Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Beric the Briton (Crew Review)

Beric the Briton Review
We have loved everything we’ve listened to from Heirloom Audio Productions, so we were excited to get a chance to review their newest offering, Beric The Briton.  Like the previous adventures, this exciting audio drama is based on a historical novel by G.A. Henty and takes you back in time so you can “Live the Adventure,” this time in the days when the Romans were ruling in Britain.

About Heirloom Audio Productions

HeirloomAudio-Logo_zpsnjxedqzzHeirloom Audio Productions is introducing a new generation to the classic stories of G.A. Henty, a 19th century author whose historical novels are full of adventure, strong character values, and faith.  These are not audio books, but full dramatizations.  Each production features a talented cast, beautifully orchestrated soundtracks, and exciting drama that is entertaining for both children and adults.  Our family has enjoyed all of the “audio adventures” created by Heirloom Audio Productions so far:

Heirloom Audio Productions

About Beric the Briton

Beric the Briton not only meets the high standard that has been set by its predecessors, I think it’s actually my new favorite.  Beric is a wise, strong, principled young chief in Britain during Roman times.  He does not just dismiss the Romans as the enemy but learns from them and even befriends some of them.  When an oppressive Roman leader comes against the Britons, Beric trains a group of his men to fight more like the Romans, understanding the value of discipline and order rather than just relying on bravery.

Unfortunately, other British leaders tend to dismiss Beric’s wise advice, and eventually he and his men are captured and taken to Rome.  On the way, he saves the life of his enemy, which leads to him being told about “Christus.”  When he gets to Rome, where he and his men are trained as gladiators, he learns more about the one true God finds gains his freedom both spiritually and physically.

From the battles in Britain and the bold leadership of Queen Boadicea to the excitement of the Roman colosseum and Beric’s encounters with Emperor Nero, Beric the Briton is a dramatic story that kept our whole family (well, everyone 6 and up) entertained on long car rides (the entire thing is about two and half hours long).

In addition to the 2-CD set, members of the Crew received several downloadable bonus (included with the purchase with a “Family Four-Pack” Package:

  • Beric the Briton audio adventure (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 Beric the Briton (mp4 video download)

We just listened to Beric The Briton for entertainment, but the eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a great resource for homeschool families who want to incorporate the audio drama into their studies.  It includes a basic biography of G.A. Henty, as well as historical background information about the Roman Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea.  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.  Each section contains the following types of questions:

  • Listening Well (questions about what happened in the story)
  • Thinking Further (questions for further research or to think more deeply about things that happened in the story, as well as mapping activities, book suggestions, links to Google Earth tours, even a few recipes)
  • Defining Words (vocabulary used in the story)

Finally, there are suggestions for further reading about the Britons and Romans in the 1st Century, additional historical information, and three short Bible studies to help students explore biblical themes from the narrative (“The Importance of Studying History,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and “One Way”).

My favorite bonus, however, was the “Behind the Scenes” video, featuring interviews with the actors and producer, as well as footage of the cast at work in the recording studio.  The characters in this story are so rich, and hearing the actors speak about them helps give them even more depth than just listening to the audio drama.  This is a powerful story, and watching the video made me want to go back and listen all over again.

Beric the Briton video

Beric The Briton is definitely a hit around here.  Heirloom Audio Productions is going to have a hard time topping this one (but we can’t wait to see them try)!

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions Review
Crew Disclaimer

Learning Latin With Stories (Crew Review)

Olim Review
The one thing that has intimidated me about classical education is Latin.  I never studied it myself, which makes it a little scary to try to teach, as much as I can see the value in it.  When we got a chance to review a fun Latin program from Laurelwood Books, I decided this would be an easy way to get our feet wet.  We received the Olim, Once upon a Time in Latin, Reader I and Olim, Once Upon a time in Latin, Workbook I, which use familiar stories to help teach Latin.

About Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin

The Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin series has six levels, each consisting of a small softcover reader and a corresponding full-size softcover workbook.  The readers have fairy tales, fables, or Bible studies retold in simple English followed by a Latin translation, and can be used by themselves.  The workbooks, however, are really helpful as they walk the student through each page with various vocabulary exercises, as well as teaching helpful Latin grammar lessons.

Olim Workbook and Reader
The Volume I Reader is 57 pages long and starts with instructions in how to use the reader, a guide for “How to Pronounce Latin,” and a list of Roman Numerals.  Then it contains three stories: “The Three Little Pigs,” ” The Tortoise and the Hare,” and “The Crow and the Pitcher.”  Each story is presented in its in entirety in English with simple illustrations.  Then it is repeated in Latin with a vocabulary key on each page for new Latin words.

Olim Reader
The 80-page workbook really helps students get the most out of each story.  There are 30 pages for “The Three Little Pigs” alone, consisting of translation exercises, matching worksheets, and “Digging Deeper” features, which teach related grammar concepts.  An answer key is in the back of the workbook.

Our Experience

Ian readingI presented the whole subject as if we were working with a code, and we needed to figure out the messages written in Latin, and figure out how to put our own messages back into the code.  Right from the very first lesson, the boys caught on quickly and enjoyed figuring out the Latin words in the reader.

This series is intended for 2nd grade through 5th grade, so I knew Ian (8) would be ready for it.  However, I was pretty sure Elijah (6) could also get a lot out of it even though he couldn’t quite handle the amount of writing in the workbook.

I often found it easier to work with one boy at a time so that they each were able to sit close and study the reader.  Here’s what a lesson looked like for us:

  1. Read 1 page of the story in English
  2. Keeping my finger on the English page, I turned to the corresponding Latin page.
  3. I read through one sentence in Latin, then flipped back to the English page and had the student try to figure out which words “matched” based on similarities to English (necesse-necessary), roots that I could explain (“What do you do at an exit?  You go out.  So ‘exire’ means to go out.”), or words we’d already translated (erat/erant).
  4. After we had read through the entire page sentence by sentence, we pulled out the workbook to work on the vocabulary exercise that went with that lesson.  (I talked Elijah through these, but Ian was able to complete them mostly independently.)
  5. I went through the “Digging Deeper” pages on my own and taught them that material as a separate lesson.

Olim Digging Deeper
Because we are completely new to Latin, this was a learning experience for all of us.  I used the “Digging Deeper” pages in the workbook more like a Teacher’s Manual, and then I presented to information to the boys a little bit at a time using a whiteboard.  It just seemed a little too overwhelming to put a full page of explanations in front of either of them.

Overall, we really enjoyed this first exposure to Latin.  I discovered that Ian has a quick mind for learning languages, and he zipped through these lessons on his own.  I’ll definitely have to consider purchasing the next volume in the series.  If you want to try them out, Laurelwood Books is offering my readers a 20% discount, good until August 15, 2016.  Just enter discount code: blogger121.

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Online Bible Course from Veritas Press (Crew Review)

Veritas Press Bible Review
As much as I love teaching my children, I have found that sometimes I need them to work independently, and Veritas Press has proven to be a great place to turn.  Last year Ian went through one of the online Self-Paced History courses, and Elijah has been eager to have a turn.  He was thrilled to get to try their online Self-Paced Bible course “Old Testament 1: Genesis to Joshua.”

Veritas Bible 6

About Veritas Press Self-Paced Bible Courses

Veritas Press Bible Image
Veritas Press Self-Paced Bible Courses are interactive online lessons that take students through the Bible chronologically.  There are 32 events covered in “Old Testament 1: Genesis to Joshua,” corresponding to the Veritas Press Bible cards.  Each card is covered in 4 lessons (including the quiz at the end). It is possible to do the course without having the physical cards, but I decided to go ahead and purchase them, and I was glad I did.  Elijah liked having something tangible to refer back to, and he used them with almost every lesson.

VP Bible Cards
During the lesson two young Israelites, Asher and Abigail, act as teachers or guides, walking the student through the story (with a little help from an animated cat, Teb).

Veritas Bible 3
There are lots of different activities, such as putting events in order, matching up definitions, a catchy memory tune that covers all 32 events, and even fun games.  Students do need to be able to read to complete most of the activities, so these courses are intended for 2nd-5th grade.  (Scriptures used come from the New King James Version.)

Veritas Bible 1
Following the classical style, students memorize names, dates, and places, gaining a solid foundation of biblical understanding that will prepare them for delving deeper in the Bible as they grow older and move into more advanced stages of learning.

Veritas Bible 4
Veritas Press Self-Paced Courses are all online.  The student logs in and is automatically sent to the correct lesson.  (If they stopped in the middle of one, they can choose to pick up right where they left off.)  Quizzes are graded, it’s easy to see how they have done on each lesson by looking at their student dashboard (or signing in as a parent).

There are actually two options for going through these lessons.  The first is the Self-Paced Course Elijah is doing, where the student has one year to work through all the lessons, and they are graded on how they do on the quizzes.  The other choice is a monthly or yearly subscription to, including an option for a family subscription that allows multiple students to use the program.  With, they can also access the lessons from ALL the available Bible courses (both Old and New Testaments).  While I usually try to find resources that can benefit several of my children, this time I opted for the Self-Paced course because I felt like having a deadline to get through all the lessons would help us stay more disciplined about getting through the entire program, plus I was only going to have Elijah using it this year.

Our Experience

Veritas Bible 5Because Ian went through one of the Veritas Press history courses last year, Elijah went into this course with certain expectations.  Some things were the same, but there were also several differences.  His favorite thing about the history lessons had been the games.  He watched Ian get to play a new one every week and was so excited to start his own course so he could play games like that too.  Unfortunately, for the first several weeks there were no games.  He was really disappointed, and it was hard to get him motivated to sign on and do his Bible lesson.

Thankfully, when he got to the Flood, he found a game very similar to one from Ian’s course.  From that point on, Elijah gladly worked through his lessons.  The games continue to be his favorite part.

Here are the main ways this Bible course compared with the self-paced history courses:

  • Still 32 cards (for 32 weeks) but only 4 lessons for each card rather than 5
  • The Bible lessons are a bit shorter (13-14 slides each)
  • Similar activity pages
  • Not a game for every week
  • Continual review of what’s been learned previously so students master the material

My Opinion

I am really pleased with this Veritas Press Self-Paced Bible course and have already signed Elijah up for the next course, Old Testament 2: Judges – Kings to start once he completes this one.  (If you purchase before July 11 you can save $100 off the price of the course and set the start date for any time up through September 1!) I love the solid Biblical foundation Elijah is getting through this program and want to keep adding onto it.

Other Crew Member took a look at different courses, and some received a subscription to, so if you want to learn more, click on the banner below to see what they thought of those options.

Old and New Testament Online Self-Paced Bible Veritas ReviewCrew Disclaimer

My Plans for the 2016-17 School Year

Believe it or not, we’re getting ready to go back to school!  When I was pregnant with Nico we started up after 4th of July to make sure we got in a good chunk of school before he arrived, and I liked the way that year worked out so much we’ve copied the schedule ever since.  That means we’ve got a week for VBS, a holiday weekend, and then we’re back to school!

This year is going to look rather different for our family, the main change being that we are joining a Classical Conversations (CC) community on Monday mornings.  We’ll also continue all our Friday music classes, which means only three full days at home to cover everything else (slightly scary).

Ian (8) is starting 3rd grade, and even though Elijah (6) is officially going into 1st, he works above grade level in most subjects, so I’m going to have him work with Ian on almost everything, though things like writing assignments may differ a bit.  Arianna’s still not quite old enough to enter Kindergarten, so while I’ll encourage her to join us for read alouds and keep working on Reading Eggs and Math Seeds, I’m not requiring much from her yet.

Here’s what I’m planning to use this year:


This is the one subject where the boys will be doing something different from one another.  Ian will be going through The God Puzzle by Valerie Ackermann, a workbook focused on how the Bible all fits together as one seamless story.  Elijah will continue going through his Veritas Press Self-Paced Course on Genesis – Joshua, and when he finishes that I already have him signed up for Judges – Kings.

Elementary Bible


In addition to the history that’s part of CC, we’ll be continuing the history cycle I started when Ian entered 1st grade, moving into American history this year.  (I don’t want to disrupt what we’ve been doing just in case we find that CC is not a good fit for our family.  We’ll see how it goes, trying to do both!)  I’ve scheduled 1-2 chapters a week from The Light and the Glory for Children: Discovering God’s Plan for America from Christopher Columbus to George Washington and its sequel, From Sea to Shining Sea: Discovering God’s Plan for America in Her First Half-Century of Independence, 1787-1837, by Peter Marshall and David Manual.  (I have these older editions.  They have been republished in newer editions (L&G, FStoS) that come with study questions for each chapter.)  We’ll also be watching Liberty’s Kids episodes as they correspond with our reading.

American Providential History for Children


I want to devote this year to reading inspirational biographies.  Some I’ve scheduled to go along with our history or some of our CC memory work; others are just people with whom I want my children to be familiar.  My plan is to focus on three people each month, mostly using books from YWAM Publishing’s “Heroes for Young Readers” series and Catherine Mackenzie’s “Little Lights” series, and supplementing with videos from the Torchlighters series. (Many of the animated stories are available streaming on Amazon Prime, but the DVDs include quality documentaries as well.)

Christian biographies for children


I’d like the boys to continue practicing what they learned in their writing class this year, so we’ll be using sources connected to our other studies (especially our biographies) to write outlines and papers following the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)’s “Structure and Style.”

I also want to start teaching them English grammar, so we’ll be going through Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree (Book 1) from IEW, which has students hunt for errors in daily passages that cumulatively tell a story over the course of the year.

Fix-It! Grammar


My plan right now to to have both boys go through Teaching Textbooks 4, possibly supplementing with CTCMath just because we were given a subscription to review it again.  (TT4 has 119 Lessons, plus 17 Quizzes, which I’ve scheduled across the whole school year, which means we’ll have some time to fill.)  Elijah dabbled in Teaching Textbooks 3 last year (Ian completed it), along with materials from other curricula, but I’m trying to simplify and foster more independence this year, so I’m going to see how he does just moving on this year.  I’m open to doing something different with him if this isn’t a good fit.

Teaching Textbooks 4
Those subjects are going to be our core, and it already seems pretty overwhelming to squeeze into three and a half days!  Everything else (science, foreign language, fine arts, etc.) will be done through our Monday/Friday classes or products we end up reviewing.

Literature Guide: The Drinking Gourd (Crew Review)

Progeny Press review
One of my favorite things about being a parent is reading great books with my children.  There are so many benefits to sharing quality literature, especially having the opportunity to point out biblical truth and engage my children in discussion.  Progeny Press makes this easy to do with their multitude of literature guides.  We recently had a chance to go through The Drinking Gourd E-Guide, which goes along with The Drinking Gourd by F.N. Monjo, a book about the Underground Railroad.

About this Progeny Press Literature Guide

I first discovered Progeny Press two years ago when I had a chance to review their literature guide for Frog and Toad Together.  I loved the experience of reading through a favorite book while also looking at biblical concepts we found in the story.  Since then, I’ve bought several of their other guides, both for younger elementary students, and for high school level books that my husband and I read together for fun.

The Drinking Gourd E-Guide is intended to be used with lower elementary students.  Monjo’s book could easily be read by most 2nd or 3rd graders, but it also works well as a read aloud.  The literature guide itself could be challenging for some students to read alone; strong readers could read the questions and write in their answers, but others could answer the questions with someone leading them through it.

The 35-page literature guide features the following:

  • Synopsis of the story
  • Background information
  • About the author
  • Before-you-read Activities (books to read to better help understand the time period, learning the “Drinking Gourd” song, identifying the Big Dipper, a map activity, and research prompts about historical figures whose names appear in the story)
  • vocabulary worksheet
  • The main section, with questions for 1-3 chapters at a time.  Some of the questions help make sure the student understood what they read, and others help the student process what they read and consider the themes (such as bravery, honesty, and justice.)
  • A “hidden message” worksheet
  • After-you-read-Activities (Creative writing prompts, suggestions for learning more about constellations, instructions for making a drinking gourd)
  • Suggestions for Further Reading (other books by the author as well as more books about subject discussed in The Drinking Gourd)
  • Answer Key

Like many of the titles from Progeny Press, The Drinking Gourd Study Guide is available in print, CD-ROM, or instant download as an e-guide (what I received).  (Some are also Interactive, where the student can type the answers right into the document.)

Our Experience

Before diving into the book, we went through some of the pre-reading activities suggested in the E-Guide.  Then the boys and I took turns reading from The Drinking Gourd, but since my purpose was really just to enjoy the book together, I ended up taking over completely.  We kept our time short, just going through one or two chapters a day (six altogether), following up by discussing the questions in the literature guide.  I printed it out because I find it easier to use a hard copy, but we really only wrote on a few pages.  I wanted to have a good discussion, rather than making the boys labor over writing in as short an answer as they could come up with, so if the page just consisted of questions, I used it to lead our conversation rather than making them do it as a worksheet.  When they’re older and can work more independently on guides like this, I’ll probably have them write in their answers and THEN discuss.

I love the way Progeny Press study guides send readers to the Bible as they consider the themes in the literature they are reading.  For example, Tommy and his father break the law by helping Jim’s family escape.  His father talks to him about why he can’t obey a law that treats people as property.  The study guide has students look up the definitions for “just” and “justice,” then looks at the story of the Magi in Matthew 2 and talks about how they disobeyed Herod’s instructions.  “Was this the right thing to do?  Why?”  I’m so thankful for these literature guides that not only prompt our family to think more deeply about the story, but also look to God’s Word in processing right and wrong.

We enjoyed The Drinking Gourd and this study guide so much, we ended up spending several weeks Exploring the Underground Railroad.  Also, members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew went through several other Progeny Press guides, so click on the banner below to read their reviews.

Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press Review}
Crew Disclaimer

History Cycle Year 2 Resources (Middle Ages – Reformation)

When Ian started 1st grade, I began a 4-year history cycle.  At the end of the year I posted a list of Cycle 1 Resources that worked well for us at the lower elementary level.  Now that we’ve finished our second year of the cycle, I thought I’d share what we used to learn about the period from the fall of the Roman Empire through the Reformation.  (Includes affiliate links.)

History Cycle 2 Resources
Ian went through the Veritas Press Self-Paced Course on the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation online, so that was the main source of our history lessons this year.  However, as we went along I tried to supplement with lots of living books (some were assigned as part of the VP program, others I chose myself) and fun videos.  I’ve also added a few things I found after we had covered certain topics that I wish we’d had and want to remember for the next time we go through the history cycle.

 (Note: This list reflects the VP course’s focus on European history.)

Year-Long Resources We Drew From Selectively:

Early Church


  • Athanasius by Simonetta Carr (from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series)
  • Augustine of Hippo by Simonetta Carr (from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series)


Vikings/Northern Europe



Middle Ages (including Castles/Kings/Knights)

(For preschool suggestions, see my post “Knights, Castles, and the Armor of God“)




Medieval Church




The Silk Road/Marco Polo








If I come across other resources that are good for this age, I’ll add them to the list.  If you have some favorites that eluded us, please tell us about them in the comments!

“Hey Mama!” Encouraging Homeschool Planner (Crew Review)

Hey Mama Planner Review
Are you already thinking about the next school year?  (Are you ready to duct tape my mouth fingers for even daring to suggest such a thing?)  I have a confession to make.  I LOVE planning.  Of course things come up and plans change as time passes, but I have found, without a doubt, that my school year causes so much less stress when I have taken the time to plan ahead.  That’s why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Hey Mama! Print Schoolhouse Planner 2016-2017 from The Old Schoolhouse.  I was desperate to find a place to start jotting down notes about the year ahead of us!

About the Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner

Hey Mama Planner PagesThe Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner is a softcover, spiral bound book designed to provide a place for organizing your plans for the entire upcoming school year:

  • Yearly calendars for 2016, 2017, and 2018
  • Monthly Calendars from July 2016-June 2017, each with an encouraging Hey Mama! letter from Gena Suarez, publisher of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, and a place for notes
  • 36 weekly planning pages (undated, with Hey Mama! notes and interesting tidbits about various inventions scattered throughout)
  • Forms for listing monthly, semester, and yearly goals (5 of each)
  • Attendance Charts for up to 5 children (180 days that can be checked off as you go through the year)
  • Form to record books read throughout the year (5 copies)
  • Curriculum Planning Sheet
  • Homeschooling Contact List to record names, phone numbers, and email addresses
  • 36 General Writing Prompts
  • Story Starters
  • List of the 13 Colonies by date
  • Timeline of inventions
  • List of U.S. Presidents and their wives
  • Branches of Federal, State, and Local Governments
  • United States and Capitals
  • Information about Creating an Academic Transcript for high school
  • Academic Transcript form
  • Checklist and Skills Learned form
  • form to record other courses

Note: The Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner is also available to purchase in digital form.  And members of (see my review) can download it for FREE under “Planners and Resources”! 

Our Experience

For the past several years we have started school in July, so I already had plenty I wanted to start jotting down.  I got the 2016-17 schedule for our co-op classes and the fall schedule for our music classes and marked all of those on both the “year at a glance” and the full monthly spreads.  Then I used those dates to plan the breaks for our year.  (I generally try to take a “Sabbath” after every 5-7 weeks, depending on where holidays and class schedules fall.)  That allowed me to sketch out 36 weeks for a complete school year.  Because I put in several weeks off, as well as sometimes using two actual weeks to cover 1 “week” of school, I have some wiggle room to adjust things as we go through the year.

I’m not ready to make weekly lesson plans yet, but when I do I won’t be writing them in this planner.  There are just too many things that are the same every week, so I prefer to use a digital document that I can just tweak each week and print out rather than having to copy things by hand over and over.  Since I knew I wouldn’t be using the 36 weekly planning pages for actual lesson plans, I used them to help me start to sketch out what I want our weeks to look like, making a rough schedule both for weeks when we have outside classes (like in July before everything starts up) and for weeks when we leave the house a couple days a week for other opportunities.

Hey Mama PlannerMy favorite thing about the Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner, of course, is the encouragement.  It’s what makes this planner stand out among the myriad options out there.  I had a Hey Mama! planner two years ago, which is why I was so eager to get my hands on one for this year.  I try to save each month’s note and not read it until that day actually arrives.  Then I find a quiet moment where I can just sit and soak in Gena’s message, considering which parts speak to me the most.  Because there are also notes spread throughout the weekly planning pages, I’ll save those for other times when I just need a little extra encouragement.

What I love about the Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner
  • The encouragement
  • Room to list specific goals for each of my children (though I’m not sure why there are only 5 “Monthly Goals” pages.  Thankfully The Old Schoolhouse told the Crew it was okay to copy pages if we needed
  • The writing prompts and story starters (Getting my boys to start writing is like pulling teeth, so specific ideas to help them get going are a must!)
What would make it even better
  • A “year at a glance” spread with room to write major events rather than just the dates. (I love to be able to visualize my entire year, seeing where our breaks and really important things happen.)
  • The cardstock cover will probably get me through the year since I won’t be referencing the book daily for lessons plans, but if I were handling it more often, I would prefer a sturdier plastic cover.
  • While I’m dreaming of the perfect cover, a pocket in which to stash important papers would be a great addition as well.

Even though I won’t use Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner for my weekly lesson plans, it’s almost perfect for my big picture, month-by-month planning.  For me, that’s the key to a less stressful homeschool experience, and I love knowing that I’ll have Gena’s encouraging words there to help get me through the 2016-17 school year.

Ready to get your own? Use coupon code CREWCODE for $10 off!  Happy planning!

Coupon Code Hey Mama Planner 2016 2017

Hey Mama! Schoolhouse Planner 2016-2017 Review
Crew Disclaimer

Essential Skills Advantage (Crew Review)

ESA Review

We have found that online education programs work really well for our family.  My kids all love working on the computer, and when they’re having fun they learn better than if they were trudging through worksheets.  So I was excited when Essential Skills Advantage gave us a chance to review their Complete Home Learning Suite.  Since we finished our official school year a few weeks ago, this has been a great way for me to keep the boys learning over our summer break.

About Essential Skills Advantage

A subscription to the Complete Home Learning Suite includes access to all the online programs offered by ESA:

  • ESA K-6 Reading Collection
  • Premium Spelling, Language, Grammar, and Creative Writing Suite
  • Complete Math K-6
  • Science (grades K-3)
  • Geography (grades 4-6)
  • ESA Marks Manager

There are over 14,000 lessons altogether!  Students can access material in any grade level (K-6), making it especially helpful for those who could use a little extra challenge, or who might need to go back and practice in areas where they struggle.  Here’s a peek at what’s offered:

ESA is meant to be used as a supplement, not a full curriculum.  It does not include instruction, just practice of skills students are learning in their regular lessons.  Parents can check their progress in the Marks Manager and print completion certificates if they choose.

Lessons are easily completed on a computer or tablet.  (We used it on both our Chromebook and our touchscreen computer.)  ESA is not optimized for smart phones, but it is possible to use them in your phone’s browser if you can work with the small screen size.

Our Experience with Essential Skills Advantage

As I said, I used ESA to keep the boys’ minds engaged while we’re taking a break from school.  To motivate them, I traded them free time on the computer for the time they spent working on skills with ESA.

During our review period, Ian (8) primarily used ESA for spelling practice.  This is not his strongest subject, so I had him work in 2nd grade, which he has just completed.  There are 45 units, each consisting of 15 activities.  All the activities in a unit focus on the same group of words that share a single spelling pattern.  The students practice reading, typing, and spelling the words through several games.

ESA Spelling Collage
 The repetition was really helpful for Ian.  He definitely got more confident about spelling, and the patterns he has struggled to remember (like the silent “e” at the end of the words with long vowel sounds) finally started to click and transfer over into his regular writing.

Elijah (6) worked on both spelling and grammar (which starts in 3rd grade).  ESA is ideal for children like Eli who are working far above grade level in some subjects.  Because ESA is only for practice and doesn’t include instruction, there isn’t a placement test, so I spent quite a bit of time trying out different grade levels to figure out where he should be working on spelling.  I hesitated to put him any higher than 3rd (he just finished Kindergarten) because I worried he would miss something important, but judging by the way he flew through those lessons, I probably could have gone higher.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just practice whatever was included in the third grade skills

In the grammar section Elijah ran into a little trouble because of the lack of instruction.  He had never heard of subject and predicate, so he had no idea what to do at first.


I caught him guessing randomly and had to stop him for a moment to explain what he was supposed to be doing.  I realize ESA is only meant to be a supplemental program, but I wish there had at least been a simple explanation.  Even kids who have learned this would probably benefit from a quick review.  Elijah understood the concept of subject and predicate with only about 30 seconds of instruction from me, so with just a little online help he could have worked completely independently.

The boys haven’t spent much time out of the spelling and grammar sections, but I love the wide range of subjects offered in ESA.  We’ll definitely be using this program at least through the summer and possibly into the next school year so I’m glad there’s a lot of variety for them.

As a final note, I appreciate the multiple billing options available if you decided to purchase a subscription to Essential Skills Advantage.  You can pay for 1 month, 6 months, or 12 months at a time.  The base price for each of those options is based on 1 student, with additional students included for just 99-cents each per month.  I think it’s a great value for anyone, but especially for families like ours who would have multiple children using the program.

Essential Skills Advantage Review
Crew Disclaimer

Sunya Math Game (Crew Review)

Sunya Math Game Review
We’re always looking for ways to practice math facts, so we gladly took the chance to review Sunya – The Magic and Wonder of Math and Science Adding & Subtracting, a new game being produced by Sunya Publishing.

About Sunya

Sunya offers games both in Adding & Subtracting and Multiplying & Dividing, but since my boys are only partway into memorizing their multiplication facts, I thought it would be best to practice with addition fact families.  The guidebook states that it is for ages 7+, but younger children who have already started memorizing addition facts can easily play as well.

Sunya 1
Sunya – The Magic and Wonder of Math and Science Adding & Subtracting comes with the following:

  • 60 game cards (including numbers 0-9, wild cards, and operations cards)
  • 30 science and math facts and riddles cards
  • Sunya number line covering -3 through 21
  • Teacher/Parent Guidebook (comb-bound) with detailed instructions for playing three variations of Sunya, as well as other math activities for young children and copies of all the math and science facts and riddles cards.

Sunya is played using only the 60 game cards (and possibly the number line for assistance).  After deciding whether to use addition or subtraction, the dealer makes a math sentence and then deals four cards to each player.

Sunya 3
On their turns, the players create a new number sentences on top of the one previously laid down, either with all new numbers from the cards in their hands or with a combination of new cards and those already played.  If they are unable to make a new number sentence, they must draw cards from the deck until they are able.  The first player to use all their cards wins.

Sunya 4
That’s the basic gist of the game, though there are lots of minor rules that govern what can and cannot be played at certain times.  There are also two more advanced variations for players who have mastered the basic game and want to expand the possibilities.

The Teacher/Parent Guidebook contains 16 pages of game instructions, 3 pages of further activities to do with young children using the Sunya number cards, and 6 pages of math facts and riddles designed to challenge students to look beyond what they already know and practice creative thinking.  The book we received was printed in gray scale with a few pages in full color, as the publisher was asking the Review Crew for our opinion on the various styles.  While I do think the color pages are more attractive, for the most part the gray scale pages are very clear and easy to read.  The only changes I would make on the gray scale pages would be keeping the font all one color in a single paragraph and obviously removing references to colors (i.e. on page 7, where the instructions say that “Cards played from hand are in bold purple”).

Our Experience

As with many games, I found the best way to learn how to play Sunya was just to jump in and start playing.  The main idea of the game was simple and easy for Ian (8) and Elijah (6) to play.  However, when it came to some of the special rules, we got confused.  I had trouble figuring out the purpose behind the “0 & 1 Rule,” which made it hard to remember.  And it was frustrating to have a wild card and not be able to go out because you can’t win on a wild card but have to draw another card even though you made a number sentence and successfully used all your cards.

We never got beyond the basic game just because I felt overwhelmed by all the instructions and little rules.  I think it’s probably not as complicated as it seemed, so simplified directions would be really helpful.

Sunya 6The “math and science facts and riddles” cards were a big hit with the boys.  They’re not really related to the game, just another way to have fun thinking about numbers.  Some of the riddles were a play on words (“If you take 3 oranges from 5 oranges, how many do you have?  You have 3 oranges.”), so I wasn’t sure if the boys would really understand them, but with my explanations they found the humor and enjoyed sharing them with their friends.  There was only one I couldn’t figure out: “What three numbers give the same answer whether added or multiplied together? 1,2, and 3.”  (If you get it, please comment and let me know how this is true, because it’s driving me crazy!)

What I liked about Sunya
  • The cards are high quality and designed to stand up under normal use.
  • The game itself provides good practice of addition/subtraction facts.
  • The number cards allow for lots of creative uses.
  • The Facts and Riddles cards are lots of fun.
What I felt could use improvement
  • It would be helpful to have some difference in the back of the game cards and riddle cards (different color or pattern) so they are easier to tell apart.
  • The instructions for the game seem more complicated than they need to be.  Some editing for simplification would be helpful.  Video on the website of a game being played would be even better, especially with explanations of what to do with 0s and 1s, what the end of the game looks like, and how to play the different variations.
  • A box for storage would be helpful.  I just put rubberbands around the the two decks and stashed them in a baggie.

The creator of Sunya obviously loves numbers and wants students to experience the same delight.  The game is still in the development stages, and in my opinion could use a bit more refining.  Overall, however, it is a good concept and helpful for giving students a fun way to practice math facts.

Math and Science {Sunya Publishing Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Introductory Science Course (Crew Review)

Shepherd Science Review
Science is one of those topics that kids by which seem to be fascinated, but I really have little interest in teaching.  I look for ways my children can explore the subject on their own, and the Introductory Science course from Science Shepherd has been a fun way for them to learn fairly independently.

About Introductory Science

Science Shepherd was started by Scott Hardin, MD who is also a homeschool dad.  He began creating materials to fill a need he saw for higher level science designed specifically for homeschool students.  After a Life Science course for middle school, and a Biology course for high school, he created the Introductory Science course to give younger students a basic foundation in earth science, life science, and physical science (see Scope and Sequence).

IntroductoryScienceIntroductory Science is a complete 1-year science course providing 35 weeks of instruction 5 days a week.  Each day’s lesson consists of a video streamed from the Science Shepherd website (12-month access is provided with purchase of the course, with extensions available if needed), followed by a page in the workbook.  We received the Level A workbook for ages 6-8, but there is also a Level B workbook for ages 9-11 that includes everything in the Level A book plus additional material.

The daily videos are fairly short, just 2-5 minutes long.  Starting in Week 2, there is also a video of an activity performed by two girls, Anna and Emma.  These experiments or activities are very simple and can easily be replicated at home if you choose.

The material is distinctly Christian, with the first two weeks spent establishing a foundational understanding of creation, dominion, and the truth of the Bible as the Word of God.

Theology is mixed in easily, with specific Bible verses given to back it up.  For example, as Dr. Hardin goes through the days of Creation, he addresses questions like, “How was there light before the sun?” by referring to Revelation 21:23 and 22:5, which talk about how God himself is a source of light.  In the discussion on the Ice Age that followed the Flood, he highlights verses in Job that discuss the freezing conditions.

After the introductory weeks, one week is spent on science skills and tools (including the scientific method) before moving on to various scientific disciplines.  Topics covered in the rest of the course include the following:

  • meteorology
  • geology
  • oceanography
  • plants
  • astronomy
  • underwater creatures
  • flying creatures
  • land creatures
  • human beings
  • health
  • ecology and natural resources
  • matter
  • energy
  • motion
  • magnets

The softcover, spiral bound Level A workbook contains 321 pages and requires quite a bit of reading, so some students in the 6-8 year old range might need assistance completing the written work.  For those who are already reading well, however, the pages are very reader-friendly.  They are printed in a large font, and each page is very simply designed, with no more than 4 questions on a page.  Most lessons have a single page for that day, though occasionally there may be two pages.  Some questions are multiple choice, others are open-ended.  (An Answer Key booklet is available.) Some of the pages contain matching puzzles, word searches, or instructions for creating a list or drawing pictures of certain things.  There are also instructions for each of the activities presented in the videos.


Our Experience

20160519_103449xI decided to get the Level A workbook for Elijah, since Ian is right on the border between Level A and Level B.  They both watched the videos together, but I think Elijah definitely got more out of the course by spending time in the workbook after each video lesson.  Because Elijah is a strong reader, he was able to complete most of the workbook pages independently.  Occasionally he had trouble, but it was usually just because he wasn’t reading the questions carefully enough.  When I made him read them out loud, he could almost always figure them out, and if he had trouble, I’d send him back to the computer to watch the video again.  After a second viewing the answers were always very clear.  I wish I had gone ahead and purchased the Level B book for Ian as well, because I think he could have handled the extra material and would have gotten more out of the lessons by completing workbook pages than by just watching the videos.

Ian was most drawn to the activities and experiments.  I have to confess, this is the part of science curricula I usually ignore, so I liked having the videos to watch and would have been happy to leave it at that.  However, because most of the activities were fairly simple, I did let Ian try a few of them at home.

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My thoughts on Introductory Science

What I liked
  • Biblically based, with specific Scriptures tied in to many lessons. (Elijah commented on how he knew some of the answers in his workbook because of his Bible lessons on Creation)
  • Simple to use (kids could work mostly independently)
  • Workbooks are good value and well-designed to reinforce the lessons
  • Wide scope of material provides a great introduction to various parts of science
  • Daily lessons can be completed in about 15-20 minutes (video and workbook).  (My boys often did multiple lessons in a day because they were interested in learning more.)
  • Activities are easy to re-create at home, or you can just watch the videos.
Things that could use improvement
  • While I appreciate the biblical worldview, I was a little uncomfortable with the way all other views were lumped together and dismissed under the term “evolution.”  For example, Dr. Hardin explains that some scientists “believe that everything–all the planets, the sun, the stars, all plants and animals–came from nothing.  The idea that all living things came from nothing and took a really long time to look like they do now is called evolution.”  I know he’s trying to put things in simple terms for young children, but I felt this was an inaccurate definition of evolution, and I want to be more specific with my children so they know they can trust what I (or Christian scientists) tell them.
  • The videos weren’t very exciting, just Dr. Hardin sitting behind a desk with his hands folded talking in a calm, fairly monotone voice, plus occasional still images and words. Live action video examples were few and far between, and more would have greatly enhanced this part of the course.  (However, this is just my opinion; neither of my boys seemed to have any problem with the videos.)
  • 12-month access to the videos is great if you only have one student or if multiple students are using the course the same year.  However, as a mom of many, I prefer to save my curriculum budget for things that can reused later with my younger children.  An option for lifetime access, downloadable videos, or a DVD would make me more willing to purchase a course like this.

The boys seemed to enjoy Introductory Science, and they learned new things each week, even when going through topics we’ve already covered as a family.  Elijah really enjoyed the structure of the course and prided himself on filling in his workbook pages.  I’m not going to require him to finish all 35 weeks, but I plan to remind him of it occasionally and hope he’ll choose to go through more of the material on his own, either this summer or over the course of the next school year.

See what other Crew members thought of this course and others offered by Science Shepherd by clicking on the banner below.

Science Shepherd Review
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