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. 

Answers for Homeschooling: A NLPG Book Review

Homeschool moms face a barrage of questions. When you are just beginning, this can lead to an enormous amount of self-examination and questioning the decision you felt was best for your family when you made it. It can be tempting to respond with snarky answers to those who ask things like, “How can you be qualified to teach?” or, “What about socialization?” There are some hilarious blogs and vlogs geared in this manner, but my experience has been most of the time these questions are genuine curiosity. Even if you get tired of answering the same thing over and over, remember many people asking you may never have encountered a homeschool family. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave them with a pleasant memory? Israel Wayne‘s book, Answers for Homeschooling: Top 25 Questions Critics Ask, will not only help answer some of your questions, but give you a good resource so you can articulate accurate and kind answers to those who question or critique your choice! 
Israel Wayne is a well-known author and speaker in the homeschool community. His mother was one of the pioneers of the homeschooling movement before it was legal in every state. He and his wife, Brooke, have homeschooled their own children and his personal experience as both a homeschooler and homeschool parent provides a wealth of information for those of us newer to the scene. His writing is clear, factual, and compelling. It is evident he is not only knowledgeable about the homeschooling community, but also passionate to support families in their endeavor to home educate their children. The most important part about the Wayne’s writing is his biblical world-view. When confronted on-the-spot with uncomfortable questions it can be hard to remember God called us to this season. With this book you can have a few Scriptures tucked in the back of your mind to help you navigate some of your answers, even to those who don’t know or follow the Lord.

I live in a more diverse community in which homeschooling does not appear as quirky as other locations around the country. Most of our encounters with non-homeschoolers is positive and many tell me their children have asked them to homeschool at one point or another. Still, I believe all 25 questions have been addressed to me at one point or another by friends, family, and strangers! Sometimes people aren’t questioning me, but their own ability to teach their children. I love encouraging parents that they do have the ability if they want it! 

One of my favorite chapters was entitled, Do You Know What Causes That? Believe it or not, our little family of 5 has been asked this very thing. I never have felt like we had a so-called large family until I encountered questions like these or other unknowingly rude comments. Again, I don’t believe this kind of question is necessarily intended maliciously, but it can be very uncomfortable especially when asked in front of your own children. I appreciated the biblical reminders of just how precious children are to the Lord and therefore ought to be to me. It’s not a common view. Based on many blogs and articles I’ve read online many in my generation don’t exactly seem to appreciate or even like their children. I don’t doubt they love them, but they are more interested in pursuing their own interests and desires. I often see this when I’m out shopping with my kids as well. We don’t have a perfect little family where we all get along every minute of the day, but generally speaking we really enjoy each other’s company!

Whether you are a newbie to the homeschooling community or have been at this a while, this title will be a great encouragement to you. You may even find a grounded answer to these questions which never occurred to you before!

Disclaimer: I received this title as a part of the New Book Review Crew at NLPG. I did not receive any compensation for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Books I and II in the Remnant Trilogy: A New Leaf Publishing Group Review

I love reading a good book. The written word captures my imagination and draws me into new worlds like nothing else! These days my free-time is limited, so when I read I only want to read quality literature that is also going to be edifying. I also love historical fiction, but didn’t really delve into biblical literature until the last year or so. I have found that I really love it! 

I was very excited to have the chance to review the first two novels in the Remnant Trilogy by Tim Chaffey & K. Marie Adams and published by New Leaf Publishing Group. Everything I’ve read from New Leaf Publishing previously has been nonfiction in nature. The writing is always engaging and keeps my interest and I was excited to give these fiction reads a try. I am pleased to say I was definitely not disappointed! I was captivated from the start and am greatly anticipating the third in this series!

You might wonder, as I did, how in the world could there be enough about the life of Noah to require three entire books! There are only a few short chapters in the Old Testament and a handful of verses in the New concerning this man of God in Scripture. I was warily curious initially. I have read plenty of historical fiction which took way too many liberties with the facts. This irritates me to no end! I’m fine with a little creative license to fill in the gaps, but not at the expense of historical facts. I am pleased to say these novels do nothing that contradicts Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, the authors absolutely take creative license, but in a beautifully artistic way that does not take away from the Word of God. It was really fun to imagine along with the authors what Noah’s life may have been like, what his relationship with his parents or siblings may have been, more details about the society. It was so much fun to imagine the possibilities! I don’t want to give away the stories, but if you like biblical fiction you will really enjoy these reads! 
In addition to a really great story-line there are some other features of these books you won’t want to miss. There are several sections at the end of the novel that provide further information I found completely fascinating. The first is a section intended to answer questions which you may have as you read the novel. They are focused on the apologetic side of faith and they are very well explained. This could provide some wonderful discussion for a book club. 
Because the novel intentionally breaks stereotypes many believers have about Noah which aren’t actually grounded in Scripture, the next section is very helpful in detailing what is found in Scripture. To be honest, there isn’t that much concerning the life and times of Noah in the Bible so having this factual list really helps clear some of that up, showing where the authors greatly used their imaginations. 
The final section is incredibly fascinating if you have had or plan to have the opportunity to visit the Ark Encounter! There is a fabulous list of details found in the novel which you can see in the various exhibits on the Ark. We had the opportunity to visit the Ark Encounter in May. It was an incredible experience. Reading this novel makes me want to go back and take it with me to find all of these elements! 
You won’t be disappointed by this novel. I also would encourage middle school and high school students to read this as well. This would make an excellent read alongside your studies in apologetics! 
Disclaimer: I received digital copies of Books I and II in The Remnant Trilogy from New Leap Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Rocking Ordinary: A Launch Team Preview

Ordinary…it’s the way most of us feel most of the time. Running through the day’s tasks whether they be housework or number crunching, diaper changing or paper grading, we struggle to feel successful at the little things, let alone dream we could possibly be making any kind of eternal impact. Sometimes we need a friend, someone to walk alongside us and help us realize we are not alone and we are indeed making a difference.

So where do we begin? 
How do we make any kind of first step towards something different? 
How doe we become more than ordinary?

If you study the Bible you begin to see a pattern. When God chose someone to do great things, they didn’t start out as anything except ordinary. It was an ordinary woman living as a prostitute who acted out her glimmer of faith in order to preserve the spies sent into Jericho. An ordinary little boy, born from a barren womb, became the priest who led Israel back to worshiping the One True God. The ordinary youngest brother, a shepherd boy, became the most famous king of Israel. An ordinary girl from an ordinary town, became the girl, the one chosen to carry God’s plan for salvation in her womb.

I wonder, on the day before they heard the voice of God calling, did they question their ordinary existence? Did they feel inadequate or unable? We don’t read about most of those day-before moments, but I have a very real suspicion that they existed because as Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. Our emotions are not new or exclusive to our generation. It may feel that way at times, even to the point that we may feel alone on our journey. Then someone comes alongside us and we see we aren’t alone.

Rocking Ordinary, the new book from Lea Ann Garfias, is one of the best books I’ve ever read to encourage women along their journey no matter what path they are traveling. It’s tough out there in the world. Everything we do is critiqued and criticized either directly or indirectly through social media and blogs. We beat ourselves up over perceived inadequacies and then we turn on those around us with judgement. With each page you will feel as if Lea Ann is that friend you’ve always longed for with wise, gentle answers you know you can trust. Her fun personality shines through in every word. 

If you have ever desired to be more than ordinary, this book is for you. As you read, you will discover within these pages that you already are.

Pitchin’ a Fit: A Book Review!

EVERY parenting book I’ve ever read has a child-centered perspective. I have a large library of parenting books from all sorts of Christian author’s, all of which I have gleaned from. I’m always interested in books which will help me parent my kids in a godly way. All of these books focused on how to get a better outcome from your child through Scripture and both traditional and creative discipline methods.

And then came along this book…

Pitchin' A Fit! 
When I picked up Pitchin’ a Fit by Israel and Brooke Wayne I wasn’t expecting what faced me when I opened the pages. I’m already familiar with the Waynes and their ministry to families through Family Renewal so I was just excited to read a book from them. I have read other books by Israel Wayne, but never any of their parenting books. 
This is the best of all the books I’ve ever read about parenting. 
Rather than being child-focused as so many parenting books are, this one is parenting focused, not to mention convicting! Rather than causing my to focus on my child’s heart, I was forced to look at my heart. Wow…that isn’t always easy. It is so much easier to look to my child and pile the blame for reactions and behavior on them.
Don’t get me wrong, this book in no way diminishes the need for obedience from children or downplay their own little sinful hearts. Instead it has helped me see how my my reactions and actions taken when in the throws of battles with my kids deeply impacts them. Do they deserve consequences and discipline? Of course! Do they deserve an emotional reaction that is over the top and unreasonable? Certainly not! 
The Waynes are very honest throughout the pages. I really like their alternating perspectives which tell so much about where they came from and not only why they desire to parent differently than our culture says, but why they want to help other families find a healthier and happier journey together. Their raw honesty is refreshing and it was much easier to search my own heart because they do not set themselves upon a pedestal of perfection as many parenting authors do unintentionally. 

I cannot recommend this book enough and it is going to be the first I tell people about now when they ask for books on parenting. After reading this I’m really interested in getting their other parenting book, Full-Time Parenting.

Disclaimer: I received Pitchin’ a Fit from Cross focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. These opinions are my own. 

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. 

Life Science: Origins & Scientific Theory Curriculum: A Moms of Master Books Review

Sometimes I think back on my high school education and I realize just how blessed I was. My high school years lasted from 1994-1998 in the Bible belt. While many other areas of the country had been shifting towards removing all hints of Christianity from science. I would say looking back we were right on the edge of the big push. I was unbelievably blessed to have Mrs. Lowe as my AP Biology teacher. Not only because she made biology fascinating and gave us opportunity to be creative in whatever way we liked best, but because she unashamedly proclaimed her doubts about evolution based on her faith. She flatly told us that while she thought it was very important to understand and learn about evolution due to its prevalence in our society, she didn’t believe any of it. She believed the Bible was the Word of God and that was where she found her truth for creation.

She gave me courage to boldly proclaim what wasn’t popular. She prayed for me outside of class when I was chatting with her after school one day. She laughed with us and gave us coloring books the week of the AP test so we could de-stress and then colored with us. After that she told us she was praying daily for our preparation. Teachers like this are now silenced. I definitely didn’t realize how unique this was at the time, but now I appreciate her more than I could ever say.

As I began our journey into homeschooling I knew the Bible was true and that we would teach our girls this, but I also knew it was important to teach them the theory of evolution, just as my biology teacher taught me. I don’t ever want them to follow a set of beliefs merely because, “I said so.” Whether faith in God or a scientific belief I want them to choose for themselves what they believe. Does that mean I take a hands-off approach to the Bible and science like some of my friends do? Absolutely not! It means I teach them from birth about our faith, and as they grow older I help them understand the other viewpoints. I’m not afraid to teach my children about evolution and this seems to shock many of my non-homeschooling friends. Perhaps it stems from the sheltering stereotype. Honestly, I think it’s funny that they would think I’d hide this from my kids.

Once again Master Books steps in to help me where I felt I was lacking. For all the wonderful things my biology teacher taught me, I left her class without knowing how to talk about the possibility of an alternative to evolution. I am using the Life Science: Origins & Scientific Theory Curriculum for myself as I anticipate my children using it in a few years, but even if it was only for me I loved working through these DVD’s and books!

The layout is very easy to follow with a chapter and then portion of the DVD to show. Everything is clearly presented from both sides with the option then for conversation and debate. Yes, it is written by a Christian who believes in a young earth viewpoint, but I do think he fairly portrays evolution as mainstream evolutionists see it. I think the best part of this are the interviews with those who do not agree with the biblical view of creation. We have the opportunity to hear in their own words not only what they believe but where they see problems.

I also really, really like the parent lesson plans. While I’m not testing myself I have looked through all of the testing materials and feel they are an excellent addition to make this a full science curriculum for a year. It is slated for high school, but I think advanced and interested middle school students would also be able to handle the information. I actually previewed both videos with my oldest daughter, Rose, who is 10. She really enjoyed this and learned a lot. I know she retained what we watched because of our recent trip to our local science museum.

As we made our way through the really amazing dinosaur path, Rose stopped and read a lot of the signs. This one was my favorite because she asked me why those who oppose a literal 7 day creation weren’t willing to acknowledge the possibility of Noah’s flood being real even when they were willing to admit that events like floods were what created the fossils. It was such a great conversation to have with her.

What I appreciate most about this book in addition to the amazing photography and detailed information is the genuine desire to get at the truth. It never feels forced or condescending. Instead real evidence is shown and reasonable logic is portrayed so the learner can decide for themselves what is possible.

I highly, highly recommend this curriculum whether you are just beginning your journey to learn about creation vs. evolution or you have studied this for a while. Young and old alike can learn and grow as a result of this fascinating text and DVD study.

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. 

The Mineral Book: A Moms of Master Books Review

It’s that time again! I love the opportunity I have to feather a wonderful resource from Master Books each month. No matter what book I get in the mail, my girls and I all get a little giddy when the package shows up on our doorstep. This month’s selection certainly didn’t disappoint!

The Mineral Book by David McQueen is the newest addition to the Wonders of Creation series. These books are of the highest quality both in content and presentation. The pictures contain such amazing detail and intrigued my girls from the first page turn. Each chapter is divided into sections for various levels of learners, so no matter what age you are teaching, your kids will be fully engaged.

I don’t know what it is about rocks, but kids are fascinated by them. My girls have had a rock collection for years. The love saving various rocks because of their shapes or colors and saving them for later. We also have quite a collection of rocks from our local science museum. With the addition of this book to our collection has become more meaningful. They want to know more about the types of rocks in their little collection. They’ve also become quite fascinated about birth stones as well.

This picture was from earlier in the month before the big freeze and snowfall. It just so happens that the science class my Beth takes at our homeschool learning center studied rocks and minerals this month. She was so excited to take in this mineral book to show her teacher and classmates. She’s also been asking me to take her picture with just about every rock she finds around our yard! She enjoys pulling out our mineral book to see if she found any precious gems. She isn’t too disappointed yet at not finding much because she is still identifying rock types.

The best part about the books in this series (and everything from Master Books and New Leaf Publishing) is the complete focus on the Creator and the infallible Word of God. I want my girls to know they can trust the Bible and scientific books such as these help them be able to defend their faith. I mentioned the science museum we have locally. We enjoy going and my girls are informed enough about what the Bible says verses what most of the world believes that they can easily tell whether or not what they read or hear there is from people who believe God is the literal Creator. We discuss both sides and I want them to know the evidence both present and why we choose to believe in a literal 6-day creation. I’m so grateful for resources like these which help me teach my girls from a biblical perspective.

Check out more about this book here!
Disclaimer: I received The Mineral Book as part of the Moms of Master Books Team. I was not required to give a positive review. I was not compensated in any other way.

The Electrifying Nervous System: A Moms of Master Books Review

New Year…New Books! Yay for the first Moms of Master Books Review of the year!

Our selection for this first interview is absolutely delightful. It is truly a new treasure on our shelf. I always enjoy everything I use from Master Books because not only am I assured that the writing will be high quality and the graphics will be beautiful, I know I can trust the information presented to be God-honoring and edifying for my girls. I couldn’t wait to crack open The Electrifying Nervous System from Master Books (A division of New Leaf Publishing).

Dr. Lainna Callentine has created a fabulous resource for kids. She should know what she’s doing! Not only is she a medical doctor, she’s also a fellow homeschool mamma to her three children. I could tell as I read through the chapters that Dr. Callentine knows how to capture the interest of kids.

We don’t have formal science scheduled into our homeschool day because my daughter’s are blessed to be part of a learning center where they gather with other kids their age to study science each week. It is a wonderful experience for them and we intend to keep this path. At the same time, I want to keep as many science resources as possible on hand for my girls. They are always wanting to know how the world works and this is just one more excellent resource to add to our shelves.

One of the things I love about this book is the readability for kids. Many of the books I have keep my girls attention because of the fabulous graphics, but I often have to explain the information to them in terms they can understand because it was written for more advanced learners. This is definitely one title they can pull out themselves and glean so much information.

One of my favorite illustrations shows the different functions of the different sides of the brain. I teach piano and have been explaining to my students more about how their minds work as they play and why they have a hard time talking to me or even listening while playing their warm ups. The reason is simply that it is the right side of the brain which processes both language and music.

There is just so much packed into this wonderful book! I loved reading about this history of the study of the nervous system as well as visually seeing how the brain develops from conception through childhood. Ever wonder why you get a brain freeze? What about sleep and how it is connected to our nervous system? How are fevers connected to the nervous system? What about brain surgery? These questions and so many more are clearly and completely answered.

A curriculum guide is available and there are many more books planned for this series. I can’t wait to collect them all!

Disclaimer: I received The Electrifying Nervous System as part of the Moms of Master Books Team. I was not required to give a positive review. I was not compensated in any other way. 

TOP 5 Moms of Master Book Reviews!


Each year the Moms of Masterbooks team gets to pick their top five picks from all the wonderful resources we are given to review in the year. This is a tough thing to do. They are all so amazing and useful. However, since I have to narrow it down to five , here they are…

I don’t have kids old enough to use these yet, but when I do I can’t wait! This is solid, but concise, meaty and brief. It is perfect for the middle school crowd! 
Nothing short of absolutely stunning and biblically deep.
Funny, engaging, and accurate! 
Perfect for the layperson or student looking to increase their understanding of biblical languages.
And my number one pick is…..
This one kept me engaged personally more than any other. The many flood legends intrigue me so much and I loved how this book brought them all together in such a tactile way. 
Looking forward to being a part of this team again next year!
Merry Christmas everyone!