Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homeschool Curriculum






When I meet another homeschooler, often one of the first questions asked is, “What curriculum do you use?”  Maybe it’s just a conversation topic. Maybe we’re looking for new ideas. Maybe we want to compare our teaching styles. Whatever the reason, the topic of curriculum seems to come up often.

For me, it’s actually a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. I don’t stick to any one curriculum across all subjects and, in many cases, I don’t stay with the same curriculum in a subject from one year to the next. Since I review a lot of curricula, we have to change our schedule frequently to try out new things. Sometimes the review item is something we love, so I either add it to our current plans or substitute it for something we were already using. Sometimes, we just use the item for a month or so and move on or save it for another year. I’m sure this would drive some people crazy, but I love it!

This is our basic plan for this year (7th grade):

Math: No Nonsense Algebra, IXL

Language Arts: Lightening Literature, Write with the World, Excellence in Literature (2nd semester), Vocab Videos

History: We’re studying Rome through the Renaissance, using Diana Waring’s Materials as a spine. I also have Truth Quest (Reformation/Renaissance) from last year’s review that we’ll use.

Science: Apologia, TOPS Magnets

Spanish: Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day, Rosetta Stone (if I ever get my desktop computer fixed)

Art: Artistic Pursuits, Imagination Station (recorded from PBS years ago)

Bible: The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study Bible Survey, Discovering Our Amazing God,  Apologia’s Who’s My Neighbor—We’ll be doing a lot of switching around here!

Many of these books have been review items in the past couple of years—the Schoolhouse Review team has been a great blessing to me!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop! Coming Next Week!


Do you like to hear how other homeschoolers plan for the next year? What curriculum they use, and why? What their “classrooms” look like? Are you interested in joining or starting a homeschool co-op?

Next week, the Schoolhouse Review Crew will be sponsoring a
“Back to Homeschool Blog Hop,” that addresses all these subjects making it easy to read what a variety of homeschoolers say about these topics. The daily topics are listed above.

Zane Education (Schoolhouse Review)

Zane Education is a source of over 1500 online educational videos, covering a wide variety of topics, from astronomy to classical music to history. These videos include downloadable lesson plans and interactive quizzes that ensure that your child is learning the material. A unique aspect to the videos is that they are all subtitled, providing students with both visual and auditory input of the narration. This aids in retention as well as being beneficial to beginning readers and ESL students.
A Gold membership to Zane Education includes a copy of the 424 page e-book, Christian Home Learning Guide. This guide begins by discussing the Christian world view of education, then  discusses each time period and video, advising parents of points they might wish to discuss with their children about each topic, since the Zane videos come from a secular point of view. A Learning Video Guide is also available that makes it easy to find videos catalogued by grade or topic.
I was very impressed by the variety of videos available on Zane. Since we’re have been studying Ancient Greece, we focused on those. We found several in the Art History division and enjoyed being able to see and hear about a variety of Greek architecture and sculpture. But….there was a LOT of nudity shown in the sculptures—something to be aware of.  Emily really enjoyed the retelling of the many classic Greek myths that we found in the literature division. She was also fascinated by the insect videos in the Biology division.
The videos (at least all the ones we’ve seen) are in a slide show format, with still pictures, music, narration, and subtitles.
I found the quizzes helpful as a means to review and to ensure that Emily was paying attention. I also liked the subtitles and Emily did note that they helped her remember the material better.
I really look forward to using this resource over the next year and am excited about the potential to have videos on nearly every imaginable topic available within seconds to supplement our other subjects.
Zane offers several membership levels:
  • Basic Membership that provides demo videos and free math videos.
  • Gold Membership—includes all videos, quizzes, lesson plans, and many bonus materials ($17.99/month or $197.89/year)
  • Silver Membership—includes all videos for an age/grade level plus quizzes and lesson plans ($12.99/month or $142.89/year)
  • Bronze Membership—includes all videos for a subject ($8.99/month or $98.89/year)
  • Topic Taster Membership—includes videos for a single topic plus lesson plans and quizzes ($5.00/month)

SPECIAL! Through August, 2012, Zane Education is offering a 35% discount on any Gold, Silver, or Bronze 1-year membership with the coupon code, “ZE395HSM.”

If you would like to learn more,  please look at the Getting Started Guide or visit  Zane’s Facebook page.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free Gold membership to Zane Education  in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Math Essentials—Algebra and Geometry


We recently had the opportunity to try out two different books from Math Essentials --Geometry, which is part of the Mastering Essential Math Skills series and No Nonsense Algebra. I’ll describe each of them separately.

Geometry ($11.95), as stated above is part of the Mastering Essential Math Skills series. This 80 page book is an upper elementary/middle school geometry workbook that covers vocabulary, points, lines, planes, perimeter, area, volume, and the Pythagorean theorem. Each page is designed to take 20 minutes to complete and includes “helpful hints” that cover the main points of the lesson and daily review of previously learned concepts. Many students might find the “helpful hints” enough to teach the material, but I discussed the lessons with Emily before she worked the problems.


We are finding Geometry to be a good review of concepts that Emily studied last year as well as a way to fill in gaps of some concepts that she doesn’t have yet.


math essentials

No Nonsense Algebra ($27.95), is a complete algebra course. Each lesson is presented  on one or two pages and includes an introduction (teaching), examples, exercises, and review. Additionally, there is an online teaching segment for each lesson (included free with book purchase). These 8-10 minutes videos are taught by “America’s Math Teacher,” Richard W. Fisher. The student is reminded frequently to write out every example to aid in retention. The topics covered in this course include:

  Chapter  1            Necessary Tools for  Algebra
  Chapter  2            Solving Equations
  Chapter  3            Graphing and Analyzing Linear equations
  Chapter  4            Solving and Graphing Inequalities
  Chapter  5            Systems of Linear Equations and Inequalities
  Chapter  6            Polynomials
  Chapter  7            Rational Expressions (Algebraic Fractions)
  Chapter  8            Radical Expressions and Geometry
  Chapter  9            Quadratic Equations
  Chapter 10          Algebra Word Problems

Emily enjoyed using No-Nonsense Algebra because the lessons are fairly short and each lesson focuses on a single concept. She is a student who needs the daily review, so the 4 daily problems that review previous lessons are very helpful.



Emily says that the videos “are interesting and make the math easy to understand.” Thus far, I haven’t had to re-explain anything to her, so they seem to be doing a good job!

I really hadn’t decided what math program to use for her this coming year. The one that my older kids used at her age is very challenging and I was afraid that she would find it overwhelming. Another text that I already had on my shelf was very “busy” and seemed like it would be too distracting with all the sidebars, cross-curricular connections and features about scientists, mathematicians, and math in the world around us. I think this is exactly what she needs—just the math, clear explanations, worked out examples, and daily review. Although she is really at a pre-algebra level, the first two chapters are perfect for her, so we’ll do those, then probably supplement with some other materials until I am sure she’s ready to go on with Algebra and continue with this book.

I think this is a great program at a great price. I’m hoping that future volumes of Math Essentials higher math will be published soon!

Interested in a discount? Math Essentials will be offering a special promotion for the months of July, August, and September.  The promotion applies to any order placed through the Math Essentials website. Any order that includes Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 1, OR, Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2, OR, No-Nonsense Algebra, will include a free copy of Geometry (A $14.95 value) plus a free Homework Kit (A $4.99 value).

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received these 2 books free  in order to write this review. All opinions are my own. 


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Big Truths for Little Kids

Big Truths For Little Kids   -     
        By: Susan Hunt, Richard Hunt
I recently received the book, Big Truths for Little Kids from the Crossway Homeschool Book Review Program, but it actually is not a new book to me at all. I read through this devotional book with Emily several years ago and liked it so much that I bought two more by these authors: Discovering Jesus Through Genesis and Discovering Jesus Through Exodus.
The purpose of this book is to teach children that they are created for God’s glory, to help them apply this truth, and to teach children their need for God’s grace. This is done through the continuing story of two children, Cassie and Caleb, and their daily life and interactions with others. Each of the 36 chapters begins with simplified questions and answers from the “First Catechism.” Although it is recommended that the children memorize the answers, we just reviewed them without requiring memorization. A story follows, that reinforces the questions of the day. Finally, discussion questions and a prayer help the children to apply the truths to their lives.
Emily says, “This book makes it so much fun to study God’s word!! I think that a lot of little kids would love this book and would be influenced by it!
I would suggest this book for ages 4-10. The story is simple enough to be enjoyed by young children, but the theology is deep enough to engage and benefit much older children. The lessons taught are consistent with reformed theology.
I received this book free from the Crossway Homeschool Book Review Program in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

HearBuilder Auditory Memory Games (Schoolhouse Review)


I’ve known of Super Duper Publications for many years. The company sells a huge variety of special education materials, focusing largely on speech therapy products. The items that the Crew is reviewing are products that are fun (and educational) for all kids. It is designed for grades K-8.

We received the Hearbuilder Auditory Memory Software to try out. This set of computer games helps children improve their memory skills and covers five essential listening activities:

  • memory for numbers (3-7 digits)
  • memory for words (3-5 words)
  • memory for details (1-4 details)
  • auditory closure (sentence completion)
  • memory for WH information (2-3 sentences/2-4 questions)

These activities are very much like the ones I used when I was doing language therapy and would be great for language delayed children to use on their own or under the supervision of their speech pathologist. They are also great activities for normally developing children (or even adults) as well.

As children play, they are on a “mission to foil the wacky plans of Dr. Forgetsit.”  They are encouraged to progress through more difficult levels in order to solve the mission. Each activity gradually becomes more difficult by adding challenges such as delayed recall and removing visual clues. After each set of game-like drills, the child is rewarded with a fun activity.




A record of all activities completed can be viewed on the child’s progress report. Initial game levels can be set and self-adjust as the child successfully completes activities.


Emily has enjoyed using HearBuilder Auditory Memory and I am hoping that the memory practice will transfer over to other subjects. I was happy to see that the upper levels are challenging enough that they are useful even for middle school aged children who do not struggle with (but still could benefit from improvement in) auditory memory.

The Home Edition of HearBuilder Auditory Memory sells for $69.95 and is very similar to the much more expensive professional edition. It will keep records for up to 4 children. (The professional version works for an unlimited number of children and provides a few more customization features.)

Super Duper is offering a 30% discount on HearBuilder Auditory Memory Home Edition until August 31!

Coupon Code:       BLGAM30

Save 30%    Expires 8/31/12

Please visit the Crew Blog to read reviews of (and find coupon codes for) other Super Duper products.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received  this software free in order to write this review. All opinions are my own. 


Monday, July 16, 2012

Knowledge Quest Time Maps (Schoohouse Review)

Generally maps are static—showing one time period in history. In the past, we’ve enjoyed using the historical maps produced by Knowledge Quest. They are great to print out, to label, and to put in a notebook to reinforce what we are studying in history.
Time Maps are different. Each Time Map includes a series of maps that cover a period in history. By moving from one map to another, it is easy to see how boundaries changed as time progressed. Very useful!
But, wait, there’s more! Various places on the maps are clickable. When they are clicked, information boxes pop up telling about various people groups or events at that time.
And….there’s a box to click for review questions to see if your student is really paying attention!
And….additional activities are suggested for each set of maps, such as making timeline, charts, printable maps to label, and discussion questions that encourage analysis of historical events.
And…they are really fun! I’ve really enjoyed clicking from map to map, following the progression of an area through history. These are for my child to use? Well, she can share, can’t she?
Time Maps cover these topics:
  • Ancient China
  • European Exploration and Discovery
  • The Atlantic Slave Trade
  • The Black Death
  • The Rise of the Roman Empire
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The Rise of Islam

We’ve enjoyed our introduction to TimeMaps and will find them a valuable asset as we study world history this fall.

Each map unit is $9.95 and the complete set is $44.95. I think they would be useful for upper elementary ages and up.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free set of Time Maps in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

T is for Thankful

I have so much in my life to be thankful for….

  • The opportunity to stay home with my child and to homeschool her.
  • God’s constant provision
  • My grown and almost grown children and seeing who they are becoming.
  • RAIN! We got lots of it today after a month of very hot, very dry weather. My wilting plants are grateful, too!
  • All the new birds at our bird feeder this week. They seem to like the rain!

I’m blogging through the alphabet with Ben and Me.

Who Is My Neighbor? Apologia (Schoolhouse Review)


Who is my Neighbor? And Why Does He Need Me? is the third book in Apologia’s What We Believe Series. This Bible curriculum is designed for children from 6 to 14. The text is written to the student, so that older children can complete the reading and activities on their own, although the book is excellent read-aloud material for any age.

The text itself includes varied materials—stories about a family escaping China during the Cultural Revolution, stories about the Civil War, historical information, Bible stories, profiles of historical figures, and devotional/inspirational readings that help children relate the stories and Bible personally to their own lives. I think that the varied format helps to keep up the student’s interest, because each day’s reading and assignment is different from the last.

The text stands well on its own and is all you need. It includes discussion and journaling questions and vocabulary. However, the accompanying Notebooking Journal is wonderful. It is a beautiful, spiral-bound book with room to answer questions,  copy Bible verses, write out prayers, and journal. When Emily saw it, she said, “I’m going to keep this forever!”



There is also a coloring book that would be very nice for younger children to use to reinforce the lessons.

We have enjoyed this set very much. Emily looks forward to doing her lessons and is working through the books faster than the recommended pace. I am hopeful that the topic will help Emily to expand her horizons and to know more about and to care more about neighbors both around the world and close to home.

Who is My Neighbor sells for $39, the Notebooking Journal is $24, and the Coloring Book is $8 from Apologia.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free set of books in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Professor B (Schoolhouse Review)

Professor B is a unique math program that claims to cover 3 years of content in only one year. Many students who have used Professor B have made huge gains in their standardized test scores. The focus is on teaching children to understand concepts instead of simply memorizing the steps needed to “find the answer.” Every lessons aims to “develop mental programs for processing the operations on whole numbers, decimals, and fractions.” The result is second graders mastering long division to 5th and 6th graders mastering algebra.

Professor B curriculum is sold as either books or an e-learning curriculum. We tried out the e-learning curriculum.

Although I found the informational portion of the website a bit awkward to navigate, the e-learning program was easy to use. It’s a bit different from other online programs that I’ve used. The lessons are presented in a power-point type format. I stayed with Emily as she worked through the lessons, making sure that she understood each example and that she was working out problems as assigned. There is no audio in the slides, so the script must be read aloud by the teacher or the student. Although it is an online program, it is actually a fairly low-tech product.

We used Instant Master Teacher Level III, which is intended for 6th through 8th grades and remediation of older learners. The concepts taught in Level 3 include: comparing fractions, multiplying and dividing with fractions, place value, computation of decimals, equivalent fractions, transforming percentages to fractions and decimals and vice versa, and rounding.


Emily had actually covered all of these topics in the 6th grade curriculum she used last year. Notably missing from Professor B is any instruction of geometry, measurement, or graphs and charts, —concepts Emily also studied in the 5th and 6th grades.  Because of this, I would not recommend it as the only math program used.

I  liked the way concepts were taught. Operations are explained in multiple ways, using diagrams. The slides usually ask questions about each incremental step of the operation for the student to answer before advancing to the next slide. This ensures that the student is paying attention and actually comprehending the material. I feel confident that a student using this program would understand the “why’s” rather than just memorizing procedures. A pdf workbook is also included as part of the program for additional practice. Students are expected to keep reviewing previous lessons using the workbook pages to ensure complete mastery.

Professor B is very teacher intensive, though, because I needed to be there as Emily moved through each of the steps. Although everything was clearly explained by “Professor B,” moving through each concept was a fairly lengthy process—more so than using our regular textbook. This isn’t a bad thing, but something to take note of if you prefer a more independent approach or expect the program to “teach” your child.

In summary, I think Professor B does a very good job of teaching the math topics that it covers and the workbooks provide a good cumulative review so that children don’t forget what they’ve been taught. However, many important mathematical topics are not included, and would need to be supplemented. It is also very teacher-intensive and my child didn’t enjoy using the program, so it wasn’t a good fit for us.

A Professor B e-learning subscription costs $20 a month for the first level. Discounts are available for multiple levels. The 3 levels of the Instant Master Teacher Program cover Pre-K through 8th grade levels.

Please visit the Schoolhouse Review Blog to read more reviews of Professor B.

3/5 stars StarStarStar

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free e-learning subscription to Professor B in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Teaching Preschoolers About Categories

Here is an excerpt from my just-published book, Language Lessons: From Listening Skills to Conversation.

Language lessons-small

Language Lessons is available at Currclick for an introductory price of $9.95.


Teaching children to categorize objects helps them to organize their world and to form a mental structure for adding vocabulary. Children with delayed language may not do this automatically.

· Make a picture notebook for your child. On each page, label a separate category, such as family, food, toys, animals, furniture, friends, dishes, etc. Cut out pictures from catalogs and magazines or print them from the internet and help the child glue them on the appropriate page. The book can be added to over many months. When several pictures are in the book, talk about each of them, "What is this? Yes, it's a fox. A fox is an animal, just like this dog and this cat." For young or lower functioning children, this activity will be easiest with actual photos of objects in the child's home. Start with only two categories, adding more as needed.

· Cut out pictures of items in different categories. Help the child to sort them. Store the pictures in envelopes to play again. Keep your eyes out for category flashcards, which can sometimes be found inexpensively at discount stores (or more expensively at teacher supply stores). Some pictures are included at the end of this book.

· Gather objects than can be organized into categories, then ask your child to find "all the things we eat with" or "all the toys" or "all the things we drink." Help the child act out the use of each item.

· Find pictures of people—either from magazines or actual photos of family members. Have your child pick out "all the women," "all the children," "all the people wearing blue," or "all the people wearing glasses."

· Ask your child to finish each statement:

  • Blue and red are both ___________.
  • Hats and shirts are both ___________.
  • A hammer and a saw are both _______________.
  • Cereal and bananas are both ____________.
  • A ball and blocks are both _________.
  • Dogs and cats are both ________.
  • A cup and a plate are both __________.

· Collect pairs of pictures that "go together," such as fork and spoon, cup and saucer, dog and doghouse, lock and key, bed and pillow, or shoe and sock. Begin with just 2 picture pairs. Set them on the table. Pick up one picture and ask your child, "Which picture goes with this one?" Help him match up the "go-togethers." Gradually add more picture pairs.

· Gather an assortment of pictures. Have the child divide them into "inside things" and "outside things."

· Place 3 items or pictures on the table—2 similar items and one different. Ask your child to name which item "doesn't belong."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lightning Literature (TOS Review)

Hewitt's Lightning Literature guides use full-length novels, autobiographies, plays, essays, short stories, and poems to teach deep reading and composition skills. Unlike some literature programs that take a scatter-shot approach (where none of the literature seems connected) or that try to include too much into one book, Lightning Literature guides focus on a few classics in depth, in a systematic manner. (from Hewitt Homeschooling’s website)

We reviewed the 7th grade level of Lightning Literature. This is a year-long course that includes a teacher guide, student guide, and student workbook. Several other books are required: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, All Creatures Great and Small, The Story of My Life (Helen Keller), and Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children.  These may be purchased from Hewitt if desired. We already own several of the books and our library has the rest, so we didn’t need to purchase them.

Lightning Literature uses literary works to teach literary elements, such as plot elements, foreshadowing, and elements of poetic language. The writing elements reinforce these concepts and teach the students to use them in their own writing. Comprehension questions and vocabulary are included for each literary selection. The workbook covers topics such as outlining, writing from note cards, writing poetry, and grammar.

Each unit teaches concepts, then provides workbook pages that reinforce the concepts and have the student outlining and writing creatively, then concludes with writing assignments that build on the teaching and workbook assignments. I am very pleased with the way that everything works together rather than being random assignments. For example, Chapter 2 includes:

  • a review of plot, exposition, rising action, climax, etc. from Chapter 1
  • a lesson on subplots
  • a mini lesson on outlining that uses the literature selection from Chapter 1
  • writing from note cards
  • fact and opinion
  • pronouns and antecedents
  • writing for a particular audience
  • writing exercises that use the concepts of subplot, parts of a story, and writing endings to stories

I like the literature selections chosen for this course. I think they are important works for students to be familiar with and are appropriate for the grade level. Emily enjoyed the first two selections—Ricki-Tikki-Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling, and Tom Sawyer, and I am especially looking forward to the upcoming poetry unit, since Emily has never done a formal study of poetry.

Thus far, I am very pleased with this course.  With Emily in middle school, I want her to start “analyzing” literature rather than merely reading it. This is one area that I’m not very comfortable teaching myself, but Lightning Literature is laid out very clearly and is easy to teach. (Actually, it is pretty much self-teaching.) I think Emily has found it quite easy, even though I know she is learning new concepts. I especially like the way the writing assignments are tied into the literary lessons. This program will be a big help as Emily moves toward high school and needs to start writing more analytical essays.

The 7th grade Lightning Lit set, including all five reading books, sells for $91.73. Each of the three manuals is available separately for $20.  Additional courses are available for 8th grade and high school levels.

5/5 stars StarStarStarStarStar

Please visit the TOS Crew Blog to read more reviews of Lightning Literature and other Hewitt Homeschooling Resources.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free product in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Summer Olympics Freebies at Currclick

From now until July 27,  Currclick is offering 12 FREE country studies as part of their “Countdown to the 2012 Summer Olympics” promotion. Plus, a huge number of Olympic themed studies are discounted by 10%. It looks like there are ideas for working the Olympics into any aspect of your studies, from math to history to science.  Sounds like fun!

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate with Currclick.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

S is for Sisters on Safari

Here are my girls at Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari in May.





I am linking to Blogging Through the Alphabet at Ben and Me.