One of the first things I did when I learned I would be part of the Homeschool Crew was to look through the list of vendors signed up for the year. I had just reached the "B's" when I big smile appeared on my face -- Bright Ideas Press. I've been accumulating their products for years: The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, and the first two volumes of The Mystery of History. We were asked our first and second choices for products to review. My first choice was The Mystery of History Vol III, since I was familiar with and loved the first two. For my second choice, I decided to go with a product with which I had no experience--Christian Kids Explore Biology. I was blessed with the opportunity to receive and review both my choices.
The Mystery of History Volume III covers the years 1455-1707. The text is organized into four 7-week quarters. Each week starts with a pre-test. Then there are three lessons written as though the author were speaking directly to the students. I find this perfect read-aloud material (more on the later...). Each lesson will have suggested activities based on age groups. There is a review of the week's lessons when students make memory cards for each lesson and put historical individuals or events on a time line. The Companion Guide gives suggestions if you are making your own timeline figures or you can purchase a gorgeous set by Amy Pak for $9.95. Finally, there is a cumulative quiz based on all the previous lessons (some allow students to use their book of memory cards).
I do not follow this format in teaching my Schnickelfritz. We use unit studies as our base curriculum and I prefer using living books when possible. There are times though, when I don't have time to read a whole book or am unable to find one in my rural library. Then I turn to The Mystery of History. I know I will be getting a well-researched lesson written from a Christian worldview (whether or not the subject was a Christian). Last spring our community college had an international day and Fritz had his face painted as a Maori warrior. (I've been dying to share this picture!)
Of course he wanted to know more about them and fortunately for me there was a lesson in MOH Vol 2. I plan to get the whole series just for reference material.
If you are familiar with the Mystery of History series, let me point out some changes in this volume. First, the text now comes in hardback with full color pictures (wonderful as we learn about the art of the Renaissance). Second, this book only contains the text. The lesson activities, pre-tests, quizzes, and printables all come separately on CD-ROM.
I mentioned earlier that this is a great read aloud. For some of these lessons I think this is the only way to go. Some of the great artists of the Renaissance lead less that godly lifestyles. There are also descriptions of atrocities suffered by those who died for their faith. In some cases the author includes a warning for younger and middle students to skip the next paragraph and resume later--but wouldn't the first instinct of most kids be to read what they were just told not to read? Other times, like the death of Thomas Cranmer in the lesson on [Bloody] Mary Tuder, there is no warning so you may want to pre-read and edit the text for younger students.
The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader retails for $59.95 alone if you only want to read the text. The CD Companion Guide: Curriculum and student Activities is $29.95. Or you can buy them as a bundle for $79.00.
Christian Kids Explore Biology is one of a series of science books for elementary students. The book is recommended for 3-6 graders, but it includes simpler hands-on activities for grades 1-3. There are 35 lessons organized into eight units:
Plants in God's World
Birds of the Earth
Mammals in the Wild
The Human Factor
Reptiles all Around
Insects High and Low
Each units begins with a vocabulary list, a materials needed list, and an intricate coloring page (the cover picture is taken from the first unit). The coloring pages were more than my Schnickelfritz wanted to tackle, but I can see them appealing to older students.
The lessons are divided into teaching time and hands-on-time. The text of teaching time is very conversational and good as a read aloud. The hands on time may involve drawing, using playdough, or "Checking It Out"--their term for simple experiments. For the very first lesson on creation we were instructed to throw cards (we used legos) into the air and see if they built something when they landed. The object was to see that order doesn't happen without a designer. Needless to say this was a big hit in our house and we repeated the experiment several times.
In the margins you will often find Bible verses, recipes, little known facts, and other goodies. There are also wonderful labeled diagrams that could be copied for lapbooks. I took the Food Web diagram and turned it into an activity for our homeschool co-op. Everyone received a nametag for a plant or animal in the web and then we took yarn to connect the producers to their consumers to the tops of the food chains.
The hands-on-time for the final lesson in a unit is a review in quiz format. I must say the author know what appeals to kids because each correct answer is worth 10,000 points!!
The appendices are a treasure trove! There are reproducible forms and maps, additional coloring pages, scripture memory flash cards, and more. Here you will find the 10,000 point answer key and pages and pages of suggested further reading.
I've been so please with how well these lessons have matched up with our Konos lessons. We've got the five senses, taxonomy, predators and prey (the food web), and birds this year. I'll save plants and other systems of the body for later years. I've been so impressed with this book, I'll have to look at others in the series: Physics, Earth and Space, and Chemistry.
Christian Kids Explore Biology retails for $34.95.
Most of the Bright Ideas Press products have a Yahoo Group associated with them. Think of it as a co-op/support group where you can ask questions, share ideas, find websites with additional materials, etc. Just do a groups search of the book's title to get started.
You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of these and other Bright Ideas Press products by clicking here.
Disclaimer: Bright Ideas Press provided me with free copies of these products to test and use in order to write this review. I received no other compensation.