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Jun 29, 2017

Hewitt Homeschooling ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

The Hewitt Research Foundation, begun in 1964, was started by Carl Hewitt and author Dr. Raymond Moore who wrote several books on education, including Better Late Than Early.  Hewitt Homeschooling currently provides homeschoolers with services, testing, and curriculum. Their focus is on character, work ethic, community service, and academic excellence.

My First Reports are an inexpensive, full 12 week unit study.  Students learn all about researching and reporting skills, writing, and practice handwriting.  They will know most of the answers to the Me unit, since it is all about them.  That is a great first unit.  When your child is ready to start searching for answers they don't know, you will teach them how to research the information in books you have, at the library, or online if you like.

 My First Reports
Set of Fourteen

My First Report is available in 24 individual titles.  A select set of 14 of those topics in a 3-ring binder is also available.  Topics cover an array of subjects to interest pretty much every student.  My State (#3353) covers all the information we could use to learn about our own state, which we are required by our statute to do.  I found Transportation (#1764) for all of the boys.  Hello! trains, cars, trucks, and airplanes.  What more could they want?  Merrick is very into Marine Life (#2224), so I chose that for him.  After they write all about Me (#1766), Focus on the World (#3210) is great for broadening a students perspective by looking at geography and world missions.  While working on Reptiles & Amphibians (#2225), we had to catch some salamanders, of course.  Wild Animals: Large Mammals (#1966) rounds out our collection of studies.

Focus on the World takes us all over earth, directing us to learn about Christians in each area.  A book Window on the World is recommended, but not necessary for this study.  I have ordered it from Amazon, even so, as a great addition to our reference materials.

The My First Reports are created specifically for grades 3-4.  First and second graders can use them with help from Mom or Dad.  Struggling, older students can also apply the writing prompts to help them create paragraphs. They came stapled and three hole punched, so I just pulled the staples from the corner and placed them in binders with a tab divider between each one.  For ease of use by the punks, I keep the studies in 1/2" binders, with just 2-3 My First Reports in each one.  You might even choose to insert each one into its own 3-hole punch pocket folder.

Approximately twelve pages of questions are in each study.  The questions are in some way related.  For instance, in Me, one page has eight questions on the "My First Report on What I Look Like" page.  At the bottom of the page is a box containing pertinent vocabulary (height, weight, auburn, green, etc.,).  A Transportation page lists six questions related to Public Transportation, with electricity, diesel, and trolley among the words listed in the vocabulary box.  Similarly, Focus on the World shows a map on the left hand page of a two page spread followed by several questions about a specific region.

You'll find an entire unit study resource at the end.  Many of the units have crossword puzzles and word searches in addition to pages of ideas to tie into your study.
  • Bible/Character
  • History/Geography/Social Studies
  • Reading
  • Language
  • Math
  • Science/Health
  • Physical Education
  • Music
  • Art
  • Field Trips
This is followed by a Resources section.  This lists fiction and non-fiction books, music to enjoy, and some units list websites to access.  Other important fact lists follow.  In Wild Animals: Large Mammals, students learn about animal classifications (King Phillip Came Out From Geneva Switzerland.).  My State lists the Presidents of the United States, their home state, and their vice president.  Bible verse copywork is included.  Then the unit ends with various sized, reproducible, blank lined pages (5/8", 1/2", and 3/8"), with and without boxes to illustrate what's been written by the student.

Here, I let the boys choose a page to work in.  Sometimes I picked the unit and they picked the specific topic.  We started with answering the questions on the sheet in full sentences.  Then, we would find the closest related questions on a page and write sentences that answered them.  I showed them that paragraphs are made up, not of random sentence answers, but of *related* information (You can see the progression in the photos below.).  I showed them the difference in a complete sentence that merely answered the question (It was blue.) vs a sentence that could be understood by someone who didn't know what the original question had been (My favorite ball was blue.).   They're writing is growing a lot with these units and their paragraphs are getting much better as we use the prompts as a guide to build related information into complete paragraphs.

I do wish that each My First Report had numbered pages all the way through (the unit study section *is* numbered) and a table of contents.  Before I had them in the binder, the punks had separated the Me report and messed them all up searching for the page they wanted to respond to first.  My First Reports are terrific little homeschool studies and we'll be using the prompts for a longtime to come. 

Several years ago, I reviewed Hewitt Homeschooling's Grade 1 Lightning Lit Set with Xavier.  I liked the curriculum so much, I have another student workbook so I can use the program with Merrick in the fall.  He will only be in kindergarten, but I plan to take about 18 months to go through the whole thing.  You can read my review of that, or click the banner below to see what the rest of the Crew thought about it and many other literature courses offered by Hewitt Homeschooling.

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Hewitt Homeschooling {Reviews}

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Jun 26, 2017

Summer Has Officially Begun

It always seems like the busiest week we have every year is the first week after public school gets out.  Summer is starting and there are summer things to do.  This year was no exception.  It rained a lot this week.  Probably at least a bit every. single. day.  sigh...

Public school didn't officially end until noon time on Tuesday this week, I'm guessing because of snow days.  Because of this, Xav did not have PE on Tuesday like usual.  Instead, he was invited to participate in field day with the whole school.  He was even given a mascot T-shirt in school colors, just like everyone else.

Monday night is also the night our first VBS of the summer began.  Yep, the first VBS is in the evening.  There are lessons for ages 2-adult.  So, while I was sorely tempted to nap in the car every night (because exhaustion), I stayed for Bible study.  Some other Friday School families were present, too, so it was nice to visit in our off time.  I also met a few other very sweet ladies.  The theme was Over the Moat: Drawbridge to the King and the study was about King David. 

Since school was in session for two days, gymnastics camp was only three mornings.  The charge this year was higher, the time and number of days shorter, but I still felt it was reasonable.  Honestly, the first time it was $10/kid/session (NOT *day*) and I thought that was crazy cheap, so I'm not complaining.  I do wish it had been all week though.  Xav and Merrick absolutely love it!  Mal chose not to participate this year again.  He didn't change his mind mid-way through, like he did last year.  When it didn't rain, Xav, Mal, and I walked and went to the playground while Merrick was in his lesson.  When it was Xav's turn, I took Merrick and Mal home because his session was longer than Merrick's.

Wednesday or Thursday afternoon (because we're kind of kooky), we went to a resort where we have a Daycation pass.  We spent a few hours getting familiar with the layout and at one of the pool areas.  Caught a shuttle bus, which Merrick and Mal thought was amazing.  We'll be going up again this week and probably head to one of the other pool areas, since they are all different.  We don't just have access to the pools.  There is hiking, a game zone, and a ton of events we can participate in, oh, and lagoons.  Because we want to be sure to get our money's worth out of this pass, I want to get up there fairly often.  I've told the punks we are switching to school in the morning.  It won't be easy for any of us, as we're all creatures of habit, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

So, that wasn't nearly enough to do and we didn't need any rest on Saturday.  So, our week finished out with a VBS closing carnival (and banana splits) on Saturday and the rain stayed away the entire time.  I picked up Greek food from the lady at the Farmer's Market for lunch.  Then we headed to a new (2nd year) Renn Faire.  We didn't stay long.  Then it was off to our favorite cider mill for our first visit of the year.  No, they weren't pressing, since it's summer, but they have samples and we bought cider and cider donuts.  Outside we were surprised by the most adorable little bunny litter.  I saw seven babies around the picnic tables and gazebo.  The most intriguing part was their appearance.  They didn't look like wild rabbits.  There were two albinos and five in various shades of tan or brown.  I have *never* seen wild rabbits like that.  I have myself convinced they were from an escaped pet.

This young lady worked a while to get close enough to pet this cutie.  She said it was the highlight of her whole day.

Jun 22, 2017

UnLock Math ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

UnLock Math is a family business, founded by Matthew and Alesia Blackwood.  We received a one year subscription to UnLock Pre-Algebra for one child to review.  Before I really knew anything about UnLock Math, I researched their products and I had a short chat one evening with Matthew.  I didn't expect to hear from him until the next day, since it was so late in the evening, but he got right back to me and we briefly chatted about UnLock Pre-Algebra and the newest Geometry course.  Matthew was super helpful and I really appreciated that he took the time to connect at that time of night.
UnLock Math pre-algebra
I ended up deciding to start UnLock Pre-Algebra with Mal.  It seemed pretty straight forward and I thought he could do the work.  Unfortunately, he got stuck on the first unit and struggled so much.  I wasn't sure if I should let him move ahead whether he got whole and natural numbers or not, or keep going over it, or start having Xav work through the course.  I wish now, I had asked Matthew his opinion.  Instead, I put Xav on the course.  It went a bit better with him and he was able to complete some of the work, but in order to give you more information about the course than I was able to at that point, I decided to start working through some of the course myself.

Each lesson consists of the following:
  • Warm Up - 5 questions that cover the previous lesson.
  • Video Lesson - Alesia teaches and demonstrates the lesson in an easy to understand video.
  • Practice - Ten problems using the information just learned in the video.  If they miss any, they can see the how and why afterward.  This section offers unlimited practice, as often as needed, with new questions each time.  Only the best grade is recorded.
  • Stay Sharp - These are all review questions of the topics previously covered.  This section can also be completed as many times as needed.
  • Challenge Question - A single question.  It doesn't count toward their grade if they miss it.  It does award bonus points, though.

Click the image to see a challenge question.

After several of these segments, there is a five question quiz, then a test at the end of the unit, plus a mid-term and Final exam.

The Student Dashboard is where you find the Welcome Letter, Progress Report, Gradebook, access the formula sheets, schedule, and reference notes, as well as enter into the lessons the student is taking.  The reference notes can be printed to make a handy pre-algebra notebook.


The list of each bite size chunk of a lesson, is super easy to navigate.  Just click on the desired unit and "launch" it with the rocket icon.

From here, you select the day's lesson, which takes you to the page with the individual components of a complete lesson.  I like the dotted path that guides students through each component of the lesson.  It's a great visual.  I would have liked to see a marker of some sort that showed which sections have been completed, or at least attempted.  Otherwise, my punk would just start all over again each day.  If you or your child are able to keep track of which component they need to start with, the program *does* keep track of the amount of completion within that.  So, if they have started a session and need to quit, the program saves progress to the last time they clicked "next."


Your Student Gradebook is from Maple T.A., a testing and assessment software.  Maple T.A. provides automated grading throughout the course.  Here, you can see each assignment the student has worked on, the status of the assignment (a yellow arrow in a circle or a green check mark in a circle), details (which is where you can see the same details from the main guidebook, as well as the process or concepts used to answer each question and compare that to what the student did), score and total (how many right out of the total possible), the start and end time with duration.  Very thorough and handy.

I do find the whole system for the grading to be very confusing.  Because, this doesn't equal 57%, it's 44%.

But in the Student Welcome Letter, I see this list of weighted grading.  Now, it kind of makes sense and perhaps those percentages equal 57% when calculated in this manner, but I am not a algebraic thinker, so in *my* reality, I'm just more confused.

In summary, while the grading is confusing, I would recommend UnLock Math to parents of older students.  The customer service is very helpful, the videos are appealing and don't talk down to students, and that unlimited practice can be a huge benefit.

UnLock Math offers homeschool math curriculum for middle school and high school.  Be sure to check out the rest of the Crew's reviews of UnLock Pre-Algebra, UnLock Algebra1, UnLock Algebra2, and UnLock Geometry which is the newest course they are offering.

UnLock Math

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Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}

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Jun 21, 2017

Rush Revere ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

Sometimes, on the Homeschool Review Crew, we get to check out products that the kids think are "just for fun."  In this case, Adventures of Rush Revere #1 New York Times Bestselling Book Series by Rush and Kathryn Adams Limbaugh is certainly fun for the punks, but also allows them to learn a bit about the founding of our country.

Adventures of Rush Revere Book Series is a set of five fiction books for elementary/middle school aged children.  In this adventure series, about our young country, students from Manchester Middle School learn about American history from substitute teacher, Rush Revere and his very unique horse, Liberty.  The books are illustrated with a mixture of pictures depicting scenes in the modern storyline and pictures and real documents from American history.

Freedom, Cam, and Tommy are the students who do the bulk of the time travel with Rush Revere and Liberty.  The kids are known as Rush's Time Traveling Crew.  I thought that was fitting that they joined up with the Homeschool Review Crew to get the word out about this book series.  In The First Patriots, another student tags along, the middle school principal's daughter, and she is Trouble.
The books in the series include
  1. Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims - In the first adventure, we meet a very seasick Rush Revere on the deck of the Mayflower.  He is a history teacher who shares his love of the founding of our nation with a group of students from Manchester Middle School. He travels to Holland, the Mayflower, and the early American settlement of Plymouth with several students and his magical, talking, smart alecy, sometimes invisible, time traveling horse, Liberty.
  2. Rush Revere and the First Patriots - This edition of The Adventures of Rush Revere takes us back to the time just before the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party, Samuel Adams, Ben Frankilin...  This is all about liberty and freedom.  Why we wanted it.  What we were willing to do to have it.  Our time travelers even pop in on King George III at Windsor Castle.
  3. Rush Revere and the American Revolution - The modern day focus of this book has Cam struggling to deal with his father's deployment.  By meeting more of the patriots fighting for out freedoms at our country's beginning, Cam is better able to understand the importance of his father's contributions to freedom today.  They meet men like John Hancock, George Washington, and Dr. Joseph Warren.
  4. Rush Revere and the Star-Spangled Banner - Here, the Crew sees Francis Scott Key as he pens the Star-Spangled Banner.  James Madison and Betsy Ross are introduced to us, too.  You'll learn more about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The modern tale is set in Washington DC on a field trip.
  5. Rush Revere and the Presidency - Cam wants to run for student body president at Manchester Middle School,  He thinks being president is all about pizza parties and getting his way.  They travel with Liberty back to George Washington's inauguration, meet with John Adams, and then Thomas Jefferson at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.
(There is room in the box for one more book...  Just something I noticed. *wink*)

When the box arrived, my husband picked up one of the books and marveled at the weight and quality of the book, as well as the thick, decorated pages.  Our book set came tied with a beautiful blue Adventures of Rush Revere ribbon.  Xavier was especially excited, as he is the one punk who has the ability and the desire to read, read, read.  It isn't easy keeping him in fun, interesting books.  He has already read a couple of the books thanks to grandparents who sent them for Christmas one year.  His first comment after looking at the book covers was to express relief that Rush's head was now a more normal size (in the first few books, it is oddly disproportional). 

While Xav read some of them himself, I also read aloud a couple.

The best things about the series:
  • Book quality - These hardcover books are high quality.  Around 210-260 pages each, the paper is very thick and the binding is strong  The full color dust jacket is glossy paper.
  • Accurate facts
  • Hilarious talking horse - Liberty is always starving, which I guess the punks can relate to.  If there's one thing they can do, it's eat.  He is sassy and funny.
  • TIME TRAVEL (always fun)
Things we didn't love:
  • There is a lot in each of the books devoted to the current time period.  This is great for building a "relationship" between the readers and the characters, but just be aware, the books are not strictly historical fiction.
  • The writing is juvenile (which I guess is the point, and is fine for the books the punks read to themselves, but for read alouds, I prefer literature that develops vocabulary and critical thinking skills, not just entertains).
Merrick said,
I like the talking horse.  He is so funny.  He likes to eat.

Xavier's review:
The part I liked best was the one where Liberty pretended to be a phantom horse and scared off a spy.  Liberty is a bit funny, especially the bit where he ordered pizzas.  Another thing I liked was when Cam almost got vaccinated with a saw and sprinkle medicine.  That's way worse than a shot nowadays.  (*Note - I think Xav may be misremembering this part a bit, but he was quite horrified to learn people were cut rather than stuck back then.)

Malachi's thoughts:
General George Washington, the first ever president of the United States of America, swore some president's oath.  He was the first one to say it.  Liberty is a silly horse.  I have a bookmark that says, "I am a Li-buddy."

The Limbaughs also have a website with a section just for homeschoolers.  Here, you'll find study guides with answer keys, quizzes, games, and scholarships.  You can even write to Liberty the horse.

While these books are not "quality literature," they are far better than most of the other newer books out there now, targeting the 8-12 year old age range.  There is no shock factor, or potty humor, or inappropriate content of any kind in this series.  And, bonus, there is some actual educating going on in these pages.  Bottom line, they're fun and a little dorky and the boys LOVE these books, get a serious kick out of Liberty, enjoy learning history in such a fun manner, and look forward to reading them all again.

Adventures of Rush Revere Book Series {Reviews}

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Jun 16, 2017

Crazy Contraptions Co-op Class (I promise, no more intentional alliteration.)

Dad taught a class this past year at our co-op called Crazy Contraptions.  How our co-op works is that right after we finish the school year, each family completes an end of year survey.  One of the sections on the form asks what the students would be interested in learning about and what classes the parents would be interested in teaching the following year.  Those suggestions are turned into a prospective class list and sent back out to families for a first round of voting, each child choosing up to five courses.  That's the step we are at right now.  Soon, we'll get the second round and will probably have to choose a top three.  I do admit, there has been a time or two I've pretended I couldn't count and selected four classes for a kid.  That usually happens when one of the older punks really wants to choose a class, I'd rather they not take.  I include their list and my preference with an explanation.

Anyhoo, an unsuspecting parent is sometimes asked to teach an instructorless class.  Enter, Micah.  LOL  In the end, the students in the class ended up being younger than anticipated (he had ten boys twelve and younger), so the projects became a bit easier after the first one.  Here are some of the Crazy Contraptions the boys ended up making.

A walking robot thingy.

A do nothing box thingy.

A working catapult.

Rube Goldberg machines.

Paper and duct tape rockets.


They also made the rattlesnake egg pranks (remember those?).  The boys were so excited the next time we met to tell us all about who they frightened.  And Micah took in a Jacob's ladder he made.

Mrs. A and I helped with class almost every week.  We also invited Mrs. M, Mrs. P, Mr. R, and Mr. C to help out once or thrice (the punks are loving that word lately).   Co-op is a great example of gaining knowledge for our kiddos from people outside of our home (though, in this case, it was Dad).

What are some ways you share your talents with others or borrow from other adults and older kiddos for your children?

Jun 13, 2017

Spanish with Whistlefritz ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

Hola.  How would you like to teach your littlest littles Spanish with a program that is designed *just for them*?  Whistlefritz has a program for 1-7 year old children.  Their award winning Educator's Spanish Collection is specially designed for young minds and abilities.  Foreign language learning has been determined to be easiest at an early age, just like children learning their native language.

Whistlefritz uses immersion learning to introduce children to Spanish without using English translations, which actually slow down foreign language learning.  My brain likes to slowly process everything, so when I was learning Spanish (or, more accurately, failing to learn) in college, I was so slow.  I would listen, think "He said..." and translate to English in my head, attempt to translate back to Spanish in my head and then speak (poorly, because I knew the *words* but not the grammar - or flow of a sentence).  This earned me a grade that I quickly had expunged from my record and replaced with another elective.  I would love for my punks to have a much easier time with foreign languages that feel natural to hear and speak.

What you receive in the Educator's Spanish Collection?

    Whistlefritz Spanish
  • Spanish Lesson Plans for Kids, 2nd edition
  • 5 DVDs
  • 3 audio CDs
  • Matching Card Game
You can use this course with multiple children (in a family/classroom) and we sort of did that.  Even though the target age is 1-7 years old and Merrick is the only one I have in that age range, I did catch each of the bigger punks watching the videos with Merrick.  I even heard Mal translating the words into English, which is discouraged.  I don't think he was doing it for Merrick's benefit, though, but for himself.  He was just trying to have it make sense to *him*.  Xavier sometimes plays the card matching game with Merrick also.

The Lesson Plans -  The 40 lesson, softcover book is a thick 277 pages.  Each lesson has several sections; a lesson description, goal, objective, vocabulary, a materials list, the approximate time each lesson will take.  This is followed by related activities.  The manual is written with both the English and the Spanish for all scripted conversations.  Song lyrics (Spanish only - English translations are available online) are listed under the lessons that utilize them.  As you move through the manual, you will be making your own set of Spanish flash cards.

I love all of the fun, reproducible sheets that are included in the lesson plan book.  There is an option to download some of the pages in color from the website.  I would like to be able to download the black line pages also, since it is difficult to print the pages bound into such a thick manual.  I think the easiest thing for me would be to cut off the binding, hole punch the pages, and place them in a three ring notebook. 


Merrick thought the lesson plan was a workbook.  He kept asking for his big, Spanish mouse book.  It took me a while to realize he wanted to do worksheets with Fritzi.  There are a lot of pages of fun activities that we copy and use, but he seemed to miss having pages to write on in the book.  (Finally, a kiddo after my own heart!)

The DVDs - Colorful Spanish videos for kids combine lively animation with live action native Spanish speakers of all ages.  The songs, visual aspects, and dialog are enchanting.  Who could resist a whole house search for an adorable, whistling mouse, while Maria calls out to him in each room?

  1. Los Animales - Animals
  2. Vamos a Jugar - Let's Play
  3. Adentro y Afuera - Inside and Out 
  4. Las Estaciones - The Seasons
  5. La Fiesta de Fritzi - Fritzi's Party

The DVDs did not have chapter selections, so you can't really watch the video segments as recommended in the lesson plans.  Mainly, we just watched the full episode, rather than a scene, of whichever DVD was listed in the lesson plan.

The CDs -These three disks are full of fun, lively tunes that make you want to dance.  My visual learners like them, but prefer the DVDs to see the context of what they are hearing.

  1. Sabor!
  2. Cha, Cha, Cha
  3. A Bailar!  - Let's Dance

The Matching Game - These cards are sturdy, glossy stock.  The instruction card has more than just matching game instructions, but also prompts in Spanish to encourage little ones to think (and speak) about the card they see.  There are optional ways to play with the very young.  Each card shows Rito the fox in the act of "doing" something.  The word is located at the bottom of the card in Spanish only.  They are divided into four colors, soft shades of blue, green, purple, and yellow.  There are 10-16 cards in each color.  I started Merrick using just one color of card at a time.  He has trouble remembering to turn the cards back face down when he turns two over that don't match and knows where the mate to one card is located.  He's worked up to two colors of cards, but I think all the cards would be overwhelming right now.  


The games and activities aren't *just* fun, though they are fun.  They're also science and math and art.  Merrick picked up a bag of Goldfish crackers a couple of days before the fish sorting lesson.  He had no idea he was going to need them for school, but as soon as I realized they were on the materials list, I realized I had to hide them so he couldn't eat them before we needed them for the activity!

As an example, in Lesson Two, Los Colores, Merrick learned about primary and secondary colors, which we had actually just talked about in an art class.  Fritzi was having a birthday party.  I did not have transparencies, but I have such a stash of "stuff" I was able to find clear page protectors.  I traced the balloon onto three sheets with a permanent marker and then we colored each one, red, yellow, and blue.  I asked Merrick what new color each combination of primary colors would make.  He did well except for purple.  Then we would lay the two colors down together to see if he was right.  Then we watched a scene from La Fiesta de Fritzi, where Rito the Fox gathers colored balloons.

Whistlefritz offers a free 28 page downloadable lesson plan book that is completely different from the physical book available in the Educator's Spanish Collection and a fun "Do you like...?" Fritzi booklet.  You do need the videos to make full use of that lesson plan.  But if you are looking for a simplified version of the program to use with the DVD/CD set or a supplement full of extra activities, do look into it.

If you would prefer to have your child learn French, Fritzi has that also!  The Homeschool Review Crew was able to review both Spanish and French.  Click the banner below to see what others are thinking of Whistlefritz.

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Spanish and French {Whistlefritz Reviews}

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