TOS Review: GrammarPlanet

GrammarPlannetGrammar is one of those subjects that is often difficult to teach just because most students find it dry and boring. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to make identifying nouns and pronouns and diagramming sentences fun! However, I believe that a solid understanding of grammar is very important in teaching students how to write. Those who have a thorough understanding of how grammar works will have a better understand of how to put sentences together when they are writing. So, I was excited to check out a new online program from GrammarPlanet to see if it might make grammar instruction a little bit easier.

Aimed at students 10 and up, the program includes video instruction, practice lessons and quizzes. Each unit offers a set of printable notes your student can use to guide them in the lessons and refer back to if they get confused. I thought this was a nice feature and good reference point. We kept the notes in a folder for my son to refer back to throughout the units. There are 12 units total that start off with simple topics like nouns and move on to more complicated topics like everyone’s favorite thing, diagramming sentences!

grammar planet 1

Videos are typically short, lasting around 5 minutes or so, and the speaker in the videos is clear and pleasant (this is important, the person delivering the instruction is a huge part of any course). After watching the videos, students complete practice sets on each topic. One of the things I really like about this program is the immediate feedback students get when they do the practice. Each sentence is scored right away and they can quickly see if they made a mistake. This helps them make corrections as they go, which I think helps them learn much better than if they find out about their mistakes at the end or something like that.

grammar planet 2

grammar planet 3

After they complete each unit students take a quiz before moving onto the next unit. The tests consist of a number of questions that mix multiple choice questions with questions that ask students to identify the different parts of speech within a sentence. Quizzes are slightly different in that students do not receive feedback until the very end, where they can see their score and then see what they got wrong on each question. Again, I like the fact that students don’t just see that they got a question wrong, they get to see why they got it wrong and what the correct answer is.

For parents, GrammarPlanet offers you excellent reports about your child’s progress. You can login and click on unit report to see all the questions your child completed for that unit and exactly which ones they got right or wrong. In fact, if you click on a specific question, it will show you HOW they answered that question so you can see EXACTLY what they missed! I think that’s pretty awesome because it allows you to identify if there is a specific thing your child is struggling with or needs help with! You can also review all of your child’s test questions as well and reset a unit if you think your child needs to redo it.

grammar planet 4

All of this is available for less than $40 for ad-free access to the site. I really think that if you want a simple way to teach grammar, GrammarPlanet is a good way to go! To learn more, connect with them on social media here:

GrammarPlanet on Facebook

GrammarPlanet on Twitter

GrammarPlanet on Pinterest

To see what other members of the crew thought of this program, click here:

*Grammar Program Online {GrammarPlannet Reviews}


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TOS Review: CursiveLogic

Many people would say that since the advent of the computer, cursive writing has slowly become a lost art, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, I’ve always felt it was important for my children to learn to write (and read cursive) and at the very least, be able to sign their names on documents and forms. For my oldest, this was not a problem. However, my youngest struggles with writing in general and so far, we have had no luck with cursive. For this review, we got to try out the updated CursiveLogic Quick Start Pack and The Art of Cursive from CursiveLogic.

Cursive Logic New Edition

This program teaches cursive in a very systematic way and is appropriate for all ages. Basically, anyone who wants to learn cursive, from kids to adults, can use this. My son is a junior in high school but he didn’t feel like this was babyish in any way (most of the books I had gotten from the store had cartoon pictures etc. He hated that). The Quick Start Pack includes a webinar for parents that goes over how to teach the program, step by step. This is very helpful if you don’t know where to start.

Cursive Logic Sample Page

The workbook itself includes information for teachers about the different parts of the program and how it is set up. I would highly recommend reading this information thoroughly before getting started. You begin with proper posture and instruction on how to hold the paper and pencil for both left and right-handed students. As a family of lefties I really appreciated this.

Exercises start with teaching simple shapes, that eventually help form letters. Students engage with CursiveLogic in multiple ways, not just through tracing forms on the page. The program encourages using their fingers to trace letters, reciting while learning and more that apply to different senses, making it an immersive learning experience. As they progress through the program, students learn more and more shapes and how they are connected and go on to forming strings of letters and eventually, words.

For my son, this approach seems to be very effective. I structure lessons for about 20 minutes per day, and he doesn’t seem to mind doing them, which is a big thing because he has found handwriting tedious in the past. The verbal cues he has learned help him to remember how to form the letters and it seems to be coming easier and easier to him.

As part of this program we also received the cursive coloring book, The Art of Cursive. I’ve noticed that coloring is kind of a big thing even for adults these days, and I have to admit I find coloring verses in my Bible very relaxing. This book includes gorgeous illustrations that incorporate many of the same movements from the workbook, accompanied by quotes from famous poets and people and Bible verses. You could easily use this yourself if you wanted, or you could allow your child to color pages one day a week (which is what I did). My son actually really liked this part the most I think.

The Art of Cursive Logic

Overall, we are very satisfied with how things are going so far. If you have a child who wants to learn cursive I would definitely recommend checking this out. To learn more, connect with CursiveLogic on social media here:

CursiveLogic on Facebook

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The Art of Cursive & Quick Start Cursive {Cursive Logic Reviews}

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TOS Review: Writing with Sharon Watson

Writing with Sharon Watson

High school literature can be tricky. There are programs that focus strictly on novels, programs that use a textbook-type approach, and a lot of online stuff to choose from. As a former English teacher, I personally prefer more of a hybrid approach, using both novels and some textbook-style teaching for my 11th grade son. So, I was happy to check out Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis from Writing with Sharon Watson, which suits my style perfectly.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis

This program is a two-semester, one-credit course for students in grades 9-12. It features three main components, a teacher’s manual, textbook, and a quiz and answer manual. All of these are individually priced, so you can choose which components you want to use. There are also a lot of downloadable options like a free downloadable Novel Notebook. You also have the ability to access online quizzes that are graded for you using the information in the textbook, so if you have a child who prefers to work online, you can do that too!

So, how’s the course? Really meaty and well laid out. For starters, the teacher’s guide gives a very thorough introduction to the program, including a list of books you will need with the ISBN numbers. This makes it really easy to find the correct books. The reason this is important is because the activities and questions etc. are geared toward specific pages in those specific books. Could you use copies of some of the novels if you already have them? Sure, but you would need to go through the chapters and match up the pages to make sure your child is in the right spot when they do their work.

The teacher’s guide also includes a suggested schedule, answer keys, and a layout for the lessons. Like anything in homeschool, this is all very tweakable, which I appreciate. I used the suggested schedule as a guide for where we wanted to be each month, but we set our own pace based on my son. If it takes a little longer to complete, or we don’t get to everything, that’s fine. Illuminating Lit is full of so much that I think, even if you skip a little, your child won’t miss out on much.

Your child will read five novels in this program, Silas Marner, Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing,  Sense and Sensibility, and The Hobbit. They will also read many different short stories, essays and more. The textbook includes lessons on topics like theme, archetype, antagonists, protagonists, dramatic irony, and much much more. I think that is one thing that impressed me the most about the course. It covers a lot of upper-level topics that other programs I have seen just don’t offer.

The downloadable Novel Notebook is a nice addition to Illuminating Literature. It offer a space for students to gather their thoughts about what they are reading in different ways. They might answer questions or jot down some notes, they might be asked to take on the point of view of a character to answer questions, or complete some type of graphic organizer. The teacher’s guide also gives you a heads up about what questions students are answering and suggested answers if you want to discuss this with them.

My son enjoyed the stories in Illuminating Literature and seemed to enjoy looking at the works through the eyes of the characters and I really like how this program is set up and how in-depth it is. At a cost of less than $100 for all three main components, it’s also a great deal!

To learn more, connect with Sharon Watson on social media here:

Writing with Sharon Watson on Facebook

Writing with Sharon Watson on Pinterest

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Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis {Writing with Sharon Watson Reviews}

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TOS Review: Hewitt Homeschooling (American Lit)

Hewitt Homeschooling

I love literature! Reading has always been one of my favorite things, and I love sharing books with my kids. I am always on the lookout for good literature programs for my son, especially now that he is older. For this review, we got to check out the American: Early-Mid 19th Century literature program from Hewitt Homeschooling. This program is aimed at highschool freshman and sophomores. I used it with my 10th grade son.

 Lightning Literature and Composition Pack
American: Early to Mid 19th Century

Early-Mid American Lit is the first part of Hewitt’s American Literature program, with a second book, Mid-Late 19th Century, that follows. You can choose to either use one set each semester, or spread out one book over an entire year. For my son, the slower option is better as reading is not his favorite subject and requires a lot more effort from him. The course consists of a student book and a teacher’s guide.

The teacher’s guide includes suggested schedules for a one-semester and full-year course, which makes it easy for you to set up the course. I will tell you that the one-semester schedule is very heavy on the weekly reading, which is why we opted to go with the full-year course. It ended up being too much for son to do in a week along with his other subjects. The guide also includes rubrics to use for grading, checklists for writing assignments, and answers to the questions in the student book.

The course itself consists of four units, with two lessons per unit. Students read a mix of classic novels (which you can easily find online or at the library) as well as poems and short stories that are included in the student book. Some of the authors covered in the Early-Mid American Lit book are Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Longfellow.

I had my son start with the introduction, which gives background on literature in general, writing tips, and information about how to use the guide. Since the course is pretty student oriented, I wanted to really go over this part since I knew he would mostly be using it on his own. The first unit begins with the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. This section does use a very specific edition of the book which I was able to find online. We broke the reading into weekly assignments, based on how the guide set up the questions, and my son would read each day, then complete the questions in his notebook. In general, we got to about 3 sets of questions per week.

I felt the questions themselves were a good mix of direct recall and questions that caused students to think and synthesize things in the text, and were appropriate for high schoolers. After completing all of the reading there was a lesson about autobiographical writing. We read through and discussed this section together, then I had my son choose one of the writing assignments at the end of the unit. I liked the variety of options students had for their writing assignments, with choices that range from simple to more complex and serious to humorous. I feel like my son is much more motivated when he gets to choose an assignment, and it leads to less conflict between us.


The second lesson in Unit 1 moves onto Washington Irving. It included a fun short story written by Irving that my son read in the text with a series of short comprehension questions after. I felt like this was a good way to break things up so they don’t feel monotonous. Students get to read full novels, but also get breaks and are able to read shorter works as well.

All in all, the Early-Mid American Lit course is a solid program. It offers a a wide variety of classic literature to your children in an easy-to-use design. You can literally just read the introduction to the course and get started! Also, this program comes as either a student book and teacher’s guide or a full set that includes all the necessary novels, which allows you to choose what fits your budget.

To learn more, connect with Hewitt on social media here:

Hewitt Homeschooling on Facebook

Hewitt Homeschooling on Twitter

Hewitt Homeschooling on Pinterest

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this program and the others we got to check out, click here:

Hewitt Homeschooling {Reviews}

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TOS Review: IEW High School Essay Intensive

Institute for Excellence in WritingHigh school is where the rubber meets the road. As a homeschool mom, it is also the part that feels the most tricky to me. I have so much to get my kids ready for, SATs, ACTs, college applications. Ugh. And writing is a huge part of that. While I am pretty confident in my skills as a writing teacher, I still feel more secure with a set program for this subject, just to make sure I don’t miss anything. So, for this review, I was excited to check out the High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing.

I have used products from IEW before and I have always been happy with them. This new program is no different. High School Essay Intensive is very thorough, with the same detailed instruction I have come to expect from Mr. Pudewa. The program itself comes with five DVDs full of instruction, totaling over 6 hours. The format is the same as other IEW courses which feature Mr. Pudewa teaching a group of students. It also includes handouts and a general outline of the course.

Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive This program features a wide range of topics from different paragraph models, to outlining, proofreading, and writing for specific purposes like the ACT. The course outline includes a space for your student to take notes, which I found really helpful for my 10th grade son. He was able to follow along on the DVD and the guided outline allowed him to take notes easily. For a student who is working on note-taking skills, this feature is very helpful.

The included handout, Portable Walls for the Essayist, is a great reference your student can use all through high school. It includes definitions of the different types of essays, essay models, examples and outlines of the writing process, and more, all in a handy, laminated, folder-type handout. We are definitely going to hang onto it for future writing reference.

So, how did we use the High School Essay Intensive from IEW? Well, basically we started with disc 1, breaking the lectures into parts. My high-intensity sophomore is not good at sitting and watching video for more than 25-30 minutes at a time, so I would break the videos into parts and have him take notes on each section. Then we would pick up the next day wherever we left off. It might take us a little longer to complete the program this way, but that doesn’t bother me. I would rather go slower and make sure my son truly understands the lessons anyway.

After taking notes, my son would also work through any assignments in the course, from outlining, to writing sentences, to essays themselves. Some assignments took longer than others, so we would adjust the lecture schedule accordingly as needed. This is one of the areas I really appreciate Mr. Pudewa. He is just so good at making things really clear for students. His easy to follow instruction made it simple for my son to “get” what he was supposed to be writing about.

We really enjoyed the High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing. Andrew Pudewa is great at connecting with students and making writing interesting (his sense of humor helps a lot too). I felt this program was really well-laid out and helped ME as a homeschool mom improve my writing instruction. The only drawback I see with this is that it doesn’t include a suggested schedule, which I always kind of like to have.

To learn more about the High School Essay Intensive, connect with IEW on social media here:

Excellence in Writing on Facebook

IEW on YouTube

IEW on Twitter

IEW on Pinterest

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this program, click here:

High School Essay Intensive {Institute for Excellence in Writing Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

TOS Review: Everyday Education, LLC

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}Let’s face it, high school writing is hard. There is so much to remember. When I was in high school, I had notebooks full of notes and references to help me when I wrote my papers. Of course, back then, there was no such thing as the internet! I always thought it would be easier if I had some kind of reference I could refer too when writing. So, I was really excited to get to review the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers from Everyday Education, LLC for my high school son.

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

My youngest is not a natural writer. In fact, he fights it almost every step of the way. However, I know how important writing is for his future. We have done tons of grammar and writing programs along the way, but it doesn’t always stick in his head. At first this used to make me feel bad, but then I realized that’s just how he is. So, wouldn’t it be easier if he had a resource where he could just look stuff up to help him along the way? That’s exactly what the Handbook for Writers is.


It contains a wealth of information on writing in various topics. From grammar, to examples of certain kinds of essays, to how to reference resources, it’s all here! You can easily use this as an addition to any high school writing curriculum, allowing your child to refer to it as needed. I also think, with a little creativity, you could even use it as a writing curriculum, expanding on each section with other materials and giving your child a chance to practice and hone their skills.

I really appreciate that grammar lessons are included, because it gives those kids who did not master grammar before a chance to really apply those skills to their writing. For some kids, learning punctuation, nouns, verbs, gerunds etc. is really hard out of context. With the writers handbook, you can easily apply what your kids are learning directly to their writing, which really works for kids like my boy.

Also, the reference and citation sources were really helpful in this book. To be honest, I don’t completely remember how to cite sources anymore, but I know (from my experience with my college-age son) that it’s important. Also, a lot has changed since I was in high school. Now there are simply so many more things to cite! Having the writers handbook to refer too is really handy in those cases!

The PDF file offers hundreds of pages to help your student write the best papers possible. In fact, there were a couple of times my older son asked his brother to use his handbook when he had to write a paper for school! I think that over the next two years of high school we are going to refer to this handbook a lot, and my son may even still use it when he is in college. At less than $40, I think it is a steal!

To find out more, connect with Everday Education on social media here:
Janice Campbell on Pinterest

Excellence in Literature on Facebook

Everyday Education on Twitter

Janice Campbell on Google+

To see what other crew members have to say about this resource, and the other ones we got to check out, click here”
Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

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TOS Review: The Cat of Bubastes (Heirloom Audio Productions)

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

Travel back in time to Ancient Egypt and go on an adventure with Amuba, the captured prince of Rebu, a city on the shore of the Caspian Sea. During his journey, he will find friends among his captors, and some enemies too, and in a race to save a friend’s life, discover the One True God. The Cat of Bubastes is another audio drama from Heirloom Audio Productions. We have loved every single one that we got to check out so far, and we were really excited to check out this latest release for this review.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

Based on the book of the same name by author G.A. Henty, the two-disc set takes you and your family into the book. As always, Heirloom has recruited top voice talent to play the roles, and their sound effects and soundtrack help you feel like you are really in the story. All of the actors do a great job, and as you listen, you can picture the action in your head, as if you were watching a movie.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I will tell you that Amuba comes to serve the high priest of Thebes, where he is taken after being captured. He and his friend Jethro become close to the family of the priest, who is very kind and treats all people with respect. Of course, conflict arises on a few fronts when Amuba and Chebron, the priest’s son, discover a murder plot in the city and then have to flee for their lives after accidentally killing the sacred cat of the city. During their adventures, they encounter Simeon, a faithful Israelite, and Ruth, his granddaughter, who help introduce them to the Christian faith.

Full of historical facts, The Cat of Bubastes combines history with drama to create excitement that you can also use as a teaching tool. Each track is numbered, so it is very easy to pick up where you left off as you listen. Along with the CDs, Heirloom gives you access to some awesome extras including a study guide that is chock full of information. There are discussion questions for each track on the disc, questions that include both recalling info from the story and questions that require you to go a little deeper with your thinking.

One thing I noticed in this study guide was the inclusion of other historical information related to the story. The Expand Your Learning sections offer info about a range of topics from Ancient Egyptian games, to the Pyramids, to recipes you can make. At the end of the study guide are three Bible studies you can do with your family. We mostly used the study guide as a source of discussion, but now that my kids are older, I did have them answer some of the going deeper questions in writing and keep a notebook of the vocabulary words.

Other extras include a download of the actual G.A. Henty book, complete with color pictures. I like this option because if you have a reader in the family, they can read the book before or after listening to the audio drama. You can also download the soundtrack, a poster, and more.

We thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Cat of Bubastes. Like the other Heirloom audio dramas, it is pure, family-friendly entertainment that both introduces your kids to history and points them toward God. I definitely recommend this if you and your family like listening to audio books. They are great for road trips or just listening to after dinner. To learn more, connect with Heirloom Audio on social media here:

Heirloom Audio on Facebook

Heirloom Audio on Twitter
Heirloom Audio on Google+

You might also want to check out some of their other adventures like, The Dragon and the Raven and With Lee in Virginia.

To see what other members of the crew thought of this product, click here:
Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

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TOS Review: Writing with Sharon Watson

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

Some kids are natural writers, like my oldest who has been writing since he was little. Other kids enjoy certain types of writing, like story-writing, and that is a better description of my youngest. He loves making up and writing all kinds of fantastic adventures. However, now that he is in high school, I know I need to get him to work on more reports and non-fiction essays since that is the primary type of writing he will be doing from this point on. So, I was happy to check out The Power in Your Hands: Writing Non-Fiction in High School, 2nd Edition from Writing with Sharon Watson for this review. I used the first edition with my oldest and it went really well.


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

The program comes with a student book and teacher’s guide. It includes 23 chapters on topics ranging from How-to writing, to compare and contrast, to a variety of persuasive writing topics. There are also some chapters on grammar, which is a new feature I really appreciate. The new index is also very helpful when you need to find something fast. The very first chapters involve the writing process, from brainstorming, to getting started, to writing the first draft.

Like the first edition, lessons are written directly to the student in a pleasant, conversational tone. Chapters are divided into a few lessons, making it easy to set up a weekly schedule. Certain sections of the lessons are labled “Your Toolbox” which includes several noteworthy writing tips for students to remember. I chose to have my son record these in a notebook as he went through the course so he could find them quickly when he was writing. Review and practice exercises are peppered throughout the lesson, which I found helpful because it broke up the reading for my son. Moving from the learning section to a practice section and back to more reading made it easier for him to complete the lessons.

Examples of high-quality writing are also given throughout the book through a variety of essays, articles and radio scripts. I was glad to see this practice was retained from the first edition because I think reading examples of the type of writing you want students to achieve helps them when they are writing their own papers. Modeling is a very effective way to teach anything.
The curriculum includes several references to the Bible and includes activities that have students reading passages and summarizing them.

When students work on an essay, they are first guided through setting up a schedule, then eventually move on to making their own. A checklist helps guide them through the writing and makes sure they include everything they need to. Assignments are divided into different levels, with a different word count for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers and some differentiated suggestions for each level too.

The teacher’s guide is much more than just an answer key.First, it includes a list of the major writing assignments in the beginning of the guide, which makes it easy for you to keep track of what your child is doing. There is also a very detailed section about grading papers, which I think is great. Sometimes it is really difficult to grade an essay because so much of it is subjective. The guide includes examples of graded papers with a rationale for their grading, so you can see what an A paper looks like, and what a B paper looks like and so on. One new feature of the teacher’s guide that is fantastic is the inclusion of the Grading Grids at the end of each chapter. They feature prompts for you to answer about the paper as you read it and a point scale for each one. This way, you can simply fill out the grid and add up the points at the end.

For my son, the pacing of the lessons was perfect, and the way the lessons are set up really helped him get a thorough understanding of each topic. We are not through with this yet, but I feel like he will be a much better writer when we finish. I would definitely recommend The Power in Your Hands to anyone looking for a solid high school writing program.

To learn more, connect with Sharon Watson on social media:
Writing with Sharon Watson on Facebook

Writing with Sharon Watson on Pinterest

See what other crew members thought of this and the other programs they got to check out, click here:
Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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TOS Review: Laurelwood Books

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}

Cursive handwriting, it caused me loads of problems when I was in grade school and it seems to be doing the same thing for my youngest son. As a lefty, I have vivid images of Sister Mary standing over me, turning my paper to try to get my slant right, and honestly, I never did. As an adult, I mostly print, but my son needs to know how to read cursive and also (as a boy who gets his drivers license next year) how to sign his name. So, I’ve been looking for a cursive program aimed at older students, and I was happy to give Patriotic Penmanship High School Grades 9-12 from Laurelwood Books a try.

The book helps children learn cursive using powerful quotes from national documents like the Introduction to the Declaration of Independence, as well as quotes from Presidents and other patriots, Bible verses and famous poems. It begins with a basic review of how to form cursive letters, both upper and lower case. This part of the instruction is short, so I will say it assumes that children have had prior instruction in cursive writing. From there it moves into individual lessons.

Patriotic Penmanship contains 30 lessons overall, so if you did one per week you would have enough for almost a whole school year. Each lesson begins with a written copy of the quote to read, then each line of the quote is broken down individually, with students first tracing the line, then writing it on their own. At the end of the lesson, students are given blank lines with the first word in each quote on the line. They trace the first word then complete the rest of the line on their own. Words that may be unfamiliar (like “unalienable”) are defined at the end of each lesson.

Since cursive is something my son struggles with, we broke the lessons into a few days in order to avoid him getting frustrated. First we would read the quote together, then discuss where it came from. After that, I would have him work on the individual lines. Depending on how long the quotes work, lessons could take from 3-4 days to complete overall. The point was not to rush him, but to let him take his time and practice the letters.

We also used some of the quotes (like the Preamble) for memory work. I think there is value in memorizing historical documents, verses, and quality poetry. I still remember the Gettysburg Address from when I learned it in the fourth grade as well as several poems and numerous verses I’ve memorized over the years. I feel that copying the quote several times helps with the memorization process.

While my son does not love cursive, he did enjoy the memorization part, and I feel the practice has helped him with his writing. However, I think this program is best suited to students who need to hone their cursive skills, not learn to write cursive. Copying the quotes gives them plenty of practice, but aside from tracing, there is not a TON of instruction on how to form the letters. That said, I think this is a great program for upper-level students. So many of them simply type on a computer these days and it seems like cursive writing is becoming a lost art. If you have a student who knows how to write cursive and just needs some practice to keep up their skills, I would highly recommend you check out Patriotic Penmanship. At less than $15 it is a great bargain and there are a number of ways to incorporate the quotes and verses into your curriculum.

To learn more, connect with Laurelwood Books on social media here:

Laurelwood Books on Facebook

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this, and the other products they got to check out, click here:
Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}

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TOS Review: Poetry Memorization

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization IEW Review

As a kid, I remember memorizing poems and famous speeches regularly when I was in school. To this day I can still recite the Gettysburg Address. I believe there are many benefits to memorization, including building vocabulary and language skills and strengthening brain processes. While it is easy to hunt down different resources to memorize, it would be much easier to have them at my fingertips already, so I was really excited to check out Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization from Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization IEW Review

This program includes a Teacher’s Manual and five audio CDs with recordings of the poems you can use to help your kids learn how to recite them with the appropriate pacing and inflection. It also includes a bonus DVD featuring Andrew Pudewa giving a presentation on communication at a conference. You can also purchase an optional student book that contains printed copies of all of the poems, or you can print them from the e-book download that comes with the program. Additional MP3 downloads include several other lectures from Pudewa.

The book is divided into five different levels, and no matter what age your child is, everyone starts at level one. The poems in the first level vary from short, four-line poems, to longer four-stanza poems. Some of them are by familiar authors, like Robert Louis Stevenson, but there were some that I had never seen before. Older students, like my son, will probably progress more quickly through this level, memorizing two or more poems per week, while younger students may work on one poem per week.

The Teacher’s Manual does a really good job of explaining the theory behind the program and explaining the mastery learning approach. Basically, the child memorizes each poem until they can recite it correctly without any hesitation. Since my son is an upper middle school/beginning high schooler, I also like to focus on pace and inflection too. This is where the CDs come in really handy, because the poems are recited expressively in a way kids can mimic in their own recitations. My son also found having a printed student book really handy, because it allowed him to practice the poems with the words right in front in him at first, and personally, ink is expensive, I would rather have a pre-printed product if it is reasonably priced.

All of the poems are listed at the beginning of each section, and you are given the option of choosing your own poem to memorize at the end of each level, with suggestions listed for you. The Teacher’s Edition also gives you a method for how to teach the poems, including a schedule for practicing old poems throughout the program. In the student edition, there is a handy checklist that allows you to track progress for each section too.

As students progress through the levels, they move on to memorizing more difficult work including historical speeches in level 5. We aren’t there yet, but I am really excited about this part because of all the history tie-ins. I also like to study the authors as we come across unfamiliar names (the appendix in the student pages includes short biographies of all the authors) and work through unfamiliar words and vocabulary as my son memorizes his poems.

Basically, we start with our poem first thing in the morning, because it only takes a few minutes. If we are learning a new poem, my son gets the book and puts on the CD. First, he listens to the CD and follows along with the words silently a few times, just to hear all the words and get the pacing down. Then, he reads the poem out loud with the CD. After that we put it away and go on with other work. Periodically throughout the day, he will grab the poetry book and practice the poem. We go on like this for a few days until he feels comfortable trying the poem without the book. Also, each time we practice we also review the previous poems scheduled for that day. All in all, we spend about 10 minutes working on this throughout the day, maybe three or four times total. But I will tell you, I often overhear my son repeating his poem to himself in his room, or in the kitchen, or in the bathroom!

I can honestly say, he is having a lot of fun with this, and I can already see the value in it. As he memorizes longer and longer works, his confidence in himself grows. I think this will make him more comfortable with public speaking in the future and I definitely think he is learning some vocabulary and grammar skills! To learn more about this program, connect with IEW on social media here:

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Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review

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TOS Review: Apologia : Writers in Residence

Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

As a former English teacher, I am always on the lookout for a great writing program, especially for my youngest son, who tends to look at writing as his nemesis. It’s one of the subjects he has struggled with continuously, and one of the areas we seriously need to build on before he graduates high school. Therefore, I was really excited to give Writers in Residence, the new writing program from Apologia Educational Ministries, a try.

Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

Aimed at students in grades 4-8, the program is based on the Six Traits of Writing principles, and includes a huge student worktext that includes all of the lessons and activities, as well as an answer key. The worktext spells out a daily 4-day schedule, and fully explains how each part of the lesson works. Written mainly to the students themselves, I think this would be an easy program for an older student to complete on their own (or a younger student who is a strong writer), while a parent could do the lessons with their younger child.

Pages are colorful and the text is broken into chunks, so it is not visually overwhelming for a child who is easily frustrated by a lot of words on one page. The text also features interviews with Christian authors that can help inspire future writers to pursue their dreams of writing a book one day!

The worktext itself contains six units, which cover all different styles of writing from narrative, to persuasive, to creative. The units are further broken down into modules, so your child creates their piece of writing in small increments, perfect for a reluctant writer like mine. Along the way, the authors gently guide the student through tasks like learning how to write clear, descriptive sentences, choosing a logical order for things, adding dialogue, and using smooth transitions. Regular grammar lessons are also included.

One thing I really liked about WIR is that they start the lessons by giving the students an example of the style of writing they are going to do using a great example from literature. Using high-quality examples is part of the Six Traits model and I believe it really helps students see what they are shooting for. The first unit used the book When I Was Young in the Mountains as an example, and I was able to find a video of a read-aloud of the story on YouTube that my son and I watched so he could hear the whole story and get an idea of what type of writing he was to aim for.

Also, as students move through the writing process, they are encouraged to assess themselves, and at the end, they use a rubric to grade their work and score their writing. Parents also use the same rubric to score the final draft. As kids get older, I think it is especially important for them to learn how to assess their written work with a critical eye, as they will need to do so before turning in assignments in college. For his first written piece in Writers in Residence, I had my son fill out his rubric and I filled out mine and we compared our scores. They were…a little different, however, when we really discussed the nuts and bolts of things, my son realized that the point wasn’t to give himself the highest grade possible, it was to take an honest look at his work so he can improve.

So, can you tell how much I love this program? Because I really, really do! And the good news is, they are planning a second volume in the future!! I would definitely recommend you check it out if you are looking for a thorough writing program, especially if you have a kid that isn’t fond of writing like mine! To learn more, connect with Apologia on social media here:

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Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

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TOS Review: Homeschool Copywork

Homeschool Copywork Review

When my kids were younger we used copywork to help them learn handwriting and memorize scripture verses. However, as they’ve gotten older we’ve kind of gotten away from that because it seems like so much copywork is geared for younger students. For this review, we received a Lifetime Membership to Homeschool Copywork, a website with printable pages for kids from elementary school through high school!

The website offers a wealth of material, from artist and composer studies, to poetry and holiday themed studies. There is so much to choose from I didn’t even know where to begin, so I asked my son for some input. The first thing that caught his eye was the Dragons of the Bible copywork pages. As a 14 year old boy, he thinks dragons are pretty cool, so this immediately piqued his interest. This particular book offers 22 verses from the King James version of the bible, with beautiful illustrations your child can color if they want too.

I really appreciate the artistry that went into creating these pages. They are very interesting to look at and visually appealing. I was a little concerned at first that my son would think this activity was “babyish”, but honestly, the content was appropriate for his age. The verses for the middle schoolers and high schoolers are longer, and usually included both print and cursive versions.

I also chose to work with pages from the Character Building copywork, as I feel it is very important that he internalize these scriptures at his age. These are taken from the King James version of the Bible as well, and after he has completed all of them, I am going to bind them into a book and use them for regular scripture memory throughout his high school years. This book included a mix of verses from Proverbs, Corinthians, the books of Timothy and more, but all of them will help to build up his heart and mind over the next few years.

We are looking at using the composer and artist studies as part of our elective courses in the next year. They offer quotes from the artist, a biography, and full-color prints to begin a study of their work. Some of the artists available include a few favorites of mine like Claude Monet (I have a few prints of his in my kitchen) and Vincent Van Gogh. I think it would be pretty easy to use these particular books as part of a unit study on the artists that you could flesh out with books from the library and other materials. And I am definitely going to use the holiday copywork when Christmas rolls around.

With a lifetime membership, and the fact that new items continue to be added, I think this a fabulous resource. If you are schooling multiple children, it also gives you on opportunity to do something with all of the kids from early elementary ages to high school. The pages are gorgeous and could easily become keepsakes you will treasure. To learn more, connect with Homeschool Copywork on social media here:

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Homeschool Copywork Review

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TOS Review: Logic Of English

Logic of English ReviewLanguage Arts. Spelling, vocab, grammar etc. For my youngest and I, it is our biggest challenge. Needless to say, I am always on the lookout for something that will “click” for him. He was a late reader, and while he’s caught up in that department, his spelling and writing still cause us both a headache. That’s why I thought it would be a great idea to try Essentials 2nd Edition from Logic of English for this review. While the phonics-based program is aimed at grades 2-6, it’s a great choice for struggling learners ages 8 and up and it teaches spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.

Logic of English ReviewFirst, you need to know that this program includes a LOT of components. There are multiple sets of flashcards, a teacher’s book , workbook, and spelling journal. It also took me a little bit to get the routine down and work it out to find a system that worked for us. However, if you take it one step at a time, and refuse to be overwhelmed when you open the box, I think you will find it’s totally worth it. The hardback teacher’s book literally has a script that walks you through each lesson, so you don’t even have to worry about what to say. There are cues about when to use the flashcards too, so once you figure out what everything is, the program itself actually runs very smoothly.

The schedule is set up so that each lesson takes only four days per week. In the beginning, it did take us about 30-40 minutes to work through a lesson, but by about the third week I would say lessons averaged around 20 minutes. Spelling lists are set up at three levels and assignments in the teachers book and workbook correspond to these levels. There is a pre-test that helps you determine where to place your child.

Now, as the parent of an older child using this program, we did tweak a little bit. Essentials starts with teaching individual phonemes, expecting that students have very little experience in that area. Being that my son is older (8th/9th grade) he is familiar with phonics, so we kind of breezed through these very quickly. HOWEVER, I did notice that when we got to the more complex phonemes there were still some sound patterns he was not familiar with (like I said, reading was a struggle for a long time), In that case, we went ahead and did the entire phoneme lesson, because you will find that that these do tie into the spelling.

I really liked how Essentials broke the different sound patterns into visual cues, so that letters that had multiple sounds had a cue you could use to signal the student when they were trying to figure out how to spell them. I think this is something that will help my son for years to come. I also liked the differentiated levels of lessons in the workbooks. There are pages for use with all three levels of students, so I think this is a program you could realistically use with kids at different levels and maybe just get more than one workbook or something to make it work. My son liked the fact that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of writing for each day!

I also liked the fact that dictation was a regular part of the study, because I think that really helps with so many different part of kid’s writing and spelling training, but honestly, it’s not something I just do by myself. It was nice to have it included as part of the regular program.

I also liked the games you got to play with the flash cards and the vocabulary instruction, in particular, really stood out. It reminded me of the way I used to teach vocab in my classroom. Instead of just learning a list of random vocabulary words, kids learn the definitions of actual word parts, which I think is so much more useful! If they know that the prefix “con-” means “with, together, completely”, then they can use that knowledge to help them define a word every time they see that prefix! It’s a much more long-lasting and beneficial way to learn word meanings!

On the whole, I thought Essentials was a really solid language arts program! A complete set costs $198 dollars, but you can also add/purchase pieces and parts based on what you need. To learn more, connect with Logic of English on social media here:

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Logic of English Review

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TOS Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing

IEW Phonetic Zoo Spelling! For my youngest boy (14) it is his nemesis. Math is no problem, even the upper level stuff. And while he does not enjoy reading, he’s good at it. But spelling (along with writing, grammar, and other language arts related subjects) has always been a struggle. So, when I saw a chance to review the Phonetic Zoo Level B [Starter Set] from Institute for Excellence in Writing, I figured we would give it a shot. We have tried writing programs from IEW before and we enjoyed those, so I wanted to see what their spelling program was like.

 IEW Phonetic Zoo This program is designed for grades 3 and up, and is vastly different from any spelling program we have used before. It consists of several parts, 5 audio CDs, lesson cards, personal spelling cards, and Zoo cards. You also get a downloadable teacher’s guide and a link to a streaming video that is a copy of the Spelling and the Brain video seminar featuring Mr. Pudewa.

As with other programs from IEW that we have used in the past, Phonetic Zoo seems a little complicated at first, but it really is pretty simple once you get started. You do need to have a CD player and a set of headphones, but other than that, you are good to go from day one. I would definitely recommend giving the teacher’s guide a read before you start, and listening to the seminar at your leisure. It takes a little while, so I broke that into two parts, and I would say it is not absolutely necessary for you to listen to the whole thing before you get started on the program.

Basically, the routine is the same every day. You and your child go over the lesson card together. Lesson cards are the big yellowish cards that contain the jingle, and all three word lists for that lesson. On the front of the card are images of animals whose names represent the spelling rule in some way (like a “caiman” for the “ai” rule) The jingle is the important part that introduces the phonetic concept for that lesson. Now, rather than follow a typical “learn the rule-practice the rule over and over method”, in Phonetic Zoo, kids learn the jingle and go over the word list with you (or by themselves if your child is older). Then they put on their headphones and listen to the correct track on the CD (each lesson has its own track and all of them are numbered, making them super easy to find, which is awesome!)

On each track, students are given a spelling test for the words from that lesson. They follow along with the test, writing each word down. While they take the test, the jingle is repeated to remind them of the word, and they get to keep the Zoo Card with them while they complete the test. The Zoo card is a small white card that has the jingle for the lesson on the back and an image on the front of the animal that is tied to the jingle which should serve as a visual reminder for the spelling rule. The test itself is given at a steady rate of speed, with a sentence for each word. Narration alters between Mr. Pudewa’s voice and another person. The rate of the words is important for a child like my son, because he gets frustrated if things move too fast, and often will give up if he gets behind.

After completing the test, the next track offers letter-by-letter corrections for each word. Students are supposed to follow along and make their own corrections to their test. Parents can choose to allow students to do this however they want. My son chose to put a check next to each correct word. Then, after he finished, I went back and looked at his test, and wrote the correct spellings next to the words he missed and we went over them together.

When a child gets the words 100 percent correct two times in a row, they move onto the next lesson. On their personal spelling list they keep track of words they frequently misspell on their own to use for individual study every five lessons. All in all, level B contains 47 lessons and a final exam. Students will progress through the program at their own rate, with some lessons taking longer than others.

I really like this program for several reasons, one of which is the fact that it is built on phonetic principals and it utilizes the auditory and visual senses to learn. For my son, this combination seems to work really well. We have tried the traditional approach to spelling where my son wrote his words day after day, and while he might have done well on a test at the end of the week, I never saw any real transfer to his writing. It seemed like once the test was over, he just forgot what he learned, which was frustrating for both of us! So far, Phonetic Zoo seems to really be helping him internalize the actual rules, and remember the combination of the sounds and the letters.

We are currently on about lesson 8 (like I said, spelling is a struggle and he got hung up on a couple of lessons) but it’s going well because the way the program is set up keeps my boy from getting frustrated while he works. The daily work itself takes less than 10 minutes, which is great for a boy who doesn’t enjoy this subject, and minimizes arguing. So, I give Phonetic Zoo two thumbs up! The starter set costs $99.00 and you can learn more on IEW’s social media here:
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IEW Review

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TOS Review: CursiveLogic

Handwriting. Aside from math it has to be one of my least favorite things to teach. Especially with my youngest. He tries. He tries really hard. But its just so difficult for him. Print has been excruciating, so I figured maybe we would move onto cursive. For this review, we got to check out the CursiveLogic Workbook from CursiveLogic.

CursiveLogic differs from other handwriting programs in its organization. Students learn letters based on their shapes. In cursive, four basic shapes are the blocks for the whole alphabet. By grouping similar letters together, the program makes it easier to understand the process. I found that this worked well for my son, and it made a lot of sense to me. Rather than learn letters in alphabetical order (which really seems pretty arbitrary when you think about it), you practice making the same shape with similar letters, allowing you to really master the movement. It makes sense.

Another thing that made a lot of sense to me about CursiveLogic is the way they get students started stringing letters together from the very beginning. I remember learning cursive letters in isolation with all those “tails” on the end. And then only learning to connect the tails to form words with other letters later. The problem was, it made my writing very clunky as I almost went back to relearning how to make the letters to begin with! With CursiveLogic, students string letters together from the very first lesson.

The program also uses specific colors for certain shapes, making it easy for kids to immediately recognize the shape and make the connection with the movement in their minds. By the end of the workbook, my son was moving through the lessons in no time. He was really proud of himself by the time he could write his name smoothly and evenly! There is also an easy verbal chant students repeat as they do the movement associated with each letter. I think the combination of verbalizing, using colors, and moving their hands targets all the different modalities, fully engaging kids, helping them to really internalize what they are learning.

The workbook itself is well laid out and easy to use, and the method is very easy to understand once you get started. We broke the lessons into a certain number of pages per day, and I would go over the lesson with my son and then just observe him as he worked. I think how you break it up really depends on the age of your child and how they do with handwriting. My son, although he is older, is easily frustrated, so we took it slow, doing a few pages a day. But because I feel this program is very effective, I don’t have a problem taking longer to go through it. The workbook costs $29.00.

To learn more about this program, connect with CursiveLogic on social media here:
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CursiveLogic Review

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