Math-U-See Calculus: A TOS Crew Review


Up until this review, Calculus was the one level of Math-U-See I had not used. We tinkered with the primers, but my first real engagement was with Delta and I used each level right through Pre-Calc. My middle son finished through Geometry, and my youngest is the one who it didn’t jive with. Because of his learning style, he needs a “Math-U-Hear”.

I must confess that teaching calculus is out of my comfort zone – I bailed teaching math after geometry and my boys became independent with Steve Demme as their sole teacher. When dad couldn’t help them figure out how to work through a problem, the Math-U-See support staff was available and indispensable. Pre-calc posed some challenges for my eldest last year, but it was easily rectified. I called the Math-U-See support number, handed my son the phone, and an hour later he understood what step in his “proof” he had overlooked.


Math-U-See has been my personal choice math curriculum for the last seven years for a reason – Steve Demme is a fantastic teacher, versatile enough to teach the easiest concepts right through to the most brain wracking formulas and principles associated with higher level math. He talks to the student, has mastery of the subject, and an ease with a splash of humor in his presentation style.  Aptly named, Math-U-See is perfect for visual learners. The lower/middle grades make good use of manipulatives.  Mr. Demme uses many visual examples and common sense scenarios to accent the mathematical demonstrations. The instructor’s manual is a complement to the DVD – which is simple to navigate and can easily be picked up where you last left off.  Treat it with care though, scratches are never good for maintaining DVD quality.

In this full year Calculus program, you get the combined instructional DVD/companion hardcover (nearly five hundred paged) manual for $92. The consumable student text  is $32. The thirty lessons are taught to the student by Steve Demme (via DVD) and depending on the concept, vary in length from 10 to 45 minutes.  Ideally, four days are lesson practice and the fifth day can be used as test day (my son chooses not to do a test unless he has difficulty and would then use the test as an extra worksheet). The first five lessons are primarily review of fundamental must grasp concepts of a moderate to advanced level of algebra. It works through trigonometry and graphing and then delves into introducing the basis of calculus such as functions, continuity, domain, range, derivatives, integrals, differential equations, optimizations, and more. Some of this was taught in pre-calc, but the student may not have recognized it as calculus concepts.

garrison doing math

Due to its advanced nature, calculus is not a subject that all homeschool students will tackle.  A solid foundation in algebraic principles is necessary, and still it may require an initial immersion with a revisitation later. What helped my son be successful with Math-U-See calculus was that this was not his first exposure. Prior to this review, he completed an eight week non-credit MIT calculus course via You Tube. With a prior introduction a student could reasonably move faster through the first five review chapters and reach the meaty portions of the program more quickly. Otherwise, follow Mr. Demme’s advice on how to approach his calculus:

You may spend a day on a new topic, or you may spend several days. There are so many factors that influence this process that it is impossible to predict the length of time from one lesson to another…If you move from lesson to lesson too quickly without the student demonstrating mastery, he will become overwhelmed and discouraged.  If you move too slowly, your student may become bored and lose interest in math.

work book problemsHere’s a few thoughts my son had to share about the last six weeks of working through Math-U-See calculus:

The program is heavy on graphing on the first five chapters, and of course is very visual.  I didn’t plan for this amount of review, and could have gone through the beginning quicker as I was ready for the new concepts. The instruction manual provides extra explanations and examples with two variations of the problem in addition to Mr. Demme’s lesson example. It took me about thirty minutes a day to complete a worksheet (four per lesson).  I am an independent student and like this kind of curriculum that allows me to remain independent.  Someone who isn’t as motivated or doesn’t keep up with math every day will have trouble with this approach.  I liked that adequate review was offered, and that the math problems were challenging. I didn’t like the amount of graphing in the beginning, it did get tiring.



Mr. Demme is a great teacher, I felt like he was my personal tutor. He knows how to share his knowledge in a way you can understand.  He eases you into the subject, has a clear path. This is a good course for a high school senior like me, who enjoys math. Mr. Demme has been my math teacher since seventh grade. In case he’s reading, I want to say thanks and let him know I got a perfect score on my Standford math test last summer and tested at the pre-calc college level last year when doing placement testing for community college. The majority of the other students testing with me only qualified for the college algebra level.  Oh, and even though I only agreed to use this curriculum for a six week review, I like it and am enjoying it enough that I plan to finish it.


I am so proud of my son, and grateful for the help Math-U-See has provided in developing his solid foundation and for reinforcing the love for math he has shown throughout his K-12 homeschool education. There are many more perspectives on the various levels of Math-U-See. Be sure to check out more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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13 Must Knows for Successful College Planning


My eldest son has finished his K-12 homeschool education, and is now embarking on the next phase of his life: college.  Gary already posted a comprehensive article on paying for college, and here are a few tips I took away from a meeting with a college admissions officer. I learned from high school homeschooling that it is never too soon to start planning for college. If you wait until junior or senior year you are in for a sweaty scramble and more stress than you need.

  • Sophomore year seriously explore possible careers. Talk to professionals, other adults, youth pastor, go on a mission trip. Volunteer, and arrange field trips to various industries.
  • Stack up CLEP credits: some colleges will transfer up to 30 credits.  Not all universities accept CLEP, so check first. AP classes are another possibility to explore.
  • Junior year visit colleges and college fairs.
  • Senior year are for your serious colleges visits with overnights. Call admissions office to arrange with visit coordinator. The Admission counselor is an excellent resource, often an alumni from the school.
  • Connect with the financial aid office, ask what scholarships are available.
  • Don’t let the sticker price shy you away. Lots of funny money and price drops when offer comes in.
  • Application deadlines: don’t miss them (we did by just a few days for one college choice). Must send final high school transcript after graduation.
  • Merit scholarships: higher GPA/SAT the better. Take PSAT fall of Junior year, SAT Fall and early Spring of Senior year.
  • Look for scholarships early. Start local with your community (smaller pool), then spread out to national.
  • Start applying to colleges fall of Senior year.
  • Don’t pay anyone to help you find scholarships. They use the same tools that are available to you.
  • FAFSA due by March 1st.  No Pell grant for 125 K+ household incomes.
  • Junior year start taking college courses for dual credit.  English 101, math, psychology good choices.  One semester of college=1 full year of homeschool credit.

Remember: higher education is an investment.  Choose a career that you enjoy, but one that you will also have a good chance of finding work after graduation. Otherwise what good is a college degree if you can’t find a job in the field?

Worst college majors for your career

Ten best paying college majors

Have any more college planning tips?  Please share in the comments.

Here is Denise Ames from College Common Sense: a resource for college planning

Artistic Pursuits Highschool Art: A TOS Crew Review

The curriculum for Creativity

Teaching high school art is intimidating and challenging to a parent like me who has no artistic talents. I am so art challenged that my husband even forbids me from painting a wall because I miss spots and leave unsightly drip marks. But, I am excellent at following instructions and have a knack for recognizing quality curriculum. When it comes to teaching art, Artistic Pursuits has nailed it.

My boys and I sampled Artistic Pursuits High School 9-12 Book Two: Color and Composition, newly minted 2013 third edition $47.95.

Artistic pursuits book 2

This curriculum by Brenda Ellis is a spiral bound book with sixteen lessons that will last you through a thirty-two week full school year period. Geared toward ages 14 and up, the focus of the teaching is on the elements of art and the principles of design. The student will be creating his own amazing works of art through conversational presentations of art vocabulary, techniques, and blazing colorful reproductions of both well known European artists and outstanding student examples.

The work below is inspired by Lesson 1 Unit 1 on Hue.  Using watercolors, my boys chose a single color and tinted it with water to reflect the various shades of the color.

Unit 1

Then we worked our way to Unit 3 where shading was applied to change the value of a hue by adding a touch of black.

Benny painting

Here they also learned how light and dark areas show form. The classic piece the New Born Child by Georges de La Tour was used as an example to show shaded hue.

Georges de la Tour

Artistic Pursuits’s holds the philosophy that every child can understand the concepts of art and enjoy the process of putting ideas and visual images on paper.  In our home school we share the same philosophy.  From the time they were able to hold a crayon they were decorating first our walls, then our tables, as we gently guided their little hands to paper.  I’ve tucked away their early creations and from time to time when I stumble upon them I smile- it makes my heart glad to know we encouraged and groomed their creativity throughout their homeschool education.

Whether you have used the prior Artistic Pursuits books or not, this is a great course to include at some point in your student’s 9-12 high school education.  Oh, and what I especially love is the student can be independent.  Your job is to get the art supplies (handy list is provided), and facilitate as needed. Be sure to find some wall space to showcase the beautiful pieces that your student artist will be creating. Check out what the other crew members have to say here at The Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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Unit 3

Lone Star Learning Targeted Vocabulary Cards: A TOS Crew Review

logo lone starI have always incorporated flash cards whenever necessary to help my boys recall vocabulary words, solidify math facts, or memorize verses. My meager 3×5 index cards hastily penned with sloppy handwriting are no match for Lone Star Learning’s quality, thoughtfully conceptualized Targeted Vocabulary Pictures cards.

I tried Set 1 with my sixth grader.  Although he is a classic auditory learner, he has an eye for good design and art.  He loved the presentation of the target word blending into a animated pictorial definition. He has difficulty with memorization, but we saw improvement with his long term recall after using this set. This type of visual mnemonic is a fantastic tool – see the word being used as what it means helps spark connections. If my short attention span auditory learner likes these cards, that is my proof that any type of learner can use these successfully. Though these cards are geared toward the grade 3-8 range, you can creatively incorporate them with other grades.


Target Vocabulary Pictures can be purchased in 2 sizes with 50-56 cards in each set. Large 11″ x 8.5″ = $34.99
Small 5.5″ x 4.25 = $29.99


The cards are glossy print on sturdy card stock.  They are excellent quality, and will pass down nicely to younger grades as they move up the ranks.

Why use flash cards?  Why wouldn’t you use them is a better question. I used them throughout my college years. Babies, K-12, and higher level learning students can all increase their ability to learn and improve their recall proficiency with them. Here’s a few suggestions from Lone Star on how to use their cards:

Read the words and discuss the definition.  Look at the pictures hidden within the word and discuss why those pictures demonstrate the meaning.  Students can write and illustrate the words themselves in a dictionary that they create. Use the words to make acrostic poetry.  Show one word a day and have your student use it in a sentence.  Find places to post the cards once they have been introduced and revisit them often.

Here’s another take on the power of using cards specifically in adult learners.

Glad to recommend Lone Star’s products for your educational needs.  Refer to their website to see the different card themes they have to offer. From my own experience, I’d much rather buy well made thoughtfully designed cards than invest the time to make my own. Oh, for your techies-they also have digital options. Check out what the rest of the crew review has to say about this fantastic product here.

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Abraham’s Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream

abraham book coverThe Internet has opened the floodgates of knowledge and history to the world. Prior to its introduction into modern day households, textbooks, biographies, and VHS tapes were the ticket to knowledge.  Now, a couple of clicks and you can be roving around Mars or gazing at the Mona Lisa.  In Abraham’s Journey, by Robert and Kathleen Basmadjian, the economy is in a recession and a boy (Abraham) learns his parents can’t afford Christmas presents. When he uses his smartphone to look for ways to earn money, a wise old man pops out of the screen and tells Abraham he can help. The elder uses a little Internet magic to whisk Abraham away on a cyber-journey with the intent to help the kid discover his talents and experience first hand the American Dream.

amerian dream

The duo make several stops along the 20th century timeline and meet up with Martin Luther King Jr and Norman Rockwell and then zip on to present day Icons Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Abraham learns on his travels he has a special talent and gets to hear first hand the wisdom for success these great Americans have to share.

Abraham’s Journey is a unique way of introducing primary grades to how social media can be used to network and promote a business.  With the “wise old man” as a guide, Abraham was able to discover he had a talent, and through social media he was able to connect with someone he would never had reached otherwise.


The book geared toward the 7-12 age group is a quick read – at forty pages it can be read in one sitting.  It only took me ten minutes to finish, but a student who is reading easy chapter books might need a half hour.  It is colorfully and plentifully illustrated, and my twelve year old thought the art was inviting and the best part of the book.  I do agree, without the page wide illustrations the story would fall short.  The narrative is simple, and though an index of definitions is included in the back, there was no challenging vocabulary.  A short biography of each historical (past and modern day) accompanies the definitions.

statue of libertyThe principles the book conveys: hard work and innovation combined with digital platforms  can result in a modern fulfillment of the American dream are true; but I thought the book lacked a “wow” factor.  Kids who are young and haven’t had much exposure to the Internet will likely be intrigued.  Kids (like mine) who are digitally engaged and plugged into networks may not be as excited, but will still enjoy learning a few things about these fascinating people. It sells for $14.99 at the Inspiring the American Dream website.

Read what other members of the TOS crew review have to say about Abraham’s Journey.

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Going to College and Paying for it: A TOS Crew Review

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The thought of homeschooling high school terrified me and the whole college prep process confused me. Now that I have accomplished them both successfully I can pass on what I’ve learned to you so your passage through these years will be painless and enjoyable. The one important caveat I’ve learned is it is never too early to plan for college. High school creeps up so fast that it can feel like you’ve zipped through a small town – blink and it’s over. Plan now=peace of mind later.

Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook is a resource College Common Sense designed to help you make the best possible college decisions. The program consists of a series of video instructions, newsletters, and a good deal of lesson plans and jumpstarts for learning about potential careers. Denise Ames, the developer and author, has 10 years experience in the college industry and delivers her “inside” tips with confidence, clarity, and a calm mannerism. She walks you through the college process using a sensible time line and gives you the best advice for winning ideal scholarships and avoiding the scams. When is FAFSA due? Is it necessary? How many colleges to choose? How do you choose one? For this review, my husband and I watched the videos on filling out the FAFSA form, the application process, and the scholarship hunt. We were pleased with how she cleared up our misunderstandings. Right after our viewing we finished the FAFSA and our son applied to his first college, and he’s now finishing up his second application. Denise came through for us and gave us the motivation and encouragement to take the next step even when we thought we had waited too long.

Collegecommonsense DVD

You can start this program in the elementary grades. If you are still early in your homeschool journey, you will reap considerable benefit from her newsletter and lesson plans. Prior to high school, do the lessons once a month (high schoolers will want to use it more frequently). Your students will be introduced to various industries – this month is environment and food sources, and will be guided to write reflections in a permanent notebook. Though ideally this program should be started by freshman year, I can attest even a first use in senior year will be extremely helpful. The scholarship/free money help alone makes this a worthy purchase.
Going to College and Paying for it online video & workbook costs $25.00 for 12 month log-in access.
And, you get the College Common Sense newsletter and lesson plans free anytime, even without a purchase.  What a generous, gracious offer!

student loan

I would have loved to have had access to this when I was doing my three year high school plan for my eldest son. College and career training are perhaps the biggest investments a person will ever make. A big financial decision requires wise, strategic planning. Sure, I’ve ended up where I should be, but I took the long way to get here. College Common sense has done the research and can serve as your homeschool guidance counselor. Whether your kids are still in elementary education or nearing graduation, you will be smart to tap into the goldmine of information this program has to offer.

Read what other members of the TOS review crew has to say about College Common Sense here.

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As a mentor to new and growing homeschoolers, I often hear things like,

 “I bought curriculum for the year, but my son hates it…I can’t afford the hundreds of dollars for all the texts and workbooks I need…I feel ill-equipped to teach high school chemistry and writing…just the thought of college prep makes my stomach churn.”

We can all relate to any or all of the above statments.  Rather than mosey along with something that’s not working, or surrender to panic and give up, you can find help at, an online educational hub that offers a vast array of courses, activities, and lesson plans from experts and well known homeschool leaders.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine first introduced this website as  the “teacher’s tool-kit”. Though this new and improved upgrade is way beyond a toolkit – it is more like a garage full of state of the art equipment, hydraulics, and mechanics who know how to use the right tools for the job.  You can use this site for your schooling needs for all grades pre-K through 12 and there are lessons for 14 subjects, including math, history, grammar, writing, science, french, music, and more. This site can serve as a foundation, or as a supplement to fill in gaps. Some may just be looking to add some variety, access a reading list, or to find ideas for teaching elementary art.  Point-click-teach is the motto for – once you find your desired subject (for me it was writing), you select your grade level, and click to go to that month’s lesson. Then simply follow the step by step instructions to teach the lesson.  And any of the teachers are just an email away if you have a question. My 16-year-old is still trying to decide what he wants to “be” so he is taking the career exploration class taught by Carol Topp. He says, “The  website is easy to use, I like the click and learn format, and I’m looking forward to exploring it more.”

If you get easily overwhelmed by too much information, then step back and try focusing on just one subject. That’s how I plan to use it. I’m set with my base curriculum, but I like the idea of having a team of experts available to me as a need arises. The best surprise for me was to learn how outrageously affordable the monthly subscription is – $5.95 per month per family no matter how many children you have, and there are no commitments – hop out any time you like. Members will also get a subscription to the TOS digital magazine, free e-books every month, and digital planners. I would suggest September as the best time to join if you want to use the site for a full course, but if you join mid year there is access to previous months lessons. This is a great site to use to find fresh ideas, and learn from some of the well known homeschool rock stars!

TOS has been a blessing to me over the years, and I am so pleased with what they have made available to the homeschooling community at Head over there now and take a peak, or see what other crew review members have to say here. I think you too will be pleased with what you find.


Disclaimer:  I received a free subscription of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick

The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick
by Gene Stone
(256 pages)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to never get sick – no more bronchitis, stomach bug, or other nasty viruses? Close to $40 billion a year is spent treating the common cold.  But what if there was a simple solution to avoid sickness? Imagine how much more you could do and the money you’d save if you never got sick.

In his book The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, Gene Stone found a sampling of everyday people who claimed to never get ill. 25 healthy living “secrets”, some unique, others well known. Would they work for anyone? He tried them all and gives his readers a candid appraisal of his findings.

Meet Patricia, a native New Yorker who eats dirt. She washes her hands no more than 3x’s a day, and barely rinses her garden vegetables.“That way she feels she is dosing herself with all the microorganisms that can cause disease.” Patricia adds, “I think exposing myself to a little bit of sick allows my body to create its own defense against passing germs, dirt, viruses, or whatever.”

Then there’s Phil, a teacher who claims detoxification cured his cancer. “The fattier, more processed and more adulterated our diet, the greater amount of it is retained in our bodies. Organs are stressed by their efforts to eliminate the toxic molecules. The less concentrated the diet, the more efficiently this elimination takes place…so the toxics aren’t retained in the cells.”

What a fresh, insightful book.  It’s not peddling snake oils or giving a podium for eccentric people to ballyhoo their strange habits. Rather, it is a peek into the lives of regular people, who do a little something extra – eat fresh garlic, consume only plant based foods, take probiotics, make a habit of napping and balance their PH. They all swear their routine keeps them healthy. The author examines each habit, and shares any science or truth that backs up the validity of their choices.

I prefer prevention to cure, defense, to offense, and am game for any common sense practice that doesn’t require more money or time than I can afford. I have a couple of my own “secrets” for staying healthy, but I believe the common thread that is found in all robust people is a commitment to healthy living – a balanced diet rich in vegetables, good sleep, positive thoughts, no smoking, regular exercise, faith and love, and a sense of purpose. Still, I love to hear the testimonies of others, and save all the  golden nuggets I learn. I got a good bucket of nuggets from this book and am sure you will too.  And, if you want your bucket to overflow, head over to to read the discussion or add your own secret.

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Uncle John’s Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader

Uncle John’s Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader
By: Bathroom Readers’ Institute
Recommended reading level: ages 12+

I’ve had my fill of toothpaste instructions and warnings on cold medicine labels. Never one to bring a book or newspaper (unless we’re out of toilet paper) to the bathroom, when things are taking a while, I resort to reading whatever I pull out of the medicine cabinet. “Get in and get out” is my usual philosophy. But sometimes, it’s nice to have reading material handy for those occasions when digestive systems are a bit sluggish. Why not take maximum advantage of the predicament – read an anecdote, eye witness account, learn some frivolous trivia, or a dumb joke to make you feel like you haven’t wasted time sitting around waiting for something to move? With over 600 pages of witty sayings, conversation pieces, and collections of wacky and sometimes useful information, this loaded reader will provide entertainment when you need it most.

Here’s a few of my favorite nuggets:

Lost in translation (signs):

I like your smile but unlike you put your shoes on my face.

Sorry we’re open.

Please do not feel or scare the animals.

Because I do not have a tissue always ready in this restroom, please buy used one.

Foreign language insults/threats.

Fantong! Mandarin for useless (literal: rice bucket)

Nameh Ten-No! Japanese for you want to fight? (literal: what are you licking?)

Sutki Pala! Polish for chill-out (literal: your nipples are burning)

Want to brush up on your bowling lingo? Say this next time you’re at the alley:

“Look at him reading the lane with his benchmark ball, I bet he’s a squeezer cranker bound to get a clothesline or a 7-up.”

And one of my favorite sections: dispelling myths. I was shocked to learn that Buddha, traditionally depicted as a fat god, was actually tall and lean. Disturbing.

Oh yes, lots more to learn. Remember, 600 pages. So much time suck awaits you.

I propose that the Bathroom Reader might even make it out of your bathroom and into the main living area of your home. If it sounds like one of your family members is having a good time in the john, let’s assume The Bathroom Readers’ Institute is to blame.

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Vice Verses

I don’t believe in coincidence or fate, but it was no accident that I discovered Switchfoot’s music. Reeling with emotional pain from an unexpected life event, I sought refuge – a hedge of protection from the desolate pit of depression. I had sunk into that rut before and as I teetered on the edge this time, I could smell the darkness, feel the cold. I had to move. I heard a song on Pandora – the voice was smooth, the words comforting, the beat penetrating.

No, I’m not alright. I know that I’m not right
Feels like I travel but I never arrive
I want to thrive not just survive.

It was Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, and the song Thrive was a track from their Vice Verses album released in Fall 2011. Talk about a hook – I was caught! I wanted to hear more. As I listened to the album I not only unearthed a bonanza of really good music, I found the kick in the pants needed to get past my problem. Through Switchfoot’s Vice verses I found inspiration, and a comfort that I was going to be more than just alright – I was going to thrive.

Every song on Vice Verses is golden – from the gritty, The War Inside, to the hauntingly beautiful Souvenirs, this album is pure genius.

Get the album – and do even better. See them in person. A guaranteed robust, entertaining, engaging, unbelievably energetic show that will appeal to every member of your family. We were blessed to see them perform at Kingdom Bound 2012, and again last week in Syracuse. Oh, and be sure to splurge and upgrade to VIP – you will be blown away by these guys – kind, humble, real.

It’s been a year since my serendipitous discovery, and I feel like I’ve come full circle. I give Switchfoot a righteous thanks for their music. No accident – it was meant to be.

“I know there’s a meaning to it all
A little resurrection every time I fall
You got your babies I got my hearses
Every blessing comes with a set of curses
I got my vice I got my vice verses”
— Switchfoot

Switchfoot website
Official fansite

That’s us in the center with Switchfoot after the Syracuse show!
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Our America…The King Philip’s War Adventure (Volume 2)

Our America, The King Philip’s War Adventure, is the second installment in the Our America series. Written for children ages 10 and up, this “living” history book transports siblings Ginny and Finn back to the 17th century, where there search for their missing parents lands them in the midst of this historical event.  Author Susan Kilbride acknowledges this war was pivotal to the development of the American Colonies, and yet it is rarely mentioned in our school’s history studies.  Perhaps it was due to the extreme cruelty and extent of destruction this war caused, particularly to the American Indians.  The  American revolution, the Civil War, the French and Indian war we all remember learning about, but King Philip?  Have to admit it was one battle I was unfamiliar with, though this book provided a good immersion and a historical summary and timeline at the end. Sure, you could get the main facts from any American history website, but if you prefer to exercise your student’s reading skills while providing a glimpse into early America, then you may enjoy trying this series.

Thanks to Susan for sending me a complimentary copy of her book for review.

Susan Kilbride knows how much homeschoolers like Unit studies, so stop by her website for a PDF of hands on activities to round out the King Philip’s War learning experience:

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Raising Real Men – Carnival of Homeschooling

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling is hosted by Raising Real Men

“Homeschooling”. To some, the word might conjure up images of un-socialized nerds. To others, it might inspire dreams of perfect students, sitting at the table eagerly learning everything they’re taught and clamoring for more. To most of us, we probably see everything — from the struggles of teaching children of all ages, to the pleasure of watching an older child teaching his sibling. From weariness brought on by bad attitudes and scuffling, to the joy of seeing your children grow strong in the faith, homeschooling parents see it all. Welcome to the July 24 edition of The Carnival of Homeschooling!

Paisley Pig and Friends: A Multicultural ABC

This is one of the most unique and visually stimulating ABC books I’ve yet to see. The author, a self-taught artist, uses her bold, colorful art to teach your children the letters of the English alphabet. The multi-cultural influences come from her own travels around the globe. Each letter is paired with a cultural style or fabric pattern, a small atlas highlighting that country or people group, and a companion full-page beautiful illustration demonstrating the style. Who knew Paisley was first used in Babylon, moved to India, and then loomed in Paisley, Scotland. Or that Huichol people in north-central Mexico make yarn paintings with beeswax, a board, and the sun. I see more than just an introduction to ABC’s in this book but an opportunity to combine geography, art history, cultures, and perhaps experimentation with some of the various art techniques. Or, you can just read it to your kids and together appreciate Ms. Bascom’s creative talent.

Visit to learn more about her work.

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Home School Art Studio Program DVD

HomeArtStudio DVDOver the course of our 12 years of homeschooling, teaching art has always been a challenge. The early years (4-6) were easier because academics were fairly light. Our boys loved getting their hands messy with finger paints, were captivated by their Papier-mâché creations, and even enjoyed mere coloring projects. We also were new to homeschooling, so art was fun for us too. Our house was adorned (and eventually cluttered) with their various masterpieces.

It didn’t take long for us to settle in to a day-to day routine of math, english, science and field trips. Soon art took a back seat and we lost our cadence. We used up all the popular art curriculums and over the years tried several more. Although their Dad is a professional designer, teaching art is much harder for him than creating art. What we really needed was a rescue – a professional art teacher to come in to our home and teach our boys, and please bring all the supplies. Reality check – what would that cost? I once paid $200 for my 2 high schoolers to take a 9 week art course, so add in a third and span that across a full school year and ouch. Then wonderful Lindsey Volin introduced us to her Home Art Studio, and we had found what we were looking for.

Through the magic of DVD, Mrs. Volin, (a certified art instructor) will come to your home, and teach the lessons. Through the Home Art Studio site, she can even supply you with all the materials ahead of time. You just need to facilitate and encourage your children to implement her instructions and be inspired as their inner Picasso emerges.

This art curriculum is fantastic. We sampled the Grade 5 program (other programs from grade K), but had our 3 boys ages 11, 15 and 17 all participate. Though geared towards my 11 year old’s level, my older boys participated and enjoyed the lessons just as much.

The DVD contains not only video but printable PDF lesson guides (you can access through your computer) for each lesson.

You could just buy the DVD and find your own supplies, but I recommend spending the extra money (it is affordable) and save yourself the headache. The website has already bundled together all the materials used in the lessons so you can purchase them and be ready to teach without last minute trips to the art store.

The goals of the curriculum are to develop in your a child a love for the arts, and not only to create a piece of art, but to think creatively as they learn to see their world from an artist’s point of view. Art needs to be just as important as math in your homeschool. Creativity and innovation are increasingly important skills in the business world. Home Art Studio can help you establish the foundation of this skill.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. – Picasso

Home Art Studio

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The Pilgrim Adventure: Our America series Volume 1

Homeschooling mom and author Susan Kilbride has a new history series that is sure to spark your child’s interest in learning about our Country’s roots. Here’s what she shared with me about this new title, and she generously includes a free unit study on pilgrims.

Finn & Ginny’s parents are lost back in time, and the two young twins have decided to go back to early America to find them. Their search takes the twins to the Mayflower where they discover that the Pilgrims had far more adventures than they had ever realized.

This first book in the Our America series is designed to teach the real story of the Pilgrims in such a fun way that the reader won’t even realize that it’s educational. The Pilgrim Adventure is based on actual accounts written by the Pilgrims themselves, and kids who read this book will find that by the end of the story they may know more about the Pilgrim’s adventures than their parents do.

Here is a link to the freebie unit study on pilgrims.

Susan also wrote Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers and is offering readers another free unit study on Atoms & Molecules for ages 8-13. Take advantage of these wonderful learning opportunities.

Find more cool stuff at Susan’s website.

Thanks Susan for Sharing!!

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Zero the Hero

A child’s first exposure to math should be fun. Forget repetitive drills and boring worksheets. One of my favorite books I first used to teach my young boys the concept of counting was the M & M’s Counting Book. It’s a fun and yummy introduction to basic math. I’d get other colorful books from the library, anything creative and eye-catching would work for such an important concept. Zero the Hero is another excellent choice to show children specifically how the number zero works – it has everything I look for in a children’s math picture book.

It’s interesting : it tells the story of how the number zero became a hero to the numbers 1-9.

It’s colorful : nicely illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.

It’s educational: teaches how to add, multiply, and even divide with zero.
It’s just the right length: about 40 pages.

It’s inspirational : it shows even the underdog, the one who was destined to amount to nothing became a hero, and earned the respect and admiration of his community.

Joan Holub has taken what could have been a hard to grasp concept and made it entertaining and memorable.
Kids will likely enjoy reading this several times – one is likely to miss some of the play on words the first time around.

I remember my first born (now 17 and teaching himself pre-calculus) loved numbers. He’d arrange his fruit loops, skittles, and all his Halloween candy into color-coded groups before eating them. Today you’ll find him watching physics videos and doing math/logic puzzles for entertainment. I’d like to think he developed an interest and knack for math because we had such a good time with it when he was younger. Reading books like Zero the Hero is a great way to keep your child’s initial exposure to math light, playful, and interesting. Odds are you’ll be building a foundation that will make math less intimidating, and set your child up for a successful future with math.

Author website:

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Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement

There are some kids who have an insatiable appetite and intense passion for mathematics. You may recognize the signs: cruising through math homework, A+ average, may watch extra math lectures, answers your questions with statistical probabilities, and looks for logic and reasoning themes in both games and reading material.

If you see this love for math in your middle schooler, you’re likely on the look-out for puzzle books or supplements to keep your budding Archimedes challenged and happy. The Critical Thinking Co. is a great resource for a wide variety of material that will nurture logical thinking in all subjects, including math. This particular 150+ paged math workbook specifically designed for your middle-schoolers , serves not as a primary curriculum, but as a supplement that can be used to reinforce concepts learned in 7th/8th grade. There are also different levels in this series, so if you have a child older or younger, look through their listings to find the one right for you.

With 50 theme based “collections”, it touches on 2/3D Geometry, probability, number operations, rates, ratios, proportions, fractions, patterns, percents, graphing, statistics, number theory, and word/logic problems. Ample room for working/showing work is provided. Some of the material was really tricky – my 17 year old had no trouble randomly picking pages and solving the problems (he’s learning pre-calc and got a perfect math score on his Standford testing last year), and he thought the questions gave him a chance to use his logic. Where as my 15 year old 9th grader described his sampling to be “really hard”, and was stumped by a few questions. I could see him quickly become frustrated if he was asked to do more. Mathematical Reasoning isn’t asking for the user to just spew back rote facts, rather it stretches the student by having him not only use learned formulas and concepts, but build on them by applying his knowledge methodically and critically.

Not all middle-schoolers will be ready for this type of math application, nor will they all want to spend any more time on math than they have to. But, if you have a student who enjoys math, and you’d like to reinforce his lessons and get him to use his skills logically and creatively, give this title serious consideration.

Other Levels

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Chord Buddy

I fell in love with the guitar when I was 12 years old and my romance flourished for over three decades. I still have the Martin Sigma Anniversary acoustic my parents bought me when I turned 16. I admit the first year of learning to play was touch and go – sore fingers, muffled sounds, buzzing strings. It seemed I would never produce anything that resembled music. Never one to give up easily, I persisted and eventually things clicked. After years of lessons and countless hours of practice, I got good enough to play for nursing homes, prison ministries, a band, and even led worship. It has always been my desire to pass my love for the guitar onto my children, and I just started to teach my 10-year- old. We got a great deal on a Fender acoustic electric. That same week we bought the new guitar, we were asked to review “Chord Buddy”; an ingenious invention that hooks on the neck of the guitar and helps to form chords. Placed just below the nut, this lightweight plastic device allows a beginner to form a perfect chord by simply pressing a colored button. Depending on the color chosen, a G, D, C, or Em chord can be played. The pressure to make the chord sound just right will be eliminated, allowing the student to focus on basic strum patterns and the flow of chord changes. And the best part: the excitement of hearing yourself make music that doesn’t cause others to cringe!

The Chord Buddy system comes with a guide book that introduces basic strum patterns and music theory, a songbook, and an instructional DVD. This is meant to be used for initial support. As the student progress in his skill, the button tabs can be removed, and in about two months the guitarist will play chords on his own.

Besides my son, my husband even picked up the new fender with Chord Buddy attached and started strumming and switching chords like a pro.

Not everyone will need the Chord Buddy to learn, and remember it teaches only chords, not notes (I learned both simultaneously). I see this unique tool as a great way to take away some of the frustration that goes with learning a new instrument, and Chord Buddy just might be the key to nurturing the hidden talents of a budding musician.

Learn more about the Chord Buddy system

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The Ultimate Top Secret Guide to Taking Over the World

As soon as I read the title of this book I knew it would be just right for my 10-year-old reluctant reader. I toss him at least 3 different books a week – he’ll read a chapter (if even that) and quickly loses interest. A typical boy, he likes video games, playing outdoors, staring out the window, eating candy, and scheming secret plots to take over the household. Household today. Country tomorrow, and I’m sure world domination is in his long-term plans. There is tons to learn to become an evil genius, so if you’re in my boat and can’t get your young man interested in common literary titles that are recommended for his age group, than come aboard and lets let our budding masterminds read what they like. As long as what he’s reading doesn’t involve instructions on homemade nukes or how to whine like an expert, I’m in.

The Ultimate Top Secret Guide is just over 200 pages and in an entertaining, comedic style, the author reveals the ten (plus) easy steps one must know to conquer the planet. Things like how to come up with a cool super name, build your own underground lair, dress for success, and what to do with the billion dollars that will be made by being the ultimate ruler. I really liked that the author included little nuggets like how to memorize important sounding stuff. It took just a couple of minutes for me to memorize “PI”, and I was so thrilled with my new ability that I had everyone else in the family memorize it along with me. The first ten digits of PI is just one of those tidbits of knowledge that may someday prove handy to know.

Besides the incessant fun of the material, the illustrations (by Ethan Long) are frequent, bold, and add the flair needed to make this book that much more appealing. There’s also a section in the back for the aspiring masterminds to take notes. Now if my reluctant reader who is also averse to writing actually of his own free will pens a little something, I hope to convince Mr. Nesbitt to try publishing writing curriculum for middle-schoolers; as we parents and teaches of the distractible child can testify most of what’s available out there isn’t working for us.

I leave you with an explanation from the author as to why he himself isn’t ruler of the world:

Fine. I admit it. I’m too lazy. Happy now? I’d rather sleep in all morning and spend a couple of afternoons writing a book than lead battalions of nuclear destructobots in a quest for world domination. Which leaves the field wide open for you. All you have to do is read this book and carefully follow the instructions I’ve laid out, and in no time at all you will be laughing maniacally as the world cowers before you. Or something like that. So if you’re ready, let’s begin.

Kenn Nesbitt’s fun website

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SAT ACT TOEFL: College Prep English Practice

Now that two of my boys are in high school, my ears are frequently tuned towards SAT information. When to take it? How many times? How critical is scoring well to future college placement? And finally, how should my sons best prepare?

If you want to know the basics of the test, visit here.

Should a high SAT score be your goal? Of course you want your student to do well, but the SAT is only one piece of the puzzle. A survey published through the National Association of College Admission Counseling found 75% of the colleges interviewed reported using scores “holistically.” Meaning, the tests are just one factor out of several in how an applicant is evaluated. Extra-curricular activities, GPA, course of study, curriculum quality, college prep-class grades, etc. all are taken into consideration.

How you choose to prepare is entirely up to you, there are prep courses, tutors, practice tests, SAT question of the day, and if you are most interested in preparing for the English portion, this book by K. Tichenell specifically targets that.

Tichenell’s philosophy is that a student must be exposed to lots of challenging, sophisticated vocabulary, and should be well read in good literature. Understanding there are so many books and so little time, the author offers an interesting approach: short stories (i.e.: 6 pages) are presented with a plethora of unique words, with the definition provided in the sidebar. After reading the story the student will answer questions that will specifically test the comprehension of the words. Makes sense. Instead of just trying to memorize word meanings, read them in the context of a story, and you may find it easier to understand words such as nonce, cadent, predilection, vapid, and fardel.

My 16 year old and I both sampled chapter 1. We averaged about 50%. He thought the exercise was challenging, but fun, and felt it was a nice complement to his SAT prep. Clearly we both need more exposure to sui generis palaver.

My husband and I also enjoyed being set straight on when to use “who” or “whom”, and all the little nuggets shared helped us understand the mysteries of the English language! This book includes quite a comprehensive explanation of English rules, standards, and overview of everything one would need to know to master English.

However you decide to have your student prepare for the SAT is up to you, but considering this book provides a wealth of useful advice at a reasonable price, it might be a good place to start. I tend to agree with K. Tichenell’s insight:

The ability to express thoughts clearly, coherently, and persuasively is an essential skill in college, in the workplace and indeed anywhere in the modern world. Even those whose role in society requires little or no communications skills will benefit occasionally from the ability to describe an event and write a convincing letter or, failing that, will suffer from the inability to do so at the hands of those who can.

Author’s website

TOEFL: Test of English as a foreign language.

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