Exploring STEM Electives in Choosing Possible Career Paths

During the last several weeks, our son has had the benefit of using and reviewing the Think Like An Architect course from Innovators Tribe. This course turned out to be so much more than we had even originally thought. And we were expecting something impressive from the time we knew that we would be reviewing this curriculum.

There are so many career options available to both boys and girls in the STEM areas.  It is hard to really know whether these career choices will be a good fit until you get elbow deep in them.  When possible our family loves to use high school elective credits to explore possible career choices for our children.  First time exploration of this after your child gets to college can be a very costly journey.

Innovators Tribe uses an online platform to host its classes.  The Homeschool Review Crew had the opportunity to review Think Like an Engineer and Think Like an Architect.  Both of these classes are excellent survey courses and can count for either a half or full credit hour elective depending on how much time your child invests in the projects.  A child with a lot of passion and interest could put in the hours to make that full credit.  These courses are designed for students in Grades 6 through 12.  Is this applicable for true high school credit?  My answer would be yes.  Keep reading along and I think you will start to see why I think so.

Thinking Like An Architect: The Course


As a parent I loved the layout of this course. The student begins with a review of different architectural styles and periods.  The first assignment had me thrilled in that my son needed to not only pick his favorite style and determine why it was his favorite, but he also had to build a PowerPoint presentation with specific requirements for the course.  He needed to have a title page, images, and a final text slide with his rationale for why he chose the period he did.  This may not seem like a big deal, but developing presentations is a skill that a lot of homeschool students do not do often enough.  This is an assumed skill when our children reach college level studies. I loved that he had to use a tool like this as part of an elective credit.

Some other topics presented before getting into the real hands-on application were an understanding of different career paths within the architecture field as well as the importance of math for this profession.  It is not all just about drawing.  Even if your child never becomes an architect, I loved that I had a solid example for my son to see “when will I ever use this in real life”.

The other topics that truly cover the majority of the course are on the tools of an architect including an architect’s scale, blueprints, and the designing of the student’s dream home using real design software that comes with the course.

The course has a thorough materials list as well as study guide pages that assist the student in taking notes as they view the videos and presentations for the class.  This was what we considered the “book learning”.  It was a truly a small fraction of the total learning experience. Most of the learning happened by doing!

Our Thoughts

As I have already mentioned, I loved that this was truly a survey course related to architecture.  My son loved that it was a lot more doing than writing.  It wasn’t about architecture – it truly was in putting your hand to the page and your fingers to the keyboard in being the architect.

The software was easy to navigate and use. We were a bit intimidated at first with the design software, but found that the instructions provided in the course really got us off to a good start.  My son ran with it from there.

Through the use of Think Like An Architect, our son has gotten a taste of what work would be like as an architect.  It has given him a lot of food for thought about whether he wants to pursue this as a career option.  For this we are thankful and is not something that a child can walk away from using just any elective course. He is enthused about finishing up his design of his dream home.  I am interested to see if he builds in space for his mom to come visit!

As always, I encourage you to check out the other reviews from families that used Think Like An Architect as well as Think Like An Engineer.  Think Like A Carpenter is in the works and will be available soon from Innovators Tribe.

Thinking Like an Architect or Engineer {Innovators Tribe Reviews}
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Civil War Studies with Home School in the Woods

The study of the Civil War is always a tricky topic with my family heritage being from New York and my husband’s from Mississippi.  For this reason, I was thrilled when we were able to obtain a copy of Time Travelers American History Study: Civil War from Home School in the Woods.  Journey with us as I provide an overview of this product and our thoughts as we reviewed it.


The Unit

The Time Travelers American History Study: Civil War is part of the History Through The Ages series from Home School in the Woods.  It has 25 days of study that can be spread over 5-10 weeks.  Although the study is designed to be used with students in grades 3-8, it can easily be expanded with additional resources to be used at the high school level.  This is exactly how we used this resource with our son who is a high school freshman.


The downloadable files are formatted into easy to follow menus.  Each lesson is broken into three sections within the menu item for that lesson: text pages, project pages, and masters for the lesson.  The text pages are the base information for the lesson that contains the teaching content.  There are generally 2-3 text pages per lesson.  The project pages contain a summary of the activities and directions for completing them.  The masters are the actual pages to print for each of the activities for each lesson.  I chose to print the text and project pages, but these could easily be used from your computer without printing.

This Civil War unit certainly covers the issue of slavery, but there is also so much more.  Many resources equate the Civil War with slavery while in reality there were many other issues at play.  These other factors as well as battle strategies, life during those times, and different aspects of military life are all covered.

What We Did:

Prior to undertaking lessons for the day, I would pre-print the text pages, project pages, and the masters for the activities that we would be doing that day.  Days 1-4 of each week each contained new learning material and activities.  Day 5 would be an opportunity to complete activities from Days 1-4 that we did not have time to get to, more thoroughly complete activities we began but could expand upon, and also contained FactFile Cards for vocabulary, significant events from the week, or other terms or concepts to review.

We would begin our lesson by reading together the text pages.  These pages were written in dialogue that sounded very conversational and really brought the events to life.  My son who is normally bored with traditional textbook reading was hooked by the story-like nature of the text pages.  These were accented by the inclusion of primary source documents, such as the inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln.  Using primary source documents allows you to get to know the man behind the event and not just what may have transpired.

A copy of the Gettysburg Address included as one of the primary source documents in the study.

Some days we completed all of the activities within a given lesson and on other days we were selective in the activities we were going to complete.  In doing this unit with our high school aged son, we spent little time on the copywork that was provided.  There was a lesson that contained information on the dress of women during the time that did not grab our son’s interest.  However, the activity that allowed him to put together overlays of the uniforms that various soldiers wore and their significance or history was a much bigger hit.


I truly loved that we were free to personalize the study to fit our interests and level without feeling like we failed in some way by not completing every single activity/master.  On most days, we spent approximately 60 minutes on the daily lessons and activities combined.  There were some days that our time on this Civil War study exceeded that because of interest.  For example, we studied the significant role of the flag bearers as a major source of communication on the battle front.  Our learning took us outside where our son took on the role of a flagbearer and sent messages using a flagpole we had at home.  He soon realized not only the importance of this job, but also the physical toll it took in waving a heavy flag for an extended time in sending messages to his comrades.

Some of the other activities that we did each day were placement of figures and events on a timeline, mapwork outlining and sequencing the battles in the war, and lapbook activities.

One of the things that this study brought out in our son that I previously was unaware of was his love for cooking.  He prepared us a meal of Sausage & Apples from a recipe that was included in Day 10 of the study along with biscuits and scrambled eggs.  He looked forward to the 5th day of each week where new recipes were presented.  Because of our mixture of Yankee and Rebel blood in our family lines, he was interested to do a little extra research to find that Sausage and Apples was a favorite of troops specifically in Virginia.

Loving our Civil War Cooking!
Loving our Civil War Cooking!

To bring the unit to a close, there is a planned Jamboree when the 25 lessons have been completed.  This is a time to make a feast from the different recipes provided, dress in time appropriate costumes (instructions for making these are included in the activities in the unit), and even play corn cob checkers which was another hands-on activity.  It is an opportunity to take the whole family back in time and create your own living history.

Our Thoughts:

We would definitely give a thumbs up to Home School in the Woods on the job they have done in presenting the Civil War through their Time Travelers American History Study: Civil War unit.  It is a great survey of this critical period in U.S. History.  Students will not only receive an overview of the Battle Between the States, but start to live it through the wide variety of crafts, lapbook activities, cooking, and other activities.  Because this study is generally intended for use with those in grades 3-8, we did add in pieces of literature, audiobooks, documentaries and additional internet research to increase the depth of study for our high schooler.  It is in adding these additional elements that it truly could become a 10 week study while still doing history each day even for younger learners.

The freedom to choose from a breadth of activities allowed our son to explore areas of interest to a greater degree and also cover the material in the time we had allotted without cutting out critical elements.

The Civil War unit is just one in the History Through the Ages.  Home School in the Woods has other series and products that may be of interest as you explore both World History and history from all periods of time.  A couple years back we had the opportunity to review the Great Empires study from their Activity Studies.  A copy of our review can be found here.  We encourage you to stay tuned in the coming weeks as we have the fortune to be also be reviewing their new Project Passport World History Study on Ancient Egypt.  A full list of their products can be found here.

So the next time you have a history unit that you would love to explore using lapbook activities, primary source documents, crafts, cooking, timelines, and maps, I would encourage you to consider the vast array of studies from Home School in the Woods.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product described above in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any way.  All of the opinions shared in this review are mine or those of my family members.  This is being disclosed in accordance with FTC Regulations.

Supplements for Math and Language Arts

There is nothing better than when you find curriculum for your core subjects that really works for your family. But even when that happens there are times when you feel like you just need a little extra practice to reinforce concepts between the problems or exercises provided in your text. At this point, if we are honest, we weigh out the benefits of the extra practice with the effort of having to come up with what to have our children use. Our family just completed our last product review for the 2014 TOS Review Crew in using the supplemental Math and Language Arts resources from IXL. During this review, we focussed primarily on the 5th grade Math and Language Arts, but this on-line product includes supplemental Math practice and review for PreK through Grade 12 and Language Arts support for grades 2 through 8. The company’s website does mention that Language Arts support for grades 9 and 10 should be available soon.

What We Received:

For this review, we were provided with access to the full range of both math and language arts resources for the grades available at this time. Our family utilized the Grade 5 practice sections for both subject areas. I also had an opportunity to log in and look to see what the content area looked like for the other grade levels that we were not using.

The IXL products are designed to be supplements to what you are already doing with your main curriculum in this area. It does not replace your primary curriculum. This was an adjustment for our family when we first starting using it in that it was just odd that there was not a real teaching component. IXL was developed to help reinforce learning that should have already occurred whether your child is homeschooled or in public school. Yes, this is a tool that is also sold to public schools for use. For this reason, it is aligned with state standards. As a homeschool family, we generally tend to be very independent from our local school system, but I have to admit that when I was able to see my son performing well in IXL when doing the work aligned with the state’s standards for his grade level, I did have a bit of a sigh of relief. We are right where we need to be and maybe a bit ahead. Yeah!

The scope and sequence of skills reviewed in both Language Arts and Math seemed to be thorough and on target for each grade level. Upon entering the section for each subject, the first screen shows all of the individual standards grouped in sections with very descriptive titles. This made it quite easy to identify right where we wanted to start our practice for the day.

The IXL products are on-line resources. They are accessible through your family’s desktop or laptop computer with an internet connection. IXL also has an app available for mobile devices with internet connectivity for use when on the go. The subscription price for IXL is $79 per year for the first subject purchased and an additional $50 per year to add on the second subject for the first child in your family. If you wish to add on additional children, the cost increases by $20 per child. Families can also subscribe on a monthly basis at a rate of $9.95 per month for the first subject with an additional $2 fee for each additional child. The subscription is not tied to a grade level, so you can have your child work at whatever grade is appropriate for their current skills.

How We Used it:

As I shared earlier, we used this tool primarily with our son who is working at a fifth grade level in his normal curriculum. Our current Math curriculum uses a spiral approach to learning so there are days when I feel like some additional problems just on our new topic would be helpful. We found this to be an excellent use of the IXL resources. There were also days when we found ourselves on the go. Being able to take our iPad along, he was able to do some Math and Language Arts review in the car or while sitting at his sisters’ ball practices or games. With some verbal instruction from myself, there were days that we did cover new sections that we had not covered in his regular curriculum to keep progressing with our learning.

When you enter the IXL website, you will have one login for your family and then set up subaccounts for each of your children that will be using the tool. They can pick their own icon and password to keep their work private from a competitive sibling. Because we were specifically using this tool for targeted review and extra practice, I would generally find the topic I wished for our son to review and then set him loose with the tool. He recently was covering the converting of fractions to decimals in his regular math curriculum.  In picking this specific skill in IXL, this is an example of the screen he saw


If he got the answer correct after selecting the proper answer and hitting submit, it would greet him with “That’s Great” or “Right On” and then take him to the next question. The questions grew in difficulty as he progresssed through the question set within a topic. If he got the answer wrong, a review screen similar to this was provided. After reviewing, it took him to additional questions. I noticed in experimenting with the tool myself that when you entered back into the questions, it actually decreased the difficulty just a little so that the student would have success before hitting the more difficult questions for a second try.


Once the student reaches a score of 100 accumulated points, it provide a Congratulatory screen and then takes them to their awards.  As shown below, this screen slowly reveals different stickers on a grid as they accomplish additional skills. The students are also awarded ribbons along the way.


There is also a reports section.  This section provides valuable information under the following categories:

  • Status Update
  • Usage
  • Performance
  • Trouble Spots
  • Progress
  • State Standards

The Language Arts section is set up very similarly to the math section. Allow me to provide a couple of screen shots from the Grade 5 Language Arts material as well.



Our Thoughts:

I have to admit that it took a bit for me to move past that this was not meant to be a teaching tool. After all, it had all the same topics as my son’s primary curriculum for Language Arts as well as Math. Once I got past this, I found that there were definitely benefits and uses for this resource in our homeschool experience. Here are some of the ones I came up with:

  • Extra practice on a topic covered in their normal daily work that just is not sticking
  • Confidence building in developing skills and even showing mastery of things covered the previous year
  • A way to keep moving forward either through review and working through new skills with my direct instructions when we are on the go
  • As an excellent review tool to keep skills mastered during school breaks

The way in which the questions increased in difficulty even within a specific skill was a real bonus in always pushing the student to challenge their current skill.

Another challenge I had initially was my lack of confidence in knowing where to have our son start. There is no diagnostic tool within the IXL products, but this is because it is not meant for covering new material. The skills covered within each grade level truly do align with the corresponding grade level in most major curriculum so if your child is working at a fifth grade level, he should find consistency with the topics reviewed in the Grade 5 section. The wonderful thing is that he is not limited to just access Grade 5. If you feel that extra practice on Grade 4 materials to really build confidence is what is needed, travel back to Grade 4.  If he is a child that is very self-motivated allow him to venture to new topics and the next grade level as a way of simply exploring and using problem solving skills to broaden his skill set.

IXL really does do an excellent job of covering the breadth of topics covered in these core subject areas. As a supplemental tool with this scope and the ability to pick a specific skill set to work on, it gets a huge thumbs up from this mom. I loved the clarity with which the topics were labelled that made this even easier when we were on the go.

Be sure to check out what our other Crew Members had to share in using all different grade levels of both the Math and Language Arts resources from IXL. And yes, we are thrilled to announce that our family will be part of the 2015 TOS Homeschool Review Crew. This is our last review in 2014, but we will be back in 2015.  In the meantime, be sure to visit to get updates on the farm, our schooling, and just the happenings with the Oaks and their growing saplings!

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The High School Science Dilemma

There are several popular science curriculum available to homeschool families entering the high school years. The challenge is that they are written with the student on a college-prep track in mind . What if your child is focusing more on pursuing a trade or entering the workforce after graduation? When we heard about Fascinating Education’s courses in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics that were designed for right brain learners we were intrigued. During the last month, we have had the opportunity to use Fascinating Biology and are providing this review from the perspective of homeschooling a high school student that will more than likely not pursue a college education post graduation.

The Course:

The Fascinating Biology course is actually the second course in the Fascinating Education series. Dr. Margulies, the creator of the curriculum, is also a neurologist. He has combined this knowledge set of how the brain processes information for learning as well as the fundamentals of science to develop a curriculum specifically with right brain learners and visual learners in mind. Being a scientist, he realizes that the basis of all life is found in Chemistry.  For this reason, the instructional path within Fascinating Education is Chemistry, Biology, and then Physics. There is a brief Chemistry subset of lessons that can be added on at the beginning of the Biology course for those that are starting with Biology prior to taking Chemistry.

Fascinating Biology is a full non-lab science high school course. It can also be completed by upper level middle school students. When considering the use of this course for middle school students, it is recommended to first use the Chemistry course. According to the vendor’s website, the course can be completed in 30 hours. Personally, our family found this to be a stretch and could easily see it expanded over a full school year especially if some lab instruction were added. Given the content in the course, the actual time it took to complete lessons, and in focusing on using this with our general high school student, I would consider this course to be equivalent of a full high school credit.

This course is an on-line resource. The lessons are a series of slideshows that are very graphical in nature. A full script of the video presentations is available for download or printing. There is also a end of unit test available both through the on-line module or as a pdf download.

The cost of a full year of access to the Fascinating Biology course is $79.

How We Used It:

We were using this course with our high school freshman. I was somewhat alarmed at first when I saw that it was only 19 lessons and still considered a full year course. After exploring, I realized that the creator of the curriculum was using lesson for what I would consider a unit or chapter. The first step we took was in printing off the script for the lesson/chapter. This is the word for word script for all the teaching that is shared in the video slideshows. These printed scripts were put into our son’s three-ring binder and he was set off with a pencil and highlighter in hand.

Main screen when entering the Fascinating Biology course on-line. Note the three buttons under each lesson for lesson, script, and test.

Each day, he was assigned a certain number of slides. We reviewed how to pick out important details and effective note-taking. As he watched the video presentations, the pause button was used frequently so he could stop the video while he hightlighted, jotted down his own notes, or sought out further explanation from me on something he did not understand. He generally did not have many questions and was able to narrate back to me at the end of the day’s work the things he had learned.

We would spend a few days reviewing the lesson/chapter prior to taking the test. There was a significant volume of content in each lesson. This was definitely not a watered-down science course filled with fluff.  Real learning was happening daily.

I encourage you to visit the product page for Fascinating Biology for a complete list of the topics covered as well as the opportunity to view a sample lesson as your child would if using this curriculum.

Our Thoughts After Using Fascinating Biology:

I really think that Dr. Margulies is on the right track in providing a curriculum for right brain learners and those looking for solid science instruction in high school that does not necessarily include all of the rigor of some college prep curriculum. This is a great resource to fill in the gap for those that want strong core science courses for their general high school student. The curriculum would also be wonderful for middle school students that want a rigorous high school training to use as a precursor for more advanced studies later.

My son seemed to really enjoy the format of the lessons. As a right brain learner, he really responded to the visual slideshow format. In having previously struggled with dyslexia, the ability to highlight the script and take brief notes was a winner as well.

The greatest challenge we found with this curriculum was not its thoroughness or scope of study, but in preparing for the test. In future revisions of the curriculum, we would encourage the folks at Fascinating Education to consider:

  • Adding a copy of the slide to the script for that slide. This would help with the visual recognition and association that helps to bring the right and left brain functions together further.
  • Integrate some “daily work” or questions at the end of the lesson in a similar format as the on-line tests that would help to reinforce the key things covered in the slides.
  • Add an optional experiment track on to the curriculum to bring in kinesthetic learning to really hit as many senses as possible for students that need this fully integrated learning approach.

All in all, I love knowing that I now have an option for my students that may not be pursuing a rigorous college-prep track. However, I do see that with the addition of some projects and labs, this too could be a wonderful curriculum for those planning on pursuing post-secondary education that are right brain learners.

As Christians, our family generally tries to use science curriculum that is written from a Creation, Young Earth perspective. The Fascinating Education materials are not written from this worldview, but I also did not feel that there was any strong indoctrination into an Evolution worldview either. This was really not a big issue for our family in using the Fascinating Education materials.

As always, I encourage you to see what our other members of the Review Crew had to share after using Fascinating Biology as well as Fascinating Chemistry and Fascinating Physics. Click on the graphic below to check out these reviews.

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G.A. Henty Audiobooks to Spice Up Your School

Many times, we use a unit study approach for science and history with one of our children.  He enjoys learning about all kinds of things, but not necessarily in the traditional textbook format.  We gather various types of resources to build units that fall in line with where he is at in his studies.  Our most recent addition was the use of With Lee in Virginia by G.A. Henty in audiobook form as well as the corresponding study guide published by Jim Hodges Productions. Let me share with you what we found as we delved right in.

The Products:

For this review, we received a physical MP3 CD of the unabridged version of G.A. Henty’s With Lee in Virginia as produced by Jim Hodges Productions.  This CD has 20 segments to correspond with the same number of chapters in the original text.  Each of the segments is between 25 and 40 minutes in length with a total playing time of 11 hours and 20 minutes when played in its entirety.  This CD will play on any MP3 compatible device.  It was developed for those ages 10 and above.  This applies to everyone in our family and I can say that everyone enjoyed it.

The corresponding study guide is a downloadable product in pdf format that can be purchased from Jim Hodges Productions website. udy guide is a total of 58 p For each chapter in the book, there are vocabulary words, reading comprehension questions, and related activities for your children to explore.  Within the study guide are also quizzes that can be given after completing the work for every five chapters.  This study guide is a total of 58 pages with the final 8 pages devoted to an answer key for easier grading.

The retail cost of the physical MP3 CD is $25.00.  For those that prefer to download the audiobook, you can save $7 by purchasing the download version for just $18.  The corresponding study guide currently sells for $12.  If after reading this review, you are still not sure if this will fit with your family, I would recommend visiting the product page here where you can download a sample of Chapter 12 from the audiobook.

So What Did We Think?

When we first received the CD and realized that it was truly the unabridged edition of Henty’s work, I was skeptical as to whether it would keep my children’s interest.  I want to emphasize that this is not an audiodrama with more of a storytelling feel with dramatic background music.  This MP3 audiobook is truly a reading of Henty’s title, With Lee in Virginia.  This was OK once everyone’s ears adjusted in having recently used audiodramas in our learning.  But please don’t mistake what I am saying.  This recording was not boring, after all it was a reading of a G.A. Henty book that is jam-packed with adventure.

I really liked the fact that there is a corresponding study guide.  This allows us to use this audiobook to fulfill part of our son’s American Literature requirement, while still bringing extra life to our history studies of the Civil War.  The audiobook could be used as a stand-alone version or used in conjunction with the printed text as an aid to children who would benefit from this extra sensory apguide was well put together with good judgment in my opinion of the vocabulary words highlighted and the ability to really pull the essence out of the book through the reading comprehension questions.  The activities at the end of the chapters really varied, but all seemed to be thought provoking.  The speed with which the student completes the book and study guide will really be dependent on how indepth they choose to explore the activities at the end of the each chapter.

All in all, I think Jim Hodges has done a great job of producing a quality audiobook product with a study guide to help really convert it from entertainment to study.  In a home where my husband and I are originally from different sides of the Mason Dixon, With Lee in Virginia provided a way to study the Civil War without bruising his daddy’s family roots.

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has been busy using and reviewing over 20 Henty audiobooks from Jim Hodges Productions.  Be sure to click on the link below to see what is being said about the other books reviewed.


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Adding Fun Into Your Schoolday

I think it is human nature to work more diligently when we know that a reward or something good will happen.  Having a motivation can go a long way.  That is exactly what the folks at Clued in Kids had in mind when they developed their treasure hunt packs for school aged children primarily in elementary and the lower middle school grades.  In providing a review of the products from Clued in Kids, we used both the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt (for ages 5 and up) and the Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt (for ages 4 and up).

The Treasure Hunts:

Clued in Kids has a large variety of treasure hunts available.  Some are physical products that can be shipped to you, but a large majority of the treasure hunts are pdf download files that you print yourself.  The two treasure hunts that we used could be printed on 8 sheets of paper, including the first page that contained the directions.  Both of our treasure hunts had a total of 12 clues.  Like any good treasure hunt, treasure is only found at the last clue.

The clues contained in the hunts were not always just clear directions or hints.  There were puzzles to decode, IMG_1581[1]things to do,IMG_1578[1] and places to search out.IMG_1579[1]


Each of the treasure hunts took about 15 minutes to set up.  Our son completed each hunt in about 20-25 minutes.  The length of the treasure hunt is somewhat extended because of the types of clues to solve and would also vary depending on the age of the child.  Each of the clues has a space for a name to be written in.  This makes the treasure hunts easy to use with a group.  The person setting up the treasure hunt can assign the clues based on their difficulty and the age of those participating.  This eliminates squabbles and allows a mixed age range of children to take part in the fun.

Both of the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt and the Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt sell for $5.99 on the Clued in Kids website.  By visiting the website, new subscribers to the company’s newsletter will automatically receive a free download of the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt that we used in with our son.

Our Thoughts:

This is a neat offering of products that are a lot of fun.  In receiving the printable form of the treasure hunts, we had the freedom to print them in grayscale on white or colored paper or print them in the full color version as it is downloaded.  Clued in Kids advertises that the treasure hunts can be fully set up in 10-15 minutes.  I was thrilled to find that it was really this simple.  The locations for hiding the clues were all things that are commonly found around most homes.  The only one that we modified at all was the clue to be placed in our son’s backpack.  On the day of the hunt, I had no idea where my son’s backpack was, so we easily substituted his desk as being the place where most of his books were.

The kids have so much fun doing this that the treasure at the end of the hunt can be something so small such as a fun eraser, pencil, or a treat and they do not feel cheated at all.  When I asked our son if he liked the treasure hunts, he replied with a question, “Is there a word for More than Awesome?”

The printable treasure hunts can be used multiple times.  I would space the use of them out or make a point of assigning the clues to different children so that they don’t become memorized or boring.

As always, I encourage you to check out what other reviewers’ children thought of the treasure hunts from Clued in Kids.

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Anthem for a Nation

There are many historical and documentary style videos about the history of our nation.  A nation that has been called the greatest the world has ever known.  Our family recently had a chance to review the new release from New Liberty Videos entitled Anthem for a Nation.  This DVD was produced with all ages in mind so it is completely appropriate for family viewing.

About the Video:

Anthem for a Nation is a 42 minute video that we received as a physical DVD.  Also on the DVD are some special features from two individuals providing testimony of their lives as survivors in countries directly affected by Hitler’s reign and living in nations occupied by a Nazi presence.  The video retails on the publisher’s website for $19.95 which makes it comparable to other video purchases.

Anthem for a Nation begins with amazing information about highlights the interweaving of the Biblical Foundations of our Founding Fathers in the development of our government, writing of the key documents that outlined the very essence of what America was to stand for and be, as well as the very building of many of our national monuments and government buildings in our nation’s capitol.

The DVD has a total of 10 segments in its root menu.  These segments show the progression of how our nation has swayed through its history from the strong Biblical principles and convictions for which it has been found.  The final segments of the ten are a call to order for Christians to stand and return America to its true Founder.

 Those listening are reminded that our government is a republic and therefore, each of us, no matter how hard we feel the tide pulling our country out to sea, it still responsible to stand firm in the strong Christian heritage of our land and return it to God. 

Our nation has a rich history of blessings from God as we have honored him.  This is our legacy and we must decide if we wish for it to be our future.

Our Family’s Response:

To be very honest, our family has really been struggling with much we hear through media reports of changes happening in our country and world showing how values, decisions, and standards are pulling away from God’s Word at an ever alarming rate.  I remember being in elementary school proudly singing of the greatest of America and all that she stood for.  My children have not grown up with that same image of our nation in its current state when comparing what they see what many in our nation value that is in stark contrast to biblical principles.

Anthem for a Nation was an inspiring movie, but it was also very sobering and sad.  Tears streamed down our faces during various moments as we responded to so much emotionally in considering the bigger picture of where our nation is  in the eyes of God.  However, the story does not end there.  We are reminded in the final segments that we have a responsibility to stand firm as citizens of this land.  I was reminded that even though we may feel like just a few standing against the multitudes that are trying to destroy all connections with our Christian heritage as a nation, God is still in control.  There are many accounts in Scripture where God used a handful of the faithful to overtake much larger nations.  Our very nation began through the faithful stand that a relatively small number of colonists took in waging war against the greatest superpower of its day in winning the American Revolution.

The combination of facts that would be befitting of a solid documentary with music that incites an almost lost pride in being American is powerfully presented in Anthem for a Nation.  The bottom line is that God calls us to be faithful.  Regardless of what election results may state or new laws that are threatening to pass, we are required to voice support as believers of laws and officials that will honor our God.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

If you would like to see a small sample of what our family was able to review, I encourage you to view the two minute preview of Anthem for a Nation below.


As always, I encourage you to visit the Review Crew website to read the reviews of other families that are part of our team.  Several others also viewed Anthem for our Nation, but additional videos from New Liberty Videos were also reviewed.

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Foreign Language in the Elementary Years

When I have polled homeschool parents about what they consider to be their biggest challenges in educating their children, one of the top responses was Foreign Language. The teaching of foreign languages is difficult since many parents are not fluent in a second language and are therefore not confident in teaching it. Additionally, many students don’t see themselves using foreign language beyond checking off the requirement box for high school graduation leaving them less than motivated. I have often considered incorporating the teaching of foreign language into the younger years, but have been challenged to find the time. When the TOS Review Crew presented us with the opportunity to participate in a review of the Middlebury Interactive Languages online program, I saw it as an opportunity to expose our youngest to this type of instruction. During the last 4-6 weeks, we have entered the world of Elementary Chinese 1.

A Bit About the Product:

Our son used the Elementary Chinese 1 course. This is a one semester course containing 45 lessons that introduce vocabulary, culture, writing and reading the language, as well as a component that gets him actively speaking the language. The courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages are available on-line and require the use of headphones and a microphone to fully utilize its functionality. The Elementary Chinese course that we used is designed for students in Grades 3-5 and is available for $119.  The graphic below shows all of the different course options available through Middlebury Interative Langages.

How We Used It:

Our initial thought was that we would use this program two to three times per week with completing one lesson each day. However, once we got started, our son was enjoying it so much that he voluntarily chose to do it everyday that we did school. Each lesson is a combination of listening, reading, matching the written language with the pictures, and then speaking.  The Elementary Chinese 1 course has a total of 45 lessons broken into 7 units:

  • Numbers
  • Greetings
  • Family
  • Home
  • Adjectives/Colors
  • School
  • Food

The cartoon style graphics were a good fit for this level. As I scrolled through the demos of the courses designed for older students, the graphics do upgrade to real images.

Our son was really quite independent in using the program once I got him logged in each day. In addition to the daily lessons, we found the gradebook to be helpful to me in seeing exactly what progress he had made and his level of accuracy.

Our Thoughts:

Foreign language study, outside of incorporating Latin and Greek roots into our vocabulary, has just not been something we have explored as a family in the elementary years. I was concerned about the learning curve and preparation on my part. Middlebury Interactive Languages has changed our perspective. When asked, our son stated that he wants to continue using this Chinese course even past the designated review period. He finds it fun and is really enjoying learning something that no one else in our family is learning. He was excited that when he didn’t quite grasp a lesson, he could go back to repeat it. His disappointment was just as significant when he discovered that the quizzes included in the study can only be taken once. I think he will be trying a little harder on the quizzes from now on.

Middlebury Interactive Lanaguages have really made a believer out of me when I hear people share about how much easier it is to teach younger children a second language. I don’t know if it is our son’s age or the fun way that the study of Chinese was presented, but he has thoroughly enjoyed using this program.

The TOS Review Crew has reviewers using each of the languages offered through Middlebury Interactive from grades K-12. So I am sure you will find a review of the language and age range of your own children.


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Standard Deviants Accelerate ~ Product Review

One of the greatest challenges in homeschooling is keeping learning out of the ruts. We can pick the best curriculum out there, but if it all starts feeling mundane our educational journey can become dreaded rather than exciting. Adding in a supplement to your core curriculum can make all the difference. It was with great excitement that we jumped at the opportunity to be able to review the online offerings from Standard Deviants Accelerate. This review will focus primarily on our experience with their Algebra course. I do however encourage you to visit their website to see all that they have to offer for students ages 8 and up.

What We Received:

During the review process, we received online access to the courses available through Standard Deviants Accelerate (SDA). These are online supplements that can be used in various ways in conjunction with your curriculum. The courses vary in length, but the approach is similar from course to course.

Some of the courses available through SDA are:

  • Arithmetic – Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math – Grades 4+
  • Earth Science – Grades 6+
  • Nutrition – Grades 6+
  • Algebra – Grades 7+
  • Biology – Grades 7+
  • Chemistry – Grades 9+
  • English Comp. – Grades 9+
  • U.S. History – Grades 9+
  • AP Biolody – Grades 11+
  • AP Chemistry – Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics – Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. History – Grades 11+
  • AP Eng. Composition – Grades 11+

A subscription for any of these courses can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis. The annual cost of a subscription is generally $99.99 while monthly subscription average between $14.95 and $24.95 per course. Because this is a supplemental program rather than the core curriculum, the monthly subscription may be very beneficial for review purposes during the summer months, for fast paced intensive learning, or in reviewing before taking a high school AP exam.

How We Used It:

Our high school freshman is completing Algebra 1 right now. We decided to use the Algebra course from SDA as a supplement to his regular curriculum. Some of you may be asking what is wrong with our regular curriculum that we needed a supplement. Well the reasons we use supplements really vary.  Supplements, like in the case of the Algebra course from SDA, are beneficial to us:

  • In helping to reinforce learning that mom isn’t sure has really hit home or that our child says he still feels less than confident on.
  • In preseningt the same information in just enough of a different way that it creates that “lightbulb” moment on a topic that just wasn’t clicking.
  • In keeping us out of a rut in our learning.  Doing something different, but still staying the course, can certainly spice things up and breath life back into the day to day.

Along these lines, we did not use the SDA program everyday. We used it on days when we needed a break from our regular curriculum to either approach things differently or just do something different.

I would log into the software and find the lesson that most closely matched where we were at in our regular studies. My son would then take over.

As shown in the graphic above, each lesson contains a couple different components:  the video (lesson), vocabulary, diagrams, quiz, and written questions. The student always starts with the video tab for the lesson. This contains, yes, a video. The video lessons are actually taught by teens in a very comical way that keeps you laughing while learning. The approach is a bit different than a normal textbook, which is what actually helps the material to click when your child runs into a mental block on a lesson in their normal curriculum. Alongside the video box, there is a word for word script for the video. The script can be cut and pasted in the Student’s Locker where they can reference it at any time. They can also pause the video and type in their own notes to use for review. I also had my son pause the video and type questions that he wanted to review with me later.

After completing the video, our son reviewed the vocabulary and visual diagrams from the lesson on their respective tabs. If he felt that he understood the material, he could then move on to the quiz and written questions. These final two tabs contained questions that were not only executing the math, but focused on the theory or concepts.

Our Thoughts:

For a supplemental tool, I do like the SDA courses. I felt that the comprehensiveness of the topics really provided a full course review. Our son loved the tone of the videos in the way that comedy is used to convey the material and also that there were teens helping to present the material. It kept his interest in a different way than a dry math textbook or even a lot of the other math tutorials taught by a “professor”.

The Algebra course that we spent the most time on surprised me in the balance between concepts and practice problems. SDA Algebra definitely focuses more heavily on concept review than practice problems. This is not just a tool that will serve up a platter of practice problems. The written questions at the end of the topic makes your child think and put into their own words what they have learned. This takes math to a different level. After all, how much more do we learn when we have to teach something rather than just learning enough to get by to do it ourselves.

The only area of the program that we really struggled with was out internet bandwidth. Our internet is provided through the basic package offered through a satellite provider given where we live. For this reason, it was sometimes frustrating trying to use the software because of the spooling issues. I would recommend contacting SDA by completing this form and requesting a 7 day free trial as offered through their website to insure that there are not technical issue related to internet bandwidth and speed.

Our daughters are looking forward to using the AP courses through SDA to help review what they have learned prior to registering to take AP exams in some of their coursework as well.

As always, I encourage you to consider what the other reviewers from the Crew have to share.


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Helping Your Child be an Essay Rock Star

My daughter and I just recently had an opportunity to try out the online writing courses offered through Fortuigence.  Our time during this review period was devoted to working through the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course and are anxious to share with you our experience.

What We Received:

During this product review, we received a copy of the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course.  It is designed for students in grades 8-12 and retails for $57.  This course utilizes the company’s 5 step process of essay writing.  The course is self-paced so that it can be assigned to your child in a way that fits well into your weekly lesson plans.

There are no textbooks to purchase or additional materials to gather.  The entire program is online with a very user friendly interface.

Fortuigence Classroom Screen

How We Used It:

After logging in, our daughter would enter the classroom by clicking on the tab by that name from the upper menu.  The graphic above shows what she would see after entering the classroom.  On the left sidebar, it shows which step of the writing process she is on.  In the sidebar is also a checklist of which assignments have been received and reviewed by the instructor of the course.

At the beginning of each step, the student watches a short video about the specific things that pertain to this phase of the writing project.  Immediately following is some additional text with things to look for as you write, samples of what should be expected, and any graphic organizers or tools that will be helpful.

After the material for the lesson is reviewed, the student clicks on the arrow next to the assignment to get more information on what they specifically need to do.  A window is provided for the students to type their assignment directly into this textbox or they can choose to upload their assignment from a variety of file types.  Our daughter did both depending on the assignment and had no trouble with either option.  If the student is unable to complete the assignment in one sitting, she can save what has been accomplished and then return later.  When the student is happy with what they have accomplished, the submit button is clicked.  The checkmark in front of the assignment in the left sidebar will turn gray to signify that the assignment was successfully submitted.

Within 24 hours of submitting each assignment, the teacher sends feedback to the student via email.  Withing that email, the student will either be asked to rework part of the assignment or be given the green light to proceed to the next step in the writing process.  Once the student is cleared for the next step, the checkmark next to the previous assignment turns red.

At any time during the course, there is also an option for the student to click on the text that will allow them to ask the instructor a question.  Like the assessing of the assignments, the turn around on responses from the instructor is very timely.

Our Thoughts:

The Essay Rock Star Writing Courses get the seal of approval from this homeschooling parent.  The process for successful essay writing is very structured and well mapped out.  However, within that structure the students are encouraged to be creative in the topics they choose to write about and the perspective to share.

There are a lot of writing programs available to homeschool families, but very few provide the access to a live teacher.  This was by far the best feature of this program compared to others.  As a homeschool parent, I know that I want my child to be a solid writer, but do not always feel that I know what should be expected from them at different stages of their education.  The instructor from Fortuigence has this knowledge.

In watching the interchanges between Lily, the instructor, and my daughter I saw how powerful Lily’s words of encouragement and genuine interest in my daughter’s work were in motivating her to reach beyond what she nor mally would have done in a typical writing assignment.  It was an enlightening moment for me in better realizing how I can see the value in my child’s writing beyond just the requirements of the assignment.

I would highly recommend the Essay Rock Star Writing Courses from Fortuigence.  It’s value becomes even greater for those students who are really wanting to refine their writing in preparation for college writing assignments.  Many times our writing is the first impression that others form of us – why not shoot to be a Rock Star Essay Writer?

In addition to the Expository Essay course we used, Fortuigence also offers Essay Rock Star courses for Persuasive Essays, Textual Analysis, and Personal Statement Essays.  Check out the link below to see what our other crew members have to share about all of the courses offered through Fortuigence.

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