Friday, May 28, 2010

I've got rhythm....

Not really.   But I do have a whole lot of music.

And my dear friend, Heather @ Kingdom Arrows, requested I include a post about music I have used in our studies in my Considering Homeschooling? series.  Since she was one of my bridesmaids in my wedding and agreed to sing with the other bridesmaids during the ceremony, how could I say no?

I have a lot to share in this post, so I am just going to link to many of my favs and add comments as needed.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email or comment. 

Westminster Catechism:
We really like Holly Dutton's Westminster Shorter Catechism Songs!  They are available through Amazon as mp3 downloads.  I have listed volumes 2-4; there is a vol. 1, too.


Sing the Word From A to Z: A collection of Bible verses set to music - each verse begins with a different letter.  Fun songs and a great way to memorize Scripture.

Sing the Word: A New Commandment: This cd also puts memory verses to Scripture.

We used this cd one year when learning world geography.  The songs teach Christian values and are set to tunes that represent many different cultures. 

We also like Kidz Tunz Christmas Carols Vol 1 which offers fun versions of traditional Christmas carols and hymns.

Social Studies:

I used the Voices of American History series for our studies of Colonial America, the American Revolution, and Westward Expansion.  I could not find the United and Divided cd to purchase when it was time for us to study the Civil War. 

The three we used were excellent!  We really enjoyed these because they include songs from the time period as well as narrations of excerpts from primary source documents.  If you buy the accompanying teacher's guide, there are lesson ideas and reading lists.  These are not written from a Christian perspective, and there were a few songs we skipped, suggested readings we ignored, or ideas we examined carefully, if at all.  Overall, these books and cds were very enjoyable and added a lot to our study of each time period.

We really enjoyed Troxel's History Songs, too.  These cover a variety of time periods.  There are a few songs (like the one about explorers) that we still sing.

I cannot find the cd of period music I used during our unit on Colonial America anywhere online.  I have listened to samples of the album below, and it sounds similar to what I included in that study.  Adding music of the time period is always an easy way to give your studies a living-history feel. 

Amzon offers mp3's of a variety of genres and periods.  It's a good place to search, and their mp3 downloads generally cost $0.99 per song.  I often find a song or two for the period rather than download an entire album.

Plymouth Plantation offers a number of cds with period music as does Colonial Williamsburg.  Museum websites are good places to search for music and other supplemental items for a living-history study.  We don't have the budget to travel to most of the places we study, but online visits generally offer virtual tours and shopping oportunities.  Little things from the "gift shop", like cds, period toys, or a book, give my kids the feeling that they were there (both the museum and the time period being explored).

We used Presidential Campaign Songs along with the Look-it Up Book of Presidents to learn about each president as we reached the years of his term(s) in our history studies.  The Campaign Songs are lively and a great primary source.  It quickly became clear that mud slinging is not a new tactic, so discerning ears are needed. 

Love the songs for Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Both boys can identify any country on
any of these continents because of these songs.  When Wilbur was little, he used to ask me to sing them as bedtime songs! Imagine, if you will, me snuggled up next to him in bed singing, "Egypt, Libya, Tunsia, Algeria, Morrocco, Canary Islands, and Western Sahara."  LOL!

We used Twin Sisters cds for American

Geography.  I did not like the Troxel songs for the Western Hemisphere that much.  Celebrate America is a collection of traditional patriotic songs like America, the Beautiful and Yankee Doodle.  I taught these songs within the context of the time period they were written and/or popularized.

We used the memory songs on this enhanced cd and really enjoyed it.  We did not use the levels before it, and I did not like the 1815 to the Present cd.


Lyrical Life Science, Vol. 1

Lyrical Life Science, Vol. 2: Mammals, Ecology, and Biomes With CD
Lyrical Life Science, Vol. 3: The Human Body

We usually enjoy the Twin Sisters songs.  Sometimes we have to skip a song or two because of worldview issues.  They're a little "cutesy" and most likely would not be enjoyed by an audience past 4th, maybe 5th, grade.

Language Arts:
I am completely bummed because I cannot find my language arts set of songs anywhere online.  I have a set of piggy back songs that cover many different language arts skills.  I bought them from Lakeshore Learning about five years ago, and they must be discontinued because I cannot find it for sale anywhere!  If you are an irl, you may borrow them if you would like.  If I can find the cable that connects the camcorder to the computer (it has been lost for a while now and prevented me from posting many things, ugh), I will film the boys singing some of these and other language arts songs and chants we have written over the years and post them for your viewing pleasure! ;)


We have used these, and they are pretty good.

Obviously, I have not done as much with music and math as with other subjects.  I find it hard to find a style that works for us.  They are either boring or a little too hip for our taste.  Any suggestions?

This child of the '70's loves Schoolhouse Rock!  There are a few songs that we skip because of the tone or worldview, but most are very entertaining, even for children of the new millenium!  You'll know what a noun is, how to skip count by 5, and how a bill becomes a law by the end of this DVD, too!

There you are my dear friends... the audio collection of the Olive Plant Academy.  I hope you enjoyed this tour of our cd rack!  There may be more and a part 2 to post at a later date.

Return soon for Magistra:  Hola, tovarish! Sprechen zie francais?  Discipulus: Hai! a.k.a. Foreign Language Choices!

Happy Curriculum Hunting!

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you follow the links to their site that I have provided in this post (or anywhere else on this blog) and make a purchase, I will receive a commission.  I am not an affiliate for any other companies listed or linked to in this post.  I have received no compensation for writing this article and have provided my honest evaluation of each product mentioned.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Our Year with Tapestry of Grace

Are you Considering Homeschooling?  This is one of many articles I have written about selecting a curriculum.  Please feel free to read about The Early Years, The Sonlight Year, Writers' Workshop, or Science Choices, too.

If you read about Our Time with Veritas Press, you already know that the thought of managing two separate Omnibus studies had me searching for a brown paper bag to breathe into.  Because Orville was in his last year of elementary level studies, I wanted to use this year to "experiment" with other curricula and try to find what we would use for the middle and high school years.

TOG appealed to me for a number of reasons:
  1. All children in the family study the same time period.
  2. Instruction is leveled so that the younger children read books on their level and consider aspects of the time period more appropriate for them while the older children dig a little deeper into the study of the period.
  3. History, literature, Bible and or church history, worldview, art/music appreciation, and geography are integrated.  This is actually my favorite aspect of TOG. 
  4. There are a number of hands-on and project suggestions.  Many of the suggestions provide a living-history experience, rather than just something hands-on for the sake of being hands-on, if you know what I mean.
  5. Writing assignments are included, and Writing Aids provides rubric grading.
On all of the above, I give TOG an A+ and recommend it as a curriculum to consider for your family, particularly if you have a large family and if the study of history is a high priority in your goals for your home school.

We will not continue with TOG, however, for two reasons:
  1. One of my sons had real difficulty with TOG.  I believe it is because he processes information differently from how TOG presents it.  TOG involves reading from a number of sources and piecing information together to get the big picture.  My son needs the big picture first, and then if there is time and interest, we work on the details. 
  2. The same son is not a history lover.  Completing TOG takes a big chunk of the school day.  Michael and I have decided that we are not going to force him to devote that much of his education to the humanities.  He is a math and science man, likely to have a career in a math/science related field, and we need to provide more for him in those fields of study.  That is not to say he will not be a student of history, geography, etc.  TOG just offers more than we need.
With that said, our other son, who is the polar opposite of his brother, LOVED TOG.  He is a historian.  He could read and discuss church history, theology, worldview, etc. ALL-DAY-LONG.  And we have a plan that I will share in a later post on how we intend to provide the humanities-rich education that he needs while providing the science-math son what he needs.  If you have read this series from the start, the answer will make you laugh!   All in all, we have decided that as much as the one son loved TOG, it is not the best curriculum for our circumstances, and we will make some changes next year.

Three more posts, and this series will be done!  Return soon for suggestions for including music in your school day and for teaching foreign language.  Then I will end with The Plan for Next Year!!

Happy Curriculum Hunting!

Disclosure:  I am a Lampstand Press affiliate and will receive a commission on any purchases that result from following the links to their site that I provided in this post or elsewhere on this blog.  I have not been compensated for this article and have offered my honest opinion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Science Choices

Are you Considering Homeschooling?  This is the next post in my series on selecting a curriculum.

Here's a confession.

I hated science in school.  It was my least favorite subject, and my score on the science portion of the ACT was low enough to bring my overall score down considerably.


Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.  It has been bothering me for almost twen... um, three or four years now. ;)

My attitude started to change in college, however, when I was forced to take a course on teaching science.  I had a dynamic professor who truly loved the study of science and taught us how to bring the study to life.  Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I caught a little bit of that bug.

Then I gave birth to two inquisitive, deep-thinking, kinesthetic-tactile BOYS.

My daily routine became very much about science from the moment Orville could talk.

What makes the car go?

Why is the bottom of the refrigerator hot?

How does the light get in the light bulb?

The moment Wilbur became mobile was when I started calling the two of them Orville and Wilbur because suddenly everything had science experiment potential.  I felt like we needed to build a workshop on to the house so the "Wright Brothers" could tinker.

We did not build that workshop, but during The Early Years, science for us was all about them posing questions and mom and boys working together to find answers and conduct experiments.  In other words, lots of visits to the library, to the zoo (to observe and to talk to the zoologists), keeping a garden, watching the world around them and drawing pictures to explain observations, and any simple experiment I could find from a variety of resource books.  I will list some of those at the end of this post.  :)

During their elementary years, we have used three main resources:
  1. Apologia offers a series of unit studies called the Young Explorer Series.  The author, Jeannie Fulbright, writes in a living-book style.  The text is an easy read and can be comprehended by early elementary students.  However, the study is not watered down.  My boys have learned TONS from these units.  In fact, the book on Flying Creatures sparked their interest in bird watching.  Each of the books focuses on one of the six active days of creation and presents information from a young earth, creationist perspective.  My boys' faith has been strengthened through these studies, and they are taking steps toward being able to defend their worldview as a result.
  2. Christian Kids Explore: Chemistry:  We took a break from Apologia this year because Orville REALLY wanted to study Chemistry, and Apologia does not offer a course in Chem for elementary students.  CKE has been a good study.  It teaches from a creationist point-of-view, as well.  It also has a very readable text and has made a difficult study easy to understand (even when I flub up).  
  3. Lyrical Life Science, Vol. 3: The Human Body:  This is not a study in and of itself.  It is a collection of science songs set to familiar tunes.  The lyrics teach important science facts.  It makes a great addtion to any science study because there are other volumes available to fit different science topics.
One thing that all three of these resources have in common is that they make the study of science fun, just like I experienced in college.  My boys are always sad when science time is over, and I highly recommend each of these resources.

Return soon to read about Our Year with Tapestry of Grace.

Happy Curriculum Hunting!
Other favorite resource (not all are Christian, so please use with discernment):

  • Answers in Genesis offers a variety of science resources for homeschoolers.  Highly recommend them!

  • You can find just about anything you need to teach science from pre-school through high school at Home Science Tools.  Their prices are good, too.

Disclosure:  I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a commision from any purchases that result from the links to their site I have listed in this post or elsewhere on my blog.  I am not an affiliate for any other company listed in this post and will not receive a commission from them should this post result in any purchases of any of their products.  I have not been compensated for this article.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Writers' Workshop

I was so hoping to post my Considering Homeschooling? article on science curriculum this week since the boys are completing projects for a local science fair.  (I am planning a post on that topic as well.  Lord willing, it will make its way from the recesses of my mind to the computer screen soon.)   However, I promised you Writers' Workshop next, so....

Including a Writers' Workshop in the school day is something I learned to do during my years as a public school teacher.  It is not a specific instructional model and does not require the use of a particular curriculum.  It is more of a way to approach the organization of writing instruction and practice and to keep active writing included in your school day.

Each workshop should last for 1 hour, though I am very flexible with this.  There are three components of the workshop to be taught/completed in a specific order with a specified amount of time dedicated to each element.  Again, I am very flexible and will spend a little longer on certain elements some days, less on others, swap sections, or drop an element or two if needed.  So, please keep that in mind as I describe what a Writers' Workshop should look like.

The first 15 minutes are dedicated to mini-lessons on grammar or writing skills.  I usually alternate between the two.  For instance, I will spend one or two weeks teaching nouns (recognizing the part of speech, functions w/in a sentence, plurals, irregulars, possessives, etc.) then I will spend one or two weeks teaching a specific writing skill or style (organizing an outline or using a variety of sentences, for example). 

Two things guide my decisions on what to teach and when to teach it:
  1. the writing and grammar scope and sequence for the year (found within the curriculum I use)
  2. student strengths and weaknesses
I follow the scope and sequence because that keeps me on track.  I think it is important, particularly in the elementary years, to lay a proper foundation.  I don't want to create huge gaps in my sons' education that could cause them frustrations in years to come.  (Notice I said "huge" gaps.  Educating a child and leaving no gaps is, in my opinion, impossible.) 

The first 15 minutes of Writers' Workshop provide the time in the day to address the basics through any methods or curriculum that work best for teacher and student.  I do try to keep to this time limit as best as I can.  Learning and teaching feel less taxing for all involved parties when done in small, effective chunks.  We do some workbook activities, some authentic work (i.e. writing original sentences and identifying the nouns), and fun, hands-on lessons (i.e. playing Simon says to learn action verbs- imagine "Simon says 'jump'" verses "Simon says 'apple'"). 

I also consider my children's strengths and weaknesses when deciding what to teach and from time to time break away from the sequence of the curriculum.  Sometimes a curriculum can provide too much practice and run the skill into the ground.  Sometimes my child wants to use grammar that is not within the scope of that particular school year either.  I remember Orville wanting to use quotation marks in his writing at a young age so I taught him how to insert them in his written work.  He has used them properly ever since.  Should I have made him wait until his grammar program said it was time to learn this important skill?  In my opinion, no.  Conversely, there have been times that the practice provided in the curriculum was not enough.  I consider the freedom to stop, backtrack, and reteach as needed a joy and one of the best aspects of homeschooling.  I encourage you to enjoy the freedom homeschooling affords you.

The second component of the workshop is journaling or notebooking and it is to last for 10 minutes.  I have used this component for a number of activities.  Some weeks, I allow the boys to free write in a spiral notebook.  I will give them a story starter or show them a picture and have them write something brief about it.  Other times, they write about a recent event, like a birthday party.  When they were young, I had them draw pictures for the letter of the week or an illustration that demonstrated their comprehension of a story or poem.

Sometimes, I have them complete the notebooking assignment for another subject, like their Apologia science notebooking.   They cannot always complete those type of assignments in 10 minutes.  With some activities, I offer more time and shorten the third component of WW or I have them stop after 10 minutes and finish the assignment the next day. 

The final 35 minutes are to be dedicated to the writing process.  During this time, students can work on their writing assignments in other subjects, like a paper for history class, or they can write creatively.  We do a little of both and take about 6 weeks to complete each assignment.  This means they complete fewer writing assignments per year than our core curriculum typically assigns; however, they take the time to complete a solid writing project by carefully following the steps of the process.  At the end of the year, I usually have two or three illustrated books for their portfolios and for my personal treasure box!  When it comes to writing, especially in the early years, I would rather stress quality over quantity.

During the writing process time, each student begins each new assignment by brainstorming.  The younger my child is, the more involved I am in this step.  I usually offer a variety of graphic organizers, too.  During The Early Years, they dictated while I wrote, but now, they work more independently.  My boys are both in late elementary school, and I find that I have to be more involved with some assignments while my help is not needed with others.  Just like I encounter the occasional writer's block when I blog, young writers can get stuck and need guidance.  WW is a collaborative time between students and teacher where the teacher models good writing and then gives more and more responsibility to the student a little at a time.  Though independence is the goal, collaboration is encouraged at first.

Another consideration for successful brainstorming is knowing how your child processes information.  One of my sons is very logical and sequential in his thinking.  He is the kind of person who can take the pieces and fit them together.  When considering what to write, he is more likely to start at the beginning of the story and then work in an orderly fashion to the ending.  My other son is more of a big-picture person.  He thinks conceptually and sometimes struggles with the details.  Often, I allow him to brainstorm backwards.  He knows how he wants the story to end but has to think about the steps needed to get to that ending.  If I am rigid about having him follow a graphic organizer or an outline, he can shut down and not want to write. 

After the rough draft is written, the boys edit each others' work.  When they were very young, I read the work aloud and asked one of the boys to tell his brother what he liked about the story.  Now that they are older, they are able to look for spelling and some punctuation mistakes.  This step can be very fun and build teamwork among your children.  I call them "editors" and let them wear special badges when completing this work.  I try to keep the mood light and communicate that it is fun and a privilege to have someone you love read and review your work or to read and review the work of loved ones.  My boys have had many resulting conversations about how they would like to work together to write and illustrate books when they are grown.

However, this stage also has the potential for disaster and must be handled with wisdom.  Firm rules, e.g. constructive criticism is allowed but not unkindness, must be in place and enforced without exception.  It is not advisable to allow two siblings who are struggling in their relationship to edit each others' work, either.  If we are experiencing a rough patch, I do not allow them to edit each others' work.  Strengthening their relationship as brothers is of first importance.  Sometimes, we include editing in a family meeting where the author reads his draft to all of us and we all offer suggestions.  This allows Michael and/or I to do the editing during those rocky times and to model good editing practices. 

Next, the author revises per his editor's suggestions and brings the revised work to me for final editing and approval.  Then, I allow the author to publish the completed work in one of several formats.  Sometimes, I allow them to blog their work.  Other works are typed, printed, laminated, and spiral bound.  Some are simply typed or printed nicely.  They can make shape books, newspapers, photo journals, or any other nice presentation of their work.  It is then read at a family meeting and celebrated.

A quick side note on children and blogging:  When or if to allow a minor to blog is a difficult decision that should be made carefully.  Michael and I launched The Write Brothers for the boys.  I am the owner and listed "author" of the blog.  They are only allowed to type their written work into a word document and save it.  I copy, paste, and publish on blogger.  I also use pseudonyms.  Orville and Wilbur are not their birth names, and I do my best not to mention their real names online or link to websites that could reveal our true identities and location (i.e. our church website).  I just wanted to include that word of caution.  Thanks, I feel better now.  Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.....

The resources I have used for the mini lesson are numerous.  I will list them and link to different websites where you can purchase them for yourself if interested.  Please note that I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a commission for any purchases made through links from this blog to their site.

For the writing process time, I have "done my own thing" or used Writing Aids from Lampstand Press.  I am also a LP affiliate and will receive a commission if you purchase after following any link to their site provided on this blog.  I am not an affiliate for any other companies listed below and will not receive a commission for any purchases you make from them.  I have not received any compensation for this post and have offered suggestions for products that have worked for me, solely because I want to.  :)

Return soon for Science Choices.

Happy Curriculum Hunting!


  • Grammar All-Stars (a collection of sports-themed books on grammar topics; there are several books in this series and each makes a great "text" for the mini-lesson component)

  • Daily Paragraph Editing (I assign the boys to the book one grade below their current grade level and have them complete it during the writing process time.)

  • Graphic Organizers:

  • I like a number of resources from Lakeshore Learning (One of my favorite companies for all things learning.  If you browse their site, I am sure you will love it.  I often cannot afford to buy their product but brainstorm homemade versions as I peruse the catalogue.)

  • I have used a number of the resources listed in the Veritas Press catalogue (this link is for the 4th grade resources so follow it and then click to the appropriate grade level).  The exception is Shurley Grammar.  We used it one year, and I did not like it at all.  Many homeschool families have used Shurley very successfully, though.

  • Writing Aids- This is a great resource for explaining writing elements and style.  It also includes grading rubrics.

Any questions?  Please feel free to email or comment.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

15 Years

Today is Michael's and my 15th anniversary. 

Over spring break, he and I celebrated by taking a much needed retreat. 
Fifteen years ago, I had just graduated college, and he had just completed his masters work.  We took a much-needed retreat for our honeymoon, too, and traveled to a cozy little cottage on a mountain in Arkansas.  It was such a nice place, and we enjoyed our relaxing first week as husband and wife so much that we decided then to return for our 15th anniversary... 
However, a fire destroyed the cabin a few years ago and destroyed our plans with it.
Our honeymoon cabin in Arkansas

We decided instead to travel to the mountains of North Georgia where we could enjoy a three-day get-away in a mountain cabin and bird watch.  I was a little sad not to go back where it all started.

But my mood changed a bit as we drove up to this lovely "cabin".

We spent hours on this deck enjoying the cool spring weather
and listening to the many birds that surrounded us.

As you can see in this picture, our cabin had three stories, each with its own deck or patio. 
The top deck was off the second loft bedroom (there were 2 lofts). 
The weather was so nice we were able to sleep with the window open and awaken to the sounds of birds.
Ahh... can I go back?

I enjoyed the fully-stocked kitchen.  Yes, I cooked...

but Michael grilled!

Just like he did on our honeymoon!
Boy! Has he changed!

But to be fair, so have I!
(taken one month before our wedding)

 Back to our anniversary trip...
It was too warm for a fire, but we enjoyed relaxing in the comfy living room
and listening to 80's music on the sattelite t.v. service.

We also went to this Roses store and bought Rook cards
and a Mancala game.

The dining table made a beautiful setting for an anniversary dinner,
but also served as a great place to play cards and games. 

In the basement, there was a ping pong table where we honored our BSU heritage and played many rounds.  We are so old and rusty that we laughed at our-sorry-selves until we cried!

It was so nice to spend time away with the man I love.
In fifteen years, many things have changed,
like our waist lines, hair styles, and ping pong abilities,
but our love for each other has remained unchanged.

We give thanks to God for fifteen wonderful years as man and wife.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Product Review: Artistic Pursuits


Let me begin this review by saying that we plan to include Artistic Pursuits curriculum in Wilbur's school program for the remainder of his home education. I am not sure I can give this product any higher praise than that.

I was given the opportunity to select any one of Artistic Pursuits books and chose the first of the 4th-6th grade books which introduces the elements of art and composition. What initially caught my attention was the layout of the book. It is very user-friendly, designed for the student to read and learn from independently. As much as I wanted to get involved in this study because I love to draw as much as Wilbur does, I remained hands-off to see if he could complete the assignments without assistance. He was.

After he completed a few lessons, I read through the book myself and was impressed with the approach to instruction. Specific skills are taught incrementally and are explained very thoroughly. There are a number of visual aids to reference which show how to use the art tools (pencil, eraser, etc.) and how to examine the subject matter. Artistic Pursuits has its students finding subject matter from existing works, the world around them, and their imaginations. And while students are prompted to put specific skills into practice, they are given the freedom to exercise choice and draw what they want.

Wilbur has thoroughly enjoyed his Artistic Pursuits studies. In just a few lessons, I have seen improvement in his abilities. We have used a different art curriculum with him for a few years. He has also taken private art lessons. Truthfully, I have been most satisfied with Artistic Pursuits. With the other curriculum, I have had to be very involved and demonstrate how to do what the curriculum required. With private art lessons, the teacher did the same. She drew on the board what she wanted him to produce and then he had to replicate it.

With Artistic Pursuits, Wilbur has been able to stretch his abilities and apply the lessons in a way that is meaningful to him. His drawings have been truly his own. I feel like he is making the transition from master replicator to a true artist.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with Artistic Pursuits and highly recommend their curricula for your homeschool.  The book we received is priced at $ 42.95 and is worth every penny, in my opinion.

You can visit their website for more information on all the great K-12 products and prices.

I received the product mentioned in this review for free in order to offer my unbiased opinion. I have received no other compensation.

For more reviews on this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Product Review: Critical Thinking Co.


Balance Benders
, from Critical Thinking Co., was one of my favorite products that I received as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

This book of reproducible worksheets provides hours of logic and algebraic reasoning fun! Each worksheet pictures one or two balance scale(s). On the scale(s) are a variety of shapes. Some shapes are equal to others while some are greater/less than other specified shapes.

Beneath the scales are expressions like 2 circles are equal to 1 square. Using the scale(s) as a reference, students must decide which of 6 expressions are true.

We love, love, loved these activities! They were fun and challenging. However, the book begins with simpler exercises to give students a chance to succeed. Each page is a little more difficult than the previous so students build their skills and stretch their thinking as they complete the book.

The best part was each page only took a few minutes to complete. These serve as great activators for a math lesson. They could also be used for an easy center or workbox activity. Balance Benders is a simple and fun way to provide a little higher-order thinking in your school day.

I must say that I drooled over their catalog, too. Balance Benders ($9.99 per book) is available in more advanced levels for older students as well. I am also interested in some of their other books and software and intend to include a few of their products in our school day next year.

I give them two thumbs up and encourage you to check out their website!

I received the product mentioned in this review for free in order to provide my honest evaluation. I have received no other compensation and have offered my unbiased opinion.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Product Review: Graphics Toolbox


This is a difficult review to write solely because I was unable to give this product the attention it deserves.

Graphics Toolbox seems to be absolutely fabulous… a dream come true for a blogger and project-driven homeschooler like me. It provides its user with a number of design possibilities with its ability to zoom in and crop pixel by pixel. The color palette offers just about any hue imaginable. And with only a few clicks of the mouse, colors can be changed and coordinated as desired.

The applications are as numerous as the product features: school projects, posters, greeting cards, photo editing, blog headers and buttons…. The final results look professional as well.

The product support the Crew received from Great Software Tools was first-rate. I attended one training session and was impressed with the instruction and support provided as well as what could be accomplished using Graphics Toolbox. My experience with this company has been very good.

However, after I installed the software, my computer began to "act up". I learned from other Crew members that this product was not initially designed for Windows Vista and does not perform optimally on a Vista computer… then again, what does? I resigned from the Crew the week I began to have problems and did not have time to verify that this was the cause or to seek help from Great Software Tools.

Because my health issues did not afford me the time to properly complete the number of reviews I was being assigned by TOS, I could not invest the time needed to resolve these issues and thoroughly learn and use Graphics Toolbox. I am certain that had I not resigned from the Crew and had I sought help from Great Software Tools, the issues would have been resolved quickly and I would have LOVED this product. Instead, I decided to uninstall the software.

I do recommend you look into Graphics Toolbox. I have not seen another program with similar capabilities, especially for the price, $149. You can watch tutorials here and see just a sampling of the many things you can accomplish with GT. You can also try this product for free for 30 days.  Please read my crewmates' reviews as well.

I received the product mentioned in this review for free and have received no other compensation. I have offered my unbiased opinion.

Product Review: Pandia Press


I received History Odyssey: Early Modern from Pandia Press to review as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew.

This curriculum roughly covers the time period of colonization in the New World and the revolutions. The overall curriculum seems to be chronological with Early Modern History serving as one of 4 units for level one. There are three levels available. This particular unit does not introduce topics sequentially, but instead teaches the events geographically. The study begins with a look at England and ends with Japan.

History Odyssey uses a few additional resources (i.e. Story of the World and History Pockets). These resources must be purchased separately.

For each week of the 36-week study there is a check list of reading assignments, which come from the required additional resources, activities, and map work. Reproducible worksheets are included for the mapping assignments. There is also a weekly book list included. These books are not required but listed for those who want to investigate the topic further.

Instructions are provided to build a history notebook. Each week a new prompt is given as to what the child needs to write in his notebook. It is very similar to journaling (Charlotte Mason). Other activities are included as well as recipes and games.

Overall, I like History Odyssey. It is not written from a Christian perspective, and that would keep us from using it as our core history curriculum. However, I did not find anything overtly anti-Christian. I would also call it "history-light" because it is not as rigorous as I would like. I think it would make for a very nice study for a student who does not have a natural interest in history. Many of the activities are fun and interest building and could serve to motivate a reluctant learner. But it does not provide enough material for a history connoisseur. It would perhaps make a good spine for this type student if you are willing to allow for extra research or add in other activities.

You can learn more about History Odyssey at the Pandia Press website. You can purchase each unit in downloadable e-book format for $28.99- $33.99 per book. Print copies are available from other sellers.

I received the product(s) mentioned in this review for free in order to provide my honest opinion about it/them. I have received no other compensation and have provided an unbiased review.

For more reviews on this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Our Time with Veritas Press

I am continuing to answer the question "What curriculum do you recommend?" for those who are Considering Homeschooling?.

During our first official year of homeschooling, we used Sonlight. The next year I designed my own curriculum, a plan I do not advise unless you have lots of time, lots of energy, and lots of know-how in the area of curricular design. Or you're just a little off your rocker... like me!

The summer before our DIY year, we moved from Tennessee to Georgia. Part of the blessing of this move was joining a church where most of the families homeschooled. Most of the families also used Veritas Press, and that is how we were introduced to their curriculum.

During the Sonlight and the DIY years, I had used world history as the theme for our units, and we progressed chronologically, very similar to the four-year cycle of Veritas's classical program. Veritas presents history, Bible, theology, worldview, and all related studies in a way that really fits our system of beliefs. So, we made the switch and loved (and still love) many aspects of the program.

The elementary Bible curriculum is first rate, and I used it for three years to teach my boys the Old Testament. Michael has used the New Testament as a guide for our Bible reading and discussion during our family worship off and on for two years.

One of the best aspects of the program is that Bible is not presented just as a collection of stories, poems, and letters with heoric people who do great things for God and set a good example for us. This man-centered approach is common to many children's Bible curricula. Veritas takes elementary-aged students through a chronological study of the Scriptures and keeps the focus on the Lord. It is very God-centered and it has given my children a deep (for their age) understanding of who God is, what He has done for us, and what it means to be a Christian.

The history program is rich as well and Bible/church history is integrated as applicable. Like Sonlight, Veritas incorporates literature. I (and more importantly, the boys) loved every book on the reading lists the three years we followed VP. I also loved the chronological presentation, particularly the event cards which we used to create an on-going timeline around our classroom.

What I did not like about VP was most of the project ideas and/or hands-on experiences. I was happy that some were at least offered, and we completed and enjoyed some of them. However, I still added resources not recommended in the VP materials and activities of my own to give our studies more of a living-history feel. One year I incorporated the hands-on kit from Hands and Hearts, a resource I highly recommend.

All in all, VP worked for me because it was structured enough to keep me on track but still offered me the latitude to "do my own thing". It provided the "science of teaching" while not inhibiting me from practicing the "art of teaching".

Even though we were very satisfied with VP, this school year we switched to Tapestry of Grace. It was a difficult decision that we made reluctantly. I saw us approaching the middle school and high school years. Remaining with VP through those years would require managing two separate Omnibus studies simultaneously. The thought of that made me hyperventilate. So, we made the switch to TOG.

I have another post to write about our year with TOG, but first I want to share the writing resources we have used and then about our science choices.

See you soon for Writer's Workshop.

Happy Curriculum Hunting!


p.s. I am not an affiliate for any of the companies mentioned in this post. I did not receive compensation and have offered my honest opinion.