Jan 042012

As classical educators, we’ve invested a lot of our school-time studying Latin. There are many reasons why we’ve chosen Latin as our primary language to study, but we’ve always planned on adding Spanish to our curriculum later. (We did introduce some Spanish early with programs like Jump Start Spanish. And my younger daughter is completely addicted to Dora at the moment, and she’s picking up some Spanish there.)

Recently my older daughter (6th grade) has expressed an interest in adding another language to her studies. When I got the opportunity to review REAL Homeschool Spanish as a member of the Homeschool Crew, I was excited for her!

Homeschool SpanishHomeschool Spanish is designed specifically for the homeschool family to learn Spanish together! It is suitable for elementary and middle school aged children with a high school supplement to be available soon. The curriculum is divided up into units that focus on specific groups of vocabulary words. For example, Unit 1 covers various greetings and asking and answering the question “How are you?”. Unit 2 introduces colors and numbers. It is very hands-on and filled with ideas to incorporate learning Spanish into every day.

The curriculum includes a book, activity book, answer book, and audio files. There is also a Daily Curriculum Guide available. The materials are currently available as a download for $49.95 without the curriculum guide and $59.95 including the guide. The hardcopy book with CD’s for the activity book, answer key, and audio files is $89.95 without the curriculum guide and $99.95 with the guide. You can see more details about the various purchasing options at RealHomeschoolSpanish.com.

I think this curriculum is well laid out. The Daily Curriculum Guide, although not essential, is extremely helpful for implementation since it suggests activities for every day. It does move fairly slowly though, so if you wish to complete the curriculum at a faster pace, you may not find it as helpful. The audio files are absolutely essential for this Southern, non-Spanish speaking mom. The file names make it easy to locate the correct mp3, and the files are divided into separate folders for the book and activity book. The activity book has a variety of puzzles like crosswords and cryptoquotes to practice the vocabulary words. Younger students may have difficulty with these activities. The curriculum includes a wide variety of ideas for practicing the vocabulary such as puppets, board games, journaling, and drawing comics. These ideas vary enough to appeal to students with different learning styles.

If you’re looking for a Spanish curriculum for your children to work on entirely independently, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a gentle, hands-on, incremental approach to learning Spanish for your entire family, you should definitely consider R.E.A.L Homeschool Spanish. You can download samples to see the layout and hear the audio before you buy.

Disclosure: I received R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish for free in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.
You can read what other members of the Homeschool Crew think of Homeschool Spanish on the Homeschool Crew blog.


By Kristen H.
Nov 012011

As a classical educator (sort of), I value the study of classic literature. I want my children (and myself) to have an understanding of the themes and messages found in classic books.

I have a problem though. I do not really “get” a lot of literature myself. While other homeschoolers quake at the thought of teaching advanced math and science courses, my biggest fear is literature. In my “former life”, I was an engineer. And engineers don’t have to take a lot of English courses in college. So I had 1 semester of freshman English. I had a reasonably decent high school education, but it always took the class discussions for me to see the themes and draw conclusions from my reading.

My 13 year old son is a very literal kid. So just asking leading questions about a book isn’t going to be enough. Plus, I don’t know what kind of leading questions to even ask. Studying literature with him is not going to be easy. I fear that it’s going to be a painful experience. Yet, we do want him to have at least had the experience of reading the books and making some attempt of analyzing them.

Excellence in LiteratureI admit I didn’t have a plan. It was one of those things that I worried about in my spare time. But I think I have found what we need. It’s a literature program called Excellence in Literature. I received Introduction to Literature by Janice Campbell to review. Excellence in Literature is published by Everyday Education. This initial course is divided into 9 units. Each unit covers one book with the exception of the first unit, which teaches several short stories. The books include classics such as Around the World in Eighty Days, Animal Farm, and Gulliver’s Travels. In each unit are links to background information about the time period, biographical information about the author, and other works by the author. There are specific writing assignments included, as well as instructions to the student and teacher about what should be included in each type of writing. The program is written to the student and puts the responsibility for scheduling on the student. However, it does require parental involvement (or someone else knowledgeable to read the student’s assignments.)

This is not an easy course. It will require thought and a lot of time to complete the assignments. And that is just for the regular assignments. The author gives extra selections to read to increase the difficulty to an honors course. (I frankly can’t imagine that our local high school students are getting anything remotely like this course in a regular English class. But my goal is not to mimic the public high school anyway!) Excellence in Literature is not a fill-in-the-blank literature course. It is too advanced for my 8th grader, who is extremely smart, just not in this area, to complete at the pace that the course is designed to be completed. I am planning on holding onto the course for next year. Before then, I’d like to obtain a copy of Teaching the Classics which the author recommends if you need help with literary analysis. (which we do!)

If you’re looking for a challenging course for high school literature, I recommend that you look at Excellence in Literature. You can download an overview of the entire program and the complete book list on the Everyday Education website. Each course is available in print for $29 plus shipping, or as an e-book for $27.

Please visit the Homeschool Crew Blog to read other reviews of this and other products for your homeschool!

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




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By Kristen H.
Oct 232011

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I enjoy reviewing homeschool curriculum. I love comparing and contrasting different resources. Most of all, I love finding products that really work for my children. In addition to curriculum, I’m also a bit obsessed with researching methods of home education. I don’t think that this obsession is a reflection of a lack of satisfaction in my own teaching methods. I am just fascinated by all the different ways that children learn and how different people have implemented different learning strategies. Plus, I am always eager to see if there’s something else I should be doing to help my children learn.

When I was given the opportunity to review Educating the WholeHearted Child (3rd edition) by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson),  I was very interested because it was a book that I had heard of, but never read. I thought I knew a little bit about the book, but I was mistaken! I thought the book was a “standard” size paperback book (maybe 250 pages max) that contained ideas to help you and your children enjoy learning together. What I found was much more!

This book is huge! It is has 376 (8-1/2 X 11 sized) pages full of information. In addition to the main text, each page has a sidebar filled with extra information such as supporting scriptures, quotes, and historical details. It is impossible for me to thoroughly cover this book in this single review, both because the book is so lengthy that a thorough review would be too long, and I honestly have not had time to digest all the ideas discussed.

My very abbreviated version of the Clarkson’s basic premise is this.

The Christian home should be the center of learning for the Christian family. Learning should be a natural part of family life, and the primary goal of any Christian family should be to raise children who love and serve Christ.

The subtitle of the book is A Handbook for Christian Home Education. This is an excellent title for what you’ll find in this volume. The book is divided into 4 large sections.

  1. Home
  2. Learning
  3. Methods
  4. Living

Within these sections are details of everything from how to train your children, how to be discerning about what you allow into your home, descriptions of different homeschool methods, various personality types, and a thorough explanation of their own method of home educating.

In their home, they divided all the various “subjects” into 5 different categories. These 5 D’s  are:

  • Discipleship Studies
  • Disciplined Studies
  • Discussion Studies
  • Discovery Studies
  • Discretionary Studies

Discipleship studies are the most important and include Bible knowledge, reading, devotions, and study.

Disciplined studies are the foundation of other study and are essentially the traditional 3R’s.

Discussion studies are history, geography, and fine arts. Included in this section are various methods like narration, reading aloud, and memorization.

Discovery studies include science, nature study, and foreign language.

Discretionary studies are all the extras. They discuss leaving time for private lessons, field trips, and really knowing your children’s strengths and weaknesses.

This only scratches the surface of what all you’ll find in Educating the WholeHearted Child. It’s really the compilation of the 20+ years of experience the Clarksons have in home educating their own family and ministering to other home educators.

I really appreciate their sharing all their knowledge and experience. But I must confess that certain parts of the book left me feeling more guilty than encouraged. I in no way think that this was their intent. Actually, I believe this is the complete the opposite of their intent. I am sure that they did not do all of the things listed, all the time, with all their children. But seeing them all in black and white, I began to think I was failing my children. They did say that all families were different and that every home would not look the same, but I still left feeling that somehow we weren’t measuring up to their standard of a Christian homeschool.

I do intend to spend more time reading this book. I want to read it slowly and allow more time to think and pray about what I’ve read. I wish I had read this years ago. I think I would have felt more encouraged reading it at the start of the journey than I do now, 8 years into it.


Educating the WholeHearted Child (3rd edition) is published by Apologia Educational Ministries. You can purchase a copy of the book from their website for $22.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of Educating the WholeHearted Child from Apologia to review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit the Homeschool Crew blog to read more reviews of Educating the WholeHearted Child and other homeschool products!


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By Kristen H.
Oct 162011

When you tell people that you’re teaching Latin to your children, you get a variety of responses.

People who don’t homeschool tend to think it’s a bit odd and usually lump you into the category of parents who push their kids too much in academics. (OK, so they don’t say that exactly, but you can imagine the look accompanied with the standard, “Oh, really? Why? Isn’t Latin a dead language?” comments.)

People who do homeschool have usually heard of other homeschoolers who teach their kids Latin, so they’re not usually as surprised. But their reactions tend to vary based on their own homeschool philosophies. On one end you have those who think that you need to relax more. That is contrasted with those on the other end of the spectrum, who want to know what Latin curriculum you use, because they’re either planning to, or are already teaching Latin too. I’m always eager to talk about curriculum, so I much prefer the latter.

A few years ago, there were not very many options for Latin study. It seems that more people are recognizing the value of teaching Latin, and as a result, more companies have begun offering Latin programs specifically designed for homeschoolers. While it is fantastic to have so many options, it can make choosing curriculum a daunting task.

Visual Latin

One of the newer Latin programs is Visual Latin. I had heard nothing but positive things about this new program, so I was excited to take a look at it for myself.

I received Lessons 1-10 of Latin 1 to review. (The entire Latin I course consists of 30 lessons.) Each of these lessons is divided into 3 video segments. The first segment introduces the topic and discusses the basic grammar. The second segment has sentences, and the third segment is Latin reading. Also included for each lesson are worksheets in pdf form.

I received the downloaded version of these lessons. (DVD’s are also available.) These can be watched on the computer or on the television if you are able to connect your computer. (That’s what we did.) They can also be watched on an iPod or iPad. I wish I had an iPad to test it out on. I didn’t try it out on my iPod, because I don’t typically find it a very convenient way to watch videos.

My two older children have been studying Latin for several years now. (They’re on different levels using different programs. But that’s a story for another day.) Since neither of them are beginning Latin students, I didn’t have a child who could truly test this product. (My younger children are not ready for Latin because they’re not reading well enough in English yet.) But I had my older son (13 years old) view the videos with  me. I choose him so that he could start the year with a little basic review, and so that I could get his opinion of the program. (I also needed him to help me hook my laptop up to the television.)

Visual Latin

What did we think?

First, Dwane Thomas, the instuctor, is very funny. He also explains the concepts well. But we both especially enjoyed his humor.

This approach to Latin is entirely different from that in any of the other curricula I’m familiar with. Rather than starting with memorizing noun or verb endings, Dwane starts with examples of whole sentences and demonstrates the different endings by showing many examples. It definitely is a more interesting approach.

Did I mention how funny Dwane is?

The downloads were convenient and easy to use. You are allowed to make enough copies of the worksheets for your immediate family. That is a significant savings over purchasing consumable worktexts.

What I can’t say is if this different approach to learning Latin is effective or not. I can’t say because there wasn’t anything unfamiliar in the lessons that we studied, which the exception of a few vocabulary words. I tried to imagine myself not knowing Latin. I don’t know if I would be confused or not. What I suspect is that this program is super for some types of learners, but some children may prefer a more traditional program.

I think that if my older son were just now starting Latin, Visual Latin would be at the top of my list. (And I have 3 more children who will be studying Latin in the future.)

The good news is, you can take a look at this program for yourself before you buy it. Visual Latin allows you to download free sample lessons. Or, if you don’t want to download lessons, you can watch a complete lesson on their website.

You can purchase the lessons in groups of 10 to download. Each 10 lesson set is $25. That cost is quite a bit less than buying videos and texts for the other Latin programs I’ve used. (You do have to print the texts yourself.)


Disclosure: I receiving 10 lessons of Visual Latin to review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

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By Kristen H.
Sep 152011


It’s kind of a dirty word to students and some educators. It invokes images of tedious copying of spelling words or rote recitation of math facts.

And in all honestly, it’s not something that has been a strong point in our homeschool up to now. I’ve got some “good” reasons. (Or maybe I should call them excuses since I’m being honest.)

  • Son #1 has been blessed with a memory that doesn’t require much drilling.
  • The attitude about drill has been less than stellar.
  • It takes me time  to go through flashcards or quiz effectively.

But to lock something into long-term memory there is going to be some drill required. Really. There is just no way around it. One could make the case that anything someone uses often they will remember, and if they don’t use it often enough to remember, then they can just look it up or figure it out when they need it. But I personally disagree. There are some things that I want my children to KNOW.

I was excited to find that I had been selected to review Big IQ kids.com as a member of TOS’s Homeschool Crew. Ideal for students in 2nd through 5th grades, Big IQ kids is designed to make practicing spelling, vocabulary, math, and even learning the states more fun than flash cards. In addition, children are rewarded for their time spent practicing with credits in the game area.

I assigned my middle son to work on Big IQ kids, since he is the only one in my family that falls in ideal age range.

We started out with math on the default setting.  There were a lot of problems in the problem set! (I think it was 50.) That was way too many for my son to do and maintain his focus.

Thankfully, I found the option to modify the math lessons.

That was a huge help. You can customize the problems so that your child is practicing what he needs to practice, and you can customize the length of assignments.

My son loves maps so he tried out the U.S. States program next.

I like the way this game starts out very easy. In Level 1, the student is shown the location, spelling, capital, and abbreviation and asked to click on it or copy it. But I wish that there was an option to turn off State Spelling. Or maybe make it Step 4. Typing in the spelling of the states (even though it was just copying) was too tedious for my son, who has difficulty reading and types by copying one letter at a time. So we didn’t get very far with this section.

The final section that we tried was the spelling/vocabulary section. First, I had the program generate a word list. The words were reasonable, but I soon realized that to use our time more effectively, I should enter my own spelling lists. That was simple to do.

Practicing the spelling words on-line was helpful to my son. It was nice that the program automatically included a definition of the word too.

Overall, I think this is a good program to provide extra practice in a fun way. Our favorite was definitely the math portion.  I recommend trying out the free versions and seeing if they program is a good fit for your child.

All of these programs are available in both a free and premium version, except the Spelling program. The Spelling is always free! The main difference between the premium and free versions is the progress tracking capability in the premium versions. The programs are available by subject, so you don’t have to subscribe to the whole program, just the subjects that you will use. You can compare the free and premium math versions and the free and premium state versions in greater detail on the website.

The MathFacts Program is available for $9.99/month or $49.99/year. The U.S. States Program is available for $39.99/year.

PhotobucketFor more reviews of Big IQ Kids, visit The Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I was given a free subscription to both the U.S. States and MathFacts Programs in order to do this review. All opinions expressed are my own.





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By Kristen H.
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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By Kristen H.
Aug 192011

We are starting Tapestry of Grace Year 3 next week! At the end of last year I did some thinking about our accomplishments for the year and one of the things we didn’t do very well was history. (That’s really an understatement. But I did have a baby, so I’m trying to be generous.) I thought about  trying a new history curriculum, but I kept coming back to TOG. I love the way it integrates history with literature, Bible/Church History, and geography. I like the hands-on activity ideas. But I really had failed to implement it well in our home last year. (Honestly, we hadn’t done so well the year before either.)

So I made a deal with myself (and my husband). Before I went looking for a different curriculum for us, I was going to give TOG one more shot. A really good shot. I was going to plan, plan, plan this summer. I was going to get EVERYTHING figured out ahead of time. I wanted to do this because it certainly had not worked as a “pick up and go” curriculum for us.

But, summer has a way of flying by. I blinked and it was August. It was time to get serious about this planning stuff. I have been working hard this week, and I am very happy to report that I have thoroughly prepared for Unit 1. Here is what I’ve done.

(I purchased the Digital Edition (DE) for the first time this year. These steps include printing the pages I desired to have printed.)

1. Read through the Year Introduction.

2. Made a spreadsheet with all the resources used in year 3. (Downloaded from the website.)

3. Highlighted all the books on the list that I already owned.

4. Went through the list again and checked the on-line library catalog highlighting all the books from the list available from the library.

5. Printed the Teaching Objective, Weekly Overview, and Reading Assignment pages for every week of the year plan.

6. Placed all of the above in sheet protectors.

7. Read through the Weekly Overview and Reading Assignment pages with Sharpie in hand, marking the books that we had or could borrow from the library.

8. Determined which resources we should buy. Marked those on the pages.

Starting here, I’ve just done the first unit.

9. Went through each week in Unit 1 and typed the reading assignments I have selected for my dialectic students. (Yes, they could just use the notebook, but I use some alternate resources, and throw in some upper grammar assignments instead of dialectic ones so it can get confusing.)

10. Cut and pasted the assignments and relevant questions (adding space to write the answers) from the student assignment pages into the same document as the reading list. Printed out copies of the list for each student.

11. Printed page 1 of the Student Assignment pages for the first 9 weeks.

12. Printed the maps for the weeks that we are using them.

13. Printed the Lower grammar literature worksheets that we are using.


That’s where I sit. I need to decide how to store all the pre-printed papers. I don’t want to 3-hole punch the maps, so I’m not sure what I’ll end of doing with those.

That’s my Wrap-up for this week! Be sure to visit Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers for more weekly reports.


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By Kristen H.
Jul 122011

I’m a nut for freebies.

I’ve been downloading really great free homeschooling resources for years.

And forgetting to use them…

I hope I’m not the only homeschooler who has freebie amnesia.

This afternoon I went through the files on my laptop and my external hard drive and I dug up some real gems that will coordinate with our studies this year. The big reason I don’t remember to use things is that I download something thinking it will be great when we study the Civil War or astronomy or whatever and then I forget to look when we finally are studying that topic. Hopefully since I’m looking now, I’ll actually remember to use these!

Everyone (minus baby) will be studying the years 1800-1900 using Tapestry of Grace Year 3. Here’s what I found to go along with that.

(I’m linking to most of these products at CurrClick. These are affiliate links. The products are no longer free. But you can see the real value in collecting freebies!)

In the Hands of a Child – Slavery in North America

In the Hands of a Child – Christian Missionaries to Know

In the Hands of a Child – Thomas Edison

A Classical Copybook Covering Early Modern History (This looks like a revised version of what I have.)

Learn the Presidents in Order

Great Civil War Projects You Can Build Yourself

Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself

For science for my younger children I plan on focusing on nature study. I purchased Considering God’s Creation for my oldest daughter and am planning on picking topics for my 3rd grade son and K daughter that coordinate with that.

I found some more great lapbooks on my hard drive for science.

In the Hands of a Child – Butterflies

In the Hands of a Child – Bees

For my Kindergartner, I found:

Song School Latin Coloring Pages

Simple Scissor Practice (This one’s still free!)

In the Hands of a Child – The Big Snow (This is the current freebie at In the Hands of a Child.)

In the Hands of a Child – The Girl in the Rag Coat

Enough of the stalling. It’s time to start the serious school planning! (I hope I’m not the only one who suddenly decides to tackle a big seemingly unrelated project when I should be doing something else. I always seemed to have a sudden desire to clean out my closet during finals week!)

Do you have freebie amnesia?



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By Kristen H.
Apr 072011

I’m so glad I have a few of you interested in how I’m evaluating our homeschool!

Here are the questions I’m going to give my children:

1.       What is your favorite thing about homeschooling?

2.       What is your least favorite thing about your homeschooling experience?

3.       What is your favorite subject? Why?

4.       What is your least favorite subject? Why?

5.       Do you think you learn best by:

  1. Reading
  2. Listening to someone else read
  3. Making something
  4. Watching something

6.       What would you like to learn about in science?

7.       What would you like to learn about in history?

8. What would you like to do differently next year?

9.       What things have we been doing well?

10.     List 3 things you would like to learn how to do next year.


I would like to say that I expect this survey to be filled in joyfully. I will be pleasantly surprised if that happens. More likely it will be received with groans from my son and possibly tears from my daughter who doesn’t like open-ended assignments. But I’d really like to know what they think, so I’m going to give it a shot. If you want to read the results, visit Evaluating Our Homeschool.

What do you think? Have you ever tried something like this?


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By Kristen H.