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Review of Apologia's Flourish

Flourish Book Review
Apologia Educational Ministries is pretty much the first name in homeschooling. If it's not one of the first companies you learn about when you start homeschooling, you likely don't have a computer. Or a friend - because friends tell friends about Apologia. It seems entirely appropriate, then, that it is Apologia that brings us the book Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms by Mary Jo Tate, because Mrs. Tate talks to her readers as if they were her friends.

Flourish Book Review


Simply reading the sample of this book available on Apologia's website spoke to me, as Mrs. Tate talks about something that I think about every day. She notes that there are great resources on the market for homeschooling moms - guides and planners that include schedules for school and home maintenance - but that these planners don't take into account the needs of working moms! Now, she speaks specifically of a home business. My work (freelance writing) isn't really a home business, but it is definitely a more-than-part time job, and I can't fit my life into someone else's schedule. In fact, it is axiomatic with me that I have time to do 2 out of 3 necessary things in an given day. Every day I need to teach the kids, work, and take care of the house. I can get two of those done, but never three. Right off the bat, Mrs. Tate seemed to "get" that conundrum. Needless to say, I knew I had to read this book!

What is Flourish?

Flourish is many things rolled into one book. Think of it as a self-help book, a motivational guide, a planner, a workbook, and something more that is ineffable. To give you some idea of what is in the book, here is the Table of Contents:


1. An Invitation to Flourish

2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time

3. The FREEDOM Toolbox

4. Where Did My Time Go? (Me - Don't we all ask that?!)

5. Aim High: Setting Goals

6. What Do I Do Next? Seven Essential Planning Tools

7. We Interrupt This Program

8. It's Time for an Attitude Adjustment (Me again - I always forget that this is half the battle!)

9. Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days

10. Training Your Children

11. Making Memories

12. Managing Your Home

13. All of Life is Learning

14. Solo Act: Flourishing as a Single Mom (me: I'm so glad for the inclusion of this chapter. There are so many women in this situation, and too few books in the homeschooling world address their needs.)

15. Home Business

16. Moving Ahead


Not only are these chapters almost compulsively readable, but each chapter is followed by time for reflection. I appreciated this forced stop at the end of the chapter, as I read fast and if I am not compelled to slow down, I won't. This book is one that is meant to be digested slowly, though, and not gobbled in one sitting. Of course, how you read is up to you, and you certainly can gobble. Doing so will cause you to miss so much, though, not the least of which are the exercises at the end of the chapters! Mrs. Tate has clearly anticipated her audience well, as she requires you to consider what she has told you in each chapter before you move on to the next. Because each chapter builds on the previous one, this step is necessary if you truly want to glean something from her book.

So what are you supposed to take away from Flourish? I think more than anything, Mrs. Tate's message is one of hope and encouragement. First, you have more time than you think (part of the process of the book is keeping a time log - that is *always* a painful process. It's like wearing my Fitbit - I learned that, for the most part, I *am* realistic about where my time (calories) go, but there are those cases where things get away from me.). Seeing those discrepancies is important - if not always enjoyable!

Second, it's okay not to be perfect. Whenever I read a book like this, I always worry that I will be smacked over the head with my own inadequacies over and over again (like anyone could do that better than I!), but Flourish does not do that. If anything, it does the opposite. Mrs. Tate encourages you to be at peace with the fact that the reality does not live up to the ideal. As a perfectionist, I balk at that notion, but as a WAHM who homeschools 4 kids (including one who is...difficult), it is a message I need to hear over and over again.

Third, organization can work. One great perk of buying Flourish (a bargain at $15) is that you then get access to bonus downloads including scheduling forms. Honestly, it's a work in progress (the organization, that is!), but that is no justification for giving it up altogether. I read some books and feel like throwing in the towel. When I read Flourish, I felt just the opposite.

Whether you are organized or not, work from home or don't, are a single mom like Mrs. Tate or an old married lady like me, Flourish has something to say to you. It is written for all moms and would be enjoyed by all moms. Click the banner below to see what other Crew moms thought.


 
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Review of HomeSchoolPiano

Homeschool Piano Review

I often reflect on technology and think about Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock. Naturally, I didn't read the book in 1970 (more like 1996), but I am often struck by how right Toffler was about so many things (technological overload = psychological breakdown). I find myself longing for the pace of life to just slow down and for technology to let up already! Of course, I have selective enforcement in my little world because when it comes to homeschooling advancements and technology, I always say, "Bring it On!" (yes - in caps, no less!). I'll explore my contradictory nature in another post, but for this one I get to tell you about the best piano lessons I have seen online anywhere...and I've seen a few. HomeSchoolPiano offers the equivalent of private piano lessons in your home (minus the personal feedback, but with great customer service) at a fraction of the price of non-online in-home lessons. The HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books that we have been reviewing has blown me away with, yes, its basic lessons, but even more with its emphasis on improvisation - what a novel approach!

Homeschool Piano Review

The Important Details

HomeSchoolPiano is for kids of all ages and has two different payment options, both of which give you lifetime access to all of their amazing online content, including the following:

  • CorePiano - over 30 lessons to teach you the essentials of piano playing.
  • Book 1 - for beginners, includes six original songs and lessons in how to read music and improvise.
  • Book 2 - works through music reading, technique, rhythm, songs, and improvisation. 
  • Book 3 - focuses on learning how to create piano arrangements.

Lifetime access (for 5 children) to the material costs $299, which can be paid all at once, or over the course of 3 months as three payments of $99.97 each. Each plan also includes access to all of the bonus material, which is comprised of a jam track download, sheet music (great to print out and bind as a workbook-style accompaniment for the lessons), and, best of all, the ability to download all of the material - including the video lessons!

How We Have Been Enjoying HomeSchoolPiano

I have had two kids in particular really liking this program (and another who can't wait to use it, but whose schedule is a little busier with school right now). Therese (almost 13) took piano lessons for a couple of years and was very sad to stop, so she has been quite happy to be taking lessons again. Since she has had lessons before, it has been a bit of an adjustment for her to get used to another teacher and style, but that adjustment has hardly been something that has compromised her learning experience. If anything, it has galvanized her to work more on the piano than she otherwise would. Not only has she been learning with HomeSchoolPiano, but she has also picked up practicing her previous material, so she has actually been learning piano on two fronts. She has not really had a "set" time to do HomeSchoolPiano this summer. Rather, she decides when she wants to work on it, and then she sits down and does so. I started her with Level 2, which was a hard decision. Technique-wise it was too easy, but because of HomeSchoolPiano's focus on improvisational work, it was where she needed to be. 

Michael (9) is perhaps a better look at HomeSchoolPiano in our home, simply because he started at the beginning. It's not that you can't start in the middle - you absolutely can - but I think HomeSchoolPiano is like a lot of curriculum: when you begin at the beginning, you are better able to get a feel for the curriculum.

Michael has never taken piano before, despite a sincere interest in doing so. Hence, he started with CorePiano and "scheduled" lessons. He was a little offended, as both Therese and Nicholas (11) have taught him the basics of piano (Middle C, scales, very, very basic music reading), but he wasn't quite ready for Book 1 yet (and with a Lifetime Subscription there is no need to rush! Yay!). 



With HomeSchoolPiano, Michael simply gets my iPad and sits down at the piano to work. It is completely student-friendly. Apart from printing the sheet music, there is nothing I have to do. Brilliant! Best of all, Michael really enjoys it. The overhead view of the piano keys (which I hope is apparent in these pictures) is the best way that I have yet seen to teach an online piano class. The orientation is exactly what the student needs to see. There are no distracting characters, cartoons, or cuteness. Such things may be nice for really young kids, but for kids the ages of mine, they are annoying and they result in the perceived loss of legitimacy for the program. 

Why HomeSchoolPiano is Different

There are several different options for piano lessons online, so it's important to understand why HomeSchoolPiano is different (better) than the others. First, you are purchasing lifetime access for up to five students. That makes this program almost ridiculously affordable. And these are *legitimate* lessons. You can sign up for a free lesson on the website to see what I mean, but you won't be disappointed. Second, and this is the biggie for me, Willie Myette's, the vision behind HomeSchoolPiano, inclusion of improvisation makes this program unlike any other. 

Knowing how to play music is half the battle, but how much more adept a player is the one who can sit down and take off on a song and make it their own? Learning with HomeSchoolPiano will allow your child to master that skill. It is the part of the program that Therese enjoys the most. She is really excited to learn more. I think everyone has heard someone playing a familiar song on the piano and then taking it in a new turn. Being able to do so is what sets them apart from the crowd. In order to be able to do that, you really have to understand how to play, rather than just memorizing notes. The fact that HomeSchoolPiano can teach that just blows me away. I find this program so impressive. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that my kids like it, but they would be doing it even if they didn't.

I actually do think about technology and its limits all the time (and I do recommend Future Shock - it's a funny combination of quaint and percipient and, in an odd way, timely), but when technology can bring Willie Myette and his piano lessons into my home, I'll cope with my own future shock for awhile longer.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of HomeSchoolPiano. To see what other Crew families, thought, please click the banner below.

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Living with Chronic Pain

Please forgive my absence. Please also forgive the repeat topic posting. I know I've posted on this issue before, but because it is so ever-present in my life, I think there are things I've said that bear repeating. Living with chronic pain affects everyone around you. There are many different kinds of chronic pain and some are more debilitating than others. In case there is one person on the planet who doesn't know mine, I suffer from severe migraines. When I say severe, I mean the kind that puts you to bed for days at a time. I was about 8 when I was diagnosed, but I have had them since I can remember. It's just that migraine is not a common diagnosis for a kid (and I had to have all of the "rule out" tests to make sure I wasn't actually dying, which is what it felt like). Sometimes I have nausea and vomiting (I know - savory), but not always. It's not a requirement for a migraine, contrary to popular belief. In any case, here are four things to keep in mind if you live with someone with chronic, debilitating (as in it compromises their ability to live a normal life) pain:

1. They don't enjoy it. I know that some people say that they would love to spend a day in bed like I "get" to once or twice a week (or more). No you wouldn't. I'm not getting extra rest. I'm in pain - sometimes so much pain that I can't move a muscle, sometimes so much that I writhe. When the headache breaks I'm much more exhausted than I was before it started...and guess what exhaustion can lead to? Yep - migraines.

2. They hate what their pain does to their families more than they hate what it does to them. In my case, my migraines meant that Therese (10 days away from being 13!) knew how to change diapers on infants when she was 3 (and she was good at it!), could make lunch for toddlers when she was 3.5, and could be trusted to monitor a toddler's crib and twins' swings for signs of activity/irregularity at the same age while I was passed out on the couch. Now that everyone is older, it means that the kids do school by themselves some days and carry on quietly while I exist in my quiet, dark bedroom. Sometimes they miss their activities. I often feel that my life is slipping away while I am lying in bed.

3. They are not faking it. I know that sometimes it is tempting to look at someone with pain issues and say, "Really? Man up for Pete's sake...it's just a headache/other ailment!" I am quite sure that there are people out there who do milk their suffering for sympathy, but there are far more who don't. Just because you can take two Tylenol and be rid of your headache does not mean that someone who is not that fortunate is faking it or not trying hard enough. Many people with severe migraines can take some serious drugs and have absolutely no pain relief at all. I'm in that category, so much so that I have a cabinet full of impressive sounding drugs that I wouldn't even consider touching when I have a headache - there's just no point.

4. Pain can seriously impact a person's life. I often think about the fact that I don't think I could hold a "real" job. As it is, I often find myself scrambling to keep up/catch up with my work-at-home job. I have a wonderful boss who doesn't blink an eye if something is a couple of days late (primarily because of my long history with him and the fact that I have never not delivered something I said I would deliver), but there are times I have had a deadline and I have had to drag myself up to pull it together. There are many times where I have had to let something go that I have wanted to do because I couldn't make it with a headache. On days that I *don't* have a headache (and it's rare that I don't have some kind of headache, but most days I can at least function), I have to get as much done as I can so that I can hedge my bets for those headache days. Sometimes, though, I just can't get ahead because I have so many stacked consecutively. Then the dominoes start to fall...

I absolutely don't want this post to sound like I'm complaining - I'm not! In fact, I have a very Catholic view of suffering. I consider it a gift (read the article - I promise I'm not just saying that!), and on my better days I am truly thankful for the opportunity to share in the tiniest way in Christ's suffering for me. Plus, as I remind my children migraines aren't fatal, and as long as we're dealing with something that's not fatal, we'll all be okay. I just think it's so important for people not to jump to conclusions about others and to keep in mind that just because you can't see at a glance what someone is going through, it doesn't mean that they are not going through something quite impactful.

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Review of WriteShop Junior Book D Set

WriteShop Review


Writing is one of those things that I assumed would be easy to teach my kids. I love to write. I write well. Ergo, I can teach my kids to write well. That approach worked really well with Therese. With Nicky...not so much. In general, if an approach worked well with Therese, it will not work all that well with Nicky. When the chance came to review the incredibly well-regarded WriteShop, then, I was very anxious to see how it would work for my newly 11 year-old!

Deciding what level to get for Nicky was very, very hard for me. He has not done much in the way of formal writing, but his grammar program is high school level. In fact, he is almost done with formal grammar altogether. Because WriteShop incorporates grammar, I knew that we would be adapting the program regardless of the level we chose. Finally, I decided to go with WriteShop Junior: Book D Set.

The WriteShop website indicates that this level is ideal for third and fourth graders, but that it can also be used for reluctant fifth grade writers and, possibly, some sixth graders. Since Nicky is a rising sixth grader and has, as I indicated, not done much of a formal writing curriculum, I decided to put him here (just for perspective, the Crew was able to pick from WriteShop products through Level E). The WriteShop website indicates that students who have not yet learned punctuation and grammar skills should start with this level. Again, Nicky has mastered both of those skills, so I was hesitant to start him here, but it was the fact that Book D teaches structuring sentences, writing paragraphs, and using sentences of varying length that convinced me to start him here. Book D teaches these skills through letter writing, historical fiction, personal narrative, and mystery and adventure stories (among others).


WriteShop Review
The WriteShop Junior: Book D Set I received came with a lot of components that can be purchased separately! First is the Teacher's Guide ($45.95 - print, $35.50 - ebook). This book is 266 pages long and includes daily lesson plans (which, I know, is a must for some moms!). There is a *ton* of information in this guide. It is ideally suited to the mom who truly has no idea as to how to go about teaching her child writing. Interspersed throughout the guide are quotes from moms who have used the guide explaining features they like. Part of the lesson is 100% scripted, telling you exactly what to say to your child, even going so far as to script the child's correct/anticipated response. You can see a sample here.



WriteShop Review

The set I received also included the Activity Pack with Fold-N-Go Grammar ($45.95 - print, $35.50 - ebook). This product is really neat and will be the primary reason some families will want to seriously consider WriteShop. This product is actually two separate components of WriteShop Book D. One we used extensively and the other we did not (but some families will!). The first part is 60 pages of worksheets that are integral to the writing program. They are the student worksheets, including brainstorming sheets, journal prompts, reading logs, and self-editing checklists. The Teacher Guide will always tell you when you are going to need one of these worksheets. 

WriteShop Review

The second part of the book is the Grammar portion of this program. It is the part that was redundant to our studies, but for families with a need for a grammar program, it is a year's worth of grammar lapbooks! I actually tried to get my son to make one of these Fold-N-Go guides despite the fact that it is years too young for him, but he balked severely (and if you have a special needs child of any kind, especially one with an explosive temper, you know that you pick your battles). These guides are quite ingenious for crafty kids, though. Using your own file folders, you print what are essentially reference guides on each of the parts of speech, capitalization, and references on colored paper and you then assemble portable reference guides you can keep on hand. Reference bookmarks are also included. Throughout the WriteShop Teacher's Guide, you are prompted to have your child refer to the Fold-N-Gos if he forgets what, for example, an adjective is.

I also received the Time Saver Pack ($11.50 - ebook only). This one is optional, but it is neat to have. 



This resource contains 20 pages of game cards, tokens, and other materials that are referenced in the WriteShop Teacher's Guide. If you plan to use every aspect of the program, you will want to purchase this add-on. While you could make these materials yourself, for the small added cost, it is definitely worth it to buy it from the company. You will save yourself so much time!

Nicholas (11) and WriteShop

This is a program I wanted to love. There were parts of it that I really did enjoy, and using it with Nicky definitely showed me where I need to concentrate my efforts in teaching him to write, but the main thing I learned from trying to use WriteShop with Nicky is that the program is not suited to either one of our personalities. First of all, I don't do well with fully scripted programs. I don't need the script. I never stick to a schedule laid out for me in a program to begin with (I always do way more than is allotted for a single day), and I never use a program without tweaking it at least a little. All of that adds up to Script=Bad. Second, neither Nicky nor I are crafty. This program lends itself to crafty. There are games that require some cutting of materials, the Fold-N-Gos are all about crafting, etc. Third, for me, the amount of teacher preparation required for this program seemed very intense. Please let me clarify: for some moms, this wouldn't be the case. We are all so different! I don't mind reading 200 pages of Homer in order to get ready to discuss The Iliad with my daughter. I love it. It's not work. Ask me to try to look between different books to print this page and collate it with that page because we have to consider this game or that all just to write a letter of invitation and I glaze over. I just sat down with Nicky and said, "Write a letter of invitation." Bada boom. This program is definitely one of those that is either right up your alley or not. It's that simple.

So I've made it pretty clear what we didn't do (cutting, games). What did we do? Ah, the beauty of homeschooling! There is a ton in this program that makes it very worthwhile even for those of us who don't care for the "extras." I knew pretty much right away that 85% of the program was too young for Nicky (even in the lesson in Haiku, which he really enjoyed, the script, which I didn't use, but enjoyed reading parts out loud to him, prompted me to remind him what an adjective was if he didn't remember - he thought that was hilarious). That was my fault. When they say 3rd grade, they are pretty much right on. I was going on the lack of formal writing instruction, but, as it turns out, Nicky writes pretty well for someone who hasn't had much formal writing instruction - I credit that to reading quality books. I digress. What I did was not go in the order of the book, and I went MUCH faster than is intended. I did the first lesson immediately upon receiving WriteShop, and then realized that if I didn't want open rebellion on my hands, we were going to have to move forward and jump around. This is not the way the program is intended - it is definitely iterative and builds on itself, especially if you are also using the grammar portion. However, we were not using the grammar portion, and when you are teaching a 2e (twice exceptional) kid, you are used to asynchronicity and to jumping around!

My next stop was Haiku. I remember loving learning about it when I was a kid, and I hoped that learning something completely different would be interesting for Nicky, too. It was! Again, much of the material in the Teacher's Guide was superfluous. It has one teaching syllables. Nicky *did* have trouble learning syllables back when he was 4 (it is legendary in our family how he made "mailbox" have first one, then three), but thankfully those days are behind us! He enjoyed the challenge of thinking of multi-syllable words to describe his subject (dogs), however, and I relished a little less the challenge of requiring him to spend more than 10 minutes on the task. 



In the end, though, he came up with this:

Dogs

awesome, loving, cute
bounding playfully outside
bright, black, beautiful

Now all of the kids want to write Haiku. The process through which WriteShop takes a student in order to write a finished Haiku is quite good. Whether you need a complete script or whether you prefer to free form, the worksheets for brainstorming are terrific, and I love that you can print as many as you want with the ebook version.

After Haiku, I backtracked to science fiction (we're on a big Doctor Who kick here right now). Again, while I skipped a lot of the "extras" that I know some other moms are going to love, but that send Nicky into a tantrum-tailspin, there was still so much in this chapter to love! The objective of this lesson is adding details to the middle of a story, and this is an area where Nicky is weak. Like most kids, he loves to write stories and, like most kids, he starts off with a bang, writes enthusiastically, wanes in the middle, and then has his surprise stellar ending! Again, for us, it was the journal prompt and brainstorming pages that were instrumental in helping Nicky understand the importance of those middle section details. For kids who are more tactile, there is a neat construction paper "sandwich" activity that could be very illustrative of the key ingredient that is the middle! 

Nicky wouldn't let me include his story here. He was embarrassed enough that I wrote down his Haiku (I was allowed to do so on the condition that I edited for spelling - his original spelling of beautiful was not included in the final draft posted here). I was so pleased, though! He definitely learned from the WriteShop lesson.

Recently, Nicky has been working on writing a personal narrative. Here he is sitting in my room working on writing down emotions he experienced and the senses through which he experienced them (ignore the knitting bags spilling over in the corner). This assignment has been a little challenging for him. Like most boys his age, he is not used to really thinking about the nuances associated with his emotions. I am anxious to see how this assignment plays out.


Concluding Thoughts

As I said, I really wanted to like WriteShop. While I definitely found ways to use it with Nicky, it is not exactly what I hoped for. I can definitely see it being an ideal program for some families, though. For kids who love any curriculum that incorporates crafts or games, this is perfect. For moms who want to make writing fun and want a program that makes grammar integral (and crafty!), this is perfect. If you require a script, this is perfect. Further, for all you get, it's very reasonably priced. Finally, if you start your journey with WriteShop, you will not be disappointed with the later levels of the program!

You can find WriteShop at the following places on the Web:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writeshop
Twitter: https://twitter.com/writeshop
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/writeshop/boards/
Instagram: http://instagram.com/kimkautzer
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+Writeshop/

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Is It Just Me?

...or is it much harder to sleep when you know you have to get up early in the morning?

...or is it infinitely frustrating when there is a book whose story is so good that you are dying for your daughter to read it, but *one* scene renders that impossible? (I'm talking about you, Clan of the Cave Bear)

...or is it a bit of a shock to spend time with non-homeschooled kids after spending almost all your time with homeschooled ones?

...or is there anything more heartbreaking than seeing your child constantly passed over for the prettier/more popular/more outgoing/pushier girls in (insert activity of choice)...and that's by the teachers?! Okay, yes, there are plenty of more heartbreaking things, but 30 year old ladies: high school is over. You don't have to kiss up to the popular girls. Oh, and that goes double for you moms.

...or is it kind of hard to read Facebook posts wherein moms rhapsodize about how much they have learned from their little hellions? About how parenting their alphabet soup child has made them come to terms with their failings as a parent and as a person and how they wouldn't change a darn thing. Maybe I'm just a bad person or a bad mother, but I hang on by the skin of my teeth every day. If not for the grace of God, I don't know how I would cope with my alphabet souper (ADHD, OCD, TS). I am not grateful to him for making me come to terms with my failings. I sort of begin every day praying that we'll both make it through the day relatively unscathed and that my other children will come through the entire experience of their childhood somewhat undamaged (no drama here - I have stories I could tell). Of course I love my son, but I am not going to go posting all over FB about how he has made me a better person. I try very hard to keep it real for all the moms who struggle and need it real. It is a struggle. By keeping it honest, though, even the small victories mean something.

...or is it just ridiculous when people make interpersonal comparisons of personal angst...of any kind? It's a social choice/game theory maxim that you can't make interpersonal comparisons of personal utility. In other words, what is important to me and to what degree it is important can't in any meaningful way be measured against the same for you. Well, it's true for angst, too. You may look at my life and wonder what on Earth I'm carping about: after all, x, y, and z (surely you've met them?) have it so much worse. That is an invalid statement. I'm getting far afield, but I've written on this before, so when I'm on my computer, I'll link the articles.

Anyway, maybe it's all just me! Does anything resonate?

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Review of Veritas Press' Self-Paced Omnibus I

Veritas Press Review
Before I started homeschooling, I taught at a Catholic classical school. I could write volumes on that brief experience, but suffice it to say that it was at that time that I first became acquainted with Veritas Press, not because our school used their curriculum (remember, it was a Catholic school), but because while exploring our local homeschool store for materials for my class, my eye was caught by the gorgeous Omnibus text. Having once seen that baby in person, one is not likely to forget it. It is (literally) a work of art! When I started homeschooling shortly thereafter, I kept returning to that beautiful textbook, but I could never quite bring myself to commit to the program, primarily because I am such a peripatetic homeschooler!



Imagine my utter delight, then, when Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus I was offered for review! Recommended for ages 12 (7th grade) and up, it is tailor made for Therese and me! Before I get into the delights of this course, let's get the boring (but highly necessary!) basics out of the way. This course costs $295 (with a $100 sibling discount!). The time period studied is the ancient world through the end of the first century. The course is presented through a series of lectures, interviews, and group discussions (among experts) that you, the student, get to "sit in" on and observe. It is primarily a lecture course, though. Assignments include reading and worksheets. Works considered in Omnibus I include:

  • Genesis and Exodus
  • Gilgamesh
  • Codes of Hammurabi and Moses
  • The Odyssey of Homer
  • Landmark Herodotus
  • Aeschylus' The Oresteia Trilogy 
  • Plutarch Vol. 1
  • Sophocles' The Theban Trilogy
  • The Last Days of Socrates
  • The Early History of Rome
  • The Aeneid
  • The Twelve Caesars
  • Julius Caesar

The gorgeous Omnibus I text itself is strongly suggested, although not required. 

Before signing up for the course, the website will test your computer's compatibility for you. The requirements are pretty basic. You will need Flash, a decent connection speed for streaming, and a pretty basic screen resolution size. Now, I realize I just said that you need Flash, but Therese has done all of her work on the iPad, and we have not used a Flash browser. I'm not sure how. I'm curious if other people have been able to do that as well. Ironically, I was not able to use my laptop as it kept telling me that I needed a certain screen resolution size and mine doesn't fit the bill. My laptop is only a few months old, and it is top of the top of the line. Its screen resolution is twice that required by Veritas. No matter what I did, though, Omnibus would not run on it. I didn't call customer service (I'm sure it would have been an easy fix) for two reasons: Omnibus I runs fine on all of our other computers and, as I said, Therese has been doing it on the iPad anyway. In fact, I have lately been projecting the iPad onto the TV (I *love* technology!), so I saw no need to pursue the issue of my fussy computer.

How It Works

The course is *very* easy to use. There is a parent account and a student account. The student launch page looks like this:



You can see from Therese's name in the upper right hand corner (in the above picture) that she is logged in.

In the picture below, I am logged in. I can see at a glance what assignments Therese has done, what she has upcoming, and what her grades are. Please ignore her grade. She is mortified that it is not an A. She got an "F" on a quiz about covenants. I watched her retake it. I have a minor in Theology and *I* found that puppy hard! It was a definitional thing more than anything else. Too much justification (no pun intended - ha!)? In any case, you can see how easy it is to follow what your child is doing from this page.



Also, your child can't move ahead in the course until she has completed the current assignment. Succeeding assignments remain locked. That means that no matter how much she may want to get to Homer, the Code of Hammurabi comes first! In a Great Books course like this one, that enforced progression is necessary, and I appreciate that Veritas Press has set up its self-paced course that way. 

Therese (12 - but almost 13!) and Omnibus I

I will confess that while Therese was excited about getting this course, I was beside myself. This reading list is a condensed version of my first year in Honors at University of St. Thomas, a Great Books program. Freshman year in the Honors program is the Old Testament and the Greeks. I knew when I started homeschooling that I would be teaching my Honors curriculum to my kids when they were old enough. I suffered through phonics and addition and have, I will admit, held Therese to a very high standard and schooled her year-round to get to the point where we could study the fun stuff (disclaimer: she is ridiculously bright and she loves school - she hasn't resented my efforts. Much.)...and the fun stuff is here!

There are other Great Books-ish programs out there. They call themselves classical. They succeed at some things and fail at others. Their primary failure is that they base their programs off of one essay by Dorothy Sayers and think that they are accomplishing classical education. I don't really care all that much what you call it. If it doesn't teach the Great Books - that canon that has been taught for hundreds of years - I'm not interested. Veritas Press teaches the Great Books. I could write reams on why they are important, but that's not my focus here (note to self: write reams on why the Great Books are important). Moreover, it doesn't dumb them down or teach the kiddie version (I'm not sure how you could do kiddie Sophocles...the mind boggles). It introduces kids of a fairly young age to works of great importance (and perhaps to the first feminist - Anitgone).

I'll admit - I thought that Therese was in love with this program as much as I was. When we first got it, she abandoned all her other school work to work on it and I was completely fine with that. She started off doing multiple lessons a day and moved through the Genesis section very quickly. She really liked watching three Bible scholars discuss the three views of Creationism (although she did not appreciate me making her read the relevant sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in order to make sure that she was completely grounded in Catholic teaching on Creationism. Yes, it's something we have talked about extensively, but I realized she had never actually read the Magesterium on the subject and I thought it entirely appropriate that she did. She just saw it as a lot of work. Oh, well. It's what I do.), and I liked the balanced presentation of the material. I really enjoyed seeing people discuss such a subject in a somewhat rational manner. It's very rare in my world!

I know that Therese does enjoy the course, and I know that she is looking forward to continuing with it, but I was a little surprised when I asked her to share her opinion for this review. This is what she said:

"I enjoy it. I like that it is a self-paced course. I find the reading material interesting and a nice break from my normal school work. I think the lectures are kind of long, and while I have learned some things from them, they served best as a review before the quizzes. I have already studied much of this subject matter before, so I am hoping that I will learn more as the course gets into material that is completely new to me. As a Catholic, I have found a couple of things Mr. Etter has said to be either confusing or at odds with what I believe. For example, I don't believe the Greek and Roman gods were real and were demons. However, I am prepared for things like this to come up in Protestant courses. I did enjoy it when Mr. Etter interviewed the Rabbi who talked about reading certain parts of the Old Testament more figuratively, as that is consistent with how we as Catholics are taught to interpret the Bible. I appreciate the presentation of different points of view. I am not a big fan of the street interviews included as part of the lectures."

I so enjoyed her perspective! While I am looking at the big picture and see this as a wonderful Great Books course, Therese is, of course focusing on what is immediately relevant to her: the presentation of the material. As she mentioned, she has covered Genesis, Exodus, and Gilgamesh in other courses, so she is definitely looking forward to moving on. She is studying the Code of Hammurabi and Moses right now (more review), but Herodotus is coming and, apart from snippets I have read to her, that will be new material. Also, I definitely understand that she struggles with this material being delivered from a Reformed Protestant perspective, but she is very well grounded in her Catholicism, and she knows when the beliefs presented conflict with what we believe. It makes for some great apologetics training!

Further, because she is the one actually reading all of the material (while I have just skimmed), she was able to tell me something I hadn't realized about the program: her primary observation is that the essays are far more about how the readings relate to God and a Christian worldview than they are about the readings themselves. In less convoluted terms, the essay on The Code of Hammurabi is not so much on The Code of Hammurabi as it is on laws in general and on how people without God's laws (these are Therese's words now) were not able to have a successful society. This approach is not the one that I take toward teaching the Great Books. It sounds awful to say that I don't teach everything as it relates to God, but, well, I don't. Our whole day is imbued with our Catholicism, but sometimes a classic is just a classic. That's my take.

Final Thoughts

I think I've been pretty clear about most of the things we like and dislike about this program, but there are a couple of minor things I wouldn't mind seeing changed. As I said, Therese failed a quiz miserably. She went back and took it (multiple times!), but could not change her grade at all. For a kid who loathes anything other than an A, that was irritating for her. I'm not a fan of allowing an F to be replaced entirely, but I think allowing two grades to be averaged would not be a bad thing. 

Also, as I have said, you can't start this course anywhere but the beginning. As I have indicated, overall I think this approach is a very good one. For some kids who have studied this material before, though, repeating the reading can be tedious. Allowing them to "place out" of it by taking a quiz might be an option. Then again, though, as Therese observed, the entire point of the course is to impart this particular worldview, so allowing this kind of skipping ahead would probably not be tenable.

I have such mixed feelings about this course! On some levels I really like it a lot! For what it is, I think it ends up being as balanced as it can be. To be clear, Veritas makes no bones about where they are coming from. You know going in that you are taking a Biblical Worldview course from Reformed Protestants (so many serious capital letters!). For this time period, I don't find that to be all that problematic for Catholics (caveat: I absolutely don't think that Catholics who are not well-grounded in their own faith should ever take courses like these). In fact, the course has raised several great talking points for Therese and me. 

However, Therese has made some great points. She wants to learn about the literature she is reading. She does not want to learn about why the cultures that produced this literature would have been better off with God. Of course they would have - that's a given. Again, that is one girl's opinion. If you are seeking a course that introduces your child to some of the must-read literature from (mostly) Western Civilization, but you want to ensure that your child gets this literature delivered with a healthy dose of Biblical Worldview, this course is EXACTLY what you are looking for! Especially if you have not studied these works yourself, you can rest assured that your child will be in eminently qualified hands and that she will only be learning things consistent with a Biblical Worldview. For parents who are a little gun shy about letting their kids study ancient cultures because of the prevalence of pagan gods, this course is an excellent choice: you can study the material without fear of learning false teaching.

Other Crew families got to review Omnibus I as well as other really neat Veritas Press online classes. Click the banner below to read about their unique experiences.


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Suffering = Salvation

There are many reasons I am so blessed to be Catholic, but one of the most important is that Catholicism imbues suffering with meaning. From the time I was very young, I can remember my father and my grandmother telling me to offer up my suffering for the souls in Purgatory. Far from being offended or feeling that they were unsympathetic, I was so happy when they told me that! Knowing that my suffering, physical or mental, not only unites me with Christ in his suffering on the cross, but that it also eases the suffering of the Holy Souls in Purgatory as they await the day when they will be with God in Heaven makes even the most painful trials so much more bearable. Without that idea, in fact, suffering seems completely pointless and arbitrary. I actually don't know how people who *don't* offer up their suffering deal with it. Do they find any meaning in it at all?


Meme credit: http://www.catholicbible101.com/memes.htm

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