Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spiritual Renewal Study Bible


The NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible is a devotional Bible with the goal of guiding the reader to “experience new growth and transformation in [his] spiritual walk.” Features unique to this NIV Bible include:

  • Bible Book Introductions that emphasize the spiritual renewal themes in each book.
  • Text Notes that help the reader relate each passage to his own spiritual life
  • Character Profiles that describe each character’s strengths and weaknesses and lessons from his or her life.
  • Spiritual Keys Devotionals
  • Spiritual Disciplines Devotionals
  • Spiritual Disciplines profiles that focus on the specific spiritual disciplines described in Bible characters’ lives

I began with the Spiritual Keys Devotional Reading Plan. This includes 7 devotionals for each of the 7 Spiritual Keys for the Old Testament, and another 49 devotionals for the New Testament. Each is printed on or near the page with a corresponding Bible passage and directs the reader to the next day’s reading. Each devotional was based on scripture and helped me to relate it to my own life. Topics include:

  1. Seek God and Surrender to Him
  2. See the Truth
  3. Speak the Truth
  4. Accept Responsibility
  5. Grieve, Forgive and Let Go
  6. Transform Your Life
  7. Preserve Spiritual Gains

There are many other ways to approach this Bible. The reader could pick a spiritual discipline and read the three to seven readings on each discipline. He or she could do a study of Bible characters, reading through the profiles on each. Because even the text notes are indexed, one could do a study on a theme, such as anger, communication, choices, or boundaries, reading the passages or notes for each.

I liked that most of the features corresponded to a chapter or so of  the Bible, making it a Bible study instead of just a devotional based on a verse or two. I think it would be particularly helpful for readers who need help relating scripture to their own actions and feelings.

I especially enjoyed the character profiles. I think most of us relate to other people, and reading about the right or wrong choices characters made and how God used them was helpful in relating the concepts to my own life. I am also interested in doing a study of the spiritual disciplines (fasting, prayer, service, solitude, etc.) and think this feature will be very helpful. I do like how there are many ways to use the devotions and features, depending on the reader’s needs.

One change I would like to see made is to put the indexes to the devotional readings, profiles, and spiritual disciplines at the front of the book instead of in the index. Since these are a prominent feature of the Spiritual Renewal Study Bible, having them at the front rather than hiding at the back would allow the reader to manage reading plans and understand the study features of the Bible. Despite the wonderful study features, I didn’t find it easy to navigate.

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

R is for Resources for Apologia Biology


Exploring Creation with Biology 2nd Ed. 2-Book SetAs I was preparing to teach Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology this year,  I started with a web search. I was hoping to find some co-op ideas for the class I’m  teaching, and was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few great resources shared by those who have taught the class before. Some of my favorites are:

Quizlet Flash cards, games and tests for vocabulary—Biology is packed with vocabulary to memorize. As I was initially looking through the book, the amount of vocabulary seemed overwhelming even to me. I was glad to find some fun ways for the students to practice.

E-Learning Links has links to printable vocabulary cards, a crossword puzzle for each module, and a hangman vocabulary game.

Lab forms at I printed out a variety of these and passed them out to the students to put in their lab notebooks.

These blogs all chronicle the usage of Apologia Biology and include activity ideas, photographs, and videos.

Applie’s Place

Mindful Ramblings

Sahm I Am

Many of the photos and videos would be wonderful for those who don’t have access to a microscope. We do have the use of a good microscope, but I’m not sure what we will really find, so I’m glad to have the photos to give the kids an idea of what they should be looking for, and just in case we don’t find what we are looking for!

blogging through the alphabet sm.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Q is for Quiet Time

From the time that my children were very young, we’ve had an afternoon quiet time. When they were preschoolers, this was the typical naptime. After they outgrew their need to actually sleep in the afternoons, I still required them  to spend an hour on their beds with books. When I had several little ones, this hour was a much needed break for me!

As they grew older, they all enjoyed having the hour or more of reading time after lunch. Sometimes they would read books that had been assigned for school, such as biographies or historical fiction. Other times, they would read books of their choice. It became such a habit that it was never questioned!

At 14 years old, Emily still disappears up to her room after lunch, although I never tell her to do so. My only problem is that she can get involved in her book and not emerge for several hours. Pre-lunch school time is our most efficient period, because it is really difficult to get her in a working mindset after lunch and free time. At high school levels of work, she still has quite a bit of work to do in the afternoons; we aren’t able to finish before lunch as we did in our elementary school days.

All in all, though our quiet time habit has been a good one, providing a break for me and encouraging a love for reading in my children.

blogging through the alphabet sm.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Curriculum Plan: 9th Grade!


We are embarking on a new voyage into high school this year. These are the curricula that we plan to use for ninth grade.

Geometry: Singapore New Elementary Math—Emily completed Algebra last year using No Nonsense Algebra, so we’ll be pulling the geometry chapters out of NEM 1 and 2 and doing a bit of algebra review from NEM 2 mixed in. I hope to complete part of NEM 3 as well.

Biology: Apologia Exploring Creation with Biology—We’re going through this with a group of 4 other students. I’ll be leading discussions, activities, and labs on Friday afternoons and the students will do the bookwork at home each week.

Grammar: We’ll be reviewing IEW’s new grammar program FixIt! Grammar: Frog Prince very soon. Hopefully this will be something that we’ll want to continue with for the year.

Literature: Lightning Literature and Composition: Early British Literature, literature units from, Grammar of Poetry, and The Art of Poetry

History: History Revealed: World Empires, World Missions, and World Wars, by Diana Waring; I am so excited about this. We’ve been using the first edition of this series for several years and really enjoying it. (It’s old enough that we have the cassette tapes instead of cd’s!) However, by the middle of last year, I really wasn’t feeling like we were getting a good grasp of the flow of history because the original program had no core text and the other history materials I had just didn’t line up with the topics and activities in each chapter as they had for the earlier periods of history. So, I just bought the new edition last week and LOVE it already. The text books are fascinating and the discussion questions,  resources and activity suggestions are even better than before.

Computer Applications (first semester): Total Training videos (from a Groupon deal) and practice for Microsoft Office, and typing practice.

Bible/ Apologetics: Apologia’s What on Earth Can I Do?, Case for a Creator: Student Edition; Case for Faith: Student Edition, Beauty in the Heart Bible Study, Veritas Press’s Omnibus 1 (2nd semester)

Spanish: Mango Languages, Flip Flop Spanish, Spanish for Children ( Classical Curriculum Press) This may change because there’s a possibility of another foreign language product review coming up soon.

Art: Artistic Pursuits—second semester.

Extras: PE (No firm plan yet, possibly walking, riding bikes, Family Fitness, and tennis or ice skating lessons)

Piano practice—I’m determined that Emily achieve basic competence at the piano, but I don’t think she puts enough effort into it to receive a credit. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Five in a Row Memories

Some of my favorite homeschool memories include the years we were using the Five in a Row curriculum. Emily is into “serious” high school studies now, but we had a very relaxed start to homeschooling with Five in a Row—lots of snuggling on the couch reading books, and fun hands-on activities that brought the books to life.

Riding along in Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car

january february 001

Evaporating salt in How to Bake an Apple Pie and See the World


Making a model of the Boston Public Gardens while studying Make Way for Ducklings


The dining room table became “under the ice” in Very Last First Time.


Learning about Steam Power with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Copy of DSC03591

Dissecting an Owl Pellet with Owl Moon


Five in a Row is one of my favorite curricula to recommend for families with young children. If you have a 4-8 year old, you should take a look at this program!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Case for Faith, Student Edition (Review)

The Case for Faith, Student Edition, by Lee Strobel and Jane Vogel, is a short volume that explores some of “the toughest objections to Christianity” in a format that is very accessible to teens.

Lee Strobel is a former atheist and reporter who actually set out himself to research the truth of Christianity. He has written several books for adults about faith, Christ, and creation. This particular book is a simplified version of The Case for Faith, written especially for young people.

  1. Each chapter focuses on one of the common objections to faith:

1. Since evil and suffering exist, a good God cannot.

2. Miracle contradict science; therefore they cannot be real.

3. Evolution explains life, so God isn’t needed.

4. It’s intolerant to claim Jesus is the only way to God.

5. A loving God would never send people to Hell.

6. I still have doubts, so I can’t be a Christian.

Much of the content is present through as interviews, in which Strobel travels around to talk to theologians, philosophers, and scientists, asking questions as if were a seeker (as he once was). This isn’t a book of his own opinions, but a compilation of the opinions of experts in their field, which lends it a great deal of credibility.

I think this is a great little book for any young person—Christian or not, who is thinking about the “big  questions” of life. In fact, my 14 year old leafed through the book and exclaimed that “These are all the questions I have been wondering about!” She promptly disappeared with the book!

Emily says:

The Case For Faith is a book that answered a lot of questions I had about God. This book really made me want to share it with people I know are not Christians. All the questions that had me stuck on a certain level have finally been answered. I feel a lot more confident in my faith.

I would recommend this book for middle schoolers or for high school students who aren’t avid readers—ones that are questioning the Christian faith or ones that are looking some answers to faith questions to share with others. Older teens may prefer the regular version of The Case for Faith, which is much meatier.

As a member of BookLook Bloggers, I received this book free in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

P is for Posters


Over the years, we’ve collected a large variety of maps educational posters. Many came with subscriptions to Scholastic News, God’s World Magazines, and Scholastic Super Science magazines. Others came from school supply stores. We have a nice set of posters that teach about trees and plant life that were free from the International Paper Co. We don’t really have a lot of wall space in our study/school room to hang posters—2 windows, 2 doors, and lots of bookcases pretty much take up the wall space, so for many years we hung posters in the bathroom.

I may have been inspired to do this when we first read Cheaper by the Dozen; I think the dad in the story, an efficiency expert, did this to keep his twelve children learning all the time without wasting time. I always figured that I had a captive audience in the bathroom and maybe the kids would pick up a concept or two while they were in there! It has actually been quite a conversation topic with guests to our house as well, who would also take note of the latest poster when they were visiting!

I’m a fan of sneaking learning into all parts of our day. How do you do this in your home?

blogging through the alphabet sm.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

First Day of School Breakfast

As I was brainstorming something fun to do on our first day of school, I came up with this fun breakfast.

I put sliced strawberries and bananas in a glass, then speared pancakes (cut with a flower-shaped cookie cutter) and blueberries onto pencils to make an edible back-to-school flower arrangement.


Emily’s first comment was, “What is this?!”  I figured that my new high school student was beyond cutsie breakfasts.


Then she pronounced it fun. It even produced a rare early morning smile!


Monday, August 4, 2014

The Case For A Creator, Student Edition (Review)


The Case for a Creator, Student Edition, by Lee Strobel and Jane Vogel, is a 100 page paperback that explores the claims of spontaneous creation and evolution from a scientific viewpoint.

Strobel explains his background as a former atheist who had, for many years, believed without questioning the popular belief that life evolved spontaneously from “primordial soup” and gradually evolved into the millions of complex life forms that we see on earth through mutations and natural selection as hypothesized by Darwin.  He then tells the reader about how, as he learned more about the subject, he grew to realize how little evidence there actually was for this belief and, conversely, how much evidence there is that life must be intelligently designed.

He quotes many scientists who are experts in cosmology, biology, and physics, and describes the immense complexity of even the simplest cell and and the seemingly impossible odds that even the simplest components of life could have begun without having been intentionally designed.

It was interesting to read about the many ideas that are accepted by mainstream society, yet are doubted by many esteemed scientists or that were even disproven or exposed as hoaxes decades ago, yet are still included in current publications. That left me thinking about how little the average person really knows about the subject, since we are certainly given the impression that the issue has long since been settled by “science.” It also makes me wonder why textbook publishers are using questionable evidence to support their points.

The Case for a Creator does not promote a “young earth” philosophy, or even speak much of any Biblical teachings. Instead, it focuses on the scientific evidence and introduces the reader to the immense body of evidence that demonstrates that our earth and life were intelligently designed. As such, I think the book is more accessible to those that may not be Christian, but who are willing to look at the scientific evidence to consider the possibility of a Creator. It left me wanting to research more about the subject!

As a member of BookLook Bloggers, I received this book free in exchange for my honest opinion.

Grammar of Poetry (Schoolhouse Review)


The Grammar of Poetry, published by Roman Roads Media defines poetry as “a language of pictures and music.” The entire course is derived from that definition. The music of poetry contains two parts: meter and rhyme. The “picture” of poetry refers  to the figures of speech (tropes) that paint visual pictures for the reader. While many poetry studies focus more on the meaning of poetry and the poet’s intent, The Grammar of Poetry focuses mainly on dissecting poems, analyzing their rhythm and rhyme, and identifying the particular word choices and techniques the poets used to paint mental pictures. After analyzing poems, the students then try to write their own poetry using particular rhyme schemes and meter.

The course is designed for 6th-9th graders. It can be used as a semester-long course, spread over a full year, or even finished in 6-10 weeks. We’ve been doing 4-5 lessons a week and finding it fairly easy to keep that pace.

We found that the lessons were fairly easy—I think they would be within the abilities of most 6th graders, but the program could also be easily used for a high school student, because many of the concepts may be unfamiliar to older students. (I learned a lot, myself!)

This 30 lesson course covers:

  • How to read poetry
  • Simile and Metaphor
  • Meter
  • Pun
  • Iambic Imitation
  • Personification
  • Synecdoche
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Alliteration
  • and much more

Grammar of Poetry  (bundle $100) includes 3 components:

  • Student Workbook ($22.00)
  • Teacher’s Edition  ($24.00)
  • DVD set ($85.00)

The Student Workbook includes 30 short lessons, each followed by one or more exercises that allow the student to practice the concepts. The Teacher’s Edition has several pages of instructions for teaching and usage, and includes the entire student text, with answers. The optional DVD teaches the concepts for each lesson. Matt Whitling, the teacher and author, is an entertaining speaker, and we enjoyed watching these short videos (10-15 minutes) each day. He gave more examples and even went through a few of the student exercises. This helps the student be sure he or she is on track with the concept before completing the workbook pages. The course could certainly be used independently by a student, especially with the help of the DVD’s.

What does a typical day look like?

Lesson 3: Simile:

  • 1 page lesson with definitions of trope and simile and some examples of simile. There was an emphasis that the two items being compared must NOT be alike. “That hog eats like an animal.” does not qualify as a simile because a hog is a type of animal.
  • Practice activity instructing the student to circle the two words being compared in a simile.
  • Activity: Write three of your own similes.
  • Activity: Labeling a rhyme scheme in a 22 line poem of similes.
  • Activity: Label sentences as “simile” or “other.”
  • Review: Define poetry, trope, epiphany, and simile.


Some lessons only had one activity, but even the lessons with multiple tasks usually took Emily less than 30 minutes to complete. Lesson 10 has the student begin to write some lines of poetry with particular meter and rhyme scheme. Emily found this more difficult and took longer on these lessons.

I appreciated that frequent review is built into the program. This ensures that concepts are really learned rather than skimmed over and forgotten. Emily thought she could get away with not memorizing the definitions, but soon found out that subsequent lessons would require her to know them!

Grammar of Poetry is certainly not the only poetry class you will want for your children, but it is a wonderful introductory course. It is easy to teach, easy to learn, and fun to do. I know that now, when we read poetry, either just for enjoyment, or as a literature assignment, Emily will better understand the technical aspects of each poem and will be sure to notice how the tropes and meter affect the message and sound of the poems.

Connect with Roman Roads Media:


Other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed some other wonderful products from Roman Roads media. I’ve used some of these other curricula and they are wonderful! I’m hearing raving reviews from users of the new Old Western Culture program.

Old Western Culture: The Greeks
Old Western Culture: The Romans - The Aeneid
Dave Raymond's American History 1 or 2
Economics for Everybody Curriculum
Visual Latin I and II


Click to read Crew Reviews

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mathletics (Schoolhouse Review)

Mathletics Online Math Review

Mathletics, a division of 3P Learning,  is an online math site that provides extensive math skills practice for students in K through 12th grades. It is used worldwide both in schools and in homes, and is intended as a supplement to any standard math curriculum.

Each enrolled student is assigned to a particular course and works on skills within that course. Students must work in only that course (although up to 5 course changes are allowed during the year, in case the student finishes a level, or begins in an inappropriate level). A parent must set the level from the parent page—this prevents a student from intentionally or accidently moving to a new level. Many of the courses are aligned to common core standards, although there are options for various state standards as well.

The “core” of Mathletics is the Activity section. Within that section, the course content is divided into topics. Each topic has multiple tasks to be mastered, beginning with an “Are You Ready?” pretest and finishing with a test. The courses seem to be a pretty thorough overview of what should be covered at each grade level.

Each task includes 10 questions and when the student has made a grade of 80%, he earns a Gold Bar. Earning gold bars and completing other tasks on Mathletics earns the student points, which he can use to embellish his avatar.

Emily worked in the Algebra course, and since we were given accounts for 2 students, I signed myself up for the Geometry course to experience the program personally. The screenshots below picture both levels.

Activity Page—Geometry topics listed on left.


A question from the Algebra Course.


In addition to the Activity section, students have access to printable workbooks for each topic, to video explanations of topics (very helpful after missing a question), and interactive demonstrations of problems.

A feature that Emily enjoyed was the Live Mathletics section, where she could compete for speed and accuracy with another student of her grade level. Since students all over the world use mathletics, she might find herself competing with a student in Australia or South Aftrica!

Parents are able to assign up to 10 particular tasks to the student. Upon signing on, the student will be required to do these tasks before attempting anything else on the site. Another nice parent feature is that the parent is able to log on, or to receive email updates, to see the time each student has spent practicing, the particular skills practiced, and the scores earned.

Videos offer chalkboard-type explanations of problems being explained, pictured, and solved.


Interactive activities show a workbook page that explains a concept and have have an interactive feature that allows the user to manipulate drawings. In the example below, I dragged a corner of the triangle to see the effect on the length and angle measurements.











Printed student workbooks are available for each topic in the parent section  for those who need additional practice or would prefer written reinforcement.

What we thought: Mathletics is an enjoyable way to practice math skills. The content covered seems to be quite thorough. It doesn’t teach the material, then offer practice, so it would not be suitable as a complete curriculum, although it does provide explanations of concepts if the student chooses to click on the ebook or video boxes. I think many students might not bother with interrupting the math activity to do this, but Emily did think that they were helpful.
Emily really liked that there were only 10 problems in a section, making it a quick process to earn gold bars. I thought that the problems were pretty repetitive within a section, so 10 problems should be enough practice for a student who is just reviewing. I found that I could zip through several sections of geometry in 15 minutes or so. Emily took much longer in her algebra course, but I suspect she was dawdling.
I didn’t find the Mathletics site entirely intuitive to use. It took me a while to find the workbooks on the parent page, and there were some features that I never really figured out. Also, it was a little frustrating when I clicked the browser “back” button instead of the “back” or “home” buttons in the program and was returned to the sign-in page. There weren’t any big problems, but I’ve used math practice sites that were laid out better.
Mathletics is not a game site; it offers serious math practice. However it is colorful and offers small rewards and competition that should motivate students to spend time practicing.
A 1-year subscription to Mathletics is currently $59 per student.
Click to read Crew Reviews

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