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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All About Spelling Level 7 is out!

And if you buy in the next few days (through Monday, August 6th), you can get it for 15% OFF.  Level 7 is the last book in the AAS series.  This link will take you directly to that page.  You know I'll be buying it!!!

P.S.  Did you know that Cathy Duffy named the All About Spelling series as one of her top picks in her latest edition of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum!

***The link above is an afflilate link because I LOVE All About Spelling!***
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Lions, Tigers, Bears, and Curriculum Choices, Oh MY!!!

Welcome to Day Two- Homeschool Curriculum


Unless you are a complete, radical unschooler or you literally have a homeschool budget of $0 and and only use what someone else gives you, you have found yourself having to make some choices about which homeschool curriculum is best.  And given the wide array of choices out there, the decision can be daunting for even seasoned homeschoolers, and downright mind numbing for homeschoolers who are just starting out!  So how, and what, do you choose?

Yesterday, I blogged about how to choose the right homeschool method for you and your family, and I think you can't begin to know what curriculum(s) are right for you until you know what methods appeal to you.  You also need to consider the same three things I talked about yesterday-why you are homeschooling, your personality,inclinations, and learning styles, and your child's personality, inclinations, and learning styles.  You'll see why as we dig into curriculum choices a little deeper.

To organize this a bit, I'm going to list some curriculum options as they relate to the methods they go most naturally with.

For the "recreate school at home" method, you probably want a "canned curriculum".  That is, you want a curriculum that covers "2nd grade" or "10th grade" and includes all the subjects.  Using a curriculum like that will keep you on track with a scope and sequence that tends to reflect national standards for what a child of that grade level should study and know.  Here, knowing why you homeschool is important, because you have a choice to make regarding whether your curriculum will be religious in nature or not.  I have personally never used a "canned curriculum", but some that I hear good things about and know people who use them are Bob Jones, ABeka, Alpha Omega LifePaks, A.C.E. PACES, and Rod and Staff.  All of those are Christian, but I am sure there are some non-Christian choices.  To find them, you'd want to look to the major textbook manufacturers like Harcourt, etc.  In some locations, you may even have the option of getting the same books your public school district is using from the school itself.  Or another option that is becoming increasingly popular is virtual education. and are both nationally available options for that.

If Unit Studies intrigue you, there are many, many different options out there.  Valerie Bendt has a great resource out there that explains all the basics.  The thing about Unit Studies is that you can really make your own and never buy anything, because in essence, you are just studying topically about whatever you choose.  But if you are looking for some help, here are a few resources I'd recommend:
CurrClick offers tons of e-products, and many of them are Unit Studies.  In fact, I think all my favorite vendors can be found there.  Simple Schooling makes GREAT unit studies.  Unit Studies often go hand in hand with lapbooking/notebooking, and some of my favorite vendors for that are Knowledge Box CentralLive and Learn Press, Hands of a Child, and A Journey Through Learning.  And I can't forget The Old Schoolhouse, whose Curiosity Files were co-written by many of my friends.

For the classical approach, The Well Trained Mind is probably the best known company, and they map out what a classical education looks like here.  The Bluedorn's have a slightly different take on it at Trivium PursuitClassical Academic Press is one company that offers some of the staples for a classical education like Latin and Logic.  (On that note though, my hands down favorite for Latin is Visual Latin.)  Memoria Press is another very reputable company that offers Latin, Logic, and full Classical curriculum.

Charlotte Mason is another popular method.  Ambleside Online is one of the biggest names in the CM world.   They offer a free Charlotte Mason curriculum whose only cost is the cost of any books you want to use and can't get for free. 

The Montessori method is one most associated with schools, but can certainly be done at home.  This blog has lots and lots of ideas for homeschooling Montessori on a Budget.  (Of all the standard curriculums out there, the only one I've ever heard of make a specific Montessori claim is Shiller Math.)

The very basis for delayed academics is delaying, well, academics.  That means until your child is older, you really aren't looking for much formal curriculum.  But Excellence in Education has a handy schedule of educational games that you can play at each grade level that introduce some educational ideas in a fun way.

Child directed/delight directed learning both can make use of Unit Studies, as can unschooling.  Other than that, they really don't have "curriculum" per se.

And then there are the things that just don't fit into just one catagory.  If you have decided that you aren't trying to keep up with the "normal" scope and sequence, but like different elements from several other methods, you might enjoy one of the many literature based multi-subject curriculums.  Some of the big names are Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, My Father's World, and Illuminations.  In essence, they each use chronological history in a classical education cycle as the framework for many other subjects to branch out from.  Living books, or at least high quality books, (a la Charlotte Mason) provide additional information about each time period (like a Unit Study) and also make up the literature component of the curriculum.  Sometimes science topics are woven in with the learning too , other times science is scheduled for you but not connected to the topics in history.  Typically, geography will be interwoven, as will creative writing assignments, and in all the above examples, Bible is a component as well.  Spelling and vocabulary come from the lessons in some cases, and in other cases are recommended via books by other vendors.  Math will be the one subject that you must chose and integrate on your own.  The beauty of these curriculum is that you can pick and chose what components work for you.  Take it all or just use a little- it's up to you.

Your final choice is the more eclectic approach.  You can piece meal together a curriculum using the best, or most appealing, components from all of the above.  In all my years of homeschooling, I've done a little of almost everything, and I've found the piece meal approach allows me to use my favorite vendors for each subject. 

So, what are some of those favorites?  Well, before I tell you that, let me caution you that some of the WORST curriculum choices I've made were things I bought because my friends used them and loved them, or things that other people used and spoke highly of.  So before you rush out and buy everything I mention, DON'T!  At least not until you read further.  For the past 4 1/2 years, I have been a reviewer for the Old Schoolhouse Magazine.  You can read all of my reviews (over 150) via the side bar on my blog on the left of your screen.  For almost every product I will mention, I and about 99 other people with the Schoolhouse Review Crew have written detailed reviews outlining how they work, and why they did or didn't work for us.  Do your research before you spend your hard earned homeschool dollars!

RightStart- I believe in them so passionately, I work for them at our state conference.
Math Mammoth- great and inexpensive for an entire grade level or just for topical help
Teaching Textbooks- Honestly, I think this runs a grade level or two behind other curriculums, BUT it works for SO many people, and it has personally worked for my autism spectrum child.
Pearson-  I reviewed it last month, and it's the Algebra 1 curriculum my AS child is using.  It's well explained, and we love it.

Mystery of History- a Christian chronological history of the world
Truth Quest- same idea, but with less "text" and more suggested supplemental books.  I love them both.

Apologia- We've used all the elementary and General Science so far

Creative Writing:
IEW- LOVE this!
Write with the Best- I haven't used this in a long time, but I reviewed it years ago and it left a lasting impression.  I intend to get back to it.

Handwriting Without Tears

*I tend to be in the delayed learning camp on this one so what we do, we do later than most.
First Language Lessons Level 3/4
A Sentence a Day- This seriously is the best thing I've ever done.  Each day you post a sentence that has numerous grammatical, punctuation, or spelling mistakes.  My kids race to be the first to find and correct all the errors.  They've learned more this way than through any traditional lessons.

All About Spelling-The best spelling program I'm aware of, and the only one we use.  I'm an affiliate for them and for the companion All About Reading because I think their products are so great.  They just released the final book- Level 7- and it's 15% off through Monday, August 6th only.

Learning to Read:
All About Reading- Their readers are beautiful!
Reading Eggs

Early Childhood Ed:
Five in a Row- one of my favorites for elementary aged children.  It's a literature based unit study approach.  Very simple to do, covers most subjects, and is fun.
Comprehensive Curriculum books- you can find these at any major book store or on Amazon.  I've used a bunch of different ones.  I really think that the bulk of "work" any child under, say, 4th grade can be found in these for pennies a school year.

My Favorite Curriculum that didn't work for us:
The Weaver- A Biblical unit study/multi subject curriculum.  Not nearly as well known, but its users are passionate about it.  I LOVED the Weaver, I just couldn't keep up with scheduling it AND even if I could, that approach was not the best for my oldest child, even though it's where my heart was.

So what are we using this year?  I blogged about that HERE.  But after you know HOW you are schooling and WHAT you are using, you still have planning to do, and that's what we'll talk about tomorrow.

*A few affiliate links were used in the post above.  I only become an affiliate for companies I really believe in and whose products we really use on a daily basis.

Click below to follow along the blog hop and see what my Crew Mates had to say!

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Choosing What Homeschool Method is Right for YOU

Welcome to Day One- Homeschool Methods!


When I found out I was going to be a mother, I read a few pregnancy books to be sure. But parenting books? Not so much. I figured you have a baby, you meet the needs of the baby, you raise the never dawned on me that there were a plethora of thoughts (and books) out there on the subject of parenting. Then I had a 4lb. 5 oz. baby who wanted nothing to do with his crib and would only sleep on my chest. He was not content in bouncy seats or the baby swing, but was happy to be held 24/7. Suddenly, without ever having read a book about it, I was "attachment parenting".

In many ways, that same child (who is on the autism spectrum) guided my journey into homeschooling and the methods we have used.  But just like when I became a parent, when I began homeschooling, I didn't give any thought to method or approach.  I didn't read any books on the subject.  I just figured you can't really mess up kindergarten.  And so we began...

A lot has changed in the decade + that I've been doing this.  Not the least of which was my going from a young mom just "winging it" to the leader of a large homeschool group whose members, especially the new ones, looked to ME to answers for many of their homeschooling questions.  Here's a little of what I have learned about Homeschooling Methods.

There are many different "methods" or approaches out there.  I'm sure many of my Crew Mates will blog in depth about them, but I'll just mention a few that come to mind and give you some links to check them out.  First is one almost everyone should be familiar with.  I call it "recreating school at home".   That means you, as the parent, take what you know from your public school days, and recreate that structure in your own home.  Typically it involves following a scope and sequence (WHAT you teach and WHEN you teach it) that mimics your local public school, or follows some national recommendation.  Your kids sit at desks, have regular school hours, start the day with the Pledge, etc. ( I'd give you a link to follow, but I can't think of one, so I'm trying to give you a visual picture.)  Another approach is Unit Studies, which typically tie in closely with Lapbooking or NotebookingCharlotte Mason has a large following, as does Classical Education or the Principle Approach.  You can do Montessori at home, or Waldorf, or believe in delayed academics.  Finally, you could find yourself drawn to child-directed (or delight directed) education or even unschooling.  All of it, each and every one of those methods, is "homeschooling".  So the real question is, "How do you decide?"

Based on my own personal experience, and on years of speaking with and advising other moms, I'd say there are three main things to consider to know what method is right for you.

The first question is why are you homeschooling?  You have to know the answer to that before you can go on.  If you are (planning on) homeschooling because it is a God-given initiative in your life or because you eschew all government interference in your life, you will have a vastly different approach than someone who is homeschooling because they hate the school they are zoned for or because their child was bullied and they are trying to find them a better option until they can return to public school.  If you are determined that your child will be a rocket scientist at age 12, and you are sure your tutelage is the only way that will happen, you will have a different approach than someone who is meeting the needs of a differently-abled child.  You must know WHY to know HOW.  Your why is really the most important part, because it might cause you to override the next two concepts, no matter how valid they are.

The next thing to consider is YOU.  Do you like to teach?  Do you want to be an integral part of your child's learning process?  Do you feel under-educated yourself, and afraid you might negatively impact your child's learning?  Are you a working mom?  A single parent?  Are you obsessive compulsive?  A rigid schedule follower?  Do you find it impossible to plan even the next hour, let alone a whole school year?  Do you have high academic goals for your child?  Do you want to nurture their artistic side?  All of these things, and many, many more are important because they will help decide what type of method will work best in your homeschool.  If you HATE cutting and pasting (and I have a friend who does), lapbooking is NOT for you.  If you can't make a schedule to save your life, you might need a curriculum/method that's already scheduled out for you.  If you like all your ducks in a row, and want to be sure your children are keeping up with the public school "Joneses", you will probably want more of a "recreate school at home" type method than a delayed academics approach. 

Lastly, you need to consider your child.  And if you have more than one, you need to consider them individually.  That is, after all, the beauty of meet your child's needs right where they are at the moment.  If your child hates putting pen to paper, an approach that involves a lot of writing won't be successful.  If your child thrives on worksheets (and I have one who does), then an approach that offers lots of academic practice may be the best fit for them, even if your heart lies in another method.  If you are unsure what method your child leans toward...ask them!  But you can also find books about learning styles or even find some free tests online.  Here's one very simple one.  Some learning styles are better suited to some methods than others, so it's good information to have. 

Remember too that the "here and now" is not the "forever and always".  It's okay to use more than one approach.  It's okay if one method works best when your kids are little, but another is a better fit as they grow up.  Things will change in your homeschool, things will change in your LIFE, every year.  And every year, you can tweak things a bit.  Refine the process.  Change what you do and how you do it.  Through the years, I've gone from someone with a more traditional mindset (I was a teacher, after all) to an unschooler (not by choice at first, but by necessity based on my first born) to a firm believer in delayed academics to someone who uses living books like Charlotte Mason, chronological history like the classical approach, and some "recreating school at home" for the sake of my sanity and my AS son's ability to cope.  And I've learned that the different methods are not typically mutually exclusive.  I employ different ones for different kids and even for different subjects with the same kids.  At the end of the day, it's all about what works for you, your kids, and your homeschool.

Okay, so by this point, maybe you know why you are doing it, you know about yourself, and you think you understand your child(ren)...but you are still wondering what it all looks like in real life.  How do you translate a method or approach into a curriculum, and with so many options, how do you know what curriculum to chose?  Well, that my dear readers, is what we will talk about tomorrow! For now, check out what some of my other Crew Mates had to say by clicking on a link below:
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Curriculum for the 2012-2013 School Year

Really creative title, right?  A fellow Crew Mate at Blessed Beyond a Doubt is hosting a link-up for curriculum called:

So I decided to link up.  Mostly, I'm doing it to get myself organized ;-).  But I'm also doing it because I know I love to see what other people are doing, and so in that same spirit I'm sharing my plans.

Scott-  9th Grade

Algebra 1- Pearson Algebra 1.  One Credit.  Can't say enough good things about this.  Read my Pearson Review.

World History- One Credit.  Selections from Mystery of History 1 and 2 combined Truth Quest Age of Revolution 1, 2, and 3.  Timeline by History Through the Ages.  Adding in readers from Sonlight/Illuminations and Heritage History.  Oh, and maps by TimeMaps.

Art- Draw and Write though History.  Half Credit.  I'll sneak this in WITH History so he won't notice, and then I'll augment this with some other technical drawing stuff, and have 1/2 credit of drawing when I'm done.  Still figuring that one out...may drop it.

Economics: Economics for Everybody.  Half Credit.  Doing the accompanying workbook and adding another worktext.

English 1.  One Credit.  Switched on Schoolhouse.

General Science.  One Credit with lab.  Apologia.

Piano.  One Credit.  Taking lessons and performing at least 2x a month. 

Business Computer Information Systems.  One Credit.  Switched on Schoolhouse.

Christian Keyboarding.  Half Credit. 

Creative Writing.  Half Credit.  Time4Writing combined with Creating Better Writers.

Bible-  One Credit.  Not sure exactly.  He may do the adult Precept Revelation study with me...or not.   Either way, it's a given that he'll be doing some daily Bible study.

Yes, I know that's 9 credits out of my NON academic child.  We'll see which ones stick.  We'll probably do more of a block schedule so he won't do each of these every day.  He's currently doing Keyboarding, Economics, Algebra 1, Time4Writing, and Piano. 

He's carrying forward American History Core 100 Sonlight from last year for one credit . 

Mimi- 7th Grade

History/Lit: Mystery of History- Volume 1 Creation to Christ with some readers from Sonlight and Illuminations.

Grammar: Language Mechanic, Critical Thinking Company

Science:  Christian Kids Explore Chemistry.  Our first non-Apologia science, but she really wants to do Chemisty and Apologia's younger version isn't written yet. 

Math:  Mastering Math Essentials (The Great Courses) and then Teaching Textbooks 7, with a LOT of prayer..., and some games from RightStart

Bible:  Who am I?, Apologia

Writing: Creating Better Writers-paragraph, and daily handwriting practice.

Keyboarding:  Christian Keyboarding, Elementary Edition

ARTistic Pursuits for art.

Anything else we get chosen to review :-)

TJ- 5th Grade

History/Lit: Mystery of History- Volume 1 Creation to Christ with some readers from Sonlight and Illuminations.

Grammar: Language Mechanic, Critical Thinking Company

Science:  Apologia Zoology 1 and lapbook 

Math:  Teaching Textbooks 5 and some RightStart games

Bible:  Precepts for kids Revelation

Writing: Creating Better Writers-paragraph, and daily handwriting practice.

Keyboarding: Christian Keyboarding, Elementary Edition

Selected Spears Art projects.

Anything else we get chosen to review :-).

Sari- 2nd grade, but she's definitely a "delayed academics" sort of kid.

All About Reading.  Finish level 1 and move to level 2 when it is available and she is ready.

RightStart Level B.  We may be here forever.  She's definitely a "delayed academics" sort of kid.

First Language Lessons- level 1

Handwriting without Tears- First Grade book

Assorted "Comprehensive Curriculum" workbook pages

Reading Eggs online

Speekee- Spanish online

Always Ice-Cream online

Whatever else we get chosen to review :-)

And of course, my 3 youngest kids will all be doing All About Spelling!
Final thoughts:  I have 4 new-to-me Critical Thinking Co. software "games".  I want to try to incorporate them into school for all the kids.  We will see how I work that out!
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Back to Homeschool Blog Hop


Join me starting on Monday for 5 days of Back to Homeschool thoughts on methods, curriculum, planning, classrooms, and co-ops.  Many other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew will be blogging too, so you can just "hop on along" to tons of ideas.
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Knowledge Quest TimeMaps review

I don't know if you've ever felt like a homeschool vendor read your mind, but I'm certain the folks who developed TimeMaps did just that!  Developed by TimeMaps, Ltd., they are available to those of us in the homeschool realm via a partnership between TimeMaps, Ltd. and Knowledge Quest.  Currently, there are seven time periods/locations available:  Ancient China, Rise of Rome, Fall of Rome, Rise of Islam, The Black Death, European Exploration, and Atlantic Slave Trade. 

So what exactly are TimeMaps? They are "Maps That Move Through Time". And they are really, really cool.  They are dynamic maps of an area and time period that move sequentially in chronological order at the click of a button.  Each slide contains not only the full color map and the time reference, but also encyclopedia type information about who all the "main players" are and what exactly is going on during that time.  Moving graphics on some slides show the movement of armies or people groups.  It's probably better if I show you (and please, DO watch this...your jaw will drop, I promise!):

Each TimeMaps sold by Knowledge Quest also comes with suggested student activities and teacher resource pages. For example, for the Rise of Rome, there are 20 pages of teacher info offering an in depth look at what was going on historically in relation to each slide. In addition, two of Knowledge Quest's printable maps (one teacher map and one student map from their Map Trek series) are provided at the end.


The pros: I think TimeMaps is brilliant. Most students, most people, are visual learners, and this allows history to visually unfold right before your eyes.  You can literal watch boundaries change and armies advance.  Additional information is available at the click of a button, so you don't need other books or the internet to make the learning complete.  And each TimeMaps set also has a button that points you to their free World Atlas online which provides information on other time periods that TimeMaps sets don't exist for yet.

The cons:  Not all time periods and places are available yet- and you are going to wish they were! 

The bottom line:  Since I first saw these TimeMaps, I have been drooling over them.  But being a bit of a map nerd, I own many, many map programs already so I just could not justify buying it when it was first released.  But of all the maps I own, I would say that this is hands down the best.  And they are maps that teach, not just show.  And since they each come with a printable map as well, you have a way to allow your student to record what they've learned on paper to cement the learning.  And you can use TimeMaps with any curriculum you are already using for history.  I have to say, for me, this is love at first sight!

To purchase TimeMaps or any of the other wonderful products Knowledge Quest has to offer, go to Knowledge Quest's website.  Each map set is available individually as a download for $9.95 each.  They are also available as a collection via download for $44.95 or on CD for $49.95.  Some members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed Map Trek instead of TimeMaps.  To see what they had to say, or to read other TimeMap reviews, go to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Review Crew, I received the complete collection of TimeMaps as a download for the purpose of giving my honest review.  That was the only compensation I received.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Forever and Just Yesterday, All Rolled Into One

Yesterday was my 5 year "blogiversary".  It's funny to look back at my first post.  I made some snarky remark about grinding my own wheat, and now, 5 years later, that's exactly what I do.  (Or to be honest, Marie's machine does it for me, but I do buy wheat berries and we do use freshly ground wheat.)  I think so much of my life today is not the same as I imagined it would be 5 years ago.  Some things are still the same- we still live in the same place, we still homeschool, etc.  But many things have changed too.  These days, my blog features way more reviews than glimpses at our life.  That's not the way I intended it to be though, and it's something I want to change.  It's just that I'm way to busy living life to take the time to write about it.  I need to strike a better balance, and not just on my blog. 

If my intention in starting this blog was to keep a record of our lives for myself and my children, then I've got some work to do!

Which always makes me feel like I'm behind. 

And then I feel like I need to "catch-up".

And then I feel like there's no way that's possible. 

And then the crickets start chirping on my blog. 

And yes, I know that all of those were fragments, and not real sentences. 

Soooo, here's a little picture update:
My man and I at Disney.

The whole family - April 2012
Here's to five more years, tons more reviews, and a lot more glimpses into our lives.

I'm blessed to be help-meet to a wonderful man for 20 years.  I'm blessed with four unique children who are each gifts from God.  I'm blessed to have a salvation I could never earn and to be loved by God in a way I could never deserve.  I'm blessed to live in a time of modern technology (even though it makes me crazy sometimes) because through this blog and the Schoolhouse Review Crew, God has richly provided for my family's homeschooling needs and wants. And I'm blessed by you, my readers. 
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Keyboarding for the Christian School Elementary Edition Review

Keyboarding is an essential skill in today's world.  And while you'd probably be hard pressed to find a child who didn't know how to press on a keyboard and makes letters appear, most start using a keyboard WAY before they learn to use it correctly.  Enter Christian Keyboarding, and their Keyboarding for the Christian School Elementary Edition. 


Don't let the title stop you.  While this was developed for Christian schools, it is completely usable in a Christian homeschool with no adaptation.  Each lesson is short, teaching only 2 keys at a time.  And each subsequent lesson reviews the previous keys learned as well as offering practice on the new ones.  The pages are uncluttered and the lessons are simple to complete.  The elementary edition covers only the basics (letters, numbers, common punctuation, the number pad, horizontal and vertical center justification, and enumeration).  The regular edition covers all that and more, like formatting essays, and addressing envelopes, etc.  The books are available as e-books or in print, but the author encourages the printing of the e-books so that children develop the ability to transfer information from paper to computer.
The pros:  The Elementary Edition features Miss Mabel the ladybug on each page, but beyond that, it's not overly "kiddish".   We reviewed the large print edition, which I really liked.  Instead of printing the book, I loaded it onto my Kindle Fire, and then they did their lessons.  That way, I was spared the expense of printing, but they still developed the transfer skills.  I liked that this in non-consumable, and each lesson takes only a few minutes a day.  I had all 3 of my older kids do this, and when they are done, I will likely get the regular edition for the older ones to learn the other skills it teaches.  I love that when they get to the point of being able to type sentences, they are typing scripture.  And the formatting lessons involve them typing and formatting entire passages of scripture.  They have to type might as well be something that feeds them spiritually and gives glory to God.
The cons:  If you aren't Christian, this is not the program for you, although you probably picked that up from the title alone.  Other than that, not cons here.
The bottom line:  My kids are definitely going to finish doing this, and like I said, they will probably move on to the other version too.  (We'll just skip the beginning lessons that teach the keys since they will have already done that.)  The elementary e-book version is only $12.95, and the older level e-book is $15.95.  They offer other typing e-books too, such as columns or tables.  To order any of Christian Keyboarding's books, go to their website.  For an even better deal, enter SUMMER2012 as your discount code, and you will get 20% off your order through 8/29/12.
To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Crew blog.

Legal disclaimer:  As a member of the Crew, I received a free download of Keyboarding for the Christian School Elementary Edition for  the purpose of giving my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Professor B Math Review


I think anyone who has been homeschooling for any length of time can relate to the idea of a curriculum or product they really, really wanted to love...but didn't.  A lot of times, our desire to love it comes directly from the fact that it is the PERFECT product for someone else we know, and consequently, we think it will be the perfect product for us.  Until we try it.  And sadly, that's where I find myself with this review.  But before you stop reading right here and now, remember YOU might be the person this would be perfect for- I know it was for several Crew Mates- so please, allow me to introduce you to Professor B math. 


Professor B math is an online elementary math curriculum.  It is available in 3 levels, and claims to teach three years of math in one year.  Below is a chart that explains what is covered in each level:

LEVEL I Pre-k though 2nd graders and remediation of older learners. Introduction to Addition/Subtraction Facts - Counting to One Hundred - Lower Addition and Subtraction - Higher Addition and Subtraction - Place Value Fractional Parts & Order - Time - Money
LEVEL II 3rd grade through 5th grade and remediation of older learners. Multiplication/Division Facts and Problem Solving - Introduction to Fractions - Fractional Equivalence - Addition and Subtraction Fractions
LEVEL III 6th through 8th grades and remediation of older learners. Multiplication/Division of Fractions - Decimals - Percents

Technically, I have learners in all 3 levels, but my eldest daughter still struggles greatly with math, and so I used only levels I and II.  Once you log in to Professor B (and open the correct level if you are using more than one) you get a welcome sequence that tells you a little more about the program.  After that is a table of contents (which you can, and will want to, skip to).  From the table of contents, you chose your lesson.  if you were starting with a Pre K/K student, you would start at the beginning.  For older learners, there is a free placement test to find out where to start.  Each lesson is really a series of power point slides.  They are very simple and uncluttered visually.  You advance to the next slide by clicking on the arrow or anywhere on the screen.  The bee in the graphic below is the "teacher" and has speech bubbles that show what you, the "master teacher" are supposed to say.  Some slides just present information, others ask questions for the student to answer verbally.  No answers are "input" into the program- it's just like a virtual textbook.  And there is no sound component, just the text.  Lessons are divided by topic, not by grade.  Each lesson features a lot of review, and some lessons do incorporate worksheets that you print to go with them.

The pros:  Because it is not based on grade level, but on subjects with a group of grades, students who need remediation aren't as likely to feel they are "behind" or working below grade level.  Parents who feel unsure of their abilities to teach math may enjoy this program since it literally tells you what to say and do (see the slides below.)  Many skills are explained in a different way than the "traditional" approach, and based on testimonials on their website, that has helped many students succeed where before they had struggled with math. 

The cons: This just didn't work well for us. I began using this with my youngest child, who HATES the idea of all formal learning.  I soon found that I just didn't like the way the information was presented, and she didn't either.  Below, you can see a slide from the lesson on Representing Numbers with Cubes, Rods, and Flats.  The idea they are trying to express is that a rod is made up of 10 cubes, but if you look at the bottom "rod" you can see that the graphics just don't quite work right.  The lines delineating the ten cubes in a rod don't all show up, and that was consistent on every slide that represented rods.  So visually, you can't at all see 10 cubes in a rod, at least not down the side.
 I had the same problems with graphics on the 10 rods make a flat.  Look carefully at the top of the 10 rods, and you can see that you lose the lines delineating the back 3-4 rods.  I also had problems with slides in level 2 having graphics that were supposed to flash, but didn't. 

And the lesson in level 1 on place value STARTS with the question below:

What place is that?  Ummm.  Hundred-trillions.  I'm thinking not many Pre-K students, or K, or 1st grade students know that.  In fact, probably many adults don't know that.  And while I think it's great that they are teaching that, I'm not sure starting with that question establishes any sort of expectation of success.
As for my older kids who tried it out, my youngest son is compliant, and will do anything, but he didn't love it.  My eldest daughter, who actually needs it the most, liked it the least.  I think it's hard to jump in at an older age, even if they need it, since, as I mentioned, many of the concepts are presented in a completely different way than normal, and older children would likely have to "relearn" it the new way.  This could be advantageous if you child's problem lies in not understanding the way your current math program presents the material, but my daughter found it to be frustrating.  One of my other cons would be that I really think it should have sound, even if I understand why it doesn't (they want to ensure that the teacher doesn't leave the child to do the learning independently and figure if you must read it to them, you can't walk away).  It just seems like the bee should really talk.  And since many times the bee says in a text box exactly what is printed on the screen in another box, it can be redundant.  Also, not all elementary math subjects are covered.  I particularly noticed a lack of any sort of geometry.  And finally,  there is no way to keep track of where you are in the progression of lessons.  Each time you log in, you are brought to the welcome and the table of contents, so if you stopped in the middle of a lesson, you'd better just remember where you were.  Or if you have multiple students doing it, you will need to record where each one is yourself, because the program doesn't. 
The bottom line:  I wanted this to be "the thing" that worked for my math resistant daughters.  But it just wasn't.  But I know that several of my Crew Mates loved it and it was exactly "the thing" for their children.  For that reason alone, I am really tempted to make my eldest continue with it just to see if it can help her with some of her deficits.  We'll see...

To check out Professor B's online courses, or their print materials, go HERE.  Currently, pricing is $20 a month for one level, and $15 for a second, and $10 for a third.  They estimate that it takes 10 months to do a level.  They are also offering new pricing as explained here: "We also have a new price change on our yearly subscription. Our program can now be purchase for $100 for 3 years access to each level. Our IT department is working on changing the site. However, if the customers call 678-765-6655 we will be able take their order and honor the new price."

To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Crew, I received a year's access to Professor B for 3 children in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Promise for Miriam FIRST Wild Card Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen, Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Vannetta Chapman has published more than 100 articles in Christian family magazines. She discovered her love for the Amish while researching her grandfather’s birthplace in Albion, Pennsylvania. Vannetta is a multi-award-winning member of Romance Writers of America. She was a teacher for 15 years and currently resides in the Texas Hill country. Her first two inspirational novels—A Simple Amish Christmas and Falling to Pieces—were Christian Book Distributors bestsellers.

Visit the author's website.


Amish schoolteacher Miriam King loves her students. At 26, she hasn’t yet met anyone who can convince her to give up the Plain school at Pebble Creek. Then newcomer Gabriel Yoder steps into her life, bringing his daughter, an air of mystery, and challenges Miriam has never faced before.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736946128
ISBN-13: 978-0736946124


Pebble Creek, southwestern Wisconsin
Three years later
Miriam King glanced over the schoolroom with satisfaction.
Lessons chalked on the board.
Pencils sharpened and in the cup.
Tablets, erasers, and chalk sat on each desk.
Even the woodstove was cooperating this morning. Thank the Lord for Efram Hochstetler, who stopped by early Mondays on his way to work and started the fire. If not for him, the inside of the windows would be covered with ice when she stepped in the room.
Now, where was Esther?
As if Miriam’s thoughts could produce the girl, the back door to the schoolhouse opened and Esther burst through, bringing with her a flurry of snowflakes and a gust of the cold December wind. Her blonde hair was tucked neatly into her kapp, and the winter morning had colored her cheeks a bright red.
Esther wore a light-gray dress with a dark apron covering it. At five and a half feet and weighing no more than a hundred and twenty pounds, Miriam often had the unsettling feeling of looking into a mirror—a mirror into the past—when she looked at the young woman who taught with her at the one-room schoolhouse.
In truth, the teachers had often been mistaken for family. They were similar in temperament as well as appearance. Other than their hair, Esther could have been Miriam’s younger sister. Esther’s was the color of ripe wheat, while Miriam’s was black as coal.
Why did that so often surprise both Plain people and Englischers? If Miriam’s black hair wasn’t completely covered by her kapp, she received the oddest stares.
“Am I late?” Esther’s shoes echoed against the wooden floor as she hurried toward the front of the room. Pulling off her coat, scarf, and gloves, she dropped them on her desk.
“No, but nearly.”
“I told Joseph we had no time to check on his cattle, but he insisted.”
“Worried about the gate again?”
Ya. I told him they wouldn’t work it loose, but he said—”
“Cows are stupid.” They uttered the words at the same time, both mimicking Joseph’s serious voice, and then broke into laughter. The laughter eased the tension from Esther’s near tardiness and set the morning back on an even keel.
“Joseph has all the makings of a fine husband and a gut provider,” Miriam said. “Once you’re married, you’ll be glad he’s so careful about the animals.”
Ya, but when we’re married I won’t be having to leave in time to make it to school.” Esther’s cheeks reddened a bit more as she seemed to realize how the words must sound.
Why did everyone think Miriam was embarrassed that she still remained unmarried? Did it never occur to them that it was her own choice to be single?
“Efram had the room nice and warm before I even arrived,” she said gently. “And I put out your tablets.”
Wunderbaar. I’ll write my lessons on the board, and we’ll be ready.” As Esther reached to pull chalk from her desk drawer, Miriam noticed that she froze and then stood up straighter. When she reached up and touched her kapp as if to make sure she was presentable, Miriam realized someone else was in the room.
She turned to see who had surprised the younger teacher. It was still a few minutes before classes were due to start, and few of their students arrived early.
Standing in the doorway to the schoolroom was an Amish man. Pebble Creek was a small community, technically a part of the village of Cashton. Old-timers and Plain folk alike still referred to the area where the creek went through by its historic name.
Miriam was quite sure she’d never seen the man standing in her classroom before. He was extremely tall, and she had the absurd notion he’d taken his hat off to fit through their entryway. Even standing beneath the door arch, waiting for them to speak, he seemed to barely fit. He was thin and sported a long beard, indicating he was married.
In addition to clutching his black hat, he wore a heavy winter coat, though not the type worn by most Wisconsin residents. The tops of his shoulders, his arms, and even parts of his beard were covered with snow. More important than how he looked standing in her classroom was the fact that he held the hand of a small girl.
Gudemariye,” Miriam said, stepping forward and moving past her desk.
The man still didn’t speak, but as she drew closer, he bent and said something to the girl.
When Miriam had halved the distance between them, he returned her greeting as his somber brown eyes assessed her.
The young girl next to him had dark-brown hair like her father. It had been combed neatly and pulled back into a braid, all tucked inside her kapp. What was striking about her wasn’t her hair or her traditional Plain clothing—it was her eyes. She had the most solemn, beautiful brown eyes Miriam had ever seen on a child.
They seemed to take in everything.
Miriam noticed she clutched her father’s hand tightly with one hand and held a lunch box with the other.
“I’m the teacher of the younger grades here, grades one through four. My name is Miriam King.” The girl’s eyes widened, and the father nodded again. “Esther Schrocks teaches grades five through eight.”
He looked to the girl to see if she understood, but neither replied.
“And your daughter is—”
“Grace is eight years old, just this summer.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I’m Gabriel Miller.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Miriam offered her best smile, which still did not seem to put the father at ease. She’d seen nervous parents before, and obviously this was one. “You must be new to our community.”
Ya. I purchased the place on Dawson Road.”
“Dawson Road? Do you mean the Kline farm?”
Ya.” Not quite rude, but curt and to the point.
Miriam tried to hide any concern she felt as images of Kline’s dilapidated spread popped into her mind. It was no business of hers where this family chose to live. “I know exactly where you mean. My parents live a few miles past that.”
“It’s a fair piece from here,” he noted.
“That it is. Esther and I live here at the schoolhouse during the week. The district built accommodations on the floor above, as is the custom in most of our schoolhouses here in Wisconsin. We both spend weekends at home with our families.”
“I don’t know I’ll be able to bring Grace in every day.” Gabriel Miller reached up and ran his finger under the collar of his shirt, which peeked through the gap at the top of his coat.
Miriam noticed then that it looked stiff and freshly laundered. Had he put on his Sunday best to bring his daughter to school on her first day? It said something about him if he had.
“A man has to put his farm first,” he added defensively.
“Some children live close enough that their parents can bring them in the winter, and, of course, most everyone walks when the weather permits.” Miriam paused to smile in greeting as a few students began arriving and walking around them. “Others ride together. Eli Stutzman lives past Dawson road, and he would be happy to give your dochder a ride to school.”
“It would be a help.” Mr. Miller still didn’t move, and Miriam waited, wondering what else the man needed to say.
She looked up and saw one of the older girls, Hannah, walking in the door. “Hannah, this is Grace Miller. She’s new at our school. Would you mind sitting with her and helping her this week?”
“Sure thing, Miriam.” Hannah squatted down to Grace’s level and said something to the girl Miriam couldn’t hear.
Whatever it was, Grace released her dat’s hand and took Hannah’s. She’d walked halfway down the aisle when she turned, rushed back to where they stood, and threw her arms around her father’s legs.
One squeeze and she was gone again.
Though it was fleeting, Miriam saw a look of anguish pass over the man’s face. What could be going through his mind? She’d seen many fathers leave their children for the first time over the last eight years, but something more was going on here.
“She’ll be fine, Mr. Miller. We’re a small school, and the children look after one another.”
“It’s that…” he twirled his hat in his hands once, twice, three times. “Before we moved here, Grace was…that is to say, we…well, her grossmammi homeschooled her.”
“I understand. How about if I write a note letting you know how Grace is doing? I’ll put it in her lunch box at the end of the day.”
Something like relief washed over his face.
Danki,” he mumbled. Then he rammed his hat on his head and hurried out the door.
Esther caught her attention from the front of the room and sent a questioning look toward the man’s retreating back, but Miriam shook her head. She’d explain later, at lunch perhaps. For now they had nearly forty children between them to teach. As usual, it would be a busy morning.

Gabe did stop to talk to Eli Stutzman. He wanted to make sure he trusted the man.
It helped when three girls and a boy who were the last to climb out of the long buggy stopped to wish their father a good day. The littlest girl, probably the same age as his Gracie, wrapped her arms around her daddy’s neck, whispered something in his ear, and then tumbled down the steps into the chilly morning.
“That one is my youngest—Sadie. Always full of energy, but she’s a worrier. This morning it’s about a pup she left at home in the barn.” Covering the distance between them, the older man removed his glove and offered his right hand. “Name’s Eli Stutzman. I take it you’re new here, which must mean you bought the Kline place.”
“I am, and I did. Gabriel Miller.” Gabe stood still in the cold, wishing he could be done with this and back on his farm.
“Have children in the school?”
“One, a girl—about your youngest one’s age.”
Eli nodded, and then he seemed to choose his words carefully. “I suspect you’ll be busy putting your place in order. It will be no problem giving your dochder a ride back and forth each day.”
“I would appreciate it.”
Stutzman told him the approximate time he passed the Kline place, and Gabe promised he’d have Gracie ready at the end of the lane.
He turned to go and was headed to his own buggy when the man called out to him.
“The Kline place has been empty quite a while.”
Gabe didn’t answer. Instead, he glanced out at the surrounding fields, covered in snow and desolate looking on this Monday morning.
“If you need help, or find something that’s worse than what you expected, you holler. We help each other in Pebble Creek.”
Gabe ran his hand along the back of his neck but didn’t answer. Merely nodding, he moved on to his buggy.
He was accustomed to people offering help. Actually delivering on it? That was often another story, though he wouldn’t be judging the people here before he knew them.
Still, it was in his nature to do things on his own if at all possible.
Was his new home worse than he had expected?
Ya, it was much worse.
The barn was falling in on itself, and the house was not a lot better, but he knew carpentry. He could make them right. At least the woodstove worked. He’d been somewhat surprised to find no gas refrigerator, but he had found out who sold blocks of ice carved from the river. The icebox in the mudroom would do.
Gracie would be warm and fed. She’d have a safe place to sleep and to do the drawing she loved so much.
He didn’t think he’d be calling on Eli for help.
He’d see that Grace Ann made it to school and church—he’d promised her grossmammis as much. But other than that he wasn’t looking to make freinden in Pebble Creek. He wanted to be left alone. It was the reason he’d left their community in Indiana.
He could do without any help.
His parting words to his parents echoed back to him.
“I can do it on my own.”
As he drove the buggy toward home, Gabe looked out over high ridges and low valleys. Dairy farms dotted the snowcapped view. Running through it all was Pebble Creek, no doubt a prime place for trout fishing most of the year. He’d heard the call of wild turkeys and seen deer. It was a rich, blessed area.
Pebble Creek ran through the heart of Cashton, the closest town. It also touched the border of the school grounds and meandered through his own property. It bound them together.
As he approached home, Gabe’s mind was filled with thoughts of the day’s work ahead of him. He wondered where he’d find the energy to do it all, but somehow he would.
For Gracie he would.
His parents had offered to send his youngest brother along for the first year, but Andrew was needed on the family place. And, truthfully, Gabe preferred to be alone—just he and Grace.
“I can do it on my own.”
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” his mother said. She had reminded him as he was packing their things that pride was his worst shortcoming, though the Lord knew he had many to choose from when it came to faults.
Was it pride that scraped against his heart each day? He couldn’t say.
He only knew he preferred solitude to company, especially since Hope died.
That seemed ironic, even to him. She had been his hope, his life, his all, and now she was gone. Her death had happened so quickly—it reminded him of one of the Englisch freight trains barreling around the corner of some bend.
A big black iron thing he hadn’t seen coming. A monstrosity with the power to destroy his life.
Which wasn’t what the bishop had said, or his parents, or his brothers and sisters.
He slapped the reins and allowed his new horse, Chance, to move a bit faster over the snow-covered road. He’d left Indiana because he needed to be free of the looks of sympathy, the well-intentioned words, the interfering.
So he now had what he’d wished for—a new beginning with Grace.
If it meant days of backbreaking work, so much the better. Perhaps when he was exhausted, he would begin to sleep at night.

One Blessed Mamma says: I enjoy Amish fiction, and this book does not disappoint. The story was sweet and engaging, and I found I could not put the book down even though I was trying to read it with a migraine. I just had to know what happened next! If you enjoy Amish fiction too, I'd highly encourage you to check out A Promise for Miriam.

Legal Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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