Oh So Fascinating Chemistry: A Review

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

We have become quite a sciency (yes that’s a homeschool term for us) family over the last few years, and last year in my eagerness, I had ordered a full chemistry program for all three of the kids which included early elementary workbooks The Boy and Sweetness and an upper elementary one for Bookworm Beauty. Unfortunately, we were covering Anatomy and Astronomy last year, leaving little time for Chemistry. As I began planning next year’s studies, I began to be concerned about the program being just a little too elementary for Bookworm Beauty as she enters 7th grade. It was another answer to my prayers to receive an excellent and timely review opportunity; this time it was Fascinating Chemistry by Fascinating Education that came through at the right time.

Fascinating Education was born out of Dr. Sheldon Margulies’ love of science and making science applicable, fun, teachable and real to the average student. I do not normally mention the maker of a program in a review, but I feel that I must this time around. Early on in our review I had a reason to contact the vendor and I received an immediate response by someone from his team that provided some information about Dr. Margulies’ passion for teaching science. It is absolutely worth mentioning because when someone is passionate about what they teach and they keep themselves within an arm’s reach of their customers, you end up with a friend that is sharing educational information with your students, not a vendor marketing their products.

I was initially worried about the age range of Fascinating Chemistry, as it appears as though it is intended for high school. Although Bookworm Beauty is pretty advanced in her abilities, she is still a  12 year old 7th grader. She and I sat through the initial lessons together and discovered that while they are a little advanced, they are not beyond her ability to grasp. She had been overly patient about our lack of fitting Chemistry in to our schedule over the last year, which I finally came to learn was not patience but rather a lack of interest in Chemistry overall.The discussions that we had around Chemistry were really important because part of our reasoning for homeschooling is the ability to allow our kids to have a part in the decisions we make about what to study. I know that she will need to complete a Chemistry course during high school so the biggest question was whether or not she takes a class during 7th grade as well. In the end, we decided that we would work through Fascinating Chemistry for the review period and let her make some decisions about completing the program after. Her reluctance to study Chemistry seems to have waned quite a bit after the pressure was gone.

I felt that it was important that I sit with her and watch the online video tutorials together. I do not usually have to do this with Bookworm Beauty but I did so because I needed to get a feel for the age level of the instruction. Once we logged into the system we were granted access to the course. There is not a student dashboard or a parent dashboard to get familiarized with. It is a simple and straightforward system (how refreshing). We were taken to a landing page where all courses are listed: Fascinating Chemistry, Fascinating Physics, Fascinating Biology, Fascinating Logic of Medicine and Fascinating Chemistry (a pre-course for Biology). After selecting the Fascinating Chemistry course we are taken to a course outline page showing all 19 lessons. For each lesson we have the option of listening to a video tutorial, consisting of slides with a narration by the Dr. himself or reading the text ourselves. Tests are also available for each lesson and can be completed and scored online or printed and administered separately.

I would imagine that most middle school children could handle this program overall, especially since the student has the ability to work entirely at their own pace. The only limitation may be some math  required that might be beyond a middle school level. After tweaking our schedules a bit, we seem to have found an advantageous way to make this product work well for us at this time, which is to use it in conjunction with the elementary science program. For example, Bookworm Beauty is present when the younger kids work on their lesson which is nothing short of reinforcement and we then stream Fascinating Education on our television through our computer, allowing all of them to hear the more advanced lesson instruction. We then take the test together. All in all, they are each receiving reinforcement through each other’s programs. It is going to be a real treat when we begin the labs that are available with Fascinating Chemistry.

To make chemistry even more fun and the learning attainable for my kids, I downloaded a resource from a recent vendor we reviewed, called The Periodic Table of the Elements Activity Pack by The Crafty Classroom. This provided us with flashcards, BINGO board games and other activities to reinforce the learning of the periodic table. The more we can do together as a family, the greater we all learn.

In the end, I have concluded that Fascinating Chemistry is fascinating for us. Although it is intended as a high school course, we will not receive that level of benefit from it at this time, not because of the program but because of Bookworm Beauty’s minimal interest in the subject. I would rather expect her to complete this course in high school when she either has an increased interest or simply needs to complete the course. In the meantime, we will still use it lightheartedly and as a solid instructional supplement to our really basic Chemistry studies. I have to admit though that I am really looking forward to seeing her work through Chemistry in high school and I fully anticipate looking to Fascinating Chemistry to meet that need.

History Activities that Make Learning Fun!

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

I have a love hate not-so-love relationship with our most recent review product,
Time Travelers American History: The American Revolution by Home School in the Woods. Please read this review through to the end as I hope to share as clearly as possible how incredibly valuable this product is, but it is only fair for me to be equally honest about the level of frustration I encountered when working with this product.

This is not our first time reviewing Home School in the Woods’ materials. We were privileged to review the History Through the Ages Hands-On History Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections last year. This ended up making it to our 2016 Top Reviews list (as I am confident The American Revolution will as well). Bottom line is that Home School in the Woods creates some dynamite products that are simply fantastic and provide a creative platform for learning. I was simply delighted to review Time Travelers American History Study: The American Revolution. My first thoughts were of fond memories of our completed lap-pak from last year’s study of U.S. Elections.

I received our links for our digital files and within minutes I had several files transferred over. I met them head on, assuming that I would be able to jump right in and get started. I looked at the more than 100 master files and thought that I must be going about this wrong. I had to close up the file and set it aside for when I had more time. This happened three times before I realized that I was not going about it wrong, there really were that many files. Imagine taking a curriculum guide book and converting it to a digital product page by page; with each page being it’s own file. I was overwhelmed.

Knowing that I needed to give this product a fair review, I started early one morning. I spent well over three hours sorting, opening and printing files. I spent so much time on that portion that I would have been happy to not have to look at the files again, however I knew that I needed to persevere and see this thing through. In hindsight, I was under-equipped to realize the effort necessary to face this feat. Truly. When we reviewed the U.S. Elections program, Handsome took care of printing the files for me. I was extremely frustrated trying to figure out which pages coincided with which and I unwittingly blamed my frustration on him, assuming that he somehow mixed up pages. I now fully recognize the error of my ways! The files come through in a way that appears organized but yet there are a multitude of files that each need to be opened and printed – One.At.A.Time (I had to stress that as clearly as possible). I tried to select several and print them at once, but it did not appear to be possible (I recognize that this could have been operator error, but try as I did, I could not find a solution). So, after hours of printing those files – one at a time – I would have been happy to use the full 1-inch thick stack of papers for fire starter. Unfortunately, it is the summertime and besides, those papers contained information that are valuable for our kids’education.

I always like it when I can say that we started at page one. We have been studying this time period for quite some time now, and even though the early lessons were completely review for us, we knew that we needed to start at the beginning to complete the projects. We made the decision to make a single lap-book as a family, instead of individual ones for each of the kids. Bookworm Beauty took the leadership role and managed the projects from each lesson, working with both Sweetness and The Boy to get those items completed and set aside for the assembly of the lap-book.

There are 25 lessons total, five or which are designated project days for completion of the daily projects that coincide with each lesson and one is a designated celebration day. Each of the 19 actual lessons include a 2-3 page written text lesson and a coinciding project. Projects vary, making the optional final resulting lap-book an enjoyable experience to both make and to review at a later time. I encourage people to not overlook the value of a good lap-book. Every time Bookworm Beauty shares her U.S. Elections lap-book with a guest or a friend (or reminiscing by herself) she gets an opportunity to share what she had learned. It serves as a visual outline to a well written speech for her as she recalls many facts and explains each project piece, lifting flaps and opening mini-books. We look forward to assembling The American Revolution lap-book as a family. I imagine that it will become a coffee table conversational centerpiece for quite a while.

In total, there are less than 60 pages of text to be read, covering the American Revolution events during the time period between 1600-1800, from the first colony through to the Constitutional Convention. We have learned about the Boston Tea Party, the early struggles of the nation, some of Benjamin Franklin’s inventions, many famous individuals that we did not previously know, and so much more! We did not sit down and complete this program one lesson at a time; reading the text and working on a project. We took the text with us on a road trip and read over half of it together, discussing things along the way. We recently read several of the Rush Revere books which covered some of the same material, so our discussions were lively as the kids recalled many details.

During the last week we have taken the time to work on the projects that coincided with the pages that we already read. It has been fun to remember details as we sit around the table together, coloring lap-book pieces. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we have not gotten very far as the kids got sidetracked with the Tax Game! There are three board games that can be made: The Tax Game, Battle Blitz Game and Liberty at Last Game. We have had to refrain ourselves from assembling the other games and getting ahead of ourselves, but have really enjoyed understanding the frustration and dynamics that came along with the immense taxation.

Our favorite lesson, thus far, was lesson 12: Let Freedom Ring! It certainly helped that we celebrated our nations birthday during the review period. We reminisced about how we often read the story of the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day and His death and resurrection on Easter, yet we have never read the Declaration of Independence as part of our 4th of July celebration, until this year! This will be a new annual tradition for us, thanks to Home School in the Woods!

Another aspect of Home School in the Woods worth mentioning is that they offer a plethora of hands-on-learning activity-based History resources. They also offer A La Carte items such as printable game boards, file folder studies, mini-studies, timelines, and more. One could find a great addition to almost any history study. At this time, anyone can use the code alacarte at checkout to get the Erie
Canal project on that page for free!

It has been an amazing journey walking through the events of our beloved country’s birth and early years. We just might move on to the Time Travelers: The Early 19th Century, if I can work myself up to acceptance of the amount of work spent in preparation alone.

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!

 

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.

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!

 

 

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.

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.

Captain Absolutely: A Superhero Worthy of Being Looked Up To

 

The Boy (6) eagerly checked the mailbox for several days as he anxiously anticipated the arrival of our recent review product, Captain Absolutely by Focus On The Family. You would have thought it was Christmas the day that the book finally arrived!

Although a first grader and a decent reader, immediately The Boy let Bookworm Beauty (11) read it aloud to him. I am pretty sure that she forcibly suggested doing so, but regardless when I turned around I found two kiddos snuggled up on the couch reading together. Before long, Sweetness had found her way into the readers circle and together they took it all in. I am not certain how much they read that afternoon, but they remained in their positions on the couch for quite some time.

The following day, we had a houseful of kids and the sun was shining radiantly as most everyone enjoyed the fantastic spring day. I then noticed that Bookworm Beauty and her friend (13) were sitting on the couch reading it aloud with each other! I had to chuckle. It was one of those fun sights to see but I had to force them to stop and get outside to enjoy the beautiful day.

The Boy spots Captain Absolutely on the New Releases shelf at the Focus On The Family Bookstore

Bookworm Beauty took it upon herself to read the entire book within the first few days of us having it. She admitted to me that she had been just as anxious for it’s arrival as The Boy was. Over the last several months she had been reading snippets of the comic in the Focus On The Family Clubhouse Magazine that we receive whenever we visit the Focus On The Family center in Colorado Springs.

Most of the book has been read to The Boy by Bookworm Beauty. I finally got a chance to sit down with The Boy and do some reading and found the story a bit choppy. I can not help it, I have never been one to enjoy comics. I have been told that it is not choppy it is simply a comic book. Ok, I stand corrected! The story itself seemed well written and is about a superhero named Captain Absolutely who fights against relativism with God’s Word (truth). The book retails at $9.99 and the suggested age range is 8-12 years old, which is a perfect fit for my family. The Boy is almost seven and although he had a difficult time reading the book alone, he had no difficulty following along and enjoying it being read to him.

As a Christian parent, I really appreciate God’s Word woven throughout the entire story. There are several bible verses laced throughout the entire book and the gospel message of salvation is shared.

Captain Absolutely has found it’s permanent home on the The Boy’s beside bookshelf alongside his bible. I imagine this is a book that he will read and reread and continue to enjoy.

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Review

Call me crazy, but I was thrilled to be able to review the High School Essay Intensive program by Institute for Excellence in Writing. Even crazier, I enjoyed the entire 5 hours of DVD instruction!

Let me explain. I am a homeschooling mother and my greatest frustration in educating my children over the years has been centered around writing. I can remember in the earlier days I literally would sit in bed at night in tears because I could not teach them to write. I was constantly trying to figure out where to draw the line between telling them what to write and having them write their own pieces. It was back then that I first heard of Institute for Excellence in Writing and Andrew Pudewa’s method of teaching writing. Following some of his key ideas allowed me to feel a bit liberated and enabled me to relax more in our homeschool classroom, even during writing time.

As the kids grew, and I grew in my understanding of how to teach writing, their writing skills continued to improve. We have come a long way from my nearly giving up and quitting homeschooling to the kids producing great writing. Surprisingly, writing has become one of our favorite subjects!

To start with, Institute for Excellence in Writing never lets down with their presentation. Everything arrived in a nice full-colored box that fits well upon a shelf, keeping the items protected. However, if the box is cumbersome or takes up too much space, it can be eliminated as the DVD set has it’s own beautiful leather-type case. Also included is a high-quality tri-fold pocket folder holding the seminar notes. The folder itself is extremely useful. It is titled Portable Walls for the Essayist and all six sides have important writing notes covering topics such as: Types of Essays, Essay Models, Essay Writing Process, Essay Writing Strategies, Sentence Pattern Variety, Specific Models, Transitional Words and Phrases, and more.

The DVD’s themselves provide more than five hours of instruction on the various strategies for writing essays. Two of the DVD’s provide specific instruction on writing the optional essays when taking the ACT or the SAT tests. These were informative, even for an individual not planning on taking the tests as they provide a strategy for breaking down the task of writing an essay in a short amount of time, covering an assigned topic. Although the essay portion is not exactly required for all students taking the exams, it is worth understanding the tests themselves and how to write an essay that will score well if a student is planning on taking them for college. The tests are timed and can be well practiced beforehand, building confidence for any student.

Our kids are still young and finishing the first, second and sixth grades; hardly the age to fully benefit from the High School Essay Intensive. I was thrilled to receive the product anyway. I knew that Mr. Pudewa would lace this program with many nuggets of wisdom that I can incorporate into our homeschool classroom, and he did not let down. Even more exciting is that as I watched the five DVD’s from my computer, with my headphones on,  the kids could not help but be curious as to what I was doing. I unplugged the headphones a couple of times and they would listen in for a few minutes and then go find something else to do, with the exception of Bookworm Beauty (11). She planted herself next to me, looking disinterested as she slowly crept closer and closer. Then the funniest thing happened! Andrew was telling the viewer to pause the film and complete a task, which I did not do because I was only viewing the program, and she said, “Can we pause the film and do the activity?” Wow! I did not expect to be doing this review product, but rather just gaining knowledge as a parent needing to teach her kids. I relented, eagerly of course.

Bookworm Beauty did not follow the activity as expected on the DVD. Instead of writing an essay and working through it as she followed along with the program, she instead transferred the skills outlined to a writing piece that she is already doing in school. For example, she took out her first rough draft for chapter one of a six -chapter book that she is writing in class and went through it to identify her sentence patterns. She quickly realized that she tends to write subject opener sentences. After walking through the Sentence Pattern Variety activity she went through her rough draft and made several sentence revisions to make her writing more lively and a pleasure to read.

The following afternoon, Bookworm Beauty went back and reviewed the DVD’s that I had already watched. She said that she is really glad that we have this program because Mr. Pudewa breaks down the writing process into an understandable format that can be used for lots of things. Recognizing that she is still pretty young and will not be taking the ACT or the SAT for years to come, she will hopefully have excellent essay writing skills by then as a result of his methods of teaching.

At a mere $79, the High School Essay Intensive is an excellent resource for any homeschool classroom!