How do I keep track of all this stuff?

Our blog cruise topic for this week is record-keeping tips. Ugh!! Let me be the first to admit, I am a VERY disorganized person when it comes to paper. I usually have a plan in my head for how our homeschool week is going to go, but, clutter is my biggest enemy. My “homeschool corner” is always covered with papers (much to my ultra-organized, super-neat hubby’s chagrin 🙂 ). Now of course, if you ask me for something, I pretty much have a general idea of where it is, but none of my friends would consider me a neat person!

The first thing I would suggest when it comes to record keeping is to make sure you are familiar with your local laws as far as homeschool record keeping goes. In Florida, we have several options for recording our homeschool information, including test scores and portfolios (which are the most popular). While I do test my children, those scores are just for me, for my homeschool reporting, I use a portfolio for my kids.

What does this look like? Well, first of all I get myself one of those handy expanding file-folders from Staples for each of my children every year. We also keep history and science notebooks, and do various lapbooks. In the file, I keep work samples from my boys reading, math, writing, Bible studies etc. My first year of homeschooling, I was a little paranoid (what if they audit me???), so I tried to keep EVERYTHING! That didn’t work. I was overwhelmed with papers, and I ran out of storage space!! Now, I try to file two work samples for each child in each subject every week. This is also the system I used for keeping portfolios for my students when I was teaching, and it works well!

What do I keep? Any tests or quizzes first of all. I also try to keep at least two writing samples (essays, written narratives etc.). Some of my kids writing is done in notebooks, so I usually just keep the notebooks at the end of each year. In their history and science notebooks,  I keep worksheets, quizzes, book summaries, maps and other work we have done throughout the year. I use binders for these. Honestly, my kids love looking through them and showing them to family members when they come to visit!

Filing all this stuff was a big problem for me at first!! I had a folder where I would put all of our work samples for the week, but it seemed like they never made it past that folder, and then I was overwhelmed with a huge amount of papers to file all at once!! Now, I have a set “filing” day two weekends a month, where I put everything away. Often, I get my boys (now that they are older) to help me with this. They both like organizing their papers and their notebooks, and looking back at what they have done. This makes the whole job a LOT easier!

At the end of the year, I make sure everything is marked with my boys names, and the school year (i.e. 2011-2012) and I get one of those plastic storage tubs from Walmart and put the file folders, binders and any lapbooks we have done in them. Then I write the school year on the top and put it in a closet or the attic. I keep these tubs for three years, after which, I pull them out and ask the boys if there is anything they want to keep (usually they choose their notebooks or lapbooks). These things are put away and I purge everything else. Sometimes I have a hard time throwing things away, but there just isn’t enough room in my house to keep everything!! If I have something that really stands out to me as something I want to keep, I do, but I have learned to allow myself to get rid of things, even when I don’t want to. I like to keep my record-keeping as simple as possible, so it doesn’t become a burden with all the other stuff I need to do. How do you keep records in your homeschool? Leave me a comment if you have other ideas that might make this easier! To see what other TOS Crew members have to say on this topic, click here:


Balance Math Teaches Algebra

I was already somewhat familiar with the Critical Thinking Company, having used the Mind Benders Logic Puzzles with both of my boys. Prior to this review, I had looked at some of their other products for math and reading, but never used any of them. For this review, we got to check out Balance Math Teaches Algebra.

The mission of the Critical Thinking Company is to “empower the mind” of students without using drill and memorization. Balance Math does this by teaching Algebraic concepts using “puzzles” that students solve. In order to use this book, students will need to understand how a balance scale works, but don’t worry if you don’t have one handy!! The book actually begins with problems that illustrate this concept, and there is another reference page in the back students can refer to if needed.

Lessons start of with simple equations (i.e. if X=50, then what does XX=?). The problems each have an illustration and a “proof” that students fill out as they complete the problem. The proof simply explains the illustration using words, and walks students through solving the problem. This is very useful for getting the hang of things as you begin working through this book. As you move through the book, problems get more complex, and students begin to solve multi-step equations (some even involving fractions 🙂 ).

The age guidelines for this book are 4th-12th+. I think that if you had an advanced 4th or 5th grader, they would do well with this, but other students this age would likely need a lot of parental support, at least at first. I was always good at algebra, but I had to read through the first six proofs a few times to wrap my head around how balance math works.

I used this program with my 8th grade son, who is struggling his way through pre-algebra at the moment. He is simply not a “mathy” kid. He doesn’t do really poorly at math, but it does take him more time to get concepts, and for some reason, algebra is just not “clicking” with him (geometry, well that’s another story!). When I showed him this book, at first, he was really confused. But, after I went through the first few pages with him, he did really start to “get” it. It was like visualizing the idea of the balance scale just helped the concepts to make sense!

He still did need my support as he got into the multi-step problems, but even then, after I helped with a couple, he was fine. Now, the first time I had him do algebra from his textbook after this, he did use scratch paper to draw a “balance” scale of his own to work out the problem, but he got the right answer, so I am definitely not going to complain!

Balance Math Teaches Algebra costs $14.99, and contains about 50 pages of activities. I don’t think it could be used as a stand-alone math program, but it would definitely work as a supplement, especially if you have a “visual” learner who is struggling with algebra. You could also use it as summer program, if you wanted to just give your kids some “light” work to practice with. There are also other levels of Balance Math you can use as well. I think $14.99 is a great price for something that helps your child to understand a concept they have been struggling with! It is great to see the relief in their eyes when they “get” it!!

You can learn more about Balance Math Teaches Algebra and other Critical Thinking Company products here:

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this, and other CTC products, click here:

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

God’s Great Covenant

As Christian homeschool parents, my husband and I feel teaching our kids about God is the very center of what we need to do. We do read the Bible daily with our children, work on memory verses, and have time set aside for our boys to do their own reading and devotions. Each year, I do like to include a Bible study as well. For this review, we got to check out God’s Great Covenant New Testament 1 by Classical Academic Press, and we really liked it!

The curriculum is the story of Jesus’ life told through the gospels. It begins with lessons about who Jesus is, and the prophecies that were told about Him, and continues to tell about His life, death, and resurrection. The book begins with a timeline, and gives information about the geographical region where Jesus’ life occurred. It also gives information about the politics of the time, and introduces you to “Simon” a fictional boy who lives in the area of Jareth about this time. Simon will show up in lessons to tell you about what his life was like, living at the time of Jesus.

The teacher’s edition of the book comes with copies of the printed pages from the student edition, as well as valuable notes you can use when doing the lesson.

I found this helpful to give my son additional background information that related to the lesson. The teacher’s edition also includes answer keys for lesson reviews and quizzes (which I find very helpful 🙂 ).

Each lesson begins with information about the lesson theme (i.e. “The Son of Man is the eternal God who becomes Man”), portions of scripture for the student to read, and a memory passage to work on. There are also charts featuring key facts for the lesson, vocabulary and important things to know. One feature I thought was really cool was the “prophecy fulfilled” section. This told you about OT prophecies that were fufilled by the information you will learn in this lesson. I thought this was a great way to tie the OT and the NT together. Lessons also have short reading sections (story time) and sometimes feature maps as well.

Lessons also end with review worksheets, and each unit has a review of the concepts as well as the memory work involved in the lesson.

I found this curriculum to be very informative, but the lessons weren’t long and drawn out, which is good, because we typically did them three days each week after our family Bible reading time. My 5th grade son found the lessons engaging, and he completed them mostly on his own. This curriculum is designed for 2nd-6th grades, and I think it would work for those levels. At the younger end, you may have to read the lessons out loud, but an older child could definitely read them on his own. At any rate, if you wanted to use the same curriculum across a few grade levels, I think you could do that with God’s Covenant. You would either read it all together, or the parent could read to the younger students while the older ones read on their own, or the older kids to read to the younger ones. Once you got done, everyone could participate in the discussion, and then each student could complete the worksheets as they are able. Also, for an additional purchase, you can download audio files to go with the curriculum. They include audio recordings of thirty-two stories from the Gospels that the whole family could listen to together. These were very well done and we enjoyed listening to them!

We liked this curriculum a lot, and I am looking at purchasing the OT version for next year. I appreciated the simple, easy to follow set up and my son enjoyed the lessons and the activities.

There are a few ways to purchase God’s Great Covenant. The student edition (workbook) costs $26.95, the teacher’s edition costs $29.95, and the audio download is $9.95. If you feel comfortable not using the teacher’s edition, you could go without it if you wanted to, but I wouldn’t choose to do that personally. You can also purchase a bundle of all three products for $56.95, and I think this is a really good deal!! If you have already done the NT, Classical Academic Press also has this curriculum for the OT as well!

You can get more information about God’s Great Covenant here:

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this curriculum, go here:

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this curriculum for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Influences and Inspirations

The topic for this week’s blog cruise is, “Who inspires you?”….well, I started to think about the various definitions of the word “inspire” and the one that struck me the most was “to influence or impel”. So, who is it that influences or impels me to do what I do each day? There are a few answers to that question.

First and foremost, impel means to drive or move forward, and I would say, I am driven to please the Lord. Proverbs 31 is probably the greatest inspiration to me in how I want to live my life. I strive to be that woman to my family every day….am I always successful?? I wish, but NO, definitely not. However, I do try, and I am thankful that each day is a new chance to try again!!

The single most important influential person in my life, has always been, and always will be, my Nana.

Her name was Ann, and she and my pop-pop raised me from the time I was a baby (I had a kind of crazy, mixed up childhood!). From as far back as I can remember, my nana was the source of all good things in my life. Born in 1920, she was old-fashioned. She worked when she had to, but she also believed that a mothers place was caring for her family, and she did that with gusto!! She was the consummate mom, cooking, cleaning, sewing, shopping, reading, playing…everything!!

I wish I could say I followed her lead in my life from the beginning, but my teenage years were hard. I did not agree with my Nana’s old-fashioned views at all! I was determined to live MY life the way I thought I should. After I got married, she moved in with my husband and I and helped to care for our children while I worked. Believe me, she let me know that she thought I should be at home, but I just shrugged her off. I thought I knew better than she did, but I was wrong.

When the Lord first lay the call to homeschool on my heart, the first person I thought of was my nana. What would she say if I told her I was going to walk away from my job and let my husband handle working while I stayed home and cared for our kids?? I think she would say “Finally!” and I hope she would be proud. She was truly the best woman I have ever known, I miss her tremendously every day, and I find it funny how now, at this point in my life, all I really want to be is just like her!

Finally, my last source of inspiration are these crazy kids of mine ! 🙂

My boys…they simultaneously drive me bananas, and fill my heart with pride. There are moments where I just want to grab them and hold them forever, and others where they make me want to scream. But still, my life would be completely empty without them, and even on our bad days, being with them is still better than being anywhere else. They are the real reason behind what I do. They deserve a good mom, and that is what I am determined to be for them.

So, that is what inspires me. Where do you get your inspiration from? To see what other Crew members had to say about this topic, check out our TOS Crew page here:

Bright Ideas Press: Christian Kids Explore Earth & Space

I love Bright Ideas Press! They have some great products for homeschoolers. When I found out I was going to have a chance to review one of their Christian Kids Explore science books I was really excited! I have looked at this series several times, but never got around to trying it out. For this review, we got to check out Earth & Space science!

Christian Kids Explore is a multi-grade curriculum designed to be used two days per week. This is perfect for our homeschool! It is a creation-based science curriculum, which is another reason we love it! The curriculum is written in an easy to understand, conversational tone, which makes it very child-friendly. Each lesson starts with reading, and I usually like to do this with my boys, but I like the fact that on those busy days, they can read it themselves!

In the sidebar of the lessons are simple activities you can do to help explain the concepts in the lesson (i.e. using a chair to help explain the difference between rotation and revolution). I appreciated these activities a lot, as science is not my strong point, and I need help making these concepts concrete for my boys!! The lessons also include vocabulary, and “hands-on” time where you will do an activity or experiment related to the lesson. We enjoyed the activities immensely, and they were pretty easy to complete.

The appendix to this book is incredible, with everything from pages to use with the lessons, to book suggestions for each unit, and awesome coloring pages (even my 8th grader enjoyed them!). I truly appreciate how much hand-holding there is for the parent in this book. There is even a section on how to set-up your science notebook. (And I have to say, this is the first time we actually completed these! I’ve always wanted to do them, but somehow, having it all spelled out for me made it so much easier. 🙂 ) Each unit ends with a “wrap-up” where kids will organize their papers from the unit, and take a short quiz. This was a great way to review the concepts in the unit.

We really enjoyed Christian Kids Explore Earth & Space. My kids found it interesting and engaging, and I thought it was very thorough. The best part for me is how open-and-go it was. I didn’t have to spend a ton of time prepping for science. Aside from looking ahead to see what we needed for experiments, I could just open the book and go on to the next lesson! Christian Kids Explore Earth & Space costs $34.95, which I think is a great price for this curriculum. You can also purchase a download of the printables for $7.95. We had so much fun with this, that I am seriously considering using the chemistry book next year. You can find out more about this series here:

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Christian Kids Explore Science, click here:

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this curriculum for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

AIMS Science : Earth Rocks!

AIMS education foundation is an organization devoted to creating hands-on math and science activities to make learning more enjoyable (and likely more effective) for children. I am always looking for ways to engage my boys in science! I have never been a real science enthusiast, so I appreciate curriculum that helps me along in this area. For this review, I received a copy of Earth Rocks, and earth-science activity book for grades 4-5.

In this book, students will explore rocks and minerals, soil, water, changes in the earth, as well as pollution. In each section, students make a “rubber band book” which contains info about the topic. At first, we had a little difficulty assembling these, but my son figured it out! Each lesson is laid out clearly for the teacher, and the guiding standards are printed in the lesson. (Keep in mind these books are for use by schools as well). Both the teacher lessons and the activities are in the same book, but you are permitted to make copies, and the book comes with a CD that contains PDF files of the printable pages, so I just printed out the ones my son needed for each lesson.

We enjoyed the activities in the section on rocks, particularly growing crystals. I also liked the fact that there were questions in the book you could use for discussion with your child. Some of the activities called for rocks from the rock kit, which would be an additional purchase. Is is not expensive, only $12.95, but as my son already has a large rock collection, we just used those instead.

The activities in Earth Rocks lend themselves easily to group work, which is nice if you want to have several of your children work on this together. For older students, you would definitely need to supplement with some more advanced books. My son likes non-fiction reading, so we actually just checked out books from the library on each topic we studied. Lessons also include extension activities (i.e. mapping rivers when studying erosion) and some have web links as well.

Overall, I thought this was a fun way to study earth science. The length of the lessons will vary from day to day, depending on what you are doing, but we didn’t find them to be terribly long. Usually, if I looked at a lesson and thought it would take a really long time, we split it into two days. While I didn’t feel this was a very in-depth study of the Earth, it makes a nice introduction, and you can certainly go deeper if you want by adding books from the library.

Earth rocks costs $29.95, and includes 50 activities. Depending on how many days you do science, you could easily stretch this to last a year, especially if you break some of the lessons down into smaller parts. I think the cost is reasonable for what you get, and it definitely fits my budget! You can find out more about Earth Rocks and other AIMS programs here:

To find out what other TOS Crew members had to say about AIMS, click here:

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this material for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Is it summer yet?

The blog cruise topic for this week is “How do you fight homeschool burnout?” Well, this couldn’t have come at a better time, because we have been fighting a serious case of this at my house lately. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it seems like every year after we start back when the holidays are over, we all seem to lose our motivation to homeschool (me included!!). Summer seems to be so far away (we do follow a traditional school schedule, with some extra breaks worked in every year). Maybe it’s the weather…or just the letdown that comes after the fun of the holidays are over, but whatever it is, it makes homeschool hard.

So, what do I do when times like this set in? For starters, I look to provide a little extra “hands-on” fun at this time of the year. Usually, I deliberately buy a couple of science kits or some lapbooks and save them for this part of the year. During times when I feel we need a something little extra in our day, I take a break from our regular studies and pull these out. We especially like the ASK science kits because they have all kinds of cool experiments on different topics, and they come with LITERALLY, everything you need, except for water! So far the polymers one has been our favorite. I try to choose one or two that tie in with our general topic of study in science for that year, and when we get the blahs, we take a break from our regular science book, go to the library to pick out books that will go along with the kit, and have it!! My boys really enjoy this, and it helps to motivate all of us because it’s something “different” from what we’ve been doing since August.

Another thing I like to do is plan some extra field trips at this time. I look for places we can go that will tie into something we are studying, and we take a day off and get out of the house. We are fortunate to live in Florida, so our weather is pretty temperate, and there are an abundance of places we can go for nature walks, tours etc.

This year we decided to plant a garden (our first!), so we have taken part of our school days for the last few weeks to research, plan and plant. Our field trip was to the Walmart Garden Center, but the boys enjoyed choosing the seeds and all the things we needed for planting. This has been a really fun project and has gotten us more motivated to do school! We just had our first few sprouts this week and they are so excited. We plan to do some flowers in the front yard this month, so that is something they are looking forward to as well.

When all else fails, and we are really in that homeschool “funk” we take a day off and head to the beach or do something with daddy. Since we homeschool, we are in charge of our own schedule, and I would much rather take a day off to enjoy ourselves and recharge, and come back ready to work, than waste a whole day fighting with my kids and putting us all in a bad mood! When we do that, I simply add a day on to the end of the year. It’s really not a big deal, which is one of the reasons I LOVE homeschooling so much!!

Some other ideas my friends and I have come up with are having a movie day. Right now we are studying WWII in American History, so there are plenty of movies that tie in with that. We have also done “arts and crafts” days and “drama play” days where my kids spend time coming up with a skit (usually tied into history or a novel we are reading) and find their own prompts and costumes and act it out. I figure they are using lots of real skills to do that, and tapping their knowledge and understanding of what they have learned as well 🙂

Fortunately, as spring rolls around (and down here, it has definitely come early this year) our attitudes seem to naturally improve. Maybe because the sun is shining and the boys are anxious to swim and get outdoors, their motivation to work comes back, and my own attitude improves as well (probably because I know summer is right around the corner 🙂 ). That is how we deal with burnout in my house? Leave me a comment if you have other suggestions! To see what other members of the TOS Crew have to say about fighting burnout, click here:

World Writing Program

Write with World is a two-year middle school writing curriculum from the publishers of World Magazine. The curriculum comes with student and teacher books, as well as access to an online website that provides additional support, writing prompts, a teacher forum and opportunities for students to have their work published.

This curriculum covers far more than just writing. It encourages your child to read critically, evaluate advertisments and other media, and analyze samples of writing.

My 8th grade son is a pretty decent writer, the problem is getting him MOTIVATED to write. I will say, I did NOT have this problem with Write with World. My son actually enjoyed this program a lot. The units are organized into 5 capsules, so you can do one each day. The lessons are not too lengthy, which was good for us. Your child will need a notebook to complete the work.

I found the teachers guide to be thorough and helpful. It had additional suggestions to help with each lessons, and even ideas for how to prompt your student along if they are having trouble. The first unit began with an analysis of advertisements, which is a good topic to discuss at this age. Vocabulary and grammar lessons are also included within the capsules, and I like that they are presented in the context of writing.

I was impressed with the range of topics included in Write with World, from simple sentence structure to autobiography and writing narratives. This program is designed to use low-stakes evaluation, in order to take the pressure off of students as they write. Students keep a portfolio of their work, and as they go through the program, they can see their own progress as writers.

As I said, my son really enjoyed this writing program, which makes it valuable in itself!! I have noticed that as my kids get older, writing programs (like everything else) become more and more expensive. The cost of Write with World is $95.00 for each year, or $165.00 if you want to buy both years 1 and 2. This is costly, and is definitely something I would have to budget for. However, I truly appreciate the critical thinking included in this program, because I think that is such an important skill kids need to learn as they get older. I also liked the support provided by the teachers addition and the website. I would definitely recommend Write with World! You can find out more about this program here:

To find out what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this program, click here:

*Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this program for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Truthquest History

Truthquest History is a literature-based history study created by homeschool mom Michelle Miller. It is a biblically-based program that focuses on revealing God and His truth through the study of history. There are multiple guides for a parent to choose from, and the good thing is, the guides can be used with students of multiple ages (which is always a bonus in our house…to me it just seems easier keeping us focused on the same topic for history, as my boys use resources aimed at their grade level).

For this review, I used the Beginnings guide, which covers Creation, the Old Testament, Ancients and Egypt. These guides are recommended for grades 5-12, and my boys are in 5th and 8th grades. However, within the guide there are recommendations for books that you can use with students in the K-3 range!

I have experience with other lit-based history programs, and most of them are very…structured. Depending on your personality and how you homeschool, this can be good or bad. For me, I seem to do a lot of “tweaking” with the prepared schedules in most programs. We are eclectic homeschoolers, but we tend to lean in a Charlotte Mason direction, and I like to have the freedom to go at our own pace.

For that reason, I really like that the Truthquest guides are not set up in a gridded, daily format. Each lesson has an introduction you can read with your student (or have them read alone if you want), followed by suggestions for books and chapters to read (again, aloud or individual reading for each child). Since the lessons are biblically based, you will always have sections of scripture to read as well. The best thing about Truthquest to me, was the fact that I could pick and choose which books to read to my kids (the majority of the books were readily available at the library), or I could even choose my own books and read those instead! Also listed in the guide are various audio and visual resources, as well as suggested activities students can do.

Included in the guide are various “Thinkwrites”. These are writing prompts designed to get students thinking about the material. Thinkwrites were a great opportunity for discussion in our house!! My youngest still struggles with writing, so the three of us always read the thinkwrites together and talked about them first, which gave him a chance to get his ideas in order before he started writing. Again, there are no rigid directions for the thinkwrites, parents are free to use them as they choose. With younger students, you could simply discuss them if you wanted to. I asked my boys to write a paragraph (for the 5th grader), and 2-3 paragraphs (for the 8th grader) and we stored these in our history notebooks.

Speaking of notebooks, there are some additional resources you can use if you like lapbooking/notebooking etc. I did not use any of these items personally, but we do enjoy these types of activities in our house, so I would seriously consider ordering them if I had the money. You can check these out at the Truthquest website.

Truthquest was truly a hit at our house. At first, it does sort of look like merely a guide and booklist, but that is so far from the truth. We found this to be a VERY meaty study that really fit our style of homeschooling. I loved the depth and, especially, the flexibility it provided. My boys liked the conversational tone of the author and the short lesson length, which allowed them time to explore topics of interest on their own more deeply. The cost of this Truthquest guide is $29.95 for a hard copy, and $23.95 for a PDF download. I think they are definitely worth the price, and I will be looking into purchasing from them in the future. You can find out more about Truthquest here:

To find out what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Truthquest, check out this website:

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this guide in exchange for writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.