Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke

image The Hidden Flame is set in Jerusalem during the years immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus.  The authors skillfully weave together the lives and perspectives of the early Christians, the Jews, and Roman soldiers.

Abigail is a new Christian who is a part of the rapidly growing “Followers of the Way.” Two men want to marry her, one a Jew and one a Roman, but her desire is to remain faithful to her faith which is not shared by either man. As her story plays out, the reader lives through the stories from the Book of Acts—the martyrdom of Stephen, the deceit of Aquila and Sapphira and the persecution of Christians by both the Romans and the religious establishment.

As usual, the Davis Bunn and Janette Oke team did not disappoint me. The novel brought Bible characters to life in a very realistic way in a story of love, devotion, and drama.

I received a free review copy of this book from Bethany House. All opinions expressed are my own.

What does my child need to learn this year?


This post is part  of the Homeschool Crew Blog Cruise weekly topic. If you would like to read more blogs on this topic, click on the link!

When I first started homeschooling many years ago, this was a big question for me. Surely there was a list of expected topics to teach for each grade. Teaching my own child was a huge responsibility and I certainly didn’t want any “gaps” in her education!

Many new homeschoolers choose a “boxed” curriculum for their first year or two. That way, the planning and the decisions about exactly what to teach is done for them. As they become more confident in their ability to teach their own, they gradually branch out into choosing more varied products and deciding for themselves what to teach each year. Others feel most comfortable sticking with a complete curriculum.

I didn’t choose that path. My daughter was reading at age 3 and was ahead in math as well, so the standard Kindergarten or first grade curriculum would not have been a good fit for her. In fact, the very reason we began homeschooling is so that I could tailor her learning to her needs and interests.

I think the first place to start is to develop some long term goals for your children. Do you want them to love reading? Do you want them to be good writers? Do you want them to “think outside the box?” Do you want them to do similar work to their public or private schooled peers in case you decide to send them to traditional school in a few years? Do you want to concentrate on character development or academic excellence or the arts? There are no right or wrong answers, but thinking about your family goals will give you a place to start. The beauty of homeschooling is that our children can have individualized education and not be required to fit into a mold made by some committee of “educators!”

Then think about what you want your child to learn this year. Learn to read? Become comfortable speaking in front of a group? Complete his second grade math book? Properly use capitals and punctuation in his writing? Learn to use the scientific method?

Once you have long term and yearly goals in place, then you will be in a much better place to search out materials that will help you work toward those goals.

I started from the beginning picking and choosing each subject based on both what I wanted my children to learn that year and our teaching and learning styles. Because I love to read, I was drawn to literature based curriculums such as Five in a Row and Sonlight.

Our science program in the early years was mainly interest based and hands on. I was often concerned that we didn’t spend  enough time on science, but surprisingly, my children always scored high in that area in standardized tests.

One area that I need to work on with Emily is writing—both expression and mechanics. I’m going to make this a priority for the rest of this year. One of my goals for this year was for her to become more efficient (less distractible) and independent in her seatwork. Implementing workboxes has made a huge difference in this area.

How about you? What are your goals for your child this year and how are you accomplishing them?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beehive Reader

image The Beehive Reader 1 is a first reader published by All About Learning Press. This reader is the first of a (soon to be published) series that will coordinate perfectly with the phonics based All About Spelling program.

The Beehive Reader is a sturdy 156 page hardcover book with absolutely beautiful pictures. The text is lightly underlined to help with tracking and the words are  printed one phrase per line to help children with proper phrasing and inflection. The stories are simple but entertaining. I know my children would have loved this book when they were learning to read.



The Beehive Reader is sold at All About Spelling for 19.95.

I received a free review copy of The Beehive Reader.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Listen, by Rene Gutteridge

image How much power do words really have? In this novel, the small town of Marlo is thrown into an uproar when private conversations are suddenly being posted on the internet. How do the citizens react when their gossip is spread? How do the victims of this gossip react? And how and why is this happening?

This was a unique plot that piqued my interest. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the first few chapters. I felt that the characters were not fully developed enough for me to really care about them. In addition, so many characters were introduced in the early chapters that I had difficulty remembering who was who and kept having to flip back in the book to find out.

Once I got significantly into the story, the action was stronger and I found myself being pulled into the story. It turned out to be a good mystery/drama with unpredictable turns of events and a surprise ending. However, I think the author missed an opportunity to make the reader ponder the power of words and gossip in her own life. I think the intent was there, but for me, it just didn’t hit the mark. I would give this a 3/5 rating.

I was given a free review copy of this book by Tyndale House Publishers.

Worship Guitar

Emily has been wanting to learn to play the guitar for a while now, so we were both excited to have the opportunity to try out the Worship Guitar Class program.

Emily started the program borrowing Katie’s full sized guitar. That was a bit awkward. Then Grandma Lallie and Grandpa Bill gave her an electric guitar for Christmas! Uh thank-you…. Well, it is the right size. And maybe she won’t make toooo much noise with it…


“Worship Guitar Class is a Christian Guitar Instructional series to teach you how to play the guitar ‘effortlessly.’” The lessons include video content  (either DVD or streaming video) of  the instructor, Jean Welles, teaching the lessons and downloadable books and music.

The program we tried was the Kid’s Worship  Guitar Lessons ($29.97), which is geared for 5 to 9 year olds.

With Kid's Worship Guitar
Lessons Your Child Will Learn:

♦ How to hold down a note to get a clear tone on the guitar.
♦Worship songs with the melody plucked to strengthen their hands.
♦ Half a dozen worship songs they can sing & play..
♦ 11 guitar chords .
♦ How to read guitar tab and chords charts.
♦ How to make up their own verses.
♦ Christian Values in each song

The Kid’s Worship Guitar Class includes:

♦ A DVD with 9 Lessons, 2 1/2 hours long. image
♦ A downloadable eBook - over 30 pages!
♦ A Practice Session for every lesson that starts with prayer.
♦ A Practice Chart you can photocopy. 
♦ NEW - Option for online Streaming Videos

I found the videos engaging and easy to use.  Since the first chords taught are one-finger chords, it does make it easy for children to use. (Even the one finger chords were a challenge at first for Emily—remembering which finger, which fret and which string and learning to curve her hand to avoid touching the other strings!) I had to frequently stop and rewind the video for Emily to keep up. We found it difficult to both watch the video and follow along with the printed music. What  worked best for us was to look over the printed lesson first, then to follow along with the video. Then we would use the book again for the daily practice sessions. I would say that Emily, at 9, finds it fairly challenging, so I’m glad that we got the kids’ version to review.

Each weekly lesson includes the video and instructions on which skills to practice that week. Also included for each week is a practice video so that practicing can be done with or without video assistance. We enjoyed doing it both ways.

I think that Jean Welles Worship Guitar Class for Kids is well done and that the videos make learning guitar easy and fun. I liked the extra video practice sessions and thought that the book explained things well. If your child is interested in learning to play the guitar, you can watch a sample of the video content and download some sample book pages at their website to help you determine if this is a fit for your family.

I received access to the streaming videos and the downloadable e-book  in return for my honest review. For more reviews of this product and of the Jean Welles Guitar for adults, visit the Homeschool Crew page!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


imageMathScore is an online math program developed by MIT graduates with the aim of improving test scores. The skills that are taught and drilled include second grade through Algebra 1. MathScore can be used as a complete curriculum, but is probably more useful as a supplement.





- The list of topics covered is quite comprehensive—57 topics for fourth grade, including such topics as mean, median and mode, bar graphs, function tables, and time conversion.

-The child or parent has the ability to skip around among topics, making the program ideal for reinforcing another curriculum.

-The program self-adjusts the level as the child masters or struggles with topics.

-I love the “report” feature. Every day a progress report is emailed to the parent which documents not only topics attempted and mastered, but “on task” time and “idle” time.  On several occasions, I was able to show Emily the report of 15 minutes or more of idle time. If you have a distractible child, this is very helpful!


- The drills have the look and feel of worksheets. The “fun factor” is low. (Still, Emily didn’t complain—I think just having the work on the computer was motivational.)

-It took forever for a topic to be mastered. Emily spent hours on basic addition facts (which she knows). It appears that an occasional error or typo will keep the child from being able to ever complete a section. Finally I just told her to move on to another topic.

Emily’s Comments:

“It is fun because it is timed. It’s like you are racing. It’s fun to try to beat the time.”

“It teaches you things you haven’t studied yet.”


One thing I have discovered this year as we have tried out several computer-based math programs is that Emily’s accuracy greatly increases when she has instant feedback. When doing written work, she is careless, but MathScore and other programs we have tried are significantly reducing careless errors.

We will continue to use MathScore for a while, probably not every day, but I think it will be useful for reinforcing our regular curriculum (and I won’t have to grade the additional work!)

A subscription to MathScore sells for $14.95 per month for the first child. The price drops to $9.95 per month with a 9 month commitment. Prices for additional children are also discounted significantly. One nice additional feature of a MathScore subscription is the ability to put it on “hold” for a vacation period.

I received a free trial subscription from MathScore in exchange for my honest review.

FactsFirst (Saxon Homeschool)

image FactsFirst is an online math program published by Saxon Homeschool (but is not specific to the Saxon Math program)  that drills students in basic math facts—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  It is a colorful, engaging program that Emily enjoyed using. After the student completes several drills and a quiz, then he or she earns five minutes of arcade time (math games). The student (or parent) is able to choose which groups of facts to work on during each practice session. (I had Emily concentrate on her multiplication 12’s and her division facts.)










It is easy to measure your student’s progress through use of the math fact matrix, which labels the mastery of every fact as “excellent,” “good,” or “needs work.”


I recommend this program for efficient, yet fun math fact drill—much more fun than flash cards!  An online one-year subscription to factsfirst costs $49.99 and includes up to 4 student accounts.

I received a 90 day subscription to factsfirst in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Eclectic Education Series

image The Eclectic Education Series is a set of textbooks that was used extensively in schools across the US from 1865 to 1915. These books were the standard for education during this time period and include such classics as the McGuffey Readers and Ray’s Arithmetic.  These books have all been compiled onto cd-roms and can be printed or read from the computer.

Some of the numerous books that are included in this set are:

Ray’s  Arithmetic (10 books covering basic math through Integral Calculus)

McGuffey’s Readers ( 19 books, including alternate readers, eclectic spellers and more)

Thalheimer’s Histories

Cromwell (history and collection of letters)


Rhetorical Reading

Good Morals and Manners

Norton’s Elements of Chemistry

Norton’s Elements of Physics

Pinneo’s Grammar

Harvey’s Grammar

Teacher’s books (Manual of Methods, Question Book, Successful Teaching in Rural Schools)

…and dozens more!

Many people are attracted to older, classic materials such as these because of their emphasis on patriotism and traditional values. Because of their intended use in one room schoolhouses, they are very adaptable for larger homeschool families.

We tried out a few of these resources:

Ray’s Arithmetic held some surprises for me since I didn’t image expect a hundred+ year old math program to be very strong. First, most of the first few years of arithmetic instruction are done orally. I see some advantages to this—errors can be corrected immediately and students become competent in mental arithmetic. Second, most of the problems are word problems. This makes math concrete to the student instead of abstract. In fact, the word problems are fairly difficult compared to those in modern math programs. Emily and I worked in this daily for a few weeks. I plan to continue Ray’s once or twice a week as a supplement to our regular math program. I think it will really improve her mental math skills. The Ray’s series includes many books from primary math all the way through calculus and astronomy. We used the Ray’s Intellectual Arithmetic, which is appropriate for 3rd-4th grades. Here is a sample problem from the end of the book: If 12 peaches are worth 84 apples, and 8 apples are worth 24 plums, how many plums shall I give for 5 peaches?”  Pretty tough!

McGuffey’s Readersimage

I have read that these are advanced and the reader numbers  don’t correspond to actual grades. For example, the Fourth Reader is actually high school level. I don’t entirely agree. Emily is reading the Fourth Reader now and I would guess that the early selections are about a fourth to  fifth grade level. The end of the reader includes selections by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and others, so it is more of a middle school level at least. I have had Emily read aloud to me from the reader every day and we are enjoying it more than I expected. There is a nice mix of prose and poetry and many of the selections have moral lessons in the quaint manner of the 1800’s. Emily was excited to read a mention of McGuffey’s Readers in the American Girl historical mystery book she was reading just today.

Nature Studyimage

This is a delightful book that includes lesson plans for nature study. For example, one lesson topic is the butterfly. Extensive information is provided, then the student is asked to observe a butterfly and to answer various questions, to make a drawing, and to write a composition describing the butterfly.

On a rare snow day, we read another lesson on tracks and Emily excitedly went on a hunt for animal tracks in the snow.

Most of the science and history books appeared to be most appropriate for middle school and up. Apparently, in the past, these studies were not undertaken until students were older.

Note: With the vast number of resources included, the Eclectic Education Series can be rather overwhelming at first. Fortunately, I was given a tip by one of my TOS Crewmates to begin with the Manual of Methods (in the science section) and the Teaching in Rural Schools books. These excellent teacher’s guides led me to the appropriate books to look at for Emily’s grade and explained how the lessons were typically taught.

Many (but not all) of the individual books of the Eclectic Education Series are available free online since they are in the public domain, but this set is easy to find all in one place. In addition, the  publisher has “cleaned up” many of the books and removed the answers from each page of the arithmetic books so that they can be used as student books.  The books are scanned and in some cases, although the print is quite legible, the pictures are not of high quality.

Personally, I prefer more modern materials, but a family who wants a back-to-the-basics approach could use these materials for the core of a K-12 curriculum. And even I found some gems in the series that will be a nice supplement to our other studies. It has been fun to experiment with what was an important element in our country’s history!

The Eclectic Education Series sells for $159. Visit the TOS Crew site for more opinions on this series!

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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Upward Basketball

Emily had her first basketball game yesterday. This is her first year to play, so with only one practice so far, she’s still figuring out what to do. We’re playing “Upward Basketball” at a local church and think we will really enjoy this. The kids have devotionals and prayer at every game and practice and stars are awarded for sportsmanship and effort. The kids also have memory verses for each week.





Saturday, January 16, 2010

Presidential Penmanship

image I received a copy of Presidential Penmanship DN from Zeezok Publishing to review. This program consists of a cd containing handwriting exercises for first through twelfth grades. What makes this program unique is that all of the writing exercises are presidential quotes, speeches, and other historical documents. The child is thus exposed to historical and patriotic documents while he or she is practicing handwriting skills. Although most older students do not use a dedicated handwriting curriculum, I can see the advantage of doing this type of copywork, even at the middle or high school level. After Emily copies her quote for the day, we spend a few minutes discussing its significance or meaning. Since we are studying American history this year, it complements our curriculum well.

The DN version of Presidential Penmanship is similar to D’Nealian handwriting style. Numerous other handwriting styles are also available.

The complete Presidential Penmanship program sells for $39.99—an excellent value for 12 years of handwriting curriculum.

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Molly Gets Organized

image Organization—one of my favorite subjects! Honestly! I enjoy finding better ways to organize my stuff and my time. I find great satisfaction in cleaning and organizing a closet or cupboard. Even (or especially) if my life is in chaos, I relish the feeling of completion and control I get when a job is completed and order is restored in some area. However, I don’t claim to keep up with things as well as I should! So I was happy to have the opportunity to review Molly’s latest book, “Molly Gets Organized—All in One Place.”

This e-book is a compilation of the articles on organization from the 2009 Molly’s Digest magazine, so if you already have those, you don’t need this e-book as well. But if you are new to Molly’s Digest, you will find some great ideas here!

Molly covers a variety of topics in this volume, from “how to clean out a closet” to setting up a home inventory binder to making inexpensive and environmentally friendly cleaners for every part of your home.

There’s a good article on cleaning your garage. Aack! I don’t think I want to touch that one! Someday….

Did you know that you can store all of your recipes (or other paper clutter) online at Google Documents and other sites to cut down on that cookbook clutter? I didn’t.

I loved the idea and photos of a dresser-turned-kitchen beverage station. I wish I had the space to implement this in my kitchen! One of my favorite features is the photographs of many of these ideas that are actually in use by Molly and her readers—bathroom re-do’s, re-purposing of old furniture, storage ideas and more. And as always, Molly’s ideas are easy on the budget!

Molly Gets Organized is available at the Schoolhouse Store for 7.95.

I received a free review copy of Molly Gets Organized.

Apologia/Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling

image  The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, by Debra Bell is a homeschool “classic” that has just been updated and republished by Apologia Educational Ministries. Apologia is well known for their excellent science curriculum, but has recently branched out into publishing other homeschooling materials as well.

When I  started homeschooling 16 years ago, I voraciously read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling techniques and philosophies. During the summers, I would read and reread some of the “homeschooling classics,” gleaning both new ideas and motivation for the new school year. Over the past few years, I have done much less of this. I have been teaching at home so long that I feel very confident in what I am doing and less in need of instruction, although I do participate in online forums and read a homeschooling magazine (The Old Schoolhouse).

After this hiatus from homeschooling books, I have been thoroughly enjoying The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling.  This 500 page volume is truly a comprehensive guide, both for the new homeschooler and the veteran. It begins with an excellent section on “Homeschooling: Is It for You?” that would be a good starting point for any new homeschooler. I appreciated that Bell lays out both the benefits and drawbacks of homeschooling. She makes it clear that homeschooling is a lifestyle, takes significant time, and should not be undertaken lightly. I particularly liked her statement that “If you don’t have time to read (self-educate), you don’t have time to homeschool!” 

Debra Bell emphasizes academic excellence while still accommodating different learning styles and interests. She provides creative teaching ideas that will spark more of your own. She also lays out subject-by-subject guidelines that are full of ideas for hands-on and literature-based teaching.

I  found the section on learning styles to be very helpful. It presented some information that was new to me and I was able to glean some ideas about how to best teach Emily and structure our day.

There is an extensive section on homeschooling for high school and college admissions.

Other topics include:

Preventing burnout

Organization and Planning

Choosing a Curriculum

Computers in the Homeschool

Measuring Your Success

Resources (both books and websites) are liberally referenced for those who are looking for more information and curriculum sources.

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling sells for $20 and is certainly one of the better and more comprehensive homeschooling how-to books that I have read.

 I received this book free in return for my honest review. For more reviews of this book, please visit the Homeschool Crew site!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tragic Chair Accident?

“Hey Mom,  look at me!”


Where does she come up with these things???

Christian Keyboarding


Keyboarding for the Christian School, Elementary Edition  ($12.95)  is a keyboarding (typing) course designed for private and home schools. It is sold as an e-book that is designed to be printed before use. It can also be used on-screen if both it and the word processing program are displayed in small windows.

This course is very similar to what I remember using many years ago when learning to type on a typewriter in my eighth grade typing class. The first several lessons are drills on the home keys. Each lesson adds a few more characters until all the keys are mastered. As the lessons progress, Bible verses are used for typing practice. After all the characters are mastered, instruction is given in basic word processing skills, including lists and centering. Speed drills are provided for selected lessons.


Overall, this is a very simple program—efficient and inexpensive, but not very motivating as compared to many programs. The lessons are short and Emily was able to work fairly independently. I did provide some supervision to make sure that she was using the correct fingering.

If you are looking for an inexpensive, simple, no-frills keyboarding program, this may be just what you need.

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