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

Encouraging Early Literacy with Talking Shapes

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

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

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

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

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

Talking shapes C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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Listening to History (Heirloom Audio Review)

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

Beric the Briton review at Ladybug Daydreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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

 

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

Would a worm go on a walk?

Would a lion become a lifeguard?

Would a ladybug wear lipstick?

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

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

But God’s designs weren’t finished.

His special plans weren’t through.

The animals were just a start.

God’s masterpiece is YOU!

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

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

Blessings, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

notebookingpages sample

This page was downloaded page directly from NotebookingPages.com

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

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

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

Rossini notebooking page

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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Give Me Liberty (Progeny Press Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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The Glass Castle (book review for middle grades)

The Glass Castle review

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

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

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

~*~*~

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

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

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

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

~*~*~

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

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

Blessings,

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

This post contains affiliate links. Purchase through these links will give a small commission to me without any additional cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support.

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

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

The planner has all sorts of different types of pages:

  • yearly calendars (2016, 2017, and 2018)
  • encouraging letters from TOS publisher Gena Suarez
  • monthly calendars
  • weekly calendars (blank, so you can use and date them as needed)
  • monthly, semester, and yearly goals (several sheets of each so you can have one for each child)
  • attendance chart (again, several sheets)
  • books read log (several sheets)
  • curriculum planning sheets (several)
  • a place to record your local homeschooling contacts
  • several academic reference sheets (writing prompts, the 13 colonies, famous inventions, US Presidents and first ladies, and more)
  • an academic transcript worksheet
  • and more…
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Outside of the actual calendar pages, I have two “favorites” in this planner. First are the Hey Mama! letters from Gena Suarez. There’s one on the back of the front cover, plus several distributed all throughout the planning pages. These are very encouraging little notes from a fellow homeschooling mom, and the way she writes is just so personable. I love how each starts with the phrase “Hey Mama!” It’s a warm way of greeting that reminds you that you’re a “mama,” not always a “mother.” I don’t know about you, but I really love being “mama” or “mommy” rather than the stiff, formal, disciplinarian all the time. And the homey greeting is just the tip of these letters. Each one is so encouraging; reading the words from Gena is such a blessing as she pushes us to bless our children, discipline them in love, build their character, and most importantly to teach them to be God-loving, God-fearing adults. She reminds us that we are loved by our creator and that He’s always there for us. I love these letters and look forward to rereading them as the months and weeks they were written for begin to approach.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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Creation-based Elementary Science (Science Shepherd Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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ESV Family Devotional Bible (review)

We were recently blessed to be able to review the ESV (English Standard Version) Family Devotional Bible thanks to Flyby Promotions. When the opportunity to review this Bible came up, I knew I wanted to give it a chance because the ESV is the Bible of choice in our family. I was very interested in combining our favorite translation with pictures and devotionals. I was not disappointed in my expectations!

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There are 130 devotions sprinkled throughout the text of the Bible, and each one gets an illustration. The devotions are located near where their stories occur, and the scripture reference for each devotion is made very clear so you can compare the devotion to the actual text easily. Devotions summarize the portion of scripture they’re taken from, offer discussion questions, and then provide a key verse (which would make a great memorization tool). If you’re looking for a specific story to study deeper, there’s a convenient index of devotions at the back of the Bible. Additionally, there are maps in the back also, which really helps to bring some of the locations to life a bit better.

This hardcover Bible is a good size –  not too big, making it cumbersome to hold, but also not so small that’s it’s ten feet thick to include the whole of the biblical text.

The text is the text - it's not abbreviated at all.

The text is the text – it’s not abbreviated at all.

Over the past couple of weeks, this Bible has become an amazing tool in our home. It’s nice to have family devotions and biblical text all in one volume. The cover is a bit busy for my taste (it has thumbnails of each devotion illustration all butt-up against one another), but that’s not something that would make me not recommend this Bible. If you’re looking for a way to include devotions more readily in your home (or homeschool), then this is well worth the investment. Crossway has done an amazing thing with this Bible!

One of the devotional spreads.

One of the devotional spreads.

In addition to providing me a copy of the ESV Family Devotional Bible to facilitate my review, Flyby Promotions is offering to give one away to one of my readers. This will be a huge blessing to whoever wins, let me tell you. All you have to do to have a chance to win is leave me a comment on this post related to what I’ve written about. The winner will be chosen randomly from all the entries on Friday, May 20th and notified via email. (Your email address is required for leaving a comment, so you don’t have to worry about posting it publicly. Only I will see it, and I won’t be adding you to any newsletter lists or anything.)

Blessings,

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Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

This giveaway is now closed. As chosen by random.org, the winner is Heather Kelly. Heather, I’ve emailed you. When I hear back, I’ll have the vendor send your Bible.

The Pursuit of Drawing (ARTistic Pursuits Review)

I’ve heard good things about ARTistic Pursuits Inc. over the years, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to review for them – until now. In the past, the supply lists have been a big turnoff for me, but as my children are getting older and their interests are developing, we actually have some of the supplies on hand for a curriculum like this now. When the list of options for this year’s Schoolhouse Review Crew run came out, I was pleased to see that one of the options was Middle School Book One. Since I have a middle schooler who is an art enthusiast, I looked into this curriculum. I was ecstatic to learn that the supply list for this book included all things that Seahawk had received for Christmas – primarily, high quality drawing pencils in a variety of lead hardness, erasers, waterproof ink, a nib pen (holder and nibs), and paper. So, for the first time in three years, I requested to be on this review.

Assignment: draw water

Assignment: draw water

ARTistic Pursuits is a company passionate about creating artists, especially in the homeschool setting. They have a variety of textbooks ranging from preschool to graduation, which are specially designed to help children learn to harness the powers of observation while they explore art history, art appreciation, and art technique.

Middle School Book One is a soft cover, comb-bound text book of nearly 100 pages. The first few pages are notes for the parent, and starting on page 6, the lessons begin. There are sixteen units which cover a wide variety of teaching the student to draw better. These units include things such as

  • Using the space of your paper well
  • How to best use your pencils to create interesting lines
  • Creating interesting textures within your art
  • How symmetry or asymmetry can be good
  • Perspective
  • Proportion
  • And many more

ARTistic Pursuits 1When we first received the book, I had big ideas of everyone working on it together. We even did the first lesson all together (even Small Fry, who’s just 3) the same day the book arrived. It became clear in the lessons that followed, however, that just because your kids like to draw, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for formal lessons. This was the case with everyone but Seahawk. And that’s okay. He’s the only one technically in the age range for this curriculum, anyway. So after that first week, I let him do this subject on his own. Each lesson consists of a short passage to read followed by an art assignment. Since the review period lined up with the beginning of a beautiful spring here in the Pacific Northwest, he would often take his book, drawing pad, and pencil set outside to work. There was not one time when he brought me his work to look over that didn’t leave me impressed.

What did Seahawk think of ARTistic Pursuits? In his own words:

I found this to be the “funnest” class, that’s for sure. Before I used this book, I thought I knew everything there was to know about drawing. I just couldn’t master it. The book taught me different ways of using pencil lines to emphasize things and different ways to use combinations of shapes to make things look right. The book was challenging, but in a good way.

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Assignment: practice texture by drawing a bear

My thoughts as a mom? This is a high quality book full of great tips for learning to become master of your supplies. I like how there are stories and lessons from a variety of world areas, which are used to teach different drawing techniques. I like how it teaches independence as well as art. Once the student knows the basics of how the lessons are set up, it’s easy for them to work on their own (especially good for non-artistic parents, or those whose art skill set lies elsewhere, like me). And I really like how they state right on the book that’s it’s designed to be non-consumable. This means that a single purchase (this book is $47.95) will cover all of your children, even if they’re all different ages. You can use it over and over again. Talk about value!

What’s not to like about ARTistic Pursuits? I can’t think of a single thing! I’ve read dozens of positive reviews for this company over the years, and now I know why. The materials are top notch.

Blessings,

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As with all Schoolhouse Crew Reviews, there are loads of other reviewers talking about ARTistic Pursuits this week. You can visit the Crew blog to find what they all thought about the variety of books ARTistic Pursuits offered for review this time (which include books for all grade levels, preschool through high school, and a pair of sculpture books).

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