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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Consider This by Karen Glass

This post contains affiliate links.

My homeschooling journey started 10 years ago, when I could not bear to send my oldest child away for a full day of kindergarten. I was blessed to be introduced to homeschooling by a fellow ballet mom, who told me about The Well-Trained Mind. From there, I found my way to the WTM forums, where I made some wonderful homeschooling friends. Those wonderful ladies (and a few gentlemen) helped me learn how to teach my children, as well as what I could reasonably expect from them (note - NOT that they would be independently working at the age of 5). They also helped me become a better parent, and I will be forever grateful for that.

However, as I tried implementing neo-classical homeschooling, something wasn't quite right. There was a lot that was excellent - the living books, of course, and more, but something was missing. I was tremendously blessed to be introduced to Charlotte Mason by some local moms, who had a small family co-op we were able to attend, and it changed our lives for the better. I have been trying to learn more about Charlotte Mason's principles ever since, and while I still feel like a newbie in some respects, I can't imagine educating myself or my children in any other way. As Charlotte Mason herself said, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

One thing I've learned is that Charlotte Mason was, in fact, a classical educator. She did some things quite differently than many classical educators do these days, but her methods and principles are firmly founded in the classical tradition. It's hard for me to explain that to other people, though. I am SO EXCITED to be able to share with you Karen Glass' new book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. I have been waiting and waiting for this book to be released, and it's finally here! I ordered my copy today, and the best part? Through the Amazon Match program, if you purchase a paperback copy you can get the Kindle version FREE, so I can start reading today! I cannot express to you how happy this makes me. Also, through October 31, 2014, you can download Karen's study guide for the book for FREE.

Karen Glass is a member of the Ambleside Online Advisory, and has taught her children, ages 10 to 24, using Charlotte Mason's principles from the beginning. I first read the article she wrote for Susan Wise Bauer's website, The Well-Trained Mind, and appreciated her wisdom. She has been researching CM for 20 years, and I can't wait to read what she has to say in her book. Karen's book is more than enough on its own, but the introduction was written by David Hicks, author of Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, a wonderful book on classical education and one that the Ambleside Online Advisory used in putting together their wonderful curriculum.

Here's the book trailer video. Enjoy, and then head over and order your copy of Consider This!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

REVIEW: Apologia iWitness

I am always looking for good Bible study resources–books that explain questions I have had about the Bible, such as how history as we know it lines up with the history in the Bible. I was intrigued, therefore, by these three books I recently received to review from Apologia Educational Ministries' iWitness series:

What are they?

The iWitness books are intended to engage children in learning about the Bible, in a visually appealing and non-intimidating way. They have a reading level appropriate for around ages 11 and up. These books are presented as a series of hand-written documents with lots of pictures, which really do pique interest and invite further exploration. Doug Powell, Apologia's art director and author of the iWitness books, mentions in this interview that these are intended to be interactive books - the information is presented, and the reader is asked to think through it. He said these are the books he wishes he could have read for the answers to questions he had.

iWitness Bible Archaeology talks about the archaeological discoveries that correlate with or illuminate biblical history. There is some great stuff in here! We learned about the different accounts of the flood, Egyptian chronology, and where different manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments have been found, just to name a few topics. I was particularly interested in the part about all the places Hadrian had filled in, such as the cave where Christians believed Jesus was born, and then Constantine dug them all back out and had them protected.

Old Testament iWitness presented how the Old Testament books were chosen, the process for copying them. It was interesting to see how the Hebrew Bible is different from what I know as the Old Testament. We learned some new words, too. I had heard of the Septuagint, and the Torah, but we learned together about the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, as well as the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvi'im, which are divisions of the Hebrew Bible along with the Torah. We also learned about the Apocrypha, what exactly it is, and why the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches include it in their Bibles.

In New Testament iWitness, we read about how the books in the New Testament were chosen, which books were not included, and why. We learned about early theologians, the church fathers, and the Apostolic Fathers. We saw a timeline for when the New Testament books were probably written. I knew some things we read, and we'd studied some of the people, but there was also a ton of new information presented in here.

How did we use them?

My teenagers were able to go through the books on their own, but in general, we chose to go through them together, along with my 7 year old, during our daily morning time together. We would sit together and look at the pictures, read the information and discuss, and the kids were free to take the books and look at them after. There is so much detail, and so many beautiful pictures, they're fun to go back to again and again.

What did we like?

These books were great family devotional material for us, and I could see them being fun for use with a youth group or Sunday school class.

I really like that the information is presented in such a way that the reader has to think through the material for themselves and draw their own conclusions. There is no "obviously, this is the truth" or "clearly you will believe this way after reading this book" here. That's why they make for such great discussions. Just looking at Egyptian chronology in the archaeology book kept us busy for quite some time.

I find that having this kind of historical information adds a new and helpful dimension to reading and learning what the Bible says. My children enjoyed reading through them with me, and I love that they (and I) have this information under their belts now.

What didn't we like?

There was very little about these books that we didn't like. The only issue we had was that my very visual daughter found them a bit overwhelming. Each page spread is presented as if it has several hand-written documents on it, which is interesting and cool, but can be difficult to read. These books were, for us, better taken in smaller chunks rather than reading straight through. It wasn't a problem, it's just that my visual child was not interested in looking through them on her own, so we went through them together.

Overall, I thought these were excellent books. Although they are relatively thin paperback books, there is more information presented in them than I could possibly share with you, and it's fascinating reading. They stand alone, or make a great jumping-off place for more research if you find you want to know more. Each book has a good bibliography in the back. You can follow lots of rabbit trails with internet searching, too.

In addition to the three books we received to review, there are two other iWitness books currently available: Jesus iWitness and Resurrection iWitness. There are also two new books planned for 2015 - iWitness World Religions and iWitness Heretics and Cults. Exciting stuff!

Connect with Apologia: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Composer Study: Mozart

This post contains affiliate links.

I do love composer studies. I took piano lessons for years growing up, and that experience created a life-long relationship with music for me. I happen to prefer mostly Baroque and Classical, because it's orderly and melodic and lovely. I don't like dissonance much, so Romantic and Modern composers don't do much for me, although I do find the occasional surprise.

We are studying Mozart this term for our composer studies, because (a) I like him and (b) my daughter and I visited Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, when we visited Austria this past summer with her choir. We happen to be studying the Renaissance this year, and I am focusing a lot of our studies (artists in particular) around things we saw on our trip. Mozart is not a Renaissance composer, but that's okay.

In a nutshell, here is how we do composer studies:
  1. Check the Ambleside Online Composer Study page for selections.
  2. Make a playlist on GrooveShark or YouTube.
  3. Set aside a weekly time, around 20 minutes, to sit down for careful listening. Perhaps read a bit of a biography, if I can find one, or share a little about the life of the composer, and a bit about the specific piece if I can find the information.
That's it! My goal is to have my children be familiar enough with Mozart that they can tell his music when compared to others, just as I want them to be able to tell an artist's painting style from other artists'. 

Here are some resources for a study of Mozart:

Artist and Composer Round-up

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Tree For Peter Back In Print!!!

I have really, really, REALLY, outstandingly good news! Kate Seredy's wonderful book, A Tree for Peter, is coming back into print thanks to the lovely people at Purple House Press. And the best news? You can PRE-ORDER a copy and have one for your very own! It would also make an excellent Christmas gift. This is, bar none, my favorite Christmas story. It's beautifully written and is simply a book you cannot miss sharing with your family.

My friends, Liz Cottrill and Emily Kiser, who run the Living Books Library in Abingdon, VA, have arranged for a special discount price if you order through their link. You can order a copy of this beautiful, perfect book for $9 +3.00 shipping through their link. (The regular price will be $10.95 + 3.00 shipping.)

>>>>>>>>CLICK HERE<<<<<<<< 
to order your copy! 

They will accept pre-orders through this link through 10/31.2014.

If you'd like to read more about this book, check out LBL's posts about it:


Library Sale Lovelies

This post contains affiliate links.

I love a good library sale. Don't you? If you are a homeschooler, and you love books, and you have never visited a library sale, you are MISSING OUT! Seriously, you will be amazed at what you can find for much less money than just about anywhere else. It is certainly less money than purchasing new books, even at the most expensive library sale. I am trying to start a library of living books, which means I need a LOT of books. The less money I spend per book, the more books I can purchase. Even if you just want to collect living books for your family, or find books for a child who is fascinated by a certain topic, you can't go wrong at a library sale.

Last Friday, I had the chance to go to a local library sale for an hour. One hour. Can you imagine? I had to be rather efficient! I took my 7-year-old, which made it an interesting trip. We started with the children's books, and he picked out several he just had to have. I think the one about steam powered vehicles is pretty neat, actually. We love Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and it will be interesting to see what other things were steam-powered.



I didn't find a ton of things I needed in the children's books, but I did find this treasure:


I don't know why it was just sitting there in the children's books and not over in the special section where they charge more money, but hey, I'm not complaining! I love Arthur Rackham's artwork.

I'm also excited about this book:


My girls and I have recently joined a book club, and we're reading C.S. Lewis books. We just finished The Great Divorce, and will read The Screwtape Letters next. I have a longer biography, but this one is perfect for getting a little more information to go along with our club readings. And, at 50 cents, if it's not fabulous, at least it didn't break the bank.

I found some books for my oldest daughter. She wants to learn German, and there happened to be sets of both beginning and advanced German courses on CD, as well as a dictionary! I got them all for a total of $5! There was also a bonus book on horses, which she will love as well.


I found one lonely book for my younger daughter, for whom it is MUCH harder to find books:



Some books for me, and some books for our French studies:


Those two French books cost $3 total, I think. They look like the same ones I had in college, in fact. God bless the French and their language institute - it means the dictionary is still pretty well up to date.

I found some wonderful books for my horse-loving niece:


And even a book for my husband! I don't often find books for him, because he has collected books the specific authors he likes for years. Usually the ones he's missing are older and harder to find, but this time I lucked out!


I hope I've sold you on the benefits of library sales! I missed a couple in my area over the summer, and I could just kick myself. Ah, well. There is always next year.

Have you found any treasures at library sales? Do tell!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

REVIEW: Essay Rock Star Personal Statement Writing Course

I have not been terribly consistent in working on my girls' writing. They do written narrations regularly, and I should be working with them on correcting them, but... there tends to be a lot of drama associated with editing, so I have avoided it. Just keeping it real here, folks.

They are taking an online class for literature this year, and it's ] going well, so I was excited to have the opportunity to review the Essay Rock Star Personal Statement Writing Course from Fortuigence. I love the option of online classes. There are just some things I am not comfortable teaching, like writing, and having someone else teach it for me takes the stress out of the situation for both myself and my children. I also like that they receive input from someone besides Mom, all from the comfort of our living room in our pajamas, if we choose.

Lily Iatridis (Ms. I to her students) was a classroom teacher for 10 years, and also taught in Japan and in a private school before switching over to online teaching. She founded Fortuigence as a way to teach one-on-one classes, but still have time and flexibility to be with her family. Her courses are intended for middle and high school students, and most of her clients are homeschoolers.

There are four Essay Rock Star courses available:
You can purchase each course individually for $57, or you can sign up for all four courses for $197. Students receive .125 high school credit for each individual course, or one full credit for completing the entire series.

Each course has students follow the same basic steps:
  1. Course Introduction, Rubrics, and Pre-Assessment
  2. Purpose and Description, Brainstorming
  3. Organizing Ideas
  4. Free Writing
  5. Revision
  6. Editing
  7. Wrap-Up
The online classes are broken down into small, do-able chunks. The goal is mastery, so students work at their own pace through each section. There is a video to watch for each lesson, with some reading, all of which takes about 15 minutes. Ms. I offers an audio-only option if students do better without the visual component, as well as a complete written transcript if reading works best for their learning style. She thinks of everything! Once the student watches the lesson, they go and do their assignment, and then come back and submit it by typing it into the online form.

I chose to have my 14-year-old work through the Personal Statement Writing Course, because the time is coming when she will need to be able to write a personal statement for college applications and other things. I am not comfortable with writing my own personal statement, so I thought it would be a good idea to have Emma work with someone else. She was nervous about submitting her writing sample, and so was I, honestly. When we went through her most recent narrations, I was made aware that I need to be paying more attention to her writing (and her sister's) and wasn't sure what Ms. I would think.

I needn't have worried. She responded with a very nice message stating she could tell Emma was a good writer and she was looking forward to working with her. She has really helped her (and me) through the process of creating a personal statement. She has been nothing but supportive and encouraging to both my daughter and me. I have experienced a fair bit of trepidation over teaching writing, because I wasn't sure I could do it well. Ms. I took all the worry away and made it fun (or at least less stressful) for Emma and me. Whenever we haven't been sure what to do, we sent her an email, and she has responded back quickly with reassurance and clear direction. She is a master at virtual hand-holding.

Emma is still working on her personal statement, and I have seen her confidence increase as she's worked with Ms. I. If you're looking for a homeschool writing course, and an online option would work for your family, I highly recommend Fortuigence's Essay Rock Star program. Your student will gain solid writing skills, and Ms. I makes it as painless as possible–even fun.

Fortuigence offers some great free downloads, which you can access by signing up for their End Blank Page Terror, and Grammar Baseball, an ebook to make teaching and learning grammar more fun. Definitely check them out!
newsletter. They have an ebook titled

Connect with Fortuigence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ here and here, Pinterest and YouTube!

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Fall Nature Study: Chestnut Trees

Over the last couple of years, I've noticed chestnuts falling in the parking lot of our local library in the fall. Last year I picked some up, and didn't do much with them. This last week, I decided to go see if there were any on the ground, and we happened to go on a day when they were falling! That made things a little exciting, particularly when one fell on my head. We could hear them bouncing off cars parked under the trees.

Chestnuts grow inside VERY prickly balls, and it feels like picking up a pincushion with the pins wrong side out when you collect them! Thankfully, we'd just been to the post office and my son had gotten a small box, so we had something to hold our treasures.

Since I have a lot of random stuff in my car am always prepared for a nature study opportunity, I dug a crayon out and found a piece of scrap paper for bark rubbings. There are two trees in that parking lot, and the bark looked very different even though the leaves and fruits seemed the same. When I looked it up in my tree book, I saw that the bark does change quite a bit as the trees age. I took rubbings from both trees:


And, although I thought the tree with younger bark was a younger tree, upon further inspection, it seems that it's a pretty old tree that's lost its main trunk. It had three other trunks growing up from it, all about the same size - I'd guess about 12" diameter. One thing I did not find in my car was a tape measure, so I couldn't check. I did find these nifty instructions for estimating the age of a tree that hasn't been cut down, though, in case you'd like to try it.


In researching chestnut trees, I learned that the American chestnut tree fell victim to a fungus blight in the early 1900's, so while there are still trees growing up from old stumps and young trees around, the old trees are gone. The blight destroyed 25% of the trees in Appalachia, according to what I read, which had a tremendous negative ecological and economical impact on the area.

If you want to grow chestnut trees, you need to be aware that they will not live to be old trees. You should also be aware that you have to REALLY want to grow chestnuts, because those burs are going to make a mess in your yard and they are not fun to handle.

I had no idea the American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) was all but gone, and had fun researching and learning about different kinds of chestnut trees. After looking at the information on this page, I have identified the ones I found as Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima). There is work being done to bring back the American chestnut tree.

The Handbook of Nature Study (aff link) has a great study of chestnut trees. It was obviously written before the chestnut tree population was decimated, but the information is still valuable, and you could apply the study questions to Chinese chestnut trees as well. Click here to to download the Chestnut Teacher's Story and Lesson (PDF file).

If you're interested in learning more about chestnut trees, check out the American Chestnut Foundation's website. There is also good information here. You can download this children's book, The Legend of the American Chestnut Tree (link to PDF). And, there is a cute site for kids called Charlie Chestnut.

I've recently become a contributor at the Year Round Homeschooling blog, and today I shared a post over there about beginning a year-round study of trees. There's a free notebooking page there for you, as well as information on autumn tree study taken from the Handbook of Nature Study.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

REVIEW: Fix It! Grammar from IEW

Grammar has not been an easy subject in our homeschool. One of my children, in particular, seems to have an unusually difficult time. I think part of it is that she is a very visual learner, and grammar can be a little tricky to teach visually. She has an inherent understanding of it, but when we try to put names to things, she struggles. There have been many tears. I find this utterly confounding, because I'm a grammar geek and I assumed my kids would love it too. There is still hope for #3 (fingers crossed).

When I received the opportunity to review Fix It! Grammar from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, I was intrigued by the concept. Students look at one or two sentences per day, label parts of speech, add punctuation, discuss a vocabulary word, and then fix any problems they find. Once their sentence is corrected, they copy it into a notebook (without the markings). The student will have read, and copied, the entire story when they finish the book. Lessons are kept short, about 15 minutes per day. For the purpose of my review, I received a printed copies of both the Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Teacher's Manual) and the Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Student Book).

Both books are spiral bound. The Student Book contains the daily lessons, a nice Glossary of grammar terms covered in the book, and grammar cards, which help to review the week's concepts as the student works through the lessons.  The Teacher's Manual contains everything in the Student Book (with the exception of the grammar cards), along with the corrected sentences so you can see exactly what the student needs to do. There are also Teacher's Notes, which have reminders for you, along with definitions for the vocabulary words and interesting tidbits of information. For example, did you know, the paragraph mark is called a "pilcrow," and was created during the Middle Ages? I did not! There are also Advanced Concepts included throughout the book, so if you are lucky enough to have an interested student, you can discuss those.

The Fix-It! Grammar program has 6 levels, and is recommended for 3rd-12th grades. I used Level 1 with my girls, who are in 8th and 9th grades, because we've not done much formal grammar before. We have been able to move through more than one lesson per day, when we've already known the concepts. Even with doubling up the occasional lessons, we haven't had to spend more than 15 minutes per day. When we're learning something new, we work on one sentence at a time, knowing the concept will brought back in with plenty of review throughout the book. We have enjoyed using the program–no tears so far!

The Teacher's Manual states that this program is a teaching tool, and is therefore ungraded. I like that, because it means no pressure on my grammar-phobe. Also, as the teacher, I'm instructed to model the process as needed for my students. I did sit with them each day, so if there were questions I was readily available. As we move through the program, I think they will be able to tackle it on their own after we go over the week's teaching.

By the end of book one, we will have covered:
  • Parts of speech: nouns, articles, pronouns, verbs, helping verbs, adjectives, -ly adverbs, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, and clause starters
  • Punctuation: End marks, quotations, apostrophes (both to show ownership and with contractions), exclamation points, and clause starters
  • Homophones: "to, two, too; its vs. its; your vs. you're
  • Other Concepts: indentation rules, capitals, comparative adjectives
What I like best about the program, aside from the gentle approach, is that students learn invaluable editing skills. I've noticed in going over my girls' writing that they aren't great at self-editing. When I have them read over what they've written, even before I make suggestions, often they can see what needs to be corrected. I love that Fix-It! Grammar encourages a careful eye for finding mistakes in writing. I can see understanding dawning as we work through this program, and that is wonderful. My grammar-hating child still looks askance at the books, but no longer considers it torture to have to work on grammar with me.

The six levels of Fix It! Grammar are:
Each Teacher's Manual is available for $19, and comes with a downloadable PDF of the student book. If you prefer printed student books to PDF versions, they are available for each level for $15 each. You can also purchase a complete set of teacher's manuals for $89. This program stands alone as a gentle, yet effective program, and would also make a great supplement alongside another grammar program for review or reinforcement.

If you'd like to find out more about Fix It! Grammar, you can watch a webinar here. It's recommended to start with the first book, as each book contains advanced concepts and you can move more quickly through material you already know. However, if you would like to find out where to place your child in the program, click here to download a placement test.

Connect with Institute for Excellence in Writing on:

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