Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Heroes of History: Captain John Smith (Crew Book Review)

YWAM biographies
Renowned for bravery as a soldier, thrown overboard for religious differences, enslaved by the Turks, captured by pirates… the story of Captain John Smith was full of almost unbelievable adventure long before he ever met the Native American princess with whom his name is usually tied.  We’ve just finished reading Captain John Smith: A Foothold in the New World by Janet and Geoff Benge, part of the “Heroes of History” series from YWAM Publishing, and there is so much more to this man’s life that I ever imagined.  Along with the corresponding Digital Unit Study, this book has given us a great introduction to early American history.

About Captain John Smith

Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}John Smith grew up in England hearing about the adventures of Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to sail around the world.  Although his family expected him to live a quiet life in Lincolnshire, John was hungry to see the world.  After what was supposed to be a short visit to France at the age of sixteen, he set out on his own to make his own adventures.  He found work as a mercenary in various countries, ended up being captured and taken as a slave in the Ottoman Empire, escaped into Russia, rescued a damsel in distress, and made friends with men who sparked his interest in the New World–quite an adventure story!

England had not yet joined in the colonization of the Americas, and John Smith eagerly joined in the quest to establish a settlement.  He played an important role in the founding of Jamestown in 1607, where at one point he faced death at the hands of the local Native Americans and was famously saved by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas.  After a serious injury, he left the New World, though he later went back to help create a map of the New England coast.  He published several books about his experiences and helped feed the imaginations of those in England who wanted to learn more about the New World.  He also helped Squanto, a Native American who had been kidnapped and ended up in England, get home to America, where he proved to be a great blessing to the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620 to form their own settlement.

John Smith’s relationship with the other leaders at Jamestown was often contentious, and while he may not be a model of faith like those featured in YWAM Publishing’s “Christian Heroes Then and Now” series, he is nevertheless a fascinating man to study.  His bravery and sense of adventure were especially appealing to my boys, and we learned a lot about leadership in this book, both through positive and negative examples.

About the Unit Study

As with the other books in the Heroes of History series, there is a downloadable Digital Unit Study that goes along with the 192-page softcover book.  The unit study includes the following:

  • brief biography of John Smith
  • curriculum unit study
  • meet the authors (with video interviews)

Before diving into the curriculum unit study, there are guides available with ideas for using the entire Heroes of History series in classroom, homeschool, and group settings.  The 17-page homeschool overview was obviously created by someone familiar with the differences between classrooms and home education.  I appreciated the organizational chart provided to help families read through several books in the series on either a 1-year or 2-year track in studying American history.  (They suggest choosing one book from each time period, but it would be easy to read through more than that, especially on the 2-year track.)  I also really liked that they broke down suggestions into “Parent-Directed Study” and “Student-Directed Study,” allowing the study guide to be helpful for a wide range of homeschooling styles.

The 81-page unit study itself is an incredibly rich resource, full of ideas for using the book as a launching pad for lessons in multiple subjects, such as history, geography, writing, reading comprehension, public speaking, drama, and art.  There are far more ideas than you could ever use, so you and your children can pick which ones will work best with their interests and learning styles.  Here’s glimpse at some of what’s included:

  • Key quotes (great for copywork)
  • Questions to go along with each chapter
  • Suggestions for projects, essay and creative writing prompts, etc.
  • Ideas for further study (related themes to explore, lists of books, videos,  specific National Geographic articles, websites)
  • Reproducibles (fact sheet, maps, timeline with events for students to fill in)

Final Thoughts

We’re just heading into the Age of Exploration and looking forward to American history, so Captain John Smith complemented our studies wonderfully.  I especially appreciated the map activities in the Unit Study, which helped everyone make sense of how Smith’s life fits into the greater historical context.

My children were fascinated by Smith’s story (though it has quite a bit of violence, especially during the telling of his days as a mercenary, so I wouldn’t recommend it for really sensitive children), and I was learning right along with them as I read the book aloud.  The only time I had ever heard of John Smith was in relation to Pocahontas, so I was just as enthralled as they were at his amazing life story.  Whether you’re specifically looking for a biography or just a taste of adventure, Captain John Smith: A Foothold in the New World is a book I’d highly recommend for fourth grade and up (or younger as a read aloud).


Members of the Crew reviewed several of the wonderful biographies from YWAM Publishing, so be sure to click on the banner below to see what they thought!

Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}
Crew Disclaimer

“Mini-Courses” from A+ Interactive Math (Crew Review)

A+ Interactive Review

No matter what math curriculum you use, sometimes kids get tripped up on certain topics and could use a little extra help.  A+ Interactive Math has come up with a way to help fill in some of those math learning gaps: Math Mini-Courses.  Each of these courses takes the student through a series of lessons focused solely on a specific math topic.

About A+ Interactive Math Mini-Courses

There are twenty online mini-courses available, most targeted at elementary age students with a few stretching up into middle school.  Each course consists of video lessons, worksheets, and tests and can usually be completed in 1-3 months (though you get a full year’s access with your purchase, so they can take more time if needed).

Once students get signed in, they are taken to their dashboard.  The video lessons with interactive review present the material, and then students can either continue to the next lesson or come back to the dashboard to generate worksheets or tests to go along with that lesson.  (There are also PDF options if the student works better with pencil and paper than on the computer.)  When lessons are completed, the student (or parent) must manually go in and mark that lesson as complete.

A+ Interactive1

Our Experience

I decided the most helpful courses for us would be Time and Money, assigning one each to Ian and Elijah.


The mini-course on Time is designed for 1st-4th graders and consists of 20 lessons covering calendar concepts (days, weeks, months, and years), clock concepts, and counting elapsed time.  Students don’t necessarily have to complete the lessons in order, or complete earlier ones before moving on, which is helpful for just targeting weak areas.  (However, once a lesson has been clicked on, even accidentally, the program will consider it “In Progress” and continually ask if it needs to be marked completed.)

Ian found it easiest just to start the beginning and work his way through, even though the first few lessons consist of things he already knows well.  I only had him go back to the dashboard and generate worksheets for extra practice if it seemed like he was struggling.

A+ Interactive2


Elijah has been going through the mini-course on Money, which is geared toward 1st-5th graders and consists of 18 lessons, covering basic concepts like coin values, converting coins, counting, and making change as well as more advanced concepts like calculating commissions and sales tax, budgeting, and interest rates.  He hasn’t really spent much time learning about money previously, but he enjoyed the challenge of these lessons (at least the early ones).

A+ Interactive3

My Opinion

I found that these mini-courses required more from me as a teacher than most of the online learning programs we have used.  Both my boys have a lot of experience working on the computer, but they needed quite a bit of guidance from me to get familiar with how these courses worked.  For example, when going through the video lessons and review, they wanted to just hit “Enter” after typing in an answer, but that didn’t work.  (They had to use the mouse or touch screen to click on the frog in the picture.)  Also, when going through the online worksheets, there were eleven different buttons to chose from after they had typed an answer, which we all found a bit confusing at first.

A+ Interactive4
I really like the concept of these mini-courses, and I think the material itself was really helpful for my boys.  However, the presentation was a bit distracting because each page had so many options to click on, and I wish it were easier for them to work through the courses on their own without needing my help quite so much along the way.

I appreciated being able to view reports on what the boys had done, but I would have liked a way to view everything in one place, rather than having to click on separate reports for video lessons/interactive reviews, worksheets, tests, and completed lessons.

Overall, I think I’ll have Ian finish the course on Time, but I don’t think Elijah needs to try to get through the later lessons in the Money course.  I think I might wait until the boys are older and can remember all little things they need to click on and check to get through the lessons independently before I sign up for any more of the mini-courses.

Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Learn to Read, Write & Type with Talking Fingers (Crew Review)

Talking Fingers Review
Typing is an essential skill in today’s computer-dominated world, but my kids haven’t really spent any time learning it until now. When we got a chance to review Read, Write & Type from Talking Fingers Inc., I thought this might be a good chance to develop that skill.

About Talking Fingers

As the title implies, Read, Write & Type is more than just a typing program.  It is designed for students ages 6-8 who are learning to put together letter sounds to form words, so they’re working on multiple skills simultaneously.  Through colorful animation and a fun story line, they work through 10 levels to defeat a “virus” who’s causing trouble.  Along the way they practice letter and sound recognition, spelling, and correct finger placement on the keyboard.

Talking Fingers Inc. Review
When the student logs in, the program remembers what they were previously working on and lets them pick things up right where they left off.  Students can go back and practice previous lessons by clicking on different places around the “city” in the opening picture.  However, if they don’t want this review the program systematically takes them from skill to skill, so there is no guesswork about what they should be doing next.

Talking Fingers Inc. Review
The lessons contain a variety of activities practicing reading, putting words together, and typing with instruction on which fingers to use.  When each level is complete, the student earns a “Certificate of Merit,” which can be printed if desired.

This program could also be a great tool for students learning English as a second language.  So many language programs just focus on conversational English, but Read, Write & Type teaches the literacy skills of reading and writing that they’ll need to be successful in school.  Voice-over help is available in nine languages: Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog.

Our Experience

Elijah (6) is within the target age range for Read, Write & Type, so I decided to use it with him.  He’s already a strong reader, so he didn’t really need that aspect of the program, but I was intrigued by the prospect of helping him learn to type.  He got started and didn’t want to stop!  Even within the first half hour, I could see that this was going to be really helpful.  Eli’s very comfortable on computers, but he’s always used the “hunt and peck” method when it came to typing.  Right away Read, Write & Type had him holding his hands in the proper position and using specific fingers to type each letter.  The repetition helped develop the muscle memory he needed to make the motion automatic (though I did have to remind him a few times to think use the correct hand/finger).

Talking Fingers
Of course, seeing Elijah having fun on something new set Ian to begging for a chance to try it.  I told him it’s probably too easy for him since he reads really well for an 8-year old, but he pointed out that he could use some help with typing.  I gave in and set him up with an account and he enthusiastically jumped on the other computer and tried to catch up with his brother.  (Competition can be so motivating!) I appreciated that it also gave my boys a chance to practice and feel successful at spelling.

We had a little bit of trouble when using Read, Write & Type on our newest computer running Windows 10.  For some reason when using the Chrome browser we were sometimes unable to type the letters required, so we just switched to the Edge browser and continued with no trouble.  (We didn’t have issues with Chrome on any other computer, just that one.)

I can’t really say how the program works for students just learning to read, but I could see it being a wonderful tool because it introduces each sound individually and repeats it throughout the lesson.  When it comes to typing, however, both my boys had a lot of fun and I could see definite improvement.  It makes so much sense to teach typing at the same time as learning to read, and I just may have to try Arianna on it when she seems ready.  I’m already considering moving the boys on to Wordy Qwerty, the sequel to Read, Write & Type, designed for 7-9 year olds.

Talking Fingers Inc. Review
Crew Disclaimer

Homeschool Copywork Lifetime Membership (Crew Review)

Homeschool Copywork Review
When I first began getting ready to homeschool my children, I was drawn to Charlotte Mason’s writings and incorporated many of her ideas.  One feature of a CM education is copywork: literally copying a written passage exactly, helping them absorb patterns of spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc. as well as practicing handwriting.  It’s a simple tool to use, but sometimes finding interesting material can be time-consuming.  We were recently introduced to Homeschool Copywork, a wonderful resource with a large, varied selection of copywork ebooks ready to download and print.  We were given a Lifetime Membership, which allowed us to access all the available products to review.

About Homeschool Copywork

So often I come across homeschool resources that are wonderful but not really practical when you have more than one or two children.  I think what I appreciate most about Homeschool Copywork is that it is perfect for families like mine many ways:

  • Free membership level that lets you really get a feel for what the products are like (save those precious budget dollars!)
  • Products available for a wide range of ages/levels, from preschool through high school (something for everyone!)
  • Ability to print multiple copies for multiple students (no buying the same thing over and over!)

With a Lifetime Membership ($45), I’ll be able to find copywork for all five of my children in the years to come.  There’s also a 1-year membership available ($29.95) if that fits your family’s needs better.

Copywork can be a subject on its own, or you can use it so supplement another subject.  Homeschool Copywork has books related to Bible verses, hymns, science topics, holidays, historical figures (including several artists and composers), and more.  Depending on the level for which it is intended, pages use print, d’nealian manuscript, and/or cursive.  Line styles vary by level as well, but most of the books we used (see below) had multiple options.  There are also charming pictures on each page that go along with the passage being copied.  (The BONUS! Products section contains several sets of notebooking pages, which have blank lines with pictures.)

Animal Alphabet Armor of God Character Building Dragons of the Bible

Our Experience

Elijah is just finishing up Kindergarten, so it’s the first year I have required any writing from him.  He surprised me by how well he did with this copywork considering he hasn’t done much for a few months.  His handwriting has definitely improved over the course of this year!  He worked on pages out of the “Character Building Copywork” and “Armor of God Copywork,” which has smaller lines but still worked well for him.

Homeschool Copywork 1 Homeschool Copywork 1b

Ian has just recently been learning cursive, so I decided to use that for his copywork pages.  He definitely struggled on the pages that didn’t have a dotted middle line to guide him.  The cursive font was also a bit different that what he learned, so he found the extra loops and the higher starting points a bit confusing.  I told him to just go ahead and write the letters the way he learned them (if he could remember).  He’s usually my hardest to get motivated, so I loved having options that caught his interest.  He was immediately drawn to the “Dragons of the Bible” pages and also did some work in “Armor of God Copywork.”  The Dragons book has lots of awesome pictures, including several coloring pages without copywork.

Homeschool Copywork 2  Homeschool Copywork 2b

I was only planning to use Homeschool Copywork with the boys, but on a whim I decided to print a page of the Animal Copywork for Arianna.  She was so excited to be doing an assignment at the table next to the boys.  She hasn’t done any writing before except a little bit of work on learning to write her name, so I wasn’t sure how she would do.  She started out a little rough and got a little frustrated when I made her form letters correctly if she was doing them wrong, but she actually really enjoyed it and asked repeatedly to do more, especially after I told her there was a page for every letter of the alphabet and she could make a book out of them.  We’re not going in order, just letting her choose which animal she wants to work on.  I don’t know if her interest will hold out for all 26 letters, but I love her enthusiasm, and it’s definitely getting easier for her with the repetition.

Homeschool Copywork 3 Homeschool Copywork 4
Really, consistency is what makes copywork effective.  As we’ve drifted away from Charlotte Mason into a more eclectic approach I’ve forgotten what a useful tool it is.  After spending time with it on this review, I’d like to get all my writers into a copywork habit.  With such a broad range of subject matter, it will be easy to find something to interest all my children.  I love the pictures that accompany each page, and I appreciate the options for different handwriting styles.

I try to save my homeschool budget for items that will provide the most value for our large family.  I LOVE the lifetime membership option because I know I’ll have copywork at my fingertips not only for my three children doing schoolwork now, but in a few years when my little ones are ready to join them.

Homeschool Copywork Review
Crew Disclaimer

Stopmotion Explosion (Crew Review)

Stopmotion Explosion Review
One of my kids’ favorite things to do with Daddy is watch stopmotion videos made with their favorite toys on YouTube, so when we found out some of the Schoolhouse Review Crew was going to get to review the Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit, we were eager to join in the fun.  Stopmotion Explosion generously provided us with everything we needed to get started making our own movies!

About Stopmotion Explosion

Stopmotion Explosion Review
The Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit is perfect for beginners learning about the whole process.  It contains both the equipment and the instructions to help you get started:

I’m not a photographer, so I can’t really speak to the quality of the camera.  It worked fine for us and was simple to use with our computer.  It had a clip to help position it, though we didn’t make a stand for it and ended up just using poster putty (which also came in handy when shooting our scenes) to keep in in place.  I did end up using a usb extension cord to make it more convenient for us since 4.5 feet wasn’t quite long enough to reach the movie set we had created on the desk next to our computer.

Stopmotion-Explosion-Book-Front-2015_zpsocy3ufjrThe Stopmotion Explosion book was fantastic!  I knew nothing about making movies before we started this review, and the book really walked us through everything we needed to know, from writing the script to lighting, to special effects and video editing.  There was far more in it than we could absorb and put into practice as beginners, but I’m pretty sure my boys will want to come back to it as they become more experienced.  I appreciated that it was simple enough to help us know how to get started and yet detailed enough that we can keep learning from it as we go.

The only thing we really used off the software CD was the actual Stopmotion Explosion animation program.  It had a really simple interface that both my boys (ages 6 and 8) were able to use to create video.  We also used two programs they recommended (Audacity and Windows Movie Maker) to record audio and put everything together.  (The software can also be downloaded from the website if your computer doesn’t have a disk drive.)  We had no trouble running any of it on our computer using Windows 10.


Our Experience

Elijah (6) and I were the first to dive in.  We didn’t really start with any sort of story idea; we just grabbed the nearest action figures and started playing around.  We ended up creating “Supergirl Rescue.”

Just making that short little video was a huge learning experience!  I had some previous experience with recording audio with Audacity, but I had never done ANY video editing, so putting it together took a little trial and error.

Ian (8) was inspired by our efforts and created a couple of his own short videos.


After this, we felt we were ready to tackle something a little bigger.  Ian looks forward to oral presentations in his writing class, so we decided to create a movie to go along with one of his assignments.  He was writing about the King Arthur tale of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”  We just had to abridge the story quite a bit so it was short enough to not be too overwhelming.  (We worked on this one scene at a time over several days, and altogether it has almost 1000 individual frames.)

We had SO much fun making this movie together.  I had to help Ian with staging each frame, but he headed up the computer end of recording the video.  Then we did the audio together and both boys really enjoyed listening to different music clips to pick something that fit with the story as I edited it all together.

Ian was really proud of the final product, and it was a lot of fun getting to share it with the friends in his writing class.  Many of them were fascinated and asked him about how he had done it.  I think several of them will be checking out Stopmotion Explosion for themselves.

We are always looking for open-ended products that allow our children to use their imaginations.  The Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit is an awesome tool for helping kids unleash their creativity.  I look forward to seeing what wonderful creations mine come up with in the future!

Stopmotion Explosion Review
Crew Disclaimer

Times Tales (Crew Review)

TimesTales review
Memorizing the times tables is one of those things you just have to do.  I don’t know anyone who has enjoyed the process, but it’s such a crucial part of a solid math foundation that we push through (and push our children through) to ensure future success.  The Trigger Memory Co. has come up with an innovative way to make this task less deplorable.  Their Times Tales videos take a totally new approach to helping cement multiplication facts in children’s minds, and we were thrilled to be given a digital download to review.

About Time Tales

The crazy thing about Times Tales is that they’re not really about numbers.  Well, they are, but they aren’t.  Really, they are a series of stories about characters that represent numbers, and as children learn the stories, they also learn multiplication facts.  The video is divided into two parts (covering two different sets of facts), each leading students through a series of steps to mastering the more difficult upper times tables. (The videos teach 3×6, 3×7, 3×8, 3×9, 4×6, 4×7, 4×8, 4×9, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 6×9, 7×7, 7×8, 7×9, 8×8, 8×9, and 9×9.)

Here are the steps through which each video takes you:

Meet the Characters (Introduces the characters that represent different numbers–only in Part 1)

Meet the Characters
Learn the Story (Goes through all the stories, each being about one or two sentences long.  First the story is written out with a simple picture; then there is an animated sequence that further helps drill each peace into the memory.)

written storyanimated story
Story Quiz (Asks questions to make sure they remember all the important parts of the stories)

Story Quiz
At this point, they tell the students that if they had trouble remembering any of the stories, they need to go back and repeat the previous two steps before moving on.

You’re the Story Teller (They show the picture for each story.  The student pauses the video to test themselves and then checks their answer.)

You're the Story Teller
You're the Story Teller1
Practice flashcards (Using the same pause-say-play technique as Step 3, these flashcards use the characters to help students recite the facts.)

Practice flashcards
Flashcards (These flashcards use numerals instead of the character-symbols, and they are timed, rather than instructing you to pause the video while trying to remember.  This section also contains a “Division Challenge” using a combination of numbers and symbols to test how well the students know the facts.)

At this point if students missed any of the flashcards they are told to go back and repeat these steps before taking the written test as the final step.)

The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW

In addition to the videos (which are available as downloads or in DVD format), there are PDF files included with the purchase of Times Tales.  Each of the two parts has it own set of printables which include the following:

  • crossword puzzle
  • flashcards using the character-symbols
  • flashcards using numerals
  • practice test (using character-symbols)
  • test (using numbers)
  • division flashcards using character-symbols
  • division flashcards using numerals
  • pattern for a paper cube and instructions for a game to help practice facts

Our Experience

I wasn’t sure if Elijah (6) would like this method, since the stories have nothing to do with the actual mathematical concept of multiplication.  They’re simply mnemonic devices to help get the facts implanted in kids’ brains.  However, he LOVED the videos and was absolutely gleeful about knowing all the answers.  Ian (8) also enjoyed them, though math isn’t really his thing, so he wasn’t quite as excited about them.  He definitely needs to work on memorizing his multiplication facts, however, and he’d certainly rather watch videos to learn them than a traditional method like flashcards.  Even the younger kids enjoyed watching along with the boys.

TimesTales CrosswordI think Times Tales are great for both visual and auditory learners, especially those who like to think “out of the box.”  I liked the way they showed the words of the story, showed an animated version of the story, plus told the story out loud AND repeatedly emphasized the key elements of the stories both visually and verbally so that it could really get into the kids’ brains.  I thought the printable materials were also really helpful for reinforcing what the kids had seen in the videos.

The only thing I felt was missing was a sort of “cheat sheet” for myself with all the stories written out.  Whenever the boys ask me, say, “What’s 6X3?” I turn it around and say, “Well, what was the story about the 6th grade class and butterflies?”  They usually remember immediately, “At 1 o’clock, they let 8 butterflies go.  Eighteen!”  Occasionally though, none of us quite remember the story, and I’d love to have a quick way to look it up.

Overall, Times Tales were a big hit in our house, and I know we’ll be reviewing them periodically as the kids move further into multiplication.  This is a great supplement for any math curriculum, and there’s a 15-minute sample video available for FREE (teaching the upper 9’s) so if you have kids working on learning the times tables, be sure to check them out!

The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
Times Tales by the The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
Crew Disclaimer

Logic of English: Essentials 2nd ed. (Crew Review)

LOE Essentials Review
It is essential to me that my children have a commanding knowledge of the English language so that they can become strong readers and communicators.  We haven’t done much formal study of language arts up this point, so when we were offered that chance to review Essentials 2nd Edition (Volume 1) and the accompanying Essentials Reader from Logic of English, I decided it was time to see what my boys knew and fill in some gaps in the foundation I’ve been trying to build for them in these early years.

About Essentials 2nd Edition

Essentials is a comprehensive language arts curriculum for elementary students, designed to teach spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and reading (with additional materials).  Logic of English has recently released the first volume of the 2nd edition, and from what I can understand, the changes have made a great program even better.  (The first edition was all in one volume, but because of the additions to the second edition, it has now been split into two volumes for the two semesters of the school year.  Volume 2, with Lessons 16-30, is due to be released January 2017.)

In the second edition, three levels of work are presented, so it’s easy to use with multiple children and/or with the same child multiple times as he or she progresses.  This makes it an ideal homeschool spelling curriculum (and more!) for homeschool families like ours looking to get the most out of each purchase.

What’s Included in the Semester 1 Complete Set

Logic of English Review

  • Essentials Vol 1 Teacher’s Guide (632-page hardcover)
  • Essentials Vol 1 Student Workbook (316-page consumable softcover)
  • Spelling Journal (71-page consumable softcover)
  • Morpheme Cards, Set 1
  • Basic Phongram Flash Cards
  • Spelling Rule Flash Cards
  • Grammar Flash Cards
  • Advanced Phonogram Flash Cards
  • Phonogram Game Cards (Bookface)
  • Phonogram Game Cards (Manuscript or Cursive)
  • Phonogram Game Tiles
  • Spelling Analysis Card
  • Phonogram and Spelling Rule Quick Reference

Getting Started

Placement Test

The program begins with a placement test determining the proper level for each student (available on the website as well as in the book).  It covers phonemic awareness, reading basic phonograms, handwriting, writing phonograms, reading, and spelling.


There are ten “pre-lessons” with various activities to complete depending on how students performed on the placement test.  There are handwriting assignments (using The Rhythm of Handwriting, a separate product from Logic of English), phonemic awareness activities, and phonogram instruction, all of which help get the student and teacher familiar with the approach that will be used in the main lessons.  The order in which the phonograms are presented is different depending on whether or not you’re using cursive or manuscript, but the same ones are covered whichever way you choose.  There is also a game every day for practicing the phonograms learned up to that point.

Lessons 1-15

In Volume 1 there are fifteen lessons, which are intended to be used over half of the school year.  Each lesson is divided into five days’ worth of activities.

Day 1: “Essential Concepts” introduces new phonograms, spends time exploring sounds, and introduces spelling rules.

Day 2: “Building Words” reviews phonograms and spelling rules learned so far, then spends time on the spelling journal, and finally spelling analysis (with separate lists for levels A,B, and C).

Day 3: “Words in Context” reviews phonograms and spelling rules, teaches grammar concepts (including review), and has a short dictation lesson (with separate phrases for levels A,B, and C).

Day 4: “Words in Action” reviews phonograms, spelling rules, and grammar; teaches vocabulary (for levels A, B, and C); and also contains short lessons on dictation and composition, as well as assignments in the optional Essentials Reader.

Day 5: “Check Your Understanding” contains opportunities to review and assess everything taught that week.

Optional Essentials Reader set (available for additional purchase)

For older students (age 8+) still struggling with reading, there is a supplemental Essentials Reader that is designed to correlate specifically with the phonograms being taught in each lesson, as well as a Teacher’s Guide (which has suggestions for pre-reading, comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, note-taking, composition and other extension activities) and a student activity workbook.  All three of these items are currently available as PDF downloads. (The Essentials Reader comes in two formats: a black and white version designed for printing in booklet form and a full color version for using digitally.)  Print versions should be available sometime this spring.

The selections in the Essentials Reader are specifically aimed at older students who need more than the typical early reader “fluff.”  The subject matter varies, from tongue-twisting riddles, to classic folk tales from around the world, to interesting non-fiction pieces.  For each lesson, the reader contains a list of the words being taught (using phonograms being taught or reviewed in the corresponding Essentials lesson that week), and a short selection that puts the words in context.

Essentials Reader

Our Experience

LOE Essentials 2When our Essentials materials arrived, my first thought was, “What on earth have I gotten myself into???”  This thick, hardbound teacher edition reminded me of the heavy tomes I hauled around in college.  And so many sets of cards!  It’s a bit overwhelming to take in.  Just organizing all the materials was a daunting feat. I tried to look over the Teacher’s Guide to get a handle on the program, but I didn’t feel any less overwhelmed.  Finally I decided to just take the plunge.  Thankfully, that seems to be the best way to figure it all out.  (I later found the Logic of English YouTube channel, which would have been helpful in getting started as well.)

Although Essentials is for children 7 and up, I decided to have Elijah (6) my gifted 6-year old) join Ian (8) for most of it to make things more fun. After going through the Placement Test, we dived into the “Pre-lessons,” which were mostly about handwriting and learning the phonograms.  I had originally thought we would use “manuscript” (printing) for handwriting, but the boys both wanted to learn cursive so I decided this would be a way to make the program more fun and made the switch.  At first I just taught them myself, but I ended up deciding to purchase a digital copy of “The Rhythm of Handwriting,” which I found to be very helpful.  I really liked the order in which they taught the letters, and the boys liked that they were able to start writing words even before they’d learned all the letters.  (And I love having a digital copy that I can use with multiple students!)

LOE Essentials 1We all loved the games for phonogram practice in the pre-lessons.  They really helped the boys became familiar with the phonograms, and it just felt like game time rather than lessons.

After two weeks going through all the pre-lessons I was feeling much more confident about how the program was going to work (and much less intimidated by all the sets of cards!), so we began Lesson 1.  Originally I thought I’d just have Elijah sit in as we talked through the lessons and not do the workbook pages, but after going through all the pre-lessons together, I didn’t see anything about lesson 1 that seemed too hard for him, so I went online quickly and purchased a digital copy of the student book.  With the family license, I’ll be able to use it over again if we go through the program either at the higher levels or when my younger children are ready.  He surprised me with how ready he was to completely participate.

Our biggest issue is that my boys have both been really unbalanced when it comes to reading and spelling.  I have hesitated to use a formal curriculum up to this point, hoping that as they spent more time with reading and copywork they would become better spellers, but I just wasn’t seeing the improvement I would have liked.

Elijah is only in Kindergarten and so he has never had any formal spelling instruction, but he is an excellent reader and had no problem with the selections in the Essentials reader.  For him, just pointing out the rules and patterns seems to be enough, and in the weeks we’ve worked with Essentials (we got through Lesson 3 after the pre-lessons), he has made noticeable improvements and is able to figure out how to spell the majority of words he is able to read.

For Ian, however, things haven’t come quite so easily.  He is also an excellent reader, but for him, that has not transferred over into his spelling.  The Spelling Analysis portion of Essentials was EXACTLY what he needed.  The rules really help him, and the constant repetition of those rules and the chance to put them into practice every day led to consistent progress.  The Spelling Journal was also really helpful, where he got to record lists of words that followed certain rules/used certain phonograms.  (I kept this as an activity just for Ian, so he liked having something special once I’d excused Elijah from our lessons.)  The daily practice and consistent, focused repetition broke through for him in a much needed way.  I think he was almost as relieved as I was to see the improvement he made over the month or so that we’ve been using the program.

Overall Thoughts

LOE Essentials TMSuch a formal curriculum is not really our style, so I don’t know that I’ll continue at the same pace we’ve been taking the program for this review, but I definitely want to keep using at least the spelling portion.  Nothing else has helped Ian grasp spelling the way Essentials has in the short time we’ve been working with it.  I love the way it breaks down the spelling rules and walks the student through why words are spelled in certain ways.

Essentials is definitely a comprehensive, structured curriculum.  It’s intense, but that seems to be exactly what we needed to break through.  Since spelling doesn’t come as naturally for Ian as it does for Elijah, I think it will be helpful to keep working through the entire program and then repeat it again using the higher levels.  The only thing I would have changed is the consumable student workbook, which was a little confusing since it had all three levels mixed in together for each lesson.  I prefer the digital copy I bought for Elijah, where I can just print off the pages for his particular level without wasting all the paper on the others.

I love that Essentials really contains everything I need to teach my children all about the crazy logic of the English language.  The multi-level approach makes this a worthwhile investment for homeschool families because they can use it again and again, not only with multiple children but even with the same child going a little deeper each time around.  In a family our size, that makes this curriculum a definite keeper.

Logic of English Review
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Owlegories: The Ant, the Fruit, and the Butterfly (Crew DVD Review)

FishFlix Owlegories Review
In the past year, our family has enjoyed getting familiar with, a company dedicating to providing quality family-friendly entertainment while also supporting a ministry to spread God’s kingdom.  They recently gave us a chance to review Owlegories: The Ant, The Fruit, The Butterfly, and it was a big hit with the whole family.


Before I share about the movie itself, I want to take a minute to tell you about this wonderful company. was started by a Turkish Christian named Dr. Enis Sakirgil after he helped produce a film about the Apostle Paul as a way of letting western Christians know about the rich biblical history of his home country.  Turkey is one of the nations least reached with the gospel, so when Dr. Sakirgil and his family immigrated to the United States, he began selling the film (Apostle Paul and the Earliest Churches) online, as well as other Christian movies, as a way of helping a radio ministry back in Turkey. is currently based in Mora, Minnesota, and the company’s goal is to “glorify God though amazing customer service, quality Christian content, creating honorable jobs, and expanding the Kingdom of God in Turkey.” offers a wide selection of Christian and family-friendly movies of many different types, and all orders over $35 have free shipping.  By purchasing movies from, you can help support their vision of ministry while providing quality entertainment for your family.

About Owlegories

Owlegories 2
We first learned about Owlegories a few months ago when we were given the first DVD, Owlegories: The Sun, The Seed, and The Water.  My kids adored it and have been begging for Volume 2 over since.  Owlegories: The Ant, The Fruit, The Butterfly continues the wonderful tradition of using adorable characters studying allegories found in nature to teach theological truths.

In Roman’s 1:20, Paul writes that God’s invisible attributes are clearly perceived in the things He has created, and that is the driving force behind the Owlegories series.  Each episode features five memorable young owls attending “Theowlogy 101” with Professor Owlester.  They begin each class by reciting the “Owl Pledge”:

We love to learn about creation.

It helps us become wise.

God’s nature is all around us

If you look through heaven’s eyes

Then the professor introduces the topic that will be discussed in that episode’s lesson (in Volume 2, that’s ants, fruit, and butterflies).  The inquisitive young owls are then given missions that must be completed by traveling to various places around the world where they make a connection between their subject and the God’s truth.  For example, when they study butterflies, they learn that “God looks at our heart.  It does not matter what we look like on the outside.  A caterpillar changes into a butterfly just as we are changed through salvation.  And just as the caterpillar is free when it becomes a butterfly, we find true freedom when we accept Christ as our Savior.

After the animated portion of each episode, there is a short live message with an adult taking the lesson a little further and showing kids how it applies to their lives.  While my children didn’t enjoy these as much as the main part of the episode, they never complained about them either, and I appreciated the time taken to lead them a little deeper into the theology behind each story.

Owlegories Collage

Our Experience

Owlegories doesn’t come across as “preachy” at all.  On the contrary, the unique characters are hilarious, and my kids got a kick out of the villain, Devlin, who appears in each story trying to thwart the little owls’ plans.   I loved that the young owls were always respectful and encouraging, and even the “class clown” Joey avoids making jokes at someone else’s expense or being rude (unlike the characters in so many modern children’s programs).

Owlegories is a well-produced series with colorful animation, catchy music, and memorable characters.  And best of all, in the midst of all the fun, important theological truths are being imparted to children.  We have watched the first two volumes over and over, and we look forward to seeing future episodes!

FishFlix Review
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Math-U-See With Digital Pack (Crew Review)

Math-U-See Review
Over the last few years since we started homeschooling, I have heard repeated praise for Demme Learning’s Math-U-See program, but it wasn’t until we were offered a chance to review their Digital Packs that we actually tried it out for ourselves.  Arianna (4) hasn’t really had any intentional exposure to math concepts apart from what she encounters in daily life, so I decided to give her some formal instruction with the Math-U-See Primer Level.


Please pardon the laundry and baby in the background :-)

About Math-U-See with Digital Pack

Different members of the Crew reviewed various levels from Primer through Pre-Calculus (click on the banner at the bottom to find those reviews), but because we were totally new to Math-U-See and had none of their materials, they generously provided us with the Primer Universal Set, which included everything we needed to get started:

Demme Learning Math U See Review

  • Instruction manual (hardcover, 128 pages of teacher notes for each lesson and complete solutions)
  • Instruction DVD (with a short video for each lesson introducing the concepts being taught)
  • Student workbook (softcover with 429 perforated, 3-hole punched pages)
  • Integer block set (with plastic manipulatives for numbers 1-10 and 100)
  • 12-months of access to the Primer Digital Pack, which includes the following:
    • Skip Count Songs (MP3 download–about 25 minutes long)
    • Songbook (44-page PDF with melody, lyrics, and black and white pictures)
    • online access to the instruction videos found on the DVD
    • online access to Digital Manipulatives
    • Instruction Manual (PDF)

Math-U-See also has additional resources for record-keeping and extra practice available on their website.  (For higher levels there is even an online worksheet generator.)

If you don’t need everything in the Universal Set, Digital Packs can be purchased individually, but student workbooks (and test booklets for the higher levels) are not included and will need to be purchased as well.

Our Experience

From the moment the curriculum arrived, all my kids were drawn to it.  I wan’t sure the digital manipulatives would make sense without having at least some familiarity with the physical set, so I let everyone take some time being creative with the integer blocks.

Arianna was SO excited to have her own school work, and the older boys loved helping her. The concepts in Primer are introduced very gently, so for her this was more a time of learning how to fit concepts she’s already learned (like counting and writing numbers) into a set structure.

The primer level starts about as basic as you can get, with simple counting and number recognition.  Over the weeks that we’ve had it, our lessons have also covered shapes, writing numerals, and place value.  Each lesson has lots of practice pages in the student workbook, and she often wanted to do multiple pages in a sitting.  I usually just let her go until she seemed to be losing interest and then we’d put it away.  However, she never really grew bored with it overall.  She loved taking it along with us when she thought she might need something to entertain herself.

Primer_zpsnyjgbvauEach lesson consists of a short instructional video, which can be viewed from the DVD or online as part of the Digital Pack, and a lesson in the Instruction Manual.  These were more for me as a parent than for Arianna, and I often went through them the night before as preparation so our math time was more about just having fun together.  I really liked the convenience of accessing the videos online through the Digital Pack, and usually chose to do that rather than putting on the DVD.

Another great feature of the Digital Pack is the online manipulatives.  Math-U-See’s integer blocks are a key component of the curriculum because they help students really see and understand what the numbers they’re working with mean.  Having access to the digital manipulatives makes it easy to do lessons away from home without toting along the whole set, especially in the higher levels of the curriculum.  However, I don’t think they’re quite as useful at the Primer level, where children really need the hands-on experience.  (The instruction manual even says, “Young children…need to see, touch, and build with concrete objects in order to understand.”)

Arianna really never had any opportunity to use the digital manipulatives in all the Primer lessons we did, but the boys and I spent some time exploring them.  The boys had no trouble using them on our laptops in the Chrome browser (though there is a separate app available if you want to use it on a tablet).  The blocks are easy to drag and drop onto the screen wherever you want them.

Just like with the physical integer block set, the digital set can also be used for all sorts of creative purposes.

 The skip counting song was another great bonus for all my kids to enjoy.  We often put on “school songs” to sing along to as we drive around town, and this was a great addition to our collection.  I also love that the skip counting songs aren’t just about the numbers but refer to Bible stories and other familiar tales to make them more interesting.  I just wish the songs had been available to download separately instead of as one long MP3 file.

Final Thoughts

I think the Digital Packs are a great addition to the Math-U-See program, but they’re probably more helpful in some situations than others.

  • Digital manipulatives don’t take up precious space (or get lost).
  • Online videos and manipulatives make it easy to do lessons away from home.
  • Even at home, the online videos and manipulatives are often more convenient than the DVD and physical integer block set since you can pull them up on any device with Internet access.
  • If you have multiple students using the same level but on different lessons, one can be online while the other uses the DVD.
  • Digital manipulatives don’t help with the Primer level workbook pages, which are designed for the child to use with the physical integer blocks.
  • 12-month access to Digital Packs may not be ideal for families who pass down curriculum from child to child.  I like that I’ll be able to pull out the DVD and Instruction Manual with my younger children long after my access to the Digital Pack has expired.

Arianna really enjoyed Math-U-See, and I think the Primer materials were the perfect gentle introduction to formal math for a four-year old.  We’re looking forward to the rest of the lessons, which include addition, skip counting, telling time, and beginning subtraction.  I’m not sure when I’ll be officially starting Kindergarten with her, but I would definitely consider moving up to Alpha once she completes the Primer level.

Demme Learning's Math-U-See Review
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The Dragon and The Raven Audio Adventure (Crew Review)

Dragon and the Raven Review
What do you know about Alfred the Great?  This early king of England not only helped defeat the raiding Vikings, but was also was a man of deep faith who helped bring his enemies to Christ.  Now Heirloom Audio Productions has brought his inspiring story back to life in their newest adventure, The Dragon and the Raven, based on the historical novel by G.A. Henty.  We were blessed by their generosity in allowing us to review not only the audio drama, but also several bonuses materials that helped us get even more about of the story.

About Heirloom Audio Productions

HeirloomAudio-Logo_zpsnjxedqzzHeirloom Audio Productions is passionate about bringing history to life.  Through their dramatic audio adventures they are introducing a new generation to “The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty,” a 19th century author whose historical, character-building novels enjoyed great popularity more than a hundred years ago.  Each story features virtuous characters who must learn how to walk out their faith in the midst of the trials they face.

Heirloom Audio Productions strives for excellence in every aspect of what they do.  From their talented actors to the beautiful soundtracks, these two-hour plus dramas are quality productions that both children and adults can appreciate.  Our family has eagerly added all their audio adventures to our library:

and now, The Dragon and the Raven!

Heirloom Audio Collage

About The Dragon and the Raven

Like the others in this series, the adventure begins with two boys, Ned and Gerald, meeting up with “Mr. George,” (G.A. Henty), who sets the stage for the story he’s about to tell.  This time the boys will take on the more common 9th century names of “Edmund” and “Harold” as the live out the adventure.

After the death of his father, young Edmund becomes a close ally of King Alfred and joins him in battling the invading Danes.  Through the course of the story we see many examples of courage, honor, and what it looks like to love one’s enemies.  There’s even a bit of romance as Edmund falls in love with (and must later come to the rescue of) Freya, the daughter of one of the Danes.  As in all of Henty’s stories, virtue is held in high esteem, and the characters model qualities we hope our children will emulate.

Our Experience

As members of the Review Crew we received the 2-CD set as well as several downloadable bonuses that come with the purchase of a “Family Four-Pack” Package:

  • The Dragon and the Raven 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 of Proverbs 21: 31 (King Alfred’s Hope)
  • cast poster (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • “Behind the Scenes of The Dragon and the Raven (mp4 video download)

DSCN1205xThe eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a great tool for homeschool families.  In addition to providing some background information about G.A. Henty and Alfred the Great, it breaks the recording into 4-10 minute chunks, then provides questions to help make sure young children understood what they heard. (These could also be used as written assignments for older children.)

  • 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)
  • Defining Words (vocabulary used in the story)

At the end there are suggestions for further reading about Alfred the Great, three short Bible studies to help students explore biblical themes from the narrative (“God’s Law and the Nations,” “Love Your Enemy,” and “Literacy”), and a brief history of Britain and England.

We especially enjoyed the “Behind the Scenes” video, which showed the actors in the recording studio and gave a fascinating look at the process of creating the whole production.  It delved deeper into the history behind the story and helped us get more out of it the next time we listened to the audio adventure.

DTR Actor Collage
The Dragon and the Raven was a wonderful supplement for our history studies on the Middle Ages.  It is also my favorite drama so far from Heirloom Audio Productions.  I have a special affinity for British history, and it opened up a window into a period I knew very little about.  Whether as a homeschool supplement or just for entertainment, we highly recommend The Dragon and the Raven.

The Dragon and the Raven {Heirloom Audio Productions Review}
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