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Friday, August 31, 2012

Golden Prairie Press-Costumes with Character Review


PhotobucketAmy Puetz is a homeschool graduate with a passion for Christ and for history.  She has followed the Lord's leading in the creation of her business, Golden Prairie Press, which publishes Amy's ebooks that cover a variety of historical topics.  Recently, I had the chance to review one of those books- Costumes with Character.


Costumes with Character is a book that shows you how to make costumes from eleven different time periods from one dress.  The time periods are as follows:

  • Colonial (Pilgrim & Puritan 1620-1700)

  • Quaker (1681-1860)

  • American Revolution (1775-1783)

  • Young Republic (1800-1820)

  • Romantic Era (1820-1848)

  • Pioneer (1800s)

  • Civil War (1861-1865)

  • Sailor (1865-1905)

  • Victorian 1880s

  • Victorian 1890s

  • Turn of the Century (1900-1910)

  • Tea Party

  • Beyond just the sewing instructions though are pictures of all the dresses being modeled, as well as a mini unit-study about that time period featuring first hand accounts of life during that time. Illustrations of attire from that time period, and even photographs, if available, are shown as well.  Each time period also has famous quotes from people of the time, and a side box with comprehension questions for students/readers to quiz themselves with.   Below is the author sharing more about this book:

    The pros:  Adding period-specific accessories to one base dress really does allow you to experience dressing up for many different time periods with much less effort than having multiple costumes would.  Some of the projects are big, like making a hoop skirt or a bonnet, while others are smaller, like making a letter case or a handkerchief.  There is even some embroidery embellishment.  A book of printed, full-sized patterns is also available, as of just a few days ago, but was not part of what we received to review.

    The cons:  One of the biggest cons to me is that no pattern for the dress (the whole basis for the costumes) is given.  Suggestions are made on where to find a suitable dress or what to look for in patterns to use to make one, but no pattern is given for this, the most crucial part of the whole thing!  Based on the fact that all the pictures feature the same blue dress and the description says, "Make your own costumes from eleven different time periods with one dress," I assumed that dress would be part of the instructions given in the book!  But my daughter had a Civil War dress already (she has participated in a few reenactments), and the whole reason we wanted to review this book was to embellish what she already had, so this was not a deal buster for me, but certainly did not line up with my expectations.
    Another con for some people is that I think you have to be a pretty accomplished sewer to do some of these projects.  As an example, for the project I made, and for many of the projects I looked at, no specific amount of fabric is given, leaving you to guess how much it will take to make it.  Also, all the patterns are for a girl age 16+, so you must use math (and a chart Ms. Puetz provides) to scale the project to size if you are making it for a younger child.  If you don't buy the pattern book, you can either print *some* of the patterns on legal sized paper from a free ebook included with purchase, or you must enlarge them by hand based on pictures in the Costumes book showing the pattern pieces on a grid (you enlarge it so that each grid square is 1").  My daughter wanted a bonnet, and while I've made some skirts and a few quilts, this bonnet put my skills to the test for sure!  While it IS one of the items there is a pattern for in the free ebook, I completely missed the "print on legal paper" caveat, and as a result, the pattern was apparently shrunk to fit my normal letter sized paper.  This left many pieces out of proportion, but I could NOT figure out why.  But beyond my blunder, which is not Ms. Puetz's fault at all, there definitely is an assumption that you know how to sew and how to follow patterns, so this is not really a resource for beginners. 
    Here is a picture of my blunder.  Don't make my mistake :-).  That inner circle should be the same size as the outer brim.  Oops!

    My last con kind of goes hand in hand with the above.  I don't think the instructions are clear enough.  I'm a very visual person, and while the pictures in the book are charming, they don't give a very good, close up view of many of the items.  As a result, if you aren't understanding the instructions well, there is not a way to visually check what it's "supposed to" look like.  For the bonnet I made, you are meant to put poster board in the brim to give it shape.  First, that makes the bonnet unwashable, which I don't like.  But second, there is no template for the poster board insert.  It just says, "cut one out a little smaller than the bonnet brim".
    But the bonnet brim pattern piece is only half a pattern, because it's meant to be cut on a fold (it's the bottom piece of paper in the picture below). So if you literally "cut one", you cut only half of what you need.  And this is for a curved item, so the curves must be exact or they won't work.  Plus, you need to sandwich the raw inner edge of this brim to the "crown" pieces, so if you don't cut the inner part of the insert small enough, the poster board will get in the way when you try to sandwich the pieces.  After much trial and error, here is what I came up with (that worked) below:

    The actual assemble of the bonnet was quite confusing to me too.  I needed WAY more pictures of what I was supposed to do.  And it was not easy at all to catch all the layers when you are sewing blindly and there is poster board keeping some of the pieces from being flexible.  Like I said, it was not a beginner project.  I ended up attaching one piece and then the second instead of sandwiching them in one step so that I could be sure I caught it all, and even then I missed one 2 inch stretch.

    The bottom line:  I think this resource has GREAT potential.  All the information about the time periods is very nice, and the idea of being able to take one dress and add little embellishments to it to represent 11 different time periods is certainly very unique.  And I think on the simpler projects, it probably is just fine.  But for the more complicated items, I really think the directions need to be broken down more, and more pictures are needed to show you exactly what you are to be doing.  Perhaps the printed full sized patterns provide some of that, and if so, I'd definitely recommend buying them to make you life a whole lot easier!  In the end, I'm happy with the way the bonnet turned out, and my youngest daughter will be even happier to find out the bonnet will actually be for HERS since it is definitely sized for a child's head at the shrunken proportions the letter sized paper gave.  Sadly, that means I have to make ANOTHER one for my older daughter, but at least now I know what I'm doing!  I will also tweak this one to use another method of keeping the brim in shape that also allows for washing, since I know it will get dirty at the reenactments, but my daughter wants white to keep her cooler in the hot FL sun.

    Here's what our finished project looked like:

    Costumes with Character is available for $37 for the printed book, $21.95 for the ebook, and $15 for the book of printed patterns.  A free ebook of some of the patterns currently comes with the purchase of either the printed of the ebook version.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about Costumes with Character or a few of Amy Puetz's other books, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

    Legal disclaimer:  I received a free download of Costumes with Character and the accompanying free ebook containing some patterns for the purpose of giving my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Time4Writing- Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Review


    I've come to realize I am definitely in the "delayed academics" camp- especially when it comes to formal grammar training.  But when you suddenly find yourself with a high schooler who has a minimal grasp on grammar rules, you realize you might have delayed it a bit TOO far!  Enter Time4Writing.

    Time4Writing is a site that offers writing instruction for elementary, middle, and high school students.  Each group has 3 levels of classes- beginning, intermediate, and advanced.  If you aren't sure which one is best for your student, there is an online placement questionnaire you can take.  For our review, my eldest son and I took a look at one of the high school beginner level classes called Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics.

    According to Time4Writing's website:
    This eight-week course covers the technical areas of writing that high school students need to master before moving on to paragraphs and then essays, including:
    •Correctly identifying the parts of a sentence
    •Understanding complex sentences
    •Learning subject-verb agreement
    •Differentiating between plural and possessive nouns
    •Using pronouns, adjectives and adverbs in sentences
    •Identifying and spelling words that often confuse writers
    •Correctly using commas, semicolons, and other punctuation
    •Proofreading their writing for errors
    Setting up your student is easy, and once your class is chosen and paid for, students can begin fairly quickly.  Each class has a real, live teacher who is there to answer questions and grade assignments.  Scott's teacher was Ms. Leslie.  For many of his assignments, there was some basic instruction to read, followed by about 10 questions to answer about the topic that the instruction covered.  Those questions can be reattempted over and over until you are happy with your score.  About once a week, there is a writing assignment that you submit to your teacher.  In our experience, those received a final grade, and no "do overs" were allowed, but my son also scored a 95% or better on each assignment.  Each course is designed to be 8 weeks long, although an accelerated schedule is also provided.  The cost per 8 week course is $99.

    Our experience:  This was our first foray into virtual education, and there was a bit of a learning curve.  Jumping in at the high school level, we were not familiar with the writing/grammar rules Time4Writing follows in the same way you would be had you gone through something year after year.   Think of the "oxford comma" for example.  Do you use it or not?  Either way is "acceptable" these days, so sometimes grammar rules aren't really rules after all.  We encountered that twice.  Both times points were deducted and I e-mailed the teacher about the broken "rule" and asked for clarification.  We did receive her explanation for why things were scored as they were, but points were not restored and no offer was extended to redo the assignment.  That's fine, really, because it is also the way it is in many "building school" settings, but it was a learning process.  Overall, I sat with my son as he did his first few assignments, but gradually was able to allow him to work more independently, although I still check over his assignments for submission.

    The pros:  It is nice to have an 8 week intensive on some of the grammar, usage, and mechanics skills I might not have covered very well.  I like that there is a "real" teacher out there checking the work, and I think that would be even more beneficial for creative writing based classes.  Lessons are short, as are assignments.  I can see exactly what my child has done and what he still has to cover in the class.  We heard back from Scott's teacher promptly- never more than 24 hours unless it was a weekend.

    The cons:  I don't like that each 8 week course comes with only 8 weeks of access.  That means you can't get behind at all, or you have to pay $49 to extend your class by 4 weeks.  We are right on target to complete the course in 8 weeks, but I do wish there was a little "wiggle room", especially since unavoidable things can happen, like the tropical storm currently off the coast of my state.  I also wonder if the lessons might not be a bit too short and lacking depth, but time will tell on that one.  My biggest con though is the price.  At $99 per class, it would cost you $400 for a year of instruction.  And this is only good for one child and only for one specific 8 week period.  And it's only one component of what would constitute a full curriculum- it's not even your entire language arts. 

    The bottom line:  Am I glad we are doing this?  Yes.  I think my son has been introduced to a lot of things I have not specifically taught over the years.  Have we learned other things as well?  Yes, we've learned some important lessons about how online classes work, and both their strengths and weaknesses.  Will we continue?  We will absolutely finish out this class!  Is it "worth it" financially?  That, I don't know. 

    To check out Time4Writing, their classes, and their free online resources, go to  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Review Crew blog.  Many of them reviewed other levels of Time4Writing including elementary and middle school classes.

    Legal disclaimer:  I received one 8 week online class for free from Time4Writing for the purpose of giving my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

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    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Christian Liberty Press: Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers Review


    I must confess that I am somewhat of a curriculum junkie.  Particularly a quality "reader" junkie.  I love collecting elementary level "readers" from solidly Christian companies because you know the stories in those readers aren't fluff.  They teach strong Christian values at every grade level.  So I was already familiar with Christian Liberty Press because I have, ahem, a few of their readers :-).   And they are the company that publishes Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers.

    But with that being said, I want to be totally honest.  I asked NOT to review this book.  Why?  Because it's geared toward 7th to 10th graders and it's about hymn writers, and we don't go to a hymn singing church...But I wanted to say that upfront because God works for our good even if we don't think so at the time.  My kids LOVE it!

    Here's the synopsis from Christian Liberty Press's web site: 
    This first book in the series by Douglas Bond tells the story of two teens who, while on vacation in England, are befriended by an elderly English gentlemen called Mr. Pipes. Through this relationship they learn about famous British hymn writers. They also learn about the value of traditional worship and praise.


    When the book begins, Annie and her younger, and surlier, brother Drew are visiting England from "the other side of the pond". The encounter Mr. Pipes, who is playing the organ at a local church, that they decide to check out. The two youngsters strike up a friendship with Mr. Pipes and a whole lotta learning ensues! Mr. Pipes teaches them about British Hymn Makers and along the way, they get a brief history of England too. There are actually several Mr. Pipes books; this one is the first installment.

    The Pros: Did I mention my kids LOVE this book? Until about 5 years ago, we went to a liturgical church, and so they have heard many of the hymns mentioned in the book, but it was more than that. I think they really related to the kids in the book, and that helped make them interested in the subject. Each chapter ends with the sheet music for the hymn discussed. We enjoyed comparing our version of the Doxology to the way it is actually written. And who knew it had more verses?

    The cons: The drawings, which I love, don't line up at all with the idea that these characters are "teens". Nor did their temperament strike me as particularly teenaged. More like "tween", although I don't really like that moniker. That really didn't affect the story at all, but it was a little incongruous with the blurb about the book.

    The bottom line: Not only did I enjoy this book, my kids liked it too. And more than one curriculum company uses at least one of the Mr. Pipes books as a historical fiction reader, so it's not just us!

    Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers is available (by clicking the link) for $9.89 in print and $8.79 for the eBook.   The other 3 books in the series are similarly priced, although not all are available as eBooks.  You can get all four in print for $38.99

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

    Legal disclaimer:  I received a free copy of the eBook for Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

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    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Great Thing Number 1001 about Homeschooling...

    We get to go to Disney on the "first day of school" for our county.  Of course, we already started back to full school last week, so it's only fair that we took today off :-).  As a total fluke, our pastor happened to be singing with the Dapper Dans today, so we literally bumped into him coming into the park and leaving.  The kids always play so cool about seeing him when we are there, but you KNOW that's the first thing they tell their daddy about when we get home ;-).

     In a pleasant turn of events, Scott was delightful all day long...which was wonderful since my back has been messed up for 3 weeks now, and I almost thought I'd need a wheelchair to survive today.

     Those are the kids in the last two rows.  Clearly Sari doesn't love Thunder Mountain nearly as much as she thought she did.

     The Carousel is a favorite.  I have to say, I love taking pictures of my kids on this ride since one of the programs I taught at Disney took guests into the area where they hand paint the horses. 

     Remember how Scott was delightful...well Mimi?  Not so much.  She had her heart set on buying the Merida "barbie" doll.  People have been telling her how much she looks like Merida since before Brave ever came out.  The girls at summer camp even called her Merida instead of her real name.  So she has a great affinity for this character.  But alas, the entire Walt Disney World property is SOLD OUT of Merida.  Since in her mind's eye that was the whole reason for going to Disney today, she was definitely out of sorts the rest of the day.

    We were literally leaving the park just minutes before the flag lowering ceremony.  I've never seen it before, and probably wouldn't have today, except that the Dapper Dans were there.  Doug said he understood if we took off especially in light of the thunderstorm rolling in.  Well, it was a TOTAL God thing that we stayed.  They cut the ceremony short, and we bolted as soon as it was done.  We got to the monorail just as the first drops were starting, and by the time we were on board (by the skin of our teeth, we were probably the last people to board), the sky had opened with sideways falling rain.  It was intense.  When we got to the Ticket and Transportation Center, it was still raining very, very hard, and even more importantly, it was lightening a LOT.  So we stayed on the concourse for a few minutes, and then as the rain started to lighten, we made a quick walk for it (Mythbusters says you actually get wetter by running, LOL).  When we reached the tram boarding area, the rain had almost stopped, and by the time we boarded our tram it had completely stopped.  If we had NOT watched the flag ceremony, we would have been 6 minutes sooner, and probably would have been on a tram and walking in the parking lot in the middle of a HUGE storm with lots of lightening.  God is SO good! 
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    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    Vocabulary Spelling City Review

    I'd like to introduce you to my new best friend...


    Vocabulary Spelling City is a free, online, educational spelling and vocabulary website.  Parents or teachers can enter individualize lists for each child, and then students can click "teach me" to learn how to spell the word and hear it used in a sentence.  Then they can play games to learn how to practice spelling the words.  They can also take a spelling test on the word list.  You can print each list, and even generate a handwriting worksheet for the words.  For a yearly fee of $29.99  a year for home use (up to 5 students) or $49.99 for classroom use, you can upgrade to a premium membership.  The difference between the two memberships is listed on the chart below. 

    The Schoolhouse Review Crew was given the premium membership to try out, and I can tell you that many of the premium games and learning features have to do with the vocabulary activities.    Also, the premium membership offers MUCH more in the way of customizing lists and assigning activities to one student or multiple students.  Plus, there are many premium features that involve tracking performance of each student.
    Below, you can see a report that lets me know how my students did on completing their assignments for the week:

    And this picture shows a sample word list I created.  Green activities are free, pink come with the premium membership.  

    The pros:  Vocabulary Spelling City can be used for any grade level.  They have tons of word lists already in their system that you can use.  Things like dolch lists, homophones, compound words, and state capitals, just to name a few.  And you can make your own list to match any words you want your children to learn across the curriculum.  Words are pronounced for the student by a real human voice, and spelling tests are given by that voice reading each word aloud for them to type in.  The games are fun, and my children found great challenge in seeing which of them could get the highest score on their favorites like letter drop and hang mouse.  I love the benefits of the premium membership, especially the vocabulary games and the ability to assign the same list to multiple students and give them daily tasks to accomplish with each list. 

    The cons:  While the site will automatically come up with the definitions for a word, I can't find a way to attach more than one meaning to a word.  So you can teach ONE definition, but not all the meanings of a word.  I wish I could assign more than one meaning, or that there were more games that would teach multiple meanings and/or pronunciations for the same word.  Given all that the site does, it's not a deal buster, but would make the vocabulary aspect of the site even better.

    The bottom line:  I have a spelling curriculum that I love, BUT while that's great for teaching rules, I've always felt my kids were lacking in the whole "learn how to spell a list of words and learn what they mean" experience.  I think doing that helps to build your functional vocabulary, which could only serve you well in the future.  Now we can do our normal spelling lessons, AND they can do their spelling lists every week.  They LOVE the games, and really get very competitive about it.  And from a cost effective perspective, paying for the premium membership is WAY cheaper than buying grade appropriate vocabulary workbooks for each of my kids, and WAY more fun for them.  We will definitely continue to use this every week.

    To check out Vocabulary Spelling City, you can go to the Spelling City website.  Basic membership is free, and premium membership is $29.99 a year.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, check out the Crew Blog

    Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a free year's premium membership to Vocabulary Spelling City in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 
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    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Catching up on Mimi

    I haven't posted about Mimi's Aerial classes lately.  Back in April, we changed studios, and I'm thrilled with the new place.  Here are a few pictures of her silk skills:

    But her heart is in lyra, which is like a metal hula-hoop that hangs in the air.  Here are a few of those pics (they are all blurry- combo of bad lighting and moving target :-) ):

    I have a video of a drop she learned on the silk today.  If I can figure out how to resize it, I'll try to post that too :-).
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    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Economics for Everybody Review

    I don't know if you've ever been in the position to feel like a homeschool product is literally an answer to prayer, but that's exactly how I feel about Economics for Everybody!

    A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of planning my son's freshman year of high school, when I got an e-mail about a new economics curriculum that was coming out.  Taught by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr. and produced by Compass Cinema (the company that produces Visual Latin), Economics for Everybody is a series of video lessons geared toward absolutely everyone, hence the title.  In addition, it can be used by high-schoolers in particular in their study of Economics (although supplemental resources are recommended to round out the course).  Since my son was going to be needing an Economics course, the timing on this was literally perfect.  God is good that way :-).

    I could not be more thrilled with Economics for Everybody.  Dr. Sproul is a very engaging speaker, and manages to turn what could otherwise be a very dry subject into something relevant and interesting.  Subtitled, "Applying Biblical Principles to Work, Wealth & the World", Economics for Everybody does just that.  Every step of the way, economic ideas are explained in light of Biblical wisdom, beginning with the idea that God owns everything, and we are to be good stewards of what He has placed us in charge of for the benefit of all.  Beyond the videos, there is a study guide with detailed notes from each lesson as well as questions you can go over.  It's a wonderful, comprehensive resource for students, or even for churches and small groups to use.

    Below are the topics covered by each of the 12 lessons:

    1. And God Created Economics | Stewardship in God’s Image

    What is Economics? – God’s Attributes & Actions – Man in God’s Image – Creation Mandate – Stewardship – Why Study Economics – Missionary Impact

    2. The Economic Problem of Sin | Law, Liberty & Government

    The Fall of Man & Scarcity – Impact of Fall on Stewardship & Work – Grace of Law – Economic Aspects of 10 Commandments – Civil Government – Liberty vs. Tyranny – Theology to Anthropology to Politics to Economics

    3. The Path from Work to Wealth | Production, Property & Tools

    What is Wealth? – Principles That Lead to Wealth – Work – Production – Ownership & Private Property – Land, Labor & Capital – Savings & Capital Accumulation – Division of Labor – Tools – Mass Production – Lower Prices & Increased Purchasing Power

    4. The Route From Scarcity to Plenty | Money, Markets &Trade

    Famines, Scarcity & Prosperity – Value – Economic Demand – Markets – Free Trade – Money – Laws of Supply & Demand – Price – Marginal Utility – Impact on Prices – Greater Selection of Goods & Services at Lower Prices

    5. The Role of the Entrepreneur | Capital, Calculation & Profit

    What is an Entrepreneur? – Importance of Capital – Economic Calculation – Job Creation – Technology – Profit – Competition – Self-balancing Free Market

    6. A Tale of Two Theologies, Part 1 | From God to Politics

    Consequences of Economics – 19th-century England vs. 20th-century Soviet Union & Impact on Christianity – Comparison of Christianity vs. Atheism – Two Systems at War – Theologies – Anthropologies – Political Philosophies – Political Systems

    7. A Tale of Two Theologies, Part 2 | Economic Philosophies & Systems

    Comparison between Christian & Atheistic Economic Philosophies – Private vs. Public Ownership of Property – Free Market vs. Command & Control/Socialistic – Interventionism – Freedom & Growth of Christianity

    8. Government Intervention | Basic Principles & Education

    German Socialism in WWI – North Star Principle: Biblical Stewardship – Intervention & Stewardship – Areas of Interventionism – Quick History of U.S. & Economics – U.S. Educational Policy & Stewardship

    9. The Two Mysteries of Monetary Policy | Inflation &Depressions

    Two Mysteries: Devaluation of Dollar and The Great Depression – What is Money? – Government & Banks – Interest Rates – Federal Reserve – Inflation & Stealing – Interventionist Monetary Policy & Stewardship – Inflation leads to Boom & Bust Cycle – Influence of Central Bank – Great Depression – Govt Policies & Stewardship

    10. The Welfare & Corporate States of America | The Costs of Redistribution

    The Welfare State – Biblical View – Brief History – Problems of Intervention – Growth of Welfare State – Christian Questions – The Corporate State – Cronyism – Politics and Business – Government Spending – Government Taxation – Government Borrowing – Impact on Stewardship

    11. Economics Has Consequences | The Real Effects of Sin

    North & South Korea – Impact of Economics on Christianity – Sin & Economics – Socialism: Scarcity & Police State – Gradual Socialism/Interventionism: Nation of Rent Seekers – Regulation & Bureaucracy – Free Markets – Economics & Religious Freedom

    12. Kingdom Economics

    Genesis 3:15 & The Serpent – Moses & Slavery – Sack of Rome and Augustine’s City of God – Hitler’s Mein Kampf – Gradual Socialism & Christianity – Liberty & Economics – The Kingdom and the Future

    To get an idea of how it works, you can watch the first lesson.  And you can see a short clip below.

    The pros:  Economics doesn't get more interesting than this.  Trust me.  I have a degree in Social Science Education (meaning I taught Economics), and I've studied Economics plenty.  But Dr. Sproul presents things so clearly, so simply, and most importantly, so Biblically, that I understand it in a whole new way.  The theology is solid and life changing if you really embrace it.  I'm thrilled for my children to have the opportunity to learn Economics from God's perspective.  Even my son, who is on the Autism Spectrum and not strongly academic, "gets it".  And he'll watch this willingly, where I would have to fight tooth and nail to get him to read an Economics text.  The study guide is thorough and such an added value to a program that's already very reasonably priced!

    The cons:  Not that it's a problem for me at all, in fact for me it's a "pro", but this curriculum is definitely Christian in its worldview, so I imagine if you aren't, it wouldn't be a very good fit for you.

    The bottom line:  Wow!  Every Christian homeschooler, every Christian in general, should check this out.  It teaches way more than just Economics, as you will come to know the very nature of God and His desires even deeper as you use this curriculum.  Dr. Sproul is a wonderful teacher.  In fact, I'm blessed to live about 30 minutes from his church, and now I know why so many of my friends make the drive there every Sunday!  My son will definitely complete this course for his high school Economics.  And I will definitely watch it with him, because I'm really enjoying it too.  I can't wait for each of my children to view it and learn God's principles regarding Economics for themselves.

    You can purchase Economics for Everybody from Compass Cinema's website.  It is currently being offered for a special "pre-sale" price of $29 for either the DVDs or the download instead of the full retail price of $45.  That cost includes the study guide as well.  Really, it's an amazing deal!
    Legal disclaimer:  Compass Cinema offered me the chance to take a look at this curriculum in advance of its release in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 
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    In the Hands of a Child's Back to School Sale!

    In the Hands of a Child is having their annual Back to School Sale

    on their HUGE selectionof Lapbooking and Notebooking Products.

    Save 50% on over 400 different titles!

    OBM says:  I love HOAC's lapbooks and notebooks and this is a great chance to stock up at HALF off!!!
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    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    King Alfred's English Review

         Have you ever wondered why we have three words for the outer covering of a dead animal?  Is it a skin?  A hide?  A pelt?  Really, do we need three words for that?  And what about the word night...or knight?  Why the extra letters?  Just to make my daughter fail miserably at spelling?  There has to be another reason...and there is!


         King Alfred's English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do is a thoroughly engaging, delightful romp through the history of the English language that has been keeping me totally enthralled lately.  And to be honest, it's really not just for me.  In fact, it's for ages 12 and up.  But it's on my Kindle, so I got to enjoy it first ;-).

    I know what you are thinking...

         A book about the history of our language being described as engaging and delightful?  Yep!  In giving a history of the English language, of course it's also necessary to give a history of the English people and what we now know as the country of England...or the UK...or Great Britain.  (Actually, this books covers why there are multiple names for not only the country, but for many of the items we use in everyday life.)  But unlike many weighty, scholarly, boring histories tomes, this book reads like a well written fiction novel, and you just can't wait to see what happens next.

         So what is covered in this book?  Part I starts with the Pre-English Britain (55BC-500AD).  Part II moves to Old English (500AD-1066AD).  Part III covers Middle English 1066-1500.  Part IV relates the events changing from Middle to Modern English during 1400-1600.  In Part V, we read about the making of the English Bible.  And the final part, Part VI, covers from Shakespeare and 1550 onward to today.   But please note, it's all way more interesting than this list is.  There are all sorts of little tidbits that will have you saying things like that explains it or that makes sense or I never thought of it that way.  I've learned SO much from this little book, and I majored in Social Science Education and minored in History!  I taught history!  And maybe I knew all this stuff at one time, but that was many years ago, and it certainly wasn't presented in anything close to this interesting a way. 

         As an added bonus, Ms. White's website has free student worksheets and tests to go with the book and even lists supplemental resources.  And, if you are looking for a high school student to do this, she gives recommendations to round it out to a 1/2 credit in History or a 1/4 History and 1/4 English.  I know my high school student will be reading this in just a few short months because it will fit PERFECTLY into his world history study this year.  And to have all the worksheets and tests already done for me is a dream come true!  Plus, the book itself has a full resource list at the back with more suggestions of books and websites we will definitely use.

    The only con I would have at all is that a very few pages weren't formatted correctly when viewed on my Kindle one position or another.  Usually, it was things in a list, such as words that come to us from other countries.  If I turned my Kindle the other way (vertical or horizontal), I was able to read it all. 

    The bottom line?  I think this book is one every homeschooler should own.  Really.  I think you as the teacher will be amazed at how much you learn, and I think your students will benefit whether just indirectly from your knowledge, or because they are old enough to read it and understand it themselves.  And honestly, I don't think you can read a more interesting survey of English history.   Best of all, the King Alfred's English is only $14.89 if you buy from CBD, and $5.95 on Kindle (which can be read on your computer if you don't actually own a Kindle). 

    In fact, I enjoyed this book so much, I just bought another book by Ms. White called Baktar about a cat in a royal Inca household.  To see more of what Laurie White has written, go to her website The Shorter  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Review Crew blog.

    Legal Disclaimer:  I received a free download of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Create Better Writers Review

    Like every other educational subject out there, when it comes to teaching creative writing, there is no shortage of resources out there all claiming to be "the best" and all competing for your homeschool bucks.  Each has its own approach, and because of that, each have their own strengths.  Where many writing curriculums try to cover everything in one guide or course of instruction, the strength of Create Better Writers lies in the fact that each of their books focuses on one specific aspect of writing.

    I received 3 ebooks to review.  The first, and the one we spent the most time in, is How to Write a Paragraph.  This book begins by teaching the one thing every paragraph must have- one main idea.  Then it teaches the five parts of a good paragraph.  Students are introduced to a simple graphic organizer to come up with their supporting sentences, taught how to set up their paper for writing, and then taken through the process of writing a paragraph together.  Part two of that book focuses on improving the basic steps once mastery is achieved.  A short appendix offers a few of the forms used in the book.  The ebook version of How to Write a Paragraph is $7.99.

    How to Teach The Five-Paragraph Essay begins with a brief walk through of how to write a paragraph.  It quickly though moves into lessons on how to write a 3 paragraph essay, and from there into writing a 5 paragraph essay.  It also has a pacing chart and lesson plans, as well as lessons on adding "bells and whistles" and taking your writing to the next level.  Like the paragraph book, there is also an appendix with some of the forms used.  The ebook is $17.95 and the soft cover book is $19.95.

    The final ebook I received was The Homeschool Writing Action Plan.  This book is designed to give homeschool parents a basic overview of how to teach writing.  While it DOES NOT cover each step in the same detail as the specific ebooks relating to that element, it does give some general guidelines and refer the reader to the appropriate Create Better Writers book or to any other chosen writing curriculum.  This Action Plan has a seven page action plan summary, a guide for implementing the plan across each grade level (3rd and up), and a road map that offers practical advice on how long it should take to cover each writing element (paragraphs, sentence building, vocabulary practice, etc.) at different grade levels.  Also in the road map are some useful suggestions on teaching each element.  The Homeschool Writing Action Plan is $15.95 for the ebook or $19.95 in print. 

    Below is the Table of Contents for The Homeschool Writing Action Plan book.

    The pros:  Create Better Writers's ebooks are straight forward and easy to understand.  All three that I looked would make it easy for a parent who "doesn't like to write" (or doesn't know how to teach writing even if they do) to walk their students step by step through the process.  After using these books, all my kids know a paragraph is about one main thing.  And they know what a good paragraph needs to have.  Having been a good writer when I was in school, I never used a graphic organizer to organize my thoughts, but I like the idea because it helps them visually see some of the things they can write about for their supporting sentences.  I can absolutely see how this is a very easy framework to follow.  That easiness continues into the 5 paragraph essay instruction as well.  And the Action Plan gives good advice, especially if this is the first writing curriculum you've looked at.  I really appreciate that they give suggestions for how to use these techniques to write across your curriculum.  It's also FAR less expensive than some of the other writing curriculums out there.

    The cons:  First, because each of these focuses on one aspect of writing, none of them is a complete writing curriculum.  In other words, the paragraph one will teach how to write a paragraph, and how to make it stronger, but NOT how to write strong, creative, imaginative sentences.  If you want to teach that, you'd need to order the Writing Tricks book and The Complete Writing Program, which actually includes the ebook on writing a paragraph.  All of that is okay, but it means that if you really want to use this as your writing curriculum, you should buy a bundle upfront that contains all the elements.
    My second "con" is really more of a clashing of instruction.  When I learned to write, our formula was very similar, except for one thing- the number of supporting sentences.  This system teaches students to have a theme sentence, 5-7 supporting sentences, and a closing sentence.  Five to seven supporting sentences means the paragraph is seven to NINE sentences long.  That's a really, really long paragraph, especially for younger writers!  So I *tweaked* that a bit to be 5-7 total sentences.  I know when I learned, our formula was theme, three supporting, and closing.  That sets you up for a five paragraph essay easily since one of each of your supporting sentences can be about each of the topics of your three supporting paragraphs.  Create Better Writers calls that the "boring" intro paragraph, but again, it works as a framework until students understand the process and advance in their writing enough to spice it up a bit.  And even they acknowledge that "boring" is a huge step forward from not being able to write it at all.  (Hah, hah, there is irony to the fact that this paragraph I just wrote actually has 9 sentences...but then, I'm not a beginning writer.  Nor would I say that most bloggers follow traditional, formal writing guidelines ;-).)

    The bottom line:  I actually really like the simplicity of their system and the fact that it's easy for the parents to teach and easy for the kids to remember and use.  I will definitely continue using these until I feel like my kids have the process mastered. 

    To order any of the ebooks I mentioned, go to Create Better Writers.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, check out the Review Crew blog.

    Legal Disclaimer:  I received the 3 ebooks pictured above in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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    Friday, August 3, 2012

    To Co-op, or Not to Co-op, That is the Question

    Welcome to Day Five- Homeschool Co-ops


    When I began my homeschooling journey as the mother of a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old, there was a local homeschool group that offered a co-op.  And I knew several people who joined that group.  But the reason I was homeschooling was that God used the uniqueness of my oldest child and his learning challenges to show me that the demands and expectations of a traditional classroom would not be the right setting for him.  I could not see that a co-op be any different.  And so we did not join.

    Year after year, I faced the same decision.  To join that group and participate in that co-op or not.  But year after year, God showed me that He called ME to homeschool my child(ren), not keep them home but let other people direct their learning.  So year after year, we did our own thing, even though sometimes I secretly envied (and sometimes still secretly envy) my friends who knew exactly what they were covering that year and what their daily schedule was because the co-op told them what needed to be done each week. 

    As my students have gotten older, more and more local resources for co-operative education have arisen.  Living near a big city, we have several really large, respectable "schools" that homeschool students can attend one or two days a week and then work the rest of the time at home.  They largely use resources I like, and they are Christian in nature.  But my eldest's learning delays have always kept us from pursuing them...that and the RIDICULOUS amount of money they charge, especially when you multiply it out per student.  I'm talking between one and two thousand PER student.  No thanks, I can do that for free at home!

    But that's not to say we've never done any learning with others.
     For years, we have been going to a weekly Precept Bible study.  They have a class for the adults, and classes for homeschool kids, and other than the cost of the books and taking turns bringing snack, it's free.  So once a week, my kids go and meet with their friends and their wonderful teachers and discuss God's word.  I love Precept's inductive method, and I think their learning is augmented by group activities like gameshow style quizzes, etc.  In fact, one year they even created their own Veggie Tales inspired comic book for their study of Joseph.  I will treasure that book forever! 

    When I reviewed IEW, I hosted a small group at my house for all the kids to come together and watch the DVDs.  They then wrote their assignments at home, and their mom was responsible for critiquing their work.  Even before IEW, a friend had done a writing group at her house for a while, and I hosted the younger siblings for a creative writing group at our house. 

    Two years ago, we also had the chance to do a science co-op at a different friend's house.  She put together all the materials (we did Apologia's elementary level Anatomy and Physiology) and was generally an AMAZING teacher.  All I had to do was work the microscope.  There was a cost involved for copies, and I traded out some photography as an extra gift since her efforts blessed us so much.  Doing that allowed us to cover two sciences in one year, as we were already doing Botany when that began.

    Last year, we began doing a Sonlight American History Co-op with our closest friends.  When we decided to offer more than just one age group (it started out just for Core 100- 7th to 10th grade), we opened it up for some others to participate.  But then not too far into it we experienced a devastating event that tore friendships asunder and largely ended the co-op, so that didn't go so well for us.  And honestly, it wasn't going great before that.  Having never done Sonlight before, many of us weren't prepared for the serious amount of reading involved, especially if you have kids in multiple Cores.  Losing one day to physically being in the co-op meant all the reading, map work, questions, and spelling had to be done in 4 days, and that was a LOT to do.  Especially for our family since we have another half day out of the house at Precept.

    At the same time, one of those friends offered for a few of the kids to come to her house and do Apologia's General Science with her daughter.  That worked out well for us as the kids involved all seemed to enjoy the reading and experiments more when done with friends.  It also allowed my daughter to understand a level of science that I would have deemed too advanced for her on her own.

    So to co-op or not to co-op?  Personally, big schooly type of co-ops have never been my thing, but a lot of that is about meeting my kids', particularly my oldest child's, needs.  We've enjoyed the smaller, more intimate type though.  The ones where it's just a group of friends getting together to do something everyone would be doing on their own anyway.  I've found that co-operative learning often pushes ME to do things that I wouldn't do with my kids otherwise.  Those more fun, hands-on type things that we all enjoy but that I just can't seem to justify the time for in our normal day (like the jello cell in the photo above).  Somehow in a co-op setting they seem a lot more like an intentional part of the learning, but in a private setting they seem like something we can skip. 

    One last thought.  I have never, even for a moment, considered participating in a co-op for the sake of "social interaction".  We live in a small city not far from a much bigger city.  We participate in church activities, Precepts, and individual activities for the kids like soccer, scouts, sailing, piano, aerial class, art, AWANA, community theatre, etc. (although some of that has been through the years, NOT all at the same time).  We don't live under a rock, and my kids have the opportunity to socialize with their peers often enough-sometimes too often!  More importantly, by being with me day in and day out, they get to socialize with people of all ages at the grocery store, or the gas station, or the library, or when voting or donating get the idea.  I might feel differently if I lived in a very rural setting and co-op was our one chance to check in with humanity, but it's not.  And for us, with the children God has given me, co-ops are something we will continue to evaluate on a case by case basis.  Every family is different, and YOU have to do what is right for YOUR family :-).

    To see what my Crew Mates had to say about Co-ops (some of them participate in some BIG ones, I know), click one of the links below:

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    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    SchoolhouseTeachers.Com Review


    I'm sure all of you know I review products as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  That "Schoolhouse" is the Old Schoolhouse Magazine, and one of their newest offerings is is a subscription based site (pay by the month- $5.95 or by the year-$64.96).  And you can try it for the first month for just $1! 

    So what do you get for your money?  So much, it will be hard to list it all, so I'll let them do it for me:

    1. Members-only access to lesson materials in these subject areas: Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Geography, History, Home Economics, Literature, Math, Music, Reading, Writing . . . and so much more!

    2. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine delivered straight to your inbox, monthly.

    3. All The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine digital back issues—easily searchable, a fantastic feature that enables you to go directly to articles of interest.

    4. The Homeschool Minute™ weekly E-Newsletter.

    5. Download all five Schoolhouse Planners—the Parent version (hundreds of pages), all Student planners (3 versions) and the Special Needs planner.

    6. 12 E-books from the Schoolhouse Store—one per month during the first year of membership.

    7. All available TOS Expo-To-Go recorded sessions—including all future recordings, for the duration of membership.

    8. After 12 months of uninterrupted membership, you will receive a $25 gift certificate to the “Totally TOS” section of the Schoolhouse Store.

    Those lesson materials they refer to in #1?  They are brought to you by some of the biggest names in homeschooling- people like Diana Waring, Terri Johnson, and Malia Russell to name a few.  Imagine having Diana Waring plan your history each week!  Or the Hands of a Child team giving you weekly lapbook lessons.  And as you can see from the list above, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    The pros:  The people providing the instruction on are really the best of the best.  There's everything from traditional studies like math or grammar to more creative things like voice lessons.  And from a purely financial perspective, it's a great deal if you will even use a small portion of the contents.  For example, if you've priced planners, you know that many of them are almost equal in price to the yearly cost of and all they offer for that price is the planner, not all the other things.  And I know recorded sessions from our state homeschool convention are $7 each, but here you'll get the same speakers and topics for free.  Plus a free e-book every month AND a $25 gift certificate at the end of one year.  It's really a LOT for the money.  We had used it already before our short summer break.  It came in very handy as we were doing American History.  We had just gotten to Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and the geography lesson for that week was about their flight routes!  Then the History lesson was on Betty Green- a pilot for MAF.  It was God's perfect timing!  Now, I've been using the planners and some of the site activities to prepare for our upcoming school year.

    The cons:  If you are highly structured, you might find it hard to loosen up your schedule to incorporate the different topics that are covered each month.  But, then again, you'd probably benefit immensely from the planners :-).

    The bottom line: has so much to offer, you can't go wrong. Especially with the first month costing you only a dollar.  There's a short video that explains the site in even more detail if you follow the link above.   As for me, I'm looking forward to using some of the summer Shakespeare lessons with my 9th grader this fall.  Who knows, maybe he'll be able to grasp the Bard after all! 

    Click here to subscribe to  If you want to see what my Crew Mates thought, you can read more reviews via the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

    Legal Disclaimer:  As a reviewer for the Schoolhosue Review Crew, I receive my membership to SchoolhouseTeachers free of charge.  The opinions expressed are my own, and I volunteered to do this review.
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    True Confessions...We School in a Bomb Shelter

    Welcome to Day Four- Homeschool Classrooms


    I know, you're dying to know more now, aren't you.  But before we get to the bomb shelter, let me just say that until last year, we schooled at our dining room table, or on the couch, or on a blanket in the front yard, or where ever else suited our fancy.  But the dining room table was the main location.  And with workboxes for 3 kids, and school books and work for 4 kids, and, well, life, our dining room was in a constant state of chaos. 

    But then last summer some friends reminded me that I was sitting on the solution.  Or rather my house was.  See our house has a basement of sorts.  It was actually a 2 car garage that one of the former owners bricked in and reinforced to be a bomb shelter.  And occasional jail...but that discussion is for another day.

    For real.  He was the sheriff during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and this is Florida after all. 

    So, while I'm not too worried currently about a bomb, it was the perfect way to solve my "where to homeschool" dilemma.  In the bomb shelter, of course!  I spend a LOT of time last summer getting things cleaned up and painted, but the result was worth it. 

    Ready for the tour?

     When you enter, you come down the hall way where that tree is.  You'd be on the other side of the blue wall, and facing the map.  The tree is our Jesse Tree in Advent, and our every other season tree year round :-).

     The first area to your left is the "reading nook".  Those book shelves (I got them at a yard sale for $10 each!) hold books that are educational, but not specifically curriculum related.  They also house our encyclopedias and other reference books.  There is a papasan chair at the edge of that area too.  When I do a read aloud, this is where we sit.

    Next, coming down the wall to the right, is our white board and the girls' workboxes.

    Then the desks for the 3 youngest.  TJ's workboxes are in the back by his desk.  Each child has an inexpensive 3 fold display board that they can use for a little privacy.  (You can see one in the picture of Scott's desk below.)  Our time line hangs on both these walls, but is pretty lacking right now.  We have a lot of American History people we need to put up still!

    Behind the desk with the burgundy chair is this daybed.  The kids can sit there and do work or read.  The bookshelf usually holds books specific to their work.  It's pretty empty right now because we did Sonlight last year and I just packed up those books today.  The multicolored bins hold crayons, colored pencils, markers, glue, and then some educational manipulatives.  The top four bins are where each child puts their completed work until it's hole-punched into their binder.

    Okay, from this point on, things are going to be MUCH less tidy.  The school  room was a MESS, and with it being in a non-living area, it literally stayed that way until I went down there to clean today.  So I got it half clean...the first you get to see things a bit more like they normally are ;-).
    Here's the computer desk.  The kids sit here to do any online or computer related work they have to do.

    That's my desk.  It's totally COVERED in paperwork right now.  To the right is the printer and pencil sharpener, both of which I couldn't live without.  In the file cabinets on the left are printed resources I'm not using.  In the one on the right are the weekly papers (to go into the workboxes each day), and upcoming work for the school year.

    The top two shelves offer storage for all those things you don't know what to do with and the bottom is my binders.  Each child hole punches their work into a binder, and that's our end of the year record.  The middle shelf is All About Reading, and unit studies.

    These bookshelves are for MY books.  The one on the left holds our curriculum books.  They are organized by shelf by Math, Language arts, Art, Science, Social Studies.  The one on the right really does just hold my things- past years of United in Praise music, Christian books, gardening, etc.  And yes, that's where we do All About Spelling.  We're not very fussy, so it's pull up a spot of carpet when it's your turn for spelling.

    Scott's desk and his workboxes.  Here you can see the 3-fold display thingy.  Scott struggles a lot with distraction by his siblings, so there will probably be more curtains hung to minimize the visual clutter for him.  Behind the curtain you see there is the fuze box...and a shower.

    This dresser and the plastic bins hold all my extra school supplies- folders, notebooks, index cards, printer paper, etc.

    And now the area of the most chaos.  Here are my two sinks (because everyone needs two sinks 2 feet from each other).  Think bomb shelter.  The white one is for the bathroom, which is to the left of the green dresser above, and on the opposite side of that wall with the white sink.  The cabinets and the other sink are for the kitchenette area.  Obviously, I'm not using this area to its potential, but it's handy to have a sink for painting, etc.

    Here's another view of that area.  In this corner of the room is where you will find all our science kits and supplies, and our art supplies.  There are also things waiting to LEAVE this room right now, like all the things you see piled in the background :-).  Normally, the large plastic bins aren't in the middle of the floor, and there is a table there for art projects.  That table is currently assisting in the cleaning out of the pantry, so it will come back down after that.

    Here's the area where I keep all the art supplies and the science experiment books.

    And here is a picture of what the main part of the room looks like.  This is taken from right next to that huge world map when you enter.  See, I was careful not to show you the whole room so you wouldn't see the MESS in the middle!  That's a pool table under all that.  Yes, we play in it form time to time, but right now it's holding all the things I found while cleaning that were out of place!  You can probably orient yourself, but to your left is the reading nook, and to the far left, on the backside of the reading nook bookcases is the science/art area.  Straight ahead are the kids' desks, and to the left of that is the day bed, the computer desk, and my desk.  Scott's desk is behind mine and across from the pool table.

    Not to complain AT ALL, but just in case you are reading this and thinking, "It must be nice to have a bomb shelter to school in." , let me say, "It is."  But it also has its drawbacks.  The biggest one is that this is not on the central heat/air.  And we live in Florida.  No one in Florida has a true basement because the Florida Aquifer is very close to the surface.  But we are built into the side of a hill.  So two sides of the basement are surrounded by dirt, but the other two sides get sun ALL DAY LONG.  There are no windows, but there's no insulation either.  It was 85 down there today with just me.  Last fall, with 4 more bodies, it was typically about 90.  We run fans, but they make it very hard to hear if we do a read aloud, and they also make it hard to do written work!  Some sort of air conditioner is on the list of must haves when the budget allows!  Also, the ceiling is low- 6 1/2 feet ish, and was even lower until we removed the drop ceiling.  What we didn't realize was the drop ceiling caught all the little pieces of grit that constantly fall from the ceiling.  There is 1ft. of concrete above our heads (part of the bomb shelter design), and as we walk on the floor above, it drops little pieces.  So there is grit on everything.  And there are bugs.  Big ones.  Spiders and roaches mostly.  We try not to name them, and the roaches give the cat something to play with, LOL.    On the plus side, we have a built in unit study on bugs at our disposal.  Lastly, the entrance into the bomb shelter involves steep stairs and two 90 degree turns separated by a 2 1/2 foot wide, 10 foot long hallway.  So unless the furniture is a) small and b) light, it won't fit in the room.  ( And no, pool tables aren't small or light, but they do come in pieces, so it was actually one of the easier things to get in there.)

    So that's our schoolroom.   In spite of its shortcomings, we are very, very blessed to have it.  I can't wait to see the schoolrooms of some of my Crew Mates.  Click below to check out everyone's thoughts and pictures.

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