Our Favorite Study Guides for Literature

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

If you’ve been here very long at all, you know that I’m always excited to review Progeny Press study guides with my children. Every single year I’ve been a part of the Homeschool Review Crew, we’ve been blessed to work with these guides, and 2021 is no exception. This year, Grasshopper (4th grade) and Scorpion (9th grade) are the lucky recipients.

About Progeny Press Study Guides

The study guide we received is the digital edition, as always. Each study guide comes with the guide itself and an answer key, both in PDF format. I had no problems downloading the files to my computer. I’ve got a folder full of our past Progeny Press study guides, and I added this year’s guides to it. When it was time to begin work on the study guide, I printed off the pages we needed as we went, rather than printing the entire study guide at once. These guides are also designed to be editable PDFs, so if you prefer, you can have your student work directly on the computer. Printing works better for us, so that’s what I did.

Progeny Press officially recommends that you/your student read the entire book within the first week of the unit and then work through the study guide at a pace of 3-5 pages per week, depending on your kids’ ages. That’s never worked for us. It’s just too much time between finishing the book and going back to answer the questions when you do it that way. So I looked at the breakdown of the study guide and we worked in those chunks – reading the chapters, then printing and working on the questions. Then we’d read the next set of chapters and answer those questions. And so on. I had Scorpion work the same way with his book.

When you purchase a study guide from Progeny Press, you get as many downloads as you need for 1 year. After that time, if you don’t have a copy saved somewhere you will need to repurchase the guide if you want access to it again.

A Cricket in Times Square Study Guide

This is a classic book written by George Selden in 1961 about a group of unusual friends: a country cricket, a city mouse, a city cat, and a young boy. We are introduced to the characters in turn over the first four chapters, and then quickly move through their adventures together in NYC. The animals all teach each other valuable lessons through their various life circumstances, and none are more important than the others.

Grasshopper and I have been reading this book together out loud. He is capable of reading it on his own, but it’s nice to have a bit of snuggle time with him as he’s getting older. When I found out we were getting this study guide to review, I checked the digital library and the book was only available as an audio book with a 6-month wait (!). So I ended up purchasing the Kindle edition and we’ve been reading that. (This was before I got my new library card.)

The study guide for A Cricket in Times Square is 52 pages, including the cover and copyright pages. Progeny Press is really great for Christian parents because every single one of their study guides is from a Christian perspective. This means they always include spiritual lessons that can be learned from even the most secular books. Cricket is no exception. Grasshopper and I were able to practice finding Bible verses together and interpreting them and culling lessons from them that related to the book we were reading. This was really good for him. There are also the “basics” of study guides in Progeny Press – your standard reading comprehension questions and opinion questions as well as vocabulary words and longer writing assignments.

Frankenstein Study Guide

Scorpion has been working through the Frankenstein study guide on his own. He didn’t have a firm reading or literature class in his curriculum, so it was fairly easy to just add this in. We started with a digital library book for him (because it’s a classic novel, it’s “always available”), but he didn’t really like reading on his iPad. So when we were able to start getting physical books from the library, we found him a copy to check out. Even our tiny town library had a copy of Frankenstein!

The Frankenstein Study Guide is 79 pages, as like I mentioned before, it is able to be typed right into as a PDF on the computer or printed out. We printed out just the pages we needed as Scorpion completed his work and reading. It took him, on average, about 1-2 weeks per section to complete. There are a total of 8 sections in this guide, so he’s got a ways to go still.

Because Frankenstein is a book for older students, the study guide is more complex than that of Cricket. The vocabulary pages rely more on the student being able to rephrase the definitions on their own than simply choosing the correct definition from a list. The comprehension questions are a lot more difficult, too, and there are a lot of writing assignments that are more essay-length than simply requiring a few words to answer.

As always, the Progeny Press study guides have been a fantastic addition to our school days. Members of the Homeschool Review Crew were able to choose from a total of 4 study guides this year: Wagon Wheels, A Cricket in Times Square, Redwall, and Frankenstein. Click through to the main website to read more reviews!


The Year of Boats and Fast Cars

My birthday was in the summertime, and Will went with a theme: boats and fast cars. We were pretty fresh off of our pontoon rental, and since it was early July the weather was still hot, so Will had boats on the brain. So on my actual birthday, we took a lunch cruise on the Willamette River in our state capital. It was a short ride (about an hour), but very pleasant. We dressed up and had a lovely time. I just love being in and on the water!

The other thing he got for me was the opportunity to drive a Lamborghini! He’d heard of Circuit One Events, which offers drives and rides in luxury cars. Options include a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, and a Corvette. A Lamborghini is his dream car, so when he discovered that was an option, it was a done deal. We bought the ticket in July, but the event wasn’t until late September, so it hasn’t been that long since the event. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

Funny anecdote: When I was a teenager, my dad had a Corvette. For this reason, I wasn’t that excited by the new Corvette at the event. I told my family about those thoughts after the fact at home, and Ballet Boy told me I was being crazy. “That doesn’t mean a Corvette isn’t amazing. It means your dad was even more awesome than I realized!”

I was so nervous going up to the event! But that’s fairly normal for me; I’m a rather nervous person in general. I was very jittery clear up until I was inside the car. When it was my turn (there were quite a few people there to drive the fancy cars), the staff guy took me up to the car. The first thing I had to do was figure out how to get into the car! There was no obvious door handle like on “normal” cars. I finally got it, though, and then it was time to drive. The gear shift was very different from any car I’ve ever driven before, too. Once I got over a bit of my nervousness (forgetting my right from left as the staff member guided me to putting the car in “Drive”), it was time to drive!

The first thing you notice is the power of the car. The difference between Will’s car (2019 Nissan Sentra) and mine (1995 Ford Escort wagon) is vast. The difference between the Lamborghini and Will’s car was even more noticeable. It was a very smooth drive, even when going super fast. And the Lamborghini could stop and turn on a dime. I tried my best not to “take it too easy” while I was driving. I really wanted to release all my nerves and let loose in the car. And I felt like I had. Until I traded places with the staff member for my turn to ride rather than drive. (That was an extra fee.)

When I pulled over and we traded places, he asked me if I wanted him to take it easy or really push it so I could the true power of the car. As nervous as I can be, I love thrill rides, so I told him to push it to the limit! When he hit the accelerator, I was literally thrown back in my seat! I couldn’t help but spend most of the time giggling (I told you I love thrill rides). At the end of the ride, he told me that he’d maxed out at about 80 mph – quite impressive considering the length of the loop was quite small. I hadn’t paid attention to the speedometer while I was driving, but based on that information I figure I must not have gone more than 45 or 50. Maybe slower. So much for letting loose!

Over all, it was a really fun experience, and I’m really glad I got to do it.

Have you ever driven a luxury car?


Using the Library in Homeschooling

A common question that homeschoolers are asked is “What is something you couldn’t do without in your homeschool?” and a common answer to that question is “The public library.” If you don’t have a large home with a jillion bookshelves, then you probably already knew this – and utilize your own public library for help with gathering homeschooling resources. Let’s take a little while to explore different ways to use the library in homeschooling.

using the library in homeschooling


This is a no-brainer. The library is a fantastic place to gain access to more books than you could ever want, especially if your library is part of a larger system that allows you to borrow books from a variety of locations (my library is part of a 17-library system, which is good because it wouldn’t be very useful otherwise; small towns don’t normally have good libraries and mine is no exception). The library is likely to have dozens, if not hundreds, of books on any given topic – way more than most families could possibly buy for themselves. And even if you do have loads of space for books and an unlimited budget for book buying, the library will probably have books that you can’t get your hands on (usually older books). Even if an older book has information that’s a little outdated, they can still be valuable to teach your child to be discerning in their research.


Don’t be afraid to talk to your librarians! Just today (the day I’m writing this article, not the day it’s posting), I got a new library card. I hadn’t been to the library in my small town since before COVID, and only a few times then, so the librarians didn’t really know me. Because I was a “new” patron, they were especially helpful, and it was a really nice experience to get to know them (albeit briefly) in this manner. The children’s librarian gave me a short tour of the children’s room in the library, showing me where to find the various types of books (they separate the children’s fiction into “series” and “non series”), and she gave me several crafts to bring home for the boys. The adult librarian showed me where to find all the fiction books and nonfiction books (they’re in separate rooms). She explained to me that the nonfiction room has a different internet provider from the rest of the library (and from the one we use at home), so if our internet is ever down at home, it’s likely working at the library and we’d be welcome to use theirs if needed. (I explained to them that we were homeschoolers.) There are more resources than just books at the library, and your librarians are the tickets to finding out about those resources.

Digital Books and Audio Books

I wrote a whole article on using audio books in homeschool, and we use the digital version of those audio books. But many libraries have CDs of audio books that you can check out (if you still have a CD player in your home – we don’t). There are benefits of regular books and benefits of e-books, and I don’t personally have a preference. I know some people are adamant that “paper books are the only way to bother reading,” but I’m not one of those. I’ve had a Kindle since they were brand new, and I still read books on it almost every day. The biggest benefit to using an e-book instead of a paper book from the library is no late fines! I love the freedom of being able to check out library books right from an app on my phone, and then when my loan period is over, the book disappears from my Kindle the next time I connect to wifi. I love that there’s no risk of losing or damaging a library book and having to pay for it later. But for kids, nothing beats a paper book. They need that tactile experience of holding the book, feeling its weight, and turning the pages. It’s more than a story for kids. But having the flexibility for both digital books (reading or audio) and paper books is invaluable. And if your library is part of the Overdrive system, having fines on your regular card doesn’t prevent you from borrowing digital material like it might from paper books.

Other Programs

There’s the obvious here, like summer reading. But did you know that a lot of libraries run a variety of things all year round, especially for kids? Like I mentioned earlier in this article, our tiny library gave me a craft for each of my younger children today for Halloween. In the past, our larger library system has provided free access to language learning programs right on their website. All you needed was a valid library card. Our library system also allows you to check out passes to a variety of children’s and family museums in the area. This is an amazing way to get into some of those expensive museums for free, if you’re willing to wait a while to get the access pass (they tend to have long hold times). Ask your librarian if you have any resources like these available to you. You might be surprised!

Do you use your local library? What’s your favorite thing about it?


Roar Like a Lion (book review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Devotional books bring a lot of joy and meaning to people’s lives. I have read many of them over the years. Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of reading Roar Like a Lion: 90 Devotions to a Courageous Faith with my younger kids (and having them read it together without me).

The devotional, written by Levi Lusko with Tama Fortner and published by Tommy Nelson Books, was designed with kids in mind from cover to cover. The front cover is rather exciting, with bold geometric shapes making the lion’s face. It looks very ferocious (courageous, maybe?) with its teeth bared. And then you get to the inside of the book. The pages are thick enough to stand up to repeated use, even among slightly younger kids. The color printing is very bold. Because the pages are matte (almost like card stock), it’s not an overwhelming bold, though.

When you get to the devotions, the illustrations match the style of the cover. They kind of remind me of Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) style illustrations – as if they were made from paper cutouts rather than pen and ink or paint.

Each devotion has one main illustration to help it make its point and go along with its title. There’s also a “Did you Know” section with additional information that’s related, but not directly related, to the lesson. Like most devotions, the book is written specific lessons in mind and Bible verses are chosen to support each lesson. For example, in the lesson “Roar Like a Lion,” the verse is 2 Timothy 1:7:

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control.

Each devotion also ends with a simple prayer related to the lesson (also fairly standard devotional fare).

All of the devotions are written under the umbrella of being bold and courageous in your faith. Take a look at part of the table of contents to see what I mean:

The devotions are very encouraging for children. They offer great information to help your children understand how we can be strong in God. We read one each day, and it was great to see the boys show such interest in the topics presented. Sometimes, Grasshopper even did the reading!

Nearly 20 members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been spending time with Roar Like a Lion: 90 Devotions to a Courageous Faith. I invite you to head over to the main website to find links to all of those reviews this week.


Book Club: Sooley

I love basketball, and I love John Grisham books. So when I found out that his new book this year was a stray from his normal legal thriller into the world of “hoops,” I was intrigued. I’m not normally a fan of his non-legal books, but because, well, basketball, I wanted to read Sooley anyway.

This post contains major spoilers for the book Sooley by John Grisham.

Samuel Sooleymon is the oldest child of four living in a small village in South Sudan with his parents and three  younger siblings (two brothers and a sister). He loves playing basketball, but in the poor nation he can only play on a dirt court. When he is recruited for a summer league to represent his country against other teams as they play in America, he is thrilled – and apprehensive – to go. But go he does because he wants the opportunity to play his favorite game against other good players. He and the team from South Sudan don’t do so well, and most of the team is sent home after the tournament having won nothing.

While Samuel and the rest of the South Sudanese team is playing in the summer league, his parents’ village is ransacked by militant rebel soldiers. His father is killed and his sister is kidnapped. The family never finds her again, and doesn’t know whether she’s been sold as a slave or killed. His mother and two brothers walk from their home country to the neighboring nation of Uganda. When they make it to the refugee camp, they are finally safe.

Samuel’s coach in the summer league learns about his village and has the difficult discussion with Samuel, letting him know what happened and imploring him not to go back. He promises to help him come up with a way to stay in America. This is accomplished through an emergency refugee/student visa, and his coach convinces a college coach to give Samuel a scholarship so that he can honor the terms of his visa and stay in the country. Grudgingly, Coach Lonnie Britt of NC Central in Durham, North Carolina, awards the scholarship. After seeing Samuel in practice (he’s terrible – barely made the summer league team), he decides to “redshirt” him, meaning he gives him a spot on the team to keep his scholarship but he doesn’t let him play. He gets to practice and will join the team more fully the following year.

As the year progresses, Samuel practices basketball every single day, even on the team’s off days. He shoots and shoots and shoots, eventually shifting his percentage from well below 50 to above it. As Lonnie sees the improvement in Samuel, now called Sooley by his teammates, he takes a chance on him and lets him play in a game. Sooley blows the socks off everyone, becoming the star of the game.

He continues to practice and is rewarded with more game time. He quickly becomes the star of the team, playing almost every minute of every game and scoring upwards of 40 points per game. He ultimately leads his team, always a national underdog, to the college championships – clear up to the Final Four.

Unfortunately, they lose their first game in the Final Four and are eliminated. But Sooley had such an amazing season that he is encouraged by his coaches to enter the NBA draft, and he is taken in the first round by the Indiana Pacers and then immediately traded to the Washington Wizards. He’s thrilled with this because it means he’ll be close to his North Carolina family. The NBA money means he can come up with a plan to bring his family to America, out of the refugee camp they’ve been living in for over a year.

A party in the Bahamas turns tragic when Samuel ODs on Ecstasy. He never makes it to the NBA. He never gets to sponsor his mother and brothers for immigration to the US. It’s a tragic story.

But Murray, Sooley’s college roommate (and part of the “NC Family” I mentioned before) turns the tragedy into something beautiful. He starts a foundation in Samuel’s name and within days it raises millions of dollars. He uses some of the money to finish Sooley’s work of bringing his family over. The rest goes into a scholarship fund in Samuel’s name for future Central basketball players.

I loved this book. I was floored when Sooley is killed near the end, and from that moment on I couldn’t put it down until I discovered how Grisham would turn the tragedy around in just under 10% of the book. It’s so rare to see an author kill the main character of a book, and frankly I’m not sure I liked it. But it worked. It’s been a few days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a little raw when I think back on the story.

As for the writing, I thought it was very well done. I don’t follow college ball, but I found each of the games exciting. They were well described, and I could see all the moves in my head as I read the words. I did find the phrase “behind the arc” to be a bit overused to describe 3-pointers, but that’s literally my only complaint. Now that my library loan for this book has ended, I want to get a copy of my own to have for rereading at the drop of a hat.

Sooley gets 5 stars from me.

Do you like sports, or sports books and/or movies? What’s your favorite sport?


Kindergarten Fun: Giraffes

The Homeschool Review Crew recently asked on Twitter

I responded

Upper elementary. Reading and basic math are mastered, but you’re not yet to the difficult upper level courses. Lots of fun things to do with the 3-4-5 grade crowd.

I stand by that, but I also think Kindergarten is pretty fun. When you’re not dealing with the frustrations of a child learning all their letters and sounds but being unable to put them together in random scenarios (i.e. outside of Reading Eggs), kindergartners are a great bunch. They have intense interests and very little can sway them from the things they like. This makes it an ideal time to really cater the schooling to those interests, thus creating a fun schooling environment and teaching them that learning is fun.

Dragonfly loves giraffes. Like, really loves them. They’re his favorite animal by far. I don’t know where he developed that love, but I understand it (I love elephants in almost the same way). So I decided to hone in on that love with a kindergarten unit study for him. He and I have been spending the past week or so, and will spend the next week or two, learning all about giraffes. Under normal conditions, we would head to the library and get a stack of books, but we can’t really do that in the age of COVID. (Although, a quick online search tells me that our city library is actually open again with limited hours. I think I’ll head down there today!) Instead, we’re doing a lot of online research and relying on the information that came with our lap book from Homeschool Share.

Let me tell you a bit about Homeschool Share and how I use their resources with my kids. Homeschool Share is a website that’s chock full of homeschooling resources for a wide range of ages. I typically use them for finding the “fun” stuff – primarily lap books – for the younger kids. It was founded in 2004 by Ami, a homeschooling mom of two boys. She initially started it as a forum of sorts, where other homeschool moms could post unit studies they’d written for their own families in order to share and bless others. It quickly exploded, and there are now hundreds of unit studies, lap books, and printables – all available for free. The site is organized by subject, but there’s a search feature too, in case you want to find something specific for your child to learn about (as was the case with Dragonfly and giraffes). If you scroll down on the homepage, you can find the age breakdown of the resources (as opposed to the subject breakdown in the menu bar at the top). It’s really quite simple to poke around, and you’re almost guaranteed to find something you can use. The only “fee” for using the resources is signing up for the email list, but Ami isn’t one to spam your inbox every day.

The giraffes lap book is perfect for a kindergarten student. It’s got 18 pages of mini books (some of them take up more than one page of printing; if I remember correctly, it was 15 mini books total). The entire study is self-contained, with the exception of additional books, which are, of course, optional especially in the digital age. But all the information you need to complete the mini books are included in the first couple of pages of the unit study, so for a basic, generic understanding of giraffes you don’t need anything more. The pages are black and white, which is perfect for allowing your child to color in all the giraffes. Some of them are already shaded, so there’s less to color on those mini books, making them ideal for the days when you don’t have quite as long to work.

What will your student learn in their study of giraffes? Quite a bit for just a simple, 18-page file! Topics covered include giraffe-related vocabulary; giraffe anatomy; diet, predators, and defenses of giraffes; how giraffes live together in herds; names of the different genders of giraffes; fascinating facts about baby giraffes (for example, they are able to stand within 15 minutes of birth and are 6 feet tall when they are born); where giraffes live and what their habitat is like; the closest living relative of giraffes (there’s only 1 known relative of giraffes, the okapi); and miscellaneous fun facts. Did you know that giraffes have such large shoulder muscles because they run “front wheel drive” instead of “rear wheel drive” like most other animals?

In addition to learning about giraffes specifically, one of the things I really like about this lap book is the opportunity students are given to practice their handwriting skills. Dragonfly is still working on reading better, but he’s getting pretty darn good at copying letters from one page onto another in his own handwriting. These papers will make for lovely keepsakes when he’s older.

When Dragonfly and I finish up learning about giraffes, we’re going to utilize the other African animal lap books from Homeschool Share and continue this line of study for quite a while longer. It’s such a fun way to learn (and teach)!

What’s your favorite animal?


Defending Twilight

Twilight is one of my favorite book series. I’ve read the books probably 10 times each, listened to the audio books a few times, and seen all of the movies countless times. It seems that people either love it or hate it, though, and there’s not really any in-between. Today I want to talk for a few minutes about my thoughts on the saga, and more specifically about the things most people seem to have a problem with.

(In case you’re not familiar, Twilight is a series of 4 books that were adapted into 5 movies. They tell the story of a human girl who falls in love with a vampire.)

Bella is a flat, boring character

Twilight centers on the story of Bella Swan, a teenager who’s spent her entire life living with her mother in Phoenix after her parents divorced when she was a baby. Her father lives in northern Washington. She visits him annually, and we’re dropped into her story as she’s on her way to move in with him permanently. Her mother has recently remarried, and she decides to give the newlyweds some space, hence the big move. This alone is something that I would argue is anything but “flat” and “boring.” It takes courage to move across the country, especially as a young person leaving behind everything you’ve ever known (including your own mother). The books are told from her first-person perspective, so we as readers are privy to her every thought and action. She might come across as a little bit vapid, especially when she gets her first glimpse of the Cullens (the vampire family in the story) – she cares more about how beautiful they are than really anything else. But because we’ve been inside her head for a few chapters already at this point, we know that this is because she doesn’t have the best self-esteem (and who can’t relate to that?). She doesn’t view herself as exceptionally beautiful, so she’s fascinated by people who are – especially since there are 5 of them all together who are. And besides that, she’s a 17-year-old girl; that particular species is vapid (I say, as someone who used to be one). So while she may not be the most exciting character on the planet, I don’t think Bella deserves half the criticism she gets online.

Bella and Edward’s relationship is “toxic”

This is the biggest problem most people have with the series, and I can boil down every single issue people have with it down to one main cultural failing we have in America (and the West in general): lack of proper roles. I know that this is an unpopular opinion (very unpopular), but it’s one I sincerely hold. If we adhered to proper biblical roles in our society, we wouldn’t be offended by any of the things people have serious issues with. Allow me to explain a bit.

Edward is creepy because he watches Bella sleep. This is perhaps the only one on this list that’s a little weird, but that’s only because we live in a human world where everyone sleeps. Edward, the vampire in the relationship, doesn’t need to sleep so he spends his nights watching Bella. So again, weird but not automatically problematic.

Edward is an abusive jerk for preventing Bella from seeing Jacob. In proper biblical roles, Edward – as the man – has a right to determine and demand things from Bella. While Jacob was a good friend in New Moon (the second book in the series, when Edward left Bella in an attempt to protect her from the vampire world), he takes advantage of that friendship in later books. He knows that Edward is back, and that Bella chooses Edward over him, and yet he still pushes a relationship (not just a friendship). But even ignoring Jacob’s behavior, it bears repeating: so long as Bella and Edward are together, he has the right to make certain decisions on her behalf. That’s just how it works in a proper relationship, whether you like it or not. (And believe me, it’s not always easy to be a fully submissive wife, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do or that my husband doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.)

So, in short, yes, their relationship is toxic if you view from a Western, feminist mindset. If you look at it from a traditional, biblical perspective, it’s not.

Jacob and Renesmee

(Renesmee is Bella and Edward’s half-human-half-vampire daughter.)

This is one aspect that I’m unsure of. The main criticism of this “relationship” is that it’s considered grooming. This young child – quite literally a newborn – has a 17-year-old man in love with her. Jacob’s defense is that it’s not “love,” but more a protective relationship. He wants nothing more than to keep her safe. Critics say, “Yes, but only until she’s old enough to become your girlfriend, and by then she’ll be so used to having you around that she won’t realize she has the choice to say no.”

It seems a bit strange to have chosen for Jacob to “imprint” on Renesmee. In fact, because of that, it seems as though the entire pregnancy plotline of the last book was put into place for no reason except to separate Jacob and Bella. It was a tidy way to get Jacob to give up on Bella, when really he should have done that the moment Bella and Edward got married (whether he was happy about it or not). When I read the books the first time, over ten years ago, it didn’t seem that strange to me. It was just the way the story went, and who was I to judge the way an author chose to tell their story? But now, as I exercise my critical thinking skills more and more, I can recognize that this plot device was nothing more than an “ex machina” (a plot point that exists for no reason but because there’s not other way for the characters to get out of their current situation). The entire character of Renesmee is an ex machina, and that’s a bigger “problem” than Jacob’s imprinting on her. I wonder how the finale of the series would have gone if Bella hadn’t gotten pregnant?

These are just three of the many issues people complain about in Twilight, and there are many others. I might explore more of these issues in the future, but that’s all I’ve got for now. And the second one, regarding the “toxic” relationship (which I don’t think was toxic at all) was what I really wanted to put out there.


Using Movies in a Literature-Based Homeschool

One of my favorite things about using a literature-based approach to homeschooling is that there is so much flexibility! Beyond having your kids read books they’re more likely to find interesting for their learning, you can springboard that so easily into watching movies, too – which is great for sick days, hot days, or any other days when you just need an “easy out” for some reason. Here are some ways to incorporate movies into your literature based homeschool.

The backs of cinema chairs, which are red. A gold curtain is covering the screen at the front of the room.

Compare and Contrast

The easiest thing to do is obviously to compare and contrast the book and movie, if a matching set exists. There are so many fantastic children’s books with equally fantastic movies. One of my favorite examples of this is Charlotte’s Web. It’s a classic children’s book, and for good reason. It teaches strong lessons, but isn’t preachy. It wasn’t written with the intent of teaching those lessons, which is why it works so well. A lot of modern books are “lesson first, story second,” and that’s the wrong way to write. It’s much better when authors write a compelling story that kids will be interested in, and there are some lessons that can be organically gleaned from the story. (Pushing those lessons after the fact is also unideal. Let children make the jumps for themselves when possible.) Not only is Charlotte’s Web an amazing early novel for kids to read, but there are quite a few good film adaptations. The best one is the 2006 version starring Dakota Fanning as Fern and an all-star voice cast for the animals. Holes is another great example. Or the entire Harry Potter series. So if your kids are old enough for some serious critical thinking, have them do a compare and contrast between the books and movies they read. Ask specific questions: why do you think the filmmakers chose to change that from the book? Would you have made that change? What do you think was better in the book? Better about the movie? Which did you like better?

Use the Movie as Incentive to Read the Book

We’ve done this before with our kids. We don’t have a strict “you have to read the book before you’re allowed to see the movie” policy, but I know some parents do, and that works well. But even in a familiar story (a movie your child saw as a young child, for example), giving them the motivation of not being allowed to watch the movie (again) until they’re read the book can be a great motivator.

Let the movie help you explain parts of the book that may have been confusing (or vice versa)

In 2015, I saw the movie The Martian for the first time. It had been on my list for a long time, and I was so excited to finally see it. It was only upon seeing the opening credits that I realized it was based on a book, and I was really interested in then reading the book too. I found both to be fascinating – in fact, The Martian is now one of my favorite movies. I watch it about once a year, even now. But there were parts of the movie that I didn’t fully understand. I read the book, and it was even more complicated than the movie – but in different ways. What I found most interesting about that story in particular was how well the book and movie complimented each other. The parts of the book that were more confusing were clarified by the movie; the parts of the movie that were confusing were clarified in the book. They really do work hand in hand. So next time your student is struggling through a specific part in a book, see if there’s a movie counterpart that might help them to get a better visual on what the story is trying to say.

Do you use movies in your homeschool, or just as fun?


Bible Breakdowns (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Teaching the Bible is of tantamount importance, and simply reading it is the best way to do that. But sometimes a product comes along that does nothing more than help you with that. It doesn’t attempt to insert the author’s own thoughts into the text (like some devotionals). It quite literally just helps you explain the overview of the Bible to your children. This is what Bible Breakdowns from Teach Sunday School does. Nothing fancy, just a basic overview of each book of the Bible.

I received downloadable copies of the Bible Breakdowns, broken into two documents: Old Testament and New Testament. Because I am reading the New Testament together with the younger kids, we focuses on using those pages, particularly the Gospels.

Each Bible Breakdown is 1 or 2 pages, and it gives an overview of a specific book of the Bible. It starts with the name of the book at the top of the page, nice and big. Using attractive graphic design, it also tells you which number and “OT or “NT.” For example, Matthew is 1 NT; Mark is 2 NT; and so on. Underneath the header is a 1-2 paragraph overview of the book, and then the “big info” for the book. This includes the number of chapters, type of book (history, gospel, letter, etc), date written, dates covered in the text, and author’s name.

Once you get through the major, overarching information, the Bible Breakdown takes you on a list of the specific stories covered in that book. It even goes one step further and color codes the “classic Bible stories.” Each verse in the book is covered, so you can easily refer to it and find exactly what’s covered in the book. At the very end, after the verse-by-verse breakdown of the book, there’s a shorter list: the most popular verses in the book. It lists them out in order, and then tells you how that verse ranks in popularity both in comparison to other verses in its book as well as in the Bible as a whole. If you’re looking for memory verses for your kids, this “Most Popular Verses” section is a great place to start!

Like I mentioned, we are reading the New Testament together (me, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly). It’s the first time through the NT with the younger kids, so it was really nice to be able to have the Bible Breakdowns on hand to show them the overview of the books before we started reading. I used the pages as an introduction to the book. We read the top portion of the Bible Breakdown, and that gave the kids a basic understanding of the book and its “goal” for having been written. It gave us just a tiny bit of background about the author, which can be invaluable information – especially for nonfiction books like the Bible.

As we continued to read, I primarily referred to the rest of the breakdown on my end. This helped me to determine a good stopping point each day for our reading. Sometimes that was at an even chapter break, but not always. And while the standard “just read 3 chapters a day” will usually work, it was also nice to have the breakdown handy to refer to larger sections that should be read all in one sitting for context. The Sermon on the Mount is one of these sections. Not only should it be read all together (at least as you’re introducing the idea to your child for the first time), but it’s also not specifically labeled in the Biblical texts as all being one long section. The headers in the Bible tell you “Beatitudes,” “Lord’s Prayer,” etc, but the Bible Breakdown specifically labels those sections as the Sermon on the Mount. This information was really useful to have at my fingertips.

If you’re looking for a Bible curriculum, Bible Breakdowns aren’t it. They are best used as reference for the Scriptures themselves. They don’t tell you what to teach or how to teach it. It’s not a devotional with ideas and concepts added. It is the simplest document in the world, just telling you what to expect from your Bible reading. It’s exactly what I was looking for to help me help the kids understand what’s going on in the Bible.

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews!


Vindication Season 2 #VindicationMIN

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through Momentum Influencers.

You might remember that a few weeks ago I did a review for the first season of Vindication, a crime drama series available to stream on Pure Flix. Find more info on the show as a whole in that review. Today, I want to talk specifically about episode 7, which hit the streaming service this past Wednesday. Make sure to read to the end of this post for a chance to win a 6-month subscription to Pure Flix so you can watch both seasons of Vindication as well as loads of other family-friendly and faith-based content!

In Vindication, much like most other dramas, there’s a bit of change from season 1 to season 2. For example, Detective Travis has gotten a promotion and is now the head of a smaller police department. His former deputy/intern, Kris, is still working at the old station, so we still get to keep up with those characters through her.

Episode 7: Be a Man

In this episode, Detective Travis is off on a hunting trip with a group of other men (and one daughter). Each team of 2 is given a specific area of land within one of the members’ property where they can hunt deer. As one might imagine, there’s lots of opportunity for bonding while we see the groups of hunters waiting for deer to pass by.

At the end of the day, the hunters gather together again for a meal of fire roasted venison and the entire group has some deep conversations. One of the men (the man whose land they’re hunting on) reveals that his son “no longer likes girls,” and he as a father is struggling with that. A younger man tells him that he should just tell his son that he loves him. This younger man grew up in a family where he was never told that by any men of consequence in his life, and is “recovering” from a life of crime because of it.

The episode also spends a bit of time with Kris and her brother, Shane (a vet suffering from PTSD who lives with her). There’s a bit of tension between the siblings, but they push through it. Kris is also approached by the upcoming police chief in her precinct, who hints at the fact that he wants her to become his sergeant when he lands the promotion.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode (as I have the rest of the Vindication series to date). I struggled a little bit with the gay son story line, especially in a faith based show, but it was easy to move past. I’m looking forward to seeing the final episodes of the season as we finish out the month of October.

If you’re interested in winning your own 6-month subscription to Pure Flix, just leave me a comment on this blog post, telling me what show or movie you’d want to watch on Pure Flix. I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday, October 20th.