Elementary Science: Growing an Avocado

avocado pit growth

Munchkin is finishing up his science class for the year this month (he’s been working double time to be able to complete the program before our subscription runs out, which is why he’ll be done in March instead of June). One of the things he was instructed to do to learn about plants and roots was to grow an avocado pit. I’m sure this has been done in countless homeschool (and maybe non-homeschool) homes over the years, but it was our first time doing it. Luckily for him, we actually eat avocados now! Until about two years ago, we didn’t eat them. Ever since I tried one a couple of years ago, though, I realized how delicious they were, and now we eat them regularly. (By “we” I mean everyone but Will and Seahawk. They just won’t be convinced.) So having a pit handy to grow was pretty painless.

It took a very long time – long enough that he’s out of that unit now and onto other studies within the course – but it was neat to see the pit grow anyway. Our only regret with this experiment is that we don’t live in a climate warm enough to support an avocado tree!

Blessings,

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Learning Basic Language Arts with Eclectic Foundations (Review)

Eclectic Foundations Review

I’m at an interesting place in my homeschooling career. My two older boys are in 7th and 5th grades – one in middle school, and one nearly there. And then I have the two little boys. Small Fry is 4 years old (nearing readiness for Kindergarten), and Dragonfly is just 15 months old. Because of the age gap between Munchkin (5th grade, 10 years old) and Small Fry (age 4), it’s easy to automatically dismiss review opportunities that fall between them as “not a fit based on my kids’ ages.” I almost did just that with Eclectic Foundations. I saw the information provided by the leadership team at the Homeschool Review Crew and immediately thought that my boys were beyond needing something like this. And the older two are.

But then I looked at the website and got to thinking, “You know, Small Fry is wanting to learn to read. Maybe a lower level would work for him.” Once I allowed myself to think about him instead of just the older boys, I realized that Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A would probably be a good fit for us. And I was absolutely right.

There are 4 components to this program, and you need them all to run it successfully: the Student Workbook ($24), the Teacher Manual ($12), the Appendix booklet and word cards ($20) and the McGuffey reader (public domain book that’s available in numerous places for cheap or free). You can also purchase a PDF download of the entire program for $30. The thing you can’t do is try to get away with skipping any of the components. Some programs allow you to suffice with just the student book or just the teacher book, but this is not one of those.

Filling in the letter M/m with Play-Doh.

Filling in the letter M/m with Play-Doh.

Each of the books is a softcover, 8.5×11, spiral bound book. The Student Workbook is consumable, so you’d need one for each student, but all the other components are reusable in the event you have multiple students (whether at the same time or one a few years after the other). The Appendix workbook was something unique to this program – I’d never seen anything quite like it with any other language arts curriculum. It is a workbook very similar to the others (8.5×11, softcover, spiral bound), but every single page in it is laminated. These pages are used for some of the games in the program, and are designed to be written on in dry erase or Vis a Vis markers (when playing Tic Tac Toe or filling in letters around vowels, which happens in later lessons), or in some cases, just to have your child point to the correct image (during the “Starts with” and “Beginning, Middle, End” games – details on all of this later). We’re not at a point yet where we’ve needed the word cards (they start at about lesson 65, and we’re only at 21), so I can’t really tell how they work yet.

Because Small Fry is just starting to show interest in learning letters and reading, we started at the very beginning – Level A (there are A, B, and C), lesson 1. So far, each week follows the same routine, which is nice. It allows him to anticipate what’s coming next.

Thanks to its "open and go" style, even older siblings are able to help teach this curriculum.

Thanks to its “open and go” style, even older siblings are able to help teach this curriculum.

This is an open-and-go curriculum, which is very nice. There’s virtually no preparation required. It’s based on a 4-day school week, and each lesson takes under 20 minutes – perfect for new learners. Each day starts with a recitation of the alphabet, and then moves on to the student workbook pages. The workbook has a wide variety of activities to keep young minds interested. On the first day, they get to fill in the “letter of the week” with Play-Doh (or pipe cleaners for a mess-free experience). This day we also play the “Starts With” game. For this, there’s a list of words that you read to your child (in the teacher’s manual), and the child determines whether or not the word starts with the letter/sound of the week. The appendix book is used for this – there’s a page with smiley faces on it, and a happy face means the word does start with the sound, and sad face means it does not. The student points to the correct image.

Eclectic Foundations review | Ladybug Daydreams

A portion of one of the letter mazes. Click to enlarge.

Other days have other activities, including but not limited to determining whether the sound of the week is found at the beginning, middle, or end of a list of words, finding all occurrences of the letter in a faith-based poem, writing the letter and simple words that include it, and reading simple words using sounds that have already been introduced (so far, we’re up to “man,” “Nan,” “fan,” “ran,” and “Sam”). And then there’s Small Fry’s absolute favorite activity: the maze. This happens on the third lesson of the week (depending on our week, usually Wednesday or Thursday). The maze looks a lot like a word search, but instead of finding words, students are instructed to follow the path of whatever the letter of the week is, from a smiley face at the top to a smiley face at the bottom.

Using this curriculum was a breeze. The teacher manual spells everything out for you, and the student book is full of fun activities. We’ve been using it for just over a month now, and Small Fry (who’s not even 5 years old yet) is already able to read simple words. And he’s gone from being able to copy his name down to writing it all by himself. On top of being effective, it’s really fun. It’s not at all stressful, and my son absolutely adores having his own school to do. Every morning when he wakes up, he asks if he can “do school today.” And the days that have the maze are even better!

Needless to say, we absolutely love this curriculum. I’m so glad I looked closely at the website before just assuming it wouldn’t be a good fit for us, because it absolutely is the perfect fit for my precocious 4-year-old!

Blessings,

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Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing all three levels of Eclectic Foundations this week. Click the banner below for more information!

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations Reviews}
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Math Mammoth Review

We’ve tried a lot of different math products over the years. A lot. And there are very few that my kids don’t complain about – usually the ones that are “fun,” meaning game-like. When a review opportunity for Math Mammoth came up earlier this year, I had the older two (7th and 5th graders) take the placement test to figure out whether this would be a good fit for us. Color me surprised when Seahawk (7th grade) barely understood anything in a test below his official grade level. (I don’t remember offhand whether I had him take the 5th or 6th grade placement test.) I decided at that point that perhaps it would be a good idea for us to request this review in order to fill some learning gaps that apparently exist in our homeschool.

Math Mammoth review from Ladybug Daydreams

In order to work with both of the kids, I requested the Blue Series, which is a set of books (available as PDF downloads or physical print books) that focus on specific topics. We received

Seahawk has been working through the “Percent” worktext, and Munchkin has been doing “Multiplication Division 3.” I’m saving “The Four Operations” for later, and they will both do it when they’ve completed the book they’re currently working through.

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A sample of an explanation section. This is the very first lesson in the Percent worktext. Click to enlarge.

Each day, I would take turns sitting with the boys in turn, working through the problems. The explanations were clear, and there was very little I needed to explain beyond what was actually in the textbook itself. The boys didn’t have any difficulty understanding what they needed to do, and they required minimal guidance from me. I was mostly there to keep them on task and see how the program worked for the purposes of being able to write the review later.

We’ve been using the texts nearly every school day for several weeks, but they still have plenty of work to do before they finish these. Seahawk is about 1/4 of the way through Percent, and Munchkin is about 1/5 of the way through Multiplication Division 3. Their slow progress isn’t because the concepts are difficult or the program bad, though. Rather, it’s because the concepts are taught and practiced so thoroughly that there are loads of problems in each section so that children can have ample opportunities to practice what they’ve learned.

A sample of problems from one lesson. This is from Multiplication Division 3. Notice that each problem has several problems within it. That's part of why it's taken us a while to work through this program.

A sample of problems from one lesson. This is from Multiplication Division 3. Notice that each problem has several problems within it. That’s part of why it’s taking us a while to work through this program. Click to enlarge.

Whenever I opened the PDF, it would remind me that “This PDF can be completed using the Add Comment tool.” I took that to mean that it was an interactive PDF, meaning that the child using the product would be able to fill in his answers right on the computer. I didn’t find this to be the case at all, and a Google search led me to looking at the settings on the PDF, which told me that it wasn’t an interactive PDF after all. I’m not savvy enough to know about the Add Comment tool or how that’s different from an interactive PDF, so we treated the PDFs like a textbook: the kids would read the information and problems on the screen and write their answers down on notebook paper kept in their binders. I could have printed the pages out for them (and I did one day when I wasn’t available to sit with them individually), but for the big picture, that would have been cost prohibitive to do all the time. In the end, the notebook-paper-approach was the right one for us.

I mentioned earlier that we’ve done a lot of different math curricula over the years. What I didn’t mention was that Math Mammoth is one of the best. Not only is it very thorough with clear explanations, but my kids don’t complain about doing it. In fact, quite the opposite has proven true: every time we finish a lesson, they tell me that they really like this curriculum. With the prices being so reasonable ($2.20 to $7.40, depending on what the book is), I can see us buying more of these. When used together, they make up a full curriculum for grades 1-7. Math Mammoth also offers an “official” full math curriculum for these grades called the Light Blue Series. I haven’t seen this, so I’m not entirely sure how it differs from the Blue Series. The Light Blue curricula costs $37.50 per year, and the final year (grade 7) is a full-fledged Pre-Algebra curriculum. Upon completion of that year, your student is ready to tackle high school level math.

Our official opinion: Math Mammoth is amazing. It teaches the concepts well, is very affordable even for families with multiple children, and is better than a regular textbook (in my kids’ opinion; I’m not sure how it differs other than that they don’t whine and moan when I announce that it’s math time). I definitely foresee us continuing to use this product in the near future.

For more information on different levels, from the Blue Series and the Light Blue series, click the banner below. That will take you to the Homeschool Review Crew blog where you can find 49 other reviews of Math Mammoth from homeschooling families who have actually used it over the past few weeks.

Blessings,

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Affordable Quality Math {Math Mammoth Reviews}
 

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Art from Recyclables

We have a saying in our home: “We don’t play with garbage.” Generally speaking, this applies to everything – paper trash, cans, “real” garbage, and anything in between. Around Christmastime, though, the older boys started turning paperboard boxes (think cereal) into sculptures. Munchkin started this trend with several models of the Eiffel Tower. He gifted some of them to neighbors, attached a piece of  yarn to the top of one to put on our tree as an ornament, and made a bigger one for Will’s home office. (Somehow, I’m missing pictures of the Eiffel Towers, unfortunately.)

Then Seahawk got in on the game. He made a model of the Space Needle, which now resides in his dad’s office as well.

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Finally, Munchkin made one of Big Ben.

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Since they finished the famous landmarks, they’ve moved on to making other things – primarily Star Wars ships (that’s what I’m told they are, anyway; not being into Star Wars, I don’t really know). They’ve purchased aluminum foil to make their creations “shiny,” and even though it’s messy, I like seeing their finished products.

They’ve done a really nice job with these sculptures. It’s really neat to see their creativity flow so well.

Blessings,

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Another Year with the Homeschool Review Crew! (SchoolhouseTeachers.com review)

One of the blessings of being a part of the Homeschool Review Crew (and there are many blessings!) is an ongoing Yearly Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. I don’t use this subscription often, but when I’m stuck and feeling like our schooling needs a kick in the pants, it’s definitely my go-to site. Coming out of Christmas break this year, I had just this feeling, so I spent one late night browsing the site looking for fresh ideas for our homeschool. What I found was great: not only were there some great new history classes (more on those in a minute), but the whole site has been given a makeover since my review last year.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that a purchase using any of my links will result in a payment to me, but no extra cost for you. Thank you for support.

What is SchoolhouseTeachers.com?

Simply put, it’s the homeschool curriculum website run by The Old Schoolhouse (which is the parent company for the Homeschool Review Crew). There are dozens of classes available on the site, and they’re written in such a way as to allow the homeschooling parent a lot of flexibility. If you’re looking for a “do this on Monday and this on Tuesday,” then a lot of the courses on SchoolhouseTeachers.com might not appeal to you. (Some of them are laid out that way, though.) If you want something that allows you to decide when to do what and how much to add or supplement to a specific subject, though, then SchoolhouseTeachers.com just might be what you’re looking for.

It’s not just homeschool curriculum, however. SchoolhouseTeachers.com has printable planners for all ages, a transcript writing guide for those homeschooling high school students, videos, a monthly meal plan, and much more. And with the newly revamped site map, it’s easier than ever to find what you’re looking for.

How did we use SchoolhouseTeachers.com in our homeschool?

air-travelAs I mentioned before, I was looking for something fun and interesting to help ease the boys back into school after having taken a couple of weeks off for Christmas. It’s easy to find subjects by either subject or grade; I decided to try to find something that would be challenging enough for both of the older boys (7th and 5th grade), but also interesting enough that Small Fry (age 4) might enjoy listening in. Because we hadn’t done much in the history department yet this school year, I started there. I was pleasantly surprised to find several courses that fit the bill. I narrowed it down to two that I wanted us to try first – History of Air Travel and Bold Explorers – and let the boys decide which they wanted to do first. They chose Air Travel (which surprised me not at all).

To run this course, I had to log in to World Books (using the Schoolhouse Teachers member login, included with membership). I was able to read the required texts for the course (there are 5, but each one is pretty short) aloud to the boys, and then they answered questions provided by the course instructor on SchoolhouseTeachers.com. These questions came in the form of a series of printable worksheets. There are 5 books to read for this course (At Home in the Sky, Beyond the Sky, The Early Days of Flight, The First True Fliers, and War in the Air), and the questions provided cover a bit from each chapter of each book. At the end of each unit (e-book read), I printed off some relevant pages from my NotebookingPages.com membership and had them write a report based on that particular book. The books are short enough that we did 3-4 chapters per day and finished one book per week.

aardvarkIn addition to the Air Travel history class, Small Fry and I watched several episodes of From Aardvark to Zucchini. I’d never heard of this show before, but I knew upon reading the synopsis that it would be great for my 4-year-old. It’s a series of 22-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a single letter of the alphabet. What makes this show different from others like it, though, is that it focuses heavily on prayer. So not only are children learning about the alphabet, but they’re also learning that it’s okay – nay, good – to talk to God anywhere and everywhere! I loved this concept.

What did we think of SchoolhouseTeachers.com?

I’ve been a member of this site for over 3 years now, and I can honestly say that I’m more impressed with it now than ever before. With the recent redesign, it’s easier to find classes and videos, it’s easier to understand how to use and adapt the classes, and the selection of licensed videos to stream is excellent. I barely scratched the surface of the site in my review today, so make sure you head over to the Homeschool Review Crew blog to find out how other families used the site. I bet they’ll come up with things I didn’t! I can’t wait to utilize this resource more in our homeschool.

How can you sign up for a membership?

That’s easy! Go to the Yearly Membership page, and it’s very self-explanatory. You can pay monthly ($12.95) or annually ($139). (Please note: These prices will increase sometime in the middle of the month this month.) If you’re not sure whether SchoolhouseTeachers.com is for you, use the code TRIAL to get your first month for just $1. That’s pretty low risk! And even better, if you purchase by January 15th, you can get a discount on the regular monthly or yearly prices. Use the code CHRISTMAS to get the monthly plan for just $9.95 a month or CHRISTMASYEAR to get the annual plan for $90. If you lock in at these new lower rates, you will be immune from price increases for as long as you keep an active subscription.

Oh, and one more thing: The price you pay is for your entire family. There are no per child fees; whatever plan you choose is good for every child in your home.

I highly encourage you to check out SchoolhouseTeachers.com. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Blessings,

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High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {SchoolhouseTeachers.com}
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How to Diagram a Sentence with The Critical Thinking Co. (Review)

When I was planning our school year back in August, I decided not to get the next level of our regular grammar program. Even though I love it, and I know the kids are learning a lot from it, they don’t particularly care for it, so I decided to give them a year off from using it. This left us without a grammar program, which I’d planned to fill with something along the lines of copywork. That’s only been happening sporadically, so when the opportunity arose for a review of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning from The Critical Thinking Co., I was very interested. You see, grammar is my strongest subject as a teacher, so I felt kind of lost without having it in our school day. Having something grammar related that was different from what we’ve used in the past was a definite win for everyone involved.

About The Critical Thinking Co.™

The Critical Thinking Co.™ was founded in 1958 by John Baker, and they offered only math back then. They included logic problems in their math curriculum in order to help students to learn not just the math being taught, but also to think more critically about what they were learning. They’ve gone through several name changes in the past 58 years, landing on The Critical Thinking Co.™ in 2003. Their mission statement is to “develop students’ critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life.” Things you won’t find in a product from The Critical Thinking Co.™ are math drills or requirements for rote memorization. When you use a book or software program from this company, you can rest assured that you won’t be teaching your students to pass a test – you’ll be teaching them to succeed.

About Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

This book was written by elementary and middle school teacher Angela Carter after she was unable to find a quality resource for teaching children to diagram sentences. She learned to diagram sentences herself in college, and really loved how seeing words broken down that way encouraged an understanding of how different types of words work together to create sentences.

There are twelve lessons in the book, and each one can easily be broken up into several days. They start with the simplest of sentences: simple subject and main verb (Babies eat.). There’s a gray box at the beginning of each lesson which is the teaching portion; this section takes between a third and half a page. Then there are four pages of activities for students to practice their new knowledge. Sometimes, there are additional boxes of teaching on subsequent pages in the middle of a lesson. Activities include:

  • The following sentences are diagrammed incorrectly. Diagram them properly.
  • Here are some sentences and empty diagrams. Place the words from the sentences where they go on the diagram.
  • Here are some empty diagrams. Write your own sentence to match the diagram.
  • Here are some sentences. Draw your own diagram and fill in the words properly.

The types of sentences get pretty complex quite quickly; by lesson 3, adjectives and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor) have been added. By lesson 7, prepositional phrases are introduced. The last four lessons of the book each add a different compound component: subjects, predicates, direct objects, and predicate adjectives and nouns.

How We Used Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

As I mentioned previously, this has become our grammar curriculum for the time being. The boys have enjoyed doing something new and interesting; I like that they’re building on the grammar foundation they already had. Each morning, I would read the teaching section to them, simplifying the explanation as needed to make sure they understood. Then they would do the activities on a separate sheet of paper for inclusion in the grammar tab of their binders. The Critical Thinking Co.™ has a very generous copyright policy, allowing photocopies to be made for use within a single family for as many children as you have, but making those copies was never very convenient for me, so we just used the separate paper method.

When the sentences were easy (lessons 1 and 2), we did all four pages of activities in one sitting. As they continued to get more and more complicated, we broke it up over several days, eventually getting to where we just did one lesson over the course of a whole week.

Final Thoughts

Sentence Diagramming: Beginning has been a really good thing for our homeschool. It keeps the boys’ interest, and they don’t whine when I say, “Open up to your grammar section.” They’re learning new kinds of words, constantly being refreshed on the kinds of words they already knew, and with each diagram, they have a visual reminder of how the different words go together to make an interesting sentence. This book is a definite win!

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for The Critical Thinking Co.™. Last year, Seahawk and I worked through their Pattern Explorers math supplement book (we didn’t finish it at the time, and he still goes back sometimes to do activities from that book; he loves it).

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing a variety of things from The Critical Thinking Co.™ this week, including Language Smarts™ Level E, a 4th grade language arts curriculum and a variety of software downloads:

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is also really invested in helping young children from an early age develop their critical thinking skills. They have a great article on The Importance of Preschool Academics, which I would highly recommend reading it if you have young children. Once you’ve read the information on that page, you can then click over to the page that offers 5 preschool apps for under $40, which cover basic reading, writing, and arithmetic for young students.

Blessings,

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Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
 

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Arrgh! A Unit Study on Pirates (Homeschool Legacy Review)

Thanks to a great review product from Homeschool Legacy, we’ve had the privilege of spending the past few weeks learning all about pirates in history. The Once-a-Week Micro-Study we’ve been working through is called Pirates or Privateers: You Decide. It’s been really interesting learning all the different things offered in the unit study.

pirates

I’ve mentioned before that unit studies are my boys’ favorite way to learn, so this product was definitely a hit in our homeschool. The unit study is well written, including activities to cover a variety of subjects (like any good unit study should!). Included subjects are:

  • Literature: a family read-aloud of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson
  • History: creating a timeline, studying famous pirates and explorers, etc…
  • Geography: learning about the landscape of Earth and which areas were most prone to pirates
  • Critical Thinking: comparing the reality of pirates to the stereotype
  • Creative Writing: writing a story about pirates
  • Government: learning the hierarchy on a pirate ship
  • Current Events: understanding that piracy still exists, and watching the film Captain Phillips to reinforce that fact

There’s not much information in the unit study itself to explain how to actually “do” it, so I did the best I could based on what was there. This isn’t to say that the study is poorly written – it’s not – but more that I just wasn’t entirely sure what to do with all the information and how often to present it. In the end, I decided to take the name of the study at face value: Once a Week. Some of the activities took longer to complete, so in those instances, we’d stretch it out to two days a week, but for the most part, we stuck to the once a week schedule.

The study is 23 pages long, and I printed the whole thing out so I’d have a hard copy to refer to during school hours. For the student activities (timeline, writing short papers, drawing maps, etc), I had the boys work on regular paper and keep the sheets in the “history” tab of their binders. In fact, for the past several weeks, this has been our primary history curriculum.

We did pretty much all of the activities for each week; because it’s a “micro study,” it’s broken up into fairly small chunks, making this easy to do. My main problem with it was the read-aloud of Treasure Island. I’d never read it before, and I found it quite cumbersome to get through. After the first chapter, I decided to get a simpler version from the library.

There are several Once a Week Micro Studies to choose from, and each is designed to work for students in grades 1-8. Homeschool Review Crew members were able to choose from just a small sampling of what they have to offer:

In addition to the micro studies, Homeschool Legacy also offers longer unit studies, and some members of the Homeschool Review Crew got to work through Christmas Comes to America, which is appropriate for grades 1-12. Besides being a great homeschool curriculum, this unit study allows students to earn scouting badges (American Heritage Girls or Boy Scouts).

Because we’re running a Sabbath school schedule this year, our week off fell during the time we were using this study, so we haven’t finished it yet, but we’re definitely going to! We have really enjoyed working on this unit study together; I like the fact that it’s pretty much all inclusive (once you get the hang of it). There are a few things to prep – printing the pages and gathering the books – but for the most part, it’s an “open and go” product, which I love. I think what I’m most excited about (besides watching the boys learn and record their thoughts and discoveries) is finishing the study so we can watch Captain Phillips. I loved that movie when I saw it a couple of years ago; I’m looking forward to sharing it with the children.

Make sure to click the banner below to read about some of the other Homeschool Legacy micro studies, and then click on over to Homeschool Legacy’s website and explore some more. Pick up a unit study while you’re there – individual studies start at just $12, or you bundle several together and save money.

Blessings,

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Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
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Living in Historical Times (Carole P. Roman review)

This review is brought to you by Carole P. Roman and Awaywegomedia.com.

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I remember reading reviews of Carole P. Roman’s “If You Were Me and Lived in… {country name here}” series a few years ago; I’d never seen them, though. So when I heard about her new history series with the same basic title, I was intrigued. I talked to the boys about the books, and they were super interested, so we requested to be on this review. There are eight books in the historical series; we received four of them to review:

Each reviewer was given the choice of two they really wanted (I let each of the school-age boys pick one; Seahawk chose Ancient Greece and Munchkin chose American West), and then Ms. Roman sent along two “surprise” books as well. These books were a nice, easy history lesson for our first couple of weeks back to school. Each day, we read a book (or part of a book, in the case of the longer ones) and then did a related activity. For some of the related activities, we used the comprehension questions from the author’s website; for others, I came up with alternate options. But mostly, we just read them. Reading these books was how we opened our school day for about two weeks.

As the titles suggest, the books put your child right into the thick of the action of whatever era the chosen book is written about. The point of view is second person (you would do this, you would do that), which is unusual for books –  normally you see first person (I did this) or third person (Sally did that). The second person narrative made it interesting for the kids, especially since we read them aloud. Even Small Fry (4 years old) and Dragonfly (10 months old) were interested. As much as children that small can be interested, anyway.

The books give really good information about the time period about which they are about. We enjoyed reading about Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages especially. It was fun to learn about the types of names people had, what kinds of clothes they likely wore (each of the “you” characters in the books is from a well-to-do family, not a peasant family), and daily activities for children and adults. Even though the “you” character was from a higher class, there was also information about how the peasants lived, particularly in the Middle Ages book.

Of the four books we received, three (Ancient Greece, Middle Ages, and Viking Europe) shared an illustrator. These books were lovely, and the illustrations really added a lot. The layout on them was very simple, with the text in a single column on the left and the picture up the entire right side page and half of the left side page. On the pages where there was more text to fit, the picture was shortened to take up only about a third of the left page.

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An example of the odd illustration style from American West

The other book we received, The American West, had good information but we didn’t care for the pictures at all. They looked like a weird conglomeration between photographs and clip art, and unfortunately I don’t think the style worked at all. In fact, it was with this book that I gave the boys a different type of “how well did you remember” activity: choose any page from the book and draw your own illustration for it, then summarize the text from that page.

Overall, we enjoyed reading these books. They were easy to read aloud (for me) and to understand (for the children). They learned a lot from them, and I think the kids are likely to read them again – at least periodically.

In addition to the four books we received to review, members of the Homeschool Review Crew also reviewing the other four books in the series as well. Click the banner below to be taken to the Crew blog post with links to those reviews. If you’re interested in more books from Carole P. Roman, you can head over to her Amazon author page, where you can easily find links to all of them. Her books are available in paperback and for Kindle.

Blessings,

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If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and Awaywegomedia.com}
 

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Discovering God in Ancient Egypt (Heirloom Audio Review)

Heirloom Audio Productions has long been a favorite of the Homeschool Review Crew, and we only recently had the privilege of listening to one of their audio dramas (Beric the Briton, earlier this year). Seahawk liked it so much that he really wanted me to request that we be chosen to review Heirloom’s newest offering, The Cat of Bubastes (boo-bass-tees). Luckily for him, we were.

The Cat of Bubastes is another of G.A. Henty’s novels; according to what I heard from other members of the Homeschool Review Crew, it’s a popular one to start with if you’re new to Henty (I’ve personally never read any of his novels – in fact, prior to the Review Crew, I’d never even heard of Henty). This one takes us back to ancient Egypt – Moses-ancient, not Cleopatra-ancient. The drama opens with the capture of Prince Amuba and his advisor, Jethro, by the Egyptians. The pair is bought by a very nice man, and each of the men is given to one of their master’s children as their personal servant. Before long, they find themselves caught up in a murderous plot that will test their loyalties. All the while, their newfound faith is being tested at every turn, pushing them to discover God’s love and providence for themselves.

I’m not going to really beat around the bush here… I find audio dramas difficult to follow. I’m very much a visual person. Seahawk, however, is an audio learner. He does really well with things like this – even in other school subjects. (I never truly processed this until right this second as I’m writing this. Thinking back to the things that have worked with him vs. not, I can really focus with him on things that will help him learn better from now on.) Because of this, he really enjoyed this drama. We would put it on for about half an hour each morning as our history lesson, and at the end of our listening time, we would do some of the questions from the study guide (more on that in a second). I really liked having the study guide; it took something that was interesting to listen to and made it more “school-like.”

In addition to a physical copy of the 2-CD set, we received several digital resources to go along with it:

  • an mp3 version of the drama, which is how we listened to it since we don’t have a CD player
  • an e-book version of Henty’s original novel (which I put on Munchkin’s Kindle for him to read later)
  • an mp3 soundtrack of the audio adventure
  • a printable poster featuring the cast
  • a PDF study & discussion guide
  • a printable inspirational verse poster featuring the cover art from the CD and 1 Chronicles 17:20
  • a behind the scenes video documentary featuring the cast and crew
  • access to the Live the Adventure letter

kimg0011As I mentioned previously, we used the study guide to help enhance our enjoyment of the audio drama. In order to do this, I printed off some Ancient Egypt pages from my NotebookingPages.com membership and then read the study guide questions aloud to the boys. They then wrote the answers down on the notebooking page. I liked doing it this way rather than printing off the actual study guide because there was actually a place for them to record the answers. In the study guide itself, the questions are pretty stacked so there’s not much space for the answers if you want to keep a record of the learning from the drama. The study guide for The Cat of Bubastes is mostly questions (basic “how well were you listening?” type questions as well as “digging deeper” ones), but there are some other goodies in there as well, including vocabulary, bonus information about the time period, instructions for an ancient Egyptian game (which funny enough, my boys actually have, thanks to a Joseph-themed VBS this past summer), and even a recipe for bean cakes.

So what did we think of The Cat of Bubastes? Though I’m not really an audio person, I found Cat to be much more engaging than Beric. I found myself imaging what I was hearing much more easily than I have with other audio dramas in the past. Seahawk, of course, loved it. And Munchkin, well… he’s happy to have a new book on his Kindle to read later. 😉 Generally speaking, though, The Cat of Bubastes is another win for Heirloom Audio Productions.

Blessings,

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Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
 

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Getting Started with French (Review)

Bonjour! I think it’s important to teach children a foreign language, and in the past several years I’ve read conflicting reports about what the “most used” language in the world is. It seems to vary between English and French, depending on which report you read. (The most recent one I read said that French had overtaken English, but it’s been a few months so it might have changed back again.) Combine that with the fact that I learned French when I was in high school (forever ago!), and it was an easy choice to have my boys learn French as their foreign language.

In our pursuit of the “perfect” language curriculum, we’ve tried lots of different things. (Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as the perfect option.) We typically use computer-based curricula for foreign language because, even though I know some French, I’m far from fluent – even pseudo-fluent enough to teach it effectively. When I learned that members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were being offered the chance to try out Getting Started with French from Armfield Academic Press, I wanted to give it a chance.

Getting Started with French is a softcover book with 172 lessons and over 280 pages. The lessons are very short (usually just 1-2 pages, sometimes not even a full page), with each one introducing just a few vocabulary words or a single concept. Some of the lessons don’t even teach any new French, but instead a concept in English that you’ll need for upcoming lessons (what an article is – a, an, the – for example). A lot of the early lessons focus on French pronunciation, which is quite different from English. To help even further with this, the company’s website has a free set of mp3 recordings you can download to help you.

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An early lesson

As  you progress through the lessons, they get more complex (as should be expected). You learn the different ways to conjugate verbs and how to read and build sentences. Getting Started with French relies on a translation method, which can be “controversial” depending on who you ask (a lot of scholars say that immersion is the best technique for learning a new language). Once the new word or words are introduced and explained, there’s a list of French phrases (no more than what’s already been taught) and students are instructed to translate them into English. This can be done in writing or orally/mentally.

My intention when I asked to review this book was to work through it with Will in the evenings after the boys went to bed; I thought it would give us something constructive to do at night rather than just watching TV. Unfortunately, he wasn’t keen on the translation method and opted not to work on it, so I did it myself. I was able to skip the first several lessons because of my history with the language. The book was a bit easy for me, even though I haven’t used my French language skills in so many years; I had a great teacher, and the things she taught me have really stuck with me.

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A later lesson

That said, I think this book would be a really good starting point for anyone who wants to learn French and is more comfortable having some English to rely on. Immersion might be the “best” technique, but it can definitely be frustrating at times. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with the translation method, especially for older students (it’s how I learned). I find that even in an immersion program, you find yourself trying to translate, so it’s okay to just embrace that and allow yourself to understand what you’re learning.

I would highly recommend this book for someone looking for a gentle introduction to French. The approach is slow and steady, but you really do learn a lot in just a few minutes (they recommend 30) a day. If you have a friend who’s willing to learn along with you, that’s even better because then you can practice with each other! Because this is such a slow build to the language, I think it would also be good for children who are beginning to learn English grammar, too. They can learn the concepts in English and then apply them in both English and French.

Overall, even this book wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, I did get some good stuff out of it, and I will definitely employ some of the vocabulary and technique as my family continues to expand our knowledge of the French language. In fact, the more I think about how I used it myself, the more I think I missed an opportunity with the boys; by starting them at a later lesson (because they definitely don’t need the early stuff about how French pronunciation is different from English pronunciation), I think this would be an amazing supplement to their other curriculum, and one I’ll probably implement later this week.

And what if you don’t want to teach French in your homeschool? No problem! Armfield Academic Press also offers Getting Started with Latin and Getting Started with Spanish. They’re also developing Getting Started with Russian, which will be available soon (though I don’t know exactly how soon).

Blessings,

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Introducing Getting Started with French {Armfield Academic Press}
 

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