Saving the Best for Last!

A subscription to Thinking Like an Engineer was provided to us through our participation in the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

We have reviewed several phenomenal programs and products during 2017, many that will remain a part of our homeschool. This is our last review for the year and the educational fun that we are having with Thinking Like an Engineer  from Innovators Tribe definitely feels as though the best was saved for last!

We were thrilled about this product, before we were even given access. My father is an engineer and it has been fun to watch all six of my kids display different engineering tendencies over the years. The Boy, however has been thinking like an engineer since he could crawl. Being the youngest, I have had much experience watching child’s play. He was different, very different. He was building things, not just stacking blocks, from a very young age. And when his structure toppled, he would reassess things and build it differently the second time. We have even witnessed him staring at something he has made, trying to figure out how to make it better or stronger, then he will take it apart and redo it. It is his nature and such a normal part of our daily lives. We waited with anticipation for our two-year family subscription to Thinking Like an Engineer to begin.

Thinking Like an Engineer, is a pre-recorded, online subscription-based curriculum that is self-paced. Subscriptions normally run $149 for eighteen months of access for the entire family. Although the curriculum is designed for kids in grades 6-12, our kids are in 2nd, 3rd and 7th grades and we have all benefited from the instruction and the activities.

We have enjoyed watching the lessons together, as a family. We connect our computer to our television and go through them together. Energy increases along with our excitement when we begin the activities that coincide with the lessons. For example, our first lesson taught about what engineering actually is and our challenge was to put our engineering caps on and build the tallest tower possible with only four sheets of standard printer paper and one foot of one inch masking tape. The tower must be able to stand on it’s own and we were challenged to try and build a tower more than five feet tall. This was wildly fun! The kids, Handsome, and I took on the challenge individually. It was fun to watch the kids attempt to build a structure, and then to try again if it failed. They pretended to pout, they giggled, then they jumped in and tried again, making it even better than their first attempt. Everyone built awesome towers and Handsome won the challenge against the rest of us. The challenges have definitely been the most fun with Thinking Like an Engineer.

There are a total of 28 lessons in Thinking Like an Engineer, as well as an additional bonus mini-course Thinking Like an Innovator. Topics covered include introduction to engineering, introduction to 3D design (software included), engineering rollercoasters, engineering bridges and nano engineering. Downloadable Student Journals are available for students to document their learning. I took the time to download all of the pages for the student journals and bound them so that we can keep things together and easily accessible.

One of the things I really like about this program is that the lessons are fairly short. We can usually get through a lesson in less than a half hour and spend as much time as needed on our challenge activities. The challenge activities are where the real learning begins. I appreciate that the kids get to experience engineering, not just learn about it. It is really fun to watch them tell others about it and then gather up the materials to take on the challenges with their friends.

Innovators Tribe offers another program, Thinking Like an Architect and Thinking Like a Carpenter is coming soon! Course subscriptions are generous, giving eighteen months of access for the entire family. This allows enough time to really take your time working through a program, or working through it multiple times. I imagine that we will complete it a second time around and spend more time on taking things a step further. I can imagine our children getting more out of it next year, when they are all a year older and are building upon their knowledge.

One thing worth noting is that unlike The Boy, both Bookworm Beauty and Sweetness did not see themselves ever becoming an engineer. In Lesson Two, types of engineers were introduced. It was amazing to get a glimpse of the many different types of engineers and to see the girls have a different opinion of engineering. We spent time, as suggested by the lesson, on Engineer Girl, a website dedicated to sharing the exciting world of engineering to girls. They quickly asked us to bookmark the page so that we could spend more time on it in the future.

We have thoroughly enjoyed adding Thinking Like an Engineer to our homeschool curriculum and fully anticipate adding Thinking Like an Architect and Thinking Like a Carpenter in the future. The hands-on learning environment brings these curriculum to life for us.


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.

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!


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.

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.

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!

ArtAchieve: Review

For the sake of blogging, I chose to name Bookworm Beauty as such for seemingly obvious reasons as her nose is often planted into the middle of a book. However, I have considered changing her name to Dancing Brush as her creativity and artistic abilities have been developing as a result of many fabulous art reviews that we have been blessed to participate in. Our most recent, and a favorite, art review is Entire Level IV of ArtAchieve.

ArtAchieve is an online subscription based art program. John Hofland, author and instructor, provides fascinating art instruction from places around the world and has a wonderful way of incorporating history, geography, social studies, literature and other subjects into the lesson itself. They currently offer five levels of art instruction; we received level four (IV). Annual subscriptions to lessons are available either individually for $4-6 each, in groups of three for $10-16, entire levels for $30-45 or the entire curriculum (all levels) for $222.50.

Although we all enjoy art in our home, Level IV is a bit more advanced and generally for ages 10 and above. Typically, when it comes to art, all of the kids sit through a lesson and enjoy our time creating. With Level IV, however The Boy (6) gave up quickly. I think he may have been able to follow the instructions and complete the lessons but he set his mind to it being too advanced. Sweetness (8) did not give up as easily and enjoyed completing the Hawaiian Heliconia and the Chinese Horse. Bookworm Beauty (11), however is not only capable, but interested in art and Level IV seemed to be a perfect fit for her.



We appreciate many things about ArtAchieve. To start, John Hofland has a pleasant and welcoming demeanor, making him easy to listen to. The way that he presents additional knowledge around the art piece instruction causes this homeschool mom to do a happy dance. Oftentimes, it incites interest for further exploration. Our favorites this year were the Hawaiian Heliconia, The Stained Glass Nativity Window and The Ukranian Face with Hidden Surprises. Sweetness really enjoyed The Chinese Horse: Drawing the Entire Horse, but mostly because she has a fascination with horses and really wanted to learn to draw one well.

Sweetness (8) and The Ukranian Face With Hidden Surprises

Another benefit of ArtAchieve is that the supplies needed for completing a lesson are minimal, which makes it a good fit for most families. Lessons are easily followed and are available in two formats; they can be viewed by either video or through a PowerPoint presentation.

The greatest benefit (besides enjoying the completed artwork) is that each lesson also provides a list of suggestions for making cross-curricular connections. For example, it was fun to not just learn about the Chinese Ming Dynasty but also about how color has symbolic meanings in China. It was fascinating to learn about hidden art in famous pieces such as Van Gogh’s work when we completed the Ukranian Face with Hidden Surprises. It was also nice to tie into our earlier weather studies and learning about rain shadows while completing the Hawaiian Heliconia.


Art isn’t just art with ArtAchieve. Once you have completed a few of the lessons, from any level, one begins to view the world around them with a new appreciation. We know that there is more to art than just the art that is seen and find ourselves desiring to uncover the meanings of various cultural art pieces that we see in the marketplace or places that we visit. I appreciate the way that ArtAchieve has presented many fascinating facts and history into cultural art lessons, opening our eyes to the world around us.

My Ukranian Face With Hidden Surprises

Give ArtAchieve a shot. Enjoy the FREE lessons provided and see for yourself!



The Most Significant Person Who Has Ever Lived

Easter came alive for us this year thanks to the opportunity we were given to review the Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” by Drive Thru History® . This series covers the extraordinary life of Jesus of Nazareth.

I am nearly speechless as I sit here and write about our experience with this product. Emotions well up from deep within me as I believe this may have been the single most important product that we have had the privilege of owning. I do not know where to start and I do not want to miss anything; I still get goosebumps when I think about these last few weeks.

I knew that I could expect a quality product from Drive Thru History® with Dave Stotts as we own the Drive Thru History America: Foundations of Character and we have also seen portions of East Meets West and Rome if You Want To. Dave Stotts has a great presence and he brings history to life as he unfolds a historical narrative while taking you on a drive through significant historical locations. He is welcoming, funny and makes you feel like you are an old friend along for the ride.

My expectations of the product quality itself were exceeded from the moment I opened the package. To start, there is a full-colored sleeve surrounding a beautifully bound hard back book. Three discs are tucked nicely away on the inside of the covers, two in the front and one in the back and in between are just over 100 high quality, full-colored full-bleed pages of chapter summaries and discussion questions upon gorgeous photography. The packaging is absolutely fabulous and gives the impression that this is important. As a matter of fact, it feels like it should be on display like a coffee table art book, not something that should be tucked away on a shelf among the rest of your movie collection.

It was a Monday evening, near dinner time when we opened the package. Everyone was home and it was the perfect opportunity for us to watch the first episode together. I assumed, at the time, that we would continue to watch the episodes during our normal school day and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for Handsome to get a glimpse of our current studies. It was quickly decided and within minutes the trusty tv trays were set up and episode one began. The room grew strangely quiet and as I looked around the room, not a single person was distracted. Everyone was on the edge of their seat as the initial episode unfolded.

Stunned. The ambiance of the room was nothing short of stunned. It was as if we all just witnessed a meteor fall from the sky and land right in front of us. I can not put my finger on what happened in our living room that night, all I know is we were silent. We were somber. We were in awe. Our awe was not necessarily of the fantastic episode, it was realizing the value of this story, the story of the single most significant person to have ever lived. The Boy (6) was the first to break the silence, “let’s watch the next one!” And that we did.

We did the same thing the following night and again a few nights later. We often watched two episodes, sometimes only one. When family visited us for a weekend, we watched two together and then our guests continued watching the entire first disc – six episodes!

On our way to church on Palm Sunday, Handsome and I were talking about how different the Easter season seemed this year. We had just finished the twelfth episode the night before which was A Final Trip to Jerusalem. It dawned on us in that moment that the next episode would be about Jesus’ triumphal entry, Palm Sunday, that same day nearly 2,000 years ago. We were moved to tears as we overcame our goosebumps. We were ready to start the final disc, the last six episodes, covering the last days of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We were literally going to be watching these episodes perfectly coinciding with the days that we traditionally celebrate the events themselves.

Both Handsome and I have read the gospels in their entirety. I have read the entire bible from cover to cover. Our children have read the gospels. We all know the story of Jesus. We know most of the details. We speak about them often. Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”, however, made it possible for us to live the gospels for those few weeks. We watched Jesus’ life unfold before us and we went with him on His journey throughout His ministry. Nothing, except being in the Holy Lands could have illuminated the life of Jesus the way that Drive Thru History® did.

We did finish the last disc during Holy Week. We were with Jesus at the Last Supper on Thursday. We listened to the crowd crying, “Crucify Him!” as He stood before them, as well as when He carried His cross, was nailed to it, and took His final breath, all on Friday. And then on Sunday, we were there with the women as they walked to the empty tomb. It didn’t matter that we already knew the story, it was a completely different experience to be part of the story; to be there firsthand.

We watched the entire 18 episodes during the review period, as a family. It literally transformed our understanding of the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It colored in the pictures of our black and white mental pictures of the events of His life. It filled in gaps on things that we did not fully understand the magnitude of, such as the narcissistic King Herod and the Herodium. And again when Dave told us about the significance of the Samaritan woman at the well and why the Samaritans were considered less than. We were taught the meanings of many customs like the wedding customs of the day. We got to see the pools of Bethesda.

I apologize for being so wordy about our experience with the Gospels. I feel that I can not possibly convey the utter significance of this series as it brings to life the greatest story already told.

The accompanying book, or study guide, included full-bleed pages of stunning photography of the location of the particular events as background for every page. There are summaries to be read either before or after the episode, and even later for further reflection. Scriptures are listed of where the individual episode is drawn from through the four gospel books. There are also discussion questions provided to deepen ones thoughts or share within a group, such as:

Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” is appropriate for all ages and a fabulous family-friendly series. It can also serve as a homeschool curriculum, a small group study or even a Sunday School class. The accompanying scriptures can be assigned to be read prior to the episode or even read aloud together. It is created with the utmost flexibility, allowing it to be a perfectly tailored fit to ones particular needs. Although it is appropriate for all ages (parents might want to preview episode #16 – The Crucifixion of Jesus prior to showing young children), in regards to a classroom or homeschool setting it was developed for middle school ages and above. We had fully expected to use it as such with Bookworm Beauty but ended up enjoying it as a family instead.

Not Just Another Fabulous Review

As Bookworm Beauty has gotten older, I realize that I have spent more time worrying about her writing skills and less time on any formal reading programs. This was mostly justified by her love for reading, as her name would suggest, as she seems to always have her nose tucked into a book! I actually gave little thought to whether or not we were missing anything until we were notified of the opportunity to review Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) by Apologia Educational Ministries.

Bookworm Beauty’s and my immediate reactions were an astounding “YES!” This was entirely based on our experience with Writer’s in Residence, which we were able to review last year. Her experience has been so positive that we have resigned to the fact that we would pursue every product possible put out by Debra Bell (Author). However, in all fairness we decided that we would give Readers in Residence a fair review without any preconceived assumptions.

It was hard to stick with our plans when finally we had Readers in Residence in our hands. One of our favorite elements of Writer’s in Residence was it’s presentation and Readers in Residence was equally appealing. It lured Bookworm Beauty in as if it was the long awaited sequel to a beloved novel. For me, this is always a good sign. For the most part, she is rarely difficult about starting a new curriculum of any kind (what a blessing) but it is still a delight to witness her eagerness to get started on something new.

We sat together and read the first few sections together. There is a 2-page Quick Guide that outlined the purpose and scope of the program and also a single-page Preface which was a personal letter from the Author, Debra Bell. We then reviewed the 3-page Welcome Letter and the suggested daily schedule. It was a Saturday afternoon when we received the book, well outside of our normal school hours, and she asked if there was anything else that I wanted to look at because she wanted to get started. With no real reason to hesitate I turned her loose, besides I did have dinner to make. It should go without saying that I had to peel her away from the workbook and force her to join us for dinner!

Readers in Residence is a full year reading curriculum divided into six units. Each unit centers around a different book and a different focus. Genres include historical fiction, animal fantasy and contemporary realistic fiction. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Charlotte’s Web, and Because of Winn-Dixie are three books read and the other three are books of the student’s choice. Students focus on different elements throughout the year, such as character development, inferences, plot development, figures of speech, theme, and many more.

In the six weeks that we have been working through Readers in Residence, Bookworm Beauty has nearly completed the first unit (32 lessons). I have not once had to remind her to do any of the work. As we outline our days, she automatically lists Reader’s in Residence and Writer’s in Residence. It seems to be as much of a normal daily activity for her as eating breakfast!

I’m really not just biased. Debra Bell has a tremendous gift of taking students on a journey while learning the elements necessary for a full language arts program. It is as if she is a personal guide, interacting with the students during the entire process. In our experience, Bookworm Beauty’s language arts skills have really developed over the last year and I give most of the credit to these two curriculums. We are anxiously awaiting the Writer’s in Residence, Volume 2 that is due out in the near future. She is ready to take her skills to the next level!

American History Made Easier: A Review

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it – George Santayana

We have felt that History, American History in particular, is one of the most important subjects our students could learn. Over the last century, many history texts have been watered down, misleading, and sometimes inaccurate. There are good texts out there, I have just found it very difficult to find what I was hoping to be accurate that would also fit our own unique learning environment. I believe that our opportunity to review H. A. Guerber’s The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & the Great Republic Set and 200 Questions About American History Set by Memoria Press was nothing short of an answer to my prayers.

Guerber’s The Story of the Thirteen Colonies and The Story of the Great Republic was originally published in 1899. It was intended for and still remains as a historical reader, an elementary text book, or as a supplement for American History, covering events from Columbus through to the Spanish American War. This volume, by Memoria Press, combines the two original works into one timeless piece.

The 200 Questions About American History Set was developed as a supplement to be used alongside great history programs. The questions have been taken directly from Guerber’s works as well as from Everything You Need to Know About American History Homework and Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, Volume 4. Although this set is an excellent resource to be used alongside Guerber’s set, it would be a fabulous addition to any American History program.

We have been working through a very solid American History text when our Memoria Press products arrived. The previous program was so thorough that we were overwhelmed and wondering if we would ever really begin to wear the binding of the text book. I have to admit that after setting down the nearly 500-page history text (part 1 only) and picking up the 6×9 soft covered, 211-page text book, I wondered if it could possibly hold more than the mere fraction of facts that sheer size alone would seem to afford.

I spent some time perusing the books that we had received while on a short car ride. The Thirteen Colonies set retails at $48 and includes a text, a teacher guide and a student guide (workbook). The 200 Questions set retails at $27.80 and includes a teacher guide, a student guide (workbook) and a pack of flashcards (each of the 200 questions). The first thing I took notice of was the fact that the Thirteen Colonies text, although small in size, included 85 lessons! Reading over the Table of Contents I recognized the names and events that are important to American History. I read over the first couple of lessons and knew that this was going to be an excellent program for us.

The lessons are bite-sized without compromising content. I think of it as the Cliff Notes version of American History. Nothing important is spared as you read through the short stories. Most lessons are two pages in length, making it easy to fit a lesson in on even the difficult days.

We jumped right in, starting with the first lesson. I read the lesson aloud to all of the students (ages 6, 8, and 11) and then had Bookworm Beauty complete the corresponding section of the student guide. Afterwards, I asked the kids if they wanted me to skip ahead to the spot in history that we had currently reached with our previous studies as the first seven lessons cover events we have already studied this year. The answer, unanimously, was a resounding, “No!” I was a bit surprised because I did not expect them to want to review things we have already covered. After exploring, I found that they all agreed that even though these lessons are shorter, they learned something new that either we did not learn in the previous studies or that somehow it was not learned.

I am not exactly sure what I appreciate the most about this product. Despite the seeming simplicity of the lessons, they are filled with solid information. Simplicity, yet thorough, is always something to be appreciated. I also appreciate the way that the 200 Questions About American History serves as a companion guide, covering the most important history facts and each president thus far. Bookworm Beauty does not necessarily get giddy about writing her answers to questions in the student guide, but all of the kids get excited to pull out the flashcards and test their knowledge. As a mom, and their primary educator, I am delighted to see them enjoying the flashcards and therefore reinforcing what they have learned.

We are finally no longer overwhelmed with the awesome task of learning the history of our great country. We are enjoying this curriculum and fully intend on completing it in its entirety.