Apr 262013

I’m working on planning next year’s curriculum.

Confession time, I’m almost ALWAYS planning next year’s curriculum. Maybe I should spend more time focusing on THIS year’s?

David is in high school now. I worried and fretted about it for years ahead of time. But actually, it’s been a pretty good year.

Maybe I shouldn’t have worried? Or maybe the worry helped?

I love the freedom of homeschooling. I love being able to select curricula for all of my children and their own unique needs. And while I love the general concept of delight-directed learning, there are certain subjects that we have to teach whether my kids like them or not.

David is a math, science, and computer kid. He really is not into history, social studies, or literature at all. But he still has to study them. On deck for next year is Economics and Civics. I’ve done some searching and I’m not finding a lot that is likely to interest David. (i.e. I think he would hate everything I’ve looked at.)

But “lucky” for me (and David), I discovered Compass Classroom. First, David tried Visual Latin. It started out as a review, but he ended up liking it so much that we switched over to it for Latin II this year! Then in the fall, I enrolled him in Filmmaking from the First Directors. That has been an incredible class for him. It is excellent. (But a lot of work!!!)

Needless to say, when I got the chance to review another of their products, Economics for Everyone, I jumped at the chance. I have not been disappointed.

Economics for Everyone consists of 12 video lessons and a pdf study guide. The lessons are taught by R.C. Sproul, Jr. and just like everything else from Compass Classroom, they are engaging and fun. These are not videos of R.C. Sproul standing in a classroom, but instead include fun video clips from a wide variety of old movies.

Economics for Everybody | Trailer from Compass Cinema on Vimeo.


See what I mean? These lessons bring an often “boring” subject to life with simple explanations and excellent illustrations of economic concepts.

I don’t actually think economics is boring. I even minored in it in college. 

Things to mention:

EconomicsThis course is titled Economics for Everybody, but it is from an unapologetically Christian perspective. The whole foundation of the study is on man’s place in this world and how he was put here by God. I think the “everybody” is referring to the fact that R.C. Sproul, Jr. explains everything so well that “everybody” can understand.

I would not consider this course alone to be sufficient for 1/2 high school credit. However, neither do the publishers and they have included a generous list of additional resources and even suggested texts to accompany the study.

Disclosure: The links to Compass Classroom products are affiliate links. I received a free copy of Economics for Everybody in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this post. Opinions expressed are my own.

Sep 062012

I remember when all my friends started getting into the scrapbooking craze. I was recently married and working full-time. I loved seeing their creations, but I feared that once I started, I would never get a photo into an album again. I also didn’t like having to buy so much to get started, not to mention the amount of space necessary to store all the materials. So even though scrapbooking appealed to me in some ways, I avoided ever starting the hobby.

Several years ago I started hearing about digital scrapbooking. I have pretty decent computer skills so I was intrigued. I tried using some generic print software to make scrapbook pages, but was never very successful making anything that I thought looked good. Part of the problem was that the generic program didn’t have all the elements of a “real” scrapbook. Plus using a generic program requires more skill and talent in designing than I possess.

I was recently given My Memories Suite Digital Scrapbooking software to review. Wow, what a difference! My Memories Suite comes with TONS of pre-loaded scrapbooking templates. It also has many different styles of paper, embellishments, word art, shapes, and much more included. You can make a scrapbook page in seconds (literally) if you choose a pre-made template and just add pictures. Or you can let your own creative juices flow, and design your own.

I found the software to be fairly straightforward and easy to use. It’s easy to insert elements and move them around. They only thing I’ve tried but haven’t figured out yet, is how to use the pictures from iPhoto. (I should mention that My Memories is available for both PC and Mac which is great since I’m a newly converted Mac user.)

Here’s my very first page.

I love the fact that you can sit down and work on your scrapbook without making a mess. Plus you don’t have to store all the scrapbooking supplies. They’re all there on the hard drive. With My Memories you can save and share your scrapbooks in a variety of ways. You can have your pages printed professionally, or you can print them yourself. You can share them on the web, burn them to a CD, or even put them on your iPod! You can even add hyperlinks, video, music, and narration to your albums! The possibilities are endless.

Which really is the only downside to My Memories Suite. There are so many options, it’s hard to decide. In addition to all the stuff that comes pre-loaded with the software, there are also great templates and pages available at www.MyMemories.com.

I mentioned my lack of design talent earlier (Please do keep that in mind and don’t judge the software by my very beginning results!). One of the things that I am finding helpful are the speed scraps. Every week, My Memories posts a speed scrap challenge on their Facebook page. They post very simple guidelines and step-by-step  instructions for making a quick page. These are very simple like:

  1. Pick 2 types of paper. Make 1 a background.
  2. Add 1 picture to your page.
  3. Mat picture with second paper.
  4. Add 4 embellishments.

I made that one up, but you get the idea. I find them really helpful because it keeps me moving along and not getting so overwhelmed with all the possibilities. Plus it really helps to see other people’s creations!

Here’s my first speed scrap page.
I think the result is much nicer! I’ve definitely got lots of room for improvement though.


Do you scrapbook? Have you wanted to try digital scrapbooking? Now is your chance!


I have one extra copy of My Memories Suite to give away! Follow the instructions below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Feb 102012

When I hinted to my husband almost 2 years ago that I wanted an iPod Touch, I just thought they looked neat. I had some on-line friends who had them, and they said they were useful for school and reading e-books. So I kind of mentioned how educational they were. I really didn’t think he was going to buy me one, so I was shocked to receive it for Mother’s Day (and our anniversary) in 2010.

I had no idea how much I was going to use it! But I am even more surprised at how much my 5 year old daughter uses it. There are so many great educational game and book apps for young children. I recently received a new one that has quickly become her new favorite.

The Foot Book  app from Oceanhouse Media is the classic Dr. Seuss book turned into an app for the iPod, iPhone, or iPad. (It is also available for Android, Amazon, and Nook.) It has the complete text and illustrations with several options. The child can have app read the book aloud. In this mode, the book is read aloud and the words are highlighted as they are read. He can tap the pictures along the way for some fun extras. The child is in control of turning the pages in this mode.The second mode is Read it Myself. This mode has no sound and is great practice for the beginning reader. Finally, there is the auto play mode. This is like the read-aloud mode except that the pages automatically advance. This might come in handy for younger children who might have trouble making the pages go forward or might accidentally cancel the reading to go back to the menu. (Though honestly, I am constantly amazed at how easily children can understand how to operate apps on a touch screen. I have had to show my daughter very little.)

This app is very well done and is a big hit here! Visit Oceanhouse Media to see their collection of Dr. Seuss books, as well as hundreds of other apps for children.

Disclosure: I received this app free in exchange for my review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Oct 282011

The world is on the brink of disaster and the clock is ticking. Iran has just conducted its first atomic weapons test. Millions of Muslims around the world are convinced their messiah—known as “the Twelfth Imam”—has just arrived on earth. Israeli leaders fear Tehran, under the Twelfth Imam’s spell, will soon launch a nuclear attack that could bring about a second holocaust and the annihilation of Israel. The White House fears Jerusalem will strike first, launching a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities that could cause the entire Middle East to go up in flames, oil prices to skyrocket, and the global economy to collapse. With the stakes high and few viable options left, the president of the United States orders CIA operative David Shirazi and his team to track down and sabotage Iran’s nuclear warheads before Iran or Israel can launch a devastating first strike.

Last Christmas I received a copy of The Twelfth Imam. I was admittedly skeptical at first. It’s quite a long book, and although I am interested in prophecy, I think that the End-times Christian fiction genre is a bit overdone. But it was a gift, so I started reading it. It didn’t really hook me until after I had completed the first 50 pages or more. But after that, the book suddenly didn’t seem so long.

I knew it was the first of a trilogy, so I wasn’t too surprised when the ending was left wide open. But I knew I’d have to read the next book, and I jumped at the chance to review The Tehran Initiative. It picks up right where the first book left off and is even more action-packed and fast-paced. The “good guys” are likable, well-developed characters. The book, while most definitely fiction, contains great information about Islam and the Islamic view of the end-times. Reading fiction like this should give the reader a desire to learn more about the issues from other sources, and The Tehran Initiative has definitely sparked my interest in Middle Eastern affairs.

Below is a link to a brief video by the author, Joel C. Rosenberg. Following that is a more in-depth interview.

I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own. Post contains an affiliate link.


An interview with Joel C. Rosenbergauthor of The Tehran Initiative

1) This is the second book with CIA operative David Shirazi. Where does the story pick up from your previous bestseller The Twelfth Imam?

A: The Tehran Initiative begins about sixty seconds after The Twelfth Imam leaves off. I’ve tried to create a near seamless connection between the two. And there’s another book coming, The Damascus Countdown.

2) You started writing The Tehran Initiative when the Arab Spring began earlier this year. Did events impact your writing or the storyline?

A: Actually, I was well into writing The Tehran Initiative when the “Arab Spring” began and it was a little eerie because the novel opens with the assassination of the President Egypt and Egypt descending into chaos after the leader’s fall. Fortunately, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wasn’t killed, but he certainly fell quickly and somewhat unexpectedly and Egypt is still reeling from the aftermath. The novel really focuses a great deal on the intense desire amongst many Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa to build a global Islamic empire, or a “caliphate.” And that’s certainly a growing theme among the Islamists in the region this year.Perhaps what struck me most curious since the publication of The Twelfth Imam and while I was researching and writing The Tehran Initiative is that the so-called Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has began speaking more publicly about the coming of the Twelfth Imam. He used to be silent, or nearly so, on this subject. He let President Ahmadinejad do all the public talking about Shia End Times theology. But Khamenei has become more bold over the past year or so. He has told people that he has met personally with the Twelfth Imam, though we don’t know what he meant. Did he meet with a flesh and blood person? Did he see a dream? Or a vision? We don’t know. But Khamenei has also asserted that he is the personal representative on earth of the Twelfth Imam, as well as the so-called Prophet Muhammad. These developments – along with his support for Iran’s aggressive nuclear development program – suggest Khamenei senses the time is very short before some claiming to be the Twelfth Imam emerges publicly. In part, that’s why the Iranian government released the pseudo-documentary film in early 2011 called, “The Coming Is Near,” about all the geopolitical signs that they believe are indicators that the Mahdi’s arrival is increasingly close at hand. Whether it will really happen or not remains to be seen. But the Iranian leadership is certainly convinced. Most of them, anyway. And, of course, the Bible tells us in Matthew chapter twenty-four to expect false prophets and false messiahs in the last days. So we can’t rule out the possibility that we’ll actually as false messiah emerge from the Shia world.

3) You’ve earned a reputation of writing stories that seemed ripped from tomorrow’s headlines. What is going on in The Tehran Initiative that we can see unfolding in the news?

A: I think the biggest parallel between The Tehran Initiative and current events is the growing sense amongst Shia Muslim leaders – particularly in Iran – that the Twelfth Imam is coming any moment, coupled with Iran’s feverish efforts to build nuclear weapons, and the Israelis’ growing isolation in the world and feeling that they may have to hit Iran all by themselves.Did you see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic address at the U.N. in September, or read the full text? You should. It’s instructive. Ahmadinejad is not a world leader worthy of the world stage. He is the evil leader of an Iranian death cult. A recent U.N. report indicates he is making progress in building nuclear weapons. He is calling for the arrival of the Twelfth Imam and wiping Israel “off the map.” He aspires to be a mass murderer beyond the scale of Adolf Hitler. He deserves to be in prison, or an insane asylum. His U.N. speech was further proof, if more was needed.Like Hitler’s speeches in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, Ahmadinejad isn’t hiding what he believes. He’s pretty clear. He denied the Holocaust. He blasted the U.S. for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. He blamed the terrorist attacks 9/11 on the U.S. government. He insisted that his so-called messiah known as “Imam al-Mahdi” or the Twelfth Imam is coming soon. He insisted Jesus Christ will come with the Mahdi to take over the world. He called for a one-world government when he called for “the shared and collective management of the world.”Consider these excerpts: “This movement is certainly on its rightful path of creation, ensuring a promising future for humanity. A future that will be built when humanity initiates to trend the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet. The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah. He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice freedom and love across the world. He will present to every single individual all the beauties of the world and all good things which bring happiness for humankind.”Though most world leaders do not appear to understand what Ahmadinejad is really saying, students of Shia Islamic eschatology or End Times theology do. The Iranian leader believes the end of the world as we have known it is increasingly close at hand. He believes the time for establishing an Islamic caliphate or global government ruled by the Mahdi is rapidly approaching. What’s more, he believes that the way to hasten the coming of the Twelfth Imam is to acquire nuclear weapons and use them to annihilate the United States, which he calls the “Great Satan” and Israel, which he calls the “Little Satan.”Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands what Ahmadinejad means. So do some of his top military advisors. That’s why they believe Iran is in the eye of a gathering storm in the Middle East, and that the chance of a major war is growing.“Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program. The opposite is true; it continues full steam ahead,” warned Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command Chief Major General Eyal Eisenberg in a speech earlier this month. Also noting recent uprisings in the Arab world and growing tensions with Turkey, Eisenberg said, “This leads us to the conclusion that…the likelihood of an all-out war is increasingly growing.”To me, all this feels ripped from the pages of The Tehran Initiative. Unfortunately, it’s all true.

4) Readers seem to get very attached to your characters. What goes into creating the characters in your novels?

A: It’s the Colonel’s secret recipe of seven herbs and spices. I could tell you, but then I’d have to….well, never mind….no comment to that one.

5) What experiences in your real life do you draw from to piece together these novels that incorporate geo-politics, espionage, romance, and Bible prophecy?

A: Someone once told me, “Write where you live in your head.” For some reason, that advice resonated with me and stuck. I’m fascinated with politics, prophecy and the Middle East. Living in Washington, D.C. and working in and around the political world for the past two decades has certainly helped provide context for me to write political thrillers. I think traveling extensively throughout the Middle East and North Africa has been helpful, too. Somehow, it’s all worked together in a way some people find as interesting as I do.

6) You often incorporate Old Testament prophecy in your books. What scriptures do you draw from for this book and why?

A: There’s no question that I am absolutely intrigued by Bible prophecy, and I like to start with an End Times prophecy – or a group of last days prophecies – and ask, “What if these were to happen in my lifetime? What would it look like? What would it feel like? How might such prophecies realistically be set into motion, and what might be the implications of their fulfillment?” That’s how I approach writing these books. But I don’t think of it like writing a fantasy novel or science fiction. I’m genuinely trying to imagine how it could really play out? I’m not saying these prophecies will necessarily come to pass the way I envision them, but they are interest to war game and see what happens. And given what’s happening in the real world today, I think readers are as curious as I am, and somehow my plots don’t feel that far-fetched.

7) You’ve been successful with your non-fiction books Epicenter and Inside the Revolution and you have a large following reading your analysis of Middle East events on your blog and e-newsletter “Flash Traffic.” Why do you continue to choose writing novels about the Middle East?

A: What could be more interesting? Presidents and presidential candidates constantly focus on the Middle East. Prime Ministers do. Kings do. Generals do. The media does. The economists do. The fact is, the eyes of the nations are riveted on Israel and her neighbors, the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future. The stakes are very high. There is lots of uncertainty. It’s mysterious and dangerous and complex – it has all the elements of riveting political thrillers. And the Bible says the Middle East will become even more dramatic until the very return of Jesus Christ. Why write about anything else?

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Aug 312011

Academics are an important part of our homeschool. We have high standards and I make no apologies for that. But as we work hard, we try to remember 1 Corinthians 10:31:

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

God’s glory and serving God have always been the #1 priority of our homeschool and our lives.

At least that is our highest priority on paper.

I confess that it hasn’t always been my highest priority in practice. And there is a word for saying one thing and acting in a different way. It’s called hypocrite.

It’s not hard for kids to recognize. They can see it much easier than I could see it in myself.  And it’s so very dangerous.

But I am thankful that God is so gracious and merciful to me. He nudges me gently. (And sometimes not so gently.)

There were several things that I was “required” to read in the last month that God used mightily in showing me what my true priorities are.

One of them is this little book: How to Have a H.E.A.R.T. For Your Kids by Rachael Carman. Rachael begins the book with her own story of how she began homeschooling, and shares very openly the mistakes she made in trying to homeschool in her own power. She then begins to share 5 simple steps that will change your thinking about how your homeschool. She uses the acronym H.E.A.R.T.

H- Have a heart for the things of God
E- Enrich your marriage
A- Accept your kids
R-Release them to God
T-Teach them the Truth

I learned so much from this book. Well, learned is maybe not the right word. I have heard much of this before. I just wasn’t doing it. I was failing at the very first priority. I have to have a heart for the things of God! No wonder my kids weren’t having a heart for the things of God. I have to be a living, breathing example to them. I have to be more transparent with them. I have to demonstrate walking with God to them in a real way. I have to be faithful to Him. If I preach that to my children and fail to do it myself, I am a hypocrite!

I do not mean I have to be perfect. I also do not need to make my kids think I’m perfect. (That would be an impossible task anyway.) But I need to let them see my heart. And my heart needs to be focused on the things of God.

I have read the whole book and the other letters are just as powerful as the H. But H really spoke to me as I read the book the first time. I will be reading this again! (And in case you can’t tell, I highly recommend it to all homeschool moms.)

You can purchase this book from Apologia for $13.00.(Rachael and her husband Davis are the owners of Apologia Educational Ministries.) There is also a sample chapter available for free on the website.


You can read more reviews of How To Have a H.E.A.R.T. For Your Kids on the Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book as a member of TOS Homeschool Crew. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.






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Jun 102011


Everyone knows that dinosaurs lived millions of years before humans, right?

If humans and dinosaurs had lived at the same time there should be some evidence and there isn’t…or is there?

What exactly are dragons?

Are they a mythical creature that never really existed? Or could they be (or have been) real?

Dragons – Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs published by Master Books, seeks to answer these questions. This book describes various dragon legends from around the world and historical eyewitness accounts. It also shows where dragons are mentioned in the Bible as well as in several Biblical commentaries.

From that description alone, I would be interested in reading this book, but I haven’t mentioned the best part.

The sturdy, over-sized book is filled with flaps to open, envelopes containing removable documents, and miniature books. It is completely irresistible for a child! (I highly recommend keeping it out of young children’s reach for that reason. You’re not going to want this book damaged.) The illustrations are beautiful, and the text is full of interesting facts about both dragons and dinosaurs.  My photo doesn’t do it justice, but does at least show some of the features of the inside of the book. The left flap is opened in the picture. In the upper right corner is a miniature book labeled Eyewitness Accounts and Encounters.

It is a fantastic resource and I highly recommend purchasing it for your home library. It is available for purchase from New Leaf Publishing Group, from on-line retailers like ChristianBook.com, or your local Christian book store. The retail price is $17.99.


Disclosure: I received a copy of Dragons – Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs to review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

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May 202011

Wordy Qwerty is an on-line Reading and Spelling program developed by Talking Fingers. It is ideal for children ages 7-9 (2nd and 3rd grade) and is designed to follow the Read, Write, and Type Learning System.

“The overall purpose of Wordy Qwerty: Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, is to improve phonological and morphological sensitivity, to develop a deeper understanding of how words are constructed in English, and to provide reading and writing activities with helpful feedback, in order to increase fluency and comprehension in reading and writing.”

The characters, Qwerty and Midi, a computer keyboard and piano keyboard, guide the student through the activities. The overall objective of the game is to earn spheres to help Midi build a music machine. The child periodically sees the progress he is making on the music machine to provide encouragement.

There are 20 lessons with 6 activities per lesson. The activities are:

1. Patterns

2. Karaoke

3. Recycler

4. Pop-a-Word

5. Write Stories

6. Read Stories

View explanations of the activities

These activities are followed by a test of the words in the lesson. This test determines if the child is ready to progress to the next lesson. If the child fails the test (passing level is determined by the parent/teacher), he has to repeat the lesson. However, after a second failure, the child can move on, but is reminded that he can do the activities again to get a better score.

The 20 lessons teach the following spelling rules:

  1. Silent E
  2. Sounds of C
  3. Sounds of G
  4. J or DGE
  5. W or WH
  6. C or K
  7. CK or K
  8. CKS or X
  9. CH or TCH
  10. LL, SS, FF, ZZ
  11. OI or OY
  12. VE Words
  13. Open Syllables
  14. Double Consonants
  15. Doubling rule
  16. ER, IR, OR, UR, EAR
  17. I Before E
  18. Plurals: Add ES
  19. Plurals: Y to IES
  20. Plurals: F to VES

Each of these rules is set to music to aid in retention.

I tested this program with my 9 year old son. Although he is in the target age range for the program, he is at the lower end of the required skill level. Even though the program was a bit too challenging, he enjoyed it and often asked to play. He liked Qwerty and Midi and enjoyed most of the activities. He was frustrated by the writing activity. That required him to remember a whole line of a story and type it correctly. The program provides prompts when the child’s progress is too slow, but those exercises were still very tedious for him. He did not complete the Read, Write, and Type program though, so the typing experience might have been helpful for him in Wordy Qwerty.

The Recycler game has the student pick out which of the two words is spelled correctly or if they both are. (See graphic below.) In the first lesson it presents words such as gale/gail, and  male/mail. I’m not sure that I like this method for a struggling reader and speller. I can see the benefit for an average or above-average speller though. I know that I am a very visual speller and can spell most things by just knowing whether or not they look right. But I’m afraid that presenting the wrong spellings to a poor speller might be counter-productive.

My son loves listening to music, so the songs for the spelling rules are a big help for him. I personally do not care for the songs, but musical taste is very subjective. I would urge anyone considering the program to look at the On-line Demo to try out the activities and hear a sample song.

An on-line subscription to Wordy Qwerty lasts 5 years! Subscriptions are available for 1 to 5 users and range from $25 to $71.25. The Home Edition on CD is $35, but is not compatible with Windows 7.

You can read more reviews of Wordy Qwerty at the Homeschool Crew Blog.

Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.

Disclosure: I received an on-line subscription to Wordy Qwerty in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

May 162011

Do you want your preschooler to make crafts, but hate a big mess?

123! Textured Products, may be just what you’re looking for.

Each project kit contains one colored card-stock cut out and 3 small bags of textured materials to glue to the card stock. Add glue and you’re set!

I received my choice of project kits to review. There are a lot of choices in many different categories including:

  • Zoo Animals
  • Reptiles
  • Forest Animals
  • Winter Fun
  • Holidays
  • Party Time
  • Transportation
  • Insects
  • Farm Animals
  • Christmas
  • Pond Creatures
  • Fall Fun
  • Summer Fun

I finally settled on a butterfly for my 4-1/2 year old.

She had fun with all the bright colors and textures.

She was proud of her finished creation.

It was convenient to have all the materials assembled in one place. I didn’t have to worry about purchasing large quantities of different materials or cutting out any shapes. I’m not sure that I would purchase these on my own though, because the activity didn’t take long enough. Even with the small amounts of materials, I still spent more time preparing and cleaning up than she did on the project. I think these would be a more useful activity in a group setting.

Disclosure: This product was provided to me to review as a member of MamaBuzz. I was not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.



May 132011

Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is perhaps the most well-known writing curriculum among homeschoolers. At least it seems to be among the people I know, both locally and on-line. I’ve been hearing people rave about it for years.  So although I’ve been curious about IEW for a while, I had never actually tried it. In fact, I’d never even had a chance to take an extended look at it. So I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review IEW’s Student Writing Intensive  (SWI) Level B with the Homeschool Crew.

What do you get?

SWI Level B, designed for students in grades 6-8, includes 4 DVD’s, a student binder with dividers, and about 100 pages of teacher’s notes, handouts, and checklists. The teacher’s notes include detailed instructions for using the program, beginning with the Easy Start Instructions and the Student Notebook Set-up. These are followed by a Scope and Sequence Chart and a chart detailing every segment of the 4 DVD’s. Also included is a suggested course schedule, which breaks down the 15 lessons into daily sessions spanning 30 weeks.  There are Teacher’s Notes for each lesson that include how much of the DVD to watch, key details from the video, and the writing assignments for that lesson. The corresponding student pages follow the Teacher’s Notes.

How does it work?

The lessons begin with teaching students how to write a key word outline. The DVD’s are live recordings of Andrew Pudewa teaching the material to a classroom of students, so you are able to watch this process from beginning to end. Key word outlines include important words from every sentence of a source document. The student uses this outline to rewrite the information from the source document using his own words.

The concept of “dress-ups” is also introduced in the first lesson. “Dress-ups” is a term Andrew Pudewa uses to describe ways to add variety to writing. They are additions such as who/which clauses, “ly” adverbs, strong verbs, and because clauses.

Pudewa also makes use of banned words lists. Banned words are words that are overused and not particularly descriptive. The students on the DVD brainstorm and make lists of different words to use in place of specific banned words. The student watching from home has a sheet in his notebook to record these replacement words and can then use them in his own writing.

The students are given writing assignments to practice using the skills taught on the video. Some of these are the same assignments that the students in the video are given, but there is also additional source material included in the handouts for extra writing practice.

Building on the foundation of the key word outline practiced in Lessons 1-6, Andrew Pudewa moves on to teach Story Writing, Report Writing, and Creative Writing in Lessons 7-15. Grammar concepts are discussed throughout the course in relation to writing. Editing skills are also practiced throughout.

We also received a really nice supplement called a Portable Wall. This folder has graphic reminders of the writing process as well as helpful lists of strong verbs, adverbs, and good synonyms for said.

How do we like the program?

For the purposes of this review, I had my 7th grade son begin SWI. He doesn’t fall into either of the two stereo-typical extremes of young writers. He could be termed a reluctant writer, but not using the term in the usual sense. He could also be described as a natural writer, because what he writes is typically very good. But he doesn’t like to write. So he is reluctant to start writing, but given clear guidelines, he usually writes quite well. But with his strong reluctance (i.e. grumbling and complaining), I have failed to give him enough writing assignments. I have not used a writing curriculum before and have struggled to come up with meaningful assignments for him on my own. I am finding that even though I have great intentions, I need structured programs that are planned out for me. I am becoming less of a teacher and more of a learning facilitator.

My son and I both enjoy watching these videos. Andrew Pudewa does an excellent job of instructing the students and is also quite funny. The assignments are very clear. They also have been relatively short, which is a plus for my son whose chief writing goal is brevity. I find the program easy to implement. We have not completed all 15 lessons, but I intend to continue with SWI next school year. I also plan to start my daughter, who will be in 6th grade at the beginning of next year, using the program as well.

Who should use Student Writing Intensive?

As I mentioned, SWI Level B is designed for students in grades 6-8. There are 2 other levels available (A and C). You can choose the one that fits the target age of your student, or if you’re teaching multiple ages, you can select B since it is in the middle. I am thoroughly impressed with this curriculum. Both systematic and thorough, it is great for the homeschooler who wants to teach writing, but doesn’t know how to teach it.

Where to purchase?

SWI can be purchased directly from the Institute for Excellence in Writing website for $109.00.  The Portable Wall can be purchased on the website for $7.00.  The company really stands behind their products and offers “an unconditional, no time limit, 100% refund guarantee on everything we sell.”


Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.

Disclosure: I received this product for free to review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed are my own.



May 072011

For Lisa Velthouse’s whole life, Christianity had been about getting things right. Obeying her parents. Not drinking. Not cursing. Not having premarital sex. Vowing to save her first kiss until she got engaged, even writing a book called . . . well, Saving My First Kiss. (This, it turns out, does not actually help a girl get a date.) Yet after two decades of trying to earn God’s okay, she found her faith was lonely, empty, and unsatisfying. So she turned to more discipline, of course: fasting! By giving up her favorite foods—sweets—Lisa hoped to somehow discover true sweetness and meaning in her relationship with God. Until, one night at a wedding, she denied herself the cake but failed in such a different, unexpected, and world-rocking way that it challenged everything she thought she knew about God and herself. Craving Grace is the true story of a faith dramatically changed: how in one woman’s life God used a bitter heart, a broken promise, and the sweetness of honey to reveal the stunning wonder that is grace.

What is grace?

The Sunday School definition is undeserved favor.

Or God’s Richness at Christ’s Expense.

Those are both okay definitions, but you can understand those definitions and still not fully grasp God’s grace. Actually, I’m not sure we can ever fully grasp God’s grace.

Lisa Velthouse thought she had to earn God’s favor. I did too. So I felt a certain kinship with her as I was reading the book. Unlike the author’s, my testimony is not one of thinking I had done almost everything right, and that God was not giving me what I deserved. My struggle was with truly accepting God’s forgiveness for my sins. We both had a false view of God’s grace. The peace of realizing that there is nothing that I can do to earn His forgiveness is freeing. I finally understand that my salvation doesn’t depend on my ability to say the right words in a prayer or my ability to not sin, but on Christ’s atoning sacrifice that completely and totally paid for my sins. He’s the one that’s doing the saving. He’s powerful enough. What a relief! What a wonderful Savior!

I enjoyed reading this book. The author was transparent in sharing her struggles. I liked the way she told the story by going back and forth between two different periods of her life. However, it might be confusing to someone who is extremely sequential.

But I can’t neglect to mention one concern I did have about this book. The author previously served on the staff at Mars Hill Bible Church. That wouldn’t have meant a thing to me until about a month ago. However, the founding pastor of that church, Rob Bell, just published an extremely controversial book entitled Love Wins. I have not read the book, but it has been accused of espousing the universalist view that a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. So I read Craving Grace looking for any evidence that Lisa Velthouse believes that. I didn’t find any. But I didn’t find any evidence that she isn’t a universalist either. However, it’s not a theology book. Craving Grace is a memoir, and it does what a memoir should–tells the story of a life.

***The author has contacted me and assured me she is most certainly NOT a universalist. ****

I Review For The Tyndale Blog NetworkDisclosures: Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a free copy of this book to review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

This is the 13th book I have completed in 2011. This is week 18 of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. I’m 5 books behind!