Thursday, August 29, 2013

Homeschool Spanish Academy (Schoolhouse Review)

Homeschool Sapnish Academy
Foreign languages are one of the hardest subjects to teach at home. There are many books, videos and computer programs that teach languages, but conversation is really an important part of really learning the language. I am fortunate to have had 4 years of high school Spanish. It’s quite rusty by now, but I still remember quite a bit—certainly enough to help Emily with the different curricula we’ve tried and to carry on very simple conversations. However, I am not fluent, and am certainly not a native speaker. Teaching Spanish would be even harder for a parent who was unfamiliar with the language.
The founders of  Homeschool Spanish Academy had a brilliant idea! Matching up native Spanish speakers with homeschooled students for lessons through Skype.  We were blessed to be able to try this out last year (see review) and have just had another 7 weeks of lessons ($104.99 for half semester).
I think that the class fees are very reasonable. This is the pricing for the Middle School Program that Emily used. Other age level fees are similar.
One-On-One Pricing
Signing up for the class was fairly easy, and there were helpful videos to explain the process if I had trouble. I was able to choose the teacher and the class time and had the option of choosing the same day and time each week or scheduling each lesson individually. I chose the individual option, just to ensure that the lesson wouldn’t interfere with something else that came up that week. I also scheduled them about every 5 days instead of 7 so that I could get in more lessons before the review due date. I enjoyed being able to read the teachers’ bio’s. That feature was new since last year. I noted that they are all well qualified, many with bachelor’s degrees in education or languages.
About an hour prior to Emily’s first lesson, I received a phone call from a member of  the tech. staff. We chatted a bit about my expectations for the classes and Emily’s prior experience. Then he helped me set up Skype so that we would be ready to go.
Emily’s first class started out with an assessment and review of what she had studied last year. Her teacher, Elda, was very friendly, and they chatted together as they went over the material. Elda had a great sense of humor and Emily giggled quite a bit as she took her lesson. Each lesson had a different topic—adjectives, professions, numbers, and so on.
Emily studied with Elda for several weeks until Elda took a break for maternity leave. Then she tried out a couple of other teachers. They were all very good.

Shortly after each lesson, we were able to log onto the website to download Emily’s homework for the week. The homework consisted of fun bright pages that she had already gone over with her teacher in class. We saved her work to our computer, then uploaded it to the site for the teacher to look at before the next lesson.
homework pages
If you are looking for instruction in Spanish, I highly recommend Homeschool Spanish Academy, either as a stand-alone program or as a supplement to a more traditional program. The teachers are well trained and fun to work with and the private tutoring experience is hard to beat. Emily developed more confidence in her Spanish abilities and I hope to be able to continue with her lessons at Homeschool Spanish Academy.
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Tidbits From Our Week

We officially started our school year on August 19, although we have been doing some schoolwork through the summer.

We took Wednesday off to help Katie move.  She is excited to have her first apartment and has spent much of the summer planning and “crafting” to make it look cute! Emily is demonstrating her future placement of Katie’s paintings.


Emily made an earthquake model (from Moving Beyond the Page’s Technology unit.)


We received Flip Flop Spanish in the mail and began using it for our Spanish studies.


We took a short camping trip.


Busy busy! A good start for the new school year.  Smile

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Encouraging Vocabulary Development in Toddlers

vocab toddler

The following activities are excerpted from my book Language Lessons, which is packed with games and activities to enhance skills in listening, comprehending, and producing language.

Children learn to understand language before they learn to produce it. While some children with language disorders may have normal comprehension skills with delayed speech production, often production and comprehension of language are linked. Here are some activities to try with very young children.

· Use new words in a dialogue repeatedly to help the child learn them faster. "Look at the duck! Duck says, 'quack quack.' Duck swims fast. Go, go little duck!"

· Put several objects on a table. Ask, "Where is the ___?" Progress to hiding an object and asking, "Where is ____?" While the child is looking, ask questions such as "Is it under the table?" and "Is it on the bed?"

· Have your child match pictures to actual items. Name each item several times to reinforce the word.

· Develop a habit of having the child name things in his environment, such as his clothes as he gets dressed in the morning or the food on his plate.

· Ask questions about the illustrations in a picture book. "Where is the ___?" "What is this girl doing?"

· Play background music while you have your child perform each action you call out---walk, jump, stop, clap, wave, and so on.

· Teach your child to respond to, "What is your name?" Help him call other people by name.

· Have your child pick up an object and say, "my ______." Have him give you an object and say, "your ______."

· Help your child think of all the things he can do with his fingers (point, scratch, wiggle, bend, pinch, touch…). Name these words and do the actions. Have him use the words to tell you what to do.

· Help your child think of all the things he can do with his feet (wiggle, point toes, walk, run, stomp, kick …). Name these words and do the actions. Have him use the words to tell you what to do.

· Help your child think of all the things he can do with his mouth (eat, kiss, blow, pucker, whisper, scream, smile, grin, whistle …). Name these words and do the actions. Have him use the words to tell you what to do.

· Gather an assortment of objects. Help your child think of a describing word for each object, such as shiny, smooth, rough, soft, hard, or sharp.

· Place several objects on the table. Describe an object and ask your child to guess the correct object. Use adjectives in your question. "Which one is shiny and sharp?" Which one is blue and slippery?" "Which one feels rough?"

· Place pictures on the table. Ask your child "riddles" and encourage him to choose the correct picture. "Which one tastes sour?" "Which one is long and sharp?" "Which one is cold?"

· Place pictures of animals or other objects on the table. Teach or review action words by asking, "What hops?" "What barks?" "Which one cuts?" Or ask, "What does a dog do?" "What does a pencil do?" and help your child answer.

· Make a "Me" book with your child. On the first page, write, "My name is ___________," and attach a photo of your child. Each page can provide a new vocabulary topic….things I like to play with, things I like to eat, my favorite places to go, my friends, body parts, etc.

· When you visit the grocery store, look at all the fruits and vegetables. See how many your child can name. Talk about the fruits and vegetables. Do they have peels? Are they sweet? What colors are they? Buy a new variety to try at home.

Use these ideas to stimulate your own ideas for activities to enjoy with your child!

Language lessons-small_thumb[1]

Language Lessons and the series of Super Star Speech books, which focus on articulation disorders, are available at

Beauty in the Heart (Schoolhouse Review)

Doorposts Logo

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Beauty in the Heart is a study on “true beauty” for girls or women, ages 10-12 and up. It is divided into 9 studies plus a review and includes 86 daily assignments. Each assignment takes from 5 to 20 minutes to complete. Using passages from 1 Peter, Genesis, Esther, 1 Timothy, Proverbs, 1 Samuel, and Ruth, the student covers these aspects of beauty:

  1. Beauty in submission
  2. Beauty in the Hearth
  3. Beauty in Trusting God
  4. Beauty in Humility
  5. Beauty in Modesty
  6. Beauty in Serving
  7. Beauty Without Discretion
  8. Beauty in Crisis

Beauty in the Heart helps young women focus on an important principle, that of inner beauty. We live in a world that obsesses on outer beauty, but tends to ignore the much more important development of inner beauty.

The study also teaches the student how to study the Bible. Through the use of a Bible atlas, commentary, and concordance, she will dig deeply into scripture, developing skills that will be useful for studying any passage of scripture. Throughout the study, the student will be looking up words, making timelines, highlighting key words, doing word study, summarizing, and writing chapter titles.

I felt like this study was a real step up for Emily in the area of Bible study. She’s done studies that focus on stories and facts; she’s done studies that focus on the application of Biblical principles to her life. But this is the first time she has been required to really dig into the Word. Beauty in the Heart does include comprehension questions on the Bible text and it helps young women apply the lessons to their personal lives, but it teaches how to analyze words—to look them up in the dictionary, or to examine the Greek meaning, or to use a concordance to find out what else the Bible says on the subject. It teaches the reader to understand the passage in a larger context-Biblically or historically, and to look at the small details. These skills will be very valuable later on, when Emily wants to study another passage on her own.

The study is meaty, but is not difficult to use. Each chapter has boxes in the margin that include:

  • outlines of the activities to be done in the chapter
  • materials needed (such as colored pencils, concordance, etc.)
  • additional informational or historical notes
  • suggestions for further study

It was absolutely easy for Emily to do on her own. I just looked over her answers and asked her a few questions about what she was reading and doing. I think the theme of “becoming a beautiful woman—God’s way” is critical too—something that all young Christian women should think about.

I think this was a wonderful study for young teens and highly recommend it.

Doorpost publishes a variety of Bible study and character training resources, including Because You Are Strong: A Study of Godly Strength for Young Men, which was reviewed by some of my fellow Schoolhouse Crew members.


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

Friday, August 16, 2013

In the Hands of a Child (Schoolhouse Review)

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Emily recently spent a week working through a notebooking pack by In the Hands of a Child. She’s done a variety of lapbooks in the past and enjoyed them but has gotten rather tired of the cutting and pasting aspect of lapbooks. I was happy to see that Hands of a Child provides a “notebooking pack” option for many of their studies for children who would rather present the information in a notebook format.

Law and Government Curriculum

The study we chose, Law and Government, teaches 4th-8th graders about the role of governments in society, how laws are made, different types of laws (civil law, public law, common laws, etc.), trial by jury, and careers in law.

The 20 page guide includes 3 1/2 pages of informational text, 15 notebook pages, instructions, and an answer key. There is also a list of suggested additional reading. Additional reading is not required to complete the pages.

I chose this study because Emily has asked to study about government, but frankly, I was a bit underwhelmed. I knew it would not be comprehensive, since it is a one-week study, but I expected a bit more. With only 3 1/2 pages of text—much of it in the form of lists or definitions, there really wasn’t a lot of meat to fill 5 days of assignments. Just about everything in the text needed to be copied into the notebook pages to answer the questions, so I didn’t feel that Emily even had to look hard to find the answers or even to comprehend what she was reading. I did use a few supplementary books to flesh out the study. We have a middle school level government text that I pulled a specific chapter from for her to read each day to correspond with the daily topic and to make the study deeper.

The notebooking pages were simple, but the interesting text box shapes, supplemented by clip-art graphics did make a more interesting way to present what Emily was learning than an ordinary notebook would have done. The questions included such topics as

  • naming the branches of public law
  • listing examples of civil law cases
  • defining government and listing the roles of government
  • describing various careers in the area of law



The Law and Government pack is currently on sale for $5.00 (reg. $10.00).

To read what my fellow Review Crew members have to say about this and MANY other “In the Hands of a Child” products, please click the link below.


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


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Win Free Wholly Guacamole!

Are you looking for creative lunch ideas for the new school year? Check out the Wholly Guacamole site for lots of great ideas, to print a coupon, or to enter your own recipe in the contest to win $100 and a cooler full of Wholly Guacamole products. Yum!

The Wholly Guacamole® brand wants to help you make lunch for you and your kids OMGuac -tastic!  After all, Wholly Guacamole is the Official sponsor of the OMGuac Lunch!
Stop by for some great ideas, a coupon and a chance to win $100 gift card with FREE Wholly Guacamole products! Three winners are chosen weekly through Sept. 27.
The One Lunch, Two Ways gives you inspiration on how to create two completely different lunches with most of the same ingredients! Take a look and print out the shopping list for your favorite ideas.
- Get OMGuac Lunch inspiration and shopping lists to print
- Watch fun videos to help break out of the boring lunch mode
- Print your $1.00 coupon good for any Wholly™ product
- Enter your OMGuac lunch photo for a chance to win $100 and FREE Wholly Guacamole products

OMGuac! It's a contest!
Here's how it works. Use Wholly Guacamole minis and a little creativity to make lunch fun! The best lunches will win a lunch box full of guacalicious products and a gift card for $100!
For complete contest details and rules, visit
We'll be picking three winners each week through September 27th! 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Scrapbooking Your Field Trips

 Scrapbook Your Field Trips

When my grown kids were younger, we took several big cross-country sight-seeing vacations—one from Alabama to New England and the other from Alabama to Montana. As part of their schoolwork, I had them keep journals which we later incorporated into our vacation scrapbooks. These scrapbooks turned out to be wonderful remembrances of our big trips as seen through little eyes. They’ve also been fun for all of us to look at as we have later studied the people and events that we had learned about hands-on on our vacations.

Our trip to the East Coast was taken when the children were 10, 8, and 6 (and before Emily was born.) While my 10 year old’s journal entries offered nice descriptions of the sites we visited, the writings of the younger two offered precious insights into what events and places were most interesting to them.

Katie (6) wrote this about the Liberty Bell:

I saw the LIberty Bell. I thought it was much much Biger then it was. I thought is was as Big as half of a tree. or as Big as the statue of LiBerty. it was realy as Big as half a car door. how Big Do You think it is.


John Michael (8) wrote this about our Massachusetts adventures:

We went to a camp site that wasn’t very fun so we went to a difrrent one. (He drew a picture of a site with no trees and a site with trees.) We stade for 4 days then we went to aunt claras hous and I went to the beach—and I am writing this!

In those 4 days I went to Lexington and Congcord.—We went to a brig. We followed the freedom trail-we saw lotts of things at the end. We saw a musim about (?) and even got to go on Old irsides!

I went to Lowel—that is where a bunch of factorys were! It was were the cloth factories were that use water. The people were girls from the countryside. The girls wanted too much  money—so they hired imegerints!

Katie wrote:

We walked on the road that the British solders walked on. We saw a Bridge. we saw soldiers lined up aBout this Big (drawing). But John Michael Lott thinks thay are this Big (drawing). I had to Put it sideways Because it would not fit.


Our trip west was taken when the kids were 15, 13, 11, and 3. Surprisingly, Emily (who was of course too young to write about the trip) remembers quite a bit. The older kids put together the scrapbook themselves when we got home and had fun reliving their adventures. We ended up with far more detail than when I do scrapbooks myself


Dinosaurs, Native Americans, buffalo and the Transcontinental railroad!


I really wish I had made the effort to do this with more vacations and field trips. Maybe not every one—lest the kids might have felt burdened with schoolwork on their time off, but more often than we did.

After looking through these pictures, I am so ready to plan another big trip!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Unseen (Review)


Do you ever wonder about what the truth is about the unseen world? About angels, demons, Heaven, and Hell? We’re surrounded by ideas and images of these things, from fairy tales to television and movies to ideas espoused by people we know.

In Unseen, Angels, Satan, Heaven, Hell, and Winning the Battle for Eternity,  author Jack Graham examines the portrayal of these concepts in the world around us and explains the truth found in scripture.

The first few chapters were insightful. I learned what the Bible really says about angels, who they are, what they look like, and what their purpose is. Then I read about Satan and his purposes and actions.

As I read further into the book, I began to sense the author’s urgency to teach the reader about the very important doctrines of heaven and hell and salvation. With an entire chapter devoted to what the Bible teaches about hell, the reader truly comes to understand that hell is no joke or laughing matter, that it is a real place and that we should be concerned enough that we tell the truth to other. Graham also devoted a good amount of space in the book to spiritual warfare—how we, as Christians can stand against and fight against Satan’s attacks.

Graham’s descriptions of heaven, or rather the “3 heavens,” made a lot of sense to me, since the various scriptures about what happens after death can seem to contradict each other. (The first “heaven” is earth, the second heaven is where our souls go to be with God immediately after death, and the third heaven is the restored earth where we will live with God and there will be no more pain, sorrow, or tears.

This is the type of book that you will read slowly and underline passages as you go. I found not only many new insights, but increased awareness of God’s work in this world and in the world to come.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

America the Beautiful Curriculum (Schoolhouse Review)

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We have spent the past month using a beautiful US history program, America the Beautiful, published by the Notgrass Company  ($99.95). This program is designed for students in the 5th to 8th grades and includes:

  • 2 (Large) hardcover textbooks
  • We the People, a hardcover collection original source of journal entries, advertisements, stories, and speeches
  • Timeline book
  • Map book
  • Teacher Answer Key

Optional components include:

America the Beautiful is a textbook based program, making it easy to use.  There is no need for a teacher’s guide, because each day’s lesson ends with a list of assignments, printed right in the book. Typically, there are about 5 assignments, which may include Bible (which may include copying a verse or writing a paragraph), Map Study, Timeline, Literature, Creative Writing, or Lesson Review/Student Workbook.  It is suggested that 8th graders do all of the assignments and that younger children choose fewer.


The text includes beautiful illustrations.


Map Book has directions for marking and coloring on the facing page.


Timeline Book has an unique format. Some entries are already filled in and the student is directed to add additional entries. This format easily allows a sentence or two to be written about the event instead of just a label.


Activity Book includes fun puzzle-type activities for reinforcement. 

The America the Beautiful program has been easy for Emily to work on independently. She often tells me interesting things that she has read and I do discuss what she’s reading in each chapter, but it is set up well for independent work and it was fairly easy for her. Parents of younger children might want to read the chapter together with their children and might need to provide some assistance on some of the assignments, such as creative writing. I think that even 3rd-4th graders would be able to use this book, making it a good curriculum to use together with children of varying ages.

I like that literature selections are also included as part of the curriculum. Ten books are assigned throughout the year,  including Sign of the Beaver, Amos Fortune, Free Man, and Across Five Aprils. Quality historical novels always bring history to life and we’ve always done a lot of outside reading as part of our history studies.


I love:

  • The great illustrations and photos throughout the books.
  • This is a “meaty” and thorough program, covering a lot of material.
  • Everything you need is included. There is no need to dig up extra reading assignments or supplementary reading (although additional novels or biographies could be added if you wish.)
  • The fully integrated map, timeline, creative writing, and Bible studies.
  • The original source works and literature assignments.
  • The included chapters on National Parks and Monuments that help the student learn about our country. These chapters make ME want to do more traveling to see some of these wonderful places!

I didn’t like as much:

  • The main texts do read like textbooks. There was a lot of information on each page, presented in mostly simple sentences. It just didn’t read like a story like some other “texts” we have used and the writing style seemed more appropriate for elementary than for middle school students. (Emily enjoyed it and had no complaints, though.)

Overall, I would recommend Notgrass Company’s America the Beautiful program as an easy-to-use, engaging program, especially for children in the upper elementary grades.

Click the banner below to learn what other Schoolhouse Crew members thought about Notgrass America the Beautiful or the Notgrass Draw to Learn program.


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


Friday, August 9, 2013

Common Core—A Path to Excellence? Or Not?

common core

Adoption of the Common Core standards by most states has been big news during the past few months. It may be changing the future of education, certainly in public schools, but will also have an effect on students in private or home schools.

My concerns pertaining to public schools:

I like the idea of accountability in public schools. We all know that some public schools yield good results (at least in academics) while others are dismal failures. I firmly believe that good teaching should be rewarded and poor teaching should not. Children deserve to be challenged and provided with the tools to succeed. Logically, there should be goals or standards to aim for.

Having standards in place sounds like a good idea, especially for those schools that are not producing educated students. However, I don’t like the idea of a large bureaucracy setting the standards for children throughout the country. Committees that set educational goals for students have too much power to insert a political or social agenda into these standards, thereby controlling the minds of the next generation. Some of the standards are ridiculous—informational reading replacing the reading of literature in English classes? That policy is designed to produce compliant workers, not thinkers. One of the supposed goals of the Common Core standards is to make Americans competitive with students in other countries. However, the big advantage that the U.S. has always had is our creativity and inventiveness. Reading only informational texts will squelch that. It will also give schools the opportunity to indoctrinate students with particular political or (anti) religious views.

I was initially in favor of the “No Child Left Behind” act, but I have not seen good results from it. In our local schools, there has been increasing emphasis on “teaching to the test.” Children earning high scores is the focus of school now. In elementary schools, little or no history or science is taught anymore because the tests focus on math and reading, making science and history obsolete. Children spend several weeks (not days) taking tests in the spring, losing instructional time. I foresee this increasing as schools adapt to the new Common Core standards.  Much of what I’ve read of the standards sounds like educational gibberish anyway and will be difficult to test.

My biggest concern, however, is that there is a huge profit to be made in the implementation of these standards. The same companies (Pearson being the largest) are producing curriculum, producing and marketing Common Core tests and providing teaching training. So who is really determining what our children will be taught? Not parents, not teachers, not principals, but for-profit publishers! Even the ACT and SAT college admissions tests will be adapting to the Common Core standards. There may not be a “federal curriculum,” but you can be sure that school systems will be choosing the curriculum that teaches what’s on the test, making all curricula choices pretty much the same.

My concerns pertaining to home schools:

My biggest concern right now is testing. Many homeschool families are required to or choose to do achievement testing. Any college-bound student will need to take the ACT and/or the SAT. If these are changed to fit the Common Core standards, then homeschoolers will be forced to follow these standards if they want their children to perform well, even if they prefer to cover different content matter or disagree with the political and social views that are incorporated into public school curriculum.

Am I panicking? No. There has always been the latest bandwagon to jump on, especially in the educational establishment. I’m not convinced that this will be wonderful for our nation’s children, but who knows? Maybe some good will come from it, especially in poorer schools. Or maybe it won’t make much difference either way. I think that good teachers will continue teaching as they always have. As far as I’m concerned, I am thankful that I have many options for curriculum and will not be forced to use a “state curriculum.”

Click the Crew Blog Hop button below to read more homeschooling posts on topics from Creative Organizing to Charlotte Mason!

Summer Blog Hop

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Working With Your Child’s Learning Styles

learning styles

One way to help your child learn more efficiently is to identify his or her preferred learning modalities. I found it very helpful to identify whether my children were stronger in visual, auditory, kinesthetic skills.

Visual Learners learn best through sight. They often learn to read easily and can remember what they read and what they see. These children do well in traditional school settings because they are able to learn easily from books.

Auditory learners learn best from hearing. They may especially enjoy music and can learn information quickly from songs. They enjoy being read to or having things explained to them.

Kinesthetic learners learn best when they are doing. Building models, doing experiments, actually handling something related to the learning topic is most helpful to them. Interestingly, even when kinesthetic learners are in a situation when they need to listen, they retain information better if their hands are busy—coloring, playing with clay, etc.

Children often fall into more than one category. In each of my children, I was able to see a primary and a secondary learning style. And of course, they were all different!

So, once you have identified your child’s learning style, what should you do with that information? First, where you can, restructure your curriculum to fit the way your child learns best, especially with difficult subjects. If your child is struggling with a concept, try presenting the information in a different way. To teach parts of speech, instead of doing a worksheet page, the child might learn a song that will help him memorize or he might collect 20 “nouns” and act out 20 “verbs.” Instead of you explaining something to him, have him make lists or flashcards or drawings to illustrate it.

Another thought to consider---you may want to try to strengthen your children’s weaker areas. My son was visual and kinesthetic when he was very young. But we did so much reading aloud that he really became stronger in this area. And regardless of your child’s preferred learning style, retention will be better if the subject is presented in more than one way.

I think we all try to teach in the way we, ourselves, learn best. (I know that I’d be happy to just sit and read because I learn most easily that way.) But if we watch our children carefully, and are willing to alter our teaching techniques, learning will be more efficient and less frustrating for everyone!

Click the Crew Blog Hop banner to read about other homeschool topics, from Nature Journaling to Multi-Level Homeschooling!

Summer Blog Hop

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pursuing Academic Excellence Away From the Desk

away desk

Most of my friends do not homeschool their children. At my church, there is only one other family that homeschools. I know most families that have never looked into homeschooling have a very limited idea of what it entails. The assumption is that we are emulating what the public schools do. The child has a stack of textbooks, sits at a desk (or maybe the kitchen table) all day, reading and answering questions (on paper, of course.) And of course, we give tests, because otherwise, how in the world would we know if our child was “keeping up?”

Well, some homeschool homes do look like this. Others bear little resemblance to this scene. Children may be found curled up on the couch with a good book. Or building a Lego recreation of the Egyptian pyramids. They may be constructing lapbooks or crawling across the lawn with a magnifying glass looking for insects.

So what is the best way to homeschool? The way that works best for you and your children! When I think back to my childhood and think about what I learned (and still remember), textbooks are not what comes to mind.

  • I remember a few hands-on activities from elementary school.
  • I remember a great high school history teacher who made the past come to life by telling stories.
  • I remember reading fiction that taught me about far away times and places or animals and nature (the Thornton Burgess books, Happy Hollisters series, Little House Books, mysteries with exotic settings.)
  • I remember the vacations my family took to visit historical and natural sites—seeing sea lions on the northern California coast, the petrified forest in Arizona, historical sites in Boston and Philadelphia.
  • I remember my experiences as a Girl Scout—building and cooking over fires, setting up tents, and learning first aid skills.

I challenge you to think about how you learn best? What intrigued you as a child? What do you remember from your own education years ago?  Then take a break from the books. Pick a hour or a day or even a week to get outside or out of town. Find something to do that will make memories for your child and allow him to learn in a different environment. It may turn out to be the best academic choice of all!

Click the Crew Blog Hop banner below to read more homeschool topics, from Organizational Freebies to Teaching Kids to Read!

Summer Blog Hop

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura (Schoolhouse Review)

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I grew up reading the “Little House” books and watching “Little House on the Prairie” on television and loving both. The actor, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the show, is actually still involved with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life.

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is a documentary, produced by Legacy Documentaries in partnership with the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association in Burke, NY. This DVD tells about the early life of Almanzo, as it was described in the book Farmer Boy.

Before we watched this 53 minute documentary, Emily read Farmer Boy again. She had read it a few years ago, but I wanted it to be more fresh in her mind before viewing the DVD, thinking that she’d learn more from the DVD that way.

We both really enjoyed Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. The format is an interesting mix of narration, video footage of the Wilder Homestead (currently a museum in upstate New York), drawings from the book, and live reenactments of some of the scenes from the book. The narrator retold parts of the story and gave a lot of background information about the Wilder family and the time period. As we watched, Emily exclaimed several times, “Oh, I liked this part of the story!”

If you’ve read Farmer Boy, then you surely remember the wonderful descriptions of food throughout the book. This hard-working farm family ate a lot and they ate well. Many many dishes were served at every meal, and all are described in mouth-watering detail. Emily even remarked as she was reading Farmer Boy that reading through those descriptions made her hungry! I found it quite interesting that the DVD commented on the reason for the amount of space in the story devoted to food. The Ingalls family lived in poverty. In some books, such as The Long Winter, their hunger was a focal point of the book. In other of the stories, it’s not dwelt on as much, because Laura’s childhood seemed so content. But still, such common things as an orange or white sugar were portrayed as wonderful and rare treats because all the family generally had to eat was what they could grow or what Pa hunted. So, to Laura Ingalls Wilder, hearing of Almanzo’s more wealthy background must have been truly amazing, commanding an important role in his story.

More connections like these are made in the video. We love field trips and hands-on history, but we’re unlikely to ever make it to upper state New York to visit the Wilder Homestead, so this was the next best thing.

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura ($21.95) is a great supplement to the Little House books and probably would be most enjoyed by upper elementary ages and up. If you enjoy the Little House books as much as we do, or if you’re studying the westward expansion time period then you would surely enjoy this DVD as much as we did!

Read more reviews of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura and the companion DVD, The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by clicking on the Crew banner below.


I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.