Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Neverending Choir

I realized I haven't updated much on our homeschooler-goes-to-public-school story.  I have a few humorous stories (like the girl named Lyric who doesn't sing!) which I'll share at another time, but overall it has been an interesting experience for dd.  Not bad. Not spectacular. Just different. As for me, I'm pretty much ready for our adventure to end.  I'm not cut out for being on a schedule that is not my own.

Now that May is nearly here, much of dd's coursework is winding down.  Her two college classes, the whole reason for this single class at the high school, were completed last week.  Three other classes/subjects will be done in less than two weeks.  Choir? *SEVEN* more weeks. It just seems to be going on and on and on.

As she's always been curious about what it is like to go to school, I inquired if this has satisfied the mystery.  I mentioned we could enroll her full time if the one class didn't cut it. *wink*  Her reply? "I'm so over that!" No, honey, you've got seven more weeks until you can be over it. Come on, June!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Balance Math (Critical Thinking Co)

In case you are short on time today, let me give you the short version of this review.  I LOVE products by Critical Thinking Co. They are very nicely done, easy to use, and just fabulous. Head on over to their website and check out the vast amounts of resources for your homeschool.  Right now.  Go on.  Try not to buy one of everything! (Psst!  They have bundles if you’d like to try!)

Now, for those of you who require more detail and specifics, I was sent two products for review, both covering math topics targeting grades 4-12. 
Balance Math Teaches Algebra by Robert Femiano presents algebra with a visual approach using balance scales. There is a 2-page sample at the website to print and try out a few of the 52 activities provided. The activities are presented from simple to complex, building upon the previous pages.

PhotobucketMy son,who is currently in pre-algebra, has a pretty mathematical mind. However, during his math work, I noticed that he doesn’t always get balancing equations. He understands how to do the calculations, how to combine like terms, and use other skills needed to balance equations. However, he doesn’t always recognize that the equals sign in an equation means if you did something on one side of the equation, you must do the same on the other to maintain balance. This isn’t too surprising, since he is still working through some directional challenges related to his struggles with dyslexia. It is frustrating, however, and we've been working on recognition of the equals sign as creating two sides of the equation.

When I gave my son his first sheet of Balance Math to complete, he immediately knew how to work the problems. In fact, he was working the problems in his head faster than I was. Usually when new material is presented to him, he needs to go through examples and do a few problems. Balance Math was completely intuitive for my visual learner. It instantly clicked.

Balance Math &More Level 2 by Robert Femiano, includes some of the same activities as Balance Math along with two additional activities called Tic Tac Math and Inside-Out Math.  There is a 3-page sample at the website that will provide examples of the differing puzzles offered in the 38 activities.  There are three levels of this series, with Level 2 focusing on multiplication and division of whole numbers, with a few problems using fractions.

We focused on just the Tic Tac Math and the Inside-Out Math since we were already doing the Balance Math sets from the other book.  One thing I noticed with these types of problems was it wasn’t the math my son struggled with, but the sequencing and accuracy needed. My son is too quick to get frustrated with multi-step problems where the answer to one part is needed for another.  Part of this is because he is very much a big picture person and breaking things down into parts presents more of a challenge.  When adding that to a tendency to rush work and make silly errors, the outcome is one frustrated boy.  I noticed that both of these exercises forced him to practice both his sequencing and accuracy skills in a rather non-threatening and visual manner.  While he didn't enjoy the other activities in this book as much as the Balance Math, I appreciated that they provided some much needed practice in some weak areas.  I always mourn an incorrect answer because of silly calculation errors!

Both of these titles are reproducible for home or classroom use, which makes them a great value as the copyright legally allows use for multiple children. The pages are perforated to make copying convenient.

As expected, these are two titles that I can definitely recommend to those looking for some supplemental math materials. Balance Math Teaches Algebra is available for $14.99 and Balance Math and More Level 2 is available for $9.99. Explore many of the other products available from Critical Thinking Co. with the printable samples and software demos available. 

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Escape from Camp 14, Nothing to Envy

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
Last weekend, North Korea celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-Sung. It seems appropriate, then, that I should be just finishing up Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden ($16.05; Viking Adult, 2012). Recently, I read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick and had become intrigued with North Korea, especially since it has been in the news so often of late ($10.88; Spiegel & Grau; 2010). Before I read these two books on North Korea, I knew virtually nothing about this reclusive society.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West tells the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only known person to have ever been born in a North Korean prison camp and escaped to the west. Shin’s story is heart-breaking. He grew up not knowing love or tenderness, being constantly hungry and enduring regular beatings from camp guards, other children, and even his mother. In his early twenties, he discovers there is a world beyond the camp’s electric fence where food is plentiful and, against all odds, he survives his escape attempt and makes it to China, then to South Korea, and, eventually, the United States.

Shin’s story is told factually, without much sentiment or additional information about North Korea, except what is necessary for context. Likely, this is because the author, Harden, is a newspaper correspondent and accustomed to being concise. The book is a quick, linear read. Shin’s abnormal upbringing creates an emotional distance between him and the reader that makes it difficult for the reader to relate to the protagonist.

The book is appropriate only for upper-level high school students, seniors perhaps, as life within the camp was brutal and violent. For instance, on one occasion, Shin watched a teacher beat an elementary-school student to death with a lecture pointer. Escape from Camp 14 contains photographs of Shin and the leaders of the North Korean Kim Dynasty, as well as drawings of life within the camp. The drawings are very disturbing, including one of Shin, at thirteen, being roasted over live coals. Still, it gives readers a unique perspective on life within prison camps in general and North Korea in particular. I give the book four stars (out of five). While I find it difficult to say that I liked the book, it is well-written, informative, and fills a gap in knowledge about a clandestine part of the world.

I much preferred Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. This book chronicles six North Korean defectors and their lives within North Korea and immediately following their defections to South Korea over a span of fifteen years. One of the first things that shocks the reader is the photo of North Korea at night from space, like this one:

The country is so completely backward that its infrastructure is crumbling and electricity is only available in only the largest cities, and even then for only a few hours a day. The darkness is a good metaphor for the lack of information North Korean citizens have about the outside world. Nothing to Envy describes in detail what life is like for average citizens who live under the oppressive communist regime where even everyday necessities like food and soap are restricted, regulated, and distributed by the government. The book also describes the epiphanies, the moments, the defectors realize the government has lied and betrayed them. In addition, the book chronicles communism in southeast Asia, as China becomes a capitalist powerhouse and the USSR collapses in the early 1990s, and how it impacts North Korea and Kim Jong-Il’s reign.

Demick has chosen to focus on Chongjin, a crumbling, undesirable city in the northeast corner of the country because she felt that she could give readers a more realistic picture of life within North Korea if all of the defectors came from the same area. She could also cross-check facts this way. The book begins with two star-crossed lovers, much like Romeo and Juliet, who must meet in darkness because they are from different “castes” of society, Mi-Ran and Jung-Sang. It also follows:

Mrs. Song - a housewife who is a fervent regime supporter
Oak-Hee - Mrs Song’s rebellious daughter
Kim Hyuck – an orphan boy
Dr. Kim - a female doctor

and, as previously mentioned,
Mi-ran – a schoolteacher
Jun-sang - a promising college student and intellectual

My only complaint about this book is, at the beginning, it is difficult to follow because it bounces around between the defectors’ stories. It would have benefitted from a “cast of characters” list at the front. It takes a while before the reader is able to discern one character from another. However, this complaint is minor, and once the reader has the characters firmly affixed in her mind, the stories are haunting. For instance, when Dr. Kim escapes to China, starving and wet from the river crossing, she spies a bowl of rice on the ground. She has not seen rice for years, and cannot imagine why anyone would leave it on the ground. Then, she hears a dog bark. At that moment, she realizes that dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea.

While writing this review, I stumbled upon another’s review and thought it well written: . If you’d like more information about the book, I recommend reading this review. Although Nothing to Envy does not dwell on violence and there is only a mild romance, it is still only appropriate for high schoolers because of the harsh realities of the book, which takes place mainly during the famine of the 1990s where millions starve to death, including several characters’ family members. I highly recommend the book for high school students studying communism, world geography, economics, or North Korea, or for those who just need a dose of gratitude for their lives. I give the book five stars (out of five) for its poignant descriptions and ability to foster a strong emotional connection between the reader and the defectors.

The title Nothing to Envy comes from a North Korean children’s song: 
Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world,
Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party.
We are all brothers and sisters.
Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid,
Our father is here.
We have nothing to envy in this world.
It is heartbreakingly sad that North Korean schoolchildren are required to memorize and recite this song, while they are dying from malnutrition.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Win a Missions/Educational Trip to Italy

Well, I must say that Homeschool Mosaics certainly knows how to start things right with their first, and very awesome, giveaway!

There are 19 different ways to enter for a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to Italy, generously sponsored by Landry Academy.  I so wish that I could enter this giveaway, but I'm not eligible as a contributing writer to Homeschool Mosaics.  I would love, love, love for one of my readers to win, though!  You won't have a chance if you don't enter! Head on over to the giveaway and enter right now.  Then, check and make sure your passport is all ready to go!

Review: Prufrock Press

When I am exploring something new, I tend to be a researcher. I check out a stack of books, scour the interest, and talk to those with knowledge in the area.  It was no different when I started homeschooling and I discovered there is no shortage to materials on homeschooling, whether about the reasons, the methods, or a source of encouragement.  What I did find, however, is that there is a shortage of information on homeschooling gifted children.  Aside from a few titles scattered here and there, gifted education materials are often geared toward traditional teachers.  During my hunt for information, I discovered Prufrock Press, a leading publisher for gifted education resources. In addition to materials that can be applicable to any homeschool or classroom, Prufrock Press now has some homeschooling-specific resources as well.

I received a sampling of titles that may be of interest to homeschoolers for review, which included Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners by Cindy West, Free Resources for Elementary Teachers by Colleen Kessler, Math Dictionary for Kids By Theresa Fitzgerald, and an issue of Creative Kids Magazine.

When my stack of books arrived, the first title I picked up was Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners ($24.95). This is a brand new, and much needed, release for homeschoolers of gifted children.  Written by a 14-year veteran of homeschooling, this title covers many of the same topics that any other homeschooling title would, such as the benefits of homeschooling, choosing curriculum, record keeping, and college.  However, these topics are covered specifically with the gifted student in mind, which often changes the needed information and suggestions.  In addition, topics specific to gifted kids, such as early college considerations, are covered.  “Real-life examples” are included throughout for a more personal feel.  When I reached the author’s bio at the end of the book, I realized that I had “seen her around” online homeschooling circles and read her blog,  in the past, which added to the personal feel of sitting down with a fellow homeschoolers for some needed advice.

Don’t let the title Free Resources for Elementary Teachers ($12.95) fool you.  Homeschoolers will love this book!  Furthermore, I discovered that the author, Colleen Kessler, is a former school teacher turned homeschooler! Utilizing Internet resources, chapters are broken down by subject.  The name, URL, and a brief description is given for each resource listed. Chapter 10 even includes a list of homeschool bloggers who share great ideas and downloadable resources for the home or classroom. This looks to be a very handy reference tool for teachers and parents and is currently 20% off with the code FRES20.

Math Dictionary for Kids ($12.95) by Theresa Fitzgerald, is a guide that helps students quickly find definitions, illustrations and examples to help them solve math problems.  Intended for kids grades 4-9, this title includes terms and strategies in algebra, geometry, statistics, fractions and measurement.  This is a great tool to have on the shelf for reference during math work.

Do you have a creative writer in your home? Creative Kids Magazine, $19.95 for a 1-year subscription, is for kids, by kids.  Kids age 8-16 have the opportunity to have their artwork, stories, poems, and games published in this magazine written entirely by kids.  My daughter has been a subscriber of this magazine for a couple of years and has really enjoyed reading the work of other creative kids.

Head over to Prufrock press and check out their selection of resources for gifted education. In addition to educational resources, Prufrock has a whole selection of Parenting Resources to assist parents in meeting the needs of their gifted children.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Christian Kids Explore Chemistry

The Christian Kids Explore series, published by Bright Ideas Press, is a series of four science textbooks for grades 3-8.  Available subjects are: Biology, Earth and Science, Chemistry, Physics.  The Biology and Earth and Science texts are recommended for grades 3-6, and the Chemistry and Physics texts are recommended for grades 4-8.  I received a PDF version of the Chemistry text for this review. (Note: Currently only print versions are available for purchase.)


The Christian Kids Explore Chemistry text is broken down into five units with a total of 30 lessons.

  • Unit 1 : The Basics of Chemistry 
  • Unit 2: Atoms and Molecules 
  • Unit 3: The Nature of Chemistry 
  • Unit 4: States of Matter 
  • Unit 5: Organic Chemistry
A Table of Contents with the topics of each lesson is available on the Bright Ideas Press website. Each unit begins with a list of objectives, vocabulary words, and a materials list.  Lessons within each unit are broken down into the following sections:

  • Teaching Time – Presents the lesson material and concepts
  • Review It – Consists of five fill-in-the-blank review questions
  • Hands-on Time – Related activity to reinforce material and allow exploration
  • Think About It – Two to four questions to get students to think more about what they learned from the activity
Each unit has a Unit Wrap-Up, which includes twenty questions on the unit material, and an optional coloring page.

The recommended schedule is to cover one lesson a week over two days, 60-90 minutes each day. This particular text targets grades 4-8, and it is suggested that the teacher read the lesson in advance and present the material to younger students, where older students should be able to read and comprehend independently.

You may view sample pages from Lesson One to get a better idea of the structure for each lesson.  A materials list for the complete text is also available. You will notice that most of the items are likely already in your home or are otherwise very accessible.

Also included with the text is a Resource CD.  Categories of Lesson Plans, Reproducibles, Supply Lists, Literature, Catalog, and Contact are included.  I found the most useful of these resources to be the Lesson Plans, which also listed supplemental readings from the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia.

When I first looked over the text, I felt that the material may be on the light side for my 7th grader.  The lesson material is very short, often only a couple of pages. The review questions are exact quotes and unambiguous answers directly from the text.  Many of the hands-on activities don’t really compare actual lab experiments.

However, when I asked my son what he liked about the text, the first thing he mentioned was that the questions were straight-forward and not numerous.  This is an area where he’s been struggling with his current science curriculum, which tends to be very conversational with questions that aren’t always direct.  Even though my son knows the material very well, his black-and-white personality sometimes gets frustrated with the extra and unnecessary details.

Even though the lesson content is on the skim side, my son does better with shorter segments and having a just a few pages of new material per lesson gives him a sense of accomplishment.  The reading can easily be completed in one sitting, rather than needing to break it up over several days. There is something to be said for confidence. While I still feel that it is on the light side overall for a 7th or 8th grader and much more suited for a 5th or 6th grader as it, some of the later lessons do present more complicated material.  For older children, adding in some additional resources (e.g. the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia recommended in the Lesson Plans) would help build on the foundation provided in the text.  There are also additional resources listed in the Appendix, though may of those appear to be geared toward younger students.  If I were to use this with an older student, I would also consider additional resources for added experiments.

For the late elementary grades, the Christian Kids Explore series appears to be a very easy-to-use and thorough curriculum of introductory science topics from an unabashedly Christian perspective. Even though supplementation may be needed, depending on ability of the student, for mid-to-late middle schoolers, your older student may appreciate the clear language and shorter segments as an introduction and foundation to the topic.

Christian Kids Explore Chemistry is available at the Bright Ideas Press website for $39.95.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: The Graveyard Book

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
The first thing that struck me about The Graveyard Bookby Neil Gaiman was its similarities to Masterpiece Theatre, The Twilight Zone, and stories by Edgar Allan Poe ($7.99; HarperCollins; September 2008). The second thing that struck me was the illustrations. It’s unusual for a horror chapter book to have illustrations, and these are quite spooky—shadowy figures, smoke and mist, sharp knives, and such.

As the title suggests, the story is set in an English graveyard where the ghosts rescue a toddler from a man who has murdered his family. They raise the boy, called Nobody “Bod” Owens, and give him special privileges granted to those who have the Freedom of the Graveyard, such as being able to see in the dark and communicate with the dead. Bod learns not only Latin and history from those who have spoken and lived it, but also unique ghost skills, such as Fading and Dreamwalking.

Overall, the book is clever and entertaining. Readers who like fantasy and mystery will love The Graveyard Book. The writing is tight, crisp, and witty. The dialog between Bod and the ghosts is fabulous, as they speak in the tongues of their historical time periods. For example, “’T’aint healthy for a living body,’ said Mrs. Owens” (Gaiman 99). Characters are introduced with their headstone birth and death dates and other details. For instance:

“Poor little soul,” says Mistress Owens, taking the boy from her, and cradling him in her capable, if insubstantial arms. “I can’t say I didn’t worry, for I did. But he’s back now, and that’s all that matters.”...Doctor Trefusis (1870-1936, May He Wake to Glory) inspected it [Bod’s ankle] and pronounced it merely sprained....Josiah Worthington, Bart., who had been buried with his ebony walking cane, insisted on lending it to Bod, who had too much fun leaning on the stick and pretending to be one hundred years old (Gaiman 96). 

However, there is a dark side to the story. Readers who are offended by mentions of magic, witches, werewolves, or ghouls will not like this book. Spoiler Alert! Bod befriends a witch who was drowned and burned at the stake—“until I was nothing but blackened charcoal” (Gaiman 111)—who is buried in “unconsecrated ground” outside of the graveyard.

Moreover, there is one scene in particular where Bod is dragged against his will through the ghoul-gate and into a place that is eerily reminiscent of the bowels of hell—a hot, barren desert filled with evil-doers. Eventually, he is saved by flying bird-like creatures (angels?) and The Hounds of God (werewolf-type shape-shifters).

The first few pages in which the evil man Jack kills Bod’s living family are the most violent, but the violence is cold, calculating, and so subtle that younger readers may not even understand what has happened for several pages: “The knife had done almost everything it was brought to the house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet” (Gaiman 2) and “He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly colored bedroom...That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of” (Gaiman 3). While there is some threatened violence later in the book, this scene is the most brutal and intense.

This Newbery Award Winner for 2009 is intended for readers ten years old and up, but I would give a strong caution that it is not for those students who are easily frightened. The book is a suspenseful horror story. While it is not gruesome, it is hardheartedly fear-provoking at times. Bod’s friends and adopted family are ghosts, so death does not seem scary in the book. In fact, the living are much more frightening and unpredictable than the dead in this tale. But there are scary scenes and those readers with vivid imaginations may end up with nightmares. In my opinion, the target age range is twelve year old and up. If you have a brave reader who likes fantasy, The Graveyard Book is a creative, ingenious tale. I enjoyed the novel and give it five stars (out of five).

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: Looking at Lines (AIMS Education Foundation)


Until this past fall when I was assigned a review of AIMS Earth Book, I had never heard of AIMS. AIMS, which stands for Activities Integrating Mathematics and Science, is a non-profit organization.  It has been publishing hands-on instructional materials that build conceptual understanding in mathematics and science since its beginning in 1981 with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

You'd think after being around for 30+ years and providing materials specifically geared toward hands-on learning, that AIMS would have been more familiar to this veteran homeschooling mom of a kinesthetic learner. However, while they do have one product that specifically mentions homeschoolers as the target audience, AIMS has been more popular among traditional teachers and underutilized among homeschoolers.  A friend of mine recent wrote an article about The Great Divide among resources targeted toward either traditional schools or homeschools. In the article she writes:
Another surprise that I observed is that non-homeschoolers tend to know and use resources marketed to schools, while homeschoolers tend to know and use resources marketed to homeschoolers, and often, neither side knows what little gems the other has to offer.
AIMS is definitely one of those "little gems" that homeschoolers should be exploring.

This time, I received the print version of Looking at Lines for review. Looking at Lines, covering algebraic concepts, is geared toward grades 6-9.

Introduce algebraic concepts in their natural setting with activities drawn from real-world phenomena. Covers three sub-groups of linear functions: proportional relationships, non-proportional relationships with positive slopes, and non-proportional relationships with negative slopes.
Thirty-two activities are provided within three sub-groups and 232 pages. All of the student pages in the book are also provided on a CD in PDF form for easy printing. A 31-page sample, including a complete Table of Contents, is available for viewing.


While users can pick and choose activities and the order of exposure, it is recommended that students start with those activities in Part One in order to build a foundation. My son is currently in Pre-Algebra and the earlier activities seemed best suited to his current level.  Interestingly enough, the very first activity was about Celsius and Fahrenheit conversions, which happens to be the very concept that is being covered in his current math program. The activity guides students through the process of determining the proper equation to figuring out one measurement when given another by having students graph and analyze temperatures using a standard thermometer. Similar activities in Part One involve analyzing measurements and conversions of jumbo versus standard paperclips and inches versus centimeters.  Of course, students can simply be given conversion factors for their math work, but these activities help them understand them by doing, given them a better foundation.

Having now reviewed both science and math activity books for AIMS, I've found the math activity book is much easier to adapt classroom activities to one for a single student.  The materials are not as involved, and the activities can easily be done by one student with a teacher to guide.  Each activity gives very detailed information for the teacher on the goals of the activity and how to best provide direction for the student. I am now taking a much closer look at the AIMS math resources and Activity Books for supplemental math resources.

Looking at Lines is available for $24.95 in either a PDF version or print version with CD at the AIMS website.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Write with WORLD


I imagine many of you may be familiar with the Christian news magazines for Pre-K through adults from God's WORLD Publications.  These magazines present relevant, current events from a Christian worldview.

Now, imagine this same approach with a writing curriculum.  The result is the soon-to-be released Write with WORLD.


Write with WORLD is a two-year middle school writing curriculum from the publishers of God's WORLD News and WORLD Magazine. I received the pilot Year One materials, consisting of the Parent/Teacher book and the Student book, which is scheduled to be available in its final form this summer.  The final version will also include online content and a website for updated examples, writing prompts, teacher forum, and published student work.

Rather than a single author, Write with WORLD was developed by education and media professionals who recognized the need for a solid, middle school writing curriculum focused on producing strong writers who were also discerning, critical thinkers. Read more about the authors and their professional backgrounds here.

Write with WORLD does not focus on mechanics and remediation of writing.  Instead, it is a combination of learning writing skills, honing critical thinking, and analyzing worldview wrapped up into one curriculum. Grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary are interwoven into the lessons.

The first year's curriculum is divided into four units, each containing four lessons.  The topics for each lesson are listed below.

Unit 1- Reading Images and Advertisements, Comparative Reading: Sentences, Comparative and Critical Reading: Paragraphs, Developing Critical Readers: Essays

Unit 2 - The Paragraph, Composing and Linking Sentences, Creating Focus and Arrangement, Linking Paragraphs: Transitions and Logic

Unit 3 - (Writing Autobiography) Reporting Facts, Creating Character, Developing Ideas, Composition

Unit 4 - (Crafting Narratives) Developing a Point of View, Showing Versus Telling, Narrative with a Purpose, Writing a Fictional Narrative

Each lesson is broken down into five "capsules".  In order to complete the lessons, the students will need a good dictionary, a thesaurus, a "Writer's Journal", and various household items (e.g. note cards, glue stick, photos, colored pencils).  The Writer's Journal can be a simple notebook used to record thoughts and written work from the lessons.

A sample lesson is available for viewing on the website.

I found Write with WORLD well structured and visually appealing.  With the Capsule breakdown, there is no question of where to begin and end an assignment or lesson. Consistency among the lessons with reoccurring features, such as The Professor's Office, The Right Word, World Wisdom, and Style Time give structure to the varying topics.  I appreciate the use of writing examples, thoughtful discussion, and the focus on critical thinking throughout the text. The tone is conversational and directed at the student, but not at all dumbed down or juvenile.

The Teacher/Parent book is a copy of the Student book, with notes and guidance in the margins. Low-stakes grading is encouraged in order to keep the focus on the process of writing.  While the lessons in the book are directed toward the student, a key part of the program is regular conversation with a guiding parent. Although the instructional tips in the Teacher/Parent book were very relevant and helpful, sufficient knowledge in the area of writing is needed in order to best utilize the suggestions.  Many of the exercises focus on the process and thinking skills. However, a parent who struggles with writing may have some trouble recognizing weak areas in the mechanics of a struggling student's writing since that is not a focus of the program.

While it is not live yet, I really like the idea of a website (launching in September) for students and teachers.  A website provides the opportunity for students to publish their work and will also offer support for teachers. I think such a site will add much to the program by keeping it current and giving students an outlet and purpose for their writing.

I have two very different students with very different needs when it comes to writing instruction. One uses writing as a method to connect, explore, and share thoughts. The process of writing is natural and enjoyable.  The other views writing as a necessary evil and painful alternative to doing and speaking. Write with WORLD is definitely more suited to my natural writer, now in high school, because it encourages students to go far beyond the mechanics of writing. The program hones critical thinking skills as much as it does writing skills; therefore, students that are fairly comfortable with the writing process will get the most out of the program. I think my natural writer would have enjoyed this program in middle school.

My reluctant middle-school writer is not yet to the point where he can focus on the process of writing and critical thinking skills at the same time.  He is still working on structure and how the pieces go together. I liken it to learning how to build versus learning how to design.  He does not yet have the mechanics needed to use the style techniques and keep up with the pace of Write with WORLD.  I do, however, think this may be a suitable program for him in a couple of years, perhaps as an early high school writing curriculum.

Write with WORLD will be available for shipment this summer, but can be ordered now at the Learn with World website for $95 per year when ordering the Year One and Year Two curriculum individually, or for $165 when purchasing both years together.  In addition to the Teacher/Parent and Student books, online access is included with your purchase.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Esperanza Rising

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
I speak Spanish and I lived in Southern California for six years and Mexico for a summer, so the book Esperanza Rising by Pam Mu┼łoz Ryan resonated powerfully with me ($6.99, Scholastic, 2002). This historical fiction is a coming-of-age novel about twelve-year-old Esperanza Ortega, a rich landowner’s daughter from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who is forced to flee to the United States when her father is killed by bandits in 1930. After living with servants on the lush El Rancho del las Rosas estate, Esperanza struggles to adjust to life as a farm worker, a campesina, during the Great Depression.

The chapters are named after produce that the families harvest—(Las Uvas, Grapes; Los Melones, Cantaloupe; Las Cebollas, Onions; etc.)—which demonstrates the people’s connection with the land, whether rich or poor. The story contains vivid, historically- and geographically-accurate details. The author is of Latina-descent and grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, where the story is set, picking many of the produce she describes.

Overall, the language is easily-accessible and suitable for nine-year-old readers and above. There are lots of Spanish words—two or three per page—but they are always explained clearly within the text, such as “She smelled cafe and chorizo. The coffee and sausage made her stomach growl and she tried to remember when she had last eaten” (Ryan 106).

The book contains very little violence and no inappropriate romantic scenes. It is suitable as a read-aloud for all but the youngest of children. This does not mean the book is simplistic, though. On the contrary, Esperanza Rising has lots of fodder for important discussion, including questions of race, how to define wealth, whether or not to unionize and strike, who has rights when it comes to immigration (legal and illegal), one’s duty to share with those less fortunate, and others. For instance, a poor widow with eight children, says:

I am poor, but I am rich. I have my children, I have a garden with roses, and I
have my faith and the memories of those who have gone before me. What more
is there? (Ryan 76) 

This book would make an excellent novel for a book discussion group. It will likely appeal to girls more than boys, by virtue of the fact that the primary protagonist is a girl. However, it is not a “girly” story and boys will like it if they can look beyond the passages about dolls and crocheting. I strongly recommend Esperanza Rising and grant it five stars (out of five) for its accurate geographical and historical depictions, significant social messages, and descriptive writing. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish, and in the end, that is what we all seek.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.
*Contains affiliate links.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: TruthQuest History


When I first started homeschooling, I selected a popular history program that utilizes living books.  I loved the books that came with the program, but I had trouble keeping up with the schedule.  To be honest, it wasn’t the program at all.  I’m sort of an all or nothing personality, and that schedule simply fell into the nothing category.  Those books, though, still hold a spot on our shelves and have for many years.  I often send my son to that particular bookshelf for his reading selection and mark “history” off the list of material covered for the day.

Though he’s being fed lots of great historical literature, I often feel it isn't enough and he’s still missing some framework that a more structured program would provide. I recently was given the opportunity to review a history program that is very flexible, but provides a framework to build understanding -  TruthQuest History. There are total of ten TruthQuest History guides for grades 1-12. The guide I received was Age of Revolution II (American/Europe, 1800-1865), for grades 5-12.

PhotobucketThe guide is broken down into 50 sections of various topics within the time period. You can find a Table of Contents for each available guide at the website.  Each section begins with a commentary, written by author Michelle Miller, intended to set the stage for the topic and time. TruthQuest History approaches history not as the story of mankind, but rather “the story of God’s initiation and our response”. The commentaries explain key influences, both historical events and spiritual conditions, of the time. This information is presented in a very casual and conversational manner and is anywhere from a few sentences to a couple of pages in length. Scripture from a variety of translations is often included.

Following the commentary is a selection of titles covering the topic of that section.  Michelle Miller weaves her commentary around interesting people and many of the sections are biographical. For example, in the section about the California Gold Rush, a sub-section with several titles on Levi Strauss, who started out selling pants to miner, is included. One of my children really needs unusual and interesting stories of people to pull together the big picture of history, so seemingly insignificant sections like this are very useful.

Even though the guide I received is for grades 5-12, recommendations for as early as K-3 are provided among the more advanced titles. A handful of sections even include audio and video recommendations, as well as titles with hands-on activities.It is not the expectation that all titles are read nor even all sections are covered.  In fact, even the author has not read all of the titles.  Notations are provided on whether or not the book was in print at the time of the writing of the guide, the independent reading grade level, as well as particular recommendations or content warnings. 

For those that prefer to follow a “spine” text, several suggestions are made and integrated into the suggested readings.  The spine listing for Age of Revolution II is here.

In addition to the readings, there are eleven ThinkWrite writing exercises. Many of these exercises don’t have “right” answers, but require the student to reflect and think.  An appendix does include suggestions of the points some answers should include.  A couple of example exercises are:
Find a good definition of free enterprise, but then go beyond to give a quick explanation for the basis of that freedom as we’ve discussed.  Can you see how it contributes to scientific and industrial creativity?
You’ll be old enough to vote before you know it!  Any thoughts on how you’ll handle this precious and awesome responsibility?
You can find a sample of the Age of Revolution II guide, which includes some suggestions on how to use the guides.

What I most like about TruthQuest is the flexibility it offers, while still providing framework for the student.  There are no suggested schedules, no daily reading assignments, no questions to answer, and no tests.  It is very much a history resource buffet – take what you want, leave what you don’t, and feel free to sample.

Another point for flexibility is the multiple levels offered in one guide. The guide I received is targeted to grades 5-12, an already wide span.  However, books for younger grades are included in every section.  Even though younger siblings may not benefit as much from the commentary, the guide provides title suggestions helps coordinate the younger kids with what the older kids are studying.

There are a few disadvantages. Advance planning will be needed to acquire the titles.  Since the guide is not dependent on any one particular title, availability of certain titles isn't detrimental.  In fact, it is suggested that after reading the commentary any title of the topic is just fine.  Regardless, the interloan service through your library will definitely be utilized.  In the case of the Levi Strauss section mentioned earlier, five of the six titles listed were available through our library system, but none were at my particular library.  I would suggest planning several weeks ahead in order to make sure all your titles arrive in time.  Also, some kids (or parents) may not appreciate the conversational tone and loose structure, especially if they are used to textbooks and comprehension questions.

Overall, I really like the approach of TruthQuest and the flexibility it provides. In addition, a very active Yahoogroup, HIStoryQuesters, is available as support and a source of ideas for using TruthQuest in your home. The guides are available for $19.95 - 34.95, depending on the guide and format, at

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Crossing the Tracks

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
Some books are full of action and other books are what I call “thinking books.” In other words, some action occurs, but the majority of the book is about the internal life of the protagonist—her thoughts, her feelings, her reactions, her beliefs, her internal struggles between what to do and say, etc. Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber is this type of “thinking” book ($8.99; Margaret K. McElderry Books; Reprint edition; May 24, 2011). The historical fiction follows the feelings and fortunes of fifteen-year-old Iris Baldwin in Wellsford, Missouri in 1926. The setting is, primarily, a farm house and surrounding farm. There are only a handful of characters. And, yet, despite this rather tame setting and time period, the
book is compelling and interesting. I finished it in two days.

Crossing the Tracks is a coming-of-age novel about a girl whose widowed father has hired her out as a live-in companion to an elderly woman. Iris is shipped off to Dr. Nesbitt and his mother’s farm in the middle of nowhere while her daddy heads off to Kansas City with his new girlfriend to open a new shoe store. Iris is a girl who feels lost and unloved, except by her friend and beau Leroy. Iris finds a home at the Nesbitt’s and begins to feel as though they are a family of sorts. The farm, however, has a wicked tenant farmer, Cecil Deets and his venomous daughter Dot, who cast a shadow over any happiness Iris feels.

This novel, which was a William C. Morris Debut Award finalist, is well-suited for mature young women. While I enjoyed the book, some of the subject matter may not be appropriate for readers under thirteen. Iris starts her period shortly after she reaches the Nesbitt household, so there are several chapters dealing with this new development and the related embarrassing logistics of living with strangers far from town without feminine supplies.

Spoiler Alert! Secondly, parts of the plot hinge on adult themes, such as domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy, drunkenness, and incest. This is 1926, so any scandalous matter is quickly “swept under the rug,” but the suggestions are there for the astute reader. Moreover, there are very subtle hints about homosexuality. One scene has Iris asking some imaginary Greek goddesses for advice, which strikes me as a little like praying to false gods, but it is only mildly offensive because she doesn’t actually pray and it is an isolated incident.

Lastly, Iris and her boyfriend have a couple of kissing scenes. Overall, the romantic scenes are tender and mild—light kissing on a back porch, lying on the grass together looking at the stars, back massages—, but a naive student might be shocked by these unchaperoned encounters.

While the novel contains all of these potentially explosive themes, it isn’t a racy novel. In fact, it is a rather sweet story, with realistic situations. It would be a good book for a young woman who was dealing with the death of a loved one because there is a lot of discussion of grief and loving suggestions for how to grieve, such as this scene between Iris and Mrs. Nesbitt who has lost her husband and other son:

One by one, my hands and the rag cherish her things for her. 
 After a while she says, “I find that dusting brings out memories, Iris, the way
rubbing a magic lamp releases the genie.”
I nod to be polite, but...but what if your genies are asleep, or dead? What if your memories never had a chance to get made?
“My mother has passed on too.”
Mrs. Nesbitt looks heavenward, her eyes glistening. “We’ll need to dust together every day” (Stuber 44).

The book is full of rich and eloquent imagery. For instance: “The wind explores the morning, fills my sleeves, twirls up my skirt, ruffles the robins, then switches destinations, and so do we. As we crest a hill I feel the earth release us, then hug us tight going down. Emerald corn fields rustle under the scalloped telephone wires” (Stuber 85).

I liked this book in a quiet way. The vivid language and tranquil setting are peaceful. The action satisfies my desire for justice and invokes emotion. I rate it four stars (out of five) and recommend it for mature middle school and high school young women.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Prufrock Press Giveaway Package!

Homeschool Mosaics is LIVE today!  I talked a bit about this new resource for homeschoolers last week.

As part of the celebration, there is a huge FB launch party including a ton of prizes to win.  To go with my column, Prufrock Press offered up the following package:

Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners by Cindy West

Math Dictionary for Kids by Theresa Fitzgerald

Free Resources for Elementary Teachers by Colleen Kessler

Creative Kids issue

I will be posting a review on each of these great products in the near future, but you will have a chance to win the whole package tonight by attending the Homeschool Mosaics' Launch Party from 8-10 pm EST.  There are over 60 other prizes available, including:

Landry Academy 2-Day Intensive of Choice
Apologia Full Course DVD
Tim Hawkins DVDs
In Hands of a Child Super Membership
Homeschool Digest Magazine Subscription
Homeschool Horizons Magazine Subscription
$10 Starbucks gift card
$25 Disney gift card
Trigger Memory Systems
$50 Curr-Click gift certificate
Pear Educational Products
Read Naturally products
Master Books history curriculum
Mystery of History MP3 download
Professor in the Box Principles of Marketing
and more...

Come on out to win some prizes and talk to the column writers. I hope to see you there!