TOS Review: Memoria Press

Memoria Press Literature Guides ReviewI believe literature study is a very important part of any homeschool. Through reading really good books our kids learn so much about vocabulary, spelling, writing, and more. I love reading the classics with my children, but I’ll admit, while I enjoy them, they can be difficult for my boys to digest. So, I am always on the lookout for study guides and other aides that make them a little easier for them to understand. For this review, we got to check out the Ninth Grade Literature Guide Set from Memoria Press. It contains four student and teacher guides for the books The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf, and Henry V.

Memoria Press Literature Guides ReviewWe decided to dive into the story of Sir Gawain, because my son loves the stories of King Arthur. Now, the study guide goes with a classic translation of the book, which, for my son, is a little difficult to understand. So, I decided to check out two books from the library. One was a classic translation of the original, and another was a more modern translation. We read the classic translation together, because some of the questions in the study guide referred to specific lines and verses in the poem. However, I allowed him to read the more modern translation on his own because I felt it would help him to understand the story better.

 

The study guides are built around the classical idea of the Trivium, with questions aimed at the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. There is a basic introduction as well as information about how to mark a book as you are reading. Since we got our books at the library I had my son take notes as he read. There is also an intro to each book where you get info about each book, how it is set up, and the major characters. The teachers guide includes a full replication of all student pages with complete answers which is really, really helpful.

For Sir Gawain, the study guide started with some basic vocabulary, which was really helpful since the story is written in old English. I had to help my son with some of these words because they were so unfamiliar. From there, we read the first section (Fit) of the book and answered some basic comprehension questions. After reading the classic version with me, and the modern version on his own, my son was able to answer most of these without help.

From there, the study guide moved into Logic (dialectic) and Expression (rhetoric) questions. These challenged students to think a little deeper about the story, and encouraged conversation, because many of the questions were open-ended. As a parent, you could decide whether you wanted your child to answer all of these questions, or just do one section. We mainly focused on the Dialectic questions as far as written work, but I chose some of the Rhetoric questions to discuss orally. I also think if you wanted to do some essay type assignments, you could use the Rhetoric part for that.

I believe the next study we will move onto is Beowulf, as it seems to fall in kind of the same line as Sir Gawain. On the whole, all of the study guides in the Ninth Grade set cover classic English literature with a sense of adventure. They follow the game general pattern with an introduction and different levels of activities for the various levels. After completing all four study guides students will have a very thorough understanding of British Literature. I think this set is really good for boys in particular, because if you can get past the language, the stories themselves are really exciting. Also, a few of the stories have modern movie adaptations you can watch when you finish the books!

I like the fact that these study guides are challenging, because I think high school students should be challenged. The key here is to find a balance. I would encourage you to find both a classic and modern adaptation for each book so your child can get a whole picture of the story. The study guides themselves cost less than $100 and you can find the books at the library, so I feel like this is a really good deal! To find our more, connect with Memoria Press on social media here:

Memoria Press on Facebook

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Memoria Press Literature Guides Review

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TOS Review: Progeny Press

Progeny Press Review Reading good literature has so many benefits for kids, and I incorporate it regularly into our homeschool curriculum. While I love to discuss the books my kids read with them, I also like to have them answer questions about them and do some writing activities related to the book (I can’t help it, it’s the English teacher in me!). While I can certainly come up with these types of activities myself, that takes time, and it’s much more convenient if I don’t have to do it. So, I was more than willing to review the To Kill a Mockingbird study guide from Progeny Press. The guide is an interactive downloadable study guide aimed at high school students.

Progeny Press Review

I was really excited to get this particular guide as I remember loving this book in high school. In fact, I am friends with my A.P. English teacher on Facebook, and we chat regularly about books in general, and I was recalling the work we did on Mockingbird in class with her recently. I used this guide with my oldest son (12th grade), as the content of the book is more suited to an older student (in my opinion).

The guide begins with a brief synopsis of the book, information about the author, Harper Lee, and background information about the history of slavery in America and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. It then moves into some suggested pre-reading activities. I let my son choose which of the activities he wanted to complete, and he decided to research specific amendments to the Constitution. The information he learned came in handy as he read the rest of the book. You could certainly do more than one of the pre-reading activities, in fact, I think I might spend a week or more with my younger son in preparation for the book and actually do two or three of them before he reads the book.

From there, my son set a pace for his own reading, and moved into the chapter activities. Each section of the study guide includes vocabulary activities and questions related to the story. Some of the vocabulary ask students to read the word in context and type in their own definition, then type in the dictionary definition, while others are matching type activities. Questions include basic recall and more in-depth response style questions. Some questions ask students to refer to specific Bible passages and apply them to parts of the story.

In addition to these activities, the study guide also addresses topics like synonyms, similes, metaphors, irony, foils, and other literary devices. At the end of the guide, the students get into an in-depth study of the characters and theme, before choosing from ten possible essay topics.

One of the things my son really liked about this study is that he could do it all on the computer. Being able to type all of his answers in made it really easy for him. I would love it if the guide included automatic grading, but since many of the answers are subjective, that would be impossible. However, the included answer key makes it really easy for parents to check their child’s work quickly. I found the vocabulary and questions to be very thorough, and I loved the upper-level thinking they encouraged. The amount of time this study takes really depends on how fast your child reads, we spread this particular book over a six week time period. I was very satisfied with this study guide.

The To Kill a Mockingbird e-Guide costs $21.99. To learn more, connect with Progeny Press on social media here:
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TOS Review: Purposeful Design

Purposeful Design Review

Good creation resources are a benefit to any homeschool. I am always on the lookout resources that will attract my kids attention and explain things in a way they understand. For this review, we got to check out the book Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation from author Jay Schabacker at Purposeful Design.

This book is suitable for all ages and features seven chapters, each one devoted to a particular day of creation. With over 90 pages, it is chock full of information, plenty to start a unit study if you wanted. What struck me first about the book is the beautiful photographs that accompany the text. From landscapes, to people, to animals, Schabacker brings you the world in vivid color. The book provides easy to understand explanations for scientific topics like the water cycle and the seasons, which make this a perfect resource for moms with littles. However, it also provides a great jumping off point for further study for older children, making it great for use with multiple ages.

Purposeful Design Review

Bible verses are spread out throughout the book and provide an excellent source of memory work. I appreciated how Purposeful Design makes it clear how exact our world is and how radically different it would be if just one thing were out of place. For example, one section talked about how Earth is perfectly tilted on its axis, and discusses the consequences if that tilt were off by even a little bit. To me, that just reaffirms that our world was deliberately created.

In addition to the book, parents can download a free curriculum to go with it at the Purposeful Design website. The PDF file contains questions for each chapter, additional verses to memorize and think about, as well as discussion questions you can use to further make the connection between creation and God. For younger kids, you could do a lot of this orally, but for older children, you could easily print it out and use it as a review for each chapter. I felt like the curriculum was a great addition to the book, especially if you wanted to use it as a starting point for a unit study. When combined with other books about the stars, planets, plants, etc. and maybe a couple of episodes of The Magic School Bus or documentaries, you could definitely create something to last for at least a semester.

Of course, this is also an excellent choice to simply add to your bookshelf. Use it as a read aloud, or put it in your book basket for your kids to explore on their own. It is full of factual information which makes it a great reference. You could also use it to supplement other curriculum you are using if you are studying topics like astronomy, earth science, or life science.

In 2013 Purposeful Design won the Illumination Book Awards bronze medal, and in 2014 it was awarded a bronze medal in the Coffee Table category by the Catholic Press Association. I think it definitely deserves those awards, and is well worth the price of $18.95.

To learn more about Purposeful Design connect with the author here:

Purposeful Design Blog

Jay Schabacker on Facebook

Jay Schabacker on Twitter

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TOS Review: Heirloom Audio Productions

Ahoy there Maties! Ever since Pirates of the Caribbean came out when he was just two years old, my youngest boy has had a thing for pirates! Seriously, he dressed up like a pirate for Halloween and then refused to take the costume off. Also, he still dresses up in September to get free Donuts for Dress like a Pirate day at Krispy Kreme. 🙂 My youngest also really likes audio books, so when I got a chance to check out an audio book from Heirloom Audio Productions, I jumped at the chance!

Analytical Grammar Review

And of course, when he found out it was going to be a pirate story, my son was on board too! Under Drake’s Flag is a recording of the book written by GA Henty. Known for writing exciting historical adventure stories in the early 19th century, Henty’s books told tales of courage and daring, with a Christian perspective.

The story in Under Drake’s Flag focuses on teenage boys Ned and Gerald, and their high-seas journey under Sir Francis Drake. As they travel, they face the perils of life at sea, including storms and shipwrecks, and encounter numerous new people and cultures as they visit new lands (some are friendly, some are not so much!) Along the way, the boys begin to grow into men, and into their faith in the Lord.

We listened to this recording on our trip down to the Keys to visit some friends over the summer. First, let me tell you the cast is absolutely phenomenal! Really, they add so much excitement to the storytelling, it’s like you can just picture every scene in your head. The high-quality sound effects also make you feel like you are right there on the ship! In total, the story goes on for about two hours. However, it is neatly divided into sections, with each one being timed, so if you needed to stop and restart the story later, it would be easy to do so.

As if the incredible story wasn’t enough, Under Drake’s Flag also includes quite a bit of history. Aside from learning about the Sir Francis Drake (a major character), part of the story also relates to the Spanish Inquisition. This makes it ideal for a homeschool setting, and I could easily see someone using it as a basis for a unit study. The 2-CD set also comes with a inset study guide that includes some background information and some questions for discussion on each section of the story. I found this very convenient for use in the car. They also have a PDF download of a study that goes more in depth and includes Biblical and historical references.

Under Drake’s Flag is aimed at ages six and up, although it may be slightly intense for very young children. In our case, I knew my youngest son (in 8th grade) would love it, but I wasn’t so sure about how my older son (11th grade) and my hubby were going to feel about it! I needn’t have worried. My husband got into the story right away, and even though my oldest started off the trip with his headphones in his ears, by the time we stopped for our first bathroom break, he was totally engrossed in the story as well. Of course, since we got back my youngest has taken the CDs into his room and I often hear him listening to the story when he is playing with his Legos! (and now he is asking me if there are any more stories just like it!)

So, would I recommend Under Drake’s Flag to someone else? Definitely! Especially if you have children who love an adventure. We just listened to the story mainly for fun, but it also has tremendous potential for school as well. I feel like the price of $29.99 is pretty reasonable, and you can get a digital download version for $20.00.

To learn more about Heirloom Audio Productions, connect with them on social media:

Under Drake’s Flag on Facebook

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TOS Review: Moving Beyond the Page

Moving Beyond the Page ReviewI love teaching with real literature. And I especially love introducing my boys to some of my childhood favorites. So, when we got a chance to review a literature and social studies unit from Moving Beyond the Page, I jumped at the chance. We have used their products once before, and loved them. For this review, we got check out the Language Arts Package–Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and the Social Studies Package–History of Your State.

 

Moving Beyond the Page

 

One of the things I love about Moving Beyond the Page is how easy it is to customize their programs to your child’s needs. All of their individual units are organized by age. For example, my 7th/8th (who is 12 years old) grade boy is not a big reader, so I was able to go a little below his age range for our literature, (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is for ages 8-10), but I stayed right in his range for the Social Studies (History of Your State is for ages 12-14). This makes it easy to create a custom complete curriculum for your child by just adding one of their science units and then finding a math program.

Now, the literature unit is online, and I have to say, I really wish I had a hard copy. That’s really just a “me” thing, because the online unit is very easy to navigate and use, but I prefer to hold the guide in my hands!! Anyway, we accessed our unit by logging in on the website and basically, you can go to the index page and receive easy access to student activity pages that include activities like plot flowcharts and chapter outlines as well as grammar lessons. The pages are easy to print out and use. In addition, there are chapter questions and a convenient How-to page that gives you a general outline for how to use the program, with a suggestion for a daily schedule.

The lessons for each chapter begin with an introduction with some discussion suggestions for the parent and child, and then moves into having the reading assignment for the child for the day, followed by activities and a conclusion. For us, this meant starting and ending the lesson together with my son doing the reading on his own. If there were chapter questions (some of them cover multiple chapters) I printed those out and had him do them after.

Now, one of the things I love most about these units is their culminating activity. Moving Beyond the Page does a really good job of giving kids a choice of activities to appeal to different learning styles. For this book, the activities were to write another chapter for the story, focusing on what happened to the rats after the move, or to build a “float” for a parade based on the book. When I was teaching, I always offered my students a choice of activities for book reports because I liked to let them use their own strengths to show what they learned. In building a float, or writing a chapter, kids get to tap into their creative sides!

For the social studies unit, I allowed my son to pick the topic, and he really wanted to learn about Florida. The History of Your State unit came with a DVD of the history channel series America The Story of Us, and the book We Were There Too!: Young People in US History.

History of Your State

 

The guide consists of eight sections that focus on topics like: Flora and Fauna, Native Populations, State Leaders and more. Each lesson gives you a suggested amount of time you should spend on it. Lessons are a mix of research and activities, with some lessons directing you to specific websites to gather information. I felt like the unit had a good balance of writing and creative activities with my son answering questions, drawing maps, and making journals. I have to say that my son really learned a LOT (and so did I!) from this unit, and on top of that, he had a LOT of fun doing it!

Just like before, I can honestly tell you I would firmly recommend Moving Beyond the Page for any homeschooler. They have a HUGE range of choices, and their units are fun, economical, and easy to use. The online package for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM costs $19.92, while the hard copy package for History of Your State costs $75.72 (remember it comes with the guide, the book, and the DVD). I think both prices are very reasonable.

To learn more about Moving Beyond the Page, check them out on social media here:
Moving Beyond the Page on Facebook

 

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One Minute Reader

One Minute Reader is a product created by Read Naturally, a company founded by a former special education teacher and her husband. They provide different, structured intervention programs aimed at helping children succeed at reading. Their programs develop and support the five essential components of reading , with the One Minute Reader being primarily focused on building reading fluency.

Reading fluency is the ability to read without having to stop and decode each word. A fluent reader will be able to read without pausing every couple of words to figure out what the next word says. Fluency is important, because if a child can read fluently, they can spend less time thinking about what each word says, and more time focusing on what the passage they are reading is about (comprehension). As a former teacher of struggling readers myself, I can tell you that students who were able to read fluently were typically stronger readers than those who could not AND they usually enjoyed reading more. Think about it, how much fun is it to read when it takes a significant amount of time just to sound out each word?

The Read Naturally approach combines elements of teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring to improve reading efficiency. The One Minute Reader does this by having students repeatedly read the same passage over a period of time, both out loud by themselves, then out loud with an audio CD, and finally, out loud to an adult, while keeping track of their reading rate at the same time!

The One Minute Reader starter pack came with a book, a timer, an audio CD and a colored pencil for keeping track of the score. A few of the things I really like about this program are that it doesn’t take a long period of time (my son spent just a few minutes on it each day) and it really is something your older child can do on their own! One Minute Reader includes six different levels, and there are sample stories you can use to determine which level will be best for your child. My son, who has grown tremendously in his reading ability in the past year yet still struggles with fluency, used Level 3 (the purple book).

Now, my son is not a HUGE fan of reading, so ANY extra reading we have to do is pretty much always met with groans! However, when we got this package, he thought the timer was cool, and liked that this was something short that he could do on his own (there are very easy to understand instructions printed on the first page of the book). Plus, the passages in the books are also short (around 200 words or so at this level) and very high interest. This is important because many kids who struggle with reading need a story they will LIKE if they are going to read it willingly. The book I received had stories about a fire, the dust bowl, and Titanic’s sister ship!

On the first day, he read the story by himself and took his “cold” score. This is the number of words he read, minus the number of words he missed, and he recorded it on a graph at the back of the book. The next day he read the story with the CD and again recorded his score, and, yes, he did better. The day after that he read it a few more times himself, then read it with me, and we recorded his “hot” score in red on his graph. After the three days, his score went up by about 70 words!! The book also includes a short quiz students take when they are done, to help build comprehension, and a puzzle they complete as they work through the book. There is also a glossary at the end of the book to explain any unfamiliar words or expressions.

Now, for the important question, did this practice spill over into my son’s every day reading? Because, of course, if it doesn’t then what good is it? Well, I can tell you that I have seen improvement in my son’s day-to-day reading as well. As he becomes more confident, he stumbles less and is now reading entire paragraphs without having to decode. In my classroom, I saw similar improvement with students who used programs like One Minute Reader as well.

This program has won numerous awards, including the Mom’s Choice Award, and the iParenting Media Award. One Minute Reader even has a website where you can get more information about how the program works, see videos, and find out about their risk-free 30 day trial offer!

One Minute Reader starter packs cost $24.95. A “bundle”, which would include the timer, the colored pencil, and 8 books with audio CD’s costs $99.95, and you can buy individual books with CD’s for $12.95.

I really like this program, and I think the cost is reasonable for what you get, but I have to say, I don’t have an extra $100.00 in my budget for this. I would, however, consider getting a few of the individual books to use with my son. If you bought a few at a time, it wouldn’t be too much of an expense. You can check out One Minute Reader and more Read Naturally products at the company website here:
http://www.readnaturally.com/index.htm

Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom is an online program designed to teach children ages 4-10 to read and write to a third-grade level.  The program was created by Dr. Marion Blank, author of The Reading Remedy and the Phonics Plus Five Reading Program. Reading Kingdom actually follows the Phonics plus five approach, addressing the “6 skills needed for reading and writing success”.

The idea behind this approach is that phonics by itself is not enough to teach a child to read, largely because there are so many “rules” and often, the rules can change from word to word, which can be very confusing for someone who is just learning how to read. The Reading Kingdom website has a great PDF detailing how this program is different from other reading programs, and I would definitely suggest looking it over if you want to know more:

http://www.readingkingdom.com/How_is_Reading_Kingdom_different_from_other_reading_systems.pdf

I have to admit, as a reading teacher, I’ve never been completely sold on a “whole-language” approach to reading. However, I have a 4th grade son who still struggles in this area, and phonics alone has not be enough for him, so I really wanted to give this a try.

We started with the skills survey, which took my son about two sessions to complete (he probably could have done it in one, but reading frustrates him, so I try to keep lessons short and sweet). This survey helps to customize the Reading Kingdom program to your child’s unique ability. After completing the survey, your child is placed at the appropriate level to begin the program. The first level is sequencing, but my son actually began at the next level up, Letter Land.

At this level, children practice finding letters on the keyboard, and also practice typing both upper and lowercase letters. This skill is important for the rest of the program, as children will be expected to type, as well as click on, answers.

We spent about two weeks in Letter Land, and from what I understand, the time spent at each level really depends on the child. In general, sessions are designed to be about 15-30 minutes, which was good for us, because with that amount of time on the computer, plus an additional 30 minutes reading with me later, it gave my son about an hour of reading practice daily.Since it was broken up into smaller “sessions” it was easier for him to handle and less frustrating for the both of us! 🙂

While your child is going through the program (and by the way, the “host” of the program is an Owl, which my son loved :)), you can keep track of how they are doing by clicking on the section they are on from the menu, and scrolling to the bottom of the page. Here you will see a graphic detailing their progress:

This made it easy for me to keep track of how he was doing. I tried to spend as much time as possible in the room while he was working, but I found it difficult not to jump in and “help” when he was working on a question, so now I try to listen from outside the room where it’s not so tempting to answer questions for him!! The instructions are very clear that parents are NOT supposed to help their child answer questions, because this makes it harder to truly customize the program to the child’s level. After completing Letter Land, there is another skills survey and then your child will move onto the reading levels.

We have most recently moved on to Reading Level 1, and so far, it is going well. The program can be repetitive, which my son finds boring once and while, however, he enjoys the computer animation and since the sessions are short, it doesn’t bother him too much. So far, he’s had practice reading and spelling basic words (i.e. boys, kids, pet, some etc). Usually he will be shown a picture, and will be given a verbal prompt to click on or spell a word. Other times, he will be given a word and have to fill in missing letters.

At first, my son didn’t pay close attention to the letters (much like he doesn’t in his reading) but after missing quite a few questions, he has learned to look at ALL the letters in the word before answering. This is important for his reading, because my son often makes the mistake of looking at the first few letters and then just saying a word, which is often incorrect (example: misreads “these” for “then” or “there”). I have frequently tried to get him to slow down when we are reading together, and have even made him point to a word letter by letter to really make him look at it, but that usually ends with both of us being angry. I can say that after using Reading Kingdom for a while, I am noticing that during his oral reading, he is paying more attention to the words, which is a big improvement!!

We are hoping to move through Reading Level 1 soon, and then go on to Level 2, and I will likely update this post once we complete the full program. For now, I will say that it is going well and seems to be working. Reading still may not be my son’s favorite part of the day, but this program doesn’t reduce him to tears, and I feel like he is getting some valuable practice out of it. For a parent with a struggling reader who hates to read but still needs to practice, I would recommend Reading Kingdom.

The website offers a free 30-day trial, which you can use to check out the program. After that, a subscription will cost $19.99/month (with no monthly minimum) or $199.99/year. They do offer a scholarship program for families in need, and you can get that info on the website too. Check it out here:

http://readingkingdom.com/index.php

****Note: I was given free access to this program as a member of the TOS Crew for the purpose of writing this review. The opinions represented are my own. ****