Artsology: All Ages Artsy Fun and Games – Raveworthy and Free!


Art has always been a core subject in our boy’s homeschool education, right alongside reading, math, writing, and video games.  Gaming got there by default: three boys, majority rules, 21st century, it’s in their blood. I quit fighting and embraced the games.

Now I have a  sophomore majoring in Information Systems with an emphasis on Game Design (he recently developed/published a game for the Sony Vita), a freshman majoring in Public Relations who writes grade A essays on E-sports, and a high school freshman Minecraft maniac computer geek who codes, is an avid photographer, and designs seriously good architecture on Photoshop and Blender.

The Davis Boys
The Davis Boys

I have no doubt their early and consistent exposure to art in all its majestic and magical forms helped to shape their creative spirits and artistic career paths. Hmm..their dad being an accomplished artist might have influenced them a bit too.

A diverse and consistent exposure to art throughout your children’s formative years is essential to a well rounded education. I just finished perusing and had to tell you what a goldmine of free art lessons and online games they offer!  They also explore topics in music and literature. I was surprised to learn Artsology has been around for eleven years, and bummed to think I missed out on some great art explorations!

There used to be two parts to Artsology: the free section that has enough to keep you and your kids busy for a long while, and the membership section which housed

  • The Gallery Insider: a virtual trip into contemporary art gallery and exhibitions.
  • An interview with MoMA Chief Conservator James Coddington.
  • Art Features: A look at sculptures and machines such as Leonardo da Vinci’s work and tools by James Capper.
  • The Art & Jazz Series where  a jazz selection corresponds to an art project.
  • Arts Fun Books printables section.

They are currently rolling over the membership extras to the main free site – an amazing and generous offer to the world of educators, students, and art appreciators.

I tried one of their free online games: The Stymphalian Bird Game

The game is similar to Flappy Bird. You click your mouse to navigate through ancient Greece columns. I died quick. But my teen gleefully soared with the greatest of ease and then chuckled at my poor gaming technique.

stymphalian-birds-herculesAfter the game you can scroll down to a mini art lesson on this greek amphora which inspired the visuals of the game.










anamorphic-art-by-daliInterested in an art investigation? This page takes you to  Anamorphic Art by Salvador Dali.


Artsology points out as you view the piece, what at first hand seemed like a simple (yet weird) bug image reveals itself to have all sorts of images contained within it, depending on how you view it.

Seriously, Artsology has a rich and assorted harvest of art education and artistic opportunities to enrich and inspire students of all ages. I appreciate their passion and commitment to building such a commendable site. Their mission is to be “the teacher” who made an extra effort, far beyond normal teacher responsibilities, to expose students to art/music they might not have otherwise heard.

I high five their efforts and know from our own homeschooling experience, whether the art be drawing, sculpting, designing, music, writing, acting, we were created to be creative.


So be creative, and start with a journey through Artsology.


Add The Icarus Deception to Your Reading List

the icarus deceptionYou remember the story of Icarus, the kid who didn’t listen to his dad and flew to close to the sun?  His waxy wings melted and he plummeted to his death in the sea. Seth Godin uses this greek myth to teach us about art. No, not marketing, but art.  What does Icarus have to do with art? And how/why does marketing guru Seth Godin teach art?


Seth uses Icarus to point out we only know half the story.  Icarus’s dad didn’t just tell him to not fly too close to the sun, but also warned him not to fly too low or the sea would wreck the lift of his wings.  Flying is a delicate art, not too high, not too low, or disaster.

He explains,

It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low.  We settle for low expectations and small dreams and guarantee ourselves less than we are capable of.  By flying too low, we shortchange not only ourselves but also those who depend on us or might benefit from our work. We’re so obsessed about the risk of shining brightly that we’ve traded in everything that matters to avoid it.

Your work is your art.  Art is about making a connection.  Art isn’t limited to paper and palettes of color, it is your contribution to the world.  It is aspiring to do great work for the purpose of making real connections with others.  Do you influence? Are people changed for the better because their path crossed yours?

Making art is not easy, it forces us to see things from a different perspective or stretch our wings farther than we’re comfortable with.  Fear of being wrong or rejected keeps us safe, but probably keeps us unsatisfied because we haven’t bloomed our potential.

Seth says art might scare you, might bust you, and it isn’t always pretty.  But it is who we are and what we do and what we need. If you are brave, use insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status quo, then you are an artist.

Read the story of Icarus again, see what you didn’t notice before.  Then get yourself a copy of The Icarus Deception and be prepared for everything you thought you knew about art to be defied.  I knew I was an artist –  an unconventional one, but still an artist. Now, off I go to make better art.


Father Abraham: Lincoln and His Sons

Eddie, Robert, Willie, Tad – beloved sons of Abraham Lincoln. They were spirited, spoiled, beautiful, privileged children of the president of the United States.  Yet status, wealth, love, and power could not save three of them from untimely deaths.  Only Robert would live to see wrinkles and gray hair. For the short season Lincoln was a parent he relished the role.  His staff members viewed his boys as mischievous, devious monsters.  Through his devoted eyes Abe could only see crafty, adventurous, entertaining boys being boys.  Anything they did from smearing artist’s paint on the walls to letting animals run free in the white house made Abe smile and sigh with delight.  What would those rambunctious boys think of next?

On another memorable day, the boys were busily exploring the White House when they discovered a tiny attic room that housed a pile of bundled-up wires.  The wires rang the bells that summoned servants to the various downstairs rooms.  Soon all the bells were ringing through the mansion at the same time.  Willie and Tad had seized the wires and were gleefully tugging them all simultaneously.  Their father ordered them down from the attic, but naturally did nothing to punish them.

Excluding his frequent absences from home for work duties, any child would think Lincoln the perfect parent.  Do what you want, jump on the furniture, scream in dad’s face, interrupt him at work for no good reason, and fear no consequences. No discipline?! Shouldn’t these boys then turn out to be hellions? Maybe Eddie, had he lived longer. But it’s doubtful based on how the other boys grew. Willie was smart, witty, articulate, very much like his father. His death at age eleven was so devastating to the Lincolns that neither Mary or Abe ever truly recovered from the loss.  Tad, likely learning disabled, grew up to be a gracious, humble gentleman, and his premature death at age eighteen sent Mary over the sanity edge.  What became of Robert?  What did he accomplish in his 83 years of life, and are there any descendants of Abraham Lincoln alive today?

The author sprinkles in very little politics, focusing rather on a lovely yet heart wrenching view of the joys and losses our Civil War president experienced in his gone to soon life. In addition, Holzer gives insight into the intricacies of the Lincoln’s marital relationship, and understandingly sympathizes with the burdens Robert Lincoln carried throughout his life.

Parents in particular will be both enchanted and haunted as they see a new side of Lincoln, and will linger over the many photographs of the first family.  I adore Lincoln, and will eagerly sponge anything I can on his life.  This is now one of my favorite books about him – and I love him even more for how deep and pure his love was for his boys.  More than for his speeches, wisdom, historic accomplishments, and presidency, I think Lincoln would want to be remembered for being a good father who loved, oh how he loved his sons.

In the end, it’s not the years on your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

Author’s website:

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eMedia’s At Home Piano Lessons: Is it Any Good?

eMediaMy middle son will be graduating in the spring and we took advantage of obtaining dual credits to fulfill both his high school requirements and accumulate some college credits as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or money to continue with his private piano lessons.  He loves playing, and was a bit heartbroken to give up his weekly private lessons with his favorite teacher.

We’ve tried some different things to keep him challenged and playing and when eMedia offered us a free copy of their Piano and Keyboard Method software to try, we thought it perfect timing.  This would be my son Benny’s first experience with a “virtual” instructor.


Benny has been playing for six years so we chose to review the Intermediate level CD ROM that works on both Win/Mac (he has a MacBook Pro). The software is initially installed on the computer taking up 534.5 Mb, after which the discs are not needed.  If first impressions were a prediction of how well Benny would do with eMedia, we were golden!  He liked it immediately.  He got started right away with the first lesson (there are 150+) and was playing Rachmaninoff beautifully.  eMedia selected to teach some wonderful pieces by many of music’s elite composers: Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin, Berlin, and Mozart.

Benny at RMSC

Here’s Benny’s thoughts:

This program is very easy to use, and extremely informative. Everything is broken down in to simple terms and phrases, so even those with only basic piano knowledge will be able to understand. The pieces are just the right difficulty for the recommended level (intermediate), and I never found the selections boring to play.

If a student is having trouble with a piece, sections can be highlighted and played at a normal or slower tempo to help master the troublesome areas. Everything from the theory to the tonal shading is well explained.  I found the instructor Vadim Ghin (a graduate of Juilliard) to be insightful and a great teacher. This has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with piano, and I would eagerly recommend eMedia’s Intermediate Piano and Keyboard Method to anyone wanting to continue with piano instruction using a non-conventional method.

I would add that the ideal student for this type of instruction is one who is relatively independent and doesn’t need constant reminders to do his lesson or practice. Although Benny did enjoy his experience, he is more driven to play pieces of his own choosing.  If he hears a song he likes he will find the music and teach himself.  We will hear him play the piano for an hour or more, tirelessly practicing till he gets it perfect.  I guess we learned he is not really at intermediate level after all, but something more.

He is advanced.  He is passionate about music, and happy he learned in elementary school to play the piano.

You will be impressed with the amount of material that is included in this program. It has digital recording capabilities, a digital metronome, orchestral accompaniment, and other cool add-ons.  The price is very reasonable ($59.95).  That was what 2.5 lessons with our private instructor cost me.  Let me send you now to eMedia to find out more about what, and how your student will learn using the Intermediate Piano and Keyboard Method.

Alert! eMedia is offering my readers a special 25% off discount now through 12/31/13. Just use coupon code EMD-HM1 when checking out to receive 25% off your order. Some restrictions apply. Valid on all eMedia branded products.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for this, my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions expressed here are my own, and my son’s own.  We disclose this to you in accordance with the FTC regulations.


IXL: Where Math and Fun Collide

IXL Logo Homeschoolbuzz had the opportunity to review IXL‘s online math membership program, where math practice is neither a bore nor a chore but productive fun.  This has been such a wonderful experience for my 7th grader Will – he looks forward to his time on IXL and has developed definite math confidence since he started on the site.  I think IXL is brilliant for creating a program that is easy to use, eye catching, rewarding, comprehensive, and enjoyable. IXL in mathIXL Math has been available since 2007, though this is our first time using it.  They offer K–12 math education that covers 2,500+ math topics. Family Memberships cost $9.95 per month or $79.00 for the year. This price covers both the math (PreK – 12) and language (2nd – 4th grade), and allows access to all levels for all your children. IXL will give each child their own account and reports. sign in In the seventh grade section there are 254 skills available to practice. Each grade has the same set up: a list of all the main math categories for that grade broken down into specific skills. For example, one of the seventh grade categories is decimals.  Under decimals are the skills:

  • Add and subtract decimals
  • Multiply decimals and whole numbers
  • Divide decimals
  • Word problems
  • Estimate sums, differences and products of decimals
  • Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals
  • Multi-step inequalities with word problems
  • Multi-step inequalities with decimals
  • Maps with decimal distances
  • Simplify expressions involving decimals

sign inHover over a skill with the mouse and a sample question will pop up.  Click on the link and you are brought to a question.

Divide. Give the exact answer, written as a decimal 891.8 ÷ 7 =

Hit submit and if correct you see a giant green check mark with a positive statement like Keep it up! or Great job! Get the question wrong and you see:

Sorry, incorrect… The correct answer is:

  • 127.4

IXL then step by step reviews with you how to solve the problem. IXL will keep generating a new, unique question for whatever skill your student is practicing, for as long as the student stays on that skill. They track the student’s score, and will automatically generate increasingly more difficult questions.  Every week IXL emails a status report indicating the time your student spent practicing and what his score was. reports_screenshot Log into the parent section of the site for a more detailed report: pie chart, bar graph, performance, skills mastered, progress, and identification of trouble spots. Also, IXL math conforms to the 2010 common core standards and indicates which practice sets are part of those standards. There was nothing Will or Gary and I didn’t like about IXL.  I especially appreciated:

  • no annoying sound effects
  • optional games/incentives to unlock rewards
  • cheers for right answers
  • review for incorrect
  • unlimited practice
  • independence for student
  • weekly email reports
  • affordability

IXL Math

At first Will was reluctant to try another “math” program, and appeased us and just seemed to be guessing at answers.  But as he saw his score going down, he started to take interest in getting the answers right.

sign inOnce he analyzed why he got an answer wrong and paid attention to the explanation IXL provided he began learning new concepts he never quite understood.  He also was driven by the running tally of his score on the screen. This makes it very game-like and he was proud of his achievements. He used to get terribly frustrated and give up on math. Now he actually looks forward to the challenge.  IXL is a fantastic find for us, and is a phenomenal tool to use for review or remedial learning.

love it

Read more reviews of IXL here at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog

IXL blog: Twitter: @ixllearning

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Bridgeway Academy: English and Writing Curriculum Review


I selected to review Bridgeway Academy’s English series (for use with grades 7-12) because my son had disdain for every grammar and writing program we have tried to use.  Considering he is now in seventh grade and his objections started in third grade, our rejection pile is big.  He’s a bright kid, he just gets bored quickly with English fundamentals. When I read that The Bridgeway English books 1 and 2 are self instructional and remedial, I had a feeling this approach might work. My son loves to be independent in learning, and that proved a key factor that led to his success with this curriculum. Yes, it was a success!  He’s been working through both books for two months now and not a single complaint. I am happy.

Bridgeway1FocusonGrammarEnglish Book 1: Focus on Grammar: (Price $23.33) Grades 7-12

This is a skills development course with each skill building on the previous one learned. Book one is meant to be used first, followed by the writing book. The student is brought right back to basics: identifying subject and predicate, noun, verb.  What makes a sentence, what are the four types of sentences, and how do you differentiate between a fragment, run-on, complete, and compounds. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections, and more. The book is spiral bound and divided into six 35-paged PAKS (Unit). Each PAK has three sections, review, a self test, and then a final test. It is important to follow the order in which the material is presented as the goal is mastery. If everything was completed in order, after the self-test you review it with your student, have him go back and review any questions missed, you can expect the desired passing grade of 80%.

sample page 1




Bridgeway2FocusonWritingEnglish Book 2: Focus on Writing (Price $23.33) Grades 7-12. This book is not a writing program, so if you are looking for how to write essays or other types of fiction and non fiction writing this is not it. Only Letter and business writing are taught. The other lessons are on clauses, sentence variety, subject/verb agreement, writing skills, rules of capitalization/punctuation, proofreading, editing, study skills, and critical reasoning. Book 2 has twelve PAKS and also has the lesson followed by practice, review, self-test, verbal review with teacher, and unit test.

dog jump

sample page 2

The books are black and white with some clip art type graphics and other “doodley” illustrations sprinkled throughout the pages. You’ll see some inspirational quotes here and there too:

Compassion is an attribute to be prized-Fred Rogers

Honesty is not the best policy; it is the only policy. Donald R. Howard


BridgewayTeacher KeyBridgeway English Answer Key (Price $23.33) Finally, you will want the companion teacher answer key. It is simply a smaller version of the student’s book with the answers filled in. This is a must-have to verify the answers and correctly grade the unit tests.


It was hard to “pull” any information from my son as to what he wanted to add to this review.  He said to tell you he likes this English program, and he feels confident he is learning.

I am especially pleased with the remedial factor of this program and the emphasis on mastery. If you worry (like me) that your student has not yet mastered the basics on English grammar and writing, Bridgeway is a viable option. I see now that I rushed my son too quickly on to writing assignments and reports.  I’m sure that when he finishes both book 1 and 2, he will have no trouble transitioning on to high school writing.

Click here to read more reviews of Bridgeway products at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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The Homeschool Mom’s Bible Premieres

zondervan logo

Zondervan is a well recognized name in the Christian publishing industry. They have many different devotional bibles available, such as a Homeschool Mom’s Bible  which I received for this TOS crew review.  It is a hardcover edition containing the full bible text in the NIV translation, with a KJV version also available (both retail for $34.99).

homeschool mom's bible365 meditations/devotions each incorporating a scripture selection and a short concluding prayer are sprinkled from Genesis to Revelation.  No matter which book of the bible you wish to read, you will find a devotion, and be directed to the page of the next. Vicki Farris writes a motivating forward introducing Janet, this amazing mom with twenty-five years of homeschooling experience, as an unmet friend who knows the hearts of homeschooling moms

My husband and I have a tradition of starting our day together with a devotion. Devotions or meditations with select themes provide a starting point for further applications and discussions.  When it comes to daily bible reading, I flounder without direction. I have always been in awe of others who can combine their experiences and personal insights into scripture and somehow shower me with encouragement. In this bible specifically designed for the Homeschooling mom, Janet Tatmen understands homeschooling.  The joys, and delights as well as the doubts and trials. She gets it. And she’s honest. She elegantly weaves her knowledge of God’s word with her inspirational thoughts and empathetic stories, conveying a kindred spirit to the sisterhood of homeschool moms.

So many of Janet’s devotions resonated with me.  Like this excerpt from one entitled Fueling the Flame.

Sadly, sometimes homeschool parents’ passion to teach their child begin to fade.  The daily demands of caring for a household and the intense effort required drain even the most dedicated parent. When the homeschooling fire begins to die out, many may choose a half-hearted approach….Others may stop homeschooling…The wise homeschooling parent, however, will see the coals growing dim and find the fuel necessary to rekindle the flame of passion first given by God.

Beautiful. Timely. Inspirational.

My present day favorite bible is a lovely soft green leather one, its cover adorned with an pink elegant flower. I’ve had many others through my Christian life. It doesn’t matter if your cover is muddy brown, ripped, or absent.  What does matter is that you read what lies within.  The bible does you no good if it sits on your shelf camouflaged by other books and the piling mail. Your bible should be like your shoes.  An essential part of your wardrobe, that provides protection, comfort, and the support to walk painlessly through your busy days.


To read my bible with a daily meditation geared specifically for me – does it get any better than that? A bible designed especially for me? No one knows the ups and downs and inner thoughts we have but feel too ashamed to voice to anyone else but God.  Am I cut out for this?  Am I doing it right? Why do my kids fight with me about doing their work?  Surely none of my friends have a disheveled house with beds unmade, laundry heaped on the floor, toys strewn on the carpet, and the dining room table covered with curriculum and bottles of glue.  Ah, but they do.  I do.  Embrace your homeschool journey, and if you have doubts, feel discouraged or overwhelmed, go to God, and enlist the wisdom of others like Janet Tatmen. God’s word+ Janet Tatmen’s devotions=treasure trove.


Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog

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The Presidential Game

logo_zpse414894c The Presidential Game, recommended for ages 11 to adult is a whirlwind of fun that simulates the electoral process for the Presidential office of the United States of America.  For this TOS Crew Review review, two of my boys (ages 18 and 16), my husband, and I played it, and immersed ourselves into the tricky game of politics.

The object of the game is to earn the most electoral college votes and thereby win the presidential election.  Two teams, Democrats and Republicans compete against each other by making strategic decisions on their turn.  Campaign or Fundraise? Go for smaller states or focus on the big ones? Divide available money across many states, or build up a reserve on a high electoral vote state?

diceDespite the best strategic planning, get a bad roll of the dice and everything changes.

Your opponent is in perfect position to take the lead and steal a state you thought you were sure to win.

There is an online webmap to record states won, or you can keep track with a paper score board.

presidentialgame_zps1c10cd67We played the game and had various reactions to the experience. It took just under an hour to finish. Here’s what we thought about the game play:

garrisonGarrison’s feedbackThe game was very tense. Your own turns went by very fast and your opponents turns seemed to take forever. Of course, I dislike the chance aspect of the game but it keeps it simple for being able to engage whatever group or family you play with without much confusion on the rules. It was an especially good simulation of the election and will definitely help younger children understand it. I would recommend it.

presidential game

garyDad’s takeI felt all the same exhilaration and disappointment that I feel every four years on election night as I watch my candidate gain, and then lose, all-important swing states. The online scoreboard looks just like an election map with red and blue states. You find yourself playing this much like the real candidates, focusing most of your efforts and resources on the few states with the big votes and callously ignoring “fly-over” states. I can see this helping kids to make sense of, and even be excited by election night as they recognize the similarity to this fun game.

BennyBenny’s thoughts: The game was fun. It represented real life politics in the sense that you watched a state go from Democrat to Republican all game long until the end. There was a lot of luck involved, but that makes it fair for first time players. The rules sounded complicated but it was really easy to pick up. I was surprised how quickly the hour went by.  It will be fun to play again during a presidential elect year.

The Presidential Game is a entertaining way to grasp our electoral voting system.  It is certain to stir some enlightening discussions.  Both our teams focused on the states with the highest number of electoral votes such as Texas, New York, Florida, and California. We had no interest in the little guys like Delaware, Vermont, and Wyoming.  We felt bad we neglected those states, but if we wanted to win, we had to get those high population states!

gameboardAnything can happen in the presidential game: when we played my team (Republicans) won by a landslide, winning California, Florida and New York.  It felt good to win the election, but unfortunately the democratic team did not enjoy being defeated.  They tried hard but once we pulled ahead it was just too hard for them to catch up. The game sells for $35. Families will love it, as well as classes or groups studying government.  And, it can be simply enjoyed as a board game. Head over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read more reviews of The Presidential Game.

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Unlock Your Potential, Discover Your Strengths

peoplekeys logo

Learn or you’ll be made to learn.  That’s old school.  New school: unlock your potential.  Determine your strengths, discover your learning style, and unleash your talents.  For this TOS Crew Review of PeopleKeys, a company specializing in behavior analysis,  I had my twelve year old son take their online Student Strength’s Report. In less than thirty minutes he had fill out the eDISC profile assessment, and I had instant access to a thirty-four paged report that interpreted his answers to multiple behavior questions. This report logically explained how my son learns best, and reinforced how I can maximize his learning and guide his education by focusing on his strengths.

student strengths report
Online Purchase Price: $20

This was easy to complete – with but little guidance from my husband or me, my son followed the clear directions provided in a userfriendly PDF, which took the user through a sample assessment step by step. Most of the questions were straightforward, Like What is your normal tone of voice? Rate from most to least in different areas. Results are immediately available after submission.  I received a 34 page report that summarized my youngest son’s strengths. It was fascinating to read.  My son (Will) was excited to hear what PeopleKeys had to say about him in these three areas they assess:

  • Personality style: Dominant, Influencing, Steady or Conscientious
  • Cognitive thinking: Literal, Intuitive, Theoretical, or Experiential
  • Perceptual learning:  Auditory, Visual or Kinesthetic

The first thing he read was style: LEADER

willHe beamed.

It was like he was thinking, yeah, someone finally gets me.

After several years of trying many curriculums, various teaching methods, group classes, clubs, and online programs, we found nothing that appealed to him.  He rejected it all. We were sure the only option left for us was to send him to public school.  We couldn’t teach him at home and we worried that he was not learning. Maybe we were the cause?  At ten years old he declared he wouldn’t get on a bus, and if put in public school he would sit there and block out everyone and everything and simply refuse to do or learn anything.  We researched, prayed, and listened (thank God!) to our son and kept him home. He is a very bright boy, he just learns differently.  We went from eclectic, to relaxed, to unschooling, and now use a blended approach with his homeschool program. We chose to focusing on his interests and allow him to learn his way.

I wish I had known about PeopleKeys two years ago when we were struggling so terribly. This Student Strengths Report would have shed light on such critical aspects of our son’s personality and could have saved us money, time, and needless frustration.  You can’t force a child to fit a curriculum, or make him learn in a way that is not natural for him. We were pretty sure Will was an auditory learner, and PeopleKeys agreed.  The report offered tips for lectures, studying and test taking for his style of learning, such as:

Repeat things out loud, ask an instructor to (verbally) explain homework instructions in his own words, ask questions, sit near the front of the class, talk to yourself while problem solving, create songs of information, play an instrument while studying.

There is such a cache of information in this report and many suggestions to help our student seriously grow.  One especially helpful insight they provided were ideas on how to design the learning environment. We let Will choose his workspace, decide on furniture, lighting, noise level.  He loves having input in what and how he learns, and since we have been open and willing to bend, he has thrived.

learning by doing

I would encourage all homeschoolers to use an evaluation tool such as this Strengths Report.  I would expect this would be helpful for those in grades 6+.  PeopleKeys is generalized, and no one can be completely defined by an online assessment, but it is a tool you can use to…

Maximize Strengths; Minimize Weaknesses..It’s that simple. If you know where your thinking excels, you can capitalize on those aspects, use your mind to do what it enjoys doing most…Your mind has a distinctive skill set that it has sharpened over the years. Find out what that is, and use it. Once you pinpoint and appreciate your strengths and limits, you can minimize or maximize them in all types of learning situations.

Know Yourself. To know yourself sometimes requires that you stand outside of yourself and observe, objectively in a critical way. Your report has indicated that you prefer one thinking style. It is up to you to decide if it is “like” you or it is “not like you”. (From Student Strengths Report)

There are many more reviews of PeopleKeys products at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog:

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Never Call The Bricklayer a Toilet


As I write this review of Homeschool Spanish Academy I am sad my lessons in the Adult program are nearly over. I have had a wonderful experience and am impressed…they got me speaking Spanish and estoy enganchado de Español!

Adult Spanish program

I work part-time as a mid level provider in a clinic where there are many Spanish speaking clients.  Sometimes I’m given an interpreter for those patients. Or, a family member may help.  Mostly, I am on my own and I do my best with animated gesturing and the reliance on the patient’s ability to understand English better than he can speak it.  I had wanted to learn more than the typical Spanish phrases we all know: bien, gracias, adios, fajita, siesta, fiesta.  This was my chance.  But I wondered. Was I too old to learn?  Would my patients understand my broken Spanish?  Could I keep up with the homework?  And, would I stick with it for the long haul?


Here’s the basics: Homeschool Spanish Academy is an online Spanish language institution that utilizes native Spanish speaking teachers via Skype to provide 1-on-1 instruction for students ages 5 through 18 and also adult learners. Lessons are offered Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. CST.

No book purchase is required: PDF worksheets are sent via email or are available for download at your homepage on the HSA website. You pick your teacher, and schedule your lessons.

Cost: Adult $16.99 per 50 minute session or $149.99 for 10 hour bundle


Computer with Skype installed,


Additionally, Webcam is highly desirable.


Here’s a peek at my private thoughts regarding my experience with HSA….

 Dear Diary,

Spanish lesson 1: Everything went smooth.  Tech guy called first for set up – Oops! I forgot to turn my video cam on.  My teacher Rosa Skyped me and said she would call me back in two minutes. Call came through clear, crisp. Rosa was cheery, bubbly, good sense of humor.  We established what I was interested in and my past experience with language. Three years of French in high school if you must know.  She introduced me right away to words I wanted to know for my field.  Then using a document I could see she worked with me to correctly pronounce common greetings and phrases.  Most of our interaction went right to Spanish, her asking questions, and I answering through vocal and typing. I had a great first lesson.  I think I am going to like this.  I scheduled all my remaining lessons with Rosa.  I know I should try out the other instructors, but I clicked with Rosa.  I’m going to stick with her.

That week I went to the library and got a batch of popular children’s books written in Spanish, and made index cards to help me with some of the vocabulary. Soon the week had passed.

Dear Diary,

Spanish, lesson 2: Wow, the time flew by and I felt like I had an intense work out at the gym. I think that’s a good sign that my brain is working hard to assimilate this new language. I am so excited! Though I quickly forgot a good portion of what I just learned.  I see it is important for me to be working on this daily.  I am going to ask my bilingual co-workers to only speak to me in Spanish and ignore my questions when I ask in English.  If I am to retain this information I must force myself to use it regularly. Note to self: Remind family not to use microwave during Skype calls and don’t forget: shower and make-up next time.


I used some of my Spanish phrases with a patient that next week.  Though she didn’t understand me too well and I had spent more time leafing through my notes than I should have, she was pleased I made an attempt.  She encouraged me to keep learning. Estudien mucho. I neglected to turn in my homework for the last few weeks. I didn’t know how – rather, I didn’t pay attention to simple directions.  Plain as day on my welcome page:

Back to my thoughts….

 Dear Diary,

Spanish, Lesson 3.  My head is swimming with masculine, feminine, new words, how do you say…. Time goes by fast and we laugh together. It’s like having her in my living room. I so enjoy the lessons! Spanish is now going through my head throughout the week.  Rosa is very patient, sweet, understanding. I made the right choice!  She is an excellent teacher for beginners like me.  She is persistent with pronunciation. Reminds me I must say each letter, and note the reason for the accent marks. If I follow this I will not insult the bricklayer (albañil) by calling him a bathroom (el baño). Rosa noticed that I showered and put on make-up! Yay! Fiesta :)


Spanish Homeschool Academy is a fantastic option for any adult that wants to learn Spanish through a professionally run, one on one method.  I have every intention on continuing my learning. I see incredible value in becoming bi-lingual and have confidence it will help me be a better health care provider.

They offer a free trial session here:

Be sure to check out more reviews of Homeschool Spanish Academy at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog

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Doorposts: Because You are Strong


I have three boys who have quickly grown to three young men.  One off to college, one graduating next year, and the youngest soon will be a teen.  More than being able to recite Pi to ten digits, to speak fluent Russian or even to master the art of Jujutsu, I desire my men to be strong in Christ. Both my middle son (age 16) and I (never mind my age) reviewed DoorpostsBecause You are Strong with the desire it would teach us both how to study the bible, and show my son what biblical, manly strength is.

because-you-are-strongWritten by Daniel Forster, a homeschool grad and now himself a father, Because You are Strong: A Study of Godly Strength for Young Men is a workbook designed for teen boys (adapted too for girls) to use for serious bible study. Serious means using a concordance, a bible with marginal notes/cross references (Naves is strongly recommended), looking at original Greek and Hebrew, and use of digital tools and Apps.  My son has written a few of his own sermons, done bible quizzing and community bible study. I knew he would enjoy trying this and could offer excellent perspective.

Essentials: Glossy paperback 104 pages, 2013 edition $12 + shipping

10 major studies with extras included.  Depending on amount of time spent each day, this workbook has enough material to last from several months to a year. Lessons are arranged as daily assignments, averaging about ten-fifteen minutes a day. Workbook is consumable.

The workbook teaches different methods of study:

  • Meditation
  • Character
  • Topical
  • Verse
  • Chapter
  • Book

My son started with the first study – Strength for the Race: Meditating on Hebrews 11-12   Here are his thoughts –

Benny's thoughts

I liked this book and plan to finish it.  I learned so much during my review period. The goal of this bible study guide is to help young men like me gain a biblical view of strength. It gets you in depth in the word, and I liked looking at the original Greek to establish the context and original meaning. The first study was on Hebrews 11 and 12. It did require a lot of writing, more than I expected and therefore it took me about twice as long to finish the study. But, that is a good way to learn as writing out scripture is helpful for memorization as opposed to just saying it. Also, I have become much more familiar with these chapters from the writing portion. I memorized Hebrews 12:1-2 by first writing it in the book, then on an index card and then recited it a few times a day. I also I looked at examples of men of faith and the author showed how faithful believers were people of strength. I see Because You are Strong  best for those ages 15 and up who are interested in in-depth bible study. Everything in the bible can be applicable to your life and by putting the word of god in your memory, you will be prepared to give an answer to anyone who raises a question.

1 Peter 3:14 always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

My thoughts: I completed the verse study and was impressed with the amount of insight I gained by exploring so thoroughly the chosen verse, and the complete context of it.  I had gotten away from using cross references and prior to doing this review, I never knew I could turn on the marginal notes in BibleGateway, and I had never used I wanted to start another study, but my son would not part with the book!  I didn’t argue as it blessed my heart to see him pouring over the bible and enjoying it.

bible study

Because You are Strong is a solid resource for introducing our young men (and women) to bible study methods.  It shows through men like Samson, David and especially our savior Jesus, what valor and strength really is.  It will challenge you, propose practical application, and encourage you to write out goals and behaviors you will do to make Godly changes in your life.  Good stuff.

I’ll close by encouraging you to read more reviews of Doorposts titles at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner


I had a struggling learner.  Fourth grade was a beast.

Math was a chore. Writing was like medieval torture, and the basic rules of grammar might have well been a foreign language.

It seemed as though everything I tried to teach my son ran out of him like water through a sieve. We needed help. When I heard Kathy Kuhl was speaking at our local homeschooling convention, I went to to hear her present. I listened intently, took notes, and bought her book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner.

Over the next two months I digested the nearly 400 pages of impeccably researched, thoughtfully presented, and undeniably eye-opening discussion. I soon realized I was not just dealing with the typical conflicts that come with teaching a busy, distractible, sensitive boy – I was certainly facing an undiagnosed learning disability.


This book is for any homeschooling parent who has a child that struggles with learning. As Kathy states in her introduction, the book

…includes many resources and strategies, more than any one family can or should do. Think of this book as a smorgasbord. I hope every reader will find enough useful ideas and insights to make a good meal.

You’ll find it organized into five major sections –

  • Deciding whether to homeschool,
  • Laying the groundwork
  • Planning
  • Teaching at home
  • Keeping going

Kathy offers insight, recommendations, and encouragement to empower you, the parent and teacher, by sharing her experience of homeschooling her own struggling learner. She also relays the advice and wisdom she obtained from the 64 families she interviewed who have children with various learning disabilities and attention problems.

Some questions she addresses:

  • Is homeschooling always the best option?
  • How do you figure out what’s wrong?
  • What are some common learning problems?
  • How do you inform yourself?
  • Should you seek a professional evaluation?
  • How to pay for evaluations and services?
  • How do you set goals?
  • What curriculum should you use?
  • How do you deal with math, and what causes writing problems?
  • How do you nurture a love of learning?

If you have a child who has problems with a subject, is easily distracted, frustrated, oppositional, uncoordinated, has trouble with fine motor skills, or if your gut is telling you something is wrong, then you need to read this book.


For me, it was a God-send. I’m so appreciative of Kathy’ Kuhl’s enormous amount of encouragement, direction, and was blown away by all the available resources (books/websites) she’s included in the book as well as through our personal correspondence. If I hadn’t acted on her advice and pursued an educational evaluation, my son would still be floundering, and my head still glued in the sands of denial.

With the help of professionals, a tailored educational plan, our supportive family network, and the power of prayer, we have seen big changes in our son. Our once struggling learner is now three years older, thriving, confident, and a happy young man who has a zeal for life, learning, and serving others. Kathy Kuhl, I am so grateful. But even more, I am so happy and proud of my son.

Find lots of helps at Kathy Kuhl’s website.

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Piano Lessons with MacPhail Center of Music


MacPhail Center for Music, first established in 1907 and located in Minneapolis, now offers online lessons. For this TOS crew review my son Benny took four live MacPhail Online 1:1 piano lessons with a certified Royal Conservatory of Music piano teacher. All that was required was a fast Internet, a webcam, and Skype. I love modern technology.


To start the process, we filled out a student information form to help MacPhail determine the best teacher for Benny. Benny is an advanced student and has six years of lessons and study.  A placement assistant soon contacted us through email:

Dear Davis Family,

Greetings from MacPhail Center for Music!  I will be helping to match Benny with one of our great teachers. I see that Benny is very diligent when it comes to practicing.  That is terrific!  I’m sorry that he has had to change teachers so many times, but the good thing about that is that he has been able to get a different perspective from each of his teachers.  I’m sure that his experience with his MacPhail faculty member will serve to broaden his understanding of music further. Based on the background you provided, I have already begun the process of teacher placement.  I will work as quickly as possible, and I will notify you when I’ve found the ideal teacher/student match for you.  Please note that this can take 10 – 14 days. In the meantime, our team will help ensure that your technical equipment is maximized so that you are all set for your first MacPhail lesson. We look forward to the opportunity to serve you through online music lessons!  Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with questions.  I am happy to help you however I can.

The next step was an equipment check to make sure that everything on our end such as location, sound, and picture quality worked properly before the lessons began.

Once Benny was matched with an instructor, he was able to select a convenient lesson time, and then needed to add her to his Skype contacts.  On the day of his first lesson and on all subsequent lessons she called him on time (or 1-2 minutes early), and the lessons each lasted thirty minutes.

To give you a visual on what a skype music lesson is like, here is a one minute Online lesson example from MacPhail:

My husband sat it on the first lesson and took some notes:

At the start, the teacher interviewed Benny about the types and styles of music he would like to play and learn. She played a few examples for him to demonstrate some styles he might not have been familiar with (sonata, romantic, classical…). Then she had him play something for her. After, she asked if there was anything challenging about the piece he played and discussed his technique. She explained to him a few pointers and techniques she uses, such as “It’s not a matter of knowing the music better but of telling your hand the shape.”  She had him do some exercises with some challenging chord transitions. When the lesson was done he remarked at how much he liked his teacher and how he was looking forward to the pieces she chose for him to work on.

After his fourth and final lesson, I interviewed Benny on his overall experience and his impressions of Macphail Center of Music’s Online program.

benny at RMSC
Benny playing the keyboard at Rochester Museum and Science Center Giant Tesla Coil demonstration.
  • Me: Benny, tell me a little about yourself, and how you became interested in the piano.
  • Benny: When I was ten years old my mom signed me up for piano lessons at our co-op.  I liked it so I continued with lessons. After my first piano teacher moved away, I got a different teacher and she expected much more of me than I was capable of as I was still a new student.  I got frustrated because she demanded an hour of practice a day.
  • Me: Did that make you want to give up piano?
Giant Tesla Coils responding to Benny's keyboard playing.
Giant Tesla Coils responding to Benny’s keyboard playing.
  • Benny: No, not entirely, but I was discouraged and stopped for awhile. About six months later my mom found me a new teacher, a homeschool graduate who came to our house.  I don’t remember too much because I only had her for about three months and then she stopped lessons to pursue a new career.  Luckily she had referred us to another homeschool teacher, this one was a high school student and we drove to her house.
  • Me: How did that work out for you?
  • Benny: Really well. She was easy going, flexible to my level of skill and she helped me grow as a musician.  I enjoyed the recitals, and working with the same teacher for more than just a few months.  After she graduated I had one teacher that really turned me off from piano because she did not challenge me, rather she brought me down lower than my level of expertise.  My sophomore year of high school we were able to sign up with a professional music teacher who came to my home.  That was also the year I got a real piano to play on.  Before I only had an electric keyboard.  That new piano was a breath of fresh air, and encouraged me to play more.

piano keys

  • Me: Wow Benny, you have had a substantial variety of teachers and methods of piano instruction.  How did you like the MacPhail experience of instruction?
  • Benny: It was a little difficult to get used to at first because I was used to having a physically present teacher.  I was skeptical that this would work, but it did. My teacher Antonia was nice, energetic, encouraging, and I looked forward to the lessons. She taught me to curve my fingers as she emphasized hand placements, timing and accuracy. She sent me my song to learn through a PDF and a second piece I downloaded from a website.  It was nice not to have to buy a new book.
  • Me: What was your overall impression and final thoughts?
  • Benny: I highly enjoyed the lessons and was motivated to practice. My instructor did a perfect job picking pieces for me.  I was surprised how well everything worked. Not one thing went wrong. Except we figured out you couldn’t run the microwave during the Skype call. You do have to have a strong Internet connection or a fast computer if you don’t quite meet their required Internet speed.  I definitely would recommend both MacPhail Online lessons and especially my teacher Ms. Antonia. She is exactly how she is described in her biography.  Her accent was really cool too.

Pricing: Special Introductory Pricing – Individual Instruction – Four Online Lessons for $111 Standard pricing will apply after introductory lessons at $37 per 30-minute lesson. 

Everything about our experience with MacPhail Online music lessons was positive. This is a professionally run, high quality music instruction program that offers an individualized, flexible and supportive approach.  The live, Online addition is a wonderful option for many situations – busy families, no transportation, newly relocated, military families or frequent travelers, missionary kids, chronic illness, or even lack of accessible quality music instructors.  At present, Online lessons are available for all levels of learners for piano, guitar, violin, viola, cello, harp, flute, clarinet, trumpet, low brass, saxophone and percussion.


I hope you enjoyed reading our review of MacPhail, and may I direct you over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read more reviews on  Macphail Online music lessons.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. Victor Hugo

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Understanding Child Brain Development: Family Hope Center

Family Hope Center

The brain is vast and complex. Neurons, synapses, fifty thousand miles of wiring, and billions of nerve cells. You would expect an organ so complicated would require hyper-vigilant attention to keep it from malfunctioning. On the contrary, the brain works fine with the basics: good food, sleep, and exercise. But what if something is amiss with the brain?  I had the opportunity to review Understanding Child Brain Development by The Family Hope Center. This two hour DVD features Matthew and Carol Newell, Director and Vice Director of the center. The DVD (19.99) is a videotaping of a presentation the Newell’s gave to a small audience regarding both normal childhood brain development and what they believe to be the cause and treatment for delays in development. They also promote their three day seminar for those wishing to immerse themselves into the Newell’s techniques for becoming “engineers” of their child’s brain restorations.


Though none of my sons have any significant developmental delay, I hoped this DVD might give me some insight into why one of my son’s had not progressed in a subject area. I had never heard of the Newell’s before this review; likely because they work with families who have children with severe neurological impairments, and they practice from a chiropractic/alternative perspective. To start, I read over a PDF of the slides used during this videotaped workshop. Despite being a healthcare provider I couldn’t make sense of the handouts and hoped I would better understand the material reference as I watched the presentation.

movie time

Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing gave an endorsing introduction, and praised Matthew and Carol for their contribution to improving the lives of many families through their work at the Family Hope Center located in Norristown, Pennsylvania. They help children with special needs and developmental delays using an integrative approach, focusing on treating problems not symptoms, assessing the root causes of the problem, and empowering parents with knowledge to be the best source of help for the child.


The nature of the presentation is that of a lecture, with Matthew Newell as the primary speaker. Power point slides and a few props are used for visual effect.  The quality of the video was not great and had some distracting static. Mr. Newell went through child brain development from infancy on, but he covered so much material I felt lost. I took seven pages of notes, watched it in two sittings, paused it frequently, yet I feel no more enlightened on the subject than when I started. I think I was even more confused. Maybe I need some brain reorganization….

Here’s what I gathered from the DVD

The Family Hope Center’s approach is Physiology vs. Pathology, in other words

This is Integrative/Chiropractic/Cranial Sacral/Fascia/Digestive Treatment

and consists of….

  • Sensory stimulation
  • Crawl therapy (no matter what the child’s age which may require hours of crawling a day for “neurological reorganization”)
  • Nutrition: water, good organic food, no labeled food, no additives, no soy milk, natural juices
  • Eliminate electromagnetic fields-microwaves, big screen TV’s, computer games, video games, “gameboys”. Child can become addicted to the EMS. Question..Is an iPod ok?  Gameboys are retro.
  • Outside play and sunshine
  • Unplug TV’s because of the signal putting out
  • Heavy metal detox program is part of treatment
  • Cranial sacral movement – He states 99% of the kids coming to clinic have brains that aren’t moving. They are living with a straightjacket on their head, expansion and contraction is crucial as it allows blood flow to the brain. Bit lost here..What does that mean?
  • Smell therapy
  • Motion to help pituitary gland,

As a homeschooling mama who is also a practicing NP using evidence based medical standards of care, the Newell’s philosophy is not in line with my own. Not that I don’t support integrative medicine as it has an important place in health and wellness.  I just can’t recommend a mode of treatment based on an amateur DVD production. And the “creepy” part is the thought of having a school aged or older child do hours of crawl therapy to reorganize their brain. I just didn’t get it.

I definitely agreed with some of their recommendations such as outside play, curbing video gaming, good food, sleep and structure.  But isn’t that just common sense? The rest did not set well.


I would surmise that those who use alternative medicine practitioners for health care and accept integrative philosophies for treating the body’s problems, and have children with developmental delays/special needs may want to learn more about The Family Hope Center. Explore their website, and share the information with your health care provider.

If you are interested, you can call 610-397-1737 to order the DVD or use the link above.

Read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog

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Farmer Boy: Almanzo Wilder Documentary – a TOS Crew Review


I grew up watching the Little House on the Prairie television series.  From its debut in 1974 to conclusion in 1983, I was captivated by the drama, shed tears at the believable hardship, and snarled whenever Nellie Olesen showed up. I had little knowledge of the real Laura Ingalls and even less of her husband Almanzo Wilder, the star of this documentary.  I looked forward to reviewing Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura produced by Dean Butler (Legacy Documentaries), who played Almanzo in the Little House TV Series from 1979-1983. I am one of the rare homeschoolers who had not read Farmer Boy, so I invited my twelve year old to join me as we dimmed the lights, grabbed some candy, and watched the forty-five minute documentary.


The film was visually stunning with its focus on the beauty of nature and use of various film techniques such as narration, interviewing, archival footage, reconstruction, and dramatic sequencing. A perfect complement, the background music was soft and crisp like a breezy autumn day.

Dean Butler introduces the family friendly film (sells for $21.95), which is intended to explore the life of Almanzo Wilder who besides being the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, was the inspiration for her second book, Farmer Boy.

Farmer Boy was written when Laura was sixty-five years old and published during the great depression.  Americans gleaned hope from the book, which besides sharing the heart warming story of a single year in Almanzo’s life, was one of Laura’s goals.  With the assistance of her daughter Rose Wilder-Lane, who was also a successful professional writer, Laura wrote Almanzo’s recollections on a school tablet which Rose later typed out for submission to her publishing company. Proof writing a best-selling book can happen at any age, and is usually a cooperative venture.  At a time when people were scared for their future, the charming story of a nine-year-old boy with his resolute principles and rewarded hard work ethic gave Americans hope that they too would prosper again.

farmer boy

Those who have read Farmer boy will enjoy hearing the selected readings and seeing the illustrations pop out and pan the screen.  It made me want to run out and get the book and coax my teenagers to snuggle with me on the couch while I read aloud this classic story of the historic pioneer life of homesteading, milking cows, churning butter, and homemade apple pie.

apple pie

Life Before Laura is quite educational – anyone unfamiliar with the grueling work involved in maintaing a farm will never look at the local supermarket the same.  Did you know the average mid 19th century family of five could live on $540 annually? Also, they ate an average of four thousand calories a day and managed to maintain normal weights. Baths were once a week as it was an ordeal just to get the water warm enough to strip and clean.

What did my son think of the documentary? He liked it enough to watch it for twenty minutes, said it was good, and asked me why we didn’t read Farmer Boy when he was younger.  Good question.  Though we may have missed this classic, we read all the others.

I watched this DVD a second time before sitting down to write this review.  I enjoyed it again, and felt a wealth of respect for The Wilder Family and was in awe of the legacy they have left.  Over a hundred years after they met on the western trails, fell in love, raised a family, and wrote an elegant story of their experiences, they are still influencing and encouraging those who read the Little House books.  Their examples of honesty, responsibility, self-reliance, success, individualism, family togetherness, and resiliency echo still.  Legacy Documentaries has done a wonderful job bringing light to the life of Almanzo Wilder, the little Farmer Boy who though grew to be a man of few words, married the woman who took those few words and multiplied them to touch the hearts of the young and old who read her memorable accounts of life on the prairie.  I can’t imagine anyone not liking this documentary. Watch it, read the book, make a pie, churn some butter, ride a horse, and, if you happen to live near Northern NY, schedule a visit to Almanzo’s homestead in Malone – a perfect ending to a wonderful family adventure.

Thanks for stopping by, and may I send you over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read more reviews of both Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura and The Legacy of Laura Wilder.

Oh my gosh – my apologies! Nasty Nellie barged her way in.  She is so pushy.


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Circle Time: A TOS Crew Review

circletimelogoI had a chance to review Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Day by Preschoolers and Peace (Kendra Fletcher), a start-up guide for planning and implementing a successful group school time in your home.  Moms who have multiple grades, a preschooler, a babe on the hip, and wonder how to keep the kids together and engaged will get the most from this 33 paged e-book.


Circle Time is the term the author coined to describe the time of togetherness she shares with her children before they start their day. She first used this time to gather her many children – from the babies to the older kids, to pray, sing hymns, and read the bible before they their day officially started.  Her Circle time expanded over time and mixed in more things such as poetry/scripture memorization, and read-a-louds.  The resources page link has a list of books and devotionals she has used over the years, academic options (I loved the biblical art site!), and more.

group school


As Kendra is a homechooling mom to eight, she is a good resource for large* families looking for ideas to keep the kids together for a special designated time every day.



The e-book has nine chapters to discuss how to plan your unique and peaceful time, and offers ideas/testimonies/resources to help. Circle Time is available for purchase as a PDF download for $4.99

e-bookI am miles away and years from the days of diapers, naps, and ABC’s, but I can relate to the concept of Circle Time.  Back in the day when my now three giant young men were smaller than me, we did many of the things Kendra suggests, and a few of our own favorite activities…

  • Lapbooking
  • Notebooking
  • Recitations
  • Storytime
  • Art projects
  • Scripture memory
  • Baking
  • Movie making

Present day I have one graduated, another graduating next year, and the youngest approaching high school.  We don’t call it circle time, just family time.  We do bible studies, eat dinner and engage in lively discussions, and whenever I have an interesting article or chapter from a book I read it aloud. Most recently, we were studying 25 Truths – another review I did for TOS.  And, although it is often slim pickins’, we love to watch a movie or a decent TV series from Netflix.


Having older kids and being on the small end of large, I didn’t glean much from this e-book, but that isn’t to say you won’t. You may be at the stage of homeschooling where you want to start some sort of circle time and need help pronto. Keep in mind It is only 33 pages, and several pages had only pictures or a half page of text.  I would have expected more for the purchase price.

My take-a-way point is simple: the family that grows together stays together.  That’s what I see in my boys – they are each other’s best friends.  They share experiences and memories that I believe have cemented their family bond.

family pic

See what other reviewers have to say about the Circle Time e-book at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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*Reliable sources inform me that if you have more than the average 2.2 children, you are large.

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.