How to Help Kids Build Reading Skills (Reading Kingdom Review)

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I’d heard of Reading Kingdom before, but had never really explored it in-depth because both of my school-age children are strong readers. I didn’t think we needed a program like this. Based on this personal assessment, I was a little surprised to see my name on the list for reviewers of their Reading Kingdom Online program, but I knew that since the Schoolhouse Review Crew is a team, everyone is expected to be a team player and at least try out the programs we’re assigned to review. With that in mind, I signed Munchkin up for the program right away and had him start last month when we started school. I was initially planning to have Seahawk work on the program, too, but then his new spelling program arrived in the mail, and I made the executive decision that he needed to work on his spelling more than his reading, so I let him skip out on Reading Kingdom – at least for the time being.

Reading Kingdom is a program created by Dr. Marion Blank, a top expert on reading and language. The program offers a series of lessons designed to teach children from ages 4-10 to read and write at a third-grade level. When I was asked by the vendor representative how things were going partway through the review period, I was honest and said I was having my son work through the program for the purposes of the review, but hadn’t noticed much because he was already a strong reader before we started. I received in response a very kind and informative message about why Reading Kingdom can be beneficial even for students who already read above their grade level. These include:

  • Writing. Students who write well read well.
  • Phonics and Comprehension. This might seem like a “no-brainer” in regards to reading, but it’s more than just phonics. Reading Kingdom has a special way of presenting a variety of phonemic awareness. This includes working on blends as well as homophones (to/too/two), homonyms (dog’s bark vs tree bark), and heteronyms (ship’s bow vs bow and arrow).
  • Diligence. For maximum benefit from the program, it is recommended that students work on it at least four days per week. This teaches them to keep pushing forward each day; having the diligence to work on the program on a regular basis is one of the fundamental requirements for success with Reading Kingdom.

The first thing we did was to have Munchkin take the assessment test. Because I’d never tried the program out at all, that was an important step. I had him do the assessment test the day before we started school so that on the “Big Day” he could dive right into the program. He was placed into Level 2 (of 5) of Reading and Writing. Because he didn’t start in a lower level, I can’t really tell you about that, but I can describe the kinds of things he did in the program each day.

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Click on any of the images to make them bigger.

First, there’s a “keyword” in each lesson. This word is typed over and over again into a variety of sentences and paragraphs. As the student progresses through the lesson, more and more words are left out of each sentence, but the keyword is always among the missing.

rk 4Eventually, the student gets to a point where the entire sentence is blank and requires typing (but don’t worry – there’s a very pleasant voice that prompts them into typing the correct words).

After this, a complete paragraph is presented. The student’s job is to find the keyword within the paragraph and click on it. There are three of these paragraphs (in the lesson Munchkin did today, anyway).

rk 6Next is a multiple choice activity. There are a series of choices, each one of which is a real word that’s missing letters. The goal is to find the one “that can become” the keyword, click on it, and then type the missing letters.

Finally, one of the paragraphs from earlier in the lesson is repeated, this time with certain words missing letters. The student chooses the correct word from a list at the bottom of the screen and then types the missing letters.

So, what did we (Munchkin and I) think of this program? He says, “There’s a lot of typing. Other than that, it’s very easy.” I think it would be a great program for families with younger or struggling readers. I really like the idea teaching young children to read at an early age. In fact, if Small Fry was a year or two older, I’d definitely use this program with him. But for use with the other boys? I’m not sure it’s the best fit for them. Will we continue to have Munchkin use it now that the review period is over? Maybe for a few more weeks, but if I don’t see a marked improvement to justify its use for an already-strong reader and writer, I’m not going to force him to continue.


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Reading Kingdom has a program for students on the Autism Spectrum, and some of the reviewers of this program tried that with their students. There are also plenty who reviewed the regular program, like I did. For more information on both of these, click the banner below.

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Learning Through Play (USAopoly Review)


If you’ve read this blog before, you know that our family (especially the kids and me) really like games. I pretty much always request the (physical) games when they come up for review through the Schoolhouse Review Crew, and this time, with USAopoly, was no exception. Usually companies send one game for review purposes, but this time they sent two: Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone and Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game. These are both super fun games, so keep reading to find more about them!



Tapple is a really fun word game. The board consists of a plastic base with letter “tabs” all around the edge and a timer reset button in the middle. There are several category cards (which tuck neatly into the bottom of the game to prevent loss), and the goal is to come up with a word that begins with each letter (there are only 20, not all 26 – the really hard letters like Q, Z, and X are left out) and fits the category.


Example category: Actors

A: Adam Arkin

J: Jon Hamm

F: Fred Savage

And so on. Players have 10 seconds in which to come up with their answer, tap the letter tab (which then stays down for the rest of the round so others know that the letter has been used), and reset the timer by pressing the button in the middle of the board. If a player can’t come up with an answer within their ten-second time allotment, they’re eliminated from the round. Last man standing wins the round (there are special rules in case you finish the board without getting down to just one player, but we never had to use them), and first player to win three rounds wins the game.



Wonky is completely different. It’s almost like two games in one. First, it’s a card game. Second, it’s a stacking game. It comes with nine blocks (three sizes, three colors) and a deck of cards, as well as a nice cloth storage bag (so you don’t have to keep the box if you don’t want to). To begin, place the blocks within easy reach of all players. Everyone is dealt seven cards, and the rest of the deck is set aside. The first player selects a card from his/her hand and places it in the discard pile, then follows the instructions on that card. This might be anything from “stack the large purple block” to “stack any color of medium block” to “discard this card without stacking any blocks.” The player follows the instructions on the card. If a player can’t play any of their cards, they must draw one card at a time until they get a playable one. The next player does the same thing, but they have to stack their block on top of the block placed by the previous player. Easy enough, right?

Not so fast.

The blocks aren’t quite cube. They’re . . . well, wonky! Each block has several sides that aren’t quite flat, which makes stacking them quite difficult. And very funny for the players. The goal of the game is to be the first to discard all of your cards – without knocking over the tower. (Each time anyone adds a block, the tower must stay up for a count of 3 for it to qualify as a success.) If a player knocks over the tower, they must draw additional cards, thus making it more difficult to win.

How We Played

The first several times we played, we followed the rules to a T to get a feel for the games. Before long, though, we decided that we liked Tapple better without the timer. It’s hard enough to come up with words for the categories without the loud beeping reminding you that you’re about to be eliminated! And with Wonky, Small Fry always wanted to join us, but he’s too little to understand the card portion of the game, so we ended up just stacking the blocks a lot, which is fun and challenging in and of itself because of the shape of them. It was good motor skills practice for him.

The Tapple board even made an appearance at Munchkin’s birthday dinner with the grandparents. Small Fry brought it out, and everyone was wondering about it, so we explained it and a spontaneous game erupted. Love that! We only played one round that night, but it was still really fun.

There are so many ways you could adapt these games, though – especially Tapple. As is, it’s a great vocabulary game. Tweak the rules just a smidge and it would be an amazing spelling practice game (words that end with the letter you tap, for example). Additionally, you can use any category you can think of, not just those on the cards the game comes with. For example, at the spontaneous game on Munchkin’s birthday, we did “Bible Characters.”

If you get too frustrated with Wonky’s misshapen blocks, you could use your own blocks as practice and switch back to the crazy blocks later. The possibilities are many with these games.

Our Opinion

I think it’s been pretty clear through my explanations that we really enjoyed both of these games. They’re fun and educational without kids feeling like they’re “doing school.” Other educational games are fun but still have that “learning” feel to them; not so with these two. It really does feel like you’re just playing a game. The kids often bring these games out to play in their free time, both with just the two of them and with friends. This is a pretty big deal – as much as they like games, they’re usually happy to just play with toys. But these games have made appearances over and over again. That speaks very highly of them.

Final Thoughts

Both games are available through the USAopoly website, and we’ve also seen them (Tapple, anyway) in our local Fred Meyer (Kroger to you east coasters) store. From the website, they’re $19.95 each, and I heartily recommend them, especially if your family likes games.


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As always, there are 99 other reviewers from the Schoolhouse Review Crew writing about these games this week. Click the banner below to find a list of all of their blogs and read their thoughts on these games.

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Worksheets for Every Subject (Super Teacher Worksheets Review)

Do your students excel with worksheets? Do you sometimes just need a worksheet for something quick for them to do while you work with another child? Do you want worksheets to help your students with math drills or other topics? Then Super Teacher Worksheets is a website that will be right up your alley. For the purposes of this review, I was given an Individual Membership to the website. An annual membership to this website (which has thousands of worksheets in a huge variety of subjects) retails for $19.95.

The site has worksheets that you can download and print for grades kindergarten through 5th, and I’ve found that it’s been a huge benefit in our school. There are way more worksheets than you’d ever need (I bet), and they cover multiple topics within each major school subject (math, reading, writing, handwriting, grammar, spelling, science, social studies, holidays, puzzles and brainteasers, teacher helpers, preschool, and a “create your own worksheet” feature). It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s really not so bad. The worksheets are all arranged by subject and then by grade level after that. For our family, I found that we ended up using mostly some of the “fun” math worksheets, but I also fully intend to utilize those from the reading and writing category. There are lots of good ones there that I’ll talk about in a minute.

I decided that, at least in the short term, I’d have the boys have a “fun math” day on Fridays. I don’t want them to lose what they’re learning in their other program, but I also want them to keep their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills sharp. Using some of the worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets seemed like a good way to accomplish this goal. The first one I had Seahawk (6th grade, but needs to practice his long division) was a Bingo game. The goal was for him to solve 8 long division problems and then color in the answers on the Bingo board, seeing if he could get a “bingo.” (He did.)

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While Seahawk was working out the division problems, Munchkin worked on a Mystery Graph worksheet. He hadn’t done anything like this before, and it was a lot of fun for him once he got the hang of it. He was given a series of number coordinates (similar to a Battleship game, but with only numbers instead of numbers and letters) to plot and connect. When he was finished, the dots made a picture (in his case, a school bus).

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Beyond these fun math activities, I want to talk a minute about the language arts worksheets I mentioned earlier. There are so many great options here, but the one that we used the most was the “Writing a paragraph – Hamburger” worksheet. This was so cool because it has a fun picture – a hamburger – and each element of the picture is designed to be a sentence (or a sentence idea) all related to the main topic, which will help the children learn to write a paragraph all on the same topic. I had the kids use this for our Tuck Everlasting study – before we started the book, I had them write a report on Juan Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth (more on that in another review in a few weeks). Using the hamburger worksheet really helped them streamline their ideas into proper paragraphs.

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These are just samples of what we’ve actually used so far. There are so many other amazing resources on this site that I’m really looking forward to using (cause and effect, literature studies, and many more). I’ve only scratched the surface in this review, but fortunately, there are loads of other homeschoolers reviewing this wonderful site this week. I hope you’ll take a minute to see what they all have to say about it (just click the banner at the end of this post). I’ll leave my review at this: I’m really glad I have a whole year to explore this site and utilize all of the amazing things it has to offer.


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The World’s Best Pencil Sharpener – Really! (Product Review)

This post contains referral links. If you purchase using one of my links, I get a commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog.

If you’ve read very many homeschooling blogs, you’ve likely heard of the “World’s Best Pencil Sharpener.” Offered by Classroom Friendly Supplies, this pencil sharpener is just as good as all the other have said! I’m super excited to have the opportunity to review it for you today.

Product Review The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Classroom Friendly Supplies was developed by a teacher who was tired of struggling with his students never having a quality sharpener available with which to sharpen their pencils. The traditional wall mounted, electric, and hand-held varieties just weren’t working. Thus the World’s Best Pencil Sharpener was born.

The pencil sharpener is available in five colors: black, pink, red, green, and blue. Individual sharpeners are available for $24.99 apiece, and there’s a quantity discount for ordering more than one of the same color (specifically in groups of 3 or 36). I chose black for our family for a couple of reasons. First, pink is out since I have only sons. Red and blue were eliminated because one is Seahawk’s favorite color and the other is Munchkin’s favorite color. I didn’t want to have any squabbles over “Mom chose your favorite because she likes you better” (I don’t think that’s very likely – it’s never happened before – but I wasn’t willing to risk it). So that left green or black. Ultimately, I thought the black would be more universally “matching” anywhere we put it than green would.

How it Works

pencil sharpener 1This pencil sharpener is ready to go to work straight out of the box; there’s no assembly required. That’s a definite selling feature in my book.

There are three main parts to the sharpener: the base, the pencil grip, and the handle. The first thing to do is pull out the pencil grip and insert your pencil, making sure it goes through the holes on both the grip and the base. There are teeth to hold it in place while you sharpen, so you don’t have to worry about holding the pencil still while you’re turning the handle. Which is the next step – turn the handle. As you do this, you can watch the pencil and the pencil grip move closer into the base. When the handle goes slack, your pencil is sharp. Gently remove it from the base and grip, and you’re ready to write.

For a better idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video provided by the company.





In addition to the sharpener itself, you can also purchase permanent mounting hardware; this piece is $14.99 for one, with quantity discounts available just like the sharpener. Also available are replacement parts for the sharpeners: blades ($14.99 each or 2 for $22.99), shavings drawers ($6.99), and clamps ($6.99). I didn’t talk much about the clamp in this review because we didn’t use it for ours. I didn’t find that it was necessary. Due to the pencil clamp that keeps your writing instrument firmly in place during the sharpening process, you have two hands available – one to hold the sharpener in place and one to turn the crank – so I didn’t see the need to clamp the sharpener itself to the table.

Do you know someone besides yourself who might want one of these, but you’re not sure which color to choose for them? Classroom Friendly Supplies even sells gift cards! Available in amounts of $24.99, $53.97, $107.94, and $503.64, they’re exactly priced for various quantities of sharpeners.

Our Thoughts

I could go on and on about this pencil sharpener, or I could just not beat around the bush. Let’s start with the simple answer: we love this product!

100_2137The longer version goes something like this… I love how the sharpener is big enough that it won’t get lost easily (ours has found its home in the schoolroom). I like how easy it is to work; all of us (except Small Fry) were able to sharpen pencils quickly and efficiently. Which brings me to my next love. I really appreciate how quickly this sharpener brings points to the pencils – without the dreaded forearm strain I always get with handheld sharpeners. And when you sharpen pencils, you’re left with shavings… This sharpener deals nicely with those as well. The pencil shavings are contained in a drawer at the bottom of the sharpener, and it’s really easy to slide it out for emptying. There’s really no downside to this product that I could find. I highly recommend that if you sharpen a lot of pencils – regardless of the reason (homeschooling or otherwise) – you invest in one of these!


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Disclaimer: I received a free pencil sharpener in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

Homeschool Curriculum Review: Funtastic Unit Studies

One of the best things about being a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew is that I get to learn about – and try – new homeschooling gems that I’ve never even heard of before. Such is the case with today’s review. Funtastic Unit Studies brings a new science book for children ages 4-13 called Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers ($16.95).

Funtastic Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers review at Ladybug Daydreams

This physical, softcover book is divided into 20 chapters, each one exploring a different area of science. The first ten chapters are written with ages 4-7 in mind and covers topics such as the senses, the body, animals, insects, magnets, stars and planets, and others. The second half of the book, where we spent the majority of our time, is for ages 8-13. Some of the topics overlap the chapters written for younger students (insects and plants, for instance), but there are quite a few that are completely new as well – microscopes, atoms, matter, chemistry, weather, and more.

It was asked of us, as reviewers, that we accomplish at least one of the unit studies presented in the book. When I first requested to be a part of this review, I thought I might do two of the studies during the summer months, but when I actually saw it I decided to stick with just doing one now. The book is good enough – comprehensive enough – that I plan to use the rest of the 8-13 units for our science curriculum when school starts up again in the fall. We chose to explore atoms and molecules for our summer study. (Incidentally, you can get the atoms and molecules study as a free sample – the entire lesson – on the author’s website if you want to see it before you decide to purchase the book.) I chose this one because it had the most readily available supply requirements.


Searching the periodic table for water

The opening of this unit study explains what an atom is and what a molecule is. While the text of what to say isn’t scripted per se, it is written clearly enough that a non-science parent (such as myself) can understand what’s being explained in order to explain it to the students. Or you can just read it to them – it’s easy enough for them to understand as well. It then introduces students to the periodic table of the elements. The explanation for the difference between atoms and molecules comes immediately after giving students time to examine the periodic table. Students are asked to find water on the table – of course, it isn’t there because water is a molecule made up of two elements, or kinds of atoms (hydrogen and oxygen). This simple activity was enough for Munchkin (age 8 and the student for this review) to understand the difference.

Building marshmallow molecules

Building marshmallow molecules

The following activities build on that first one. Students are able to “build molecules” using marshmallows and toothpicks (we used spaghetti noodles because we didn’t have any toothpicks).

A glass of water and some food coloring shows how diffusion works.

The steam coming off a pot of boiling water is compared to a cup of ice to show that molecules move slower or faster depending on the temperature.

Students draw pictures of a variety of atoms by following specific directions for how many protons, electrons, and neurons are in each kind (there are some of these listed out with the correct numbers for parents/teachers to describe to the students).

And at the end of the unit study, which should take one to two weeks to complete, there’s a test.

    Marshmallow molecules. Clockwise from right: hydrogen dioxide, water, and methane.

Marshmallow molecules. Clockwise from right: hydrogen dioxide, water, and methane.

My overall opinion of this book is very positive. The units are easy to follow and understand, and most of them use supplies that you probably already have on hand, or are very easy to get. I like that each unit starts with a list of the supplies needed for that specific unit, so it’s easy to decide whether it will work for you in the short term. I also really liked that there’s such a large variety of activities for each unit. While not exactly experiments, they’re hands-on enough to keep almost any child interested in what they’re learning. So, the big question: would I recommend this book to other homeschooling families?

Yes. For all of the reasons I just stated.


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Product Review: SimplyFun Games

My kids love board games. So do I, for that matter. But so many of them require so much work and/or setup (counting money, sometimes even building the game board, designating a “banker,” separating pieces, and so on) that it feels like it’s barely worth it most of the time. So I questioned the wisdom of requesting a new board game to review, but now that we’ve played it, I’m so glad we got this game!

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Expanders is a game from SimplyFun, a company dedicated to producing educational games for children and adults from “3 to 103.” Their games help children of all ages develop their communication, math, science, and critical thinking skills, all while having loads of fun. They have over 90 products, many of which have won them multiple awards – and for good reason. If our experience with Expanders is any indication, all of the games from SimplyFun are sure to be winners.

expandersExpanders is a game that emphasizes simple math skills – addition to 12. Besides the adding, children work on their spatial reasoning and critical thinking through the play of this game. I’ll explain that a bit as I describe game play.

So, what’s in the box? There are six numbered strips (explanation on those to follow), two plain strips, a game board frame, a cloth bag containing four small plastic bags of colored tokens (I love that there’s a cloth bag included to keep everything organized!), and game instructions.

Game board setup for 3 players

Game board setup for 3 players

The first thing you have to do is build the board. I know, I know – I mentioned that as something I prefer not to do in games just a few paragraphs ago. But with Expanders, it’s really quick and easy. You simply open the frame and place numbered or plain strips (no more than six – the other two are left in the box for another time) inside the frame. The number of players (from 2-4) determines how many numbered strips versus blank filler strips you use. For four players, you use all six numbered strips. For three players, use five, and for two players, use only four. Simply place the strips in the frame, and you’re ready to play. The numbered strips are two-sided. One side is for easier game play, and the numbers stop at 8; the other side is for more advanced players, and those numbers go up to 12. You choose which side to use. (Play is identical regardless of which side of the board you choose to implement.)

Now that your game board is built, each player chooses a color – blue, orange, pink, or purple. The frame is comprised of these colors, so each player sits next to their chosen color and selects the bag of tokens (32 of each color) that matches their color. The tokens are see-through, which allows you to see the numbers even after you’ve placed your tokens on the board. So, now that the board is built and each player has their colored tokens, play begins.

There are three actions that players can choose from on their turn – excluding the opening three moves of the game. The first player must use exactly one token, and he can place it on any number on “his side” of the game board. This is defined as any of the numbers closest to his color in the frame. The second player must use no more than two tokens, and he can place one token on one number, like player one, or place two tokens on two identical numbers within his side of the board. The third player must use no more than three tokens, and he has the most options. He can make the same play as players one or two, or he can build an addition problem. This is done by selecting one number on his side of the board and saying it aloud. Then he finds two more numbers that are either touching the first number or made a chain starting at that number, and he says the math problem aloud. (Three is two plus one.) Starting with the fourth turn, players may make any of the three moves, with one exception: after the opening turns, any number of tokens may be played in a single turn using the “addition action.” (12 is 5+3+2+1+1 would use six tokens, for example.) The goal of the game is to be the first player to use all of his/her tokens. The main rule to keep in mind is that when building an expanded number, your numbers must all be in a chain and the first number (the sum) must be either on your row or touching one or more of the tokens (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) you’ve already played. When using one of the other playing options, the same rule for placement.

We played this game three times within just the first two days we had it. I’d say that makes it a winner! The kids love that it’s fun, and I love that they’re working on math skills while we play. It’s easy to set up and easy to put away. Play is really fun and simple, and it’s a good mental workout, especially as you try to play more than three tokens per turn (it’s easy to come up with a x+y=z math problem, but much harder to come up with a+b+c+d=e one). Spatial reasoning is practiced as you expand your tokens – children must figure out where acceptable places to make plays are. Critical thinking is learned and practiced as children are careful not to allow themselves to be boxed in by their opponents – or try to do just that to another player! (If you don’t have anywhere to place a token, you’re out of the game.)

The only thing we didn’t like about the game was the required first three turns. Once we got the hang of it, there was always an argument over who “had to” go first (the way of determining based on the instructions – whoever was the most recent person to download an app – doesn’t work for our family since the children don’t have access to smart phones or tablets). It became clear very quickly that the first player was at a severe disadvantage over the third player.

Expanders sells for $34, and if you act quickly, you can use coupon code SHREVIEW to get 15% off your first purchase (of any game in their catalog) through July 31st. It’s recommended for ages 7 and up, and I think that’s pretty accurate; students need to have a fairly strong understanding of addition to play the game successfully. Our family highly recommends this Simply Fun game!


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As always with Crew reviews, I’m not the only person writing about SimplyFun games this week. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew received either Expanders or Shape Whiz (a math game for older kids) to review. Click the banner below to read more reviews on both of these games!

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Homeschool Curriculum Review: Home School in the Woods

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a type of homeschooling called Unit Studies. We did a few of those when the boys were younger (all of which I “wrote” myself), and my kids really loved that way of learning. Through our relationship with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we’ve kind of gotten away from that style because we’re always getting the opportunity to try out a huge variety of different curricula in various subjects. Well, for our “taking the summer easy, not off” goal, we received two unit study programs, one of which I want to talk to you about today.

Home School in the Woods is a family run company. Everyone listed on the “about” page of their website is a member of their nucleus family. Amy Pak homeschooled her children, and now that they’re all adults, they run the business together, including creating (writing and illustrating) the history curriculum they sell. They offer a huge variety of products for teaching your children history from simple timelines and lapbooks all the way to more complex items like full on unit studies. For the purposes of this review, I received a copy of their Project Passport: World History Study: The Middle Ages. There are currently three units in the Project Passport series, and all three are represented by the Crew reviews (more on that with a link to additional reviews later).

What It Is

The Project Passport series is a history curriculum that takes you back in time to the period of history you’re studying (in our case, the Middle Ages). Each lesson is called a “stop.” This keeps the illusion of physically traveling back in time alive. The stops start with “preparing for your trip.” This first lesson has your students get their scrapbook ready, prepare their passports, and create the suitcase folder, which will hold the final assessment of all of the assignments they complete during their travels. Other things that happen during various stops are adding to the timeline (which is created at the first stop), writing newspaper articles, creating and writing postcards to “send home,” making a lapbook (which is done a little bit at a time throughout the course of the study), as well as more hands-on activities like cooking recipes from the time period. Also included in the unit is a series of mp3 files to listen to at various points along the journey.

Our Use

I was really torn on how to use this at first. I initially wanted to use it with both boys, but then when I saw the amount of printing required and other supplies needed (more on that in a minute), I realized that it might not be feasible to do so. So then I was going to use it just with Seahawk as something he could do for his summer reading requirements through the library. Well, then he went off to church camp before I’d had a chance to figure out my thoughts on how we were going to start, so in the end Munchkin (age 8) got the most use from this product. I expect we’ll start over in the fall, when school starts up again full time, with both boys. When that time comes, I’ll need to spend more time going over all the different options and figuring out which kid will benefit the most from each activity.

With Seahawk away at camp for a week, Munchkin and I had plenty of time to work together on the individual stops. Because it wasn’t possible for us to get all the printing done that the program required, we went “old school” and I hand drew a lot of the elements just so we could get the review done. Due to the time requirement to do things this way, we haven’t finished the entire study yet (which is why I mentioned that we’ll be doing it again in the fall – hopefully then, we’ll be able to get the pages printed for real and we’ll have a more positive experience with the study).


I really like the idea of this unit study. The concept is really cool – traveling to different eras.


I was really frustrated with the amount of printing required. When I requested to review this product, it was mentioned that there would be “some printing required.” Some. Okay, cool. I can handle some. What I didn’t expect was that there would be hundreds of pages to print over the course of the study (and nearly 50 pages just for the first stop). Per student. For a family that doesn’t have a home printer – or even one that does have a home printer, but not an office-quality laser printer and is therefore paying 7-10 cents per page to print – this might not be the best fit. That was certainly the case for us.

If printing isn’t a problem for you, then this product is one I can highly recommend. If getting access to printed pages is harder for you, like it is for me, then  you might want to look for something else to meet that history requirement.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, there are currently three unit studies in the Project Passport series: Ancient Egypt, The Middle Ages, and Renaissance and Reformation. Home School in the Woods has plans to continue to add to this series in the future. Each study can be purchased for $33.95 for the download version (which is what I received) or $34.95 for a physical CD mailed to you with all the files on it.

Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are exploring all three of these units, so if the Middle Ages isn’t your cup of tea, make sure to click the banner below to find more reviews on the other eras.


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Homeschool Curriculum Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing

IEW review

After having been first exposed to the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) last year, they’ve quickly become one of my favorite homeschool curriculum companies. So when I heard that they were offering the Schoolhouse Review Crew another product to review (I did their Fix It! Grammar last school year), I was excited. When I started researching exactly what they were offering, my excitement only grew. And when I learned that I’d been picked for this review, I was positively ecstatic.

What is this product that caused so much excitement for me (and several other Crew members)? Well, it’s really several products, which can be purchased together (as I received) or separately from the company. For this review, I received the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Writing Package Level A with Fix It! Grammar Levels 1 and 2, which includes A Word Write Now, and Portable Walls. Yeah. Just the name is long and impressive, and let me tell you, the package is even more so. Included in the combo package are:

  • Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD set (teacher resource)
  • Seminar Workbook (teacher resource)
  • Student Writing Intensive DVDs Level A
  • Student Notebook with handouts and lesson plans
  • Fix It! Grammar Teacher books for Levels 1 (The Nose Tree) and 2 (Robin Hood)
  • A Word Write Now (student thesaurus)
  • Portable Walls

Whew! That’s a lot of resources! There’s a lot to go over, but I’ll do my best to keep everything fairly streamlined for this review.

Teacher Resources

teacher resources iewThe Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) is a 12-DVD set (also available streaming online included with the purchase – which is the method I used since my computer doesn’t have a DVD drive and we don’t have a good DVD player in the house) just for the teacher. The Seminar Workbook is the “teacher’s student manual” for the class. All the paperwork you need for the class is included, as well as the dividers for the different sections, and a binder to put it all in. You do have to “build” the binder, though.

The DVDs (and streaming videos) are a seminar that IEW “bigwig” Andrew Pudewa taught and had recorded. The seminar covers everything you need to know to teach your child (or children) to write well, from 3rd grade all the way up through high school graduation. This one resource alone ($189 for the DVDs, streaming content, and seminar workbook) would be absolutely invaluable to any homeschool parent.

I watched the videos on my own, without the children, since it’s a teacher resource. While I was watching, I had the seminar workbook handy even though the pages are fully “formed.” This means that while you can take notes, you don’t have to. Everything that you would take notes on is already printed on the workbook pages. I was able to follow along with the video easily, and I got a good idea of how to begin teaching the boys what they’d be learning through the Student Writing Intensive by going over the TWSS program (well, part of it…) myself first. Because TWSS is a teacher resource, there is no photocopying allowed (there’s likely only one teacher per homeschool anyway, so this shouldn’t be an issue).

Student Resources

iew student resourcesEverything else on the bulleted list above is a student resource. Let’s start at the beginning, and I’ll give a rundown of the products and how we used them.

First, the Student Writing Intensive (SWI) DVDs. We received Level A because my kids haven’t really had any formal writing training. There are two other levels, called B and C, and if your students are older, or have more experience writing, might fit better for you. (You can find a link to more reviews at the bottom of this post, and all three levels will be covered by our team.) SWI Level A is a four DVD set, and it’s designed for students in grades 3-5 (perfect for our family!). The DVDs for SWI, much like TWSS, are a recorded seminar taught by Mr. Pudewa. This time, though, it’s aimed at kids, and his teaching style is great. My kids, though they weren’t excited by the prospect of this review, ended up enjoying the DVD portions of the lessons. The lessons are broken up into manageable chunks, and there’s lots of time for practice between lessons. Each DVD lesson runs approximately 30-40 minutes, but you’re only expected to do these once every week or two.

The Student Notebook with Lesson Plans is great. With your purchase, you’re sent a binder similar to the TWSS binder, as well as a manila envelope filled with every single worksheet you’ll need for this course. I love that the IEW copyright policy for student materials is so generous – one purchase allows you to make copies for all of your children. So I built one student binder and then bought each of the boys a binder from the Dollar Tree. The “official” binder holds all of the originals, and I made copies for their individual binders.

iew grammarIf you read my review for Fix It! Grammar last year,  you’ll remember that I absolutely loved this program. We used it as our official grammar program this entire school year, and will be finishing it up this week. The program is just great. It teaches grammar in a simple, easy-to-understand way, and my kids have retained every single thing they’ve learned from that program. It’s by far my favorite homeschool resource we’ve ever used. In a nutshell, the students are given one sentence of a story each day, and they have to spot and correct mistakes. Each day also includes a vocabulary word for students to define and record in their own “homemade” glossary. When they’ve made the corrections and completed their vocabulary work, they then copy the corrected sentence onto a separate sheet of paper. By the end of the school year (there are 33, 4-part lessons), the student will have corrected and copied the entire story. It’s a fabulous way to teach grammar, and I as just stated, it really sticks with the kids. My kids don’t even like doing these lessons and they’re still retaining the information. I think that really says something to the validity of the program.

Because we were already using Fix It! Grammar Level 1 (The Nose Tree), we just continued with that and didn’t adjust our schedule at all to have to add it in. I’m thrilled that since we received this review, I won’t have to buy Level 2 (Robin Hood) for next year, which was totally on my list. Even though the Deluxe Combo only includes teacher manuals for Fix It! Grammar, it’s no problem because the purchase of the teacher manual includes a digital copy of the student book. I love that! For one thing, you get everything you need to teach this program for one low price ($19), and for another, it’s one less book taking up precious space on a homeschooler’s bookshelf. (You can, however, purchase the student book for $15 if you want a pre-printed, spiral bound version.)

A Word Write Now is a spiral bound (it feels a lot like the Fix It! books, actually) student thesaurus. I find it much easier to use than an actual thesaurus, too. (I never have learned to use one of those properly.) The book is divided into four parts: Charactiew extraser Traits, Adjectives, Verbs, and the Appendix. This 107-page manual offers writers a huge variety of words to choose from to keep their writing fresh and interesting.

The Portable Walls is basically one giant “cheat sheet” for writers. Included on the tri-fold folder is a huge variety of writing “dress-ups.” This includes things like sentence openers (to keep your story from feeling list-like), a huge list of -ly adverbs, a list of words ending in -ly that are not adverbs, a list of prepositions (which are one of the hardest things for my boys to remember), a giant list of “said” synonyms, reminders of how to form an outline, and much more. Because of its tri-fold layout, the Portable Wall will stand up on the table and allow the student to easily see all of the different things at once.


iew work

Watching the DVD and taking notes

I touched on how we used this a bit in my descriptions, but I want to talk about it again for a minute. This program is so thorough, and I love that the company provides a suggested syllabus in with the student manual. For the SWI, we followed this syllabus. This meant that on day one, we watched the video for the lesson. Then on the subsequent seven days (we run 4-day school weeks), we ran the suggested practice schedule. The handouts that come in that manila envelope I mentioned before include tons of practice sheets for each lesson, which is really great. There’s no shortage of opportunity to continue to learn and excel at the material. If you feel that your student is understanding things quickly, or is getting bored with “too much” practice, you can use fewer of the handouts. It’s really a very versatile curriculum.

iew work 2

Turning the paragraph into an outline. Students will then turn their outline into a paragraph using their own words later in the week.

As for the grammar portion of the program, we just continued to use this as we already were since it was our regular grammar curriculum anyway. One sentence per day, four days per week. Easy.


I was already a fan of IEW thanks to Fix It! Grammar, so it’s no surprise that I loved this program. We didn’t get through too much of the SWI during the review period, but I’m still going to set it aside for now (we’re entering summer break, plus we’re going to be moving in the next few weeks). I love that the program works slowly enough for students to have adequate time to really master the material rather than just presenting it and moving on. I love that the copyright policy is generous enough to allow one purchase to cover your entire family.

The only thing I would change would be to offer the SWI DVDs as streaming videos as well as having the teacher videos available that way. That would have been very helpful for our family. We made it work (we bought a portable DVD player to use), but it would have been a lot easier to have been able to use my laptop.

Final Thoughts

The price tag for this program might be a hard thing for some families (for everything I’ve described is $299 if purchased as a set, $378 if you purchase the different items individually), but I have to tell you, if you can swing it, you won’t regret this purchase. It’s totally worth it.


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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed all three levels of the Student Writing Intensive, as well as several products for special needs students. Please click the banner below to find a review for the product that would best suit your needs.

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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)

men of rome student sample page

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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