These Kiddos Love to Learn Through Literature

Products were provided to us through our participation

of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

The Boy has really improved his overall reading skills over this last year and is really enjoying his newfound skills, constantly. We find notes, stories and signs all over the place. It is a pleasure to witness his love of reading and writing. His appreciation of the written language makes the timing perfect for introducing a more formal Language Arts curriculum into his school mix. Fortunately for us, when he was in Kindergarten, and Sweetness was entering first grade, we were using the Grade 1 Lightning Lit Set. The Boy was not overly interested in the actual writing at the time and was still struggling to learn to read, but he was there alongside Sweetness as we read the stories and she completed her assignments in the Student Workbook. Fast forward two years and we find ourselves blessed with an opportunity to review the Grade 2 Lightning Lit Set by Hewitt Homeschooling. The timing simply could not be any better for us, nor could the product. When the box arrived and he saw that it was the same curriculum Sweetness used previously, he let out a resounding “Yesssss!”

His attitude about this program has not changed, not once.

We received both the Teacher’s Guide and the Student Workbook. Both are standard full-sized, soft bound books. The Student Workbook are triple hole punched, making it easy to keep in a binder or pull sections out one week (or book study) at a time and keep organized for daily use in a binder organization system. As much as I like the idea of using binders for organization, I find that our papers fare better when we keep our workbooks intact. Regardless, it is a bonus that the workbook could be used with either system.

This literature and composition curriculum can be used whether an individual wants a solid and quite thorough language arts curriculum, or as a simplified basic curriculum. Let me explain. In the Student Workbook, lessons are centered around a single story book for the first 21 weeks and chapter books are read for the remaining 15 weeks. The worksheets are broken up into daily exercises with the day of the week written at the top of the page. A typical week would consist of reading the story and asking questions about it for comprehension on Monday (Day One), and students then complete grammar and composition exercises. On Tuesday (Day Two), students are encouraged to read the story again, but it is not required. They then complete another grammar worksheet and a composition section that is centered around the child’s opinions, asking what they think of the story and their favorite sentence. The book is read again, if you choose, on Wednesday and Thursday (Day Three and Day Four) with further grammar worksheets. For the most part, Lightning Literature is a four-day week curriculum, leaving Friday (Day Five) as a free day. However, there are additional resources for further study, allowing a family to extend their studies and making it a five-day weekly curriculum. The program still remains flexible and can easily accommodate most family’s scheduling needs. For example, our family maintains only a three day in-home school week, with a fourth day at an on campus enrichment program and a fifth day in multiple locations. We choose to complete Lightning Lit in a three day window and simply double up along the way.

When we worked on Grade 1 with Sweetness two years ago, we relied on the Student Workbook only. We read the books that coincided with the lessons and she would complete the worksheets throughout the week. We discussed the grammar topics of the week, such as nouns, verbs, etc. and we purposed to talk about the learned grammar elements in other areas of schooling. I did not, however, really look over the Teacher’s Guide at that time. It was not a review product for us and I remember looking at the Student Workbook and feeling confident in the material as it was. Overall, the curriculum was still a tremendous piece for us and both Sweetness and The Boy learned a lot. I am comfortable saying that if someone does not want a solid and thorough Language Arts program and is looking for something that is well laid out but less formal, this program can still work well for them, it did for us back then.

When I received Grade 2, I was initially assumptive that we would complete the program the same way. Until I looked over the Teacher’s Guide and realized just how much we missed when we completed Grade 1. The Teacher’s Guide provides discussion ideas, ways to complete a particular lesson for a struggling student, additional resources for extending the lessons and more. Suddenly, Language Arts is thoroughly taught instead of simply being just touched upon. Looking back, I do not think that Sweetness was cheated or did not learn as much, but I do think that we could have made things even better for her as we worked through the books that year.

Regardless of whether a parent decides to use the program to it’s fullest capacity or not, there are stories to be read that coincide with each week’s lessons. We happen to own a few of the titles but not all of them and we certainly have no desire to buy 15 or more books. However, our library has most of the titles available so we reserve the next 3 or 4 books in our lineup to keep them on hand for when we need them. There was a book that we needed that was already checked out and unavailable. Instead of delaying the assignment, we checked YouTube and found a read aloud of the book. The first time we were instructed to read the story we watched the video. The second time, however, we muted the video and The Boy read it to me. This took away any stress or worry about missing a week of lessons or skipping a lesson and returning to it later.

Grammar topics are introduced each week and seem to build upon each other throughout that week. For example, in the first week a student is learning to alphabetize words that all start with a different letter. Later that week the child is introduced to alphabetizing words that start with the same letter. In Week Four the child is introduced to adjectives and later in the same week the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives are taught. Students will learn the foundation of all grammar: nouns, pronouns, verbs and verb tense, adjectives, sentence diagramming, dialogue and so much more. By the end of the program students will have learned linking and helping verbs as well as action verbs, comma usage, letter formatting, conjugated verbs, and still more. Lightning Literature and Composition books are like a flower you get to watch bloom as each lesson opens up another petal.

These kiddos jump for joy over Lightning Literature & Composition! Bookworm Beauty is grieving the loss of her books.

If Lightning Literature and Composition are like blooming flowers, we will have a full garden this year as it is not just The Boy that is working on this program. We already have Grade 3 set aside for Sweetness and are having to keep it out of reach as she is eager to jump in and get started. We also had Grade 7 ready for Bookworm Beauty. Unfortunately, it has since been misplaced. It is important to note however that it is so important to us to use the program for her that we offered the kids a reward for finding it. If it is not found soon, we will be ordering another copy. I figure that I know plenty of homeschooling families, so I am fairly sure that I can find a home for the other copy once it is found.

I can not say for certain that Lightning Literature & Composition will be our only Language Arts programs for years to come but I can say that we are immensely pleased with their format, quality of product and topics covered. Equally important is that my children love this program and are always eager to complete their lessons. That is enough to keep me on board!


The Ultimate Planner

A subscription to Homeschool Planet  was provided to us through our

participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

Planning may very well be the single most important element of my homeschooling family and after subscribing to and using Homeschool Planet through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, we may be gathering together for a calendar burning party! This program has been nothing short of a perfect fit for our busy family’s many needs.

I have been searching high and low for the perfect planner over the years, physical or electronic and have tried several in the process. In the end I began to accept, reluctantly, that I would simply need to accept the fact that I would need to continue to use multiple planners or systems. Which was a fate that assured that some things would fall through the cracks. After years of pondering the perfect planner, you could imagine my delight as I was able to mentally check off each element that I would include in the perfect planner as I watched the introduction video of Homeschool Planet.

Not wanting to wait another day to get started in planning our crazy life, I set up my free 30-day trial of Homeschool Planet before my review period even started. To do this, I first had to join the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Looking back, I am glad that I had to join the Homeschool Buyers Co-op because I had heard about this group over the last few years and kept putting off looking into joining it because I did not realize that it was a FREE resource. Yes, I am kicking myself now for missing out on this fabulous group that provides their members with discounts on many products and curriculum.

To make this FREE membership of the co-op and the FREE trial of Homeschool Planet even more incredible was that I also received a FREE lesson plan (a $5-15 value) from their Homeschool Planet Lesson Plan Marketplace. PLEASE NOTE – this FREE lesson plan deal is only being offered as an incentive for the month of June 2017. Of course, I chose a free lesson plan. I selected IEW Poetry Memorization to allow us to add it into our new electronic removing-the-stress-and-chaos-family-planner. Simple. Quick. I was even able to select which of the 125 days of lessons that I wanted to move into the calendar as we are well into the curriculum already. Within minutes we had an entire lesson plan in our planner! The best part is that as life happens and schedules change, I do not have to dread the process of changing things in our planner; I simply (yes… there’s that word again… simple) shift the lessons forward however many days needed. I can shift the one lesson or apply it to all of the lessons, I can even choose whether to apply it to one person or all!

It gets better! Handsome and I used to use a phone app that was a combined calendaring system. We managed our previously very busy household, pre-homeschooling days, to keep track of the older three high school girls’ schedule. We had the ability to maintain to-do lists and shopping lists, as well. It was wonderful. However, it was seriously coming up short when I began homeschooling and needing to plan our schooling as well. As I experimented with other planning systems, they were coming up seriously short when they could not include the features that we had relied on from our other electronic system. Those struggles are over… Homeschool Planet allows the ability to add multiple widgets! We have added shopping lists, which can be separated by stores, and to-do lists as well. Not only are the lists on the planner, they can be sent to our cell phones! Next time that Handsome is unable to get in touch with me, on his way home, to find out the grocery needs that I have, as we live an hour away from any stores, he can simply text SHOP to our planner number and the list is sent back immediately. I can also click the “send” button and the list will be emailed to us both. Ahhhhh, I can literally feel stress melting.

It gets better still! I was able to include the kids’ chores into the calendar! Not only can I add their ongoing chores, I can also add additional one-time chores as needed, with notes that indicate the value of that chore. This is going to make Handsome’s job much easier when he sits down to pay the bills and determines how much they have earned for the month. For me, what is more exciting about this element is the accountability. Handsome can look on the calendar during the day while he is at work and know whether or not their individual chores are done for the day. He can also see about their schoolwork, music or sports practice, or whatever else is going on in each individual life, such as appointments.

We are in full-swing summer mode around here. Yes, there are things to do still, but school scheduling needs are slim. As a result, we are not using the planner to it’s full potential. I am okay with that. We are learning it together, as a family, and creating a new normal. We will be well into our new planner habit by the time school is in full swing in August.

Although the ability to add lesson plans and homeschooling tasks is expected, I need to also share that this really is a whole family planner. Each individual can look at their own schedule or they can look at the whole family schedule. Lists can be made individually as well, so Bookworm Beauty and Sweetness can maintain their own lists of things that they want to work on or accomplish, beyond school. Birthdays can be added with notifications placed on the calendar. This is literally a whole family maintenance system. It is also a gradebook and I can keep track of hours and even generate transcripts. I feel like I can go on and on about the many facets of Homeschool Planet and I think I have only scratched the surface in understanding all of it’s features.

I keep discovering new elements of the Homeschool Planet program. I have always been one to jump in and figure things out instead of investing time in reviewing manuals and such. However, I decided with this program that I really wanted to understand it’s capacity. I plan to use this life-saving resource for our family, well beyond reviewing it. Fortunately for me, there are several tutorials on how to use different features. This shortened the learning curve immensely. Whenever I want to learn a new thing, I watch another tutorial and decide if it is a feature that I want to add to my planner.

I have one fear with this program. It is entirely electronic. It is not a program stored on my computer so I have no control in it’s storage. I have to have total faith in the hosting servers that our planner will be there each and every day. There are abilities to print out calendars (nice for a road trip day) but something that I will be unlikely to use on an ongoing basis. I am confident that the system will be in place without fail for the most part but I believe it is important to plan for the unexpected issues that can happen. Most schools have “Snow Days” accounted for in their annual schedule In our community it isn’t “Snow Days” per se, it is “Mud Days” from rainy days and dirt roads. As homeschoolers, weather rarely has an effect on us, but we can learn from the school systems planning and we will have “Unexpected Days” in our school. Simply preparing for the possibility of a server going down, maintenance needs (that I did not prepare for) or the like, relieves even more stress. If we wake up one day and the planner is out for some reason, we will officially be utilizing one of our “Unexpected Days” and either move into a pajama read-in schedule, impromptu field trip or any other on-the-spot-decisions we happen to make. Pre-planning for such possibilities just makes me smile.

This next school year already feels less chaotic. There is no reason to spend another day feeling overwhelmed with the many tasks of a busy homeschool mom. Maybe I will have some time to read a book entirely for pleasure this next year.



Retaining Historical Facts Does Not Need to be Arduous

Adventures of Rush Revere book series was provided to us through our

participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

Having three students between early elementary and middle school, I often find myself striving to ensure that all of them are retaining important facts and details when we study something together, which is often. We do not go lightly on the youngest and place a significantly heavier load upon the oldest, rather we look at our school like a one-roomed-all-ages school house of the pioneer days. This means that while we continue our Early American History studies, all three are working on the same time period and covering the same facts. This is where the Adventures of Rush Revere Book Series by Adventures of Rush Revere #1 New York Times Bestselling Book Series by Rush and Kathryn Adams Limbaugh comes in.

History is history. There are many facts and details, each important in their own way. Sometimes the focus is on a date, a time period, an individual or group of peoples. Other times the focus is on objects or industrial advancements. Lists of facts and figures end up as nothing but details when there is no framework, much like a uncolored coloring page. Historical fiction is a way to illuminate details, filling in the blanks, and breathing life into history by allowing you to witness events unfold. The Adventures of Rush Revere Book Series did exactly that for us, enabling us to witness many events as if we were present when they happened.

The book series consists of five books covering important details from the initial pilgrimage to the New World through to the birth of democracy and the first presidency. To start with, the presentation of the book series was absolutely stunning as they were tied together with Rush Revere ribbon and a perfect bow. These details were noteworthy. Opening a box to find a collection tied together so meticulously led us to feel as though we were receiving a gift of History, which we were. The presentation alone fueled our desire to jump right in, which the kids did as they confiscated the ribbon and began to peruse the hardback books ranging between 200 and 250 pages, each covered in it’s own vibrant full-colored book cover.

There was a bit of a struggle within myself to not hoard these books and read them by myself. As a family, we are always looking for good books to read aloud together. It had already been decided, prior to receiving the books, that the Adventures of Rush Revere Book Series would become a family read aloud, pushing the other lineup of great books farther down the list.

We started at the beginning with Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. As we stepped upon the Mayflower with Rush, suddenly the images in our mind of that event began to be colored in. We studied the pilgrimage this last year, setting the foundation of a wonderful historical fiction novel to bring it to life for us.

Rush Revere is a modern day substitute history teacher that has a unique pet, a special horse named Liberty. Liberty has special skills of being able to talk and also travel through time. History class comes to life when Rush and Liberty bring two students, Tommy and Freedom, back in time. Tommy accompanies Rush and Liberty aboard the Mayflower, experiencing the 65-day, 3,000 mile journey alongside the Puritans and the Strangers. Later, both Freedom and Tommy join Rush and Liberty on additional visits, experiencing part of the first winter alongside the young settlement; learning about the frustrations, and failures, of the Common House; meeting with Squanto and Somoset; celebrating the first Thanksgiving – a harvest festival – and much more.

We have not completed the second book in the series, Rush Revere and the First Patriots, as a family. However, we have met Benjamin Franklin, learned about his many inventions and have followed him to the Westminster Palace in England to address the Stamp Act. We are anxious to finish the second book which looks as though it will take us through the Boston Tea Party. I am looking forward to reading the the remaining three books and experiencing the Midnight Ride in Rush Revere and the American Revolution; witness top secret conventions and meet Francis Scott Key and Betsy Ross in Rush Revere and the Star-Spangled Banner; and lastly, witness firsthand what made our first president, George Washington, a great leader  in Rush Revere and the Presidency.

One of my favorite parts about this book series is that there are many knowledge nuggets littered throughout the whole book. Common language of the time period is taught. We have been introduced to muskets; learned about parchments sealed with beeswax or resin and have been taught to use herring as garden fertilizer. Most importantly though, we are enjoying the experience of our Early American History through stories that bring the experiences to life.

We were outside working in the garden a few days ago when Sweetness asked me if we had a way to get some herring for fertilizer. At first I chuckled, but then I smiled as I realized that she learned this through our reading of the Adventures of Rush Revere. I was delighted to pull out a bottle of organic fish emulsion for us to use in the garden. It may be small, or even considered unimportant in the study of American History, but she learned it which is not unimportant.

We will continue reading the rest of this series, and then we will be looking for someone to share these with. Some books are simply too good to keep tucked away on a bookshelf and are better shared!



Learning a Second Language the Fun Way!

Whistlefritz products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

Being able to review the Educator’s Spanish Collection by Whistlefritz was a wonderful blessing because learning a second language is often viewed as one of the most challenging endeavors of a homeschooling family, unless of course one of the parents already know a second language. Oftentimes, families view a second language as important and even necessary, but transposing that thought into a reality is where the difficulties lie. In our homeschool, we spend our second language efforts on learning Spanish and this ultimate collection which includes 5 DVDs, 3 CDs, a Lesson Plan book and matching playing cards ($165 value) made things fun!

Our first impression when opening the package was that this product was definitely for our youngest, The Boy (6).  They indicate that the age range is for 1-7 years old, so this was expected. I did worry a bit about the other two, Sweetness (8) and Bookworm Beauty (11), whom is our Spanish speaking novice in our home, but both honed in on this program and have not missed watching a single one!

The premise of Whistlefritz is that students learn a second language the same way that they learned their first language, through immersion. Each DVD contains an episode (approximately 30 minutes) that focuses on a different element of normal daily life and and songs to reinforce the episode’s instruction. Each episode teaches and reinforces the language for activities children are already familiar with, such as playing with toys, birthday parties, music, animals, seasons and more. The episodes are fun, engaging, and colorful as they combine both beautiful animation and live action footage to create episodes that rival any mainstream children’s programming.

When we received Whistlefritz, we were in the tail end of Bookworm Beauty’s busy Track season. This meant a lot of travel and full days away from the home. However, we are blessed to have a DVD system in our van, allowing us to bring Whistlefritz along with us. We often watched a single DVD multiple times, at the kids’ request. I assumed they would want to watch a different one but they wanted to watch the same one again, and again, and sometimes again still.  I expected them to eventually tire of Whistlefritz but every time I peeked into the rearview mirror I have seen them fully engaged.

Watching, and listening, to the DVDs first have made me more comfortable with using the lessons from the 277 page lesson plan book that contains 40 lessons and corresponding reproducible pages. We have not yet started any of the physical lessons from the book but I have been able to look through the book and incorporate the lessons into our fall schedule when we will be home more consistently. The lessons incorporate many hands-on-activities to reinforce the language, such as creating a puppet in lesson 1 and having a basic conversation skills of greetings, introductions and feelings. There are also activities on colors, shapes, counting, seasons, things around the house, food and the body. Being that we are in the midst of studying Human Anatomy, we will be completing the lessons out of order and jumping to lessons 22-24 where we will learn many body parts and movement. The best part is that the lessons are only expected to take 30-40 minutes, so it will be easy to fit a couple of episodes into our weekly schedules.

Years ago, I met a Hispanic woman that spoke beautiful English. Although she still had her native accent, I could communicate flawlessly with her. We talked about her home in Brazil and her move to the states when she was in her early 20’s. She shared with me her overwhelming fear of being able to fit in as she did not know more than a handful of English words. Her secret to learning our language was daytime television and her favorite show was Sesame Street. She spent several hours every day in front of the television and learned English just by immersing herself. This encounter made a huge impression on me and my thoughts about learning a second language. I have read that the best way is to spend six months in the culture in which you want to learn a language, however most of us do not have the opportunity to live outside of the country for six months with our children. We can, however bring another culture into our home and Whistlefritz makes it possible and affordable!

I share this story with you because although this program is designed for children ages 1-7, it is a great opportunity for anyone of any age to learn a second language. This is also a fantastic way to learn a second language as a family. I know minimal Spanish, yet I found myself improving and reinforcing my own knowledge, which was a bonus that I simply did not expect!

I have a feeling that Whistlefritz will continue to live in our van for quite a while.

The Joy of Babies

Babies, babies, babies… they all bring me so much joy! Right now I am relishing in my delight and joy of garden babies! To fully appreciate these little guys, one must understand that out here on the plains, growing anything can be a challenge. I have had to tweak my gardening skills a bit over the last few years to make gardening a little more conducive to the harsh winds and dry soils.

Babies are sprouting up all over the garden. Seeing these little babies, and the hundreds more all througout the garden bring me more than just joy, but hope too.

I will be walking with a little extra hop in my step today!

Curing the Summer Lulls: A Review

As our school year was winding down and the sunshine was beckoning us to come outdoors to play, the kids were beginning to show severe signs of cabin school fever; that point where it seems as though suddenly everything they have learned, like basic math principles, are missing. As Sweetness was in a constant state of squirming in her chair, K5 Learning‘s online program showed up to her rescue.

Okay, things may not have been quite this drastic this year, but truly, K5 Learning has brought us an easy solution to our summer woes. As homeschoolers, we are not tied to the typical school calendar but the world around us seems to still have that influence on us. We lessen our schedule, tremendously, but education is a way of life for us year round. This allows much more freedom for us, as the kids’ learning continues instead of spending the first month back to school reviewing what was learned the previous year that was also forgotten over the summer.

K5 Learning is an online subscription-based supplemental program providing materials for K5 Reading, K5 Math, and K5 Spelling. Although this is our summer hero, it would be a great reinforcement for students needing a supplement anytime of the year. Subscriptions can be purchased either monthly ($14.95 first child/$9.95 additional children) or annually ($119 first child/$79 additional children.) They also offer a FREE 14-day trial, so there is no risk in finding out if it is right for you. Although K5 Learning is primarily an interactive online program, they also offer FREE worksheets  for anyone, anytime. Worksheets are available on subjects such as Math, Grammar, Comprehension, Cursive Writing and even flash cards.

After we received access to K5 Learning, we proceeded to set up our account, which was a simple process. I had to set up the parent account and then create the student accounts. Sweetness was able to choose her own login name so she became a superhero; Sweetness is now Airtrin when she is doing K5 Learning. I think they empowered her super powers too, because she seems to be laser focused when doing this program!

Our next stop was to take the assessments. I liked that although you select a grade level for your student, the system still has them take an assessment to determine where exactly in that grade level he or she needs to be. This allows for a student to get reinforcement where needed and not having to complete the level from step one,which could be unnecessary review for some kids. Your kids are likely to start right where they need to, once they complete their assessments.

Although I am singing the praises of K5 Learning, and the assessments, I have to admit that we experienced great frustration with the assessment process. I set Airtrin up to take the Math assessment and proceeded to work on other things. When I came back into the room, she was in tears. She is a sensitive, yet diligent child. Since she knew this was something she was supposed to do, she will do it to completion even if she is struggling along the way. She does not stop and get help or tell us that she can not do it, she continues to work through tears. After noticing her frustration I found that the assessment was asking questions that she had no idea of the concept, yet alone the answer. They may not have even been grade level questions. The questions presented were multiple choice, however and she was frustrated that she could not determine which answer to select. I was surprised to find that there was not a way to skip the problem or identify that she does not know the answer and move on. For some kids, this would be fine and they would pick any random answer and keep moving. For her, it was a roadblock. We stopped the assessment and emailed support at K5 Learning.

This is where K5 Learning really shines. I immediately received a response back from support informing me that the assessment is created this way because many students will pick the path of least resistance instead of pushing themselves to try. If there is a skip button or a way to indicate that he or she does not know the answer, students will likely select that when they are unsure of themselves. They gave us two options. We could persevere and select any random answer on those questions and finish the assessment or we could avoid the assessment altogether and move on into the program for the overall grade level.

Airtrin and I talked it over and we decided to persevere. I stayed with her this time and when she came upon an problem that she had absolutely no clue of what was even being presented, I encouraged her to just pick an answer and move on. This was still a struggle for her, picking any answer is just not her style but we persevered anyway. I did notice that there were a few times that she randomly chose the right answer and I worried that it would throw off the assessment so I contacted support again to ask about that possibility and I again received an almost immediate response from them with assurance that the system has built in features to allow for false positives.

Upon completion of her assessments, I received an email (again immediately) with the assessment results. This provided us with valuable feedback as to her overall progress in these subject areas, which I appreciated. It also helped us to identify which worksheets would be good for her if we chose to print some. She logged back into her account and started with the lessons that were provided for her and has been off and running since.

Although we have spent a majority of time on the Math section of K5 Learning, because that is where our greatest needs are, they also have a Reading section. Airtrin completed that assessment too.

For me, the FREE worksheets and the ease of use for my child are a great plus but the greatest feature is being able to have an accessible customer support team that is quick to respond to inquiries and eager to provide solutions. I believe that this is the most important aspect of any online program and K5 Learning has raised the bar!

We have enjoyed using K5 Learning as a supplement to our homeschool. Airtrin has been eager to get online and work through her lessons now that the sun is shining and she wants to get outside to play, as if pencil and paper in her math workbook is that much more difficult. Nonetheless, it is a great change of pace and she is getting to work on getting reinforcement on the targeted areas. We both appreciate that she can login, spend 30 minutes on K5 Learning and get the reinforcement that she needs before heading outdoors for her summer adventures!



Our Annual Read-a-Thon has Commenced

For many families, June marks the beginning of long drawn out days of basking in the sunshine and endless fun. We delight in our fabulous fun times outdoors, just like most others, but June marks the beginning of daring adventures, heroes, folklore and more. Yes, for us, it marks the beginning of exploring piles of books!

We always participate in our local library reading programs and sometimes we even venture out to neighboring libraries to participate in theirs as well. Before you shake your head, realize that we have a policy of only applying our reading time to a single program at a time. More programs means more reading.

This year our library teamed up with Beanstack and is taking their summer reading program to a whole new level! Participants earn badges for completing various activities (including reading) from nine different areas such as play, listen, write, make, and more. Each category has several activity options; kids select a few items to complete to earn the corresponding badge. If they complete all 70 activities they will earn the coveted Master Engineer badge.

It is exciting to see the kids looking over the activities and planning out the adventures to come. I am hoping to take you along with us to see our progress. Our first stop is to find a geocache tomorrow…

A Study on Nature

Our schoolroom shelves are lovingly adorned with several Memoria Press items. We have enjoyed using their curriculum for History, Literature and Latin in the last year alone, so you could imagine our delight when receiving a copy of Nature’s Beautiful Order to review.

We received three books: the textbook, student guide and teacher key. The books are laid out in the same fashion that we have already grown familiar with. There is something unique about Memoria Press textbooks, as their softcover books are made with a paper that feels almost like a velvety sateen. It may seem odd to mention it here, but I just have to confess that it is not unusual to find myself smoothing my hand over the cover of their textbooks. I have a longstanding affinity for books, and books that feel like something you want to touch just makes it all the easier to delve into.

And delve in we did. Bookworm Beauty and I immediately sat down to peruse the books together and go over our expectations for the program. Since she is finishing 6th grade, we decided to have her complete four of the eighteen chapters before taking our break for summer and then resuming further studies again in the fall. She made notes in her planner and took the books to her desk. It was only the next day that she informed me that she could not do Nature’s Beautiful Order, stating that she read it and reread it and still found herself lost. Simply put, she was having a difficult time understanding what she was reading.

Initially I wondered if she was manipulating and trying to get out of doing more work before summertime, which would be unlike her. I could not fathom her having difficulty as she is a seasoned reader, reading well beyond her age level. We talked about her trying again and making sure there were no distractions, all to no avail. After setting time aside, we worked through the first chapter together. I have to admit that I was really surprised that this program is suggested for grades 6-8. While the content, itself, is appropriate for the age, we found the writing style to be more advanced and difficult to follow. Although I could follow along just fine, I still found it difficult to read without taking the time to ponder and reflect upon the words to gain a deeper understanding of what was meant. For my daughter, however, it was a frustration when she was expected to read it alone. When we read the text together and took time for discussion along the way, she was able to get through the studies just fine.

One of the benefits of homeschooling a child in middle school is that they have typically advanced to the point of being better able to be successful at independent study in several areas. Although there are many things that we still work through together, I expected this program to be one done independently. Needing to work through the program at a slower pace, with me for discussion, was not what I was anticipating.

The book itself is well written, drawing from writers such as Mivart, Audobon, Fabre to provide a classical experience of studying science through observation of nature itself. It seems to read a bit more like a philosophy book as opposed to a science textbook – one that spends more time observing nature, pondering what is seen and using that observation to gain an understanding of science as opposed to a textbook teaching about the details of animals. This was a refreshing aspect of the book that I really appreciated; I liked that it focused on understanding animals from the perspective of observation as opposed to textbook sketches and lists of details. Observation is something that we, as readers, have our own experience to draw from, making learning even more real.

My overall opinion is that this is a wonderful study on animals from a naturalist perspective for an older student. I feel that it is not a suitable product as a 6th grade independent study. However, a younger middle school student may benefit from working through it a little slower than expected, possibly alongside an adult or older student, while allowing plenty of time for discussion.

Prairie Joys

When we made the decision to move to the prairie, we dreamed of all of the open space and the ability to spread our arms. We were excited to be far enough from our neighbors to not know when they were home or what they were doing. We delighted in the ability to work the land, building a garden and raising animals.

After three years, most of our dreams have been fulfilled, albeit a little at a time. We knew there would be challenges but there were a few things that we were not necessarily prepared for. Coexisting with rattlesnakes, was something we had not choice to be prepared for. The windy conditions is another thing we knew we would need to get used to. The one area that we were aware of but did not really prepare for was the wide open space, literally wide open. In other words, not a single tree in sight on our 35-acre spread.

Getting trees to thrive in our windy, arid conditions is not for the faint at heart. Fortunately, for us, we are not faint at heart, we are bold and courageous and have set about bringing trees to our barren land. The first two years were unsuccessful, but this year we have witnessed growth on our trees! It may be only an inch, but we celebrate as if they have grown ten feet!

Excellent Family Read Aloud: America’s 16th President

One of our favorite family pastimes is finding a good book for a family read-aloud. We have read many fabulous books over this last year and were searching for another good book when we were given the opportunity to review a book from YWAM Publishing  Heroes of History collection, Heroes of History- Abraham Lincoln: A New Birth of Freedom written by Janet and Geoff Benge.

This is our second Heroes of History book that we have had the pleasure of reading. The collection includes 26 titles of various historical figures, providing a narrative of the hero’s life and coloring in the details of American History, bringing it to life for both young and old alike.

The 5×8 inch paperback book is a 218-page engaging historical story documenting the life of Abraham Lincoln. The first half is dedicated to his early life, before politics, allowing the reader to realize that he was a person just like you and I. He was a fairly average child for his time and faced many of life’s unexpected ups and downs. Although this is an easy read that could be read over a few sittings, our family took our time reading a chapter a night over the course of a few weeks.

Along with the book, we were provided a downloadable study guide ($5.49 value) that has helped us take our reading to an even deeper level. Included in the pdf files are three overviews providing an outline for using the book in a classroom, a group or in a homeschool setting. We, of course, used the 24-page Homeschool Overview which outlined ways for using the Heroes of History Program as a U.S. History curriculum, a supplement to other subject areas, or for family read-alouds. Also included is a 64-page Unit Study guide that includes chapter questions, project ideas, field-trip ideas, additional resources and more.

Most nights, Handsome would read Abraham Lincoln to our kids (7, 8, and 11), and me. We would pause periodically to talk about things as we went along. For example, one night we were reading about Abe’s $50 annual salary as a postmaster, at a time when mailing a sheet of paper thirty miles cost six cents! Although six cents does not seem like much, even the kids recognized the expense when it is compared to such a small salary of less than a single dollar per week. We also found it interesting to learn that unlike today, it was the letter recipients that paid for postage, not the sender. We appreciated this details which gave us a greater understanding of the overall time period.

After reading, we would look over the chapter questions from the study guide to facilitate further discussion. Although every question was relevant, our favorites were defining words and challenging each other to use them throughout the day: words like spittoon, droll, and erroneous.

We have enjoyed getting a chance to see Abraham Lincoln as more than just America’s sixteenth president. He was an average boy that suffered many losses in his life. He was also entrepreneurial, always thinking outside of the box and longing to do more with his life. He was known for his honesty and he was a remarkable leader.

At a mere $7.50 (YWAM pricing), these Heroes of History books are worth adding to your home library. The next one on our list to read is Orville Wright.