Homeschool Curriculum Reviews

 This past month at the Homestead School we’ve been changing things up a bit.  We’ve taken a break from our normal classroom routine to do some in-depth studies on individual topics.  This is called the Unit Study method, and incoporating the 3R’s, science and religion into a Unit Study is quite a challenge.  Luckily, we had some help from our friends at The Old Schoolhouse, and we would like to share our experience with the curriculum we obtained from them for our adventure.
“When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Firefighter”
Wanna Be Series – Ebook, PDF
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
P.O. Box 8426, Gray, TN 37615
1-888-718-HOME
http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com/
Being a newbie at the unit study method, I printed out this colorful Ebook and just started right in with my 6 year old son. There is a LOT of reading at the beginning, which I now realize I should have broken up into several daily sections and interspersed with the other subjects and internet activities. Needless to say, our first run was not as fun as it could have been. After I took a better look at the table of contents, I began marking different pages to do each day for math, science, copywork, etc., and the unit proceeded more smoothly. The text provides a balance of reading, vocabulary, spelling, ASL finger spelling, math, science, social studies, geography, handwriting and scripture verses.
We learned the history of firefighting from bucket brigades to the early days of fire insurance.  A firefighter tells what it’s like to work an average shift, as well as how to become a firefighter and how much firefighters get paid in different parts of the United States.  We also learned about Wilshire the Firehouse Dog, and the role dogs play in helping firefighters.  We learned more about robots and robotic arms, which we had opportunity to work with on a previous field trip.  We did not have a chance to build our own robotic arm model, but the supplies were simple and we did have them on hand.
I am also a newbie at lapbooking, and did not think to make a lapbook to go with this unit. It does not include suggestions or activities for lapbooking, but it would be easy enough to modify for that activity and I definitely recommend it. Especially for active, curious 6 year old boys. It breaks up the tedium of reading and worksheets and gets them cutting, pasting, coloring, drawing, and creating, thereby more actively participating in the learning process.
Although this series is written for ages 4-10, it contains so much detailed information that it could be easily modified for older students. We felt the need to supplement this particular unit with extra math, grade level reading with some of the suggested books, and searching you-tube or elsewhere for appropriate videos.
All basic materials are included with “I Want to be a Firefighter”. If desired, additional materials can be gathered together for suggested science projects, activities and lapbooking. Quizzes, puzzles, coloring pages, worksheets and answer keys are included. The internet is not necessary to get the full benefit of this unit study, but makes it more interesting. Useful websites are listed in the back of the ebook; one could also search for additional sites, videos and activities to liven up the presentation. Parents will want to acquire appropriate supplementary books from library, arrange a possible field trip to a fire station, or a visit with firefighters.
With over 70 pages of detailed information, this Unit Study is well worth the price of $8.95.
Other titles in the series:
Veterinarian, Chef, Military, Pilot, Doctor, Police Officer, Missionary, Artist, Farmer

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Robinson Curriculum

Robinson Homeschool Curriculum

Yak likes to point out to people that I am not his teacher, that he teaches himself. It’s true. We have been using the Robinson Curriculum for several years, now, and I couldn’t be happier. After a careful study of the Robinson website, their materials, philosophy and teaching system, I decided to purchase the entire K-12 curriculum on CD. The 22 CDs came conveniently packaged in a protective case. It was easy to load the RC program onto our computers and to save the entire program on an external hard drive that travels with us.

In short, the focus of the Robinson Curriculum is reading, writing and arithmetic, with college level science added in after the student completes calculus. I was able to download a booklist by subject so that I can make sure Yak gets a balance of literature, history, science and social studies through reading the included books.

Tech support and the Robinson Curriculum Facebook group were very helpful in guiding us to a system of saving the books as pdfs for printing. The only problem was I couldn’t print the books fast enough. It seemed the minute I finished one book, Yak was ready for the next. This took up a lot of time. Fortunately, about this time, Kindle produced “send to Kindle” for pc. I downloaded it and rejoiced in my newfound freedom! All I had to do was send the pdfs to Yak’s Kindle. I was able to enjoy the books on my Kindle as well. Still am. However, Yak’s Kindle disappeared under suspicious circumstances around the time we got the new trailer. Enter the Kindle reading app. I can still send the pdfs to Yak’s smartphone and he can read them on the Kindle app.

We purchase Saxon math books separately, as recommended, and I find that if I keep up with where he’s at, I have no problem using the solutions manual and the student text to point him in the right direction. In math, we veer slightly from Dr. Robinson’s recommendations, as I caught the boy cheating several times. I also supplement with Catholic-specific materials, foreign language exposure and other items of interest that come along. Yak and I have been enjoying increasing our proficiency in Spanish and Mandarin together.

Robinson Curriculum has been a lifesaver for me, as far as having all the basics in one place. There is even a grammar and spelling guide included, along with a dictionary and full set of encyclopedia. Though he won’t admit it, I think Yak is doing well with the routine of math, writing and reading every day. We enjoy doing some of the reading together, which helps me to know where he’s at so that I can reinforce what he’s learning with opportunities that come along, such as Civil War reenactments, science museum visits and nature hikes.

Purchasing Robinson has not only saved me tons of time, in lesson planning, corrections and hand holding, but also tons of money. Where a one year curriculum package for one student can cost a minimum of $200, for that amount Robinson gives you all 12 years that can be used with any number of students. I just call that smart.

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Overcoming Math Frustration – Review
Long before Algebra, mathematics becomes the Achilles’ heel of many homeschool families. If only there were some way to make math tolerable! Susan Evans shares her experiences and suggestions for not only making math tolerable, but even (gasp!) fun! In little more than an hour, Overcoming Math Frustration will breathe new life into your math program with:

– 11 ways to overcome math frustration

– a comparison of 4 popular math programs and

– hands on ideas to get kids more excited about math.

One of the biggest reinforcements I got from listening to the workshop was to have children do some strenuous exercise right before starting their math. I had started this with my own son a few weeks before, and it really has made a difference. The exercise gets his blood pumping and his mind functioning and ready to focus on the most difficult task of the day – sitting and concentrating on math for 1-2 hours. I enjoyed the comparison of the 4 math programs. We seem to be doing quite well with Saxon math at this point, so since it’s not broke…I do remember having issues with Saxon with my older children, though. Ms. Evan’s hands on ideas are good reminders for veteran homeschoolers and excellent helps for beginners. Putting math into practice in everyday life is probably the most helpful way to get kids excited about learning their sums. May I suggest a sequel? How to get your child excited about Algebra/Trig/Calculus;)

Raised in Guatemala, Susan earned her Bachelor’s degree in English in the United States, and has taught in public schools here and in London, England, where she was also a middle school Drama director. In this audio workshop, Susan gives dozens of tips from her own experience as a public school teacher, as well as a homeschooling mom of four. She is unashamed to give all credit for her successes to God, and to accept all responsibility for her shortcomings.

In addition to Overcoming Math Frustration $5.50, Susan Evans has a number of other excellent audio and video products available for download. All of her products are backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee. The MP3 files were a snap to download and add to my Ipod. For less than the price of a half gallon of ice cream, you can wake up your children’s brain cells and help them feel good about math again!

I received a free copy of Overcoming Math Frustration to listen to and post my thoughts. No other compensation was received for this review.
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Making Literature Fun – Review
Ever wish you could get your kids to reach for a book instead of the remote? Susan Evans’ one hour audio workshop, Making Literature Fun, is bursting at the seams with ideas to:

– make literature come alive for your children

– improve your child’s reading level

– quiet your children for reading

Raised in Guatemala, Susan earned her Bachelor’s degree in English in the United States, and has taught in public schools here and in London, England, where she was also a middle school Drama director. In this live recording, Susan describes how to evaluate and choose good books; how
to create experiences to help children internalize what they’ve read; gives examples from her own homeschool experiences with her four children.

Ms. Evans discusses the pros and cons of “watching the movie” versus “reading the book”. She encourages regular reading aloud by both parents and students. I was reminded to change my tone of voice to indicate different characters in the book I’m reading from, and to remember to read with more dramatic effect. When I began to do this during our current reading of “War Horse”, my 9 year old son suddenly started really listening, and would beg for another chapter. As suggested, I felt perfectly comfortable making him wait for the next day, and sure enough, his anticipation was peaked and he sat and listened attentively. A number of books are recommended by name in the course of Susan’s presentation. She supports re-enacting as an enriching supplement to good reading and she shows how to link the great books your children are reading to the other subjects they are studying.

In everything she does, Evans gives praise and glory to her Creator, and emphasizes and encourages a close, personal relationship with God as the foundation to excellent parenting and homeschooling. I love the relaxed, refreshing style in which she presents her information. Her voice has a pleasant tone and unhurried cadence. I came away from the audio with the feeling of having just had an uplifting discussion with a friend, rather than a talking down from a stuffy professional. I immediately began applying many of her suggestions in my own homeschool, with happy
results.

In addition to Making Literature Fun $5.50, Susan Evans has a number of other excellent audio and video products available for download. All of her products are backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee. The MP3 files were a snap to download and add to my Ipod. For less than the price of a Teacher’s Manual, you can breathe new life into your homeschool and equip your children with a love of reading for life. Now go out and make literature fun!

I received a free copy of Making Literature Fun to listen to and post my thoughts. No other compensation was received for this review.

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See The Light – And Draw!

Photobucket Okay, I may be artistic in many ways, but I cannot draw a stick figure. I loved coloring when I was little; grandma (a real artist) used to sit me down with tracing paper and carbon paper and I could trace a picture and then transfer it to another paper and color it. Drawing freehand? No way. Mrs. S used to come in and do chalk drawings on the blackboard at school and then take us through, step by step, to draw it ourselves. Mine were less than impressive and I never caught on to the techniques that she was trying to teach.

Pat Knepley, of See The Light, is reminiscent of those blackboard days. With her easel and a clean sketchpad in front of her, she slowly explains each basic drawing technique and then illustrates it on the sketchpad. The great part is that this is all on DVD, so you can replay it over and over until you and your students are able to do it yourselves. For our free trial we received the first DVD in the 9 DVD series, “The Basics”. In it Pat shares her infectious enthusiasm for art and shows students how to set up their own tool kit, basic line drawing, contours and using common everyday items for their subjects. There is also a bonus lesson, chalk drawing, by another artist. After watching the first lesson, my son was so excited that he immediately began putting together his own tool kit, then had to watch the lesson again to make sure he had everything, making a list of what he still needed for mom. Luckily most of the supplies we already had on hand for our everyday homeschooling needs. No charcoal pencils or brushes and paints yet;) We now have days of marathon drawing sessions and my son is much more careful with his coloring projects. After watching all four lessons plus the bonus lesson, he started begging for more of the DVDs. I have to say I agree with him, even I’m inspired!

Designed for grades K-8 I think even high schoolers and adults, such as myself, can truly benefit from this art curriculum. Simple Bible lessons are woven in throughout. The first DVD is FREE! Subsequent DVDs are $14.99 each or all 9 for $99.99. Each DVD includes 4 lessons plus a bonus lesson. Year 2 is in the works and the company also offers a number of related products on their website.
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Nutrition 101: Choose Life
I love this book. Ever since I was in high school I have been reading everything I could get my hands on about health and nutrition. My parents liked to tease me about being “the healthiest corpse in the graveyard”, but I didn’t care. I’ve always thought that what life we do have we should try to enjoy fully. I’ve also always had a strong suspicion that what we eat has alot to do with how we feel. And at Growing Healthy Homes unbelievable as is may seem, are four people who agree with me.

Based on sound scientific research and flavored with a Biblical perspective, Nutrition 101 is chock full of information on each of the body’s systems and each one’s specific nutritional needs. This is a text that can be used year after year for health class in all grade levels. With young children, you may just want to touch on the basics of each chapter, and do one of the fun activities and make the power recipe. Older children can study in more detail, delving into such areas as the Nervous System and amino acids, diabetes, heart disease and natural and artificial sweeteners and their effect on the body.

My personal favorites were the alkaline/acid food charts in the Appendices, and the menu ideas. I printed out copies of the “Food Pyramid Serving Checklist” and found out I wasn’t doing nearly as well as I thought I was in trying to include more vegetables in our daily menu. This has become a favorite reference for my weekly meal planning.

Nutrition 101 will help you to raise healthy eaters as children learn and understand how food is processed, what preservatives do to our bodies, advantages and disadantages of natural vs. artificial sweeteners. There are lots of fun projects and a power recipe incorporated into each week’s lesson (see activity guide starting on page 285). In the very first chapter, The Brain, children make guacamole and sprout an avocado seed. High schoolers study the effects of ethylene gas (from and apple) on the ripening process.

The initial investment in this product does seem a bit high, at $79.95 for CD, $99.95 for the book, and $129.95 for the combo, but keeping in mind that it is designed for repeated use, year after year with all grade levels, and that works out to about $10 a year for just one child, less than that for more children! When you find yourself and your family actually eating better, likely there will also be a substantial savings in health care as well.
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Teaching Spanish

I have been attempting to teach my son Spanish since he was preschool age. Not being fluent myself, I don’t quite have the whole converstional thing down, and so far none of the programs we have tried have quite clicked for us. Until Speekee. Speekee teaches Spanish through total immersion, using fun puppets, catchy music and children who look like they’re really having fun. Speekee captures a child’s (and a mom’s) attention using only Spanish, no back and forth to English. Subtitles in both Spanish and English appear on the screen.

Speekee

The program is basic Spanish from Spain, and it doesn’t enter into regional dialects or Mexican or South American variations. Designed for children ages 2 to 10 years old, Speekee can be enjoyed by the whole family, especially when the songs are learned and sung later. Each lesson episode runs about 15-20 minutes and also has printable activities to supplement the videos. With topics like “El Parque”, El Cafe” and “El Zoo”, children are learning and reinforcing many everyday words that can be used in conversation immediately. My son looks forward to watching Speekee and we walk around singing the songs while we’re doing our chores and while running errands.

Speekee

Speekee is available on DVD, but as it is produced in Spain, the DVD format may not play on U.S. players. So the best option if you’re in the U.S. as we are, is a subscription to Speekee TV. For a low $7.50 a month, you get unlimited access to all 10 episodes of Speekee, plus the printables and the first two weeks are FREE!

Speekee logo

The only problem I have with Speekee is that there are only 10 episodes. I would like to see alot more, enabling families to build on the foundation set up by the first 10. Also, I would like to be able to use it in DVD format, if the company should decide to produce a version for the U.S.

We recieved a two month subscription to SpeekeeTV to use and review in our homeschool. No other compensation was recieved for this review.

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Worksheets on Demand – KBTeachers

Looking for a fun way to reinforce that grammar lesson? Math activities for your pre-reader? A fill-in body parts identification chart? Teachers, homeschoolers, parents, KBTeachers offers worksheets, workbooks and clip art to supplement almost every subject.

KBTeachers has seasonal themed worksheets and acitvities, changeable elementary math worksheets, English worksheets plus manuscript and cursive practice pages. There are printable charts showing the American Sign Language alphabet for letters and numbers, as well as decoding charts for Morse Code letters and numbers. We really like the ASL chart, as we’re trying to incorporate ASL into our schoolday. My son is getting interested in codebreaking, so I can see Morse Code coming into the school room very soon.

Other printable worksheet and workbook subjects include astronomy, geology, weather and climate, and biology. We just did a study on tears this week, and the printable eye anatomy chart (simplified) came in extremely handy. The social studies section is geared primarily for middle to high school level students and includes ancient civilizations, medieval Europe, the cold war, and much more. We’re touring the continents this year and are currently studying South America. I’ve just printed out the Map of South America as well as a research chart to compare and contrast three of it’s countries.

To get unlimited access to all this great stuff, KBTeachers offers a FREE 10 day trial. If you like what you’re getting, you can continue on for just $29 for one year, or a discounted $49 for two years of premium membership. You can’t lose with KBTeachers’ 30 day money back guarantee.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, you can sign up for KBTeachers’ free newsletter, which notifies subscribers of updates to the site, featured seasonal themes (fall, halloween, Christmas), special day worksheets (Veteran’s Day, National Sandwich Day, Daniel Boone’s Birthday), and new offerings.

Many worksheets can be customized and revised to use over and over and unlimited printables mean more fun for students and less work for the teacher. Did I mention that worksheets are extremely helpful when you’re on the go, carschooling, or overwhelmed? High-fives for KBTeachers, which is turning into an awesome resource for our homeschool classroom this year!

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about KBTeachers.
We received a free one year membership to KBTeachers in exchange for publishing our opinion here. No other compensation was received for this review.

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Good Morning God – Apologia Books

Three. That’s how many times my second grade son read this book with his dad before I even got a look at it. “Good Morning, God” by Davis Carman, illustrated by Alice Ratterree, published by Apologia Press, is a very child-friendly book. It spoke to my son’s heart, which was evidenced by the fact that he kept re-reading it during our extended visit with family over Thanksgiving. He even insisted (really, with no prodding from me!) upon doing all of the Questions and Activities in the back of the book. Good Morning God became our reading and faith building curriculum for the week we spent homeschooling on the road. The story follows a young boy in his daily life for one week, from Sunday to Sunday. It can be read straight through, or as a bedtime story. If you choose you can read one day at a time and do the questions and activites for that day. No matter how this book is used, it demonstrates to our children and ourselves, “the simple and wonderful ways we can worship God…with our entire being all through the day.” (from How to Use this Book).

Written for 1-8 year olds, this book is a non-denominational Christian discipleship tool, emphasizing whole hearted, joyful love for God and faith in Jesus. The many scripture references in the Question and Activities section are taken from the Zondervan edition of the New International Version of the Holy Bible. Questions and Activities include subjects such as heaven, what is a soul, sin, how can you take care of your body, go on a bike ride, and draw a picture of an ear.

This is a quality, hardcover childrens book, with sturdy pages and beautiful color illustrations, priced at only $14.00, it is constructed to last a lifetime with gentle care. The accompanying coloring book is only $4.00. Other books are available from this company at Apologia Press.

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about this product here: Homeschool Crew.
We received one copy of “Good Morning God” free for posting an honest evaluation. No other compensation was received for this review.

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Talking Fingers – Learning to Read, Write and Type
Talking Fingers “Read, Write, Type” is an online program that teaches proper qwerty hand position and typing technique through interactive games and stories. At the same time, children learn letter sounds, spelling and reading, as well as composition. My son is reading well above his grade level, but does not get bored. He looks forward to his daily session on Talking Fingers and proudly prints out every certificate he earns.

There are 40 levels for students to work through, learning finger placement, building sentences and stories, with certificates awarded for every 4 letters mastered. The program keeps track of each student’s progress and starts them where they left off at the end of their last session. Parents can sign in and print out progress reports and see where their child is in the program. Students and parents sign in with separate usernames and passwords (student’s account is set up by the parent), so multiple children can each have their own record. Younger children may need help signing in, but should be able to work independently from there, as the animated characters guide them through everything. Talking Fingers “Read, Write, Type”

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