Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

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.

DSCN1383x DSCN1404x

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
Crew Disclaimer

IEW’s Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (Crew Review)

IEW Poetry Review
Can you still quote lines from your favorite childhood movies?  Have you ever found yourself adapting quotes from books or movies in the course of regular conversation?  I know I have.  When we memorize something, we make it our own and can draw upon it to help us communicate effectively.  When I started learning about the Institute for Excellence in Writing‘s poetry memorization program, it made so much sense to me.  Children memorize naturally, so why not use that skill to help them develop their language skills?  We received the Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization program materials and the additional Student Book to review, and I can already see that its benefits are going to be long-reaching.

About Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization

Before diving into the Teacher’s Manual, IEW suggests watching (or listening to) Andrew Pudewa’s conference talk on “Nurturing Competent Communicators” (included in both video and audio form).  In this teaching, Mr. Pudewa shares about his own foreign language learning experience and how he discovered the benefit of memorizing to help him grow in his ability to speak fluently and well.  His main point is that no matter how effective we are at teaching writing, “you can’t get something out of a child’s brain that isn’t in there to begin with.”  Memorizing poetry and speeches helps build a mental “database” of “reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.”  Once those patterns are in your brain, you can access them as you write or speak, adapting them to fit the needs of what you are trying to communicate.  Vocabulary, idioms, and various grammatical patterns can be drawn upon at will.

The Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization program consists of 5 levels of material for memorization.  The first four levels each have 19 poems, plus suggestions for a 20th selection, which the student gets to pick.  The fifth level has famous speeches and includes historical information about each one to help give context.  At the end of the book, the appendices contain short biographies of each poet, as well as optional “lesson enhancements” if you want to do more with each poem than just memorize it.

The Introduction in the Teacher’s Manual further explains the motivation behind Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization as well as describing the process of “mastery learning” following the method developed by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki used by violin teachers around the world.  The concepts he drew upon for music education can be just as effectively applied to memorizing poetry.  As the student adds to his repertoire, he continues practicing the pieces previously learned, so that by the end of Level 1, he is able to perfectly recite all twenty poems.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization IEW Review
The Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization set includes:

  • Teacher’s Manual (200 pages, spiral-bound softcover)
  • 5-CD set of the poems read by Andrew Pudewa
  • DVD of Andrew Pudewa’s conference talk on “Nurturing Competent Communicators”

The Teacher’s Manual also has instructions for downloading the 170-page Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization Student e-book and 7 Audio MP3s:

  • Nurturing Competent Communicators
  • Mastery Learning, Ability Development, and Individualized Education
  • Ten Thousand Times and Then Begins Understanding
  • On Listening
  • On Speaking
  • On Reading
  • On Writing

A physical copy of the Student Book is also available for separate purchase.  However, IEW’s generous copyright allows you to print multiple copies of the included e-book for use within your immediate family or classroom, so it’s not necessary to purchase the student book unless you’d rather have it printed for you.

Our Experience

I really wasn’t sure about this program when we were asked to review it, but I have the highest respect for Andrew Pudewa and the Institute for Excellence in Writing, so I was willing to give it a try.  I’m SO glad I did.  From within the first few minutes of watching the “Nurturing Competent Communicators” DVD, I started getting excited about diving into poetry memorization with my children, particularly with Ian (8) and Elijah (6).

Student PageI started by explaining what we were going to do and showing them the booklets I had printed for them of the Level 1 poems in the Student e-Book.  (IEW generously sent us a spiral-bound softcover physical copy of the Student Book for our review, but since I was planning to use the program with two children, I wanted them to have identical materials.)  I thought they would enjoy coloring the illustrations, but I found we really didn’t use the Student Book at all in any form after the first day because we did most of our memorization either around the kitchen table during meals (with me reading from the Teacher’s Manual) or in the car.  I LOVED having the audio CDs to take along with us so the kids could review their poems (and start working on new ones) as we drove around town.  The volume level was a little low, so we had to crank it up (and be careful when we switched to a different audio source or we got blasted), but overall they were a great way to practice.

My boys love almost all the poems they have memorized so far.  (They’re about a third of the way through Level 1).  There’s a great variety of short and long, humorous and contemplative, and we haven’t found any we don’t like.  The boys both really enjoy reciting them (especially for Daddy in the evenings), and they often argue about who gets to go first on each one.  It’s been very rewarding for them, and I’m amazed at how quickly they’ve both mastered the poems.  I love that this program is a long-term project for our family.  There’s plenty of material here to keep us memorizing for the next few years, and I’m sure we’ll find other poems the boys will want to add to their repertoire.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization is a great complement to IEW’s core product, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, which I’ve been going through this year as the boys have participated in a writing class using lessons based on this method.  I’m thankful for the chance to add poetry memorization to our linguistic toolbox, and IEW will continue to be our family’s go-to source for quality products to help us as we seek to raise up skilled communicators.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization IEW Review
Crew Disclaimer

Elementary Music Appreciation Course (Crew Review)

Music Appreciation Review
When we first started homeschooling one of the things that drew me to the Charlotte Mason method of education was the attention paid to composer study.  Classical music has been a part of my life since childhood, and I want my children to be familiar with and appreciate it as well.  I’ve had my eye on the Great Composers books from Zeezok Publishing LLC for quite a while and was SO excited to get a chance to review the entire Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades collection, starting with one of my children’s favorite composers: Beethoven.

About the Music Appreciation Book 1 Collection

This collection is an incredibly rich resource, providing materials for seven 4-week unit studies based on the lives of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Schubert:

  • 7 biographical novels by Opal Wheeler, one for each composer, all softcover except the one Schubert (not sure why we received a hardcover since I know they do publish it in softcover)
  • 1 Student Activity Book (softcover with perforated pages)
  • Set of 5 Audio CDs
  • CD-ROM with files for making a lapbook for each composer
  • (Coordinating coloring book available for separate purchase)

Each of these items is available for individual purchase, but unless you already own something, the you’ll want everything that comes in the collection to complete the lessons.

The heart of this curriculum is the Wheeler books, which focus on the composers’ lives and childhood musical background.  Although the book occasionally references topics covered when studying other composers, for the most part each unit study is self-contained, so they don’t necessarily need to be done in the order they are presented.

BeethovenI chose Beethoven for our first study.  Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells starts with Beethoven as a very young boy and tells about his musical career all the way through his moving 9th Symphony, composed when he could no longer hear.  While the book does talk about Ludwig being forced to practice in the middle of the night as a child and his father’s desire to see him become a musician like Mozart, it is very appropriate for children and doesn’t mention his father’s abusive nature.  Instead the focus is on Ludwig’s relationships with other members of his family, his various teachers and his many musical experiences growing up.

The book also includes music for several of Beethoven’s compositions, which are simple enough for intermediate piano players to be able to play and enjoy as they go through the book.  (These selections are also on the audio CDs.)  Some are interspersed with the text to experience as you go through the book, and there are also several at the end for further enjoyment.

After you have read the chapter for the week, the Student Activity Book is full of questions, activities, and ideas for further study.  Each unit starts with a Weekly Lesson Outline that lists all the reading assignments and activities that will be covered, making note of those required to meet national music appreciation standards.

Each week’s assignments include:

  • reading a chapter in the Wheeler book
  • a page of comprehension questions
  • study of character qualities demonstrated in the chapter
  • listening assignments from the Music Appreciation CDs
  • “Tidbits of Interest” expounding upon specific information in the chapter
  • Lapbook activities
  • Extras like geography, history, or music theory

The Student Activity Book functions as both a workbook and a textbook, with some pages having activities to complete and others containing additional reading material.

The CD-ROM contains the pieces needed for each composer’s lapbooks as well as pictures of completed lapbooks.  These pages include instructions about how to assemble each piece, but to find out where to place it, you have to look up the examples or read the directions in the Student Activity Book.



Our Experience

I chose the Beethoven unit because most of my children are already somewhat familiar with his life story and his music, but there was still a lot for everyone to learn.  This curriculum is designed for K-6th grade, so I planned to include Ian (2nd grade) and Elijah (Kindergarten) as well as seeing how much Arianna (preschool) could participate.

We started each week’s work reading a few pages from Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells while the kids colored.  The boys probably would have been able to read the Wheeler book themselves, but it would have been laborious, so I used it as a read aloud instead.  (An audio version is also available both on CD and as an mp3 download.)

I bought two copies of the coordinating coloring book for the younger two to use since Ian would be using the Student Activity Book.  I was thankful that there were multiple coloring pages for each chapter, because I found Ian had an easier time listening when he was coloring (and my 2-year old wanted to do what everyone else was doing as well).  The pictures directly related to the chapters in the book, so they were a great way to include everyone.  I was a little surprised when the coloring books arrived and they were just stapled together rather than being actual bound books, but that ended up making it easy to take them apart and share the quality coloring pages from 2 books among 4 children.  I don’t know that we would have enjoyed the study nearly as much if I hadn’t gone ahead and gotten the coloring pages.

DSCN1249xThere was so much material in the Student Activity Book, I ended up taking almost twice as long as the suggested four weeks to get through it.  Even though the curriculum is intended for all elementary grades, I felt like much of it was too difficult for my Kindergartner and 2nd grader, though it would be perfect for upper elementary students.  We adapted things and often just went through the material conversationally.

The boys enjoyed working on the lapbook together after we had finished reading and dismissed the little ones.  I struggled a little bit with figuring out exactly what went where,  confused that some of the instructions were in the Student Activity Book while others were on the pages with the lapbook materials themselves.  I think when we go through the next unit I’ll be able to figure it out better, but since this was the first lapbook we’d ever created, I would have felt a little more confident if all the information I needed were in one place.

My Thoughts on Zeezok Publishing’s Music Appreciation

20160317_094524xI am in awe of how much work went into putting together this curriculum.  There is SO much to do and learn about in each study!  Even though we found it to be a bit overwhelming at this point, I think we’ll get a lot more out of it as my children get older.  I’ll probably get the audio books for future studies so we can get through the books as we drive and save our time at home for all the other activities.

Music Appreication Book 1_zpsu33n9px8The only change I would like to see would be separating the Student Activity Book into a textbook and separate workbook.  It is designed to be consumable, with one needed for each student, but so much of it is extra reading material or instructions for lapbook activities that could easily be reused, so it felt a bit wasteful to me.  Since I have multiple children, it would be nice to only be purchasing extra copies of the pages that actually get written in rather than the entire book.

There’s definitely more in the weekly lesson outline than I can get done in the time I usually allot to composer study each week.  In the future I will probably stretch out each unit more intentionally.  Or if I do want to keep to the schedule, I might even use it as a traditional unit study, where it’s the main focus of the school day with other subjects coming out of it (since history, geography, reading, writing, and of course fine arts are all included.  However we end up using it, I am thankful for such a well-designed, detailed curriculum for studying the lives and music of so many great composers.

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
Crew Disclaimer

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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