Friday, August 14, 2015

Books to Read this School Year

I’ve always like to tie my son’s reading books to the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’re headed all the way back to the beginning and going through the crucifixion.  Here are the books that’s I’ve pulled from our shelves—most of these are old books that I’ve rescued from sales.

Dinosaurs of Eden by Hen Ham—This is the one book I bought new, when Mr. Ham was speaking at our church  It covers the creation (not evolution) of dinosaurs on Day Six, explains how dinosaurs could fit on the ark, and how dinosaurs and man lived at the same time.  Clearly a biblical worldview.

Men and Gods by Rex Warner—I just picked this up last weekend at a YMCA sale.  It’s Roman mythology as the gods have names like Jupiter and Venus.  I see Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Labors of Hercules, Midas, Echo & Narcissus, and more.  I’m interested in one chapter called the Great Flood—to see how it correlates to the Biblical account.  We probably won’t read all the stories, just get a good sampling.

The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer retold by Alfred Church.  I know one Mystery of History lesson covers Homer and another covers the legend of the Trojan War.  Church has taken the epic poems and rewritten them as prose for boys and girls. 

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick---The book is part history and part science.  It covers Archimedes’ famous buoyancy discover (remember he ran outside naked and yelling “Eureka!”) buy also his work with math and measuring a circle ( pi ).

Pyramid by David Macauley—We have a whole slew of Macauley’s books: Castle, Cathedral, Mosque, etc. We’ve got some that have been reissued and redrawn in color, but I really love the original black and white line drawings. This year we’ll use Pyramid.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne—You didn’t think I was going to get through this list without a Landmark Book title, did you?   This is one of the few books in the series with photographs of many ancient sites.  The book covers Cheops, Hatshepsut, Thutmose, Akhnaton, and Ramses, but it also covers the archeologists that uncovered the treasures starting with Napoleon’s army and the Rosetta stone and of course Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb.

Alexander the Great by John Gunther—my second Landmark book.  We obviously won’t be watching the Hollywood film so I’m glad to have my copy of this book.  If you enjoy used book sales NEVER PASS UP A LANDMARK BOOK!

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George—This Newberry Medal winner will round out our year since it takes place at the end of our time period. 



Friday, August 7, 2015

Mystery of History Memory Cards

After spending two years on American history, we’re cycling back to the beginning with Mystery of History Volume 1.  Since we did this originally when Schnickelfritz was in first grade I’m fairly certain my son will get more from each lesson and need to fill out new memory cards for each lesson.  Normally, I use Photoshop Elements or Graphic Toolbox to make our printables, but I was able to do these with just Microsoft Word.


First I put in the CD for Home School in the Woods’ History Through the Ages timeline figures.  Next I opened up Word and set up the page for 3 X 5 index cards (under the Page Layout tab choose Size and look for the 3 X 5 Index card option.  You’ll need to resize your margins as well—I uses .2 inches for all edges.


Then I found appropriate image for each lesson in Mystery of History.  It’s helpful to print out the list of images in chronological order as this will match the closest to MOH.  Then for each page I’d choose Insert>Picture> browse for the disc drive and then type the name of the image. The name will match the MOH list so if the title in the list starts with “The”, you’ll need to start with that.



Usually I centered the image on the page, but in some cases the lesson referred to more than one person.  In that case I made one image right justified and the other left justified.  You can see a few examples below.


I loaded my printer with multi-colored index cards.  I resorted the pack so I had three cards of each color together so the entire week would match.  Then down the road when I ask Fritz to review cards I may say he only needs to go through the green ones.  If I’m really clever I’ll come up with a game to go with the colors, but nothing comes to mind yet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: The Conversation

We’ve now reached the halfway point in our homeschool journey (actually past half way if you consider kindergarten).  I hesitate to use the term “over the hump” because that implies an easy downhill slide to the end and with middle school and high school still ahead I think we’d all agree we’re not going to be coasting to graduation.  In fact several of my friends are too intimidated to continue teaching their kids at home.  That’s why I was thrilled with the opportunity to read The ConversationAuthor Leigh A. Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, has packed this book full of tips and encouragement for teaching you own high schooler.  The book went with me on vacation and while I waited for my son at scout meetings and baseball camp.

The opening chapter covers becoming Confident Parents.  This is for those people considering homeschool for the first time or homeschooling parents wondering if they will be able to teach high school.  A key issue is the role of parental authority and how it looks when dealing with teenagers.  Then the author answers a series of questions: How can I teach my kids when I didn’t do well in school? Can my kids get into college?  What if my child is gifted or has special needs?  I didn’t need convincing that I want to homeschool all through high school, still found some hidden gems buried in this chapter.

If you picked up on the “Classical” part of the vendor name, Bortins does use a classical approach to home education.   I was very thankful for Chapter Two--Rhetoric Defined chapter to help me understand the lingo of classical education.

You may be familiar (as I was) with the three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  While it’s true that students naturally progress through these stages as they age (young children spend their time learning the vocabulary of their language and naming things they see in their world , as they get older they begin asking questions to further their knowledge), any time they begin a new course of study they will begin back at the Grammar stage. 

New to me was a second list of classical terms having to do with the Five Canons of Rhetoric:

  1. Invention—Discover ideas, research, and plan.
  2. Arrangement—Arrange ideas in a logical and organized manner.
  3. Elocution—Express ideas in the style that is most persuasive in appealing to the audience.
  4. Memory—Add memorable features to your essay or speech. Commit ideas to memory.
  5. Delivery—Deliver ideas in oral or written form.

 The next nine chapters help you to understand what high school subjects look like in the classical approach. 

  • Reading
  • Speech & Debate
  • Writing
  • Science
  • Math
  • Government & Economics
  • History
  • Latin & Foreign Languages
  • Fine Arts

Each chapter has a similar format: there are articles (some republished from Classical Conversations Writer Circle), a chart on how the five canons apply to the particular subject, and examples of conversations (remember the title of the book?) that might take place between teacher and student. It was the sample conversations that intrigued me most. They are written like a script with ME being the author/teacher and a student name.  The teacher is asking open ended questions, guiding the students yet still forcing them to think for themselves—in other words, the Socratic Method in action.  It’s a meaningful dialogue.  This is what I dreamed of when I started homeschooling seven years ago.  How different from traditional schools where the teacher does all the talking.  How different from where everything is compartmentalized and separated by the ringing of bells on the hour.

Finally the book ends with a Graduation Conversation where the author shares the secret to college admissions and life after college.  Another hidden gem was the “Am I Too Late” section.  We haven’t been following a classic approach to school.  With all our review materials, we’re eclectic at best.  As I read though I want to take the path that will lead to the types of conversations I read in the previous chapters, but could I redirect our course at the half-way point?  That’s when I read the following….



While researching for this review I learned that Leigh A. Bortins  has a degree in Aerospace Engineering—she’s literally a rocket scientist!.   The Conversation helps you understand that you don’t have to be one to teach your high schoolers at home.

Classical Conversations Review

Friday, July 31, 2015

Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship

I’ve written a few times about my son’s involvement in Royal Rangers (although perhaps not enough).  He’s been earning merits and studying the Bible since kindergarten and he’s finally old enough to join their Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship.  This is an optional branch within RR where boys and leaders learn skills and trades from the frontier days. 

Schnickelfritz had to attend a Frontier Adventure and pass tests that involved throwing a knife & tomahawk,  setting a trap, and starting a fire with flint & steel.  Now he’s able to attend special camping events (called rendezvous) where he’ll learn about black powder shooting, dress in mountain man or voyageur clothing, cook in a Dutch oven, and more (even though I’m a mom and a female, I’m highly jealous).  In order to advance he needs to learn a trade and right now he’s leaning towards becoming an apprentice to his own outpost commander, who does blacksmithing.

Right now he’s learning how to build primitive shelters and primitive snares for trapping so this is very much a scouting program.  However it’s also a scouting program run by the church. For his regular Royal Rangers advancement he has to work on Bible merits as well as the skill merits.  To advance in FCF he has to perform 60 hours of volunteer service for the outpost, church, community and missions work.

If you’re feeling frustrated with the path taken by the Boy Scouts, you may want to give Royal Rangers and Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship a try.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: With Lee in Virginia

Family reunion……road trip…..over fourteen hours in the car in two days, and that’s if we were lucky. Last year we got stuck in road construction traffic and spent an hour to cover six miles.   What was one of the first things I made sure I packed in my car bag?


I tweeted the answer—our three audio adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions.  These folks have been bringing G.A. Henty stories to life for the past year.  Even though they’re relatively new to the world of audio/radio theater their production is professional, their narrative entertaining and thought-provoking, and their support materials superb.  We’ve already traveled around the world Under Drake’s Flag and battled alongside William Wallace In Freedom’s Cause and now we were going to relive the Civil War With Lee in Virginia.  The two CD set kept us entertained for about two and a half hours.  And just check out the cast of voice actors!

We tend to like to listen to the story and see if we can recognize the voices of the actors rather than look up their roles.  Sean Astin was easy, but Kirk Cameron stumped us.
The opening act of Heirloom’s audios have two boys meeting“ Mr. George” who proceeds to entertain them with a story whose main characters “just happen” to share the same names—in this case Vincent and Dan.  The other amazing “coincidence” is that the story characters always seem to encounter famous figures from history.  As the title hints, one of these men is  Gen. Robert E. Lee. Vincent also fights alongside Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Joseph E. Johnston. 
To be clear Vincent is a southerner and fights for the Confederacy.  His family are slave-owners and he will inherit these staves when he comes of age.  I’ll even go so far as to caution parents of young listeners that the story includes very realistic sounds of slaves being whipped and slave families being separated and sold at auction.  Although Vincent defends the Southern Cause, he stops the whipping, intercedes in the auction to buy the mother and child, and risks his life to help the father escape to freedom in Canada.  While reading his father’s Bible, Vincent is convicted that no man should own another and does right by Dan.
As with all The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty, there is an underlying theme as well as an action-packed story.  For this title, the theme is Duty.  In between the CD’s in the case is a quote from Robert E. Lee—“Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”  We hear this in the story along with a Stonewall Jackson quote—“Duty is ours, the consequences are God's.”  As the mother of a son about to become a teen, I’m thankful for every opportunity to expose him to honorable ideals.  It’s woven into the story without sounding “preachy.”
We have been listening to WLiV simply for pleasure since our study of the Civil War concluded the first quarter of last year.  Had the timing been right, we could have used Heirloom’s free Study Guide to make this more of a unit study.  Each track from the CD has its own page of words to define—some military/war terms and some things we just don’t see any more, like a livery.  The Listening Well questions test memory and comprehension. The Thinking Further questions deal with critical thinking, looking at actions/situations from a Biblical standpoint, and other historical/geographical research.  The background and artwork would make it “ink intensive” to print the 52 pages out, but I highly recommend you letting students at least look at the pages.  There are maps, inset texts with more information, and some thought-provoking photographs of the war.  Look at this image of a Bible that had been carried in the breast pocket of a young soldier.  It saved his life by stopping two minie balls and I pray it also saved his soul. 
The Study Guide is just one of the free bonuses available to purchasers of the Cd’s or the MP3 download.  Other gifts, depending on the package selected, include a download of the soundtrack, a PDF version of the book, a copy of Lee’s quote on duty, or a poster of the CD cover with the cast.
I think it’s safe to say that all future Henty adventures will end up as Christmas or birthday presents. We’re such fans of the audio format (my son has yet to read a Henty book).  I highly recommend this series to any family, but especially those with boys.  If you have younger children you may want to listen before they do or make sure you’re listening together as there are very realistic scenes of slave whipping and deaths in battle.
My reviews of other Heirloom Audio Productions titles:
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With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Friday, July 24, 2015

Looking forward to New School Year

Where oh where has summer gone?  I know that as a homeschooler I could stick to the calendar of old—you remember the one where we didn’t go back to school till after Labor Day.  Still, by mid August the pool will be closed, Six Flags will only be open on weekends, and PS friends will not be able to play.  Here’s what I have lined up.


We completed that year-long merit badge and we’ll be returning to the Discover 4 Yourself series with Revelation (divided into two workbooks) and a study of covenants.


We’re on the second year of IEW’s Student Intensive Continuation Course Level A (writing is still Fritz’s weak area but we’re making progress).


Another IEW product—Fix It! Grammar.  It goes so well with SICC.  We’ll be in Level 3—The Frog Prince.


We tried Teaching Textbooks for the last two years.  With all the math reviews we’ve done I think the disjointedness of switching products really hampered his learning.  Fritz also requested that we return to Math U See.  We’ll be going back to Algebra 1 with no disruptions.


A leap forward for us, but Dr. Wile—the author of the text says students are ready for Biology when they start Algebra.  We skipped General and physical science, but Dr. Wile says Fritz will more than make up for it by being able to use the advanced courses in his late high school years.


We’re going back to ancient times with Mystery of History Vol. 1.  I’ll be doing some supplementing to make it rigorous enough for Jr. High.


Most of the title will tie into history—Archimedes and the Door of Science, The Bronze Bow, the Landmark books about Alexander the Great and The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and the Alfred C. Church’s The Iliad & the Odyssey for Boys and Girls.  I may try The Cat of Bubastes as a read-aloud. 


Fritz has a required merit on Healthy Body.  I think I will pair that up with the Bachelor merit (which covers house-cleaning, budgeting, laundry, etc.) for a Home Economics course.


This one is more up in the air….Fritz is now too old for Upwards Basketball and his karate instructor has retired. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Project Passport Egypt

Summertime often means vacation time and we’re just finishing ours.  You know the drill—itineraries, tour guides, postcards, photo albums, souvenirs, exotic foods.  Did I mention our destination was Egypt?  Did I mention we traveled back in time?  It’s all true thanks to Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt.  This is one of three world history titles available from Home School in the Woods, the other two cover The Middle Ages and the Renaissance & Reformation.  Two more titles are in the works for Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.  We received the download version of the study but it’s also available on CD-ROM.  Since you have to do all the printing you should stock up on paper, colored paper, colored card stock, and ink.  This is a good time to use a craft store coupon and buy a multicolor pack of 8 by 11 1/2 cardstock.

The program is Windows and Macintosh compatible (mine runs through Internet Explorer offline) and you will need Adobe Reader to access and print the texts and project printables. 


This is not our first go with Homeschool in the Woods (I’ll link to my other reviews at the end of this post).  Project Passport Travel Guide & ItineraryStandard drill for me is to print out the lesson texts and teacher’s instruction manual.  Since this whole study is themed as a vacation tour they are referred to as the Guide Book and Travel Itinerary respectively.   If you are familiar with HSitW from their Time Travelers American History series, you know that students work on craft projects (souvenirs), build a timeline (Snapshot Moments in History), write a newspaper (The Kemet Chronicle), and build a notebook (Scrapbook Sights) and lap book (I guess they couldn’t come up with another travel themed name).  New additions to the world history series are Postcard Greetings from famous folks from the past, MP3 audios of tours through historic sites, and  a final wrap up with the creation of a trifold travel brochure.

Project Passport Newspaper Project


The other book I’ve printed out and bound holds all the notebook pages Schnickelfritz creates (we found a website that translated his name into a cartouche to add to the cover!).  I print out all the base pages and assemble them and we keep all the timeline figures and other things that will be added to the base pages in a clear plastic binder (mine actually zips up so I don’t have to worry about little pieces falling out).  I also include some blank card stock pages that will hold the mini books that would normally go in the lap book.  The only things I don’t print before we start are the newspaper pages.  Because my son has dysgraphia and doesn’t like to draw or color, I allow him to use Photoshop Elements to add photos and type in his articles (I actually wrote a tutorial about this process if you want to check it out).


With the Time Traveler series, I didn’t always follow the lesson plan in order however I do recommend that for Project Passport.  The audio tours are really more like radio theater and they do have a chronological order—referring to previous stops, etc.  When you start the program you can access everything you need for each lesson—the text, project instructions, any audios.  One improvement over the Time Traveler series is that the project photos are included in the lesson rather than collected in a separate page.  The other icons let us know what projects will be included with the lesson, the camera represents the Snapshot Moments timeline for example.

Project Passport Screenshot

I did mention that I like to print out the lesson text and instructions in advance so I wish they were also available in a single PDF file for quick printing.

I usually read the lessons out loud to Fritz while he added figures to the timeline.  Most lessons were 2-3 pages and while he could have read them to himself, the concepts—like the traditional vs. the new chronology of Biblical and Egyptian history were difficult enough to require us to stop reading and discuss.    I did let him look through the lesson and choose 3-4 sentences to compose his newspaper article (I wasn’t worried about plagiarism, I was just glad he could determine which facts were most important to remember).  Sometimes the notebook projects contained so much information they could have been their own separate lesson and if we hadn’t had the deadline of this review I might have scheduled them for their own day.

Project Passport Timeline

Project Passport Recipes To Try


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we love how HSitW makes history come alive.  It’s not just names and places and dates, these were real people that had to eat and work and go to school just like we do.  There are lessons on what everyday life was like for the common men and women: what they wore, what there houses were like, what games the children played and best of all what they ate!  We may not do the craft projects, but we always like to try the recipes. We were already familiar with hummus and baba ghanouj but this cantaloupe juice was a new refreshing cooler for the hot weather. 

We love our Homeschool in the Woods studies.  They would be great if you’re teaching a range of ages.  The younger kids might not get all the details but they could take part in the craft projects or making the recipes.  They might even be the ones to color in all the printable images.

Here are the links to the other history studies we’ve reviewed:

The Civil War

The Industrial Revolution

World War II

The Middle Ages


Home School in the Woods Review


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