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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Fix It! Grammar ~ Product Review

We recently began using the Fix It! Grammar program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing with our oldest daughter who is preparing diligently for her college entrance exams. Because Fix It! Grammar is a complete Grammar program, we thought it would be a wonderful way to review for the English section of the ACT in a very time efficient manner.

Fix It Grammer

What We Received:

Our family received both the Teacher’s Manual as well as the Student Book. These resources were both spiral bound with durable laminated cardstock covers. The spiral binding allowed these books to sit flat on the desk when writing in them.

In the back of each text is a separate Grammar Glossary that is a wonderful resource in all things Grammar. Both my daughter and I loved the fact that the section had its own laminated cardstock divider as it made it easy to find as you quickly thumbed through the pages.

Grammar Resource

We chose to use Book 5 with our daughter. This decision was in part to select something a bit more challenging to review for her college entrance exams. Additionally, we used the placement tool provided by IEW for this express purpose of figuring out the best place to start in the program. The company suggests that all students start in Book 1 for a thorough review of grammar concepts. Given our circumstances, we chose to use Book 5 for this review.

The Fix It! Grammar program has 6 books in all. Book 1 is ideal for students in Grade 3 and above. The primary text for this course is the Teacher’s Manual. This resource is available for $19.00. Included in this purchase are a free download of the student book in e-book form as well as two audio files that are wonderful supplements for the program. To avoid copy costs or to hit the ground running, a copy of the spiral bound student book can be purchased for $15.00.

For an overview of this program separate from our review, please visit this webinar published by IEW.

How We Used it:

The book has 33 weeks of lessons with 5 daily lessons per week to analyze and discuss for all forms of grammar concepts and techniques. The lesson is in essence one sentence per day that requires students to look up two words to expand their vocabulary as well as proofread the sentence for any grammatical errors in spelling, punctuation, or word usage. In addition, the students are asked to identify main and dependent clauses as well as various phrases and parts of speech. In addition to the grammar glossary, there are also grammar cards that can be detached from the student book and used as reference during the daily lesson. Our experience was that the entire process could be completed in 15 minutes or less once we got used to the program.

Sample from Student Book
Sample from Student Book
Sample of the same lesson from the Teacher's Manual
Sample of the same lesson from the Teacher’s Manual

This program can be a warm up to your school day and checked by the parent later in the day. However, we found that much more learning was accomplished when we verbally reviewed the sentence together after the student made her first attempt.  We transitioned to using a white board where I would begin the day by writing the sample sentence on the board. All of the words in the sentence would be in one color with the bold vocabulary words being written in a contrasting color. Our daughter would then use a third color to make her notations. When she was done we would review her work together.

An example of our utilization of a whiteboard with this program.
An example of our utilization of a whiteboard with this program.

As is the case with so much that we do in homeschooling multiple children, some of my other children would sometimes jump into the discussion or provide thoughts on how they would complete it. This got me to thinking that it would be a great resource to use as a family or even in having an older child go through this same process in an easier book with a younger sibling. Teaching after all sometimes teaches us more than when we are the student!

Our Thoughts:

When we first received this program, I was reluctant in believing that it could be used as a complete Grammar program. After using it for several weeks it is apparent that if the glossary, grammar cards, and discussion in reviewing the daily assignment are all used that it can in fact constitute a full grammar curriculum.

I really like that it is not time consuming, unless our discussion leads in that direction. So you in essence can make it what you want as far as the thoroughness of the lessons. The placement tool was also smack dab on as I felt that the concepts reviewed in Book 5 matched exactly where our daughter was at.

Proofreading as done in this program is a different skill set than incorporating good grammar technique in writing. Being able to identify mistakes and better sentence organization can be critical both in proofreading the student’s own work, but also in any standardized testing format.

 As a credentialed standardized test administrator as well as a parent of students preparing for the ACT or SAT, I can say that the skills being mastered in Fix It! Grammar will prepare them well for these test formats.

Our daughter has improved her score on the English section of the ACT by at least 4-6 points doing practice exams. Her only source of instruction and preparation has been Fix It! Grammar. As the old saying goes, “The proof is in the pudding.”

The only recommendation that I would make to the publisher for future updates to the program would be to provide a quick reference guide to the editing notations. This was the biggest learning curve we experienced in using the program and not having started in Book 1.

As always, you don’t have to take our word for it.  Check out the reviews from our other Crew Members by clicking on the box below.  You can also check out more about IEW at their Facebook page or at Google+.

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Transforming Your Day in Just 7 Minutes

There are some products that I review that writing the review feels is challenging. That is not the case with the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner published by the 7 Minute Life organization. I am really excited to share how life changing this resource can be whether you are a business executive, blogger, or stay at home mom. This product is intended for use by adults, but I could really see it being a wonderful life tool to introduce high school and college level students to in getting them started in their adult lives truly steering from the captain’s chair.

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner:

The actual product is a 7″ X 8″ spiral bound planner. However, it is not just a calendar. There are a little more than 25 pages in the introduction section alone that help the user to really work through their goals and their purpose in their work life, personal life, and financial life.

The very premise of this system is to allow your goals to organize your day rather than allowing the circumstances of life to determine how you spend your time.

After having a chance to formulate your 90-Day Personal Goals, the next step is focussing on specific 90-Day Work Goals, Financial Goals, and Life Goals with space for 5 specific action steps under each goal. To really help you to psychologically get your head around accomplishing your goals, there is a place to jot down the date that the goal is completed and what the outcome was. I love that positive indication by those spaces that the goal will get accomplished.

The goal and action step planning sheets then flow into daily progress reports. I love that they are not schedules, but progress reports. The title alone says that you are moving and accomplishing. These progress reports are on two pages facing one another for each day. When looking over it, you really get a sense of your life as a whole and not just a calendar of events or a segment of your life. Contained in each Daily Progress report are spaces for: Daily Contacts, 5 things that you commit to doing before 11:00, 3 specific connections you wish to make with someone that day, space for 10 items from unfinished tasks at work, home, or a new venture, an appointment calendar, space for writing thank you notes (a lost art I might add), voicemails to return, money management log, as well as a space for personal diet, exercise, and activities to improve yourself as a person. There is also a checkbox where you actually check whether you did what you committed to do that day.

Sample of part of the Daily Progress Report

At the end of each 30 days of personal progress reports, there is also a monthly summary that causes you to pause to really consider if you are heading in the direction that you intended and progressing as you planned.

Thoughts After Using the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner

I have gone from one planner to another over the years. This is the first one that I truly have fallen in love with. Everything else in comparison just feels like a calendar or appointment book, rather than a true planning tool. Some of the things that I love about this tool:

  • The holistic approach – it is not just about our work life, family life, or personal improvement. This resource has truly been designed to consider us as whole people.
  • No predated pages – There are no pre-dated pages. Each daily progress report has a space for a date as well as a day of the week. There is no abandoning the use of this book from feeling like you failed, because you didn’t use it for a few days or were wasting pages when you didn’t complete the planner on the weekends. However, once you get started you really find yourself not skipping days, because you can see the return on your investment when you do use it.
  • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that when used as it was designed to that 
    “It is designed for your goals and purpose in life are truly integral in so many ways in organizing your day. You orchestrate your calendar rather than your calendar running you.”
  • Durability – The double cover (heavy cardstock back and front covers with durable plastic overlays) along with the strong spiral binding provide the durability for the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner to be in great shape at the end of the 90 day cycle.
  • Line Spacing – The line spacing on the lists is sufficient that you can write so that you can easily go back and read it without having to find those reading glasses or magnifying glass.
  • Monthly Calendar at a Glance – I do like being able to see my commitments for the coming months. Even though this is a 90 Day Planner, it has a full year’s worth of monthly calendars so you can keep track of commitments that are coming up in the future without needing to tote along another resource.
  • Unfinished Task Lists – There are a series of Unfinished Task lists that you can compile. I loved these pages as it provided a space for me to jot down ideas for development of our family business, projects around the house, and even topics that I want to blog about in the future and don’t want to forget. I found myself pulling from these lists in preparing my daily progress report each night for the coming day.
No more scraps of paper all over your house or office with To Do Lists that can lost, misplaced, or obsolete.

This resource currently sells for $24.95 and comes with a 100% money back guarantee. If you would like to know more about how this system truly works, I would encourage you to click here to watch a 4 minute video on the principles and process of using the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner.  There are also an abundance of free tools on the publisher’s website.

As an wife and mom of 4, small business owner, director of a local homeschool support group, and blogger, there are many times that I am asked how I get everything done without letting things crash to the ground. My answer is in planning out what is to come and then working that plan. However, this becomes ineffective, if we don’t clearly have our goals and life purpose driving those plans. The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner is a great tool for making that happen from the goals to action steps to putting it in motion in your daily plan.

Check out what others from the crew have to say after their experience with this product.


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Adding Audio Drama into Your Schoolday

Classic “living” literature gets a big thumbs up from our family. When you add in the sound effects and tonal inflections that are possible through audio drama, it takes something great and catapults it into the sphere of fabulous. This was exactly our experience as we had the opportunity to review Under Drake’s Flag produced by Heirloom Audio Productions and based on the book by the same name authored by G.A. Henty.

What We Received

Under Drake’s Flag came to us as a 2 disc CD set with study guide. It contained over two hours of audio drama bursting with adventure. In the CD jacket was the abridged version of the study guide written specifically for this audio drama. A full unabridged version of the study guide can also be downloaded for those that want to do a more extensive analysis of the story.

This audio drama is recommended for children age 6 and above, but truly captures the interest of the whole family. It retails for $29.95 plus shipping. A download version of the audio drama is also available for $20.00. The study guide is included with the purchase of the audio drama.

How We Used It

Right after the CD set arrived, my 10 year old had a birthday party to attend that was a little over an hour away. I grabbed the set and headed out to the car. Before pulling out of the driveway, I stuck the first of the two CDs in our disc player and off we went. About 20 minutes into the drive, I asked if my son wanted to listen to something else. He was so engrossed in the adventure playing out in this audio drama that he didn’t even hear me talking to him. I paused the CD and was asked, “Why did you do that?”. I told him that I was just interested in whether he wanted to keep listening. He just smiled at me and turned it back on. Not another word was spoken all the way to the party.

We had just put in the second CD when we arrived at the party. My son didn’t budge. He had been excited about coming to share in his friend’s big day, but he was just sitting there rather than rushing out of the car like a whirlwind. I once again paused the CD and told him we were there.

“But Mom we are at a really good part.”

I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t just running out of the car. After reassuring him that we could listen all the way home, he did get out and run to be a part of the fun. And yes, we did listen all the way home.

During this first listening, I wanted us to just enjoy the story. I did not use the study guide at all. We did go back to listen a second (and third, and…  time) and during these listenings used the questions and materials in the study guide.

The abridged study guide that comes with the CD set contained three different types of questions: plot related, words to define and better understand, and questions that made great discussion questions in getting the listener to think at a deeper level. There were also some Bible Study related questions/scenarios in the back of the study guide.

Our Recommendation

Being a lover of classic literature, I have always wanted my children to read Henty. But honestly, his work can sometimes be dry and hard to get into at the beginning. This audio drama changed all of that. When I asked my son for what he would say to other moms that might be considering buying Under Drake’s Flag, he replied,

It was so adventurous and cool, but not scarey.  It could be scarey if it was a movie. Tell moms that if they are looking for a way to keep their kids from fighting or whining in the car or getting back out of bed when they go to sleep that they need to get this.  Who would want to fight in the car when it is playing, you might miss one of the cool parts.

 Under Drake’s Flag by Heirloom Audio Productions received 5 stars for adventure, 5 stars for being interesting, and 5 stars for “Would I recommend this to my friends” by our son. In listening with him, I would have to concur with his rating of this great audio drama. You can get a taste of this inspiring adventure by clicking here.

My son was sad that there wasn’t more and then we received word that Heirloom Productions will be releasing their next audio drama in early November, In Freedom’s Cause. More information about this can be found here. I personally am thinking – Christmas Present!

Feel free to also check out the many other reviews done of this same product by our crewmates on the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


Under Drake's Flag Reviews
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When Life Just Gets in the Way

Life just sometimes gets in the way.  You all know what I mean, but when you step back and really think about that statement it almost seems ridiculous.  But we have all been there.

We can spend hours planning and strategizing about how life is supposed to be.  As soon as circumstances outside of our control come onto the scene, we can really be thrown for a loop.  We may get angry and have a real tantrum.  If we allow the disruption to really get in our heads, it can steer us completely off target.

I apologize that this is a shorter post and without pictures, but you know what – Life happened!  It isn’t as I would like it, not as it was planned, or even the way that I want it to be.  But sometimes, it is exactly as it should be.  I had a choice last night between having a heartfelt conversation with my daughter or finishing up this post with wonderful pinnable pictures and captions.  I made the decision, and am glad that I did, to have that chat with her.  She is growing up and won’t always be able to just come in my room, flop down on the bed, and unload about her day.

Many of you reading this may be dealing with really pressing issues.  I understand and have been there as well.  My husband struggles with a chronic medical condition that at times can be very debilitating.  Our lives are governed many times by our farm and business that need to be a priority to keep us fed.  Others that God has placed in our pathway need ministering to and not always at the most convenient times.  Life happens.

It is not about finding a way of keeping life from happening, but learning to see the hand of God in the interruptions.  At those times, when we have pressing needs on our farm, I try to step back and remember all that my children are learning about business management, hard work, and the way that needs must come before wants.  When my husband is experiencing a low point in his health, I am reminded that as we bypass our book learning for the day that my children are being reminded to put the fruit of the Spirit foremost in their lives rather than the checklist of things to be accomplished.

Life – those unexpected moments that are definitely not written into that brand spanken’ new planner that we spent hours picking out – does happen.  The measure of our character comes in how we handle those moments.  God knows what your children need in preparing them for their future.  A future He divinely orchestrated for them.  Rest in Him when the day (or weeks or months) seem to sway from that $29.95 planner.  Our God is bigger than the planner no matter how good it is.

Shakespeare Studies in Your Homeschool

Hewitt Homeschooling Review
 One of the joys of serving on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew is being able to get introduced to new publishers of homeschool curriculum that I may have never run into otherwise.  In the past, I have seen resources from Hewitt Homeschooling advertised, especially the various Lightning Literature and Composition courses for the high school grades.  Why we have never tried them out before, I am not really sure.  But now that we have had the opportunity to, I can say we have been missing out on something that has really clicked with our oldest.  She has been working through the Lightning Literature & Composition’s Shakespeare: Comedies and Sonnets.  In conjunction with this, I received the Teacher’s Guide that corresponded with this course.

Hewitt Homeschooling Review

A couple of years ago, our daughters took a Shakespeare class at our local homeschool group.  Shocking to me was that our oldest absolutely loved it and could not get enough of reading different plays by Shakespeare even after the class ended. Since that time we have been looking for a structured course that would help to continue so that she could receive a full elective credit in Shakespeare Studies. I was thrilled to find out that Hewitt Homeschooling offered such a course that was coming up for review through the TOS Review Crew.

The Course

The Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets course is designed for students in grades 9 through 12. It is encouraged that you may want to consider waiting to do this course until 11th or 12th grade so the student has a bit more writing and literary analysis skills under his belt.  The course in its entirety can be completed in a half year, which would suggest that it can count toward a half credit in language arts or as an elective.  There is a suggested schedule in Appendix D of the book that outlines the pace for completion in this time frame and an alternative schedule for students that wish to complete it over a longer period of a year.  This second schedule would be ideal for a student that struggles in language arts or a student that is doing another full language arts curriculum and adding this on as an elective.

When the student has completed all of the reading and writing assignments, the following Shakespearean works will have been studied (not in the order written below):

  • Twelfth Night
  • As You Like It
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Sonnets 27, 28, 93, 116, 129, 130, 136, and 138

When we received the package from Hewitt Homeschooling, there was a student guide and a teacher’s guide.  The student guide has a lengthy introduction that provides the student with a review on the writing styles they will be studying, an author sketch of Shakespeare, literary techniques that will be encountered, and an overview of the basics of writing a solid essay.

Within each unit, the student can expect to find:

  • a plot summary of the works being studied
  • reading comprehension questions
  • a literary lesson that teaches about theme and character development
  • suggested writing exercises

This study by Hewitt Homeschooling is much like their other high school courses in that the students study great literature as a platform for expanding their writing skills. A list of possible writing topics is provided at the end of each unit. It is recommended that the student complete two of the assignments of their choosing for units that study a complete comedy and one writing assignment for units that consider sonnets. This dual focus of studying the literary works coupled with developing solid composition skills is exemplified by the company’s tagline.

Acquiring College-Level Composition Skills by Responding to Great Literature

The Teacher’s Guide is a packet that comes already 3-hole punched for easy insertion into a folder or binder.  It contains helpful grading tips for the writing assignments, full course grading templates, answers to the reading comprehension questions, lists of the suggested writing exercises for each unit, discussion questions, memorization samples, and project ideas.

The pricing on this course is wonderful with the student book selling for only $29.95 and the Teacher’s Guide is simply an additional cost of $2.95.  That is a complete half year literature and composition study for less than $35.  The sonnets are included in the Student Guide, but you will still need to obtain your own copies of the plays.  Most of the plays can be found free as internet downloads, at your local library, and can be purchased in bound form at most booksellers.

I am thrilled to be able to share the product pages for this study where you can find links to pdf sample pages: Samples of Student Guide and Samples of Teacher’s Guide.

Our Thoughts

My first thought in having now used this study for a while is “Where have you been all our homeschooling lives.”  Some of the things that  we have found about this course that we really like are:

  • The comprehensive use of vocabulary, reading comprehension, discussion questions, and essay prompts
  • The grading matrixes for writing assignments
  • The wonderful templates for documenting your student’s progress and grades throughout the course
  • The variety of different writing assignments that really help to stretch the student
  • The affordability

As a mom of multiple homeschoolers, it would be wonderful if there were some suggested key points that we should be looking for in the writing exercises related to the exact content of the work being studied.  In an ideal world, I would read each thing that my children read and be able to thoroughly know it inside and out.  The reality is that is just not possible when you are outnumbered 4 to 1.  There are great templates provided as a checklist for topic sentences, grammar, and the other mechanics of writing.  I just wish there was more content specific helps to insure that my child really grasped what was presented.

When I asked out daughter her thoughts, she jotted down this response for me,

I give this course 5 stars and hope that the other Lightning Literature studies are similar.  Ms. Kamath, the author, is more of a guide than a teacher.  She points out the things that I need to know leaving me free to interpret the text in my own way.  Her introductions are personable and the writing assignments are creative.  She also recommends movies as a supplement, which is something that I wish I saw more of.  It motivates me to get through some of the dull moments.

As a wrap up, I would give this study a big thumbs up.  As a matter of fact, we are planning on purchasing additional high school literature units from them in the future.  Hewitt Homeschooling also has numerous products for children in elementary and middle school.  To learn more about them, follow the icon below to the rest of the TOS Review Crew reviews.

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The Eternal Argument ~ Product Review

Analytical Grammar Review

Over the years of homeschooling our children, I have come to realize that a true study of literature goes beyond just reading the book.  I guess I always knew this, but like most things it does not really hit home until you begin to teach it.  We recently read and are now posting a review of The Eternal Argument  which is published by Analytical Grammar.  Reading through this work really helped to affirm our family’s tendency to study history and literature of the same time and culture together.  But there will be more on that further on in our review.

The Book

The Eternal Argument by R. Robin Finley and published by Analytical Grammar is a 285 page softcover work that presents a framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture.  The book begins with a presentation of the basic questions of whether there is a God and who man is in relation to that God?  These very questions are the basis to every worldview that has come about since the beginning of time.  What man has done with those questions have formed nations, ideologies, and governments throughout the span of all time.  The art and literature that has arisen in response is represetative of the answers that any people group have to these two fundamental questions.

Analytical Grammar Review

After identifying this platform, the author does a survey in the subsequent chapters of the major time periods in world history and its pendulum movement from a humanistic view to a theistic view.  Her discussion travels from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Romanticism, Realism, Natualisma, and finally to Modernism as seen in philosophies and literature.  In each chapter, she uses different major works of literature to demonstrate the main ideologies and changes in literary themes found during the period.  Major elements of World History are also introduces to provide the proper context for this discussion.

In the final chapters of The Eternal Argument, chapters are presented in sharing the vocabulary of the world of literary analysis as well as on how to apply all that was shared in this book to others books that are studied in high school literature classes as well as just as we read for pleasure.  In concluding, Finley shares her own response to the eternal argument and the fact that we each have our own answer to those two fundamental questions.  We approach our evaluation of literature, world politics, and cultures around the world by how we answer those questions, which can otherwise we termed our personal worldview.  We are all biased by our fundamental beliefs and should recognize this as we analyze current events, the arts, or ships in world politics.

Our Thoughts

As I shared at the beginning of this review, our family has always had a tendency toward studying the same period and cultures in literature as what we are studying in history.  When we began this approach, my thought was simply that great literature would help to really bring the historical events to life.  I never really gave much thought to the reverse impact.  What did the study of history and the historical context of literature bring to our understanding and response to literary works?  The Eternal Argument has certainly made me think about this and really consider at a deeper level how to intertwine our studies in this coming year.

As a music major in college, I remember that when I first took music history courses that I felt like my carefree listening of music simply for pleasure was eternally wrecked by the thorough analysis of the time periods and developments that brought about the changes in music.  Critically evaluating the changes in instrumentation, themes, harmonies, and the thickness of the music at first made something that was simply a pleasure into an academic experience.  In starting our journey in reading The Eternal Argument I felt those same feelings evolving even without presenting it to my children.  But then a lightbulb went on!  My listening and enjoyment of music from various time periods now seems so much richer and deep, because I understand these different elements.  It no longer feels academic, but has given me a greater appreciation for what I am listening to.  As I worked my way through the chapters of this book, I came to realize that the same can be true for my children as they experience literary works.  Their love of the richness and depth of literature will grow as they understand it not from an academic exercise, but in making it into their approach to reading.

The trick is in presenting this to them.  Although this book is recommended for students in Grade 8 and above, my personal feeling is that the content in this book will be much more greatly received if I as my children’s teacher can use it as a reference and guide in leading my children on their journeys through literature.  I could easily see how I could build a survey of World Literature course using this book as the basis and strategically present books as they follow these major periods of time.  The discussion questions and major points presented would allow for assisting my children to process what they are reading beyond just the plot and discussion of the major and minor characters.

The Eternal Argument has created a deeper thinking for myself in how I choose to present and analyze literature with my children.  In introducing this to them in a systematic way, I believe it has the power to forever change the way that they approach reading literary works and the depth to which they will enjoy them.  We use our written word to convey truths from our own personal worldviews.  It is in understanding the perspective and things influencing an author that truly helps us to understand what he or she was trying to communicate to the reader.

This book can be purchased from the vendor’s website for $24.95.

As always, be sure to check out what others are sharing about The Eternal Argument and other products reviewed from Analytical Grammar.

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Learning in the Summer

Learning takes a different look around the farm in the summer months.  There is a lot of hands-on learning as we all do a lot of work outside in our gardens and expanding fencing.


We have also been busy raising extra meat chickens while the weather is more favorable.  Raising chickens is not only an education in feeding and watering them, but also in the processing, pricing, and sales.  It is an opportunity for the kids to really get a full working knowledge of how to run a micro-business.


This summer is also filled with lots of requests of “Mom, can I drive?”  We now have two teens with their driver’s permits who need to get in those mandatory hours before taking their road test.  They are learning the value of using those critical thinking skills as they learn that the ins and outs of driving are much more difficult when you have to account for the unknown.  Those times when a ball will come rolling into the roadway, a deer decides to sprint in front of you, or a driver turns in front of you without much space or using their blinker.  I never realized just how many parallels to the rest of life as an adult relates to this.  We can all be instructed in the step by step directions on how to do most anything in life, but our real character and wisdom show when we get hit with that curve ball or difficult situation.


We have had some book learning going on too.  The boys are continuing to work on their math skills a couple times a week to make it easier when we get back into our new school year.  We have really been enjoying using the on-line program from CTC Math.  It has been one of those products that we got as a review through the Review Crew that was a big hit and really helped speed up the learning curve.  If you are looking for something that your kids will enjoy, increase their learning, and is not aligned with Common Core Math Standards or method of teaching, you will want to click here to read more from our review.

While the boys have been working on their math skills, the girls have been doing part-time school as well in trying to get a jump start on some of their classes for this Fall and doing some extra prep work for their ACT.  Our oldest has been working on her foreign language requirement through the use of Visual Latin.  We have liked what we have seen so far in its ease of use, thoroughness, and presentation style that makes learning easier.  She is also working on rounding out an elective credit in Shakespeare Studies.  After taking a Shakespeare class through our local homeschool group, she fell in love with Shakespeare.  We have recently been blessed to have an opportunity to use and review Lightning Literature’s Shakespeare Sonnets & Comedies from Hewitt Homeschooling.  Stay tuned as we will have complete reviews to post on both Visual Latin and the Shakespeare course in the coming weeks.

Shakespeare Sonnets & Comedies Student Guide

Our second oldest is rounding out her hands-on training on the farm with a formal course in Starting and Running a Microbusiness.  This course has covered a lot of the basic business principles from concept development to the day to day operations of simple marketing and bookkeeping.  A review of this curriculum can be found here.  She was also ambitious and wanted to get started on her American Literature for the coming year.  When you simply want to focus on one great piece of literature at a time, our family has come to love the literature studies from Progeny Press.  This summer she finished the unit on Last of the Mohicans.  For our review on this study, please click here.

So yes, we have done some book learning this summer, but there is also a lot to learn just from the world around you where God has divinely placed you.  For our family, it is on a farm in a rural community.  Where has God planted you in this season of your life?  There is something there that He wants you to learn and ways He wants to grow you into the person you are to become.  Seize the day!

To see what other members of the Review Crew are doing this summer, click here.

Diana and Friends Experience History Through Music Giveaway — $700+ Value!

In honor of the release of Diana Waring’s newest Exploring History Through Music, she and some of her friends have organized this great giveaway that you will not want to miss out on.  This new curriculum package will be available for purchase by July 1st.  It is a wonderful survey of the early days of American History. The songs of the American Revolution through the Westward Expansion are shared along with the stories that led to them in three individual books that include listening CDs of the songs and sheet music. Please stay tuned for our review of these phenomenal resources in the coming days.  I could not have come up with a better lead-in to our study of Early American History this Fall with our 10 year old.


Diana and Friends Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Experience History Through Music, I am joining members of the Diana Waring Launch Team for an amazing giveaway. Friends of Diana have joined in and as you can see, someone’s homeschool is going to be greatly blessed!

Here’s what you could win!

From Diana Waring Presents

american history -- never this funExperience History Through Music – set of 3 books with CDs ($50/set) Diana Waring Presents is about to bring back into print the BEST folk music you have ever heard, combined with the fascinating stories they represent in American history!   The Experience Music Through Historyseries includes: America – Heart of a New Nation, Westward Ho! – Heart of the Old West  and Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The musicians are amazing, every instrument is real, lots of great vocalists, and more toe-tapping music than you can imagine! The books tell the stories behind the songs.  Together, they bring American history to life through it’s music!!With fascinating history books and toe-tapping folk music CDs, American history has NEVER been this fun!

EncouragementCollage2Encouragement for Homeschool Moms Collection ($25) Every mom needs that word of encouragement from someone who has been there, who has grownup children and can speak with assurance about the journey. Homeschool moms have an extra portion of the journey to navigate, and often wish for an extra voice that will offer direction but without nagging or prodding. Diana Waring has that voice.


From A Journey Through Learning

Logo New 300 trans$50 Gift Certificate $50 to spend in the A Journey Through Learning store, applicable toward any digital download purchase.


From Homeschool Legacy

westward ho I 300x400Westward Ho! Part I ($19.95) Load up your wagon! Discover the extraordinary times of adventurous frontiersmen and brave pioneers as you travel cross-country along the Erie Canal,  Oregon Trail, and even “remember the Alamo” in Westward Ho Part I.

Westward Ho! Part II ($19.95) Continue the exciting saga begun in Westward Ho! Part I as you journey with the forty-niners, ride the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad, experience life on the prairie, and discover the exciting era of cowboys and cattle drives in Westward Ho! Part II.


From Knowledge Quest Maps

HardcoverCD_ecover_croppedMap Trek: Atlas and Outline Maps of World History ($55) Map Trek is a historical atlas plus outline maps that allow you to teach geography alongside history. This is a resource that any homeschool parent can use with brilliant success, even if you don’t remember a thing from your history or geography classes in public school.


From Home School Adventure Co.

PAPS-R-96dpi shadowPhilosophy Adventure™ Digital Download ($39.95) Philosophy Adventure™ is designed to help students 6th-12th grade cultivate and defend a biblical worldview by teaching them how to write skillfully, think critically, and speak articulately as they explore the history of ideas.


From Heidi St. John (The Busy Mom and Real Life Press)

fpf3-bundle-covers-180x180Firmly Planted Family Devotional Digital Volume 3 ($39) The Firmly Planted Family Series is divided into ten-week studies and is your key to making sense of the Bible—even if you’re learning right along with your children. Each lesson provides a core idea, a simple narrative, memory verses and discussion questions for children of all ages. And the companion student workbook is filled with age-appropriate, full-color, reproducible activities for children of any age!


From Raising Real Men

RRM-Mom-Dad-300x295Free Registration to Boyhood Boot Camp or Boot Camp 9-12 LIVE webinar series (winner’s choice) plus Mom & Dad Special Raising Real Men (Book for Mom to read in the bathroom + AudioBook for Dad to listen to on the commute) ($62-69)

My-Beloved-and-My-Friend-Cover-Border-201x300Free Registration for Marriage Retreat Online plus His & Hers Special of My Beloved and My Friend: How To Be Married To Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses (book + audiobook), ($65)


From Institute for Excellence in Writing

logo$50 Gift Certificate $50 to spend in the IEW store, applicable toward any purchase.


From The Old Schoolhouse Magazine ($139) A one year membership to the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Nearly 100 classes for Pre-K to High School, taught by expert teachers, and lots of extras including the Schoolhouse Planners, Schoolhouse Expos, monthly free ebook downloads and more.

Big-Book-14-Cover-113013-e1392516063206The Old Schoolhouse Magazine 2014 Print Book ($15) Be encouraged, enlightened, and educated with the all new 2014 Annual Print Book published by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.You’ll get a year’s worth of homeschool support in almost 300 pages in this full color one-of-a-kind print magazine for homeschoolers, by homeschoolers. This is a magazine you’ll refer to again and again.


From Writing with Sharon Watson

the-power-in-your-hands-front-coverThe Power in Your Hands ($53.96) With The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, they’ll learn what they need to know for high school and will be prepared for college writing.

69276_1454187188126914_157492202_nWriting Fiction [in High School] ($35) Are you raising the next C. S. Lewis or Jane Austen? Help your students develop their fiction-writing talents with Writing Fiction [In High School]: Bringing Your Stories to Life.
To enter the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter below. Residents of the U.S., age 18 and older only. Other Terms and Conditions can be found in the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We Choose Virtues ~ Product Review

Our latest review comes from We Choose Virtues.  When I first heard that we would be reviewing their products, my thoughts went back to when we were young parents.  Our commitment was that all of our parenting both in encouragement and discipline would be based on virtues.  Well, we have not always been consistent, but have made a valiant effort in the midst of the demands of life.  There are times that resources like the Youth Virtue Journal and the accompanying mentor materials really help to bring the focus back intentionally to where it belongs.

We Choose Virtues Review 
What We Received:

We received a physical copy of the softbound  Youth Virtue Journal and downloadable copies of the Mentor Handbook, Mentor Meeting Report Form, Youth Character Assessments, and Youth List of Memory Verses and Bible Heroes.  This set of materials is intended for students ages 12-18 and their adult mentors or parents.  When ordering, the softbound book will be mailed in a padded envelope with an email also being sent with the downloadable parts of the kit.

We Choose Virtues Review
 This kit currently retails for $17.00 on the publisher’s website.  For the remainder of the month of June, the publisher is offering 50% off their amazing set of 12 11×17 Kids of VirtueVille Posters! To take advantage of this offer, please use Promo Code BIG50.  An additional promotional will be happening from June through August where you can receive 20% off anything in the WCV Store using Promo Code BTS20.

The inside of the Youth Virtue Journal is consistent in style to the front cover with eye appeal to many teens.  The theme of gears and mechanisms certainly focus on the “building” of one’s character.  There are nine virtues that are studied throughout the Volume 1 book that we received:  attentiveness, contentment, forgiveness, gentleness, helpfulness, honesty, obedience, perseverance, and respectfulness.  The Volume 2 journal covers diligence, kindness, patience, self-control, flexibility, gratefulness, joyfulness, punctuality, and resourcefulness.

We Choose Virtues Review

How We Used the Materials:

The materials are designed to be used with one student or in a group with an adult mentor or parent.  The suggested pace of the course is to spend one hour per week on the study and discussion with it taking a period of two weeks to cover each virtue.  As a parent, I was reluctant to use the Youth Virtue Journal with just one of my children, because I really didn’t want to convey that any one of my children needed additional training and encouragement in demonstrating these virtues in their life than another.  For this reason, we went through the study together spending time in discussion rather than doing a lot of writing.  There were times that writing down observations or key ideas was important.  For these times, one of our children would record our observations in the Youth Virtue Journal.  Ideally, we would have purchased a copy for each of the children.

The first step was for me as the mentor to become familiar with the materials and know how the program worked.  This was all clearly laid out as well as helpful information on preparing me in the mentor role.  I was really uncertain at first if it was necessary for me to read the mentor handbook since I am the MOM, but it was very valuable.  I tried to envision myself using these materials with a local group of teens rather than my own children, because honestly we all can sometimes be different when it is not our own children.  My head was now in the game and I was ready to go.

Next, the mentor is supposed to complete the Youth Character Assessment.  Because we were doing this as a family and I did not want it construed as “school”, I actually had the kids complete their own Character Assessment in the privacy of their rooms.  I encouraged total honesty and self reflection.  This is a powerful tool if an environment and relationship exist such that the student can be completely honest in their responses.  The completion of this assessment aids the student in creating personal goals and maybe really seeing themselves in a different light for the first time.  This eye opener can be the wake up call for change. I share this understanding that depending on the students you are working with it may be better for an outside, objective adult to complete the assessment.  The Youth Virtue Journal and the corresponding materials were originally designed for use with juveniles at risk in the Idaho correctional system.  Under these conditions, I would agree with the authors that it would be advisable for the mentor to complete the Character Assessment.

In the weeks that followed, we explored one virtue per week.  We followed along exactly as the book was laid out.  The students began by actually spending some time identifying a goal or dream that they have and a major obstacle in achieving it.  Next, a series of questions is presented that encourages the student to do some self examination related to the Virtue.  They then scored themselves accordingly on a scale related to how well the virtue is incorporated into their lives.  Following are some questions that help them look beyond themselves to others in their world that demonstrate positive attributes of the virtue being discussed.

Because these materials were originally designed for a secular environment, each virtue study ends with inspirational quotes from great figures in history related to the virtue.  We did not find any in contrast to Biblical principle and rejoiced that in the mentor materials there is now also included a biblical hero and scripture passages that highlight each virtue.  These can be used in place of the quotes or in addition to them.  There is also a short section after the quotations where the student can record any advice that the mentor provided directly to him/her.

An additional resource in the downloadable mentor materials is a mentor meeting form.  This is a document used by the mentor in recording significant points of discussion from the meeting with the student.  In completing this study with just my own children, I did not feel the need for formally completing this document.  I could see the benefits if it were being used in a church youth group, homeschool cooperative, or community based youth support group.

Our Thoughts:

My first honest thought when I received the Youth Virtue Journal was a sense of joy over the creativeness of the authors.  These materials were originally developed as I shared earlier for a completely secular environment.  However, when I compare the virtues that are highlighted and the way they are presented, this study is a wonderful journey of working out one’s salvation in manifesting the Fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. ~ Galatians 5:22

We also loved the fact that the questions presented were delving enough to really encourage self examination, but the book work in the youth journal was not so exhausting that the kids felt loaded down with more schoolwork.

A point for the publisher to consider is the glossy page formats.  I do feel that the glossy finish adds to the durability of the book.  At the same time, it makes it hard for the students to record their answers if they are using pencil.  The glossy finish is great if the students are using ball point pen or fine tip markers.

All in all, a great study on the fruit of the Spirit that is not overt or oppressive for the young people in your life.  Check out what others have to say in their reviews about the Youth Virtue Journal as well as another product being reviewed from the same publisher, Virtue Based Parenting Cards.  If you would like to learn more about this publisher you can find them at:

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