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.

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!



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!



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.

Move over Wheaties!

We have been starting the day the best way possible, nourishing our body and our minds by breaking the fast the right way with healthy proteins, minimal carbohydrates and Algebra for Breakfast. My children have truly enjoyed our review of Algebra For Breakfast Grades 3/4 and Grades 5/6 math enrichment programs.

Bob Hazen has a wonderful and simple way of teaching various math concepts that help us to fully understand math. All three of my kids are fairly confident in math and rarely are they struggling to grasp mathematical concepts. However, his methods of teaching concepts, even some that they already knew, deepened their understanding and moved them from grasping to mastering. A good example of this is his lesson titled First Name, Last Name. He explains that virtually everything in the world around us has both a first name and a last name. The wooden table: first name wooden, last name table; the red blocks: first name red, last name blocks; Sally Smith: first name Sally and last name Smith. Math is no exception. The first name of anything mathematical is the number itself or how many; while the last name is what it is. This is a foundational concept that helped my children understand the importance of grouping like things while working through math problems.

Algebra for Breakfast provides lessons for 3/4 grades or 5/6 grades and teaches the use of hands-on manipulatives  to further understanding and enable mastery. The 164-piece set of math manipulatives by Mortenson Math, math dice and their skip counting CD is necessary for completing the program and is available for $122 (includes shipping and the first month of access to Algebra for Breakfast lessons). A reduced package is available for individuals that already own the Mortenson Math manipulatives and includes the dice, the CD and the first month of access to lessons for $42. The last option available is for those that already own all of the manipulatives; for $22 per month.

The lessons themselves are online video clips of Bob Hazen teaching a concept to a class of kids. It is nice for viewers to be able to hear the answers to other kids’ questions when watching an authentic teaching. You also have the ability to watch and go back and review anything presented along the way. Each lesson also provides a downloadable worksheet to coincide with the concept taught.

My only frustration with this program is of the website itself. I found myself lost on this site, more than once. I quickly learned to not click on my name when I got lost. I had assumed that it would lead me to a customer portal; it did not. It took me to my dashboard where I could enter profile information and it seems to be a WordPress dashboard for the website itself. It was confusing. Oftentimes I would need to go from a grades 3/4 lesson to a grades 5/6 lesson and inevitably I would get lost somewhere. Fortunately, I would just go to the history on my address bar and find what I was looking for. For me, this was just a frustrating inconvenience that I was able to see beyond. I am not looking into this program to have a fanciful online experience but rather to have rich math lessons!

We used this program many times throughout our review period. Our kids are in grades 1, 2 and 6. We reviewed several of the grades 3/4 lessons but spent far more time viewing grades 5/6 lessons together. I found that with his instruction and our working on the worksheets together, the younger kids were able to follow along quite well. However, I would not have done this if I only had younger kids that did not already have a solid mastery of quick mental addition and a decent understanding of multiplication. For us, this worked well.

The use of the math manipulatives made this program not just easier to follow but also easier for the kids to see the mathematical concepts. These really are essential to this program and I could argue they are simply essential to math period. The more that the kids can actually experience math, the greater their mastery will be and the greater their mastery of the basic concepts the less they will struggle in all levels of math.

We enjoyed this program and will continue to work through the lessons. Move over Kix, Algebra for Breakfast is kids tested and mother approved!

The Secret Bridge: A Review

It has been a pleasure to watch our Lamplighter Publishing library grow over these last several months. I have just completed my fifth novel this year from their collection, The Secret Bridge, written by Amy Le Feuvre 1899.

The Secret Bridge is a new release from Lamplighter Publishing who is on a mission to build Christlike character one story at a time by editing and republishing quality works from years past. Each Lamplighter Publishing book I have had the privilege to read has drawn me in from the first moment I laid my eyes upon them. If it were appropriate for me to judge a book by it’s cover alone, each of their books would rank high. The Secret Bridge would certainly be no exception to that, as it is a beautiful turquoise 272-page hard back book that takes center stage as it snuggles alongside the other Lamplighter Publishing books on our shelf. The front cover displays a delicately carved inlaid scene while the bold title near the bottom  is engraved into an gold embossed banner. The hard back cover itself is of a leathery silky texture that begs you to touch and makes it very difficult to set down.

The story, The Secret Bridge, is a tale that promotes many Christlike character qualities such as diligence, perseverance and faithfulness. Bridget, a young lady left penniless and without family when she arrives in London upon her father’s death, is befriended by Godfrey Bullingham, a gentleman that takes it upon himself to see her through and makes her his wife. He leaves her comfortable and well cared for among his friends and family while he departs on sea, but begs of her to keep one small secret until his return. Being a lady of character, Bridget struggles with keeping the secret as it requires a bit of deception on her part, but she remains faithful to her husband. Throughout the course of this tale of love, Bridget finds herself learning to draw near unto God and to acquaint thyself unto Him. Her diligence and perseverance in seeking God and remaining faithful to her husband uncovers more secrets and sets her up to become a desperately needed bridge between others.

This story was a little slow-starting for me and took me longer than normal to get through the first two chapters. However, after the story moved along, I could not put it down and ended up reading the second half of the book in one afternoon!

Having been a homeschooling mother for four years after completing seven years of college myself, I have not had much time to read for pleasure. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking time out for myself to enjoy tales such as The Secret Bridge. As with all other Lamplighter Publishing books, I met knew friends in this one and was ambivalent about reading the last page and saying farewell. I long for more of the story and have to settle instead for meeting new friends once again through another Lamplighter Publishing book!


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.

Lessening the College Burden: A Review

The word college when spoken can elicit a myriad of responses. Many people smile, reminiscent of their fondest memories; some look up towards the sky hanging upon their future aspirations; and many, like me, cringe at the reminder of the overwhelming debt load that continues to follow us years after obtaining that coveted piece of paper declaring I have arrived. Recently, our 22 year old daughter made the decision to return to college and finish what she had started years ago. Thinking about the debt burden that typically comes along with that, I was excited to be able to offer her the ability to utilize the services of SpeedyPrep offering College Level Examination Program (CLEP) preparation.

I wish that I had known about CLEP when I went back to school. CLEP is one of those secrets that can literally save someone thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. There are currently dozens of CLEP tests available covering general education courses in Literature, Psychology, Math, History, Business, Foreign Language and Science. The tests are held in many locations nationwide, one may find one within a reasonable distance from their home from nearly everywhere. Most tests cost less than $100 and take only a couple of hours, a mere fraction of the time and cost of attending a semester long course at a local college or even online.

Although appearing a much easier way to navigate the college journey, it is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Passing the tests can be a challenge for most people without studying the materials. There are books available for purchase and even many found in local libraries, which may be a good option for a student that learns well perusing written material. Many people that I know would do better with something a bit more interactive. This is where SpeedyPrep comes in.

SpeedyPrep is an online subscription-based CLEP preparation service offering 24 courses for nearly pennies in comparison to the cost of traditional college. It gets even better – SpeedyPrep offers a 100% Pass Guarantee! I have never seen a college offer their students a full money-back guarantee if the student completed the course and failed the class, yet SpeedyPrep does exactly that. If a student completes a SpeedyPrep course, yet fails the CLEP exam, they will refund your money. I do not know of a safer college investment than that. It gets even better still! There are enough courses available that a student could CLEP through their first year of college and more.

SpeedyPrep’s Information Systems course has given me a better understanding of my computer. I feel more prepared now for taking the CLEP test as well as being able to get better use out of my computer for future classes. There is a lot of information packed into this course! -Angel, 22

In our situation, SpeedyPrep is saving my daughter hundreds of dollars, not to mention time. She spent a year at a local university right out of high school and decided to take some time off. After wandering through life for a few years, she has meandered her way back home to return to school. Fortunately, for her, she had a reasonable amount of credits already accumulated as she enrolled into her Athletic Sciences degree program. There were, however, a few classes that she still needed that she is able to fulfill through a CLEP test.

After setting up our account on SpeedyPrep, she began working through the Business course – Information Systems. She is nearly ready to take the CLEP exam. Unfortunately, she has not taken it yet so I can not inform you as to whether or not SpeedyPrep has fully prepared her for passing. She is feeling rather confident, however and believes that the service provided by SpeedyPrep is more than adequate. Her greatest delight is the savings of time and money, both of which a young college student tends to have a shortage of as they navigate their own college journey.

One of the best features of SpeedyPrep is the ability to work on any one area that you desire. For example, in Angel’s Information Systems course there are several sections to work through, including: Business Strategies, Computing Devices & Functions, Data Concepts, Data Management, Design & Standards, Web Strategies and so much more. When you are working on a section, such as Hardware, you are given questions such as this: 

But wait! You may be thinking… if CLEP tests are multiple choice, why do I have to type in answers? The idea behind SpeedyPrep is to make sure that you have actually mastered the content before attempting the exam – they are after all offering you a full money back guarantee! If someone reviews it the way that SpeedyPrep has laid out, they should be able to breeze through the multiple choice questions on the CLEP test itself.

The built-in reinforcement is another feature to focus on. For example, if you get an answer wrong, you get an immediate explanation. Reading the explanations are a great reinforcement study tool and may look like this:

Another feature worth mentioning are the many videos that can be watched. Although these are not the main teaching mechanism, they are a fabulous supplement to what you may already know or are learning through the course itself.

Lastly, and probably the single greatest feature, is its affordability. Subscription options are available monthly ($19.95), quarterly ($53.87) and annually ($179.55). Can it get any better? It does, ALL of their courses are available freely during your subscription period. Yes, I said all. This allows a student to work through multiple subjects at a time, continuing to increase their overall savings.

In my opinion, CLEP tests are the wisest choice for most people going to college and SpeedyPrep is the greatest preparation tool a student could have.


Developing Technologically Savvy Kids

There seems to be no way to avoid technology becoming a way of life for our culture. Although I am fairly technologically savvy, I find that I do not possess the skills or interest to fully teach the fundamentals and was therefore elated at the opportunity to review Digital Savvy by CompuScholar, Inc.

CompuScholar, Inc. offers several computer science courses for both homeschoolers and classroom settings. The homeschool courses offered are appropriate for middle through high school grade levels. Courses available for grades 6-12 include Digital Savvy, Web Design, and Game Programming with Visual Basic; courses designed for grades 9-12 include Windows Programming, Java Programming AP, Unity Game Programming, and Android Programming. All courses are available as a Self-Study class and some courses are also available as a teacher led class. Additional students can also be added at a reduced rate making it nice for families with multiple students.

Digital Savvy is an online subscription based course ($15/month or $120/year), consisting of 25 chapters, teaching the fundamentals of computer components, programs, internet usage, safety, web design, programming and more. If a student were to complete a single lesson per week, she would finish the program over a period of two semesters. The self-study lessons consist of video instruction, text and a quiz, typically taking less than an hour to complete and providing immediate feedback to the student.

There are many great features to the Digital Savvy course that Bookworm Beauty has been working through. The first thing that I have noticed is that I did not notice anything. Basically, I signed her up and created her login six weeks ago and as I sat to write my review I realized that I had very little knowledge of the program itself. To me, this is a wonderful problem because it means that the course is user-friendly enough for Bookworm Beauty to not need my assistance to complete the self-study course. Although I have not been involved with the daily process of the course, I have had conversations with Bookworm Beauty about the lessons as she completes them and am pleased with the knowledge she shares with me.

Bookworm Beauty has completed the first six lessons over the six week review period. On one quiz, she missed a question and was able to go back, review the material and retake the quiz. Each quiz allows the student to take the quiz up to three times. This is another feature that I appreciate as it allows the student to correct their mistakes as they go along and therefore reinforce their learning.

Another nice feature is that there are different logins provided for both the students and the teacher (me). There are many features in the teacher portal. I can view student progress at a glance in the Gradebook and I am given the ability to track completed quizzes and even see which questions were missed.

Lastly, a feature Bookworm Beauty and I both greatly appreciated was the painstaking simplicity of the instruction. She said that she felt that things were thoroughly explained and most anyone could understand what the different fundamentals are and how they all work together. She was not necessarily a fan of the amount of time spent on reviewing things, and felt that it could go a little faster, but she did understand that it seemed redundant for her only in areas where she already had prior knowledge. An example of this was the amount of time spent reviewing the peripherals of a computer in the first few lessons. Although she did not care for the continued review, it reinforced her understanding of how peripherals integrate with computers.

The only feature that I feel could be improved upon is on the dashboard itself. It would be helpful to have an easy way to see exactly where a student left off by creating a check mark or fading out links already completed. We took a week off during spring break and upon our return, she actually clicked on a lesson she had already completed. Of course, she realized this mistake quickly and went to the right lesson but she could have just as easily skipped a lesson and proceeded normally without realizing it until looking at her grades at a later time or when I logged into the parent portal and noticed a skipped section.

Knowing that my children are going to be immersed in a technological culture for their lifetimes, I feel a tremendous burden to ensure that they not only learn the basics but also how to use technology wisely, safely and as a tool. I feel that Digital Savvy provided a fantastic foundation to both of those end goals. I foresee Sweetness and The Boy completing the Digital Savvy course in a few years and Bookworm Beauty moving on to additional courses as well.