Shape Whiz – Review

I love when I am able to make learning fun! Recently we were given the opportunity to review a game from SimplyFun, Shape Whiz. We had a blast playing and learning geometric topics at the same time!

Simply Fun Review
Shape Whiz is a card game for two to four players where speed and geometry come together. It is recommended for kids ages 10 and up, but I feel an 8 year old would be able to catch on fairly easily. It is a quick game, most of our games lasted about 10 minutes.

The object of the game is to be the first player to play all of their personal shape cards.

Each player is dealt a number of shape cards. The box has 45 blue shape cards and 35 green shape cards. The blue cards have simple shapes where the green cards have complex shapes. You have the option of just using the simple shapes or using both sets of cards. We found that using both sets actually made for an easier game.

The front of the shape cards feature different sized shapes. On the back of the card all of the shape properties are listed. It includes information about the shape’s area, perimeter, lines of symmetry, angles, parallel lines, and number of different length sides.

In the middle of the table you place the stack of 40 double sided whiz cards. The Whiz Cards have a sample shape and then a specific geometry question listed. The card might say “Total Area Less Than Or Equal To 3”, “One Line Of Symmetry”, or “Total Perimeter Greater Than 10”.

Simply Fun Review
To start the game you flip over a Whiz Card. Each player checks the cards in front of them and the cards in front of the other players to see if they can find a card that matches the properties on the Whiz Card. The best part is that if there are any disputes over how many 90 degree angles a shape has, all you have to do is flip over  the card and check.

It is fast paced and once you get going you start to learn how to figure out the approximate area and perimeter of shapes very quickly. AJ would look at the back of her cards constantly in the beginning to help her figure out the properties of her cards, but by the fourth time we played she was able to figure a lot of them out on her own.

There is a booklet included in the box that explains all of the symbols used in the game. AJ was introduced to a few new symbols including the approximate sign. It also includes how to find the area and perimeter of different shapes.

Since it is such a quick game with very little set up, we were able to play this game quite a bit. Most of the time it was just the two of us, but we also had AJ’s grandma play a few hands with us. She said, “Wow! This game sure makes you think, but it’s pretty fun.” It has been AJ’s pick for game night ever since we tried it out.

We ended up making one switch to the game the first few times we played to make it a little less competitive. Instead of being able to play the cards of other players, we decided to only play our own cards. If you are playing with a younger child I would recommend this little change to help them get use to the game.

It has definitely improved AJ’s knowledge of geometric shapes. We both enjoyed playing it and I am planning on using the cards to help teach when we get to the next geometry unit in math.

If you are looking for a fun, fast paced game that will help your child master some geometric principles, I would recommend Shape Whiz!


Simply Fun Review

Home School In The Woods – Review

AJ is a hands on learner who enjoys lapbooks. The more activities involved in a project, the more she learns and remembers the topic. I try to bring as much fun into school as possible, but sometimes putting it all together can be time consuming. When we were given the opportunity to review the Project Passport World History Study: The Middle Ages, from Home School in the Woods we were both excited. History has never been our favorite subject, but if we can bring it to life it makes the subject so much more enjoyable.

Home School in the Woods Review
It is available as a digital download (which is what we received) that is compatible for both Mac and PC or as a CD.

The Project Passport for the Middle Ages is a 25 stop unit study all about the Middle Ages. It is designed to take between six to twelve weeks, but I don’t see how anyone could finish it in six weeks! It is packed full of information. You are touring the Middle Ages learning about different topics as you go. The first three stops on your trip cover background information to bring you up to date on the topic. You also set up your passport and gather your materials. Using the guidebook, audio tours, timelines, crafts, and other hands on activities, it brings the time period to life. Throughout the study your child creates a newspaper, a scrapbook, a lapbook, and many memories all about the Middle Ages.

Hands on learning about the Middle Ages with Home School in the Woods

We received a digital download that included; texts for each stops, itineraries for each stop, masters for all of the projects and worksheets, audio tours, teacher keys, printables for the notebook, and a guide full of tips and additional information.

At first I was a little overwhelmed with everything that was included. But I soon realized that if I took everything step by step it was all broken down and told me exactly what to do. We decided to print the itineraries but to read the text off of the computer.

Each week I would pull up the itinerary for the stop we were working on and follow the directions on what to print. I love that it tells me what to print and how. It tells what to print on cardstock, plain paper, and what needs to be printed on white paper. It even tells when to print a page on the back of another page. If you follow the directions it really is fool proof.

Once everything was printed for the week I would put the papers in her notebook and when we worked on history we had everything we needed.

There are a variety of activities in each stop. Some took longer than others. We started each stop by reading new information from the text. We found the information interesting and well written. There were a lot of facts in the reading, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

After the reading was finished she would cut out timeline figures to add them to her snapshot moments pages. These were neat, and since we were learning about things from different time periods it helped to keep everything in perspective. The directions called for her to color the pictures, but she doesn’t like to color so we decided to leave them plain.

Scrapbook of Sites Middle Ages

When that was finished she often had a post card to read and color. This was one of the activities that helped to bring the Middle Ages to life! The post card came from a famous person from the period and gave their perspective on a subject.

Often she had to add an article or drawing to the newspaper. She had the hardest time with this project because she struggles with creative writing. The assignments are short and should be fun.

Middle Ages Newspaper

Some days there was an audio tour. The audio tours were amazing and by far her favorite part. They are professional quality and introduce you to various people from the Middle Ages. We met a quite a few different people and learned a lot about how they lived.

There are map projects, lapbook pieces, and hands on projects with each stop.

So many hands on projects with Homeschool in the Woods!

One of AJ’s favorite projects so far was the Middle Ages puppets.

Puppets to learn about the Middle Ages

Overall the Project Passport World History Study: The Middle Ages is a solid history program. It is full of learning opportunities and makes a boring topic entertaining. The numerous activities help your child to really remember what they are learning. It doesn’t just focus on dates and places, but the people as well. The author includes lists of books, movies, and audios that can enhance the study. I love that we can take each topic as in depth as we want.

We had planned to use a different history curriculum for the upcoming school year, but AJ is learning so much and enjoying history again so we are going to finish this one and if finances allow, we will do the Renaissance and Reformation one next.

The main downfall to the program is the amount of printing. It uses a lot of ink, paper, and cardstock. It was a little confusing at first with how to get started, and it is more time consuming than other programs. For us, the fun element overrides the downsides. We can’t wait to continue learning about the Middle Ages.


Home School in the Woods Review

CursiveLogic Review

Cursive writing is all around us, and I feel that it is important for AJ to learn how to read and write in cursive. Whether she decides to use the knowledge or not will be up to her. I NEVER use cursive other than to sign my name, because my cursive writing is horrible. I remember in 6th grade the teacher would only let the class turn in our final drafts in cursive, everyone in the entire class except for me. I was given extra practice to do, but she said she wasn’t going to try and figure out what I had written! It wasn’t until I started to teach AJ cursive in 3rd grade that I realize I was taught incorrectly! Sure I could write each letter, but connecting them was my problem. I don’t know how no one ever realized that I wasn’t being sloppy, but that I was not connecting my letters correctly.

CursiveLogic-A wonderful way to teach cursive!

AJ seemed to have the same issue, she could write the letters, but connecting them to form words was difficult. Now that she is entering 7th grade I knew that we didn’t have time to go through another program that taught a letter at a time, but she wanted to learn to write in cursive better. Enter CursiveLogic. We were given the opportunity to review the CursiveLogic Workbook – An intelligent new way to teach cursive handwriting.

CursiveLogic is not just another workbook, it is a new method for teaching. Instead of teaching the letters one at a time, they have divided up the alphabet into 4 letter strings based on the shape of the letters. Each string of letters is color coded and has a catch phrase that the student says while learning to write the letters.

Letter strands make learning cursive fun

The 96 page full color workbook includes the teacher’s guide right in the book. It is spiral bound at the top making it easy for both right and left handed children to use. The last three pages of the book are dry erase pages that your child can practice over and over again.

The lessons start off very basic having the student trace the letters with their finger, by the end of the lesson they are writing the letter strings and learning how to connect different types of letters.

The majority of the book focuses on the lowercase letters, but there are lessons on the capital letters at the end of the book.

Capital Letters are practiced at the end of the book

AJ has a tendency to speed through writing practice and not focus on her letters, so I had her work on one page a day and then let her practice on the dry erase pages as much as she wanted. The dry erase pages are perfect for her. I don’t know what it is about dry erase markers, but she really enjoys using them to write with.

CursiveLogic is the first handwriting program that I didn’t have to keep reminding her to work on. Each day she would have it done quickly and neatly in just a few minutes.  She even told me, “This is fun!” She liked learning the different letter strands and was able to remember how to write the letters based on the strand they were in.

Throughout the program AJ’s cursive has improved greatly. She still needs additional practice, but what she writes is legible and written correctly. I saw confidence in her writing while working through CursiveLogic, and can’t wait to see how well she is able to write once she finishes it.

We both liked the method that was used to teach the letters. AJ enjoyed the short lessons and I loved that they focused on how to correctly transition from one letter to the next. The program is short, simple, and worth every penny. If you have a child who is struggling with cursive, or a child who is just learning I would recommend checking out CursiveLogic. It really is the last handwriting book you will ever need to buy.


CursiveLogic Review

CTC Math Review

Math is AJ’s favorite subject! She loves to work with numbers and figure out problems. We have been working on a mastery approach to math and she is really ready for pre algebra, so I was excited to have to opportunity to review the 12 Month Family Plan from CTC Math.

CTC Math is an online program that uses short videos to teach different math lessons. The pre algebra level has printable worksheets that students work on and then enter the answers online. CTC Math’s 12 Month Family Plan gives you access to math curriculum from Kindergarten to Calculus for up to 10 kids for an entire year.  You can use any level you want working where your student needs to be.

CTCMath Review
The pre algebra section is broken up into 4 different sections.

Part one has lessons on:

  • Basics and Whole Numbers
  • Fractions
  • Decimals
  • Percentages

Part 2 has lessons on:

  • Problem Solving
  • Pre-Algebra 1
  • Pre-Algebra 2
  • Pythagoras’ Theorem

Part 3 has lessons on:

  • Powers, Exponents, and Roots
  • Scientific Notation and Powers of 10
  • Measurement
  • Area
  • The Circles
  • Graphs and Charts

Part 4 has lessons on:

  • Probability
  • Statistics
  • Variables, Expressions, and Equations
  • Equation Extensions
  • Ratios
  • Rates
  • Number Application
  • Volume

AJ was excited to try out the Pre-Algebra unit, she started with the first one, Basics and Whole Numbers. Most of the units begin with an optional  diagnostic test. She completed the test and it showed that she already knew 70% of the material. She had mastered 6 of the lessons. The odd part was that there was no way to simply mark the lessons complete. Even though she had shown mastery in the diagnostic test, if we wanted the lessons to show that they were complete she would have to do the worksheet.

CTC Math is broken into short lessons

Once she was finished with the test I had her skip a few lessons and start on one of the lessons that she didn’t show mastery in, Order of Operations.  She was able to easily navigate the program and started on the lesson. She watched the 10 minute narrated video and then pulled up the worksheet. She liked the video and thought the narrator’s Australian accent cool. Unfortunately, the way they explained the order of operations was different from what she had been taught. Instead of using PEMDAS (parentheses, exponents, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction) they taught BIMDAS (Brackets, Indices, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction.) It is the exact same thing, but using different terminology confused her. After I reassured he that they were just calling it a new name everything was fine.

CTC Math Order of Operations

After the lesson you are suppose to print out a worksheet, complete it, and then enter the answers online. I don’t like to print things that I don’t have to so I had AJ view the worksheet on the computer, work out the problems and then find the letter that matched her answer. Then she would enter the answers online and receive her score. I love the fact that offline work is included. While the number of problems varies, there are enough problems to practice and really master each topic.

A few times I couldn’t have her occupying the computer. On those times I printed out the worksheets for the topics she had mastered and had her work on them. She was able to enter her answers later in the day, and I found that it was a good review for her.

CTC Math Award

At the end of the unit your student can earn a certificate based on how well they did on the worksheets. AJ ended up earning a gold certificate in Basics and Whole Numbers and is on track to earn a platinum certificate in Fractions. The student can redo the videos and the worksheets as much as they need in order to grasp the topic.

What we liked

We both loved the short, to the point lessons. Aside from the different terminology that I mentioned above, I didn’t find anything confusing or different than how I would present a topic. I love that she can work on it by herself and that I don’t have to do anything. The email updates were helpful and let me see her progress. I think the amount of work is great, and I think the variety of questions required her to really understand the topics. Most of all I think the price is great. For only one child the price may be a little high, but if you have two or more students it is a fantastic deal! The best part is that AJ enjoyed it, and learned quite a bit.

What we didn’t care for

AJ liked that the lessons were all multiple choice, but I didn’t. I would have liked to have her enter the answers instead. That is of course a personal preference. The order that the lessons are presented in is a little different than other programs we have looked at, and once we get past part 1 I see us rearranging the order. I think it is great that you are able to jump around through the program to suite your needs the best. The other issue I had is that there aren’t any tests after the unit is complete and the diagnostic test doesn’t allow you to mark lessons complete. While the small issues don’t hinder the program, I felt them worth mentioning.

Overall AJ enjoyed the program. As of right now we are planning on using this for AJ’s 7th grade year.

CTCmath Review

WordBuildOnline – A Great Way to Practice Vocabulary! {Review}

It seems that most people either love numbers or they love words. AJ, my 6th grader loves numbers. She likes to figure things out and solve puzzles, words on the other hand are not her friend. Math makes sense, but vocabulary is difficult for her. If you have read my blog for a while, you probably know how many tears have been shed over vocabulary. We really needed something new!

JazzEdge  Review

We were recently given the chance to review a neat product from Dynamic Literacy, WordBuildOnline. WordBuildOnline is a vocabulary program unlike anything we have tried before. Instead of studying and learning thousands of different words, the program focuses on learning prefixes, suffixes, and roots. In just 15 minutes a day your student will practice Greek and Latin roots using different game like activities. Since it is online, you will need a good internet connection to use the program. We have used it in both Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome with great results.

There are two different levels; Foundations is geared for 2nd through 5th grade and Elements is geared for 6th through 10th grade. We reviewed the Element level. The program will last a school year if students do 1 lesson a day, but the pace can be changed to fit your needs.

The site is very easy to use, each day AJ would log into the program and click to start her lesson. Other than making sure she stayed on the site, I didn’t have to do anything! The first lessons were review of prefixes and suffixes. During the review period AJ had to practice working with prefixes and suffixes by finding the meaning to three different words. The activities were quick, but AJ found them a little boring and redundant. I had her do more than the 1 lesson a day so that we could get to the fun part of the program.

While she found the first part of the program boring, I found it necessary and a great review. She went into the program knowing some prefixes and suffixes, but she had a lot to learn! I think if there would have been different activities to practice the prefixes and suffixes that AJ would have enjoyed that section a little bit more.

Once the prefix and suffix review was over she was able to do her first lesson. The lessons are broken up into 5 days, and last no longer than 15 minutes. There is even a timer that stops the activity when the 15 minutes is up.

On the first day of each week  AJ watched a video that was less than 5 minutes long. During the video she was introduced to a new root word. She learned different ways that the root could be spelled and the root’s different meanings.

After the video she went on to the practice. In the first activity there was a box with 9 squares. The middle box has the root word and the other boxes have prefixes or suffixes. In this activity AJ had to make as many words as she could with the prefixes, suffixes, and root. Once she made each word she had to type in the definition.

The first activity was both of our least favorite. It was her least favorite because she had to try and spell all of the words correctly and type a lot of definitions. I liked the fact that she had to think of the different words, but I didn’t like how the activity was scored. It seemed like as long as she spelled the word correctly and typed in some definition that the question was marked correct. When I looked at her progress after the lesson, I could tell that she didn’t really understand the meanings of some of the words, or that she didn’t try.

I really think that once she figured out that her definition wasn’t really being checked, she became lazy and entered whatever she wanted! I took that as an opportunity to remind her how to figure out the definitions by using the prefixes and suffixes. (And to remind her that she needed to try her best!)

JazzEdge  Review
The second day was her favorite activity, the Magic Square. There was a list of 9 different words using the root and 9 different definitions. She had to match them, but there was a fun twist. Each word was assigned a letter and put in a 3 by 3 grid. The definitions were each given a number 1 to 9. She had to make all of the rows and columns add up to the same number.

This activity made her think, used math, and helped her use deduction skills even when she wasn’t sure of an answer.


JazzEdge  Review
The third day was another puzzle, it reminded me of a crossword puzzle. You are given a list of different definitions using the root word, and a set rows of boxes. Each row has the right number of boxes for the word that matched its definition. Some of these puzzles she was able to figure out right away, and others took more time.

On the fourth day she was given a set of sentences with words missing and a word bank. She simply had to pick the word that best completed the sentence.

The final day of the word study had her take a 10 question quiz on the words that were made by the root word. She earned 100% on each quiz, so I know that she is learning! It has been a LONG time since she had a 100% on a vocabulary quiz!

I get an email every time she completes an activity and I can check her progress at any time by logging into my parent account.

Aside from the few minor issues mentioned above, the only complaint I have with WordBuildOnline is the 15 minute time limit. I wish there was a pause button on the lessons. A few times she got up to use the bathroom or do something and her session ended without her doing anything. I can go in and reset it in my account, but I wish there was a way to stop the clock if she needs to step away.

Days one and three were hard for her, but the rest of the week she really enjoyed. She asks to work on the program and I can see the improvement in spelling and vocabulary. When we are reading I have noticed her trying to pull apart longer words. The prefixes and suffixes that she use to have a problem with are easier for her to figure out and longer words are not as intimidating. The program is solid and I plan to have her continue with it. The best part is that once you purchase it your student can use it until they complete the program even if it takes longer than a year for them to finish.

Overall she has learned a lot. The traditional way of memorizing lists of words didn’t work for her, but this does. It combines learning vocabulary with puzzles and games and takes the boring out! The computer element made it interactive and fun.

If you are interested it trying out this fun vocabulary program, you can use the discount code dailylife for a 25% discount on the book version of the program or 10 % off of the online version.


Dynamic Literacy Review

IEW Review

We have tried a lot of writing programs, this is the first one to really work! Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is a name that I have heard since I started homeschooling AJ. I was told wonderful things about the program and that it would really help my struggling writer. The first time I visited their website, sticker shock hit me. The program is expensive at first glance, and I couldn’t see how this program could be different enough from every other program that we had tried, to justify the cost. After a while of other programs not working, and AJ still struggling,  I was going to bite the bullet and purchase the program from IEW. Unfortunately, we hit some hard times financially and that wasn’t possible. A few weeks ago we were given the amazing blessing of being able to review two products from IEW –   Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, and Student Writing Intensive Level B.   The Student Writing Intensive Level B is for kids in grades 6 – 8 while the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is for the teacher.

IEW Review
I stocked the mail box waiting for our package to arrive. AJ struggles with writing, and since writing always came easily for me, I didn’t know how to help her. Why couldn’t she just write? I opened the box and was amazed and a little overwhelmed  by everything I found!


IEW Review
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style came with a nice sturdy folder, over 200 pages of printed material, 12 different dividers, and a black DVD case with 12 DVDs in it. This is the newly filmed and updated version, but since I haven’t viewed the previous version I can’t say if it is any better. I also received year long access to monthly webinars, streaming products and more available online included with my Premium Subscription.

I glanced at the getting started page and quickly put together my folder. I love it when products take out the guess work and tell you what to do!

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is amazing! It is a recorded seminar taught by Andrew Pudewa that teaches parents/teachers how to teach writing. He teaches a successful method of writing that was developed by Anna Ingham, C.C.M., and J.B. Webster, PH.D. There are over 14 hours of instruction on the DVDs. The folder is full of examples and even more information. The first 9 DVDs cover the 9 different units of the writing program. The last three have demonstration lessons and additional information.  Throughout the DVDs Mr. Pudewa teaches each unit and even gives you writing assignments to help you see what your student will be doing. While you could sit and watch all of the videos at once, I decided to stay one unit ahead of AJ. She is working on unit 3 right now and I just watched unit 4.

To say I learned a lot from the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVDs would be an understatement! I learned more about teaching writing in the first DVD than I have from every other program we have tried put together. I had quite a few “ah ha” moments while watching the videos. Mr. Pudewa presents things in an easy to understand manner, speaks clearly, and even throws in some humor. The time flew by while I was watching the videos because I enjoyed watching them. He explains why some kids have a hard time writing, but he also explains how to help those who enjoy writing. When I was finished watching the first DVD I actually felt empowered and like I really could get AJ to write. I haven’t watched all of the DVDs yet but I have learned so much already.

This program can be used to teach writing as a stand alone program. Each year your student should cycle through each of the 9 units, learning more and more each year. I could really see this program working well that way. I said how the program is expensive at first glance, but when you think about how much use you can get out of it, the price actually seems very good.  It can also be used with the Student Writing Intensives, or many of the other programs on their website. IEW - Everything you need to teach writing!

The other item in our box was the Student Writing Intensive Level B. It came with a DVD case containing 5 DVDs one introduction for the parent/teacher and 4 DVDs filled with lessons for the student. It also came with a folder, five dividers, some different charts and worksheets to be used during the program, and a printed out Teacher’s Guide that is over 90 pages long. The Teacher’s Guide has the printouts for the lessons as well as a suggested schedule, examples, tips, and more. I stuck the Teacher’s Guide in the front of my Teaching Writing: Structure and Style folder, put AJ’s folder together, and watched the Overview DVD. The Student Writing Intensive Level B is a video recording of Mr. Pudewa teaching a writing class to a group of students. The course was originally taught over 4 days. Additional practice passages were added and the course now covers 30 weeks of writing.

Mr. Pudewa is a great teacher!

The next day we were suppose to start the program. I was excited, but AJ wasn’t. She didn’t even want to try another writing program. She woke up “sick” but by the afternoon she was well enough to start school. I gave her the folder and the first printout. We put the DVD in and started to watch it. Mr. Pudewa caught her attention right away, she thought he was funny. He talked about how he didn’t like to write as a child and asked how many kids were dragged to the class and may have even faked sick to get out of it because they don’t like to write. Her hand shot up! The first lesson went well. We had to stop and rewind the video a few times so that she could copy some things, but by the middle of the lesson she was keeping up fairly well. The first lesson had her copy a keyword outline that he had made with the class and then write it into a paragraph. I have never seen her write so quickly and easily. She even said she liked the program! IEW - An Amazing Wriing Program! To really understand how her writing progressed I need to share a paragraph she wrote before the program. Keep in mind she is in 6th grade and that this took over a half hour to get her to write.

Moses lifted his hands and split the Red Sea. The Israelites walked across dry land. Pharaoh’s army chased them into the sea. Then Moses lifted his rod and God closed it. Then the Egyptians drowned and they died.

Here is the paragraph she wrote after the first day of the program. It is not perfect, but it is a big improvement! The best part is that she wrote it in about 15 minutes.

Sea wasps are the most venomous jellyfish. They are poisonous. They are worse than any snake. Sea wasps, which are difficult to see, will sting people and cause the person to die in seconds. They search for shrimp on the beach, which makes them close to the swimmers. There are no sea wasps in America or Europe. They are only in Australia. They can use their neurototin to kill over 50 people. Sea wasps are the deadliest creatures alive!

Each day AJ would either watch the next lesson on the DVD, work on another source text, or edit her paragraph. Each lesson has a check list of things that have to be included in her writing. As the lessons progress more is added to the check list. This is her paragraph from her last assignment she did in unit 3, Retelling Narrative Stories.

Alice was tired of sitting next to her big sister. She was just sitting there doing nothing. Then, Alice saw a white rabbit who was taking to himself yelling, “ I’m late I’m late for a very important date!” The White Rabbit took out a big shinny pocket watch and hurried away quickly. Alice jumped to her feet because she had never seen a rabbit with a pocket watch before. The white rabbit scuffled down the rabbit hole. Alice zoomed down the rabbit hole after him, but how was she going to get out?

I think it is clear to see that her writing has improved. There are still some errors, but I feel like we are going in the right direction. There haven’t been any tears over writing, and she looks forward to the lessons. I have learned how to teach her, and she has learned how to write. I could write an entire post about the things I was doing wrong when I was trying to get her to write. I feel this program really was an answered prayer for both of us!

We loved the short lessons, the fun to watch DVDs, the detailed notes and lessons, and most of all Mr. Pudewa. We are putting this to the side since we only have one more week of school, and will pick it back up when we start school again. When I told AJ we were done reviewing the program, she was upset because she really liked it! Coming from a kid who hates to write, that says a lot! The only downside we have found is that the price may make it unaffordable for some families. You really do get a lot for your money, and I would recommend it any day. IEW is really as good as everyone says, it not only met my expectations, but greatly exceeded them!

IEW Review

7th Grade Reading List

Post Contains Affiliate Links

I can’t believe AJ is going to be in 7th grade this year! She is going to officially be in middle school. Middle school was when I really fell in love with books and I can’t wait for AJ to have the chance to read some of the amazing books that I did. Most of them will wait until 8th grade because I want to take her 7th grade year to fall in love with the world of Narnia. She hasn’t read any of the books or watched any of the movies so this will be her first visit into the magical world. 7th grade may seem a little old for Narnia, but we will be diving deep into each book, studying different literary elements, comparing and contrasting with different movie versions, and tracking character development over the books. Narnia has a lot to teach. We will also be reading my favorite book from 7th grade.

Here are some of the books I plan on having AJ read during the next school year.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe
  3. Horse and His Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle
  8. The Giver – We will read the first book for sure, and possible the others.

Those books will be read with study guides (that I am making)  and really picked apart. The plan is to spend about a month on each book. We will also work on poetry from CS Lewis. I have others I want her to read, but realistically those 8 will probably be all that we get to.

She will be reading for at least 20 minutes a day on her own as well. Usually I let her pick whatever books she wants, but this year we will be changing that. I am sure her choices will be animal or mystery related, and will more than likely be at a lower reading level. I am fine with her reading any chapter book she picks, but this year her choice will be alternating with a book of my choice. Some of the books she will be reading on her own (no reports or anything required) are listed below.

  1. The Westing Game
  2. Bridge to Terabithia
  3. Indian in the Cupboard
  4. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
  5. Holes

She may read a few more novels, but I haven’t decided on those yet. I haven’t read 3 of the  books above, but I will read them before she does so that we can talk about them.

What is your Middle School Student reading this year? Review

Famous Men of Rome ~ Review

  Famous Men of Rome is a great product, even if you aren't a classical homeschooler!

We were given the opportunity to review the Famous Men of Rome Set from Memoria Press. It is classical year long course about Ancient Rome designed for 4th to 8th grade students. The set comes with a 157 page soft covered book, Famous Men of Rome. The book is broken down into 30 different chapters covering the history of Rome from the tale of Romulus and Remus to the end of the Western Empire. It is full of pictures, some black and white and others in color. The back of the book includes a glossary and full color maps of Ancient Rome. The length of each chapter really varies. Some are as short as 2 and a half pages while others are more than six pages long.

Memoria Press Review

To go along with the Famous Men of Rome, we also received a Student Guide. The Student Guide is a 120 page soft covered book. It includes a two page lesson for each chapter, 5 different review lessons, drawing pages to complete activities, maps (in black and white), a blank timeline to fill in, European geography lessons, a pronunciation guide, and additional resources.

Famous Men of Rome Review
The final piece of the Famous Men of Rome Set was the Teacher’s Guide. The Teacher’s Guide is a 172 page soft covered book. It includes a short two page section explaining how to use the guide. The first 120 pages are basically another Student Guide that has all of the answers filled in. The rest of the book contains the 7 different tests and answer keys, 5 to be completed after the review lessons, a final test covering the entire book, and a European geography test.

Weekly lessons from Famous Men of Rome

Each lesson is designed to last a week. The lessons are broken up into four sections; Facts to Know, Vocabulary, Comprehension Questions, and Activities. The Facts to Know section lists the most important facts from the lesson. It is also the section of the lesson that is to be used for memory work and copywork if desired. The Vocabulary section takes words from the text. The student is to try and figure out the meaning of the word from the context that it is use in, if they can’t then they are to look up the word. The Comprehension Questions are questions based on the reading. Most of the questions require a short answer or a list from the reading. The Activity section changes each week. They include locating places on the maps, filling out the timeline, drawing part of the reading, looking up information, and questions from the reading. There are some questions marked throughout the book that can be used as essay questions as well.

How we used Famous Men of Rome

While the lessons are intended to last a week, after the first week we decided to speed up the pace. We school 4 days a week and completed two lessons a week. The first day we would go over all of the Facts to Know sections from the previous lessons. Then AJ and I would read the first half of the chapter. She would answer any vocabulary or comprehension questions that she could answer from the first half of the chapter. Then she would choose 2 or 3 activities to complete, usually map work, timeline work, or drawing a picture.

On the second day we would go over all of the Facts to Know sections so far then finish up the reading. When she was finished she would fill out any unanswered vocabulary or comprehension sections. The reading time varied depending on the length of the chapter and her willingness to read, but the book work part never took longer than about 20 minutes.

What we thought about Famous Men of Rome

We are NOT classical homeschoolers. We don’t do memory work and rarely use text books. We enjoy reading great stories and learning in a hands on way. I didn’t know how AJ would take to trying to memorize dates and places, but I was pleasantly surprised. She really enjoyed reading the stories. They were exciting, full of drama, and in her words, crazy. The part she liked the best was the Facts to Know section. She loved trying to learn all of the facts. She remembered way more than I expected, and even took it upon herself to create flashcards for some of the ones she was having trouble with.

We both liked that the book work part of the lessons was short and sweet. The activities were varied enough to keep her interest and there was not too much writing. I love the fact that the vocabulary section came with answers. So many times we struggle with the vocabulary section because all dictionaries are a little different. It was nice to have the correct definitions at my fingertips.

My favorite part of the entire set was the pronunciation guide.  It was written where AJ could easily figure out how to pronounce the different Roman names. I can’t ever seem to get names right, so I found that section very helpful.

Famous Men of Rome includes some European Geography

The geography section was ok. By the looks of the book more geography is introduced in later chapters, but in my opinion you would really need more geography to have a solid grasp.

The major complaint I had was  the lack of instruction for the teacher. As I mentioned before, there is a two page section that tells you how to use the guide, but it isn’t very useful. The book doesn’t tell you how long a lesson should take, or give any suggested schedule. While I appreciate the answers, I prefer a teacher’s guide that has more to it.

The other issue I had was with the tests. The tests are in the Teacher’s Manuel, but they are not perforated for easy removal. They look difficult to remove. Since the answer key is right behind the test, giving the student the book really isn’t an option.

Overall we liked the Famous Men of Rome Set and I would recommend it to those who want to study history in a classical way. It is interesting, doesn’t have too much busy work, and AJ enjoyed it. We are planning on continuing with the books next year, but we will more than likely skip some of the vocabulary and continue with our faster pace. The stories are great and I feel that AJ has already learned so much from them.

Memoria Press Review

Easy Piano Basics Review

AJ took piano lessons for about six months. During that time, she had to be driven about 25 minutes away for a 30 minute lesson each week. Unfortunately, half of the time she didn’t remember what she was taught and since I have no piano experience at all, I was left trying to makes sense of a piano book that might as well have been written in French! I would try to figure out what she was suppose to do, but often it was different than the way her teacher taught her. She enjoyed the lessons, practiced almost every day, and was learning, but the set up just didn’t work for us. After a while there wasn’t time for the lessons and they were too expensive.

Easy Piano Basics is like having a piano teacher in your living room! Check out our review.

Those lessons were about 2 years ago, but recently AJ has been asking if she could take lessons again. Money is very tight so the answer had to be no. Then, we were given the chance to review Easy Piano Basics from JazzEdge. We jumped at the opportunity, and have been learning to play the piano together ever since!  We were given lifetime access to the video course.

Easy Piano Basics is an online streaming product that is geared for those who are just learning to play the piano or those who need a refresher course. It is a self paced course with 32 different videos which are taught by piano teacher, Willie Myette. Through each video you see the piano close up along with  the instructor in a small area of the screen. While the majority of the lessons are online you also need to print some music sheets for practice. You are encouraged to practice for 5 to 10 minutes 5 days a week.

JazzEdge  Review
 The set up is simple! AJ was able to log in and start watching the videos quite easily. Each video is between about 2 to 10 minutes long. Under the video you are given instructions on what exactly to practice before your next lesson.

The lessons start of easy! I wondered it they would be too easy, but AJ enjoyed the videos. We worked through the very basic videos; the alphabet, high and low notes, how to sit at the piano, ext. in a few days. Most of it was review. We would watch the video, practice the things that needed to be practiced for a few minutes, and then go on to the next video. The lesson difficulty increased with each video, and by lesson 8 we were learning how to read music!

We didn’t practice as often as we should have, and we still learned a lot. The way Willie Myette explains things is simple and effective. AJ appreciated the fact that I was learning with her, so I wouldn’t try to teach her the wrong way. I loved that the videos could be completed at our own pace. Right now we are on lesson 11. We slowed down when we hit lesson 8 because I want to make sure we both really understand how to read music. Our only complaint with the program was that a few times the camera angle was a little odd and made it difficult to see things. This only occurred for a few seconds at a time and we didn’t find it too distracting.

Overall I am thankful for the chance to try out Easy Piano Basics. With our busy schedule it is the perfect fit. It is like having a piano teacher right in the living room. AJ can practice when we have time, she can watch the lessons over as often as she needs to, and I can learn right along side her. I think the best part is that the course covers a lot of technical information in an easy to understand way. This is something that we will be sticking with.

Find out what other members of the School House Review Crew thought!

JazzEdge Review


Firmly Planted Bible Study Review

I feel the Bible is a very important subject in our day. This year we have made it a priority to study the Bible a lot more often. We have been looking at in in a historical way, but haven’t gotten to the New Testament yet. AJ knows the story of the birth of Jesus and how he died on the cross for our sins, but she has a lot to learn still. When I learned that Heidi St. John had created Bible studies, I was excited to try one out!

A to the point Bible Study that has things for every member of the family.

We were able to review Firmly Planted, Gospels, Part 1 from Real Life Press. We were given a downloadable PDF of both the Family Study Guide and the Student Book.

What is the Firmly Planted, Gospels, Part 1?

The Study Guide is a 127 page PDF that is broken up into ten different lessons about the life of Jesus. Each lesson follows the same basic format. It starts with a passage from the Bible in the ESV version. Then it gives the big idea of the study, memory verses, a section called Watering the Seed where a little story is given to help understand the importance of the main idea, and then the Daily Study.

Real Life Press Review
Each day for the Daily Study you are instructed to read part of the passage then read a few paragraphs that explain the Bible reading and make you think about it. After each daily study there is a digging deeper section that explains even more and gives additional details, and a Taste the Fruit section. The Taste the Fruit section is a place where it shows how the passage is applicable to your daily life. There are 4 Daily Studies for each lesson.

The Student Book is a 225 page PDF. It is full of activities for a variety of ages to help with the main idea of the Bible Study. Some of the activities included are; mazes, word searches, crossword puzzles, fill in the blank passages, nature studies, journaling pages, copywork, mapping, and more. Each lesson has between 20 and 26 pages worth of activities.

While the two products go together and complement each other, there is not a set schedule given to use them together.

How did we use it?

The first week I printed off the study guide for the week and about ten different activities that I thought AJ would enjoy. We read through the passage, went over the main idea, and then went on to the first daily study. When we were done reading and discussing she did a few of the activities.

It seemed like a lot of printing, so after the first week we would read through the lesson on my computer and then have her do some of the activities. Some days she would look up the vocabulary for the section and then da a maze. Another day she would look up the passage and do a fill in the blank puzzle. Other days she would look up verses in the Old Testament that showed how events from the New Testament had been prophesized. Each day was a little different.

She enjoyed the mazes, word searches, crosswords, and fill it in puzzles. She also liked the vocabulary. The nature studies didn’t seem like a good fit for us, so we skipped them. We also decided to skip the coloring pages and copywork sections that seemed to young for AJ. Each day she did between two and three pages of activities. The daily work seemed to take about 15 minutes.

What did we think?

The Firmly Planted Gospels, Part 1 has a lot of great features!


  • The lessons are short enough to keep kids attention.
  • The student workbook has activities for a variety of ages, making a family study very easy.
  • It is broken up into 4 daily study sections giving those who school with a four day schedule an easy way to fit it in.
  • The print quality is nice in both black and white and color.

There were a few things that we didn’t enjoy.


  • There was a lot of printing. Even with only printing out the desired pages from the student workbook, I was printing between 8 to 12 pages a week and that was with one student.
  • There were a few theological differences in beliefs between the author and myself. This may or may not be a con for you. There was nothing outlandish or wrong, but a few small things that I didn’t agree with. It was easy to leave those points out of our lessons.
  • Our biggest complaint was that the study was just not enough. Each day we went over a few verses, I thought that there should have been more Bible reading each day. While the short lessons do provide a quick study with the family, I would have liked to see more. Maybe it is because we are use to studies where we study a few chapters a day, that this just didn’t seem like enough.

Overall I think that it is a good study, and if AJ was younger or I had more kids it would have been a really good fit. Right now I feel AJ was too old for a lot of the activities and that she needed more from a Bible study. There are a few activities that help an older child did deeper into the study, but they just didn’t seem to fit with AJ’s hands on learning style.

I would recommend this study for those with younger kids who would like a variety of activities to pick from. If you are looking for a short to the point Bible study, this may be what you are looking for. I was one of many who reviewed products from Real Life Press, click the graphic below to read what others had to say!

Real Life Press Review