Monthly Archives: February 2009

TOS Crew: Further Up and Further In


When we heard we’d be getting products from Cadron Creek, I got excited. I bought the Prairie Primer (study based on the “Little House” books) years ago (the first edition!) and also bought the first edition of Where the Brook and River Meet (based on Anne of Green Gables) for eldest (and am looking towards buying the revised and much expanded version for middlest, when she reaches high school).

However, our dc have been going through a Narnia phase ever since they listened to Focus on the Family’s dramatized series. As a matter of fact, that series was a key to our youngest getting interested in books! She’d read the story along with listening to the dramatization on CD (very faithful to the original), which led to more and more reading and eventually branching out to read other chapter books as well.

So of course I was excited about the possibility of reviewing Further Up and Further In, a literature-based unit study which takes you through the whole Chronicles of Narnia in a year. Further Up and Further In was written by Diane Pendergraft and edited by Margie Gray, the author of the Prairie Primer and Where the Brook and River Meet.


Further Up and Further In is aimed at fourth through eighth grade, but can be adapted to younger and older students.

Subjects addressed in the study are:

– Literature (of course)
– History
– Mythology
– Geography
– Science
– Practical living
– Health and safety
– Cooking
– Art and music
– Bible

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? The study provides for two to three hours of work each day, four days a week, with a fifth day for finishing up projects or taking field trips. You’re working through the Narnia series at the rate of about four chapters a week. The author suggests that you only need to add math, grammar, and spelling to have a full academic program.

You can preview pages from Further Up and Further In, in PDF format, at the Cadron Creek website.

Mixed feelings

I have mixed feelings about this approach. On the one hand, using The Chronicles of Narnia as a spine, you’ll be exploring a lot of topics. On the other hand, it’s something of a scatter-shot approach. What I mean is, the organization is built upon the chapters of the books in the Narnia series, one after another, and everything else sort of follows along. Therefore, you’ll be darting here and there in your study of history and science (and everything else), rather than an orderly approach to these subjects. Since much of our study over the past few years has been history-driven, I find this rather unnerving.

I really hadn’t thought about it before trying Further Up and Further In! Using the Prairie Primer, we were firmly in the period of Western Expansion, and with Where the Brook and River Meet we were mostly concerned with the Victorian era, so both those studies fit well with our accustomed approach.

I’ve had to let go of chronological history and bear with skipping around all over the timeline. Science, too, is hodge-podge in this approach. You make a study of horses while reading The Horse and His Boy; you investigate the solar system during The Magician’s Nephew; you learn about the water cycle in Prince Caspian.

If this doesn’t bother you, you’ll find a lot to do and learn as you go through the Narnia series.


Further Up and Further In is divided into units, one unit per book. You’re urged to go through the books in order, as some units build on what goes before.

For every four chapters (a week’s work) there is a planning guide, a sort of overview that helps you to gather supplies for the upcoming week. A list of related topics that will come up during the week (from those other areas such as history, science, and geography) is presented to allow you to look for books, websites, and other resources for branching out in your studies. You’ll also find lists of suggested videos, field trips, and Bible memory verses, and a place for notes. Some of the planning guides are followed by worksheets that will be used during the week’s study.

You’ll cover about a chapter a day with the following format:

Study Vocabulary (look up words in the vocabulary list, write the words and their definitions in a vocabulary notebook, perhaps complete a vocabulary exercise). There are also crossword puzzles for each book.

Read the assigned chapter.

Work on assignments. If you have more than one student, you might have them work on different assignments and compare notes at the end of the week. Assignments cover a wide variety of activities: cooking; mapwork; reading literature outside The Chronicles of Narnia; researching a person, place, or event from history or a scientific topic; learning to play a recorder; drawing a picture; answering reading comprehension questions; and/or looking up Bible passages. Discussion prompts (“critical thinking”) are also sprinkled throughout.


Appendices included in the book provide a list of academic subjects covered, referenced by Narnia book and chapter(s); an activity appendix (recipes, crafts, games); recommended reading (excerpts from literature, poetry, a couple of non-fiction articles) ; a list of sources where you can buy related resources; and answer keys for worksheets, vocabulary exercises, crosswords, and critical thinking prompts.

Additional resources needed

From the Introduction: “Access to the Internet and/or a good set of encyclopedias, a dictionary, a Bible, a Bible concordance, and a thesaurus.” Many additional readings are included in an Appendix, but some you might have to find at the library, along with videos and audio materials.

Of course you don’t have to do every single activity to make this a full-time study. However, if you do plan to do the majority of activities, you’ll also need Dr. Ruth Beechick’s Genesis: Finding Our Roots, Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and Poems, and the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare.

Heart for the Lord

The author places a great deal of emphasis on Scripture and Bible topics, studying the Word of God and memorizing Scripture. Very fitting for the nature of this study!

A Last Word

Because this study is outside my comfort zone, I’ve laid Further Up and Further In aside for now, to return to our history-based study. However, my plan right now is to come back to this study as a sort of “summer school” — we tend to study year-round, with a modified summer schedule to allow lots of time for outdoor play, volunteer work, camping, swim lessons, that sort of thing. We might take two summers to get through, or maybe…

If we find ourselves cruising along at summer’s end, we’ll continue to the end and then go back to our history cycle. I think I can live with that. It’s just that with our history co-op in full swing, having begun last August and running through May, with a focus on Modernity, I’m finding it too difficult to manage both Modernity (for our middlest) and a separate study in Narnia (for our youngest) at the same time.

Since they both love the Narnia series, I think our summer studies are going to be fun as well as informative!

Further Up and Further In is available (click on the title for the order page) in paperback for $56 and with a spiral binding for $62. I love the spiral binding of the copy I have; it lies flat. Packages are also available, containing additional resources used in the study, at a discounted price.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Further Up and Further In, The Prairie Primer, and Where the Brook and River Meet, please click here.

TOS Crew: Heads Up! Reading Aids

TOS Crew

It’s always exciting to find something that fits our budget and our academic efforts, especially if it’s something that I’ve made myself, or planned to make myself, and then found it available for purchase, better-made and affordable.

Holey Cards were the first product I remember finding that fit this category; simple folding cardstock cards that drilled 100 math facts, one card each for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. (These are still available for less than $1 each! The shipping is more than the cost of the cards, so I’d suggest you get together with some friends and put in a group order if you’re interested.)

When I opened the envelope from Heads Up! I knew exactly what I had. You see, I’d manufactured a rough version of the reading aids they offer.


Our eldest is a struggling learner. It’s one of the reasons we began homeschooling in the first place, more than a dozen years ago. She needed individual attention, and the “regular” school approach didn’t work, leaving us both frustrated.

A friend with a struggling reader of her own told me about the difference special filters made. For her daughter, looking through a thin colored film made the words stand still long enough to be read. She told me how different colors work for different people.

I tried it with Eldest, jury-rigging a frame and taping colored cellophane in place. Blue seemed to work best for her.

Further experimentation showed that holding an index card under the line she was reading helped her to focus, to keep her eye from jumping off the line. When I cut a frame out of a large index card, wide enough to show a whole line, but with the opening only one line “tall”, things went even better. Eventually she didn’t even need the colored filter; the frame alone was enough to smooth her reading.

Heads Up! Reading Aids

…which brings me to the reading aids the TOS Crew received from Heads Up! Our packet contained a variety of frames and readers in a rainbow of color choices. It was wonderful to be able to try the different colors! All our girls, by the way, chose blue as the most comfortable color for them.

(I loaned the set to a friend, and her son found the blue distracting, but chose yellow for his reading comfort, just to give you an idea of how children differ.)

Eldest liked the Reader, which was similar to my early experiment. It’s a strip of colored film between two plain gray strips, allowing one line at a time to be viewed.

Middlest, a rapid reader, thought the blue was the prettiest color, but found she didn’t need any reading aids. Rather, they impeded her speed — her eyes move down the page rather than across.

Youngest thought she liked Top of the Line best (looks like the diagram but colored portion is only one line high), but then decided she really liked the Double Time better (pictured). It shows two lines at a time. Youngest has trouble, by the way, jumping down to the next line when reading. She’ll skip lines, or read the same line over again and not realize her mistake until she’s a word or two into the line. It disrupts her reading and affects comprehension. With the Double Time reading aid, she physically moves the frame down as she comes to the end of the line she’s reading, prompting her eye to jump to the right place to pick up the next line. It’s great!

Help for special needs

Heads Up! offers much more than reading aids. At their website you’ll find helpful articles on educating children with special needs, and a variety of helpful products. (Perusing their online catalog just now, I thought, “They have therapy balls! Hooray! Youngest has outgrown her bouncy ball from the toy store, and I’ve been wondering where to get something the right size and bounciness for her to sit on when she’s trying to concentrate!”)

The reading aids (Reader, Top of the Line, Double Time, and Frames) are a dollar each. You might want to try several colors to see if your child has a preference. Find these and other products at Heads Up! — the reading aids are found in the Reading/Visual category, and here’s a direct link for your convenience.

To read more reviews from the TOS Crew, click here.

TOS Crew: Math Tutor DVDs

TOS Crew

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started watching the Math Tutor DVDs. I opened the package and found The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor (yes!) and Algebra 2 Tutor (My first response: Huh? We’re just getting started with Algebra, so how in the world can I review something with “Algebra 2” in the title?).

I’d heard a few grumbles from someone that the lectures were boring, and so when I put the first DVD in I was prepared to zone out–meaning I’d have to keep poking my students to keep them involved in watching, when it came time for them to watch.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

The two DVD courses we received were straightforward lectures, yes, but lectures that were aimed at teaching concepts by presenting example after example, solved before your eyes, step by step, with a running commentary.

(Scratching my head here. Boring? Well, perhaps, if one was expecting clowns and bright colors. But the tone of these Math Tutor DVDs was exactly what my distractable children need: matter-of-fact, not droning but conversational in tone.)

As it turned out, the videos were exactly right for where our family is in math study.

The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor

The case is sort of generic-looking, matching the no-nonsense presentation found inside. The DVD consists of a series of lessons presented by a man in front of a white board.

He’s sympathetic to those of us who are just learning. He prefaces the problems in a section with a brief introduction where he empathizes with our confusion. (We wouldn’t be watching the video if we understood these math concepts completely, now would we?)

He reads the first problem, which also appears in printed form in a box on the screen. Now it’s time to get to work.

Talking and drawing pictures, he explains what the numbers in the problems mean. He points out key words in the word problems, clues to whether you’re going to add, subtract, multiply or divide. He often uses concrete examples to illustrate concepts (e.g. adding fractions: pieces of pie). He solves the problems, and in the solving you’re getting basic instruction, not just in reading and understanding word problems, but in manipulating numbers.

Topics covered in this two-DVD set (15 lessons, 8 hours in all): word problems having to do with adding/subtracting/multiplication/division of whole numbers, decimals, and fractions; percents, ratio and proportion.

The Algebra 2 Tutor

I was worried, as I said, at having to review an “Algebra 2” tutor. I am just being re-immersed in Algebra, as a matter of fact, as my students are being introduced to the subject.

What a relief, to watch the first section on “Graphing Equations” and find problems similar to those our middle school daughter is learning how to work!

Again, the lectures are similar to what you might see in a classroom; an instructor drawing on a white board. You don’t get the interruptions of students asking questions, but the instructor does his best to anticipate questions that might be asked.

Topics covered in this six-hour DVD set:

Disk 1
Section 1: Graphing Equations
Section 2: The Slope Of A Line
Section 3: Writing Equations Of Lines
Section 4: Graphing Inequalities
Section 5: Solving Systems Of Equations By Graphing
Section 6: Solving Systems Of Equations By Substitution
Section 7: Solving Systems Of Equations By Addition

Disk 2
Section 8: Solving Systems Of Equations In Three Variables
Section 9: Simplifying Radical Expressions.
Section 10: Add/Subtract Radical Expressions.
Section 11: Multiply/Divide Radical Expressions.
Section 12: Solving Equations With Radicals.
Section 13: Fractional Exponents.
Section 14: Solving Polynomial Equations.
Section 15: The Quadratic Formula.

The Format

Both the DVD sets we received contained 15 sections or lessons. Each section has a brief introduction, followed by lots and lots of examples. The examples start simple and grow more complex as you go. At the end of the lecture, he recaps what was covered in the lecture.

For each DVD set that we received, a CD is also available with companion worksheets (more than 320 pages of problems and solutions) to complement the problems worked on the DVDs. We did not receive either CD for review, but they are strongly recommended by the author for use with the DVD sets.

The Teacher

Who is that man in front of the white board? His name is Jason Gibson, and he has advanced degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics. He has the credentials that say he knows what he’s talking about. Refreshingly, however, not only does he understand the math he’s teaching, but he also has the skill to explain them clearly. He is an engineer who can communicate in plain English without talking down to his audience. Read his bio for more information.

More math help available

Both these DVD sets and a lot more math courses are available at the Math Tutor DVD website. Both Basic Math Word Problem Tutor and Algebra 2 Tutor are listed at $34.99 but are available at the publisher’s website for $26.99. You can see a full list of courses and topics, along with screen shots, at the Math Tutor website.

To read more opinions from TOS crew members, click here.


We used Math-U-See for a number of years, and found it an excellent program. Two of our girls sort of “hit the wall” in that program, getting frustrated because of their learning differences, and so we had to find a different approach for them.

The thing I really regretted leaving behind in Math-U-See was the set of teaching videos that came with each level. I learned so much, watching them!

The Math Tutor DVDs can be used with any math program, and give you that same sort of patient leading through math concepts, a kind of hand-holding that is both reassuring and helpful.

TOS Crew: Bible Story Songs

TOS Crew

The TOS Crew received a scattering of CDs from the Bible StorySong company, with different CDs going to different families. CDs included Moses (two different CDs), Matthew (again, two parts), David, and The Bible.

You can read Crew members’ reviews of various products here.

For our part, we received Matthew, Volume 2.

You can listen to song samples on the website, but let me give you our impressions, too.

The songs are briefly introduced and then sung by charming children’s voices, singable songs with simple accompaniment. The songs tell Bible stories or repeat Bible verses for memorization. The Bible passages are versified (that is, the words are changed around to give them a singable rhythm and rhyme)

Many of the tunes are taken from familiar songs: Go Tell It on the Mountain, There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Over There, and more.

Lyrics are included with the CD, and additional material available at the website includes sheet music (simple melody lines and guitar chords), lyric sheets (lyrics, guitar chords) and puzzle books (memory verses and puzzles to go with the songs on the CDs).

This is good listening when you are doing chores! We found it did not make good background music when we were doing things requiring concentration, such as math or balancing the checkbook. The songs are upbeat and tuneful.

One more note: The rhythms are straightforward, the kind you’ll find in traditional children’s tunes and folk music. No rock beat or rap rhythm here, which was great news for our family. We’ve been raising our children without rock ‘n’ roll, and as a result they find a rock beat/rap rhythm rather painful listening. I was so glad to find Matthew, Volume 2 fit our preferences!

Matthew, Volume 2 is 61 minutes long, and is available for $9.99 at the Bible StorySongs website, along with the other volumes in the series.

TOS Crew: Latin Road to English Grammar

TOS Crew

I was a little overwhelmed when I first opened the package from Schola Publications. On the one hand, it seemed to have everything I needed to get started with the course, right down to the colored pens and color-coded blank forms waiting for vocabulary words.

What we had received was, in fact, the Big Fat Latin Special ($249) which includes all the teacher materials and student package. Volume 1 covers a year of Latin instruction (part of a three-year course) for students from fifth grade on up.

You can buy the curriculum set for the teacher separately and possibly use it to put together your Latin course, but I felt very blessed to have the whole thing, including the teacher training DVDs. All the work–including lesson planning–was done for me!

I could have put the course together with just the Curriculum Set, but, as I said, I was a little overwhelmed at first when I looked through the material. Lesson planning is not my forte, and while the lessons are beautifully laid out, I was intimidated at the thought of teaching Latin with this more formal approach than we’d used before. Watching the teacher training DVD for Chapter 1 was inspiring–it showed me how easy it was to follow the lesson plans in the Teacher’s Guide, coordinating with the textbook.

DVDs: Teacher prep already done

The DVDs showed me how to break up the lessons in the textbook into day-sized chunks. The Teacher Training DVD and the already-prepared student notebook gave me the jump-start I needed to launch into the program with a minimum of teacher preparation.

I’m going to use “you” a lot in the following review, meaning the parent/teacher and/or the student using the course.

Organization for success

There’s a lot of information here! Organization is a key to success with this program, and the author begins with details for setting up a student notebook so that the student can easily keep papers straight as you go through the course.

The lessons all follow the same general format, making for smooth, short lessons. Consistency and repetition are the keys!

Pronunciation help: audio CDs

Don’t know Latin yourself? You can still teach it, learning right along with your student. Audio CDs provide a pronunciation guide for all the vocabulary in the program, including endings, exercises, and readings, examples of declining and conjugating to aid you in completing the oral drills. (I got that description right off the introduction on the first CD.) The audio material is provided chapter by chapter, from the pronunciation of the consonants onward. I had an eye-opener when I put the CDs in the computer instead of in a CD player. Instead of track numbers (all my CD player shows me), I could see that each track was labeled! (Bear with me. Sometimes I amaze even myself, to quote a long-ago Star Wars character.) That meant that we could go right to the track we wanted.

Reading practice leads you phrase-by-phrase, with pauses for you to repeat what you hear.

Church Latin Pronunciation is used throughout the course.

Instruction is methodical and thorough. You’re not just reading, memorizing, and filling in blanks; you read, write, hear, and speak Latin. As you analyze the structure of the Latin language, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of English as well (hence the name of the course).

Written and oral work

There is a lot of writing in the course, along with the oral work. Declining sixteen nouns, for example, (eight a day for two days in a row) will certainly establish the endings for first declension nouns in the memory!

Conversational tone

Expectations are clearly stated, as are directions that guide the student to interact with the material in the textbook. The textbook, as a matter of fact, is written directly to the student. (“In your notebook…” followed by what the student should title a page or write on a page; “You have seen…” “You have learned…” “Now you are going to…” “Let’s review…”) The tone is conversational, yet serious, as in, “We’re in this together, but it’s serious business. Let’s buckle down and apply ourselves and see how far we can go!”

Lesson content and variety

Each lessson introduces a part of speech, vocabulary, Latin syntax, word study (we found this part of the lesson especially fascinating), and exercises where you apply information learned. Each lesson introduces new material and builds on what came before. Familiar readings are presented in every lesson, and we found this very interesting as well, trying to puzzle out the meaning in the Latin translations of such things as the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic songs, and well-known Bible passages.

Other helps

A Comprehensive Guide to The Latin Road to English Grammar is a two-sided, laminated sheet that covers the material presented in all three levels of the program. Color coding helps you to note what information belongs to which volume. It works as a kind of quick-reference.

Vocabulary Cards are color-coded, printed in a large font for easy reading and group teaching (three’s a “group” at our house) and keyed to the textbook.

Worksheets and Tests. Because your student is creating a Latin notebook, writing pages and lists of words and rules while working through the lessons, the worksheets can be used as quizzes after finishing lessons. Tests are cumulative and cover two chapters each.

Teacher Training DVDs. As I mentioned above, these made it a breeze to jump in and start teaching Latin.

Pronunciation CDs. A pleasant feminine voice pronounces vocabulary, goes through reading selections phrase by phrase, and gives examples of declensions and conjugations.

Final thoughts

I am so grateful to be a member of the TOS Crew. Making a decision based on  reading reviews or a blurb in a curriculum catalog, or just paging through the curriculum at a curriculum fair, I probably would not have bought the Latin Road to English Grammar, and I would have been missing out on an incredible resource.

I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the generous free sample available at the Schola Publications website. The first two lessons, nearly a full month of instruction (if you do Latin five days a week; longer, of course, if you work on Latin only three or four days of the week), are available to give you a good idea of how the curriculum works. In this download you’ll receive the teacher lesson plans, textbook pages, worksheets and review test for Chapters 1 and 2.

Read more opinions of Latin Road to English Grammar and other curricula from Schola Publications at the TOS Crew blog.

TOS Crew: Noah’s Ark (one2believe)

TOS Crew

You may recall that last fall the TOS Crew members received a Tales of Glory Nativity play set from one2believe. (Click on the link to read my review.)

That play set got a lukewarm reception from our girls. They had a lot of complaints, and yet they played with the set a lot! I think part of the problem was that they were comparing the play set, designed to appeal to small children, with the more realistic — and breakable — Nativity sets we already owned. Still, the Nativity play set got a lot of time and attention, a lot of creative play.

Recently we received another product from the same company, the Tales of Glory Noah’s Ark play set.

This set was a resounding success! Made of sturdy plastic, the Ark and its occupants received an immediate bathtub test. It floats!

The top deck comes off, which gives you a generous storage space to keep the pieces. We had a little trouble figuring out how to open it, and I was afraid I’d break it, but it’s sturdy stuff. There’s a ramp to allow the seven pairs of included animals to walk up into the Ark, along with Noah.

It wasn’t long before the girls dug out the Nativity set and added those animals and people. After all, Noah had a wife and sons and their wives!

Since then, Noah’s ark has had the bottom filled with dried corn (provision for the animals and people) and has sailed the bathtub and the blue rug and landed many times. The animals come into play at other times, too, not just playing out a part of the Genesis account. Plans are in the works to buy more animal figures and add to the set.

I like that the Ark is self-storing, making for easy cleanup. The animals are somewhat cartoonish (the donkey’s wide eyes make him look terrified!) but very sturdy — our rough-and-ready players haven’t managed to break any of them, yet, even though they’ve been dropped and stepped on by unwary adults.

The Tales of Glory Noah’s Ark play set is designed for ages 3 and up and is available for $29.99 at the online store.

Read more opinions of the Noah’s Ark play set at the TOS Crew blog.

TOS Crew: WriteShop StoryBuilders

TOS Crew

Here’s a cute idea to spur the creative writing juices!

The authors of WriteShop have come out with StoryBuilders, cards which you use as story-starters. Each deck of cards contains cards with four elements:  a character, a character trait (think adjective), a setting, and a plot point. The cards are color-coded for ease of use. You can either print on colored paper or cardstock with black print, or you can print on white paper with colored ink.

A practical note

Just to let you know, we found printing on colored cardstock the best option for us. The colored cards are easier to sort than having to look at the print color on all-white cards – I suppose you could draw colored borders around the cards to make sorting easier, but who has time?

Playful approach

The best way to learn to write is… to write! Experience and anecdotal evidence from other homeschoolers shows that daily writing is the best road to being able to write. The only problem with daily writing is the dailiness of it all!

Have you ever noticed that a little random silliness can spice up a routine? (Mad-Libs is an example of this. Somehow adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs take on a whole new life with this approach.)

StoryBuilders works because of its novelty and the fact that it employs random chance to generate surprise, followed by creativity. It’s designed to jar you and your students out of the rut of dailiness. The instructions for using StoryBuilders include several methods of using the cards, from straightforward selection to rolling dice, as well as ways to use the cards with groups as well as individuals.

I just drew four cards at random from the World of People StoryBuilders set, one from each category (character, trait, setting, plot), and here’s what I came up with:

Clumsy detective meets a Biblical character in ancient Egypt.

I think I can do something with this. Perhaps Pharaoh has set this private eye to spy on the Israelites, to find out what their secret is…

Each member of the TOS Crew received two StoryBuilder sets to play with. We received World of People and World of Sports.

A pleasant surprise

World of People has a broad scope of characters, settings, and plots, as I expected; but World of Sports surprised me. I was expecting a limited scope, with just sports-related topics, and I sort of expected the set to appeal more to boys. (Call me old-fashioned. It’s silly, too, because our girls love sports!) However, the set isn’t just for football, basketball, and soccer players, but rock climber, bicyclist, and dancer (among many more!). With 192 cards in the deck, there’s a lot to choose from!

Blank cards are included so that you can add in your own ideas. If you print out the whole set, you’ll have 48 blank cards, but of course this is an e-book, organized so that the blank cards are together on one page. This means you can add to your set by printing out as many blank cards as you want, without wasting ink! (I love products that are put together with obvious forethought.)

Versatile, suited to all ages

One of the beauties of StoryBuilders is that you can use it with any age, or a mix of ages. With a younger child, you might work together, brainstorming ideas, and let the child dictate the story to you while you write it down.

One child might write a paragraph, while another goes on for pages. Your student might draw additional prompts to add twists to an ongoing story. Students can trade stories and add on! There are lost of ways to use StoryBuilders to spark creative writing.

There are currently four sets available. Prices reflect current discounted pricing at the WriteShop website. Click on the title links below to go right to the order page for each e-book title.

World of Animals – $7.95
World of People – $7.95
World of Sports – $7.95
Christmas Mini-Builder – $3.95

Read more about StoryBuilders at the TOS Crew Blog.

TOS Crew: Homeschooling ABCs from Knowledge Quest

TOS Crew

It has been a pleasure, as a member of the TOS Crew, to review new homeschool products, hot off the presses. One of the best has been Knowledge Quest’s Homeschooling ABCs, a subscription-based course that gives new homeschoolers an introduction to homeschooling, a sort of mentoring by mail (or e-mail, as it were).

Every week for 26 weeks, you’ll receive an e-mail lesson with helpful material related to homeschooling, in every category you might have a question about (and some you don’t even know to ask about, but need to know!). What about socialization? How do I get organized? How do I choose curriculum? What do I need to know to get started (and keep going)?

Imagine being able to chat over the back fence with an experienced homeschooler. Or maybe sit at the kitchen table over coffee, or on a picnic blanket at the park while the children are playing. She has so many good ideas to offer, “been there done that” moments, suggestions, food for thought, encouragement!

In the Homeschooling ABCs, Terri Knowles of Knowledge Quest does just that: She meets with you weekly to talk about homeschooling, share what she’s learned along the way, even invites a few guest speakers to pop in on occasion. It’s sort of a class/support group meeting/series of homeschool workshops all rolled into one.

Each e-mail contains the link to a webpage with a downloadable PDF file (the lesson for the week). Within the PDF file is encouragement, instruction, and lots of links to online resources! Read through the lesson, explore the links, and do your homework (as assigned at the end of the lesson). This is “how to homeschool” in easy, bite-sized chunks!

At the download page for some lessons you’ll also find related resources for download, such as e-books or curriculum samples.

To give you an idea of a lesson, Lesson O is “Out the Door” or a lesson on making the most of field trips. The eleven-page lesson offers oodles of suggestions for getting out of the house on educational expeditions that’ll ignite your learning. After all, education isn’t just books; it’s life, and the world all around us! The homework includes taking a field trip, using the field trip planning sheet provided in Teaching Science and Having Fun, the e-book resource provided along with Week O’s lesson. (Teaching Science is a great resource in itself, by the way!)

You’ll want to save lessons to your hard drive or a CD for future reference. However, if you happen to lose an e-mail, links to previous lesson are provided at the bottom of the current lesson.

Subscriptions are $10 a month and include, in addition to the weekly e-mail lesson, ten bonus gifts and curriculum samples to get you started exploring the possibilities. Over the course of the six-month subscription you’ll receive an entire course in homeschooling plus over $250 in curriculum.

And if you miss a lesson because you were sick? Don’t worry, it’ll be waiting there in your e-mail box for you when you’re feeling better!

I can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with the quality of the lessons. There’s so much here, not to overwhelm you but to encourage you! You’ll find good, helpful information that you can put to use right away. The Homeschooling ABCs is one of the best “how to homeschool” resources I’ve seen. (And believe me, I’ve seen a lot!)

Please note that the material in the lessons is for your personal use only, not to copy, share, or give away.

Only 1000 spaces are available for the class, and they’re going quickly, from what I hear. Go to this link to read more about this class, and to order.

TOS Crew: All About Homophones

TOS Crew

Here’s another fun resource for exploring the ins and outs of the English language, from the people who brought you All About Spelling. (Click on the link to see my review.)

homophonesAll About Homophones is a 240-page book dedicated to the study of words that are spelled differently, but sound alike.

Even our reluctant reader is fascinated by the concept. (Frustrated, sometimes, because they confound her when it comes to spelling, but fascinated, too.)

At the moment, since I brought up the topic, two of our girls are spinning out words almost faster than they can talk. “Red, redd, and read!” “Read and reed!” “Cole and coal!” “How about bole and bowl?” “What’s a bole?”

In this book you’ll find both teaching tools and games.

– Graphic organizers: Forms you can use in building a language notebook

– Worksheets: Practice using the right word, along with other activities. Teaching suggestions and ideas for using homophones across the curriculum and in real life are included.

– Crossword puzzles

– Card games: Print out the cards included in All About Homophones or make your own; choose from six games to play, or play them all! (I found the games instructive for other reasons–great for practicing with homemade flashcards in any subject area where you’re learning new words and definitions.)

– Additional teaching tools: Learning about homophones using books (a bibliography), forms to keep track of words learned, a long list of tongue twisters divided by level of difficulty, and a page of puns (what else? It’s what homophones are best at!).

– Appendices: Answer keys, an index of homophones and the exercises where they appear, followed by a “Mega-List” of all the homophones you might be able to think of, and then some.

This playful approach is a fun way for your family to explore and delight in using language, and lends itself to creative expression.

Also available on the All About Homophones website: Sign up for a free report, “Five Secrets for Teaching Homophones” or check out the helpful articles on teaching homophones, instructions for games, and a fun Homophone Machine — you put in a word, phrase, or sentence, and see what the machine spits out.

For example, asking Middlest just now:

Did you finish your math test? (Did ewe Finnish you’re math test?)

Her answer? No. (know)

All About Homophones is available as an e-book for $27.95 or printed for $29.95 plus shipping. Click here for an order form.

To read more TOS Crew opinions of All About Homophones, click here.


Well, I was going to write a new post this morning, but it’s snowing outside, large, lacy flakes, so I’m going to just stare out the window while I drink my morning cup of tea.

See you later!