Saturday, June 28, 2014

Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus (Schoolhouse Review)

Veritas Press Review
Company: Veritas Press

Product: Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus I

Age Level:  7th through 9th grades

Price: $295 for 1-year access

Veritas Press Review

Veritas Press’s Self-paced Omnibus I Primary course is an all-inclusive course that combines history, literature, and theology. This online program includes video instruction, quizzes and other interactive exercises, and interviews with experts and with people on the street. Veritas Press uses a classical approach to education, with heavy emphasis on ancient Western civilizations and literature.

There are also reading assignments for most lessons. Some of these assignments are literature—in Omnibus 1, these include several books of the Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and Revelation. Other ancient works of literature are also studied, including Gilgamesh Tablets, Codes of Hammurabi, The Odyssey, and Herodotus. The only work used in this course that is not ancient literature is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which is, of course set in ancient times.

Other reading assignments are essays that discuss each of the works studied. These are found in the Omnibus Student Text (ebook $37.50). Other than reading, all the rest of the program is done at the computer.

According to Veritas Press, completing of this course equals a credit in:

  • English: World Ancient Literature 1

If the student also completes the Omnibus Secondary 1, which includes a variety of modern literature, including many of C.S. Lewis’s works, he will have earned 3 credits:

  • English: World Ancient Literature 1
  • World Ancient History 1
  • Religion: Doctrine and Theology

Emily has studied the first three books, Genesis, Exodus, and Gilgamesh. Each of these books was covered in just 5 lessons. The entire books of Genesis and Exodus were assigned, so it was quite a bit of reading. Emily actually didn’t complain, though, and since we worked on a more relaxed summer schedule of 3 lessons a week rather than 5, that gave her a little more time to keep up with the reading.

Each daily lesson took 30 to 60 minutes to complete, in addition to the assigned reading. I was a little surprised to find that Emily loved this course! Ancient literature can be difficult to read, but the online lectures were very interesting. The teacher explained the literature, always from a Christian worldview. For example, in Gilgamesh, the various gods of the culture were discussed, and it was pointed out how they, as well as “gods” from other times and cultures, were fallible and flawed, with human character qualities. Only the true God is characterized as sinless, perfect, and all-powerful in Judeo-Christian teachings.

In between the teaching video segments were games to reinforce the concepts, and lighter content, such as street interviews. Additional subject areas were incorporated as well, such as art studies of the Sistine Chapel painting and sculptures.  Emily found this to be an enjoyable way to learn.

Many lessons had a graded quiz. The cumulative grade is displayed on the student page, as well as the grades for each lesson. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to view Emily’s answers to see just what she missed. She often scored more poorly than she expected to, so it would have been good if she could have reviewed her mistakes. Also, once the grade is recorded, the student is free to revisit the lesson and retake the quiz, but the original grade cannot be changed. I am accustomed to having Emily correct her work, and even to redo a lesson if she hasn’t mastered it, so it was disappointing that this was not an option, at least not as far as I could figure out.

The course is designed so that is must be done sequentially. Each lesson is unlocked when the lesson before it is completed, so it is impossible to pick and choose among the various books or to study them in a different order.

Omnibus I is intended for 7th graders, but I thought that it was very meaty for a middle school student. Even I learned a LOT and feel that it would be very useable as a high school level course. It does come from a reformed theology perspective, which works well for us, but may not for everyone.  It is very heavy in doctrine, so I would be inclined to give a 1/2 credit in that as well as the literature. I found it to be a great supplement to what Emily studied in her confirmation class this past year!

PicMonkey Collage

What we liked:

  • Omnibus is self-paced and does all the teaching and grading. I had nothing to do (other than make sure Emily was doing the lessons and eavesdrop because I was interested, too!) I would not be able to teach this content myself!
  • It is a meaty, academic program.
  • Emily loved using it.

What we didn’t like:

  • We experienced frequent glitches with the program locking up that required Emily to back up and repeat video segments. By the third book, she didn’t have any more problems, though.
  • I’d like to be able to skip around. I like to use various resources for education and might prefer to pick certain units as a supplement rather than using Omnibus as a complete course.
  • Just as a personal preference, I wouldn’t choose to study so much of the ancients. Omnibus III Self-Paced, with more modern literature looks wonderful to me, though.

In conclusion, I feel that Omnibus Primary Self-Paced is an excellent course. If you are looking for a course on ancient literature that your student can use on his own and that incorporates Biblical principles, this is an excellent choice.   

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I is for Indians

In 2003, when Emily was only three years old, and Katie, John, and Allison were 11, 13, and 15, we took a big trip out west, from Alabama to Montana, and into Canada, visiting all sorts of interesting sites along the way. Surprisingly, Emily remembers quite a bit from that trip! It’s been fun to incorporate her 3-year-old memories into the history she is learning as a middle-schooler.

Here we visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Colorado, where the kids had fun climbing up into the homes built into the cliffs.


Emily remembers being afraid to “dance with the Indians, so Katie had to go with her!”  (She’s the little bitty girl in the photo.)


In Canada, watched a Blackfeet parade.

Blackfeet Procession054

…and a Buffalo dance. There was a fascinating museum (the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump!) here where we learned all about how buffalo were hunted long ago.

'Buffalo Dancer057

There’s nothing like hands-one learning and live demonstrations to bring learning to life!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sin and Grace

If you’re like me, you struggle daily to live in a way that will please God. Yet we all fail. I look at others, including some of my own family members, and wonder why in the world they continue to make choices that hurt others and themselves. Some of us continually sin and repent and sin again. Other seem to have fallen captive to sin and show no desire to change.

John Piper, in his excellent book Future Grace, writes: “Sin is what you do when your heart  is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness.” When we swallow the lie that this life and its earthly experiences can provide greater enrichment and deeper happiness than following God, we’re headed for sloppy living. We know better, but most of us don’t live out of what we know; we live out of what we want. That sinful human characteristic makes God’s extravagant grace even more astounding when we fully embrace it.  (from Extravagant Grace, Women of Faith)

So true! I think I’ll be happy if I follow my own way.

Remembering this truth helps me feel compassion for those who seem to be trapped in sinful lives, knowing that their choices grow out of unhappiness, and a mistaken belief that earthly pleasures will lead to real happiness. A fear that “giving up” something pleasurable for the sake of obeying God or being kind to another person will lead to unhappiness.

I am so thankful for God’s grace in my life and I need to remember to, likewise, show grace to others with their shortcomings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

H is for Hand-Me-Downs!

Emily’s older cousins just cleaned out their closets and passed 6 garbage bags of clothing down to her. What a blessing!

She picked out what she wanted to keep; we passed the rest to our church rummage sale, and her drawers are now stuffed! (And I even found a few treasures for myself.)

What a blessing!



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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Smart Money, Smart Kids (Review)


Smart Money, Smart Kids, by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze, was written to help parents raise their children with good money sense. I think this book was a brilliant idea.

I  am pretty good at managing my money…I have no debt, I’m an avid coupon and bargain shopper, and I have the self-control to NOT buy something if I can’t afford it. I know my children have picked up some of my viewpoints and practices, but I really haven't spent  much time consciously teaching them how to manage money. My older children are young adults now and, though they are probably more responsible with their money than most of their peers, I see that I probably should have offered more guidance when they were young and were still under my influence.

Dave Ramsey’s other books teach adults how to get out of debt, how to make sacrifices in order to save money for emergencies and for future needs, and how to develop a healthy attitude about money. Smart Money, Smart Kids, written as a joint effort with Ramsey’s daughter, Rachel Cruze, offers the same principles for children and teens—before they get to the point of being buried in debt and looking for a way out.

This book is packed with valuable guidance. I was familiar with some of the ideas, such as the envelope system of dividing money into envelopes for spending, saving, and giving. Other ideas were less familiar. The authors recommend having children work for their money starting at a very young age so they will understand the work/money connection. The principle of stewardship is emphasized—everything we own belongs to God and we need to use it wisely and to share it generously. Children should be taught to always avoid debt, including student loans, and examples are given about how to pay for a car or for college without borrowing money.

It was very interesting to hear Cruze’s recollections of growing up as part of the Ramsey family. The children learned very young lessons from the misuse of money, and that the parents wouldn’t supply more money when the supply ran out. They were encouraged to start their own businesses as teens. Their parents generously matched savings toward buying a car. They helped their kids, rewarding responsibility, but didn’t bail them out of bad choices.

I’m already gleaning ideas from this book and making changes with how I teach my youngest daughter to manage money. I think it will make a difference in her future. I highly recommend this book for anyone with children or teens.

I received this book free as a member of BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wrapping Up Our School Year

This year has been a rough one. Between ADHD, hormones, and attitudes, eighth grade was not a great year for Emily. The public schools finished in May here, but Emily is still finishing up her schoolwork. If all goes well, she’ll finally be finished in the next 2 weeks. Hurray! We are both ready for a vacation. And I am happy to report that her work and attitude is significantly better than it was a few months ago.

We had considered sending her to public school next year to begin high school, but I just don’t think she’s quite ready. Her focus and self-discipline are just not where I think they should be for success in a classroom. Also, she hasn’t quite finished her Algebra course, meaning she’d have to take Algebra again. She has decided that she wants to homeschool for high school anyway, so we’re going with that plan for now. We’ll consider her a 9th grader, but she’ll still have to finish up her 8th grade Algebra and Physical science classes from 8th grade—the two courses that didn’t get finished.

We have a few review items to work on over the summer, but plan to spend some time relaxing, swimming and planning for next year. Emily has a couple of youth group trips coming up as well, and she’s helping out with Vacation Bible School in a couple of weeks.  Since the review items (Grammar of Poetry, The Eternal Argument, and maybe Lightning Lit) will count as English, I’ve promised her that it will count as a month of her English next fall, so she doesn’t mind doing it now.

I’m glad that this year’s end is in sight and am looking forward to the new adventure of teaching high school!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

G is for Growing Up (Too Fast!)

Where have the years gone? I can’t believe that my “baby” is 14 years old already!


emily closeup


















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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

“We Choose Virtues” Youth Journal (Schoolhouse Review)

We Choose Virtues

We Choose Virtues is a company that focuses on character education. Their various products are geared for ages 3-18, and include posters, coloring books, character cards, and suggested activities that teach and reinforce virtues such as attentiveness, gentleness, kindness, and helpfulness. Children learn these virtues in the form of “I am _________,” which helps them visualize themselves already exhibiting these character qualities.

Youth Journal

We reviewed the Youth Virtue Journal ($17). While the materials for younger children are bright and fun in appearance, including cartoon characters, the Youth Journal appeals to an older group with its “cool” design. In fact, when Emily first saw it, she snatched it up and started paging through it, declaring that it looked like fun. The graphic designers did a good job! This 100 page journal covers these 9 virtues:

  • Attentiveness
  • Contentment
  • Forgiveness
  • Helpfulness
  • Honesty
  • Obedience
  • Perseverance
  • Respect

Accompanying the journal were these downloadable products:

Mentor Handbook
Mentor Meeting Report Form
Youth Character Assessments
Youth List of Memory Verses and Bible Heroes

The Youth Virtue Journal was actually designed as a counseling tool for use in the Idaho court system and is designed to be used in 9 weekly, 1-hour sessions with a mentor. We found that it is just as useful in the home, with a parent acting as the mentor.

The Mentor Handbook is a 39 page PDF book that explains the journal and how it is to be used as well as the mentoring process. It was helpful for me to have this information before we started using the journal, although some of the content was not applicable to a parent-mentor. The tips about establishing rapport and setting up meeting times were written for a more formal mentoring situation.

We started our journey with the Youth Character Assessment, a chart that lists the virtues, describes what the virtue does and does not look like, and a place for the teen to rate himself of herself on a 1-10 scale for each virtue. It was interesting to note that Emily rated herself lower than I would have rated her in many cases.

Next, we started with Chapter 1: I Am Attentive in the journal. Each chapter follows the same format.

  • First, the teen describes a dream for the future—big or small. Then, he or she considers obstacles that may be in the way of that dream and what virtues might help him attain the dream.
  • Next, a list of questions is asked to help the student consider how well he has mastered the virtue for the lesson. I thought they were very helpful at addressing many different aspects of the virtue and its use in varying situations. After considering the questions, I know that Emily had a better grasp on what each virtue included.
  • Then, a 1 to 10 scale is proved for self-evaluation.
  • Additional questions are asked that enable introspection and discussion-Who do I know that is ______?  What is it that impresses me about them? Have I ever been negatively affected by someone who didn’t choose to be _______? Do I need to apologize to someone because I was not ______?
  • A page or two of quotes offers some thought-provoking ideas and inspirations from others—ancient philosophers, writers, leaders in society, etc. (Although this is not a faith-based program, there are a few Bible verses in this section—attributed to Solomon, or St. Paul, for example, rather than by Bible reference.)
  • Room is given for the mentor to write his or her own advice to the mentee.
  • The student reflects and responds about the virtue and the session in writing.
  • The student sets a goal for improvement of the virtue, using the same 1-10 rating scale.
  • The student signs his name to a pledge… “I, _________am attentive: I watch and listen carefully. I, ________, am NOT forgetful, distracted or distracting, and I don’t ignore or interrupt.

A separate downloadable list of Bible heroes and memory verses allows the user to add faith-based content to the program.


We have enjoyed using the Youth Virtue Journal. It has sparked some good discussions, and has hopefully helped Emily think about these virtues and how she can develop them in her life. Because we had the Virtue Clue Cards from a previous We Choose Virtues Review, I was able to pull out the corresponding card to post each week as a reminder of the virtue of the week.

I like that the teens are encouraged to dream about the future and what they might like to see happen in each session. I also like how the virtues are presented in a positive, visionary manner. (“I am content. I have my “wanter” under control.”)

Unfortunately, we both tend to forget about the focus virtue between sessions. That’s mostly my fault for not finding a way to emphasize the virtue every day and I know that if we worked on the memory verse each day and briefly discussed the virtue between sessions, the program would be more effective. I do still think that it’s valuable to make time to think about and discuss the virtues though, because character education is important, and teaching positive character qualities is more effective than correcting misbehaviors after they occur. At age 14, Emily is not particularly enthused about developing virtuous qualities and she definitely does not want to feel corrected or judged. I had to tread lightly, letting her come to her own conclusions about areas of strength and areas that needed improvement. But that’s part of growing up too—taking responsibility for one’s own character and actions. The Youth Journal was a good tool in helping her do that.

If you are looking for an easy-to-use character education program for you teens, the Youth Virtue Journal from We Choose Virtues is worth your consideration. Here are a couple of summer promos that are currently being offered:

1. MAY-JUNE: *Promo Code BIG50 for 50% off our amazing set of 12 11x17 Kids of VirtueVille Posters! This is the first time we have ever offered these posters at this price. They are great for school classrooms, Kids Church, or your homeschool room. Kids love them for their bedrooms, bathrooms and kids’ hallways.

2. JUNE-AUGUST: *Promo Code BTS20 for 20% off anything in our WCV Store. This includes any product for kids or youth. Let’s start School with Virtues this year!  

*Only one promo code per order

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The Crew also reviewed Parenting Cards, a fun way to teach virtues to younger children. Find out about this tool at the Crew blog!

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

F is for Freedom

I was reading today’s chapter in my current devotional book, Extravagant Grace (Women of Faith) and found some great thoughts about freedom. Since Emily is at an age when she wants more and more “freedom” to make decisions for herself, yet often doesn’t have the maturity and good judgment to use freedom responsibly, this passage by Luci Swindoll resounded with me.

During the sixties, there was strong emphasis on expressing your freedom no matter what: let your hair grow, burn your bra and your draft card, sleep in the grass, make love not war, cry freedom—from parental rule, regimentation, traditions, the control of others. And yet, is this really freedom?

Well, this I know: Freedom is not taking the law into our own hands. It’s not putting someone else at risk. It’s not doing what we please simply because it feels “good” or “right.” If we want to truly enjoy freedom, we need to realize that our liberty was bought at an exorbitant price and carries with it an enormous responsibility. It’s based on grace, found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it’s expressed in service, not sanction. In giving, not getting. In liberty, not license. It’s not doing what we please; it’s pleasing God in what we do. That’s where real freedom lies.

I’m thinking about how our country was founded for freedom; yet our founding fathers understood that freedom came with an enormous cost—and were willing to pay it.

I’m thinking about how many people today want the freedom to have whatever they want—NOW—and rack up debt because they can’t pay for it now.

I’m thinking about being a good steward with the freedom I have in life—to use it wisely in ways that will bless, not hurt others.

And I’m thinking about ways to teach my child to wisely handle the freedom she has and the increasing freedom she will have as she grows older.


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Monday, June 2, 2014

A Life in Balance (Schoolhouse Review)


I recently read a very unique book, A Life in Balance ($16.94), by Frank Belgau.  A Life in Balance: Discovery of a Learning Breakthrough is both the autobiography of Frank Belgau  and the history of his Learning Breakthrough Program, a program designed to improve brain function, especially for children with learning disabilities. (Adults, both educators and parents, are the target readership for this book.)

Mr. Belgau’s story begins in the 1960’s with his job as a special education teacher. At that time, Belgau explains, the field of educational and intellectual testing had progressed to a point where children were being labeled with disabilities. Unfortunately, the labeling caused children to be marginalized with lower expectations, since the field of special education itself was not yet successful in actually educating children who learned differently. A diagnosis of a learning disability typically tried to explain why a child wasn’t learning, but did not try to provide a means for teaching that child. Belgau describes a principal whose solution for dealing with special-needs students was to require them to sit still, put their heads down on their desks, and cover their heads with newspapers!

At that point, Belgau embarked a mission to find a way to help children learn and to tap into their intelligence. He spent hours researching and experimenting with his students. He tried arts and crafts. He tried various physical exercises.  If something seemed to work, he tried it again and refined the process. The biggest breakthroughs occurred when he discovered that exercises that improved balance skills and hand-eye coordination often resulted in immediate improvement in reading ability. Over the next years, he developed his findings into the “Learning Breakthrough Program,” which involves exercises using a balance board, bean bags, and pendulums for brain training. The story continues with his struggles to find acceptance for the program and bring it to the market.

The book includes quite a bit of information about the Learning Breakthrough Program—how it works, how it was developed, and its successes. It also includes a couple of chapters about the brain, how it works, and how we learn in an attempt to explain the successes that Belgau encountered.

I found Life in Balance intriguing. As a speech pathologist, I am familiar with the special education system from the 1980’s on, but it was eye-opening to realize how far we have come from the days when even professionals assumed that a learning disability meant that a child could not learn and was destined to a life of menial labor or dependence on others. It was fascinating to read of the connection between hand-eye coordination, balance, and thinking skills—not only for children with ADHD and learning disabilities, but for normal children and adults and for older adults who want to slow mental decline or recover more quickly from strokes.

The concept of the book was unusual—the story of the program, but not the program itself. However, quite a bit of information was included about the Learning Breakthrough Program, so the reader could try a few activities without purchasing the kit. (Certainly to gain full benefit, one would need the specialized balance board and other equipment as well as the instructions.)  Additionally the final chapter describes the Space Walk exercises that Belgau also uses, and is packed with ideas for walking, hopping, and tossing activities that will benefit children’s brains without purchasing additional equipment. These exercises may be helpful for children with ADHD, dyslexia, or even adults who want to maintain maximum brain function. 

The story of Frank Belgau’s “life in balance” is both inspiring and educational. Belgau’s persistence in trying to change educational methods in the US was impressive. The reader will learn a lot about the history of education and about the mysteries of the brain. He or she will also glean helpful ideas for working with children who have learning difficulties or children with normal abilities. I found this to be an intriguing book.


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I receivied this book free in exchange for my honest review.