Monday, September 25

Captain Bayley's Heir (review)

Heirloom Audio Productions produces wonderful professional audio dramas that bring history to life for the entire family.   As a travelling family, we enjoy listening to audiobooks regularly, and we have been long time Heirloom Audio enthusiasts.  We had the chance to review Captain Bayley's Heir, along with its study guide and bonuses, and it was an aural delight! 

It’s based on the G.A.Henty book – Captain Bayley's Heir – in which Frank Norris, accused of theft and unable to prove his innocence, leaves for excitement and adventure in the California gold fields of 1850s America. He sails the Atlantic, braves a storm while working as a barge man on the Mississippi, survives an Indian attack while crossing the plains with a caravan, strikes it rich in the California gold mines, and is finally able to clear his name and return to England to claim his rightful inheritance. 

While we expected most of the book to be set in America during the 1850s, we were surprised to find that over half of it is set in England.  It is a story of God’s grace, of honoring our parents, and of learning forgiveness.  There were many twists and surprises that kept us guessing how it would all end!

G. A. Henty was a prolific author in the 1800s who wrote many books in the historical fiction genre. Henty wrote about true historical characters and events, and added a fictional young person to the narrative.  Henty’s books are about men being men, and boys learning to be men. This is stated to be for ages six through adult, but my youngest was still a bit confused on some of the details, so occasionally we’d stop the story and talk about it.

We are history lovers around here, so reviews like this are exciting for our entire family. Listening to the two-CD set in the car was a simple thing for us, and it's ideal for giving a richer understanding of history.  We listened to this audiobook right after returning from a trip to California – where we checked out historical Sutter’s Fort and learned a bit about the California Gold Rush.  What a way to get back in the moment!  
Heirloom Audio Productions are very professionally done - both the acting and the background work - and are a delight to listen to…even the one child that usually steers away from audiobooks was loving it!  As we own every Heirloom book, my boys have figured out their ‘pattern,’ and take great pleasure in being the first to guess what the next release will be.  Our clue at the end of this book was “Battle of Hastings…”  Can you guess what the next one will be?  (Scroll down, if you’re just not up to guessing.)
The Live the Adventure Club offers many exclusive extras to augment your listening experience, including a soundtrack, a follow-along e-book, and chapter quizzes and activities.  There are also coloring pages, crossword puzzles, hands-on crafts, and a poster.  The parents’ section of the page offers up daily inspiration, educational supplements, podcasts, movie reviews, and background information on G.A. Henty.  
One of the biggest educational assets of the Live the Adventure Club is the Study Guide & Conversation Starter.  It has forty pages of chapter-by-chapter comprehension questions, discussion starters, and vocabulary words.  Also included is some map work, details of this historical era, and three Bible study guides that focus on the main character morals of the story.
Finally, the Club hosts several old textbooks (we're talking 18th and 19th century old) and Old-Timey radio shows.  The radio shows were a wonderful surprise to stumble upon as our family LOVES listening to the Radio Classics channel!  (The image above is all of the shows just under the WWII heading...and there are many more topics!)

Captain Bayley's Heir is an audiobook we'll listen to many times, and we're excited to see that Heirloom has more productions in the works. Not only are your kids learning to love history, but they're also discovering the strong moral character that drove great men to do extraordinary things.

See what others are saying about Captain Bayley's Heir at the Homeschool Review Crew!
Crew DisclaimerCaptain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}
*Wulf the Saxon

Tuesday, September 19

Let's Go Geography - Review

Let's Go Geography
While we enjoy travelling around the USA as part of hubby’s job, we’ve never had the opportunity to explore beyond its borders.  World travel is something that fascinates the children, as it does most children, because they are interested in various cultures and how people are the same and different.  We can’t jump on a trans-Atlantic flight, but we CAN use programs such as this homeschool geography course from Let’s Go Geography to bring the world into our homeschool!  Lately, we’ve been using their downloadable curriculum to explore countries from every corner!

Let’s Go Geography is a three-year voyage around all six inhabited continents – each one is touched upon each year.  It is a subscription curriculum geared toward elementary-aged children, but we were able to tweak it a bit to make it interesting to our middle schooler, too.  (We prefer to study history and geography together.)  Subscriptions are offered by the semester or by the year.  A full year includes thirty-six weeks of lessons (as the average school year is thirty-six weeks long).  They are delivered to your inbox weekly, or you have the option of downloading all of them after signing up.  As our internet is option spotty, we opted for the latter.  It was nice to see everything that was coming up, and where they would be travelling, from the get-go.

As an example of the variety of places visited, for the first semester, we visited the Northeast US, Hawaii, Canada, Haiti, Nicaragua, Belize, Greenland, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.  If you choose to follow the (probably much easier) weekly inbox downloads, then you simply click on the link each week, download the materials, and go!

Each lesson includes map work, learning the basic country facts, listening to music, watching videos (like a virtual tourist), doing crafts and coloring pages, reading books, and learning about the flag.  The books are referenced by call number (though honestly, I would also prefer that the publisher cite BOTH the call number and title, because then we’d be able to request materials online at our library ahead of time).  The crafts do not require fancy materials, but instead use basics that you have laying around the house, such as plastic cups, paper towel tubes, crayons, and glue.  There are printable coloring pages and activities, as well as passport documents to put into your downloadable passport once the country study has been completed.

Before starting the lessons, we printed each child a passport, where he would keep a record of the countries ‘visited.’  We started with the Northeast US, partly because it was the first lesson and partly because we’ve been there many times and wanted to see how the lesson lined up with our own experiences.  The boys were not terribly impressed at the depth of coverage, but it did set off an entire morning of “remember when…” conversations about our trips to the area.  Given that reaction, I decided to allow each of them to pick a country they were interested in from the remainder of the year, and we started skipping around.  While this curriculum is designed to be used in order, it is set up in a way that makes it completely feasible to skip around without issue.

For our next stop, we hit Finland, home of their uncle’s ancestors, and “a really pretty place.”  While, as a teacher, I must admit that the depth of information and setup was identical to that of the Northeast US, this lesson was much more interesting to them, and I can only ascertain that it is because we have never visited Finland.  They enjoyed the virtual tours through the video clips, as well as getting to make their own reindeer. 

Then, we jumped over to China, where we learned about the Forbidden City, walked on the Great Wall of China, went underground to see the Terracotta Warriors, and made our own Chinese New Year dragons.  Once again, they enjoyed ‘visiting’ and touring the country via the video clips (which are hosted through YouTube).  By the third country, my middle schooler was feeling a bit underwhelmed…but then again, this is not designed for middle school-aged children.  I gave him a research project to do about the country and had him report back to us – and he appreciated the challenge.

Every nine weeks, there is a review lesson that goes back and covers all of the things learned in the previous nine weeks.  This includes map work, flag matching, coloring pages, and basic geography (such as latitude & longitude).  There were no crafts this week.  I think having the review is a good idea because it reinforces that knowledge.  Also worth noting is that once every nine weeks, there is a ‘break lesson,’ meaning that there is no lesson offered and students are to take a break.  So, essentially, this curriculum is only thirty-two lessons, not thirty-six.
The publisher recommends creating a binder for each child and then storing the lessons and printables in the binder, so that you have a ‘trip around the world’ at the end of the year.  They provide printable tabs to divide it up by continent, and you can put the continent map and ‘flags of {the continent}” page in the front of each divider section.  (Each country also comes with its own map.) 

It is recommended that the curriculum be used one hour per week.  Personally, I do not think that this is enough instruction to call this product an actual “curriculum,” and would be more apt to label it as a “supplement” to a geography curriculum.  That said, it’s a fun, hands-on supplement that will make young learners more apt to remember the things they are studying.

Check out the link below for more information about Let’s Go Geography, and see what others are saying at the Homeschool Review Crew!

Crew DisclaimerLet’s Go Geography {Reviews}

Wednesday, September 13

Ten Days of Roadschooling...

Roadschooling is an idea that intrigues many families, but the majority of them will discount it for one reason or another.  Thoughts like "We don't have the time / money to do that" will keep most families from even trying.  Our adventures have been such a blessing to our family, and we want others to have the same experience.  This is why we've put together Ten Days of Roadschooling : Your Guide to Getting Started with Homeschooling on the Road.

You do not have to have a lot of money, or even a lot of time, to take roadschooling adventures.  A short vacation can turn into an educational journey!  

We've put together all of our best tips and tricks, like how to :
  • find the freebies
  • minimize expenses
  • ...but maximize your expenditures
  • access the fast passes
  • make any trip educational
  • incorporate both core subjects and electives
  • stay healthy while travelling
  • and keep your head on straight while doing it!

Chara Games Review

Chara Games
In 2014, Patrick and Katherine Lysaght founded Chara Games.  Their goal was to design and develop games with Christian themes.  So far, they have three games : Commissioned, 3 Seeds, and Unauthorized.  Each of the games approaches a serious topic from a faith-based point of view.   In Unauthorized, the game is about the underground church.  It is a game of Church versus State, and anyone can win!

Unauthorized is a card game for 6-12 players, aged twelve and older.  It can be played in about half an hour, and there are numerous outcomes, so it can be played several times without boring the players.  Each player is assigned a role, either as a Pastor, Police, or general townsperson.  The idea is to influence the loyalty of each player to either the church or the state – and player loyalties change turn on a dime!  The loyalties are determined by ‘experience cards’ that bias the character toward one side or the other. 

There are four rounds of play, and it’s anyone’s game!  The church wants to get the majority loyalty, but keep their supporters out of jail.  The state wants to crush the church.  If nothing else, this game is a good conversation starter about the church versus state issue, underground churches, and what it would be like to live in an oppressive society.  The game includes twelve role cards, ninety-seven experience cards, thirty-seven reference cards, and a full color, twelve-page rule book.
I have to admit that this game was a little complicated for us.  For starters, you need a minimum of six people to play.  Since we were only able to scrounge up four people, and one was a ten year old child, it led to some confusion.  The child struggled to follow the game.  The adults struggled to keep their multiple characters straight.  Each of us was one of the main players (Pastor or Police) plus an additional townsperson.  It was an interesting game – and we did more talking about the themes than actual game-playing – but it was really difficult with so few players.

To help learn to play, we watched the video that the company created.  I would recommend it to any first-time players.  It walks you through the rules, explains the rationale and end goals, and explains the characters and experiences.  It’s fairly cut and dry to determine a winner.  In order for the church to win, they must have the majority of loyalties AND have one person that isn’t in prison.  And if the church doesn’t win, then the state does. 

It’s interesting, on a social psychology level, to see how the loyalties play out.  During each round, the players have a chance to make a decision to stick with their loyalties or change them.  To truly play the game well, you need to focus on long-term strategies for your ‘team,’ but also stay aware of the undercurrents of each round.  It’s not unlike the real world, where trust and truth are easily mistaken.  I would recommend this game for high schoolers, college students, and adults.

See what others are saying about Chara Games at the Homeschool Review Crew.

Crew Disclaimer

Unauthorized {Chara Games Reviews}

Tuesday, September 12

Carole P. Roman Review

Carole P Roman Blog
Being a Charlotte Mason-style family, we read aloud all of the time!  I love finding a good book about what the kids are interested in and curling up on the couch for an evening together.  When we saw some read-alouds coming our way to review from Carole P. Roman, we were excited…new books!

The first two books were written as part of a series to help children understand other cultures and historical eras.  They’re told from a child’s point of view, are fairly easy reads, and are full of fantastic facts and illustrations.  The books cover food, clothing, daily routines, family, celebrations, jobs, and school.  Each book ends with definitions and ideas for further learning.  The second two books were from the Captain No Beard series, which is appropriate for younger children than our own, and focuses on character through imagination play.  Of the books we received, the first series was definitely the favorite!

If You Were Me and Lived in…. series
This series is most appropriate for children aged 8-15, and was our children’s favorite series.  They enjoyed the historical book more than the cultural one, but history is something of a passion in this family, so it’s not a surprise.  I felt that the historical book was written a just a little bit higher reading level than the cultural book, and in my opinion, the country books could be appropriate for even younger children.  These books are great conversation starters among older children!

If You Were Me and Lived in…Australia is good for elementary-aged children.  It teaches about both the culture and (basic) history of the country in an accessible way.  There are colorful illustrations, and any new words have the pronunciations right beside them.  The children enjoyed learning about how children live in a different country.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Viking Europe was hands-down the favorite – not only because it was historical, but because it was about Vikings.  What do Vikings do?  They fight.  With swords.  And the boys are all about some swords these days…  The book is written at an upper elementary or middle school level.  It could be read aloud, but the children actually enjoyed taking turns reading this one quietly, and then I later found them discussing some of the things they had learned.  It has good illustrations, pronunciations of unfamiliar words, and a glossary.  One thing we thought might be interesting to add is a timeline…to show how the Viking landscape has changed through the years.  We enjoyed reading this book together, and even pulled out our Viking Unit Study from a few years ago to accompany it!

If You Were Me and Lived in…the Mayan Empire was the second favorite favorite – as it was both historical and about an ancient civilization.  We learned about Mayan culture, careers, family life, and food...among other things.  We were surprised to learn about the caste system, and how your father's career determined your career.  The illustrations are very beautifully done, and it gave us an opportunity to pull our our Mayan Unit Study and revamp some past learning!

Captain No Beard series
This series is most appropriate for children aged 3-8, and our children are considerably older than that, so these books were not as big of a hit as the other series.  That said, I do think that younger children would enjoy them.

In Being a Captain is Hard Work, the captain learns that he must listen to the other crew members in order to be a better leader.  I have to be honest here and say that this story did not go at all like we thought it would…it seemed at first like a parable for trusting God, and then at the very end, turned into the captain needing to listen to his crew.  It was a strange twist for us.

The Crew Goes Coconuts tackles the issue of bullying and acceptance.  In each of these books, the animals are anthropomorphized, and we find out at the very end that they were just playing dress up and imagination.  It reminded me a bit of the Backyardigans.

Each of these series of books has its strengths.  They are geared toward different audiences, with different end goals.  I think that anytime you can incorporate learning into a read-aloud book, you have a much better retention rate…whether that be for understanding character and moral issues or for better comprehending the cultural and historical aspects of a place.  I am sure that we will be looking into more of the If You Were Me and Lived in… series in the near future!

See what others are saying about Carole P. Roman books at the Homeschool Review Crew!

Books by Carole P RomanBooks by Carole P Roman
Books by Carole P RomanBooks by Carole P Roman
Crew DisclaimerOh Susannah, Bedtime Stories, Captain No Beard, If you were Me ... {Carole P. Roman Reviews}

Wednesday, September 6

Top 5 Ways to Engage Tweens / Teens

The teen years.......did you just shudder?  Before this homeschooling life, I worked with eighth, ninth, and tenth graders...and loved it!  Teens are so exciting.  They are old enough to have a real, heavy conversation with (and it's really fun to explore the basis for their opinions!), but young enough to still need and want guidance (even if they won't admit it).

From those years of experience, my experiences with my own children, and just the sheer memory of being a teen are five suggestions for getting your kid out of the 'school is dumb and useless' mindset.

For those of you who've been through the teen years with your own children, feel free to weigh in on the suggestions below.  Leave your own tips and tricks!
  1. Let them choose what they want to learn.
    • "Do a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life."  Allow your child to choose the coursework he's interested in, and he'll enjoy his school day.  Granted, you can't let him choose every single thing, but electives are an easy way to give him that freedom.  
    • Once he finds something he loves to learn about, you might find that he works harder at the basics so that he can get to electives!   Check out Home Sweet Life's post for more info on Homeschool Electives.
  2. Allow them to have more control over their day (scheduling).
    • One of the reasons teens give us attitude is because they are floundering between being an adult and being a child.  They want to be the adult, but they still need you to be the parent.  It can turn into a real power struggle.
    • Similar to allowing him to choose his electives, allow him to structure his day.  We use responsibility charts - the boys know what work must be accomplished each day.  While there are a few things that must be done at certain times, they have a lot of freedom about structuring their own day.  Math typically is shoved aside until last, but occasionally one of them will do it first, saying "I just want to get the bad stuff done with."  Lessons being learned...
  3. Tell them why they need to learn it.
    • How many times have you heard "this is pointless," or "I'll never need to know this," from your child?  If he's old enough to have some career interests, use that to explain why he needs the subject.  
    • Here's an example from Kym at KymPossible :
      • He wanted to be a sports journalist, so I was able to convince him that he would need strong writing skills, which he could learn by doing the grammar and composition assignments I gave him. One example. Algebra was harder. LOL But that came down to - you need this many math credits; at least one has to be algebra; to get the credit you need a passing grade, which is 70% (or whatever it would be); so that's why you have to do algebra. That worked for him. And I had to be willing to let him get just the passing grade rather than the A+ I knew he was capable of, if that's what he was going to settle for.
  4. Work on life skills.
    • Remember all that jazz about wanting to be an adult, but not being ready yet?  Take the opportunity to work life skills into your school day.  As a homeschooler, you have the unique opportunity (well, unique in that public school can't do it) to be able to practice these skills in real-world time.
    • Kelly at God's Writer Girl does this with her son all the time!  We also work on daily living skills: balancing a checkbook, managing money, laundry, cooking, personal hygiene, etc. These are skills he will need all throughout life. He wants responsibility, he has to earn it. I've told my son that if he wants to learn to drive a car, then he needs to prove that he can be responsible with his lessons and that he knows how to make good decisions.
  5. Let them become the teacher.
    • Let him teach, whenever possible. Not only does he learn the information, but he'll retain it better. It also allows him to try on that adult role, and shows him that you value his ideas and opinions, while trusting his ability to teach the information correctly.  If you have littles, let him teach them.  If you don't, let him give you a lesson.  My oldest is always teaching us about Greek Mythology....or playing Myth-O-Jeopardy (oh yes, it's a real game in this house!). 
San Gabriel Farm has a four-step process, based on the above principles, for getting her teens to step up!
  1. Tell them what they need to cover, and get their input on how to meet those credits.  Eg - You must take English, and they chose to focus on a year of Lord of the Rings for their reading and writing.
  2. Let them choose their own research paper topics.  If they can't think of one, assign one that you know will interest them (even if you have zero interest in it).  If they enjoy the topic, they'll try harder!
  3. Tell them your expectations, and then don't remind them.  If they miss a deadline, there should be consequences, just like in the real world.
  4. Give them flexibility to work independently and learn how to pace themselves, but check in with them periodically to let them know you are available and to help them learn to take the responsibility.

For more tricks on generally parenting teens, check out T is for Teenagers!

Tuesday, September 5

Apologia : Marine Biology Review

Apologia Educational Ministries
When you think of Oklahoma, ‘ocean’ is not the first thing that comes to mind, but did you know that Oklahoma used to be completely underwater?  When you dig down into sedimentary rock, there are so many layers of marine animal fossils!!  It’s really quite something!  These days, there’s not much ocean to be found, so we try to visit the beach as often as possible on our travels.

With our most recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, our upcoming trip to the Outer Banks, and the boys’ high level of interest in marine biology, it seemed a natural fit for us to look into Marine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set, the newest edition from Apologia Educational Ministries.  This high school level course includes 16 modules – each designed to be completed in two weeks – for a full year science credit.  Each module includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, a study guide, tests (and answers), and lab experiments.  With the exception of the dissection kit (used in several of the labs), everything that you need is right here!

Peek inside the textbook with the photos below!

The student book and test booklet provide opportunities for reinforcing what is learned from the text.  Each chapter has its own section, just as you would expect a workbook to that accompanies a text, with several pages dedicated to it.  There are comprehension questions, vocabulary work, and diagramming pages.  This is a good way for me to send my son off to his room to work on biology, but still know that he's done the work and is understanding and retaining it.  He liked the diagramming parts best, and often ended up doodling more sea creatures in the blank spaces found on some of the pages!  The test booklet is similar to the student notebook, but with fewer pages dedicated to each section / chapter.  Again, it is a good way to see just how much the student understands AND it is a written record of the work he has done.

Peek inside the student book and test booklet with the photos below!

Most of what you’ll need for the lab experiments, dissection kit excluded, are items that can be found around the home or at any grocery store.  The earlier modules don’t require the dissection kit, leaving you plenty of time to order it and have it arrive before it’s needed.  I liked seeing the boys work together with these hands-on projects.  Even though only the oldest is at high school level, they both worked together on the labs…and without bickering!  Here they are putting salt water through the desalinization process (a lab you’ll find in Module 1).

The companion Marine Biology 2nd Edition Audio CD is a big help for those with various learning styles.  It reads the text aloud (helping with some of the big words!), which will be perfect when my next child comes into this course, as reading remains a difficulty for him.  He will be able to follow along with the book as it reads aloud.

The modules included are :
  • The Oceans of Our Planet
  • Life in the Sea
  • The First Four Kingdoms
  • Marine Invertebrates I
  • Marine Invertebrates II
  • Marine Vertebrates I
  • Marine Vertebrates II
  • Marine Ecology
  • The Intertidal Zone
  • Estuary Communities
  • Coral Reefs
  • Continental Shelf Communities
  • The Epipelagic Zone
  • The Deep Ocean
  • Ocean Resources
  • Effects of Humans on the Sea
Things we liked…
  • The modules are short and easy to digest.  They also include many full-color illustrations, which are nice for visual learners.
  • The provided daily schedule outlines the whole course over the year, making it easy to pull out the book and go!
  • The appendix, glossary, and bold print sprinkled throughout the text help the student pull out things to focus on, and find topics of interest to learn more.
  • The study guides and tests – with answers for the teacher – help to reinforce concepts and are valuable feedback tools for the teacher.
  • The hands-on lab experiments don’t require a lot of supervision and greatly reinforce concepts.  Plus, they’re fun!
  • The multimedia CD is perfect for the audial learner.  Coupled with the labs, this course appeals to all three learning styles.

We had never used Apologia before for science classes, but I feel like it’s a solid curriculum.  The boys enjoyed using it, and it’s written with many real-world applications in mind.  We will probably investigate more of their high school level courses for future credits.

See what others are saying about Marine Biology at the Homeschool Review Crew!
Crew DisclaimerMarine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set {Apologia Educational Ministries Review}