were too excited for that! So we have been building the lap book as we go. It might end up slightly less “rigid” in the end, but that’s okay. Grasshopper is learning so much and having fun every single day.

Final Thoughts

I can’t recommend Home School in the Woods enough. A lot of their things can feel pretty overwhelming, but that’s because they’re so well written. I won’t lie: it takes a lot of printing. A lot, a lot. So if you don’t have access to a good printer (and by “good” I mean one that will give you more than 30 printed sheets per ink cartridge), this might not be the product for you (and believe me, I’ve been there in the past). But if you do have access to a good printer, you should seriously consider looking at the different Time Traveler kits. They have them for pretty much all periods in American history (up through WWII).

If you’re looking for something more “supplementary” and less “full curriculum,” allow me to suggest the Timeline sets. There are four to choose from, and they go from Creation to modern times. The timelines are a great visual for kids of all ages, too – in fact, Home School in the Woods has them listed as a K-12 product, which means you can supplement literally curriculum and make an awesome family-wide keepsake. You can choose from Creation to Christ (Beginning – 100 AD); Resurrection to Revolution (0 – 1799 AD); Napoleon to Now (1750 – modern day); and America’s History (explorers to 21st century).

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have had the honor of reviewing a wide variety of products from Home School in the Woods (including all of the timelines I mentioned before, different eras of Time Travelers Studies, and more), and I highly recommend you check out their reviews! You won’t regret it.


Catching Slugs and Studying Language Arts (review)

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

Grasshopper has been having so much fun practicing his language arts lessons the past few weeks with Words Rock Online from EdAlive. Let me tell you a little bit about the game.

Words Rock is an online game, and it’s super easy to set up an account and log in. You have to go through the parent account the first time, where you can easily set up child accounts. I only set up an account for Grasshopper, even though the suggested age range is 5-15, and I don’t regret that decision at all. It took a few rounds of going back and forth between the student account and the parent account for me to get the settings *just right* for Grasshopper to be able to actually answer the questions each time, but once I did we only used the student account from then forward.

Playing the Game

When you first log in, you select either Start a New Game or Questions Only. We always played the game! There are  a number of avatars shown on the bottom of the screen to choose from. It seems to assign you a different one each time, but it’s easy to just click a different one that you want to use for that session. Grasshopper always chose the same guy. Then a little pop up appears, where you choose whether you want a Basic Game (smaller board with no “gadgets”) or an Advanced Game (bigger board with “gadgets”). The first few days, we did the basic game, but once we’d figured out the game and were quite comfortable with it, we switched to the advanced game and haven’t looked back since.

The game portion of the app (it’s technically a website, but runs like an app) is kind of a cross between Battleship and Minesweeper. The goal is to catch slugs, and in an advanced game there are 7 slugs taking up a total of 23 squares (the board is 10×10). When you choose a square, you are told whether the square you chose has no slug (50 points), is near a slug (50 points), contains part of a slug (100 points), or completes the capture of a slug (200 points). Each game consists of 4 players: your student and 3 computer opponents.

In the advanced game, you have the option of using helps. Each help costs a certain number of points, so you can’t use any on your first turn (because you don’t have any points yet). The helps are: scatter search, which gives you a cross beam of squares that you can choose instead of a single square (400 points); hint, which gives you a 3×3 area in which to choose, one of which is a guaranteed “part of slug” (50 points); restricted zone, which allows you to block off an area from your opponents’ future turns (125 points); and unlimited move, which opens the entire board to you (in the advanced game, you can only choose from certain unlocked squares which change each turn) (50 points). We found through playing the game that scatter search is more than worth the 400 points it costs to use, because you pretty much always get 800-1500 points back using that option. When we started using scatter search, Grasshopper’s scores went from 1500-1800 to 3000-4000 or more per game. It really made a big difference! And once he got the hang of the game, his goal shifted. Instead of aiming to win, he tried to get a better and better score each time (essentially beating himself). At the time of this writing, he aims to get 4000 points each time he plays.

After each turn, you go to the question portion of the game. Students must answer a language arts question chosen from quite a large range of topics and difficulties. They are given 2 chances. If they get the answer correct on their first try, the next round of slug finding earns them double points. If they get it right on the second try, they get 1.5x the points. Some questions are deemed “brain teasers,” and those earn even more points for the next round if answered correctly (2.4x instead of 2.0). If a question is too difficult, you can click the “too hard” button and get a new question with no penalty. We had to use that a few times, but not too often once I figured out the right settings for him in the parent-teacher portal.

Questions include things like “Click all the verbs in the sentence” and “Determine which words are opposites from the following pairs.” You’ll answer about 5-7 questions per game.

Once all 7 slugs are captured, the game ends immediately – no further questions are asked. You then see the bonus points being awarded. These are for things like “most slugs captured,” “most brain teaser attempts,” and “highest slug hit rate.” The player with the most points wins.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think there was a single day that went by (weekends included) that Grasshopper didn’t ask to play the “Slug Game.” He absolutely loved it, and I liked that he was getting some extra grammar practice in. Some of the questions required a lot of help, but most were just fine for him to understand and answer on his own. I absolutely expect him to continue playing the game each day for the entire year that we have access.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been playing two other games from EdAlive this month, too. Click through to read reviews on Words Rock (language arts), Volcanic Panic (reading), and Baggin’ the Dragon (math).


Tiny Books and a Tiny Musician

Reading is important to me, and it’s important that my kids learn to read too. I understand the mentality of a lot of homeschool parents is “don’t force them; they’ll read when they’re ready.” I don’t necessarily agree with that mentality, but I know that it exists. Kids, by their very nature, are lazy (at least mentally). They’d rather play outside or watch TV than go to school. I think it just takes the proper motivation to get them to read. (For example, Grasshopper fought me tooth and nail on reading until it was no longer an option. Then he complained every day when it was time to read his book. Then we got him his trophy, and he suddenly starting reading everything in sight, including getting much faster at the pages in his novel. With that prize just waiting for him, he wanted it, and he wanted it bad.)

Those beginning stages of teaching children to read are often the hardest. That’s where programs like Reading Eggs or Reading Unlocked come in handy. Dragonfly (5) was able to read basic words (cat, hat, mat) since he was 4 thanks to those programs. A year later and he is very competent with his letters and sounds. But he lacks confidence in reading anything else. I don’t want him to fall into the trap of knowing all the phonics and still not being able to read. So when Will and I were out on an afternoon a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Barnes & Noble. The “early reader” section caught my eye, and I started poking around there, looking at the options. Bob books are always a popular choice, and one we’ve used several times from the library with other kids. But then, on the next shelf down, I found a set of PAW Patrol books. Our kids don’t know much about PAW Patrol (they’re more into PJ Masks), but they know enough to recognize the characters even if they can’t name them. So I picked bought the box and brought it home to him. He was so excited! And that same day, he read the first book. He should have been able to read it on his own based on his skills, but as I mentioned, he lacks the confidence. I had him read the same book again the next day, and he did better. We’ve been slowly adding the books into his repertoire, and before long he’ll have read them all. From there, I am confident he will be able to move on to slightly longer books (Frog and Toad, maybe), and I fully expect that he will follow Scorpion’s footsteps and read his first novel and earn a trophy when he’s 6.

Bumblebee, on the other hand, is a bit too small to read yet. He does watch Dragonfly do Reading Eggs most days, though, and can recognize many of the letter sounds, so I bet he will be an early reader too (he’s 2 1/2 now). He does, however, play the ukulele!

Just kidding. Ballet Boy plays the ukulele and set up this picture. He tells me that the instrument was too heavy for Bumblebee, who kept tipping over every time he was left to hold it on his own. Ballet Boy had to snap the picture while supporting the neck of the ukulele and keeping his own hand out of frame.



Ballet Boy knew that there were a few things he was sacrificing by being homeschooled, one of which was every having the opportunity to attend Prom. He was okay with this (we’ve talked about it quite a few times); he knew that the trade off was so great that he was okay with the things he’d miss out by not attending a regular school.

Then COVID hit, and suddenly he wasn’t the only one who was going to be missing things. (In our state, which has been one of the hardest locked down states in the country, schools were closed for over 400 days except for Zoom. When they did open, it was only 1-2 days per week for 1-2 hours per day. Public school parents, as you can imagine, have been livid.) This meant that he was suddenly not “special” in his plight of not getting a prom. None of the kids his age would get one (he’s a junior this year).

A year on, and the virus has slowed considerably, thanks in large part to previous infections and vaccines (we were fortunate to never have gotten the disease and have now all been vaccinated except those in our family too young to qualify). Because the virus doesn’t feel like much of a threat anymore, our church decided to hold a Prom for the kids. Even though we found out about it pretty last minute (just 6 days before the event), we made a point to send Ballet Boy. He invited one of his dance friends, and they had a lovely time. They looked so good all dressed up!

I am thrilled that he got the opportunity to attend a high school prom after all, and I know he is too.