Friday, June 27, 2014

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?

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Words About Fathe

On Father's Day, a couple of wise words...and a Happy Father's Day to my husband, Henry, and my father, John. They share a birthday and many other qualities.

"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." - Colossians 3:21

"An effective father devotes himself to become an instrument and model of human experience to his children...
accepts and affirms his children for who they are, appreciates them for what they are accomplishing, 
and covers them with affection because they are his." - Gordon MacDonald

"And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, 
but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." - Ephesians 6:4 NKJV

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review of Learning Wrap-Ups

Learning Wrap-Ups Review

I have to say that one of the reasons I love being on the Crew is getting packages. Who doesn't love getting packages? And packages of *curriculum*? I mean, come's like Christmas! The package that came from Learning Wrap-ups recently, though, was completely unbelievable: we're talking Christmas and birthday. And Mother's Day. Opening that box was more fun than should be legal (you know what's really kind of sad? I'm not exaggerating - my fellow curriculum junkies know the feeling well!). We received everything you see below, in addition to a one-year subscription to This is going to take a fun, delicious while, so let's get right to it (because you may think you know Learning Wrap-ups, but trust me, you don't actually know Learning Wrap-ups!).

What We Reviewed

Michael and Mary-Catherine (both 9), were the lucky recipients of this review experience. They are both in 4th grade math and 4th grade reading. Like so many kids, they read at a much higher level, but their mastery of key concepts is a bit behind (that homeschooling conundrum of you know it will be on the standardized test and you know they need to know things like "Main Idea," but actually taking school time away from things like Latin and history to teach it is hard). That's why I was ecstatic to receive 4th Grade Math Learning Palette 1 Base Center Kit ($71.99) and 3rd Grade Reading 1 Base Center Kit ($61.99). 

If you're anything like me, you only knew Learning Wrap-ups as those nifty little gadgets that taught kids their multiplication facts. Well, they certainly are that, but they are so much more. They have these nifty things called Learning Palettes, which you can see my twins using above! The concept of the Learning Palette is quite simple, but its appeal has to be universal. The yellow circle is plastic. You insert a sturdy plastic-coated card (like those found in these sets 4th Grade Level Curriculum Packs - $57.99 and 3rd Grade Level Curriculum Packs - $47.99) and simply match up the correct plastic disc with the correct answer (what my twins are doing in the first picture). When you're done, you flip over the card and if the discs match what is printed on the card, you know the answers are right. It is completely self-correcting (what my twins are doing in the second picture)!

While we were fortunate enough to get two complete kits (which come with the curriculum packs), you only need one complete kit because you only need one palette. You can use any and all cards with it. That's why it is the perfect product to grow with your child. This is such an ideal way for a young child to learn in a way that feels like play, or for an older child who is a kinesthetic learner to be able to master concepts in a way that is tailor-made to his learning style. There are math curriculum packs for grades K-5 and reading curriculum packs for grades K-3. 

Michael and Mary-Catherine with Learning Palettes

I was very excited to try the Learning Palettes with my twins, although I had different reasons for my excitement with each twin. Michael is dysgraphic, so any curriculum option that allows him to learn without requiring him to write a lot is a huge winner in my book. This one was no exception. He started the 4th grade math curriculum pack with the Algebra Concepts card pack and it was the perfect place for him to start. He continued using his regular math program, but then did the Learning Palette cards every day. In fact, he blew through the first 12 cards on the first day! Both Michael and Mary-Catherine both kept asking if they could play with the Learning Palettes! At this point, Michael has done all of the 4th grade math cards for the concepts that he knows. Now my plan is for him to use the cards to practice new concepts as he learns them. 

Learning Wrap-Ups Review

Mary-Catherine has had trouble with multiplication since Day One. Hence, she began the math Learning Palette with, what else, multiplication. Another way to teacher her multiplication (or, more accurately, for her to practice it) was the reason I was really excited about the Learning Palette for her. Anything to overcome her mental block! Actually (spoiler alert!), it was the supremely famous Learning Wrap-up that really broke that block, but the Learning Palette was a great reinforcement and has continued to hold her interest as she has moved further along with more sophisticated multiplication problems and even, gasp, division! Like Michael, we use the Learning Palette to reinforce her regular math program. It works so well for that. It's almost like a reward.

The reading palette we use differently. I absolutely love it. Remember how I said I just can't use school time to teach things like main idea? I mean, I'm honestly kind of like "duh" about things like main idea, but that's a dangerous attitude to have. It's *not* intuitive for some kids. More importantly, it's a skill they need for tests (I know - I feel the same way, but we all live in the real world here). Oh. My. Word. The reading curriculum packs were *made* for me. I let them teach the twins all of those things - reading comprehension, homonyms, prefixes, etc. These are all things that they know because they are part of our school day inherently, but they may not know the exact terms or how such things look on a test. The reading curriculum packs teach such things not only painlessly, but fun.

Honestly, I didn't even assign these. The twins just decided what they wanted to work on, popped a card on the palette, and went to town. Very occasionally, Mary-Catherine (not Michael...hmmm...) would have a question about something she didn't understand, but for the most part, this was one part of the school day that I didn't have to worry about at all. We are halfway through the 3rd grade cards and I am devoutly hoping that Learning Wrap-ups has 4th grade cards planned. I will buy them. Today. The cards don't take the place of anything we do in school (I am a grammar *fiend* and we read and analyze literature from the time my kids are, well, conceived it feels like), but they definitely fill a hole that I didn't really feel was there. And it's a hole that's going to stay there because I'm not going to change what I'm doing. What better product is there than one that fills a need you didn't even know you had?

Learning Wrap-Ups Review

Still More Awesome Stuff!

I know it's hard to believe, but we got even more awesome stuff to review! If you have ever heard of Learning Wrap-ups, you are probably thinking: 

I know that's what I've always thought of. They are the nifty things I always passed up in the homeschool store because I had never read a review like this one that told me "YOU MUST BUY LEARNING WRAP-UPS." I'm serious. I wish someone had told me, back in 2007, how much use I would get out of a set of these. I would have been saved a lot of heartache and, actually, a lot of money, too. I don't know what it is about these nifty things, but kids respond to them. By twisting the shoelacey-string around the plastic key, and then turning it over to see if you've correctly lined up the answers, kids learn their facts. I'm dead serious. I saw it happen with Mary-Catherine. The Learning Wrap-up Math Intro Kit w/o CDs  costs $44.99, which I would have thought expensive back in 2007. I'm here to tell my past self (or you): it's worth it. You will never have to buy anything else to teach any of your kids any of their facts. These tools will stand up to all of your kids and they will teach all of your kids their facts. Nicholas (10) *knows* his facts, but he couldn't stop "playing" with the Learning Wrap-ups! They appeal to so many different kinds of learners and they are instant gratification and self-correcting. I can't say enough good things.

The 10 Days to Multiplication Mastery Wrap-up and Book Combo ($12.99) is a wonderful alternative if, like me, multiplication is the one thing you're struggling with with your child. With this set, you receive just the multiplication Wrap-up and a paperback workbook that teaches all of the facts in a systematic way. In fact, just like the 10 Steps to Addition Mastery Wrap-up and Book Combo ($12.99), which taught the addition facts the same way Therese (12) learned them in kindergarten from an amazing teacher, the method is so straightforward and no-nonsense that you'll wonder that they are ever taught any other way. The fact is, though, that they are taught 1,000 different ways. If, like me, you tend to jump around with curriculum, that can impede your child's success in mastering the facts (of course, good old fashion verbal drills work wonders - that's how my dad finally pounded them into my thick head). Sometimes you need to start back at Square One. This book enables you to do that. At first, Mary-Catherine balked at having to color in a multiplication chart and "learn" her "ones" again, but when she used the book in conjunction with Wrap-up and realized how incredibly fast she was getting the hard facts (the sevens! the eights!), she was a convert. Even though she has completed the book, it's a keeper for us. Sometimes going back to basics is the only way to go. Learning Wrap-ups has mastered this concept.Learning Wrap-Ups Review

Finally, we got to test drive something I had never even seen! The Learning Wrap-up Vocabulary Intro Kit ($35.99) is really neat. These Learning Wrap-ups allow you to practice homonyms, synonyms, antonyms, and compound words. They work in the exact same way as the math Wrap-ups. For example, with the homonyms Wrap-up, you match the homonym with its definition. On the first key, you have buy, bye, and by on the left (along with other words, of course). You need to match the by-homonyms with their correct definitions on the right. Probably because the concepts practiced with these Wrap-ups are covered with the Learning Palettes, my twins haven't used these as much as the math ones. Having said that, though, if you haven't covered these concepts with your kids or are looking for an easy and gentle way to introduce them, the Vocabulary Wrap-ups would be a great choice. 
Learning Wrap-Ups Review
But wait...there's more! Learning Palette is also online!
Learning Wrap-Ups Review - access to 7,920 online questions whose format exactly mimics the physical Learning Palette. The cost is $59.99 for up to 5 users, but with the code HOMESCHOOL, you can get an additional 20% off! That means that up to 5 kids can enjoy a year-long subscription to this unique learning site for only $48. Honestly, after having used the site for the last couple of months, that deal seems too good to be true.

When you first sign on to, you will see this screen. Don't be fooled by its seeming simplicity. After you select a level, you see the concepts covered at that level. When you select a concept, you see the cards for that concept. Select a card and load it and you're ready to begin. After you show your youngest children once, they will be able to do it on their own just fine. Your older children will likely be able to walk you through the process!

And, voila! This is what the online Learning Palette looks like! Pretty awesome, huh? It looks and works just like the physical Learning Palette! All your child does is drag and drop the colored disks to the correct place on the card (click on the pic to enlarge it!).

 Believe it or not, it is really fun (seriously, I've done it - it's really fun!). They are not going to get over the novelty of learning this way quickly, I promise. Nicky (10) was quite sad that there was no level high enough for him, and for many days after we received access to the website, the twins were on it for hours a day. I'm not just talking school time, either. They wanted to "play" on their own time. Best of all, like the physical Learning Palettes, the online version is completely self-correcting. One click reveals whether or not the answers are right. Once or twice Mary-Catherine would tell me she didn't understand why something was wrong, but more often than not I would hear a groan of aggravation as she realized that she had made a silly mistake. I could really get on board with this whole self-correction thing...

Because the cards we have for the physical Learning Palettes are finite, I am so glad that we have the online version, too! There are so many questions! Further, unlike some learning sites, there are absolutely no distractions - no characters, no ads, no reward games. It's just the cards and the discs. I love that.

I know this review was long - thanks for sticking with me! Learning Wrap-ups was so generous with the Crew; we loved all of their products. Be sure to click the banner below to see how other Crew members have been using them.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Great Skincare and Makeup Deals!

There are some amazing deals going on right now, but a couple may not last long! First, today only on QVC you can get absolutely anything on 5 Easy Pays - that means that you can get anything with the cost spread over five months - interest free. It's actually super simple. QVC just automatically divides the price by 5, adds tax and shipping to the first month, and sends you your product. Usually QVC only offers Easy Pay on select items at select times, so this is a wonderful deal.

For the next two days, Philosophy is offering some great duos at 50% off. Philosophy has great products, but the prices are a little steep. Sales like this are a terrific way to experience their skincare and bath products.

Smashbox is having its Friends and Family sale! 25% off with a minimum $50 purchase. I'll admit that I have been eyeing the Soft Lights, but I won't be indulging in this sale. If you need a recommendation, though, Smashbox eye shadows are some of my very favorites. I have a palette from a few years ago (you can get it at an AMAZING price at All Cosmetics Wholesale - put in the code Sale30 for an additional 30% off!) that I use constantly - super soft and blendable with wonderful colors.

Finally, Stila, too is having a sale - no code necessary (didn't they just do 40% off for Mother's Day? Plus, weren't they just on Haute Look? If I have one piece of advice for anyone who is a makeup junkie, it's don't buy at full price until you're SURE that the brand doesn't have sales). Like Smashbox, Stila's shadows are unbelievably creamy. Their felt tip eyeliner is gorgeous. Kitten shadow/highlighter is eyeconic (ha ha - I mean iconic). 

These deals are limited time only (especially the QVC), so if you're interested in anything, jump on it quickly...and be sure to tell me what you get :-D

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Some day I will gain power over my emotions and I will not allow one person to upset me so much. Today is not that day. Henry spent the last week working countless hours to photograph the girls' dance school. It is his 5th time doing so. 98% of the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive. People waiting in line tell me how much they love the pictures, what a great job Henry does, and how happy they are each time Henry takes their daughter's dance pictures. Occasionally someone grumbles about how long the wait is - I get that (although they never complain when their daughter is getting all of the great personal attention!). I have never actually heard complaints about the pricing. People have been disappointed in the past that they can't mix poses in a single package and that we don't offer digital downloads, but Henry did offer those this year. Do they cost more? Obviously, yes.

So why am I upset? Well, I took one of Henry's phone calls because he is out doing the lawn. I assumed it would be a "How do I see my pictures?" kind of call. I thought it was even starting out that way. Because I have (another) migraine, I am not as eloquent as usual, but I began to walk this woman through the process of finding the digital pictures. She then assured me that that was not the problem. She could find them. She just didn't appreciate our lack of options. She only has one daughter with two costumes, so she doesn't need a digital package with four poses (which is called a "Family Package"). She also wasn't interested in the multi-pose package because she didn't need that many pictures (I'm guessing she actually wasn't interested in the price). What she wanted was the ability to buy the smallest package and still mix poses.

As I tried to explain to her that Henry had designed the mixed pose packages and digital packages with the families of the girls with siblings/multiple costumes in mind, she informed me that that was not a viable option. She told me that she was a professional photographer and that we had no options for her (ironic since we have never had a problem selling packages to the moms of the littles - in fact, they are the ones who tend to buy the most). She informed me that she knows that Zenfolio has other options - we just chose not to offer them (well, duh - we did not offer everything in Zenfolio's catalog: the price list would have been 50 pages long!). She told me that she had been a professional photog for 12 years and that a little free advice was that we needed to cater to the needs of our customer better - blah, blah, blah. So what did I do? Did I take the phone to Henry (which he told me I should do)? Did I inform her that we *knew* our customer (well, I did tell her that we had been doing this for more than 8 years at CEDS) and that I know that school better than she ever could since my girls have a combined 16 years dancing there? No. I pretty much just took what she handed me. For people who don't know me well and think I am mean-spirited and insensitive and hateful and all of the other crappy things I get called all the time on FB, you don't know me at all. When someone goes off on me, I tend to fold and take it like a whipped dog.

Now this horrid woman who is nothing but a glorified Mom-tog (I looked at her professional photography page - not a single shot with real lights or a backdrop; it's all outside) and who just views herself as potential competition for the CEDS job has ruined my day. And I've let her. My stupid obsessive personality can't let it go. I'm playing over everything she said and everything I should have said (and might have, had I not been compromised by my stupid, stupid head). All because she doesn't like our package options?!? Oh, my word. At any time, I can talk to everyone I know at dance and find out her story. I can relate our conversation and the sympathy will be on my side. So what do I care? Like Henry says, if he is replaced as the photographer, that's okay. It won't be because he took bad pictures or had bad customer service (I was, literally, as nice as I could be and this woman *hung up on me*).

I can tell myself all of that and it doesn't matter. I can't let it go. And I hate myself for not letting it go because that is pure self-indulgence. Writing about it is pure self-indulgence, too. So I'll stop now. Gah!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review of Learning Breakthrough Program's "A Life in Balance"

Learning Breakthrough Program Review
If you're like me (and a lot of other moms I know), you are always anxious to read more about the things that make your kids unique (academically and neurologically) and how to help them capitalize on that uniqueness rather than try to "fix" it. What a treat it is, though, to read a book that conveys that information in an easygoing and story like fashion. You really get the best of both worlds - a great story, but also really helpful and useful information. Frank Belgau, as told to Eric Belgau, has written just such a book with A Life in Balance from Learning Breakthrough Program
Learning Breakthrough Program Review

This book is 210 pages long and was written for adults (although older teens might find it interesting as well). At the time of this writing, its price is $16.94. 

The first part of this book reads like an autobiography or a memoir. We read about Frank Belgau and how he struggled with school as a young boy at a time when students were seated in the classroom in descending order of IQ. Coming from a family of easy intelligence, he felt like an anomaly and a failure. One fall, though, he discovered that after a summer of physical exercise and living and playing outdoors, his academics fell into place. He no longer had to sit in the back of the classroom. He found a mentor and friend in a science teacher who challenged the way he thought.

Frank went on to become a teacher. Through an experience with a child labeled as mentally retarded, he began to realize that underneath society's confining labels were children whose brains were very much alive and which were just waiting to be unlocked. After earning his Master's degree at U of H (University of Houston for those who don't live in my hometown), Frank began working with Minimally Brain Injured children at North Shore Elementary (it really adds a whole new element to the story to know the places talked about in the book!). Through a process of trial and error (I can't give away the whole book), Frank finds ways to work with these kids who have been deemed pretty much lost causes by the educational system. His results are both amazing and inspirational. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book is a fascinating, one-sitting read. 
This book takes place over the course of decades. It begins when Frank is a little boy in a 1930s school system that sounds almost barbaric by today's standards. It continues through the 1960s when he is honing his techniques that almost miraculously find a connection between physical activity and mental acuity. Finally, the book talks about the exciting 1980s during which Frank's Learning Breakthrough Program really came into its own after being pilot-tested in Alpine, TX.

The last part of the book talks briefly about neural networks and how the brain works. In a way, I was sad to have the riveting "story" part of the book end, but this last 50 or so pages definitely felt relevant to my life, as I suspect it will to any mother whose child's brain is just a little bit different.

A Life in Balance is a great book. It is a quick and easy read. If you don't read it in one sitting like I did, you'll appreciate the short chapters that make it very easy to pick up and put down without missing a beat. I feel like I have been given a lot of new food for thought that I will be digesting for quite some time to come. I can't ask for more than that from a book. 

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Makeup Items I Can't Live Without

Lately I find that I absolutely won't do my makeup without the following three things. I hate to use the word "obsessed" because, seriously, if you watch beauty bloggers on YouTube, you would swear that they get paid based on how many times they use that word. Let's just say that when I use these things, I am convinced that my makeup looks a thousand times better and that my face just looks "finished."

First - primers. Face primer and eye shadow primer are absolute musts for me. They make everything go on more smoothly and more pigmented and everything just lasts longer. I can't believe that I ever did my makeup without them. Honestly, they don't have to cost a fortune either. I use and love Too Faced's Shadow Insurance, but I also use and love Milani Eyeshadow Primer. Honestly, in terms of performance I can't tell the difference. As far as face primers go, I am in love with Mally's Perfect Prep Poreless Primer, but it's not something I'll repurchase - too expensive. Rimmel's primer does a great job at a fraction of the price.

Second - Too Faced's Milk Chocolate Soleil Bronzer. Honestly, six months ago, contouring my face is not something I would have remotely thought about doing. Now I pretty much do it every day. It takes two minutes. It adds such warmth to my face (pale people know that it is way too easy for your skin just to look completely dead. Yes, you can put on blush, but then you look dead with colored cheeks. It's not a good look) and, yes, it slims it a bit. I have an oval face. I can't even say round. It's not. It's actually a rectangle (keeping it real, people, keeping it real). Whatever it is, a few well placed brush strokes of an amazing bronzer brings my face to life while reshaping it just enough that it makes me very happy when I see myself in a mirror. Again, though, pale people know that finding the right bronzer can be almost impossible. Everyone else's holy grail bronzer is likely about ten times too dark. Milk Chocolate Soleil is so light that it works on the lightest skin (I'm NC15). It is impossible to overdo it (at least, I think you would have to work overtime and intentionally to overdo it). And then, of course, it does smell like chocolate...

Third - Mally's Evercolor Poreless Face Defender. Yes, this one is expensive. I honestly can't see ever running out, though. Do you remember Junior High when between every single class you would whip out your Cover Girl compact and powder your face? 13 year-old skin may be able to handle that kind of over-powdering, but 39 year-old skin can't. However, if you have done your makeup at 6:30 in the morning and it's 4:30 in the afternoon and your skin is a little shiny and things are starting to slip a little, what are you going to do? Piling on the powder is not going to help. Mally's silicony-wonder thing (my own term, ahem) will, though. One little press of the massively over-sized sponge into the clear, hard product and a few pats on the face will completely revive your makeup. It takes away shine, freshens foundation, and perks up blush. I don't know how and I seriously don't care. All I know is that I absolutely love it. When you read rave reviews, you're usually pretty skeptical, but in this case, those rave reviews are right. The people who write the negative reviews are just flat-out using this product wrong. I'm convinced of it. You only need a tiny, tiny bit, and you pat - you don't rub (why you would rub anything on a completed face of makeup mystifies me).

So - three things I use almost every day (some days I don't need the Face Defender because I don't need my makeup to "reset" or last as long). I will repurchase Milk Chocolate Soleil as long as I need to. Too Faced usually has some great deals on its website, but you can always wait for great holiday sets or for the annual Friends and Family Sale. I have a lot of bronzers (and highlighters - now they are a genuine obsession), but this is the one that I use every day because it does exactly what I need it to do and it is 100% foolproof. If I ever run out of the Face Defender, I will absolutely repurchase it (again, there is always QVC and Mally often has sales on her site, too).

Do you have any products you can't live without? The hoarder in me wants to know!

Review of Kinder Cottage Publishing

Kinder Cottage Review
If you don't remember reading and loving Peter Rabbit books when you were a kid, I'm going to assume that you have probably just suppressed the memory. Peter Rabbit is an essential part of childhood and Mary-Catherine (9) is obsessed with rabbits. For those two reasons, I was delighted when I got the opportunity to review The Tale of Peter Rabbit and When Peter Rabbit Went to School from Kinder Cottage Publishing. These beautiful full-color, hardcover books are only $4.00 each, and while the books are ideal for ages 3-9, I have to say that I don't think there is any age either too old or too young to love these books!

Kinder Cottage Review

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the classic story with which everyone is familiar. Mary-Catherine summarizes it thusly: "Peter Rabbit is a mischievous bunny. He disobeys his mother and goes to Mr. Macgregor's garden even though his mother said "Don't because your father got baked into a bunny pie." Now Peter has a phobia of farmers."
Kinder Cottage Review

When Peter Rabbit Went to School was a new one for both of us. Again, Mary-Catherine summarizes: "He was being too naughty, so his mother decided to send him and his sisters off to school. What she doesn't know is that Peter can't hide from mischief. Peter and one of his friends, Squirrel Nutkin, leave recess to run into the woods where they were warned not to go, and Peter gets lost and Squirrel Nutkin goes back to school." (She told more of the story, but I don't want to spoil everything!)
These books are so well made and so affordable that they make a wonderful addition to anyone's library. The stories never get old. I know that I never get tired of The Tale of Peter Rabbit!

When I buy new books for my kids, I don't put expectations on them for how or when they need to read them (unless, of course, they are explicitly for school). I just hand them over. I did exactly that when these books arrived in the mail. I handed the package back to Mary-Catherine (we get the mail on our way out to do errands) and told her that something had arrived for her. The minute we got home that night, she changed into her pajamas and began reading the books. She made sure to get her own Peter Rabbit so she could read to him! (Technically, I'm pretty sure he's the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, but she has called him Peter Rabbit ever since she first got him!)

She has probably read these book just about every day since we got them. I know for a fact that they haven't left the desk next to her bed. Further, when she realized that there were more books, she immediately put in a request! 

Kinder Cottage Review

The entire set is so affordable (only $4.00 each for hardback books? That's unheard of!) that it would make a wonderful gift for any Peter Rabbit (or bunny!) lover.
My Peter Rabbit aficionado loved these books. To see what other Crew members' children thought, click the banner below! 
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Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of Progeny Press

Progeny Press Review
Progeny Press has been creating study guides for more years than I have been in need of study guides. In fact, they have been creating study guides for so many years that they have had to go through several technological revolutions in the meantime! My first Progeny Press study guides were printed books. Then, we progressed to pdfs. Progeny Press now offers writable pdfs. These are by far my kids' favorite iterations, and it was these versions that we reviewed. Therese (12) read The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper and worked on the The Last of the Mohicans ($21.99, recommended for grades 8-12) study guide, while Nicholas worked on The Giver study guide ($18.99, recommended for grades 7-9) while I read the book by Lois Lowry to all of the kids.

Progeny Press Review
Progeny Press Review
If you've used a Progeny Press study guide, you have a good idea of how they work. In most cases, it would be a bad thing to say "If you've seen one, you've seen them all," but in this case I mean it as the highest compliment. The quality of these study guides never varies. Taking into consideration the ones I've used personally, the ones I've browsed online (there are samples of all of them), and the ones I've looked through in person at our homeschool store, I have never seen one of sub par quality. In fact, I don't use any other literature guides.

But enough about me. Let's talk about the two guides we received to review!

The Last of the Mohicans
This study guide is 67 pages long, and the guide is *comprehensive*. There is no fluff here. For example, By the second section (which covers Chapters 4-6), Therese was faced with this question:

I love questions like these! They make you think about the story, but they also teach you something about writing in the process. You begin to think about what makes a story - about the subtleties that really draw you in. 

Like all of the Progeny Press study guides, this one is divided up by chapters (in this case, by three chapter sections - so it is best to assign the book in three chapter "chunks"), with each section following essentially the same format:

  • Book Synopsis
  • About the Author
  • Background Information
  • Ideas for Prereading Activities
  • (Then Beginning the Chapter Activities) Vocabulary
  • Short Answer Recall Questions
  • Thinking About the Story (what I would call Comprehension Questions)
  • Dig Deeper (questions that tie the story to the Bible and a Biblical Worldview)
Some sections also have "Optional Activities."

Essentially, these study guides remind me a lot of the kind of book units that we would do in elementary-high school in my Gifted and Talented Reading/Literature classes. I *loved* those units. They took you right inside the book and had you turn it inside out. I learned to write by answering those comprehension questions and then sitting at the kitchen table while my dad went over my work and (not so gently, actually) pointed out not only my mechanical errors, but also my intellectual ones. He taught me to write using a framework just like this, and I always knew that I wanted to do the same with my kids. I just assumed that I would have to write the units. Thanks to Progeny Press, I don't have to, though. They have it all covered. You don't have to be teaching a G/T kid to use these units, but if you are, you're covered here. The material is that thorough.

So does Therese like this literature unit? Well, she likes it more than she likes other literature units! Like a lot of 12 year-olds (and a lot of G/T kids!), she's kind of lazy. She'll read college level stuff all day long, and she's happy to discuss it with me. When it comes to sitting down and writing formal answers or essays, though, she'd rather take a pass. Having said that, though, ever since Progeny Press went interactive with its pdfs, I have had far fewer complaints from her! Whereas I used to delight in handwriting all of my work because I loved using a colored pen or new notebook paper, she loves the convenience of typing. Kids these days! 

She has not been getting through this guide as quickly has I would have liked, but I have loaded her up with work in all of her classes. So, while she finished reading the book, she has been taking her time with the study guide, and I have decided that I am okay with that. I would rather her take her time and give the more thought-provoking questions the consideration that they warrant than have her dash off answers just to get the guide done. After all, I want her to be receptive to her next Progeny Press assignment!

The Giver

I have mixed feelings about an aspect of this book, but none at all about the study guide. It is excellent. In fact, I am quite impressed that the study guide is recommended for grades 7-9, even though the book is recommended for grades as young as 5th. I was, unfortunately, paying attention to the book grade recommendation when I chose the guide. It turns out that the book was really too old for my children. Fortunately, I was doing a lot of self-editing as I read it to them. It is a skill most of us have probably mastered! For those who may not have read this book, it makes several sexual references almost in passing and in a very non-sexual way. Still, none of my kids is ready for that yet, especially not my very innocent 10 year-old son for whom I intended the guide.

Still, that criticism has nothing to do with this guide which is quite appropriately "graded" at 7th-9th. I knew from the beginning that I would be working on this study guide with Nicholas. He does not have the attention span to sit through anything like this. He has the intelligence and mental ability, just not the emotional maturity and patience. So I ended up reading the book to my kids in two days. They love dystopian fiction. I let Nicholas do the vocabulary sections of the guide by himself, which is right up his alley. He likes things that have beginnings and endings and are easily quantifiable. Similarly, he has no trouble (or, rather, little trouble) with what I call the "comprehension" or short answer questions. Mostly these are just recall. I have to work with him because his first line of defense is, "I don't know" or "I forgot." Without me sitting there, he would just be content with that and close up shop.

"Thinking About the Story," "Dig Deeper," and "For Discussion" we did orally. His writing skills are not such that it would have been a huge value-add for him to do these on paper, and it was far more useful for us to talk through these questions than for him to struggle to get his thoughts down on paper. Plus, as it turned out, because I had read the book to him, I had ended up anticipating several of the questions (I didn't peek at the guide!), and we had actually already touched on several of the things raised in the guide.

So, I had two different children use the Progeny Press guides in two different ways, but each got a lot out of theirs. You don't have to write the answers to everything in these guides for them to be very useful tools! I think that's a really important thing to realize. As with all things homeschooling, there is not a wrong way to do things. Different approaches will work with different children. I absolutely love these guides. They are very reminiscent, to me, of something from my public school days that worked *really* well. (Caveat: I had a stellar public school education in a large district in a large city.) Progeny Press sells a plethora of guides for all ages from the youngest elementary grades through high school, so there is sure to be one that suits your needs. To see how guides at all levels can be used, click the banner below.

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