Your new favorite homeschooling guide: Big Book of Homeschool Ideas, vol. 2 (review)

homeschooling guide | answers to homeschooling questions | Big Book of Homeschool Ideas | iHomeschoolNetwork

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary pdf of both volumes of Big Book of Homeschool Ideas in exchange for my time and honest opinions. I have not been compensated for a positive review, and all opinions are my own. See my full disclosure here.

There are a lot of homeschooling resources out there. It’s overwhelming. But if you want a single homeschooling guide to address just about every question you could possibly ask about homeschooling, that would be the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas, volume 2, from iHomeschoolNetwork.com.

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas (v.2) is written by 38 different homeschooling moms from all over the globe, and covers 58 different topics. The printed version is 484 pages! That’s a lot of homeschool info! But with a clear table of contents, I found it very easy to navigate. As a homeschooling guide, you don’t necessarily have to read through it in one sitting (though you will want to). Think of it like a reference manual. If you have a question on how to handle transcripts, socialization, homeschool doubters, or learning styles? Pull that bad boy out and flip right to the answer.

Big Book of Homeschool Ideas 2 | table of contents

Homeschooling Guide to middle school and beyond

The Big Book starts with topics related to homeschooling middle school through high school. (If your kids are younger, hang on! There’s something for you, too.) I loved this section because its exactly where I’m headed. Sixth grade is looming ahead of me next year, and all the questions about electives vs. extra-curricular, transcripts, dual credit, etc. are all becoming more relevant. I also appreciated the in-depth article about independence and what it looks like. As homeschoolers, the end goal is always to teach our kids to be independent self-learners, but I didn’t realize how abstract that could be until I read Heather Woodie’s article “Teaching Your Teens to be Independent Learners.” She breaks it down into small steps that helped me to evaluate exactly where we are at and what we need to work on: self-starting, identifying and solving problems, coping, and more. Other articles in this section covered topics about the changing socialization needs of our older kids and how to help your child explore career options in fun, creative ways.

Homeschooling Guide to learning styles, methods, and resources

The second section of the book covers general homeschool topics, everything from learning styles and education methods, curriculum recommendations, fun learning ideas (including learning with board games), to “how to stay the course when the school bus looks tempting.” Then, five more sections provide learning resources for different subject areas, special needs, and unique homeschool situations. The authors even covered the hot topics of socialization and how to deal with anti-homeschooling family and friends.

While the Big Book is thorough, it is not overwhelming. The short articles allow you to easily find what you are looking for, read for 5 minutes, and come back again for more later on. The unique situations and perspectives of so many homeschooling moms also makes this a really terrific resource, collective wisdom from collective experience. Rather than a dry, reference manual of facts and lists, reading this book feels like you are sitting down with your homeschool mom buddies over coffee, discussing how to teach subjects from living books or how to do nature study in the city.

For the handful of questions that might not be in volume 2, there is also Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas, volume 1 (55 moms on 103 topics). This volume is your homeschool resource guide for homeschooling preschoolers, homeschooling with babies and toddlers, elementary specific topics, home management, and tons more.

Big Book of Homeschool Ideas 2 review | homeschooling guide | answers to homeschooling questions

I can’t recommend these books enough. Nothing I’ve picked up has covered the ins-and-outs of homeschooling as thoroughly as the Big Books. You can pick up a copy of your Big Book of Homeschool Ideas (volume 2) on Amazon:

Big Book of Homeschool Ideas, vol. 2—Kindle

Big Book of Homeschool Ideas, vol 2—print copy

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary pdf of both volumes of Big Book of Homeschool Ideas in exchange for my time and honest opinions. I have not been compensated for a positive review, and all opinions are my own. See my full disclosure here.

Dyslexia Games Review: spelling for right-brained learners

Dyslexia Games review | spelling for dyslexia | homeschooling dyslexia | right-brained learner

Spelling is my daughter’s nemesis. After we finally made some headway in reading, she came to an absolute impasse with spelling. Her dyslexia just did not allow her to hear sounds and remember them in the right order. She couldn’t memorize a word by sight or by sound. No matter how many times we’d go over a word, she’d jumble it all together when it came time to write it down, if she had any of the right letters in the mix at all. As much as we loved Logic of English for reading, it became impossible for spelling. When I first stumbled upon Dyslexia Games late last school year, I was skeptical but desperate. As I looked at samples and read about the approach, I really felt that if anything could help my creative, right-brained child, this program could.

Dyslexia Games review | homeschooling dyslexia | spelling for dyslexia

Dyslexia Games is a writing & spelling program with a very right-brained, creative approach. The program begins with having the child complete intricate patterns, studying the fine details and learning to repeat them. Sometimes the patterns were shapes and numbers; sometimes the patterns resembled the troublesome letters that dyslexic learners often struggle with (d, b, q, p). Another activity requires the child to study a picture and complete the missing parts: a face, a cat, a dog, etc. It’s an unusual tactic for a spelling program, but I watched in disbelief as she progressed.

Dyslexia Games teaches her to notice the subtle differences in letters and words. It teaches her to observe, in the same way she would observe art and drawing. Another activity requires her to hunt for words around the house, creating her own “spelling list” if you will, but still with this same principle of noticing and copying rather than remembering. She filled in blanks of missing letters and copied words beneath pictures she’d color. Each time, connecting language to her natural artistic strengths.

Dyslexia Games review | homeschooling dyslexia | right-brained learners

In using this program, it has done a couple of different things for my daughter.

  1. It has allowed her to work through and overcome her anxieties and fears about what she can’t do. It is teaching her weakness through her strength. I love that! She is able to use something that she is good at, something that she is confident in, to tackle a subject she would otherwise struggle in.
  2. It is teaching her to “see” what her brain just doesn’t naturally see. My beautiful girl sees the world so differently. And I love that about her. Nothing is ever as it seems. And yet, that creates so much struggle for her academically, where things must be seen a particular way. Just as Logic of English helped her to hear the sounds and make sense of them, Dyslexia Games has taught her to look for the subtle differences in letters and words.

Is my daughter learning to write and spell with this program? Yes. Though technically she would still be “behind grade level” in this subject, Dyslexia Games is teaching her the skills she will need to be able to spell and is increasing her confidence. We have completed Level A and are about halfway through Level B. Each level comes with a number of workbooks that the student can work through one at a time. However, knowing my daughter’s attention span, I’ve had her work through all the workbooks at once, but have kept the same recommended order. In other words, she completes one page in each workbook each day, progressing from patterns and art to a Word Hunt at the end of the week.

spelling for dyslexia | right-brained learners | homeschooling dyslexiaJust this weekend, I received Creative Comic Book Cursive and Spelling Journal from this same company. She was so excited when she looked through the book, that she immediately sat down with a pencil (ON HER DAY OFF!) and began working through this book. I love to see that! I love to see her enjoying learning in an area where she naturally is not as strong (which makes me absolutely love these products). I’m so thankful for the gift they’ve given my daughter, for the blessing they’ve been to my family.

This is not a traditional spelling program in any stretch of the imagination. It’s very out-of-the-norm. But isn’t that how our dyslexics see the world? It’s an out-of-the-norm program for our out-of-the-norm learners. And I love that someone not only understands and but has written a program to encourage this in our kids. Thank you, Dyslexia Games & Thinking Tree!

To see samples of the program and other products available for right-brained learners, visit the Dyslexia Games website.

I purchased this program and have not received any compensation for my opinions. After using this product, I have formed my own opinions and have shared them freely with you. For more, see my disclosure policy here.

Homeschool Helper Review (for homeschool planning & record keeping)

homeschool record keeping | homeschool planning | homeschool reviews

Though I do not plan online or on my iPad, I have an iPad app that I love to use for my homeschool grades and records. Attendance, grades, and reports I’d much rather have that automated; numbers just aren’t my thing. So for recording grades and creating reports, I love Homeschool Helper on my iPad. It’s beautiful, user-friendly, and I actually look forward to opening it up and using it.

Set-up took a little time but wasn’t complicated. I set up each child with the subjects they would be covering for the year. For each subject, you can assign a grading system—A, B, C, or Excellent, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory. You can adjust the grading scale and set up weighted grading (10% of the grade is for daily, 20% is for quizzes, 50% is for tests, 20% is for projects). Once set-up is complete, using the reports is simple, too.

Attendance is as easy as touching a date on the calendar. If I forget to do it daily, I can simply touch all the dates I know we did school. If we did a half day of school, I touch the date twice. It automatically records the total number of days we’ve done school and includes this info on the report card and other reports.

homeschool attendance | homeschool record keeping | homeschool helper review

Entering grades is just as easy. It even has a calculator. Enter the number of correct answers; enter the total number possible; touch “calculate.” The percentage grade and description is then saved for that assignment or test.

homeschool grading | homeschool record keeping | homeschool helper review

You can plan or record field trips and books read. You can also create a variety of reports, including report cards. Just enter the range of dates you want included on the report and information you want on the report. Then, you can either save or email the report. I usually email it to myself and then print it from the email. There is also a function to plan lessons, batch plan lessons, etc. But I can’t review those functions since I’ve never used them.

homeschool record keeping | homeschool report cards | homeschool helper review

I have used this app to record my grades for about 5 years, and I love it. I can’t see myself switching to anything else any time soon. While I love my pen and paper planner, I wouldn’t want to go without my Homeschool Helper.

homeschool helper review | homeschool apps
from the website
homeschoolhelperapp.com

Visit the website HomeschoolHelperApp.com or look for it in your app store.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read about different styles of planning, combining those different styles to find your perfect solution, organizing your child, and finding your rhythm—all in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

First Language Lessons Review

homeschool grammar curriculum review | Well Trained Mind | First Language Lessons

There are a lot of grammar and language arts curriculums for homeschoolers to choose from. Even so, I have found the hardest time finding one I loved. I will admit, I am a hard-sell for grammar curriculum. As a grammar-nerd, I’m extremely picky. But I love First Language Lessons from Well-Trained Mind.

I began using First Language Lessons last year with my then second grader, beginning with the Level 2 book. She was struggling tremendously with writing and several dyslexia-typical issues. I really loved that, at her level, most of the grammar work was oral. We read or recited together. And it was fast. The lessons took us about 5 minutes, never more than 10.

This year, I continued with the program both with her, in the Level 3 book, and my oldest, in the Level 4 book. And while the Level 3 book begins requiring more writing as part of the lesson, there is still enough oral work that my daughter has continued to do extremely well with it this year. I’m thrilled with the program for both of them. It is remarkable.

  1. It makes sense. The order, the pace, the presentation, the exercises—it’s logical, easy to use, and the perfect amount of material at a time. And the fact that my analytical son, who learns language subjects instinctively and intuitively, and my right-brained creative daughter, who struggles with every language subject, both do well with the same program really blows my mind.
  2. It emphasizes memory work while keeping it fun. My kids love the chants and movement suggestions. Even my four year old is learning his helping verbs by listening to his older siblings chant and clap.
  3. It keeps lessons short and sweet. The lessons take about 10 minutes and are intended to be scheduled 2-3 times a week. There are usually 4-5 sentences on the topic we are working on, then the lesson moves on to a new concept, 4-5 more sentences, and then we are done. The repetition is well spaced, so my kids are learning a ton without it becoming burdensome. The lessons are sometimes several pages, 3-5 usually, but much of it is done orally (read these sentences; read this list; say these verbs and do the actions) and goes quickly.homeschool grammar curriculum | diagramming | Well Trained mind | First Language Lessons | Level 4
  4. It includes diagramming! I love diagramming for teaching grammar. I’m not sure if it is the grammar-nerd in me or the fact that I am a visual learner. For me, diagramming is a visual of what is going on in the sentence. I love it! Levels 3 and 4 both contain lessons on diagramming throughout, and I have been so impressed with how the diagramming is included. In Level 3, the diagrams are already drawn and progress slowly as each part of speech is learned. It is taught as a means of showing how the word is working in the sentence. In level 4, diagrams are provided at first, progress to traceable diagrams, and then the student draws one or two of his own. Again, the student is not diagramming more than a few sentences per lesson; or if there are several diagrams, he is only adding a word or two to each one.
  5. It includes poetry! There are poems for memory work spaced throughout the book. The poem selections are wonderful: “The Land of Nod” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Ozymandias,” and “Afternoon on a Hill” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. My kids have loved this part of the curriculum.

There are dictation exercises included throughout and a few narration activities, but we skip nearly all of these for a couple of reasons. For one, I am also doing the accompanying Writing with Ease books with my kids, which includes plenty of narration/dictation/copywork. Also, as I mentioned earlier, writing and copying is extremely challenging for my daughter, so I’m very intentional about what I choose to have her do.

First Language Lessons is a scripted curriculum. You can literally read the entire lesson off the page, word for word. I wasn’t sure how I’d like a scripted curriculum and hesitated trying the program for awhile because of this; I’m usually an unscripted homeschooler. But it really hasn’t bothered me at all. Sometimes I read it word for word, and sometimes I take the idea and run with it. On the other hand, the scripted lessons mean that you can teach a great lesson even if grammar is not your strength. It’s clear and easy to understand.

While Level 2 simply had a teacher book we worked through together, there is both a student workbook and a teacher book for Levels 3 and 4.

Well Trained Mind | First Language Lessons | curriculum review

Cons:

  1. This is not a colorful, flashy, gimmicky curriculum. It has enough elements to present the information in a way a variety of learning styles can relate and is written in a fun, interactive manner encouraging a conversational lesson between teacher and child. But this is the economy car of grammar, not the flashy red convertible.
  2. This curriculum currently only goes through four levels. We are using the Level 4 book for fifth grade and find it to be quite adequate and sufficiently challenging. I used Level 2 for Middlest last year in second grade, and Level 3 with her this year for the third grade. While there are rumors that more books will be produced, there is nothing yet.
  3. This is just a grammar curriculum, with a few add-on sections on usage, mechanics, letter writing, and alphabetizing. For me, this was more of an advantage than disadvantage; all I wanted was a grammar curriculum. But if you are look for a program that incorporates writing and reading, that is not included in First Language Lessons. There is a book that teaches some writing skills from a classical methodology of narrating passages (Writing with Ease).

Summary:

  • Works for a variety of learning and teaching styles.
  • Would appeal to Classical and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers best.
  • Provides short, scripted lessons in the teacher book with an accompanying student workbook.
  • Suitable for both grammar-nerds and grammar-rookies.
  • Requires no prep.
  • Functional, not flashy.
  • Secular program, no religious affiliation.
  • Currently only available in Levels 1-4.
  • Grammar curriculum only.
  • Reasonably priced at around $20 a book.

First Language Lessons is available through the Well Trained Mind website as well as through Amazon and other homeschool curriculum suppliers. If you want a more in-depth look at the curriculum, the Well Trained Mind website provides some pdf previews of some of the individual books.

This review is my own honest opinion about a product that I’ve loved in our homeschool. I received nothing in return for this review and the opinions are my own.

Mama’s Moodlifters Cards: review

Disclaimer: I was given a set of cards in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Do you ever have one of “those” days when everything explodes into chaos? No, me neither. But if you ever were in need of something to lift your mood, these cards are the cutest.

Mama's MoodLifter Cards review

 

Mama’s Moodlifters Cards are a set of cards with fun play ideas to shift the mood of your day. Each card has a super cute play idea—wrap your baby like a burrito and gobble him up, make funny faces, create funny “toasts” to each other, dance the “blues” away, and more—plus an inspirational quotation. Let me just say, I was sold with the idea of a baby-burrito. What could be more fun than throwing pillows and stuffed animals on a blanket and rolling your toddler (or 7 year old) up into a blanket burrito and pretending to eat him!

Mama's MoodLifter Cards review

Or for those days when I’m really scrambling for a moment, just one minute to regather my scattered thoughts, I’ll send them off with one of the ideas. It does lift my mood to hear them hysterically giggling in the bathroom as they make funny faces in the mirror. Then, of course, I get to see the “prize” faces, the funniest faces they could come up with, and we all get a good giggle.

Mama's MoodLifters review

It’s such a cute idea, and a real help. I’m not always good about thinking of creative things to play with my kids, but another reason I love them is that they help me to embrace my kids in those hard moments rather than push them away. They also make great “rainy day” ideas!

A set comes with 32 cards—32 fun ideas and inspirations—in a cotton drawstring pouch for $17. They are a fun gift idea for moms, too, especially with Mother’s Day approaching (*wink*). Visit the website to read more about the cards or to purchase your own set.

Disclaimer: I was given a set of cards in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. You can read my disclosure policy here.

An Update and Review of Christian Kids Explore

It’s that time of year. I see it all over blogs and pinterest. It’s the time of year when curriculum goes on sale and homeschoolers come out of the woodwork offering advice on how to evaluate your year. And because of all that evaluating, I’ve been in a very reflective, evaluating frame of mind. One of the areas I’ve been evaluating has been our science, specifically our Christian Kids Explore curriculum.

This is the first year for me to attempt to tackle something resembling formal science. Nature studies, lap books, read-alouds and living books—yes, yes, and yes, but up until this year there’s been very little in the way of science experiments and formal observation and terms (well, unless you count the parts of the skeleton and body organs as “terms”).

But honestly, during my evaluating, this is one of those areas where I’m realizing that I’m not superwoman, that there might be somethings I’m just not ready for. While science has been a highlight for the kids, the subject always listed as their favorite when we talk about school, I’ve felt like a total failure in this area—and I’ve missed our nature study, something we really haven’t had time for (or the weather for lately; it is winter after all).

So, on one hand, my first reaction was to decide to purchase a formal science curriculum next year. Something more structured, more like the real thing. But then, how would I have time for that? As I confided to my husband my struggle, he gave such a terrific insight. He mentioned that he didn’t remember having formal science until 5th or 6th grade, so why not enjoy nature study and simpler science activities until the kids were old enough to be doing most of history independently. Then, I could feasibly switch my teaching efforts to science at that time. Ah, bless that man!

So that’s what I’m doing, starting now. I have a fabulous nature-oriented study on rain (welcome to the Pacific Northwest, folks!) that we are doing, and it’s been such a balm to my nature-loving soul.

 

What’s the deal with our other science, Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space? Here’s a quick list of what it is and isn’t:

 

Christian Kids Explore science review

It Isn’t…

  • a textbook, which is a good thing really. But that also means that there are no photos or colored illustrations. It’s an introduction into a topic, some terms to learn, and some coloring pages and experiments.
  • a complete science curriculum. Really, my best description is that it provides the backbone, the jumping off point for you to create your own unit study. There is a great list of both book and video resources by topic and grade at the back. But it takes a lot of time to piece together a study on your own, as I’ve learned first-hand.
  • watered-down, in the sense of a shallow little kid’s book on science. I loved that it used real science words and explained concepts for all ages.

It Is…

  • just barely scratching the surface of the subject. To me, it didn’t feel complete on it’s own. I felt that it needed embellished with those “additional resource suggestions.” And that took more time than I had.
  • for all ages, but sometimes that idea felt like it compromised some of the quality of the activities. Maybe it tried to be too all encompassing?
  • a great jumping off point. If you are looking for a place to jump-start your science unit studies, this is a fantastic resource, providing the activities and terms and allowing you the freedom to customize for each level. If you are expecting that, and allow the time for yourself to do that, it’s a terrific curriculum. I, on the other hand, was rather caught off guard and out of time.

So, while Christian Kids Explore is a great science curriculum, particularly for those that like to create their own unit studies, it has not been a good fit for us. What have you found yourself evaluating lately?