Monthly Archives: April 2009

TOS Crew: Friendly Chemistry


Here is a homeschool chemistry course that lives up to its name; it really is friendly.

In comparing Friendly Chemistry to other courses available to homeschoolers, we’ll be looking at the meat of the matter; in other words, the content, not the packaging.

Just a brief note on the packaging: The course materials are put together in a way that looks somewhat rough and homemade, with the purpose of keeping costs down for the publisher and buyer.

I don’t have a problem with that. Over the years I’ve used a number of “jewels in the rough” — after all, I’ve seen lots of glossy covers concealing poor content over the years, while at the same time using “rough draft” materials that did a brilliant job of helping me to teach our children (or helping them to teach themselves!).

Good Stuff

There’s good stuff in Friendly Chemistry. The authors’ background lends itself to an understanding of the subjects of chemistry, homeschooling, and teaching. From the Friendly Chemistry website:

Joey and Lisa are the homeschooling parents of 10 children, aged 1 year to 21 years.  Joey has a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine and a masters degree in secondary and higher education curriculum and instruction. Lisa has a bachelors degree in veterinary science, a masters degree in elementary curriculum and instruction and has completed coursework towards her doctorate in education. Joey has taught science courses at the middle school and high school levels for over 20 years, as well as at the local community college level.  Their children have been homeschooled since early childhood through high school.

The student text is written directly to the student, with a conversational tone. The teacher, doing lesson preparation, will also be reading the student material, which I’m told contains all the necessary information to learn the written material. The Teacher’s Edition offers notes on how to present concepts in class, building upon the reading material in the student text, as well as instructions for labs.

Innovative Games

Innovative games and group activities help students to grasp theoretical and abstract concepts in a concrete way. The format of this curriculum lends itself to co-op classes. As a matter of fact, it would be pretty hard to play the group-oriented games with just one or two students.


Included student materials are simple but effective (a “Doo Wop” board, flash cards, a bag of little clear plastic disks — I don’t know what they’re called, but they remind me of the game pieces in a Tiddly Wink set, and work well for Bingo counters, among other things). The “Doo Wop” board helps students to learn about the concept of electron orbitals, something I learned in college chemistry, and which is a foundational concept for later work with ions, formulas, and chemical reactions.

Lesson Map

The Teacher Guide gives a “game plan” for each lesson, a suggested map of how a lesson should go, starting with review (after the first session, of course), notes on presenting material the students have read about in their reading assignment, assignments for the following week, and finishing with a test for the week.

I really like the extra suggestions aimed at giving students a better visual understanding of a concept. The authors are very good at coming up with visual aids made from commonly available items; for example, the teaching tip for illustrating a “mole” uses disposable drinking cups, packing peanuts, and another item easily found in your kitchen.

Fun, edible, doable labs

Labs are fun, and many of them are edible!

Friendly Chemistry is designed to provide all the information you’d find in a high school Chemistry 1 course. It’s a great way to fulfill a high school lab science credit, especially for those students who are not science-oriented. The course also works well as a supplement or introduction to chemistry (alongside or preceding a more rigorous textbook-based course) for those students who are heading into science-based studies such as pre-med or engineering.

Multi-level learning; co-op friendly

Even though it’s based on high school chemistry requirements, the course can be adapted to suit younger learners, making it a multi-level addition to a homeschool family’s studies. (Our middle schooler was able to do the work; our hands-on, energetic, very active 10yo especially enjoyed the games.) However, where the course really shines is in group settings. A number of the exercises that illustrate basic concepts in chemistry study are best suited to group endeavors. This makes Friendly Chemistry a logical choice for a homeschool co-op; the more, the merrier.

Cost (free shipping within the U.S.):

Student edition (330 pages, 3-ring binder): $75
Teacher edition (300 pages, 3-ring binder): $60

Note: this is not a course where you can get away with just the teacher or just the student edition. You need both.

Visit the Friendly Chemistry website for more details and ordering information.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Friendly Chemistry, click here.

TOS Crew: Apologia Science


Apologia is something of a byword in Christian homeschooling circles.

I remember when our eldest was approaching seventh grade (a decade ago!). I asked a friend what to use for science, and she loaned me a copy of General Science to look through.

I’d been homeschooling long enough to be able to tell the difference between a textbook… and something else. Yes, General Science looked rather like a textbook, but when you started reading… The text was engaging, the experiments interesting and designed so that you could do them at home, with easily obtainable materials. You didn’t need a fully equipped lab to learn science in the homeschool.

Though money was tight, I invested in General Science. It was well worth the investment.

Since that time, Apologia has come out with a full range of Creation-based science curriculum, from elementary through upper-level high school, maintaining or exceeding their earlier level of quality. The books are thoughtfully written, beautifully illustrated, and contain a practical approach. Nowadays you can also buy a number of “helps” for their courses, such as audio CDs, containing the entire text of the book read aloud, and multi-media CD-Roms with pronunciation audio files and video clips.

Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day is the first in their series of zoology-based elementary science texts.

Right away, you know where the author’s coming from.

“Fifth Day” refers to the fifth day of Creation, as in the Genesis account from the Bible.

This being Zoology 1, you’ll also find a few science basics. The first chapter, “What is Zoology?” introduces such topics as nomenclature, classification, habitats, instict, extinction, and then some specific flight-related concepts that would apply to birds, bats, flying reptiles, and insects.

There are fourteen chapters total, and if you take about two weeks for each the course will last you an academic year. Five chapters treat with birds, one with bats, one with pterosaurs, and the rest studying insects in general (with a whole chapter devoted to butterflies).

Though it looks like a textbook, the text is written in a lively, conversational style directly to (but not down to) the student, and colorful illustrations grace the pages.

The author, Jeannie Fulbright, subscribes to Charlotte Mason’s methods of education, so you’ll find a great deal of observation and thinking about what was observed, along with narration prompts (time for the student to “tell back” what was read) and notebook assignments. There are also lots of practical, hands-on projects, activities, and explorations or experiments. You’ll make a couple of bird feeders, for example, fill each with a different kind of food, and watch to see what kinds of birds prefer what kind of seeds.  You might build a birdbath, create a “fossil egg” while studying flying dinosaurs, build an insect zoo to facilitate observations.

If you study just flying creatures for a year, in-depth, aren’t you missing something? Actually, there’s a whole lot of learning going on! This sort of immersion into a topic lends itself to retention and learning how to learn, as opposed to covering a whole gamut of subjects in a quick and shallow manner, regurgitating information for a test, and then forgetting soon after.

Apologia’s Young Explorer series is a kind-and-gentle introduction to science that will prepare your young student for more challenging learning in later years. Each volume in the series is available for $35. You can also find lapbooking ideas and notebooking pages related to these books, some free and some for sale. Just do a search on the name of the textbook and “lapbook” or “notebook pages” to find resources. There is also a password-protected webpage (password in each textbook) to find web-based related material.

Oh, something I forgot to mention: My children have read all the books in this series for fun (and learning)!  It probably would have been better to go through the books methodically, doing the notebook pages and activities as we went along, but we belong to a homeschool science class, and class assignments take up so much of our time… we haven’t have time for more. However, we are studying birds this spring in our homeschool science class, and our family is using Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and its activities for a supplement to our class assignments, though it could easily stand on its own.

Exploring Creation with General Science is the first of the “grown up” science courses intended to follow the elementary-level courses. Recommended for seventh grade, this course requires no special math knowledge to complete. “General” is the title and general is the theme, an overview of science beginning with a brief history of science from ancient times to the present day, followed by an introduction of the scientific method and conducting experiments. Next you have a smorgasbord of science: physics (simple machines), earth science (archaeology, geology, and paleontology with further topics in the fossil record and evolutionary theory), and life science (DNA, classification, and systems in the human body).

There are sixteen chapters (called “modules”), each designed to go through in about two weeks, for a total of thirty-two weeks of school, give or take some. It’s taking us longer to go through the book with our 7th grader, actually, because we’ve been interrupted by illness a lot this winter.

Text: I like the conversational tone of the text. My 7th grader is something of a reluctant student who would rather read adventure books than anything else. She says the text is “okay” and probably better than other textbooks she’s seen. (This would not be many, but we do keep a shelf of science textbooks from a major Christian educational publisher, for reference, and she’s read in these when a topic has stirred her interest.)

I’m very impressed with the experiments. They are practical and use easily obtainable items (things you have around the house, for the most part, and maybe a visit to the hardware store or drugstore, for the most part). The instructions are clear and written with safety in mind. Some of them are even fun! (from the perspective of a student who would rather be reading adventure novels) …like the experiment in growing crystals, which has a variation that results in rock candy.

To my student’s annoyance (and my satisfaction), review is built into the course, and a lot of independent learning is built into the design. A motivated student will find “On Your Own” questions at intervals in the text, which stimulate thought about the topic at hand. Ideally the student will take time to answer the “On Your Own” questions and then look at the back of the chapter for the answers. This student will also take time to write down the bolded words and their definitions, creating their own glossary, stop reading when an experiment comes up in the text, perform the experiment, and then go on in the lesson.

Each module ends in a study guide that you can use as an open-book test, preparation for the “real” chapter test, which is in the Solutions Manual. More on that in a minute.

The way the Study Guide works in our house: I do an oral quiz. Anything my student can’t answer has to be researched and written out. Since my 7th grader hates to write (would much rather type) this is a great motivator to be thorough earlier on. There’s also an appendix with a Summary for each module. These summaries are just that: They summarize the information in the module, with strategically placed blanks just waiting to be filled in.

Other reference material: a glossary, an appendix which collects major figures from the modules in one place, a complete list of lab supplies, organized by module, and an index. Icons appear in the text where a related video or audio file is available on a Companion Multi-media CD-Rom (available from Apologia for $15), to supplement learning. The book begins with a list of contact information for students who need help (I’ve always been impressed with this feature of Apologia science), “Student Notes” about how to attack the course, and (as with the elementary courses) a password to get you into a protected website with web-based materials related to the course.

Exploring Creation with General Science, the student text, is $65. An audio CD ($15)  is available containing MP3 audio files of the text and on-your-own questions, for students who struggle in reading. You can get the full course on CD-Rom (I think this includes all the text from the textbook, the multi-media files, and the solutions and tests) for $65. See the Apologia website for details.

Back to the Solutions and Tests for Exploring Creation with General Science. This $20 book is well worth the investment. Not only does it contain all the answers to the Study Guides and Summaries in the student text, but also end-of-module tests for each module, along with cumulative exams (and answer keys) that can be used as quarter or semester tests, or a final exam for the course.

Exploring Creation with General Science is an excellent, solid, creation-based science course, even if you have a student who has been spoiled with too much reading for pleasure. It’s one of the first real textbook-type books we’ve used with our 7th grade student, and while it was something of a shock to our systems, it is so well-put-together that we’re making it work. That’s saying a lot!

To read more TOS Crew opinions of Apologia Science, please click here.

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home!

Spring cleaning, anyone?

mrs_meyers_cleanI’ll admit, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home was a surprise… a very pleasant surprise!

I’ve seen Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning products popping up all over the place but hadn’t tried them yet. When I heard about this book, I was intrigued. I wondered, was it just a book-long advertisement for the cleaning products, with a little advice thrown in here and there? (Not what I was looking for.)

The cover certainly looked promising enough…

I dug inside.

Now I am not your genetically-predisposed-to-clean homemaker. I work at it, but it’s a struggle. How my mom kept such a clean house with five children underfoot is a mystery to me. (Well, we weren’t really underfoot, we were in school nine months of the year and out running around the neighborhood the other three months.) Little mythological creatures might have visited every day while I was out of the house, cleaning from top to bottom, making things sparkle and smell good, for all I knew.

Or my mom might well have followed the precepts laid out in Thelma Meyer’s book.

“Uncomplicated & hardworking tips for a clean & happy home” and “no-nonsense advice that will inspire you to CLEAN like the DICKENS”! That’s on the cover — you can read it yourself in the picture I’ve included above.

I like Mrs. Meyer’s style. She doesn’t promise that house cleaning will be easy. She does, however, show you how to make it workable, beginning with a pep talk drawing on her own experience, how she did it. I kind of felt like I was invited in for a glass of lemonade, sitting down on the porch, listening to a mom who’d raised nine children. She got out the photo albums, in fact, and gave me a little rundown on the kids, from their arrival in the family to where they are now. (What fun!) And then she got down to business.

– What to clean, and when

– Cleaning products and supplies (no, it’s not the advertisement I thought it would be — Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products are produced by her daughter’s company, yes, but this is Mrs. Meyer we’re talking to, and the subject is cleaning as she did it over the years, refined through experience and repetition. She includes recipes for homemade cleaners.)

– Cleaning methodology and procedures (broken up by area and function, including laundry, yardwork, and storage spaces)

Throughout the book, there are these little asides tucked in, like quotes from her children, reflecting on growing up in her household, “My House, My Rules” mini-editorials on how she made it work, “Waste Not, Want Not” tips for saving time and money.

Not only is this a “big picture” book, as in getting a whole room clean, but it’s also a “nitty gritty” book in that it gets down into the details of how to clean specific surfaces (brass, marble, unfinished wood, finished wood, windows, walls, sneakers, flip flops, shower curtains, woolens, cotton clothing, unmentionables, furniture, concrete garage floors, etc. and so forth and so on, whew!).

And all along the way you feel as if you’re talking things over with an older, more experienced woman (Titus 2 comes to mind), maybe even working alongside her as she shows you the things she’s learned over the years, that help to make a house a haven and a home.

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home would make a perfect gift for a bridal shower, or, if your mom never taught you what you need to know to keep house, do yourself a favor and give yourself this book as a gift. The book is $19.99 and well worth every penny.

“The ONLY cleaning guide you will ever need!” says the back cover, and it’s true.

To get a copy of your own, visit Hatchette Book Group’s convenient store locator page. Enter your zip code to find a store near you.

Stomach flu

This is a nasty one. Three out of the five of us are down with it. Fever, chills, dizziness, absolutely no energy, and can’t keep anything down.

If you happen to think of it, would you say a prayer for us?


Be back later.