Monday, July 25, 2016

Homes Full of Books!


 “Poor people have big TVs; rich people have big libraries." —Jim Rhoan


I just read this quote in a Sonlight Curriculum newsletter. I LOVE it! I also think that there is a lot of truth in the claim. I grew up in a home with lots of books and frequent trips to the library were a part of my childhood. As an adult, I have far more books than I or my parents did and reading was an important part of my children’s education and recreational time, much more so than TV viewing.

It breaks my heart (and is almost unimaginable) to hear of children who don’t have books in their homes, whose parents don’t value reading. I know that early exposure to books positively affects academic progress, which does impact income. Even more, though,  important is the “richness” that books impart to both children and adults by exposing us to people, places and ideas that we will never  otherwise experience.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Power in Your Hands (Schoolhouse Review)

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

This summer, Emily has been polishing up her writing skills with , 2nd Edition, published by Writing with Sharon Watson.

Sharon Watson’s wonderful writing and literature programs are not new to us. Last summer, we reviewed Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide and continued using it throughout the year as our primary literature program. We also purchased and used the first edition of The The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. When we received the second edition of this high school writing program last month, Emily just moved to the corresponding unit in the second edition.


The Power in Your Hands includes two components: a student book and  teacher’s guide. The student book is very self-explanatory, allowing the student to work through the exercises independently. (Of course, discussion of the completed exercises with the parent/teacher is always beneficial!)

Each of the 23 chapters focuses on a different type of non-fiction writing assignment. The topics include several types of persuasive essays (compare-contrast, logical, emotional appeal), letters, process writing, position paper, newspaper articles, biographies, descriptive essays, and more. Within each chapter are several lessons that teach the type of writing by analyzing others’ writing, creating outlines and introductory paragraphs, and learning more powerful writing techniques such as active voice, choosing precise words, writing to a specific audience, and figurative language. The book is really packed with powerful content!

Each chapter concludes by requiring the student to write a complete essay or other non-fiction piece, using the techniques and principles taught in that chapter. A checklist is always provided to make sure that the student includes the key elements and strategies from the chapter. This is a wonderful feature, because if the student follows the checklist, she will not only write a quality piece, but knows she has included elements necessary to earning a good grade for that essay.

A couple of the chapters focus on proofreading and common grammar mistakes and don’t require the essay.

The teacher’s guide gives instructions on how to grade the essays and provides answers for the student exercises. The current edition offers grading rubrics for every single writing assignment. I love these because they give concrete ways to assess students’ writing and allow students to see areas in which they excelled and areas in which they need to improve. Also included in the teacher’s guide are a year’s worth of writing prompts or “14-minute power surges.” We haven’t used these yet, but look forward to doing so after Emily finishes the student book.


Improvements in the Second Edition of The Power in Your Hands:

The student book is virtually the same between the two editions. The main difference is that each daily lesson is clearly labeled. The chapter includes many exercises, labeled 16.1, 16.2, etc. Since these exercises take varying amounts of time, the student might need to complete 1-3 exercises on a particular day. In the first edition, a suggested stopping point was marked by a horizontal line on the page. This was easy to miss. I often had a problem with Emily not finishing a full lesson because she didn’t know where to stop. The second edition labels each lesson, making the daily work much more clear.

             first edition                                                             second edition


Another change is that the SAT essay chapter from edition 1 was removed (because the SAT essay itself has changed), and a chapter on common grammar mistakes has been added.

The teacher’s guide now has grading guides for each assignment instead of a generic one to use for all of them. That is a great improvement!


Our Thoughts:

Emily has really enjoyed The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. It is one of her favorite subjects. She has completed 16 of the 23 chapters over the past year and we plan to continue into next year. As a parent, I find it difficult to teach “how” to write, but The Power in Your Hands breaks down the process, explaining techniques that are effective for many different types of non-fiction writing. It is a very thorough course that challenges the student, but allows for a great deal of creativity in writing topics and style. I think that being able to choose any topic that interests her is one reason Emily has enjoyed the course so much. Completion of the book would equate to a very intensive writing course for one year or a more relaxed two-year course.

Connect with Sharon Watson:

Writing with Sharon Watson (Sign up for the newsletter to receive free writing prompts!)


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Great Ideas for Your Homeschool

As homeschoolers, we have more time to teach our children more non-academic skills, like sewing. I love this post at At Home: Where Life Happens that shows some simple sewing projects that the students made as baby shower gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit that, although I sew a lot, I haven’t spent to time to teach my daughter how to sew.

In my constant search for the best curricula available, I love hearing what resources have worked well for other families.  This week, Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break shared some of her favorite programs. Some, like The Power in Your Hands (review coming soon), and IEW’s Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization are favorites for us as well.

Have you ever considered year-round schooling? Amanda at is starting a series on the nitty-gritty of how a year-round schedule works. You can find her series here: Year-Round Homeschooling.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Freebie! Animal Game


I love using games as part of our schooling. This is a category game that I designed a few years ago to teach or review animal characteristics and categories. There are two versions—for younger and older elementary ages. Younger children will sort pictures into animal types, and older children will identify the defining characteristics of each type. Download All About Animals here.


Want to try out another learning game? Through this link only, you can purchase The Insect Game for only $1 (reg. $3.50) Or buy all 15 of my learning games for only $15 at CurrClick.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

ArtAchieve (Schoolhouse Review)

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

Are you looking for a fun and easy to use art program that works for a wide range of ages? ArtAchieve might be just what you need! We received the Entire Level II for review.
How does ArtAchieve work?
There are 6 levels of ArtAcheive and 8-14 individual lessons within each level. The levels progress in difficulty and are appropriate for first grade through adult. Most lessons have the option of either a video presentation or a power point presentation.
A lesson begins with a discussion of an inspiration piece. This is often a piece of sculpture with ties to another culture. The student first completes a “Warm Up” exercise that allows her to practice drawing the shapes needed for the art piece. Then the student is guided to draw the piece using lines, curves, circles, and dots. The outlined works are then colored or painted. Examples of colors and patterns are demonstrated, but the student is encouraged to use her own creative ideas to make the work her own.
Warm up for Korean Wedding Duck lesson

Guided Drawing for Korean Wedding Duck Lesson
Inspiration and backgrounds for Korean Wedding Duck Lesson
What supplies are needed?
The supplies for most of the ArtAchieve lessons are either easy to obtain or are items that you are likely to already own. For Level II, most of the lessons can be completed with a permanent marker, colored markers, and acrylic craft paints (and brushes). Two of the lessons require chalk pastels or paint pens. When you get into level III, you’ll need a few more materials—oil pastels, white charcoal pencil, and shoe polish.
Here are the pieces you will create in Level II:
Our experience:
Emily found the lessons easy and fun to do. I think they were a bit simple for high school, but because Emily hasn’t had a lot of art experience, it was a good fit. She was never overwhelmed, she enjoyed the colorful results, and she was free to branch out creatively without feeling like her art had to look a certain way. I did many of the lessons with her and enjoyed the creative outlet myself. She also did several lessons with a 7-year old that she has been babysitting this summer and reports that the projects were a big hit with her art-loving charge as well.
Because most of the lessons required simple supplies, Emily didn’t have to spend a lot of time gathering supplies or cleaning up. Likewise, if she needed to leave a drawing and come back to it later, that was easy to do. I know  she tends to avoid activities that seem like a lot of work, so the fact that she was able to jump into a lesson quickly encouraged her to do so.
These are some of the projects that Emily and I completed. You can see that our results differed, because we chose to complete use different colors, patterns, and backgrounds.
The ducks are Korean wedding ducks. It was funny that we learned about the history of these wedding ducks in the art lesson, and the following week, my oldest daughter was given a set of them as a wedding gift!
Here are some more of the art projects:

We completed the free sample lessons from Level I as well. A couple of these lessons focused on drawing in perspective and shading—good skills to use with any art project.
ArtAchieve offers 4 free art lessons, so be sure to try them out to see if this program would be a good fit for your family! Lessons are available for sale individually or as complete levels.

Connect with ArtAchieve:
Twitter:  @artachieve
Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Looking Back at Our Year

Emily is finishing up the 10th grade. That’s so hard to believe! Where does the time go?


It’s been a pretty good year all in all. 8th and 9th grades were a bit rough with dawdling and lack of focus. This past year, Emily has been more on track. (Well, until April at least, when she went back to procrastinating—she still is not quite finished with her work for the year. So much for summer break!)

In Algebra 2, she completed Life of Fred’s Advanced Algebra and loved it. Math seems to have clicked for her and she has done very well. She finished up the year by reviewing with LearnBop.

We used The Spectrum Chemistry, which I thought was a very thorough program. There were labs every week that were easy to get done, since the program includes a complete lab kit with all the needed supplies, equipment, and chemicals. We had a lab group of four students that met every week. Emily did well with chemistry, especially with the math component, but didn’t enjoy it. I think she’s more of a biology girl.

We completed the first of two years of U.S. history using Sonlight 100 and Dave Raymond American History. The two programs complemented each other well, since Dave Raymond History includes videos, primary source readings and essay questions, while Sonlight is primarily reading, discussion, and mapwork. (We skipped the portfolio aspect of Dave Raymond.)

Emily completed a semester of Middlebury Spanish 2, then used the Destinos video series and text for the second semester. Although the content was mostly review, watching the videos, which are a soap-opera type continuing story were good for improving her (and my) comprehension.

For English, Emily used Sharon Watson’s Illuminating Literature and Power in Your Hands and loved both. She also studied The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and The Scarlet Letter using Lightning Literature.

In the fall, Emily completed her Health credit using materials from Standard Deviants Accelerate and the health program from Homeschool Family Fitness.

PE and Art did not happen on a consistent basis, so finishing up those two subjects is our summer goal. She’s doing the running programs for Homeschool Family Fitness as well some other varied exercise for PE. She’s doing the ArtAchieve program (which she loves—review coming soon!)and continuing to work in Artistic Pursuits for her art.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin (Schoolhouse Review)

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books  Review}

If you want your child to improve his vocabulary, one of the most efficient way to do so is to teach Latin roots. Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin: Derivatives I, published by Laurelwood Books, is a program designed to teach Latin roots and derivatives and/or to supplement a more formal study of Latin. The workbook can also be used with the Olim, Once Upon a Time readers and workbooks. The vocabulary is matched up with the Olim readers, but since Emily isn’t studying Latin, using the derivatives book by itself worked just fine. If you are studying Latin as a language, however, I think that including a English derivatives program is a great way to ensure that your student makes those connections that will improve his English vocabulary as well as his Latin knowledge.

Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin: Derivatives I is a 144 page consumable workbook that is written for 5th and 6th graders, but can be used for older and younger students as well. The book includes 15 chapters and at the recommended pace of 2 weeks per chapter, would take most of a school year to complete. The assignments for each chapter are similar, including:

  • Tracing Latin vocabulary and English derivatives
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Matching derivatives with Latin words
  • Fill in the blank stories
  • Multiple choice definitions
  • Story writing using the target derivatives
  • Word searches and crossword puzzles

One of the activities that I thought was particularly good was matching Latin words with their derivatives. For example, the Latin words malus, mala, malum (meaning bad) are part of the English words, malicious, maleficent, malice, malaria, and malodorous. I think this exercise will train students to dissect unfamiliar words, looking for their roots to help decode their meaning. (Emily has been studying Greek roots over the past year, and I’ve frequently seen her break down words to figure out their meaning. It’s wonderful to see your student actually using the knowledge that she has been studying for school!)



Emily really enjoyed this program. At 16, she went through the exercises at faster than the recommended pace. She especially liked the story writing and fill-in-the blank stories, saying that these exercises helped her remember the target words better. She said it was “too easy” and that she would recommended it for 10-12 year olds (which is exactly what the publishers recommend). The English derivatives were easy for her; there wasn’t much new vocabulary. The Latin vocabulary was new to her however, and I know that exposure to it will help her decode other English words. Although she considered it “easy,” she informed me that if I didn’t assign her this book next year, she would just work through it for fun! For some reason, she LOVES studying word roots!

Connect with Laurelwood Books on Facebook:

Read reviews of Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin: Derivatives I  Laurelwood Books’ Scripture Scribe series, Patriotic Penmanship, Olim Once Upon a Time readers and workbook (These look really fun!), or State the Facts, A Guide to Studying Your State at the Crew Blog.

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books  Review}

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Family Wedding Pictures

It was so wonderful to have the whole family together for Allison and James’ wedding last week. Now that three of the kids are grown, it is so rare to have them all in one place at one time.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016 (Schoolhouse Review)

Notebooking Pages LIFETIME Membership

Are you familiar with notebooking? Notebooking is a method of homeschooling that encourages students to write and draw about what they learn instead of using more dry traditional classroom methods such as answering questions at the end of textbook chapters. It allows students to feel more ownership of their work, work more independently, and provides a great record of what they are learning. I received a Lifetime Membership from to review and found that the many resources here make the process of notebooking even easier and more fun to implement.

About Notebooking

Notebooking fits in well with our homeschooling style. We have always followed a literature-based approach for history and preferred discussion, “real books” and hands-on activities for science. I have had my children write reports, draw, make timelines and label maps rather than writing short answers to questions. That’s what notebooking is about—allowing the children to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a way that allows creativity and follows their interests. We’ve never used pre-printed notebooking pages, but found them easy to incorporate into our schedule.

What is included in a Notebooking membership?

Basically, hundreds of ready-to-use pages on a huge variety of topics. In addition to generic pages with pretty borders, your choice of standard or primary rule lines, and boxes for adding drawings, you have choices of dozens of topics in:

  • Alphabet pages
  • Bible characters
  • Famous People
  • Fine Arts
  • Geography
  • History
  • Holidays
  • Language Arts
  • Science/Nature

Each of these pages comes in several formats. You can choose pages with or without a picture or picture box in several layouts and choose standard or primary ruled lines.

A book of centuries is also included for creating a timeline in a book format. Just this item alone can cost $10-$30 dollars from other companies. (We have one from another company that we’ve used for years. It’s a great alternative to a wall mounted timeline.)

Free Notebooking Pages Product Sampler from

A FREE MEMBERSHIP is available to that provides a generous sampling of pages. It’s definitely worth a try. You may discover that the free membership is all you need or it may tempt you to buy the Lifetime Membership to have access to all the materials (with more still being added!)


How did we use Notebooking Pages?

Our primary focus for this review period was American history. I printed out a stack of pages on topics and people that we had recently studied or would be studying soon. Some, I assigned to Emily; others I just made available for her to choose. That way she could write about topics that were most interesting to her. We found pages on all the early presidents, Santa Fe Trail, Lewis and Clark, the War of 1812, the Constitution, and so on. As she learned about a topic, she’d choose a notebooking page that corresponded or a generic page if there wasn’t a pre-designed page for that topic and wrote a few paragraphs to summarize what she had learned. She really enjoyed doing this and it was a great way to record what she is studying and for me to see what she had retained from her reading.


Notebooking will be a big part of our school plans for next year and I’ve already printed out a lot of pages to use. Emily will be doing a human anatomy and physiology course using Great Courses videos and some other non-textbook resources. I plan to have her “make her own textbook” by notebooking what she has learned each day. I was thrilled to discover that in the human anatomy topic, in addition to the simple notebooking pages available for other topics, there were many diagrams with parts to label. These will be very useful!


The following semester, she’ll be doing a “history of science” course, again with non-textbook resources, so we won’t have access to ready-made comprehension questions or tests. I plan to have her do pages for each scientist she studies as a record of what she is learning.

I think it would be fun to do a poets study as well that would include poet biographies and copywork of poems. Really, one could incorporate notebooking into almost any subject.

Navigating the Site

Immediately upon signing up for my Lifetime Membership, I received several emails. The first, the “Membership Tour and Important Info.”  included very specific instructions for logging on and navigating the site.



The second email was an “EasyStart Guide” that provided a 5 day plan for getting started with notebooking.  Daily instructions included tutorials to work through, how to start a notebook, and creating the first notebook page. These guides were wonderful for easing the “Aack! Now I have access to thousands of notebooking pages. I don’t know what to do or where to start!” reaction. If you are new to notebooking, you won’t have to worry—these tutorials will get you started without any stress. There are even videos that give tips on how to incorporate notebooking into your school!


What we thought:

I was impressed with the wide variety of pages available. And of course, there are many many generic pages with a variety of formats and borders for use with any topic you can dream up. I loved that there were so many topical pages with illustrations—that makes the finished product so much nicer. Emily said that she is enjoying notebooking because it “helps her remember what is is learning better.”

If you are looking for a way to document informal schooling or if you have never tried schooling outside of the textbook approach, I encourage you to try out notebooking….and makes the process very easy!


Connect with

Twitter:  @NotebookingPgs

  Notebooking Pages Lifetime Membership Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 (Schoolhouse Review) Review

During the past month, I’ve been trying out a new (to me) homeschool record-keeping program. provides a system for online record keeping and planning for nearly every aspect of your homeschool. My School Year (Homeschool Record Keeping) costs $40 a year, which is a reasonable price for a subscription-based record keeping program. A subscription cover an unlimited number of students, which is great for large families.

My School Year manages and keeps records of many aspects of your homeschool:

  • Lesson plans
  • Attendance
  • Grades
  • Materials used
  • Book lists
  • Activities
  • Awards
  • Transcripts

To get started with My School Year, you need to enter basic information, student names, address, school name, dates for the current school term, etc. This will be used when creating transcripts. Then subjects and classes are added for each student. At this point, you will be ready to start creating lesson plans.

Individual lessons can be created by choosing the class and entering the information for each lesson. A couple of short cut options are also available. “Quick split” can take a resources with a specified number of pages and divide equally it among a specified number of days. For example, if you want your child to read a 346 page book over two weeks, the program will schedule an equal number of pages to be read each day. Rapid repeat allows you to schedule items with the same resource and different lesson numbers for a period of time (Saxon Math, lesson 1; Saxon Math, lesson 2; and so on). This is fairly limited, though, since the numbers need to be sequential. If your curriculum is divided into “Week 1, Days 1-5,” for example the only way to handle that is by scheduling one week at a time, or all the “day 1’s,” and so on. The feature still saved me some time over entering each subject individually.

Additional lesson planning features include the ability to reschedule lessons for a later date or to copy lesson plans for use with another child.

Each lesson can be marked as complete and grades entered. The program keeps track of progress.




Here is an assignment sheet created from the lesson plans. It was quick to print out and I liked the check-off boxes for each assignment.


I found the entering of lessons to be rather slow and tedious. I felt that it would have been quicker to do on paper. It is nice that the program keeps track of attendance and grade averages, though.

In addition to lesson planning, there are more report features. My School Year can create keep track of book lists, materials used, grades, extracurricular activities, awards, and so on. It can also create a transcript based on your student’s classes and grades. Reports can be as specific or as general as you desire.

As books are entered into the reading logs, you have the options to include reading level, page count, price, author and other notes about the book. A report can be printed at any time for the book list or any other list.













The “Teacher’s Aid” tab offers warnings and suggestions for action. You can see below that I have a warning that my term is ending and that I need to set up a new term, and suggestions that I add awards, reading lists, or events attended to my records.


My Thoughts:

Overall, My School Year wasn’t a good fit for me. It took me quite a while to figure out some of the features. Although there is a “need help” button on every page that gives tips for using that feature, the way it worked wasn’t intuitive to me and I found it to be time consuming. After I accidentally entered Emily’s book list into materials/book list, I never could figure out how to transfer it onto her reading list for this term. Nor could I even view the list other than creating a pdf report of it. (It probably can be done, but I couldn’t figure it out.)

I really liked the reports that I printed out. The lesson plans are attractive and have check-off boxes. They were helpful to give to Emily each day with her assignments and it was just as easy to print off a week’s assignments at one time. Likewise, the book list report was attractive and ideal for including in a portfolio.

The program has a lot of features, more than some other record keeping programs that I’ve used, but just wasn’t easy enough for me to enjoy using.

My School Year has made several improvements to the program just in the short time that I’ve been a member, so the company obviously has a commitment to improving their product to meet the needs of their customers. If you want to try out My School Year to see if it is right for your family, a free one-month trial subscription is available.

Homeschool Record Keeping { Review}

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.