Review: Homeschool Planet by Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Homeschool-Planet-Logo-Hi_Res 872x_zpsirhewxf1

I have been on what has felt like the never ending hunt for the PERFECT homeschooler planner for years.  I prefer a digital planner.  I hate erasing or crossing things out on paper, so messy!  I’ve found things before that worked for a season but nothing that was ever just perfect. I came to believe that I’d never find a perfect system.  However when the opportunity to review a one year’s subscription to Homeschool Planet by Homeschool Buyers Co-op came along I figured I’d give it ago.  I’m a digital planner junky! I’ve got to try them ALL! 

Trying to keep life together while homeshcooling 4 children, running a home, a co-op, a business, blogging, and serving in ministry is just about impossible.  There is just too much to keep track of.  I don’t need to tell my blog readers that.  You all are trying to do the same thing.  Personally I manage to do an okay job of keeping most of all of these juggling balls in the air.  Maybe not all at once but in general most everything gets done… at least eventually.

Homeschool Buyers Co-op is an amazing source for low cost curriculum and homeschool related materials. They are the largest buyer’s co-op for homeschool curriculum.  In order to use Homeschool Planet you’ll need to create a free account with the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.  You can sign up for a free 30 day trial, no credit card needed.  This is an online cloud-based planner.  You’ll need a computer with an internet connection to operate this program.


This planner is feature rich.  It does nearly everything I’ve ever wished a digital planner would do.  To get the most out of it I recommend you spend some time in the library of tutorials located in the help section.  I would say this program is pretty clean and straight forward, however there are just so many possibilities for use that I can see someone feeling overwhelmed as they begin learning.

I like how the little touches offered in this program.  I was able to select a pretty background and upload little photos of my entire family. Every family member has his/her own profile where I can create settings just for them.  I can select little widgets (or side windows) where I can keep things like a grocery list, a weather report, and a scripture verse front and center.

There are multiple views.  We can view our plans in a calendar format or a planner format, by the day, the week or the month.  We can view a child at a time, multiple children at once, or absolutely everyone all together. We can import our appointment calendars from Cozi (my favorite) or Google Calendars.

When creating lesson plans we can create subjects, classes within subjects (multiple classes if we’d like) and you can color code everything! You can create multiple lessons within one class within one day!  You can create multiple classes within a subject in one day.  You can create a custom schedule and determine exactly how often you’ll have any of your classes.  (Just to make it clear… we have the Subject of Math, my son uses Math U See every day (that is one math “class”) and he uses Life of Fred 3 times a week (that would be another “class.”


Lesson Planning Page… my lessons are relatively short but you can include several paragraphs and you can link resources including webpages.

You can assign one class (or assignment) to multiple children.  There are even features within the program to help you shorten your key strokes.  For example, you can tell it to auto fill Lesson 1.. Lesson 2… Lesson 3 etc and then you can add more text to each lesson.

If you would like you can setup each of your children with student accounts so they can log in all on their own and see the assignments for the day.  Then they can even check them off as they go!   If you enter your cell phone or email information you children can even send you messages about their work.  You cannot reply but it can still be a help!  I’ve had my son text me to remind me to adjust his assignments.  I can even text my husband (or myself) to-do or shopping lists straight from the program!

The rescheduling features are AMAZING!  I’ve never found a program that so easily allows you to reschedule or insert assignments.  If you are in the calendar mode you can simply click and drag classes and assignments around.  If you are in the planning pages you can do the same OR click a drop down box to help you choose rescheduling options.  Each day when you log in a box appears letting you which assignments haven’t been marked done.  You can reschedule them, mark them complete, or do nothing.  It’ll even prompt you to enter grades.

I’ve used other digital planners before that fell short in this rescheduling area.  Either they lacked the feature entirely or it wasn’t intelligent enough for my purposes.  I used one program that left me in tears as a tremendous amount of hard work was distroyed.  I had used the bump feature wrong and my plans were so jumbled it was a loss!  I had to start again.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rescheduled with Homeschool Planet.  Not even once was an assignment lost nor was anything ever jumbled.  It all works PERFECTLY!

Rescheduling Helper

Rescheduling Helper

The one area that I constantly fall down on is homeschool record keeping.  It might be because we live in a state that doesn’t require me to turn any sort of records in to anyone.  However I know the responsible thing to do, just in case, is to document what we are doing every day.  It can be difficult though as our schooling is fluid.  We will linger on topics that interest us or need more of our attention.  We love love to make the time to take rabbit trails and veer off our planned course to study some concept in more depth than I had originally planned.  It can be difficult to keep up recording or even planning what we’ve done when the unexpected but worth while comes along.

Homeschool Planet helps me keep perfect records.  I can create a custom grade setup for each child and each subject.  I can also choose not to grade at all.  Each thing we do gets checked off and recorded.  It is easy for me to make space for our rabbit trails without messing up my plans.  Attendance records are done for me.  If we needed to I could even keep track of our hours of homeschooling.  Homeschool Planet is the PERFECT record keeper!  It has made life so much easier.

Profile - Attendance_zpswmfychgd

Attendance Tracker

There are a number of ways to get creative as well.  If you are a blogger or have any sort of ministry or business you can create a profile just for that and keep track of deadlines and assignments under that profile.  You can also create a recurring house cleaning schedule, or family menu.  The longer I use it the more possibilities I keep dreaming up!

Homeschool Planet by Homeschool Buyers Co-op really does it all!  In fact I’ve probably just scratched the surface.  As I was clicking around making sure I covered as much as I could for this review I found a feature I had never seen before.  CLASS NOTES!  I can keep notes on how my children do on each assignment?  Who knew?  Of course those, attendance, grades, and transcripts are all available in the reports section as well.

Oh! I just heard that if you go to this link……. you can get a THREE MONTH trial version of Homeschool Planet for FREE!


Homeschool Planet Review

Crew Disclaimer

Review: CursiveLogic Workbook


I think reading and writing cursive is an important skill to have.  Yes computers have taken over the world but writing by hand is something that I feel will every completely go by the wayside.  I want my children to be able write well so I was excited to get the chance to review a program I had never heard of before.  It is the CursiveLogic Workbook CursiveLogic.

Workbook_p13The CursiveLogic Workbook is a 96 page full colored spiral bound and detailed workbook 


This is a fantastically simple program.  The lower case letters are grouped together by shape.  The letters are sorted into four shape categories. Each category is designated a color, the beginning stroke, and a catchphrase for students to remember.  All of the work in one category equates to one “lesson.” Attention is paid to how each letter links together when writing in fluid cursive. There isn’t any designation for how much should be completed in a day.  There were no obvious stopping points to make work as done so we just did a bit at a time until we felt we were through.  We took several days, sometimes more than a week to complete a lesson.

Workbook_p15How We Used The Program

Like I said before, this is a straight forward.  The teacher instructions fall before each lesson.  There is no need for any preparation.  This is very much an open and go system. Noah is left handed so we appreciated having the spiral at the top.  It didn’t get in his way at all the way many other workbooks do.  I also received three extra practice pages that are easily downloadable and reproducible.  You’ll need to purchase the workbook in order to make the concepts in those page make any sense but they really do come in handy. We are enjoying extra writing practice with the Gettyburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and Psalms.

It’s a great handwriting program that my son enjoys enough to get it done!  In the beginning he wasn’t so sure but as he moved into the 2nd and 3rd lesson we began to see how it all tied together.  That was when he gained a better appreciation for the system.  We’ll continue using this program for the summer.

CursiveLogic Review

Crew Disclaimer

Review:Andrea Carter’s Tales from the Circle C Ranch

4379 cvr 5.inddAny good book is a treasure.  I try never to pass up the opportunity to review something fun.  Recently we had the opportunity review the new book, Tales from the Circle C Ranch by Susan K. Marlow from Circle C Adventures. We also received a downloadable copy of Andrea Carter’s Tales from the Circle C Ranch Learning Lapbook to supplement the book. This book is intended for children in the middle grades, late elementary into middle school.

Both of my boys, ages 7 and 9 who are strong readers, enjoyed reading this book.  Each of them finished in one sitting of about 2 hours.  Tales from the Circle C Ranch is Christian fiction.  It is a collection of short stories from Andrea Carter’s childhood. She is the main character in the Circle C Ranch series of books.  This book is a lot of fun because it fills in a lot of the details that children might want to know about but were left out of the other books.  A lot of different questions are answered. 

Andrea, who is often called Andi, is a fun girl.  She’s the youngest in her family and as the baby she gets teased yet protected by her big brother’s and sisters.  Her dad dies when she is just a young child so her oldest brother fills in the fatherly roll.  Andi herself is full of crazy ideas and is always getting into some sort of dust-up.  The stories greatly appeal to children.

The book itself is your typical paperback with 160 pages.  There are 11 short stories all covering different points in Andrea Carter’s life. The stories are arranged by date. We have read some of the other Circle C Ranch stories before but that isn’t necessary to enjoy this book.  It is a very good read all on it’s own.  The first four books are from the The Early Years and represent the time period from the Circle C Beginnings book when Andrea was a young child.  The other seven stories The In-Between Years- come from the time of the Circle C Adventures books.  These are all new stories though and a lot of fun to read. 

tales_lapbook_cover_zpscsguvgpbWe also received the Andrea Carter’s Tales from the Circle C Ranch Learning Lapbook as a pdf download.  For each story in the book there are usually two lapbook projects related to science, history, or even literature. This was a lot of fun and added so much to the learning.  It drew out discussion on how life was lived at the time, clothing, California history, Us History, ranching, and more.  

How We Used These

Well, I would have liked to have read the book along with my boys and discussed it story by story.  But they snatched it from the mail pile and had it read by bedtime the same day it arrived.  I read it after they did and then we did most of our discussion over the lapbook project.  We didn’t do every project.  I allowed them to choose which stories they wanted to work with.

So What Did We Think?

My boys loved the book and they enjoyed the lapbook.  My older son Noah has a huge love of anything western like, horse related, ranches, California Gold Rush, American History.  So this was totally up his alley.  My Ezra just loves to read anything he can get his hands on so of course he’d give this a go too.  The book is a nice read.  It’d work great a read aloud.  Many of the stories are short enough to read in a short sitting even with a few wiggly kids listening.  Though it is a children’s book the stories are so fun that any adult should enjoy sharing them too. The lapbook is fabulous and adds just so much to the reading experience. Lots of learning and ample opportunities for discussion.  A great literature study!

Dynamic Literacy Review

Crew Disclaimer

Review: SmartKidz Media

logo-88daa1591fea1ca0d329db20e36c8c86dd82b342_zpsjood7zfaI absolutely LOVE to supplement our schooling with media.  It’s sort of a funky thing because I’m actually really strict about my children’s screen time.  Whether they choose movies, Kindle Fire Games, or Minecraft I only allow about an hour or two a week.  However, I’m a bit more liberal when it comes to school related content.  Great shows that really are educational can be a bit daunting to find.  Particularly if you are hunting for something about a specific subject.  That’s where SmartKidz Media by SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers can be a huge help.  SmartKidz Media is a website full of pre-screened, child friendly, educational videos that you can pull up for on demand streaming.

In exchange for our  review we received one full year’s subscription to SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers.  Most of the media is video based however there are study guides, ebooks, and other music related content as well. Take a look at what they have to offer.

  • Animals and Wildlife
  • Science
  • Sports
  • Documentaries and Culture
  • Cultural Music Collections
  • Jazz and Blues Classics
  • Relaxation Music Collection
  • Health and Fitness
  • History
  • Lifestyles and Cuisine
  • Travel and Adventure
  • Fine Arts
  • Classical Music
  • Mighty eBook collection
  • Baby Signs
  • Easy Learning for Special Needs
  • Living Skills
  • Ready-Set-Sing
  • Fun Zone (fun Jokes and other content)
  • My Animal Family
  • Study Guides

The most important thing to note is that you do need a strong internet connection to get the most out of  SmartKidz Media.  If you are used to successfully streaming video than you should be all set.


How We Used This Resource

There is quite a bit of content available and more has been added even since we began our review.  Since we were wrapping up some of our studies of the ocean we thought we’d start by looking for related videos.  We enjoyed videos like Magic of Nature: Water Planet and Magic of Nature: Deep Sea Magicians. My 7 year old is a budding chef. He LOVED the videos in Lifestyle and Cuisine section.  We are vegetarian so he chose the video on that subject first! My five year old Joyanna loves the Mighty Ebook section. She likes the Beatrix Potter and Aesop’s Fables the best.  My 10 month old is the PERFECT age for learning sign-language so I have been brushing using the Baby Signs videos.  We’ve also been streaming the classical music during certain times in the day, just for the fun of it!  We are VERY excited about the History videos that were recently added. We just like any sort of history.  As a family we are moving into a study of American History and those videos are coming soon.  Of course they enjoy the Fun Zone with the games, jokes, and puzzles.  More of this type of content is coming soon!


There is such a wide variety of content available with more being added regularly that it is really hard to serve justice to just what is offered here. There are so many science, world cultures, and fine arts videos that we haven’t had a chance to explore yet.  Every time I log on there is a new discovery, I find myself saying… “Oh I didn’t know they had that!”

What Do We Think?

The quality of the videos is top notch.  I do not believe these are videos that can be found elsewhere.  They certainly aren’t available in any of the other streaming video services we have memberships to (and we have memberships to a couple of the biggest ones).  Many BBC videos and are really complimenting, enriching, and adding  a great deal to our studies.

There are probably countless ways to utilize this in your homeschool.  I love being able to find enriching, appropriate and ENGAGING videos that tie into our studies with  just a click or two.  This is also extremely useful for encouraging children to investigate more about nearly any educational topic they are interested in.  We love self-directed learning around here. I do wish they had some sort of search tool.  It’d be great to search the content by topic instead of scrolling and clicking.  One thing that some of my readers may want to know is that these videos are not creation based.


The mighty ebook collection is a lot of fun.  My daughter is learning to read so she really enjoyed this section.  As she is learning to read she really appreciated how the words on the screen are highlighted as the “book” progresses on the screen.

The Fine Arts section is such amazing.   It is really full of exactly the kind of material I actually really struggle to find in an interesting and age appropriate format for my elementary aged kiddos.  It is really fascinating to see them tie art and music together with titles such as The Art of Van Gogh, The Music of Bach.  There is such a great collection of cultural music from around the world. It would take me many hours to compile all of these great sources together.

This is the kind of product that can really boost enthusiasm in your homeschool.  What you do with it, how your kiddos use it, and what your family gains from it are all entirely up to you.  This will be a much used resource all year long.

SmartKidz Media Review
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Review: Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A by IEW



As a homeschool family how exactly do you go about teaching a child to write well? How do you encourage them to write creative essays or research essays?  It’s a tough task.  Many children, my own included at times, look at sitting down to write something structured the same way a cat looks at a bath tub full of water!  A blank page can be very daunting.  We have tried various programs over the years but I think we’ve hit the gold mine!  My family recently had the opportunity to review the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A with Fix It Grammar 1 & 2  plus A Word Write Now and Portable Walls by Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) and I’m excited to tell you all about it!  This extensive program is perfect for 3rd-5th graders. 

Before I begin this review I have to share with you a little of my IEW story.  Last year I was looking for a program to teach my oldest son writing.  He was going to be turning 8 soon and I was contemplating his 3rd grade year.  We had tried other programs and I actually liked a lot of them but they didn’t seem to take it far enough.  They were lacking in this way or that.  I kept hearing about IEW and I was intrigued. I researched online but I was intimidated.  The price is quite a bit higher than some programs and honestly… with all of the abbreviations and options I was left confused. I visited their booth at the homeschool convention determined that I’d figure this out and decide if it was worth it.  Instead I became over whelmed.  Yes I had a mini mommy meltdown in the IEW book.  My husband standing by my side was dumbfounded.  He thought I’d lost my mind.  Yes, his wife who holds a Master’s Degree in education and has taken many a writing course, and taught many children to write… was loosing her mind over a writing program.  Really I was just frozen in fear, I didn’t want to waste more money on something else that I didn’t really like and there was so much there that I couldn’t decide for if it’d really work.

I didn’t buy the full program that day.  I bought just one little piece.  Then I went home and called up my friend and roped her into helping me figure this out.  She laughed at me.  Insisted it wasn’t as hard as I was making it out to be.  She let me barrow some of her materials and we dabbled in the IEW way.  When this program came up for review this year I finally had the confidence to jump in with two feet and learn the ropes the right way.  Here is my review.

IEW is well known on the homeschool scene.  They already have a reputation for excellent products.  In fact Andrew Pudewa, the director of IEW, was the keynote speaker this year at the big homeschool convention I attend.  I sat in on every talk he gave.  This program and his workshops have reshaped our homeschool.

Deluxe Combo C Fix 5 and 6_zpsb43nvuo0The Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A with Fix It Grammar 1 & 2 comes with many pieces.  First, for the teacher, is the latest addition of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Teacher Seminar which includes hours of DVDs and a corresponding workbook.  Also included in the Student Writing Intensive Level A with a notebook and lesson plans included.  Fix It! Grammer: The Nose Tree, and Fix It! Grammar Robin Hood are amazing and simple grammar programs.  The last two components include A Word Write Now, and the Portable Walls. Let’s look at each of these pieces separately.

Teaching Writing: structure and Style Teacher Seminar

I received the brand new second addition of this seminar.  Hot off of the presses.  The DVD’s came in a fancy faux leather case.  The workbook is in a snazzy binder.  Yes it is well presented but it is certainly what is on the inside that matters.  This program, for parents, teaches YOU exactly how to teach the IEW system.  To say it is in-depth is an understatement.  Here you learn now only the how-to’s but the whys.  You gain the big-picture so you can see where the program is taking you.

In this package you will find 12 DVDs, a workbook that is more than 200 pages long, bonus backline masters, packets of writing sources, 30 audio sessions with Andrew Pudewa, additional online videos, and monthly training webinars too. It is all taught by Andrew Pudewa.  I told you I heard him speak live!  This seminar and all of the added content are a literal gold mine.TWSS_zpsy4xcfrdd

In the seminar Andrew Pudewa walks you through teaching the 9 units that your children will complete when they use IEW. He shows you how to teach the stylistic techniques introduced in the program.  He gives you hands on practice in using the system yourself.  You’ll see classroom session of how this all plays out with different age groups.

There is so much to this seminar alone that it really deserves its own full review.  I often see moms ask about IEW in various homeschool community Facebook groups or chat boards.  Often they decide to skip purchasing this seminar to save on the costs. DO NOT DO IT! If you skip this program you’ll have lost out on a golden opportunity to bring their understanding for a surface level to deep knowledge.  Likely as a teacher/parent you’ll find yourself stressed trying to really understand the how’s and the why’s of the program and where exactly it is going.

In these DVD’s Andrew Pudewa not only teaches you how to teach writing.  He also teaches you how to be a better teacher.  He gives you tips for keeping children engaged.  He reminds you to focus on what really matters instead of what doesn’t and thereby sabotaging your own efforts when the kids get frustrated.  He helps you help your child be successful so that the whole writing experiencing (and over all homeschooling experience) is just simply enjoyable for everyone!

If you can, sit down and watch all of the seminar videos before you begin the program.  That’s really the most optimal way to go about things.  I will admit I didn’t.  I just didn’t have the time.  So I watched as much as I could as often as I could until I was finished while still beginning to teach my boys.

Student Writing Intensive Level A

After the seminar you could create your very own writing class for your children.  It’s that good.  However, if you are like me and don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel then you will certainly want Student Writing Intensive Level A.  This is a 30 week writing course for the 3rd-5th grader.  I an using this with my two boys who are 9 and 7 years old.  It fits the two of them PERFECTLY! This course consists of lessons on DVD taught by Andrew Pudewa for the children.  There is a binder with all of the lesson plans and tabs for organization too.  IEW is amazing in that they allow you to photocopy whatever you’d like including all of the student pages for use with the children in your home.  Or you can purchase another binder complete with all of the contents for your additional children.  That’s what I did.  It just saved me time, energy, and printer ink.

Each week you have a video teaching segment on the DVD for the children to watch.  This is followed up by a variety of practice activities and assignments that reinforce the skills they just learned.  There is a guide to for you to help you break up all of the work daily into 30 full weeks.  There is a lot of flexibility here to move the program at your speed.  I tend to let my children work until they are “done,” as in they’ve had enough.  Most days this equaled exactly how the schedule is laid out.  Sometimes we did more than recommended.  It’s also pretty simple to add-in or substitute additional assignments for extra practice or to tie into the rest of your studies.

After a couple of months of using this program I’ve noticed something remarkable.  My older son tends to be very verbose and will give you WAY TOO MANY details.  His writing was very meandering and it was tricky to figure out what his point was and where he was headed.  My other son is the complete opposite!  He’ll give you three words and call it a story!  After lots of practice in this programming and learning how to create and write from keyword outlines, how to use dress-ups and other stylistic techniques my older son’s writing is coming together into something that makes sense and is understandable while my younger son’s writing has expanded and is becoming more meaningful and detailed.

The boys LOVE this program.  They look forward to the work.  The lessons are broken down so beautifully that they find the learning to be easy.  They enjoy Andrew Pudewa and his teaching style.  They laugh at his corny jokes and yell out answers at the TV.

Fix It! Grammar

With this package we received two years of Fix It! Grammar.  In this case we received the spiral bound teacher’s edition and the student workbooks as downloadable PDFs.  This grammar program is divided up into 33 weeks. Children work at the lessons 4 days per week.  My family was tremendously blessed to have received this program to review in the past so I’ll link you here to that review.  In short though I will say this…this program, like all of the IEW products we have had the chance to use, is fantastic.  Sweet and simple as they say!  And quite effective. After 8 months my children are better at identifying all of the parts of speech than I’ll ever be.

A Word Right Now

Word Write Now_zpsbpj9edmwWithin the IEW system you begin to learn all about banned words, strong verbs, -ly adverbs and other words that Andrew Pudewa refers to as Dress Ups.  These words make your writing more interesting and exciting.  They attract the reader and pull them in. A Word Write Now is sort of like a thesaurus and the intent is help the student easily find excellent words.  Words are arranged by theme.  The themes include: Character Traits (words that describe what a person is like or how the feel), Words to Describe (words that tell you what something looks like for example), and Words for Movement and the Senses. You’ll also find games, transition words, prepositions and more.  A fantastic reference tool!  We’ve only begun to dabble with this resource.  I see us using it much more ad we get to the later portions of this program.

Portable Walls_zpscxnuy7w9Portable Walls

Decorating your walls with word lists, structural models, and other hints and tips that help your children write well is really a fantastic thing to do.  To be able to just look up and get ideas from your surroundings without having to pause for long is wonderful.  However, as homeschooling parents who might be schooling in the dining room or living room this might not be the most practical thing to have.  The Portable Walls solve this problem.  This is actually a sturdy folder that unfolds into something that you can stand up on the table if you so desire.  The front and back are completely filled with everything you’d like to put up on the walls.  You’ll find structural models, checklists, those famous -ly adverbs, prepositions, and strong verbs.  Set this out before a writing session and then tuck it away when the work is done.  Very easy and very convenient.

Over All

That day when I stood in the IEW booth I was making a mountain out of molehill.  I had no idea that one you dive into this program that it is all laid out and not at all confusing or intimidating.  It is also worth every red cent.  Andrew Pudewa doesn’t just teach my children, he teaches me.  I am a better teacher and my children are better writers.

I value writing as a skill.  Whether my children move on to college some day or find themselves working in a trade.  Wherever life takes them writing well is a valuable skill.  With IEW I am confident my children will become excellent writers.

IEW Review

Crew Disclaimer

Review: Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal by Apologia Educational Ministries

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
If you know anything about my family and our homeschool than you know that we take our field trips seriously!  We LOVE to get out and explore.  I’m a big believer in making school as hands on and adventurous as I possibly can.  Of course I love to record where we’ve been and what we learned.  I didn’t have a perfect system for that so I was excited when I was given the opportunity to review Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal by Apologia Educational Ministries.

What We Received!

This is a very nice quality spiral bound notebook.  It lays flat when opened.  The front and back covers are made from a nice quality laminated stock that will hold up well to lots of handling.  This is a very good thing.  If your field trips are like ours than this thing will get tossed into backpacks, laid on top of coolers, bounced around the van, and thumbed through by lots of little (or not so little) hands.  Even the pages are printed a fine quality thicker stock material.

6224c2ac-a11b-4ef4-8b80-d1e6914d6e59_zpsn5ilbsmsThe notebook is split up into several sections:

  • Preparing for the field trip – this section contains tips for you as the teacher.  What things can you do in the weeks or days leading up to the trip to prepare and therefore get the most from you experience.  How best can you pack for the trip, what can be done on the way to the destination to ensure safety and success.    In this section, for example, they suggest the teacher do a little research about the location/history/topic so that he/she can be at the ready to answer questions and guide the experience.  They have suggestions for students as well.
  • Field trip ideas – here you’ll find two pages of field trip ideas (over 100) segregated by topic.  The suggestions are generic, for example visit a Planetarium under Space/Aviation, in order to make it relevant to just about anyone no matter where you live.
  • CSH_7544Places I’ve Explored – these are pages dedicated to recording the various places your family has explored within your state, country, and the whole world.
  • Field Trip Pages – There are 12 specific trip pages to record details about specific experiences you’ve had on trips that you want to remember.
  • My Special Spot- This is a great place to record seasonal wildlife.  Children can draw or place photographs of what they see.
  • Thoughts and Drawings As I See It – This is sort of a journal/sketchbook section.  Some pages have little prompts like Movement, or Predators & Prey.  Others are totally open ended with no prompt.

Apologia also provides bonus online material that includes virtual feild trip ideas, lists of museums and aquariums, and lots more.  A very very handy resource

How We Used It!

Since we received this journal a couple of months ago we have been on at least four field trips.. no five… wait it might be six! Plus there was supposed to be one other that was postponed.  It is spring time, we’ve been cooked up in the house all winter… it is time to GO GO GO!  We used this journal to record four of those trips.  A couple of them were to places we’ve visited dozens of times (museum passes are a Godsend) so we chose not to record those and instead stick to new or out of the ordinary experiences.CSH_7545

So far we’ve mostly used the pages related to Specific Trips.  Before a trip I did a google search to see if I could come up with a map that I could download.  We taped that into our journal.  Then I attempted to answer the questions as they are laid out.  One asks for an Emergency Contact Plan.  This is always… Call Daddy.  Then I ask the kids what they’d like to see or do at the destination and I record that.  There is a section for recording books we’ve read to prepare for the trip.

After the trip we fill in the last two sections… Story of my day and  Something I never want to forget.  I also print of a photo from the day and include that too.  We’ve also tried to fill in the Places I’ve Explored pages.  Plus, since it is spring we recorded some observations from our yard on the My Special Spot in Spring page.

What Do We Think?

This is a great quality product.  It is well made, bright and colorful, and chock full of great ideas and pages that will help you get the most out of your field trip experiences.  I think it could be even better though.  As a seasoned homeschooler I don’t feel like I need the Preparing for a Field Trip pages.  These would be great as a web link or download but they don’t need to take up two pages of the Journal.  We personally need way more Specific Trip pages.  12 isn’t nearly enough if you are really an on the go family like we can be at certain times of year.  I could potentially fill those pages in 3-4 months even if we only included NEW places or experiences that were some how novel.  I’d love to see that section seriously beefed up with 3-4 times as many pages.  That way if you are an on the go family like my own, one book could cover a year.  Another family that doesn’t venture out quite as much could keep this book going for a couple of years.

Over all though.  This is a great journal and if you’d like a great place to track your field-trip memories you’ll really enjoy this product.

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

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Review: Latina Christiana I Complete Set by Memoria Press


I’ve always had this idea that I wanted my children to learn Latin. So I was excited to learn we’d have the opportunity to review Latina Christiana I Complete Set by Memoria Press  I have some practical reasons.  It’ll certainly help develop their vocabulary which is always a very good thing.  I imagine they’ll have an advantage when they go off to do things like take the SAT test. Reading complicated texts will be easier as they’ll have a better shot at figuring out what some of the most difficult words actually mean.

I also have some less rational reasons for it.  When I was in school I wanted to take Latin.  I really don’t know why.  It seemed like a great challenge and way more interesting than the French class that I decided that I hated and therefore failed.  But I wasn’t eligible.  It seemed Latin was only for those elite students who came from doctor’s families or something.  I’m not kidding. My strong grades in honors classes weren’t enough to get me into Latin.  They said it wasn’t for me.  So now that I’m getting my education for the 2nd time while homeschooling our children I thought we should learn Latin. Let’s just say that I’m enjoying calling the shots for my children’s education.

Memoria Press has long been known for their Latin programs and I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be dissapointed with this program. Latina Christiana I Complete Set is intended for grades 3 and up. I used this with my 9 year and 7 year old boys.  My 5 year old daughter dabbled in it too as she just absorbs whatever she hears when she is around.  This program is simple enough that she can pick up a bit hear and there as she desires.  


The complete set includes:

  • Student Book
  • Teacher Manual
  • Pronunciation CD
  • Instructional DVDs
  • Flashcards

When I first cracked open that teacher’s manual I was intimidated.  Even though I set my mind that my family should learn Latin I still assumed there was something scary and difficult about it.  After all, I was pretty smart as a kid and I was told I couldn’t do this.  I remember texting my husband saying… “Latin, hmmm… honey I’m not sure you’re paying me enough to do crazy things like Latin with this kids!”  It was a joke of course and he texted back with a laugh and a thank you.  I want to tell you right here and now my trepidation was unnecessary.  This program is designed to help anybody teach Latin, even if they have ZERO experience with it.

The student book contains 25 lessons and 5 review lessons.     This is great! I love review lessons. I am a big believer in repetition and review and I appreciate when it is built in.  Each lesson includes 10 vocabulary words, grammar forms, Latin sayings, and more. You’ll need a separate student book for each child. I picked up a second student book from Memoria Press for $16.  Totally worth it.

The teacher’s manual contains all of the student pages.  I LOVE this!  It drives me insane when my teacher’s book doesn’t include what my children are looking at.  I’m a very visual person and I NEED to see what they see if I’m going to be able to guide them through the work. Everything you need is right here laid out for you.  A recommended schedule, teaching instructions, tests, quizzes, answer keys, and background information.  It is all neatly laid out and so easy to follow.

The pronunciation CD shows you how to pronounce all of the vocabulary and includes prayers and songs to memorize.  The best part of this program however is the instructional DVD.  Here is a teacher, Cheryl Lowe, the author of this program, right there in front of you holding your hand (and your children’s hand) through each and every lesson.  Everything you’ll find in the teacher’s manual is provided right there on the screen plus diagrams, illustrations, notes and instruction.  Each lesson will take you at least a half an hour to watch but watching is oh so worth it.

How We Used It

The pace at which you move through the lessons is really up to your children.  You can move as quickly or slowly as you are able to learn the material.  We generally used this program 4 days a week with some random practice of vocabulary words sprinkled throughout our days to test our memory as we did other things (like drive in the van, fold laundry, etc.)

We generally began the week by watching half of the lesson.  That’s about all of the attention span my boys seemed to have for it.  So we watched the second half of the lesson on the second day.  On the second day we’d complete vocabulary forms and other pieces of the student workbook and drill the new vocabulary words.  On the third day we’d review the pronunciation CD and continue to drill the words.  We liked to make up games where we tried to think of as man derivatives for a word as we could.  This usually lead to a hunt through the dictionary.  On the fourth day we’d go over the quiz, play more games, and review.

Well, this was the perfect schedule in my mind at least and it is doable.  But truthfully we found that we had some much fun playing with these new words and doing crazy things like hunting through the dictionary for new derivatives that often we ended up taking two weeks to complete one lesson and that is just fine.

My Thoughts

Clearly I like this program.  With it my family is learning a lot.  It is easy to teach and low key for my children. One small point of frustration for us is the separation of the pronunciation CD. Half way through each lesson the teacher instructs you to stop the DVD and go dig out the CD to work on prayers or songs.  I guess we just aren’t set up to make this easily happen.  Our DVD player also serves as our CD player.  My computer can play CDs but it doesn’t have external speakers so it is difficult to make things loud enough for everyone or else they all have to crowd around it.  So I’d take the Lesson DVD out of the DVD player and put the pronunciation CD in to do that work.  They I’d have to put the Lesson DVD back in to play the lesson except now I’ve got to fast forward to the lesson to find the spot where we left off.  It think this is why we ended up splitting the lesson into two parts each day.  I’d loose my boys during this whole switching process.  I wish the material we needed on the Pronunciation CD was also right in the Lesson DVD. This is a small inconvenience to an otherwise really well laid out program.

For some reason my kiddos didn’t take to the flashcards.  I haven’t the slightest idea why.  What I did was take Popsicle sticks (the fat ones) and essentially turn THOSE into flashcards and they loved it.  Go figure!  I go with what works.  The flashcards are of fine quality and I think my boys are just quirky.

Since we’ve began this program my children started seeing the Latin words (actually the derivatives) everywhere.  When they are reading or listening to documentaries or even just in conversation they will pick up on words that contain the Latin that we learned.  Each time they discover a new word I write it down.  I don’t think I have to tell you how exciting things like this are to homeschooling mom!

Over All

This is a great program.  I highly recommend you purchase every piece.  I often skip teacher books or extra CD’s.  DON’T! You need every piece to be successful.  This is program we plan to continue until completion.  An this mom finally gets to learn her Latin!

Memoria Press Review

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Review: Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story from


I’m rather picky about the media my family consumes.  In our home television and movie time is actually pretty rare.  We save TV time for educational shows that align with our studies or for the occasional reward.  Sometimes I like to share classic movies with my children just for some fun family time. Sometimes we really enjoy something that helps us build our Christian faith.  Well done faith-based selections can be a bit tricky to find so I was excited to hear about a company called  They sent us  Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story for review. is all about quality Christian movies for families.  Not only do they have a selection of children’s movies but they also carry comedies, dramas, historical selections, biographies and more. Perfect for family time or study time. 

john wesley_zpsuzhewumnOur family has a great joy for studying missionaries so Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story was the perfect fit for us.  This DVD is part of a series from the Christian History Institute and is intended for children ages 8-12.  Three of kids ages 4-9 all very much enjoyed watching this film.  They were already familiar with the Torchlighter’s series and were thrilled to have the opportunity to watch another one.  John Wesley is a missionary we hadn’t studied before so they were especially eager to learn about someone new.

The 30 minute video portion starts right out with great drama.  Little John Wesley is saved from his burning home! His family rightly praises God for such kindness as to save their son.  They tell little John that God must have some big plan for his life.  This sets the stage for a life where John Wesley grows up feeling as if he has to prove himself to God and be worthy of his great rescue.

John Wesley spends his life trying to live by rules and be what I think of as the perfect Christian.  He does everything he thinks he is supposed to do and often is met with frustration when his plans don’t turn out right.  He lives with the guilt of his rescue as if he wasn’t good enough to deserve it and his life isn’t turning out to be worth it.  Eventually John Wesley comes to a greater knowledge of what his faith actually means.  He allows God’s grace to fill him and transform his life.  Finally he is following God’s will and truly great things do start to happen.

John begins to share how we are all sinners and in desperate need of God’s grace.  Traditional churches aren’t a big fan of this message and they begin to literally kick him out of their assemblies.  It is then that John Wesley begins preaching in fields and bringing this life changing message to people who have no doubt of their own sins.  Many people begin to receive God’s love and so begins John Wesley’s life long ministry.

This DVD doesn’t stop here.  Once the story is done there is much more to take in.  There is a nearly hour long documentary about John Wesley and the beginning of what was eventually called The Methodist Movement that came out of his ministry.  There are study guides that you can access by inserting the DVD into your computer or by downloading them from the Torchlighter’s website.

A Powerful Resource

This story was just the absolute perfect resource to start a conversation with my children about how it is not through our good works that we are saved.  That we don’t really deserve to be saved because everyone is a sinner but how God loves us so much that covers us in His grace.  We talked about how even if we think we are doing God’s work if we aren’t following His will for our lives not much fruit is likely to come from it.  I love using powerful real life people, Godly people, who like everyone else struggled in some way with their faith and yet God used their lives for His purpose.  I think these lessons are incredibly valuable… and they strengthen my own faith too.

The Study Guide

The Study Guide included on the DVD are a great bonus. It is 25 pages long and includes coloring pages, a design your own coat of arms page, scripture word searches, puzzles, and discussion questions.  I printed some of the page for my children to try out and over all they enjoyed the activities.  They are a nice jumping off point for your own family studies.

The Documentary

The longer documentary of John Wesley’s live and the Methodist movement is certainly geared more toward adults than children. However my older children (ages 7 and 9) still enjoyed it and learned much from it.  They focused a little more on John’s mother Suzanna Wesley.  She has a pretty inspiring story of her own as the mother of 19 children (10 of which survived).  Her spiritual example to her children is something I can aspire to.

Overall is an excellent source of Christian media for entertainment and study.  I know I’ll be using them as a resource in the future.  Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story is a high quality DVD that is sure to enhance any study of missionaries.  My children adore the Tourchlighters series and after we watched John Wesley we went and purchased 3 more videos in the series.  They are all fantastic.  

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Review: S is for Smiling Sunrise Alphabet Book by WordsBright

I have a sweet little book to share with you today.  It is called S is for Smiling Sunrise by WordsBright.  WordsBright is a small little publishing house for educational children’s books.  S is for Smiling Sunrise is their debut book.  I think it is an excellent choice.


When you open the first page there is a space to write in the child’s name and the name of the person giving the book.  I remember when I had my baby shower for my now 9 year old son lots of people gave us books instead of cards.  They inscribed a little message to my yet to be born son.  We treasure these books now almost 10 years later.  I could so see giving this book to another expectant parent.  What a sweet little gift.

As you turn the page there is a dedication and then a note that says

At least ten percent of net earnings from this book will be given to health and education projects for disadvantaged children.

Clearly WordsBright publishing is more than just another children’s book publisher.


S is For Smiling Sunrise is a twist on your traditional alphabet book where every page brings fort a new letter with a corresponding word that starts with that letter and a sweet little poem, plus more!  I’ll get to the more in a bit. We begin with…

look-inside-51-825x660A is for Artwork

Drawing and painting

Singing and dancing too

Art makes life interesting!


Written for the early childhood set (prek-3rd grade) this book is vibrant in color, flowery in language and vocabulary, and an overall delight to read for both adults and children.

I chose to read this book with my daughter Joyanna who is just shy of 5 years old.  She already has a good grasp of her letters.  She is able to identify them easily and she knows MOST of their sounds.  This book was a fun way for her to just practice hearing them all in new way.

The book itself is a hardback book and the pages are made of a high quality paper.  This is a book that can handle the demands of multiple readings and the rugged handling of little hands. There is an  audio CD, with MP3 available via download and Teacher’s Guide as well. The CD makes the words in the book into sing song like rhymes that were quickly burned into everyone’s minds!  Joyanna loved repeating them.

The teacher guide helps you use the book to teach your children values and virtues that are mentioned in the pages of the book itself.  How sweet!  As I said before, this is a book that more than just another alphabet book.  You are given some ideas for question to help you start conversations with your child both before and after you read the book.  There is help with laying down new vocabulary words and over all just a great deal of information to help your family really get the most from this book.

If you are looking for something fun to ready yet enjoy digging into books and really soak the most out of them then S is for Smiling Sunrise by WordsBright just perfect! 

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Wordsbright Review

Review: Successful Homeschooling Made Easy

What homeschooling parent isn’t always on the hunt for new ideas to make life and schooling work well!  Whether you are a brand new homeschooling family or a seasoned veteran I’ve got something for you! Our family recently reviewed Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course by Successful Homeschooling Made Easy.  

This is a course geared toward homeschooling moms.  Stephanie Walmsley, the creator, is a long time homeschooling mom and she has poured plenty of her experience into this program.


Successful Homeschooling Made Easy is a 26 week course that is offered online.  The content is delivered a week at a time via your email giving you the opportunity to read, review, take notes, digest, and tweak your homeschool before more content in made available.  The lessons come in PDF format.  You can print them or do as I did and send them to my iPad for easy reading.  A few bonuses are sprinkled throughout the course as well to keep you on your toes.  

Each week you are given two or three assignments to complete in your homeschool before the next week begins.  The assignments build on each other week after week.  The lessons are reasonably short and shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes a day to read to through.

The first week begins with reassurance for the homeschooling mom.  We tend to be worriers and this is true whether you’ve been at this forever or just a few days.  Walmsley does her best to squelch the fears and set your state of mind to one of calm.  Even at the ripe age of four we wonder how we’ll ever tackle trigonometry or get our kiddos into college.  She reminds us to just get started and focus on just one week at a time and the rest to take care of itself.

Once this is done you jump right into homeschooling and creating a simple schedule.  She breaks up the time into hours such as Literacy Hour and then she adds in Numeracy Hour.  The schedule is kept flexible and more is added as the weeks progress.  By slowing adding things slowly it helps a mom and her kiddos avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Interesting to me, early on Walmsley uses a term common in our home.  She tackles some areas of life that seem unrelated to homeschooling.  She calls it Fireproofing your homeschool.  In our home, when we fireproof something we mean that we take steps ahead of time to ensure that when the going gets tough our home (family, relationships, etc.) stay strong.  That when the “fire” comes (which is some sort of crisis) we are relatively prepared so not much damage is done.  Walmsley has you really think about the whys of what you are doing so that when the going gets tough you don’t automatically throw in the towel.

How I Used This Course and My Thoughts

Given that it is late in our homeschooling year and we aren’t new homeschoolers and since I have goals I want to accomplish and reviews to complete I didn’t simplify our scheduled the way Walmsley recommends.  For the most part I read the material and reflected on the discussion questions.  I do anxiously await my emails on Tuesday.  This course has helped me to stay focused and excited even as the spring has arrived and I’d sometimes like to be doing anything BUT schooling my kiddos.  It has made me excited about homeschooling again.

I do think I’m going to take her add a bit at a time approach in January when we come back after the Holiday break.  That’s the time of year when things are pretty new for us and we aren’t doing many reviews.  It could work perfectly!  And I’d feel so much more relaxed.

It has reminded me to reflect on WHY we are doing this crazy thing.  It has helped me recenter on what is important and to see a bigger picture.  I always loose the big picture in the details of my life.

I appreciate how Walmsley walks you through the steps in an incremental way.  I think this is FANTASTIC for new homeschoolers.  I often advise new moms to start slowly. Add things in bit by bit.  Feel out this new way of life.  Can I tell you no one listens to me.  They pull their kids out of school on Friday, cram the kids into a full fledged 40 hour homeschool program on Monday and by Friday they are calling me crying because they want to quit!  This course reiterates what I’m always telling new moms… SLOW DOWN!  Take it a bit at a time.  Relax!  You will get there!

The slow 26 week pace seemed crazy to me at first.  Who is going to keep this up for 26 weeks?  But really it makes sense.  It MAKES you slow down.  Instead of racing through and reading the material all at once you take it bit by bit and make changes or add things gradually!  Awesome!

I’m looking forward to the remaining lessons!  They will keep me encouraged and on task.  They will help me remember to enjoy this homeschooling journey!

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review

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