Picaboo Yearbooks: A TOS Crew Review

davis high cover picaboo yearbooks








I was hoping to get a yearbook team together for our local homeschool group, but lack of time, knowledge, and no helpers resulted in no group yearbook. And then behold – a second chance.  I love serendipity! Through The Old Schoolhouse review crew I was able to review Picaboo Yearbooks by making an 8.5″ x 11″ twenty paged soft covered book.

I was amazed how easy it is to make a yearbook, Homeschools, clubs, private/public schools, this is a all encompassing company for any type of yearbook.



As I only had twenty pages and a limited time frame,  I chose to do a Davis homeschool high school year book.  It took my family of five about two weeks to put together our personalized yearbook, focusing on our 2012-2013 high school year.

After watching the introductory video, I launched the project, and our team went to work. As senior editor, I invited my sons and husband to join the team.  Picaboo sent them an email, and once they accepted they could get to work.

yearbook page 1 yearbook page 2




For the review we were given twenty pages and a soft cover, which would cost less than twenty dollars: $8.49+ 8.99 shipping, plus a free e-yearbook. Each boy had three pages allotted, and I reserved pages for friend photos, vacations and field trips, prom, teachers, and a page for miscellaneous.  There were countless themes, and backgrounds to choose from.  It was easy to go crazy trying to pick just the right one, but once I started dragging and sizing photos, our style flowed in place. Mr. HomeschoolBuzz and I did find the initial navigating process choppy.  As a usability engineer, he looks for ease of use – can a person start at the launch page, and actually use the program and create their yearbook without confusion or frustration?  Yes and no.  We never got frustrated, but we did get confused and wandered a bit.  I didn’t find a way to change the number of pages I first assigned, we had some problems proofing the text, and it took a few tries to understand the initial layout of pages.  Why not reference the user manual you may ask? It’s the same reason we don’t ask for directions.  We are a do-it-yourself kind of family. Instructions on how to build is always the last thing we consider.

to rochester

As you can see from the smiling faces, the boys loved the final product.

yearbook arrival

Things I would have done differently: Put in an introductory page with table of contents, add more text/captions, and include poems and other photos of the boy’s art projects. Also, I would have preferred if they did more of the work and took over the project. Only my graduating senior took the time to thoughtfully add the highlights of his year. Considering we only ordered one copy, he’s getting it.

If you are vacillating between hard or soft cover, I recommend paying the extra for the hard cover.  Our soft cover got a few dents and creases after the first handling.

final view

This was a fabulous family project, we had fun, learned about editing, layout, aesthetics,  transitioning, and proved we make a good team.  Would I choose Picaboo again next year for our 2014 Davis High – you bet.


Take a peak at what the other crew members had to say about their Picaboo experiences at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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25 Truths: Life Principles of the Successful

25 truths bannerIn his book 25 truths, Ed Douglas came up with a list of life principles that he determined are commonly shared by the happiest and most successful people he has met.  I chose this book to review because I am a collector of quotes and am fascinated by what accomplished people consider the reasons for their success.  Is it luck, divine intervention, hard work, an Ivy league education, knowing the right people? 25 truths is written from a Christian world view, and is meant to be an inspirational guide on life. In 25 Truths (recommended for grades 6-12+, paperback/150 pages/$12.50), the author introduces a truth paired with a quote or bible verse, expands on the truth with personal stories and reflections, and concludes with a page of discussion questions.  It can be used as a small group study, individual enrichment, or as I used it – as fuel for at the dinner table family time conversation.  I did sneak a few readings on car rides and took advantage of other teachable moments when we were all together.  We had some excellent discussions, and gave serious thought to Mr. Douglas’ insights on life. 25book_zpsac9dca24 Ed Douglas is a businessman, husband, father, author, coach. He has written books on financial planning (Making a Million with only $2000), and has been a banking president, chairman, and CEO. Success: check. Happy: check.  I was very willing to listen to what he considered to be life’s truths. I plunged and read the whole book before sharing it with my family. Having three teens with one occupied in summer college courses, another busy with activities, and one with a limited attention span, I needed to find the zinger truths to lasso them in.  I started with one that I felt was foundational for growth and success:

  • Truth #18 Set Goals and Write Them Down

set goals We all need to know where we are going, so we need goals.  Not just hopes, or wishes or a dream, but defined and written out short term and long term goals.  As Mr. Douglas points out, a study done in 2007 determined those who write down their goals and go a step further and share them with a friend are 33% more likely to complete their goals than those who simply formulate goals in their minds.  He writes,

Written goals are nothing to fear.  Then can help you to decide what is important in your life as well as helping you accomplish those items of importance.

He encourages you to write annual goals for the main areas of life: spiritual, educational, professional, financial, family, athletic, and recreational.  We talked about this truth as we answered his questions: did we think it an important truth?  What was the last goal we had written down? Are you more likely to accomplish a written goal?

We were challenged. Although I am still pondering what my all my goals should be, after reading this chapter I have written down three goals. Let me know if you want me to share them with you!

Since this review was a family venture, here are more thoughts on the book.

Dad: The truths presented in this book are likely the kind of truths that you would want to express to your children at some point. You might be looking for a platform or opportunity to bring each of these up. 25 truths provides the perfect way to discuss these bits of wisdom. I did think the author’s stories were either too general or too personal for me to identify with, so you may wish to expand upon the topics with your own stories like I did. Use this book as a conversation starter.

First Son: The truths have a lot of practical application, good for evaluating and discussing. Once you finish reading you can reference it as a check-list; how are you doing in achieving the principles in your own life?

Second Son: The book contains realistic and meaningful truths for everyday living. Love, don’t hate, don’t lie, protect your reputation, spend time with family. These are moral standards you should have for your life, and 25 truths is a good reminder of this.  As a sixteen-year-old brought up in a Christian household, I recognize and follow many of the truths.  A few I hadn’t considered before and it gave me new awareness.

Third Son: I really wasn’t that interested in the book. It was basic stuff I was already taught as a kid. 

Note: third son is twelve and besides being brutally honest, he is insightful, and a deep thinker.  I was so pleased to hear him say, “I was already taught (these truths) as a kid”.

If my family is a good gauge of the appropriate audience for this book, I would say it is fine for all ages, but those who seek out wisdom and are at a stage of life where they are sponging advice and seek guidance for success will be the ones who take away the most.

silver family

Read more reviews of 25 Truths from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Dig-It! Bring History to Life: Mayan Mysteries Online Game


I  recently immersed myself in Dig-it! online game: Mayan Mysteries for this TOS crew review.  I learned a ton of fascinating facts on this ancient people group, and time seemed to soar by (what I’ve been playing for two hours?!) while I tried to uncover the clues to solve the mystery.  I certainly retained more about archeology and the Mayan culture than I would have from reading a text or by filling in workbook pages. If you have shied away from video games or educational Apps in your homeschools, I’m with the Borg on this one: To resist is futile.

the Borg

Gaming is here to stay.

I live among a world of gamers.  My three sons  (no, not Robbie, Mike and Chip) have over the years enjoyed many academic, RPG, and other gaming activities.  As you can see, they are turning out just fine…




Retailing for $21.99, The Mayan Mysteries game is a puzzle, and depending on whether your student (recommended for grades 5-9) rushes through, or takes more time and clicks on the hyperlinks to learn more about strata, quetzal, modern day Central America, the three sisters, and hundreds of more facts, the game can stretch on for a few hours to a span of several weeks of play. It is a unique experience for each player.

You will be impressed to know this game was developed by a professional team that includes an accomplished professor of anthropology/archaeologist, and a middle school teacher.  As with all well developed games, this one has a storyline, expert graphics and animation, and an intriguing mission. Here’s a sneak peak at the game:



Both my 7th grader Will, and my 10th grader Benny experimented with the game. I confess I am so lame at navigating Apps and online games that I needed Will’s help. He got it straight from the launch and showed me things like how to click that little sound icon to have the text read, and how to pick the right tools for the excavation mini-games. I was glad to hand my keyboard over to him. I relaxed with my coffee and watched a pro at work.  Being a young man who prefers brevity, here is his feedback on the game:

I liked it and it had good graphics.

Even though he was older than the recommended user age, Benny is slightly more verbose than Will:

Mayan Mysteries takes you back in time to explore the lost culture of the Mayans and learn about its past. In this game, you’ll learn about the civilization, culture, relics, and practices of the Mayans. The game spans out over several different locations such as dig sites, and temples, and each time you travel, you’ll learn something new. I had lots of fun learning about the Mayans, and often times I didn’t even realize I was learning. This is a well made, inventive, and unique educational game, and I highly recommend it for ages 10-14.

It autosaves, and shows rankings for top scorers – those who like achievements and recognition will appreciate that feature. The only aspect I don’t like when studying ancient civilizations is pre-occupation with pagan gods or sacrificial rituals. There is a bit of that here, but I was happy to learn that unlike the Aztecs, The Maya rarely offered human sacrifices.


Other features I liked was the short quizzes to reinforce facts, the diverse challenges, the hyperlink definitions, the overall feel like you are on a real archeology adventure and are unearthing artifacts and deciphering hieroglyphics. Very few of us will ever have the opportunity to do a real “dig” so why not try out a virtual one? I have no idea what happens when you finish the game so I will encourage you to read what my colleagues have to say about their experience with both the App and the online game at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog. I’m heading over there now to see if anyone caught the looters and have solved the mystery:

Who is Ladrone?


If learning isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

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Your Brain – 12 Rules for Surviving and Thriving

The brain is an amazing organ – complex, fascinating and indispensable. Yet how many of us ignore our brain health? How do keep our brain healthy? If you are like me, you are€“ busy multi-tasking, managing schedules, maintaining blogs, tweeting, and taking care of everyone’s problems and dirty laundry: note I mean that literally, with three teens, me and hubby, I’ve got tons of laundry.

If we neglect ourselves, we risk a slippery slope downward. I’ve been there, done that, and it was a long climb back up.  In his book Brain Rules, author John Medina explores 12 simple principles to help you understand how the brain works, and most importantly, how to keep it working to your advantage. This is no boring textbook, he uses humor, anecdotes, and personal experience to make the material readable and absorbing. As a homeschooler I like what he has to say on maximizing learning and what is one major problem with our public education.

The current system is founded on a series of expectations that certain learning goals should be achieved by a certain age. Yet there is no reason to suspect that the brain pays attention to those expectations. Students of the same age show a great deal of intellectual variability. All else being equal, it has been known for many years that smaller, more intimate schools create better learning environments than megaplex houses of learning. The Brain Rule may help explain why smaller is better.

He has much more to say about enhancing learning, and the phenomenal functions of the brain. He offers practical implementations to help you maximize your brain power. Now you can go check out his website and get a summary of the brain rules, or you can go take a nap…my husband was especially happy to learn the author is a big proponent of the mid-day power nap. I suggest you do both. Me, I’m off for a walk.

walking subway

Brain rule #1 is exercise boosts brain power.

The book includes a cool DVD that visually summarizes the 12 rules. There may be a few images that may not be exactly appropriate for children, so parents should preview and use the old skip button as needed.

brain 603

Check out the author’s Brain Rules on the Web. You can download the list. Hopefully you’ve read this far…Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.


Institute for Excellence in Writing: A TOS Crew Review


Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive Level B is the first real writing curriculum I bought brand new for my children’s homeschool writing instruction. I started out a frugal homeschooler and made my own unit studies, borrowed library books, and only purchased second hand curriculum found at used sales. Fast forward seven years. I have graduated my first student from twelve years of homeschool education and I can now brag. I’m seasoned, a veteran, an experienced homeschooling parent, so listen to my wisdom. One important thing I have learned over the years is when it comes to curriculum, free, used, or cheap is worth exactly what you pay for it. In the early elementary years “cheap” may work fine, but when you are laying down the foundations for writing, be choosey and don’t pick something haphazardly or secondhand – you will regret it later. I was eager to do this review of Student Writing Intensive Level C as it has been awhile since my older two sons first met Andrew Pudewa and took his fabulous writing instruction program (Level B). I was then, and am now still pleased with the course. Here I am posing, happy for you as the wind gently tosses my hair.

me happy

IEW is an established, award winning program, and along with being a proficient writing instructor, IEW founder Andrew Pudewa is a homeschooling dad. I love that he understands me and what homeschoolers need. There are several writing courses to choose from at IEW, and you can read reviews of some of the other products at the Crew Review Blog.

schoolhouse review crew






Student Writing Intensive Level C is a complete writing program geared toward the highschool grades or 13+ age. It is not a prequesite to have used levels A and B prior to C. Each one has a similiar framework and techniques with the main difference being the level of difficulty is made appropriate for the age group. It will carry you through a full school year if you watch the DVD once a week and use the other school days to work on the assignments. Some of my friends met weekly and completed the course as a mini co-op. This worked so well for them they did both B and C this way.

This course requires no teacher prep, which makes me, Mrs. Convenience, love it even more. You can familiarize yourself with the specifics of the program by selecting Teaching Writing: Structure & Style, which is mainly an intensive seminar on writing (using IEW techniques) for newbies. Besides giving you a hand held tour through the Writing Intensive syllabus and core methods, Mr. Pudewa entertains you with side stories and blesses you with invaluable tips for grooming and producing accomplished writers. The student course can be bought with or without TWSS. Level C with it costs $249. That includes the 5 DVD instructional videos and notebook/handouts for the student’s course, and the TWSS 10 DVD seminar and notebook summary for you, the teacher:

twsid-c thumb

Without TWSS the course is $109 and you will receive:


The TWSS is not a must have to successfully use the student course, rather a resource for those families who want to have access to ten lecture hours by Andrew Pudewa, writing virtuoso.

For this TOS review, I had my 10th grader Benny assist me. Benny and Andrew Pudewa go way back. Now 16, Benny finished Level B when he was 11. Watching level C DVD’s brought back fond memories and a few chuckles. Although some highschoolers might think the DVD’s could use some 21st century updating, Mr. Pudewa’s presentation is polished. He is articulate, professional, and has an obvious sense of humor, swaying towards the dry side, which matches my son’s. Here are Benny’s thoughts on his experience with IEW:

Mr. Pudewa teaches his class in an easy to learn format that keeps the student engaged. He talks with the class (those in the seminar where it is filmed as well as the home audience) with his non-threatening style that is often humorous. He offers many practical tips that will improve essays and short stories. Now that I am close to entering college level English, I will use many of his writing principles and techniques. For example, the paragraph rewrites were especially helpful. After reading the paragraph selected from your own readings or the one provided you would then outline each sentence choosing up to three key words that would serve as memory triggers. From this outline you would rewrite the paragraph selection. Here is an example of my rewrite of a paragraph from Lesson 1. The selection was from a Jefferson historical house tour:

Music, Jefferson, and The Declaration of Independence By Benny Davis

The Declaration of Independence writers consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, who were all in agreement on the first draft of the document. The draft contained the basic ideas, but they all concurred that the final version needed to be inspiring, precise, and artistic. Adams was too rough, Franklin was sickly, and Paine too controversial a man to pen the final draft, which meant the task was left to Jefferson. His landlady journaled the struggle he had with the completion. She wrote of his pacing day after day with no progress. He was stalled. Jefferson then sent home for his violin and after it arrived he she could hear him play for half an hour and then followed by silence. The music was his muse and the silence meant productivity. After only a few days of this cycle the document was ready for presentation. The violin unleashed his creative genius, and infused the art, precision and inspiration the men were looking for. Few people know that the violin played such a pivotal role in the founding of America.

Benny continues:

I would highly recommend this class to anyone who needs an understanding of the principles of writing, or who simply want to improve their existing skills. Oh, and you should be warned he is strict about one thing, and I have never forgotten this important principle of writing: He said that you should only use pens but if you do use a pencil, don’t use the eraser….

“If I ever catch one of you using your pencil to erase, I will come over to your table and bite your eraser off.” Andrew Pudewa

The Institute for Excellence in Writing and the witty Andrew Pudewa has Homeschoolbuzz’s stamp of approval, and we plan to continue to use the Student Writing Intensive Program with our last (sniff, sniff) – our youngest son Will.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to read more reviews of this product at the Crew Review Blog

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Witty Replies to Whiners


Next time your child asks you Why do I have to…. I’ve got a fresh supply of witty and unconventional comebacks for you to use. Say them with conviction, and don’t dare laugh – the key is to catch your kids off guard.  Distraction, diversion, and redirection are all great methods to help get your kids to stop whining, and back to what they where supposed to be doing…

Child: Wah!  Why do I have to do this?  How come I’m the only one who cleans up after dinner?  Why doesn’t Charlie have to make his bed?  Why can’t I go to the party? But Jimmy and Timmy’s mom let’s them play Dead Space! I have a headache, my stomach hurts, I didn’t sleep good, I’ll do my school later, I’m too tired to go for a walk. Blah, Blah….



Your possible replies: 

  • Stupidity is not a crime so you’re free to go.
  • The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.
  • Out of my mind. Back in five minutes.
  • Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.
  • A wise man adapts himself to circumstances as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.
  • Those with greater skill can be beaten by those who work harder.
  • It’s impolite to stare.
  • We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once, shall we dance?
  • Just lie on your back and float.
  • According to my best recollection, I don’t remember.
  • Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.
  • You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.
  • Make your point, then shut up.
  • Be very, very careful what you put into that brain, because you will never, ever get it out again.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but it is just as hard to mow.
  • Your attitude is like a paintbrush, it can color any situation.
  • Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.
  • Look out!  A Spider!!
  •  A man who wishes to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.
  • Your plans will remain no more than an idler’s dream until you rise up and fight against the forces that would keep you small.
  • Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.


  • Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.
  • Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
  • In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.
  • If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.
  • The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
  • Smartness runs in my family. When I went to school I was so smart my teacher was in my class for five years.
  • All generalizations are false.
  • If You Don’t Leave Me Alone, I’ll Go And Find Someone Else Who Will.
  • Bridge Washed Out, I Can’t Swim and My Baby’s on the Other Side
  • Pain is inevitable. Misery is optional.

Feel free to add more in the comments section:



Top 100 SAT Words: Test Your Knowledge

My research tells me these are the words your are most likely to encounter on the SAT.  Run down the list and write down the ones you don’t know on index cards.  Draw a simple picture next to the word and use it in a sentence.  Best way to study for the SAT vocabulary section: read a lot of good literature and highlight the words you don’t know, and look them up.

You are likely able to easily eliminate two of the choices on your questions.  I’ve included a link at the bottom to a simple game using these words.  Have fun- because if learning isn’t fun then you’re doing something wrong.


  • abbreviate: shorten
  • abstinence: the act of refraining from pleasurable activity
  • adulation: high praise
  • misfortune: an unfavorable turn of events
  • aesthetic: pertaining to beauty or the arts
  • amicable: friendly
  • anachronistic: out-of-date
  • anecdote: short, funny account of an event
  • anonymous: nameless
  • antagonist: foe, adversary
  • arid: extremely dry
  • assiduous: persistent, hard-working
  • asylum: sanctuary, shelter


  • benevolent: friendly and helpful


  • camaraderie: trust, sociability amongst friends
  • censure: to criticize harshly
  • circuitous: indirect
  • clairvoyant: able to foresee the future
  • collaborate: work together
  • compassion: sympathy, mercy
  • compromise: to settle a dispute agreeable to both sides
  • condescending: attitude of superiority, patronizing
  • conditional: depending on a condition, e.g., in a contract
  • conformist: person who complies with rules and customs
  • congregation: a crowd of people
  • convergence: separate elements coming together


  • deleterious: harmful, destructive
  • demagogue: leader, usually appealing to prejudice
  • digression:straying from the main point, as in a speech or argument
  • diligent: careful and hard-working
  • discredit: dishonor or disgrace
  • disdain: to regard with contempt
  • divergent: separating, moving in different directions


  • empathy: identification with the feelings of others
  • emulate: to imitate
  • enervating: weakening, tiring
  • enhance: to improve
  • ephemeral: momentary, fleeting
  • evanescent: quickly fading, short-lived, esp. an image
  • exasperation: irritation, frustration
  • exemplary: outstanding
  • extenuating: excusing, lessening the seriousness


  • florid: flushed; gaudy
  • fortuitous: luck, fortunate
  • frugal: thrifty


  • hackneyed: cliched
  • haughty: arrogant and condescending
  • hedonist: person who pursues pleasure as a goal
  • hypothesis: assumption, theory requiring proof


  • impetuous: rash, impulsive
  • impute: to attribute to person or group
  • incompatible: not able to live or work together
  • inconsequential: unimportant, trivial
  • inevitable: certain, unavoidable
  • integrity: decency, honesty
  • intrepid: fearless, adventurous
  • intuitive: instinctive, untaught


  • jubilation: joy, celebration


  • lobbyist: persuader of legislatures
  • longevity: long life


  • mundane: ordinary, commonplace


  • nonchalant: calm, casual
  • novice: apprentice, beginner


  • opulent: wealthy
  • orator: lecturer, speaker
  • ostentatious: showy, displaying wealth


  • parched: dried up, shriveled
  • perfidious: faithless, disloyal
  • precocious: advanced or talented at an early age
  • pretentious: pretending to be important
  • procrastinate: delay, postpone
  • prosaic: dull 
  • prosperity: wealth or success
  • provocative: to provoke 
  • prudent: careful, cautious


  • querulous: complaining, irritable


  • rancorous: bitter, hateful
  • reclusive: withdrawn
  • reconciliation:the resolution of a dispute
  • renovation: repair, make new
  • resilient: bounce back
  • restrained: controlled
  • reverence: worship


  • sagacity: wisdom
  • scrutinize: to observe carefully
  • spontaneity: impulsive action
  • spurious: false
  • submissive: meekness
  • substantiate: to verify, confirm
  • subtle: hard to detect
  • superficial: shallow
  • superfluous: extra, more than enough
  • suppress: to end an activity
  • surreptitious: secret, stealthy


  • tactful: considerate, skillful to avoid offense to others
  • tenacious: determined, keeping a firm grip on
  • transient: temporary, fleeting


  • venerable: respected because of age
  • vindicate: to clear from blame or suspicion


  • wary: careful, cautious

 Fun SAT word game

Art Close Up: Museum of Modern Art – a Crew Review


Birdcage Press specializes in making award winning games that teach history, art, and nature – surely you will recognize them if you have perused museum gift shops or book stores as their products can be found there. For this review, I chose Art Close Up: Museum of Modern Art card game as we were hoping to visit the MOMA during our recent NYC vacation.  No, we never made it to the museum, but we loved the card game, had a wonderful trip, and MOMA is now at the top of our list of things to do at our next NYC visit.

game sample

The recommended ages for play of this card game is Ages 5+ and it sells for $10.95 at the Birdcage Press website.  I don’t have young children, so my feedback is from my teens and various friends/relatives ranging in age from 12-82.  Art Close Up was a huge hit with grandma, and several of my homeschooling mama friends.  One of the moms thought her ten year old daughter would love Art Close Up – I almost let her borrow the deck, but we hadn’t gone to NYC yet and I was crossing my fingers we could do the scavenger hunt game. My teen boys enjoyed playing the games, and were stoked when they recognized the paintings or the artist. But being senior high/college ages and RPG online gamers, one round of the card game variations was it for them.

art close up game

The deck consists of 48 sturdy, glossy cards of a sampling of 24 artists and their works that are on display in the Museum of Modern Art. The full painting, artist, title, and year painted is on one card, while the matching card has a magnification (close up) of a part of the painting. Up to five different card games (Old Maid, Go Fish, Memory…) can be played to match the close up with the descriptive mate.

cards MOMAAt first the games are challenging – the close ups can be tricky to match, and it is tempting to linger over the card as if you were standing in front of the real painting. Eyes darting from top to bottom, examining the brush strokes, the detail, mesmerized by the talent of the artist while trying to interpret the feel, meaning, and simply enjoy the magnificence of the work.  Some of the artists you will see on the cards include: Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Cézanne, Klee, Dali, and my husbands all time favorite – Edward Hopper.

P1070745If you are looking for a fun way to incorporate modern art appreciation into your home schools, and involve the whole family, Art Close Up is a fantastic way. Oh, just a suggestion –  when you play the game Old Maid, we chose At the Milliner’s by Degas.  As you can see below, she seemed to fit the role perfectly.

at the milliner's

A loud shout out to the Birdcage Press team!

birdcage press



These ladies have created a stunning array of educational games. Check out more reviews of Art Close Up and other Birdcage Press products at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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Math Mammoth: A TOS Crew Review

bannerI have tried numerous math programs and teaching approaches with my twelve-year-old son, who has struggled with this subject since at least third grade.  I was excited to review Math Mammoth by Maria Miller as I had seen many of her videos and knew she was considered a math expert in the homeschool circles.  We chose the Grade 6 Light Blue series for him in hopes it would help prep him for his upcoming year end standardized testing (NYS requirement). We were given the complete full curriculum in downloadable version $34.00 for this review which contains PDF format (enabled for annotation) 6A and 6B work texts and answer keys, end of chapter tests, cumulative reviews, worksheet maker (for individualizing your child’s worksheets), a folder of mathematic visuals/images, and links to Maria’s Math teaching videos


The program is available for purchase in a physical text-workbook at Math Mammoth and at Rainbow Resource for $54.95

I like Maria’s teaching style and consider her various products both affordable and comprehensive. Although this curriculum didn’t complement my son’s learning style, I have truthfully found very little curriculum that he will use for more than a few days.  He becomes bored, has an excuse for why he doesn’t like it, or why it isn’t relevant, and I throw up my hands and tell my Einstein clone “ok then, you choose your curriculum.”  His latest request: textbooks.  Thus, as much as I had wished we could have utilized Math Mammoth as his primary math course for the review period, he refused.  He did sample several worksheets and video clips, but it went no further than him picking at the material as if he was in a buffet line. Here’s all I could get from him:

It was pretty standard, not too hard, but I prefer  textbooks.

And…my husband, my son’s math facilitator, shared his thoughts:

I Liked the worksheets but (our son) disliked the redirection to the links for math games or videos.  Mammoth did not work with his particular learning style. He likes a physical book he can read, and does not follow linear learning in video presentations. However, this program would work much better with a kinesthetic/visual learner as opposed to our learner who has to have a physical book he can sit and digest, and go back and re-read.

math mammoth worktextWhether you choose the PDF product or the physical, you will receive a full school year of material.  In 6A/6B all the common core standards are included such as: exponent, simple equations,expressions,ratios proportions, scaling, decimals, primes and prime factorization, percent, geometry, integers, and statistics/probability.


I know many families are still deciding on what math curriculums to use for their students.  I encourage you to read more reviews of Math Mammoth products at the TOS Review Crew Blog and also head over to the Math Mammoth website and scoop up Maria’s free sample worksheets.   I still see a place for Math Mammoth in my son’s education. At the very least I plan to utilize the fantastic links to the various websites that teach the foundational math concepts via engaging game and non-lecture manner. Such as this one on ratios: It’s a memory/match game.

Maria Miller is a fine math teacher and has a knack for making math fun and easy to understand. It is obvious in her presentations she has a passion for math, and will likely guide your fledgling math learners to soar.

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NYS Home School Graduates to Ignite Fires


The finale is here! Hundreds of homeschooling families across New York State (including ours) will be gathered today to acknowledge, celebrate and esteem our sons and daughters for fulfilling the New York State requirements for high school graduation. They stayed the course when the road got difficult and faced the ever present societal cynics who wagged their tongues with disgust and disbelief that parents could or should teach their children at home.

Come out and see the movers and shakers of this generation!  I present to you thy nerds, techies, gamers, hipsters, free spirits, artists, jocks, punks, cheerleaders, preachers, emos, musicians, divas, phew…did I get you all in?  If not-add yourself in the comment section-it’s ten-thirty and I haven’t showered.  Where’s the cap and gown?  Where’s my graduate?  Yeah!  We did it!  I hope you are ready for these young adults as they are exploding soon in a city near you.  Igniting fires, fanning flames, and leaving their mark wherever they go.

Congratulations class of 2013, you rock!


I love you Garrison Davis and I will miss you sweetie, it’s been my privilege to be your teacher for thirteen years and I thank my God for his gift of you to me  Dream big and fan the flame!  Don’t forget the tissues cause this mama is already crying.


NYS LEAH Commencement 2013

Official photographer for NYS LEAH Commencement: Louis R. Sabo III 


See the Light Cartooning: A TOS Crew Review

STLLogoMy family and I recently reviewed Cartooning by See the Light. Having only teens and a recent grad, I thought at first the boys might think the material too easy as it is recommended for ages 5 and up.  I am so glad I didn’t let that thought deter me from using it to teach my boys cartooning. It was a great choice! My crew had a blast. With dad alongside, they spent an evening watching the DVD, followed the step-by-step instructions, and produced some cool and funny cartoons.  They had quickly picked up clever techniques that will be both useful and entertaining.cartooningThe Cartooning DVD (sells for $14.99) takes a little over an hour to view, and by the end your students will have created an imaginative and good basic cartoon.  And, no special art materials required, you likely have all these items handy in your supply drawer: pencils

  • Plain white paper (any size)
  • A sharpened #2 pencil and good eraser
  • A fine point black marker and thick black permanent marker

The teacher introduced some history of cartooning, and demonstrated how to draw animals, faces, and other props commonly seen in cartoons.  The students follow along, drawing on their art pads while incorporating her instructions for making a unique, quality cartoon.


The video has a relaxed feel, and takes the novice through the basics: light sketching, making a thought bubble verses a speech bubble, when to write the dialogue, and how to exaggerate facial features and body language to emphasize action and feelings.  She gave no advice on how to come up with a punch line, but using these techniques, probably anything will be funny.

Overall, the consensus was this cartooning DVD lesson was fun and provided an entertaining evening for the boys, and dad especially enjoyed it as it reminded him of being a young teenager.  He used to make comics with his cousin, and has several of them tucked away (in mint condition!).


The only thing they didn’t like was it started out slow, and there were no pause points or scene selections.  I would advise pausing the DVD every twenty minutes to allow everyone a chance to catch up. Their favorite part was the last twenty minutes when they placed the dialogue.

This product is versatile, and will appeal to a wide range of ages. See the Light’s Cartooning would be great to use for a co-op art class or even for a kid sunday school hour.  I definitely see this being more fun with a group – especially the part where you get to “show and tell” – seeing what my boys came up with was hysterical.

gar comic

Cartooning is just one of the art selections.  Read other crew members reviews of Cartooning and more of See the Light art titles at the Review Crew Blog, and check out See the Light’s blog for some super art tips.

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Timeless Teaching Tips: A TOS Crew Review

Timeless Teaching Tips: How to Think Like a Teacher By Joyce Herzog  Reviewed by Kathy Davis for TOS Crew Review

TimelessTeachingTips_When a mom tells me she is considering homeschooling, the first thing I tell her to do is read everything she can on the subject. Timeless Teaching Tips is one book I would suggest she include on her list.  If you want a successful journey to anywhere, you better read up on where you are going, get some tour books or hire a guide, maybe get some travel insurance, and be sure to pack the essentials. For new home schoolers, Joyce Herzog is your tour guide for teaching. She has decades of experience, authored numerous books and curriculum, and has what you need to know to bring out your inner teacher.


Timeless Teaching Tips is an excellent choice to read before you start home educating. It will be a book you will refer to often.  It contains thoughtful pearls and teacher wisdom to help with common educational hurdles and other inevitable storms you are sure to run into along the way.

This book is perfect for those with young children as the bulk of Joyce’s suggestions deal with teaching younger/elementary learners. This 200+ paged paperback retails for $15.

Joyce has organized the book into six main headings:

Principles of Learning, It’s Been Said, Practical Helps, Homeschooling Issues, Gems, and Spiritual Considerations.

It is written from a Christian perspective, and though I read it as how it could help me, a homeschool educator, it is also appropriate for Sunday School teachers or others who are in settings where they educate young children.


For example, under Practical Helps here’s a cool little trick that will help in teaching math.

Recognition of number patterns can be as simple as rolling a die and instantly recognizing the number it stands for without counting.  If a child can do this before he learns to add and subtract, it will make his understaning of addition and subtraction jump miles ahead.  Obtain 10-sided dice to carry this skill on past six.

diceI love collecting pearls – the rich gemstones of information.  In medicine, we nab clinical pearls, or the insights other clinicians have found via way of experience. These tricks of the trade are bona fide must knows and it is common for practitioners to keep a pearl notebook.  If you don’t have a teacher tip pearl notebook – get one started. In this digital age you are not limited to an old-fashioned spiral bound notepad, you can easily cut and paste tips as you find them. Whatever works best use, but do find a place for stashing treasure troves of homeschooling knowledge.  Here’s some of the nuggets I highlighted in my reading through Timeless Teaching Tips:

  • Keep a journal
  • Children need success
  • Color


  • We all learn more easily when we are interested in the topic at hand
  • Use what you have
  • Children become what they live with daily
  • Teach me my limits
  • Ask their opinion

points of view

  • Help me see progress.
  • Hold character up
  • Teach principles, not just facts
  • We need 80% success to continue trying
  • Give praise often


  • Children can appear to learn something before they have mastered it. You think they have it, but the next day they don’t know what you are talking about…(thank you for that one Joyce!)
  • Happiness is a major ingredient of learning

I always scout for inside information.  Why do more work than I have to? If someone with more experience can tell me a short cut or a trick to do something better, bring it on! I don’t want to be told, just steer me in the right direction and help me when I need it. I think that’s what most of us home educators want. That’s what this book will give you.

We are unique, our children are little people who all learn with their own special style, and if you haven’t figured it out already, homeschooling is a demanding, mysterious, marvelously wonderful educational choice. As you walk your path, regularly set aside time for your teacher training.  Always seek to be better, to improve yourself, and stop to grab all the pearls you can find. And put this quote somewhere highly visible:

Remember the good, and forgive each other for the rest. Joyce Herzog



Thanks for reading my review of Timeless Teaching Tips. Read more reviews of Joyce Herzog’s titles and products at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog

Yes, that’s me and my boys five years ago, and here we are below present day.






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High School Prep Genius: A TOS Crew Review

High school Prep

Having recently graduated my eldest from homeschool high school, I was looking forward to reviewing High School Prep Genius by College Prep Genius.  I had been researching how to homeschool the high school years for the last five years and college prep for the last two.  I approached the book warily, realizing I was about to read not just the good news: what we had done right, but also the bad news: what we missed or could have done better during my son’s four years of high school.

college prep genius

The goal of High School Prep Genius (sells for $29.95)  is to provide answers to the many questions parents and homeschool educators have about high school: when do we do what? What paperwork should we be doing? When and how do we apply for college? And how will my sloth like child transform his untamed, myopic makeup into an adult who is responsible, educated, and ultimately successful?


Navigating the high school years the first time is daunting.  I went to presentations at our local homeschool conventions, talked with other homeschool moms who were in the thick of it, and read many books during my son’s eighth grade year.  I scoured the web for resources, and searched for practical transcript templates.  Looking back on the work I had done to enter high school confidently, I can tell you that High School Prep Genius would have been an invaluable help to me.  This 400+ paged paper back book is your academic guide to excellence.  There is nothing I want more for my children than for them to each reach their individualized bar of excellence.

The book is written in a conversational style to both the parent/teacher and the student.  I don’t advise reading it from cover to cover, rather browse the index, and choose the sections you want your student to read. Devote about an hour a week, each of you paying attention to the areas you wish to focus on.  At the start, the author encourages your high schooler to keep a College and Career notebook.  That’s one thing I could have done better.  We scrambled senior year and were forced to leaf through tons of old files and notes gathering the data we needed for college applications.

High School Prep is divided into four sections:

Introduction: Here is where you will find the foundations for the four year high school plan, the requirements for graduation, checklists and inventories, tips and timelines for each grade, especially the indispensable twelfth-grade checklist. You will find a sample transcript in the appendix

Foundation for Personal Success: This is the section we spent the most time on, and it proved very fruitful. Here your teen will be challenged, as it suggests it is time to get serious about becoming an adult. What are his interests, his beliefs, his values?  Does he know how to eat well, is he emotionally healthy, and what about support systems?  Does he have good friends and influencers?  As a family, we read and lingered over page 127: Ten Common Virtues and Their Meanings. We took turns reading a virtue aloud, defined it, and then expressed what it meant to us.  We also asked each other if they saw those virtues in our lives.  It was enlightening, and a sweet time of sharing.  And it reminded us that as we strive to excel academically, we must never forget to excel our character.  I was impressed by the author’s bold statement about the list of virtues:

Do not hastily read this list and go on to the next topic. In fact, if you get nothing else from this entire book but a strong desire to improve your character, your time will be well spent. I must confess that I mulled over this section of the book for the bulk of my review period.


My sixteen-your old son was in a rut.  He was bored by the mundane routine of school and was getting behind in his studies. We spent lots of time discussing his situation, and his growing dependency on his computer and digitally related entertainment. After he filled out the section on discovering your interests I was inspired to give him an abbreviated “sabbatical”.  For three days he put his school work aside and unplugged his computer.  He rested, sketched, took nature walks, made dinner, played with the dog, did creative writing, and finally finished George Orwell’s 1984.  It was that much needed break from “school” that helped him find his way.  He’s rediscovered his buried hobbies, and is pretty sure he has now chosen his career path. I’m ecstatic!

Foundation for Academic Success: This section discusses the habits necessary to do well academically.  Everyone wants to get good grades. But it takes work to excel in this area. However, there is no point in doing well on a test if you aren’t really learning the material. Here your student will read why rote memorization is not the road to understanding a subject. Effective studying, good note taking, how to approach test taking, and getting oneself organized are discussed. This is a very important section that is practical and useful.  Oh, and here I learned another thing I did wrong – last year I neglected to ask my son before I signed him up for a volunteer job.

Me: Good news! Your signed up to volunteer at the LPGA.

Him: What?!  I don’t want to do it, I don’t even like golf!

Me: Of course you like golf.  Besides, you get twenty free golf dollars to spend on concessions, and a free t-shirt!

Him: I don’t care about the food or the t-shirt. It’s too early to get up.  I’m not going.

He went.


He had a few moments of fun.  Ate several hamburgers.  Hasn’t worn the t-shirt since, and no, will not be going back this year.  I learned your teen should get to choose where he would like to volunteer.

The final section is:

Foundation for Future Success: Here’s where you will make your future plans.  What career path will you take?  University? Community College? How do you find scholarships?  What are the financial aid options and what is FAFSA and when do you file it? This is all good information that you will need to be thinking about. I had previously read most of this information and had my son constantly look for scholarships, we applied for FAFSA, and here’s what my graduating senior had to say about this entire experience:

I spent hours looking for scholarships, and used all the recommended websites. I found nothing I qualified for.  The online applications for the colleges I applied for were ridiculously tedious and I basically wasted hours of my time.  When I finally got to the point where I submitted my application, they denied it – I missed the application deadline.  It was much easier applying to our community college, and I plan to do the 2+2 program and transfer to a State University after earning my associates.  I’ll get my 4 year degree and not go in debt. No one should start their adult lives with a huge debt.

High School Prep is an excellent resource, and contains all the vital information (and a whole lot more) that you should know to help your child succeed in high school and formulate a continuing education plan.  For me, it was all good news.  Even with a few blunders, my first high schooler graduated a semester early, achieved perfect vocabulary and math scores on his junior year stanford achievement test, was president of the homeschool honor society, served as a missionary in the Dominican Republic, scored high on the PSAT on SAT(took just once). And, above all, he is the most virtuous, humble, dedicated, excellent, loving Christian man I had hoped he would become. Yes, it is more than good.

Read more reviews of this product at the Schoolhouse review crew blog.

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Spanish For You! A TOS Crew Review


Spanish For You! is a unique and affordable spanish instruction curriculum for your pre-high school students.  I reviewed the Fiestas e-book curriculum for TOS Review Crew. My son, Benny helped me with the review by using the program for the past month, and we want to share our experience with you.


Benny is in tenth grade, and for his high school language he chose Japanese.  Yeah, that’s what I said, why Japanese?! I was thinking Spanish might be more practical and less challenging. Nope. Japanese it would be, and he did great the first year. Second year, not so great. It wasn’t long before he became frustrated and stalled. Second quarter I had no progress to report to the school district so we pulled out and substituted with a hastily chosen spanish instruction substitute from the library. That also tanked.  So, even though Spanish For You! was meant for younger grades, we thought it just might be what he needed.  I anticipated the program would offer a foundation in introductory Spanish and we both were looking forward to having a physical product to write in, leaf through, and later have available for reference.  His previous Japanese program was all CD’s, as was the library Spanish.

bored bennyWhat we received for review was the grades 3-8 package (sells for $64.95), which contains: a soft cover book (we got the e-book for this review), a MP3 audio download of the book, and bonus audio of the entire book recorded by a native speaker from Mexico, and downloads in PDF: 24-30 Week Lesson Guide, worksheets, and pictures for flash cards.

When I was younger and less jaded, I was a homeschooling mama who liked to cut and paste, draft my own unit studies, and throw fun and educational themed based parties. Now, I have twelve homeschool years of experience, a new grad, another one starting college classes in the fall, and a twelve year old unschooler.  I like pre-packaged, ready to go, no prep needed, easy to navigate, assembly not required curriculum. For someone like me, this curriculum was a headache. However, I know there will be many of you who will love this approach to introducing Spanish to your grade 3-8 students for these reasons:

The material is presented in an easy to understand, entertaining fashion. Instead of a lesson/drill approach learning meaningless conversations, you choose a package theme, not a level.  Celebrations, travels, and seasons are in a sense a unit study where spanish will be taught using common words, phrases, objects, and conversations based on that theme.

day of the dead viva mexico mariachi

-It is suitable for multi-grade teaching. You can use the one package to teach all your appropriate aged students at once.  There are several games and activities the author suggests at the beginning that will help make the learning engaging and entertaining to the students. Spanish for You! would work well for a small co-op or group experience.

school group

-It offers multi-sensory learning:  The more senses you use when learning a new skill, the easier it is to learn.  This curriculum offers visual – vocabulary flash cards (you make), the lesson book, auditory: MP3 tracks of lessons physical – games, activities.  Since our kids learn in different ways, Spanish For You! covers all the major learning styles.


I asked my son to give me his feedback on his experience:

Once I figured out how to navigate the curriculum and audio tracks, I quickly learned the names of colors and how to count to twenty.  The teacher’s pronunciations were clear and slow enough for me to catch on, but I was distracted by noises in the background of the audios, such as a click at the end of the recording and several tracks had weird stuff like dogs barking.  Also, the audio tracks are at first difficult to sort.  You have to be careful because the tracks aren’t in numerical order. I did the wrong lesson accidentally several times. It took me a while to realize the page numbers were marked in the audio tracks. There was a chart in the beginning that taught basic phrases like hello, please, thank you, nice to meet you, yes, no.  I was hoping to learn more practical conversational phrases, but Instead I learned things that had to do with a party:

  • Abre el regalo (open the present)
  • Canta la canción (sing the song)
  • los muertos (the dead)…that was from the lesson on the Day of the Dead celebration

I did find the material easy to learn, and it wasn’t boring, so I am going to try to get a little farther in the book.  The last thing I didn’t like was it being in an e-book form.  My mom never lets me print out pages because we are either out of ink or she says it costs too much.  I like working on paper and having a book to use.

Gracias por leer nuestra review. Obtener una muestra de lección gratis aquí.  Free PDF sample of Fiestas. Asegúrate de ir al blog de revisión tripulación para leer más comentarios de español para usted!

Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

Check out the Spanish for you blog

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Papa’s Pearls: A TOS Crew Review

papaspearlslogoI reviewed Papa’s Pearls as part of the TOS Crew Review.  This 100+ paged paper back book by Diane Flynn Keith is a narrative of her father’s practical advice, sayings, and real life accounts that show how “Papa” learned each of the pearls he would later pass down to his children and grandchildren.

papaspearls book jacket

If I were to ask you, when you were a kid, what was one phrase you remember your father saying? Maybe like me, you heard these:

It ‘aint over till the fat lady sings.

You don’t know what you’re missing.

It doesn’t matter if I like it, do you like it?

Hey is for horses.

Bye-bye, buy bonds.

Yes, our dads and granddads were filled with witty comebacks thrown in with some wisdom. I know you will enjoy reading the life story of Carol Joseph Flynn (Papa) lovingly recounted by his daughter. Each of the 17 chapters is titled with a pearl, and starts by bringing the reader back in time to early 20th century America and follows papa through his unconventional upbringing, his stint in continuation school and the Civilian Conservation Corps, and his start in the plumbing business. Finally, readers will read of his transition to adoring husband and wise father.  It is a heartfelt read, with many wonderful stories and historical tidbits of the 20th century.


This is a perfect book to read-a-loud as a family. The author would certainly approve of our reading the book in the car, as she also wrote the popular title Carschooling. My whole family enjoyed reading Papa’s Pearls.  The chapters were short enough that we could read two on a typical twenty minute car ride.  I love quote and sayings, and several of Papa’s resonated with me:

Everyone deserves a second chance,

Be grateful every day,

Get it in writing, and

It’s all about family.

It was such a joy to do a read-a-loud again as a family.  It was a daily practice when my boys were younger, but now that they are all teens and one is now in college, it is not a regular part of our routine.  In recent days my boys would roll their eyes or scatter when I tried to rekindle family read-a-louds.  But not with Papa’s Pearls. Here’s what they all had to say about the book:

garyGary (hubby): “I wasn’t looking forward to reading it as at first glance I was expecting hagiography that would be saccharine and overly sentimental. Rather it was good advice presented through vivid stories which demonstrated the heart of each of the pearls. The readings brought about family discussion about playing outside and how the world is a different place from when us parents were kids.  I especially enjoyed learning about the CCC – we never studied that part of the great depression recovery so it again triggered a spontaneous history lesson.”

garrisonGarrison (college student): “It read like a lively documentary; a daughter trying to share the wisdom her father taught her while infusing it with his personality. None of the sentence structures in the book amazed me, the book is written so that the character her father was will make up for the average-quality writing style (I’m not saying the writing style was bad, I’m saying it wasn’t great). The pearls I heard were decent advice. Often I felt them to be fairly naive, but that’s really the essence of the book – the man Papa was; a joyful, forgiving man who tries hard to see the best in people. I imagine it could be a popular family book for families with grade-school age children as it opens up lots of discussion:  is your grandpa like Papa in this chapter? is the advice good? do you want to try it? It’s different than the books I read as a child since although it is like a documentary it reads like a story; that’s why I called it lively.

benny2Benny (16 year old) “It was a fun little book. Most of it was just common sense, but it was interesting to see someone else’s take on the world, and on life.” 

willWill (12 year old)“It was an inspiring book.” 

Let me leave you with this highlight of our experience:  Papa liked to dance and used to say, “Doodle-lee Do it” and click his heels. It was his way of bringing a little lightness and joy to his family and business associates. We found the song, and once it started playing my college guy broke out in smiles and let loose with a little two step jig.


When the song ended we were laughing and then another history lesson ensued: “You mean you and dad used to listen to music on a phonograph?! Wow, you had it rough.”

No boys, it wasn’t rough to us. It was “Fantastic!”


An autographed copy of Papa’s Pearls: A Father’s Gift of Love and Wisdom to His Children and Grandchildren is available through Homefires for $21.97 which includes shipping. The book is also available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle edition.

Read more reviews of Papa’s Pearls from the TOS crew here at the review crew blog.

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The Power in Your Hands: A TOS Crew Review

power in your hands



I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review this product, The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School by Sharon Watson. I used Jump In, Sharon’s writing curriculum for middle grades when my son was in eighth grade. He loved it, and I have recommended it many times to my fellow homeschoolers. Though he liked creative writing, he never liked writing instruction. Soon it became his favorite subject. Sharon has a gift for nudging uneager or perhaps unconfident writers to learn to enjoy writing. In The Power in Your Hands, she teaches high-schoolers how to write non-fiction, and if there is anything that my now sixteen year-old old son would rather not write, it is non-fiction.

pencilsThe dreaded essay, the never-ending research paper, the arguments, and the persuasions, the SAT twenty minute timed prompts, and that confounded thesis. Please, he says, no more essay writing, I’ve done enough already! Yes, this year he has taken essay writing I, II, and III through an on-line writing course. Although he learned a few major points such as establishing a thesis and supporting it with five paragraphs, his joy was stripped and his self confidence deflated. His writing was ripped apart with shallow critiques, belittling comments, and near failing grades (70%) that left him discouraged and convinced he was a horrible writer.

sad bennyMy heart broke for my son.  I pulled him out of that course and needed to repair the damage this haughty, rigid, “teacher” had done to him. Then along came The Power in Your Hands and I knew this was my chance.  Sharon shares this in her introduction:

Dread will become a thing of the past, though, as your students incrementally learn formats, structures, tools, and practical proofreading know-how that will transform them into skilled, competent writers…

Indeed, the dread is dead and my son is loving this course!  He was more than happy to give this curriculum a chance when he learned it was the same author who wrote Jump-In.  Power in Your Hands consists of a consumable 400 page student text for $39.98, and accompanying teacher’s guide for $14.98. You’ll definitely want both. The 23 chapters/108 lessons can span a full year, or two if you go at a slower pace. The purpose of the course: prepare high schoolers for college and professional writing.  It is written to the student and you can choose to have your student work through it independently, or you could adapt it to a group or co-op setting.  No prerequisites required, and it is superb for the student just wading the non-fiction writing waters. Here’s my son’s own words on his experience thus far with The Power in Your Hands:

Right at the beginning, there was a checklist that gave a list of problems people might have while writing. Before this book, I was rather frustrated that no one understood why it was so hard for me to put what I was trying to say on paper. The author of this curriculum really seems to understand people, as every single one of my writing problems was on the list. I knew after completing the checklist that I was going to like this course. I’ve had some bad experiences with writing courses before, so finding a good one was a flood of relief.

 I’ve had plenty of experience with writing, so everything that was taught within the first fifty pages wasn’t anything new. But once we got to the first essay assignment, things started to pick up for me. Overall, I think this writing program is useful for all high schoolers, especially those without much practice in writing non-fiction. I am really looking forward to continuing. 

I plan to have him use this for the remainder of the school year, and will no doubt use it with my youngest son when he gets to high school. I have confidence that when he finishes school in June, my guy will be ready for college-level English 101. I don’t think I would have enrolled him if Sharon’s perfectly timed writing course had not come our way and gotten us through our unfortunate writing setback.

benny and froThe curriculum covers in depth all aspects of non-fiction writing that a high-schooler should know: persuasion, exposition, writing letters, how-to’s, description, narration, newspaper writing, biographies, literary analysis, compare and contrast, even writing a testimony (contains some Christian based content).  That’s just my abbreviated list for this review. It’s more accurate to say she covers every type of non-fiction writing you can think of, and then some.

My son is in the midst of writing a persuasive essay. I think I may join him and write my own. I’ll even give him a chance to grade my essay using the grading toolbox provided in the teacher’s guide. Percentile grades are helpful, but be sure your student is ready for them.  He should know the material, had sufficient practice, and know what is expected of him. I’m not a big fan of grading certain subjects and agree with Sharon’s comment on page eleven of the teacher’s guide:

When I grade papers, I like to find something noteworthy to comment on even in the lamest paper, something true that will encourage the timid or inexperienced student…after all, we want students to keep writing.  We don’t want them to shut down because of too much negative feedback too early.  Don’t aim for perfection: aim for progress.

Do you fear you are unqualified to teach high-school writing and would rather hire the professionals? Warning: it could end badly.  It’s not that hard to teach the mechanics of writing.  What’s hard is to do it in a way that ignites passion, stirs creativity, bolsters self-confidence, and produces results. The last thing you want is for your student to hate any subject. As Robert Frost said,

There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.

Fire the teachers that kill with quail shot, and hire those who get you jumping.  Sharon Watson, now she’s one that will get you soaring.


Thanks for reading my review, check out more reviews at the TOS review crew blog.

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Knowledge Quest TimeLineBuilder App: TOS Crew Review

knowledge quest TLB-main-ipad_zpsf49b81f3

When you live in a household of geeks with numerous Apple devices, Apps are as common and sought after as milk and cookies.  Knowledge Quest, known for their history and geography curriculum, has developed this versatile TimelineBuilder iPad App for creating custom timelines of your choosing. At the time of this crew review, Knowledge Quest is running an early bird special. If you go to I-tunes through the designated link on this page of their site, you have an opportunity to get a free e-book when you purchase the App for $4.99. Later the price will change to $6.99.

I picked this App for review so my 12-year-old could try it out on his iPad. Although Knowledge Quest has a tutorial on how to use it, my son skipped the directions (he likes to figure it out on his own), and immersed himself full throttle. Viola! In mere minutes he had created an impressive timeline of Apple computers.


Here’s what he had to say about his experience with TimelineBuilder:

It was fun, easy to use, with a convenient wiki search. I liked the jazzy music, but after awhile I got tired of the same song and I turned it off. It was a fun way to do research and make a timeline. I never made one before. The only thing that I didn’t like was I always had to have an image-I would rather have the option to use text with or without the image. A pocket watch served as a place holder when I didn’t pick an image.

My son was happy to give all of us a demo of how to use the App, he is a natural at teaching. He remotely connect his pad to our TV and entertained and impressed us with how quickly he could put together a timeline and effortlessly pulled images and inserted dates. He manipulated his entries around the screen till he got the look he wanted. It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece with a few strokes of a brush. Unfortunately he didn’t save his original Apple timeline, though he could have and even shared it was other users. He sent me some screenshots of another timeline he was working on:

screenshot of app

time app 2

Besides using wiki-images, you can use your own. No scribbly messes-an error can easily be deleted. Target age is 10+, and the publisher suggests uses other than for students; genealogists, project managers, marketers, basically any hobbyist or professional who needs a timeline of events could utilize this. I like the fact that Knowledge Quest is making educational Apps and hope more curriculum publishers will follow suit. My son would never had made a timeline had I not been able to give him this digital opportunity.  As much as I’ve protested about the time my younger sons have spent on their electronic devices, I have to succumb to the inevitable-times have changed, and homeschooling has changed along with it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to Skype my son and have him email me his writing for today.


Read more TOS Crew Reviews on this product here:

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Top 100 Most Commonly Used Words: Must Learn List


I never used a spelling curriculum in our homeschool.  I taught my boys the most commonly used English words, made sure they could spell those, and then we moved on to “words” of the day.  I chose unique, interesting words, SAT words, or those I thought were useful to know.  To solidify your child’s foundation in spelling, make sure he knows how to spell the word list below, which make up more than half of all the words most likely to be encountered in reading and basic writing needs.


 A: a, about, all, an, and, are, as, at
B: back, be, been, before, big, but, by
C: call, came, can, come, could
D: did, do, down
E: even
F: first, for, from
G: get, go
H: had, have, he, him, his
I: I, if, in, into, is, it
J: just
K: know
L: like, little, look
M: made, make, me, more, much, must, my
N: new, no, not, now
O: of, off, old, on, one, only, or, other, our, out, over
P: person
R: right
S: said, say, see, she, so, some
T: that, the, their, them, then, there, they, this, time, to, two
U: up, us
W: want, was, we, well, went, were, what, when, where, which, who, will, with, would
Y: you

Try a Fun Brain Spell Check game.

the spelling lesson

Supercharged Science: A TOS Crew Review

supercharged LogoMy 12-year-old loves science, and we couldn’t wait to dive into Supercharged Science for this TOS Crew review.  Bill Nye the science guy step aside and make room for Aurora the rocket scientist.  She’s got the brains, the enthusiasm, and the knack for making science educational and fun.

product supercharged

Supercharged Science is an online e-science curriculum  that can be used in all grades K-12. It’s ideal use is for your main full year science curriculum – with over 1,000 activities, experiments and projects, it is unlikely you will exhaust the material, and It is adaptable to use for multi-grade teaching so everyone can learn together.  It is organized into 20 units, teaching eighteen core scientific principles, ten of which students should understand before they hit college. Some of these key scientific concepts are higher pressure always pushes, heat flows from hot to cold, like charges repel, opposites attract.

How about you?  Do you really understand these principals? I dare you to try Aurora’s quiz. (PDF) Yes, I took it, and no, I am not telling you what I got. I couldn’t bare the shame.

With Supercharged Science, Aurora is the primary instructor. You are the facilitator, set up/clean up crew and science cheerleader. Aurora and her team are available to any student or parent through email and a chat board. Material is taught through video demonstrations, teleclasses, optional downloadable text and worksheets, and hundreds of hands on activities which truly are the highlight of this program.  Access is through a monthly subscription that can be cancelled anytime. K-8 access is $37, K-12 is $57. Aurora also sends out emails with exciting new suggestions for experiments and various interesting facts or videos to watch.

The website is well organized. You can either start off with unit one and go in order, or you can use an unstructured approach and gear your choices to your child’s particular interests. I have an easily distractable intelligent 6th grader who yearns to

  • Build rockets



  • Mix chemicals 


  • Time travel

time travel









and some day, develop the formula for invisibility.  He loves tinkering, building, and appreciates learning the “science” behind the experiments. His learning style has led us to lean towards an unschooled approach.  Thus, we ping-ponged around the units and sampled several, the highlight being the experiments.



We tried the course for six weeks, and our consensus was hey! this is a cool program, and the experiments actually work. Persnkicky experiments with specialty ingredients that have pale outcomes has turned me off from many a science curriculum.  Yes, variables can cause an experiment to be a bust,  but when that tends to be the rule rather than the exception it makes science terribly bland.

will doing science

We built a electromagnetic  in response to our study of Unit 10.  An easy hook up of wires and batteries completed a circuit and lit up a bulb which demonstrated electrical flow.  The ten minute procedure spawned an hour long session of experimentation and learning about electricity.

We made a flying contraption from the easy experiments and videos section. Constructed out of paper, straws, and a little tape demonstrated aerodynamic principles.  It flew far and smooth and whet my son’s appetite for more.

We put ivory soap in the microwave and watched the change.  Ooohs and aaahs filled the room along with the fragrant aroma of cleanliness. This was very cool.

Our last experiment was via a live webinar on building a solar oven. Son and husband did this together. It blessed my heart to see the two of them working side by side, listening to Aurora, and completing the step by step construction of this simple device out of common materials: a cardboard box, tape, magnifying sheet lens, glue gun, and tape.

solar oven

We live in cloudy, cold New York, so we didn’t get a chance to use our creation yet and make our s’mores.  Maybe in July it will be warm enough.

glue gun


The boys had the opportunity to ask questions to Aurora, but being on the shy side, they sat back and listened. One kid from Alaska asked if it was true that a duck’s quack has no echo. Proof there is no question too small or silly for Supercharged Science. The goal of Supercharged Science is to get an exceptional science education.  And, most importantly to have fun getting it!

Aurora is a gifted teacher, and more than qualified to teach your children.  Here’s more information on her background and how she developed this quality homeschool science program.

Try a sample: Get a complimentary science activity manual and video collection of her most popular experiments.

I have no qualms in giving this e-science program Homeschoolbuzz.com’s seal of approval.  Every homeschooler should give it a try at some point in their homeschool journey.  Especially if you fear your middle or high schooler is struggling with the basic foundations of science.  Aurora is there for you, and is certain to kindle a flame and satisfy your budding Einstein’s and Edison’s quest for scientific knowledge.

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. Thomas Edison

Click here to read some additional reviews of this product.

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You can observe a lot just by watching. Yogi Berra



Homeschooling with James Bond


Field trips are my favorite part of homeschooling.  We have traveled across New York State, visited all the East coast big cities, and have even incorporated excellent learning opportunities while vacationing at both DisneyWorld and Universal Studios.  Our most recent adventure was a night out at the historic Kodak Theatre to experience Classic Bond by the Rochester Symphony with guest conductor Carl Davis (no relation) and vocalist Mary Carewe.  The evening, in celebration of the fifty year anniversary of the James Bond franchise, highlighted the theme songs from all the Bond movies.  As you can see from the smiles, despite being in the very last row of the balcony, we were stoked.

mom and dad

smiling boysI am a sucker for live music, and I goosebumped at the opening, and loved the entire evening.  And, even though I’ve only seen a handful of Bond movies, I recognized almost every song. Here’s a list of all the theme songs.

lead singer











The conductor was super, and it was obvious he was thrilled to be there.  Mary Carewe nailed all the songs with her diverse vocal range.

The Kodak Theatre has great acoustics (even in the nosebleed section), and it is elegant.  My pics hardly capture the beauty of the elaborate fixtures, but here’s a few I took.



I have to give my boys credit, they almost made it through an evening at the symphony.  However, here they are at intermission:

really? bored

Yes they enjoyed it, but they would have preferred the abridged version with an encore by Manafest.



If you haven’t fit any symphony field trips into your homeschool schedule,  I highly encourage it.  You bet we’ll go again. Next time we’ll scoot out at intermission.