Writing a Book with Here to Help Learning (Review)

My boys love to write. They have so many creative ideas in their heads, and every so often they get the hankering to write a book. Not a 200-word picture book; no, they always want to write a novel. The problem is that they never have the “stick-to-it-tive-ness” to complete the novels they start. So when I heard about Here to Help Learning and their novel-writing class (formally called Flight 3 Essay Writing), I knew this would be something the boys and I would want to review.

Here to Help Learning Review

What It Is and How It Works

Here to Help Learning combines video instruction with practical use. There are six levels of instruction, from the basics of learning to turn thoughts into paragraph form all the way up to where we worked, writing a six-chapter novel. The program is designed to be used twice a week. The first day of each week, there’s a video that runs about 20 minutes over the course of five sections. I quickly discovered that the first section is the same each time, so after the first two weeks we started skipping that part. (Each section is its own video ranging from about 2 to about 15 minutes, so this was easy to do. It was the 2-minute opening video that we started skipping.)

The titles of the videos are the same from lesson to lesson, and they’re all based on airplane terminology: Pre-Flight Checklist (this is the one we omitted from later lessons), Flight Check-in, Take Off, Full Throttle, and Flying Solo. The meat of the lesson is found in Take Off and Full Throttle, so that’s where I’ll spend the majority of my focus for this review.

Flight Check-in is the part of the lesson where students turn in the previous lesson’s Flying Solo work (what would be “homework” for a public school student, but is just independent study work for homeschoolers) and separate the new week’s worksheets into their appropriate tabs in the binder. Flight Check-in is also when the group is instructed to recite the program’s Bible verse focus, Colossians 3:17 (Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him). I love this verse, and I love that the program includes its recitation each week. It’s a fabulous reminder that our skills come from God and that we should praise him through our work and talents.

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Working on a writing warm-up

Take Off includes my boys’ favorite part of each lesson: the writing warm-up. There is a picture prompt that is different with each lesson as well as a literary technique. Students are instructed to use the prompt as the basis for a short story (they’re given 7 minutes to write and 3 more minutes to finesse after that) which includes the “literary technique of the day.” This is one of the “Top 10 Literary Techniques,” and it’s explained/described during the video – including examples – so the students can understand how to use it an include it in their story. These include metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, and others.

After the writing warm-up is completed, you move on to the longest of the five videos: Full Throttle. In Flight 3 Essay Writing, this includes the Meet the Authors segment of the program, where Mrs. Mora (the HTHL teacher) interviews successful Christian authors. We’ve just completed lesson 8, and so far it has been different portions of the same interview with Bill Myers, author of over 100 books and creator of the animated series McGee and Me. The interview covers a broad variety of topics, but they all come back to what it’s like to be a writer for a living and letting God have control over your life (another great reminder for Christians).

Once the interview video is over, there’s time to go over the “big assignment” of the week, all of which culminate in the student writing their novel. So far, at the end of lesson 8, we’ve done a lot of brainstorming and list-making. My kids are getting antsy to actually start writing their novels!

How We Used It

There are worksheets to print out each week, so upon getting access to the site I sent the first three weeks’ worth over to the print shop. There was quite a bit of printing in the beginning (due to doing several weeks’ worth plus the 36-page Language Helps workbook) so I had it done on Saturday, when copies are half price.

Armed with our worksheets, we watched the video that very first day (I’d watched it in advance so I would know what to expect) and from there, it was easy to implement everything. We quickly found our groove. For the first three weeks, we followed the course of study exactly: the video and worksheets one day, the homework another day, working only two days per week.

After that, though, the boys were getting anxious that they hadn’t really begun their novels yet. (They don’t realize that they are writing their novel. Knowing about their characters and what the main conflict will be is going to help them not to lose their mojo later on in the process.) So, they requested that we up the speed. We still do one section per day, but now we do it four days a week instead of two, thereby getting through two lessons per week. This speed is working really well for us. When we get to the “write chapter one” lesson of the program, I imagine we’ll have to slow down again because I’m pretty sure they won’t be able to write two chapters per week.

Final Thoughts

If you’re not sure whether the program is right for you, they have a free one-day trial where you get full access to everything the site has to offer with no credit card required. If you want something a little more, there’s a 14-day trial (with a credit card) and the price is $6.99 per month after that. This fee covers your entire family – no limits – and includes all the videos and worksheets you need to run the course.

We’ve really been enjoying working with Here to Help Learning. The lessons are relevant and it’s nice that we’ve found something that teaches the boys how to write (a very important skill in our opinion) that isn’t sluggish and boring. Here to Help Learning is a program we heartily recommend.

I’m one of 100 reviewers talking about Here to Help Learning this week. Make sure to hit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to find more reviews about the program!

Blessings,

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Building a Strong Faith – One Brick at a Time (Zonderkidz Review)

Zonderkidz ReviewWe were already familiar with the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) of the Bible before this one – the Faith Builders Bible from Zonderkidz – was offered for review. The children’s department at our church has been using this translation for years, and we even had a paperback copy of the Bible in this easy-to-read translation at one point. That, combined with my kids’ love of Legos, is how I knew this Bible would be a good fit for Munchkin, who is 9.

Faith Builders BibleThis Bible is a hardcover book with the text of the Bible as the main component. What I mean by this is that it’s not a study Bible for kids; there are no “expert’s notes” on the pages. It’s just the Biblical text. Sprinkled throughout are thicker pages with photographs of Bible stories illustrated with Lego bricks, much like you’d find in a “based on a true story” book that has photographs of the real people.

The NIrV is an easy reader’s version. It uses the well-known NIV translation as its base, and then shortens the sentences to make it easier for younger readers to understand. For example, here is John 3:16 in both translations.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. (NIrV)

You can see that the text is virtually identical, with only minor differences. The idea is that these shorter sentences make it easier for children to read and understand the Bible, but they’re still reading the Bible rather than a “Bible storybook.” I tend to agree with this assessment. As I mentioned before, we’ve used this translation with our kids for a few years now, and it certainly does help make the text easier for them to grasp.

Bible books bricksSeahawk is old enough now to be in the teen group (I can’t believe it!), so he uses a “regular” NIV or ESV Bible (we have both). Therefore, I chose to give this Bible to Munchkin, since he’s still in the kid group. He took an immediate liking to this Bible. From the second he opened the box, he was thrilled. For the past month, he’s taken it pretty much everywhere he goes. One of the opening spreads shows the building blocks with the books of the Bible in order and colored/labeled with the “type” of literature that they are (law, history, poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets for the Old Testament; gospels, church history, letters, and prophecy for the New Testament). Each time we got in the car, the boys worked together with this page to learn the books of the Bible, studying and quizzing each other. Within a week or so, they’d both mastered the list.

Jonah lego buildingThey also worked together to “illustrate” the story of Jonah using their own Lego bricks. Seahawk built the fish, and Munchkin designed Jonah. I like that they worked together as a team to refresh themselves on the Biblical account. Using the pictures in this Bible for inspiration, they reread the story on their own and then built the pieces they needed for the image. What a great thing that they were so excited to read the Bible and then design their own picture to go along with it!

Overall, I think this Bible would be a big hit with any child who’s a Lego fan, like my boys are. If you’re concerned about commercialization, then this probably isn’t the right fit for you, though. Despite disclaimers of “This Bible is not authorized, sponsored, endorsed, or licensed by Lego,” there’s no doubt the blocks they’re using for the images. Perhaps the Bible isn’t the best thing to turn into a commercial for products. But if that’s the way you can get your kids to read it, then I think it’s a good stepping stone to a “real” Bible they’ll read and understand in their teen years and beyond.

Blessings,

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Using Dice for Arrows… (SimplyFun Review)

SimplyFun Review

After having had the pleasure of reviewing a game from SimplyFun during the 2015 year, I was thrilled to be selected to try another of their games out this year.

SimplyFun Review

I’m reviewing Archery Dice, one of four new releases from SimplyFun.

My kids are really into the Middle Ages, so it was neat that both of the games we had to choose from had that time period as their basis. After looking at the website, we (the kids and I) decided that Archery Dice would be more up our alley, so that’s what we applied for (and received). The recommended age for Archery Dice is 7 and up, but Small Fry (age 3) was able to play with us just fine. Inside the box were 12 dice (three each of four colors), four wooden discs upon which to stack your dice, and 16 heavy duty cardboard targets, along with the rules booklet.

The rules of Archery Dice are quite simple. Set the targets out on the table, stack your dice into a stack, and flick them – one at a time – onto the targets. If your die alone is on the target at the end of a round (defined as when all 3 dice from each player have been flicked), you win it. If your opponent also has a die on the target, whoever has the highest number showing wins it. Keep the targets in front of you for one more round – this gives your challengers a chance to steal the target (which they can do by flicking one of their dice onto your target during the next round). If they fail, you get to “bank” the target at the end of the round. Once a target is banked, it’s safe from theft. The first person to bank four targets is the winner.

SimplyFun games are more than just games; they all have a goal of teaching children through play. Archery Dice teaches kids control over their movements (by how hard they flick the dice), how to aim (by where they flick the dice), and strategy (is it better to try for a new target or to try to steal your opponent’s?). I like this about the company. Games for the sake of playing are great, but if you can teach your children at the same time, that’s even better – especially if they don’t realize they’re learning.

The first time we played the game, it was the kids (Seahawk, Munchkin, and Small Fry) and me. We read through the rules together and then just played. I like that there’s very little setup with this game. Give each person a stack of dice and a wooden disc, set the targets out, and you’re ready to play. It’s really convenient not to have to deal with a game board and a lot of little pieces. And because the game is so simple (flicking dice), even small children can play, with help. Small Fry is only 3, but he was able to successfully play this game. He even banked a target or two.

Overall, we really enjoyed playing Archery Dice. It was fun; we laughed a lot during play and had a great time with the game. We’re fortunate to be able to add this game to our arsenal.

Blessings,

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A Huge Variety of Homeschool Lessons in One Place – SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, one of the biggest blessings I receive is a free Yearly Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Crew reviewers are invited to continue their membership for free as long as they remain on the Crew, and I’ve opted to keep mine up each year (I’m beginning my third year as a member). I don’t always remember to utilize this amazing resource, but I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-exploring it, and I was reminded of just how awesome it is. We’ve already started using some of these lessons (this is our first week back after baby and Christmas), and I definitely see us using more of them in the near future.

The two classes that we’ve just begun are Keyboarding by David Kimball and Dinosaurs and the Bible by Patrick Nurre.

keyboardingKeyboarding is a 10-lesson typing course for students of all ages. Each lesson can last as long as needed for mastery, from one day to a week or more. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in 9th grade, but times have changed since then, and it’s really not all that realistic for younger student not to learn how to type. So many things rely on the computer these days that it doesn’t make sense to keep them away from this generation of children, even for parents (like myself) who would prefer to have our students work more with “real” things like books and paper.

Each typing lesson focuses on a small portion of the keyboard, starting with the home row. It uses a combination of video (explanations that require visual), audio (oral-only explanations, instructions, and music to type to), and written (a printable student packet with letter combinations and words to type). It might be tempting  to skip the printing of the student packet, but don’t do this. This keyboarding class’s goal is to teach students to type accurately without looking at the keys or the screen.

Dinosaurs and the Bible will be our science course for the next several weeks. We dove into it this week, and it’s not so different from the science course we were using before in method – a video paired with worksheets. This may not be everyone’s favorite way of teaching science, but for us at this stage in our family it works very well. Like with most things involving worksheets, I’ve been hand copying them off of the website for the boys.

The Dinosaurs and the Bible course is currently active, which means not all of the lessons are available yet, but more are added each week and will continue to be until the entire course is complete. Once that happens, the archives will remain available on the site indefinitely. That’s one of the things I love about SchoolhouseTeachers.com – that they leave every course up once it’s there. This means that you can use the material any time, not just when  it’s new and active.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com is an amazing resource for homeschooling families. The two classes I talked about are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This website could easily provide the core curriculum for your students. There are classes in nearly every subject for all grade levels, from preschoolers to high school. There are also printable planners and other resources for parents, and the membership includes free access to Right Now Media, a faith-based video streaming company.

The fee ($12.95 per month or $139 for a full year) is per family, not per student, so it’s quite affordable. To make it an even better value, I have a special deal for you today. Sign up for a Yearly Membership during the month of January and get 50% off using the coupon code CREWFOLLOWER. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Blessings,

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Blue Ribbon Awards 2015

It’s that time of year again – the time when the Schoolhouse Review Crew votes on their favorite review products from the past year in a variety of categories. I thought it would be fun to share our picks from all the different categories. Links are to my reviews of the products/curricula.

Language Arts

Favorite Reading Program: Star Toaster

IEW reviewFavorite Writing Curriculum: IEW Student Writing Intensive/Teaching Writing with Structure and Style

Learning to Spell with The Phonetic ZooFavorite Spelling Curriculum: IEW The Phonetic Zoo

Favorite Grammar Curriculum: Fix It! Grammar by IEW

Favorite Literature Curriculum: Progeny Press

Other categories that I didn’t vote in: Favorite Vocabulary Program, Favorite Penmanship Curriculum

Other Core Subjects

Favorite History/Social Studies curriculum: Brookdale House Drawing Around the World

Favorite History/SS supplement: Brinkman Adventures

Critical thinkingFavorite Science Curriculum: Visual Learning Systems

Favorite Math curriculum: Great Parents Academy

Favorite Math supplement: The Critical Thinking Co. (Pattern Explorer)

I didn’t vote in the Favorite Science Supplement category.

Electives

GrapeVine Bible Study for all agesFavorite Christian Education curriculum: Grapevine

Favorite Christian Education supplement: Brinkman Adventures

Other categories: Favorite Foreign Language curriculum, Favorite Fine Arts curriculum, Favorite Elective curriculum

Products for Various Age Groups

Favorite Preschool Product: S is for Smiling Sunrise (book from Wordsbright)

Favorite Elementary Product: The Critical Thinking Co. (Pattern Explorer)

Favorite Middle School Product: Progeny Press

Favorite Parents’ Product: Koru Naturals

Other categories: Favorite High School product, Favorite College/College Prep product, Favorite Planning product

Miscellaneous

Best resource I didn’t know I needed: Super Teacher Worksheets

simply fun mainBest online resource: Visual Learning Systems

Best e-product: Progeny Press

Favorite Book, Novel, Audio Drama, or Audio Book: Brinkman Adventures

Just for fun: Simply Fun: Expanders

Where I didn’t vote: Favorite Video

Overall Favorite Product from the entire review year

Kids’ Choice:

          Seahawk: Brinkman Adventures (it was a tossup for him between Brinkman Adventures and Pattern Explorer)

          Munchkin: Koru Naturals (I was completely taken aback by this choice, but then I remembered that he’d had a cold during the review period for this product. The emu oil really helped his nose to feel better.)

          Small Fry: S is for Smiling Sunrise (He’s a bit young to understand what’s going on, but he still asks for this book time and time again, so I’m confident that if he knew what “which product did you like best?” meant, he’d pick this one.)

Parents’ Choice: IEW The Phonetic Zoo (My biggest frustration/failure as a homeschooling parent is Seahawk’s spelling. We’ve tried a myriad of different curricula and methods, and none seemed to work until this one. He’s still got a ways to go, but he’s learning spelling rules applying them to his other subjects. That’s something he’s never done before, so I think we’ve finally found a winner.)

Obviously, we didn’t vote in the Teen Choice category since my oldest just turned 12.

Make sure to check the Crew blog on Monday, November 16th, to find out who the winners are!

Blessings,

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Update: The winners are now available on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. Make sure to head over and find out who won!

A Bible Study for Kids of ALL Ages (GrapeVine Studies Review)

GrapeVine Bible Study for all ages

It’s important to Will and me that our boys study their bibles. We go to church, yes, but we feel that it’s our main duty as parents to instill a fear of God into them. In this way, and only this way, will they learn to be the godly men we want them to grow into. So, even though we attend church most weeks (unless someone is sick, typically), we also make sure to study the Bible at home. (This is especially important with Small Fry because his church class is taught primarily in Spanish because he’s the only non-hispanic of his age group in our church.) While we firmly believe that the Bible itself is the most important thing, it’s also good to have other options for study under your belt, so to speak. And when those options can work for multiple age groups, all the better, especially in a family like mine with split-age children. This is where this review for GrapeVine Studies comes into play.

The past several weeks, we’ve been studying the Christmas story with Birth of Jesus: Multi-Level. This includes a teacher manual ($12.50 in print or $10 for a family license e-book) and a student book ($8 in print, $6.50 for a family license e-book, or $22.50 for a classroom license e-book) and is designed for ages 7 and up. As a special bonus, I was also blessed with the Traceable student book (same prices as the regular student book), designed for ages 3-6. See what I mean about it being perfect for my family? A study for kids 3-6 (Small Fry turned 3 this past summer) and a matching one for ages 7 and up? I was so excited when I saw this product that I requested to review it even though the due dates for the review were so close to Dragonfly’s birth. That’s how good a fit I thought it would be for our family. And I was right.

The teacher manual is a 65-page PDF e-book that covers the goals for the program (for teachers and students), the supplies needed to successfully complete it, a timeline of the events to be studied, 4 lessons, and a final review. The student book (multi-level) and the traceable book are each 49 pages and cover the same material as the teacher book, minus the teacher resources (goals and supplies). It’s a very easy program to implement. Allow me to explain how we worked it.

First, I had Will print off the traceable book for Small Fry. For the older boys, I had them work with blank paper. They were able to be more creative this way, and I think they enjoyed it a bit more than if it had been “workbook-y.” Then I referred to my computer for the teacher book. I didn’t feel it was necessary to print that off when I could just read off of my screen. Besides the printouts/paper, the only other supplies we used were a Bible to share and a pencil for each child.

A day of using this curriculum was pretty straightforward. The teacher manual shows pictures of the student manual so I could get an idea of what the kids should be drawing. Other than that, it was basically just a list of Scriptures to read. I’d read straight from our Bible the appropriate verse(s) and wait while the boys drew (or traced) an image to go along with that section. Then I’d move on to the next one. Because we were working with Small Fry on this review, too, I kept the lessons short. We did about half a lesson per day in order to keep him interested. The last thing I wanted was to overwhelm him and destroy his excitement about this study. Working at this pace, there were about four pictures per day of drawing/tracing to be done. At the end of each lesson, there’s a series of questions to ask to make sure the material was absorbed.

KIMG0032Our overall thoughts? We liked this study a lot. The boys, as I’ve mentioned before, really love to draw, so this kind of thing was right up their alley. And Small Fry was super excited to have “school” of his own to work on each day. Every single day, he would come up to me and ask, “Is it a school day, Mama? Can I do my school?” It was a real blessing to see him so excited about getting some work done. (This was better than putting him on a video to avoid distraction, in my opinion.) In a nutshell, we definitely recommend this product!

Blessings,

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Make sure to click the banner below to check out what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of GrapeVine Studies. In addition to the Birth of Jesus study, some families are reviewing a variety of Old Testament studies as well.

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Audio Drama About Real Missionaries (The Brinkman Adventures Review)

The Schoolhouse Review Crew year is winding down, and as my second-to-last review of the year, I’m pleased to talk about The Brinkman Adventures. These wonderful audio dramas are completely family friendly, and a real delight to listen to. We were blessed to review season 2 last year, and this year we have the privilege of listening to – and writing about – The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3.

The Brinkman Adventures are, like I just mentioned, audio dramas – like the old-time radio shows of the past. What makes them different is that these are dramatic retellings based on the lives of real-life missionaries. There are stories of the fictional family mixed in as well to help keep things interesting and cohesive. I received the physical CD set this year ($27.99 for the physical CDs and $17.99 for the digital downloads), which was nice because it made it easier for us to listen to in the car (that’s where our CD player is). We often put the Brinkmans on when we were going on a drive far enough to get through one full episode. Each episode is about 25-30 minutes, so we didn’t listen on every trip, but we did often. In addition to this, I used Windows Media Player to transfer the CD files to mp3 and put them on Munchkin’s player so we could listen in the house, too.

It had been a while since I’d listened to Season 2, but there are some things that are the same – the music and voice actors, for example. I was instantly filled with happiness when the music kicked in on the first episode. I felt like I was rejoining some old friends I hadn’t seen (or heard from, more like) in several months. It was really nice.

Season 3 does not pick up where season 2 leaves off, so that makes it feasible to pick up just one season at a time for your family – each series of episodes is stand-alone. The third season opens with the retelling of a story from a missionary who sacrificed everything he had to do God’s work. Not only did his father disown him – and cut off all of his financial support – but then, after years on the mission field, he knew that he wasn’t doing enough. (My apologies for not remembering the name of the missionary offhand. It’s been a while since we listened to this episode.) He prayed that God would give him an “impossible” task. And boy, did He! The missionary was tasked with smuggling bibles into a country where they were illegal. The story of his success is nothing short of miraculous, but I don’t want to give the whole thing away here.

And this exciting opening is just the beginning of The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3! We listen to stories from missionaries caught amongst terrorists, spending time in a Taliban jail, and fighting off wolves in Alaska. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for these based-on-true-stories adventures.

Our family really enjoys these stories, and I feel blessed to have gotten the opportunity to listen to the past two seasons of the show. It really helps to uplift your spirits, listening to stories from real life people doing God’s work. Adding in the bits about the Brinkman family is simply icing on the cake. Even Will and Small Fry (who didn’t listen to Season 2 with us) enjoyed these CDs. I highly recommend them for any family.

If you’re unsure as to whether you want to dive in and purchase the whole season yet, you can listen to a full episode absolutely free (it’s season 3, episode 9) right on the Brinkman Adventures website. If I can’t convince you how good this show is with my words, I know they’ll be able to with this sample episode. I hope you’ll take a listen. And when you’re done listening, you can also find the “stories behind the stories” on their website as well. This turns a casual listening experience into a full-on learning experience. It’s simply wonderful.

Blessings,

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Click the banner below for a link to 84 other reviews of this season of the Brinkman Adventures from my colleagues at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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The Zoo of the English Language (The Phonetic Zoo Review)

It’s no secret that I love the products put out by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It’s also no secret that my oldest, Seahawk (who turns 12 tomorrow and is in 6th grade) needs a lot of help with his spelling. Despite the fact that he reads a lot, he just hasn’t been able to put seeing all the words into practical terms in relation to spelling. When I learned that the newest Crew offering from IEW was going to be a spelling program, therefore, of course I was thrilled. We’ve had only good luck using IEW’s products, so I had incredibly high hopes that The Phonetic Zoo Level A [Starter Set] would finally be the program to help Seahawk gain some success in his spelling. On the other hand, though, I was a little concerned that since we’ve tried so many different programs that this one might not make the grade.

Learning to Spell with The Phonetic Zoo

So what’s the verdict? Has it worked better than other programs for my struggling speller? Keep reading to find out!

The Phonetic Zoo has three levels: A, B, and C. Despite the fact that he was technically outside of the age range for level A, I chose this level for Seahawk anyway. I made the decision after having him take the spelling placement test on the IEW website and seeing that he definitely needed to start at the beginning – his spelling was that poor.

The program is broken down into three portions: the printed materials, the audio CDs, and the downloadable components. The printed materials cover all three levels, so  you only need to purchase those once for the entire time your child or children are using the program. The audio CDs vary from level to level, so those need to be purchased new each time your child ascends to a new level. The printed materials include teacher cards and student motivation cards (more explanation on each component later). The audio CDs are just that: a set of 5 CDs that include the audio portion of the program. These are also available as MP3 downloads, which are automatically included with the CD purchase. And finally, the downloadable components include the teacher manual and an audio version of Andrew Pudewa’s talk “Spelling and the Brain.” (If you’re a more visual person, this speech is also available in its entirety on IEW’s YouTube channel.)

The teacher cards are large (8×5 or so) flashcards. The side you show to the student has pictures of the animal(s) whose name demonstrates the rule being studied and a small selection from each list (levels A, B, and C), while the other has the rule and its jingle along with the complete list for each level. These cards have a single hole punched in them so you can attach them to a large ring for easy storage. The student cards are much smaller (about business card sized, but not exactly) and have the animal on one side and the rule/jingle on the other. When a student successfully completes a lesson (details on that in a minute), they keep the card and add it to their “zoo.”

The first thing I did when I found out we would be on this review was to hop over to YouTube and listen to the Spelling and the Brain speech, even before I had my download access. This was a fascinating talk explaining how the brain works and why that’s important for learning to spell. Then there was the matter of waiting on the mail so we could dive into the program. It arrived on the first or second day of school, so that was perfect timing. We started the program the day after it arrived (I’d already received the downloadables by then, so I’d spent some time with the teacher manual and felt ready to explain it to Seahawk). One thing to keep in mind is the things you’ll need that aren’t included in the purchase: a notebook or binder with blank paper and a CD or MP3 player with headphones. (I ripped our CDs to Windows Media Player on the computer, then moved the files from there to Seahawk’s MP3 player since we don’t have a CD player except in the car.) The curriculum authors emphasize the importance of headphones rather than a regular speaker because the sound gets right into the student’s ears – and brain – better that way. Plus there are fewer options for distraction.

So, the way the program works is pretty simple, and it’s something the student can do autonomously (mostly). The first day, the teacher goes over the new rule with the child. (The rules are very much the same as those that my generation learned in school – “I before E except after C,” “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking,” and so forth.) The difference between just learning the rules and The Phonetic Zoo’s way of teaching them is that IEW puts an emphasis on making sure students understand that there are exceptions to every rule. This is important for students to comprehend in order for them to really excel. Once the rule has been explained to the student, they’re on their own. They put their headphones on or earbuds in and play the track with the list of words for that lesson. The CD explains the rule to the student again, and then the list is started. There’s a pause between each word, but students are also encouraged to pause their CD if they need more time. This isn’t supposed to be a rush job. They write down the words on their blank paper, one at a time. Then they listen to the next track, which is the correction track for the lesson. In this track, each word is named and then spelled. This is a very important piece of the puzzle for two reasons. First, it allows the students to self-correct. Second, by hearing the letters in the proper order, students can begin to make sense of the words and rules, specifically the exceptions. While they listen to the correction track, students are encouraged to write down the proper spelling of each word, even if they spelled it correctly the first time. Children work the same lesson each day until they get 100% correct for two consecutive days. Why two? Because one could be a fluke, but two in a row demonstrates true understanding.

We used this program exactly as it’s designed to be used, and how I described it in this post. Seahawk did one lesson each school day (four times per week) until he got 100% for two consecutive days – even if that meant his “correct” days were split over the weekend. Sometimes this took only 3 or 4 days, other times it took upwards of 10-12 days.

So, after all of this… what do we think of the program? We like it a lot. It’s easy to follow, and Seahawk likes the autonomy of not needing to wait until I’m available to get the work done. He can just get on his MP3 player and start working. Each day’s work only takes about 10-15 minutes, so that’s a good thing too. Will it work for him long-term? I’m still not sure. So far, he’s only made it through 3 lessons despite the fact that we’ve been working on it for six weeks. But he doesn’t get fatigued, even when doing the same lesson for days and days in a row. To the contrary, he’s very motivated because he knows that he’s building skills, and that he’ll get a new set of words as soon as he masters the current one. My only concern is that while the program emphasizes learning the rules – and exceptions – of English spelling, it does so using lists of words. I worry that he’s learning the words rather than the rules, but I haven’t tested that theory yet. If I remind him of a rule he’s already learned while he’s writing for another subject, he can usually come up with the correct spelling, even if the word giving him trouble wasn’t on the initial list. But he’s not yet at a point where he’s remembering those rules outside of spelling lessons. I hope to see that change over the course of using the curriculum.

All that said, I will say that Seahawk has now passed spelling tests six times (three lessons, two 100% scores each). This is huge, because before this program he’d passed zero. He’s feeling pretty motivated that he’s actually having some success, and I plan to capitalize on that momentum as much as possible. What this means is that we will definitely continue to use the program. It’s showing more promise than any spelling curriculum we’ve tried to date, and that’s enough for me at this point.

Blessings,

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All three levels of The Phonetic Zoo are being reviewed this weekend at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. In addition to the spelling program, some members also had the opportunity to review a series of teacher resources including the Timeline of Classics (putting classical literature in chronological order), A Word Write Now (a thematic thesaurus), and Teaching with Games (a video course that teaches teachers to create games for their students). Make sure to click the banner below for more information on all of those products!

 

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Combining Art and Geography (Brookdale House Review)

My boys love to draw. I suppose you could say it’s just a part of them, considering Will is a comic strip artist for a living. Me, on the other hand, not so much. Because I use other mediums for my art (fabric and yarn, mostly), I’m a bit at a loss for how to include art in their school day considering neither of them is particularly interested in sewing. This isn’t so bad because they spend a good portion of their free time drawing – especially Munchkin – but I still want to encourage them to use their skills to work on things besides superheroes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with superheroes, but I’d like them to expand their horizons, so to speak.)

Enter Drawing Around the World: Europe from Brookdale House. This neat geography curriculum offers students the chance to combine two subjects (art and geography) into one tidy package. The idea is that students work on one (sometimes more, particularly if they’re closely related like Norway, Sweden, and Finland) country or countries per week. They learn to draw the shape of each country as well as where it’s located within the European continent. By the end of the course, they should be able to draw and label their own map of Europe from memory. Each week, the series is the same – and it’s built around a 4-day week, which as regular readers will know is perfect for us!

On day one, the new country or countries are introduced. Students find them on a map (we have a world map hanging in the school room) and then are given printouts from the e-book on which they practice tracing the country. Then they’re given a blank map where they draw the new country from memory. In addition to the drawing on this first day, there’s a table to fill in with data about the country. These facts they learn are area, population, capital city, people/culture, major religion(s), climate, and resources. On the website for the purchase of the curriculum, they provide links to family-friendly websites to help you find all of this information, as well as specific things to pray for in regards to the people of the countries.

Days two and three are similar to day one, just without the fact table. Students practice tracing and drawing the countries (working with all of the countries studied thus far, not just the new ones).

The fourth day of the week, students are expected to name (write down) all of the countries studied to date as well as draw – on a blank sheet of paper rather than the pre-printed map provided – a map of Europe. Obviously, this isn’t done all at once. Like everything else in this curriculum, it’s done on an “add as you go” method, and they should draw only the countries studied so far.

Because I received the e-book version of this product (available for $22.95; a printed version is also available for $25.95), there was some printing involved. I looked through the curriculum and figured out a method that I thought would work for us, without requiring tons of printing all at once or regular printing each week. Here’s what I did.

I had four copies of the traceable map and four copies of the blank map printed for each child. This would get us through the week of each country studied. The boys had one version of each map for each day of the week. Instead of printing the fact table pages, I wrote the categories of facts into their geography notebooks, and they filled them out in there. The maps went into a separate folder that they pulled out each day. I taped a large sheet of blank paper (folded in half) into the front cover of their notebooks for the day four map, and they used that to draw and label their own map of Europe. This map was expanded upon each week with the new countries learned. By the time we finish the curriculum, they’ll each have a complete map of Europe that they drew themselves. While not perfectly aligned with the way the curriculum is set up, it worked for us.

The kids and I all learned a lot during the review period for this product. The fact table included in the book is a great way to turn what might otherwise be a flat, boring, too-easy geography curriculum into something more. It would be a great jumping off point to have students write a report on a specific country. This could be done on each country each week to flesh it out a bit more, or you could have students pick their favorite country when you get to the end of the book. Either way would be a benefit for students, I think. Because of all the different things included in the data collection portion of the week, it would also be pretty easy to turn this into a full on unit study. Make a chart showing the sizes and populations for math. Or explore what population density means. Use the major religions box to learn more about said religions and to pray for people of those religions who need Jesus. The people and culture box would be a great jumping off point for social studies or history – how did they get to be the way they are? Learning and comparing the climates of different countries would be an interesting science study. And so on.

So as you can see, I was very impressed with this curriculum, and we will definitely be continuing to use it even though we don’t “have to” anymore.

In addition to Drawing Around the World: Europe, Brookdale House also has Drawing Around the World: United States in which students follow the same basic outline, just for the different states in the US instead of the countries of Europe. And lest you think they’re all about geography, they also offer a huge variety of curricula in different subjects including, but not limited to, Spanish, Grammar, Writing, and History. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to review something from each of these categories, so make sure to click the banner below to find out more about those products.

Blessings,

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Reading with a Purpose (Progeny Press Review)

Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies for teaching literature to my children. We were blessed to be able to review their Little House in the Big Woods study last year, and I was thrilled when I saw that they were on the “upcoming vendors” list with the Schoolhouse Review Crew again. This year, we had the privilege of reviewing their Tuck Everlasting study guide, and I was just as pleased with this one as I was with last year’s.

The Tuck Everlasting guide is written with middle schoolers in mind, even though the book itself is a lower level. This means there were some differences between it and the Little House guide we used last year (namely that there weren’t any “fun” activities), but the general setup is the same.

The Basics

I received an electronic version of this study guide. This means that I was emailed a link from which I was able to download the guide to my computer. There are also options for a CD version of the guide (digital and CD versions are both $18.99) or you can request a printed workbook for an additional $3 over the price of the guide itself. For a total of $25.98 ($28.98 for the printed version), you can also buy a copy of the novel to go with the study guide. I just picked up a copy from the library.

The e-guide is pretty nice for several reasons. First of all, you receive your product right away. There’s no waiting for the mail. Second, if you’re doing the study with only one student, you can download the student version right to your child’s computer (if he has his own) and he can do the work right in the PDF. There’s no writing required. Alternatively, you can print the guide. This is good if you want to use it with more than one child or if you don’t want your child relying on the computer for every little thing. I fall into both of the latter categories, so I chose to use a printed version of the study guide (sort of – more on that in a minute).

The Tuck Everlasting guide is divided into five-chapter “chunks.” For each 5 chapters, there is a series of “paperwork” for your student to move through. These include activities such as vocabulary, comprehension questions, exploring what the author’s intentions might have been for specific words/phrases used, and comparing things the characters say to Biblical principles. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of what’s included. Additionally, concepts such as foreshadowing and similes/metaphors are discussed and there are activities for students to practice their understanding of those notions.

How We Used It

It’s no secret to regular readers that we don’t really print anything out for our homeschool. It’s not that I have a problem with doing so, but more that it’s just not convenient for me since we don’t currently have a printer at home and going to the print shop for every little thing is a pain. So I spent time before we were ready to dive into each of those 5-chapter chunks I mentioned before writing down all of the activities and questions in each of the boys’ Literature composition books. I did this one chunk at a time to save my sanity (and hand!).

KIMG0035Once the “workbook” was ready, I went through it and divided it into manageable sections, one per school day. For example, our schedule for the first chunk went something like this:

Day 1: The boys did the prereading activity, which was to do some basic research on Juan Ponce de León (we got a book from the library for this) and write a report on his life, paying particular attention to his obsession with the Fountain of Youth, which he thought was in present-day Florida.

Day 2: I read the prologue and first five chapters to the boys. The chapters in Tuck Everlasting are pretty short, so it was pretty easy to get through that much in a sitting. (Five chapters in Tuck Everlasting was a much shorter section than just one chapter of our August read-aloud book.)

Day 3: We worked together (with me guiding rather than helping) to get through the vocabulary section.

Day 4: We learned about setting and made an educated guess as to the time period that the book takes place. We also explored the author’s descriptive writing, discovering how she used several verbs rather than adjectives to describe a road.

Day 5 (Week 2, day 1): With my guidance, the boys answered the comprehension questions, including some that required them to think beyond the words on the page to answer (for example, “How does the man in the yellow suit react to the sound coming from the wood? What might this indicate?”).

Day 6: We learned all about foreshadowing, and the boys reread the prologue, this time pulling out specific pieces that they thought were bits of foreshadowing. We also explored what a symbol is in literature.

Days 7 and 8: We worked through the “Dig Deeper” questions. These are a series of questions for each chunk that are far beyond simple comprehension and require students to both think more carefully about the story and put the novel into the context of their own lives (for example, do you have any boundaries?) and the Scriptures (what do these passages say about obedience?).

KIMG0036Because the Tuck Everlasting study guide is written for a higher level than the Little House in the Big Woods one was (middle school versus upper elementary), it’s taking us quite a bit longer to get through. To date, we’ve read through chapter 15 and are going to get into the “Dig Deeper” portion for that chunk (chapters 11-15) early next week. The novel has a total of 25 chapters plus an epilogue, so I expect we’ll finish up the study guide around the end of this month.

My Opinion

As I stated in my opening paragraph, Progeny Press is one of my very favorite companies. I love their study guides; it’s so nice to have a deep, rich experience studying novels rather than just reading them. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with “just” reading, but that for a “literature class,” it’s good to have something more extensive. I love how they incorporate Christian principles into their study guides and encourage students (and teachers!) to explore the Scriptures in relation to the novels they write the guides for.

Finally

Progeny Press has study guides for students of all ages, so make sure to head over to their site to find one that’s the right fit for your child(ren). I promise you won’t regret it!

Blessings,

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If you have students in other grade levels (from early elementary all the way up through high school) make sure to click the banner below for a selection of Schoolhouse Review Crew members and their reviews for a huge variety of Progeny Press study guides. This year’s Crew is talking about study guides for the following novels/categories: Sam the Minuteman and Miss Rumphius (early elementary); Sarah, Plain and Tall and Stone Fox (upper elementary); Tuck Everlasting and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (middle school); and To Kill a Mockingbird and Intro to Poetry (high school). You’re sure to find something interesting!

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