Thursday, August 27, 2015

Illuminating Literature (Schoolhouse Review)

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I really wasn’t looking for a literature curriculum this year; I was happy with the program I have been using.  However, when I saw the brand-new Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide, published by Writing with Sharon Watson, I was eager to take a look. We received the following books for review:

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide (Student Book)
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Teacher's Guide
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Quiz and Answer Manual
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide:Novel Notebook (Free PDF Download)

Sharon Watson also generously sent us the first two novels for the study, Pudd’nhead Wilson, and  The War of the Worlds, so we were all ready to get started as soon as we opened the packages!

The Student Book and Teacher’s Guide are necessary purchases. The Quiz and Answer Manual is optional because the quizzes are available online free to purchasers of the curriculum. The printed manual is for those who prefer to have paper copies of the quizzes. The Novel Notebook is a free download and the student will need to use it or create his or her own novel notebook.

Illuminating Literature is designed for use in homeschools, homeschool co-ops, and Christian schools. It’s designed to be easy to use as a self-directed homeschool program, but also includes lesson plans for use in a monthly co-op situation. It is designed for high school students.

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide has students study 8 books over the course of a year:

  • Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain
  • The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells
  • The Friendly Persuasion, by Jessamyn West
  • Peter Pan, by Sir James Barrie
  • Warriors Don’t Cry, by Melba Pattillo Beals
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis

Through each of these books, the student focuses on the theme of  conflict. (The title of the course, “When Worlds Collide,” refers to the collisions in the physical, political, extraterrestrial, racial, spiritual, and philosophical worlds of the characters.)

Components of the course:

  • The novel for the unit. Specific versions are strongly recommended so that page numbers will line up correctly with the course materials.
  • The student book includes a schedule, several lessons to be completed before the book is read that provide introductory material about the novel and literary elements, lessons to be completed after the novel is read, including discussion questions, exercises that require the student to evaluate the literary techniques in the novel, a vocabulary quiz, and a  final activity. Several options are offered for final activities, which require research and involve varied tasks, such as cooking, music, watching and evaluating movies, interviewing others, and creative writing.
  • Quizzes: There are 3 quizzes per chapter, a “Yes, I read it” quiz, a literary terms quiz, and an opinion survey. These may be completed from the Quiz and Answer Manual, or may be completed online, where they are automatically graded.
  • Novel Notebook: Students may use any notebook for this, answering the questions that are given in the student notebook, or a pre-printed Novel Notebook may be downloaded from Writing with Sharon Watson, with the questions and space for answers in an engaging format all ready to use. I really appreciated the downloadable Novel Notebook because I know my student would be prone to “forget about” the list of questions as she was reading.
  • Teacher’s Manual: This obviously is for the parent/teacher to use. It gives directions for using the program, for leading a monthly book discussion group, and suggestions for running a private Facebook group for discussion the novels, complete with discussion starters. It also includes the student schedule, answers to student activities and discussion questions and a grading grid for each novel.


Emily is just finishing up the first unit, Pudd’nhead Wilson. I felt that the study was very complete and that there was a lot of variety in the assignments. Emily learned quite a bit about Mark Twain/ Samuel Clemens, and internet links were provided for students who want to learn more than was provided in the text. She learned about pseudonyms, setting, and a lot of background context information. She was asked to identify the types of conflict she saw in the novel. We used some of the provided discussion questions as we talked about the story (Sharon Watson suggests that using them all would be TOO much!) She took quizzes on the book and on the literary terms for the chapter. This week, she’ll be choosing a final project, which may involve doing a comparison of the movie and book, designing a calendar with pictures and aphorisms, researching a related topic—fingerprinting, twins, conjoined twins, or the blood characteristics of different races, or interviewing an older person from a different ethnic group. We spent about a month on this study, keeping to the suggested pace.

I love this course and we plan to use it for the rest of this year. Instead of providing dozens of comprehension questions, the student activities require a deeper level thinking than I typically see in high school courses. The course requires the student to consider historical context, relate quotes from other literary works to the concepts in the focus novel, and to apply literary concepts to the novel. The student also is expected to relate the author’s ideas to his or her personal life. The background information greatly enhances the study. For example, the phrase, “the curse of Ham” is used in the book. The student book explains the origin of the phrase (the descendants of Ham, son of Noah) and the misuse of that phrase in the society of that time (Ham’s descendants were Canaanites, and were not black-skinned).

The Novel Notebook is a great idea. The student has several things to watch for and take note of as he or she is reading the book, such as examples of literary techniques, favorite sayings, or passages that demonstrate a particular attitude or opinion. Emily “forgot” to take these notes as she was reading and had to go back to find her examples in the book, creating extra work for herself. Maybe she won’t forget next time!

We have been accustomed to writing essays as part of a literature course, and this course doesn’t require a lot of writing beyond short answers. I would expect more writing for a full English course.  However, since we had already planned to use Sharon Watsons, The Power in Your Hands writing curriculum this year, Emily already has the writing component covered! Many of the final project options do require writing, so the parent or teacher could assign those as well to round out the course.

This really appears to be a fantastic course, so I am hoping that Sharon Watson will publish more literature courses for us to use after we finish  Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide.


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Afraid of High School Science?

For years, one of the biggest concerns about homeschooling high school I’ve heard is, “But how will you teach science without a lab?” The assumption seems to be that a homeschool just cannot compete with a traditional school in this area and that homeschool students will miss out. Honestly, that has NEVER concerned me. Sure, it would cost hundreds of dollars to replicate a high school lab. However, the homeschooler can create a great lab experience with household items and a few purchased specialty items.

Last year, when Emily studied biology,  I taught a lab group once a week using Apologia Exploring Creation with Biology. We did dissection, hands-on activities to learn about cells, extracted DNA from peas, and much more. We also added a 2 month long fruit fly genetics project, which allowed the students to cross different types of fruit flies, make predictions about the offspring, and compare the results to their predictions. The yearly cost was $40 per student for supplies.


This year, we’ll be tackling chemistry. I’m choosing to use The Spectrum Chemistry from Beginnings Publishing, specifically because of their intensive lab content. It will be more expensive, about $80 a student (sharing the cost between 2-3 students), because I’m purchasing the ready to use lab kit that includes absolutely everything we need. It contains 5 times as many labs as most high school chemistry courses!  I’m looking forward to a really fun and easy-to-plan chemistry course!

Are you a mom who doesn’t want the trouble or mess of a lab in your own home? You still have options. You might be able to find another mom who’s willing to teach a lab group or maybe you belong to a homeschool co-op that has science courses. Landry Academy offers 2-day lab intensives in cities all over the US for physical science, biology, and chemistry. These look like a great experience and I plan to have Emily take a biology lab and a chemistry lab next spring even though we do so much hands-on science already. Many online schools (including Landry) offer science courses that include both virtual labs and labs you will do under online guidance in your home.

There are plenty of science courses designed for homeschoolers that don’t require the parent to teach the course. Apologia texts are written to the student and are easy to use. Fascinating Education science courses offer an online, graphic-heavy format. Supercharged Science is very hands-on and fun. Those are just some of the courses we’ve used; there are many more. Science is not something a homeschool parent should worry about teaching!

Read more about teaching science, math, and history on these blogs:

Home School High School Hosts Share this Month:


Homeschooling High School Blog Hop 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015


We just spent 2 weeks in northwest Montana visiting my aunt. It was a wonderful, relaxing trip and the scenery was beautiful. We didn’t visit Glacier Nat. Park this year because we thought the smoke from the fires there would mar the view, but found plenty of smokeless places to visit. These are a few photos from the many drives and hikes we took.








Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wait Till It’s Free…The Healthcare Crisis

Wait Till It's Free – DVD

I spent this evening watching a new film, produced by Colin Gunn, entitled, “Wait Till It’s Free,” an in-depth look at the current health care crisis.  I found it quite enlightening. It covers the history of government funded health care since the days of FDR and the effects government involvement has had on health care, both in the US and in countries with fully socialized medicine. The video certainly didn’t alleviate my concerns about the direction our country is going, but it does present some positive options for health care, including health care sharing ministries like Samaritan Ministries, which is what we use.

The video is for sale, but you can watch it online FREE until August 19.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Currclick’s Back-to-School Sale

back to school

Are you still looking for resources for this year? Currclick’s big annual Back-to-Homeschool Sale just started, with many products deeply discounted. Dozens of publishers are participating, including a couple of my favorites—A Journey Through Learning (wonderful lapbook studies) and Math Mammoth. Currclick is a great place to find reasonably priced downloadable resources for any subject.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Not Back to School!

The local public schools are starting back today. We do keep generally to the same school schedule as the local schools, but sometimes their starting date just seems too early! This year, we’re actually celebrating our freedom from the PS schedule by taking a vacation. Yay! 

After a last summer hurrah, we’ll be ready to settle down to work in a couple of weeks.


Monday, August 3, 2015

The Conversation (Schoolhouse Review)

Classical Conversations Review
If you are familiar with the Classical style of education, you know that the process of education is divided into 3 stages: Grammar (primarily elementary school ages and focuses on memorization of facts), Dialectic (middle school ages, focuses on questions and relationships between ideas), and Rhetoric (high school, higher level analysis of ideas, includes conversations, expressing truth, and  putting knowledge to use). Leigh A. Bortins, from Classical Conversations, has written a series of 3 books that help homeschooling parents put this philosophy of education into practice.
The first book, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, teaches parents practical ways to implement the Classical philosophy in the Grammar stage. The second book,  The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education, focuses on the dialectic stage. Her brand new book, The Conversation: Challenging Your student with a Classical Education, was written for parents of high schoolers to help them navigate the waters of classical education through the rhetoric stage.
I was curious about whether The Conversation would be of much value to me. I do have a high school student, but we’re not classical homeschoolers. Then again, I do value critical thinking and want my daughter to express herself well and to apply what she learns to life.
The Conversation begins with a chapter entitled “Confident Parents,” that makes good arguments for homeschooling through high school. It discusses the advantages of homeschooling and answers questions that parents may have, such as, “How can I teach my child when I didn’t do well in school?” and “What about credits, transcripts, and diplomas?”  This section is certainly helpful for any homeschooling parent, particularly those new to homeschooling.
Bortins then explains the stages of classical education, focusing on the purpose and goals of the rhetoric stage. She explains that students should develop excellence in each of the five canons of rhetoric:
  1. Invention: What should I say?
  2. Arrangement: In what order should I say it?
  3. Elocution: How should I say it?
  4. Memory: How should memory inform my presentation?
  5. Delivery: How should I present this truth in speech and action?

This first section of the book provides the theory; the remainder of the book provides a practical guide for the implementation of classical education in the high school years. Chapters for each major subject area give examples of how to include each of these canons in the subjects of reading, writing, speech and debate, science, math, history, government and economics, and fine arts. Examples of student discussions are included demonstrating ways to discuss how to do math problems, reading The Scarlet Letter, and guiding a student through the writing of a research paper.

I actually found this book very helpful and plan to refer to it frequently. Although I was unfamiliar with some of the terminology of classical education used, I did see the benefits of implementing these techniques into each of our school classes even though classical education has not been our focus. It is important for students to not only thoroughly understand subject matter, but to be able to apply concepts and previously learned knowledge to new situations. Expressing ideas clearly both in speech and writing is an area in which many students are lacking, but is critical for the leaders of tomorrow and I think this book will help me to help Emily learn these skills.

I do wish that I’d had the opportunity to read the first two books in the series prior to reading The Conversation. The author spent minimal time explaining the grammar and dialectic stages. Although this is understandable since The Conversation concerns the rhetoric stage, I feel it would have been beneficial for me personally to have had more background information.

I think this series would be a great guide for families using classical education, but it is also useful for families using other methods.

Classical Conversations Review

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Apologetics Study Bible for Students (Giveaway)

    I have looked at many different student study Bibles and I have to say that the Apologetics Study Bible for Students is one of my favorites. This HCSB translation Bible includes many features designed to help students grow in their faith and learn to articulate that faith to others. These features include:IMG_20150801_1648161_rewind[1]

  • 120 Articles that answer the most commonly asked questions about the Christian faith.  Some of the topics included are “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?” “Does God want me to be rich?”  “What’s the big deal with astrology?” “How can a person get into heaven?” and “In what ways did Jesus fulfill prophecies?”  Questions cover all the foundations of the Christian faith as well as application to contemporary issues.
  • Study notes: Footnotes at the bottom of each page explain the difficult issues.
  • Twisted Scriptures: Clarification of passages that are often distorted by cults.
  • Bones and Dirt: Describes archeological findings that support scripture
  • Personal stories of heroes of the faith and of ordinary people
  • Notable Quotes that encourage and motivate
  • and moreIMG_20150801_1649539_rewind[1]

I’ve spent some time this week reading through parts of the Apologetics Study Bible for Students and am very impressed. The study notes are very helpful for explaining scripture and adding background information without seeming so scholarly that the reader would want to skip them. The articles include great questions, including many that are current hot topic issues. Even though this is a Bible that my teenager will use, I plan to spend some time with it myself, because I really feel that the apologetics features are applicable for anyone. I’ve seen teen Bibles that are much more focused on specifically “teen” issues. Unlike those, this study Bible can certainly be used well beyond the teen years without seeming too “young.”

The formatting is very attractive and the print is a nice readable size.


An additional feature is the indexing that makes it easy to turn quickly to the desired Bible book.


My 15 year old says that she loves all the questions and answers and the explanations of difficult concepts. She said that it would be very helpful for anyone with questions about faith and that she could relate to the personal stories. She also loved the index tabs. Since she spent 3 hours reading the Bible this afternoon, I’m definitely giving it two thumbs up!Apo_eBlstSB_SeanVideo_1

More Apologetics Resources:

Sean McDowell, the editor of the Apologetics Study Bible for Students is currently doing a 16 week series that answers some of the toughest questions about faith. These short (3-4 minute) videos give great answers about topics like abortion, and “ Does the Bible demean women?” that will make you (and your youth) think and give you a taste of the content of the Apologetics Study Bible for Students. You may or may not agree with Sean’s answers (I did), but they are biblically grounded, provide opportunity for thought and discussion, and include topics that will resonate with young people.

You can watch the series at

Would you like a chance to win a copy of the Apologetics Study Bible for Students? First, enter the Confident Faith Sweepstakes for a chance for a variety of prizes, including a free Bible, an apologetics library, or a free trip for two to hear some of the top apologetic speakers. Confident Faith Sweepstakes

Second, enter here to win a free Bible!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway


"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”