Friday, August 17, 2012

CurrClick Back-to-Homeschool Sale

CurrClick is currently running what they are calling their “biggest sale ever.”  Many homeschool products are up to 75% off, so this is a good time to “stock up for the coming year!”

It's time for our Back to Homeschool Sale going on now through August 24th! Get up to 75% off during our biggest sales event of the year. Start shopping now!

All of the Super Star Speech books and Super Star games are 40% off for this sale. Please go see if there’s something you can use! Most of the games are priced at $2.10 and the speech therapy books at $7.77.

Covering the Continents GameAll About Animals gameSilly Snail: Parts of Speech GameSuper Star Speech; Speech Therapy Made Simple

Full Disclosure (Dee Henderson) Review

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I have enjoyed many of Dee Henderson’s previous novels, so I was eager to have a chance to read an Advance Reading copy of her newest book, Full Disclosure. This mystery/romance book kept me in suspense until the very end.

The plot involves a homicide investigator and a special agent who are attempting to solve a serial murder. Meanwhile, the special agent, Paul Falcon is pursuing a relationship with the reluctant-to-commit investigator, Ann Silver. What sets this book apart from many others is that the mysteries are in the past and, after years of silence, the serial murderer begins to give hints about the long-unsolved series of crimes. It wasn’t a high-action book, but the mystery kept me trying to figure out the solution throughout the book. I was quite surprised by the ending! The author also put some interesting twists in the storyline, including having a character,  Ann Silver, as the author of a series of books that Dee Henderson actually wrote. The characters of these previous stories also showed up in this one.  Overall, a lot of creativity was evident in this novel.

My one complaint about the book is that I found Ann Silver too uninterested in and unresponsive to Paul, making me wonder just why she was such a “good match” for him. I had a hard time loving her as a main character.  Still, it was a very enjoyable book that I would recommend to anyone who likes Christian fiction or mysteries.

Find out more by watching the book trailer.

I received this ARC copy from Tyndale House.  All opinions are my own.

Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers (Schoolhouse Review)

imageMr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers, by Douglas Bond, is the first book in a series of four written to teach children about traditional hymns. This novel tells the story of two children who visit England and meet an elderly man who teaches them about many of the famous British Hymn writers, including Thomas Ken, Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley, and John Newton. Each chapter closes with words and music for one or more hymns by the featured author.

In addition to teaching about hymns, another stated purpose is to  help young people “cultivate an attitude of humble adoration as they approach their maker” and to realize their connections with the universal church.

This would make a nice read-aloud for younger children. Emily and I each read it to ourselves, then discussed the material briefly before we played and sang the hymns for each author at the piano. She seemed to enjoy the book (as evidenced by the fact that she kept disappearing to read it instead of doing her other schoolwork!)

What we liked: This was an enjoyable story. The reader is introduced to British culture and customs as well as hymn writers. Emily and I both learned a lot about the history of many common hymns. Since our church service uses mostly contemporary music, I think this introduction to more traditional church music was very good for Emily. The drawings were beautiful and reminded me of older classic books from the 50’s.

What we didn’t like as much: I really didn’t think the book was very well written. Although it was still worth reading because of the content, the descriptions and dialogue often seemed stilted,  unnatural, and outdated. The little boy was frantic over losing his “Discman?!” The narrative didn’t always match the illustrations. For example, a London subway station was described as populated with young men with “green mohawks” and piercings. Yet the illustration showed a crowd of people in very old fashioned clothing—women all wearing dresses, and girls in braids. Emily commented that the mother who brought the children to England was seldom even mentioned after the first chapter. (She did briefly reappear late in the book to comment that she didn’t like the “dirges” the children were learning and preferred the “ditties” the children had learned when visiting a church with friends in the US.) The two children wandered around this little town unsupervised other than by Mr. Pipes, whom they had just met.  Their attitudes in the first chapter were unkind and critical of each other and of people and things around them.

Also, there was a bias running throughout the book against modern worship styles and contemporary worship music. To quote: “musical entertainers write most of what passes for worship music today. For the most part, these musicians lack a deep, theological understanding of Biblical truth, and often lack literary training and poetic skill. Finally, most contemporary music written by Christians just mimics the world’s way, and thus, it is so eminently forgettable…”  This may sometimes be true, but I personally disagree strongly with this blanket statement.


3/5 Stars StarStarStar

The pdf version of the book sells for $8.79 and the print version for $9.89. I received the pdf version, which converted very nicely to Kindle format.  The suggested grade level is 7th-10 grades, although I would consider it to be a 3rd-6th grade interest level. It is published by Christian Liberty Press.

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


Friday, August 10, 2012

Vocab Videos (Schoolhouse Review)


Are you studying vocabulary for the SAT’s? Or do you just want  to improve your vocabulary? I think I’ve just discovered the most fun way to do this.Photobucket

Vocab Videos are short vignettes that illustrate each of the target vocabulary words. The program teaches 500 key SAT vocabulary words in memorable (and funny!) videos.  Each word appears on the screen with its definition, is acted out in a 30 second skit, then appears again on the screen. Each 10 minute video teaches 20 new words.image

Emily enjoyed copying the words and definitions onto her iPod as she watched. She then had a study list for the week.


Accompanying each “chapter” of 20 words/episodes is a  worksheet, a crossword puzzle, and an online quiz. We found these perfect for practicing the words further. We also wrote a couple of words on our chalkboard each day and tried to incorporate them into our conversation.



We have really enjoyed Vocab Videos and plan to continue using them throughout our school year. Vocabulary practice is now something that Emily looks forward to! Even though she is not old enough to need to worry about studying specifically for the SAT yet, the vocabulary is still worthwhile learning and she’ll just have a head start when she gets to high school if she masters all 500 words!

Caution: The videos are geared for a secular, high school aged audience. Many of them are modeled after TV shows such as “Lost” or “The Office” and address topics such as dating. The characters also occasionally take the Lord’s name in vain. I watched each of the videos with Emily because of this. Other than the taking the Lord’s name in vain,  thus far, I haven’t personally found any of the plot or situations inappropriate for my 12 year old (and I am protective enough that she is not allowed to watch any of the actual TV shows that the skits are spoofing.)

I received the Small Educator Premium 12 month subscription ($74.99) which provides unlimited access for 12 months and includes:

  • Teacher Dashboard to monitor student progress
  • Up to 20 individual student accounts
  • Access to all videos and study materials
  • Digital Quizzes, Multi-media Flashcard Maker, Digital Worksheets

A   Vocab Videos individual student account starts at $24.99 for a 6 month  subscription.  Several clips are available online to help you decide if this is something that would be useful in your home.

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


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

This Week in History (Schoolhouse Review)

TWIH banner600x140 June 21   June 27: Spots, Dots, Horses and Hoops...

I’ve seen a lot of calendars with a “this day in history” feature.  We’ve had printed ones that hung on our wall for a year. Sometimes, we would actually remember to look at them and read the event for the day. I’ve seen others online. Generally, they are a single fact or two. Kind of interesting, but we read them and move on. Initially, I thought that Thomas Jefferson Education’s “This Week in History” would be the same. Well, I was wrong. I think I’ve found something that we’ll stick with!

A subscription to “This Week in History” allows the user to access the weekly information online or in weekly emails. I like the email format because, with the information in my inbox, I’m less likely to forget about using it.

Each weekly email includes a colorful article for each day of the week.  The articles are accompanied by links to additional information, craft and activity ideas, and so on.  There is honestly almost enough here for it to be a full unit study curriculum!

For example, July 5 featured the publication of the first chapter of Pinocchio, by Carlo Lorenzini. Included were information about and links to sites with:

  • Pinocchio coloring pages
  • Bio of Carlo (Lorenzini) Collodi
  • link to different versions of the story of Pinocchio
  • discussion topics
  • cricket links—chirps, crafts, etc
  • telling the temperature through cricket chirps
  • bugs that are eaten around the world (yuck!)

July 5 featured the opening of the Famous "Hampton Court Palace Flower Show."  Emily saw and learned about:

  • flower photos
  • parts of a flower
  • Fibonacci sequence

I always think that seeing for yourself is easier than reading about something, so here is an excerpt from the Aug. 9 reading:

August 9
The Leaning Tower of WHAT???

LeaningTowerPizza August 9   August 15: Codes, Colors and Magnets, Missourians, and yet another Annie!

Just kidding!

On this date in 1173, construction began on the campanile of the cathedral of Pisa. This is more commonly known as...

The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Tower of Pisa August 9   August 15: Codes, Colors and Magnets, Missourians, and yet another Annie!

So first of all, we sort of breezed through a couple of words that might be new: "campanile" and "cathedral".

If you speak Italian or Spanish you can probably guess at the meaning of "campanile" based on the similarity of the word to its root: campana. A campanile is a special tower that holds campanas -- bells!

So, campanile means "bell tower". Before we investigate the other term, let's learn more about this campanile.


Here's an idea: Why not make a tower using Legos, Lincoln Logs, blocks, pancakes, or what-have-you.

  • How tall can you make it before it falls?
  • Why does it fall?
  • Does it lean? Why or why not?
  • Do you have materials that are less inclined to fall or lean? Why are they different?
  • Can you make a 3-D model of the Campanile of Pisa?
  • Can you draw a dot-to-dot or other activity for others to use?


As you can see, the format is appealing and interesting! And this is just part of one day’s material! We will enjoy incorporating This Week in History into our schooldays in the upcoming year.

A subscription to This Week in History is $9.99 per month and includes the ability to search the site for any topic and to view the whole year’s archive. The topics will appeal to a wide range of ages. Several sample weeks are available for viewing on the Thomas Jefferson Education website.

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


Friday, August 3, 2012

King Alfred’s English

A couple of months ago, Emily told me that she wanted to “learn about where words came from.” Shortly afterward, I was given the opportunity to review King Alfred’s English, A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do.  How perfect!
King Alfred’s English is a fascinating account of English history from pre-Roman Empire days to the present. The chapters on the Reformation are particularly thorough. Woven into the historical account are the origins of our present day language. I already know that English drew from the Germanic, Latin, and Greek languages, but I never really knew how it came about until I read this book. Here are just a few things I learned:
  • One reason that we often have many similar words for the same concept is that we’ve adopted the same word from Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and French!
  • Many English words have silent letters (night, knife) because  these letters were once pronounced. The “ugly” guttural sounds were dropped during a period when the people wanted to sound more French and sophisticated.
  • Oral language (pronunciation) evolves much more rapidly than written language does, resulting in differences between spelling and pronunciation.
  • Languages always become simpler as time progresses. Even though modern languages may have more vocabulary, grammatical structure is simpler  in modern languages than in ancient ones.
  • Some of the phonetic symbols that I when transcribing speech (for speech therapy) were actual letters in Old English.
I highly recommend this book! It is very interesting, well-written, and focuses on a subject that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. Not only did I find the information about the origins of our language fascinating, but I was able to fill in some gaps in my history knowledge. It would be an excellent supplement to any curriculum, or a just a fun book to read.
King Alfred’s English is written for middle schoolers and up, although I think some younger children might enjoy it as well. Emily has read and enjoyed the first two chapters so far and I intend to have her read the rest throughout our school year as the chapters correspond with our world history studies. The website includes additional student and teacher materials, including articles, videos, and images, and worksheets and tests, allowing the book to be used as the core for an even more thorough study of the topic.
King Alfred’s English may be purchased at Rainbow Resource for $14.95, CBD for $14.89, or Amazon (print or Kindle versions).  Interested in buying now? I have a few discount codes to buy the (print) book for 50% off list price ($8.47).  Leave a comment with your email by Aug. 16  if you’d like one. First 3 comments only!
“Like”  King Alfred’s English Facebook page to read more interesting tidbits about our language.
Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received  this book  free in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our Homeschool “Classroom”


For years, we didn’t have a specific homeschool “classroom.” The kids generally did their seat work at the kitchen table. I have a cabinet and hutch that held their schoolwork, so everything was close at hand. Sometimes, the kids would choose to work on the couch or lying on their beds, especially as they got older. We did (and still do) a lot of reading aloud, so that took place on the couch. We kept books and supplies that we didn’t use daily on other shelves in our family room and study.

I now only have one child still at home, so things have changed a bit. We have a nice study with a large desk and lots of bookshelves. It used to do double duty as a playroom, but there  wasn’t room for a table or desks for the kids to work at. Now that I am down to just one child, however, our study has become the primary schoolroom. Emily uses a small desk/play table to work at. Meanwhile, I can be on my computer or doing other work at my desk and be nearby if she needs help. The small table is really getting rather small for her, but she still likes to work there. I still have some school supplies and books scattered throughout the house, but am working on moving everything to the study and organizing it a little better.

Our bookshelves…

P1010745The cabinet where we keep our currently used curriculum.


Emily’s desk with her workboxes behind her.


I recently took some video of our “school room” to be featured in the November issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, so if you’re a reader, keep a look out for it and for the monthly features on other homeschooling families’ homes. (If you are not a reader, you should be, because it’s free now!)


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Planning out the School Year


How do you plan for your school year? A detailed day by day schedule planned out months ahead? An unschooling or “wing-it” approach? Something in between?

I always start with a yearly plan. I decide which general books and curricula I’ll be using for the year.


Then, I use a marking period planner (from The Old Schoolhouse Planner) to sketch out which weeks/months I’ll be using each item. Since we often use short-term unit studies or more than one book in a subject, this helps me see the big picture at a glance. This schedule has the weeks numbered, so it’s no problem to take off a week here and there. (Since we’ve been doing school much of the summer already, we plan to take time off during the year.)


Then, I fill out daily/weekly schedules. We don’t do every subject every day, so Emily and I just check each day to see what is on the schedule. I usually plan 2-3 weeks of daily/weekly schedules at a time.


I haven’t been this organized every year. When Emily was in K-2nd grades, all I really had was a big picture sketched out on one sheet of paper and we were a lot more flexible day-to-day. Now that she’s in middle school, I feel the need for better record keeping and  to make sure that we’re devoting enough attention to each subject.