Saturday, May 29, 2010

Need Encouragement in Teaching Writing?

I have been so strengthened by all the Susan Wise Bauer seminar sessions to which I have listened. I always come away with a concrete plan and an assurance that I can prepare my children academically for their future. These sessions have been well worth the few dollars each one costs. I hope they might encourage you as well.

Writing Without Fear

A Plan for Teaching Writing: Focus on the Middle Grades

A Plan for Teaching Writing:Focus on the High School Years

What is Literary Analysis? When, Why, and How Should I Teach It?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Deceptive Simplicity

It is surprising when an education method that seems so simple actually produces a broad foundation that allows a student to learn at a deeper level all through his life.

When I first read the suggested Language Arts Scope and Sequence at Ambleside Online, I was not convinced that it could really produce strong results. How can a child get ahead with only doing phonics, oral narration, and copywork until third grade? Yes, they add in written narration and beginning grammar in upper elementary. But to wait until junior high for formal grammar and high school for formal composition? Shouldn't a student be doing a lot of writing and have had several years of grammar instruction by then? That just doesn’t make sense . . . or does it?

Looking back on the journey of my two older daughters (just finishing 7th and 9th grades), I see the beauty in AO's suggestions. It is much easier to tackle grammar in a short period of time after the student has entered the logic stage. He is then able to think abstractly instead of trying to analyze grammatical concepts with a concrete thought process in the early years. We’ve experienced that and I have no interest in beating my head against the wall for multiple years again.

Just because you don't teach "formal" grammar until junior high does not mean the student is not learning any. There are plenty of opportunities to teach proper sentence structure, capitalization, punctuation and more while you are working with written narrations. But it is all done in a concrete manner that your grammar student can understand. Then when the student reaches the logic stage of thinking, he is ready to analyze those concrete things he has previously learned. Just this time it is in the abstract way that formal grammar requires. No wonder grammar is such a struggle for some students. We are trying to teach them logic stage material when their brains are not ready for it.

Now about composition - you have been teaching it all along in the form of oral and written narration. I did not fully grasp the power of narration until I started using it in our homeschool. It seems so simple on the surface. "Tell me what we just read about."  But have you ever stopped to think of the skills required to do that? You have to listen intently, recognize and remember the important details, and organize and put that information into your own words so you can tell it back. Sounds like a whole lot of skills necessary for composition.

When you look at what skills narration produces, it really is not so simple. It requires active mental participation on the part of the student. And that takes hard work and discipline. These character traits, along with the academic skills acquired, provide the student a strong foundation allowing him to go on to a deeper life of learning.

So it is not about giving your student piles and piles of writing assignments. And it is not about doing grammar lessons year after year. It is about the student being actively involved in the process of learning. And the best way to accomplish that is to teach your child the necessary concepts when his brain is most able to absorb the information. We have experienced that this “simple” method is very effective in building a strong foundation for deeper learning.

You can find further information on Charlotte Mason's language arts methods here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lobster Network


How many times have you lent an item to someone only to forget whom you gave it to? Or have you ever wished for a place to keep track of all your stuff? Well, there is now a free website that can help you with that.

Whether you want to track items, loan or borrow items, sell, buy, or trade items, LOBSTER NETWORK has many features to help you manage your personal inventory.


Item Search: Browse all items by name, category, or location.

My Inventory: Add, edit or delete items. Items can be tagged as Lending (Communities only), For Sale, For Trade, Wanted, Free. Or you can just have them for your inventory list. There is an option to upload pictures and lots of choices for details.

Lend: You can enter the borrower's name and email address and the  lend period to have an email reminder sent if the item is not returned on time.


Communities: This can be a great feature for a co-op or other small group that lends materials back and forth.

Message Center: Receive friend requests or communicate with other members.

Reports: Who do need to return items to? Who has items to return to you? Just run a report and you will be able to tell at a glance.


The best way to tell how Lobster Network works is to just sign up and give it a try. You can also read the other Crew reviews.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Great Latin Adventure


Why study Latin? Well, for us, it is because Latin is the foundation of so many other languages. It is because learning Latin roots can open up the world of English exponentially more than just studying a list of vocabulary words. So I wanted a program that taught Latin but also worked heavily with English vocabulary.

When I looked at the sample pages of Great Latin Adventure from Classical Legacy Press, I definitely wanted to see more. Because even though it is targeted for grades 4-6, I could see if being a fit for my 7th and 9th graders.

So I was very happy to be selected to receive this program to review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew. I was generously sent both Levels 1 and 2 which each include a Teacher Manual, Student Manual, and Pronunciation CD. The levels come shrink-wrapped, 3-hole punched, and binder ready. They even include front, back and spine inserts, a feature which I thought was really neat.

There is plenty of introductory material which helps you get a good feel for the program before you try plan your first week. One important point to know about Great Latin Adventure is that it is NOT a self-teaching course although I am sure there is a way you could tweak it to be one for an older student. Teacher interaction is planned into the text. However, the teacher material is laid out very clearly and answers to all student material is provided.

For those of you who have been around Latin programs more than I have, here is what GLA is NOT:

  • Not an immersion program
  • Not an inductive program
  • Not steeped in educational novelty
  • Not a Roman culture or history program

Classical pronunciation is used instead of ecclesiastical although it can be used no matter which is your preference. Suggestions for how to do this are given in the introductory material.

Using Great Latin Adventure will take some of your time. In addition to teaching the lessons, you will need to set aside time to read and understand the 28 pages of introductory material including the Master Chapter Plan.This probably took me about a day as I like to take notes while reading to help things become clearer. This is a one-time process unless, of course, you need a refresher from time to time.

Then each week you will need to take some time to prepare for the next lesson. You will want to read the teaching notes, study the grammar lesson, review the worksheets, learn the vocabulary, and be ready to teach lesson.



  • Teaching Notes
  • Vocabulary List
  • Grammar Lesson
  • Study Sheet Key
  • Derivative Worksheet Key
  • Translation Worksheet 1 Key
  • Translation Worksheet 2 Key
  • Pre-Quiz
  • Pre-Quiz Key
  • Quiz
  • Quiz Key
  • Latin to English Glossary  Chapters 1-12 (Level 1)
  • English to Latin Glossary Chapters 1-12 (Level 1)
  • Latin to English Glossary Chapters 1-25 (Level 2)
  • English to Latin Glossary Chapters 1-25 (Level 2)


  • Vocabulary List
  • Grammar Lesson
  • Study Sheet
  • Derivative Worksheet
  • Translation Worksheet 1
  • Translation Worksheet 2



Day 1
Review quiz from previous week
Introduce new vocabulary, Begin Grammar lesson
Homework: Begin derivative worksheet

Day 2
Continue grammar lesson
Begin study sheet
Homework: Finish derivative worksheet

Day 3
Complete grammar lesson and study sheet
Do sample of translation worksheet
Homework: Begin first translation sheet (TW1)

Day 4
Homework: Continue TW1

Day 5
Go over answers for completed portions of TW1
Homework: Finish TW1

Day 6
Finish going over TW1 answers
Homework: Study for vocabulary pre-quiz; Begin TW2

Day 7
Give vocabulary pre-quiz; Review portion of TW2 completed
Homework: Complete TW2

Day 8
Go over remainder of TW2; Review for chapter quiz
Homework: Study for chapter quiz

Day 9
Give chapter quiz. Begin vocabulary cards for next chapter.


MY SCHEDULE for a 7th and 9th grader

Day 1 (My time: Apx 45 minutes)
Previous chapter quiz review
New vocabulary
Grammar lesson
Study Sheet
Homework: Derivative worksheet

Day 2 (My time: 0 minutes)
Homework: Translation worksheet 1 (TW1)

Day 3 (My time: 10 minutes)
Go over TW1 answers
Homework: Translation worksheet 2 (TW2); Study for vocab pre-quiz

Day 4 (My time: 10 minutes)
Go over TW2 answers
Give vocabulary pre-quiz
Homework: Study for chapter quiz

Day 5 (My time: 0 minutes)
Chapter quiz

If the Great Latin Adventure sounds like something that fits what you want in a Latin program, check it out further on the Classical Legacy Press website. Also take a look at their Logic Curriculum.

You can also read what other Crew family’s experienced with Great Latin Adventure.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Peterson Directed Handwriting


Peterson Directed Handwriting’s teaching method makes a lot of sense to me, and I am currently using it to teach cursive to my kindergarten daughter. There are many teacher helps on their website and they are always willing to meet and help you through bumps in the road.

I did find that the material itself could be laid out better in order to make use of the material.

More time will need to pass before I will know if this method produces good results but what I have seen so far is promising.


Handwriting is an important subject in our house. To me it is more than just learning how to make the shapes of the letters. It is an integral part of the whole foundation of communication. It is not just about the letters looking nice on the page. Good penmanship is the beginning step of strong composition.

Thus I was very interested in trying Peterson Directed Handwriting. I had watched a video on their website several months ago about only using finger tracing and it made a lot of sense. Their method of locking the movements into muscle memory then moving toward actually writing on paper intrigued me.

During my online meeting with Rand Nelson, VP of Marketing for Peterson Directed Handwriting, we determined that the best level to try with my 6-year old daughter would be Cursive 2. She had previously learned both printing and cursive, but her foundation was not very solid.

Thus began our journey with Peterson Directed Handwriting. The road has been a bit rocky; however, it is starting to smooth out. But not without a lot of brain work on my part.

I do much better when material is organized with a clear, logical progression. Unfortunately, my Cursive 2 E-book was not such a book. I had already watched the tutorial videos on the website so I knew there were crucial parts of the program that were not being presented on the pages. I was expecting an overview of the method and then a clear progression of movements and letters that I was supposed to teach. Instead there was no overview and the worksheets started at the 3rd step in the process, finger tracing. And, even then, it taught a stroke with one wording then changed the wording of the stroke on the next exercise. It does not make sense to me to change the wording if you are trying to lock a sequence of words that when verbalized will drive the writing.

So I did what so many homeschoolers do when material doesn’t fit their needs. I tweaked it. I took the 4 major components of the Peterson Method, used the stroke wording from our current handwriting program, and started teaching my kindergartener. For each letter, we are working on large muscle memory, finger tracing, writing without lines, then writing with lines – all the while making sure the voice is driving the pencil. When we write without lines on the white board, I have her close her eyes and do it. This helps me gauge if the muscle memory is strong before moving onto using the finer muscles. Even with the few letters we have done, I am seeing the importance of each step, especially the large muscle memory. The first couple letters my daughter worked on, we did much work with each step. She is very confident when writing them. The next letters we rushed through the first steps and prematurely moved to pencil and paper. She was not near as solid with those letters. We went back and worked more on the large muscle memory and she is now more confident with the newer letters as well.


I feel that Peterson Directed Handwriting’s method of teaching has much merit and is worth investigating. The part lacking is the organization and clarity of the material which, unfortunately, for me is a huge block. The company is very willing to meet with customers to help them through any frustrations or struggles. So it isn’t about a lack of customer service. I just don’t have time to set up a personal online session, scour a website reading online instructions, or to watch training videos. I need everything to all be clearly spelled out in the material so when I am preparing for class at 9 o’clock at night I can easily see what direction I am going and what I need to teach.

Great method – Material needs a little work.

You can read here what other Crew members experienced with Peterson’s Directed Handwriting.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

LightSpeed Chemistry AP Test Prep


In the world of college preparation, you will most likely hear about Advanced Placement classes and tests. I won’t take the time to tell you what AP is all about, but you can visit the College Board website for more information.


Cerebellem Corporation has just released a new series of four AP Exam Prep DVDs. We were sent the Chemistry DVD to review. Also available are U.S.Government and Politics, History of the U.S., and English Language and Composition. Each DVD is regularly $14.98 but make sure to check their website for sales.

Included with the DVD is a Digital Workbook with handouts, quizzes, and activities to reinforce the topic before and after the video. It seems that for this product to be useful, the digital workbook MUST be utilized. The DVD itself contains 3 sections. It first gives an overview of the AP test along with some test taking tips such as how long to take on each problem in the sections. It then talks about the free response question sections of the test providing students with key pointers on how to get the most points possible. The third part of the DVD presents 30 chemistry topics in 30 minutes. Topics include but are not limited to Atomic Theory & Structure, Chemical Bonding, Nuclear Chemistry, Gases, Stoichiometry, Equilibrium & Kinetics, and Thermodynamics.

Even though the DVD is very fast paced, the speakers all present their material clearly. Words are printed on the screen as well as being spoken to help those who learn better visually. However, because of the speed in which the material is presented, the key to it being a helpful study tool will be in using the digital workbook. Unless you are incredibly talented, it would be extremely hard to absorb enough information from just the DVD to be helpful. And the DVD is definitely not a replacement for taking an AP class. You can see a sample of the DVD here.

My nephew, who just took the AP Chemistry test, said he felt this DVD missed some important topics in the 30 topics in 30 minutes. But he confirmed that the test setup was portrayed accurately and that the tips could be helpful. His AP class had already done a lot of study sessions so he did not really know if the DVD was a helpful tool or not.

Cerebellem Corporation also has instructional videos in many other subjects. So be sure to check out their website. Also make sure to read the other Crew reviews on the AP Exam Prep DVDs.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Homeschool Expo Vendor Hall

If you're researching or buying homeschool curriculum, you have to check out the Vendor Hall at the Schoolhouse Expo! It's open to everyone. Browse through companies such as Rainbow Resource, WriteShop, Apologia, Latin Road/Phonics Road, Multiplication Shake, Go Phonics, and MANY MORE!

Latin Road/Phonics Road has freebies in their booth. Rainbow Resource has a free shipping offer. Spears Art Studio has a free CD. Real Science by Gravitas has a 25% discount coupon.

There is just so much to see. Stop by and meet the virtual hostess from each company, browse their selection, and look for "conference specials".

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure, the latest book released in the Circle C Adventures authored by Susan K. Marlow, follows the adventures of a group of California teens in early summer 1881. What started out as a two week trip to a logging camp turns into quite an adventure as the teens cross paths with outlaws. You can read an excerpt of this book here.

My 13-year old daughter liked the book. She thought the plot was interesting and kept her attention. She would have liked the story to be longer, but since it is written for 8 to 12 year olds the shorter length is understandable.

My 14-year old daughter thought the book leaned on the side of being too modern for the year 1881. But, even so, it is still quite realistic. She liked it very much and wants to read the rest of the series. She said that even though this book is written for younger children, it has a good plot that is intense enough to keep an older reader’s interest.

There are 4 other books in this series available from the publisher at a cost of $7.99 each. It appears that a sixth book is set to be released in possibly Fall 2010.

You can read here what other Crew members thought of their book from Kregel Publications.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ideal Curriculum

I was sent an e-product of Ideal Curriculum Level 1, Month 1 to review. Included were teacher’s manuals for literary lessons, math lessons, calendar lessons, and science lessons. Also included were print files, music files, and reading files.


The literary and math/calendar lessons are set up the same. The directions are straight-forward.

Each activity includes:

  • Why This Lesson is Important
  • Preparation
  • Direct Teaching Lesson
  • Practice Throughout the Day
  • Student Workbook (when applicable)
  • Weekly Assessment


The science lessons are listed by day instead of by activity. Each day includes Preparation, Dialogical Reading, and an Activity. Each day also has a special emphasis such as the following. The non-obvious activities are explained in the teacher’s manual.

  • Experimentation
  • Shared Writing
  • Art Activity
  • Dramatic Play
  • Story Sequencing
  • Matching


Already having a strong math and language arts program in place, those portions of the Ideal Curriculum did not appeal to me. This was especially true because it presents a different teaching philosophy than I have found is best for our family.

I see Ideal Curriculum being a good fit for someone who wants something simple that is all laid out for them. Unlike many boxed programs, the Ideal Curriculum covers a reasonable amount of material allowing the teacher and student not to be overwhelmed by everything that has to accomplish. It could be a good starting place for beginning homeschoolers. However, the price is quite high for material at this level, especially if you purchase the print option.

Monthly kit price: Download $30, Print $55. As you will see each month has its own theme.

One year (9 months) price: Download $240, Print $440

You can read other Crew families’ experiences here.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beeyoutiful Tension Tamer

As someone who prefers to treat her family with natural remedies whenever possible, I am always on the lookout for new products that work well. So when I received the Tension Tamer from Beeyoutiful I was very curious what we would experience.
The first thing we noticed was that it has a very strong smell. Fortunately, it is one that we really like. It seems to be mainly the wintergreen essential oil that we smell but the peppermint might be blending in with it as well. Whatever the scent, it sure does open the nostrils. I’m sure the eucalyptus essential oil plays a part in the smell but it isn’t distinguishable.

The second thing that we noticed was that a little goes a long way. The bottle seems small but it takes very little to have an effect. If you use too much, your skin gets really warm.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to know if a product is really working or if is just a coincidence. And that is kind of where I am with the Tension Tamer. We have been using it for about a month now and it seems to make a difference. I tend to get a very tight neck and shoulders which at times threatens to turn into a headache. It seems that the Tension Tamer has helped relax me some. We have also used it on sore muscles with success. Fortunately, we have not had the opportunity to try it on clogged sinuses although I am guessing that it would at least be a help based on the effect just the smell has.

So Tension Tamer is not a product I am discounting. We will continue to use it and see if we can confirm our preliminary findings.

Beeyoutiful carries an array of different products. You can read here what other Crew members experienced with them.

Disclosure:This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. No further compensation was received. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

01/25/2011 Update - The Beeyoutiful Tension Tamer is a product I continue to carry in my purse. If I feel my neck tightening up I apply a little of the oil to my neck and shoulder and the discomfort quickly subsides.
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