Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Horizons 1st Grade Penmanship (Crew Review)

As Elijah started Kindergarten this year, I realized there was one thing I really needed to work with him on: penmanship.  As with most subjects, he taught himself how to form letters, and consequently he had developed a few bad habits.  So I was thrilled with the chance to review the Horizons 1st Grade Penmanship Set from Alpha Omega Publications.

About this Horizons Penmanship Set

The set we received consisted of two softcover books: a student workbook with 160 lessons on perforated pages and a teacher’s guide with lesson plans for each day as well as reproducible pages for extra practice if needed.

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This program is ideal for children in either Kindergarten or first grade just learning to write (or in Elijah’s case, learning how to write properly.)  It starts the year with early writing skills like forming circles, lines, and curves to help practice the fine motor skills students will need when forming letters.  Then slowly it moves through the letters and numbers, grouping those that are formed in similar ways and incorporating them into short words.

In the eighth week, the student begins copying simple Bible verses.  They practice the words throughout the week and then the last lesson for the week has an artistic page for them to copy the verse carefully and color in the picture or design to make a nice gift for someone with whom they want to share it.

Our Experience

This set was exactly what I was looking for in a handwriting program this year!  It has helped provide some structured time for us to sit down and work on correct letter formation and so much more.  Elijah loves it and often wants to finish multiple pages in a single day.

P1050761xI wanted to start with the very basics to make sure Elijah knew things like where to start writing, exactly how to form letters, and how to use the lines to help him make the letters correctly.  Yet I knew he would get bored spending too much time on those things.  The program moves pretty quickly through this stage, though we did skip through the first few weeks of lessons selectively so I could have him focus on undoing some of the bad habits he had developed.  However, after about 4 weeks we were on lesson 30, and that seemed to be a comfortable fit, so from here on out we’ll continue using the book as intended, with one page for each day.

I really appreciate the perforated pages.  At first I intended to keep the workbook together, but I found that the book wasn’t laying completely flat, which made it difficult for Elijah to control his pencil close to the spine where the page tended to move.  Once we started tearing the pages out, he had a much easier time.  (The pages are double-sided except for the fifth one each week, so you never have to hang onto Friday’s paper over the weekend, which was great.)

We’re just getting ready to head into the weeks that start using Bible verses, and I know Elijah is going to enjoy those, especially creating beautiful pages to give to friends and family with his weekly verses.  I love that he’ll get to use his new writing skills to learn and spread the Word of God!

Sample pages from the Horizons 1st Grade Penmanship Set are available, as well as the Scope & Sequence for all the Horizons products available from Alpha Omega Publications.  Other members of the Crew have written about some of those materials, so be sure to check out their reviews by clicking on the banner below!

Alpha Omega Review
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The Conversation (Crew Book Review)

Bortins Conversation Review
I recently jumped at the chance to review The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins.  Published by Classical Conversations, this book completes a trilogy about homeschooling children through the three stages of a classical Christian education.

If you know me, you might be asking, “Why are you reading a book about classical education in high school?”  After all, my oldest child 7, and we don’t exactly follow a “classical method” of homeschooling.   To put it simply, I always like to know what’s ahead before I get there, and while I’ve never dived in to classical homeschooling, what I do know about it intrigues me (I think we’ve adopted some of the elements into our rather eclectic style), and I thought this would be a good opportunity to find out more.

About the Book

the-conversation-coming-summer-of-2015-10.gif_zpshfavqygsIn case you’re not familiar with the classical method, it breaks down the child’s education into three stages: grammar (which teaches children to “acquire lots of knowledge and facts about the world”-p.39), dialectic (which teaches them to “assess and order that information” so that they can understand it-p.39), and rhetoric (in which students “write essays, present hypotheses, lead discussions with others, and act on the knowledge they have gained about a new subject”-p.35).  In her previous books (The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education and The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education), Bortins covers the first two stages, and now she completes the trilogy by covering the final stage.

The Conversation is written in two parts.  Bortins first reviews the classical method, explaining the five “canons” of classical education:

  1. Invention
  2. Arrangement
  3. Elocution
  4. Memory
  5. Delivery

She encourages parents who might be intimidated by the thought of homeschooling through high school by laying out why the classical approach works so well with students at this age.

Then in the second part of the book, Bortins goes through individual subjects, using the five canons as a framework for leading students through the “rhetorical arts.”  I expected subjects like reading, writing, and especially speech and debate, but I was surprised to read how she also applied the five canons to subjects like math, science, and foreign language.

Our Experience

Even though we’re still many years away from high school, I found this book inspiring and encouraging.  When people find out we homeschool I’m often asked, “How long do you plan to do that?”  They always seem either skeptical or in awe that I plan to go all the way through high school, Lord willing.  In this book, Bortins has given me much food for thought, and I’ll be able to give a much more articulate response the next time I’m faced with this question.  I now find myself excited about homeschooling my children during the high school years.

I learned so much about the classical method from reading The Conversation.  I had never heard of the five canons, but as I read about them I found myself looking back over my own education and realizing how helpful it would have been to have those concepts put into such terms.  The whole process made so much sense, and I felt like I was finally finding words for things I had intrinsically understood during my school years.

Everything I learned in reading this book makes me want to find about more about the classical method. During Ian’s preschool years I felt drawn to other approaches, but as he’s moved into the elementary grades things weren’t always feeling natural to me and I found myself making a lot of adjustments.  Reading about the classical method made me feel like I’d found something that fits my style better.  I’ll probably always be rather eclectic in my methods, but I feel that learning all I can about different approaches will give me more “tools” from which to choose as I educate my children.  So I’ve ordered The Core and The Question and I look forward to diving into them soon!

Classical Conversations Review
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“Funtastic” Science Unit Studies (Crew Review)

Science Unit Studies Review
Science is one of those subjects where we really learn best from hands on activities, yet I struggle against my own tendency to just turn to a book.  So when I got a chance to review Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers from Funtastic Unit Studies, I figured it would give our family a chance to explore some fun ideas for teaching science.

About Funtastic Unit Studies

Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers is written by Susan Kilbride, a homeschooling parent who wanted to help other homeschool families.  This 201-page softcover book is packed with science activities to use with students ages 4-13. There are 20 chapters altogether, with the first half containing units geared toward 4-7 year olds, and the second half being for 8-13 year olds.  The book covers a wide variety of science topics:

  • The human body
  • dinosaurs
  • animals
  • magnets
  • stars and planets
  • plants
  • microscopes
  • chemistry
  • weather
  • simple machines
  • and much more!

P1050800xEach topic is presented as a separate chapter made up of several parts, each of which contains multiple activities.  A materials list  is provided at the beginning of each chapter so you can gather everything you’ll need for the activities before you begin the unit.  There’s no set time frame for how long it takes to complete a unit, providing lots of flexibility for families.

Two free sample units (one for each age group) are available to download from the Funtastic Unit Studies site.

Our Experience With Funtastic Unit Studies

I have to admit, this book wasn’t quite what I expected when we were first offered this review.  When I hear the phrase “unit study” I envision something that integrates multiple subjects around a single topic.  While some units in this book did occasionally integrate stories or picture books, for the most part they were really just about science.  So as an issue of semantics, I would say that these are “science units,” rather than “unit studies.”  I realize that’s a minor point, but I think a lot of homeschoolers might have a similar understanding of the term “unit study” so I want be clear about what this book actually contains.  That said, once I had let go of my original expectations, I was pleased and impressed with the wide variety of activities presented to help do a thorough study of the topics in each chapter.

Although the chapters are designed to build upon one another, it’s possible to skip around to follow students’ interest, and that’s what we did.  First I went through the book and marked which chapters I thought would capture my children’s attention the most (as well as looking through the extensive materials lists to see which ones we could do without having to buy a ton of supplies).  We chose to skip the unit on dinosaurs and prehistoric life because it would have required a lot of editing to give a more accurate picture of early history as revealed in the Bible.  There were still plenty of other fascinating topics, and we skipped around within the first ten chapters (the units designed for ages 4-7) to touch on things that we haven’t already spent a lot of time studying already.

Health

Our first unit was Chapter 8: Health.  It starts out talking about teeth, and since Elijah had a dentist’s appointment that week, I figured it would be a good tie-in.  We talked about why it’s important to brush out teeth and did several of the related activities.  The kids were really excited to make their own toothpaste.  The book suggested flavoring it with peppermint or strawberry, but since that wouldn’t appeal to any of my kids I opted to use vanilla.  As they mixed the ingredients, Ian commented that it smelled like cookie dough, and they couldn’t wait to go try it out.  They were all in for a rude awakening when they actually tasted it, and like the book said, they had a much greater appreciate for their “modern” store-bought toothpaste after that.

homemade toothpaste
Later in the unit we discussed different vitamins and minerals and why they’re important, why it’s important to exercise, and how to protect ourselves from germs.

Health Unit Collage

Magnets

We still had a week left in our review period after we finished the health unit, so I decided to check out some of the activities in Chapter 6: Fun With Magnets.  All the kids really enjoyed this unit, though most of our magnets were still packed away after our move, which limited which activities we could do.  Still, they were able to learn about attraction, the power of magnets, magnetic fields, and induced magnetism.  (Well, Ian’s probably the only one who really learned the terms and the concepts, but the little ones all had a lot of fun experimenting and learning in their own way.)

Magnet Unit Collage

My Overall thoughts on Science Unit Studies

If you’re looking for fun ideas for teaching science, this is a great resource.  There are so many activities included in this book!

What I Liked about Science Unit Studies
  • Wide range of science topics covered
  • Lots of activities with clear instructions and well-presented information to help students understand
  • You don’t necessarily have to do every activity but there are so many you can easily choose several that will work for your family
  • While there is helpful information in the book, the bulk of the learning is done through hands-on activities, making it very appealing for students
What Didn’t Work for Our Family
  • Extensive materials lists may make it difficult for some families to do many of the activities.
  • Lots of the activities involved food that my picky eaters wouldn’t come near, which limited which ones we could do.
  • As I mentioned above, there are some evolutionary references that we would edit before using those units with our children.
  • While many topics are covered, it’s not a comprehensive curriculum that systematically explores all areas of science.

This isn’t something I would use as our sole science curriculum, simply because I prefer a more systematic approach.  However, it’s definitely something I will use to supplement our family’s science program as various topics come up.  Other families might find this is a great fit for covering all their structured science needs, at least in the elementary years.  Check out how other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew used Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers with their families by clicking on the banner below!

 

Funtastic Unit Studies Review
 

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With Lee in Virginia (Crew Review)

With Lee in Virginia Review
 We were thrilled to have the chance to review the latest release in Heirloom Audio Productions‘ series “The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty.”  With Lee in Virginia takes listeners on an audio adventure back to the time of the Civil War, and as with the previous recordings in the series, history comes alive as we are drawn into a story of faith and courage.  We received a 2-CD set of the audio theater production, as well as several downloadable resources to help us get the most out of our experience.

About With Lee in Virginia

The story is about a wealthy young Virginian man named Vincent.  While he accepts slavery as a part of his world, he fights in his own way against any mistreatment of slaves that he encounters, both on his own plantation and those of his neighbors.  When the Civil War breaks out, he joins the Confederate Army and experiences battle, the death of lifelong friends, being taken prisoner, escaping, and finding his way home.  Several times throughout the story, he interacts with General Robert E. Lee, who had known his late father.

Vincent’s faith, and that of General Lee, is emphasized throughout the story.  I think it is easy for modern observers to condemn the South altogether, and With Lee in Virginia helps us understand the Confederate mindset a little better.  Lee in particular is a very sympathetic character, with deep roots and attachments both to his home state of Virginia and with the nation as a whole.  He had been a valued military leader and at the beginning of the conflict he turns down the commission offered to him in the Union Army.  “You are asking me to take up arms against my beloved Virginia.  Against my neighbors and friends.  Against my family.”

As he prays about this life-changing decision, he pleads with God for guidance.  “Do I fight for my country, as I have done for all these years, or do I defend my state, my cherished Virginia?  Do I spill the blood of my countryman or spill the blood of my neighbor?  Almighty God, I cannot make this choice without you.  Please, please, what do I do?”

Faith, courage, goodness, and humility are emphasized throughout the story, and even as the main characters face defeat in the war, they are still admirable men of honor.

In addition to the two and a half hour CD recording, we were given download access to several special bonuses, including:

  • audio theater production (mp3)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • study guide and discussion starter (pdf)

The study guide is intended to help parents guide younger students through the story, as well as providing a series of written assignments for older children.  It breaks the recording into 4-10 minute chunks, then provides questions to help make sure children understood what they heard.  Each set of questions is broken up into three parts: Listening Well (comprehension), Thinking Further (critical thinking), and Defining Words (vocabulary).  Other features of the study include a list of recommended reading for those who want to learn more about Robert E. Lee and his faith, two short Bible studies to help families explore some of the biblical themes from the story, and historical information about how Sectionalism impacted the Civil War and slavery in the Bible.

Our Family’s Experience of With Lee in Virginia

Ian With LeeWe listened to the story a few times, both in the car as we drove around town, and at home as we did work around the house.  My 7-year old listens to audio stories constantly, so he was immediately drawn in and listened intently to the whole thing.  My younger children enjoyed the story while we were in the car but weren’t inclined to stick around for long once we were at home.   Like the previous releases from Heirloom Audio, the production quality is impressive.  In the background you hear the beautiful score by Emmy-winning composer John Campbell, and many talented actors (including Kirk Cameron and Sean Astin) help bring the story to life.

We’ve enjoyed all the productions from Heirloom Audio, but I think this one has been our family’s favorite.  While the children certainly enjoyed Under Drake’s Flag and In Freedom’s Cause, it seemed like this story was the most accessible to them at their young ages.  They definitely had some questions about slavery and the war, but overall I think they were able to follow the story of With Lee in Virginia better than they have the others.  Obviously older children will get more out of it, and I know we’ll use it (and the study guide) in the future when we study this period in history.

I am so thankful to have these quality audio recordings to share with our family.  Their emphasis on faith and character, as well as the strong male characters, are so important to us particularly as we raise our sons.  To find out more about Heirloom Audio’s vision and their productions, I recommend checking out LiveTheAdventureLetter.com.  We look forward to more wonderful audio theater productions from Heirloom Audio!

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review
 

Crew Disclaimer

CTC Math Revisited (Crew Review)

CTC Math
We first tried out CTC Math during Ian’s Kindergarten year, using it to supplement the math program we were currently using.  However, I was eager for a chance to review their 12-month family plan again, because this time around I wanted to try using it as a stand alone curriculum as Ian heads into 2nd grade (as well as for Elijah and a buddy, who age-wise are just old enough to start Kindergarten but academically could handle some more advanced math).

About CTC Math

CTC Math is an online math tutor that provides a complete math curriculum for grades K-6, as well as solid teaching to help supplement students’ current curriculum in higher math (through trigonometry and calculus).  Each student has access to the complete program, so there’s no need for them to be limited to just one grade level.  Lessons can be completed on any computer or tablet connected to the Internet.

In Kindergarten through 6th grade, the lessons cover four main streams:

  1. Numbers, Patterns, and Algebra
  2. Measurement
  3. Space and Geometry
  4. Statistics and Probability

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Each of those streams contains multiple topics, which in turn contain multiple lessons.

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I’m not sure if every grade level is the same, but the 2nd grade program contains 95 lessons total.  The lessons don’t have to be completed in any particular order, so students can work their way through however they choose (or how you direct).

Though there’s no placement test to determine grade level, each topic does have two optional diagnostic tests that can be used as a pretest to help you see if your child needs to go through those particular lessons.  (They’re also helpful as a way of determining whether the child has mastered the topic after completing the lessons.)  If there are lessons they already know, you can just elect to have them move on.  They’re not required to complete every lesson before moving up to the next grade.

The lessons consist of two parts: a video tutorial and a series of questions.  The tutorials are very thorough and cover everything the student will need to know to complete the questions.  If they feel confident, they can skip right to the questions.  If they need to go back and watch the video again, that’s easy to do as well.  Consequently, the students are able to work through the program with very little assistance.

In addition to the lessons, students can practice their math facts by going through the “Speed Skills.”  My boys both worked hard to beat their records for how many facts they could answer before their 60 seconds were up, providing lots of facts practice.

Our Experience With CTC Math

There are many things I love about CTC Math, but the thing that stands out the most to me is its flexibility.  I was using it with three students, with a slightly different approach for each of them.

For Ian, I just wanted a comprehensive math program that covered everything he needed to know and allowed him to work independently (since we tend to get into math battles when I’m trying to teach him).  As long as he achieved a passing score on his lessons (it’s set at 90% but parents can change that if they so choose), I let him work through them on his own.  If he scored lower I did make him repeat the lesson, but other than that I let him be pretty much self-directed as far as choosing which lessons to work through or whether or not he wanted to repeat a lesson.

Elijah and his friend both of them have a natural affinity for mathematical concepts, so I was less concerned about covering everything and more focused on just providing some stimulation to encourage them to keep learning on their own.  Whereas Ian finds math a chore to be completed, for these two, math time is more like fun computer games.  They were both full of smiles, squeals, and giggles going through their lessons.

Elijah was already familiar with CTC Math, so I started him out in the 1st grade lessons, even though he was following along with Ian’s 2nd grade lessons really well.  He’s a perfectionist, so he insisted on working through each and every lesson, not content with anything other than the “Platinum” level, which means having 100% on every lesson.  When calculating the student’s level, CTC Math uses an average of the last three scores, so if Elijah missed even one question, he would go back and do that lesson over and over again until he had three 100% scores in a row to maintain his Platinum status.  (That could get a little frustrating when a wrong answer stemmed from typing mistakes!)

“Buddy” was new to CTC Math, so we started him out at the Kindergarten level, going through the diagnostic tests to see which lessons he would really benefit from doing.  Once he’d passed all the diagnostic tests and covered a few lessons to fill in some gaps, he was thrilled to be moving on to 1st grade as well.  I love that this program works so well with gifted kids who need to move at a quicker pace rather than being locked into a grade level just because of their age!

Strengths and Weaknesses

For the most part, CTC Math met my expectations as far as being a program the boys could do independently.  One problem we have encountered with online math programs is that they don’t always provide enough instruction.  That is definitely NOT the case with CTC Math.  Every lesson does an excellent job of teaching the concept, and if I ever saw the boys struggling with a question, it usually meant they hadn’t paid close enough attention to the video.  Once they went back and watched it again, they were able to get through the questions easily.

The only time we had some difficulties was when it came to money problems.  They use dollar and half-dollar coins much more than people encounter in real life, but that my boys found that fascinating since they rarely see those coins so I didn’t really mind.  The real issue I had was the availability (or lack thereof) of virtual coins to help work through the problems.

For example, at the first grade level in the lesson on “Getting Change,” Elijah was able to manipulate virtual coins to help him find the answers.

Screenshot (32)x

This was really helpful because everything was visual and he didn’t have to keep track of anything in his head.  However, when Ian started working through the second grade “Getting Change” lesson, he was out of luck.  The lesson video showed coins, which helped teach the concept.

Screenshot (31)x

Yet when it came time for Ian to answer questions on his own, there were no tools available to help him.

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After trying to talk him through it using mental math, I realized he just wasn’t going to be able to do these problems on his own at the computer.  We ended up breaking out some real money and he sat down at the table to figure out each problem.

P1050677x

It didn’t take him long to catch on, and it was great for him to have the hands-on experience, but I wish the virtual coins had been available to use in second grade just like they were in first.  Sometimes we do our lessons on the go (e.g. at the library or Grandma’s house), and this particular lesson wouldn’t have worked well for him away from home since he needed more than just the computer.

That was the only lesson we really had any trouble with.  As I said before, there is no suggested order to the lessons so I just let the boys pick which ones they wanted to do each day.  For the most part we’ve been fine with that, but occasionally I wonder a lesson would have been easier if they’d done a different one first.

My Overall Thoughts on CTC Math

If you’re looking for a complete online math curriculum that allows students to work independently, CTC Math is a great option.  We’ve used several online math programs, and this is by far the best when it comes to TEACHING, rather than just practicing.  The videos are clear and concise, laying out everything the student needs to know in order to complete the lesson.

I especially recommend it for families with multiple students, or students who might want to work through more than one grade level in a year.  The 12-month family plan provides full access to every grade level for up to 2 or more students for just $118.80 (this is the 60% homeschool discount), so CTC Math is much more affordable than purchasing multiple grade levels worth of curriculum.  They even offer a free trial, so if you’re still searching for the right math program for your family, be sure to check it out!

CTCmath Review
Crew Disclaimer

History Cycle Year 1 Resources (1st Grade)

This year as Ian went through 1st grade we began our four year history cycle, covering the time from Creation through the Roman Empire.  At first I tried to settle on a “spine” to provide structure for our year, but eventually I decided that for this first time through it was more important to me to give Ian a general feel for each time period and people group we studied.  I ended up turning more to “living books” and videos that helped him get a sense of what was going on in each time and place. We also kept a notebook of the things we learned about (though I must admit we slacked on that as the months went by).

I’ve come across a lot of great resource lists for older students, but at times I found it challenging to find age-appropriate books and videos for a 1st grader, so I thought I’d look back over our year and put together a list of some of the things I discovered that work well for younger students.  (Includes affiliate links.)

History Cycle 1

Year-Long Resources We Drew From Selectively:

Primeval History (Including Creation, the Flood, Dinosaurs, and Early Civilizations)

Books

P1030511

Videos

Notebooking Resources

Ancient Egypt

Books

Videos

Other

God’s People/Ancient Israel

Books

Videos

  • Joseph: King of Dreams
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat While the cover of the DVD touts it as the “classic family musical,” THIS IS ONE TO KEEP THE REMOTE HANDY ON!  We completely skipped the scene with Potiphar’s wife because the costumes were so inappropriate.  There were a few other scenes that had some questionable costuming as well but I let them pass because it wasn’t as obvious and Ian didn’t seem to notice.  It’s really too bad, because the music itself is very family friendly (with the exception of Potiphar’s wife saying, “Come and lie with me, love,” but since that’s pretty much what the Bible records, I’m not going to complain).
  • Wars of Humanity combo pack and Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled from Shatterpoint Entertainment

Ancient Greece

Books

Videos

Notebooking Resources

Greece Lapbook 1

Roman Empire

Books

Videos

  • Friends and Heroes (animated series; 3 seasons, covering early Christians in Alexandria, Jerusalem, and finally Rome, A.D. 69-71, including the siege and fall of Jerusalem;includes Bible stories in each episode)
  • The Perpetua Story (from the Torchlighters series, about an early Christian martyr)
  • Polycarp and Perpetua, (documentary about two early Christian martyrs, not necessarily written for children, but contained many dramatizations and kept Ian’s attention)

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!

Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story (DVD Review for the Crew)

Looking for a place to find inspiring movies to entertain your family?  I recently learned about FishFlix.com, a company dedicated to providing families with quality Christian entertainment, when they offered us a chance to review the DVD Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story, part of a series about famous Christians throughout history.

FishFlix

About FishFlix.com

FishFlix.com was started by a Turkish Christian named Dr. Enis Sakirgil after he helped produce a film about the Apostle Paul as a way of letting western Christians know about the rich biblical history of his home country.  Turkey is one of the nations least reached with the gospel, so when Dr. Sakirgil and his family immigrated to the United States, he began selling the film (Apostle Paul and the Earliest Churches) online, as well as other Christian movies, as a way of helping a radio ministry back in Turkey.  FishFlix.com is currently based in Mora, Minnesota, and the company’s goal is to “glorify God though amazing customer service, quality Christian content, creating honorable jobs, and expanding the Kingdom of God in Turkey.”

FishFlix.com offers a wide selection of Christian and family-friendly movies of many different types, and all orders over $35 have free shipping.  By purchasing movies from FishFlix.com, you can help support their vision of ministry while providing quality entertainment for your family.

About Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story

john wesley_zpsuzhewumnMembers of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were offered several different DVD selections from FishFlix.com.  Our family was excited to receive Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story, part of a series from the Christian History Institute designed for children ages 8-12 (though my 3, 5, and 7-year olds have enjoyed all the episodes we’ve seen).  We have already used several of the Torchlighters videos about heroes of the faith as part of our school experience, but this was the first time my children had ever heard about John Wesley.

The 30 minute video starts with a dramatic scene in which young John Wesley is saved from a fire in his family home.  As his parents praise God for sparing their son, they tell John that God must have a very special purpose for his life. John grows up doing his best to prove himself worthy of his rescue that memorable night.

At university, he and his friends form a “Holy Club,”  supporting and encouraging one another in practicing prayer, fasting, Bible study, and other habits of righteousness.  He and his brother Charles even travel from England to America to preach the gospel, but they are frustrated by the lack of fruit from their labors. Eventually they are both led to a fuller understanding of God’s grace, and it radically transforms their lives and ministries.  When he is rejected from many churches after telling people that they are all sinners in need of God’s grace, he begins preaching in the fields, readily accepted by people who have no doubt as to their own wretchedness.  He even preaches to a mob trying to kill him.  Many people receive his message of God’s love, and the rest of his life is spent serving the Lord by spreading the good news of His love for all people.

In addition to the main video, the DVD also includes several helpful bonus features.  There is a 51 minute documentary about the beginning of the Methodist movement that arose from John Wesley’s ministry.  There are also study guides that you can access by opening the DVD-ROM on your computer.  (They are also available to download from the Torchlighters website.)  While these resources are a little beyond my children right now, they are definitely something we will revisit as they get older and we study church history in more depth.

Our Thoughts

The dramatic beginning captured my children’s attention right away.  I imagine some sensitive children might be bothered by the scenes involving the fire and the shipwreck, but for us it just added to the excitement of the story.

I loved the beautiful message of salvation by grace.  After years of righteous living, trying to prove himself worthy of God’s salvation as a child, John learns that he cannot earn his way into heaven.  I think that is such an important lesson for all of us, but especially for children who grow up in Christian homes who may be tempted to trust in their good behavior and righteous choices as proof of their salvation.  This is definitely a message I will want to revisit many times as my children grow up, and I’m thankful for this DVD as a way to help instill in my children an understanding that they can never earn God’s salvation but only receive it as a gift given freely in love.

I’m so glad to know about FishFlix.com, and we’ll certainly be looking to them in the future when seeking to purchase Christian DVDs.  I love that I can help support the spread of the kingdom of God in Turkey by purchasing through them, especially when it’s something our family would be buying anyway.  Be sure to click on the banner below to see what other Crew members thought of this DVD and many others available from FishFlix.com!

FishFlix.com Review
Crew Disclaimer

Knights and Nobles Unit Study (Crew Review)

Homeschool Legacy
If you follow my blog regularly, you’re probably already aware that we spent our last four weeks of school going through a Knights and Nobles unit study.  It’s one of the “Once-A-Week Unit Studies” from Homeschool Legacy, and we were blessed with the chance to review it as a fun way to finish up our school year learning more about one of Ian’s favorite subjects.

 

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Ian pulled out lots of his favorite books to go along with our study.

 

About Homeschool Legacy’s Once-A-Week Unit Studies

The Once-A-Week Unit Studies are designed to provide a break during your typical homeschool week with a day to focus on the topic being studied.  Aside from the reading suggestions, which are intended to be used each day, all the activities can be done in a single day, providing a break from your regular curriculum to have fun learning about a specific topic.  The studies are even designed to help Boy Scouts and American Heritage girls meet the requirements for specific merit badges. (Boy Scouts can earn their Art Merit Badge by completing the activities in Knights and Nobles).

There is no prep work required apart from gathering materials and library books (and even the library lists are designed to be as easy to use as possible, arranged numerically by Dewey decimal numbers.)  Simply add the family read-aloud and some free read choices to your school week during the four days you work on your regular curriculum, and then on your chosen day, pick up the unit study and work through the activities, which cover Bible, history, literature, science, art, and various other subjects.  The whole family can work together on unit study day, as they are designed for grades 2-12 (and younger learners can easily tag along).

About Knights and Nobles

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Knights and Nobles is available as a paperback book or as a “Grab-N-Go” download from the Homeschool Legacy website.  I received the downloadable 40-page ebook that contains everything needed for a 4-week unit study (with an optional 5th week).

Each week focuses on a different aspect of life in the middle ages and includes a passage of Scripture for family devotions, as well as a novel for the family read aloud (and numerous suggestions for free reading related to the week’s topic).

Week 1: Castles

Learn about how castles (and cathedrals) were designed and built and have a family night playing games popular back in the middle ages.

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Week 2: Kings and Queens

This week covers topics like King Arthur, illuminated manuscripts, and the tradition behind “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”

Week 3: Knights

Archery, catapults, coats of arms, and chivalry are all discussed in this week on knights.

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Week 4: Life on a Manor

Learn about the different jobs people did to help keep a manor running and what life was like for those who lived there.

An optional fifth week involves preparing a traditional medieval feast.

Our Experience

Ian has always been fascinated by the subject of knights and castles, so we were really excited to get a chance to review this unit study, especially because we’ll be covering the middle ages next year in our history cycle.  Ian’s at the young end of the target age range, just finishing up first grade, so there were a few things we adapted to make it work for our family (like the design for the catapult), but for the most part we were able to follow the study as written.

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My favorite part of Knights and Nobles was the use of classic literature for the family read-alouds.  We did well with the first two weeks (The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli and The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla), but the others (The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle and Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray Vining)  were much longer and seemed more appropriate for older students, so I didn’t even attempt them because I knew it would take us far more than a week to get through each of them.  Instead, we read other stories about King Arthur and used other free-read books throughout those weeks.

There were many helpful free-read suggestions given, and I just printed out the pages with the book lists to take with us to the library.  (I found some of the Dewey decimal numbers were slightly different at our library after looking for books I knew must be there but had to look up after not finding them under the given number.)  Even if we could find every specific book listed, just being in the right section led us to lots of books from which to choose.  I just made one trip to the library and got everything we needed right at the beginning.  Then I set out the books on each topic at the beginning of the week.

I really appreciated the suggestions for being intentional about including dad in what the family is learning.  It was hard not to draw him in, since so much of our family life revolved around the unit study during those four weeks.  We left our basket of related books out in the living room so he was asked to read from them almost every night. The unit study had great suggestions for family movie/game nights.  We even managed a family field trip to Medieval Times to watch knights competing in a tournament.  It got all of us excited about starting up our history lessons when we go back to school in a few months.

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If you want to see more about what Knights and Nobles looked like for our family, check out the last four Weekly Wrap-Ups from our 2014-15 school year.  Also, be sure visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew site to see what my fellow Crew members thought of this unit study and many of the others available from Homeschool Legacy.

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Wordsbright Review
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S is for Smiling Sunrise (Crew Book Review)

Sunrise Review
With so many alphabet books out there, how do you begin to pick which one to read with your preschooler?  S is for Smiling Sunrise by Vick Wadhwa, the first publication from WordsBright, seeks to stand out from the crowd with a unique approach to the ABCs.

About the Book

Rather than using a typical simple phonetic “A is for apple” approach, S is for Smiling Sunrise focuses on positive concepts of goodness, beauty and wonder.  Each letter has its own page in the hardcover book, complete with colorful, eye-catching illustrations and a rhyme to elaborate on the focus word.

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On the WordsBright website there is a free downloadable mp3 with the words of the entire book set to music (using the tune of the “Alphabet Song”).  The website also has two free teacher’s guides available to download with tips for using the book with children in Pre-K and K to 3.  The guide for younger children is fairly short but has helpful suggestions for using the book in a way that grows with your child.  The guide for older children is much more involved, with further explanation, discussion questions, vocabulary, and activity ideas related to each letter and its concept.  (For example, on “J is for Jewelry,” there are suggestions for exploring the idea of inner beauty versus outer beauty, the difference between dreams and goals, an activity of making a necklace or bracelet, etc.)

Our Experience

We try to choose books for our family that glorify God and help our children get to know Him better, and while S is for Smiling Sunrise never mentions God or spiritual matters specifically, many of the concepts it touches on lend themselves to discussions about how God is the ultimate source of beauty and goodness.  Arianna (age 3) loved reading through the book with me and often went back to it to flip through the pages and look at the pictures on her own.  Her attention span isn’t always capable of going through each page in its entirety, but we followed the suggestion in the teacher’s guide to just read the headline words at first.  If she’s really in a cuddly mood I can usually get through the rhymes on about half the letters, but it’s helpful to have the shorter option available.

Though the book is intended to be sung to the tune of the alphabet song, rhythmic purists such as myself might find that difficult.  The rhythm of the words varies from letter to letter, so if you want to be able to sing as you read, it’s really helpful to listen to the song ahead of time so you know which words to draw out or hurry through.  (In other words, it’s not as precise as an old hymn where there’s one syllable per note and even unfamiliar verses are easy to sing because they stick with that structure.)  Of course, you can just improvise and it will work equally well.  The musical side of me found this slightly frustrating as I tried to sing through the book, but I know most people aren’t so particular, so the song could be a fun tool for them.  Since some of the rhymes were a bit of a stretch as well, I opted to just read the words as prose without attempting to fit them into any sort of rhythm and enjoyed the book much more that way.

All in all I’d say S is for Smiling Sunrise is a cute book with admirable intentions and fun, colorful pictures that capture my little ones’ attention.

 

Wordsbright Review
Crew Disclaimer

Wrapping Up Week 36 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
Hallelujah, we crossed the finish line for our school year!  Granted, we sort of crawled across on our hands and knees, but we made it.  I’m not even going to let myself feel guilty about the fact that our last week consisted only of Ian’s online math work (xtramath.org, Mathletics, and La La Logic) and a few books to finish up our Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy, for two basic reasons.

  1. I’ve spent years in traditional elementary classrooms, both as a student and a teacher.  I guarantee that more learning happened this week in our home than gets accomplished in 99% of classrooms during the last week of school.
  2. Even when we’re officially on a break, plenty of learning happens simply because of the environment in our home.  For example, today (the first official day of summer break, and a Saturday to boot), Ian wanted to break out our Young Scientists Set and work on experiments from our final remaining kit.  I know there will be plenty of learning going on during our summer break, so who cares if we had a light last week of school, right?

I know most families still have a few (or several weeks) left, so take a deep breath and remember that the end is in sight!  (And when our family dives back into school in July, you can smile to yourself knowing that you’ve still got a few more weeks to relax.)

Here’s to the first day of our summer holiday!

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Upcoming Reviews

We’ll still be reviewing several products through our summer “break.”  Watch for these reviews in the next few weeks!

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