Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Happy Kids Songs (Crew Review)

Looking for a fun way of teaching character education?  You might be interested in the children’s music we recently received from Happy Kids Songs.  We were given three albums to review: Friends & Sharing, Manners & Character, and Happiness & Attitude, as well as the Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills.

Happy Kids Songs Collage

What is it?

Happy Kids Songs is a series of children’s albums created by Don MacMannis (aka “Dr. Mac”), a child psychologist and award-winning songwriter.  The songs are intended to teach character as well as social and emotional skills that will help kids make choices that will lead to happiness and success. The website has links to download the music through either iTunes or  Each mp3 album contains 5 songs (downloadable separately or as a set).  Here are the songs on the three albums we got a chance to review: Happy Kids Songs ReviewFriends & Sharing (#1)

  • Sailing on the Seven C’s
  • Everybody Wants to Find a Friend
  • Sharing Friends
  • Happy as Happy Can Be
  • Together

Happy Kids Songs ReviewManners & Character (#6)

  • H-o-n-e-s-t-y
  • Quirks
  • Six Little Kids
  • The Golden Rule
  • The Magic Word

Happy Kids Songs ReviewHappiness & Attitude (#7)

  • Be Good to Yourself
  • Better Together
  • I Don’t Understand
  • Shake It Out and Dance
  • Who Knows What’s a Kudo?

Other albums in the series cover Social Skills & Bullying (#2), Feelings and Fears (#3), Practice and Success (#4), Talking and Listening (#5), and Respect and Responsibility (#8). Happy Kids Songs ReviewThe companion workbook goes along with the songs from all the albums and has two main sections.  The first includes lyrics to the songs as well as activity pages (e.g. word searches, dot-to-dots, and coloring pages). The second part of the book contains suggestions of other learning activities related to each song, mostly designed for larger groups of children. The copyright allows you to reproduce the workbook pages for a co-op or in a classroom. Everything in the softcover workbook is actually available for FREE on the Happy Kids Songs website, but purchasing the workbook saves the trouble of downloading and printing the 80 files individually.

Our Experience with Happy Kids Songs

At first, we just listened all the way through the 15 songs we were given.  Dr. Mac talks about “seeding” the songs with kids, just getting them familiar with them before discussing the meaning.  After this initial exposure, we focused on just one or two songs at a time to addressing specific things that came up with our kids.

It was really helpful to have the lyrics so we could follow along and break down the songs during our discussion.  Once we talked through the words, my kids (well, the 4- and 6-year olds, at least) were able to listen more carefully and sing along.

I think Happy Kids Songs are a wonderful resource for parents (or teachers).  Each song teaches a valuable lesson, and the albums are a great addition to any character education program.  Here are a few of my favorite songs:

  • “6 Little Kids” tells the story of 6 children who close their eyes and try to describe an elephant based on what they can feel in front of them.  Each one describes something very different.  Sometimes it is tempting to think someone is wrong for seeing a situation differently, but it’s important to remember that we each have a unique perspective.
  • “The Golden Rule” relays Jesus’ classic advice to “Just do to others what you would like them to do to you.”  How many times a day do I remind my children of this?  Having a song to sing helps me keep the message fresh so they don’t just tune me out.
  • “Shake it Out and Dance” addresses the issue of “I can’t.”  I have one child who says this constantly, and I’m working really hard to break the habit.  The song is a fun reminder that it’s better to try than to just hold back by saying, “I can’t.”

I also really like the workbook.  My kids love the activity pages in the first section, but I found the second half of the book to be most valuable part of the whole program.  There are so many great suggestions for helping teach the lesson of each song.  For example, here are some of the ideas to go along with “Who Knows What’s a Kudo?” First you see the main point of the lesson:

Focus: Giving and receiving compliments

Social and Emotional concepts:

  • Seeing the best in others
  • Focusing on the positive
  • Thanking people for their efforts

Then there are several suggestions for activities (which I’ve just summarized here):

    • Pair the children up and have them each say three positive things about each other.  Then write those things on a cards and have the larger group try to figure out who each card is describing.
    • Make acrostics of each child’s name having them think of positive words to go with each letter, like these that the boys and I did together.  (They really enjoyed this and wanted to do one for Arianna, but I wasn’t sure I could come up with three positive “A” words for a 2-year old so I said we’d hold off on that!)


  • Make “friendship soup” by having the children brainstorm different friendship traits and write them on separate cards.  Then put all the cards in a bowl and stir them up with a big spoon.  Have the children each draw a card, read the trait, and name another person in the group who demonstrates that trait.

There are ideas like this for each song.  While most of them are designed for a classroom setting, many are easily adaptable for families to use as well.

Just the Facts

  • This is geared for ages 4-8, but my younger children also enjoyed the music.
  • Songs – $.99 each (available to download individually)
  • Albums (5 songs on each) – $4.95
  • Happy Kids Songs Workbook – $12.56

Final Thoughts

I don’t plan to continue using Happy Kids Songs on a regular basis, though I might pull some of them out again at some point.  For one thing, I’m rather fussy about musical styles, and these songs weren’t to my particular taste.  (I never heard any complaints from my kids though, so I think they enjoyed them.)

However, the main reason I don’t see them as something our family will use is because I prefer to keep our character education rooted in the Bible so my kids will be able to connect decisions about their attitudes and behavior with God’s truth.  Many of the lessons taught in Happy Kids Songs stem from biblical concepts, but I would be more inclined to use them if I had an quick reference that listed Bible verses to go along with each song.  If I ever end up back in a public school classroom, however, these would be a great resource!

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The Heart of Homeschooling: Discussion Studies

Educating the WholeHearted Child: 12

WholeHearted“If Discussion Studies are not the constantly beating heart at the center of WholeHearted Learning, pulsing the life-blood of new thoughts and ideas to every part of the model, then the life will soon go out of your homeschool” (page 211).

I have always loved to discuss ideas.  One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I get to engage my children in discussions about things I love: the Bible, literature, history, theology, art, music…

There are things to enjoy in each stage of homeschooling, but I am really looking forward to a few years from now, when I can start discussing some of the favorite novels of my childhood with my children.  There are so many “friends” I’ve been eagerly waiting to introduce them to: Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox and Dickon, Johnny Tremain, Heidi, … There are times and places I long to take them as we snuggle up on the couch and spend the afternoon reliving history in our imaginations.

I don’t think we’ll have any problems keeping Discussion Studies at the heart of our homeschool.  There are so many wonderful things to look forward to in the years to come!

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Wizzy Gizmo (Crew Review)

Wizzy Gizmo CollageWe are always on the lookout for new audio entertainment, so we jumped at the chance to review Wizzy Gizmo‘s Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, which takes the listener on a creative, sensory journey through the first chapter of the Bible.

What is Wizzy Gizmo?

Wizzy Gizmo offers several products that are designed to help engage children in learning about the Bible.  In addition to Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, they have two books based on Old Testament stories (the first tells the same story as the audio drama from Genesis 1, and the second moves on to Genesis 2), and a set of cards that teach about the books of the New Testament.  (Other members of the Crew received these products to review, so you can visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to see what they had to say about them!)

Wizzy Gizmo Review

The audio drama is much more than a retelling of Genesis 1.  The story features “Gizmovision,” an invention that “takes any book you have and creates a life-like world inside a bubble.  You not only see the story, but you can touch, taste, feel, and smell the story.”  Wizzy Gizmo, the inventor, and a group of children (along with a couple of silly sidekicks) embark on a journey into the biblical account of Creation.  Day by day, they hear the words of the biblical text (read from the New American Standard Bible) and then use all their senses to observe what it would have been like to be there.

There are several catchy songs interwoven through the story, some just silly and fun, but others very worshipful.

Our Family’s Experience

Before we listened to Who Created Everything?, I had some hesitations about Wizzy Gizmo.  I was afraid it was trying to add modern elements to the biblical story of Creation in order to make it more entertaining to kids.  Once we listened to it, however, I was reassured that this was not the case.  Instead, “Wizmovision” is used to help the bring the story to life, allowing the kids to think about how all their senses would experience the wonder of Creation.  More than once I caught myself thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s what it would have been like!”  It made the Creation story real to me in ways I had never considered.

I was impressed by the quality of the album.  Although at times the acting seemed a bit forced, the overall production was excellent.  (Audio samples are available on the website.)  The music was beautifully orchestrated, and I especially enjoyed the last few tracks on the CD that were just the soundtrack with no voices.

P1030666As for my kids, all I can say is that they have never all been so into any audio entertainment right from the start!  I first put in on in the car as we returned home from a morning out, hoping it would capture their attention enough that no one would fall asleep before we could get home for naps.  It sure worked!  They were immediately drawn in and spent the entire ride listening and laughing, especially when it got to the “Mango” song.  The boys begged to take the CD into their room when we got home, and I think they listened to it four more times that first day.  Arianna, who’s only 2, enjoyed it every bit as much as Ian, who is 6 and usually likes to listen to things beyond the attention span of the younger kids.  (The recommended age is 4-12, but I think some kids on the older end of that span might find it rather juvenile.)

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into the production of the Wizzy Gizmo resources.  The “Who, What, Why and How?” page on the website shares a lot of the careful decisions made by the creators to ensure that the products are thoroughly biblical and wholesome.

[Note: The website itself seems to be still under construction.  In addition to several typos that made me cringe, we were unable to find any of the "games, puzzles, and other fun activities" the CD insert said were there.]

Just the Facts

Final Thoughts

We want more Wizzy Gizmo!  Since the CD is labeled “Episode One,” Ian’s been begging me to get “the rest of them,” but there aren’t any addition albums yet.  Our whole family enjoyed this one so much that we’ll be quick to purchase any new audio dramas that Wizzy Gizmo produces in the future.

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Disciplined Studies (Math)

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 11 (part 2)

WholeHearted Back when I was in elementary through high school, if you had asked me what my least favorite subject was, I would have quickly answered, “Math!”  After my days of math class were behind me, however, I realized that it wasn’t really math itself I found distasteful; it was the way it was taught.  I thrived on the challenge of math, and because I grasped things quickly, I spent a lot of time waiting for the rest of my class to be ready to move on, which meant I rarely felt challenged.  I think if I had been homeschooled and could move at my own pace I would probably have found it one of my favorite subjects.

I actually really like most things about mathematics. I resonated with these reasons Clarksons give for considering a study of math worthwhile:

“Math is empowering–it strengthens logical thinking, which can contribute to real-life problem solving skills.

Math is rewarding–there is a certain feeling of pride and accomplishment in getting the right answers to challenging math problems.

Math is necessary–the bottom line of math study is acquiring abilities that enable us to function successfully and independently in society.

Math is affirming–the beauty, elegance, and exactness of math reflect the nature and faithfulness of God (unchanging) in contrast to the corruption and confusion of sin” (page 206).

I love the sense of order, knowing there’s a definitely right answer, and working my way through whatever I need to do to find that answer.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of solving math problems, and I see that same enjoyment in my children, particularly Elijah.  I could easily see him wanting to work his way all the way through calculus.

I’ve written a lot in the past about some of my struggles in teaching math to Ian.  I want to be sure that I don’t drive him towards a dislike for math simply because I’m not teaching it in a way that works for him.  Right now I feel like we’re in a really good place, but I want to stay sensitive to his learning style and needs.  I’m not saying he has to love math, but I hope he’ll be able to enjoy it more than I did as a child.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Mathletics from 3P Learning (Crew Review)

PicMonkey CollageEver since my boys learned to read using, I’ve been hoping to find an online program that would be equally fun for learning math.  We jumped at the chance to try out a 12 month subscription for two students to Mathletics from 3P Learning, the company behind Reading Eggs.

What is Mathletics?

Mathletics is an online math program with a wide variety of activities that help students in grades K-12 practice math skills while having fun.  (Apps are available for iOS and Android.)  Although it is intended to be used as a supplement, there is so much here that I would feel comfortable using it as our sole curriculum, at least in the lower grades.

There are several features within Mathletics (shown on the right side of the student’ console):

  • Live Mathletics – where students can compete with other Mathletics users from all over the world
  • Activities – The main curricular component, where students complete lessons to earn gold bars
  • Problem Solving – fun games that students unlock as they earn their gold bars in Activities
  • Concept Search – an “encyclopedia” of math terms with video explanations
  • Rainforest Maths – a free play area full of different fun math activities
  • Times Tables Toons – music videos to help students learn multiplication facts

CaptureAs I said, the Activities area is where you find the core of the curriculum.  Here the student first selects a topic (see above), which opens up a list of activities within that topic (see below).  There isn’t any instruction, so if the student doesn’t know how to find the answer they’ll need to click on the help option to know what to do.  (I think this is the main reason the program is considered supplemental.)  When they achieve at least 95% on one of these activities, they earn a gold bar.


On the left side of the screen you see the two measures of progress:

  • Points are earned by completing activities and playing Live Mathletics.  The Student Console shows both daily and weekly accumulations.  It is recommended that students try to earn 1000 points each week (which earns them a Bronze Certificate).
  • Gold Bars show how many Activities have been completed (out of the total for that course/grade level).

Students can personalize the appearance of their Student Console by choosing a theme.  Neither of my boys spent any time on this, but the backgrounds automatically change from night to day, and we also noticed a fun background during the World Cup, so even without them doing anything it was never just a static page.  (They did enjoy creating their own Avatars.)

Parents can help guide their students’ progress through Mathletics in several ways by signing into the Parent Account to find the following:

  • Select your child’s course according to the standards you want their activities to follow.  Options include the Common Core and several different state standards.  (You can modify the course up to 6 times in a year with a home license.)
  • The Task Manager allows you to assign up to 10 activities for your child to complete.  (A pop-up will appear the next time they sign in and their Student Console will be locked until they complete the assignments.)
  • In addition to the online program, parents also have access to a full series of printable Instant Workbooks for every grade level (Series A-M) which complement the digital resources (downloadable pdf files).  The picture below shows what is available for Series A (Kindergarten).  As you can see, the list of workbooks is extensive (I combined several screenshots to view them all at one glance).  Each workbook is 30+ pages long.  The workbooks are one of the reasons I think it would be very feasible to use Mathletics as your sole math curriculum at this level.


How We Used It

I used this mostly with Elijah while Ian and I were busy with other lessons.  (He’s only 4 and not even going into Kindergarten this year, but he just adores all things math-related and I knew he’d have no problem doing Kindergarten level work.)   He usually worked independently, though occasionally I would sit with him just to get familiar with the program.  For the most part we stuck with the Activities, Problem Solving, and Rainforest Maths.  I only did a little of the workbooks with him because he hasn’t done a lot of writing up to this point.


Once Ian saw what Elijah was doing with Mathletics online he wanted to get in on the fun, so I showed him how to sign on as well.  At first he started in the 1st grade course, and he did okay on the graphs and base ten counting, but then it asked him to add 6+9+4, and he got overwhelmed.  Since we hadn’t started 1st grade yet at the time I asked him if he wanted to stay there or switch to the Kindergarten level.  He chose to go back to Kindergarten so he could do the same work as Elijah, and I figure it will be good for him to solidify those concepts and build confidence so that was fine.

(There is an button to click to select something easier or harder, but Elijah never needed adjusting and Ian didn’t spend very much time using the program, so we didn’t ever utilize this option.)

What We Liked

Mathletics is great for Elijah because he can work at the level where his brain is without being held back by his fine motor skills.  He was enthusiastic about doing the worksheets, however, so I may use those with him whenever he wants some writing practice.

Elijah really liked the way things were set up online.  He got great joy out of unlocking his “Problem Solving” games by earning gold bars.  I was impressed with the level of thinking some of them required, and he enjoyed the challenge.  I saw him go back to his favorites over and over.

Capture 3

I really appreciated the weekly reports (emailed for each student), which have a lot of helpful information:

  • Participation summary (how many times they signed in, how many minutes they worked on curriculum activities or Live Mathletics)
  • Total points earned
  • Record of Curriculum Activities completed (name of activity, score, points earned)
  • Gold Bar Progress

Suggestions for Improvements

Both my boys loved the “Rainforest Maths” section and spent quite a bit of time playing in those sections.  It seemed a shame that they didn’t get points for any of the time they spent there.  I understand that it’s an “extra” and that they want to encourage students to complete curriculum activities, but since the games all had some educational value it would have been nice if the time there helped them reach their weekly points goal.


Just the Facts

NOTE: When I signed Elijah up for the 10-day free trial, I got an email about a week into it offering 25% off if I purchased a subscription right then.  After I missed that window, there was an offer for 10% if I signed up by the end of the 10-day “Guest Pass” period.  So if you’ve decided after the first few days that you’re going to want to sign up, do so right away!

My Overall Impression

Mathletics was everything I was looking for in an online math program, with a careful balance of solid curriculum and entertaining games and rewards to keep them interested.  I don’t want to require any schoolwork for Elijah until he is at least Kindergarten age (still one more year to go), but this is perfect for him to work on according to his interest level.  And while I am happy with Ian’s current math program right now, if we need a break from it I would be very comfortable using Mathletics alone for his 1st grade math.

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Lightning Literature & Composition – Grade 1 (Crew Review)

PicMonkey CollageIt’s no secret that we have a house full of book lovers.  Literature has been one of the most important parts of our educational journey since I first started being intentional with Ian about “school” when he turned 2.  So I was intrigued when I heard about Lightning Literature & Composition: Grade 1 from Hewitt Homeschooling, and blessed by the chance to review the Teacher Guide and Student Workbook over the last four weeks.

About This Program

Written by Elizabeth Kamath, Lightning Literature & Composition: Grade 1 incorporates quality children’s literature into a study of English grammar and mechanics while also guide them in writing their own compositions, making it a very thorough language arts curriculum.

P1030534xThe 302-page Teacher Guide is a softcover book that clearly lays out the lessons for each day.  The Teacher’s Guide includes questions to ask about the literature being used that week (and a place to record the student’s answers), instruction about the grammar or mechanical concept being taught (while teaching a specific concept such as when to use capital letters or what punctuation goes at the end of a sentence (with the focus on one concept each week), and specific instructions for the planning or writing of that week’s composition.

Each week’s literature lesson centers around a particular children’s book and also includes one of Aesop’s fables.  The books used include some of our favorite titles.  During the four weeks of our review, we revisited Harold and the Purple Crayon, Madeline, The Snowy Day, and Caps for Sale, and the list for the rest of the school year (36 weeks total) is equally delightful.

P1030535xThe Student Workbook is over 450 pages long! (The last lesson ends on page 439, but then there is a section for the child to create their own “dictionary” at the end, with a page for each letter.)  Most of the pages relate to the story for that week, even the grammar worksheets, which not only help the student practice the concept being taught that week but also review the concepts previously covered.

The pages are printed in full color on high quality, fairly glossy paper.  Everything is written in a large font that keeps the appearance simple and easy for the child to read.  The pages are 3-hole punched and perforated, which is really helpful given the book’s size.  It would be much easier to tear out the pages before giving them to the child to complete and then collect them in a separate notebook as opposed to having him try to work in such a thick book (especially since some are double-sided).

Additional materials needed are the children’s books (all are well-known titles that should be available at your local library), a copy of Aesop’s fables (available for purchase from Hewitt Homeschooling, or there are several free versions available online), and a composition book (or 3-ring binder in which to collect the child’s compositions).

How We Used It

We usually read the book of the week early in our day, when we gathered on the couch to read several things together.  (The book is scheduled to be read twice a week, but we usually did it at least three times.) It was a cozy story time that all my kids enjoyed being a part of.  P1030438xAfter the story my little ones would go off to play and Ian and I would talk through any of the planning steps for that week’s composition.  Then as we got ready to head to our school room for “seat work,” I went over the grammar and mechanics lesson with Ian and explained what he would be doing in his workbook.

Ian gets frustrated with too much writing, so I usually only had him do the workbook pages and the final draft of his composition.  I wrote notes on all the brainstorming, planning, etc. that we did together, and he dictated the rough drafts to me.  Then on Thursdays he would copy his final draft.

The Teacher’s Guide leaves Fridays open for catching up or doing additional activities.  We usually had finished our work, so we either took Fridays off or did something extra to go along with the literature.

What We Liked

I loved the literature selections, and reading the books was definitely our favorite part of the program.  It is easy to use because every part of each day is clearly written out in the Teacher Guide.  I especially liked the suggestions at the end of each week for additional activities related to the books.


The other thing I really liked was the gentle approach to composition. It was our first time doing anything of this sort, but Ian enjoyed creating his own stories, and this program did a great job of guiding him step by step.  There was never an overwhelming amount of work on any one day, but instead the process was broken down into simple tasks to help him craft his compositions.  After seeing how much he enjoyed this I am definitely planning to get him a composition book in which to copy stories he writes.  I think he will really like creating a book of his own work.

What Didn’t Work for Our Family

While I appreciated the inclusion of Aesop’s Fables in the curriculum, I would have liked a little more direction in how to use them.  My plan originally was to have Ian narrate them back to me, but the very first week that idea was challenged by the selection of the fable.  Even I was puzzled by what the moral was supposed to be teaching, so I wasn’t really able to help Ian figure out what the story meant and we didn’t do much more than just read it.  Thankfully, the fables in the following weeks were clearer, but I still would have liked a little more guidance on including them in our lesson.

Aside from that, however, the overall approach of Lightning Literature & Composition just doesn’t really fit well with my philosophy of education.  I try not to use worksheets very often and don’t plan to spend a lot of time focusing on grammar and mechanics until my children are older, preferring to let them pick up the concepts more naturally through copywork and reading, and then address issues as they come up rather than through a systematic approach.

P1030545Even if I felt like worksheets were a productive use of my children’s time, I’m not a fan of consumable resources.  The student workbook is easy for students to read because it keeps things simple, but that also means there’s not a lot on each page.  It felt really wasteful when I had Ian complete pages that seemed unnecessary to me.

Not only do I feel guilty wasting so much paper, but with multiple children in our family, I lean more toward materials I will be able to use over and over again.  When I do use an occasional worksheet, I prefer something in pdf form that allows me to print only the pages I want and reuse them for each of my children.  I would be more inclined to use this program if the student guide were available as a downloadable pdf that could serve our family in years to come.

My Overall Impression

I know my methods of homeschooling don’t work for every family.  I tend to like a lot of flexibility and don’t usually follow curriculum the way it’s intended.  If you’re like the many who prefer to have scripted lessons and detailed plans, I think this is a great choice for 1st grade language arts.  You and your children will enjoy the wonderful literature, they will learn a lot about grammar and mechanics, and they will have the opportunity to grow as writers through the well-planned composition portion of the curriculum.P1030532x

Just the Facts

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Disciplined Studies: Language Arts

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 11

WholeHeartedMaybe it’s because I come from a family of teachers and have my own classroom experience, but I’ve never struggled with the insecurity I know many homeschool moms feel when they think of the enormous responsibility they have taken on as their children’s main teacher.  The only time I waver a bit is in areas when I’m taking an approach that’s completely different from the way something is taught in schools.

One of the main places I see this is with language arts.  Schools tend to use a systematic approach to teaching things like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and composition.  I feel those things are best taught through regular exposure to good literature.  The Clarksons have a similar approach.

“The more language your children are exposed to in the early years, the more they will naturally acquire good grammar.  Grammar rules, which will never by themselves make any child good at grammar, can wait until your child is writing easily and well at around age ten, and then only if they are needed” (page 199).

The same is true for things like punctuation and spelling.  Rules and word lists are not as affective as constant interaction with the written word.  We use methods such as reading aloud, narration, copywork, and dictation to teach the same concepts, and it feels so much more natural helping Ian pick things up as we go along.  I need to remember this when I start seeing what other people are doing and get worried.  I really appreciated this chapter because it reassured me I’m not being negligent by postponing the technical side of things.

In my college music history class I remember being struck by the knowledge that composers like Mozart and Beethoven grew up learning music theory and the mechanics of writing music by paying careful attention as they copied beautiful music of other composers note by note.  In the same way, I believe my children will learn how to write and communicate best by paying close attention to how other authors have used beautiful language before them.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Accountable Kids (Review)

collageOne of the treasures I brought home from the Great Homeschool Convention last month was a bag full of goodies from Accountable Kids.  I was so impressed with this program from the moment I first stopped by their booth that I purchased boards for all four of my children, knowing that it’s something we will be using for years to come and even Nicholas would need his own place to keep track of his responsibilities.  Almost everyone who has come into our home since we started the program has commented on them, and so I thought I’d take some time to share with you about how Accountable Kids has helped our family.


What is It?

Accountable Kids is a system that helps children take responsibility for the things they need to do each day.  Although it has some components of a “chore chart,” it’s actually more of a time management system, because it includes things like eating meals and taking their vitamins as well as jobs like picking up toys or doing the dishes.

The main components of the program are the Progress Board and the various cards that are used with it.  Without going into a detailed explanation of all the cards, let me just give a quick overview.

The “responsibility cards” tell the child what they need to do.  You can trim the length to group them into different times of the day (morning, day, and evening).


At the beginning of the day, all the cards are hanging on the first peg of their board.  When the child completes the action on the card, they flip it over onto the second peg.  When all the cards for that group are finished, the child gets a “ticket,” which they hang on the third peg.  If they complete all the responsibility cards that day, they will have earned 3 tickets, and they get a star on their “date” card (fourth peg).  On the fifth ticket, we hang cards with extra jobs that they can complete on top of their regular responsibilities.  When they complete one of these, they get a “bonus buck” card (which they hang behind their tickets on the third peg).


We keep all the rewards cards on our “Mini Board,” which is mounted out of the children’s reach above their boards.  (There are two other kinds of cards, the “Best Behavior Card” and the “Privilege Pass,” which are also hung here.)


So I just mentioned three kinds of rewards: tickets, stars on a “date card”, and “bonus bucks.”  The nice thing about these rewards is that each family can decided what those are worth.  I tell you about what we did in a minute.  It might sound a little complicated a first, but it’s actually pretty simple once you have it all in front of you.

Putting It to Use in Our Family

We watched the DVD with our kids, and they were eager to get started.  We let anticipation build up a bit as we went through a few steps to get things ready.

Personalizing Our Boards

The first thing we did was set to work decorating their boards.  I took the kids shopping and they each got to pick out some stickers.  I also bought some wooden letters to put on their names, which I painted and glued on the boards when I glued the pegs in.  Eric and I decided to cover them all with a coat of polyurethane (actually it took several coats) to give them a shiny finish before letting everyone decorate their own boards with the stickers they had chosen.

P1030377 P1030380

Prepping the Cards

P1030370Next we got out all the cards and have the kids stamp the back of them so we knew whose was whose.  (The mom at the Accountable Kids booth at the convention suggested this, and it was a great idea!  Not only do I know who dropped a card if I find it on the ground, it also ensures that they can’t spend anyone’s tickets but their own.)

Once the cards were all stamped, I went through and pulled out cards for the things the kids were already doing.  (I wanted to make sure we got the system running smoothly before we added in any new responsibilities).  I trimmed them according to what time of day I wanted to group them in, Eric and Ian hung everyone’s boards on the wall, and then we were ready to start.

Putting Accountable Kids to Work

P1030384Our first day was beautiful.  The kids were excited about it all.  They loved knowing what was expected of them, and they especially loved the rewards.  In our house, 1 ticket = 15 minutes of screen time (either a video or computer games).  Everyone worked hard, got things done, and earned all their tickets.  Lovely.

The second day was enlightening.  Personalities started to show.  Elijah was excited to start saving up his tickets, whereas Ian was thrilled that he could buy screen time and started spending his tickets immediately.

However, then reality set in.  He dragged his feet about completing his morning cards and missed out on that ticket.  He spent 2 hours staring at a math page he easily could have completed in 20 minutes.  It made me realize how dependent I have made him on me to push him and prod him into getting things accomplished.

After about 90 minutes, he was standing on his chair stomping his feet saying, “I want to be done NOW!” over and over and over again.  I loved knowing that there were clearly established consequences for the choices he was making.  I didn’t have to get upset.  I didn’t have to hover over him.  I just calmly reminded him that he could be done as soon as he made the decision to do what he was supposed to do.  Then I went about my business.  (I got so much accomplished that morning!)

Eventually I took him a drink, gave him a hug, and pointed out that he already knew the answer to the next problem.  He quieted down and got right to work.  We haven’t really had any problems since then.  The kids don’t earn all their tickets every day, but it’s usually because things just got too busy, not because they were being defiant.

In the month that we’ve been using Accountable Kids, we have come a LONG way.  I’ve added in a couple daily responsibilities for the boys, and they almost always work through their cards with a good attitude.  When we are out doing other things and they miss a few cards, no one has complained about not earning a ticket, because there’s not much time for screen time on those days anyway.

I’ve awarded a few “Best Behavior” cards, which they can use like a normal ticket.  The key to these cards is that they cannot be earned.  I might give one to a child who comes immediately when I call them all over, rewarding his obedience and showing the others that they missed out by not obeying right away.  Or if I see one of them going out of their way to help another sibling without being asked, I praise them and reward them with a Best Behavior card.  They never know when I decided to use them, but it’s made it that much more special when they get one.

We haven’t implemented the entire program yet.  Our boys have done a couple extra chores to earn bonus bucks, but we haven’t really emphasized that yet, so they’ve kind of forgotten about them (as have we).  I think once we cash the boys’ bonus bucks in for real money they’re going to be more motivated to get that part of the program up and running.

We also haven’t had any date nights with mom or dad yet, which is the reward for getting 10 stars on their date card.  (They get a star when they’ve completed every responsibility card that day.)  We also haven’t used the Privilege Passes at all yet.

What We Liked

I wish I could show you the difference Accountable Kids has made in the overall atmosphere of our home.  Eric and I were marveling the other night over what good attitudes everyone has and how responsible the older boys especially have become.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on all the changes, but let me list of few:

  • No nagging about specific chores. (We just ask them how they’re doing on their cards.)
  • The kids really appreciate being “in control” of their own day.  Even though we decide what their cards are, they get to choose whether they do them and get the rewards or grumble and complain and then miss out.
  • I rarely have to tell the kids “no” when they ask to watch a show.  If they don’t have tickets, they don’t ask.  If they do, I’m usually more than willing to let them watch because I’m grateful their jobs are done.
  • Smiles! My children have become much happier, I think because of being able to take charge of their own lives.  I am amazed at the difference in one in particular, whose eyes just light up at being able to see what is expected and being able to do it without a grown-up being in control.
  • Overall, our house is so much tidier than it ever has been, just because I don’t have to nag the kids to pick up their things.  And now that they have cards for things like sweeping and emptying the dishwasher, I feel like I’m not alone in trying to keep the household running.  It’s been SO nice!

What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

I wish there had been a visual “quick start” guide for when we first put everything in motion, just because there are a lot of parts to the program and it was hard to keep them all straight at first.  We watched the DVD (which was really helpful), but I am such a visual person and I wish there had been a chart I could look at to remember the different parts of the program.  I started reading the book, but I haven’t gotten very far.

Aside from that however, there’s not really anything I would add or change.  I am really pleased with how Accountable Kids is working for our family, and I know we’ll be using it for a long time.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I would definitely give this program a 5!

Just the Facts

Accountable Kids is geared toward kids ages 3-14.  (Arianna is 2 1/2 and we help her with her cards as much as she’ll let us, but it’s not something I would use with her yet if she didn’t have older siblings.)

If you’re interested in using Accountable Kids with your family, visit their website to find everything you’ll need to get started. (For our 4 kids, we bought the Basic Start-Up Kit plus 3 extra Child Kits and a mini board.)  Here’s what they sell:

  • Basic Start-Up Kit Package (shown here), which includes a book, one child kit, and a link to the Quick-Start video online – $45
  • Deluxe Start-Up Kit Package, which includes everything in the basic package, plus a Family Forum board (not discussed in this review) and a mini board – $65
  • Extra Child Kits, which include a natural wood Progress Board, 60 Reminder Cards, 3 blank Reminder Cards, 10 Tickets, 10 Bonus Bucks, 4 Best Behavior Cards, 2 Privilege Passes, 3 Special Date Cards, and 2 sticker sheets – $24.98 when purchased with either of the above packages

I can’t speak highly enough about this program.  We had been trying to figure out a system for getting chores done and paying the kids for extra work, but we just hadn’t been able to come up with anything as simple and effective as Accountable Kids.  It is exactly what we were looking for, and I’m so thankful we stumbled across it!

Comparing My Top 2 Choices for Science

PicMonkey CollageAs we headed into this year I found myself going back and forth between two really good choices to use as a framework for our science studies: the Young Explorers series published by Apologia, and the God’s Design for Science series published by Answers in Genesis.

They have many similarities.  Both use biblical, creation-based books, which was essential for our family.  Both are designed to be used by students for 1st through 8th grade.  All the books I’ve seen in both series are full of beautiful color illustrations that draw students in and make them want to find out more.  So what are the main differences between them?

To answer that question I spent a lot of time online trying to find out what other people’s experiences with them has been.  While I found a lot of helpful reviews, I didn’t see a lot comparing the two (which was what I was really hoping to find).  So I thought I’d take some time to write out some of my thoughts as I made my decision.

First, let me introduce you to each series in case you’re not familiar with one (or both) of them.

The Young Explorers Series

Exploring Creation: Young Explorers Seven Book SetThis popular series helps students explore God’s creation by focusing on a specific topic for an entire year.  The books in the series are:

Written at about a 5th grade level, the books are intended to be used with the entire family, from ages 6-13 (though Jeannie Fulbright, the author, recommends the last three books on this list be saved for 3rd grade and up).  There are seven books, so it would take seven years to complete all of them at the recommended pace. Student notebooks are available for each book (also Junior versions) to help reinforce what is being learned.

The books are divided up into large “lessons,” most of which can be covered in about two weeks.  (For example, the Zoology 1 book has 14 lessons.)  The lessons do contain smaller sections with subtitles, but they aren’t specifically broken up into chunks of what to read each day.

I’ve heard people call these “living books” a la Charlotte Mason, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch.  They have beautiful pictures and are written fairly conversationally, but they are still a textbook as far as I am concerned.

The God’s Design for Science Series

The other series I considered using is God’s Design for Science.  The entire curriculum can be covered in 4 years, with 3 books for each year (books can be purchased separately or as sets):

God’s Design for Science CurriculumGod’s Design for Life

  • The World of Plants
  • The Human Body
  • The World of Animals

God’s Design for Heaven and Earth

  • Our Planet Earth
  • Our Weather and Water
  • Our Universe

God’s Design for the Physical World

  • Heat and Energy
  • Machines and Motion
  • Inventions and Technology

God’s Design for Chemistry and Ecology

  • Properties of Matter
  • Properties of Atoms and Molecules
  • Properties of Ecosystems

Because it takes only 4 years to complete the curriculum, it is possible to go through every book twice, doing deeper with students as they get older.  Each of the smaller books contains 35 lessons, so by doing 3 lessons a week, you easily get through the entire set of 3 books in a school year.  A CD-ROM with worksheets to go along with the lessons is included in the Teacher Supplements.

What Influenced My Decision

I heard so many wonderful things about the Apologia series when Ian was younger that I just assumed we would use them.  Last year we tried to use Exploring Creation With Astronomy (I had read of several families online who used it with Kindergarteners), but he definitely wasn’t ready.  He’s really interested in space, but it got too tedious after a while.  I stopped because I didn’t want to kill his natural love for the subject (though a few times he’s pulled it off the shelf and asked me to read a little more).

Because of that experience, I started looking into other options for science, and sometime in the middle of last year I discovered the God’s Design series, which became the only other one I seriously considered.  I had a really hard time even thinking about letting go of the Apologia (Young Explorers) series, just because I know it is fantastic and so many people love it.  However, when I forced myself to look at the two more objectively, the decision became much easier, and in the end I decided to go with God’s Design for Science (at least for now).

Here are the main reasons for that decision:

Clear Differentiation for Younger/Older students

The main thing on my mind as I decided which series to choose was how easy it would be to implement each one with our large family over the next several years.  The differentiation for younger and older students in the God’s Design books was the main selling point for me.  I know so many people who love the Apologia books, and while I agree that the content is wonderful (we have two of them and I’ve been able to look through several others), I feel like they’re just a bit advanced for younger students to go through the entire book, and we’re going to have young ones around for quite a while.

To show the difference between the two, here are lessons on flight from each book.

This page from Exploring Creation With Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day) has a lot of wonderful information, but it would be a lot for my 1st grader to take in:


In contrast, here is the page on flight from The World of Animals (one of the books in God’s Design for Life):


On the left is the “Beginners” section, which is a basic introduction to the topic, just enough for younger students.  On the right, you can see the beginning of the more in-depth section for older students.  The blue boxes have extra activities, some of which are appropriate for younger students, but others we’ll save for later.

It is so easy to use these books with a 1st grader.  We just open the book and read the appropriate section.  If we want to go more in depth, we either read further or pull out related books according to Ian’s interest.  With the Apologia book I think I would probably have to read the information on my own and then just summarize it for Ian (judging by our experience with Exploring Creation With Astronomy a few months ago).

Yet it will be just as easy to use the same books in four years.  Arianna will be in 1st grade that year and can stick with the Beginners section, but I won’t have to buy a new book to use with Ian in 5th grade because everything is already right there, requiring no additional lesson planning or work to coordinate what the different members of the family are studying.  I love that!

Structured Lessons

When we were reading through the Astronomy book, I just read as many smaller sections as I thought Ian could handle at once, not knowing if we were really staying on schedule to get through the book in a year (though it soon became clear that I wasn’t).  I suppose I could have gone through and marked out specific readings for each day, but that would have been rather time-consuming.  Plus, we probably would have had to read every day to get through the entire book in a school year using the length of reading that Ian could handle.

I really like the way the God’s Design series breaks down the reading into specific material for each day.  The way the reading is structured makes it really easy to know whether we are behind or if we have a little extra time to spend on topics that interest Ian.

My goal is to to do science 2 days a week.  Since we want to finish 3 lessons a week to stay on schedule, sometimes I read 2 lessons in one day, which hasn’t seemed overwhelming at all.  He’s also creating a notebook as we go, and the separate lessons have made it easy to decided what to write about.

4-Year Program is Easily Repeatable

If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about how much I love “cycles” when it comes to long-term planning.  I think it is extremely beneficial to give children a chance for repeating the same material at increasingly deeper levels as the grow.  I like that we can cover the God’s Design series in 4 years and then repeat it before my children get to a more thorough study of individual subjects in high school.  (I also am drawn to 4-year cycles because, as I said earlier, I think it will make it easier to study subjects as a family.)

Broad Scope of Science

The Young Explorers series seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time on life science as opposed to physical science.  While I personally lean toward biology and anatomy, I know my boys are fascinated by things like machines and inventions, and it just seemed like those subjects got the short end of the stick with the Apologia series.

Variety Within Each Year

I appreciate Jeannie Fulbright’s desire to help students retain knowledge by pursuing deeper study and spending an entire year on each subject.  Maybe it’s because I’m not as much of a science enthusiast as she is, but the thought of spending an entire year on most subjects fills me with dread.

I don’t want to skip any major parts of science with my children simply out of my own reluctance to spend such an extended period of time on them.  I like the way the God’s Design series allows for flexibility as far as subjects.  Although they have three similarly themed books in each set, you can actually just treat each individual book as a separate unit.  If you want to do one book from God’s Design for Life and then take a break by choosing a book from God’s Design for Heaven and Earth, it wouldn’t be a problem.  Even if you do the entire set (as we plan to do this year), there is still some variety built in.  I decided to spend the our first term on animals, then we’ll move on to the human body, and finally we’ll finish up by studying plants in the spring.

A Final Word

Both of these series offer fantastic, God-honoring science curricula for homeschool families.  While for now we are using God’s Design for Science, I will probably still collect the rest of the Young Explorers books when I see a good deal.  Perhaps later on we will use them as the main part of our science studies, but for now they will be a beautiful addition to our library.


Bible Study vs. Devotional Reading

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 10 (part 2)

WholeHeartedLast week I talked about three goals I had when it came to my children and the Bible.  After some prayer, I ended up amending the third goal, which was to start encouraging Ian to have a daily devotional time on his own.  It was a lesson for me in seeking the Lord’s will before making my own plans.  (Back to that Word for 2014: Pray!)

As I finished Chapter 10, I noticed that the Clarksons have almost an opposite approach to mine.

“Serious, systematic Bible study is important, but it can wait until the high school years.  In the childhood years, you are building spiritual appetites and habits for the Bible that will become personal commitments to serious Bible study later” (page 191).

They encourage Bible reading and developing a habit of daily devotions with younger children, but put off serious study until they are older.  In some ways that makes sense to me.  I really resonated with this statement:

“Too much formality risks turning the inspired Word of God into just another curriculum” (page 191).

I remember feeling that way in college.  I loved my Bible classes, and I felt so blessed to be at a Christian college where God’s Word was an important part of many of my classes, but I struggled at times with it becoming in some ways like another textbook.  I want to be careful to keep God’s Word as holy in our home, to not let it become “just another curriculum.”

However, I’m not sure I quite agree with what the Clarksons are saying.  Without serious study I worry they will be prone to take Scripture out of context (as I see so many Christians doing).  I see the early years a chance to fill my children’s minds and hearts with Scripture, and I feel that systematic study is an important part of knowing what they are reading.  My approach has been to focus on the stories and principles of the Bible, learning about the Bible itself, and memorizing as much as possible, laying a foundation for when they are older and their hearts/faith have caught up.

Also, as I wrote in my “amendment” last week, I want to hold off on encouraging Ian to have a daily devotional time until I know that he is resting on his own faith.  I don’t want to push him into “religious” habits that aren’t flowing from a heart that loves Jesus.  On the other hand, I know God can work through those times alone in prayer and Bible reading to help that loving faith grow and develop.  And I do think it’s a wonderful habit to help our children develop.

So I guess what I’m saying is I think it’s important to have both serious study and a more heart-focused devotional time.  For now, I feel God is leading me to wait until Ian expresses an interest in being baptized before guiding him toward a habit of devotional reading.  I suppose the best thing to do is continue to pray and seek God for wisdom in how to help my children walk along the path of faith.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

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