Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Memoria Press Review

Are you a classical educator? Then you have probably heard of Memoria Press and their products. If you are not a classical educator, the thought of teaching your child Latin is probably very foreign to you and is not something you would even consider. I was the latter. We are not classical educators here and Latin is the last thing I thought my son would want to do or even enjoy. I was wrong! When I gave him the choice of products to review, he begged me to pick the Latin. He has really enjoyed it.

I chose Prima Latina to review because it is geared towards K-3 grades and is for students and parents with no experience in Latin. Throughout the course, you child will learn:
  • 7 parts of speech
  • 125 Latin vocabulary words
  • Numbers 1-10
  • Basic constellations
  • Simple introductions to tenses, derivatives, conjugations, and declensions
There are 25 lessons in the course. In each lesson, your child will learn:
  • a new grammar rule
  • 5 vocabulary words
  • a practical Latin phrase
  • one line of a prayer (the entire prayer is learned by the end of the course)
Throughout the course, there are 5 review lessons and 5 tests to check what your child has retained. There is also an appendix which contains a full vocabulary list with their meanings and parts of speech and a list of the practical Latin sayings as well.

This program is laid out very well. When you open up either the Teacher Manual or Student Guide, it is very easy to follow. The spacing on the pages was one thing that was pleasing to me. So often workbooks are very overwhelming to look at and students who have trouble focusing can get lost before they even begin. These books are not like that at all. In addition, there truly is not a lot of preparation to teach it. You could pull this out of the box and be learning Latin within a few minutes.

A CD comes with the program for the student to listen to for pronunciation. It includes:
  • The Introduction
  • Pronunciation Guide
  • Prayer Instructions
  • The Prayers
  • Lessons 1-25
  • Songs from Lingua Angelica
This is a great way to reinforce what has been learned in the lesson. It is also something the student can do independently. This helped with correct pronunciation. There is also a reproducible worksheet that can be used after listening to the CD. The student can list the vocabulary and Latin Sayings learned during the lesson.

A Grammar Form is also included in the book to reinforce grammar introduced throughout the course.

The Student Book has exercises which were developed to reinforce what has been learned in the lesson. Each lesson includes:
  • Review Questions- reviews information from previous lessons
  • Lesson Questions- these questions pertain to the information learned in that specific lesson
  • Translations- the child writes the definitions of the Latin words
  • Speaking Latin- there are suggestions for how to practice using the Latin words and phrases in every day situations
  • Write and Learn- the student writes what has been learned as reinforcement
  • Fun Practice- fun activities are suggested for practicing information learned in the lesson

This course is very well written. If you have any doubts about being able to teach Latin or if your children can learn it, you need to try this. My son has started to see Latin derivatives in English words. That is not something I thought I would ever see. We will be using this program again in the fall. It has definitely helped to reinforce grammar rules and increase vocabulary as well.

Prima Latina Text Set (including Teacher Manual, Student Book, and CD)- $32.95
Teacher Manual- $14.95
Student Book- $14.95
Pronunciation CD- $4.95

I believe you could do the Prima Latina course by itself and would be fine but I have to say that I highly recommend getting the Prima Latina Instructional DVD's that go along with it. They are awesome! With these videos, you truly can put them in and begin instantly. In fact that is what we did. My son was down with the flu the day they arrived and we snuggled up on the couch with the laptop in front of us and watched Lesson 1. Within 30 minutes he was saying his first Latin words. I think for children who need a multi sensory approach, these would be very beneficial. Leigh Lowe does a wonderful job of presenting this information for this age group. It's hard to believe Latin can be this simple, but it really is. If you wanted Leigh Lowe to teach this course instead, these videos are the answer. Then just follow up with the workbook pages. It is suggested that you teach the lesson yourself first and then follow up with the videos. I personally liked doing the videos first to make sure my pronunciation was right when going over the information later.

Prima Latina Instructional DVD's- $45.00

I also reviewed Famous Men of Rome. This is part of their Classical Studies line. There are three different books that can be used together. The first is a text book. It's a very nice fully illustrated book covering 30 different stories in Roman history from Romulus to the last emperor in the West. The stories are sure to catch your child's attention. Especially if you have a boy! These great stories have been simplified (but not turned into twaddle) and could easily be enjoyed by both your younger and older children at the same time. Also included in the book are maps of Rome, Italy, and the Roman Empire. A Glossary of People and Places has also been added. This is a really nice book. A great story book and resource book to keep.

If you just read the text book alone, your children would learn a lot from it. However, if you would like to turn this into a year-long course, there is a Teacher and Student Guide that can be purchased as well.

Each lesson includes:
  • Facts to Know- The important events are pulled out and used as a foundation for memory work.
  • Vocabulary- There is a lot of vocabulary in this book and many of them being advanced. What's interesting about how they are taught in the guide is the usage of context from the story rather than a dictionary definition. This makes it easier for the student to remember and understand. So often dictionary definitions are not the way the word was used in the story. It makes perfect sense to learn vocabulary words with this method. In the workbook, the student will actually be given a small part of a sentence, which includes the word, and then he will write the definition next to it.
  • Comprehension Questions- These questions will help the students to remember the most important information from the story.
  • Activities- These are a range of activities such as discussion questions, drawing, quote memorization aids, and more. Anything that is needed for these activities is provided in the Appendix, including answers to the discussion questions.
The Appendix contains maps, timelines, worksheets, a modern geography reference, pronunciation guide, and an article on the relation between ancient Rome and America.

This is a neat series and definitely a classical approach. The maps were very nice. There is a lot of geography to be learned in this course. The textbook is something that we will definitely continue to use but the year-long course was not our cup of tea. If you want to increase your child's vocabulary or he likes to write out definitions and answer comprehension questions, this is for you.

There are three others in this series: Famous Men of Greece, Famous Men of the Middle Ages, and Famous Men of the Modern Times.

Each textbook is $16.95
Teacher Guide is $17.95
Student Guide is $17.95

To find out more about Memoria Press and the many other products they offer, please CLICK HERE.

Heidi Miller-Ford

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tapestry of Grace Review

Tapestry of Grace is a big name in the homeschool industry. I have passed their table many times at conventions and even stopped and taken some information. Their curriculum interested me and I was glad I had this opportunity to review one of their units in digital format. I reviewed Year 2, Unit 4: The Age of Revolutions, which begins during the turbulent Colonial times and ends with an in-depth study of the US Constitution.

Tapestry of Grace is a four year classics-based Christian curriculum that is meant to be rotated as many times as possible up through high school. It is for K-12 grade which are split into four learning levels. Grammar is for K-3 and non-fluent readers who will learn basic facts. Upper is for independent readers in 3-6 grade who enjoy memorizing information. Dialectic is for children reading to learn in grades 6-9 and they will also learn to debate. Rhetoric students in grades 9-12 will be reading the great classics and analyzing and synthesizing ideas and arguments.

Each of the years cover a different time period. The years are divided into four units which include history, church history, literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy, and writing and composition. Logic, spelling, and grammar curriculum are also available through Lampstand Press. Each of the units are divided into weeks with lesson plans for each week. There is extensive background information included for the parent to read and know what the child will be learning about. I found the lesson plans to lack detail and would have liked a little bit more specific instruction. I like more structure in my teacher's guide and this one left you more on your own. For some parents, this may really appeal to them.

This program revolves around literature books. Very complete reading lists are included for each week. The are no books included with this program, although they can be purchased separately in their store. These lists can be a little overwhelming and have you coming out of the library with a huge stack of books, only to realize there is no way you are going to get through all of those books in one week. The list is meant for you to pick and choose and you really have to do that. There are a lot of good books included but you have to be realistic and know your child's level and how much time you have in a day. I found that this program can easily take up a large chunk of your day if you want it to. You are covering several subjects at once and that may make a difference for some families. This was tricky for us. Because my son is dyslexic, I had to do a lot of oral reading in order to keep him on grade level with the literature books. I also have other subjects that take up a lot of time so I had to work at keeping everything balanced. The nice thing about this curriculum though is you can pick and choose and make it work for your family. It is very flexible.

Here are the prices for these products:
Units can be purchased individually for $45 (digital) or $60 (printed)
1 Full Year Plan is $170 (digital) $225 (printed)

Here is a list of Pros and Cons:

  • flexible, you can pick and choose books, activities, and subjects
  • quality literature to read
  • Digital version is more affordable and you can just print what you need
  • there is a forum you can join to learn and discuss topics with other parents using TOG
  • schedules in a specific reading time with your child
  • can move your child up or down in the different levels (I moved my son down for some independent reading and up for read-alouds)
  • the supplemental materials you can purchase are very helpful
  • reading lists are thorough and give you lots of choices in case your library is limited
  • covering more than one subject at a time
  • can be used with multiple children
  • background information is provided for the parent to stay one step ahead
  • there are scheduling tools provided to help your child take control of his learning and become more independent
  • online help at The Loom, which includes general resources, project helps, booklists, literature helps, and writing helps
  • this program is very overwhelming at first and it will take a parent quite a bit of time to go through all the information and figure out how it works
  • I had to go to several different places to read all the materials needed to understand the curriculum
  • digital version is not as easy to navigate as having a hard copy in front of you
  • the program is costly, although a little more affordable in digital, but for those with a large family, it would be beneficial in the long run
  • it can take up a large chunk of time in your day if you try to do too much
  • there is not a lot of guidance, which some may prefer but I did not
  • there is a lot of teacher preparation involved each week
I was also able to review their Map Aids, which is a supplement that goes along with the curriculum. These are blank outline maps custom designed by Terri Johnson of KnowledgeQuest. They are wonderful and made a great addition to the geography aspect of each unit. The teacher keys are included also. My son really enjoyed these. The CD was nicely organized and easy to find the exact map needed for a specific learning level. These are priced at $24.95 and are available for Years 1 and 2 and in production for Year 3.

Overall I found there were things we liked about this curriculum and things we didn't. We did learn that we like the more relaxed style of learning history by snuggling up on the couch and reading together. My son has also become a little bit more independent because of the scheduling skills he developed. I did not like the amount of time it took me to prepare for each week. Because I do not have a large family, I'm not sure this is something I would have bought because it would not have been economical for us. I do see how it would be for large families though and being able to teach several different grade levels at one time would be very helpful to many parents.

There are sample lessons available online for you to try. To find out more about this company and all they have to offer, CLICK HERE.

Heidi Miller-Ford

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Barchowsky's Fluent Handwriting

Barchowsky’s Fluent Handwriting was developed by Nan Jay Barchowsky and is an italic handwriting meant to produce legible handwriting at age-appropriate speed. Developing good rhythm is crucial to this, therefore practice exercises are used to help make the movements more automatic. The lower case letters look very similar to regular post-script handwriting but are taught with small exit strokes to make joining letters easier when it is time. A concept that is a little different than most writing programs is that a child should never write more than four or five letters without stopping and starting. Writing too many letters in a row can cause writing problems such as size and shape of letters and words.

There were three different products I reviewed from this company. The first was the BFH Fluent Handwriting Manual. This is very well written and a great reference tool. However, there is a lot of material covered in it and you will need to take a little time to read it over to understand the differences between this program and others. Once you have read it, it will become a wonderful tool to refer back to again and again as you teach your child. I really liked all the different examples included, as well as how the patterns are listed and which letters of the alphabet correspond to each of them. There is also a very useful section on the different writing problems that may occur and why they are happening.

There is a CD (for Mac and Windows) which comes with the manual that contains lots of instructional materials and worksheets to be used along with the program. There are topics you can click on that quickly take you where you need to go. The topics include:

1. Getting Started:
  • Finding Your Way
  • In the Beginning
  • For Older Students
  • Glossary
  • Teaching Tips
2. Index: Begin through Level 4

3. Concept:
  • Rhythm
  • Posture
  • Direction
  • Lowercase
  • Capitals
  • Numerals
  • On Your Own
4. My Pages: You can save any worksheet into this section and it will be there when you need it. I really liked this feature. It saved me a lot of time from searching when I needed to quickly print out a worksheet. As I looked through them when working on my lesson plans, I would quickly add them to My Pages and then when it was time to get all of my materials for school ready, all I had to do was print.

There is a wealth of information on this CD. The worksheets alone would be a great bonus, but there are also videos and gross motor activities for developing writing readiness. The pattern worksheets were designed in several different ways such as the shape of an animal or reptile to be more appealing to children. All of the worksheets for both younger and older students are kept short. This program is not meant to take more that 10-15 minutes a day. It is not necessary, nor recommended, that a child work longer than that. He will get results from a small amount of practice each day. That is one of the reasons this program will probably appeal to your child. He is not going to be sitting at a desk or table for an hour each day writing until his hand hurts.

The second product I reviewed was the Beginner’s Handwriting. There are 28 practice charts which can be used when introducing handwriting to your child. They are big (11 x 17) and meant to develop gross motor skills. They include warm up exercises, letters, and joined letters. I would highly recommend them for new writers. They can be used with a dry erase marker and easily wiped off to use over and over again. Your child will enjoy practicing the different patterns because they are more fun to do than just sitting and writing on regular paper. I wouldn’t say these are strictly for beginning writers. I actually used them with my son, who is eight, because he struggles with handwriting and I felt this would be a better way for him to practice the movements that needed to become automatic.

The third product I reviewed was the FIX IT WRITE manual. This came 3-hole punched and is meant to be put into a 3-ring binder. Older children who are struggling with writing, have some writing issues that need corrected, or need to be able to write faster will benefit from this. There are two parts:

Part 1: Things that may need fixing- This shows and discusses all the different problems with writing. It also covers posture and recommended writing surfaces to improve handwriting.

Part 2:
  • Section 1: Print Script to Cursive with Italic Features- This is the groundwork for Fixing It Write and addresses how to fix the problems and includes 18 daily lesson plans.
  • Sections 2: Conventional Cursive- If your child prefers the look of conventional cursive, this section gives instruction on how to improve writing in this style with 16 daily lesson plans.
This manual includes writing exercises within the pages themselves. They can be written on or taken out and duplicated so they can be used over and over for extra practice.

The Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting program is very flexible. What I liked most about it is that all lower case letters, with the exception of a few, are joined exactly like they are printed. For many children, the transition of print to cursive is an absolute nightmare because for several years they have been writing letters one way and now they are expected to write them a completely different way AND join them together. That is not the case with this program at all. What you print is what you will join. The capital letters are the same way. One alphabet is all your child will ever need to learn! Of course as they get older they can develop their own style and get a little more creative if they want to, but it is such a simple style to use and it is very attractive to look at.

There is also a font which can be purchased separately to use to create copywork or making up your own exemplars. This is a great way to create writing material that is of interest to your child.

I would highly recommend this program. I have used others and my son usually ended up in tears. He really enjoyed this and we will continue to use it. I myself have been trying to correct my own chicken scratch with it and hope to have more legible handwriting when I am done. I wish I would have known about this program when I was first introducing handwriting to my son. I will be using it with my daughter when she is ready.

The prices for the products I reviewed are as follows:

BFH Fluent Handwriting Manual: $65.95
Beginner’s Handwriting: $29.95
FIX IT WRITE: $17.95
Fonts: $25.00

To learn more about these and other products this company has to offer, please CLICK HERE.

Heidi Miller-Ford

Monday, April 13, 2009

WriteShop Primary Review

If you have read my previous reviews, you know that I reviewed WriteShop's Story Builder cards. This time, I was given the opportunity to review their Primary Book A writing program. This is geared towards K-2 graders and is designed for parents to work along with their children. Students can work at their own level.

There are several schedules at the beginning of the book to help you with planning. One is a yearly schedule according to the grade your child is in. It will let you know how long it will take your child to complete the entire series (Books A, B, and C). The second is a weekly plan, which includes a one, two, or three week option. The third schedule explains how to teach children at different levels.

It is suggested to create a writing center or special place in your home where the child can go to write. This may be as small as a space at your kitchen table or as big as a separate area in your home. Then all you need to do is add the items from the material list (several of these items are things you probably already have) and it is ready to go. There are several suggestions made as to how to do this. I especially liked the portable word banks!

Each lesson focuses on a new skill and is taught around a specific theme. There is a list of themes for your child to pick from. This list has some great suggestions on it. There is sure to be something your child will be interested in. There is also a list of objectives to aim towards, materials needed, and any advanced preparation involved.

Activity Sets are a consistent part of each lesson, which will have Guided Writing Practice and one or more other exercises (except Lesson 1).
Here is the focus of each Activity Set:
Set 1: Guided Writing Practice-This gently encourages your child to expand his responses into complete thoughts.
Set 2: Pre-Writing Activities
Set 3: Brainstorming
Set 4: The Writing Project
Set 5: Editing and Revising
Set 6: Activity Set Worksheets- This worksheet set must be purchased separately and will be needed throughout the book.
Set 7: Publishing the Project- This is where your child's work will be turned into a book or other art form. There are wonderful hands-on activities, which is a great way to make this more multi-sensory for tactile learners.
Set 8: Evaluating Your Child's Work- Great way for you to see progress throughout the program and if you child is meeting the objectives,

Here is a list of what your child will learn in each lesson:
Lesson 1: Welcome to WriteShop Primary
Lesson 2: All About Me
Lesson 3: Choosing a Topic
Lesson 4: The Main Idea
Lesson 5: Story Structure
Lesson 6: Punctuation
Lesson 7: Writing with Rhyme
Lesson 8: Organizing Ideas
Lesson 9: Writing from Personal Experience
Lesson 10: Sequence of Events

This is a nice gentle approach to helping your child develop good writing skills at an early age. This is something that will be very valuable as they get older. A solid foundation is started, which you can continue to build on in the rest of the series.

WriteShop offers programs all the way through high school.

Prices for WriteShop Primary Book A
$26.95- print
$24.95- eBook
Worksheet Set
$4.95- print
$4.50 eBook

CLICK HERE to find out more about this program and other products they offer.

Heidi Miller-Ford

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apologia's Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day Review

Apologia provides quality K-12 creation-based homeschool science curriculum. The book I reviewed was Exploring Creations with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. This book is for the elementary level and contains 14 lessons about birds, bats, pterosaurs, and insects. These lessons can be divided into two segments to complete the book in 32 weeks. Some might wonder whether it's good to spend an entire year on zoology but Apologia believes that the benefits of the immersion approach far out weigh the spiral approach used in the the public school system.

There is a comprehensive list of materials needed for all lessons at the beginning of the book. As a parent who likes to be able to quickly find information, I appreciated this. If you don't want to take the time collecting these materials for each lesson, there is a kit you can purchase separately with all of these materials.

There are two methods of record keeping and evaluation used in this curriculum, which are different from the typical worksheets other curriculums use. Narration and notebooking are used instead to make learning information more meaningful and memorable. We are not a notebooking family here but many families are and if your children enjoy this method of recording information, this is a great way to do it. My son does not like to write and I often have to come up with alternative ways to show he has learned information. The suggestions in this curriculum for notebooking are mainly writing down what the student remembers from what he has learned and then illustrate it. I wish there would have been more creative suggestions for different ways to record this information for children who don't like to write. The narration part became one of the more important ways for him to show what he had learned. In addition to these two methods, there is a Scientific Speculation Sheet included at the beginning of the book, which can be used to record results of experiments done throughout the course.

The text contains a lot of information. Some (like the classification of animals) may be above your child depending on his age. But I am a firm believer in throwing the information our there and letting them pick up what they can. The text itself is written to the child and is a very easy and enjoyable read. Upper elementary students could easily read this on their own; however you the parent will enjoy it too!

"What do you remember?" questions are included in each chapter. This gives a nice way to review without having to come up with the questions on your own. Answers to all narrative questions are provided in the back of the book.

The projects and experiments were great! Some required more than household items but with a little extra time and preparation, they were worth doing. We really enjoyed this part of the book and it brought everything together. My son especially liked the glider experiment where he made two gliders with the only difference being wing size. They were then flown exactly the same way to see how this affected the distance of flight. The instructions for building the gliders were very simple and easy to follow.

This is a great science curriculum! We have learned a lot and really enjoyed using it. You will find yourself observing birds everywhere or looking for insects in a new light. There is also a course website where you can log on and your child can dig deeper into areas of interest. There are also lapbooks available that go along with this course.

The cost of the book retails for $35. To find out more about this book and the many other books they offer, please CLICK HERE.
Phone: (765)608-3280
Fax: (765)608-3290

Heidi Miller-Ford

Thursday, April 2, 2009

TruthQuest History Review

TruthQuest History has thrown out the secular theory of teaching history. Even with reading good books the author says, "All that good reading will still be mere humanistic fluff unless your kids have first been 'primed' to look for the deep spiritual issues at work in the lives of all those people and events they're reading about." TruthQuest teaches history from a Biblical and spiritual point of view and shows why events happened in relation to God. This perspective is exactly what excited me about this review. I haven't used a history curriculum like it. This new point of view will definitely help your children see how history has been shaped from people who did and didn't make God an important part of their lives. It is extremely important for our children to learn that whoever is in charge of their lives (themselves or God) can influence their decisions in many different ways. Truths are discovered very slowly. By the end of the guide, it all comes together.

I reviewed American History for Young Students II (1800-1865). This is for grades 1-5. There is a wonderful introduction for the parent at the beginning of each new section. It gives a deeper explanation of what's being studied. However, it is written in such an easy to understand manner that upper elementary children could easily be assigned to read this independently. It could also be read aloud to younger children and they would understand it. Three ThinkWrite exercises are provided to help students think and internalize concepts. Answers are given in the back of the book, which can be used to lead discussions.

One of the things I think I loved most about this guide is its flexibility. You can choose to snuggle up on the couch with your children and read some good books or assign them to be read independently and discuss them later. There are some suggestions made for activities that can be done or you can choose to do none of them and simply read the literature. If you are someone who likes to have a lot of hands-on activities suggested, you may feel the need to supplement with a book specifically including activities. This guide would easily compliment other materials.

A list of books is given for each section. There are suggested grade levels provided for each book. I found this very helpful and am glad the author included them. If after looking through this extensive list of books, you still can't find an available one at your library, you can use any book you find on that particular subject. This curriculum is not dependent on a specific book. This is a huge plus if you have a library like mine that often doesn't carry books listed in guides. Many of the books on the list have a description given underneath to help you make an informed decision about which book may be right for your child. Some of the books included pertain to arts/crafts and or activities, which may provide some hands-on activities to use. There is a complete alphabetical listing of all the books included in an appendix in the back.

This guide is meant to be simply that- a guide. You can take it and make it fit your family. Whether you are teaching one child or several with a Charlotte Mason, classical, or eclectic approach, this will work for you. You can go as in depth as you want in a certain area and incorporate activities along the way, or simply enjoy some family time reading great literature. Either way, your children will be learning important truths along the way! This approach to history is exactly what I have been looking for. I wish I would have found it sooner!

Here is a list of the guides they sell:
Level 1 (best for grades 1-5) - American History
Vol. I ~ Exploration - 1800
Vol. II ~ 1800-1865
Vol. III ~ 1865-2000

Level 2 (designed for grades 5-12)
American Egypt/Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
Middle Ages
Renaissance Reformation Exploration
Age of Revolution I
Age of Revolution II
Age of Revolution III

To find out more about this company and these guides, please CLICK HERE.

The guide I reviewed sells for $24.95, with the rest of them ranging anywhere from $24.95- 34.95. How long each guide will take depends on how slowly or quickly you decide to go through it and the age of your children. (an online discussion group)

Heidi Miller-Ford