Archives For Homeschooling

The best way to learn is to do!

 When I first began homeschooling, one of the main things I knew was that my son needed hands-on learning activities. He is very much a kinesthetic  learner, and really wants to experience learning by doing

This is not my main learning style, and I was at a loss as to how to do hands-on learning things! I wish I had known about Pitsco Education back then. It would have saved us all a lot of grief. Rather than sit with written work, Nick could have done a lot more projects.

Basically Pitsco offers all kinds of items that you can use to create a wide range of hands-on learning opportunities to suit your curriculum needs. For example, we reviewed the Trebuchet & Catapult Pack. Many of the project kits are so affordable, compared to what I would have expected.  (The cost for this set is $21.95 and it includes a Trebuchet Kit, Catapult Kit, Mass Plates, and Seige Machines book).

For this, I let Nick take the lead. Watch the video to hear what he thought:

They had so much fun and Nick reviewed quite a lot, while Em learned all about how these machines work.

We could have used these in conjunction with our Mystery of History, or Math…or Science curriculums this year. Because Nick was excited when we got this, he went ahead and built it…for a fun homeschool day. This was great in itself and we ended up having loads of impromptu lessons in gravity and the Renaissance.

I really recommend browsing through Pitsco Education’s homeschool department. They have kits in such a variety of hands on stuff–science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The packs, such as Robotic Packs include pretty much everything you need to complete a project. (You may need some glue and common tools)

Nick really handled everything about building these. And he loved every minute of it. I should have found this company a LONG time ago!

I usually wouldn’t recommend curriculum for Christmas gifts…but this is an exception!

See what my crewmates have to say about PITSCO Education


I received Pitsco Education’s Trebuchet & Catapult Pack through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

I recently received Excellence in Literature: English 1: Introduction to Literature with the Honors option, from Everyday Education to review.

The author, Janice Campbell, has created many resources to help those homeschooling through high School.

Some of her other books include Get a Jump Start on College!, Transcripts Made Easy, and the rest of the Excellence in Literature series. I mention Campbell right from the start, as I want to share that she has so much experience in non-traditional education, having homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college!

Since the 80’s she has been sharing her thoughts and resources. I encourage you to visit her blog at or her website at for articles, resources, and a free e-zine. (I signed up for the e-zine when I got my e-book, and I look forward to this in my inbox.)

Ok, so what about Excellence in Literature (EIL)?

Well, EIL is a college preparatory course, geared for students from 8th thru 12th grades. Normally, this would be a good first year English high school course, but can be used throughout your high school years to help “shore up” your student as far as knowing great literature and being able to write essays and practice literary analysis.

The course has nine overall units, and each is designed to last about a month. An honors track is included, for a student wanting the challenge, or to CLEP…or just for an older student.

Here is what my high school student thinks of EIL:

“It is self guided, and I like that. There are a lot of directions at the beginning and that helps to know what people want from you. The course has a lot of good books. Most of the books in here, I have been meaning to read. Especially the books by Verne and Twain. Really, the books are what I consider fun books and I’d read over and over anyway. I like this.

The units give lots of background information on the authors and books, like when they lived and what type of stories they wrote. It gives you lots of links to extra resources on the author/book, and different things to read about when they lived.

And, I like how when there is a movie for one of the books, it lists that as well, and adds it into the curriculum.

The actual work has you write an essay on the book and some have you answer a question about the book. You do get formats and examples of everything you will have to write (like essays). They have pages of that and links.

There is an honor track for CLEP. This is basically extra work for more practice, with additional reading. There is also a schedule for each unit. That is pretty cool. I like it so far. I also do IEW and I can use these together.”

Unit 1 Short Stories by:

Sarah Orne Jewett: A White Heron, Edgar Allen Poe: The Purloined Letter, Guy de Maupassant: The Diamond Necklace, O. Henry: The Ransom of Red Chief ,Eudora Welty: A Worn Path, James Thurber: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Unit 2

  • Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
    Honors: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Unit 3

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
    Honors: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Unit 4

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
    Honors: Shirley or Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Unit 5

  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
    Honors: Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot

Unit 6

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Honors: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Unit 7

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
    Honors: 1984 by George Orwell

Unit 8

  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare
    Honors: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Unit 9

  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
    Honors: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The ebook version retails at $27, with instant download. You can also purchase the print version for $29 + shipping. I printed out the ebook, and that worked fine, but honestly, I’d rather have the print version, myself.

If you have several students in your homeschool, the ebook would be nice as you can download copies for yourself and your students, where online the links are all clickable.

For more info, see the EIL FAQ page.

See what my crewmates have to say about Excellence In Literature!


I received the ebook version of Excellence in Literature: English 1: Introduction to Literature with the Honors option through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal

Heather —  October 24, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…

Fall Weather! Feels so good in the morning.

In our homeschool this week…

Adding in College Prep Genius has been very interesting to my son. He is spending a lot of time researching colleges and we may visit a college next weekend!

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

Turn off computer and spend time really focusing. I am pleased that we are developing a routine that is falling into place. It is not my original schedule at all!

I am inspired by…

This Fall Weather. We live in the Shenandoah Mountains and the colors of the leaves are so striking. This makes me want to bake as well. I have also been reading some books by Susan May Warren and I am having fun with those.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

Nowhere. By choice. We have been driving so often with kids practices for sports and choirs, etc. This week, I am so hoping to stay put. A trip to the apple orchard is in order though.

My favorite thing this week was…

Getting more caught up on schooling, blogging and housework. Teaching my daughter to knit.

What’s working/not working for us…

Our natural schedule is coming together. Up, showering, eating, getting down to schoolwork…Even my teenager seems to have found a stride for Fall.

Questions/thoughts I have…

I am enjoying All About Spelling so much. At first, I was a bit scared of it…but that was silly, it is easy to teach. I love it now. I am also pleased we are getting a new French curriculum, from The Great Commission. I took French in school, myself and I enjoy having it come back to me.

Things I’m working on…

Blog posts for review items. A Holiday Gift Guide. A Keepers of the Faith online club. Paying attention to my kids, lol.

I’m reading…

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, By Susan May Warren

I’m cooking…

Warm things, like Alison’s macaroni and cheese and hot chocolate.

I’m grateful for…

A more content spirit

I’m praying for…


A photo, video, link, or quote to share…The Lord’s Prayer sung in Swahili!

Linked up to the Homeschool Mother’s Journal and Weekly Wrap up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…
Lots of trying to get outside in this gorgeous Fall weather!

In our homeschool this week…
We took advantage of the weather and did some nature hikes. Emma is zipping through her Life of Fred math and Song School Latin. She also likes All About Spelling very much. Nick has been working on Aleks quite a bit and Chemistry.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…
We are not big on Halloween. The kids will probably do some fun things at church, but with the leaves falling and apple cider in my hand, I am already looking forward to Thanksgiving!

I like some of Scholastic’s free activities and printables for Thanksgiving. I’m planning what we can use again…

I am inspired by…

Nature. This week, the mountains have been incredible.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

This week has been quiet, aside from nature hikes and some shopping. Next week, I get to go to a women’s retreat with my church group! I am looking forward to this very much.

My favorite thing this week was…
Sunshine and cool breezes.

What’s working/not working for us…
We seem to be doing a lot of unschooling this year! In some ways, I am proud the children are so interested in things that we go off schedule. And, that we can do things like impromptu nature walks. On the other hand, I need to sit and focus them more often. I feel very guilty that I have been busy and am not paying enough attention to them.

Questions/thoughts I have…
drawing an absolute blank. wow

Things I’m working on…
Playing catch-up. Over scheduled myself again. ugh!

I’m reading…

Ongoing: trying to finish something
Non-fiction: The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism, Stress-Free Believers (Review)
Planning: Keepers of the Faith Leader Guide
For Fun/Fiction: Heiress by Warren. (Review)

I’m cooking…

Very well, thanks to this new e-mealz. I feel all excited to cook again. I have stuff for 5 more meals in the fridge and I am so happy to not need to go shopping right now! I will need to cook some things ahead for next week while I am at the retreat, though.

I’m grateful for…

A no drama week, three teenagers all home and happy. The fact that Emma seemed to be getting sick and bounced back just fine…

I’m praying for…

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

A photo my son took! He is in the Caribbean. I miss him so much~but so glad he is experiencing new things!

Linked up to the Homeschool Mother’s Journal and Weekly Wrap up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

This (Past) Week in Our House

Heather —  September 25, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…
Busy. Lots of distractions. Some good, like Church play and Choir practices for the girls and paintballing for the boys.

In our homeschool this week…

Making a globe! (from Voscamp's Exploring geography book)

Lots of history and geography. Our favorite subject has to be history. Reading Mystery of History Volume 2, and Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World. Reading these never feels like work at all! Also, doing Voscamp’s A Child’s Geography, Explore the Earth with Emma. Nick is such a cool brother—he always helps with hands-on stuff!

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

Do some history! (see above). Also, check out an Electronic field Trip from Williamsburg. Link to a free one until the 30th:

I am inspired by…

Alistair Beggs. I love listening to his sermons through Truth for Life. I stick on headphones and listen to a 20 minute podcast on the ipad. Such a treat!
My Mom. She is going through a lot with someone close and I am comforted by her strength.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
My favorite? Going to Charlottesville for my Whole Foods Shopping Day. Soon, it will snow and it will be hard to get there!
Church for the girls practices for a play and the upcoming Christmas Show. Emma is loving being on a dance team. I need to find her a 50’s costume. Or, sew one…hahahaha

My favorite thing this week was…
Why can I barely remember this week???

What’s working/not working for us…
Nick is fighting getting started every morning. Wish he would go to bed earlier. Teenagers! I have tried being laid back about it, but he is just not getting enough done. He needs to get more done for college opps…

Questions/thoughts I have…
Feeling really good about Em’s courses and workload. She is quick, so easy to teach!

Things I’m working on…
An online Keepers of the Faith club. Wish I had more experience to make it really nice and wasn’t so busy with distractions this week (like my own blog crashing). I want to work on it more!!

I’m reading…

Ongoing: Stepping Heavenward, to remind me of how timeless some things just are.
Non-fiction: The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism, Stress-Free Believers (Review)
Planning: Keepers of the Faith Leader Guide
For Fun/Fiction: Heiress by Warren. (Review)
For Review: Alethia Magazine

I’m cooking…

Greek style pizza from E-Mealz was a success this week, too.

Yesterday, Latin Chicken from E-Mealz (doing review for TOS) very nice recipe in crockpot! Today…not sure yet!!

I’m grateful for…
A husband who drives kids everywhere and never complains. And is cute. Yes, very grateful for my husband.

It was Daddy's Birthday this week:) Em did "decorations" all over, Haha!

I am going to start a honey jar. Everytime he does something awesome, like bringing me coffee, I will drop in a marble…then, when I’m feeling impatient and he’s not hurrying or something else that makes me go grrrr….I’ll look at my jar. Hmmm…

I’m praying for…

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~ CS Lewis


Linked up to the Homeschool Mother’s Journal and Weekly Wrap up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Curriculum 2011-2012
Not Back to School Blog Hop

11th Grade Curriculum, Nick

1st Grade Curriculum, Emma

Additional Resources to include: The ADDitude magazine, The OldSchoolhouse Magazine & Resources, Nutrition 101, Keys for Kids, Educating the WholeHearted Child — Third Edition

*Subject to change and evolve:)

* I have included affiliate links when I could.

Wordy Querty Review

Heather —  May 20, 2011

Wordy Querty supports reading and writing fluency for young readers, through fun computer gaming. The software is a part of the Talking Fingers program.

Although Wordy Querty was new to us, I am familiar with the Talking Fingers website and program, as we have used Read, Write & Type, the first component of the program, for a bit over a year now. My daughter enjoys working with that program. You can read my Read, Write & Type review to find out more about that level of Talking Fingers.

As we like RW&T, I was pleased to try out Wordy Querty. We played the games (lessons) online and it was easy to just go online and login. The program picks up where RW&T ends and offers 20 lessons, with 6 activities per lesson. The lessons are based upon developing reading fluency in students ages 7-10, by understanding and using these core concepts:

  1. Some sounds can be represented in several different ways.
  2. Most words follow about 20 easy spelling rules.
  3. There are many word families, (words that sound the same, or rhyme). By changing the first letter(s), you can make hundreds of words.
  4. Some words are “outlaws”. They don’t follow the rules. They must be recognized quickly and automatically.
  5. Writing to dictation develops vocabulary, comprehension and fluency as well as spelling skills.
  6. Reading (and filling in missing words) develops vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency skills.

There are six types of games and then the overall “game” in which the kids eventually complete a music machine with the help of their friendly robots.

Take a look at the website to see the games and how each one improves reading fluency. My favorite was the Recycler, but Em likes the Pop-a-Word best.

The Recycler:

I thought the games were great, silly and useful and colorful….and I was disappointed that at times they were too challenging for my little one. However, she is not at the recommended age level, so I suppose that could have been expected.

I will definitely continue to let her play the games she enjoys as we finish up RW&T. I do think Wordy Querty is a great way to let kids play around with spelling and just become more familiar with how words work in a fun way. Parents may enjoy the fact that students can work on this completely independently.

If you have a beginning reader—whether a quick or slow learner—this may be a great way to improve their reading and spelling fluency through a bit of daily gaming! I think the price is very reasonable with Wordy Qwerty available as an online subscription of $25 for one subscription, or $35 for the Home CD version. There are other pricing options, see here.

Curious? You can try out an online demo. Also, you can save 20% by signing up for their email newsletter.

See what my crewmates have to say about Wordy Querty.

I received an online subscription to Wordy Querty through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

IEW logo

True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
~Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

The quote above really speaks to me as an old English major and a homeschool mom who respects the classical course of study. I appreciate the idea of writing as an art form. I do daydream about my children, my marvelous students thoughtfully creating coherent essays and well-researched papers.

I do. I actually daydream about good research papers.

But, how can you get there?

That was a question I mused over the past few years as I began teaching my oldest. In this student, I have a super creative and smart kid, but one who has a writing and spelling disability and years of frustration with writing in general. In fact, one reason I began homeschooling this son was because he had so much trouble getting thoughts onto paper, and between adhd and learning disability issues, he was not doing well in upper level courses. Ultimately it made sense that while he was quite intelligent, he had not learned some important basics in communicating through written medium.

So, one way I tried to work with him was to try to make writing fun. I studied the Charlotte Mason theories and shared interesting and exciting topics and we also just read as much as possible. I used some curricula to shore up his vocabulary and spelling abilities. We tried a few grammar curricula and more advanced curricula which included research papers. So far, I had a kid who could narrate beautifully, but would not/could not write me a decent paragraph.

Enter Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW).

When I heard it was possible to review a writing program with IEW, I was very curious. I had seen others very excited about the program, once, at a homeschool conference, but I knew very little about it and frankly, I thought it looked costly and complicated. Too complicated for our writing needs.

I really was very wrong.

complete package IEWI received the Teaching Writing/Student Writing Intensive Combo Pack Level C to try out.

This included:

I also got a Portable Wall- a single-pocket folder with an extra page, creating a tri-fold wall packed with all the Unit Models, several word lists including prepositions, substitutes for “said,” and more.

On the website, this combination package is described as:

“The best way to begin with Excellence in Writing. It includes Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS), Tips and Tricks DVD and Student Writing Intensive (SWI). Comes with 2 sets of DVDs (one for the teacher, one for the student), TWSS Seminar Workbook, and Student Notebook with handouts and daily lesson suggestions.”

The cost for this combo is $239. We received many pieces, all so organized.

Immediately, I was impressed with the quality of the materials. Binders with printed section dividers, DVDs in sturdy and well labeled cases with hours of teaching, complete lessons plans, scope and sequence information. They even include details on exactly how to format your binders and tips on how to set up the lessons.

Honestly, the package kind of shocked me it was so well done. Unfortunately, it did also frighten me.

I felt like an idiot trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the pieces. And, I was having a crummy day that day.

So, I handed Nick his student portion (the SWI) and said, “I know you hate to write. But this is supposed to help. Please figure out what we need to do and then we’ll meet up and work on this.” I know, not the best teaching strategy. But, my son did take the SWI and begin watching the disks. While I was working on other things with his little sister, he set up his binder and began to complete the assignments that he was given by Andrew Padewa through the DVD lessons.

My TWSS sat on my desk for “when I had time” which, incidentally, I never do have, just fyi.

So ironically, I did what Nick needed. The SWI is designed to engage the student and break through “reluctance in writing” while the teacher (me) is learning the actual program through the TWSS.

I realized quickly that Nick was not complaining about the course and was watching the Dvds and working through lessons. That got me curious that he was able to work alone with confidence and no frustration.

For the first time ever, this 16 year old began to ask to do his written English. He set himself up with the Dvds on the xbox in the playroom so he could and sit on the couch and watch Padewa on the television and complete his work.

I was super shocked. This is not my self-motivating child. I think, for the first time ever, he saw a reason to write for himself—not because a parent or teacher wanted him to, but because it made sense to him and good writing seemed within his grasp.

So, what exact materials did Nick have? Nick’s SWI level C included:

• Four DVDs—He could just pop these in and learn directly from Andrew Padewa
• A binder with dividers
• A packet with the teacher’s notes, handouts and checklists (about 100 pages in all)—these handouts include all the scope and sequence, suggestions for how to structure class time, handouts for each lesson, source texts, checklists and detailed teacher notes.

The entire course includes fifteen lessons. Each lesson block can take a few weeks to complete, depending on your speed, so this program can be used for over a semester (15-30 weeks).

And what exactly was he learning about writing?

Well, he was learning the main concepts of the TWSS program and diving right into working with the models created by Padewa, which are centered around the classical model of being given good writing and good information and then being asked, through specific, detailed exercises and practice, to examine and eventually recreate the ideal—whether that be a paragraph, an essay, a story.

So while Nick’s SWI follows the model of the TWSS, it delves into the teeny details, teaching the child with beginning steps like how to use a keyword outline, how to make sentences more attractive and interesting, how to make sure your paragraph includes a good title and topic sentence. Each step builds upon the one before.

Now, from what I understand, it is possible to just use the SWI, but then, you are really left just copying some lessons without the “big picture” I would think.

The TWSS (My set of curricula and Dvds) is the entire “Big Picture” so I sucked it up and began to check out all the details. My set includes the 10 hour seminar that is the backbone of the TWSS program. Through videos, Padewa teaches me how and why to teach writing. And, I get all kinds of helps as well: binders of sample lesson plans and “implementation schedules”, source texts, checklists, all kinds of helps.

The Dvds include the following “how” to write through nine units:

  • Units 1-2 Note Making and Summarizing through Notes
  • Unit 3-Summarizing Narratives Stories and Dress-Ups
  • Unit 4-Summarizing References & Writing Reports
  • Unit 5- Advanced Dress-Ups, Decorations and Triples, Writing from Pictures
  • Unit 6- Writing Reports from Multiple Sources (extension of Unit 4)
  • Unit 7-Creative Writing with Structure
  • Unit 8-Essays: Basic, Extended and Super (extension of Units 4 and 6)
  • Unit 9-Critiques, Conclusion
  • Student Writing Workshop, Elementary Level
  • Student Writing Workshop, Intermediate Level
  • Student Writing Workshop, High School Level

Overall I really like what I see as the core of Padewas teaching: Start small with good structure and model good writers and build upon each little piece of the writing puzzle so you get confidence, accuracy and you know what to do next.

So what am I going to do next?

Well, as this can be used for years, with multiple children, I will be working through the SWI with Nick, while watching my Dvd seminar and planning for next year. He will be a junior in high school, so we have to get this down. From looking around on the website, I think I will try to use the Elegant Essay Writing lessons and the SWICC with Nicholas. I will have to use another grammar program and spelling, as those are not really included in the writing program. I have a grammar program in mind. As a plus, Nick’s grammar and spelling are improving anyway through using many source texts in the writing work.

On the other hand, I also will be teaching my six year old and I am excited to begin the same program with her as I already use many classical tools with her, this curriculum will fit right in and I will be able to get her up and running from the beginning. (Less pressure!)

I hope this tells you a bit about this program. There is so much to cover, I’m having trouble consolidating it all. Honestly, if you are interested in this curriculum, I strongly recommend going to the website and viewing some of Padewas videos that explain the program in depth. For example, I will leave you with one here below (but there are tons more!)

To find out more about Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and other available products, visit the main Institute for Excellence in Writing Website. I personally love their page, Suggestions for Our New Members. This page offers such clarity, with the goal of the curriculum, links to scope and sequence, helps for grade level selections and even a link to join a “loop” (online forum groups).

The site is extensive and you can find catalogs, samples and videos to help you learn about the programs. You can also visit the Institute for Excellence in Writing Facebook page, where you can join in webinars, ask questions about the curriculum and see what others who are using the program are doing.

See what my crewmates have to say about Institute For Excellence In Writing

I received the TWSS and SWI level C through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.