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Review of Circle C Milestones

Thick as Thieves Book Review


Circle C Milestones has published two previous series of books about the horse-loving Andi Carter. Now, Susan K. Marlow is back with a new series for kids 12+ about a teenage Andi in the book Thick as Thieves. In this book, Andi is 14 years old and experiences many new things, chief among them her horse's first foaling. Taffy doesn't just have a baby, though - she has twins (something my twins were, of course, delighted to read about!)! Andi has to deal not only with this exciting and perilous feat, though, she has to deal with other new experiences in this book. The new girl at school turns out to be much less friendly than Andi's other classmates, and Andi has her first experiences with a difficult peer. The evolution of their relationship is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this book. The most exciting part of the book, though, has to be the cattle rustlers at Circle C Ranch!

Thick as Thieves has much to recommend it. Any horse loving girl will adore it, but its appeal is not limited to horse lovers alone. Its themes are universal and, surprisingly, even though the book takes place in late 19th century California, resonate today. Every child, even homeschooled ones, has to deal with problematic classmates (whether at home in the form of siblings, at co-op, at extracurriculars, or in sports leagues). All children look forward to their animals giving birth for the first time. Finally, while all of us may not live on ranches and experience cattle rustlers, all children do experience times when their families have to pull together to make it through a crisis or a tough time.




Whether or not you look at this book as an educational opportunity, it is definitely a great read. My 10 year-old twins flew through it and are looking forward to the next book in the series, due out in July. If you do choose to use this for school, there is an accompanying 40-page study guide which contains not only vocabulary and comprehension questions, but also further explorations of the themes in the book, including the care of horses and a closer look at some of the places that Andi would have been exposed to in her late 19th century lifetime. It's a great way to incorporate the study of history, animal science, and geography into a novel!

In some ways, Thick as Thieves reminds me of other (quite famous) books that take place during this same time historically (and that's a great thing!), but it is definitely in a class by itself. Andi is such a (please forgive the trite phrase) plucky heroine. She is a modern girl in that she is bold and daring and unafraid of anything, but she is also of her time in her modesty and obedience. Essentially, she is the perfect role model for girls today. I have found that I quite like her. I have read several of the Circle C books for younger children, and while they are great books (and wonderful for young kids), I think I am really going to enjoy this series a lot! Reading about Andi makes me wish that I were young again (and living over 100 years ago - so many things that just aren't going to happen...)!

You can find out more about the book and its author by checking them out on social media:


https://www.facebook.com/CircleCAdventures
http://twitter.com/SuzyScribbles


Other Crew members had the opportunity to read Thick as Thieves and had a lot to say about it, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of their reviews!

Koru Naturals Review


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Roman Roads GIVEAWAY! Win a copy of THE AENEID!



Last year I had the privilege of reviewing Roman Roads Media. Their program, Old Western Culture, has been a highlight of our homeschooling journey, and as they work on completing Year 3 (Christendom), they are giving away the first DVD in Year 2 (The Romans) - The Aeneid! The best way to learn about Old Western Culture is by visiting Roman Roads website and by reading my review linked above. In essence, though, Old Western Culture is the best classical education approach to learning that I have yet encountered in over 7 years of homeschooling. I am so excited about the opportunity to share it!

To enter the giveaway, simply do the Rafflecopter dance below! The giveaway is sponsored by Roman Roads Media, and the winner will receive a copy of The Aeneid directly from them.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review of Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office

HomeSchool Office Review
I have a love/hate relationship with any kind of planning software or program. I love all of them and I hate the fact that I can't make any of them work. Well, that just might be changing thanks to a confluence of factors. First, Therese is (officially) starting high school. Second, I have found a program that is thorough, but not overly complicated. It allows me to use it either online, or by printing out its forms and writing on them longhand. In the best of both worlds (and the way I've been using it thus far), I write on the forms longhand, and then transfer the information to the online version, thus preserving it and allowing reports and transcripts to be generated. What is this game changer? HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage.

 HomeSchool Office has many, many features, and I will readily admit that I did not use all of them. I also did not use the program for all of my children. I have already found out the hardest way that when I do too much scheduling with the younger kids, I just get discouraged. I am way too prone to rabbit trails and the like to stick to a schedule that is too firm. After more than seven years homeschooling, I have discovered that despite my greatest fears, we do get our work done. We often don't get a day's work done in a day, or even a week's work done in a week, but (probably helped by the fact that we school year-round), by the grace of God, we do end up progressing nicely year-by-year. However, with Therese formally starting high school and my very pressing needs to begin keeping more formal grades and begin to build a transcript for her, I had already come to the conclusion that I was going to have to succumb to scheduling *light* for her from now on. The flexibility allowed by HomeSchool Office is looking to be a perfect fit for us.

The first step was to put in Therese's courses in order to create a schedule. The site tells exactly how to go about that process. It's essentially self-explanatory. My only complaint is that you can't input your own subject names. Because Therese's courses are very specifically named (Old Testament, Greek History, Greek Literature, Astronomy), I would have liked to have written those specific names into the schedule. Instead, I was limited to a (granted, very generous) preset selection of courses. So Therese has "History - Other" and "Literature - Other." It's a small issue, but we would both like to see her actual courses on her schedule.

So, after her courses, with expected hours and credit hours (I scheduled for one semester) are put in,


I was able to then create her schedule. If I had created a schedule for more than one child, their calendars would appear with hers, but in a different color.


This view shows the calendar as a weekly, rather than daily view.




One of the features of HomeSchool Office that I am not planning on using is the actual lesson planning, but that is because Therese has a lesson planner that guides her already (from St. Thomas Aquinas Academy), so to reenter the lessons would be very redundant. However, I have entered one below to show you HomeSchool Office's capability. For all of my other kids (none of whom use a curriculum like Therese is now doing for the first time), this kind of lesson planning feature would definitely be an asset. Most of the lesson entering features are basically automated once you have entered all of the class information.



One of HomeSchool Office's best features is its numerous reporting/tracking features. It automatically counts/accrues classroom hours for you, which if you live in a state that requires such things could be a huge benefit (God bless the great and free state of Texas!). It also allows you to generate quarterly attendance and grade reports, and it has a great transcript building feature (one of the major reasons I am excited about it - it looks so easy!).

Overall, I am very happy with HomeSchool Office. It costs $79 per family, per year. You can start with a 30-day, fully functioning trial. Your information will remain intact and your trial will convert to a full membership at the end of your trial if you decide to continue. This is one product I can see myself keeping and using for years. As my kids continue to get older, and as each of the four uses different programs and different materials, I am struggling to keep up and to keep records. When I think about dealing with four of them in high school at once and keeping up with classes, grades, and transcripts, under $100/year seems like a small price to pay to have everything always in one place. I love that I can print out what I want (since I do like paper), but that it will always be HERE when I need it to be. 

As I indicated, I am more of a minimalist and I didn't do everything with HomeSchool Office that one can do (to be fair, this program does so much that you *can't* do everything with it in six weeks!), so if you're intrigued, be sure to click the banner below to read all of the Crew reviews!

HomeSchool Office Review
Crew Disclaimer

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What Love Looks Like...

...at least in my house...




While we were in Frisco, Henry went to Ikea and bought and built this Alex drawer unit for my makeup. He also bought everything on top of it. This is the before picture, of course (after pics forthcoming). Not only does he fund my obsession hobby, but he organizes it, too! 

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Review of GPA LEARN

Critical Thinking Company Review
Computerized math programs are a big hit around here for two reasons: I don't have to teach the kids math and the kids have a blast doing them. To that end, we were delighted when we received a subscription to GPA LEARN's GPALOVEMATH program. GPALOVEMATH is a math practice subscription-based website populated by animated characters who lead a student through various "missions" as they solve math (obviously!) problems. Within each grade level (K-5), there are over 150 lessons and over 10,000 problems. What differentiates this program from many of its Internet counterparts is its unique system of rewards!



When your child begins GPALOVEMATH, he has a choice of three different color paths he can work down. Michael (10) has been working on 5th grade math. When he signs on, he sees a green path, a purple path, and a blue path.



The only lesson he can work on (unless I sign on to my parent account and manually unlock future lessons) is the current one in each path. Until he passes it at a certain level (getting 2/3 of the problems correct), the subsequent levels remain locked.

This is the Green Path:


Its focus is on order of operations. At a glance, you can see where you are, where you've been, and what's coming next.

The Blue Path focuses on graphing:



The Purple Path begins with place value:



Realize that these paths are only in 5th grade, but they are exemplary of what is available in other grades. Students can work one path at a time, or they can work multiple paths simultaneously. It's nice to have the option to move around if you get stuck or bored. It's also nice to be able to look at the locked boxes to see what's in the future! This program excels at showing students things graphically in a snapshot!

So how do those rewards figure in to the whole thing?




When you as a parent are setting up your child's account, you have the chance to populate the program with rewards. You can chose GPA LEARN's rewards, or create your own. They can be as simple as choosing an extra book to read at bedtime to having mom do the child's chores. Really, your imagination is the limit. Then, when the student has accumulated a certain number of points, their rewards become visible in their backpack. Parents can alter the rewards structure at any time. Some rewards appear automatically, while some need to be approved by the parent first.  

Michael (10) and GPALOVEMATH
Michael has not loved this program as much as I had hoped he would. Nicholas (11) is my video game fiend, and he probably would have enjoyed the whole concept of video game scenario and work-for-reward more than Michael. Unfortunately, GPALEARN does not go through Algebra! Michael is a bit simpler when it comes to math. Too many extras distract him. The introduction of a mission/scenario at the beginning of each lesson was, for him, a bit tedious. Additionally, he is not motivated very much by rewards (which is definitely our fault - we have always stressed that knowledge and academic success are their own rewards. We have never done a "reward for work or grades" type system.), so that entire aspect of the program was kind of wasted on him. Another aspect of the program that is a bit frustrating is its inability to save a lesson half-completed. In other words, if you stop a lesson anywhere but the end, you must start it over from the beginning. Having said that, you can "fast-forward" through slides, as it were, so it's not really that big of a deal.

So, GPALOVEMATH was not a great match for us, but that doesn't mean it won't be for you! If you have a child who loves video games, loves to work on the computer, and is highly motivated by rewards, I have a definite feeling that s/he will love this program! I know that were he younger, Nicky would have really enjoyed it! I also suspect that many younger children in general will love it; we are just getting to the upper limit of its targeted age level. 

Boring, but Important
GPALEARN works on a variety of platforms, including both Windows and Apple computers, iPad, and Galaxy tablets.A subscription usually costs $149/year per child, but the promo code GPAINTRO15 will lower the price to $129/year! If you don't want to commit to the full year, monthly subscriptions are available at $12.99/month per child.

Many Crew members with children of different ages got to experience GPALOVEMATH, so click the banner below to read their opinions.

GPA Learn Review
Crew Disclaimer

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Review of Critical Thinking Co.'s World History Detective

Critical Thinking Company Review



The Critical Thinking Co. is one of those curriculum companies that you are sure to know about once you've been homeschooling for, oh, about a month or so! Their distinctive logo and their unique products cause them to standout in bookstores and online. Having homeschooled for more than seven years, I thought that I was familiar with most of The Critical Thinking Co.'s products, but it turns out that I was wrong! World History Detective Book 1 was new to me! It also happens to be one of my favorites yet!

Critical Thinking Company Review
World History Detective, Book One is recommended for Grades 6-12+, retails for $34.99, and has 362 pages (which includes the answers). There are 78 total exercises. Each exercise follows a similar format. First, students read a selection of about 8-10 short paragraphs, followed by nine multiple choice questions and one written response question. In many, although not all, cases, the final exercise is a graphic organizer exercise. The reading selections include maps and timelines. All of the topics in this book are related to Ancient or Medieval Civilizations. Some of those studied include Ancient Greece and Rome, India, China, Early Europe, Medieval Japan, India, Korea, and Southeast Asia, and the Maya, Aztecs, and Inca. In other words, there is a great diversity of cultures and geography represented here!



On the face of it, the material would seem kind of simple, right? Read a selection and answer some multiple choice questions with one essay. So very, very wrong. After all, it's Critical Thinking Co.! The questions actually require some pretty intense consideration by the student, which is why I love them. Each of the sentences is numbered and all of the paragraphs are designated by letters. In this way, the questions can ask you to identify the sentence/paragraph in which you found the support for your answer. Some questions ask about fact vs. opinion. Some ask students to make inferences. These multiple choice questions are far more than your typical such questions. They require actual thought. In fact, they required a lot of thought from my 11 year-old 6th grader, which I loved (more on that in a minute).

The short answer question (a paragraph or so) asks students to do a variety of different things. Sometimes they have to answer a fairly typical question (like what kind of contribution a civilization made to history). Sometimes they have to evaluate the accuracy of a given statement. The graphic organizers vary, too (concept maps, Venn diagrams, etc.). 

Nicholas (11) and World History Detective

Nicholas was not super-enthusiastic about this product when he first saw it...until he realized what the topic was. Then, I am happy to report, he was thrilled. It has been our habit to do an exercise every week. On Monday, he reads the selection and does the multiple choice questions, on Tuesday he answers the written portion of the chapter, and on Thursday he does the graphic organizer. On Friday we discuss the entire week's work. So far, it's working great! I will say that he has had some moments of frustration because this work is not easy. He has had the most trouble with the written portion because he is at the very low end of the range for this material, and some of the questions asked are a bit above his level. We talk through them, though, and I am very lenient with how I evaluate his answers. This is not his writing program, after all, so I am much more interested in his thoughts and whether he can support his ideas with the text.

Overall, I love this product. It is such a great way to engage someone like my son who really likes workbook work, but who needs something more than most workbooks can offer. Something that you may not know about The Critical Thinking Co. is their wonderful copyright policy. They will allow you to make up to 35 copies of each page of the book per year for your home or classroom! That is the most generous policy of any company I have ever heard of! It's more than enough for my little homeschool - I will definitely be using this one with my other kids. Therese (13) wants to do it just for fun. I will have the twins (10) do it in a couple of years.

The Critical Thinking Co. very generously gave the Crew many products to review, so to see the Crew's opinions on all of them, be sure to click the banner below.


Critical Thinking Company Review


Crew Disclaimer

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Debate Tournaments



There is no way to explain the world of debate tournaments to people who have never lived in that world. I'm not even sure if there is a way to explain them to adults who are now part of them, but who were not part of them when they were kids. It's a very insulated, intense experience. Three days of a 15-16 hour/day debate tournament feels like two weeks. Lifelong friendships form (I can attest to that personally) with people who understand why you do and say the ridiculous things you do and why you value the seemingly pointless things you do. In Therese's league (NCFCA - Christian homeschool league), it's even more personal and intense because everyone there has your values system. Where else can you see whole groups of people praying before events? Yes, there is some dating (which I have absolutely no problem with), but there is none of what I guess would now be called the hook up mentality, but back when I was debating was, well, a slightly more innocent hook up mentality. When I see Therese talking to boys, I'm mentally saying, "Yay! She's completely coming out of her shell!" rather than, "Stay.Away.From.My.Baby." What a great feeling.

From my perspective, though, it's such a weird feeling. Even when I judge debate rounds, I'm still debating them. I flow the Affirmative arguments in one color, the Negative arguments in another color, and my responses in a third color. I really love talking to the debaters (it's so hard not to feel like one of them sometimes. I have to remind myself - you're old, you're old, you're old. It's not that I think I'm a kid; I don't. It's that I am so passionate about it. Sometimes I really envy my friend (okay, former friend - he dumped me when I couldn't celebrate his relationship with a man) who is a high school debate coach. I think I would have been good at that job.)).

Anyway, enough about me. On to Therese. I am so proud of the debater she is becoming. When she gets the right partner, she will be unstoppable. For this year, though, she is killing it in Impromptu. Impromptu is very hard to succeed in when you are young, primarily because the older, more experienced kids are just so good at it! They have been competing in it for upwards of 5-6 years. Many of them excel at canned impromptu speeches (a pet peeve of mine, and not a great move if I'm your judge). They tend to come across as more mature and more poised (duh). At the last tournament, Therese qualified for regionals, though. At this tournament she placed 7th. She is like the little engine that could. Last year she qualified for regionals in debate. At the age of 12. At her second tournament ever. Doesn't happen. This year she qualified in impromptu. At 13. Fairly atypical. To get to finals, you have to get 1st or 2nd in your room in semis (out of 8), so just getting to finals is ridiculous. Then, not to get last in finals was amazing!

Forgive the rather stream-of-consciousness post. Call it a download of sorts. For now, I'm just glad there is a month until the next tournament!

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