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.

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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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Downloadable Worksheets with a Christian Flair (CHSH-Teach Review)

I’ve got a really great program to review today: the CHSH Download Club from CHSH-Teach.com. I’ve spent the past few weeks exploring the website in preparation of our school year, and I have to tell you: there’s a lot of really great stuff on this site! Covering all grades (K-12) and a huge variety of subjects, there’s sure to be something you want or need to incorporate into your homeschool here.

When you go to CHSH-Teach.com (short for Christian HomeSchool Hub), the first thing you’ll see is a “Today in History” calendar. These tidbits include all sorts of things from presidential assassinations to devastating hurricanes to William the Conqueror claiming the throne of England. Scroll down from here and you get to the real “meat” of the site: the Download Club, which features over 50,000 pages of educational material. Obviously I haven’t been able to sift through 50,000 pages, so I’m going to spend a short period today talking about the stuff we did (or plan to) use.

chsh-teach-french-flashcardsThe first thing I printed using my Download Club membership was some French language flash cards for my husband. He really wants to learn the language, but struggles to find time to devote to Rosetta Stone. These flash cards were just the thing to help him work through some vocabulary on his own terms, especially when he was away from home.

knittingUp next was something for Munchkin. Every so often, he expresses interest in learning yarn crafts from me, but apparently I’m not a very good teacher because he struggles to become proficient at them. On CHSH-Teach.com, I found a printout of basic knitting stitches. He knows how to cast on from my teaching, but actually knitting something has proved rather elusive for him. Now, he has a handy-dandy reference sheet to help him. Because he’s a good reader, sometimes things make more sense for him if he can look at a piece of paper and read instructions rather than watching and listening to me. He hasn’t put forth a huge effort in  a while, but I’m sure that when he’s ready to give it a real go, this document will really help him.

chsh-teach-biologyThe last thing I spent a good amount of time on was a science program for Seahawk. Included in the Download Club ($25 for one year or $99.99 for life) is a whole series of full textbooks. That’s right: complete texts! So I downloaded a 7th grade level biology course for him, and that’s going to cover his science this year. There’s a digital textbook and student book, so it really is a complete program. We haven’t actually started this one yet, but it’s on my agenda for later this week (and I have looked at it myself, so I’m not completely clueless regarding it). We’ll also use the spelling pages for Seahawk. These are separated by grade level, and there are 4-week units for each grade. Because this is a subject he struggles with, we’re going to start at a much lower level than he’s at age-wise to help him work through and hopefully become a better speller. Because he’ll utilize several grade levels, this will likely last him most of the school year.

On top of the downloads I’ve used thus far, there are pages in a huge variety of subjects: Bible, Foreign Language, Arts and Crafts, Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health (this is a subject I plan for us to use, but I haven’t explored it much yet), and Electives. You can browse the worksheets by subject or grade level. Having everything cross referenced that way is pretty helpful.

In addition to thousands of pages on the paid side of the subscription, there’s a free version to CHSH. The free version can be a great source of support for homeschooling families, even though it doesn’t include any of the downloads. There are forums, groups, chat rooms, and more, all of which would be a blessing to a homeschooling parent.

After using the website for several weeks now, I have just one complaint, and that is that it will sometimes require me to sign in twice to access certain materials. I always sign in first thing upon going to the site so that I can see the downloads I want, but there are times when I’ll click through to a certain document I want, and it will tell me that I have to be logged in to access that content. I wish it would remember from one click to the next that I am logged in, but it’s not something that’s a huge problem. It’s just an inconvenience.

Because there are so many different options in the CHSH Download Club, I’ve barely scratched the surface of available items. Make sure to visit other reviews through the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to learn about some of the things that other families have used. That will give you some more insight into just how amazing this website is

Blessings,

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Astronomy with a Creation Mindset (Apologia Review)

If there’s one thing Apologia Educational Ministries is known for, it’s their science programs. I’ve always wanted to try one out, but it’s never quite fit in the budget, so when the opportunity to review Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition was offered, I eagerly requested it. For this review, we received all of the different pieces to work this curriculum: the hardcover Student Text ($39), the Notebooking Journal and Jr. Notebooking Journal ($27 each), and the audio CD ($29), which is an audio book version of the textbook. Because this science curriculum is listed as a K-6 grade range, Munchkin and I have been studying astronomy together.

Apologia strives to offer curriculum with a biblical worldview, even things that some scientists would tell you don’t have any place in science – like astronomy. It’s easy to find God’s hand in biology (there are certain creatures that simply couldn’t exist the way they do without having been created – evolution can’t account for everything that evolutionists try to make it fit), but astronomy is a whole other beast. Especially when you consider that there have been people from the beginning of time (well, nearly the beginning…) who worshiped the celestial beings. I love that Apologia has taken this topic and given right back to God.

It’s a fairly simple curriculum to work through, though to be honest we haven’t really been doing it “right,” since it’s been summer. We kept it fairly simple and did mostly just the reading and notebooking, and a few of the easier demonstrations. We didn’t do much with the “above and beyond” stuff, but since school is starting for real this week, we’ll be adding those in with more vigor from here on out.

The textbook has 14 chapters. The first one is a basic introduction to astronomy, and it covers things like the stars, gravity, a list of the planets, space navigation, and astronomers and astronauts. Chapters 2-12 cover the sun, planets in our solar system, Earth’s moon, and space rocks – each one gets its own chapter. There is a lot of great information about each planet, including how to find it in the sky (where applicable), the astronomer who named each planet, and features special to that particular planet. The book finishes up with a chapter on the Kuiper Belt and Dwarf Planets (hello, Pluto!), and the book closes out with a chapter on Stars, Galaxies, and Space Travel.

apologia-worksheet-pagesThe Notebooking Journal and Jr. Notebooking Journal are hefty books (much thicker than the text) that are spiral bound for easy opening. There’s a huge variety of activities for each chapter including (but not limited to) minibooks, copy work, room for children to take notes based on what they read (or listen to, if you use the audio book), word puzzles, blank pages for drawing, experiment/activity recording, scrapbooking, and quizzes/tests. By the end of the school year, you’re left with a wonderful record of everything your child learned.

As I mentioned before, this was primarily used by Munchkin (5th grade) and me together during the summer. We’d read the text book together (we didn’t use the CD for two reasons: first, I don’t have a player for it; second, he’s a strong reader, so it wasn’t necessary) and then he’d do the pages in the Notebooking Journal that I assigned to him. He’s using the regular journal, not the junior one; I’m setting the junior aside to use with Small Fry when he’s in Kindergarten or 1st grade. It has the same kinds of activities as the regular journal, but it’s much simpler and therefore perfect for younger students. There are a couple of activities in each chapter that aren’t worksheet-related and therefore not in the Notebooking Journal – for instance, creating a model solar system with different sized balloons. We didn’t have balloons, but I still wanted Munchkin to understand the relative sizes of the planets to one another, so I had him draw circles using the sizes indicated. We didn’t have any paper big enough to draw a 300-inch circle (!), so we didn’t do the sun. I showed him my 60-inch tape measure and he calculated out how many of those it would take to make 300 inches and was duly impressed.

Our first experience with Apologia’s science has been a wonderful one. I wanted to review this program to decide whether I thought it would be a good idea for us to purchase these books for other science topics (they’ve been on my wish list for quite some time), and after seeing and using this one, the answer to that is a resounding YES! I’m definitely looking forward to using the different titles in this series in the future.

As always, I’m not the only one reviewing this program this week. Head over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more info.

Blessings,

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Back to Homeschool 2016

This year, I still have just the two older boys who are “officially” in school. Seahawk is beginning 7th grade, and Munchkin will be entering 5th. Small Fry, at 4 years old, will be working on expanding his listening skills and learning his letters and maybe the numbers, too. But mostly he’ll be learning the letters in preparation for learning to read. Because he’s still so young, there won’t be anything formal with him; we’ll do some worksheets and continue using Talking Shapes, but that’s it. He’s not required to start formal schooling until he’s 6 years old, so I’m okay letting him be a kid for another year or two.

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Even though we have no real reason to follow the public school schedule, we typically do – at least vaguely (meaning we start the day after Labor Day and end in mid-June with a real summer break). This year, we’re going to try something a little different as far as scheduling breaks all throughout the year, though, in the hopes of eliminating the burnout we all start to feel around mid-April. It’s called Sabbath Schooling, and the basic idea is “6 weeks on, 1 week off.” I think having such regularly scheduled breaks will be really beneficial to us. I’ve already sat down with the calendar and calculated out our breaks; in order to have them fall properly around things like Christmas and the summer break next June, we’ll have a couple of spots where we go 8 weeks instead of 6, but I think that will be okay.

Now, onto the most interesting parts of these kinds of posts: what will we be learning this year? It’s hard for me to choose things that we’ll use all year long, because as a curriculum reviewer, that’s just not the kind of school we have. But I do have some basic ideas of where we’ll start, at least, so I’ll talk about those for now. As things update and change, I can write new posts.

Everyone

Bible

I think we’re going to do a study of Biblical figures this year. We’ll read scripture sections featuring specific people and create notebooking pages for each one. In addition to that, we’ll try to read the New Testament all together and the kids will read their Bibles independently. They’re old enough now to develop Bible reading plans of their own.

Language Arts

Writing: Finishing their novels using Here to Help Learning
Spelling, Grammar, and Handwriting: We’re going to try something new this year and do copy work instead of a formal grammar program. I really do love Fix It! Grammar, though, so we’ll probably go back to that next year. In addition to these changes, we’re going to work through The Logic of English. I really hope this will help my kids to understand they “whys” of how things work in English.

Math

They’ll be finishing up their math textbooks from last year. When they’re nearly done, we’ll purchase the next ones from Amazon.

History

Lots of great options here! My current plan is to listen to the new Heirloom Audio Productions release, The Cat of Bubastes. This takes place in Ancient Egypt, so we’ll form a unit study around that using the study guide that comes with it, and supplement it with some NotebookingPages. When we’re done with this, I’ll find other history unit studies.

French

They’ll continue working through Rosetta Stone. They took too much time off this summer, unfortunately, so I’m going to have them each go back a few lessons.

Here’s what they boys will be studying independently from one another:

Small Fry, Preschool

As I mentioned before, he’ll be doing just the very basics. I plan to have him make a “Learning my Letters” notebook using pages from our NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership. He’ll also work on Talking Shapes some more – he loves that program!

Munchkin, 5th Grade

Science

We have two really great science programs for Munchkin (Science Shepherd and Apologia Astronomy). We’ll either do one and then the other when we’re done with it, or we’ll alternate back and forth between the two (M/W/F and T/Th). We’ll see which way works best. In addition to these, we’ll probably do the health class offered on CHSH-Teach.com.

Reading and Literature:

We still have two literature units from Memoria Press that he’ll work through (Heidi and Lassie Come Home). When he finishes those, I’ll find some new options; if there’s not a new review available, I know there are plenty of options online. For fun reading, he’s currently working his way through the complete Wizard of Oz; he’s on book 5 now. Finishing up the rest of those will take him a while, and when he’s done, we’ll find him a new series to read – likely Narnia since he’s read two of those already.

Seahawk, 7th Grade

Science

Seahawk will be studying biology this year using the textbook we were able to download from Christian Home School Hub. It comes with a teacher’s manual and a student book; beyond that, I’m not going to say too much because it’ll be in my review on Wednesday 😉

Reading and Literature

Seahawk is a much slower reader than his brother, so I’m not going to stack as many books on him at the beginning. He spent a lot of the summer working through The Hobbit (along with a Memoria Press study guide), but he’s far from finished on that, so that’s his main goal in the short term. Because he’s not much into reading for fun, I’m happy to combine his reading and literature into one.

Spelling

In addition to the stuff I mentioned in the “everyone” section, Seahawk will work on some spelling units from CHSH-Teach.

So there we are… The main eight subjects we’ll be tackling starting tomorrow.

What does your homeschool year look like? Let me know in the comment section below!

Blessings,

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A Pre-Reading Program for Your Littles (Talking Shapes Review)

Encouraging Early Literacy with Talking Shapes

In my years on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, most of the products we’ve been blessed to try out were for the older boys – they were the ones who were school-age, after all. But now, as Small Fry is getting older and bigger (he turned 4 last month), he’s excited to start some formal learning of his own. (Only some, though. He’s not even old enough for Kindergarten yet, especially when you consider our state doesn’t have compulsory education requirements until age 7.) When this new review opportunity from Talking Fingers Inc. came up, I knew he’d be super excited to try it out. I sat down with him and watched the sample video on the website, and he was hooked! So we eagerly requested to be on this review.

So what is it? It’s called Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy. The title just about sums up what the program is, but I’ll go into more detail over the course of this post. Put simply, it’s a computer-based program that teaches young children (kids who are ready to start reading, about 4-5) letter sounds in a fun way.

The company’s website states that this is an iPad app. While this is true, they are also now developing the same program as a web-based computer program. The web version is what I’m reviewing today.

talking shapes 1The fictional characters in the program live in ancient times, and the two girls love to tell stories. They just wish there was a way of recording their stories so that wouldn’t forget them from week to week. In order to accomplish this, they develop a system of making symbols/pictures represent sounds, and now they’re sharing that system with young learners using the program.

The program is divided into seven “books,” and Book 1 (The Fat Cat) works with a simple CVC set of words. Because Small Fry is at the lower end of the age range for this, we took it pretty slow – it is, after all, his first exposure to reading and writing (outside of forming the letters for his own name). During the past month, we’ve made it through Book 1, which teaches -at words (cat, sat, hat, and fat). Each letter is given a picture to help children learn the shape of it (C is a cat, S is a snake, H is a hat, F is a fox, A is an acrobat, and T is a tree). These pictures are used throughout the lesson for consistency.

Talking shapes C

This screen shot shows the three ways children are asked to “write” the letters.

The book starts by reading a story to the child, which includes the base story (about the sisters developing the system of writing) and the focal words for the story – in Book 1, it’s the -at words I mentioned before. Each word appears in the story multiple times, and at certain points in the story children are given the task of repeating the sounds and “writing” the letters for the words three times each. The first time is traced, with the picture and the letter superimposed together. The second time is just the picture and the child writes the letter over the top. Finally, there’s an empty box where the student draws the letter “from scratch.” This can be done on a touch screen (if you have one) or with the mouse on the computer. My laptop has a traditional screen, so we used the mouse. It quickly became apparent, though, that this wasn’t going to work for my son long-term. It was too hard for him to control the mouse, and I didn’t feel like moving a mouse on the screen was the same as writing, anyway. Also, the program doesn’t recognize whether you draw the lines in the right order or not, only that you’ve traced the predetermined locations of the lines. To combat this, I helped him with the mouse maneuvering and then had him write the letters on a sheet of paper separately as those activities came up.

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An example of how it’s possible to draw the letters out of order.

Once you reach the end of the story, there are some games utilizing the words learned. For Book 1, there’s a stanza that has all of the focal words as well as few other -at words. The program reads the poem aloud, then on the second pass, the focal words for the lesson are removed and students have to find the right one from floating balloons.

I think this program is a pretty good introduction to early literacy for young children. It’s a much more fun approach than the book we used for teaching Seahawk (now 12) to read. I think making reading fun instead of difficult or hard is important for creating life-long learners and readers. Talking Shapes is perfect for that. My only critique of the program is the writing portion. Doing that digitally isn’t very effective for very young children, especially when you take into account the fact that you can just scribble the mouse over the letter and make it work. I can’t think of a better way other than having a separate workbook, though, and that’s not going to be ideal for every family either.

So that’s what I think… What about my son? Well, he absolutely loves this program! Every single day, he asked if he could do “my school.” He is so excited to work on this program daily, and that is high praise from a 4-year-old. Having such a fun way to work on words and sounds will ensure he learns to read and ends up enjoying the pastime.

All told, if you have a child who’s ready to start learning to read, I think Talking Fingers’ Talking Shapes is a great way to go.

There are 43 members of the Review Crew blogging about Talking Shapes this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more reviews.

Blessings,

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Turning Busy Work into to Memorable Work (NotebookingPages.com review)

The idea of doing our homeschooling in a “notebooking way” really appeals to me, but I’ve never really known how to implement the method. When the Schoolhouse Review Crew members were offered the chance to review a Lifetime Membership from NotebookingPages.com, I knew right away that I wanted to a part of it. I’ve explored the free side of the website before, but never really used it all that much. Doing a review was the perfect opportunity to explore the site fully and figure out exactly what notebooking would look like in our homeschool.

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Click to enlarge

We received access in the middle of May, so the first thing I did was look at the resources for holidays – specifically Memorial Day. Using some of the pages found on NotebookingPages.com alongside other resources I found online, I put together a Memorial Day unit study for the boys. Besides Memorial Day, NotebookingPages.com has printable pages for just a wide variety of (American) holidays from Martin Luther King Day in January to Christmas in December.

When we’d finished studying Memorial Day, I needed a new topic for us to study. We’ve been on a big classical music kick recently, so I decided to see what was available for composer studies. I was not disappointed with the selection – there are 28 composers to choose from! I looked through our record collection and the NotebookingPages.com options, put some books on hold through the library online catalog, and was able to put together a study on several of our favorite composers. We learned about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Sousa. Our very favorite composer (Rossini) doesn’t have any NotebookingPages, though. But no problem – my NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership came with a one-year subscription to their web-app, which allows you to create your own worksheets either from scratch or based on any of theirs. (The web-app doesn’t always come with the Lifetime Membership; if this is a feature you’re interested in, double check before buying.) Using the publisher web-app, I was able to adjust the other composer notebooking pages to swap in Rossini’s name and picture, and we had exactly what we needed.

During this review period, I’ve also been reading Courage and Defiance (my June book club book) to the boys. It’s all about the Danish resistance during WWII, so I once again headed to NotebookingPages.com. They have a series of WWII pages in the “modern history” section, so I printed those out and had the boys summarize each chapter of the book in their own words.

In our six weeks of use, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what NotebookingPages.com has to offer. Allow me to touch briefly on the different categories.

  • There’s a huge variety of categories under the “famous people” umbrella, not just composers. This includes artists, American presidents and first ladies, missionaries, church history figures, scientists, and explorers.
  • There are pages for 54 Biblical studies (mostly individual characters, but Jesus gets two, the rest of the New Testament is all on one, and some other are buddied up), as well as “Quiet Time Journaling pages.” I am looking forward to having the boys do some of these; in fact, I’ll probably print some out as soon as I finish writing this review!
  • The Geography tab includes pages for when you study the US or do a countries of the world study. There are also maps you can print.
  • Under history, you can choose pages that cover ancient times, middle ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and modern times. There are loads of different categories under each broad category, and multiple pages under each of these.
  • There is a wide variety of copywork pages under the Language Arts category, as well as plain lined papers for things like spelling lists.
  • Science and Nature covers things like animals, astronomy, anatomy, plants and trees, and experiment recording pages.
  • A-Z pages for the youngest learners to practice their alphabet in preparation for reading and writing. We did just one of these with Small Fry – the first letter of his name. I’m really excited to do a whole alphabet notebook with him this fall. He’ll be a bit young for formal Kindergarten (he turns 4 in two weeks), but definitely old enough for preschool-type work.

Even this huge list feels like it doesn’t even come close to doing NotebookingPages.com the justice it deserves. There are thousands and thousands of different options for notebooking, copywork, and blank pages to choose from. You really have to explore the site yourself for the “full effect.” If you sign up for a free account, there are several notebooking pages you can access for no charge.

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This page was downloaded page directly from NotebookingPages.com

Now I need to discuss what these pages look like, because it may not be what you’re expecting as you imagine what “notebooking pages” look like.

They’re not worksheets. This is not a curriculum.

These pages are essentially decorative journal pages for your child to record what he’s learned. If you’re looking for something other than “blank” pages, then NotebookingPages.com isn’t it. This doesn’t mean that it’s not an amazing resource for homeschooling, though. It’s important for children to record their own thoughts on things rather than just regurgitate answers based on worksheets, especially as they get older. For this use, NotebookingPages.com is exactly the right answer.

Rossini notebooking page

This page was created using the NotebookingPages.com web-app.

Each subject has a variety of different pages to choose from. Some have room for a lot of writing, some have room for some writing and a large drawing area, and some have room for a fair amount of writing and smaller drawing areas. Also, each style of page comes in “big kid” or “little kid” styles – plain lines or training lines with the dashes for learning letter placement. There really, truly is something for every family who wants to notebook on this site.

In addition to the actual pages you can print, there are video tutorials on what notebooking is and how to implement it in your homeschool. There are ideas for how to bind your child’s notebooks. (During the review period, I just purchased inexpensive folders with metal clasps. When school supplies go on super sales next month, I’ll stock up on other better options.)

I have just one issue with the program, and it’s fairly minor considering all the good things. I wish the PDFs would open in my web browser for me to review before I downloaded. Currently, they automatically download when you click on them. If I decide it’s not quite what I wanted, I have to delete it from my computer. This isn’t a deal breaker, but having it open in the web instead would be a huge plus.

The NotebookingPages.com Lifetime Membership currently sells for $97. Included in this is access to every single page on their website for life. There’s no limit to how many you can print, so it’s great for all of your children, even if you have large age gaps where you’ll go without using the site for a long time.

There are 100 reviews of NotebookingPages.com on the Crew blog this week. Make sure to click over and read about how this resource worked in other families!

Blessings,

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Homeschool Year in Review (2015-16)

The time of year to reflect on the last year in our homeschool is upon us once again. There were some things that were really good for us, and others where I wish we’d done better. Here’s what we accomplished.

We (almost) made it through the entire Fix It! Grammar (from IEW) level 2. If I’d gone through with printing the pages of the student book instead of hand-writing them, I think we would’ve done better. As it stands, I’m pretty happy with the work we got done here. The kids learned a lot of new grammar concepts, and they continue to apply them to their own writing.

We read a lot of books, and we have quite a few literature guides ready to use next year. As read-alouds, we did:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Give Me Liberty

Independently, Munchkin read the entire Harry Potter series. Seahawk is working his way through The Lord of the Rings. That one’s incredibly difficult, so I’m giving him a lot of leeway as far as the time it takes to read it.

KIMG0411We studied a lot of science concepts using multiple curricula (such is the life of a reviewing family). With Visual Learning Systems, we worked through loads of different life science units including animal classification, the human nervous system, and all about plants. There were several other units that we did before our subscription to VLS ran out, too. We also talked about Dinosaurs and the Bible using a curriculum from SchoolhouseTeachers.com. And finally, Munchkin and I worked through several weeks’ worth of Science Shepherd Introductory Science, focusing mostly on Creation. We’ll finish this curriculum next fall.

We studied World War II (though not as thoroughly as the topic deserves). Each of the boys wrote a report on a famous WWII leader. Seahawk chose Winston Churchill and Munchkin chose Adolf Hitler. To go along with that, we’re currently reading aloud Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson. This is a true life account about the Danish resistance, and it will be my Book Club entry for July.

Logic of English flashcardsUsing Logic of English, we learned several phonemes and spelling rules (especially important for Seahawk). This was an easy to implement, yet still very thorough English curriculum. We made it through a few weeks’ worth of lessons, and we will definitely be using it in the fall as well.

The boys are still working on their novels that they started when we reviewed the writing curriculum Here to Help Learning. I’ve given them the task of finishing those up by the end of the summer.

For math this year, we’ve been using textbooks (circa 2002, but math doesn’t really change all that much) that I purchased from Amazon. The boys are each about half to two-thirds done, and they’re working all summer long to finish those up in preparation of moving to the next grade level at the end of the summer. Additionally, we used A+ Interactive Math Mini Lessons. Seahawk mastered decimals while Munchkin learned to read an analog clock more easily. Thanks to Times Tales, the boys also finally really mastered the times tables. They’re still a little slower than I’d like, but at least they know them now.times tales collage

Seahawk has been practicing his drawing skills using ARTistic Pursuits. He’s really enjoying this book and plans to finish it on his own (it’s designed to be student-independent). In a couple of years, Munchkin will get to use it.

I think that’s about it. As you’re working through all the different months, sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re accomplishing much, but then when the year-end post comes around, it easy to see that quite a bit actually did get done. This is especially true doing homeschool the way we do, without a boxed curriculum. (The idea of one of those is very tempting to me, but with two school-age kids, and another one coming up quickly behind them, it’s out of the question budget-wise. I’m so thankful for the Schoolhouse Review Crew for giving us the opportunity to use so many things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to!)

This week, several other members of the Review Crew are reflecting on their own homeschool years. Click the banner below to be taken to the roundup post on the crew blog.

Blessings,

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