Homeschool Curriculum Review: Famous Men of Rome

Will is super into Roman history. He likes watching the TV shows about it, and he’s even read a college level Roman history textbook for fun. Twice. So when the opportunity arose to review an elementary/middle school Roman history curriculum, I knew he’d approve. And that the boys would be very interested in learning about something that so fascinates their father. Additionally, given that the curriculum is produced by Memoria Press, whose catalog/magazine we receive quarterly and enjoy reading, I was confident that Famous Men of Rome would be a quality product.

The curriculum is a three-book set, all of which are (approximately; I haven’t measured them) 8.5 x 11 softcover books. There’s the text book, the student guide, and the teacher guide. These are available separately ($17.95 for the student and teacher books, $16.95 for the text book) or together for $39.95. To supplement the set, there are also flashcards available ($12.95), but I didn’t receive those so I can’t really tell you how good or “necessary” they are to the product. The text has 30 chapters, each focusing on – you guessed it – a famous leader of the Roman empire (well, the first 29 do; the final chapter deals with the end of the western empire).

The book starts with the founding of Rome by Romulus, and even though Memoria Press is a staunchly Christian company, they don’t shy away from the Roman mythology in this series. The book is written so that we can understand the ancient history of Rome the way it’s told traditionally, not just the way it literally happened. For example, as tradition goes, Romulus and Remus were twin brothers whose human mother slept with the god Mars, thus conceiving the twins. She died, and because their father was a god, he didn’t necessarily spend a lot of time hanging out on Earth, so the boys were adopted by a she-wolf who nursed them and raised them as her own (the story kind of reminded me of The Jungle Book). Eventually, they grew up and left their wolf family. They founded the city together, and each wanted to name it after himself. Despite having come up with a way to decide who should “win,” when the sign came, both thought they were the winner (Remus based on the timing of the sign, Romulus based on what the sign was). But Romulus was more . . . gutsy, shall we say. He went ahead and named the city after himself, Roma (Rome in English), and built a wall around it. Remus came to visit the city some time later, and after he mocked his brother’s walled city, Romulus killed him, thus becoming the first official emperor of Rome.

So you see, we as Christians (well, as modern thinkers, whether Christian or not) know that Romulus and Remus couldn’t possibly have been fathered by the god Mars – because he doesn’t exist. But that’s the way the story goes, so that’s what we get from Famous Men of Rome. Stories like that one opened up a lot of conversation opportunities with the boys regarding Roman mythology and why we learn about it but don’t believe it.

The text is written to feel like a story, which makes it really easy to read and understand. We all sat around the living room while I read the chapters (one per week) aloud. Sometimes Will even joined us. The kids (ages 2, 8, and 11) really enjoyed the stories, and because of the writing style, they really retained the information throughout the week. In order to extend the lesson a full week, I would spend one day reading the story, we’d do the comprehension questions from the teacher/student guide another day, and the other activities (a timeline, map work, vocabulary, and other activities) on a third day. This schedule worked really well for us; we got a lot of good Roman history groundwork laid in the kids’ minds, and it didn’t take too long. That’s important with my kids; they don’t like working on one subject for very long, so products that work well in just a short period are really appreciated.

The teacher guide and student guide are nearly identical inside. The only difference is that the teacher guide lists the answers, whereas the student guide has blanks for the children to write. In order to include both Seahawk and Munchkin in the “process,” though, we did most of the work orally. It worked out better that way for us, anyway, because the boys don’t really love writing and they’re doing plenty of that in other subjects. I didn’t feel it was necessary to push it in the history class.

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A sample from the teacher book (click to enlarge)

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The same page from the student book (click to enlarge)

So, what did we think of the curriculum? We liked it a lot. There’s a lot of ways to expand it with outside videos and other books, but none of that is necessary. It stands on its own just fine. For those of you who like to take a curriculum and “make it your own,” this would be an awesome product for you. If you like to just use a product “as is,” these books work that way, too. I love the flexibility, even if I’m normally a “use it how it is” kind of teacher. I think my favorite part of the curriculum, though, is that Will was excited about what the boys were learning and took it upon himself to go over some of the things we were learning more in-depth with the knowledge he’s gleaned from other books. Normally, he likes that the kids are learning, but isn’t so concerned with what they’re learning. This time, he took a real interest, and I loved that. If for no other reason, this set of books was a blessing to our family.

Have a great day!


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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing a variety of products from Memoria Press this week: Famous Men of Rome, Latina Christiana (for learning Latin), and The Book of the Ancient Romans (similar to Famous Men, but for older students). Click the banner below to read more of those reviews!

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Book Review: S is for Smiling Sunrise

The Schoolhouse Review Crew is known for reviewing homeschool curriculum for a variety of ages. Sometimes we get the opportunity to review things just for Mom (like the Koru Naturals I did earlier this year), and sometimes we get things for the littles in our families. S is for Smiling Sunrise is such a product.

Offered by WordsBright, this charming hardcover book goes through the alphabet with a short poem representing each letter. While it is moderately similar to other books of its style (A-is-for-apple, B-is-for-baseball), S is for Smiling Sunrise is different in that its poems and letter representations are designed to inspire parents and encourage children to be better people. For example, while “J is for Jewelry,” it’s not simply because jewels are beautiful, or because our children should aspire to have a lot of valuable things.

J is for jewelry,

Gems and metals fine

Dreams and goals are inner jewels

When heart and mind align!

In addition to having such lovely thoughts for each letter of the alphabet, the book illustrates concept beautifully. Some are done with illustrations while others are done with photographs. Despite this combination of mediums, it doesn’t feel choppy at all. Each page is just as beautiful as the one before or after it.

In addition to the book (information on pricing and availability is available on the website), there is a downloadable teacher’s guide for using the book as a “curriculum” with older preschool children. This includes instructions and ideas for turning each letter into a lesson by doing things like discussing the different aspects of each poem or creating a piece of art and visiting an art museum (during the A is for Artwork lesson). Because Small Fry isn’t even 3 yet, we didn’t really do any of these things. We just read the book. Again and again. He really loves it.

On top of the teacher guide, you can also download (for free) an mp3 from the website that is a song version of the book. While members of the Crew received a CD, this isn’t available for purchase; the free mp3 is the only way to access this song. And it’s the way I accessed it, anyway, since our only CD player is in our car. The download option for the song is quite easy. Enter your email address, and they send you a link within just a few minutes. It wasn’t complicated at all. And the song is just as charming as the book.

Small Fry and I would definitely recommend this book for kids from toddler-hood through preschool. It’s a wonderful addition to our library, and will be to yours, too!


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As always, I’m not the only one reviewing this lovely book this week. Click the banner below to read more reviews from other moms of littles.

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Homeschool Moms Review: Successful Homeschooling Made Easy

Are you a mom thinking about homeschooling your kids? Are they in public school, and you want to bring them home? Or are they just getting to the age where they’re old enough that it’s time for you to make a decision? Have you been homeschooling your kids for years and are starting to feel “burnout”? Then today’s review is going to be something you simply must look into. From Successful Homeschooling Made Easy comes the Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course, written by veteran homeschooling mom of five Stephanie Walmsley.

I wasn’t sure whether I would be a good candidate for this product of not for a couple of reasons – first, I’ve been homeschooling for several years, and second, because of my relationship with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I don’t buy (or choose) curriculum in the traditional way. Pretty much all of what we use are items I receive for review purposes. But you know what? I still learned things through taking this course (and I’m not quite even halfway through it yet!).

When you first sign up, you’ll get an email with your first lesson within just a couple of hours. And this first lesson is a doozy! Of all the lessons I’ve received so far, this one has made the biggest impact in our schooling. In it, Ms. Walmsley talks about the importance of having a schedule. Your schedule doesn’t have to look the same as the local public school’s, nor does it have to look like that of the other homeschooling families you know. It just has to work for your family. She offers two basic outlines for schedule, and the one  you choose is based on whether your family are “morning people” or “night owls.” No, she doesn’t suggest keeping your kids up to all hours of the night doing their schoolwork, but she does suggest that if they sleep in, school them in the afternoon instead. It’s okay. (We definitely fall into that category, and while it’s been hard to readjust my thinking to do the heavy hitting on the schoolwork after lunch instead of before, it’s been much easier on the kids.)

Beyond scheduling, Ms. Walmsley walks you through such topics as choosing curriculum (which, like I already mentioned, isn’t really a problem/option for us at this point), creating a lesson plan, teaching your children, how to keep up with the housework while living the homeschool life, and much more.

But she doesn’t tell you how to run your homeschool. That’s what makes this course so helpful for people in every step of the homeschooling journey. She gives tips and suggestions, but it’s easy to modify her ideas to fit your own idea of what you want your homeschool to look like. Or even more importantly, what your kids need it to look like. Her ideas and concepts are sound, and yet easy to adapt. That’s what I love most about this course.

That, and the bonus lessons that you occasionally get in between lessons. So far, I’ve received one bonus lesson, and it was on math games to play with the children. Despite all of our drilling, both boys (especially Seahawk) have gotten a bit rusty in their math facts. So yesterday, we utilized one of the games in that bonus math lesson. We went outside and wrote numbers, 1-20 on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. Then I would say things like, “Seahawk, skip to the number that is 6 times 3.” “Munchkin, hop on one foot to the number that is 5 times 2.” They really enjoyed that game, and we’ll definitely be playing it again.

So, long story short: This course consists of 26 lessons, emailed to you one per week (about 14 pages each, including a title page and copyright information). You have the freedom to print them off and keep them in a binder if you’d like, or you can just read them on your computer. Each one – and you get a completely different topic each week – is extremely helpful in this thing called homeschooling. I would definitely recommend this course for any parent who is currently, or currently considering, homeschooling their child or children. It’s that good.

Still not sure if the Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course is for you? You can get the first lesson absolutely free to see what you think. If you decide, after seeing how awesome that first lesson is, that you want to continue the course, you can do so for $10 per month (for 6 months), or you can save 20% on the course by purchasing it all at one time for $48. (See the website for information on international pricing; it’s all spelled out there very clearly and easily.) And what’s more, if you purchase this and decide you don’t like it, Ms. Walmsley will refund your money, no questions asked. So it’s definitely a no-lose situation for you.


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As always, I’m not the only person reviewing this course this week. Click the banner below to read lots of other opinions on Successful Homeschooling Made Easy.

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Homeschool Curriculum Review: Real Life Press

Last school year, the boys and I read the entire New Testament together. This year, I’m sorry to say, has been a lot less Bible-rich. That’s why I was thrilled to have been chosen to review a Bible study curriculum: Firmly Planted, Gospels, Part 2 from Real Life Press. I received PDF versions of both the family study guide (which I used as a leader’s manual) and the student workbook.

The Firmly Planted curriculum was written by Heidi St. John and her husband, Jay. As homeschooling parents of seven children, they really wanted to teach something of true value – not what the media tells our children they need to know. Additionally, they felt that the media was constantly changing, never consistent (which I absolutely agree with). They wanted to teach their children the one thing that never changes: Christ. This was the beginning of Real Life Press.

The Gospels, Part 2 covers stories from the life of Jesus, including two parables, Jesus’s meeting with Zacchaeus, the adulterous woman (“whoever is without sin should be the first to cast a stone”), and several others, going through to the crucifixion and resurrection. Having just celebrated Easter, I chose The Gospels Part 2 (rather than part 1) because I wanted to go over the crucifixion and resurrection in detail with the children.

The parent guide ($9.95 for a PDF) is 102 pages, and it covers everything you need to teach the bible histories presented. They include the full Scriptural text of the stories being presented, as well as a variety of activities using a seed-planted analogy (the seed is the main concept of the story, planting the seed is Scripture memorization, and watering the seedling is a short lesson based on the Scripture). There are also four daily lessons for each bigger lesson, in which you read part of the Scripture with your children and explain some things to them, all laid out for you in the parent guide. For example, in the first lesson, The Parable of the Sower, the day one lesson explains what a parable lesson is as well as why Jesus taught using parables rather than straightforward lessons.

The student workbook ($24.95 for a PDF) includes activities for both older students and younger students (different difficulties of the same activity), which really makes Firmly Planted a full-family bible study. These include activities such as copywork, a self-reflection journal, mazes, word finds, crossword puzzles, and much more. Because the student workbook has all of the activities for a variety of age levels together, it’s 265 pages. Depending on the ages of your children, you definitely don’t have to print multiple copies of that, though.

Real Life Press the Gospels Part 2 student pages sample

A sampling of some of the student pages

The first thing I did was to find an online PDF splitter so that I could print just the pages I wanted/needed to get started without having to sift through the entire document every time to choose the pages to print. I printed only one lesson at a time to help minimize the costs since we print at a copy shop. For the first lesson, I chose to print the upper-level activities for both boys. I wouldn’t go straight into saying that this was a mistake, but I will say that those activities were considerably harder for Munchkin (age 8) than they were for Seahawk (age 11), which surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have, since he is three years younger (he can normally keep up with his older brother academically, no problem), but it did. So the next week, I was more selective in which pages to give him as upper-level and which to give him as lower-level. (He can do the writing and copywork at the upper level, but the mazes and other “game” activities he needed at the lower level.)

As a whole, I really loved this study. It incorporated Scripture fully, and it was very easy to follow the plan. The kids really enjoyed the activities that went along with it (except for Munchkin and the hard maze the first week – there were tears over that!). My only complaint, and it is very minor, is that the pages in the parent guide seemed to be kind of wasteful on the printing front – they were half-pages rather than full pages, and centered on the sheet, so there was a lot of empty space. I would love to see those pages made to fill the 8.5×11 sheet (by combining pages, not just stretching the existing format) or have two instructor pages on one sheet of paper to help cut down on printing costs. (I just didn’t print the parent guide after the first week, and instead read it off of my computer.)

Bottom line: we would definitely recommend this to others looking for a great Bible study. 


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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew have reviewed tons of different products from Real Life Press, not just family Bible studies. Click the banner below to find out more about two books – The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Daylight and The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance – as well as a lapbooking resource for moms of younger children. Additionally, there will be more reviews of The Gospels part 2 (which I wrote about today), plus The Gospels part 1 and Books of Moses part 2. Just click the banner below to access reviews to all of these products.

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Product Review: Dial Sugar Cane Husk Scrub Hand Soap

sugar scrub review

This year is seeing a lot of growth for me as a blogger, and that includes joining with companies like Purex and Dial as a reviewer. It’s exciting! I’ve always enjoyed Dial products, so I was interested in using and reviewing their new Dial Sugar Cane Husk Scrub Deep Cleansing and Moisturizing Hand Soap.

I initially put the bottle in the kids/guest bathroom, but it was clear after not very long at all that that wasn’t going to work long term. You see, Small Fry did not like this soap at all. I’m not sure why, but every time he went to the bathroom and had to wash up afterwards, it was a fight. He just prefers our bar soap instead. So I quickly (after just a few hours) moved the Dial to the kitchen, where it’s found its home ever since then.

So, because of this move, I was the main one who used this soap. Everyone else pretty much washes their hands in the bathroom, but I have to wash my hands in the kitchen frequently during cooking, and it was nice to have a simple soap pump there for doing so (as opposed to just using dish soap, which is what I usually do). I really liked the feel of this soap, too. It’s full of “scrubbers” that feel really nicely on your hands. I just love the feeling of having my hands scrubbed by texture in my soap. But there weren’t too many scrubbers, either. I would have been happy with more of the scrubby “balls,” but as it is, it’s a nice amount. It’s not so much that it would be overwhelming for sensitive hands, but there are enough to make your hands feel lovely after washing.

The only thing I didn’t like about this soap was the scent. I can’t quite place what it smells like, but I didn’t like it. It’s not enough to deter me from use because the soap feels so nice, but next time I try it out, I’ll try a different scent (probably the yellow raspberry/black sugar). Also, quick disclaimer on the scent: I’m perfectly willing to admit that my aversion to it might be first trimester sensitivities. Please don’t let my opinion on the scent dissuade you from trying it.


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Homeschool Curriculum Review: Great Parents Academy

I knew that our current web-based math subscription was due to expire soon, so when I learned that there was a new one available for review, I looked over it with my kids, and we decided to give it a try. Boy are we glad we did!

GPA LEARN has developed a wonderful math curriculum for elementary age student (grades K-5) called GPALOVEMATH. We’ve had the pleasure of using this program (I received a one-year subscription) for the past seven weeks or so.

Because Seahawk was working through a workbook during this time, this review will focus primarily on Munchkin and his use of the program. I will note, however, that just recently Seahawk has joined the GPA party. [Read more…]