Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

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

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

About FlipStir

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

FlipStir Puzzle pieces

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

FlipStir PuzzlesLevel 1

  • Rainbow Pencils
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex

Level 2

  • Solar System
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Periodic Table

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

Our Experience

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

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

Kids Complete FlipStir

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

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

FlipStir Puzzles Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids (Crew Review)

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

About Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review

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

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

Our Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review
Crew Disclaimer

Talking Shapes Online (Crew Review)

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

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}

About Talking Shapes

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

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

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

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

Talking Shapes 3

Our Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Another Look at CTCMath (Crew Review)

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

About CTCMath

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

CTC Menu

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

CTC lesson list

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

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

Summary Report

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

Detailed Report

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

Speed skills
Times Tables game

Our Experience

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

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

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

CTCMath Review
Crew Disclaimer

Beric the Briton (Crew Review)

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

About Heirloom Audio Productions

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

Heirloom Audio Productions

About Beric the Briton

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

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

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

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

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

We just listened to Beric The Briton for entertainment, but the eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a great resource for homeschool families who want to incorporate the audio drama into their studies.  It includes a basic biography of G.A. Henty, as well as historical background information about the Roman Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea.  Then it provides a listening guide that breaks the recording into small chunks and gives questions to help younger listeners understand what’s happening in the story or provide older children with prompts for written assignments.  Each section contains the following types of questions:

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

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

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

Beric the Briton video

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

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions Review
Crew Disclaimer

Learning Latin With Stories (Crew Review)

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

About Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin

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

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

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

Our Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Online Bible Course from Veritas Press (Crew Review)

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

Veritas Bible 6

About Veritas Press Self-Paced Bible Courses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Experience

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

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

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

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

My Opinion

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

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

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

My Plans for the 2016-17 School Year

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

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

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

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


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

Elementary Bible


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

American Providential History for Children


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

Christian biographies for children


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

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

Fix-It! Grammar


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

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

Literature Guide: The Drinking Gourd (Crew Review)

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

About this Progeny Press Literature Guide

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

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

The 35-page literature guide features the following:

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

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

Our Experience

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

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

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

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

History Cycle Year 2 Resources (Middle Ages – Reformation)

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

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

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

Year-Long Resources We Drew From Selectively:

Early Church


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


Vikings/Northern Europe



Middle Ages (including Castles/Kings/Knights)

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




Medieval Church




The Silk Road/Marco Polo








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

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