Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury (Crew Review)

Can you believe it’s almost time to start thinking about Christmas?  Our family has been getting in the mood lately as we listened to the Christmas stories that make up The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury – Audio Collection.  We received the Digital Downloads of these eight original stories written by Todd Wilson (a.k.a. The Familyman) and read by Jim Hodges.

About The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury

the-familymans-christmas-treasuryI’m pretty particular about what we focus on during the Christmas season, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we first started listening to these stories.  I was pleased to find that not only were they all Christ-centered, they were thought-provoking as well.  Here are some brief summaries of the eight stories we received.

Cootie McKay’s Nativity

When a small town’s cherished nativity scene is ruined, they commission a local man to create a new one for next year.  The only trouble is, Cootie McKay is not only a little odd, he doesn’t even know the Christmas story.  Over the course of the year, Cootie learns about Jesus, and his creation helps the whole town see the familiar figures in a new way.

Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster

When Jason gets irritated with his sister’s fascination with their “boring” manger scene, he pretends to blast it to bits, never expecting his wish to come true.  “Captain Chaos” erases the birth of Jesus from history, and Jason sees how different life would be if he had not been born, gaining a new appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Stranger

As a stranger comes knocking at the homes of members of a small church, fear and distrust threaten to taint their Christmas experience.  On a snowy Christmas Eve, Sam’s family receives the dreaded knock, but his father only hesitates a moment before inviting the stranger in.  The family is soon able to look past Jesse’s outward appearance and their Christmas is truly blessed as they open their home and hearts to him.

The Bishop’s Dream

Not just another re-telling of the story of Saint Nicholas, “The Bishop’s Dream” looks at the true historical man and places him a modern setting, imagining what he would think of the shift toward a holiday focused on Santa and presents rather than Christ.

Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest

Isaac is embarrassed by the plaid Christmas vest his father insists on wearing to church every year as soon as Thanksgiving has past until he learns about the story of Harold Grubbs and how God changed him.

Gladys Remembers Christmas

Gladys hasn’t had a joyful Christmas since she was six years old, just before her mother died.  Years later, while packing up her father’s house, she finds their old manger scene, and discovers love for the the first time since childhood.

The Secret of Snow Village*

Catherine loves to look at her grandmother’s ceramic village.  Somehow Christmas seems better for the small figures, though she can’t figure out what she’s missing until she visits the village herself and finds out what Christmas is really about.

It’s Called Christmas*

300 years in the future, Nook is puzzled when his “Happy Holiday” greeting is returned with the puzzling reply, “It’s called Christmas?”  All traces of this word seem to have been erased, and it is no easy task for Nook to find out what Christmas is, but when he does, he sends a warning back to the past in hopes that Christmas can be saved for future generations.

*These final two of the stories are not included in the collection in the CD collection, though all eight are available in book format.


Our Experience

Todd Wilson says, “As the father of eight children, I wanted Christmas stories that took longer than 5 minutes to read, didn’t confuse the truth with a tale, and above all, pointed my children to the Savior. I couldn’t find any, so I wrote my own. My hope is that Cootie McKay”s Nativity will give you gobs of snuggling time, Christmas enchantment, and will point your children to the manger year after year. ”

He has certainly succeeded, and the stories will definitely become part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Ian really liked “Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster.”  I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I think either “Cootie McKay’s Nativity” or “The Secret of the Snow Village” would be at the top of my list.  I loved the creativity and variety in all these Christmas stories, and Jim Hodges is a wonderful storyteller whose warm voice draws you in as you listen.  We enjoyed all of these stories so much, I’m looking forward to getting the two Easter stories for our family as well.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

MyFreezEasy (Crew Review)

Freezer cooking has always sounded like a good idea, but I’ve never gotten more into it than making twice as much as I need when fixing dinner so I can freeze half for another time.  However, we’re in a season where it’s essential that I have meals prepped and easy to cook, so I was really excited to get a chance to review the Freezer Meal Plan Membership.  I’m in my first trimester of pregnancy, so I don’t always feel up to making (or eating) dinner, but MyFreezEasy helped me make sure my freezer was full of healthy meals that I can get ready for my family quickly and easily.

About MyFreezEasy

Each month, members have access to 8 pre-set meal plans: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
Each plan has recipes for 5 meals, with the intent on preparing two of each one so you can get 10 meals into your freezer with about an hour of work.  There’s a place to set how many servings you want, and you can also swap meals to customize your plan to fit your family’s preferences.  Once you have your meal plan set, you can print it out, complete with shopping lists broken down in various ways, such as by meal or by section in the store, and instructions both for cooking the meal that night or preparing it for the freezer.  You can also print out labels with instructions for how to finish the meal when you take it out of the freezer. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

My Experience With MyFreezEasy

There are several videos on the website to help you get started, so I watched those and read through all the information I could find before even glancing at the meal plans themselves.  They really helped me understand how to use the program, and plan how I wanted to do my shopping and prep work.  I chose to swap several meals and create a customized meal plan with a variety of different foods.  I followed the suggested to do my shopping and prepping and different days, which was a good idea since my prep work took me almost two hours.  (Maybe it will go faster next time, now that I have a little better idea of what I’m doing.)

dscn2318xI really liked the ease of printing the labels (there’s a link to Amazon to buy the right ones), though I wish they were smaller so they could all fit on one page (or if you could put 6 meals in your plan to fill up two pages rather than wasting two empty labels every time).  Not only do they make it easy to know what’s in the bag, they include instructions for cooking and suggested sides for completing the meal.

We’ve had each meal at least once, and while some were more popular than others, for the most part they were well received.  Here’s what I chose to make last month:

Apricot Chicken

I’ve never made anything similar to this before, but for some reason it kept catching my eye as I went through the meal plans, so I decided to give it a try.  It was good, very sweet (popular with the kids), but ours turned out a little dry.  I think when I defrost my second bag of this, I’m going to throw it in the slow cooker to see how that turns out.


Chicken Fajita Bake

The instructions for this meal called for a disposable baking dish, but the next time I make it I think I’ll just put it in a freezer baggie (like all the other meals) and then dump the contents into a regular baking dish.  I didn’t even attempt to serve this one to my picky kids, but my husband and I really enjoyed making burritos with it.


Chicken Taco Bake

This recipe combined several ingredients and spices to freeze.  When it was time to cook, we just threw everything in a skillet to warm it up, then poured it over tortilla chips, sprinkled cheese on top, and popped it in the oven for ten minutes.  So simple, yet it was really good, and I loved having the majority of the ingredients all thrown together when it was time to make dinner.


Cilantro Lime Chicken

This was my least favorite meal of the five we cooked, but it might have been because I had substituted coconut oil for the olive oil called for in the recipe and lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh squeezed limes.  It just wasn’t quite as flavorful as I’d been hoping for, even with fresh cilantro, and I think I would have preferred using chicken breasts rather than thighs.  Still, everyone ate it without complaint (and my kids are extremely picky eaters, so that’s saying something).


Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

I was highly skeptical of this recipe because it called for ground beef instead of stew meat like my mom always used for stroganoff and it just seemed too simple (Mom always used a seasoning packet, which for some reason led me to believe it was complicated to make).  However, this turned out to be our favorite meal out of all the ones we tried.  I actually made another two bags of sauce for the freezer because it was such a hit.  I want to be sure we always have it on hand!  Since the meat was cooked before freezing, I’m not sure why it’s labeled as a slow cooker meal.  I did it stove top one time and it was still delicious.  (I wish I’d gotten a picture of the final product, but we were all too eager to dive in!)


Final Thoughts

I loved how easy the whole process was, from selecting recipes, to shopping and preparation, and finally getting the meals on the table.  When I’ve been pregnant in the past, my family has definitely had to scrape by when it comes to dinner, both in the early months when I struggled with nausea and then toward the end when I was exhausted and struggling to get everything done each day.  I’m so excited to have MyFreezEasy this time.


I had ten meals in the freezer before I reached the nausea stage, and soon I’ll have another prep day and get it restocked.  We found some new family favorites, and I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes this month! Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
Crew Disclaimer

If you were me and lived in… (Crew Book Review)

We were recently blessed with the chance to review four titles from a series of children’s history books brought to you by Carole P. Roman and  History is one of my favorite subjects to teach, so I was excited to discover a new set of resources!

(This post includes affiliate links.)

About this history series

carole-p-roman-headshotCarole P. Roman has written dozens of books, including a series about cultures around the world that first used the title phrase “If You Were Me and Lived in…”  Now she has a new series out with a similar idea, but this time looking at civilizations throughout history.

There are currently eight softcover books in this series for elementary aged children), each exploring a different historical setting: If You Were Me and Lived in…

Each book introduces important events and people from that era, as well as information about homes, clothes, meals, education, games children played, and common names.  Pronunciation guides help children learn new vocabulary words, and colorful illustrations on every page help them visualize the text.


Our Experience

Since we’re sort of covering two periods of history right now (one with our family history cycle and one with our homeschool community that meets once a week), I chose to review If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 6).  Although varying lengths, both books were packed full of interesting information and were a great contribution to our studies.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America

if-you-were-me-and-lived-inhellipcolonial-america-by-carole-p-roman-300x300_zpsjsbne7rbWhen I chose If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America, I was expecting to read about life in the colonies before the American Revolution, but actually this book is limited to the experience of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation about a hundred years earlier.  It begins with a discussion of the religious situation in England from the early 1500’s on, explaining why the the Separatists chose to leave the country and eventually headed for the New World.  While mentioning the hardships that took the lives of many, the book doesn’t focus on how many people died, but rather talks about the accomplishments of the settlers who did make it through the first winter before moving on to details about the types of food you would have eaten, clothes you would have worn, and how you would have spent your time as a child living at Plymouth Plantation.

The only mention of other colonies comes at the end, in a two-page spread of influential people in various colonies along the eastern seaboard.

The 53 pages of If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America (plus 8 additional pages about influential people and a glossary) each contain one or two paragraphs in a fairly large font, which made it easy for my 3rd grader to read (although we chose to do most of it as a read-aloud because I found that lent itself to better discussions).  There is a lot of information presented in this book, so I found it best to break it up over several days.


Although I find the title a bit misleading as far as the breadth of what is covered, I appreciated the information presented about these early settlers.  Even if you’re not studying this period of history, this book would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving unit studying the Pilgrims.

If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages

51m2fy3czrl-_sx260__zpseylxzdzfThe other book that fit in with our studies right now was If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages.  Not only is the book almost twice as long as the one on “Colonial America” (97 pages), each page contains much more text and is more appropriate for upper elementary readers.

This is a fascinating look at life in the middle ages, covering a wide range of topics, from the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of feudalism, and William the Conqueror to the process of becoming a knight, religious life (including the building of cathedrals), and various vocations.

There’s so much here, we haven’t even gotten all the way through the book yet.

middle-ages-2 middle-ages-3 middle-ages-1

And more!

The publisher also generously sent us two additional titles to review.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty

51k93rav67l-_sx491_bo1204203200__zpswm27yfuqAlthough I haven’t read any of this book with the kids yet, If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty will be a great resource to pull out the next time we cover ancient history.  The Hans ruled from 206 BC until 220 AD, one of the longest dynasties in Chinese history.  This period is often called the Golden Age of Ancient China, so the book provides an intriguing look at a unique civilization that in many ways was so different than that of the Ancient Romans living at the same time.

It is similar to the book on the Middle Ages as far as the reading level, with multiple paragraphs on each pages, though this one is only 76 pages long (including the pages on Important People in Ancient China and the glossary).  I’m looking forward to going through it with the kids in the future.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 2)

61jnw81ahdl-_sx491_bo1204203200__zpsdbg7rgy2Our homeschool group will be moving onto the Renaissance this week, so we’re almost ready to pull out If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy.  With a special focus on Florence, this book looks at many of the exciting subjects that were being explored during the Renaissance, such as architecture, art, and music.  It covers what life would be like as a child in the family of a wealthy merchant.

At 53 pages, this book is similar to the one we read on Colonial America as far as length, font size, and the amount of text on each page.

Final Thoughts

Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew received different titles in this series, so if you want to find out more about those, click on the banner below to get to their reviews!

If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and}
Crew Disclaimer

The Cat of Bubastes – Audio Drama (Crew Review)

When my oldest was just a baby I started researching homeschooling and stumbled across a discussion about author G.A. Henty.  As I learned about this man’s character-building historical novels, I knew I wanted to share these with my boys when they got older, and I decided to start reading some for myself.  One of the first Henty books I ever read was The Cat of Bubastes, set in Ancient Egypt.

Fast forward a few years, and we have been blessed to become familiar with the work of Heirloom Audio Productions, a fabulous company that is bringing Henty back for a new generation by creating exciting audio dramas of some of his most popular novels.  Their latest creation is none other than my old favorite, The Cat of Bubastes.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to review this CD set.

About The Cat of Bubastes

The Cat of Bubastes tells the story of Amuba, a young man who grew up as a prince but is taken to Egypt as a slave after his people are conquered in battle.  He and his father’s friend Jethro (who was given the order to protect him) become faithful servants to the Egyptian high priest Ameres, a man hungry for spiritual truth.  Through his friendship with Ameres’ son Chebron, Amuba becomes familiar with Egyptian spiritual beliefs, including the sacredness of cats.  They also befriend some Israelites and learn about the one true God.  When Chebron accidentally kills the family’s honored cat, the boys must flee Egypt and head to Amuba’s homeland, where he fights to reclaim his throne.

Along with the CD set of the audio adventure, we were given the following bonuses:

  • The Cat of Bustastes on MP3
  • eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter (pdf)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • A beautiful printable pdf poster with inspirational quote
  • cast poster (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • “Behind the Scenes of The Cat of Bubastes (mp4 video download)

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
The study guide can help you use the audio adventure as more than just entertainment and turn it into an educational experience.  It includes a basic biography of G.A. Henty, as well as historical background information about Moses.  Then it provides a listening guide that breaks the recording into small chunks and gives questions to help younger listeners understand what’s happening in the story or provide older children with prompts for written assignments. Scattered through the listening guide are interesting facts about Ancient Egypt, and there are suggestions for further reading.  The next section contains three Bible studies:

  • “God Meant It for Good”
  • “The Knowledge of God”
  • “Idolatry and Tyranny”

Finally, the study guide concludes with more historical background information.

Our Experience

Although the boys and I have been enjoying adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions for the past few years, my husband has only recently discovered them, as he entertained himself on long overnight drives during our road trip this summer by listening to all the past recordings.  So when we went on a weekend getaway recently, he was excited that we had something new.  Our whole family enjoyed listening to The Cat of Bubastes together.  As the excitement built and the boys are rescued by an Egyptian Prince, even my husband couldn’t help blurting out, “Moses!” when they asked his name.  It was so fun getting to enjoy the story together.

The great thing about Henty’s adventures is that they’re not just exciting adventures, they bring history to life.  I love that as we listened to The Cat of Bubastes my children were learning about life in Ancient Egypt, their culture and religion, and even getting some insight into what life was like for the Israelites during their time of captivity.  It helped make the Bible more real to them, and that’s more than any textbook could do.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
It’s really hard to pick a favorite out of all the Henty books Heirloom Audio Productions has brought to life, but this latest offering would definitely be near the top for me.  It is so important to me to be able to provide my boys with literary role models to help them develop a picture of the kind of men they want to become, and Heirloom Audio has given us an entertaining and powerful tool for helping mold their young minds.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
Crew Disclaimer

Download Club from Christian HomeSchool Hub (Crew Review)

CHSH Review
One of the awesome things about homeschooling these days is how easy it is to access resources via the Internet.  I love being able to go online (sometimes at the last minute) to find things to go along with subjects we’re studying. We were recently given the chance to review the CHSH Download Club, a subscription part of (the Christian HomeSchool Hub).  It’s a great place to turn to find things to help me out as I educate my children.

About the CHSH Download Club

The CHSH Download Club gives members easy access to over 50,000 pages of educational downloads.  Memberships can be purchased for 1 year ($25) or a lifetime ($99.99), and members have the unlimited ability to download any the files shared on the site. Most have been uploaded by CHSH’s creator, Lynda Ackert, but other members can also share files they have created (or have permission to share).

Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}
From preschool unit studies and flashcards to high school history courses, the CHSH Download Club has something for every grade level in a wide array of subjects.  Full curricula are available for several subjects, as well as an abundance of worksheets and activity pages.  There are also organizational helps and several old books (now in the public domain) that are available to download.

by grade

It is extremely easy to search for documents to suit your family, as they are listed in a variety of ways: by subject, by grade level (above), and by months (below).

by months-organization

Our Experience

I try not to rely too much on worksheets for my kids, so I wasn’t sure how much I was going to use my membership.  However, I have found that my preschooler really enjoys having pages to color and work to complete. I ended up using the CHSH Download Club quite a bit to find worksheets and activities for her to do while my older boys were doing their own school work.

It was really easy to find work for her.  First I went into the preschool section and found a few topics that I thought would interest her.  She loved coloring a picture of the planets in the solar system as she listened to the boys do a lesson from their astronomy course.  She was also excited to create her own “All About Me” book.

CHSH Collage
Then I went into the section listing files by months to find seasonal activities to keep her busy this fall.  I’ve printed out several sets of worksheets to use over the next few months.  Some I’ll just let her write on.  Others I’ll put in sheet protectors in a notebook for her to do over and over with dry erase markers and then save them for my younger children.  (All the files are in full color, but most of them I decided to save money on by printing in black and white.)

CHSH Printed Collage

Final Thoughts

It was really handy to have one place where I could find so many pages for Arianna.  I love the idea of the CHSH Download Club, where homeschool families can share ideas, and I look forward to seeing it grow.  There are already so many pages available, and if more members add files, it could be an even more helpful resource for homeschool families.

Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}
Crew Disclaimer

New Edition of Apologia’s Astronomy for Elementary Grades (Crew Review)

Review Apologia Astronomy
When I first started our homeschool journey, the one curriculum I heard praised over and over was the elementary science series by Jeannie Fulbright published by Apologia Educational Ministries.  I was eager to get started with it as soon as possible, so when Ian was in Kindergarten I jumped into the book on astronomy.  However, it proved to be a bit much for him at that age, so we stopped partway through the book.  Several times I’ve considered picking it up again, and Ian has asked when we were going to finish it, but the time never seemed quite right until now.  Apologia just came out with Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition, and I was eager to dive back in and see what changes had been made.

About Exploring Creation With Astronomy, 2nd Ed.

We received the following:

Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy Review
The Exploring Creation series is unabashedly Christian.  Each chapter of Exploring Creation With Astronomy features Bible verses and discussion about how God designed the universe.  Fulbright also makes a point of sharing information that refutes claims by secular scientists that do not line up with biblical truth.  For example, in the chapter on the sun, she points out that if the earth were actually billions of years old, the sun would have been so dim or faint at that time it could not have provided enough warmth for life.

Each chapter contains text, pictures, activities, “Think About This” sections which expound upon the text, and questions to prompt the students in narrating back what they have learned.  The activites are usually fairly simple and utililize items that are easy to obtain (or you might already have lying around the house).  For example, to demonstrate how the moon reflects the suns light rather than being a source of light itself, the book had us use a CD to create a reflection.  The boys loved moving the CD around and watching the reflection dance around the room!

reflection activity
Both notebooking journals provide daily lesson plans with checklists of what should be completed each day.  There are 72 days’ worth of lessons in this schedule, so if you do 2 lessons a week, you can get through the book over the course of one school year (36 weeks).  Though these suggestions are helpful, of course you can choose a pace that works best for your family.

daily schedule
Most of the pages in the two notebooks contain the exact same activities, with a few minor differences.  The lines given for writing in the junior notebook are wider spaced and have a dotted middle line to make it easier for younger students to form letters correctly.  Also, on the crossword puzzles, the first letter of each word is filled in to give the younger students a head start.  Finally, at the end of each lesson, the older students’ notebook has a page with questions for them to write what they remember, as well as a place to record their favorite part of the lesson, whereas the junior notebook has two coloring pages instead.

notebooking page
The audiobook breaks down each lesson into separate components, following the sections listed in the daily lesson plans.  The book is read by the author, Jeannie Fulbright, who really brings each lesson to life with her pleasant, friendly voice.  The conversational tone of the written book becomes even more casual as she reads, making it feel like you’re just listening to a friend explain a fascinating concept.  The instructions for the activities are NOT read; the audiobook simply tells the listeners they can now complete the activity on a given page in the textbook.

Comparing the 1st and 2nd Editions

Right off the bat, I could see some differences between the old edition and the new.  The 2nd edition textbook has more pictures and less text on each page.  Activities are more set apart from the text visually.

compare Astronomy editions
The notebooks are now full color on every page, rather than just the mini-books. In the old notebook, the parts to cut out for booklets (similar to lapbook components) were all at the back of the book, but now they are right in order with the other lesson pages.

There is also now a complementary Apologia Astronomy Science Kit, which has the materials needed to complete most of the 42 activities in the text, as well as 21 additional bonus activities.  We did not receive this kit, so I can’t speak to its contents, but it sounds like an easy way to do the activities without having to gather materials, as well as being a great resource for students who want to go even deeper in their study.

Our Experience

Because we had already covered the first few lessons the first time we used this curriculum, I decided to cruise rather quickly through the first part of the book without doing most of the activities.  We listened to the audiobook in the car (best to do with the book in hand, since the author refers to many of the pictures as she reads).  The audiobook is a fantastic addition, and I found it was helpful to use on a regular basis.  Ian is a strong auditory learner, and he did really well listening as he jotted down notes and drew illustrations in his notebook.  This alone made we want to come back to Apologia.  Ian could go through this course almost independently thanks to the audiobook.  (I don’t know if they had one with the first edition or not, but from now on I will make sure I get one when it’s available!)

As we listened to the audio book I followed along in the old edition to see what changes had been made, and there are several things I absolutely LOVE about the new edition.  The main reason we had abandoned the first edition back when Ian was six was because it was just too wordy for him.  In the new edition, almost every paragraph has seen cuts and is much more concise.  Before, I felt a little overwhelmed at how much I needed to read with Ian each day to keep on pace to finish the book in a year.  This time I was actually surprised at how quickly we got through each day’s lesson.  Yes, he’s older now, but I would feel much more comfortable using this with a Kindergartener now.  (Though there’s so much “meat” in the book, it really is a quality curriculum for all the way through the elementary grades.)

I like the new breakdown of lessons into daily schedules (provided in the notebooking journals, not the textbook).  Although the old notebook did this to some extent, the new format is much easier to follow and check off each activity as it is completed.

mini bookWe didn’t do all the activities in the notebook (we skipped the copywork because my boys are already doing other copywork and they find it tedious), but we did enjoy the other pages.  I especially liked the “mini-books,” which are like lapbook components that the students cut out, write in, assemble, and then attach to pages within their notebook so when the student has finished the course they will have an extensive collection of work all in one spiral bound book.  Having the pages in order in the new edition got my boys excited as they saw what was coming up, and these were a wonderful way to keep them learning while giving them something active to do.

Final Thoughts

Apologia has taken a good curriculum and made it even better!  The newly designed pages draw the students in without overwhelming them, and the colorful, eye-catching notebooks help them get the most out of each lesson in a fun, creative way.  We’re looking forward to spending more time in Exploring Creation With Astronomy, and there’s a good chance we’ll be coming back to this series to learn about other science topics as well.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
Crew Disclaimer

Puzzles that Can’t Lose Pieces! (Crew Review)

FlipStir Review
We love puzzles of every kind, so we were excited to get a chance to review one of the FlipStir Puzzles from Enlivenze LLC.  They sent us their Solar System FlipStir, and everyone 6 and older ended up taking on the challenge of solving the puzzle.

About FlipStir

The FlipStir puzzles are completely self-contained puzzles made in the U.S.A..  Each one contains a set of 10 plastic pieces that all need to be arranged next to each other to finish the picture.  You use a “wand” with a hook on the end of it to manipulate the pieces into place.  Since everything is enclosed within the plastic tube, there is no way to lose any pieces (definitely a plus in our household)!

FlipStir Puzzle pieces

There are several different puzzles available, some with straight pieces (Level 1), and some like our Solar System puzzle, with wavy edges (Level 2):

FlipStir PuzzlesLevel 1

  • Rainbow Pencils
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex

Level 2

  • Solar System
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Periodic Table

(Other members of the Crew received different puzzles, so click on the banner at the bottom to read what they thought of those.)

Our Experience

When I first showed the FlipStir to Ian (8), he decided it was too hard and wouldn’t even attempt it.  I tried it myself, and although it was challenging, I was able to complete it without too much frustration.

I really felt like the boys would be able to do it.  So I got the first few pieces in place (the hardest part) and handed it Elijah (6).  He was quite determined, and it wasn’t long before he had finished the whole puzzle.  When Ian saw that his younger brother had managed it, of course then he wanted a turn.  They were both quite proud of themselves for completing it.

Kids Complete FlipStir

In addition to the fun of doing the puzzle, the Solar System FlipStir is a great learning tool because you have to put the planets in order according to their distance from the sun (dwarf planets not included).  This will be coming up as part of our memory work this year, so I love that the boys are getting in a little extra practice.

We really enjoyed the FlipStir puzzle.  The boys are hoping to get more designs, and I think I might get another one the next time we’re going on a trip.  They’re great to have in the car since there are no pieces to get lost, and even my husband and I enjoyed taking a turn trying to work through the challenge of completing the puzzle.

FlipStir Puzzles Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids (Crew Review)

Foreign Languages For Kids Review
The one subject I feel inadequate for teaching my children is foreign language.  Yet it’s also one where I really want them to be successful, because I think it is more important than ever to be able to communicate with people around the globe.  We’ve dabbled in several Spanish programs over the last few years, but I was excited to get a chance to try Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids.  They sent us their Starter Set 1 to review, and it has definitely been a hit with our whole family.

About Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids uses videos to immerse students of all ages in the Spanish language.  The videos are introduced in English by a kid dressed up like a pilot, who is presenting them as “in-flight entertainment” on a trip to Spanish speaking countries (Peru, Columbia, and Costa Rica).

FL4KBK in flight
The rest of the videos are completely in Spanish and feature three brothers.

FL4KBK brothers
The videos on the DVD are definitely the core of the program.  The three levels build upon each other, and viewers are instructed to watch previous videos several times so they understand them well before moving onto the next ones.

Vocabulary is taught very deliberately in several ways.  Sometimes the boys (and other actors) emphasize certain words/phrases.  Then the story part of the video stops to present a special lesson focusing on that word.

FL4KBK lesson
Things are also labeled on the set, so viewers see the words for things they’re hearing about (and other things as well).  The stickers included with the program make it easy to label things around your house in a similar way.

FL4KBK labels
In addition to the videos, there are several other products that help reinforce what is being taught.  Here’s what we received in Starter Set 1:

  • DVD with videos for Levels 1-3
  • Three Parent-Teacher Guides (1 for each level)
  • Student workbooks for Levels 1-3
  • “Go Squish” Card Game
  • Stickers for Levels 1-3

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review

The teacher guides provide detailed lesson plans, including a suggested viewing schedule (for watching smaller segments of the video for that level), plus extra activities (e.g. games or workbook assignments) to help practice the vocabulary being focused.

Go SquishThe “Go Squish” cardgame we received is one of those activities.  Similar to “Go Fish,” the game is played using vocabulary cards.  At Level 1, the students just say the vocabulary words (“Desayuno?”  “No desayuno.”  At Level 2 they use complete sentences (Tengo desayuno.  Tienes desayuno?”  “No, no tengo desayuno.  GO SQUISH”).

Our Experience

We heard about Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids last year, and from the first time we watched the sample video on the website, my kids have been eager to try it out for themselves.  It did not disappoint!  From my 8-year old down to my 2-year old, all the kids really liked these videos.  I put them on several times a week while I was preparing lunch, and the kids loved how much they were able to understand after a few viewings.

The only problem with putting the DVD on like this was that the segments recommended in the lesson plans all flow into each other, so if you’re not standing right there watching the clock so you know where to stop it, the video just keeps going.  That meant my kids ended up watching the entire video each time, which made them reluctant to go through all 11 lessons in the teacher’s guide because there was nothing new being presented.  They kept begging to be allowed to go on to the next video.  (The videos can also be watched through the website with a subscription, which eliminates this problem since they are broken into segments there.)

The workbooks are recommended for 3rd grade and up, so I gave them to Ian to work through.  They are printed in full color on fairly glossy paper, which made it difficult to see pencil on.  I ended up giving Ian a permanent marker to write with because it was the only thing we found that really worked well (though that caused its own problems).  The workbooks are beautiful, but the price of printing them at this high quality is a bit of a turn off for me.  I’d gladly give up some of the vibrancy to have something more affordable.

Workbook Collage
Ian’s favorite part of the program was definitely the stickers.  He went a little nuts slapping labels on things around the house.

Sticker Collage
My husband was cracking up when he opened up the fridge to pack his lunch and found the bread labeled “el pan,” and the fruit bearing “la manzana” and “la naranja” stickers.

Food Collage
I love that the videos use an immersion approach.  As I said, I feel so inadequate trying to teach them a language I have only minimal knowledge of, so I am so grateful to be able to give them an opportunity to hear native speakers using the language fluently.

I’m so glad we’ve found Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids, and my kids are already asking for the next DVD.  (Volumes 2 and 3 are also available.)  They’re taking ownership of the vocabulary they’ve learned, and I hear them using words and phrases throughout the day, even when we’re not “doing Spanish.”  Just the other day, I set my 2-year old’s lunch in front of him, and he exclaimed, “Oh! Me gusta!”

That’s what I’m looking for in a foreign language program.

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review
Crew Disclaimer

Talking Shapes Online (Crew Review)

Talking Shapes Review
All my children have shown a proclivity for learning through computer programs, so I’m always on the lookout for new things they can try out.  We were recently given a chance to review a new online version of the Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy app from Talking Fingers Inc., and Arianna (4) has enjoyed having a program just for her.

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}

About Talking Shapes

Talking Shapes is an online program that you can access through any computer or device with Internet access.  It teaches phonics using pictures that children can associate with letters and their sounds.  They practice writing the letters, reading the sounds, and creating words by putting letters together.

There are seven “books” users work their way through.  As they complete the lessons in each book, they can see their progress on the main menu.  Arianna completed three of the books during our review period, and each one used consonant-vowel-consonant words focusing on a particular short vowel sound.

Main Menu
There are a variety of different activities within each “book.”  In some, pictures are shown, and the student is supposed to choose from a selection of letters in order to spell the word.

Talking Shape 1
After the student has practiced several words, they are given a chance to read and then fill in missing words in a rhyme.

Talking Shapes 3

Our Experience

I had high hopes for Talking Shapes.  It seems like a fun concept to help children learn phonics.  In actuality, however, it seems like the online version still needs a bit of fine tuning.  (I haven’t used the app, but I’m guessing our frustrations were due to technical issues related to the new format.) I tried to let Arianna work independently while I was doing lessons with the boys, but she constantly was running into problems with things not working for her and I would have to tell her to just quit for the day, or else stop what I was doing and come over to click around or test things to get everything going again.  (She uses several other online programs with no trouble, so I know it wasn’t just that she didn’t know how to use the computer.)

For example, she is okay with a mouse, but I thought using our touch screen computer would be a good way for her to practice writing letters.  Unfortunately, we ran into all sorts of problems trying to use the touch screen (she couldn’t drag her finger without it adjusting the zoom, so she had to tap it just right, which proved frustrating).  I finally gave up and just had her do the best she could with the mouse.  It didn’t really matter, because she didn’t have to form the letter correctly; just scribbling over it made the letter appear.

letter formation scribbles
Overall, I liked the phonics practice it gave Arianna, but while the idea of “talking shapes” makes sense, at times it seemed like a hindrance to actually making progress with learning to read.  Arianna already knows most of the letters and their sounds, but in some of the activities she was supposed to choose a picture, rather than a letter, so she had to learn which pictures meant which letter, which seemed like an extra, unnecessary step.  (Then she used the mouse to scribble over the picture and reveal the letter.)  For example, in the activity shown below, she was supposed to spell the word in the picture between the two girls, in this case, CAT.  The “talking shape” of the cat represented C, but then she was supposed to choose the A and T.  She had a hard time remembering that the girl with her arms down represented “A.”  If she had been shown the actual letter she would have been able to complete this word quickly.

Talking Shapes 2
These activities would probably be more helpful for students who have no previous phonics knowledge, but Arianna found them a bit frustrating because she thought she knew how to spell the words but then she got tripped up by the “talking shape” pictures.

Overall, I think Talking Shapes has a lot of potential.  It really helped boost Arianna’s confidence in her reading skills, and I was glad to have a place for her to practice outside of her regular lessons.

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Another Look at CTCMath (Crew Review)

CTCMath Review
One of our favorite math resources for the past few years has been CTCMath.  Their online math curriculum has helped both my older boys, and since the site has recently been updated, we were thankful to be given a one-year CTCMath Homeschool Membership to see what’s new with one of our old favorites.

About CTCMath

CTCMath is an online math program with over a thousand lessons for Kindergarten through high school.  At the elementary levels, it can be used as a complete math curriculum, though the higher levels are intended to be used for tutoring purposes alongside a full curriculum.  Students have access to every lesson of every grade level, so they can target specific concepts they are struggling to understand.

CTC Menu

At each grade level, lessons are grouped by subject and broken down into a series of menus.  Diagnostic tests (available with 20, 30, or 40 questions) are available to show how much the students know about that subject before they begin those particular lessons.  The tests can also be used after completing all the lessons in that subject to show how much they have understood.

CTC lesson list

Each lesson consists of a short video teaching followed by a set of questions (usually about ten.) While the students can work completely independently and click on whatever lesson they want, parents can also assign specific lessons for the student to complete.  They can also pull up various reports to check their students progress.  (Reports can be downloaded or printed as well.)

The summary report shows which lessons have been completed, the student’s average score for each subject, and scores on any diagnostic tests completed at a particular grade level.

Summary Report

A detailed report is also available, which shows how many times the student attempted the lesson, how they did on various attempts, and how many attempts it took to pass that subject.  (The default “pass” level is 80%, but parents can change this if desired.)

Detailed Report

To practice math facts, there are also “speed skills,” which allow them to see how many facts (all four operations) they can complete in a minutes, and “Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up,” a game that gets in extra multiplication practice.

Speed skills
Times Tables game

Our Experience

CTCMathWe have used CTCMath in various ways over the years, sometimes as a supplement, other times as our sole curriculum, and there are so many things great things about it.  The video lessons are easy for the boys to understand and I love that they can work independently.  It’s also really helpful to have access to all the grade levels, because at times I’ve had both of them working either ahead of their current grade level or going back to an earlier grade to review.  Their homeschool family subscriptions also make it a great value for families like ours with lots of children who need a math program.

One thing I would love to see added would be a way for parents to go in and change a score.  There have been several times my boys have known the right answer but then their fingers slipped and they accidentally typed something wrong.  It throws off their whole average and they get really upset.  (They were especially frustrated this time around because they’ve gotten used to our current curriculum where I can go in and alter the grade book in such instances.)

This summer I chose to make it a supplement to our main math program.  In the past I have felt like CTCMath gives my boys a bit too much freedom because there’s not a set sequence for the lessons.  They can choose whatever lesson they want (unless I want to set assignments for each of them). That’s great for keeping their skills up in the summer, and it makes it really easy to find the extra help they need on specific concepts.  However it also means that they can get through all the addition lessons and then not touch on addition for weeks or even months as they go through other concepts for the year.  I have found that they really need more frequent review, so for us CTCMath works best as a supplement while we use a core curriculum with a”spiral” approach, where the boys are continually practicing concepts they have already learned.  However, CTCMath is perfect for giving the boys extra practice on concepts that they haven’t quite mastered, and having the videos to explain things in slightly different words sometimes makes a real difference.  It’s definitely going to be an important tool for us this year in making sure the boys have a solid math foundation before trying to build any further.

CTCMath Review
Crew Disclaimer

« Older Entries