GrammarPlanet: A TOS Crew Review!

GrammarPlannet Grammar is one of those areas many homeschooling moms find intimidating. I’m a self-proclaimed word-nerd so it grammar doesn’t intimidate me personally, but teaching it can get a little more complicated. We haven’t had very many bumps along the way as my girls love words too, but I always love reviewing new-to-us grammar products! GrammarPlanet is the brain-child of the same family who gave us Analytical Grammar, a much loved product among homeschoolers everywhere! The author dreamed of having an online resource available for everyone regardless of economic background or school setting. She has sadly passed away, but her family has worked to make this dream a reality. We eagerly jumped in with gusto to check out this new resource! 
GrammarPlannetThe interface of the program is easy to use and follow. Students are first instructed in a portion of grammar. They learn what a noun, pronoun, very, etc. is and how it functions in the setting of the sentence. Then students are given example sentences and must assign labels to the words. They are only asked to assign those labels which they have already learned. After a student finished the lesson they may move on if they succeed in completing a certain percentage correct. If not, they should redo the lesson and master the concept before moving forward. 

 I love that as the parent/teacher I can see exactly what mistakes my daughters made. This helps me be able to re-instruct or further explain areas which may have been confusing. One of the more confusing areas for my daughters was learning the same word can be two different parts of speech depending on how it is used in a sentence. For instance, house is usually assigned as a noun, but when used in the phrase house arrest, house is then an adjective. In the same way arrest is most often thought of as a verb, but in this same example it is a noun. This was a harder concept for my Grace, who is eight, to fully grasp.  One of the things I did not like as much was in a noun phrase, specifically with proper nouns, if one did not choose the correct direction for the dashes to indicate the beginning or end of the phrase, it was counted incorrect. In my thinking this does not exactly show incorrectness, just a misunderstanding of how the program works.

This is usually my complaint with most online or computer-based programs. It is impossible for there to be fully fluid dynamic learning because computers cannot be intuitive enough to know what the intent of the student is. A computer can only assess right or wrong based on a specific answer. With my girls, they felt a little discouraged to see something was marked incorrect for this reason.  

This is a portion of Rose’s practice in progress.

My children have had deep grammar instruction from 2nd grade and moving forward. My oldest daughter has placed at a college writing level based on her assessment testing last year. She struggled quite a bit, but the struggle was very good for her because she learned how words can be used differently and really analyzed the sentences more accurately as she progressed. My younger two just felt discouraged. They did not want to use it very much. 


Here is what the page looks like for the teacher to see what was missed and the reason why. You can see the example of knowing the word was a part of an adjective phrase, but missing the correct assignment of dashed lines to indicate the beginning and end of that phrase.

Based on this and my own use of the program, I think it would be excellent for high schoolers who have not had any grammar instruction (not uncommon in the homeschooling community) or middle schoolers who have had deeper instruction and this can work as a solid review. I also think it would be excellent for adults who may be going back to school or just want to improve their writing skills and need a refresher course. The complexity is a little much for elementary students in my opinion, even word nerds like us!  Check out what my Crewmates had to say! *Grammar Program Online {GrammarPlannet Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

Language Lessons for a Living Education 2: A New Book Review Crew at NLPG Review

Language arts is one of the trickier subjects in younger grades. Some schools of thought say to not teach grammar or writing at all until upper elementary or even middle school. Another group says to pile these things on heavily as young as possible. I do not personally fall into either camp and was pleased to see that Language Lessons for a Living Education 2 from Master Books is a very happy balance. It will teach your student some basics of grammar, review phonics, introduce literary analysis, and even address spelling and rhyming all in a gentle, Charlotte-Mason friendly approach. 
Instead of the traditional moans and groans language arts elicited from most of my classmates, I think children will find this a delightful subject to learn. 
The pages are consumable with traditional writing paper lines used for the written work. This is perfect for the younger ages who are still working on remembering how to form their letters. There are only small spaces given for answers which I think is brilliant. Young kids can become easily overwhelmed and frustrated when they feel an assignment is too hard or is asking too much of them. Seeing a full sheet of paper with blank lines can cause some kids to fall apart. This course gives just the right amount of space, not to little or too much. Lots of review is included throughout the book, but not in a way that feels tedious or overdone. The directions are perfectly Charlotte Mason with a conversational tone, written directly to the student. 
What brings all of this together into a fantastic course are the beautifully illustrated pages. The images are sweet and kid-friendly while not too babyish. This is great for kids who may need to work at a lower level while their technical grade level is higher. 
One of my favorite aspects of this course is the introduction to literary analysis paired with the traditional style of Charlotte Mason narration. It is never to early to begin discussing literature with kids! While you may not use the formal terminology for a few years, exploring characters, settings, and especially themes or feelings is perfect for younger kids. In helping them become comfortable discussing literature with simple stories now, you will find this much easier in the older years. I particularly love the discussions about poetry. So many students dislike poetry and my theory is that it is because of a lack of exposure or a negative perspective put upon them by someone else.

As with all material published by Master Books, God’s Word is woven throughout. This is not in any way forced, but simply woven in as a matter of conversation, just as we do with our children in our every day lives already. My daughters are beyond this beautiful title, but I will be recommending it for language arts for young learners from now on! 
Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the New Book Review Crew at NLPG in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 from Hake Publishing: A TOS Crew Review

Hake Publishing Grammar historically elicits groans from students. I vividly remember a class-wide moan when I was in a traditional grade school class, even from the teacher! My own best teaching of grammar came from my father who taught me at home to diagram sentences and gave me a much deeper grammar foundation than I received in school. I believe the core problem we face in teaching grammar is excessive complexity without solid foundations paired with excessive amounts of time spent on the subject. As with everything in our homeschool I prefer quality over quantity. I have been incredibly impressed with the ability of Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 from Hake Publishing to address both of these problems!Hake Publishing Writing and Grammar  Grammar has been a part of our schooling since the beginning. In first grade I introduce a little bit each week and then second grade provides a more structured experience in our home. This means Grace already has had more grammar instruction than many kids who begin this series. The format is simple and scripted, my two favorite attributes for a homeschool curriculum! It is written to a teacher working with an entire class, but it can easily be adjusted to individual teaching.

The slim nature of each of the books surprised Grace. This is thinner than others we have used and she absolutely loved that she could write in the book rather than use another paper. The consumable textbook and writing workbook are a great feature so you don’t have to include extra paper or notebooks. The teacher guide has a full answer key as well as tests which can be copied for each student. I appreciate this aspect because if you are teaching multiple children over the years you will only need to purchase the student books again. I also really like that more practice is available in the back of the teacher guide for students if needed. So far Grace has not utilized this, but knowing it is there eases my mind if we come upon a more difficult concept.

Completing one lesson each day took about 15 minutes total. Wow! That is really fast. I love that there are Greek and Latin roots taught at the beginning of each lesson and reviewed in subsequent lessons. The grammar teaching is bite-sized and very clear. Because Grace has had a full year of formal grammar instruction I asked her what she thought about this. She said she really loved that she could write in the books and that it was short. She also really enjoys the vocabulary with Greek and Latin. Grace loves new words and even enjoys reading the dictionary for fun, so this was heaven for her!
After each test there is a writing assignment which will help them apply what they have learned in the structure of grammar to actual writing. I adore this application. One of the problems with many grammar programs is a lack of application. There are a variety of writing styles represented here. While this feels a little bit too structured for my taste when it comes to writing, I appreciate that it does take what has just been learned in the lessons and applies it to actual writing. 
Overall both Grace and I give this curriculum two thumbs up! We like the short amount of time it takes each day and the overall structure of the program. It also teaches diagramming which is a huge plus in my book! Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 {Hake Publishing Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

Writing Strands from Master Books: A Review of the Updated Material

I’m an English teacher and writer. Teaching my daughters to write at home seemed like it would be a piece of cake. Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t! My background in middle-grades education left me ill-equipped to know how to teach writing in the early years. I browsed lots of curricula, but nothing felt right. It was all so complex and overwhelming to me… The ENGLISH teacher! I knew there must be something simpler available. Then I discovered the Writing Strands series through Master Books! I was hooked from the moment I opened the package. Its simple and efficient format led me to not only love it for myself, but recommend it to everyone who asks my thoughts on writing.
Rose choosing names for her the characters in the story she is writing.
I wrote my initial review in the fall of 2016. Since then Master Books has worked to revise the curriculum and republish it for their customers. WOW! The updates are incredible and only make me love the program more. We received Writing Strands: Beginning 1 and  Writing Strands Beginning 2.

 Here are some of the fabulous updates…
1. Daily Schedule – The format has been simplified even more so that it is easy to assign work each week. The original format was a little wordy. This new streamlined format and scheduling guide makes the excellent content all the more user friendly. 
2. Work-pages – Whether you purchase the traditional book or e-book format you will find that most of your student’s writing can occur right on the page. This is nice for kids who need less clutter on their desks and a more defined work-space. 
3. Assessments – Writing assessments are available to the student to fill out for their own writing. Again, this was also included in the original version, but having a page ready to go is very helpful. 
4. Updated Level Breakdown – I think the new levels are a bit more understandable because they do not feel as tied to grade-level as the original books do. There is also a separate, updated teacher’s edition which is helpful to parents. The following levels are currently available:  

Although these are the recommended grades, I am using Beginning 1 with my 2nd grader who was already forming simple sentences. As with all things, assess your child’s ability and choose accordingly. For writers not quite yet ready for Beginnings 1, I highly recommend the original Writing Strands: Level 1. It’s a great way to help your child think creatively and begin to learn about the writing process while having a ton of imaginative fun! 
5. Literature Woven is Throughout – In the previous books the literature study was a separate book which parents would read and learn about for themselves, then teach their children from that knowledge. I love that the writing and literature units are included in the new books. They are scheduled to be used on alternating weeks, but we tend to do a unit of each at the same time. There are also work-pages for this portion as well.
6. Biblical Worldview – There was nothing unbiblical in any way with the original versions, but as with all Master Books materials the company has intentionally included Scripture as a part of the studies. This is done in a lovely way which addresses character and heart issues while still fully exploring literary elements and writing prompts.  
Rose and I editing her Writing Strands assignment for the week.
 Overall Assessment
My overall assessment has not changed except that I love the program even more! My oldest and youngest are continuing to write on their own outside of scheduled school time and their writing is at a very high level. My middle daughter is more of a math-girl, and she too is excelling with the program. Because of the step-by-step nature of Writing Strands they learn about the building blocks of writing in a very meaningful way which is transferring well to other areas.
The girls were recently assessed with Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Their scores on writing blew me away and I credit it to our use of Writing Strands and reading lots of rich literature. Below are how my girls scored on the writing assessment.
My 7th grader: College
My 5th grader: 7th grade
My 2nd grader: 7th grade
  (While my middle daughter is advanced, she had some health issues this fall that put her schooling on hold for a couple of months and we’d just gotten back to pushing at our regular pace about the time she tested. Since this official test I have seen a greater jump in her writing ability once we were again using Writing Strands.)

 It is imperative for the writing lessons a child completes to apply to other areas. This curriculum is gentle and will not feel excessive, which is perfect. The current trend in public school education is to get children to write more, more, more. While there is truth in the fact that writers become more skilled in their craft the more they practice, elementary school is not the place to apply this principle! I firmly believe this course will suit everyone’s writing needs no matter what ability level.

Disclaimer: I received Writing Strands Beginning 1 and 2 from New Leaf Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are my own. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Jensen’s Format Writing: A Moms of Master Books Review

When I talk to homeschool moms about their least favorite subject to teach, one of the top answers is writing. It’s also the one subject about which I’m asked to give advice about most. I’m always on the lookout for what current resources are available. I look for several things in a curriculum before I recommend it. First, it should be printed in an easy to use format. Second, it should be simplified so that students are only working on small bits of information at a time in order to have better retention. Third, practical examples and practice are incorporated. Jensen’s Format Writing incorporates all of these! 
I previously reviewed Jensen’s Grammar which I will be using with my own daughters and highly recommend for middle school and high school students whether they already have a strong background in grammar or not. I was super excited to have the chance to review the newly reformatted Jensen’s Format Writing as well! It is incredibly user friendly for the teacher or student if you would like for them to use this on their own. Some kids just work better if they have a different teacher than mom and the DVD allows for that. I also would feel completely comfortable recommending this without the DVD for moms who prefer they have the majority of the teaching. The instruct is very clear and understandable. 
What I like best about this writing program is that the writing assignments are completed in small segments. Learning to write non-fiction is a daunting tasks for most students, especially if a large assignment is given all at once. These bite-size daily tasks will guide the students to understand how to craft beautiful works of creative nonfiction.
One of the best things about Master Books curriculum is every subject helps point students to a Christ-centered world view. Disciplines which are often considered secular or at the very least non-spiritual are taught in such a way as to inspire students to look at them from a biblical perspective. Many of the writing assignments have specific prompts which are intended to guide the student to think for themselves. Subjects such as the pro-life movement, capital punishment, and debt are explored. Students are instructed to gather research on these and other topics before writing on them. I love that my daughters will be encouraged to research and then form an informed opinion rather than merely relying on the opinions of others. I do not want my children to be parrots. I want them to learn how to seek out truth and decide which way they will follow for themselves.

I highly recommend this writing program for junior high and high school students alike. It is an excellent, solid program that has one of the simplest layouts for using I have seen. It is also incredibly affordable compared to other writing programs for this age. 
Disclaimer: I received Jensen’s Format Writing in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated in any other way. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Writing Strands: A Moms of Master Books Review

I am so so so very excited to share a new writing program with you! Writing Strands actually isn’t new to the homeschool scene, but it is very new to me. I’d never heard of it until Master Books started carrying it in their homeschool store, but I’ve since talked to others and know now just how popular it really is and how long it has been around.

I have looked at a lot of language arts curriculum. It’s sort of my “thing” you could say. Before I had kids I taught 7th and 8th grade English in a private school and when my daughter started Kindergarten I began teaching middle school English once again, only to homeschooling this time. I have always been passionate about literature and writing and so it is of course my favorite part of our day. My daughters are very advanced in their language arts skills and I wanted to make sure anything I chose would fit their needs and not bore them. I also wanted to continue with a gently approach to learning this subject. I firmly believe that quality over quantity is vital when teaching writing.

Writing Strands is the only curriculum I have worked with which engaged all of my daughters at their various levels. They have never dreaded writing, but since we started using this about a month ago they can’t wait to get to this part of our day.

There are 7 levels of writing instruction in Writing Strands as well as a literature component called Reading Strands. The idea is to use the Writing curriculum one week and the literature curriculum the next. This plan didn’t really work for me so I chose to take two weeks to cover one week’s lesson of writing and continue our literature path as we have been, reading daily. I’ll talk more about Reading Strands at the end of this review.

Each of the 7 levels intends for the students to progress upwards and they aren’t grade leveled which I LOVE. I’m all about ability based curriculum rather than grade-level based. Students need to work at their own pace and not be pushed ahead merely because of a grade-level assignment. I also do not want to hold my girls back if they are able to move at a faster pace. In our case that has been true for language arts, but I still kept them in the suggested levels of Writing Strands and I’m glad I did because they are doing incredibly well.

Writing Strands: Level 1Level 1
Grace is working in this level right now and thinks it is super fun! She is six and can write sentences, but we haven’t worked a lot intentionally on writing yet as she is only in 1st grade. This has been a really fun way to start the process! Level one is all about creativity and imagination for young learners. I love the way this is presented. Language games are a beautiful way to teach young children to be creative with their words. We love the rhyming game and she had so much fun creating a new animal. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we draw, but we always engage through language and I enjoy seeing her imagination wheels turning around in her mind.

Writing Strands: Level 2Level 2
Beth is working through level 2. She is actually a bit old for this level, but I wanted her to give it a try and I think it has been a very good fit for her. I will feel better about her moving forward into the more independent level 3 after we work together through this. One aspect of this series which I find beautiful is students take their own writing and improve upon it rather than merely emulating the writing of another. There is a time and place for this, but I love seeing my girl move beyond that method. Beth has really jumped into this with both feet. She never really disliked writing assignments, but it also wasn’t something she got overly excited about. Not anymore!

Writing Strands: Level 3Level 3
Rose declared these writing assignments were the best she had ever done just after one day! She is the oldest and of course the guinea pig so we have tried a variety of writing curricula. None has compared to this in her enthusiasm. Something I really like about this program is that after the first two levels the books are written to the student so they can work on their own for the most part. I check over her work and we discuss it, but having her complete this on her own did something I didn’t expect. When I was working with her more closely on her writing her writing voice never really came through. I believe that her perfectionist tendencies led her to try and emulate what she thought I wanted her to do to the point that her own personality in writing couldn’t really come through. This has changed dramatically since starting Writing Strands.

Writing Strands: Advanced Starter Set

Levels 4-7
These levels will take my girls all the way through high school level writing and I intend to complete the entire program with each all three, prrogressing from the basics into formal expository writing and beautiful creative writing. I’ve spent extensive time pouring over these levels and can’t wait to see my girls grow in their writing. The process has a flow to it which I have not seen in other programs. It is simple, yet meaty as students clearly learn how to organize their writing and create pieces which are both informative and engaging.

Beth and Grace working on their novels

The biggest way I have been able to assess that this program is doing its job is something that happened earlier this week. I went upstairs to check on the girls who were unusually quiet one afternoon. I didn’t know what they were up to, but the quiet had me curious. They are past the stage that quiet concerns me, but it was very out of character to the usual chatter I hear coming from their bedroom or playroom. I walked in to find all three busily scribbling into notebooks. It took them a minute to realize I was there and then they all started talking to me at once…about their novels. Yes, all three of my little sweeties have begun writing their own novels without even a suggestion from me. This is why I know Writing Strands has changed the way my girls look at writing. It is now more than just another school assignment. Now my daughters look to writing as one of their creative outlets.

Writing Strands: Evaluating Writing 

Evaluating Writing
Another incredibly useful book in the series is Evaluating Writing which is written as a guide to teach parents how to best evaluate writing. Included is a handy review of grammar which is clear and concise. Also included are examples of how to include questions to help students further develop their thoughts. I do a lot of these kinds of things when I evaluate the writing of my 7th and 8th grade homeschooled English students. I have gained a few more ideas in this area as well, however, and look forward to using these new insights in my evaluations.

Reading Strands: Understanding FictionReading Strands
This portion of the program is also very different from other literature curriculum as it is written to instruct parents in how to teach reading, or literature. Geared towards parents who have finished phonics instruction this is the next level. The information in this section is very valuable, but was a little difficult to wade through organizationally. I think the content is excellent, but the presentation was a bit overwhelming.

Because I have studied to be an English teacher I was very familiar with the methods taught in this book and I would recommend it to anyone who feels uncertain about how to teach literature. Unlike other curriculum this does not include answer keys or teaching guides. Instead this will allow parents to confidently master teaching literature to their students no matter what their background. One of my favorite parts of this was the extensive list of books arranged by grade-level. There are many wonderful novels to choose from in this section.

Overall Perspective
I only wish I had learned of this writing curriculum sooner! It fits nicely with our Charlotte Mason based approach to learning. I also know it is recommended for those pursuing a classical education.

Disclaimer: I received Writing Strands Levels 1-7, Reading Strands, and Evaluating Writing from Master Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are my own. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Jensen’s Grammar Review: A Moms of Master Books Review

Jensen's Grammar 

Strong English skills are very important to me. My background is Middle School English. I taught full time before our girls came along and I’m starting my 7th year teaching English to homeschooled middle schoolers at a homeschool learning center. So when I look to teach grammar to my kids, I want to make certain that the materials I use are high quality and will lead my daughters to have a solid foundation which will help lead them to become excellent writers.

For elementary we have been using Rod and Staff Grammar, which is very solid, but I was ready to move forward to something different for middle school and high school. My oldest daughter is a 6th grader this year so I’ve been looking at my options and I’ve found where we will settle!

Jensen’s Grammar is an excellent program whether your child already has a solid grammar base or your are building the foundation from the beginning. Each lesson is short, simple, and easy to follow. Best of all if you feel nervous about teaching grammar there is a DVD available to do the teaching for you! Because of my background I do not feel the need for the DVD and I am not reviewing that portion of the program.

My favorite curricula have the teaching included in the student books. This allows for the student to look back at the teaching instruction whenever they have need. I also like programs that are easily broken down into more than one day. For middle school I intend to do one lesson each week and break down the exercises to a few each day. This will give adequate time for the lessons to sink in and the practice will be short. Since my husband teaches the girls on Mondays while I’m teaching my class I plan to do the initial lesson instruction on Tuesday and then have Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday for practice.

We follow the Charlotte Mason theory that short practice every day is better for retention that longer lessons.The broken up lessons will be great for middle school, but as we progress I may modify this schedule. For high schoolers it possibly should be completed at a faster pace. Really this is just a preference and the important thing, as with any curriculum, is to figure out how best it will work for your personally.

Tests are also provided. I love the test booklet. Each test is only one page long. There are two tests for every 5 lessons. The second test is only if a student struggles to master the first test. Also all answers are provided in the test booklet for both the textbook and the test booklet.

Finally one of my favorite features is that both the text and test booklet are reproducible for your family! This is such a huge thing for homeschooling families with multiple students using the same curriculum whether at the same time or in the future like ours.

My assessment is that this is a solid, academically sound curriculum which will prepare your students to become excellent writers, which is the purpose of learning grammar. As far as value this is one of the best buys for English I have ever seen.

Disclaimer: I received this product in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics: A Moms of Master Books Review

I love literature. I loved it so much it is what I studied as my main discipline in my education courses in college. I’m so very blessed to be homeschooling and at the same time utilizing my degree in Middle School English. Every Monday I teach 10, 12 to 14-year-olds at a learning center for homeschoolers. I’m always on the lookout for new resources I can use with these students as well for my own girls at home.

Sometimes I come upon a resource I expect to use strictly for my children, but end up enjoying for myself. This is one of those gems! In Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics by James P. Stobaugh (from Master Books, an imprint of New Leaf Publishing) a variety works of classic literature are highlighted in a very easy to use format. Each novel has a brief introduction including some historical context and author information. Following this is a brief objective test and a few suggested vocabulary words along with their corresponding chapter for location. 
My favorite part of each chapter is the discussion questions. The thoughtful questions steer students to think for themselves. They also guide them to consider more than just comprehension and delve deeper into the finer nuances and context within the pages, encouraging students to consider the work in light of God’s Word. I love this part for myself personally as I have been reading through many great works of literature I never got around to reading. 
Another good use of this book would be for a book club. While many of the books are more appropriate for high school because of content some works for younger students are represented as well. This would also be excellent for an adult book club if you are looking to read classic works together. 
One of the nice things about the works represented here is that they are readily available at your local library or free as e-books. This is a great way to save money and study classic literature at the same time while still having quality, thought provoking study guides.

So right now I’m using this book for my own personal pursuit of knowledge. I do plan to incorporate some of the study guides for books such as Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit and also as my daughter begin to read these great works of literature throughout their schooling but for now it is just for me and I am loving it!

Disclaimer: I was provided this book to review as part of the Moms of Master Books review program. I was not required to write a positive review. My opinions are my own.