Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: IEW Resource Materials

After years and years of reviewing homeschooling curriculum and products, I can only count on one hand the number of vendors from whom I’d accept any product, just know it’s going to be good.  The Institute for Excellence in Writing is one of those vendors.  Every time we’ve reviewed a product, it has become a permanent part of our schooling. I’ve been using their Structure and Style writing program since my son was in first grade.  A few years later came the Literature Analysis course and most recently was their Grammar program.  This time, the products we received aren’t curriculum themselves, but resources to enhance or supplement homeschool studies—and not just in the area of language arts..

We received a spiral bound book for all three titles. The Teaching with Games set also included two DVD’s and a CD-ROM. 


There are over ninety pages of charts in Timeline of Classics, each giving the Description or Time Period, the Title, the Author, and the appropriate age level of the resources.  I use the word “resources” because you will find much more than books listed.  I’ve also come across audios, movies, magazines, television shows, etc. A lot of listings have “Compact Classics” listed with the title—a little research determined this book provides two page summaries of many “classic” books. 

I would say this book provides a jumping off place if you’d like to add books or movies to your study of a period of history.  There is no synopsis of any title so you’d still need to do some research to see if the title is going to meet your needs.  For example, since we were in the middle of studying ancient Egypt, I went to that section.  There I found listings for Motel of the Mysteries (which I happen to know is a spoof of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb) and the Cecil B DeMille version of The Ten Commandments.  I wouldn’t consider either resource for a serious study of ancient Egypt, but the might make for some family fun time to celebrate wrapping up our study. Often you’ll find a title in more than one format, for example most of the G.A. Henty books list the original book and the  audio versions available.  

Of the three books I received, this is the on I use the least.  If a book is worthy of being called a classic, then we will read the original (even if I have to read it aloud).  I’m not interested in two-page summaries or film adaptations.  I will keep the book with my other reading list resources because it does have a very thorough chronological list.

This year I’m help to teach a high school level biology co-op class.  We’re alternating labs with review sessions to prepare for tests.  What better tool for making reviews fun than the Teaching with Games Set.   The book gives instructions and often samples of games that require No Prep, versions of Flash Cards, asking Questions, drilling math facts, and games the students build themselves throughout the study.

I happen to learn best by having someone teach me as we actually play the game rather than reading the rules.  If you’re like me then you’ll want to get the DVD which shows a round of each game being played.  The CD-ROM has a PDF version of the book (so you can print your own copies of the sample games) and some bonus grammar games.

For our science co-op I’ve found the Hot Potato card game to be a great way to go through vocabulary terms.  Both the clue giver and the one shouting out the answer have to know the definition of the term so they can pass on the stack of cards before time runs out.  Other times we’d play a simplified version of Jeopardy or a game called The Question Bag when we needed to review information that required more than a one word answer.

The introduction in both the DVD and the book share how students are more likely to be motivated to learn when it’s done through a game.  I totally agree and can share my own story.  My son is the youngest student in science co-op—he’s only 12 but is taking this high school level course because he’s mathematically ready for it.  He has, however, won 4 out of 5 of the study games we’ve played thus far because he’s very, very motivated to win (winners get $5 gift cards to local stores and restaurants)—even if that means spending a lot of time with his nose in a science book. 

If you’re familiar with the structure and style method of writing, you might find A Word Write Now very helpful.  If you’re not familiar, let me give you an example from one of Schnickelfritz’s recent assignments.  He had to write a story based on three pictures, one of which shows a man swinging on a chandelier in a library. When he started revising his rough draft there were several required “dress ups” he needed to include in each sentence: strong verbs, quality adjectives, –ly words (the term used for adverbs), etc. 
The first half of the book is devoted to two-page spreads of various positive and negative character traits (e.g. courage, honor, and pride). Fritz decided the chandelier-swinging man could best be described as “exuberant” so he turned to those pages of the book and found plenty of examples of all three dress ups listed above—he settled on “high-spirited,” “reveled,” and “overzealously.”  The final word was chosen because Fritz decided the chandelier came crashing down when the man swung too hard.  The catastrophe caused the women who’d been watching to get very angry.  Of course Fritz’s next task was to turn to the anger section to find appropriate words to describe her thoughts and actions.  This idea of a thematic thesaurus is so helpful for my struggling writer because even if he looked up “angry” in a regular thesaurus it wouldn’t help him find words to describe how an angry person spoke or moved. 
In addition to words for various character traits, there is a section on descriptive words (color, size, texture, etc.) and a section on movement and the senses.  Fritz referred to this final section to find suitable replacement for words that have been banned (go/went, say/said, think/thought).  I think the descriptive section  will be a great help when we get back to writing essays and research papers.
IEW Review

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Koru Naturals

I’ll confess right up front that you’ll never catch me in the cosmetics aisle of the drug store—make up and hair styling products just aren’t my thing.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to look my best, I’d just feel more comfortable with the face and hair that God gave me.  And I want the products I use on that face and hair to come from God’s creation rather than a chemical laboratory. That’s why I’m so thrilled with      Koru Naturals and the latest products I’ve received.

  The company’s name is based on the Maori word for a new, unfurling fern frond (what some may know as a fiddlehead). It symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace to that New Zealand aboriginal culture.  This single word reflects not only the origin of many of the company’s products, but their purpose as well.  Since 2002, Koru Naturals has been offering products to protect skin and promote good health.  In addition, all the company’s suppliers certify that there is no animal testing with the products.

  The Skin Clear Cream comes in a 4 oz. plastic tub with a screw on lid, about 3 1/2 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches tall.  There is a secondary lid inside that keeps the product from messing up the screw cap and holds a small plastic paddle (so you can remove the product without introducing your own body oils, etc.) The key ingredients are Manuka honey, manuka oil, and kawakawa. Please Note: Manuka oil is not recommended for pregnant women due to its spasmolytic properties.  I applied a dime to nickel-sized dollop of crème to my washed face when I wake up and just before bed. The crème absorbs quickly and has a subtle, refreshing scent (no perfumes, just the ingredients).  I have two competing concerns—my nearly 50 year old skin is drying out and I can see signs of crows feet, and yet my nose, cheeks, and chin still have oily blackheads.  The Skin Clear Creme is really helping both issues.  After a month, my black heads are nearly gone and my nose doesn’t feel as oily, but the rest of my face doesn’t feel dried out either.  I can hardly tell I’ve made a dent in the container so I know it will last a long time.  I’m anxious to see how it keeps my skin moisturized as we head into dry skin season. 

I let my son use the Manuka Honey Propolis Soap for his almost-a-teenager/developing acne face. The roughly 4 oz. cake of soap started out being about 3 inches across and 1 inch high.  Honey and propolis are both produced by bees and a known for their antibacterial properties.  I had my son wash his face with the soap nightly.  It seems to be keeping the small whiteheads that form around his hairline in check.  My son is very fair with sensitive skin, but this soap never bothered him.  The soap itself doesn’t seem to be disintegrating into goo the way some natural soaps do either.
Our final product was Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic. It comes in a metal bottle (about 4 inches high, excluding the pump top). The metal is important to keep the bergamot essential oil out of sunlight (it’s probably even wise to stay out of the sunlight for an hour after you apply it).   I have naturally curly hair which can quickly turn frizzy when I step outdoors.  It also get quite tangled and hard to comb through by the end of the day.  Hair Tonic to the rescue! I’ve applied a pump’s worth to my towel-dried hair and kept the frizz in control.  Sometimes at day’s end I’ll get 1 or 2 drops (not even a full pump), rub it on my fingers, and run my fingers through my hair before attempting to comb it—and it seems to help.
While researching this product, I read that Koru Naturals suggests it can be used in aromatherapy.  Both the sandalwood and bergamot have sedative properties and helichrysum is a nervine (meaning it strengthens the nervous system and can help reduce anxiety or stress).  My son has terrible troubles unwinding at the end of the day and falling asleep so I tried applying some tonic on the soles of his feet.  It didn’t seem to make a difference—that may be because the Australian sandalwood in not as beneficial as the Indian variety.  I will keep using the tonic on my hair though.
Koru Naturals Review

Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: USAopoly Games

Every time the UPS man drops off a review product I feel like it’s Christmas morning.  That’s not always the case for my son, but this time he agreed with me because our box from USAopoly contained two games. Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone is a battery-operated game for 2-8 players. I’m not sure what gets more of a workout—my memory or my creative thinking.  Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game, for 2 or more players. proves you can’t take something as simple as stacking blocks for granted.

This review couldn’t have come at a better time…in an effort to help my Schnickelfritz fall asleep in a timely manner, we have turned off the television/computer/Kindle an hour before his bedtime.  To fill the void we’ve been playing games together and these two have quickly become favorites.  They also work well with larger groups, like when we get together with another homeschooling family and there are seven of us sitting around the table.

 The Tapple device has 20 tabs labeled with the most commonly used letters of the alphabet (no q,u,v,x,y,or z).   In each round players think of of words that begin with each letter and fit into the category listed on a randomly selected card.  I counted 36 cards with my game, each containing four color-coded categories- the white and blue ones are deemed easier and may be suited for younger players, the

yellow and red ones are tougher.  The cards store on the underside of the Tapple wheel. Two AA batteries run the timer—each player is allowed ten seconds to give an answer, tap the appropriate starting letter, and tap the red center to reset the timer for the next player.  If you can’t come up with a word using one of the remaining letters in your time limit you are knocked out for that round.  If you sweep the board and are still playing the yellow knob resets the letters and you go again—this time naming two words.

Scnickelfritz has issues with timers and since we were playing near bedtime when the goal is to calm down, not raise anxieties, we often played without it.  Our best category was fictional characters. We managed to make it through 4 rounds jumping from movies to books.  We hit all the dwarves from The Hobbit, Marvel superheroes, etc.  I was particularly pleased when Fritz came up with Ichabod Crane and Ishmael (as in “Call me…” from Moby Dick) for his I words.  This might make it sound like a game for intellectuals, but there are plenty of pop culture categories too like Sports team mascots.

Now first and foremost this is a game, a really fun game, that can be enjoyed by anyone—but since this is mostly a homeschooling blog I want to share how this can also be used as a review/drill tool.  Some of the categories naturally lend themselves to school subject.  I found: nouns, verbs, adjectives, bugs & insects, U.S. Cities, birds, body parts, etc.  That’s grammar, science, and geography right there.  You could also tweak it and decide the nouns and verbs had to be in the foreign language you are studying or make your own category.  

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t sure how my son would take to WonkyHe’s been playing and building with blocks his whole life—(it’s his self-comfort thing), but these blocks are built with curved edges and less than perfect right angles. Would my perfectionist son be able to appreciate these slightly askew blocks?  Turns out he could. 

Each player starts with a number of cards that direct which block to place on the stack next based on the block’s attributes: size and color. For every block successfully stacked they get to discard the card.  If the stack topples they must pick up three cards.  First one out of cards wins (this takes several rounds since there are only nine blocks).

It seems like a game of dexterity and being able to sense center of gravity, but there can be a deal of logical thinking going on in a player’s head.  If you don’t have a playable card, you must draw until you get one.  I saw my son begin to intuit the value of

the cards—that it’s better to play the specific ones (e.g. stack the medium blue block) first when the chances of those blocks being available is highest and save the “wild cards” (e.g. stack any blue block, or better any size/any color) for later in the game.  I even noticed the boys judging when it was best to try and sabotage the stack for the next player in hopes of it toppling (so that someone down to 1 card would be forced to pick up more).

The Wonky game comes with a bag to hold the blocks and cards and fits easily in my purse.  I was able to take it to co-op and had several people play while they waited for friends and siblings to finish up tests.  All you need is a smooth flat surface.   If a table wasn’t available we’d use a book.  The picture to the right was the first time my son succeeded in using all nine blocks in a stack. I was so nervous that my getting up and crossing the floor to get the camera would send his hard work tumbling down.

Again, this is a game first but it could be a learning opportunity for very young ones who need to learn the small, medium, large, concept.  Because the cards show which block to play in addition to the text, it could be played by non-readers. 

If you’re looking for some Christmas gift ideas, I can recommend these two USAopoly games.

 USAopoly Review

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cast Iron Pans

I’ve taken up ironing!  Not the kind that fights wrinkles but cooking in cast iron.  In another one of my maybe steps to improve our family’s health, I’ve ditched the non-stick pan (which let’s be honest had lost most of its non-stickiness). 

At an auction last month we picked up a 6 inch and a 10 inch pan.  These had both seen better days and were rusty so my husband had to go at them with a wire attachment on his drill and then reseason them.  That could be a post on its own and if I ever get the pictures he took off his phone maybe I’ll do one.  I will share that at one point he thought he’d overcooked the pans as the first layer of oil seemed to be bubbling and flaking.  It turns out there was a second layer of rust that had been seasoned over before and he had to get the wire attachment out again.

When he was sure he’d gotten down to good clean iron, we applied a thin layer of oil, baked it in the gas grilled, let it cool till he could handle it again and repeated the whole procedure two more times.  The final appearance of both pans were a glossy  black.  I was still a little skeptical—would they really be nonstick?

The best test I could come up with was scrambled eggs.  I didn’t put any oil in the pan and I hadn’t cooked sausage or bacon in it before the eggs—this was straight out the the drawer and onto the stovetop.  I did let it heat up for felt like quite a while (after all, you’re not supposed to have an empty non-stick pan over heat for long).  Well, a picture is worth a thousand words—take a look at my results….

And here’s another great thing—I can use this pan in my oven and over our firepit (in fact we originally bid on it for that reason).  I found a great recipe for a deep dish pizza in a cast iron pan that I can’t wait to try.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rescued Book: The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

I like to try and tie my son’s reading assignments with the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’ve gone back to the ancient world—Greece, Rome and Egypt.  How fortunate for me that in the box with a personal collection of Landmark books I snagged at a library book sale for $1 each was W59 – The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.


The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Payne, Elizabeth Ann.  New York: Random House, 1964. 192 pp.

This book isn’t a single narrative story, but a collection of stories of the events and people.  Sometimes the chapter will be about a Pharaoh, like Cheops, Hatshepsut, or Ramses.  Other times the focus will be on an archeologist, like Jean Francois Champollion who translated the Rosetta Stone or Howard Carter when he discovered the still sealed tomb of Tutankhamen.  There’s even a chapter on “The Smiter of the Asiatics—Thutmose III,” the pharaoh from Henty’s The Cat of Bubastes that we will also read this year.

Did you know the cycle of the Nile flooding not only allowed the Egyptian civilization to develop along the fertile soil along the sides of the river, but also allowed for the building of the pyramids.  It was during those four months of flooding, when farmers couldn’t work in the fields, that the Pharaoh would “generously” offer to feed, house, and pay them to build the great pyramid.  The book cites historian James Baikie referring to this as the first unemployment program recorded.  I’d like to point out that these ancient men were being paid to actually work, not paid for not working as we do today.

This is one of the few Landmark books we have with black & white photographs rather than illustrations.   I also have a couple of DK books that we refer to because you really need to see Tut’s solid gold death mask in full color. 

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Canning with Tattler Lids

A neighbor sent out a Facebook message that his apple trees were ready for picking.  This fellow does most of his business in Christmas trees, but he’s got a few dozen apple trees near the road and he let’s people pick them on the honor system.  The aren’t sprayed so they aren’t the prettiest things in the world, but I don’t care.  I got a bushel of practically organic Gala apples for $22. 

tattlerLast year I did a little experiment when it came to canning applesauce.  When I stopped to buy lids, I saw a box touting reusable plastic lids.  I bought a set of 12 and tried them—and they worked!  I got seals with all 10 jars I canned.  I even managed a seal when I accidentally used two of the rubber rings on the same jar.

This year I invested in two more boxes of Tattler lids—one wide mouth and one standard.  Last weekend I canned 23 jars of applesauce and all but one sealed on the first try.  The one remaining, I stuck in with another batch and it sealed on the second go.

The Tattler seals are a little more expensive than metal—mine were $9.99 for a set of 12 lids and rubber rings.  But by the third time I use them they will have paid for themselves.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Books to Read this School Year

I’ve always like to tie my son’s reading books to the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’re headed all the way back to the beginning and going through the crucifixion.  Here are the books that’s I’ve pulled from our shelves—most of these are old books that I’ve rescued from sales.

Dinosaurs of Eden by Hen Ham—This is the one book I bought new, when Mr. Ham was speaking at our church  It covers the creation (not evolution) of dinosaurs on Day Six, explains how dinosaurs could fit on the ark, and how dinosaurs and man lived at the same time.  Clearly a biblical worldview.

Men and Gods by Rex Warner—I just picked this up last weekend at a YMCA sale.  It’s Roman mythology as the gods have names like Jupiter and Venus.  I see Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Labors of Hercules, Midas, Echo & Narcissus, and more.  I’m interested in one chapter called the Great Flood—to see how it correlates to the Biblical account.  We probably won’t read all the stories, just get a good sampling.

The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer retold by Alfred Church.  I know one Mystery of History lesson covers Homer and another covers the legend of the Trojan War.  Church has taken the epic poems and rewritten them as prose for boys and girls. 

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick---The book is part history and part science.  It covers Archimedes’ famous buoyancy discover (remember he ran outside naked and yelling “Eureka!”) buy also his work with math and measuring a circle ( pi ).

Pyramid by David Macauley—We have a whole slew of Macauley’s books: Castle, Cathedral, Mosque, etc. We’ve got some that have been reissued and redrawn in color, but I really love the original black and white line drawings. This year we’ll use Pyramid.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne—You didn’t think I was going to get through this list without a Landmark Book title, did you?   This is one of the few books in the series with photographs of many ancient sites.  The book covers Cheops, Hatshepsut, Thutmose, Akhnaton, and Ramses, but it also covers the archeologists that uncovered the treasures starting with Napoleon’s army and the Rosetta stone and of course Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb.

Alexander the Great by John Gunther—my second Landmark book.  We obviously won’t be watching the Hollywood film so I’m glad to have my copy of this book.  If you enjoy used book sales NEVER PASS UP A LANDMARK BOOK!

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George—This Newberry Medal winner will round out our year since it takes place at the end of our time period. 



Friday, August 7, 2015

Mystery of History Memory Cards

After spending two years on American history, we’re cycling back to the beginning with Mystery of History Volume 1.  Since we did this originally when Schnickelfritz was in first grade I’m fairly certain my son will get more from each lesson and need to fill out new memory cards for each lesson.  Normally, I use Photoshop Elements or Graphic Toolbox to make our printables, but I was able to do these with just Microsoft Word.


First I put in the CD for Home School in the Woods’ History Through the Ages timeline figures.  Next I opened up Word and set up the page for 3 X 5 index cards (under the Page Layout tab choose Size and look for the 3 X 5 Index card option.  You’ll need to resize your margins as well—I uses .2 inches for all edges.


Then I found appropriate image for each lesson in Mystery of History.  It’s helpful to print out the list of images in chronological order as this will match the closest to MOH.  Then for each page I’d choose Insert>Picture> browse for the disc drive and then type the name of the image. The name will match the MOH list so if the title in the list starts with “The”, you’ll need to start with that.



Usually I centered the image on the page, but in some cases the lesson referred to more than one person.  In that case I made one image right justified and the other left justified.  You can see a few examples below.


I loaded my printer with multi-colored index cards.  I resorted the pack so I had three cards of each color together so the entire week would match.  Then down the road when I ask Fritz to review cards I may say he only needs to go through the green ones.  If I’m really clever I’ll come up with a game to go with the colors, but nothing comes to mind yet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: The Conversation

We’ve now reached the halfway point in our homeschool journey (actually past half way if you consider kindergarten).  I hesitate to use the term “over the hump” because that implies an easy downhill slide to the end and with middle school and high school still ahead I think we’d all agree we’re not going to be coasting to graduation.  In fact several of my friends are too intimidated to continue teaching their kids at home.  That’s why I was thrilled with the opportunity to read The ConversationAuthor Leigh A. Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, has packed this book full of tips and encouragement for teaching you own high schooler.  The book went with me on vacation and while I waited for my son at scout meetings and baseball camp.

The opening chapter covers becoming Confident Parents.  This is for those people considering homeschool for the first time or homeschooling parents wondering if they will be able to teach high school.  A key issue is the role of parental authority and how it looks when dealing with teenagers.  Then the author answers a series of questions: How can I teach my kids when I didn’t do well in school? Can my kids get into college?  What if my child is gifted or has special needs?  I didn’t need convincing that I want to homeschool all through high school, still found some hidden gems buried in this chapter.

If you picked up on the “Classical” part of the vendor name, Bortins does use a classical approach to home education.   I was very thankful for Chapter Two--Rhetoric Defined chapter to help me understand the lingo of classical education.

You may be familiar (as I was) with the three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  While it’s true that students naturally progress through these stages as they age (young children spend their time learning the vocabulary of their language and naming things they see in their world , as they get older they begin asking questions to further their knowledge), any time they begin a new course of study they will begin back at the Grammar stage. 

New to me was a second list of classical terms having to do with the Five Canons of Rhetoric:

  1. Invention—Discover ideas, research, and plan.
  2. Arrangement—Arrange ideas in a logical and organized manner.
  3. Elocution—Express ideas in the style that is most persuasive in appealing to the audience.
  4. Memory—Add memorable features to your essay or speech. Commit ideas to memory.
  5. Delivery—Deliver ideas in oral or written form.

 The next nine chapters help you to understand what high school subjects look like in the classical approach. 

  • Reading
  • Speech & Debate
  • Writing
  • Science
  • Math
  • Government & Economics
  • History
  • Latin & Foreign Languages
  • Fine Arts

Each chapter has a similar format: there are articles (some republished from Classical Conversations Writer Circle), a chart on how the five canons apply to the particular subject, and examples of conversations (remember the title of the book?) that might take place between teacher and student. It was the sample conversations that intrigued me most. They are written like a script with ME being the author/teacher and a student name.  The teacher is asking open ended questions, guiding the students yet still forcing them to think for themselves—in other words, the Socratic Method in action.  It’s a meaningful dialogue.  This is what I dreamed of when I started homeschooling seven years ago.  How different from traditional schools where the teacher does all the talking.  How different from where everything is compartmentalized and separated by the ringing of bells on the hour.

Finally the book ends with a Graduation Conversation where the author shares the secret to college admissions and life after college.  Another hidden gem was the “Am I Too Late” section.  We haven’t been following a classic approach to school.  With all our review materials, we’re eclectic at best.  As I read though I want to take the path that will lead to the types of conversations I read in the previous chapters, but could I redirect our course at the half-way point?  That’s when I read the following….



While researching for this review I learned that Leigh A. Bortins  has a degree in Aerospace Engineering—she’s literally a rocket scientist!.   The Conversation helps you understand that you don’t have to be one to teach your high schoolers at home.

Classical Conversations Review

Friday, July 31, 2015

Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship

I’ve written a few times about my son’s involvement in Royal Rangers (although perhaps not enough).  He’s been earning merits and studying the Bible since kindergarten and he’s finally old enough to join their Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship.  This is an optional branch within RR where boys and leaders learn skills and trades from the frontier days. 

Schnickelfritz had to attend a Frontier Adventure and pass tests that involved throwing a knife & tomahawk,  setting a trap, and starting a fire with flint & steel.  Now he’s able to attend special camping events (called rendezvous) where he’ll learn about black powder shooting, dress in mountain man or voyageur clothing, cook in a Dutch oven, and more (even though I’m a mom and a female, I’m highly jealous).  In order to advance he needs to learn a trade and right now he’s leaning towards becoming an apprentice to his own outpost commander, who does blacksmithing.

Right now he’s learning how to build primitive shelters and primitive snares for trapping so this is very much a scouting program.  However it’s also a scouting program run by the church. For his regular Royal Rangers advancement he has to work on Bible merits as well as the skill merits.  To advance in FCF he has to perform 60 hours of volunteer service for the outpost, church, community and missions work.

If you’re feeling frustrated with the path taken by the Boy Scouts, you may want to give Royal Rangers and Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship a try.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: With Lee in Virginia

Family reunion……road trip…..over fourteen hours in the car in two days, and that’s if we were lucky. Last year we got stuck in road construction traffic and spent an hour to cover six miles.   What was one of the first things I made sure I packed in my car bag?


I tweeted the answer—our three audio adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions.  These folks have been bringing G.A. Henty stories to life for the past year.  Even though they’re relatively new to the world of audio/radio theater their production is professional, their narrative entertaining and thought-provoking, and their support materials superb.  We’ve already traveled around the world Under Drake’s Flag and battled alongside William Wallace In Freedom’s Cause and now we were going to relive the Civil War With Lee in Virginia.  The two CD set kept us entertained for about two and a half hours.  And just check out the cast of voice actors!

We tend to like to listen to the story and see if we can recognize the voices of the actors rather than look up their roles.  Sean Astin was easy, but Kirk Cameron stumped us.
The opening act of Heirloom’s audios have two boys meeting“ Mr. George” who proceeds to entertain them with a story whose main characters “just happen” to share the same names—in this case Vincent and Dan.  The other amazing “coincidence” is that the story characters always seem to encounter famous figures from history.  As the title hints, one of these men is  Gen. Robert E. Lee. Vincent also fights alongside Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Joseph E. Johnston. 
To be clear Vincent is a southerner and fights for the Confederacy.  His family are slave-owners and he will inherit these staves when he comes of age.  I’ll even go so far as to caution parents of young listeners that the story includes very realistic sounds of slaves being whipped and slave families being separated and sold at auction.  Although Vincent defends the Southern Cause, he stops the whipping, intercedes in the auction to buy the mother and child, and risks his life to help the father escape to freedom in Canada.  While reading his father’s Bible, Vincent is convicted that no man should own another and does right by Dan.
As with all The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty, there is an underlying theme as well as an action-packed story.  For this title, the theme is Duty.  In between the CD’s in the case is a quote from Robert E. Lee—“Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”  We hear this in the story along with a Stonewall Jackson quote—“Duty is ours, the consequences are God's.”  As the mother of a son about to become a teen, I’m thankful for every opportunity to expose him to honorable ideals.  It’s woven into the story without sounding “preachy.”
We have been listening to WLiV simply for pleasure since our study of the Civil War concluded the first quarter of last year.  Had the timing been right, we could have used Heirloom’s free Study Guide to make this more of a unit study.  Each track from the CD has its own page of words to define—some military/war terms and some things we just don’t see any more, like a livery.  The Listening Well questions test memory and comprehension. The Thinking Further questions deal with critical thinking, looking at actions/situations from a Biblical standpoint, and other historical/geographical research.  The background and artwork would make it “ink intensive” to print the 52 pages out, but I highly recommend you letting students at least look at the pages.  There are maps, inset texts with more information, and some thought-provoking photographs of the war.  Look at this image of a Bible that had been carried in the breast pocket of a young soldier.  It saved his life by stopping two minie balls and I pray it also saved his soul. 
The Study Guide is just one of the free bonuses available to purchasers of the Cd’s or the MP3 download.  Other gifts, depending on the package selected, include a download of the soundtrack, a PDF version of the book, a copy of Lee’s quote on duty, or a poster of the CD cover with the cast.
I think it’s safe to say that all future Henty adventures will end up as Christmas or birthday presents. We’re such fans of the audio format (my son has yet to read a Henty book).  I highly recommend this series to any family, but especially those with boys.  If you have younger children you may want to listen before they do or make sure you’re listening together as there are very realistic scenes of slave whipping and deaths in battle.
My reviews of other Heirloom Audio Productions titles:
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With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Friday, July 24, 2015

Looking forward to New School Year

Where oh where has summer gone?  I know that as a homeschooler I could stick to the calendar of old—you remember the one where we didn’t go back to school till after Labor Day.  Still, by mid August the pool will be closed, Six Flags will only be open on weekends, and PS friends will not be able to play.  Here’s what I have lined up.


We completed that year-long merit badge and we’ll be returning to the Discover 4 Yourself series with Revelation (divided into two workbooks) and a study of covenants.


We’re on the second year of IEW’s Student Intensive Continuation Course Level A (writing is still Fritz’s weak area but we’re making progress).


Another IEW product—Fix It! Grammar.  It goes so well with SICC.  We’ll be in Level 3—The Frog Prince.


We tried Teaching Textbooks for the last two years.  With all the math reviews we’ve done I think the disjointedness of switching products really hampered his learning.  Fritz also requested that we return to Math U See.  We’ll be going back to Algebra 1 with no disruptions.


A leap forward for us, but Dr. Wile—the author of the text says students are ready for Biology when they start Algebra.  We skipped General and physical science, but Dr. Wile says Fritz will more than make up for it by being able to use the advanced courses in his late high school years.


We’re going back to ancient times with Mystery of History Vol. 1.  I’ll be doing some supplementing to make it rigorous enough for Jr. High.


Most of the title will tie into history—Archimedes and the Door of Science, The Bronze Bow, the Landmark books about Alexander the Great and The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and the Alfred C. Church’s The Iliad & the Odyssey for Boys and Girls.  I may try The Cat of Bubastes as a read-aloud. 


Fritz has a required merit on Healthy Body.  I think I will pair that up with the Bachelor merit (which covers house-cleaning, budgeting, laundry, etc.) for a Home Economics course.


This one is more up in the air….Fritz is now too old for Upwards Basketball and his karate instructor has retired. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Project Passport Egypt

Summertime often means vacation time and we’re just finishing ours.  You know the drill—itineraries, tour guides, postcards, photo albums, souvenirs, exotic foods.  Did I mention our destination was Egypt?  Did I mention we traveled back in time?  It’s all true thanks to Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt.  This is one of three world history titles available from Home School in the Woods, the other two cover The Middle Ages and the Renaissance & Reformation.  Two more titles are in the works for Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.  We received the download version of the study but it’s also available on CD-ROM.  Since you have to do all the printing you should stock up on paper, colored paper, colored card stock, and ink.  This is a good time to use a craft store coupon and buy a multicolor pack of 8 by 11 1/2 cardstock.

The program is Windows and Macintosh compatible (mine runs through Internet Explorer offline) and you will need Adobe Reader to access and print the texts and project printables. 


This is not our first go with Homeschool in the Woods (I’ll link to my other reviews at the end of this post).  Project Passport Travel Guide & ItineraryStandard drill for me is to print out the lesson texts and teacher’s instruction manual.  Since this whole study is themed as a vacation tour they are referred to as the Guide Book and Travel Itinerary respectively.   If you are familiar with HSitW from their Time Travelers American History series, you know that students work on craft projects (souvenirs), build a timeline (Snapshot Moments in History), write a newspaper (The Kemet Chronicle), and build a notebook (Scrapbook Sights) and lap book (I guess they couldn’t come up with another travel themed name).  New additions to the world history series are Postcard Greetings from famous folks from the past, MP3 audios of tours through historic sites, and  a final wrap up with the creation of a trifold travel brochure.

Project Passport Newspaper Project


The other book I’ve printed out and bound holds all the notebook pages Schnickelfritz creates (we found a website that translated his name into a cartouche to add to the cover!).  I print out all the base pages and assemble them and we keep all the timeline figures and other things that will be added to the base pages in a clear plastic binder (mine actually zips up so I don’t have to worry about little pieces falling out).  I also include some blank card stock pages that will hold the mini books that would normally go in the lap book.  The only things I don’t print before we start are the newspaper pages.  Because my son has dysgraphia and doesn’t like to draw or color, I allow him to use Photoshop Elements to add photos and type in his articles (I actually wrote a tutorial about this process if you want to check it out).


With the Time Traveler series, I didn’t always follow the lesson plan in order however I do recommend that for Project Passport.  The audio tours are really more like radio theater and they do have a chronological order—referring to previous stops, etc.  When you start the program you can access everything you need for each lesson—the text, project instructions, any audios.  One improvement over the Time Traveler series is that the project photos are included in the lesson rather than collected in a separate page.  The other icons let us know what projects will be included with the lesson, the camera represents the Snapshot Moments timeline for example.

Project Passport Screenshot

I did mention that I like to print out the lesson text and instructions in advance so I wish they were also available in a single PDF file for quick printing.

I usually read the lessons out loud to Fritz while he added figures to the timeline.  Most lessons were 2-3 pages and while he could have read them to himself, the concepts—like the traditional vs. the new chronology of Biblical and Egyptian history were difficult enough to require us to stop reading and discuss.    I did let him look through the lesson and choose 3-4 sentences to compose his newspaper article (I wasn’t worried about plagiarism, I was just glad he could determine which facts were most important to remember).  Sometimes the notebook projects contained so much information they could have been their own separate lesson and if we hadn’t had the deadline of this review I might have scheduled them for their own day.

Project Passport Timeline

Project Passport Recipes To Try


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we love how HSitW makes history come alive.  It’s not just names and places and dates, these were real people that had to eat and work and go to school just like we do.  There are lessons on what everyday life was like for the common men and women: what they wore, what there houses were like, what games the children played and best of all what they ate!  We may not do the craft projects, but we always like to try the recipes. We were already familiar with hummus and baba ghanouj but this cantaloupe juice was a new refreshing cooler for the hot weather. 

We love our Homeschool in the Woods studies.  They would be great if you’re teaching a range of ages.  The younger kids might not get all the details but they could take part in the craft projects or making the recipes.  They might even be the ones to color in all the printable images.

Here are the links to the other history studies we’ve reviewed:

The Civil War

The Industrial Revolution

World War II

The Middle Ages


Home School in the Woods Review


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Royal Rangers Bible Timeline

The Bible merit is one of three required merits for Adventure Rangers.  We’ve spent the better part of a year reading the Bible and working on a timeline of biblical events and persons.  The requirements state:

Create a biblical timeline from Genesis to Revelation. Use any of a variety of methods to create
this timeline, only be sure it is big and colorful. Make sure to include the following:

a. People

• Adam • Samuel• Noah • Saul• Job • David• Abraham • Solomon• Joseph • Jeremiah
• Moses • Elijah• Joshua • Daniel• Gideon • Jesus• Ruth • Stephen• Esther • Paul

b. Events

• Creation                                             • Rebuilding of the Temple
• The Flood                                           • Intertestamental Period
• Joseph’s Exile to Egypt                    • Birth of Christ
• The Exodus                                        • Jesus’ Earthly Ministry
• The Time of the Judges                    • Crucifixion and
• The Rule of the Kings                               Resurrection
• The Building of the Temple               • Pentecost
• The Kingdom Divides                        • Paul’s Conversion
• The Time of the Prophets                  • Paul’s Three Missionary
• Israel’s Exile                                           Journeys
• Judah’s Exile                                      • Sacking of Jerusalem
• Return from Exile                                     by Titus
• John’s Exile to Patmos

c. Chronology of Each Book of the Bible

Here was our take on the project…

We used a foldable pattern board as the base (definitely fits the “big” requirement as it’s 3 ft. by 6 ft.). The idea isn’t original to me—Mystery of History uses the same thing only we used a landscape arrangement instead of portrait.  Originally Schinickelfritz wanted to strips of poster board tom make the actual timeline, but it got complicated and didn’t look very nice after folding and unfolding the board several times.  We flipped the board over and used the grid as a guide to paint in the lines (this also help with placing figures later).

We divided the line into four rows and could place baseball card sized figures both above and below the lines.  The scale was 100 years for 8 inches with the bottom row being 10 years for 8 inches.  The lightning figures in the top top represent a break in the time line for events that occurred before the flood that we don’t really have a good estimate of when they occurred.  Since we had to add so many judges and prophets and kings we didn’t use pictures for them, but wrote their names and dates on symbols of scales, scrolls and crowns respectively.

Review: Homeschool Planet

While my son enjoys his summer break from school, I find it to be one of my busiest seasons.  I have to choose new curriculum, plan hours, shop for supplies…on and on.  This year I’ve had the opportunity to use  an online program from Homeschool Buyers Co-op help me with those plans. Homeschool Planet is a subscription based planner that comes with it all:
  • A calendar to track classes, appointments, etc..
  • A Planner for scheduling specific assignments
  • Shopping lists for school supplies, groceries, whatever
  • A Resources file to keep lists of books, DVDs, and websites to be used in your homeschool
  • Reports for attendance, grades, tracking core hours, or building a high school transcript
  • Lots, lots more

 Each family member can have their own login so each can appointments to the calendar to share with the rest of the family and students can get their assignments. Because the program is internet based, you don’t have to be sitting in front of your home computer to access it.  There’s even a feature that will send shopping lists to your smart phone so you’ll never again reach the store and realize the scrap of paper you used is still setting on the kitchen counter!

Entering data is fairly intuitive, but if you need help there are several tutorials to help you schedule a class, add grades, and track attendance.  For an example, let’s say I need to add our read aloud title for the fall and I want to finish by Thanksgiving…

When I first joined Homeschool Planet, I set up our school year with start/end dates and any holidays and vacations.  Now when I set up the class, it will automatically skip over those dates we won’t have school.  Look at all the options that pop up for which specific days I’ll be reading.   I found this feature very handy since we have a large chunk of time away from home on Wednesday so it’s a lighter school day.  I can “deselect” Wed. from most of our non-core subjects.

After setting up the class—reading, I need to make the assignments—what I’m actually reading each day.  If I click on the “More Options” in the assignment section I’ll get a new window where breaking up a long reading is one of the options.

 After completing the next few pop-ups, Homeschool Planet assigns about 6-7 pages per day.  If I’d been reading the Bible or some other text where I’d prefer chapters over pages I could type in “Read Chapter {1}” and the assignment generator automatically replaces the {1} and increases it by a value of one over the date range chosen. 

Above is the screen shot of an upcoming day in our school year.  I didn’t assign specific times for most subjects—we just move on to the next thing as we complete assignments.  Homeschool gym is a scheduled event so it appears below everything else in its time slot.  It may be hard to tell in this image but every subject is color coded and you can customize colors. 

The key area of Homeschool Planet that I feel needs some improvement is the Class Hours report, and unfortunately it’s a deal-breaker for me.  For my state I need to log 1000 hours of class per year, 600 of which must be in core subjects: math, social studies, science, language arts, and reading (don’t ask me why reading is separate from other language arts). Of those 600 core hours, 400 must take place in the home.  This means I need to track core vs. noncore and home vs. away from home.  After inputting my lesson plans this is the report that generated.

 First, there is no way for me to track home vs. away hours. Second, you can see that I’m short in core hours but where? I don’t know if I need to add lessons to math or reading because this report just lumps it all together. I’m also not sure if God forbid I was contacted by a local official and asked to see my logs, they would accept just this number with no break down of subjects. 
If you live in a state where you only have to track attendance days or at least don’t need to track hours, Homeschool Planet is a very user friendly, feature rich program.   Homeschool Buyers Co-op offers a free 30 day trial to see if the program will fit your needs.  You have to join the co-op, which is free, but  unlike many subscription trials you do not need to enter a credit card number.
Please Note: I only have one child/student so there are many features of Homeschool Planet I never used.  You may want to click on the graphic below to see how other members of the crew tracked information on multiple students.
Homeschool Planet Review

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