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.


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Never Lose Puzzle Pieces Again! (Enlivenze LLC Review)

flipstir graphic

Kids love puzzles. But it’s no fun for anyone when you get nearly finished – the box is empty – and there’s a hole in the picture. This is where the FlipStir Puzzles from Enlivenze LLC are such an ingenious invention. Available in five different pictures spanning two difficulty levels, FlipStir Puzzles, put simply, self-contained, 3D puzzles. There is absolutely no way for the pieces to get lost. Allow me to explain more.

Each puzzle (we’ve been playing with the Tyrannosaurus Rex one) consists of a clear tube with ten pieces inside. There’s a wand with a handle on the outside and a foot on the inside, and the goal is to use the foot of the stick to manipulate the puzzle pieces into place. It’s a little difficult to imagine based on written words (I know I had a hard time understanding before we got it), so I’ll allow Seahawk to do it verbally for you.


See, much easier to understand now, isn’t it? (My apologies that the sound doesn’t quite line up with his mouth. I don’t really know why.)

When we first got this in the mail, I was on my way out of town on errands. I kept the puzzle with me (the boys were staying home) and tried it as soon as I was parked at the store. It was interesting to say the least. It took me about 10 minutes to solve, which was less than I expected, especially once I started. I found it tricky to move the pieces into position, but once I had a method it was a lot easier. As soon as I got home, I presented it to the big boys with no words of explanation. They were really confused as to what they were supposed to do, so I offered the very basic instructions on the company’s website: Flip, stir, solve. Seahawk managed it fairly easily once he knew what it was. Munchkin had several failed attempts. He was getting very frustrated, so I suggested he put it aside for the day. He tried again the next day, and though it took him about an hour, he succeeded. He was very proud of himself, and I was pleased with him for not giving up.

flipstir puzzleI mentioned before that there are two levels; T-Rex is a level 1 puzzle. The other level one puzzle is rainbow colored pencils. Level 2 puzzles include the Statue of Liberty, the Solar System, and the Periodic Table of Elements. The difference between level 1 and level 2 is that the harder puzzles have wavy edges rather than straight ones. I haven’t tried a level 2 puzzle, but I imagine those wavy edges make it more difficult to move the pieces around inside their casing. The flip side (pardon the pun) is that once you get them into place, I bet they don’t try to slide out of place so easily. That sliding away from where you left them is one of the biggest hurdles to cross with the straight-edged puzzle.

As a parent, I love several things about this puzzle. First, the pieces will never get lost. The puzzle is completely self-contained, and the lid doesn’t come off. Second, it’s a great brain exercise for the children, and one that doesn’t require screen time or batteries. Third, it’s not Legos (lol). It creates very little clutter in the house because it’s just one piece, not much bigger than a can of soda. The kids liked the challenge. They’ve worked on it multiple times since we got it; it doesn’t seem to have lost its luster at all. After several weeks of having it, that really says something!

Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing all the FlipStir puzzles (except the Periodic Table) this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more information.


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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.

talking shapes c1

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.


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Listening to History (Heirloom Audio Review)

Throughout my years on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I’ve heard only good things about Heirloom Audio Productions. This vendor has come back time and again, having all of their audio dramas reviewed by the Crew. I’ve read several of these reviews over the years, and they’re always positive. Until now, I’ve never had the privilege of listening to one of these dramas; because I know they’re high-demand products for Crew members, I volunteer to sit out so people who are passionate about them can get the opportunity to review them. This time, even though I volunteered once again to sit out, I was chosen to review Beric the Briton – and I’m glad I was.

Beric the Briton review at Ladybug Daydreams

Beric the Briton is based on the novel of the same name by G.A. Henty, a 19th century novelist and war correspondent. During the course of his 30-year (approximately) writing career, he penned over 80 novels (according to his Wikipedia page). Several of these have already been turned into audio dramas by Heirloom Audio, and one (A Final Reckoning) was made into a movie in 1929, over 25 years after the death of Henty.

The original novel of Beric was published in 1893 and tells the story of the Roman invasion of England. Beric and his friend Bodouc are British citizens who get captured by Rome during the invasion and are forced to become gladiators who are given to the emperor Nero as servants. They hear rumors surrounding a man called Christus, and as they hear and learn more about this mysterious man, they find themselves confronting their own pagan pasts. They’re forced to make some serious decisions: should they continue to seek revenge on their captors, or offer the forgiveness of Christus?

For this review, I received a physical copy of the two-disc CD set containing the story as well as large variety of digital components, including:

  • A study guide
  • The audio drama on mp3
  • An e-book version of Henty’s original novel
  • The soundtrack for the drama on mp3
  • 2 printable posters
  • Unlimited access to the Live the Adventure e-newsletter
  • A behind-the-scenes video documentary with the cast and crew

Of these bonuses, we’ve so far just used the mp3 audio drama (we don’t have a CD player, so even though I received a physical CD, we didn’t use it), but I did spend a bit of time looking through the other items, especially the study guide. Heirloom put a lot of time into creating this study guide, and it’s really wonderful. It opens with biographies of the historical figures from the story (Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea), and then for each track of the CD (roughly 5-7 minutes of content), there are comprehension questions, critical thinking questions, and vocabulary. Sprinkled throughout the guide are also other activities, such as recipes, interesting facts (types of gladiators, for instance), links to further learning, and more. Looking back at the study guide after having heard the drama, I wish I’d had the boys use it while we listened. But no matter – we’ll listen to this again in the fall and do the study guide “right” when we do.

When we first received the set, Munchkin, Small Fry, and I listened to the first half of the part I (the equivalent of the first CD – there are two in the set). (Seahawk was busy doing something with Will.) It became obvious to me at that point that it wasn’t going to be their cup of tea. It was difficult to focus for them, and we honestly just had a lot of things going on at the time. They were drawing while they listened, and I was using the computer to create birthday party invitations for Small Fry. It wasn’t the right time to have tried to listen to something so complicated as this, so I put it away for a while.

A couple of weeks later, I tried again, this time with all the boys. This was definitely the right answer! We still did other things while we listened, but they were things that didn’t require quite so much brain energy. The boys were still drawing and coloring, but I worked on knitting instead of thinking through party details. Doing “monotonous” things helped a lot with the ability to listen to the story. Seahawk, who I figured would be the least interested in this, ended up being the one who loved it the most. When the first part ended, he was chomping at the bit for the next part; now that we’ve heard the whole thing, he’s anxious to hear more of these audio dramas.

Even though Munchkin didn’t really resonate with the audio drama, I’m going to have him read the e-book of the novel that came with our bonuses. The story is good enough that I want him to know it; he’s just more of a reader than a listener – like his mama. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll have it printed and bound for him, or put it on my Kindle and let him borrow it.

In conclusion, we’re Heirloom Audio Productions converts. We absolutely loved this audio drama, and will be among those requesting more of them to review in the future.

You can purchase Beric the Briton on CD for $29.97, and this price includes the mp3 version, study guide, one printable poster, and soundtrack mp3. For $19.97, you can get the drama on mp3 (no CDs) with the study guide and printable poster.

This is Heirloom Audio’s fifth installment in their series of Henty-inspired dramas. They also have Under Drake’s Flag, In Freedom’s Cause, With Lee in Virginia, and The Dragon and the Raven.

There are 100 Crew members reviewing Beric the Briton this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog to find out what they all thought about it, too.


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Would a Worm Go on a Walk? (book review and giveaway)


A photo posted by Wendy (@ladybugdaydreams) on

I have a lovely book to share with you guys today. Would a Worm Go on a Walk? is written by Hannah C. Hall and illustrated by Bill Bolton. The story is told through a series of short poems about animals, asking if each one would do a “human” activity.

Would a worm go on a walk?

Would a lion become a lifeguard?

Would a ladybug wear lipstick?

A lot of children’s books would try to come up with reasons as to why the animals would do these specific activities, but not this one. Would a Worm Go on a Walk? gives a fun reason that the animal in question doesn’t do the funny thing, but they all come down to the same core reason: because God didn’t make them that way.

After reading about nine animals and why they don’t exhibit human behaviors, the book culminates with the idea that people are “God’s masterpieces.”

But God’s designs weren’t finished.

His special plans weren’t through.

The animals were just a start.

God’s masterpiece is YOU!

I’d told Small Fry that we’d get to review this book several days before it arrived, and he asked every day if it was here yet. He was so excited about it! The day it showed up, we read it twice (practically before the mail truck even had a chance to leave!). Once he moved on to other things, I took a good look at it, and saw just how beautiful the illustrations were. They’re lovely on a quick pass; they’re positively gorgeous when you look at them carefully.

Overall, this is a wonderfully done book. The message is beautiful, the illustrations are amazing. The two parts work together perfectly to make the book a delight. Flyby Promotions has graciously donated another copy of this book for me to offer as a giveaway. Fill out the Giveaway Tools widget below for your chance to win. The giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 5th at 5 a.m. PST.


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Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Turning Busy Work into to Memorable Work ( 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, 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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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 alongside other resources I found online, I put together a Memorial Day unit study for the boys. Besides Memorial Day, 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 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 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 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 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 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

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 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, is exactly the right answer.

Rossini notebooking page

This page was created using the 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 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 on the Crew blog this week. Make sure to click over and read about how this resource worked in other families!


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Give Me Liberty (Progeny Press Review)

Progeny Press is one of those companies that I always request to review when the opportunity arises. This will be my third time reviewing one of their literature guides, and as always, I was very impressed with it.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been working through the Give Me Liberty E-guide, which goes with the novel of the same name. Give Me Liberty, written by L.M. Elliott, tells the story of 13-year-old Nathaniel Dunn, an indentured servant living in Revolutionary War-era Virginia. His mother died on the ship to America and his father abandoned him upon arrival. His master is broke and selling off all possessions, including the staff. This is where the novel starts (at the sale). Nathaniel is sold to a man called Owen, who begins beating the boy before he’s even completed the transaction. A kindly schoolmaster, Basil, steps in and purchases Nathaniel from Owen and trains him in carriage making. As Nathaniel and Basil continue to work together and bond, other colonists begin the uprising that eventually leads to the Revolutionary War. As this is happening all around Nathaniel, he has some serious decisions to make. Should he join the Rebels? Stay loyal to the throne of England? And how will his life change if the Revolutionaries are successful?

The Give Me Liberty E-guide is designed for middle-school age students, which corresponds precisely with the book (we found it in the “Young Adult” section of our library, which is their way of saying “Teen”). It’s a bit more difficult than the upper elementary guides (which we’ve only used one of – Little House in the Big Woods), but not terribly hard. It covers things such as vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, writing tools (similes, metaphors, etc), and “Digging Deeper,” which involves looking at themes in the novel and drawing biblical truths from them.

There are a couple of different ways you can have your student use the E-guides from Progeny Press. The purchase of the E-guides gives you an instantly-available, downloadable, interactive PDF. Interactive is the key word there. Because it’s interactive, rather than flattened, your child can use the computer and type their answers right into the document.

Or, you can make it “old school” and simply print off the pages, make a notebook by placing the printouts in a binder or folder (or binding them with comb binding or something similar), and then have your child write their answers on the paper. We chose to use the guide this way; other than when absolutely necessary, I prefer using “real” things for the boys’ school over screen things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with computers and smartphones and tablets, but there’s a part of me that prefers to keep my kids innocent from those things for as long as possible. (They use them, but not for every little thing.) Plus, I like having the printed documentation that they actually did the work. (My state doesn’t require it of homeschoolers, but I like to have it on hand “just in case” anyway.)

Once you decide which way to use the E-guide itself, you have to decide how to pair it with the novel. Progeny Press typically suggests reading the whole book and then coming back to the guide, but we’ve never done it that way. It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult for a child to read a whole novel and then try to remember what they read in the beginning with enough detail to answer in-depth questions. So we always read the section as a read-aloud (in the case of Give Me Liberty, it’s 5-chapter chunks; each chapter is fairly short, so the 5-chapter section was 30-40 pages long – fairly easy to read in one or two sittings). We did the reading at the beginning of the week and then the boys worked through the subsequent worksheet pages for several days afterwards. I’d have them do one section (vocabulary, comprehension, digging deeper, etc) per day. If a section was especially long or complicated, I’d allow them an extra day to work it over. Then we’d do it all again.

As with our other study guides from Progeny Press, I was definitely not disappointed with the Give Me Liberty E-guide. I love the intense study that this company puts into their study guides. It really takes reading to the next level for kids.

The Give Me Liberty E-guide is designed for middle school students (grades 6-8), but Progeny Press also has guides for Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, and High School. Make sure to check out the other reviews to learn all about the differences between the different levels. For more of my thoughts on Progeny Press, you can read my reviews of the Little House in the Big Woods E-guide and the Tuck Everlasting E-guide.


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The Glass Castle (book review for middle grades)

The Glass Castle review

It’s not often that a review from the Schoolhouse Review Crew comes through that doesn’t really involve me at all. But this one was just that: a book for middle-school age kids. Because my middle schooler isn’t all that keen on voluntary reading, Munchkin, who is finishing up 4th grade (but reads and comprehends at a much higher level), was the beneficiary of this book.

The Glass Castle by Trisha White Priebe and Jerry B. Jenkins (famous as the co-writer of the Left Behind series) is published by Shiloh Run Press and is a lovely hard-cover book. The cover is printed rather than having a dust jacket, which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint (a dust jacket can protect the book, but it can also get lost or damaged itself). The book has 41 chapters, but that’s not something a reader of this caliber (middle grades) should be afraid of. Each one is fairly short, and the story is such that it’s a real page turner (at least, that’s my impression considering my 9 year old read this book in about 3 days).

Since I didn’t actually read this book myself, I’m going to turn the review over to Munchkin at this point. Here are his thoughts.


The Glass Castle by Trisha White and Jerry Jenkins_zpsiqfvktgjThe book is about a girl named Avery. She is 13 years old and has a 3 year old brother named Henry. Avery gets captured while she’s out in the woods on her birthday and brought to a castle. While she’s there, she meets Kate, Kendrick, and Tuck. These characters are all 13, like Avery. They live at The Glass Castle, which is a castle where an evil king keeps children because one of them might end up being the heir to his throne. The king had a child who “died” about 13 years before the book takes place, so he’s not sure which child in his kingdom of this age is or might be his heir. All that said, the king is actually a fairly minor character. Instead, the book focuses on the children and how they run the castle’s day-to-day operations. They make their own food and clothes, as well as the king and queen’s crowns.

Avery can see her father’s home from the castle, so one day she escapes and goes there only to find that her father no longer lives there. So she goes back to the castle. She’s so sad that her dad isn’t there anymore that she decides to live at the castle, at least through the end of this book (there is a sequel coming in Fall 2016).

I really liked this book. The plot was exciting, and the characters were neat. My favorite character was Henry, even though he’s only in the first chapter. I like him best because he’s tiny and funny. The other characters were pretty okay. They were likeable enough, but I’m not sure they felt “real.” I was very surprised to find out Avery’s dad didn’t live in the house anymore. I felt kind of sad for Avery when she discovered that. If I was in her same situation, I probably would have done the same thing (gone back to the castle).

I liked this book so much that I’m definitely looking forward to the next one. Lucky for me, my birthday is in the fall!


So there you go. Right from the “mouth” of a child in the proper age range of this book, his review. (And I think he did a good job considering it’s his first time reviewing something on his own!)

Other Schoolhouse Review Crew members and their children are writing about The Glass Castle this week, so make sure to read those reviews, too!


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Hey, Mama! A Planner for You (TOS Review)

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This school year, I  couldn’t find a school planner that I really liked, so we ran our days using to-do lists. Each week, I would plan out the lessons, creating a list for each child. He would receive a new list each day (I wrote them once a week, but issued them once a day). It worked really well until about March. I’m not entirely sure what happened then, but the lists were no longer doing the trick for us. It was hard to keep everyone (myself included) focused on getting the whole job done. Therefore, when I learned that The Old Schoolhouse was looking for reviewers for the new Hey Mama! Print Schoolhouse Planner 2016-2017, I definitely wanted to give it a try. We’ve had great success with planners in the past, so I had high hopes for this one.

This review is a bit different from others, though. You see, the planner starts in July 2016, which means I haven’t technically had a chance to use it yet beyond writing future events (doctor’s appointments, birthdays, etc) in it. But despite that, I can tell simply from the time I’ve had to look it over that it will become an invaluable resource this fall.

The planner has all sorts of different types of pages:

  • yearly calendars (2016, 2017, and 2018)
  • encouraging letters from TOS publisher Gena Suarez
  • monthly calendars
  • weekly calendars (blank, so you can use and date them as needed)
  • monthly, semester, and yearly goals (several sheets of each so you can have one for each child)
  • attendance chart (again, several sheets)
  • books read log (several sheets)
  • curriculum planning sheets (several)
  • a place to record your local homeschooling contacts
  • several academic reference sheets (writing prompts, the 13 colonies, famous inventions, US Presidents and first ladies, and more)
  • an academic transcript worksheet
  • and more…

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Outside of the actual calendar pages, I have two “favorites” in this planner. First are the Hey Mama! letters from Gena Suarez. There’s one on the back of the front cover, plus several distributed all throughout the planning pages. These are very encouraging little notes from a fellow homeschooling mom, and the way she writes is just so personable. I love how each starts with the phrase “Hey Mama!” It’s a warm way of greeting that reminds you that you’re a “mama,” not always a “mother.” I don’t know about you, but I really love being “mama” or “mommy” rather than the stiff, formal, disciplinarian all the time. And the homey greeting is just the tip of these letters. Each one is so encouraging; reading the words from Gena is such a blessing as she pushes us to bless our children, discipline them in love, build their character, and most importantly to teach them to be God-loving, God-fearing adults. She reminds us that we are loved by our creator and that He’s always there for us. I love these letters and look forward to rereading them as the months and weeks they were written for begin to approach.


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My second favorite pages are the informational pages about old-fashioned things. Sprinkled throughout the calendar pages (monthly and weekly) are beautiful sepia-tone photographs and information about things of old – butter churns, dibbers, pitchforks, and more. These little tidbits are so interesting to read, and they really help to remind me that it’s okay to slow down and take things as they come. Even though we live in a fast-paced world, we don’t have to live a fast-paced life.

I’m really looking forward to spending some good time with my planner this summer as I look forward to the 2016-17 school year. I’ll be glad to have some plan in place by the time we dive into school again in September. And if things end up going haywire (which would not surprise me in the least, once we get going), I’ll be glad to have this written record of what we did accomplish, even if it’s written down after the fact instead of in advance.

So, how can you get one of these planners for yourself? Well, there are two ways. First, you can order a copy of the Hey Mama! Printed planner for $29 (in the US; more for international) right from The Old Schoolhouse website. Use the promo code CREWCODE and you can get the planner for just $19 with free shipping through July 15, 2016. If you’re an international reader, the same code will get you a $10 (US) discount off of the international price.

The other option is joining (if you’re not already a member). Through that site, you have access to the digital version of the planner included in your membership, and you can print it right from the comfort of your own home (or copy shop, as the case may be). Membership to is $12.95 a month (but only $1 for the first month), or $139 for a full year (over one month free), or $250 for two years (over 4 months free). If you purchase the two-year plan by June 30, 2016, you’ll receive a tote bag full of TOS goodies (including a print copy of the planner I reviewed today!) as their gift to you. (The tote bag is very nice; I received one with my planner.)

There are over 100 other reviews of this planner on the Crew blog this week, so make sure to click over there to find out more.


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Creation-based Elementary Science (Science Shepherd Review)

Science is one of those subjects that a lot of homeschool parents dread. It’s also one that children adore. So how do you marry the two desires? The best way I’ve found is to find a good program that will help you along the way. Introductory Science from Science Shepherd is one such program. Munchkin and I have been working through this program for the past few weeks, and I’m pleased to be able to bring you this review today.

KIMG0411Science Shepherd Introductory Science combines two methods of teaching: video lessons and a workbook. This is one of my favorite ways of “doing” science with the boys, so this was a perfect fit for us. The video lessons are very short (under five minutes), and each is followed up by a page or two in the workbook. The whole lesson takes less than ten minutes. Don’t let that small amount of time fool you, though. The lessons are full of good information, and the workbook is a perfect complement to the videos.

Even though we’re near the end of the school year, we started at the beginning of the program. It opens with the story of Creation and the videos, which are hosted by Science Shepherd creator and homeschool dad Dr. Scott Hardin, explain why that qualifies as science – and why it’s an important aspect to know and study before getting into the more “sciency” science.

science shepherdWorking as the program is designed (one video and the corresponding workbook pages each day), moving through Creation takes two weeks. It’s very tempting to move a lot quicker than that, especially if your child is well-versed in the Creation story. Even if you do a whole week’s worth in a day, it’s not a huge time commitment (30-60 minutes). We did this for the first two weeks’ lessons, and then slowed down to the suggested pace.Week three talks all about Science Skills and Tools, and week four moves you more into the “real” science, starting with meteorology.

In addition to Dr. Hardin’s instructional videos, there are demonstration videos as well. For example, in the Science Skills and Tools week, students are taught about the scientific method. During the explanation of a hypothesis (educated guess, in case you’re a bit rusty), a pair of students makes the hypothesis that a hammer is harder than an egg. Over the course of the 2 1/2 minute video, Dr. Hardin explains what a hypothesis is, and then it cuts away to the students. They talk about why they think a hammer is harder than an egg, make notes and observations about both, and then hit the egg with the hammer. Of course the egg breaks, thus proving their hypothesis true.

KIMG0412In Introductory Science, there are two levels offered – A and B. The videos are the same for both, but the workbook is slightly more difficult in Level B. Level A is suggested for ages 6-8 and Level B for ages 9-11 (it’s not based on grade levels). We got Level B, and I’m glad we did even though Munchkin is on the lower end of that age range at 9 1/2. It was very basic and easy for him. As we progress through the course, it might get more difficult, but time will tell on that count. (We’re going to set it aside for now but definitely pick it up again in September for his science course next school year.) Workbook activities are varied. So far, we’ve come across things such as:

  • Video comprehension questions
  • Matching (an item on the left with what it goes with on the right – draw a line)
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Coloring, cutting, and sorting shapes (flowers), then answering questions based on how the student chose to color them

Besides Introductory Science, Science Shepherd also has a course in Life Science and one in Biology. From what I’ve read, these upper sciences are much harder and more rigorous than Introductory Science. I’m definitely interested in trying out Life Science with Seahawk. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were able to sample all three levels, so if you have an older student, make sure to head over to the Crew blog to learn more about those upper levels.

Access to the Introductory Science videos is $35; for that, you get a full year of elementary science curriculum (35 weeks of videos). Access is good for 12 months. If you don’t finish in the year, you can extend your access for $5 a month. Workbook level A is $12; level B is $15. These are consumable resources to be used by one student. There are answer keys available for each level for $3 each (although, we haven’t needed ours yet; the workbook is pretty simple).


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