Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review of Golden Prairie Press' Uncover Exciting History

I recently had the privilege of reviewing Golden Prairie Press' Uncover Exciting History by Amy Puetz.  Amy Puetz is well known in the homeschooling community for her living book style history books.  Uncover Exciting History (subtitled Revealing America's Christian in Short, Easy-to-Read Nuggets) is one such book.  Covering American history from Columbus through the 1940s, the book reads as a continuing historical narrative, but also as a series of discrete short stories (that just happen to be true!).  For this reason, the book can be adapted to a variety of homeschooling scenarios. It can be used as a read-aloud for the whole family as a gentle overview of American history with an emphasis on the Christian character of the country. It can be used as supplementary reading with an American history curriculum.  It can be free time "school" reading for an older child.  While the book is recommended for ages 12+, it is definitely well within reach for younger readers.  The only thing that makes it especially appropriate for older readers is the section at the end of each chapter called "Digging Deeper" comprised of questions appropriate for essays or discussions, map work, and other activities.

I used this ebook two ways.  I received it as an pdf to read on my iPad.  I then put it on my eldest daughter's Nexus 7 tablet.  I knew that she would read it for pleasure reading any time (and she did - she loved it!).  For my other 3 children, I used the book as a lunchtime read-aloud not directly tied to our history curriculum.  All of my kids loved this book.  American history properly told makes for exciting reading, and Amy's chapters are exactly the right length to be read in one sitting (6-9 pages).  If you have kids who love history, they are guaranteed to love this book, especially if they think they already know the whole story of American history! There are plenty of surprises in this book.

If you want to learn more about Uncover Exciting History, you can read Chapter 8, Crossing the Delaware, here.  You can see the entire Table of Contents here.  The ebook version I received retails for $14.95, but it is currently on sale for 20% off, making it just $11.96.  The book is also available as a printed volume for $18.95 and as an audiobook for $25.00 (both are currently available for 20% off as of this writing).  The sale ends 9/1/12.

I have received Amy's ezine for quite awhile now, so I knew that I would love this book -- and I did (more importantly, so did all four of my kids).  To find out how other Crew members used Amy's books, see the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received the ebook version of this book free in exchange for my review. I received nothing else (apart from the joy of reading very well-written history).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review of Time4Writing

As part of the Review Crew, my daughter, Therese, was able to take the Middle School "Welcome to the Essay" course from Time4Writing.  

Time4Writing offers 14 writing courses from the elementary to the high school level.

Time4Writing's courses are all done online, and no parental involvement is required.  Instead, students follow an outline of lessons and assignments online.  Lessons teaching a particular concept are introduced, followed by the completion of graded assignments.  Your child's teacher then grades the assignments and gives your child feedback.  It is only after passing on a particular assignment that your child can move on to the next one.

Time4Writing has done an amazing job answering just about any question on their FAQ, including what I think must be the most asked - yes, you can change courses after you start anytime until the 14th day.  Although sometimes a change might be necessary, Time4Writing's descriptions are so thorough that deciding where to place your child is pretty easy.

We used Time4Writing as follows: Therese logged on (with my email address so I could see all her correspondence with her teacher) and began completing the lessons.  Any assignment she was to turn in was shown to me first, although I did not evaluate it.  She then turned her lesson in.  When she got it back, we went over Mrs. Gilg's (her teacher's) remarks together to make sure she understood before she moved on to the next assignment.  

I very much regret that we won't make it through the entire course in the allotted 8 weeks.  I blame myself for not setting out an exact schedule for Therese to follow in order to insure that she would finish.  I guess I am too used to letting her set her own pace! I would advise any family who participates in Time4Writing to set out a schedule from the beginning to make sure that the student finishes the course.  Time4Writing suggests that students spend 2 hours per week for each of the 8 weeks of the course in order to finish.

Although Therese did not learn anything new in her course, I would recommend Time4Writing for families who have trouble teaching writing.  As a writer, I have been teaching Therese how to write since she was very young, just as my father taught me.  I could have probably enrolled her in a high school class, but I am always anxious to see if she is where I think she is academically.  Her experience with this course, coupled with the teacher feedback, has convinced me that she is where I think she is - upper middle/lower high school level.

At $99 per 8 week course, Time4Writing is not cheap, however I must stress that this is a parent-free class. The teacher does every bit of the grading and feedback.  Again, for families who want their kids to learn to write academically, but who don't have the tools to teach them, Time4Writing may very well be worth the cost.

I like Time4Writing, even though Therese did not really learn anything.  Her teacher was wonderful and provided very detailed and helpful feedback.  It was obvious that she cared about Therese's performance and absorption of the material.  We liked Time4Writing; to see how other Review Crew members felt about the program, read the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received an 8 week course from Time4Writing free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation (apart from the relief of having someone else teach my daughter for a couple of months).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review of Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

When I received Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers, published by Christian Liberty Press, for review, I was a little worried.  Given that the book comes from a noted Protestant publisher, I wondered how it would  play in my traditional Catholic homeschool.  I have to say, though, that a couple of sentences in the preface absolutely struck a cord with me:
The worship of God in modern times has too often become shallow and man-centered.  Many Christians at the opening of the twenty-first century, including young believers, have never understood the importance of approaching God with awesome reverence and majestic praise.
 That sentence made me want to stand up and shout "Amen!" My family and friends have heard me say irritably  "God is not your homeboy." The Creator of all, the author of life, the Alpha and the Omega, deserves so much more than He gets, especially in terms of public worship.  It was with this meeting of the minds that I set about reading this nearly-300 page ebook (which has very nice illustrations!) to my four children (7-11).

St. Augustine said that when you sing, you pray twice.  That attitude is evident in the Catholic Church, in which part of the Liturgy every week is sung.  In the Eastern Catholic (Byzantine) Church, the entire Liturgy is sung, as contrasted with the Western Catholic Church (Roman), in which only part is.  The Catholic Church is as noted for its music as it is for its "smells and bells." After all, it is the Catholic Church that gave the world Gregorian Chant, Polyphonic Chant, and the earliest Christian hymns.  Therefore, I love that the first significant scene of this book takes place in a Gothic cathedral around a huge organ.

The book, the first in a series, tells the story of an older British man, Mr. Pipes, who meets and educates two American teens in Britian about old hymns.  Sadly, although, not unexpectedly, he begins their education with the work of Thomas Ken, a 16th century composer.  Why sadly? Because there were 1500 years of Christian hymns prior to that point.  I was surprised, though, to realize that we sing at least one of his hymns in our Church! I really love reading things that point to the unity in the Christian church, as opposed to things that revel in the differences.  It was neat that my kids recognized the hymn, too.  The book continues in the same vein with biographical sketches of various British hymn writers, as told by Mr. Pipes, in the context of Mr. Pipes engaging in various activities with Drew and Annie (the teenagers).

I realize that we probably approached this book differently than a lot of others.  I prefaced our reading with telling my kids that this book was written from a Protestant perspective about mostly Protestant hymns, but that it would be an interesting look at post-Reformation England.  It is exactly in that vein that we read the book.  The British history aspects of the book were interesting, especially reading about the religious leanings of the Restoration kings (a subject with which I am very familiar, but a period of history I have not yet studied with my children).  I was gratified to find that there was no anti-Catholic bias in this book.  It was not written for or about Catholics, but it was not written to indict them either.

This book is recommended for 7th-10th graders, but I think that that age range is way too high.  My 7 year-old twins enjoyed this book as a read aloud far more than my 9 and 11 year-olds who thought it was kind of silly. It really seemed to be written for a younger audience.  I know that my kids read many years above grade level (both in ability and subject matter), so please read the rest of the Crew reviews to see how other kids responded to this book.

For what it is, Mr. Pipes is fine.  Particularly for homeschool parents who don't allow their children to read outside of the sphere of Christian literature, the book should be a welcomed addition to the bookshelf.  The book costs $8.79 for the pdf version, or $9.89 for the print version.  Just because Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers was not a great fit for my family doesn't mean that other families didn't love it! Be sure to read the Crew blog!


Disclaimer: I received the pdf version of Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers free in exchange for my review.  Obviously, my opinion is my own and is always colored by my Catholic faith!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review of Apologia's I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Through the blessing of the TOS Review Crew, I recently received and read I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and its accompanying workbook, published by Apologia.  Written by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, this book challenges the very popular notion that faith in God is irrational, asserting instead that not only is such belief rational, but it is actually more rational than the alternative.  

While I will always cite St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica as the preeminent argument for the existence of God, there is much to recommend this book.  First, although it is a hefty book, weighing in at 448 pages, it doesn't read like a hefty book.  Although the material is weighty, it is eminently readable.  Addressing such questions as "Why should anyone believe anything at all," "Do we have eyewitness testimony about Jesus," and "Who is Jesus: God, or just a great moral teacher," the book tackles head-on the questions often asked by agnostics.  In my experience, atheists rarely ask such questions, as they are not interested in learning the truth.  I have found the sole goal of many atheists to be simply trying to make Christians appear foolish. I don't feel that such people are the intended audience of this book.  Rather, this book should be embraced by Christians who want to be able better to understand their faith and to engage in more sophisticated apologetics, and by agnostics, or those people who truly are on a search for truth.

Chapters are introduced by way of a brief outline summarizing the main points, such as this one from Chapter 8:

Chapters conclude with a summary of what was covered.  If you're like me, books like this one are very easy to read.  You are told what to expect, the material is covered, and, finally, a summary is presented.

While anyone can make arguments against the existence of God, making arguments for the existence of God is a trickier proposition, given that if you have to be convinced of God's existence, you have probably not yet discovered the great gift of faith.  Geisler and Turek don't let this fact slow them down, though.  It would be impossible for me to do justice to their work, but this snippet of a conclusion is a great example of their clear and cogent (not to mention convincing) style:

Along with the book, I also received the companion workbook.

The workbook (called a curriculum on the cover) is comb bound and comes in at nearly 300 pages.  Not for the faint of heart (or children younger than high school), there is an amazing amount of material here.  Correlated to the chapters in the book, the workbook contains supplemental material, study questions, and activities for personal reflection, discussion, and writing. The authors suggest that each chapter, including the workbook section, should take 2-3 weeks to cover.

Each workbook chapter is divided into the following sections:
  • Hook - a reminder of what the chapter covered and questions to warm up the brain
  • Book - a deeper look at the specific issues covered in the chapter
  • Look - research assignments and suggested activities 
  • Took - a summary of the material and concepts
There are also free downloadable chapter tests and solutions available online from Apologia.  The workbook is a worthy companion to the book and is definitely worth purchasing to make this a complete one-year apologetics course. A sample chapter from the workbook is available on Apologia's website.

I had thought to use this curriculum with my oldest daughter, but ended up using it myself.  Therese is only 11, and we are focusing on Catholic apologetics with her at this age (Mary, the saints and angels, the Eucharist, etc.).  I really enjoyed the book and the workbook, though.  Being firmly grounded in Catholic apologetics, I did not have a problem dealing with things on which I differ with most Protestants (e.g., evolution).  I found those sections of the book interesting, but, ultimately, not convincing.  Because other parts of the book are so good, though, I definitely see having Therese work through this curriculum in a few years.  I wouldn't recommend it for Catholics who are not well-versed in Catholic theology, because there are obviously some key differences between Catholic and Protestant thought.  For those who can separate out those differences, though, I think this is a good book.

Because I did not have the book long enough to use the entire package as a curriculum, I focused my efforts on the book, completing only two chapters in the workbook (although I read the whole workbook - the biographical profiles contribute to making the workbook read like an entirely different book).  Because of its readability, I was able to read I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist in about a week.  I began telling people about how much I liked this book after reading only the first chapter.  When I was done with the book, I went back to the workbook and completed the writing and thinking exercises for the first two chapters (this approach is the one that I used because of the time constraints of a review period).  I would not be recommending the purchase of the workbook/curriculum guide if I did not think that it added significantly to the experience with the book as a whole.  I would encourage you to look at the sample chapter if you are considering not purchasing the workbook - for the reasonable price you might just change your mind!

I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist is available for $16, and the workbook costs $33.00. Both can be purchased from Apologia.


Disclaimer: I received both the book I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and the accompanying workbook free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review of Spelling City

While my kids have been using Spelling City for quite awhile, we have been using the premium features for the past six weeks or so.  We love Spelling City! Perhaps, like me, you have wondered if upgrading to the premium version of the site is worth it.  In my opinion, it is.

While you can get plenty of benefit from the free site, when you upgrade to the premium site you gain access to so many more features.  While the extra games are great, it is the definition, sentence, and paragraph work that really creates the biggest value.  In this way, Spelling City becomes just as much about vocabulary and writing as it is about spelling.  Also, if you are a homeschooling family, the ability to create lists giving different children different word lists and assignments is huge.  It takes all the guesswork out of creating a spelling curriculum.  You don't even have to find the lists - there are over 42,000 words on Spelling City, and they are composed into more lists than I can name.  There are topical lists, subject lists, sight word lists, geography lists, sound-alike lists and more.  If you want to make your own lists, that is easy to do.

Further, although ads don't bother some parents, the ability to use Spelling City ad-free may be worth the price of upgrading to some parents.  Really, the premium version of Spelling City has features to appeal to everyone, as can be seen in this graphic.
 While we always use the products we are given to review, Spelling City is one that we will continue to use on a nearly daily basis and, having been able to experience the premium version, I know that I will renew it when my time is up. Spelling City is something that my kids really enjoy doing.  I don't think that they actually realize that it is school.  Due to that lack of realization, we don't have to do Spelling City during school time - it can be moved to free play computer time, and *that* means...more net school time!

For my younger children (7), I used premade lists on Spelling City, primarily because I liked being able to choose words that are considered second grade words.  One always wonders if her children are where she thinks they are! For my older children, I entered words that I had already selected into Spelling City for them to study.  By the end of the review period, though, I was using premade lists for them, too.  There are just so many to choose from, and the themes (i.e., Geography) are so fun!

For each of my children, I entered specific information about their lists and assignments into their Spelling City accounts (they log in as themselves and I am then able to check their individual progress - a truly awesome feature of the premium subscription, and the reason I will be renewing) for them to use independently. It made my "job" as their spelling instructor almost irrelevant (which is great!).

At only$29.99 per year for up to five students, Spelling City is a great deal for kids who respond well to computer-based learning.  Because everything you need for a spelling curriculum is included, the price essentially break down to $6.00 per year, per student (assuming you use it with five children).  I really do recommend Spelling City premium.  All of my children from 7-11 have so much fun with it (and, yes, they absolutely do learn their spelling lessons!).

As always, check out the Crew blog for other experiences!


Disclaimer: I received a year's subscription to Spelling City Premium free in exchange for my review.  My children have gained spelling knowledge, but I have received no other compensation.

Review of Economics for Everybody

As the name of this series suggests, Economics for Everybody truly is for...everybody! I have a limited background in economics (only insofar as it affected by Political Science work in graduate school), and no background in biblical economics at all.  Of course, I have always believed that the current problems of scarcity and inequality in the world are the result of the Fall (as, of course, are all problems in the world!), but to have it presented as so in an economics course is so refreshing. Economists have ways of explaining inequalities, etc. (often using ridiculously convoluted equations to prove their theories which one would need a Ph.D. to understand...oh, wait: I have one of those and it doesn't actually help!), but very few understand or accept the root cause: man's sinful nature and rejection of God! Lecture 2 of this course makes it very clear very quickly that this course does accept that premise from the start.

This Biblical thread runs through the whole program, but it should not be assumed that the material is any less informative or rigorous for that fact (I know I am not the only person who has had experience with Biblical curriculum that is more about the Bible than, for example, English or math).  As the list of lessons shows, all the typical components of an Economics course are present:
List of Lessons:
1. And God Created Economics | Stewardship in God’s Image – What is Economics? – God’s Attributes & Actions – Man in God’s Image – Creation Mandate – Stewardship – Why Study Economics – Missionary Impact

2. The Economic Problem of Sin | Law, Liberty & Government – The Fall of Man & Scarcity – Impact of Fall on Stewardship & Work – Grace of Law – Economic Aspects of 10 Commandments – Civil Government – Liberty vs. Tyranny – Theology to Anthropology to Politics to Economics – Trade -
3. The Path from Work to Wealth | Production, Property & Tools – What is Wealth? – Principles That Lead to Wealth – Work – Production – Ownership & Private Property – Land, Labor & Capital – Savings & Capital Accumulation – Division of Labor – Tools – Mass Production – Lower Prices & Increased Purchasing Power
4. The Route From Scarcity to Plenty | Money, Markets & Trade – Famines, Scarcity & Prosperity – Value – Economic Demand – Markets – Free Trade – Money – Laws of Supply & Demand – Price – Marginal Utility – Impact on Prices – Greater Selection of Goods & Services at Lower Prices
5. The Role of the Entrepreneur | Capital, Calculation & Profit - What is an Entrepreneur? – Importance of Capital – Economic Calculation – Job Creation – Technology – Profit – Competition – Self-balancing Free Market
6. A Tale of Two Theologies, Part 1 | From God to Politics - Consequences of Economics – 19th-century England vs. 20th-century Soviet Union & Impact on Christianity – Comparison of Christianity vs. Atheism – Two Systems at War – Theologies – Anthropologies – Political Philosophies – Political Systems
7. A Tale of Two Theologies, Part 2 | Economic Philosophies & Systems - Comparison between Christian & Atheistic Economic Philosophies – Private vs. Public Ownership of Property – Free Market vs. Command & Control/Socialistic – Interventionism – Freedom & Growth of Christianity
8. Government Intervention | Basic Principles & Education – German Socialism in WWI – North Star Principle: Biblical Stewardship – Intervention & Stewardship – Areas of Interventionism – Quick History of U.S. & Economics – U.S. Educational Policy & Stewardship
9. The Two Mysteries of Monetary Policy | Inflation & Depressions – Two Mysteries: Devaluation of Dollar and The Great Depression – What is Money? – Government & Banks – Interest Rates – Federal Reserve – Inflation & Stealing – Interventionist Monetary Policy & Stewardship – Inflation leads to Boom & Bust Cycle – Influence of Central Bank – Great Depression – Govt Policies & Stewardship
10. The Welfare & Corporate States of America | The Costs of Redistribution– The Welfare State – Biblical View – Brief History – Problems of Intervention – Growth of Welfare State – Christian Questions – The Corporate State – Cronyism – Politics and Business – Government Spending – Government Taxation – Government Borrowing – Impact on Stewardship
11. Economics Has Consequences | The Real Effects of Sin – North & South Korea – Impact of Economics on Christianity – Sin & Economics – Socialism: Scarcity & Police State – Gradual Socialism/Interventionism: Nation of Rent Seekers – Regulation & Bureaucracy – Free Markets – Economics & Religious Freedom
12. Kingdom Economics – Genesis 3:15 & The Serpent – Moses & Slavery – Sack of Rome and Augustine’s City of God – Hitler’s Mein Kampf – Gradual Socialism & Christianity – Liberty & Economics – The Kingdom and the Future

Presented (although not created or written) in segments of 15-20 minutes by R.C. Sproul, Jr., a very easy man to listen to, this is a course for the whole family, your homeschool, or your church.  Replete with inserted videos and photos, the course is a visual, as well as an audio, treat.  Further, it comes with a 250 page study guide containing Biblical readings, further discussion, and more.

Economics for Everybody is currently available on DVD or download for $36.00.  

Disclaimer: I received Economics for Everybody free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.
Disclaimer #2: As a Catholic, I disagree with some of the positions taken by R.C. Sproul, Jr.  There is nothing in this course that I find personally objectionable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review of Vocab Videos

 Through my participation on the TOS Crew, I was given a year long subscription to Vocab Videos, a website composed of videos designed to illustrate the meanings of 500 SAT vocabulary words in a way meaningful to SAT-aged students.  Practically, this means that words are presented by way of short (less than one minutes) sketches designed to illustrate visually the meaning of the word.  The videos are short, pithy, and memorable.

Caveat: these are secular videos, and they do contain instances of "Oh my God" and "Shut up." I know many homeschoolers would disagree with me, but I let my seven year-olds watch these videos with my eldest daughter, and I didn't feel like it was a problem. I would strongly urge any parent to watch them first before showing them to any child!

In addition to the videos, there is a plethora of other resources for users of Vocab Videos.  These include a complete glossary,

BELLIGERENT eager to fight
BEMUSE to confuse, stun, or stump
BENEVOLENT inclined to perform kind acts
BENIGN kind; beneficial
BERATE to criticize severely or angrily
BOISTEROUS noisy; disorderly
BOLSTER to support; to reinforce

a grouping of all words by word type (like synonyms),

Definition Groups
Bad Blood
ABHOR to hate
ACRIMONY hostility
ANIMOSITY bitter hostility
CONTEMPT a lack of respect and intense dislike
DISDAIN intense dislike

worksheets, and quizzes.

Families could use Vocab Videos in different ways.  So far, we have not used the quizzes or worksheets.  Instead, my daughter watches the videos and I then ask her what the words mean.  Very simple.  You can use as many or as few of the site resources as desired (including digital flashcards).  I think this product would be excellent as SAT prep.  Although Therese is only 11, she will be taking the PSAT next year, and I know that early exposure to all of these great words is sure to help her score.  Plus, because there is such a strong visual component to Vocab Videos, even if she gets nervous on the test, she will likely be able to recall the *context* of a given word giving her a huge advantage.

Pricing for Vocab Videos is simple, although it might not make sense for some families.  In essence, homeschoolers fall under the category of "Small" with up to 20 students.  It might make great sense for a coop, though.  At this price it is kind of pricey for an individual family, but if you have a visual learner, it is probably worth it.  This approach is just so much fun!

We really like Vocab Videos, but this is one where you will definitely want to check out the other Crew reviews.  The format and the content of the videos have a huge impact on whether one likes them or not.


Disclaimer: I received a free subscription to Vocab Videos for the purposes of review.  I received no other compensation (apart from some laughs).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review of Math Made Easy

As a member of the TOS Crew, I was given the opportunity to review Math Made Easy's Multiplication Teaching and Learning Made Easy.  Recommended primarily for 3rd and 4th graders (although certainly beneficial to older children who need to be drilled in multiplication facts), this program consists of lesson plans, a pretest, six weeks of daily activity sheets, a post test, multiplication games, and flash cards, all contained within a modestly sized comb bound book.

 These sample worksheets give a very good idea of the tone of the program.  This is a very basic, bare bones approach to learning multiplication facts.  It reminds me of the kind of worksheets that I had as a kid in school, which is not a detriment: many homeschooled children do exceptionally well with such a presentation.

Some homeschooled kids, though, especially those who don't really have an affinity for math do not respond well to the worksheet approach.  Granted, this program includes coloring activities, too, but it still remains basically just a worksheet drill-n-kill.  It is probably for this reason that my 2nd grade twins (my only children who did not know their facts when we got this program) didn't respond to it very well.  We spent several weeks using this program exclusively, but then began to use another, interactive, program and their retention of facts increased dramatically.  It is possible that they

experienced greater success with the other program because they are more visual learners (I think our computer-based culture is probably actually creating more visual learners).

What this program does differently than other worksheet-based approaches is to begin with the premise of eliminating certain facts right off the bat (zeros, ones, tens, elevens - all the easy ones), and then teaching the others in pairs (i.e., 3x2 is the same as 2x3).  The author posits this as a new and different way to teach multiplication. My main problem is that I don't think it is new.  This is the way I learned multiplication 30 years ago, and it is the way I taught the facts to my two older children.

Perhaps for parents who are even less math-able than I, this approach will seem novel enough to justify the $24.95 price tag, but for my money, there are many less expensive ways to teach the facts.  Just because Math Made Easy was not the right fit for our family does not mean that it is not perfect for yours! To see other Crewbies' experiences with this program, be sure to read the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received Multiplication Teaching and Learning Made Easy free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review of Create Better Writers

Writing is often the bane of a homeschool mom's existence.  Even if one is a good writer herself, it is sometimes hard to translate that skill into teachable writing.  Fortunately, there are companies like Create Better Writers to help out.

Create Better Writers is the brainchild of a veteran writing teacher who, finding that the public school curricula from which he was teaching was simply inadequate, set about creating his own.  With the input of homeschool teachers, David Dye came up with a program that has a proven success record.  In fact, he actually became a trainer of public school writing teachers.

As part of the Crew, I was able to review How to Teach the Paragraph, The Homeschool Writing Action Plan and How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay.  The Homeschool Writing Action Plan is organized into three parts: the writing action plan summary, a pacing guide, and a roadmap.  The best thing about this book is that you are not obligated to use Create Better Writers' program.  The Action Plan will help you teach writing from any curriculum.  I began my foray into Create Better Writers by reading this book.

The Action Plan Summary immediately tells a parent/teacher what they should teach their child writing-wise and when.  It tells parents how long each aspect of writing instruction should take, based on how old the child is when learning it.  Along the way, it offers the resources of Create Better Writers so you know what to use and when (assuming you choose their curriculum).  Again, though, the directions are so clear that you don't have to use CBW to teach writing.  You will learn when to teach sentences, paragraphs, essays, etc., and how to accomplish the teaching, with just this one book.  Think of it as writing lesson plans.

How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay is more nuts and bolts.  The format of the book is as follows:

  1. List of Steps
  2. Sample Pacing Charts
  3. Detailed Lesson Plan
  4. Plan for Total Mastery
  5. Bells and Whistles
  6. The Next Level
The premise of the book is that by learning how to write the five paragraph essay, a student will be able to apply the skill to any kind of writing (persuasive, narrative, etc.) in any situation.  The goal is to teach this skill, not to teach a particular style of writing.

I think this resource is a valuable one.  I did use it with my eldest daughter, and I liked terms like "Terrific Transitions" and "Classy Conclusions." I think catchphrases like this can really help cement ideas with kids.  The best endorsement that I can give this book is that it teaches writing like I teach writing.  No, I don't have an MEd like the author, but I was gifted with a father who taught me how to write at a very young age, excellent teachers, and, I think, a natural ability.  I have problems with programs that focus on creative writing, free writing, etc. while ignoring the basics.  Like it or not, the five paragraph essay is the basics.  Even in my dissertation, I was aware of the basic structure of an essay.  In essence, then, whether a student is writing a two-page essay or a 300 page dissertation, the knowledge of this basic structure is key to writing success.

If you need a writing program that teaches nothing but the skills needed to write a great academic essay (which, to me, should be the primary goal of any writing program), Create Better Writers is the program for you.  The entire program - everything you will ever need to teach your students writing - can be had for less than $100.  How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay costs $17.95.  How to Teach the Paragraph is $7.95.  The Homeschool Writing Action Plan costs $15.95.  The best deal is the Homeschool Bundle for $84.95.  

The Package Contains

You really will not have to buy another writing program. Best of all, your kids will be able to write!

These books taught me that everything believe about teaching writing is correct.  To see what other Crew members thought, see the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received these ebooks free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review of may be the new kid on the block in terms of online homeschool resources, but it is one of the most complete and, because of the inclusion of the famous TOS planners, it is definitely the best value!

Describing everything to be had with a membership to is harder than emptying the ocean one spoonful at a time, so I'm going to lead with a bulleted list and follow with my favorite parts of the site.  For some clue to how much is available on this site, be sure to look at the sample pages.  They include only a few of the homeschooling heavy-hitters, some of whom are:

A subscription to includes the following and much, much more. It truly is impossible to overstate how much you get with this site:

Essentially, for what you used to pay for a print copy of TOS' magazine, you now have access to the magazine and so much more.  Everyone has their favorite features of  Mine are the following:

  • THE PLANNERS!! If you're anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with the TOS planners.  I love them because they have every single possible form I could ever want, and I hate them because they are a huge source of temptation on the years I really shouldn't buy them! Fortunately, I won't ever have to feel that way again.  Every single TOS planner is included in your SchoolhouseTeachers subscription.  The family includes the big kahuna for all moms, special learners, primary, intermediate, and high school.  That's five huge planners free with your subscription!

  • Figures in History: If you've seen and appreciated those books with historical figures to cut out and join with brads, then this feature will be one of your favorites, just as it is one of mine.  Cathy Diez-Luckie, the creator of Figures in Motion offers a history lesson each month that includes one of her amazing figures.  These lessons are not to be missed (be sure to check out the sample pages to see one month's lesson!).
  • Daily grammar, math, and writing lessons.  Yep, daily lessons by some of the top names in home education.  The lessons are short and to the point and are perfect for days when you just don't know what to do.  Even if you don't use them often, just knowing they are there is like a safety net you always have.
  • A chemistry course.  The creator of Friendly Chemistry offers SchoolhouseTeachers members the benefit of his knowledge and experience with his Friendly Chemistry course.  Make no mistake, this is real chemistry-- and it's included in your subscription! For example, this month's lesson covers the following:
These are only a few of the amazing features you will receive with your subscription.  This is one time when it is essential to visit the Crew blog in order to see more reviews.  There are so many things at that every member of the Crew has likely highlighted something different!

A subscription to costs $5.95 per month (after your first month,which costs only $1.00), but if you join HSLDA (and who doesn't want to join HSLDA?), you get a year's membership free.  Simply see this page!


Disclaimer: I received a year's subscription to in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.