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As a homeschool Mom, I really appreciate creative people. It is so easy to get into a rut just using textbooks and such all the time. Especially, if you are not super creative. Which is what I am. Not a fun maker. I know this because my Mom, a veteran teacher and my husband somehow always make schooling fun. (In contrast to me). I am the meat and potatoes person I guess!

Haha, but kids DO need to have both. The creative, fun lessons catch their imaginations and give them motivation to do the required learning, which may be repetitive.

Thankfully, I have found many creative curricula for my kids since I am their main teacher. I have some old favorites and every day seems to bring some new ideas. I recently got card game that teaches fractions, called Fractazmic.

It’s a sneaky, fun way to reinforce math!

My daughter is actually too young for this one. I tried to mess around with the rules, but she is just not ready.  I did play it with my husband and son though, and I think it is a great concept and one that will come in handy when Em reaches a bit more readiness to do fractions, probably this Spring.

If the deck had simpler fractions (didn’t include like 12ths) I think we could do it. But, she also gets frustrated easily, so I want to be cautious to not push her. My serious child!

For children ages, say 7 to 14, I think this is a terrific way to get some practice with fractions, and in numbers and measurement.

The cards are playful and cute, with little ant character graphics that my kids thought were funny.

What’s included in Decks:

  • 60 Math Learning Cards
  • Each card clearly numbered
  • Each card clearly labeled with the fraction and reinforcing graphic.

This is a 2-4 person game. As always, I recommend playing with your child—that always makes them so happy!

Go look at the site with the fraction game online. You can even win a free set of the cards!

Now, this company makes several really fun card games for students. Take a look at what they have available to spice up your Spring Semester schedule!

Fractazmic retails for 6.95. Go check these out—whether you are a homeschooler or just want to play.

See what my crewmates have to say about I See Cards (the makers of Fractazmic)


I received Fractazmic 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.

Dig-It! Games, Roman Town Review

Heather —  February 4, 2011

Bring History to life with Roman Town, the only game that lets you be the archaeologist!

So, when was the last time you begged your child to play a video game? With Roman Town from Dig-It! Games, I found myself asking the kids to let me play!

As we reviewed Roman Town, we learned much about how to be an archeologist as we worked a site in an ancient Roman town. The game is very logical, based on factual historical information, and has a steady educational pace.

I really felt as if I were taking a beginner’s intro to archeology or something. The game also incorporates a story line with Roman children helping out and that was interesting to follow. I think it is amazing that this game fascinates me, my teenagers and my five year old daughter. This is truly learning for everyone!

View a demo of Roman Town:

While playing the game, you will be managing a team of diggers on the site of the Roman Town of Fossura, destroyed in 79 AD by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Digging In Roman Town

It is great fun to see your artifact come out of the dirt and I began to use different tools to see how they each worked. As I went through the game, I appreciated the reality of the 3D graphics in the game.

Put Pots Back Together in 3D

So, what will you get to discover?

  • Roman buildings, artifacts and priceless treasures
  • The remains of real Romans
  • Ancient Roman history and cultural facts
  • Vivid, accurate and realistic illustrations
  • How to analyze and reconstruct valuable artifacts
  • Solve mysterious secrets about the lives of Roman kids centuries ago!

A fascinating element and one that differentiates this game from others, I think, is the LEARN component. L.E.A.R.N. (Locate Engrossing and Remarkable Knowledge) is an interactive, in-game encyclopedia that allows kids to learn as they choose. How does it work? Well, for each artifact you uncover, LEARN will present facts that “match” that artifact and give you buttons, allowing you to choose to find out more about that artifact with definitions and more detail on how it was used or how it impacted Roman Life.

In this version of Roman Town, there are 6 levels, and the game allows up to five players to save games, so several people can have a game going.

There are also 6 mini games in Roman Town, they are all accessible through a little tab in the upper lefthand corner of the menu screen.

Mini-Games are Fun, Too!

Mini-Games are Fun, Too!

For homeschoolers, Roman Town can be a great addition to your curriculum and can easily tie into many different studies—obviously History, but also English, Science, and I would even use it as a supplement for creative learning.

Main Features:

  • Engaging hands-on, interactive learning for all ages, specifically designed for 5th – 8th grades.
  • Game-play develops analytical thinking
  • Puzzles teach problem solving strategies
  • Authentic artifacts and realistic excavation site
  • Accurate information about Roman Life and Roman History
  • Encompasses the full excavation experience from start to finish
  • Archaeology introduced logically

System Requirements

  • Windows Vista/XP/2000
  • CPU 800 Mhz; RAM 412MB; Hard Drive 350MB

“Founded by a professional archaeologist and teacher, Dig-It! Games is an independent computer game developer committed to creating innovative, interactive, instructional computer games based on historical themes with high-value educational content. Dig-It! Games presents authentic and accurate historical information that conforms to the curriculum mandates and Standards of Learning of many states.”

Find Dig-It Games on the Dig-It Games website, Dig-ItGames on Facebook and Dig-It Games on Twitter

As of 2011, Roman Town retails for $39.95. But from now until February 21, 2011, TOS Crew Readers can use a special code to get 20% off of the 2010 Roman Town retail price of $24.95.

That’s right! Use code TOS2011 for 20% off of $24.95 until Feb. 21st!

See what my crewmates have to say about Dig-It! Games.

I received a download of Roman Town through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

Sailing north of Stuart Island

Image by mark.aaserud via Flickr

Well, The OldSchoolhouse Crew (TOS) journey for 2010-2011 has begun!

You will be seeing crew homeschool reviews pop up this week and hopefully, be able to learn about some practical, useful and fun curriculum.

The crew journey last year was a blast. I got to try out tons of new learning products and meet lots of great people. To check out some reviews from last year or to see why we homeschool, you can click on my Homeschool Helps Tab. I can’t wait to see what I’ll be reviewing this year…

This time around, I am also a First Mate with a mini-crew! I’d love to welcome these ladies to the crew and introduce them to my readers. Please check out their blogs for homeschool advice and inspiration.

Here’s our mini-crew logo. We are using an old sailing term “Know the Ropes,” because all of the ladies on this mini-crew are veteran homeschoolers who will be wise reviewers….they do Know the Ropes!

April at  Heartfelt Homeschooling
Denise at  Light, Liberty and Learning
Kimberly at  Until The Day Dawn Weblog
Sarah at  Ahoy Maties, My Homeschool Crew Reviews and 212 Mom

Watch for our logo and some great ideas for you and your family!

The cruise ship The World at port in Aalborg, ...

Image via Wikipedia

well, I am beginning to think about leaving this port and getting in gear for the kids school year:)

I KEEP trying not to even think about schooling, but I have to admit, I really enjoy looking at curriculum and finding stuff for all the kids to do.

This year will truly be the first year I have felt remotely ready to choose our curriculums. In the past, I have relied heavily on the opinions of other, more veteran homeschoolers, state guidelines, and friends at TOS!

This year, I am really able to combine what I have learned about all the types of homeschooling and what I know about the learning styles of my children–having two years behind me is really helping to break free of some textbooks and some of my preconceived notions about how “school should be done.”

I should also say here that while I did not feel ready before now, I did feel that God was calling me to teach them, in the beginning, and that he would lead and protect us in that journey. And boy, did he! We have stumbled into some amazing miracles as we began homeschooling…and my children have had incredible experiences  …but that’s for another post!

Now, I have had people ask me what curriculum I would recommend for their little ones. I am still very reticent to tell someone else what to do. I will say, though, that I have had a very good experience with Sweet Honey, in letting her preschool days be just filled with reading, helping mom, ballet and listening to her older brother’s lessons in Mystery of History, for example. She has enjoyed very unstructured days, with nature journaling and using some of the items I have reviewed on the TOS Crew, like Mathletics and Kinderbach. I will do another post, soon, sharing some fantastic early learning blogs.

12-07-09_0825Ironically, while we were very laid back, she began to read that year…all by herself. I was so pleased. She definitely loves “schoolwork” in that way little girls like playing teacher:)  My husband and I decided that we would like to use a more classical approach for her schooling this year. While I was freaking out about what all THAT would entail, I got an email from a wonderful woman whose children were about to start in a new Classical Conversations Group in our area. In yet another of our homeschooling “coincidences” (I call these miracles, of course:)–anyway, we found out we were just in time to start Sweet Honey in their beginning program.

We have signed Sweet Honey up for the Classical Conversations Group in our town and I am reading The Well Trained Mind. I will be using All About Spelling as her reading program and…I just have to decide which Math. I am looking into Math U See or Miquion.. on top of all the CC stuff she will be doing soccer (hopefully on a homeschool team that may be starting in our area) and probably ballet. if you have opinions on any of these, please send me an email! I would love to hear what has worked for others!

And, here are the TOS Blogs for some homeschool inspiration for this week!

1. Buckaroo Days
2. Our Homeschool Reviews
3. Reed, Party of 6
4. Training Hearts at Home
5. Along The Way
6. I Love Science!
7. Through the Calm and Through the Storm
8. Created for Home
9. Tractors and Tire Swings
10. Guiding Light Homeschool

TOS Blog Walk, Week 4

Heather —  July 9, 2010
Pacific Princess, aka "The Love Boat&quot...

Image via Wikipedia

Has it already been a month that the TOS Crew has been blog walking?? Time is going by so quickly…so many good blogs to peek at. Here are the  TOS Crew Blogs for this past week–hope you find some you really enjoy!

1. King Alfred Academy
2. Confessions of An Organized Homeschool Mom
3. Curriculum Reviews from Oak Creek Farmhouse
4. I Can’t Decide
5. My Life on A Taffy Pull
6. Losing My Tale
7. Made in His Image
8. Serenades and Solace
9. Our Village is a Little Different
10. SisterTipster’s Tell’n It!

I’d also love it if some of my homeschooling readers who blog would drop me a comment or an email about their blogs–I think it would be fun to highlight some of yours as well!

The cruise ship Star Princess in Oslo, Norway.

Image via Wikipedia

Hi everyone! I wanted to share that although I am enjoying some lazy days by the pool and reading some plain old fun fiction (for no review purposes at all), many people have been working hard to get ready for the upcoming TOS Crew year!

This year, we will officially start the cruise in late July. And, I am proud to be a returning member of the TOS Crew for 2010-2011. In fact, this year I’m a First Mate! I really enjoyed the crew last year. I got to explore some fantastic homeschooling resources and also make many wonderful blog friends.

I really learned a ton about what resources are available to homeschoolers…and frankly, all the resources that are available to any parent. With the crew, I was able to review items such as online math programs, children’s fiction books, videos to help teenagers get extra credits for college by taking the CLEP exams…even online piano lessons.

Anyway, I am very excited to do this again and also, to know a bit more about what I am doing:) Please leave me a comment if you have any items you would be curious to see reviewed or have other homeschooling questions.

Also, as part of the TOS Crew community, I will be trying to participate in two other memes/activities that will shine a light on many Homeschool questions and issues. The first is the TOS Crew Blog Cruise, so when you see this button:

Please know that you can click on it to go to some great Homeschoolers opinions and ideas–each week, a new homeschool topic will be addressed by many different bloggers…so you will get all kinds of perspectives.

For another way to share our homeschooling knowledge, crew members are doing a Blog Walk of all the TOS Crew blogs. Each week, I will be visiting 10 homeschooling blogs. Please join along and make some new blog friends!

Here’s the Blog Walk List for this week:

1. Second Star to the Right and Straight On Till Morning
2. Surviving The Testosterone
3. Family Style School
4. School Around The Bible
5. 1628 The Story of The Goebels 5
6. Morris Family Madness
7. Homeschool Musings
8. Homeschooling (and then some!)
9. Heartfelt Homeschooling
10. following Him home

Peterson Handwriting Review

Heather —  May 24, 2010

Peterson Handwriting

Summary and rating: 4  This is a VERY interesting way to teach students to write, whether you are teaching a small child beginning printing, an older child cursive, or even to improve the writing skills of a left-handed or injured adult writer. The learning method is based upon the fact that the act of writing is muscle based. So…just as you can teach your muscles certain repetitive motions…you can also use muscle memory as an integral part of the writing process—to use muscle memory to make letter strokes using rhythm and action rather than visually guiding the strokes. The Peterson studies have shown that to use this process results in better handwriting.

I really enjoyed having Rand Nelson help me choose which software to use. We met in a customer service online meeting room, which was cool, to discuss the program. At that point I was able to download my lesson e-workbooks. As I am teaching a budding writer, I have the beginning print levels.

After my download and watching some videos on the site, I did get the BIG picture—and very much wanted to teach handwriting in this fashion. It seems like a very straightforward and common sense way to learn to write. But, I felt a little overwhelmed as I am not a creative type. Drawing in the air? I needed a bit of help.

Although you can go to the Peterson customer support people, I went to my TOS Crewmates to ask how some of them were doing. I felt better when one of the women I respect highly agreed that it took some work to learn exactly how to use the materials.

I ended realizing that, for me, I needed to lighten up a bit and enjoy drawing in the air and drawing on our erase boards…and just go slowly through the four main steps of the curriculum’s method:

  1. Illustrate and describe: Use large visual pictures and a word chant to describe each letter stroke.
  2. Air writing: Practice using large strokes (such as in the air) to train the muscle memory
  3. Finger tracking and chant: Students use finger-tracing on paper—but lead with their voice, not visually
  4. Write and Say: Using a pencil they write—first on unlined paper then lined. If all the above steps are properly processed, this should come pretty naturally.

The company has an in-depth website and they recommend using their online support all through the process of using the curriculum, from having an expert help you choose which level lessons to pick, to reviewing data on scope and sequence, to watching videos about how to understand and use the program. They do have good customer service.

You can watch a method presentation to see how this works! Go here. Or, just go browse the Peterson website. You can see some neat items, from homeschool kits to animated letter cards to a software program for the curriculum that uses pen tablets. Price points vary, as there are many options.

I have to admit, May is not a good time to start a new curriculum. With my daughter having Spring Fever, I am hard pressed to really dig into the curriculum. I do think she enjoys it and I plan to use it when we start back to school in late Summer. I will let you all know how we do!

I hear that some of the reviewers who jumped into this right away are seeing positive results. To read reviews from my TOS crewmates, click here!

I received downloads of the beginner print series to write this review for the TOS Crew. I have given my unbiased opinion.