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.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer: A TOS Review Crew Review

Peggy Consolver Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver}Novels are always one of our favorite things to review! Rose in particular loves historical and biblical fiction. She was quite anxious to start reading Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer from Peggy Miracle Consolver – Author.  Set during the time when Joshua led the Israelites to victory in Canaan, this novel has captured my daughters imagination. She has been reading 2 chapters a day and I keep catching her picking it up during other times! We love living history books and this fits beautifull right into that genre. While it is fictional, the historical information is abundant and extremely accurate. Don’t worry though, this is in no way a history text! The author has the ability to weave the historical facts surrounding her setting into the story so that it blends beautifully. So in addition to being a very enjoyable read, your children will be learning at the same time!    

 This is one of Rose’s favorite spots to read. Our Puppy Penny loves to cuddle with her while she reads on the beanbag chair! She had just started the book here. After reading the first couple of chapters she was already eager to read more. It is so important for authors to grab their audiences within the first few pages and she does this well!

 I would say this would be ideal for middle grades on up through high school, and even adults if you enjoy this genre! It is not a book for a struggling reader. All three of my daughters are reading several grade levels ahead. Rose is reading on a 10th/11th grade level and finding resources for her which are age appropriate and still engaging her at a level that will meet her ability can often be a challenge. This beautifully written book is completely safe and perfect for her as a pre-teen. A wonderful study guide is also available to use! In it are videos, deeper historical information, maps, and more. This resource would allow this to be a wonderful unit study for your family or a co-op setting.        I could go on and on about this novel, but I’d also like to let you hear from Rose and her perspective of what she liked.

“I like this book tells the side of the story of the Canaanites, not just the Hebrews. They are the main characters of the story. There are a lot of books which tells the side of the story of God’s people and it is good to read it from the Canaanites perspective. I also like all of the history in it. It is well researched and makes a better story if it sticks to the facts that are true. I know it is a fiction book, but I like the history.” Digging deeper into the history of God’s Word through literature is an amazing adventure! Here is a message from the author about why she chose to write this novel.  



 Don’t forget to check out what my Crewmates had to say!

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

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. Review

 IXL Logo photo ixllogofixed.png
What do my girls work hard for each day? Computer learning time! They know they must wait for my permission, but usually at some point during the day, unless they have lost the privilege, the girls get to play learning games on the computer. I am not a fan of a full computer-based curriculum for our studies, but I do like for them to have opportunities to learn on the computer. My girls have learned far more computer skills than I would have imagined at their age! I was eight when we got our first computer, an IBM, and I was one of the first in my grade-school class to turn in a typed assignment. Now children take computers for granted as part of learning, so I am always on the lookout for high quality programs.  
 photo 280956_362445090496975_1685320066_o_zpse8620420.jpg is a website dedicated to enhancing math and language arts learning for students. Their math site is for pre-K through 12th grade and language arts is for 2nd-4th grade. We were blessed to review the math portion of the site. A subscription to IXL is $9.95 for math only, $9.95 for language arts only, or $15.95 a month for both. If you purchase a yearly subscription it is $79.00 for either math or language arts, and $129.00 a year for both subjects. Each additional child is only $2 per month, or $20 per year. 
Screen time has been a hot commodity since our family acquired an iPad. Rose really loves the IXL app and I love that she is able to further master certain skills like multiplication. I love having so many options of activities for her to choose from and that I am fully aware of what they are working on. Rose’s goal was to get everything under her name checked off!
Grace also thoroughly enjoyed the app! She loved being able to sign in on her own. Each of the girls had their own unique symbol and they signed in with a password they would remember. The parent must be logged in first, but then the kids are able to access it on their own. 
A feature which is really nice, especially for preschoolers, is that each question can be read aloud. It took her a little while to figure out what some of the questions were asking, but she soon mastered many of the preschool skills. She has completed the most of any of the three girls. She has really enjoyed growing in her math skills. I appreciate that even though it is fun, it is still more traditional math practice rather than games. It checks their knowledge directly rather than using flashy pictures and cartoons which in my opinion can sometimes distract from the skill. While it is very colorful, unneeded background scenery and distracting music is blissfully absent. I never once had to ask any of the girls to turn the volume down because it was distracting to the others. 

I do hope that a language arts app is in the works. I have found that learning and play is much easier for the girls, especially Grace, on the iPad. She doesn’t waste time and get frustrated with the mouse. I’m so glad IXL has this app available so she can have a better experience.Click below to see what my Crewmates had to say!Photobucket