Review: CTC Math Homeschool Membership


Math is such a funky thing in our homeschool.  I have one son who struggles with it.  He’s the free spirited one. He’d rather be drawing or day dreaming tha figuring out sums so has convinced himself he isn’t any good at math.  That isn’t exactly true however when he watches his brother who has a real knack for math he can’t help but feel that way.  My other son I call my mathy kid.  It just comes naturally to him without much effort.  We were given the opportunity to review the  CTCMath Homeschool Membership from  CTCMath.  We reviewed it a year or two ago.  We got a lot out of it then and I was anxious to see how my 8 year old son who loved it last time would respond to it this time.

What Did We Use It

Once our membership was reactivated I was all set to go.  It remembered my son’s accounts from the last time.

Each person is given access to the complete program from Kindergarten to Calculus.  Hopping around between levels to reinforce older concepts or just for extra practice is a snap.  I’m a big fan of review and practice so I appreciate that there is plenty to be found just by poking around through the levels a bit.

Generally speaking we used this program several times a week and my 8 year old was able to choose his own topics to work on and move at his own pace as he progressed.

How Does It Work?

This is program is web based and lives on the internet.  There is no software to install on your computer.  Therefore every child can use it from any internet computer. A strong connection will ensure smooth running videos.  Our general internet browser of preference is Chrome and the program runs perfectly with it.  I also tested it in Firefox and Internet Explorer and found no issues.

Every level operates pretty much the exact same way.  When you enter a subject you have the opportunity take a “Standard” or “Comprehensive” Test if you so choose.  When we restarted the program I had my son take several Standard Tests in search of the correct level for him to begin work.  As the names imply, the Comprehensive test has more problems and dives deeper in the topic testing for knowledge.


Each lesson begins with a video followed by practice problems.  The videos are pretty short, usually under 4 minutes.  They work through several problems just like the ones that the child will get try in just a few moments.  The problem sets are often just 10 questions long, sometimes as few as 5.


Once all of the lessons are completed in one topic, the child is awarded a certificate.  Perfect scores on all problem sets earns you a Platinum Certificate.  90% or above equals Gold Level.  There is also Silver and Bronze.  Children can redo the questions in the problem sets in order to achieve 100% and earn that Platinum.  It may take several rounds to get that perfect score though as the program averages all of the attempts together.

 My Thoughts… Do We Like It?

There are many great things about this program.  The ability to move around between levels is just wonderful.  Every child can move at his/her own pace with ease.  As questions are answered immediate feedback is given.  All scores are recorded and easily accessible in the parent log-in area.

The award certificates are a fantastic motivator.  We have something to print off and show off to Daddy at the end of the day.  My son loves that so much I often had to take cell phone photos and text them to Daddy because he just couldn’t wait for him to get home.

Ezra loves that he can move at his own pace.  I am even generally ok with him picking and choosing what topics to study.  He is mostly working at the 6th grade level though  he is only 8 years old. If he were in public school he would likely just finishing up 3rd grade. It is exciting to be able to cater his ability without having to purchase a whole bunch of different levels to figure out just where he is. To have a whole wide world of math to explore at his fingertips is an absolute Gold mine for this child.  The only hic-up if you will is that he actually has to stop and TRY a bit harder at this level.  It isn’t the automatic cake-walk that he was used to.  So he got a little frustrated… until I calmed him down and showed him he really CAN work at that level.  Then he was off to the races again.

I do wish this program had a hands in element. I do appreciate that children can move through lessons and practice problems repeatedly until they are solid in the skill.

Overall, I really do appreciate this program.  It is really well done and easy to use.  I love that kids can plug in and work at their own pace.  I love that it doesn’t take any preplanning from me.  I love that I can have a family account for all of my children.  Even my non-math loving kid can do very well with this program if I required it of him.  If this format appeals to you I encourage you to give it a try.

CTCmath Review
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Review: Faith Builders Bible from Zonderkidz

Zondervan Logo_zpsaxmkrrcj Our family was recently given the opportunity to review a pretty unique Bible that I’m sure will be very appealing to many young children.  It is called the Faith Builders Bible  from Zonderkidz.  

In case you aren’t familiar with Zonderkidz, is an extension of Zondervan publishing.  Zondervan is responsible for many popular Christian books and Bible study guides.  Zonderkidz is their dedicated children’s (1)

Faith Builders Bible _zpsn4fmywa3

The Faith Builders Bible is an NIRV, New International Reader’s Version, of the Bible.  The NIRV Bible is based on the very popular NIV Bible.  The publishers have taken the NIV and changed some of the text into shorter words or sentences which make it easier to read, especially for children.  This Bible draws upon the love of building with bricks (or Legos) that is common among young children. From the Bible cover to 24 pages double sided picture pages sprinkled throughout, lovers of brick building will have a feast for their eyes.

The book itself has a sturdy hard cover that should hold up to wear pretty well.  The cover prominently features the brick building theme and gives a sample of some of what will be found inside the pages.  I measured it to be 8.5 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide, and about an inch thick.

Within the first few pages of the book you’ll find “Building With The Books Of The Bible” where they have a picture a tower of Lego blocks, with each book of the Bible listed on a block. I thought this was a clever way to visually show all the books of the Bible.  I can see a family creating their own towers in a similar fashion to help with memorization.

Throughout the Bible you’ll find beautifully done photographs of brick creations depicting the most well known scenes from the Bible.  The photographs are fantastic.  They are printed on a thicker paper than the rest of the pages of the Bible making them pretty durable.  Care and detail went into the creation of these scenes as well as to the printing of the photographs within the pages of this Bible.  Some of these scenes include Noah building his ark, men building the Tower of Babel, Moses with the 10 Commandments, Solomon Builds God’s Temple, the Nativity, Jesus Walks and the Cross, and lots more.TMH_0539

On these pages you’ll also find  a “Building Block Verse” which is something like a memory verse that relates to that story.

Faith Builders Bible 02_samptxt_zpsltlv6yre Faith Builders Bible 03_samptxt_zps6uee1la1

The rest of the Bible is actually pretty standard as far as Bibles go.  In actuality I was a bit surprised by that.  All of the pages that do not contain brick pictures are printed on the standard thin and delicate paper that you find in just about any Bible.  The font is standard sized for most Bibles and younger children may find that more difficult to read.  I had hoped for something a bit more fun, whimsical, or child centered for the entire Bible in addition to the pages that contain the photographs of the brick creations.



How Our Family Used this Bible

Bible study is a regular part of the day around here.  The boys and I start our homeschool day by reading scripture and using a Bible dictionary to look up keywords in the passages for the day.  At night my husband will do something more of a devotional with them aimed at character development.  In addition to our usual Bible study we used this Bible as sort of “key highlights of the Bible” refresher.  We enjoyed flipping to a photograph, discussing what we saw in the brick creation that was on display, and reading through the memory verse.  My Ezra has  knack for memorizing and as usual quickly memorized every verse.  He seems have something a photographic memory.  He was able to more easily recall the Building Block Verse since it is placed separately on the page and it stands out with the colored background.

I often challenged my boys to try and recreate or even elaborate on the brick creations in the photographs.  They loved the challenge.  While the were building I could hear them discussing the details of the story too.  That’s a win in my book! You can see one of their creations (Jesus and Peter walking on water) in the picture below.



I think this could be a great Bible for children in the 9-13 year old range.  Those kids generally still adore brick building and often their maturity level and reading skills make them more ready for what really is a mostly traditional Bible.  This might make a great gift for the right occasion or perhaps a reward for some hard work well done. Make sure you visit the Faith Builders Bible webpage to order one for the brick builder in your family.

Faith Builders Bible {Zonderkidz Review}

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Review: Yearly Membership


Each year, as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I’m given access to the  Yearly Membership from  This website is treasure trove of fantastic homeschool courses and resources for any family. This website could simplfy your planning, streamline your homeschooling budget, add some spark to your homeschooling curriculum and so much more.  With over 200 courses for children in preschool to twelth grade and resources for parents there is quite literally something for everyone.  It has been a few years so I wrote my won review of  I think it’s time for an update. 

Let’s start at the beginning.  When trying to get the most out of a resource the size of a great navigation system is a must.  Thankfully the website is logically set up with a clean interface and a great menu bar that appears on every page.  The courses are sorted by grade or subject.  It is very easy to drill down to find just the sort of class you are hoping for.  Big, bright, yet simple graphics also help those of us who really work better with visuals zero in on our intended destination.  There is so much content that you’ll likely be forever discovering new courses and resources that you were never aware of.  However if you have something somewhat specific you’d like to use it won’t take more than a few clicks to get there.

What subjects are covered at the  I’m glad you asked! Here they are!


It is really quite possible to get all of your curriculum straight from if you’d like to.  If you did you’d save quite a bit of money over many other curriculum choices.  Each one of those categories represents dozens of courses for every age.  Let me give you one tiny example.  Let’s say you are looking for something under the Language Arts subject for your Middle Schoolers.  Just take a look at all of the course opportunities you will find! SHT5

You’ll find a list of classes like under ever subject and grade level.  Pick and choose according to your child’s needs and interests.

There are other “Must See” sections too!  There is a plethora of resources for parents including planners, checklists of all kinds, achievement certificates and so much more.

Who are the teachers that create the courses? 

There are over 100 men and women who create the courses.  You can see exactly who they are and the courses they’ve created by clicking right HERE.  As I read through the list I see a few familiar names from the larger homeschool community.  I’ve heard some of them speak at conferences or I’ve even had the chance to review some of their other homeschooling materials.  I see a lot of homeschooling mom’s and dad’s.  I see people who hold degrees or experience in the subject area for which they create courses.  I see quality people who know their stuff.

What kinds of courses are my own children taking?

In my family we use to easily fill in any gaps and to create opportunity to study our interests.  For example, we often take a break from our regular math curriculum and use some of what is offered in  Online math practice is great for just what it states… practice.  Multiplication Workshop helped my 8 year old zoom right through that subject.

All 3 of my school aged children (their ages are 5, 8, and 10) use the copywork for handwriting practice.  I love how easy it is to print off what I need at a moments notice.

Lately my 5 year old has been exploring the art section.  She dreams of being an artist when she grows up.  We have been studying to some famous painters.  This is a delight to her.

My 8 year old is currently working his way through the Middle School Computer Science class where he is learning basic website design with HTML, programming concepts, Minecraft Mods, writing Java programs in Eclipse, and much more.  He does have some experience with some of these topics already however I would not have thought to buy him a Middle School level program.  Since we had access to one with an additional charge I saw no harm is letting him give it a shot to see how it goes.  So far he is excelling.  This is one place where really shines.  We can experiment with our interests without risking loosing money or resources.  If it had turned out he wasn’t ready then that would have been just fine.

My 10 year old is currently taking a Drawing with Realism class also meant for Middle Schoolers. This is a video based course and he enjoys the opportunity to watch the same videos over and over as he practices his technique.  He may take a very long time to complete this course and that is absolutely fine. He’s also been able to keep moving ahead with his guitar playing as there is a course for that too.

This is just a small snippet of how my family uses  We are constantly shifting around through the website discovering some thrilling topic we want to dig into.  This is such a risk free way to really explore so many topics.

The Media Library

I would be remissed if I didn’t touch on this subject.  When you subscribe to you also get access to RightNow Media.  There isn’t enough space in this review for me to give adequate justice to what this resource is.  There are over 10,000 video resources for children and adults.  For adults you’ll find video studies and information from Francis Chan, John MacArthur, Dave Ramsey, John Maxwell and others.  For children you’ll find VeggieTales, Adventures in Odyssey, What’s int he Bible for Kids and SO MUCH MORE!  My own church uses RightNow Media for many of our small group Bible studies.  This alone makes such a treasure.

Wrapping it up!

What I’ve written here barely scratches the surface of all that offers.  My words do not do this resource justice.  The cost of this writing is $139 a year and it is worth every red cent.  While I realize I have been blessed with a free subscription, even if I had paid full price for it, this resource saves me hundreds.  The ability to try out new interests without having to find a class and shell out the bucks to see if it is a fit for my child is priceless.  Being able to supplement, add to, or just jump into almost any topic we wish to study without hunting down resources is also priceless.

However, for the month of January there is a spectacular deal.  You can subscribe to a year of for half off!  Just use the coupon code CREWFOLLOWER at checkout and you are good to go!  What a stupendous deal!


I hope you’ve found my review helpful.  If you’d like to see read other reviews of please click below. Review 2016

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2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards!

The 2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew year has come to a close!  No worries, as we are already gearing up for 2016.  I’m excited to say that I’ve been asked to return for another great year of reviewing.  While we are blessed to work almost exclusively with the best homeschooling vendors, us reviewers can’t help but have our favorites!  We got together and chose the cream of the crop to be awarded our 2015 Blue Ribbon Award.  So who is the absolutely best of the best in every category, keep reading to find out!

1 Meet the Schoolhouse Review Crew Favourites_zps6st7l9sp
Favorite Reading Curriculum: Reading Kingdom
Favorite Writing Curriculum: Institute for Excellence in Writing
Favorite Vocabulary Program: Dynamic Literacy
Favorite Spelling Program: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Phonetic Zoo
Favorite Grammar Program: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Fix-It! Grammar
Favorite Penmanship Program: CursiveLogic
Favorite Literature Curriculum: Progeny Press
Favorite History Curriculum: Home School in the Woods
Favorite History Supplement: Heirloom Audio Productions: In Freedom’s Cause
Favorite Science Curriculum: Visual Learning Systems
Favorite Science Supplement: Ann McCallum Books: Eat Your Science Homework
Favorite Math Curriculum: CTC Math
Favorite Math Supplement: SimplyFun
Favorite Christian Education Curriculum: Grapevine Studies
Favorite Christian Education Supplement: Brinkman Adventures
Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum: Middlebury Interactive Language
Favorite Fine Arts Product: Maestro Classics
Favorite Elective Curriculum: Apologia Educational Ministries: Field Trip Journal
Favorite Audio Drama: Brinkman Adventures
Favorite Video:

Favorite Preschool Product: La La Logic
Favorite Elementary Product: Star Toaster
Favorite Middle School Product: The Critical Thinking Co
Favorite High School Product: Writing with Sharon Watson
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Freedom Project Education
Favorite Parent Product: Koru Naturals
Favorite Planning Product: Apologia Educational Ministries: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: Homeschool Planet
Best Online Resource: Super Teacher Worksheets
Best e-Product: Home School in the Woods
Just for Fun: USAopoly
Kids’ Choice: La La Logic
Teens’ Choice: YWAM Publishing
All Around Crew Favorite: Institute for Excellence in Writing

Review: GrapeVine Studies Stick Figure Through the Bible


Bible studies!  I am so blessed that we homeschool and I’m able to participate in daily Bible study with my children.  It is vitally important to me.  If we accomplish nothing else in a day besides Bible study I call it a good day.  My family has tried everything.  During different seasons we have studied a book at a time, we’ve used a variety of programs, we’ve read devotionals, you name it.  I always have my eyes peeled for the next Bible Study to try.  So Bible studies from Grapevine Studies became available for review I knew I’d have to try this one too. We were blessed to review the Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob the traceable version good for 3-6 year olds and Old Testament 1: Level 3 Creation to Jacob geared for 10-12 year olds. These are a chronological study of all of the characters and events in the earliest books of the old testament.  

Grapevine Studies have a huge variety of Bible studies to offer your family.  Their style of Bible teaching involves learning the timeline of events and characters followed by more specific details. They provide a broad and then a more detailed picture of God’s story.  

Levels Chart_zpshvkh74gj


For this review I received the Teacher books for level 1 and level 3 and student books as downloadable pdf ebooks that I then printed and bound myself.  Part of the beauty of these studies is that they are entirely open and go.  There is nothing to prepare and you do not need to have any craft supplies on hand.  A dry erase board and a variety of colored markers are all you really need.  This is a very fun yet low tech/low key approach to learning all about God’s word.  It is great for young and sometimes wiggly children too.  The simply easy drawings make they feel successful as they learn and participate.

It is also quite easy to teach multiple levels at once.  While my two boys were ready for level 3 and my daughter was using the traceable level 1 we were able to do our Bible study together all at the same time. One entire lesson can take us about a half an hour per day.  If you have your children look up the scriptures and read them aloud on their own it may take you a bit longer.

Creation to Jacob is made up of 12 lessons.  We easily completed a lesson a day most days however it is very easy to break down the lessons into shorter chunks and spread the study out.  It is really quite adaptable to whatever works for your family.  Each lesson starts with a review of the timeline and memory verses.  The previous three characters studied are discussed and drawn out on the timeline using stick figures.  Yes, simple stick figures.  More on that in a moment.  You also review the memory verses that were previously assigned.  They can be written out or spoken aloud.

Once the review is finished you move on to the lesson for the day.  The lesson is typically broken into a couple of parts (which is why it is easy to do just a portion at a time).  Your children will draw using stick figures to depict what happened at that time to that character.  They drawings are done inside of their student book.  You will read aloud various verses that tell that character’s story and discuss what happened.

The stick figure drawing is genius.  It is just so simple!  Any child can be successful.  Whether they are creative and artistic or not.  The act of drawing also helps children more fully engage and remember what it is they are learning.  I said it before but I’ll say it again. It is so simple and everyone feels like they are successful.  The simple drawings also serve to keep study time short and to the point.  My children really look forward to Bible study time where they get to draw their stick figures.


My five year old daughter used the traceable version of level 1.  The drawings were already there for her and she just simply had to go over them with marker or crayon.  This feature kept her on track and enabled her to keep up with her bigger brothers.  It may not have been necessary for her age but it was a convenience I appreciated.

Over All

I really appreciate this Bible study.  It is very simple to implement.  My children are memorizing Bible scripture.  They are reviewing the God’s story as he laid it out in His word.  It also gives me a great jumping off point for discussion.  I like to focus on the big picture.  God loves us so much and he has had a plan all along to draw us close to Him.  We can see evidence of that plan in every story of the Bible.  He provides for all of our needs, he forgives us even when we sin, he calls us close to Him, and he sent Jesus to save us from ourselves.  These themes ring true in pretty much every Bible story.  This study helps me drive those points home.

Grapevine Studies Review

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Review: Brinkman Adventures Season 3

brinkman logo small_zps9e4fmspfDid the whole world hear my family squeal at the top of their lungs with delight when we got news of one of our latest reviews?  That’s right our family was privileged and blessed to have our request to review The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3 from Brinkman Adventures.  If you haven’t heard of the Brinkman Adventures before then you’ll want to pay attention because these audio adventures could breath a lot of life into your family.  

The Brinkman Adventures are missionary audio dramas.  They combine the adventure of one oversized family with true stories of Christian Missionaries from around the world.  This series will encourage, excite, and challenge your family’s faith.  It will also inspire a new generation into the missionary field.

This time we were given Season 3 which includes episodes 25 to 36.  You may recall we were blessed to review Season 2 last year.  We have since become HUGE fans of Brinkman Adventures.  Season 3 came to us as an audio download in 24 mp3 files that I unzipped and then burned to my own CDs.  It require 5 CDs.  I had intended to put the files onto my phone for listening with that then I had some phone issues so this method ended working well for us.  You can of course purchase CDs already made for you and in that case you would receive 4 cds.  Either way it is a total of 5 hours of listening time.

We listened mostly in our van on our way to and from our usual activities.  I was not surprised to find ourselves sitting in the driveway after we arrived home as we just could not stop listening at times.  My boys were even hunting down excuses to go out just so we could listen some more!  These stories are just so captivating.

There are 12 stories in total and you can find even more background information about the stories if you go to the Stories Behind the Stories page on the Brinkman Adventures Website.

Cover Art_12-8 Front cover only_zps5oj49mzwEpisodes include…

  1. God’s Mule
  2. Mountain Mover
  3. The Silent Ambassador
  4. Translating Trouble
  5. Man-Up
  6. Acorns & Oaks
  7. A Saint’s Story, Pt. 1
  8. A Saint’s Story, Pt. 2
  9. Untouched Busy Bees and a Bullhorn
  10. Missionary Tourist, Pt. 1
  11. Missionary Tourist Pt. 2

I fail to find the words to adequately describe just what a treasure these stories are.  The voice acting (done by the family that creates these stories) is fantastic.  The music and sound effects are wonderful.  In fact, the bump music that leads into each new adventure has become something of a theme song for our family.  We quite literally bop along in our seats while cruising down the highway to our own adventures.  I know that perhaps in 10 years from now when I come across these stories and that music again I will be transported back in my mind to these days and this time with my family.  It may sound sappy but it is very meaningful to me.

The stories are faith challenging, moving and inspiring.  These stories will impact your entire family, yes even Mom and Dad.  Maybe especially Mom and Dad.  I was listening to the 9th story in this season called Untouched Busy Bees and a Bullhorn.  It is the story mostly of Mrs. Brinkman (the mother) and how she basically takes on way to many tasks and her life spins a bit out of control (literally, in a car).  As she sobbed on the phone to her mother I cried too.  I could just so relate.  I do think God had a message specifically for me in that story.

A Saints Story pt 1 and pt 2 was a huge deal for my children.  We have studied all of the missionaries who were killed serving the Auca Indians including Nate Saint, the pilot who landed at Palm Beach with the other missionary men.  These two episodes gave us a peek at what has happened to the tribe and the Saint family in the years since that fateful day in the jungle. It is such a powerful story of God’s grace and forgiveness.  My children were so excited to hear about the good things God continues to do in that area of Ecuador.

All of the stories give my family so many talking points about what God is doing in our world even today.  They give us hope and they inspire to get involved in His Kingdom.  If you’d like to listen to a sample story click here for The Provider.

I said it before and I’ll say it again.  Brinkman Adventures are a treasure.  You just will not be dissapointed.  All of the proceeds from your purchase go to support the recording of future adventures and to support missionaries throughout the world.

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review

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Review: The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics_zps27pnhxwlMy boys love to listen to classical music!  They tell me it is pretty, often relaxing, sometimes exciting, and just something different that they enjoy.  An amazing company called Maestro Classics just gave my family that very opportunity when they offered to let us review the The Nutcracker. I knew this was a review I had to be a part of after reviewing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and Handel last year.  We loved those titles so much that I went ahead and purchased a few more since.  Maestro Classics has become an integral part of our musical curriculum. 

Maestro Classics is just one of those companies that provides a special product that can add a sweet richness to your family’s learning.  They make life simple for me as a Homeschooling mom as they do all of the work for me.  Their CDs are fantastic and so enriching plus they provide the supplemental materials to dive deeper into your study of music. The show you the history connections, teach you the stories of the composers, they explain the musical instruments and so much more.   These are studies your whole family, young and old, will enjoy doing together.  

The Nutcracker may be just the perfect musical learning experience for your family this upcoming holiday season.

The Nutcracker by Maestro Classics_zpsbe6mbswh

The Nutcracker is a full hour long adaptation of the ballet story of the Nutcracker I grew up enjoying every Christmas season.  Whether the story came to me on video or through some illustrated children’s book I’ve always found the story and the dance to be magical.  I introduced my children to a version of the ballet on video a few years ago and revisiting in has become a holiday tradition for us.  Adding Maestro Classics brings a new element to our tradition. 

In this condensed version of the Nutcracker story about Clara and the Nutcracker Prince plus the Sugar Plum Fairy the scenes come to life your imagination as it is narrated by Jim Weiss and the wonderful music performed by the New York Philharmonic.  The story and classical music seamlessly flow together and the result is exquisite and so much fun to hear.  You will listen to a total of 21 tracks as you move through music from all sections of the ballet.

Along with the CD there is a little activity booklet. Inside you will find the following:

  • an outline of the Nutcracker story
  • a history of ballet
  • some music for the nutcracker
  • the history of the harp
  • some biographical information about Tchaikovsky
  • word scrambles and crossword puzzles

To bring the study even further Maestro Classics even offers a free curriculum to accompany The Nutcracker right on their website.  You can download, print and go. In fact they offer curriculum guides for all of their music CD offerings.  

What Did We Think?

If I haven’t made it clear by now we absolutely adored it.  This one, just like all of our Maestro Classic audio CDs, will be listened again and again and absolutely treasured.  If you are looking for a great educational music experience that ties into the Christmas Season, if you are studying great classical works of music, if you are interested in ballet, or if you are studying Russia then you can get so much use of The Nutcracker.

My family is looking forward to December.  We have plans to cut back on some of our typical homeschooling in order to dive into the unit study guide I spoke of earlier.  It’ll be the perfect time of year for it.

There aren’t enough words to describe just how wonderful any of the Maestro Classics CDs are.  I’ll never regret investing in the ones I’ve purchased and I’m very grateful for the ones, like The Nutcracker that I’ve been given to review. 

Maestro Classics Review

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Review: IEW’s Phonetic Zoo Spelling A


Spelling!  I have an love hate relationship with this subject.  I’m not the most spectacular of spellers myself. When I  was in school spelling usually consisted of the tried and true…. write each word five times every day, write a sentence with the word, take a test on Friday.  That worked alright for me except my spelling ability has mostly be limited to the words I learned to spell the words on the tests.  It wasn’t until I became an adult and I started teaching my children to spell that I realized there are actual spelling rules that make spelling the crazy English language easier.  Not perfect of course because there are many exceptions to most rules.

We haven’t done much spelling in my house lately.  I find most programs to be either too easy or too hard and complicated.  I think spelling is an important skill to have.  It will always make a person appear to be smart and well educated.  So when the opportunity to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] from Institute for Excellence in Writing I decided we could give it a try.

Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A_zpsiac4zab5Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] is intended for grades 3-5 and comes with the following:

  • 5 audio CDs (includes MP3 downloads) or MP3 downloads and no CDs
  • Lesson Cards with all three levels of spelling words and rhymes or poems to help memorize the rules.
  • Personal Spelling Cards which you will use to create personalized lists of spelling words for your child.
  • Zoo Cards which act as a type of reward or visual reference as your child learns the rules
  • Downloadable Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes PDF file (which I personally had printed and bound)
  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar which is a link to a video you can view online

If you visit the IEW website you can find a Spelling Zoo Placement Test.  I love that they offer this opportunity.  It can be very difficult to decide where to start in a new program that you might not be able to see in person and can only purchase online.  It lessened the worry that I might have my children begin at the wrong level and my kids would struggle.

How does it work?

Phonetic Spelling Zoo uses two key components to teach children to spell well.  First, every list of spelling words come with a rule that the children have to memorize.  The rule is written out on a card and in a rhyme or jingle type style. Repeating it a few times a day make these rules easy to remember.  The audio CDs are then used to teach the children the spelling words through auditory sequential practice.

I highly suggestion you take the time to watch Spelling and the Brain.  It is essential if you and your children are going to get the most out of the program. It is just about an hour long and just full of information about how the brain really processes the information needed to learn to spell well.  Andrew Pudewa does a fantastic job of explaining how the brain retains the spelling of words better if they learn the words in auditory sequence instead of a visually remembering what the word looks like.

IEW dedicates an entire webpage FULL of information about how all of this works.  You won’t want to miss reading through it.  It is titled Getting Started with The Phonetic Zoo.

Every day that you and your children will do the following….

  1. Review the rules and rhyme on the flashcards.
  2. Listen to the lesson on the audio CD.  The children use the spelling rhyme to attempt to write the list of spelling words correctly as the audio reads the words for them.
  3. After that the audio correctly spells each of the words and the child corrects his own work as they listen.
  4. After the child is able to get all of the words spelled correctly 2 days in a row they move on to the next lesson.

For this program I purchased each of my boys a simple lined notebook in which to write the spelling words in every day.

Lesson Cards:

The Lesson Cards are large and printed on card stock.  There is a whole punched in the corner so you can add a ring to keep the cards together.  Every card represents 1 spelling rule and includes the three levels.  There is an animal on each card as well as the spelling rule or rhyme.

Teacher Notes:

The teacher notes come in a downloadable pdf.  This book is absolutely filled with information about how to teach spelling.  It is over 70 pages long.  I found myself turning to it so much that I took the file to a print shop and had it printed and bound into a book I keep out on the school table.  There are reference charts, templates, and so much more.  Don’t miss out on the gold mine of this resource.

How we used it:

I am using this program with my two boys ages 8 and 10.  Most of the time they are actually pretty independent with it.  They are moving through it at their individual paces and that is really easy to do.  Each day the boys take out the cards and review the rules.  They quiz each other to see who can remember them.  Then they take turns working on the their own lesson.  One whole lesson just takes maybe 15 minutes to complete.  They enjoy the program and actually look forward to it.  That’s big points in my world!


This is a really nicely done program.  My children are easily and pretty effortlessly learning quite a bit about the rules of spelling, the exceptions to those rules, and how to spell many great words.  Over all I really recommend it and we will continue to use it.

IEW Review

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Review: Drawing Around the World: USA from Brookdale House


My boys have a thing for geography.  I’m not sure what exactly draws them to it but they love learning all about the states, where they are, and interesting facts about them.  They gobble up that information like crazy. Memorizing it all can be a bigger challeng.  When the opportunity to review Drawing Around the World: USA  from Brookdale House came up I thought we could have a lot of fun with it.  I was right! This simple and straightforward geography program presents the states and facts about them all through drawing.  For this review we were provided with a nearly 300 page digital download of the program to print and use.

Brookdale House is a provider of Charlotte Mason homeschool method resources.  They mix fun and learning into every lesson making learning easy.  Repitition is often key. They have programs to help teach children in a variety of subjects including writing, grammar, Bible, history and others.


The lessons in Drawing Around the World: USA are short and incorporate drawing to help the child learn all about the 50 states plus Washington DC.  This program is designed for grades 4-12.  These lessons take just a few minutes each day and it doesn’t take long before the children can actually draw the states from memory.  This amazed me!  I once watched a show about states and the host challenged adults to draw states as he named them.  Most people couldn’t even begin to do that.  But my kids can now! The method depends on daily repetition and drawing the states many times over.

The children draw, write, and research information about each state.  There are website suggestions to help you find the needed information and facts that really made this whole study more interesting.  The program takes 27 weeks to finish if you are working at it 4 days per week.  The children draw maps by hand as well.  In the beginning they start with a blank U.S. map and fill in just one state. As the weeks go on they draw more states until the entire map is full.  Afer the first day I explained this to my children.  Neither of my boys believed that they would ever be able to do the whole map.  They can’t yet but we are certainly heading in that direction.  When we finish the program they will be able to draw all of the states and include the capitals.

You can see some sample pages here…. Sample Pages

I love how simply everything is put together.  Every week we followed the same lesson plan:

On Day 1:  Children learn about the new state or states recording basic information and drawing the state and capital on the map.  Previously learned states are also drawn out again.  I thought this might get tedious for them but I haven’t heard ny complaint yet.

On Day 2: On day two the child draws the new state and capital again as well as the previous states.  My guys challenged themselves to complete better more accurate drawings each time. 

On Day 3: Same as Day 2.  This is where the repition comes in.

On Day 4: Write down the names of the states and their capitals from this and other weeks and then draw them all on a U.S. map.  This is done from memory.

That is all there is to it.  The learning happens day by day.  Both of my 3rd and 5th graders used this program with ease.  They worked together and had a lot of fun comparing their drawings and giggling at the differences.

We learned a lot of fun information during this study.  Yes I said WE!  I learned too, as I often do.  The information about the various inventions and discoveries made in each of the states is just fantastic.  A lot of states surprised me.  One of the first things we learned is the fact that 99% of all blueberries in this country are produced in Maine.  I’ve never associated Maine and blueberries before but there you have it.  I just enjoy facts like those and so do my children.


This program is great!  It’s fun, easy, and the children (and mom) learn a ton!  You can’t go wrong!

 Brookdale House Review

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Review: 2 Games from USAopoly, Tapple and Wonky

USAopoly Logo_zpsvacabughI believe a lot can be learned through board games.  Every game presents a different set of skills to be learned.  Anything from math, to reading, to problem solving, to strategy.  I love to add games to our day to build skills and add a lot of fun and laughter.  When my family was given the opportunity to review  Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone and Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game from 

Tapple20Fast20Word20Fun20for20Everyone_zpsvdov2ssbTapple is an exciting word game that had everyone in my house shouting, laughing, and jumping up and down.  This game is for anyone ages 8 and above and should be played with at least 2 players.

The game is very straight forward with simple and easy to understand rules.  There is a stack of double sides cards.  Every card has 4 categories on it.  On one side you’ll find  red and yellow categories which represent more challenging topics.  The white and blue side represents easier topic that might be more suitable for a younger player.DSC00465

The first player to go chooses a card and topic on the card.  He or she then hits the red button in the center of the wheel starting a 10 second timer.  The player has 10 seconds to push a letter button and name something that begins with that letter that is related to the category.  For example, when given the category “Musicians or Musical Groups” my son hit the C button and hollered Clint Black! The player then hits the red button restarting the 10 second timer for the next player.  If a player is unable to come up with an answer before the timer dings he/she is out for that round.  The last person still playing earns the category card.  Another player chooses another card and game play begins again with all players.  The first person to earn 3 cards is the winner.

DSC00468This game is exciting.  It is fast paced.  It brings out a lot of thinking skills.  As the letters are pushed down that letter can’t be used by another player.  This means as the game goes things get trickier.  You might have to get creative with your answers.  For example, if you are given the category of Vehicle you could name vehicles or you could choose words related to a vehicle, like Junker.DSC00469

We love this game.  Absolutely LOVE IT!  You do need a couple of AA batteries to play.  I like that there is a little holder for the cards on the backside of the wheel.  It just simplifies cleanup and storage.  This game really gets the brain firing.  Speed, memory, recall, and letter sounds are very important.  If you like raucous games this one is for you.


7f2320bd-adf9-4756-af54-cf401fc4accf_zpsjoviqjqrWonky is a totally different game that involves strategizing, problem solving, and fine motor skills.  It is a card game and tower building game in one.  This game is also meant for ages 8 and older although with a bit of help my 5 year old was able to participate as well.  Wonky also requires at least two players.DSC00470

To play the game every player is dealt 7 cards.  Upon their turn the player chooses a card to play.  Each card displays the directions for adding 1 cube of a certain size and/or color to the tower. Every cube is a little bit “Wonky” as a couple of the sides have a curve to them.  This means when you stack them it is highly likely the tower will fall.  The goal is to choose a card that allows you to play a cube that will stand steady for you but make things difficult when your opponents add their cubes.  If the tower falls on your turn you’ll need to pick up 3 cards.  The object of the game is to use up all of your cards first.

DSC00473This game builds a lot of anticipation.  My children were bouncing up and down waiting to see if the tower would teeter.  It took a few rounds of the game for them to pick up on the idea that they could choose to play cards that made things tricky for others, upping their chance of winning.  Once they did figure the game went from something of a puzzle game to fierce competition.  The laughs never stopped though.DSC00475

I appreciate how this game came with a handy carrying bag.  All of the blocks, cards, and directions fit well inside.  This makes this game pretty portable.  I do believe we’ll be taking this one with us on an up coming trip.  It’ll be a great way to pass the time in the hotel room as we wait until it is time to head out some place.

Over All!

We really enjoyed both of these games.  They are simple but absolutely engaging, challenging, and fun.  They are perfect for game night, a rainy day, or when a break is needed from the school work.  They’d make fantastic Christmas or birthday presents for anyone who enjoys games.  These two are definitely winners.

 USAopoly Review
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