Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Review of Roman Roads Media

We have been so privileged to review Roman Roads Media before. You can read our review of Old Western Culture here. This time around, we got to review an online offering from the company - Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder. Spoiler alert - we love this one almost as much as we loved Old Western Culture (well, Henry and I love it anyway).

Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder is a Latin grammar and vocabulary program that manages to cram a *lot* of material into very short sessions. There are 214 total units, reviews inclusive.

Each unit has several parts to it: 

In "Learn," new vocabulary is introduced using pictures with voice over pronunciation. In "Choose," you are essentially quizzed on what was learned in "Learn." You are presented with the word and you choose the picture that matches its meaning. In "Spell," you are given the picture that matches the vocabulary word and you have to type it out. "Forms" turns up the heat by asking you for the plural, the gender, and the case (depending on the word). Again, you type your answers.

Finally, "Test Forms" is the same as forms, but a test. After each section, you get a star rating based on how you did:

See the icons at the top right of that screenshot? Go leads you through the exercises as I've described. Train offers you reviews. You can review as many lessons at a time as you wish.

What We Thought

The first day I installed this program, my husband was immediately intrigued as he heard me using it. He sat next to me and watched me as I worked through it. He thought it was a great way to learn Latin. Because I had three years of Latin in high school, none of what is in Picta Dicta was new to me. Instead it was an awesome review. I was so impressed with what Roman Roads managed to get into a short, short session. I have enjoyed working on this program, and I will continue to work all the way through it. 

I have to confess that my children have not been such big fans, but because I want them to like this program (which I love), and because I want them to learn the Latin that will help them so much with vocabulary, I have been easing them into it by letting them sit with me while I work through it. That way, they get the overview of the program without having the stakes of doing it for themselves. Then, when I asked them to sign on to their own accounts, they had more confidence in their ability. Why not just have them do the work themselves the first time? If you have perfectionist kids, you understand. When my kids don't know how to do something, or they don't know that they'll do well on it, they don't want to do it. A bad experience with a homeschool program can make them swear it off forever. There are many things in life that I make them do that they don't want to, and there are many things in life that I make them do that they aren't always successful at. When I can control it, though, and when it is as important as this, I work with their personalities!

They just started doing the program on their own, and they like it much more than they did the first time they saw it. Therese (17) has had Latin before, and this program is part review and part new information (the program begins teaching grammar concepts in the very first unit, so if you have had more vocabulary-heavy Latin in the past, you will begin learning new things very early in Picta Dicta). Nicholas (15) has actually had more Latin than Therese. The structure of the language works very well with his OCD. As he has watched me with Picta Dicta, he has learned two things: it's okay to take notes so you remember everything, and it's okay to do a unit more than once. He has committed to working all the way through Picta Dicta. Michael and Mary-Catherine (both 13) are my most reluctant users. They have had the least Latin. Again, though, my strategy of having them sit with me and watch me has paid off, as they have started Picta Dicta, too. If you have a reluctant learner, you might consider the same strategy. Letting your kids see you doing a program (and erring while doing it!) is a great way for them to see that success is possible. Please note, though, that you do need to purchase a license for each user of the program. You need your own subscription because without you being the one typing the answers and selecting the graphics, you won't learn (not to mention it's immoral). My goal was not to have my children learn from my subscription, but to demystify the program for them. I have had too many experiences of my kids refusing to continue with a homeschool program because their first experience was off-putting. This program is wonderful, but it does ask you to assimilate a lot of information fairly quickly. I wanted my kids to want to do it. And now they do. 

If you want to introduce Latin into your classroom with no work on your part, a short time investment every day, and a lot of information taught, Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder is for you. To see other opinions, click the banner below.

Classical Rhetoric and Picta Dicta {Roman Roads Media Reviews}

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review of GrammarPlanet

For the past few weeks, we have been fortunate enough to have been using GrammarPlanet's grammar program online. This program is great if you know no grammar, and it's great if you love grammar and are looking for a refresher. Basically, it's great for everyone!

GrammarPlanet is brought to you by the people behind Analytical Grammar and Dynamic Literacy, both of which produce stellar learning products. It teaches grammar, punctuation, and usage, all in a very user-friendly and compact program. There are 58 units, which cover everything from nouns to active and passive voice and everything in between. Each lesson begins with a short video introducing and teaching the topic. And the videos really are short. If you think about it, most grammar concepts are not that complicated - students simply need to be told about them. I can't count the number of times I have told people the "secret" of figuring out when to use who and when to use whom. It takes me less than 30 seconds to explain, but then that person will never make another who/whom error. This is the approach that GrammarPlanet takes with students: just the facts. It's how I teach and I just love it!

After the video (which is accompanied by a pdf of notes, should students wish to print them - and they are encouraged to do so), students are led through a series of exercises. These exercises are responsive, which means that the more you miss, the more you are given to do. In this way, students really have to demonstrate that they understand the material before they can move on. If a student does especially poorly, you will receive an email. When this happened with Mary-Catherine (13), I asked her what had happened. She told me that she understood her mistake and that she didn't want that low score as part of her record. Fortunately, GrammarPlanet gives you the opportunity to start a unit over entirely. That wipes out your score and lets you begin again. Even better, I am able to look at the screenshots of her answers and see exactly what she did wrong, ensuring that I can help her understand her mistakes. Also, if at any time during the course of working through the exercises, a student wants to clarify something, s/he can access both the video and the notes directly from the lesson exercises screen.

This is the first lesson on common nouns. Students are asked to put an "N" on the common nouns:

Once they have selected all the common nouns (as below), they submit the question for grading.

As the units progress, there are more and more choices available for parsing the sentence. Because GrammarPlanet suggests that you not work more than 15 minutes per day, how fast you progress really depends on how much previous knowledge of grammar you have. Students who know a lot of grammar have to remind themselves that concepts are being introduced one-by-one from the beginning. Agonizing over whether something is a gerund is pointless if verbals haven't even been introduced yet. This is really the only thing that makes this program challenging. You can't overthink it. Let it teach/remind you from the beginning. Each unit is followed by a test, and there are review units at the halfway point and at the end of the program. You can see below how the test questions differ from the review/learning questions. For one thing, you can't access the video and notes. For another, you are not given the correct answer after each question:

Instead, you get to see your results at the end of the test (as a bonus, you can see that my computer is telling me that I got an email about these results as the test was completed!)

The videos are excellent and actually test students' knowledge/retention in the course of the video by popping up questions about what was just said. Mary-Catherine really loves that feature!

One thing I really appreciate about this program is that when a student gets something wrong, they are given a message, like "You got almost all of them right," or "You haven't learned this yet." It's so nice to see that extra time taken to be encouraging!

Here's a look at the program a little further down the line:

Mary-Catherine (13) has been my main tester of this program, with Michael (13) and Nicholas (15) dabbling so far (although they will doing the whole program before all is said and done). Mary-Catherine loves it. She has a good grammar basis, but she is still being reminded of things she has forgotten, and she is actually learning some along the way. She loves that you can get it, get out, and get on with the rest of your schoolwork. Also, even though it's not optimized for mobile use, the program works just fine on her phone, which makes it even more user-friendly.

We are huge fans of GrammarPlanet, but, as always, don't take my word for it - click the graphic below to read all the reviews!

*Grammar Program Online {GrammarPlannet Reviews}

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Things My Kids Missed Out On

I know I'm hardly unique in musing about all the things my kids will never know the joy of. Some of the omissions are because they have strict parents, but many of them are the fault of, yes, technology. Music is the biggest one. Yes, it's awesome to basically have any song you think of at your immediate disposal. You think to yourself, "I want to listen to Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train," so you tell your music app of choice to play it. You miss a lyric? Google it. Remember the days of recording a song on your boom box (cassette tape, naturally) and then rewinding it endlessly until you could write down all the lyrics? Our kids will never do that. Remember the exultant feeling when "your" song comes on the radio? Our kids will never know that. Remember the excitement of waiting for a new video to drop on MTV? Yeah, not so big a deal anymore. The last music video I even remember hearing anything about was Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball." Clearly the music video is not what it once was.

For me, the thing I miss is waiting anxiously for Adam Curry to usher in the Headbanger's Ball on Saturday nights. Adam Curry as a daytime VJ - meh. Adam Curry as VJ for the Headbanger's Ball. Yes, please! Speaking of waiting? Our kids will never know, really, what it is for a TV show's season to end on a cliffhanger and then have to wait all summer to see what happened. Netflix, Hulu, and binge watching have really ended that particular life joy. 

And it is a joy. Delayed gratification is such a necessary skill. So many things in life still can't be rushed completely. We have to know how to wait - and how to wait patiently. Life used to teach us that naturally. Now it's a skill we have to teach ourselves and our children. Something that I do really brings this idea home to me all the time - the idea that we can have whatever we want whenever we want, that is. I listen to Old Time Radio - not a surprise if you know me. My favorite show of all time is "The Couple Next Door." There are something like 735 available episodes (what kills me is that there were something like 1,800 episodes of its predecessor "Ethel and Albert," written by and starring the same people, that are not available!). This show used to be on weekdays at 2 p.m. Every day you could hear a new 15 minute episode. If you wondered what was happening with the Piper family, you would find out once a day, five times a week. Well, I have all 735 episodes on my iPod. I have listened to them all so many times that I usually know which episode is on based on only a few words. Every time I binge listen to this particular radio show, I think about the fact that the people who originally listened to it only heard it once. Ever. If they weren't home or forgot to turn on the radio, they missed it forever. Peg Lynch, the writer and star of the show (who is often credited as having invented the sitcom) surely never imagined that there would be people (well, at least one) who so love her work that they listen to it over and over and over. In a single lifetime, our entire conception and model of how we consume media has changed. Is it silly that that makes me sad?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

First Day of School

We are definitely late starting to school this year, but I decided to wait for Therese and Nicholas to start dual credit at Lone Star before I started any of the kids on any school. It just seemed easier for everyone to officially start together. So today is our first day back. Therese has four dual credit classes on Tuesday/Thursday and Nicholas has two, so we are at the school from 9-5 twice a week. That's a long day! On the plus side, I should rarely have to open my computer at home any more! With so many dedicated hours to just sitting and working, my Crew stuff, my Russ stuff, and any other stuff should get done on Tuesday and Thursday. That's a good feeling.

In other news, being in a school-ish environment makes me miss school so much! I don't even like political science at all, but that's what my PhD is in. I love history, English, and theology and I wonder to this day why I chose poli sci. Well, I know why. I was incredibly inspired by a professor I had at UST - a Catholic political theorist. He's not the same man he was when I knew him, but he definitely made me want to be an academic just like him. Grad school killed that dream. In any case, I actually always said that I wanted to teach Community College because the people who were there really wanted an education. I wonder if I still feel that way. Ah - enough musing/complaining from me. Here are the kids' first day pictures.

Michael is 13 and in 8th grade. Nicholas is 15 and in 10th grade. Mary-Catherine is 13 and in 8th grade. Therese is 17 and in 12th grade (sob!).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A New School Year

If you're anything like me, your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of back-to-school pictures and posts. Just because we homeschool does not mean that we don't have a fair amount of this "back-to-schoolism" ourselves. Next week, Therese (17) and Nicholas (15) will be starting dual credit classes at Lone Star (community college). Therese is taking 12 hours and Nicky (I think he's going to go by Nick) is taking 6. If he handles that well, I'll bump him up next semester. I feel very good about him doing Lone Star. Therese has already applied to several colleges, and she is applying for every scholarship in sight. I can't believe she'll be gone next year!

As for the twins, I'm having that, "But I haven't really taught you anything!" crisis of confidence that I think we all go through. They are in 8th grade and my time is running out. They are the ones who constantly reassure me that they have learned plenty over the years. Intellectually, I know this to be true, but I can't stop beating myself up with the notion that I could have done so much better. If I could start over homeschooling today, I would do so much better! Of course, I have ten years experience under my belt now...

If you're just starting out homeschooling, I have a few tips for you:

  • At the beginning of the year, unless it's a total disaster, pick a curriculum (or your lesson plan) and stick with it. Jumping around rarely suits anyone, apart from the ADHD curriculum mother.
  • Realize that your kids are learning all the time. Many homes other than homeschooling ones foster a constant culture of learning. I grew up in one. I would say that the vast majority of homeschooling homes fall into this category. My kids are always watching something scientific or historical on TV, they watch brain stuff on YouTube, and they play learning apps. Obviously, we talk about everything all the time, too. Just because they are not learning it at the schoolroom table does not mean that learning isn't happening.
  • Don't let some subjects slide. Voracious readers will learn reading, writing, and spelling without even being aware of it, but math is usually something that has to be taught and drilled. Once behind, it's very hard to catch up.
  • You don't have to homeschool like anyone else. Do co-op or don't. Do formal field trips or don't. Make changing a light bulb a science lesson or just change the dang thing. Find your own path.
  • Don't waste too much time on regrets. If you come to a point where you realize something wasn't working or it was a dead end, change it up, but don't beat yourself up about it. 
Ask me how I learned all of the above...and have a great year.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Therese's Birthday

Here are pics of Therese at 12, 14, 16, and nearly 17. Only a few people know how much she has gone through in the last five years. As she enters her senior year of high school, I am so proud of all that she has accomplished - not academically because that's kind of a given, but personally as she has faced so many challenges. Happy birthday, Ham!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Homeschool in the Woods Timeline

If you like hands-on history products, you already love Home School in the Woods. We have been using their products since 2007 when I began homeschooling, and they are still a perennial favorite in my house. For this review, we got to assemble one of the A La Carte Timelines, America's Progress into the 20th Century Timeline. I was *thrilled* when Home School in the Woods introduced its A La Carte projects a couple of years ago. They give you so much more flexibility and choice - you actually end up being able to use more HSitW products since you can pick and choose projects to correspond exactly with what you are currently studying. If you have a hands-on kid, you need to check out everything Home School in the Woods has to offer.

This is kind of a transitional time for us in homeschooling, so I loved being able to choose something for Mary-Catherine (13) to enjoy assembling. My two oldest children are starting dual credit classes next month, and, although it actually makes me feel like crying to say this, I think their days of traditional homeschooling are at an end. That leaves me with two very different twins (13) to homeschool, but even they are needing me less and less now. Long story short, Mary-Catherine has been doing 20th century history largely by herself this summer. Like any good classical, Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, my kids have had ancient history until it's coming out of their ears. We have also made a pass through American history, but did not treat it nearly as thoroughly as ancient. As Mary-Catherine works through her American history curriculum, she is enjoying learning about things more immediately relevant to her world. And as with any history curriculum, a timeline really helps bring everything you're learning into focus. As soon as she figured out the best way to assemble this particular timeline (using file folders, as opposed to the colored card stock shown below), she immediately jumped in!

This timeline covers the Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression. As lovers of the Gilded Age, both Mary-Catherine and I have loved all the timeline figures that accompany this timeline (all 136!). Oh, and if you, like me, own the HSitW timeline figures set, get excited: there are 30 brand new figures included in this timeline that you can't find in your master set! Also, if you're worried about how and where to place the figures, don't be. The $8.45 download includes a master timeline. If you have the kind of kid for whom you'd like to have a timeline, but who you know would be averse to assembling her own, this download is still well-worth it, as you get a timeline already done for you as well as a build-your-own. As usual, Home School in the Woods has thought of everything.

I'm sure there are a million ways to use this timeline, such as studying a particular event and then placing the figure, but Mary-Catherine just began at the beginning and placed the figures on the timeline. Every so often I would hear, "Hey! I just read about this!" The fact that she already knew approximately where on the timeline a figure should go just proves that using a timeline is great reinforcement, even if you already know the subject matter pretty well!

Speaking of knowing your subject matter, if there is one thing my kids should know by now, it's Ancient Rome. If you're studying, have studied, or plan to study Ancient Rome, you'll be delighted to find out that the Ancient Rome Pack is HSitW newest product! Unlike the A La Carte projects where you pick and choose, this project pack has EVERYTHING you will need in your study of Ancient Rome.

As always, Home School in the Woods was very generous with the Crew, so to see a huge variety of projects, click the beautiful graphic below!

Hands-on-History, Project Passport, À La Carte Timelines and Time Travelers {Home School in the Woods Reviews}

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

It used to be that all I wanted to do was work. I always had my laptop open and I was always working. It annoyed my husband, and rightly so. Just because you work from home doesn't mean that you should always be working. My wonderful husband built me a beautiful desk in our bedroom (yes, I know sleep science says that's a no-no), and since then I usually keep my computer at my desk. The funny thing is, though, I no longer feel like working all that much. I have been self-employed for more than 10 years. In that time, I have had the same job, supplemented by other writing jobs. I have always looked forward to getting on my computer and setting everything down on paper. In the past six months or so, though, I just don't feel like working anymore! There are too many other things I'm interested in.

I have never considered myself a creative person. I'm too "color within the lines" for that. Recently, though, I just have so many creative ideas and things I want to do. I have ideas for businesses that I want to start. I want to play with my boys (the human ones and the canine ones!). My sons just introduced me to Magic the Gathering, and I have rarely had as much fun as I have when playing with them. You get to see your kids in a different light when you do different things with them (I know - so much profundity for a Tuesday morning!). Anyone who knows me at all knows that life has not always (ever) been easy with my 15 year-old. He has personality traits that I am sure God gave him for a greater purpose in life, but it is hard to see that purpose when trying to parent him. However, playing a game with him shows him to me in a new light. He is helpful and compassionate. He is a good sport. He's *hilarious*. I think it's so helpful to take time out from being a parent and just play like I did when my kids were younger. They love it. I love it.

I have always wondered if I have a touch of ADD - my brain just goes so fast all the time. I'm at a point in my life where it's doing so more than ever. I wonder if it's related to something else going on with me. My migraines are worse than ever. I am out of commission almost completely about 50% of the time and I'm compromised another 25% of the time. I'm trying neurology again after taking a long hiatus. There are only so many times you can realize that there is no hope for you before it begins to wear you down. Sometimes I think it's better to suffer resignedly than to always be hoping for some relief.


Baskin-Robbins $1.50 scoops!

Just in case ice cream out is as big a deal in your family as it is in mine...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review of Progeny Press

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that we have used and loved Progeny Press almost since we began homeschooling (2007!). As a piece of trivia, Progeny Press began with 18 study guides in 1993 and has 115 guides currently. I have also been lucky to have reviewed it several times before. You can read those six reviews here. This time around, we got to review The Scavengers - eGuide. Like all Progeny Press study guides, this one follows a similar format. The study guide is 73 pages, including an answer key. It contains background information, pre-reading activities, vocabulary, content questions, what I call comprehension questions (so, digging deeper and critical thinking short essay-style questions), and activities. There is a wide enough variety that a student can either complete the whole study guide (which I would think is preferred), or pick and choose which parts suit their style. For instance, I have one child who loves to write, so would eagerly tackle all of the writing/short-essay style questions, but who loathes anything that looks like a hands-on craft or activity. I have another child who is dysgraphic*, so doesn't necessarily embrace writing, but who is very hands-on and loves activities (*note that dysgraphia isn't nearly as big a problem with Progeny Press e-Guides, as students can type directly into a pdf!).

Mary-Catherine (13) was my tester for this study guide. After I bought The Scavengers for her to read, she inhaled the book in one day. Well. That's not usually the best way to go about doing a study guide. It generally works better, from my point of view, to read a section and then do the accompanying study guide section, but I have never once ordered my kids to stop reading, so we dealt with it. Because she had already read the whole book, Mary-Catherine was allowed to complete the study guide at her own pace; no reading before writing necessary!

Mary-Catherine really enjoys words, so it was no surprise to me that she thoroughly enjoyed completing the vocabulary activities. She also liked the short answer questions. Her enjoyment of the study guide was confirmed when the first "Thinking About the Story" activity talked about word play, like alliteration. It's always exciting to see something you know a lot about pop up in your curriculum, so she eagerly went after this section, too. The longer essay-type questions are a bit more challenging, but because the book was below her current reading level, they didn't present as much of a challenge as they otherwise might have. One reason I love these study guides is because they force me to make my kids struggle with literature (by which I mean it forces them to confront issues in books and to wrestle with the meanings and implications). It's something I do naturally, and I take it far too much for granted that my kids do it, too. They don't necessarily, though, so Progeny Press always holds my feet to the fire!

Like every Progeny Press study guide we have ever used, beginning with the paper versions in 2007 and right to the pdfs today, this one was excellent. I would recommend any of their study guides to anyone.

If you have kids younger or older than Mary-Catherine, be sure to click the graphic below to read more reviews, including reviews of study guides for the youngest readers through high school.

New Study Guides for Literature From a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press Reviews}

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review of Code for Teens

One subject that can pass homeschoolers by if they are not careful is programming. From what I see from the public schoolers I know, programming is just a core part of the curriculum in multiple classes. For homeschoolers, especially those embracing classical or Charlotte Mason education, programming can easily fall by the wayside. Fortunately, Code for Teens' awesome book Code For Teens: The Awesome Beginner's Guide to Programming (Volume 1) is available to remedy that problem (see, I told you it was awesome - it even says so in the title!).

Code for Teens is a 219 page paperback book. It's the kind that you can open without breaking the spine, if that makes sense, which makes it ideal for reading and working simultaneously. The goal of the book's author was to create a programming instruction book that students could do by themselves with no teacher or parent involvement. Yes! Sign me up! There are ten chapters in the book, beginning with writing your first line of code and ending with making a hangman game. The book is written in a very informal style, just as if the author were sitting next to your child and guiding all of his coding efforts. When he introduces a new term, he defines it. His tone is encouraging and helpful without being at all condescending. All code is set apart in gray highlighting so it is obvious. Wonderful illustrations are contributed by the author's, Jeremy Moritz, wife Christine. The illustrations always add something to the page and don't come off as distracting or extraneous. In short, I love the style of this book. If you would like to see for yourself what I mean, check out the sample available from the author.

Further, as stated by the author, he wanted to create a programming course that followed the pace of a core school course, like math. All the programs for kids/teens he had seen went way too fast and expected too much knowledge in too short a period of time. Hence, this course moves much more slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb all that they are learning. I love that. In order to learn and retain, some subjects must be marinated in. I definitely think programming falls under that category. Learning what to do is of no use if you have not practiced enough to retain the knowledge. In accordance with valuing actual learning and retention, the author includes a review drill at the end of each chapter. Also, in accordance with the stated purpose of creating a course that is entirely self-taught, he tells the students that they can find all the answers right at the end of the book! Again, I love that. My 13 year-old son is perfectly capable of self-checking, but that often isn't an option in homeschool-friendly programs.

Michael (13) and Code for Teens

I initially thought of  Nicholas (15) for this review, but he is not really a beginning programmer. He has actually done quite a lot with Java before, so even though Michael has not expressed interest in learning programming, I handed him this book and told him to go nuts. Here are some of his first efforts:

He has really been enjoying working through this book! I haven't had to browbeat him into doing it (although it is summer, so I have had to remind him) at all. I am sure that the author's casual no-pressure approach (all while teaching so much!) has a lot to do with that. I am excited that Michael is learning to program in Java, and I am very excited that this book is labeled Volume 1 - I will definitely be looking into Volume 2.

Michael will continue to work through this book at his own pace (another suggestion of the author's). I have no doubt that he will complete it and be looking to extend his knowledge. It's obvious that I really like this program, but if you want to check out other opinions, be sure to click the awesome graphic below!

Code For Teens: The Awesome Beginner's Guide to Programming {Code for Teens Reviews}

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Seasons of Life

I think everyone probably does this, but I look at my life in chunks of time. There was high school, college, Henry before we were married (which dovetails with the first half of college), Henry after we were married, but before we had kids (last half of college and first half of grad school), babies (four in forty months), toddlers, Cardinal Newman (Therese's K and half of 1st grade), early homeschooling, and teenagers. Guess where we are now? Four teenagers is hard. Teenagers with health and emotional issues is harder. I know from experience, because every other stage of my life (with the exception of high school) has taught me, that these years will fly by. All of my kids will probably be out of the house in five years. Five years is nothing. Five years is the number of years that Henry and I were together before we had kids. They went by so fast!

Right now the time is not flying. Right now life is challenging. I will get back to more regular posting on the blog, but for now I don't feel that my posts would be all that fun to read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review of Silverdale Press LLC

Silverdale Press
Silverdale Press LLC was a new company to me, and I wish I had known about it when my kids were younger, because their White House Holidays Unit Studies can be used with children from 5-18! Because these studies are split into two levels, elementary and jr./sr. high school, they truly can be used by everyone...and *you* don't have to do the adapting!
There are six unit studies in this series: Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Valentine's Day. Each unit, as mentioned, contains two different levels. Although all of the unit studies are similar, I'm going to talk specifically about Veteran's Day, as that is the one that Mary-Catherine (13) completed, doing one lesson per week. While the lessons can certainly be done faster (you could actually do a lesson a day), to me, the entire point of a unit study is to really engage and marinate in the material - to take every opportunity to go as in depth as possible, even to use the unit study as a jumping off point for further study.
What sets these unit studies apart from many others is their academic quality. I could tell right away when reading through the studies that whoever wrote them knew what she was talking about. There is so much more to these studies than what you could get off Wikipedia. It turns out that Jill Hummer, the author, has taught history and political science at the college level and has a PhD in Government. In other words, she's my soul sister (for those who don't know, my undergrad degrees are in history and political science, and I have a PhD in political science). She wrote the unit studies that I would write for my own children. How often do you get that in a product? Oh, and as a bonus, her husband was a former college debater! Yes, I want to support this family's company!

For reasons I can't necessarily articulate, I have always been fascinated by Veteran's Day. Maybe it's because in the old-time radio shows I listen to, it's still called Armistice Day. Maybe it's because of the poppies and their significance. Whatever the reason, when I saw the array of studies, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be beginning with Labor Day and that I would have her spend some quality time with it. Regardless of which level you use, the unit study has similar lessons: K-6 Lesson 1 - President Woodrow Wilson and Armistice Day, Lesson 2 - President Wilson and Food Czar Hoover at War, Lesson 3 - The Story of Dwight Eisenhower and how we got Veteran's Day. Grades 7-12 have the same first and third lesson titles, with Lesson 2 being Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points. As soon as I saw that K-6 got to study the issue of food in WWI, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be doing (or at least reading) this lesson, too. This lesson is so full of amazing information, and even includes the vintage WWI posters and propaganda that I have used in my own work creating materials for students. I absolutely LOVE the use of primary source materials like these. There is no substitute for them.

As I indicated previously, there are so many places to "jump off" in this unit study! The very first lesson suggests talking about family members who are veterans. Thanks to my mom and her wonderful genealogy research, we have photos and relevant documents of my relatives, including both my grandfathers and then going back further. It's a wonderful way to bring personal family history into the study of veterans.

Mary-Catherine (13) had this to say about the unit study: "I thought the information in this unit study was very interesting! I like the pictures a lot. Doing it made me excited for the next study, which we are almost through now."

What she said!  

The next study we tackled was Labor Day. Again, it followed the same format as Veteran's Day. The lessons for the younger kids focus primarily on crafts and picture study type activities. The older kids do primary source analysis, primarily. I actually love this study even more than the first one we did, if possible. The way that Dr. Hummer displays the primary source and then asks questions about it mirrors exactly projects that I have created myself. This kind of work is so effective for older kids! Dr. Hummer also suggests students listen to original speeches and discuss them. With my obsession with old-time radio, you'd better believe this is something I have done with my children before. 

Other Crew members worked both on this unit study and on others, but some members reviewed another product altogether, Silverdale Press LLC's Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers.

Persuasive Writing & Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers & White House Holidays Unit Studies {Silverdale Press LLC Reviews}